Friday, 24 April 2009

Captain's Blog 24.04.09

Roleplaying and how it translates to the Machinima Hobby
Spurred on by the comments on my last post, I thought I’d wax lyrical about the fine art of Roleplaying in this blog entry, and how it made a huge impact on me, both as a writer and a machinima director.

As with most people who got into the hobby, I first stumbled across the delights of RPG when I was a wee laddy at school and the Games Club put on a display of a fantasy battle with full array of miniatures. I was hooked; I’d already devoured fantasy writings by such luminaries as Haggard, Howard, Tolkein (naturally) and a slew of the cheap knock-off fantasy books that seemed to appear overnight in WH Smiths during the 1970s, so this was the natural next step.

I cut my teeth on the old Red Box Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, rapidly being pushed into the role of DM, as no-one else wanted to spend the time to put adventures together and sit there behind a cardboard screen describing that dank, slimy dungeon corridor again for the 10 millionth time.

From there, I was initiated into the ranks of other classics such as Traveller, Star Frontiers, the old FASA Star Trek game, Aftermath (where I learned rapidly that masses of tables showing just how deadly a .303 bullet is when it hits your left ear-lobe do not an attention-grabbing game make…), Gamma World, Chivalry and Sorcery, Runequest, Golden Heroes, Call of Cthulhu… the list goes on.

Then, my gaming group and I ventured into the murky realm of compiling our own rules set as we came to realise that the D&D rules we were using at the time just couldn’t cut it for some of the stuff we needed for our joint campaign (one of the other players and I alternated play sessions with two disparate groups of characters, each on a separate continent, that eventually grew into an epic campaign of world-spanning and world-changing adventure.)

Eventually, family, job, real-life issues and problems and other factors all contributed to the group fragmenting and falling apart after a great 5 years of regular gaming sessions. Some wonderful characters developed out of those sessions, which I still remember fondly (and not so fondly!), which really left an indelible mark on me.

As I started my initial shakey steps into the minefield of Machinima last year, the ghosts of my misspent youth (and adult life!) dredged themselves up from the past. I could almost feel the same energy, creativity and excitement growing around me as I sat down to write the first instalments of Odyssey. Long forgotten adventures, scenes, dialogue, most of which actually happened in sessions whilst sat around my gaming table, came rushing out of the mists of the last 20 years or so to spring, fully formed, back into my mind.

Geeky hobby? Sure. Looked down upon by the majority of folks at the time? Most definitely. An enormous source of inspiration, enjoyment and fertile ground for the hobby I now enjoy? You betcha! The lessons I learned in constructing plots, characters and adventures during those years definitely served me in good stead, and frequently the techniques I called upon back then still get pulled out to assist me now.

As said in my first TMOA interview, many moons ago now, the advantage of seeing your creation taken out and driven by your “audience” (i.e. the players) and getting almost instantaneous feedback from it as the story unfolded definitely helped me in my construction. NPCs brought to life with twitches, coughs, bizarre accents all get called upon again when a voice is needed. Convoluted plot strands, twists and turns and the less-than-white actions of some of the PCs in the various groups I had the pleasure to play with all serve well when fleshing out characters and situations.

Roleplaying has given me a lot of joy, over the years. Sadly, I have little to no time anymore to involve myself in the hobby as I once did, but one glance over my shoulder at the boxes and shelves here in the Cave, still groaning under the weight of myriad rulebooks and supplements, still raises a wry smile. And, boy, are they excellent sources of inspiration for writing scripts and characters!


Norrie said...

Well, that was an interesting read. I knew bugger all about that whole culture.
I'd heard of D&D, but only in the vaguest terms.

It actually sounds like something I might have enjoyed as a lad. I, too, was heavily into reading, and fantasy novels were a favourite.
However, in a Scottish Catholic school anything game related was frowned upon. Probably afraid they would turn into Satanic cults. Thinking about it, they probably thought D&D WAS a Satanic cult :)

I'm left unsure on one thing though – what's an NPC?

Killian said...

None Player Character; surprisingly, a character NOT played by a player (basically, any character which the players encounter during the course of their adventures is voiced and described by the Games Master)

Norrie said...

Ah, I get it.
Like the unknown security person that always got killed in Star Trek?

Killian said...

Sometimes; actually, let's use that as an example of what I mean.

Let's say you have a gaming group consisting of Joe, Nancy and yourself as GM. You're playing out a Star Trek adventure. Let's say Joe is playing Kirk, Nancy is playing the Spock character.

Who plays the parts of Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, etc? What about the Klingons they meet? The slightly overweight yet jovial Tribble salesman?

YOU do, as the GM. Every time the players speak to or interract with someone who ISN'T controlled by a player, it comes down to the GM to provide the mannerisms, speech, description of action, etc. As you can imagine, in some situations the workload can get incredibly silly, but it's a lot of fun when you manage to create a character that the players enjoy interracting with and can recognise by a single, solitary verbal or visual tag that they associate with that character.

Killian said...

There's a good overview and example of a game session here at The Harrow:-

...if you have further interest in the subject.

Norrie said...

Sorry, you did it again!
GM means nothing to me.
Now this may be where the link fails :)

You're assuming I will do as a GM does, but I know that not!
So, when transposing to writing & directing, what's a GM?

This is interesting :)||

Killian said...

Ok... the GM (or Games Master, to use the generic term; the usual version that grew out of D&D was "DM" or "Dungeon Master" (and no, he's not the irritating little Yoda-a-like from the sappy cartoon from the 80s...)) acts as a combination storyteller, rules arbiter, actor and effectively referee for the other players.

He or she is responsible for writing the adventure (or preparing it for play, if it was a purchased adventure or one from a magazine), preparing any props that might be required (to represent items found during the adventure, like maps or discs containing data, etc), acting the roles of any NPCS encountered (as discussed above), having reference to the rules and applying those rules in certain situations (further discussion of this part will be undertaken in the following post), but his/her main job is to act as the senses of the characters as they approach the world the adventure is happening in.

To use the example from my previous post, the GM is responsible for describing the surroundings of the characters (the bridge of the Enterprise, the corridors, the planets and other place they find themselves in, etc); what they can see, smell, hear, taste; what effect their actions have on the world and people around them (via the arbitration of the rules, as indicated) and effectively is God as far as the whole thing is concerned.

In effect, the GM assumes the mantle of a machinima director/writer/producer, in that he or she is the master of all things that the players (ie the audience) see and experience. The role as actor can, of course, also come into it a bit, but that is usually passed to others so the GM/director can concentrate on the construction of the world/sets, the story and how the story plays out. The only real difference is that for machinima, the script determines the ending point, whereas with roleplay, the actions of the individual characters (based on the personas the players have created for them) can alter the "ending" significantly.

sisch said...

A GM is a "Game Master" - the one who guides the players through the world, knows the whole story and describes all that happens around them, the scenery, the people, artifacts.. it's his or her job to give the world you're playing in substance ... as well as playing all the NPC's. :)

As you already can guess, I role-played too.. for over ten years, once a week, we played "Das Schwarze Auge" (the black eye) - it's a german role-playing game which resembles Dungeons and Dragons a bit. I have very fond memories of that time - we had so much fun!
Although I don't think we did get as deep in as Killian.

Killian said...

Rules arbitration. We all remember when we were kids, playing "War" and the inevitable arguments about "I shot you!", "No, you didn't!!" Yes I did!", "Well, I have a special bulletproof vest that protects me, so there!!" that used to ensue.

With a set of rules and a GM, this argument is firmly put in its place. Dependant upon the rules set used, the players are given a strict set of rules, within which their "universe" operates. How far can they jump? How much can they carry? How much damage does that AK-47 cause when you riddle someone with bullets from it? All these things are covered by the rules-set.

Now, of course, no set of rules can fully cover EVERY eventuality an inventive player can come up with, which is another reason for the GM to be there. He or she decides what is possible, based on what the rules say, what the player is trying to accomplish AND (for any GM worth their salt), the impact it will have on the player's enjoyment of the story.

Any decent GM will "fudge" (i.e. cheat!) to correct dodgy dice rolls that may slay an entire group of characters through 1 bad roll (alternatively, most decent GMs will let lie any rolls as they fall, if the players try to do something stupid, plain crazy or impossible, purely to teach them a lesson in most cases; he/she won't force the outcome, but he/she won't usually step in to save them with their "GM overrule", either.)

In some respects, the GM assumes the role of the program's engine here, in limiting what can be done by the "actors" in the "movie". It doesn't really have that much to do with machinima, however, so we won't try to draw any other parallels there!

Killian said...

It's surprising how many machinima makers have actually roleplayed at one time or another, which just brings me back to the point that it's a fantastic tool for a machinima director/writer to draw upon if they've ever done it.

My dear Sisch... I was never that much of a geek... oh, ok... maybe I was :)

Norrie said...

Aw Sisch, how many ways must I love you?
Two paragraphs to tell your tale. Killian as wordy as wordy as wordy can be :)

Could this blog teach him brevitty?

Killian said...

I am... the Wordy Man!

And what is this brevity nonsense of which you speak? I find no earthly reason whereupon I should curtail my prose to truncate that which ferments within my cerebellum, and requires to be scribbled forth upon this veritable stage for all to see, sirrah...

Dulci said...

I like words.

Killian said...

Me 2