More Contests for your Characters

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Fred Hicks, Eddy Webb, and John Wick are judging DriveThruRPG’s Tell Us About Your Character Contest. Grand prize is a sweet Android tablet. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines please! The Deadline is June 2nd, so jam-pack as much character as you can in 400 words and gooo~

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A Review of Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson

May 25, 2011 1 comment

Anyone who’s tried Scrivener remembers opening it up for the first time and–at least for a moment–being utterly overwhelmed by all the options available. I’m all about teaching yourself the software, but I knew I’d want to go through the included tutorial for this one. True to its word, I slogged through all thirty to fourty minutes of it. Overall, it felt like it was a little too basic. And I still felt like I knew nothing about the software.

Then I found a little gem in Amazon’s Kindle store. It looked perfect. And for only $6? I’ll bite.

Writing a Novel with Scrivener

by David Hewson

The writing and story development program Scrivener is taking the world by storm. Here the bestselling author David Hewson, creator of the successful Nic Costa series, offers a personal, highly-focussed guide to using this powerful application to create a novel.

Hewson, a Scrivener user for years who’s written five of his popular novels in the app, takes users through the basic processes of structuring a full-length novel, writing and developing the story, then delivering it either as a manuscript for an agent or publisher or as an ebook direct to Kindle or iBook.

Alongside the practical advice, he offers a working novelist’s insight into the process of writing popular fiction. And this book is, of course, created entirely within Scrivener itself, from development through to publication on Kindle, a process followed in detail in the book.

Does it overlap with the free, included tutorial? Yeah, a little bit. But I feel like I would have saved myself some time if I’d just read his book, instead of clicking through page after page of no-brainer tips. And then there’s all the novelist-specific advice that I’d encountered for the first time in Writing a Novel with Scrivener.

Three out of Three Crits

The Verdict

Anyone who wants to jump-start their Scrivener skills to get past the software and start writing their novel–utilizing the program to its full potential to plan, write, revise, and even publish–should consider getting this book.

A Whirlwind Tour

First of all, don’t expect this to be “the missing manual.” The author is clear in his introduction that there is a lot more to Scrivener than what he manages to cover–for instance, tools for researchers and screenwriters–but he’s just covering what the novelist needs to know, after all. Another caveat to mention is that the book is aimed primarily at Mac, Scrivener 2.0 users, so us Windows kiddies will need to translate some of the commands*, improvise, and resign ourselves to the fact that it is still in Beta, and though it’s come a long way, it still has a ways to go before it’s ready for prime time. (*But we’re PC people, so we don’t need to be spoon-fed everything anyway.)

He quickly goes over the basic parts of the program, the Binder, the Editor, and Inspector, covering just as much ground in four or so “pages” (a loose term, given the fluidity of Kindle displays) than what takes the tutorial over a thousand words. I don’t need the Header and Footer described at length. I’ve used word processors before, after all. And there’s the manual for everything I want elaboration on.

Next Hewson talks about the Corkboard and Outliner views in terms of their usefulness to novelists, again touching on them just enough to make the writer familiar without having to list every single capability available. As a Windows user, I noticed that the Unplaced Scenes folder he talks about doesn’t yet appear in the Beta, but I’ve gone ahead and added my own folder by the name. It doesn’t have the cute little thought cloud icon next to it, but it’ll still serve the purpose of a general reservoir of ideas, and a springboard for those times when I’m hitting against a blockage of some sort.

In the next section he shows you how to minimize distractions and maximize ease of access to other parts at the same time. Want to reference another document? Would you like split-screen or a pop-up window? How about a hyperlink inserted right into the text? Hop back to the last document you viewed? Hewson covers it all, and quickly.

Most useful, perhaps, out of the entire book, was the section on Keywords. It would have taken me a while to figure out the applications otherwise, but he suggests using these customizable tags to track POV or Time to ensure continuity–a huge issue for complex novels with multiple narrators and time streams, like the one I’m writing. Meanwhile, the official tutorial makes only a passing reference to the Search/Keywords capability, while elaborating on things obvious to any intermediate computer user.

Essential to any discussion of writing are backups: that is to say, those pesky little things that allow you to not lose your project–and your mind. Did you know that Scrivener can automatically schedule backups of your work? Did you ever think to incorporate Dropbox, so that you’d have an automatic web backup without the hassle of syncs? Yeah, pretty useful, that. If it means saving your work from a hard-drive failure or virus attack, then that $6 just saved you hours and hours of work. Which can be fair valuable, when you’re writing for publication.

Once you’ve written a first draft, it’s time to get down to the real work–revision. Writing a Novel with Scrivener compares the advantages of re-reading on your iPad, eReader, or good ol’ paper, and discusses the options you have for commenting on each. Moreover, it talks about ways your initial readers and critters can comment, whether it be through Word or another program, and warns against some common pitfalls of formatting and syncing them together. After you know what you need to rewrite, this book shows you how to save multiple versions of your draft quickly, and how to compare each revision (using colors, or not), so you can track what’s changed and even go back to a prior “snapshot” if need be.

Finally, Hewson provides a step-by-step guide not only to compiling your manuscript for agents and editors, but to publishing as a Kindle .mobi or .epub file! Though I’m not there yet, I may use it for future projects, like Andy’s Pendulum and my Campaign World Tree, if we go the self-publishing route.

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit, if it were the standard price of a book about writing, I wouldn’t have gotten it. But it’s considerably cheaper than the Writer’s Digest books you’ll find at your Barnes & Noble. A $6 asking price is quite reasonable given the breadth, deapth, and practicality of the tips he provides. If you’re a novelist and you’ve ever thought about jumping on the Scrivener bandwagon, but didn’t know where to start, this book will take you through the same steps as the tutorial, only faster, and give you a lot more to use besides. A full three out of three crits.

A Double-edged Sword: Making Your Greatest Strengths Your Greatest Weaknesses

May 22, 2011 Leave a comment

For the typical D&D player, the game essentially boils down to “winning.” You slay the monsters, find the treasure, level up. A steady upward climb. Fun, to be sure, but I’d rather just play a board or video game if I wanted that. Tabletop allows for a little something more, that is to say, the unparallelled ability to tell any story, act any part. It’s the stage on a smaller scale, in which the audience are also the actors.

What drives a story more than anything else? Conflict. So the GM twists your arm a little. Hits you where it hurts. But who says the GM is the only one who can introduce conflict? What happens when the players take it into their own hands to make a multi-dimensional, real character, replete with desires, strengths, and weaknesses?

Whoever said they couldn’t be the same thing?

“Okay,” you say. “That’s just fine taking advantage of a character’s disadvantages. That’s no new trick. So what?”

All right, how about using a character’s advantages against him?

John Wick, Play Dirty, 2006


Tag! I’ll use your very strength for my gain.

This is the ideology at work behind the Tag/Invoke/Compel mechanic of the Fate system. You can invoke an Aspect (think of them as formalized backgrounds or personality characteristics) to gain the advantage in a Risk. But so too can your allies and enemies Tag that very Aspect to tip the scales, or even Compel you to do something in keeping with your character, but potentially destroy everything you’ve been working towards.

It’s what makes Houses of the Blooded, which uses the Aspect system from Fate, a fundamentally tragic game. You are your own undoing. You’re doomed to fall, but when that fall is spectacular, we enjoy it just as much as “winning.”

You can do this in other systems as well, it just requires a little more work on your part.

Exercises

  1. Identify three to four primary traits that you would qualify as your character’s cookies–those signature traits that set him or her above the rest, that really define the character. In Dungeons & Dragons you’d look to your Background, your Feats, your Class and Race features. In Savage World they’re your edges. Don’t forget the setting as well, the time, place, and flavor, which will give you a whole slew of considerations. Write them down if they’re a little more abstract and independent of the game mechanics, like, “pure-hearted,” or “long-lost prince.” Consider both internal and external conflicts, since all one without the other make for either pure pulp or too “literary” feeling characters. It may help to denote some as major and other minor. Finally, the traits needn’t be as fine-tuned as, say, Aspects are in Houses of the Blooded, because they confer no in-game benefit. This is pure role-play and story fodder, here, so don’t torment yourself.
  2. List the benefits of each trait. Sure, you already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to write it down to really see it, make sure it crystallizes into thought properly. Too many things we just take for granted as knowledge because it’s swimming up in our minds, but won’t come out straightforwardly on paper. This is the time to really define what it means to be a woman warrior, or half-breed bastard.
  3. Now comes the tricky part. You have to figure out how those very traits can also be a Very Bad Thing. Our pure-hearted one, for instance, becomes too trusting, easily taken advantage of. She can’t even conceive of stealing, or lying, or using others for her own gain. So it’s bound to happen to her. Or another character might have claimed to have divine bloodlines. Depending on the nature of the cult (I use the term in its theological, not pop-culture context), he could be named a heretic and even hunted down. Sure wish he didn’t have those extra powers now, huh?
  4. Consider developing these as story arcs to address over the course of the campaign, each with a beginning, middle, and end.
    1. Start with the spark, the instigating act that serves as a departure point from the status quo. What could happen to bring the strength and weakness into relief? Is it an NPC from the character’s past? A quest set before the adventurers? One of the player characters themselves (bonus points)? You should work with your GM to find a launch pad you can both agree on.
    2. Try not to plan the middle, instead, letting it develop organically over the course of the campaign. You want to leave room to be flexible, to adapt to the moment, and perhaps allow the campaign the guide the progression of the issues. Just think of the ups and downs of narrative structure. Build the tension, throw in more obstacles, and build us back up again until we hit the climax, which may or may not be the same as the ending.
    3. Finally, however, you can think about the ending. What do you want to see happen to your character? Would you rather use the weakness and conflict as a hurdle that makes victory all the sweeter? Or would you rather play your character’s downfall, falling further and further from grace into their own self-made hell? There’s also the possibility of a mix of success and failure, including self-sacrifice to achieve their ultimate goal, or giving in to their desires and winning true love over their allegiances or ideals. Just don’t feel like the climax has to be set in stone. You may find as you go that you want to change things up, that the other option makes more sense now. Just be sure to communicate these to your GM, who is there to help you realize your characters, whether it’s for good or ill.

So you think you can use this as you plan your novel, too? Sure can. You’ll just want to develop the middle as well, seeing as you have complete control over the plot and don’t have to worry about those other pesky players at your table…

A Character Study

To illustrate what I mean I’ll be using Ealasaid NicRuraich, my red-headed Vistani Hybrid Sorcerer-Thief for my friend’s upcoming campaign, Le Morte de Mordred. In this case, the setting provides the primary context for her struggles, though some are internal as well. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how I go from flat, fantasy female to a gutsy girl who brings her own struggles to the table, without the GM having to lift a finger.

  1. For her traits, I’ve gone with a mixture of feats and a background, as well as extra themes that were inspired by songs I explored when trying to find a theme for her.
    • Seeress (Major)
    • Arcane Familiar (Major)
    • Vistani (minor)
    • Falling in Love (minor)
  2. I’ve decided on the following benefits accordingly, though a few are already covered by mechanics.
    • Seeress (Major) Ealasaid’s primary character “cookie,” if you will, is fortune teller. Much of it is putting on airs to fatten her purse, but there are time when she really Sees. She’ll be mastering Divination rituals, and her feat lets her cast one without components per day.
    • Arcane Familiar (Major) What’s cooler than a little Magpie flitting about your shoulder? One who talks, can give you advice, and serves as a second pair of eyes? And pushes you to grow as a magic user?
    • Vistani (minor) There are a good number of perks to being part of a caravan. You learn all sorts of trades, see more of the world, meet all sorts of people. You also get their nifty little abilities, and an extended family to reach out to when need be.
    • Falling in Love (minor) Not so much a benefit to her, but it allows me as a player to indulge in my favorite bit of role-playing: romance.
  3. Some of these came easily, others were assisted by the setting. If you need help, reach out to your GM or fellow players.
    • Seeress (Major) Given the Arthurian setting, being a magic-user can be a very, very dangerous livelihood. Christianity is the dominant religion of the nobles (if not the pagan masses), so that “witchnose” of hers is like to get her killed.
    • Arcane Familiar (Major) Magpies are perhaps one of the smartest animals in the world. A magical one is even moreso. But in English folklore, a single Magpie is a sign of bad luck. What starts to happen when Pica joins Ealasaid? You guessed it. Then he starts to nitpick at your decisions. Questioning their wisdom. Having altogether too much to say. And seems to have been sent by someone to sharpen Ealasaid’s abilities… but why? Only my GM knows.
    • Vistani (minor) Insta-outcast, go. People assume she’s a cut-purse, and for good reason. The same charm that endears most to her is a liability when she’s dealing with the lawmen of the villages.
    • Falling in Love (minor) Finally, the very boy she feels drawn to may be the wolf who consumes her in her dreams. The Betrayer. So think again, Ealasaid. What did Grandmama say about the dreams you dream about yourself? And is he worth it?
  4. Now let’s take a look at the beginning, middle, and end for these. Right now I’m painting with broad strokes, since I have yet to really play with her or talk with my GM at length.
    1. The spark is her leaving the caravan with her sister because of the dreams she’s been having,meeting Shane MacGreggor, embarking on whatever journey our DM has planned, and later, once she’s reached level two, meeting her familiar, Pica the Magpie.
    2. I don’t have much idea of how the campaign is going to develop, but I do have a sense of how I’d like to see things go. I’d like Pica to be an antagonistic force, pushing Ealasaid past her own boundaries. Shane will also be a source of torment, and her sister/the Vistani may prove a hurdle as well. Finally, she’ll have to hide her magic as best she can, while simultaneously trying to master it.
    3. Ultimately I don’t know if she’ll fall or rise to the occasion. I’ll let the game decide. My characters usually fall somewhere in the gray zone, succeeding in some respects and failing miserably at others. What she decides to make a priority is up to her.

And there you have it. It’s a touch more of a sketch right now than a fully-fledged character biography, but it doesn’t need to be. Her strengths and weaknesses will find different applications when the game is played. And we’ll see which of the two win out.

Further Reading

Don’t Turn that Dial

May 17, 2011 Leave a comment

As the noticeable drop in entries indicates, I’ve been busy. I’ve been bumped from part to full time, I’m organizing a local group of gamers that already numbers in the fifties, and am still trying to fit what amounts to a second job–being a writer–in there somewhere.

But I haven’t forgotten about you guys, as a matter of fact, I have quite a few projects in the pipeline for Triple Crit:

  1. For Writers, A Review of Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson
  2. For Role-players and their characters, “A Double-edged Sword: Making Your Greatest Strengths Your Hidden Weakness”
  3. And, most notably, for Gamemasters, a Blood & Honor pre-made scenario:

    Sasarindō: A True Tragedy in Old Japan

    Once upon a time in Old Japan there were two Clans whose clash would end an Era. Their battles bred the samurai, replacing the bureaucracy of courtiers who had dominated Japanese politics for half a millennium. The defeated clan drowned their entire house and Emperor at sea; the victors would found the Shogunate, though their line would not survive to claim the title. The proud, indeed, will not endure. Nothing gold can stay.

    Here is a dramatic reimagining of the Tale of the Heike, a true Tragedy in Old Japan, that centers on the resurgent Minamoto clan, whose crest is the bamboo leaf and gentian flower, the Sasarindō.

    I’ll be needing playtesters for the scenario, so stay tuned for that if you’d like to have your and your buddies’ names in the credits!

Quite Possibly Made my Day

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I love it when my players draw me campaign porn. And by porn, I mean moreso the kind you find at offbeatbrides.com. Just shit I love to look at. Thanks, M.

by ~Mo8 on deviantART

Categories: Uncategorized

An Experiment of Community

May 6, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s no secret that in college I was heavily involved in my campus’ Roleplaying Guild, even serving as its president for a year, and organizing a gaming convention besides. One of the big things I missed when I moved back to New York was the tight-knit community that I’d found in the Guild, the people I’d come to call some of my closest friends whom I could count on to go with to Free Comic Book Day and various Marvel/DC movie premieres.

When I moved back, I knew nobody–aside from my own brother–who played. And his group only met during breaks, so they were good for maybe a one-shot or two, but certainly not a campaign.

So my World of Warcraft guild became my surrogate community in the meantime. But it wasn’t the same.

It was sheer luck that led the guy I was dating at the time to remark offhandedly that a mutual friend of ours was playing a game of D&D that night. Swallowing my nervousness (I hadn’t spoken to him in nearly four years, and god knows that he thought of me as his friend’s ex-girlfriend), I broached the idea of a game to him on Facebook, to which he eagerly responded. (Apparently my date had, with some trepidation, mentioned my earlier interest to him. The gaming boy wondered what my date was worried about–“what was I going to do, steal Katrina?” Funny story, that.)

But we still only had the three of us, my brother included, which wasn’t nearly enough to play. A little more blind fishing on Facebook revealed that a number of my old highschool friends in the area knew how to play, or at least were interested. By happenstance, one prospective player saw another mutual friend at the Barnes & Noble checkout register while he was purchasing the core rulebooks, and instantly hooked her. I asked my best friend’s boyfriend if he’d be interested in it, since he was a bit of a geek already, and managed to lure my best friend in as well after she vehemently told me she would “never be that nerdy.”

Several friend of a friends later I have eight players at my table, not including myself. It’s a bit of a circus, but we have a great time.

But I still wanted more players. Not for this campaign, per se, but to know, to draw from, for different games for different tastes, since the nine of us were bound less by play style than by proximity. And the local community college had no group to speak of, nor was I a student to be eligible to start one, while both Friendly Local Gaming Stored are a solid fourty-five minutes to an hour drive each way, and I couldn’t justify going up or down there on any regular basis, what with gas hitting $4.20 a gallon here.

Recently Facebook revamped its Groups feature, making them easy to start and manage, even serving as a limited mailing-list for its members. It was then that it hit me to start a group of my own, not just for my individual campaigns, as I’d been doing for a few weeks now, but an Open Group, welcoming all in the greater Cornwall area.

Storm King Role-playing Gamers was born.

I added all of my friends who I knew or guessed would be interested. I asked those friends to invite theirs, who will hopefully invite their friends in turn. I’d love to see a solid group of a few dozen, maybe even more. In addition to being a great resource for players seeking campaigns and gamemasters seeking players, we could host a weekly board game night at the local Panera (or move it to the library if need be), perhaps gasp! have a real LARP or two, and if we can somehow do a bit of fundraising, maybe even screen movies such as Gamers or Darkon. I’d love to get to the point of hosting another con, but that’s a little far down the line, yet. In the meantime, though, we can certainly organize trips to others’.

I know there’s already a Mid-Hudson Gamers and Geeks meetup group. Why not just go through there? Two reasons. One, most everyone has a Facebook account, which eliminates the extra frustration of signing up for yet another site, and two, Free vs. Not-Free. Meetup.com is great in that there’s already the interest and such built-in, but having to pay $20 a month isn’t all that great. Perhaps if the first takes off we’ll expand onto the other, but for now, just Facebook will do.

What are your experiences with the role-playing community? Do you prefer to stick to your tabletop group, or have you ever belonged to a larger organization? Did you go through your school, FLGS, or have to go it alone? What resources did you utilize, what pitfalls did you encounter?

You can bet that as Storm King Role-playing Gamers grows, I’ll be grappling with those questions myself here on this blog. Until then, though, wish me luck!

Find Your Dark Side Contest

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Definitely going to be submitting something for this, not least of all because The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond Box Set looks awesome, and I’d love to win it. Oh, and because dark characters are my deepest love.

Also, it’s Arthas! LAWL.

Categories: Uncategorized