Reinventing the Wheel


It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in the rut of thinking you know what your players want; but what if they don’t even really know what they want anymore? When long time GMs run long term campaigns for the same group, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what really matters is the building blocks of good story telling.

Most people around here know that I recently gave up on what I saw as the trappings and debris of compromise in using the d20 rules system. As part of my defection away from that particular paradigm of gaming, I decided to drastically re-evaluate what it was that was important to me as a GM, and as a story teller in general.

What I found was that the things that were really important to me, I mean really important to me, existed beyond the boundaries of any genre. I had always seen myself as a fantasy GM. My players had always seen me as that as well, and they saw themselves as fantasy gamers. After over 20 years, it was fairly obvious to us that that is what we wanted.

Upon revisiting the ideas and concepts that lurk behind system and setting I found that there were certain elements that were no longer important or even interesting at all. I had stayed with them though out of habit and comfort. Looking at this list in front of me of things that really mattered, and the things that absolutely did not, I found that a fantasy setting wasn’t the best canvas upon which to paint. I had grown apart from it.

Be brutally honest, and don’t be afraid to let things go.

I came by this list by being brutally honest and having no “sacred cows”. I asked myself; “Self, what do you really want here?” and then started writing. At first, it was hard not to think of the actual physical building blocks of a setting or campaign. I had to throw away the first two lists before I got the hang of it. It’s much like when a business wants to reinvent itself, or focus in on the things that are really important. You have to find those few things (and there should only be a few for consistency’s sake) that you are good at and which are truly fun and ignore everything else, no matter how “cool” those things might seem.

Be brutally honest, and don’t be afraid to let things go.

My list now had five things on it:

  • mystery
  • sophisticated suspense
  • horrific elements
  • higher technology than normal
  • interaction over combat
  • sense of wonder independent of “magic”

That was it; six things which were truly important to me as a GM and world builder.

The list of things I was tired of was much longer, so I won’t repeat it here (most of them are things that fantasy GMs and players lean fairly heavily on and I don’t want to offend anyone). Looking at the list of “don’t wants” I saw very clearly that fantasy didn’t even interest me anymore at all.

So why was I still running fantasy?

It had to be for my players. Why else would I still do it? The only way to make this process was work was to have the same conversation I had had with myself with my players. I invited everyone over for some refreshments and a night of non-playing gaming talk.

What unfolded surprised everyone.

I needed to have more structure than when going through the process in my head. It was also very important that people looked at this through the lens of deconstructing fiction, not roleplaying. I wanted it to be as objective as possible and knew that that wouldn’t happen if people kept thinking back to something they held dear to their hearts. I had to stop several times during the night to remind the group of this, but before long everyone got the hang of it.

I had prepared for the night's conversation by laying out the questioning process on paper like so:

1) On a scale of 1-10, please rate these genres of fiction:

  • fantasy
  • horror
  • science fiction
  • modern
  • period reconstruction
  • other

2) List the core building blocks of what you consider really good fiction, independent of any genre or setting

3) List the best settings you have encountered from any aspect of fiction, be it novels, movies, RPGs…whatever.

4) List the elements from fiction that you absolutely can do without, or would rather never see again. What breaks the story telling process for you?

5) List the worst settings you have encountered in any aspect of fiction, and note why you couldn’t stand them.

6) Describe the best campaign you have ever played in, independent of genre or setting, and explain why it was so much fun to be a part of.

7) Ed. See comments, below.

8) On a scale of 1-10, please rate these genres of fiction:

  • fantasy
  • horror
  • science fiction
  • modern
  • period reconstruction
  • other

It needs to be noted that no conversation, especially with roleplayers, will ever follow a formula like the one you see above. It was, however, very important that I have this written down as a place to go back to when the conversation started to get away from the reason we were all there that night. As we talked, I jotted notes down. What I saw as we neared the end of the information I wanted to gather didn’t surprise me, as I had already gone through the process with myself, but it surprised my players to no end.

Most people gave fantasy an 8-10 during the first step, for example.

What we all found was that we could rate genres in any way we chose simply and purely out of habit and preconceived notion. Most people gave fantasy an 8-10 during the first step, for example. However, after deconstructing the hobby (making sure to be objective and not think about genre or setting too much after step one) it became obvious that what makes a good story isn’t where it takes place, but how it takes place. After going through the entire process (which took about five hours, two cases of Guiness, and three dub reggae CDs) I had a road map to design a setting and campaign very specifically focused for exactly these players. Would other players find it as interesting? Probably not, but that’s not the point. These were the players that would be experiencing it so they were the ones that mattered.

The most revealing part for everyone was step 8. The conversation had been so piercing and enlightening that when asked to rate the genres again, the scores were drastically different. People who had given fantasy a 9 or 10 were now rating it as a 2 or 3. Science fiction had gone from a homogenized score of 3 to a 7.5. Horror was now universally an 8, whereas before the average had been 3. By examining the individual elements within fiction, my players had been able to be honest enough with themselves about why they had enjoyed certain campaigns to ignore setting and genre long enough to just let go and focus on what really mattered to them on an emotional level.

With such a concise list in front of me, it only took most of a weekend to put together the beginnings of a setting for our new campaign to take place in. It was far from comprehensive, but it was enough to get some character concepts going and get a campaign started. We all feel really good about it too…better than we have about a campaign in a long time. I haven’t seen or felt this level of excitement about a pending campaign since…well, never actually. In over 20 years it had never been this fresh and honest and just plain…right.

The only bad part was this; I have one player that couldn’t let go. He couldn’t get his mind out of the fantasy ghetto, and wasn’t willing to consider that maybe…just maybe…he might enjoy something else for a change. Something that was just for him. Truth be told, he’s just a diehard fantasy fan. And that’s okay too. Luckily we’re all mature enough that he doesn’t hold it against us. He’s a good gamer, and he wants everyone at the table to have fun…including himself. So now he’s in the market for a new group so that he can run “the ultimate fantasy campaign” for them. It’s inspired him to be a GM and not a player anymore. And that’s okay too…the world needs one more good GM, and he’ll fill that role well.

I’m not suggesting here that anyone abandon their current campaign or setting in favour of such a deconstructive-then-reconstructive approach (though that’s what we did). Next time you’re ready to start something new, however, keep this approach in mind. The key to this hobby is to have fun…that’s the only way to win. So if everyone at the table gets exactly what they want out of it that can only be a good thing.

Break out your demolition tools and deconstruct your very core view of what interactive story telling, or roleplaying, or gaming, or whatever you want to call it is. Then, from the rubble, bring out the core values and building blocks of what you and your group consider to be good fiction rather than good gaming.

Sometimes to save the village, you have to burn it.

Wow. That's really cool stuff Scott. You've got me all thinking now. Thanks man, will do.

You know what's really funny...I skipped from step 6 to step 8. LOL. Just pretend that step 7 is an optional step that any GM can add in any step he thinks his group needs that I didn't mention. (For me, step 7 was "go buy more Guiness")

Fascinating. To be honest, I'm not sure if I can get myself to write down such a list of "what I like"...I'm not sure I can articulate what "does it" for me.
It so happens that last week my gaming group and I sat and talked about our current campaign (only for an hour, though), after we started a discussion about some discontent among us. It is a D20 Ghost in the Shell game which has only been going for five or so sessions.
Although we didn't do is as deep as SF's group, I was able to bring to the fore a discussion on the seriousness of the game we wanted and a concentrated effort to improve the game.

I won't go much into it here, this being SF's thread, but his discussion is one I ight want to take up with my group.

We ended up playing three hours of World of Warcraft Adventure Game [WoWAG] (we didn't manage to finish it in that time span, though)

Zip, feel free to go into it here if you wish. It's not my thread, it's ours.

What I found during (and especially after) this deconstructing process was that my pages and pages of notes (I wrote down almost everything that was said, whether it seemed important or not at the time didn't mean that some gem of knowledge or comprehension wasn't hidden within) from the long conversation boiled down to two lists; inclusions and exclusions.

When designing the setting, I just had to make sure that *none* of the exclusions appeared in it or any campaign that would be run in it. Not every single inclusion made it in...that would be overdoing it. But as long as the exclusions were acknowledged and the inclusions were balanced against what could "realistically" ("believably" is probably a better word for RPG world construction) exist all in the same setting, then I had it.

For anyone having a hard time figuring out what does it for them, consider this; if you liked that chase scene across the roofs of the town last session, *why* did you like it? Because it was pulpy and cinematic and the GM didn't make you roll for every single jump from roof to roof? Or was it because you were finally getting to get that guy that had bugged you for all these sessions? Or maybe it was because you just dig chase scenes, no matter whether it be car chases, horse chases, chariots, on foot or otherwise. Or maybe it's far love the genre and setting and so picturing your PC run from roof to roof against the background of the city just really blows you hair back. He could have been doing anything, but picturing him do it *there* is what worked for you.

Once you've identified the ultimate moments in fiction from your own point of view (not just gaming mind you...fiction as a whole), you can start the deconstruction process. It will be common at this point to find that the only reason you've always liked dragons, for example, is because you actually are just fond of the fiction archetype of 'something older than us that is hard to understand and could crush us like bugs if only it thought we were important enough to bother with'. After the other parts of the deconstruction process, you may identify that you are far more enamored with sci fi than fantasy when it comes to your reading or movie habits, and as such are better suited to be in a science fiction campaign wherein some greater-than-you cosmic force also exists. Maybe you don't like dragons as much as you thought, but rather are partial to *what they represent*, independant of genre or context.

Or the opposite proves true. Or neither. Maybe you find that you are best suited as a group to be playing period recreation where you all play bankers and your biggest concern is whether or not your children have tuppens to spare, and if so why haven't they opened an account yet?

That's the beauty of it...getting what you actually always wanted (whether you were aware of it or not) instead of worrying about what the genre you're used to dictates.

One thing you wrote struck me, even though it's not really the context for the article:

"When long time GMs run long term campaigns for the same group, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what really matters is the building blocks of good story telling."

This is why I've long been a fan of short campaigns with low-level or no-level characters. I personally think that the D20 system is set up to fail in the long term. At some point, the characters become too powerful to anticipate, and it becomes impossible to maintain a consistent and strong storyline. I've found my games consistently fall into self-parody sometime around level 8.

I disagree. The story is at fault. D20, broken as it may be, does not have any impact on the longevity of a game. Stories that grow too fast, without layers of complexity, are all doomed to short existences. If the players take over the capital city of the most powerful country within the first year of play then you may be painting yourself into a corner if this is the pinacle of your preparation. You have to be working one level beyond the players at all times. If they catch up it is over.

Sorry dude, don't mean to rain on your parade -- but check the internet for some DM/GM tricks.

It seems as though Jungian archetype theory might be of use in this kind of endeavor. Not that I necessarily advocate it (or reject it, for that matter), but I have seen it successfully used on more than one occasion.

-" I personally think that the D20 system is set up to fail in the long term. At some point, the characters become too powerful to anticipate, and it becomes impossible to maintain a consistent and strong storyline"

Yeah, sorry but I gotta disagree as well. I've run some quite long d20 campaigns, and they were fantastic. At the present moment all my best memories of nice long, packed-with-gooey-story-goodness campaigns were run with the d20 system. I haven't found that PCs become too powerful to anticipate; in fact, due to what I consider to be *too much* balance, I think it's actually quite easy to plot the future bell curve of a characters advancement pretty much from level 1 or 2. It's one of the games out there where a GM doesn't need any spells at all to see into the future.

Where I think the d20 system fails the story is far more subtle. It's the type of players and GMs it attracts (on average), especially these days. You can hardly blame the rules for that though; there are frequent posters to Gamegrene that can back that fact up with tales of their campaigns that they've run with d20. Put any system in the *right* groups hands and you'll have a great campaign that lasts as long as the people involved in it want it to.

But those arguements are well documented elsewhere ;P

@Folgha: I think you're right in that the Jungian archetypes would serve well to accomplish this; the only problem there is that not many people are familiar with the concepts and it seems to me that too much time would be spent explaining and defining that particular theory, and not enough would get spent on explaining and defining what would make the ultimate campaign or setting. I had a hard enough time getting a player (who is a teacher!) to be able to break down a list of pros and cons about various novels, TV shows, and movies she enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) without trying to define Jungian archetype theory. Between the common "oh hey! that reminds me!" from other participants in the conversation to the "hmm, let me think about that for a bit..." that frustrates people like me that want an answer *now* not later, there's enough room in the process for getting off track all by itself.

Any time that there is room for disagreement, most roleplayers (at least, *my* roleplayers) will jump at the oppurtunity. Not at the table mind you...I mean in casual conversation. We are a contentious and opinionated group of people, which is good when deconstructing your views on fiction to reconstruct a campaign or setting; but bad when bringing up controversial or easily misunderstood topics.

But don't forget it's not a game session. Having people talk in turns will get boring for everyone else. Don't go through the list one item at a time before moving on to the next person. And don't do it individually with your players if you can at all avoid it! Get everyone in one room and get them talking. Make a night of it. The "oh hey! that reminds me!" actually helps move things along and drill deeper into the type of information that you as the GM are trying to mine.

Still, make every effort to keep it simple if you attempt this...or you'll be there all night and still feel that you didn't get anywhere. And don't be afraid to control the conversation the same way you would when GMing (if necessary). You have to let it drift far more than you would allow on game night (it is just a conversation after all), but you still have to keep a grip on the reins and be prepared to yank on them from time to time. And yank hard if you have to. If they've been playing with you for awhile...they're probably used to it.

Thanks for the response, Scott. It's good to be taken seriously.

I think, though, that I wasn't clear in what I had meant; the Jung isn't for the player discussion, but for the GM after the player discussion. Going into the interactions among the relevant archetypes after the players have discussed what would be satisfying and good for them in game would be the tool for the GM; I agree completely that most groups would have trouble articulating things in crunchy theoretical terms.

So, yeah.

Ah! I see now what you meant. In that case, yeah...that's a great idea. The player's inclusions and exclusions would tie to the Jungian archetypes; those would tie somewhere to the 36 basic plots; and then you would magically have a campaign that is perfect for everyone and took less work than GMs usually percieve is going to have to go into something.

I'm glad someone brought this topic back up. We just played the first session last Saturday and it was a raging success. No, not all the inclusions amde it into the setting or the campaign...yet...but the exclusions are nowhere to be found. All in, it was a fantastic session. The players were very impressed with how at home they felt in the setting despite not really knowing much about it before we started playing. The first few plot hooks are being nibbled at, but overall they were just amazed at how comfortable they were in a new place.

When I reminded them that it's probably because they built it, all I did was paint it and attach the fixtures, I was told not to be so smug (and to quit using construction analogies).

Anyplace I could find Jungian archetypes and the 36 basic plots? While I could expound at length on Kant and others, Jung, is unfortunately, not on my well-known list currently. So where could I brush up on this potential GM aides?

Google is your friend.


36 Basic Plots:

The 36 plots are good to have printed out and in your planning notebook (or bookmarked on your laptop, or whatever). Not only do they list the plots themselves, but the main characters or character types that need to exist for the plot to do what it does best.

Cool, thanks. Why would I go to the trouble of looking it up on google when I could just have you do it and give me all the good sites? :P

Hey! Random Plot Chart!

Roll 7D6-6 and then refer to chart! (notes strong bell curve toward middle of chart)

The 36 Dramatic Situations Chart
1. Supplication
* a Persecutor; a Supplicant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
2. Deliverance
* an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
3. Crime pursued by vengeance
* a Criminal; an Avenger
4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
* Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both
5. Pursuit
* Punishment; a Fugitive
6. Disaster
* a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
* an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
8. Revolt
* a Tyrant; a Conspirator
9. Daring enterprise
* a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
10. Abduction
* an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
11. The enigma
* a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker
12. Obtaining
* (a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing) or (an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties)
13. Enmity of kin
* a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
14. Rivalry of kin
* the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
15. Murderous adultery
* two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
16. Madness
* a Madman; a Victim
17. Fatal imprudence
* the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
18. Involuntary crimes of love
* a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
* the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
* a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
21. Self-sacrifice for kin
* a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
22. All sacrificed for passion
* a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
* a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
* a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
25. Adultery
* two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
26. Crimes of love
* a Lover; the Beloved
27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
* a Discoverer; the Guilty One
28. Obstacles to love
* two Lovers; an Obstacle
29. An enemy loved
* a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
30. Ambition
* an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
31. Conflict with a god
* a Mortal; an Immortal
32. Mistaken jealousy
* a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
33. Erroneous judgement
* a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
34. Remorse
* a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
35. Recovery of a lost one
* a Seeker; the One Found
36. Loss of loved ones
* a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner

LOL...fair enough Tzuriel. As long as I'm giving out fish to the hungry, does anyone else have any work they need done? LOL.

Are you really gonna use that, Random NPC? I could see using that maybe at the beginning of a story but after that I would do what feels natural as it comes.

I posted that chart half-seriously. It's just a straight cut and paste from the wikipedia site you linked to, and then I applied the dice formula for it.

I can see some use for it though. Obviously, if you are struggling to find inspiration, but also, to narrow the field. One of the reasons I like random charts for story and character elements is because they force your hand forward. I often find my biggest hurdle as a GM is settling on a direction. It's not that I lack ideas, but rather, that I can't decide which ideas to pursue. I strive for perfection, which can be paralyzing. Charts such as this and others allow me to focus my ideas. It also alleviates some of the self-imposed pressure. If you give in to the chart rolls, you can't entirely blame yourself if the idea is cliche or lackluster.

Lastly, I like to "play". The GM who designs everything by intent gets none of the satisfaction of improvising. By using the rolls, you are challenging yourself in much the same way as you challenge your players. In essence, the GM gets to go on his own mysterious journey, setting out into the frontier first, preparing the course for the player to follow. Now, you might say the GM gets to improvise a lot at the table, and that he can never predict what his players will do. That's true to an extent, but lets face it, players are rarely allowed to step too far beyond the boundaries of a GM's vision.

Does this make sense?

Yeah I hear what you're saying. I dunno though. While that was certainly true in other games, I'm gonna have more of a sandbox feel this time around. There will be things going on all around the Windy City, but the players can ignore some and focus on others as much as they like. There's all kinds of organizations they can run into and get to know, all kinds of people, and they'll just decide who and what. Certainly I'll guide it to illustrate the themes of the chronicle, but only in deciding the consequences of their actions. They'll do whatever they want to do, and, as appropraite, I'll decide the consequences, with the major themes and players strong in my mind. There's definitely a tone I'll try my best to evoke, but I'll allow the players themselves to explore that mood as they like, instead of guiding them along where I want things to go.

So some things will be random, some won't. It's hard to say. But it's certainly not going to be linear and it's definitely gonna be more freeform. What isn't random, though, will definitely be based on their characters and who they are. It's their story after all, something I wanna make sure stays true at all times.

Well, if either of you use the deconstruction process with your groups, you'll have a really great start on exactly what random elements they will pursue and turn into the plot for the campaign. I've always liked the sandbox feel for things; I try to have a bunch of groups or NPCs that are doing what they do whether the PCs are there or not. From that comes the interaction with the setting. After a few sessions though, it always becomes much less random and much for focused in a linear direction.

However, having a list of things they like and don't like (in fiction, not just in gaming) helps you hone the random elements you do include so that they are still much easier to plan for. It also helps you to guess what they'll do next. If you know what turns them on as gamers, then you can make sure that the random plot hooks you leave laying around are tailor made for their interests as *players*, not just for their characters. That way, you get to have your cake and eat it to. They build the campaign for you, and you still get to "play" with the randmoness and think on the fly.

Tz wrote:
"There will be things going on all around the Windy City, but the players can ignore some and focus on others as much as they like."

God, I haven't played a modern/20th Century/Real World based RPG since I was old enough to know how the world works. I have so many great ideas for it, but never the players. The people I know are hard enough to convince to play, but they are way more comfortable in medieval and space fantasy.

I would love to play a game set in Chicago, since it's like my second home. I think the secret to playing games in modern, real world settings, is that the GM and the players should all have a fairly intimate knowledge of the place. So, if your game is based in Chicago, everyone should know the streets of Chicago. So, when you set up an event in Hyde Park, the players (and especially the GM) better know what and where Hyde Park is. They should know the public transit system, which streets are one-way. The politics. They should -definitely- know how to find the library.

My dream game would be a Cthulhu game set against the backdrop of the Chicago's 1893 World's Fair, using the novel "Devil in the White City" as a sourcebook. Now that I no longer live in Chicago, it's unlikely I will ever get that chance.

Conversely, it is also just as easy to run in a city that no one had ever been to before at all. Then you don't have to worry about getting things right...I've never been to Boston, but one of my campaigns has recently found the players there; in 1905.

Interstingly enough, I had predominantly ran fantasy campaigns until doing what I described in this article. One (monthly) is an alternate past campaign set in 1905. The other (weekly) is an alternate future campaign set really damn far in the future, but after an apocolyptic event that made some laws of physics change and so FTL travel doesn't work anymore. the other (whenever we want, as it's a solo campaign for Tara) is an alternate present/near future campaign that is very cyberpunk-ish. That one is going particularily well thanks to a tip or three about cyberpunk from our man aeon.

Really, they're all going very well. I'm glad I shrugged off the wet blanket that was fantasy (in my mind of course...I'm not slagging on anyone that still enjoys the genre).

I think fantasy is only good for gaming. I have no interest in reading fantasy novels or collecting swords or any of that stuff. Just, when it comes to RPGs, fantasy offers a distinct familiarity that we all can relate to. We all know what a dragon looks like, or a gnome, or a castle.

And where sci-fi gets into the murky waters of science and rationality, you can get away with just about anything in a fantasy setting.

As for using cities you're acquainted with... there's a wonderful new tool for GMs... Google Maps Street View. If you haven't discovered it yet, do take a look. All the major north american cities are now accessible. Basically, you can click on any block of a city and have a look around in 3D. For the enterprising GM, if could be a very powerful tool.

What's 'fantasy' about a castle? I have one less than 30 mins drive from where I live. ;-)

I guess a castle is really only fantasy if we add that dome we always talk about to keep the dragons and flying wizards out.

What's fantasy about dragons? I have one in my pocket.

Unfortunately, NPC, I have never been to Chicago, but my players selected it as the setting for their game, and so I delved into it. I was surprised by how good the World of Darkness Chicago book is for getting you a familiarity with the city, and am contemplating buying the rest of the city books even if I never run in those cities just cause they're so jam packed full of history and interesting tidbits. I wish I could run in places I know well, but I really don't know any place extremely well because I grew up in a military family and always moved after 3 years, which basically makes it impossible to really get to know a place.

So I make up for it as best I can with research, research, research. Not only have I delved into WoD's Chicago book, I've found and am reading Division Street by Studs Terkel (great book, btw) and am watching as many Chicago movies as I can, like the Fugitive, to give me a feel for how I should describe it. By the way, NPC, since you're so familiar with Chicago, could you give me some ideas of any movies I should see that really capture the feel of Chicago, like the spirit of the city? I'm thinking like along the lines of Collateral or Crash for LA, you know? Any ideas would be great. Yeah, and I am using Google Maps and paying attention to my source material so I can know the locations of things like hospitals, etc.

Interesting thing about Chicago, though. I actually think great movies, paradoxically almost, for Chicago, are the two most recent Batman movies. Christopher Nolan made both with Chicago strongly in mind, and watching the fugitive, the architecture is remarkably Gothic is some parts of Chicago, just like in Batman. I wonder if they were filmed in Chicago?

I haven't yet read Devil in the White City, but it's one I've wanted to look into for a while. Ever since I learned about H. H. Holmes, I've also wanted to run at least a couple of games around the World Fair. Another time I suppose.

Yeah, I wish I lived in Chicago, but I'm doing my best to get a feel for it and portray it accurately regardless. Of course, any tips on that would be much appreciated! I have gained a real appreciation for the city, I think, through my research. I hope someday to visit it and possibly live in it.

Or a soundtrack, maybe?


Interesting you should mention Nolan's Batman movies. I should say, while I don't think Batman Begins feels like Chicago (the crazy elevated train is a work of pure fantasy), I think The Dark Knight IS Chicago. Like literally, they replaced Gotham City with Chicago. To anyone familiar with Chicago, it was clear as day:the places, the people, the accents, the politics. It just -was- Chicago. I wrote a blog about it the day after I watched the movie.

Chicago has had a rough relationship with Hollywood. People on the coasts dismiss Chicago, a lot of them have never been there. It's perceived, I think, as a typical midwestern rust belt city. When movies are set in Chicago, it's usually depicted as a folksy, homey, "gee-whiz-ain't-the-simple-life-so-sweet" kind of place. As a result, Chicago has become the default setting for family movies (Baby's Day Out, Rocky & Bullwinkle, anything by John Hughes) or romantic comedies (The Break Up, My Best Friend's Wedding). I've never actually seen The Break Up, but it filmed all around my old neighborhood, and apparently Vince Vaughn plays a Chicago tour-guide. I hear the movie recieved partial funding from Illinois' Dept of Tourism. So there might be some value in it for you.

Then there's 1930's gangsters. Al Capone is still the most immediate association most people have with Chicago. To that end, The Untouchables is a good movie that captures the look and feel of Chicago's neighborhoods pretty well. Road to Perdition is another good one. The musical "Chicago" has nothing to do with Chicago, and was actually filmed in Toronto.

Now, Chicago is a world class city. It's awesome. People who live there know it's awesome (as opposed to people who live in the suburbs, who think it sucks). But the result of being treated as a third-stringer to NYC and LA by the coastal media has caused Chicagoans to develop a chip on their shoulder. The result is that Chicagoans have developed a kind of punk pride in their city. The thriving arts and intellectual communities in Chicago has long accepted that they will never get the glamorous attention of LA or NYC, and they've embraced their marginalization. The talent in Chicago likes to remain hidden, if you have talent, but you prefer to remain outside the limelight, Chicago is the place for you. There is nothing a Chicagoan hates more than a New Yorker who comes to Chicago and starts telling Chicagoans how great New York is. This is a quick way to get a wad of spit in your eye. Its not that Chicagoan don't like New York, it's that they don't like New Yorkers.

I have to wrap this up for now, but I will share more later...

Not that I have much to add to this line of conversation...but most New Yorkers I've ever met do that no matter where they are. All they do is talk about how NY is better, and it makes me want to ship them back there in 6 small boxes.

I've never actually played a horror campaign, but all in all it sounds like a very dumb idea.
It's very hard to get scared from a horror novel or story. All I can think about when I
think of a horror campaign is D&D with classes like paranormal investigator, priest or
doctor, the monster's are all undead or aberrations, the GM describes gore a bit more
graphically in a lame attempt to get you scared, you don't get magic items or loot,
and you know because its a horror campaign that something freaky is going to
happen, which somewhat defeats the purpose. so why are horror game so popular
can anyone tell me?

Gaz, horror campaigns are all about shooting zombies with shotguns. What's not to love?

What I don't understand is "anime" roleplaying. Anime is a medium, not a genre.

I'm with you on anime, NPC. Gazgurk, you are totally wrong. Horror is all about mood. So if you learn to set the mood you can scare the crap out of your players. Also, there's gore fests and there's horror. They're very different. Sometimes a gory movie is true horror but very rarely. Horror thrives in misinformation, just enough input given that those partaking in it freak out. For a world class horror movie (albeit almost 3 hours long) check out Zodiac. There is hardly any gore yet I was pretty freaked. Or Mothman Prophecies. That movie thrives on the fact that the events it puts on the screen actually happened and that there is no satisfactory explanation for them. Both movies put forward the most important element of horror - you don't know.

The tricky part is allowing your players to kill the unknown but still not *know* it. When you pull that off it's beautiful. Horror is so popular because it's so difficult to bring about, but when it's brought, it comes like a freight train. The effort is more than stereotypical fantasy roleplaying but the rewards far outstrip those of fantasy as well.

And anything more on Chicago is always good!

-"I've never actually played a horror campaign, but all in all it sounds like a very dumb idea.
It's very hard to get scared from a horror novel or story. All I can think about when I
think of a horror campaign is D&D with classes like paranormal investigator, priest or
doctor, the monster's are all undead or aberrations, the GM describes gore a bit more
graphically in a lame attempt to get you scared, you don't get magic items or loot,
and you know because its a horror campaign that something freaky is going to
happen, which somewhat defeats the purpose. so why are horror game so popular
can anyone tell me?"

The first part of your post makes me think that the issue you have with horror is that either you don't understand it, or you did it wrong when you tried it. The second part confirms those assumptions for me.

Horror isn't about the things you mentioned. It's about horror. It's about fear. It's about terror. I suspect that the horror movies or novels you've experienced are gore fest slasher movies. That's the equivalent of assuming fantasy is about the same thing...slashing your way through a gore fest.

Many genres are more multidimensional than I think you understand. There are fundamental building blocks that make up these genres, but once you have them all together they become more than the sum of their parts. I suspect that when you have a handle on that, you'll have a handle on what horror (or fantasy) really *is*. Really, that's what this article way up there is all about...finding the building blocks you like the most and defining your own niche in fiction. If that niche is "blood and gore and killing things for profit", then sally forth my friend. But inside the goldfish bowl always looks like the ocean...

Guys, could you take these discussions (Chicago and Horror) to another thread? I'd really want to keep this one on-topic.
I hope to post something longer tomorrow.

Thanks zip. You have a firmer hand than my subtle attempts at making the off-topicness somehow relate back to the topic at hand.

Heh, sure :)

I decided to try to use your method with my play group. I'm afraid it didn't go as planned. After ranking the genres, we ended up taking all the session's tine explaining why we gave each genre the mark we did and argiung about it. (we also spent some time arguing whether Star Wars is SF or Fantasy).
we also managed to talk about what ome of our favorite settings are, but we didn't go far into why.

All in all, it was an interesting evening, but note quite as focused as I would have liked. We'll probably have a "part 2" soon. Any tips?

oh, one of he conclusions we DID find was that everyone liked fantasy... :-P

In further conversations with Tara, after playing a few sessions of a cyberpunk campaign I had started for her, I found the problem I had with fantasy wasn't that I had *too much* going on, but *not enough of the right kind*. I've started working on a new fantasy setting that leaves out my exclusions, and so far it's going remarkably well. I didn't see that coming, but it is what it is.

As for tips to keep your next sit down on track; hmmm...

1) Control the conversation. Set a meeting rhthym like successful businesses do and stick to it. Have time alotted for each topic you want to cover. Make sure everyone gets a say, but take extraneous tangents offline and discuss them elsewhere. It's the only way to make sure you get to cover all the ground you want to with the time that you have. It sounds easy when I say it like that, but it isn't. It's an art, not a science.

2) Don't drill too much into the "why". It's the "what" that's important when doing this. There's plenty of time to unfold the "why" once you have your list of inclusions and exclusions and have started the campaign. A few "whys" are important to the process...but not an exhautive list.

3) Don't let things go into an arguement about the "whys". It's not important why Jim gave Sci Fi a 4, whereas Pete gave it a 9. At's not important to you and your planning process. Having the metrics in front of you is key, so if you get tied up with the rationale behind them the numbers start to lose their signifigance. What *you* do with them is far more important than understanding the differences of opinion that Jim and Pete have.

4) Recap after each section. Make sure you didn't misunderstand anything. Recap quickly though...then move on. Distill everything down to a point form list of salient points that you can use while building and planning. Getting lost in minutiae kills the process.

5) Control the conversation! I have to mention this twice. It's the most important part. Everything else means nothing if the conversation doesn't move from point to point in a planned and logical way. Make sure everyone knows that they get so much time, so make sure that what they use that time on is what is really the most important to them. Given the floor, many players with talk at length about things that don't really matter. They might matter to them, but they don't make a lick of difference to the process itself. And only 10% of what is said will end up being useful to you, so make sure you keep it on track.

As much as the process *should* be conversational, it can't be freeform. Each section you cover needs a starting point and an ending point. You need to have specific bullets you want to hit, and specific things you need info on or answers to. Empty slots that you plug important facts into. Questions with certain answers, not open ended questions that can eat up your whole evening. For example...Jim says that he likes "Y". Pete cannot be allowed to jump in and say, "yeah, but "Y" blows! We need more "X"!" That time is not Pete's time. He'll get his turn, and shouldn't then use his turn to pick apart Jim's response. That's your job...later, when no one is around. This is intended as a discovery and information mining session; not a democratic debate intended to establish a propostition.

When we did this first, the players walked away still having no idea what was going to take shape. They had told me alot of things, but still didn't know what any of that meant. "Six blind men describing an elephant" as it were. It was only after a weekend of crunching the data, then a week or so of planning and building, that I was able to reveal to them any information on the setting at all. Even then, two of them weren't sold that I had hit the nail on the head. After getting their Primers and then eventually playing the first session, it all came out in the rinse. They had an "aha!" moment and were glad I hadn't talked about it too much before it was done. If I had, their would have been dissent. That dissent could have led to me waffling in the face of their chagrin, watering down certain elements, excluding others, and including things that had no place. And then, we would have had a lame setting.

The best advice I can give you is this; have clearly defined goals and clearly defined empty slots you need to fill with relatively short answers. And then, make sure that you get them.