Sans Brain

Unfortunately on Friday the Pocket Brain 2.0 (Nokia phone to those not familiar with its title) had an aneurysm in the form of a dead pixel, which seemed to bleed into a faint yet annoyingly noticeable line across the screen.  So off to the Nokia Care Centre to get some emergency surgery done to it that will hopefully fall within the scope of the warranty.  Unfortunately it means I don’t get it back until, at latest, and most likely, Wednesday.

This is problematic on two fronts.  Not, interestingly, that I no longer have a phone as the Nokia Care Centre provided me with a loan-phone (read:  A phone from the Stupid Ages!) but rather I don’t have the means with which to post at a whim or watch movies or listen to music or take pictures.  All of these things were missed over the weekend and the camera and voice recorder will be even more so tomorrow when Matthew Reilly comes to town.

Woo!  Matthew Reilly tomorrow!  Hoping its Q&A format but I’ll have my copy of Scarecrow with me if it’s not.  Also hoping I have a decent question by then…

Ooh!  Tim, if you want me to ask a question on your behalf, e-mail/comment it to me and I’ll see what I can do.

I have come to depend on my Pocket Brain in a short amount of time and while I can live without it, it’s a life lessened.  Still, Wednesday should see it returned and hopefully with a whole new screen, which would be nice as I had scratched it slightly about three weeks ago…

On the subject of damage; was plagued over the weekend with neck pain/spasm which I think I can attribute to the new hobby.  Not planning on giving up the new hobby so plans may have to be enacted somewhat sooner.

Mysterious, no?

Discussions with Neil on Saturday led us to the subject of role-play systems and what one looks for or believes is the ideal system.  On Sunday I raised the same question with Rhys, particularly pertinent as he is developing his own role-play system and the thing that he said that stuck with me most is "Rolling handfuls of dice is fun!"

I have to admit he has a point.  Painful as it can be to sift through 10 sided dice, looking for values of five or more like some toothless prospector hoping for a nugget of gold and equally hoping that he doesn’t have dysentery, but the tactile sensation of desperately cupping that many dice in your hands lends a tactile awareness of just how kick-ass you are in this particular area of skill resolution. 

A couple of things occurred to me:

1:  When you’re starting out into the role-play hobby – particularly when you’re running the game – you’re after a game system that has just about every possible eventuality covered.  Say someone wants to skin a bear and there is a disagreement as to whether his/her character is skilled enough to do it.  A quick consultation with the taxidermy/leather-making table mentions that you need this many successes to determine how well a job you do.  You can then say the book has spoken, the player rolls his dice and it turns out that the character tried to skin the bear while it’s hibernating and is mauled to death.

In that instance the person running the game is absolved of all responsibility thanks to the anal-retentiveness of the game designer and the whims of fate.  It takes a magical type of arrogance when running your first game to shoulder the burden of telling good friends ‘No, you can’t do that’ to every crazy idea they have.  Far easier to blame the book.

When you’ve got some games under your belt and/or players have beaten the caring out of you, then the training wheels of random encounter tables and such come off and you start looking for systems that aren’t having you thumb pages back and forth through various supplement books to tell a damn story.

2:  Can a system actually add to the flavour or atmosphere of a story?  The compromise between storytelling/rules could actually be improved if the system fits the story.  By which I mean:  Exalted and particularly Feng Shui are designed with the purpose of resolving combat fast.  In both cases you’re looking for Hong Kong action with nameless minions falling under a blizzard of bullets or a swing of a sword.  Exalted’s system through its two versions continually attempts to streamline combat while giving it some resemblance to the rigours of battle.

But for something designed for winding tension, perhaps a system with multiple dice rolls and agonizing calculation may work better than rolling two dice and checking a table for the result.  A system where the calculation provides moments of nail-biting terror to see whether you land a crowbar into a zombie before it bit you.

I wonder if such a thing would be possible in the burst media trends of today’s delivery…

3:  A lot of games I’m playing are trying for an episodic and seasonal arc.  By which I mean, each game is self-contained in terms of encounter and reward but lead to a finale some 12 games down the road that is the culmination of select games previous.  Not just one-shots but games deliberately lifting the seasonal TV arc, right down to the number of episodes, and basing their stories around it.

I’m looking at this further to see if the comparison presents itself in the game itself regarding the 4, 6, or 8 act structure that scripts operate under.  If so, it’ll speak to a level of attention and awareness that’s being subconsciously built into this generation of storytellers.  Which would be nice to achieve but at what cost to player freedom.  Or do the players recognize the act structure and play accordingly…

Act structure is something I want to ask Matthew Reilly about, I think.  Scarecrow was the first book of his I read, which laid out the plot in stark simplicity and compelling brutality in two pages.  And then going through the book at breakneck pace, one of the things that struck me most was how similar his story moved in regards to the Lester Dent formula for pulp writing.  Only Lester worked on a four act structure and I think Reilly may work on at eight.

Although he does break the story into, typically, four to six acts/chapters/arcs/encounters.  Off memory I think Ice Station was five, Area 7 was six and Scarecrow may have been six or eight.  And each act is largely self-contained in terms of action though the pacing in each book gets progressively faster as Reilly tries to turn book timing into movie timing.

I think my question is going to be about pace and timing; which means I can’t punch him in the throat at least until after he gives an answer.



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