Truly Collaborative

I am starting my reading up on Corolis but this is going to take a while so I thought I would give you a mini series based around GM emulators.

With the discussion last week about making money from blogging and RPGs I was conscious that cycle of read a game, plug a game, post link to game could seem a bit mercenary. So I thought a few posts on something completely different before Christmas could be interesting. So with the preamble out of the way…

I have noticed a fashion with newer games where the emphasis is tending away from the GM designing the setting, then the world, then the adventure and then presenting it to players. The new, to me, way seems to be that the players and GM get together and make collective choices about the world. The FATE Core System book says “Both players and gamemasters also have a secondary job: make everyone around you look awesome. Fate is best as a collaborative endeavor, with everyone sharing ideas and looking for opportunities to make the events as entertaining as possible.” The bold is added by me.

So what if everyone and no one was the GM?

A GM Emulator is a method of getting GM-like decisions without having a GM. The emulator is actually a set of rules with tables and dice which is pretty much how we all solve every problem in RPGs anyway. This is not really any different to when you ask the GM a question and the GM rolls a quick D6 to come up with a choice. You want to know if any town guard are patrolling the market place and the GM had not intended any real action to happen here so he rolls a d6, One to three for yes and our or more for no.

So here is a really quick and massively over simplified example. Three goblins decide they want to play a game tonight. They are called Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter. They possess one copper piece between them with a severed head on one side and a scorpion on the other (it is a goblin farthing obviously). No one can be trusted to be GM because that is not the way goblin society works. So they are going to use the copper piece as a GM emulator.

First we need a setting or a world…

Stargazer Goblin asks “Is this a fantasy game?”, tossing the coin it comes up scorpions (tails) for ‘No’. He then passes the coin to Sunglar Goblin.

Sunglar Goblin asks “Is there magic in this world?” tossing the coin it comes up severed head, ‘Yes’. He then passes the coin to Peter Goblin.

So we are in a modern or Sci Fi universe but there is magic, Peter Goblin asks “Are we rebels fighting an evil empire?”, severed head, Yes.

Finally, Stargazer Goblin looking at the questions already asked and the current buzz in the media asks “Is this the Star Wars universe?” the answer comes back as a heads/yes.

So now everyone hopefully has enough information to create a character.

Getting just yes/no answers would be a bit dull and GM Emulators are much more sophisticated than a tossed coin.

These goblins get everywhere!

What has an emulator ever done for us?

Emulators all pretty much give you a yes/no answer each time so that is how you have to structure the questions. In the same way that a GM rolled a d6 to see if town guards were patrolling the market place. The more trouble the PCs had caused in the town in the days leading up to today the GM could add a plus or minus to that 1-3/4-6 roll. So the emulator is going to take into account how likely the answer is to be a yes or a no and it will skew the results accordingly.

Emulators also normally come with a technique for changing the story or introducing a plot twist. Think of them as picking a card in Monopoly which could just as easily say “Go straight to jail.” as “Collect £20 from every player.” Without plot twists the questions you ask could become really predicable.

Whatever answer the emulator gives you it is the person currently acting as GM who has to decide what would be the most fitting and common sense interpretation of that yes or no. If Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter ask if there are guards then they are likely to be storm troopers because this is the Star Wars universe. We have magic but it is likely to be The Force for exactly the same reason. If we can manipulate The Force then chances are we are Jedi or training towards it. Each yes or no has consequences and the setting colours most of those.

Many or most emulators also give you little random words or ideas that it is your challenge to try and work these into the scenes as they unfold. This could be a random colour, sound, texture or material or an adjective. These frequently come in pairs. It is a bit like playing a word association game, it the emulator spits out “increasing” and “purple” how do you work that into the story? Maybe you looked for guards in the market place and you spot a storm trooper hitting a vagrant in the face with the butt of his rifle? The increasing purple in this instance will be the bruising from the vagrants black eye.

Sometimes an emulator will tell you to introduce an NPC. That is just as open to interpretation as everything else. What ‘NPC’ means could be anything from an innocent bystander, the sort of NPC that doesn’t even have a name through named recurring individuals to entire organisations such as guilds or agencies.

So when it is your turn to be GM you describe the scene in the game for the characters and advance the story. As soon as a question come up you pass the emulator to the next player and they roll for the answer and continue the story. The basic mechanism for an GM is “Describe the scene” and ask “What do you do?”, that doesn’t change it is just that the GM Emulator is an outside influence and can take the story in completely new and unexpected directions.

In the next instalment I will show you how an emulator really works and to make it more interesting I will create an emulator specifically for the article. It will be based around the d66 as a nod to all the time I spent reading up on Mutant:Year Zero!

Star Wars musings… a gamer’s perspective!

Today Star Wars: The Last Jedi premieres, and as I count down the hours to it (12 to be precise as I write this post), it’s got me thinking about the movies, my experiences with them, and inevitably as a gamer, how the Star Wars saga influenced my role-playing games, both with the official RPG games and with RPGs in general.

I saw Star Wars, later titled Episode – 4 A New Hope, in theaters, in 1977. I was blown away. I’ve told this story before many times. My mother was in a business trip when the movie premiered.  Star Wars premiered in March in the USA, but in October in Puerto Rico, the details are here in this newspaper article, mind you it is in Spanish. You can see the newspaper ad below this paragraph.  My mother, got me all the action figures she could find and brought them back from her trip. Not knowing what these toys where I ignored them until I saw the movie. Then everything changed! My Star Wars toys became my favorite toys. I must have played a thousand different stories using them.

I began playing RPGs four years after Return of the Jedi, but I was a BIG fan of Marvel’s original Star Wars comics and the newspaper strip. The movies had ended but I was still a fan. I remember reading in some magazine, I’d like to say it was The Dungeoneer but I am not sure, an idea for a magical library in which the characters would open a book and C-3PO and R2-D2 would appear, then followed by Darth Vader! I used the idea in my D&D game and a character lost a magical sword cut by Vader’s lightsaber.

Continue reading Star Wars musings… a gamer’s perspective!

Gaming All Day, Gaming All Night

Today I thought I would do a bit of an opinion piece just to break up the number of game read throughs I have done recently.

I like to think that deep down all of us would like to spend all day role playing and not have to go to work. So how viable is that?

Micheal has a patreon profile which doesn’t bring much money in but if you contrast that with The Angry GM he is earning $1110 (and counting per blog post, based on 4 per month. That is $4440 x 12 $53,000 a year for writing one blog post a week. There was an article I read this week that put the US poverty line at about $23,000/year so you are not going to starve on $53k. So yes you can write about games and make a living off it.

Blogs are about the easiest option. They used to be far more popular than they are now, as social media has taken off blogs have somewhat diminished. It is easy to make money on a blog but much much harder on social media. You cannot just plonk some ads alongside your content and get paid like you used to.

Blogs fall into some basic types. The Angry GM is an opinion blog. Review sites make money from small commission payments when you refer a reader who then goes on an buys something. Stargazer’s is largely a review site. In its hey day it had 10k readers a week and that would have generated a reasonable income but not enough to live on. I don’t know the figures but I do know that Michael still has a day job.

Some blogs are magazine sites. Gnome Stew is one of my favourites. The advertising on sites like Gnome Stew earns in the region of $2 per 1000 pages seen. They typically get 17,000 visitors per month, each views a guestimaged 6 pages per visit based upon their site design and they publish new content 12 times a month. Multiply that all up and you just over $800 a month. They have a little Patreon following taking them up to a $1k a month. They also sell their own books. How much that brings in I cannot easily guess. Using typical figures for online sales and the size and price of their books I would put it in the region of $30k/year. So Gnome Stew probably earns about $50/year like The AngryGM.

If you don’t want to blog about roleplaying than you can create and sell games. I have produced dozens of supplements over the past couple of years from full games to simple plot hooks for adventures. Not one thing that I have produced failed to sell. These days of PDF downloads and sites like OneBookShelf (drivethuRPG, DM’s Guild and RPGnow) make becoming a small publisher very easy indeed. Making serious money from it is, in contrast, extremely difficult. Ever since Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting as picked up and adopted as an official setting it has seemed tantalisingly easy to write and sell your own adventures or setting. After all, we all write adventures for our players  week in, week out. Surely we can write an adventure module or path and make a killing? There is a big gap between what us a normal GMs produce and the adventures released by WotC or Paizo! Probably the biggest differences are Art and Playtesting. Just about every game played has some house rules or loose interpretations. These can make an adventure that works for your group go very pear shaped every quickly when another group tries to play it. The Art question is another thorn in the side of the independent publisher. The cover and interior art can make or break a game or supplement. Art is also not cheap of you commission it.

We are all storytellers. I also think that quite a few of us harbour the idea of writing up our campaigns to create a novel. Drivethufiction allows anyone to do that. You can easily write just a single chapter and sell it for a few pence as a PDF. I produce a fanzine for one of my favourite games and that sells as a PDF but I also create and sell a kindle version and paperback. In total I have published eight issues of the fanzine plus a print version of one game and the first supplement of that game. Interestingly, I sell more printed copies on Amazon than I do on the RPG sites, where PDF is far more popular.

How much you are going to earn through self publishing is a rather open ended question. If you focus on one game system and the publisher is open to third party supplements then the size of the gaming community is the size of your market. This means that 5e and Pathfinder attract the most attention, so it is harder to get noticed but if you make something popular then it will make a lot more money.

It is certainly possible to mix and match all of the above suggestion and create a completely game-centric income for not a lot of work. That would then free up your time to play games with your friends. Even if you don’t make enough to give up the day job it is easy to make enough that you can have any game you want when you want it and not have to worry about it, just worry about the bookshelf space instead.

So, with New Year’s resolutions just around the corner maybe a little secondary income could be an ambition?

A Roleplaying Games blog