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Game Over – Multimedia Edition

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All right, let’s get this show on the road.

I want to make more podcasts. I want them to be archived (rather than deleted when I run out of space) and easier to record. I want to have more people, and guests, and interviews, and STUFF. Chuck a few pennies in the old tin pot and get yourself a shoutout, a gamey question once a month, or a 10-minute mini-cast where you call the shots.

Some of you will doubtless be wondering why Patreon, and ready to excoriate me for rattling the can under the noses of people who have, up until now, been in receipt of free stuff. Here’s the thing. This blog is free. It hasn’t cost me a penny in five years and I haven’t spent a fabulous amount of time on it – a couple of hours a week. The Necron Codex Review, on the other hand, basically took a working day to put together, and Podomatic only allows me enough free space to house maybe three podcasts of such dimensions before I have to start deleting stuff. In other words, if I’m going to do a decent job of this it’s going to cost me money and time and I’d like some sort of recompense for that.

As for why Patreon – because I’m like the BBC and not like ITV. Rather than taking paid adverts from people with products to sell, most of which I probably think are shite, I prefer the thought of being funded by an audience, of their own free will. If you don’t want to pay, don’t. If you don’t think my content is worth paying for, don’t. If you find the sound of my adenoidal British sperg-droning offensive in some way, believe me – I don’t like it either, but apparently we’re in the minority. The sky will not fall in if you want nothing to do with any of this. I will probably be producing the podcast anyway but there are limits to what I can do for free. If people like it and want it to improve they can make a very modest investment and make that happen – or not.

[Read and Respond] HoP’s Rob on Campaigns and Cat Herding

Been a while since I did one of these.

Timetables have killed every attempt at a regular long-form RPG campaign since university, with one very notable exception; the Vampire group which accepted a compromise. A few face-to-face sessions a year plus a lot of chat about what the characters were doing in between times. It’s not the classic but it works – it gives the two couples involved an excuse to come and see each other (we’re all lazy tarts and who’d want to go to Wolverhampton anyway?) and because everyone involved is some sort of actor/writer/hardcore roleplayer/artist thing we generally synch up and assume roles with reasonable ease.

I had a revelation, not so long ago. I was struggling to re-establish a dormant roleplaying guild in WoW-land, i.e. to make people actually log into their undead alts and do some undead roleplaying. Events (that’s ‘sessions’ or maybe ‘modules’ to tabletoppers) were dying on their arses, players were shying like thoroughbred horses from the material provided, and even rounding up four of the blighters took a week’s work and enough messages that one player defriended me for spamming. A couple of the more active players took me to task over this and I learned two things about campaign management.

The first thing: if you build it, they will come, but whether or not they stay depends on whether you’ve built the right thing. When I thought of ‘undead RP’, I thought about… you know, the usual tabletop stuff. Adventures, excitement, exotic enemies, convoluted mystery plots, where the player characters happened to be undead. When many of the other players in that guild thought of ‘undead RP’ they meant… life as undead. Smaller, domestic stuff, pottering around being undead at each other, living the day to day lives of people who don’t have to eat, sleep or even breathe unless they want to speak.  This is what a lot of WoW roleplayers seem to enjoy (I still think it’s because a majority of them are college or university students, myself) and it’s something I find utterly baffling. I don’t want to RP having a day job and going down the pub (well, maybe if I’m too ill to actually go down the pub) – I want the other stuff. The point is – people stopped turning up because they weren’t getting what they wanted and they weren’t getting what they wanted because I wasn’t interested in providing it.

This segues nicely into the second lesson, which I was taught with absolute bluntness by a member of the server’s highest-quality RP guild. Just because you had the idea doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. It’s really hard for tabletop GMs to grasp that. We’ve been told since we started that we are responsible for everyone else’s fun, that we have to arrange and schedule everything and prepare the entire environment, that we are the last resort in cases of dispute or misunderstanding…

What Calister tried to explain to me, at great length, is that a GM – Master of Games or Master of Guild, it doesn’t matter – is a facilitator. They bring people together for fun and they present a concept around which that fun will be formed and it’s up to players to bring something to the table.

If the GM is always rounding everyone up, host the events, players will get used to not doing things for themselves. They will lapse into the top-down, single-point-of-failure model of roleplaying and IF the GM burns out or gets bored or simply runs out of ideas they will sit, inert as tubers, silent as the grave until someone tries to suggest a change. Then they’ll resist, because there’s a dim prospect that they might have to do something for their bloody selves for once.

WoW RP is a very different experience to my old familiar favourite the tabletop game, but I wonder if it doesn’t have something to teach me about those. In the past I’ve always felt responsible for everyone else’s good time, like I’m the one who has to sort the schedules, find the venue, book the table, bring the snacks AND RUN THE ENTIRE DAMN GAME. I used to enjoy that sort of thing back when it was easy and I was even more of a control freak than I am now, but in these the times that try men’s souls I am weak and sickly and just want to play a damn RPG now and then.

In the Dark Ages Vampire game I have been asked several times to provide a venue for between-sessions storytelling – a space for characters to interact via correspondence, documents to be produced of their affairs, downtime to be charted and key relationships to be established so that we don’t have to waste time on in-between days when we DO get to play face to face. I have tried twice and failed twice and, in the spirit of my new ‘Why Do I Have To Do Everything?’ principle, the player who is most enthusiastic about these things has been invited to set it up himself.

He hasn’t, of course, but it’s early days yet. At least it’s not my problem now.

Terry Pratchett, OBE: 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015

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“Terry Pratchett’s died.”

That’s not the sort of thing you just walk into a room and say to someone. It simply isn’t cricket. That’s the sort of thing you break to someone gently, over a cup of tea, something you take your time over and think about. It’s not an everyday sort of announcement, nor an everyday sort of news.

When just a wee lad, left to my own devices in the library as often as not, I was interested King Arthur and dragons and all that malarkey, but not in what you could call fantasy as such. Not original fiction about that sort of thing, written by people who’d lived within the twentieth century. Not, until the day when my bleary little eyes alighted on this gaudy-looking paperback with a dragon on the front and some startlingly-drawn chaps in dodgy-looking armour attempting to do harm upon it. Guards! Guards! was where it started.

The first fantasy novel led to a lifelong fascination with the genre, fed into an interest in fantasy play and fantasy games, and into a fascination with writing. When I came to write my own material – prose and resources for games and, to the chagrin of a dozen hard-working pedagogues, essays – and to frame my own characters and worlds and perceptions, they were invariably formed by this body of work that I’d read upside down and inside out over the years. Before Pratchett I’d wanted to do all sorts of things when I grew up; after Pratchett I wanted to be A Writer. More than that, I wanted to be a particular kind of Writer – the kind who uses words like ‘embuggerance’ and still manages to make a point.

It feels trite and selfish to say “well, the subject of this tribute was a huge influence on me” and then talk about oneself line after line, so allow me to scrabble for redemption and say that I’m not the only one. A generation of young readers cut their teeth on Discworld, watched Johnny and the Dead on the telly, played spot-the-author with a worn copy of Good Omens – you get the idea. Not until a former teacher from Gloucestershire wrote a Bildungsroman about a speccy kid at magical boarding school did anyone come close to Pratchett’s stature as the genre-defining figure in British young adult fantasy.

Pratchett defined fantasy and comedy and bloody good prose to the boy who would be Von and to thousands like him, but he defined activism too – at least, a particular kind of critical activism. His novels are hysterically funny, of course, but there isn’t a single Discworld that doesn’t have a steely grey eyebrow raised at something foolish or barbarous. Pratchett’s books lay the absurdity of the world bare – and absurdity isn’t just funny, it’s also dangerous and stupid and demands to be pointed out, ridiculed, understood and prevented. Look at something like Wyrd Sisters, which is a funny story about witches and the excesses of theatre, with a rather serious point about the upbringing of children and about the arts as propaganda. Look at something like Making Money – you have to sell a lot of snake oil just to get people believing in currency and exchange, never mind reinventing them and getting people to accept that this piece of paper is innately valuable – and yet ideas like used stamps being worth what it says on the front and pins being highly collectible take off without your trying.

You can’t go around saying things like “Pratchett holds a mirror up to life” because that’s simply not enough; Pratchett lays life out on the slab, slices it open with a flash of stainless razor wit, and has a good poke around inside, showing us where the cankers are, making daft remarks about sausages, laughing at words like ‘spleen’ and ‘pancreas’ – and then the blade twists again and there’s a lump of something black and rotten on the end of it. A-haaa, you say, in your finest Tom Baker tones: there it is. And he does it all without being righteous or bland or preachy, without ever telling you that you can’t say or think or do a given thing – Pratchett can call you an idiot to your face and have you laughing as he does it. What Pratchett really does… did… is excise and excite human nature. Everything else is ironmongery – but it’s brilliant, ornate, detailed, charming ironmongery, with sniggering orang-outangs peeking out of the pattern, done by someone with a name like Calumny Jones.

I would be delighted if my children and grandchildren are taught to talk about Pratchett in the same breath as Dickens, and with the same reverence for wit and whimsy and the same phrase for What It’s All About – the Condition of England. I would be even more delighted if they enjoy him as much as I have.

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Rest in peace.

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