Sunday, November 1, 2009

Young NaNo of the Writers Workshop

So, not only am I doing NaNoWriMo this year, but my daughter has decided to do the nano Young Writers Workshop. She's set her goal at her grade level, 5,000 words. That means that she needs to write 167 words each day.

She got off to a grand start this morning, writing 181 words. Great job, Madeline!

I think it will be a big help for us to work together towards our goals. Having someone to help along and to set an example for helps motivate us.

I'm going to check with her and see if it's okay if I tell you about the story she's writing. If so, I'll post about it tomorrow or Tuesday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Both Ronn and I are going to do this NaNoWriMo thing again this year. This will be the fourth time I've tried this. I've succeeded twice already ... Let's see if I can do it again. I'll keep track of my progress on the meter to the right.

This year I'll be writing on my MacBook Pro using Scrivener. I've gone through the tutorial again and have started putting my novel notes and scenes into it. Each time I work on this program, I'm amazed at how cool it is.

Here's a screen shot:

In fact, Literature and Latte, the creators of Scrivener, have a great deal going for NaNoWriMo participants and winners. Check it out here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What is Dark Swashbuckling?

This has kind of troubled me since the beginning of playing in the Baenrahl setting, and it's still not entirely clear to me. Just what exactly is "Dark Swashbuckling?"

I'm going to try to answer this question in two parts. The first part will be without discussing it with Ronn, and the second, after a discussion.

Part the First: Figure it out yourself!

How does the author/creator describe Dark Swashbuckling? It's on the front page of the Baenrahl site:

Some might consider this a ‘dark' setting. I will concede that it is dark, but it is not dark in a brooding or dismal way that you might expect from this type of setting. Sure, the characters are surrounded by a religious heirachy that seeks to crush them and their precious rebelion underfoot. But the players should be surrounded by sparks and flashes of the world they are trying to bring about. They are the heroes, and thus, must be allowed to be heroic.

So there's a lot of bad stuff going on, but the heroes can actually make a difference, and see the benefits of their efforts. Cool.

He continues:

...the Baenrahl campaign is one that should be seen as befitting 'mature audiences.' ... the campaign should, at least occasionally, deal with subjects not often found in epic fantasy games. For example, the evil people in the campaign should do truly vile and unspeakable things. The player's should truely find them despicable. They should be glad when they take their final breath.

So the villains should not be cinematic, but rather really evil in a gut-wrenching, "I want them to die!" sort of way. Conversely, it could be surmised, the character's actions may be cinematic -- leaping into the fray, swinging from ornate light fixtures, etc. So the Dark is in the villains, and the Swashbuckling is in the heroes (or more precisely, in the action).

This makes sense. We want the action to be high-octane and cinema-worthy, where the players will not hesitate to jump from a moving sky-ship to the back of a winged mount to do battle. And we also want them to see the gritty underbelly of what the crushing weight of Urathear control has done to the world.

We may also want to plague them with 3-dimensional character plots rather than Three Musketeers "bed the wench and swing the sword" types of things. Actions should have consequences, and friends and loved ones can lead them into awful situations that can have lasting repercussions.

(Of course, most character plots generally die upon contact with the players -- they just don't care. But if I start penalizing them mechanically ... then they'll take notice.)

So, to sum up:

Dark Swashbuckling is a thematic technique where the villains are realistic in their motivations and vile in their deeds, but the action is high-octane and cinematic, and the heroes actually do make a difference.

Next up: A conversation with "The Man."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Influence: John Carter of Mars

(The third installment of my three-part series on what's currently influencing my interpretation of Ronn McCarrick's Baenrahl setting.)


Sweeping vistas! Exotic cultures! Violent battles and fierce swordplay!

This is the stuff of swashbuckling adventure!

When I started thinking about Baenrahl and the idea of "Dark Swashbuckling," I kept coming back to the adventures of John Carter on the planet Barsoom (Mars). He carried a sword, and thousands fell before it! He wielded a pistol, and his aim was true! He leapt into the fray, and his actions were nothing but cinematic!

Many of the images that come into my head when I think of Baenrahl are inspired by these pulp novels. Here are some examples of what flashes through my mind:

  • An unarmored warrior leaping to attack with a curved saber in his hand.
  • An adventurer hiding behind some rocks, pistol in hand, as hundreds of soldiers bear down on his position.
  • Swashbucklers of many species leaping from one flying ship to another, swords and pistols at the ready.

John Carter by Mark Schultz

I've gamed with Ronn for over 20 years. Two specific things stand out as the coolest things that he's done in a game, and one of them was the flying ships of Larethon (and their controls). I definitely want to include flying ships such as these, and very similar to the ones in Barsoom.

Adding flying ships can unbalance a fantasy campaign, as can firearms. But both of these existed in Baenrahl, and both will be in my vision of the setting. They may, however, be more prominent.

Overall, the influence comes from pulp-fantasy of it all: armor is irrelevant, firearms and swords are virtually equal, and enemy minions fall to the heroes as though wheat before a scythe.

I definitely want that feel!

And once the heroes rise a bit in level, the simple villains, the soldiers of the Urathear, shouldn't stand a chance against the flashing blades of the heroes.

This will likely involve some rules tweaking, but it will be worth it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Influence: Stargate: SG-1

(The second installment of my three-part series on what's currently influencing my interpretation of Ronn McCarrick's Baenrahl setting.)

Stargate: SG-1 has many great things that can energize an RPG.

For one, there's a team of heroes, each with their own specialty, each with a chance to shine in the adventure. Certainly something that would make an RPG work well. This is good, but it's not the influence I'm thinking of.

Stargate: SG-1 also features specific missions that turn out to be rife with adventure. Missions with objectives help organize a game session, as well as get and keep things moving. This, too, is good. But again, not the influence I'm thinking of.

What makes SG-1 an influence on my vision is the most obvious thing, and that which was likely an influence on the setting originally.

In SG-1, there are false gods, there are worshippers, and there are misled minions. And I don't actually mean the Goa'uld. I'm referring, in fact, to the Ori.

The Ori had "Priors" that wielded great power and fought SG-1, all the while subjugating the populace of many worlds. This is the influence that I see.

The Templars of the various Urathear are analogous to the Priors. The Templars wield great power, will fight the heroes, and work to subjugate the populace.

The powers of the Templars are likely not going to change too much, unless my research reveals that the current setup just won't hack it. Basically, according to the Baenrahl Templar page, Templars are Clerics that are aligned to a Urathear, with the Commandment power substituting for the Turn Undead power. I'll see if that jives with the ruleset I'm going to use (Castles & Crusades).

In addition, I'm going to make sure they have the thing that I seem to remember they had in the previous campaign: a weapon of some sort. I view the templars as a kind of cross between the Priors and the Jaffa, which means they should have some sort of energy-shooting staff or something. I'm sure it will change from Urathear to Urathear; each group should be unique.

But the thrust is that the Templars are the direct opposition to the heroes. They are the ones that the heroes will encounter when trying to hassle the Urathear, that will show up just when they think that they've gotten away with it, and that will likely eventually start trying to track them down.

I have to say that I love the idea of the rigid, implacable, cruel, uniformed, and powerful priests as the villains of the story. It puts the focus off the regular folks and onto a recognizable enemy that will plague the heroes.

Next up: I talk about the influence of Barsoom. Yep, John Carter of Mars.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Influence: the White Mountains

(The first installment of my three-part series on what's currently influencing my interpretation of Ronn McCarrick's Baenrahl setting.)

I traveled back and forth to Buffalo over the weekend, which gave me several hours driving with nothing to do but think. Consequently, I thought a bit about Baenrahl, and also forced my wife to hear me chatter about it. I also listened to some of the Star Wars Radio Drama, but that's another story.

When developing a setting, I tend to envision scenes and settings, equipment and conflicts, motivations and objectives. And these are all influenced by the books and movies I've experienced in the past. Over the next couple of posts, I'm going to talk a bit about these influences as a foundation for the path I see the setting taking.

The first influence I'm going to talk about is the the White Mountains (AKA The Tripods) series by John Christopher

These novels deal with our earth after it's taken over by aliens who rule the populace through metal "caps" -- mind control devices that are implanted on their heads when they reach maturity (14 years old or so). The similarities to Baenrahl should be obvious, although they were not inherent in the original vision of the setting.

In the original setting, the baenrahls simply fed life-force to the Urathear through a mystical conduit. This kept the Urathear alive, but also allowed them to snuff out any uppity, would-be rebels by sucking their souls out through the neck in one fell swoop. In addition, the baenrahls gave the Urathear's minions, the Templars & Champions, the ability to impel people to do things through the power called "Commandment." This ability could force people to do things if they failed their saving throw, and was based on Turning Undead.

The first effect of the baenrahl is it's main purpose: feed the Urathear, slowly or in one swift slurp. No change here.

The second effect, Commandment, was likely designed with the idea that the PCs would have baenrahls. This gave the GM a way to have the Templars and Champions threaten the PCs, but allowed them a chance to resist. Makes sense.

In my vision, I don't expect the PCs to have baenrahls. This means that the Commandment power can exist, but will not need to be mapped out so much in game terms. People are sheep, and the Templars are the shepherds. Templars talk, bearers obey. Simple as that.

The influence of the White Mountains series on my vision moves the baenrahl from a simple energy conduit to a more powerful (and more threatening) mind control device. The Urathear use the baenrahl to control the populace. There's no rebellion because there's no desire in any bearer to resist the Urathear -- how could there be as they are not allowed those emotions? Bearers are allowed to revere the Urathear and worship them, but never, ever consider them incorrect in any way.

This makes the baenrahl a direct threat to individuality, freedom, and liberty, which the heroes want to restore to the populace. From a player perspective, being branded with a baenrahl may actually mean you lose control of your character. This is not a good thing.

Further, the influence of the White Mountains books means that the heroes will be traveling through hostile lands, generally in disguise, with specific missions to accomplish. Goals will include recruiting new freedom fighters, disrupting trade, harassing Templars, and generally looking for ways to beat the Urathear.

Making the baenrahl a mind control device seems to me to make it more threatening, give the players more drama and opposition, and focuses some of the missions. Hopefully a winning situation all around.

In the next post, I will look at another seemingly obvious influence: Stargate: SG-1.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blurred Visions of Baenrahl

When I asked Ronn if I would mind if I ran Baenrahl, he was agreeable. "I think it'd be interesting to get your take on it," he said. He also said that he'd locate his writings and forward them to me, but I haven't heard back yet.

Consequently, I've had to go by the info left on the internet archive, with a healthy dose of whatever I can remember from our many game sessions. With my flawed memory, this leads to a lot of general impressions rather than actual real setting info. So i've been forced to improvise. But then, that's what the creative process is all about.

The problem, as my wife pointed out, is that I don't want to re-do Ronn's setting. He's put a lot of creative effort into it, and I wouldn't want to discount that or damage it. On the other hand, I've got a lot of creative juices flowing, and there's really nothing that's going to stem the flood of my flights of fancy.

Some changes to the setting will likely ensue, but hopefully these will be to the better. I don't want to re-write the setting, but rather enhance the aspects of it that make it unique.

As an example of what I'm talking about, let me review something I saw in a different setting, with a different author and game system. A few years ago I worked with a fella on the Fudge mail list that was creating his own world. He stressed the importance of religion in his setting, but it's treatment was pretty much traditional: here's the gods, here's what they stand for: pick one.

My suggestion to him was to make the religion more integral to the setting by supporting it mechanically -- make an Attribute or Gift directly related to it. The level you had in it would affect your success or failure in the world or otherwise influence the events that surrounded your character.

Likewise with Baenrahl, I want to take the coolest elements of the world Ronn created and work to make them more integral to the setting -- make them essential to the game, and a focus of it, either mechanically or by making them obvious as central themes and seeds of adventure.

Baenrahl has too many cool things to allow them to be lost in the milieu of general fantasy that is it's foundation, but may in fact permeate it jut a wee bit too much.

So, to begin with, I'm removing the fantasy races of dwarves and elves and replacing them with more interesting races, such as Wookiees, Andorians, and Daleks.

Just kidding. ;-)

I'll start discussing real stuff in the next post.

heh heh