Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Making the Western Weird Again

As much as I love the Deadlands setting and its alternate-history stylings, I have definitely come to terms with the fact that it's really codified a lot of what constitutes Wild or 'Weird' Western gaming nowadays. In the same way that fantasy RPGs are expected to have elves, bags of holding and giant abandoned tunnel complexes under most mountains, the 'Weird West' tends to contain a fistful of steampunk technology, some real-world figures that are actually demons or Draculas and a few Native American ancestor spirits, all topped off with zombies, zombies and more zombies. A lot of genre works or roleplaying games replicating genre works can get bogged down in this inspirational marsh: potential players want to have a certain amount of familiarity in their settings, a sort of 'buy-in' that allows them to imagine the world more clearly than a written description.

If I ever run a Western game of any stripe in the future, I want the buy-in to be the Western genre itself. There is so much unexplored gaming territory in the straight or slightly twisted Western just waiting to be mined that it's almost criminal. Action and suspense fans can have gunfights on top of moving trains or high-noon showdowns, planners have bank robberies and jailbreaks and social gamers have poker games and contests of intimidation. If I ever wanted to add Weird elements to the game, it would be more as an accent to the ongoing action rather than the be-all and end-all of the campaign. It would still be a recognizably Western game, just with a couple of interesting tweaks to vary the formula, not transforming the game into a fantasy or horror campaign with Western trappings. Of course, this is under the assumption that the only way to add Weird elements to a Western game is by including the supernatural or other types of mythical monsters. There are plenty of ways to make your Western weird without delving into the codified lists of fantasy creatures in spurs and Stetsons.

I think I'm going to take a couple of entries to talk about the different ways that a campaign can still remain a Western game at heart, even while adding strange or extraordinary elements to the mix.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mappening is what's happening...

And once again, my nemesis is revealed...

As the son of an architect, I grew up with a lot of graph paper around the house: big reams of it, small pads, just about any measure of the stuff that you can imagine. Yet I never really felt compelled to use any of it for mapping purposes until I started checking out older versions of Dungeons and Dragons. I always get kind of jealous when I look at the fairly amazing geomorphs that folks like Dyson and Risus Monkey put together because I've always been awful at putting my ideas about a building or a city down onto paper. Everything always ends up too symmetrical or too empty. This might not mean much when designing a loosely-structured western town or an asteroid haven for space smugglers, but it matters a hell of a lot when you're marking jugs for a Dungeons and Dragons heist.

The map that I'm holding in the picture above is the Temple of Manymon, a potential heist site that supposedly holds the bottled soul of one of the land's greatest poets in its sacred wine cellar. This is the product of three hours of draw, erase, conceptualize the space, draw again and erase again. I was intentionally trying to avoid making the temple too symmetrical and blocky, but ended up running into my second problem. As much as I do like the exterior structure of the building, I have no idea how to stock the damned thing. The only thing that I really have so far is the giant eyeball altar in the middle of the temple and the Greek-style open colonnade entrance. Maybe I should get back to space, where my head's clearer...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Starting From the Planet Up

Some of the best advice that I have gotten from this whole extant blogging community has been to start your campaign planning small. When it comes to setting up a world for characters to explore, I had always assumed that one needed to draw a map of the entire campaign world and populate it with cities and kingdoms before starting. After all, what would happen if one of your players wanted to see the map to expand their travels? (Actual answer: nothing, because this never happened.) Now that I'm back in the campaign planning saddle, I figured that I would put this advice towards my criminal sci-fi sandbox, Assholes in Space. After a week spent watching episodes of Cowboy Bebop and playing the free Steam weekend of Brink, I've been jonesing for a little space western outlaw action.

Back in the April A to Z challenge, I came up with the idea of convict planets as a way of integrating "outer planets" post-apocalyptic action to a presumably cosmopolitan space opera setting. I figure that a single planet where the PCs are forced to explore until they can formulate a way to escape is a perfect starting point for a universe that's built upward. The convict planet has a great framework for faction conflict, environmental hazards and plenty of non-linear thinking on both the player and GM's parts.

My first step is going to be sketching out a general environment overview of the planet. If anyone out there has a good name for a planetary prison colony, let me know.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

...Aaaaaaaand we're back

So, it seems like a whole lot of stuff has happened in the past two months that I've been MIA from the blogging world: the Google+ explosion, International Gygax Day, lots of new projects and quality gaming material and the requisite amount of bellyaching. However, I can now safely say that Fistful of Coppers will return to a regular posting program!

As of now, I have received my Master's of Library and Information Science and relocated to my new apartment in Southern New Jersey. Apart from the standard settings-up and necessary organization, I've definitely been thinking about gaming again. It's been way too long since I was able to contemplate a regular campaign and, now that I have some spare time on my hands, I can foresee this space getting a whole lot of use across a variety of different settings and styles. Expect brainstorming on Heist D&D, modern crime gaming, Assholes in Space, the Dresden Files RPG and probably anything else that filters through my brain. On top of all that, I'm thinking of starting to run an online Savage Worlds Wild West game for ConstantCon, if there are folks interested in something like that.

Expect more in the near future...