Leonard Cohen

I’m not really a person who gets invested in celebrity as a concept. There’s actors I like and follow, musicians I enjoy, but I don’t really tie my personal life or feelings up in them or their works.

That being said, Leonard Cohen was a massive influence on my musical listening and personal life. The raw, hoarse, gravelly voice was among some of the first CDs I bought as a college student. There was something about the old fellow in a fedora on the cover that grabbed me. Bought a CD sound unheard, and sort of ignored it for a while in favor of Guns n’ Roses, and 80s rock I already knew I liked.

I can’t remember anymore why I listened to it when I did, but at a time when I didn’t know I was bipolar and struggling through depression, Cohen’s music and his voice struck a personal chord, and it became one of the closest things I had to a friend during those days. It was a personal thing. I wouldn’t play it if others were around, or could hear. It was music that I listened to by myself, for myself, and with myself.

There’s a sense of personal loss at the news of his death. It’s a sort of an echoing, rattling feeling, bouncing around my emotions and brain like a hollow echo. It’s something I hadn’t quite expected to feel or have resonate within myself today.

I’d put off listening to his music in the last half-decade, as I’d attempted to put those negative memories behind me. I don’t think I’ve really listened to a single song of his until last night. I shrugged it off as another event in 2016, and while sad, it was just…what it was.

Today, I found my old Cohen playlist, and loaded it into Google Play. Hearing that off-key, yet familiar voice coming through the speakers today was like seeing an old friend. I’ve found the bad memories have washed away, and I’m left with the deeply personal, almost spiritual reverberations. I’m looking forward to updating this playlist and exploring what I’ve missed. It hit me harder than I thought it would today, and so here we are. Me placing words on digital paper as the album Ten New Songs is playing behind me.

Thank you Mr. Cohen, and I hope you have found what you needed to. You left something indelible on my soul, and I’m better for it.

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Whew…

Tiny Frontiers is funded.

And I’m brain dead. The amount of emotional energy and investment into an Kickstarter as the project runner is a lot more than I had anticipated (having only been a freelancer, and invested on a different level before).

Wow.

We did great.

As a creator, there’s lots of nagging doubts and concerns about the quality of the project, and the innate…appeal of the Kickstarter. Lots of Why did they cancel?, Why did they lower? Why is today worse than yesterday? What did I do so well yesterday?.

It’s effectively a giant land-mine of self-doubt, and I wasn’t ready for the sheer exhaustion that would sweep me away as though a tidal wave had hit me at 1PM MST today.

But it did. And I’m ok.

Tomorrow and Thursday are breather days. Not really thinking about it. Not really working on it. The assignments are already out (I try to work ahead), so it’s not like I can do anything but micro-manage anyways.

Whew.

Daredevil and Total Party Kills

daredevil-season-2-poster-2If you’ve ever watched the TV show Daredevil, you know the basic plot. But on of the hero’s traits that stands out to me the most is his ability to stand back up after he falls down (or in the show’s case, gets knocked, stomped, punched, pushed, thrown, shot, or tripped). More than his super-senses, ninja/parkour kung-funess, or Catholic guilt, his ability to keep going is what drives the show and makes you cheer.

(I love Daredevil, and I highly recommend it, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about).

One of the biggest struggles of RPGs (and in particular being a game master) is the challenge. How far do players want to be pushed? How far can you push them? When do they break? Where does it stop being fun, and start being frustrating? Getting knocked down, and standing back up to kick the villain in the teeth is a hell of a lot of fun, and an exceptionally rewarding experience for both the players, and the GM.

But it’s a hard experience to deliver. It’s easy to misstep.

FCI-spots-2-ancient-battlefield-skull-on-postIn the last 2 weeks, I’ve TPK’d (total party killed) both my weekly RPG groups. The most essential item to understand, is the value I place on motivated, exciting, cinematic, and narrative games. Stats, HP, positioning and what weapon you use, are less important to me than fun, drama, and elation. I haven’t had an accidental TPK in almost a decade.

The first TPK, was due to the players’ decisions, and that’s life. Sometimes players won’t listen when the GM warns them they can’t win, and this is a fight that ends badly. Sometimes they vent themselves into space, despite numerous hints that this is a bad idea.

Sometimes the GM screws it up. That was my second TPK. I lead the players through an encounter that was designed to be world building, and inspire questions (with the advent of some setting breaking rules, unique enemies, and their first foray into ancient magicks best left forgotten). I casually put stats to the encounter with unique enemies.

Due to a spat of both exceptionally lucky dice (mine), and exceptionally unlucky dice (the players), suddenly the encounter went sideways. At first it was a lark and a table joke, but after about five minutes, the dire straits the party had entered into was clear. Clearly, I was not at my best with the session, or I’d have not made an error like I did. It’s a mistake that feels like it violates the trust placed in the gamemaster.

It’s a hard thing to assign blame on. The dice were unlucky for the players, and lucky for me, but I didn’t roll them behind the screen I normally use, because I had built a 3D battlefield, so the players could envision the story better. I’m not normally a minis or terrain GM, but I have been trying to stretch myself, so I made the effort. It seems to have cost me.

I didn’t step in when things went south. Since my rolls were public, as were the players, I had painted myself into a corner with the dice, and suddenly I didn’t have an out.

One feels like Fortunato in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” as the dice and your mistakes play the role of Montresor and seem to box you in.

To my players credit, they were excellent sports, and laughed and no one was mad. But, I haven’t accidentally killed a character unless it was narrative driven and appropriate.

It’s an odd feeling.

One I’m not sure I’m at ease with.

Where did I misstep? Did I misstep?

Where should I have stopped pushing and let them stand up?

Now, the questions of where we go from here remain, lingering with the group long after the food is eaten, the crumbs are cleaned, the dice and character sheets stored.

Things to muse on, and take into account as I attempt to improve as a game master and designer. In the end, I realize that mistakes happen, it’s just a game, and no one is mad, hurt or upset (not even me), and all is well.

But it’s an interesting study of what goes wrong, and how one can avoid, build around, or mitigate such occurrences.

Do I stand back up? Do I push the campaign forward, or do I throw in my proverbial towel, and say consequences are such, the story is done, and it’d break the verisimilitude of the story and campaign to force it? There’s a lot of places to go from here, and I don’t think a single one is wrong. Just have to find the right one for the group affected, and work to rebuild that trust and continue on.

After all, if it’s not fun, what’s the point of playing imagination?

Pendragon and the Importance of Thematic Rulesets

Last night I had the opportunity to play Pendragon, by Nocturnal Media. Pendragon is an RPG that has cropped up on my radar multiple times, but I’ve never had access to a copy or known anyone who does.

I was given a copy of the core book as a gift recently, and as some friends had wanted to learn how to play RPGS, I felt a game based on King Arthur and the commonly known mythos was an excellent choice.

Wow.

I was completely blown away by this game. I don’t believe I’ve been that impressed with an RPG at any point I can recall. We only had a few hours, so we did character creation and a short intro session that ended with all the characters being knighted.

1.) Character Creation

Pendragon is a variation on the well-known Chaosium dice system, and uses a single d20 roll to resolve actions. You have roll under your skill. Pretty simple. The character creation starts with the basics. Age, name, order of your son in the family hierarchy. The game also uses a innovative trait system, to determine your characters virtues, their strengths, their weaknesses, and emotional responses to situations. This was the game changer for me. I was able to help several people who had only either RPG’d once, or never to determine how their characters would react. If they had a question, I’d suggest they look at their highest virtue and respond in that way to the situation.

Is it a perfect system? No. But is it excellent? Yes. It was fantastic. Attribute and skill generation is generic and fairly straightforward. My only complaint was the lack of a skill table to easy pick skills and determine what skills you can have. We had to spend some time hunting through the rule book to find rules for different skills.

After character creation was wrapped up, we ran through the books quick introductory adventure to turn our squires into knights. The adventure was simple, effective, and taught the game the types of roles. Excellent. Pendragon is rapidly becoming my RPG of choice.


 

However, this brings up some thoughts regarding RPGs. The Pendragon RPG works because the entire ruleset is designed around a single concept. You play a knight. There’s no other options. You are either Pagan or Christian. All the options fall in skills, advantages and such.

So when the rules for Pendragon are built around the single framework of delivering the game of being a Knight during Arthur’s reign, they do it well. That’s the only goal they have.

Whereas games like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness and other systems are built to effectively deliver games regardless of setting, have rules that sometimes don’t quite fit. You have to drop and mod the rules to effectively deliver the game you want to.

I suppose this is part of my aging in RPGs, but I find that I prefer single system rulesets that are built to deliver thematic game play over generic systems. Interesting. It’s a new discovery for me.


 

Kickstarters of Note:

A World of Dew – Samurai Noir RPG

East Texas University – College Level Horror RPG