Monday, September 18, 2017

Mage Game Planning, or "I should probably figure out what my game is about, huh?"

Running a game isn't just a matter of having a rulebook, some players, and lots of dice. A good GM screen helps, too, amirite?

But seriously, it helps to know what sort of game you want to run, and what your players are interested in playing, before you start your first session.

Mage: The Ascension is a multi-layered Black Forest Cake of story possibilities, with several playable factions, diverse character concepts, and a multiverse of settings and time periods to use as the backdrop of a game. From gangs to gods, back alleys to alien worlds, and whatever else your imagination can conjure, Mage has you covered. Add to that the flood of rules, both standard and optional, provided in the 20th Anniversary Edition and you have everything you need to run any sort of game you could imagine. So, where does an enterprising Storyteller begin?

First, you should have some idea of what you're comfortable running. If all your players want to play Technocratic Union agents when you're more comfortable keeping the focus on the Nine Mystick Traditions, your game is going to have problems. Which factions are off-limits? Are you keeping things street-level, or going for more of an epic scope? Starting level characters, or more powerful characters? Are there any areas/powers that you would mark off-limits? Are there any game ideas that your players would prefer over others, or places they don't want to go in their games?

For my Mage game, I knew I wanted to run a chronicle firmly within the rules and setting established in the Mage 20th Anniversary rulebook. I also knew I wanted to use the wealth of Mage material I had collected over the years, and to introduce my players to both rules and game world gradually so as not to overwhelm the new players with everything at once. The ultimate goal, to give the game an ever-widening epic scope that the players could fall into easily, with each session pushing their characters deeper into events that would determine the fate of reality itself.

I was flexible as to faction - traditionally (heh), I've run games using the Traditions and the Disparates, but I've always wanted to run a Technocracy chronicle. I left that decision up to my players, some of whom were new to the idea of Mage, with these two options:

* M:tA - Traditions Ascendant: Mage is a game of urban fantasy, where magic is real and changes the fabric of reality itself. In Traditions Ascendant, you would play a mage of the Nine Mystick Traditions, sworn to keep the fire of ancient magic alive in a world growing increasingly tech-centric. Be careful how you work your will in public, though, lest you attract all the wrong sort of attention!
* M:tA - Technocracy Ascendant: As above, but instead of playing a Tradition mage, you would play a newly recruited agent of the Technocratic Union. The Technocracy has sworn to protect humanity from supernatural threats, and it'll take every ounce of your considerable will - not to mention advanced scientific Procedures - to get the job done. Just don't call what you do magic or you might end up on their list of Reality Deviants, too!

My players unanimously voted for the Traditions option, which helped to shape the direction of my epic game narrative. I opted for basic character creation rules, no merits or flaws to complicate things, and from there, it was just a matter of settling on a date for game.

I had my players, I had the general gist of the game I wanted to run, now it was time to flesh out more of those details with player characters! We'll delve into that in the next installment. Post any questions you might have below, or over at my chronicle thread on Shadownessence, and I'll be happy to address them all!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mage Pre-Planning, or "OK, I want to run a game, how do I do that?"

If you're a player of tabletop roleplaying games, chances are you've already got a head start on running a Mage: The Ascension game. You've got dice and pencils and character sheets and rulebooks, or at the very least access to them. You know what your ST, or Storyteller (AKA: GM, Game Master, DM, Dungeon Master, person running the game, etc.) does that you like, and you have some idea of what you might change if you were running the show.

Now, if you're totally new to TTRPGs, you have a bit more work ahead of you. Unless you're running your game over an app or service that offers digital tools to run a game - and there are several out there that offer things like a digital tabletop, voice and text chat, file sharing, die-rolling and more - you're going to want to stock up on dice and pencils and... yeah, the stuff I listed above, including the rulebook of the game you want to run. Your friendly local gaming store is just a Google search away, and those stores always welcome the business. Sure, you can find a lot of that stuff online, but I'm a big fan of supporting small businesses, and game stores are firmly in that category. Amazon isn't going to miss your dollars, I assure you.

As a side note, Mage will save you money in one area: Miniatures. Unlike D&D and its close cousins, buying and painting miniatures isn't a requirement, and neither is a battlemap for them. I know some people like that part of gaming, and I certainly have miniatures of my own that I use for my other gaming group, but Mage and its sister games are part of a ruleset that encourages more free-form gaming and doesn't want to bog players down in such rigid details as how many squares away is the bad guy and if you'll provoke an attack of opportunity from the minions around him. Having some indication of environment and clear descriptions of people and places does come in handy, though, and we'll get into that later.

So, you've got your dice, your pencils (only noobs use pen), your sheets, your books, what else do we need?

Oh, right, players!

If you're part of a gaming group, chances are good you'll be able to recruit them into your game. It's how I got my first players, by recruiting straight from my gaming group. I also recruited from friends who wanted to check out what this RPG thing was all about. Between fellow gamers and my own circle of friends, I had the beginnings of my very own gaming group. If you're OK with casting a wide net, you can usually put up a notice in your local gaming store informing other gamers that you're looking for players. Most gaming stores even have table space for running your session at the store, if you're not comfortable inviting strangers into your living room, and I've run game sessions in cafes before.

So, how does this translate to my own Mage game prep? Well, I've been at this gaming hobby for a while, so I already had dice and books aplenty, dating all the way back to Mage: The Ascension 1st Edition (and you can get just about every Mage book as a digital or print-on-demand copy from Drive Thru RPG). I wanted to game with people I already knew, so I tapped my gaming partners, as well as friends who I'd gamed with before and their significant others. Out of the 7 people I approached, 4 of them said yes. Not half bad! Since my players are scattered all over SoCal, I set up a Facebook group and Google calendar for coordination, and opted for Discord as our gaming medium.

Next we'll discuss deciding on what kind of game to run for your players, but if you have questions regarding the pre-planning stuff above, post them below or over at my chronicle thread on Shadownessence. I'll answer every question that comes my way!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Introduction to Running Mage: The Ascension, or "I've got a GREAT idea!"

"Hey, it's been a while since I've run Mage: The Ascension, maybe I'll get a group together and run my favorite game!"

The above words are how it always starts. It begins with the idea of running a tabletop roleplaying game, and ideally ends with a great story told by friends who sat around that tabletop and shaped the narrative with their own characters. But how do you get from the idea to successfully running a game?

When you figure that secret out, let me know, I'd love to hear what it is.

Kidding, just kidding.

Truthfully, I started running TTRPGs shortly after discovering them. I started out, as many do, as a player in someone else's game. I sat there as a moody teenager with my bag of dice and pencil-marked character sheet and thought "You know what? I bet I could do what that person behind the cardboard gaming screen does. How hard can it be?"

Incidentally, anyone who asks that question, ironically or not, has absolutely no idea how hard it can actually be.

Like any skill, the more you run a game, the easier it gets. I started running Mage: The Ascension games in 1997, and wow, that was 2 decades ago and I wasn't prepared for that glimpse into my own age. Ahem. In that time, I've run games for groups of various sizes, from one-on-one adventures to a table of six. I've run for players who were completely new to TTRPGs as well as veteran roleplayers. I've also played in more RPGs than I can recall (good gods, I'm feeling my age tonight) so I know how it works on both sides of that cardboard screen.

Tabletop RPGs have seen a resurgence of late in popular media. A great many Kickstarter fundraisers have centered around games, even the Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition by Onyx Path Publishing. TTRPGs can be found streaming live on Twitch channels, not the least of which is Geek and Sundry's own Critical Role and the Star Trek-inspired Shield of Tomorrow. (Incidentally, the GM who runs SoT was one of my Mage players in L.A. for several years, and he makes an excellent Akashayana character.) With their uptick in popularity, folks may want to know how they can set up their own cardboard screen and start their own roleplay sessions, and I'm always happy to share what I know.

Since I recently started a new Mage game with new players (a brief overview of which can be found in this link to the Shadownessence forums), I'll use that as the primary focus for my advice. While most of what I've learned can be applied to any tabletop game, this will specifically address complications that arise in the course of running the Mage rules, of which there are so many that a new Mage Storyteller might feel overwhelmed. I'll give insight into the pre-planning of the game, making characters, starting the first session, and more. Expect some prose to give insight into the game itself, and maybe even a few "what if" scenarios to explore options that didn't happen, but could have. There might even be some crunchy house rules that you can use as-is or for inspiration to make your own house rules.

So, get comfy! We're about to explore one of the most complex but rewarding tabletop games out there - Mage: The Ascension!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Oh Hi There...

*knocks the dust off the blog*

'Bout time I posted in here again, eh? New blog series coming soon, and here's a teaser:

It's good to be back.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Productivity FTW!

You can always tell how well things are going with my writing by how often I post on this blog. Sorry for the lack of updates, but my absence means very good things for my trilogy! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

First Post of 2013!

Hello Blogger, my old friend,
I've come to write with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of BLOGGING.

Apologies to Simon & Garfunkel for butchering their lyrics for my own amusement, but HELLO LOYAL FOLLOWERS!!! In my efforts to put the fun back into my writing (Le gasp!) I've decided to cast Resurrection on my blog here and pull out ALL THE STOPS. Well, almost all of the stops. As many stops as I can pull out while keeping this a family-friendly blog!

Where did that saying come from, anyway? If you know, leave its secret origin in the comments below! (At least, I'm assuming the comments are still below. Have I mentioned that I don't like what Google did to change the Blogger interface?)

In any case, I'm going to be much less proper about how my blog writings will be presented here, because I think that was part of what kept me away from writing. I felt like I was censoring myself too much, analzying every line of every post I'd write, and crippling myself with more self-doubt than I want in my life. Well, NO MORE. It's a new year, and I'm going to write to you, my loyal followers, the way I'd talk to you if we met in person and I didn't have a world-class case of The Shy. Expect the same kind of stuff I'd been writing before, but with more freedom of word choice.

Of course, the downside is that I'm not going to go over every paragraph with a fine tooth comb to edit myself ad nauseum. You are warned.

So, 2013. I hear this year's theme for me is Let It Be Written, Let It Be Done. To that, all I have to say is...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Not Dead Yet!

Only mostly dead. (Kidding.)

But honestly, my sincerest apologies for my absence over the past few months. Between moving, starting up a new project, continued rewrites on my trilogy, instructing new writers on the importance of The Hero's Journey and such, my life got really busy of late. Also, the redesign of the Blogger interface is ugly and I dislike staring at it for any length of time. Even now, my urge to stop writing this and leave for another webpage grows...

I'm still alive, though, and still writing! I'll share what I've been up to soon... if I can stomach this bland, ugly Compose page on my blog again.

Until then, write on!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The End of an Era

For those who have been following my writer's journey for a while, you know that there have been a lot of roadblocks and pitfalls along the way. Distractions abound in the writer's life, not the least of which are earning an income. Add on a social life and a love life, and it can be a titanic effort to find time to write anything.

Then there's been my work with Comic Booked. It's a dream come true to be working for a comic book news site, a goal of mine since I read my first Wizard Magazine. But the joys of reading and writing about comic books has distracted me from other writing as well, and there comes a time when you have to reevaluate what you really want out of life. The things you do should support your passion and build your future, and if it's not serving either of those two necessities, it's time to move on.

So, it's time for me to move on from writing.

It's been fun writing and publishing short stories, even writing and rewriting my first novel, and I'm proud of my work for Comic Booked. But at the end of the day, the frustrations of being a writer far outweigh the benefits, especially from the financial end of things. Your work should be something you love with all your heart, and I haven't been doing that at all. It's time I fixed that.

From here on out, my writer's blog will be a musician's blog. I've had a passion for it since elementary school, learning multiple instruments and even conducting my own school band, but I gave it up after high school to pursue this pipe dream of making it as a professional writer. No more. I'm pulling out my old clarinet and dusting it off, and I'll be diving back into my musical pursuits with the goal of joining the L.A. Philharmonic. I hope you'll stick around for the ride.

I appreciate all the support you've given me as a writer, and I hope you'll continue supporting me as I rededicate myself to becoming a musical virtuoso.

Oh, and happy April Fool's Day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

WonderCon 2012

Now that I'm mostly recovered from WonderCon, I might as well talk a little about my experience covering the convention for Comic Booked.

Although WonderCon is a comic convention in a similar vein as Comikaze Expo, the two couldn't have been more different. For one thing, Comikaze was a very new convention experiencing its first year and all the growing pains that go along with trying to establish an identity. WonderCon, while experiencing its first (and perhaps only) year in Anaheim last weekend, is a 26 year old convention that has firmly established a reputation in the Bay Area. It's a miniature version of the San Diego Comic-Con, which is to say that it's still a large and popular convention, just not as massive as SDCC has become in recent years.

Comikaze was small enough in size that it was pretty easy for one person (namely me) to cover all two days with little difficulty. Heck, I even played handler for one of the web series celebrities at the con and still managed to meet a number of people and pick up some interesting info to put up on the site by the time it was over. WonderCon, however, is large enough that it takes more than one person to cover the glut of information that the companies bring with them to the panels, especially with so many awesome panels overlapping. And while I know I wasn't the only one on Team Comic Booked at the convention, it sure felt like it from the cries of "MORE COVERAGE!" coming from some of the team members who weren't there.

Admittedly, it must be a bit dismaying to see another site posting news from WonderCon when you know there's at least two people there from the site attending these panels. However, coming down on the people in the trenches for not doing a better job while they're frantically trying to cover as many panels as they can and make as many contacts in the attending companies as possible for future news items can make an already stressful convention experience even more so.

It used to be that comic conventions were nothing but fun for me. Now it's a job, with all the accompanying stress. So when I mention the tiredness of the weekend in my official write-up of the convention, only part of that is the typical con fatigue after three days of a comic convention. The other, much larger, part of that is the anxiety of others breathing down your neck while you're working, with none of the pay to show for a job well done. And while I did enjoy the convention, I can't help but wonder: Am I really building my future as a writer by taking on these assignments, or should I scale back on my involvement with Comic Booked to further my own projects, like my long overdue trilogy?

Either way, you can read all about my convention experience in WonderCon 2012: Post-Convention Musings over at Comic Booked!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"That’s where my motivation comes from, as a writer: curiosity. I want to know why my character said that. I want to know what they are about to do. I want to know where they are going, how the hell they are going to deal with what’s in front of them and why they can’t just walk away. No matter what complexities I weave over my creative impulses, or what poetry I try to attach to my explanation as to why I write, the simple fact of the matter is that I just love to play. Play my damn heart out."
Eric Collin Campbell, Screenwriter, Connect To