Running Firefly. A Post for GMs.

Firefly RPG Front Cover

GMs have always been an important part of our design philosophy on the Firefly RPG line, and Margaret in particular wanted to make sure that we had enough support for them. There is a difference between a narrative-based system and a more traditional one with a damage track and XP points. One of the nuances that can be hard for players to wrap their minds around, is that Cortex Plus is player-driven, where the players are in charge and drive the story.

How can a GM do this and direct an Episode? When I was designing the Episode structure, I mapped it to the beats of the story presented in the Firefly TV show. (This was a skill I had picked up from the writing, reading, and playing I did for White Wolf. In the Storyteller Adventure System (SAS), there are scenes the GM can run and a number of different paths those scenes can take.) In Firefly, I wanted to give GMs a jumping off point, where we present a possibility of how the story might break down based on what players might do. In general, we felt that players would probably be familiar with the feel of a Firefly TV show; the breakdown of the structure is something GMs can use to reinforce Whedon’s powerful characterizations.

There is, however, a problem that can occur in a game that’s reliant on player agency. Sometimes, GMs might encounter a certain amount of decision paralysis or “sit and wait for the GM to throw something else my way.” That can be tough, especially for GMs who want to run a narrative-based game where pacing is crucial. I resolve this particular issue, decision paralysis, in a number of different ways. There are some things I do at the table that goes beyond framing my scenes hard and saying: “Cut to Commercial!”

Here’s a few of my techniques:

    1) I shoot at them. A bullet whizzes past your ear. Oh no! What are you going to do now? My reasoning behind this is that firefights can and do happen often in Firefly. When a player is shot at, that often prompts the rest of the Crew to help out.

    2) I prompt them. You’re talking to Badger and he’s given you an ultimatum: pay up or hand over one of your Crewmembers. Right now. Don’t know what to do? Have you asked your Captain for advice? Okay, that didn’t pan out. You might want to… And then I give three or four options the Crewmember can cue off of. I’ve never had a player take my exact advice, but uses that as a way to think about what to do next.

    3) I use Timed Actions. One of our favorite techniques to influence pacing is to utilized Timed Actions to reflect the pressure in any given situation. The other benefit of Timed Actions, however, is that it prompts teamwork! Each player has a role to take in the Action Order, and they often discuss how to get through that scenario as a team. Works like a charm!

    4) I create an Asset/Complication for that Crewmember. Sometimes, Crewmembers need a little help and the best way, I’ve found, is to use the system to do that. A free Asset is something I offer in times of dire need, and it can take the edge off of bad luck. Complications that prompt a character to act, rather than hinder that character, are crucial here. Badly-worded Complications can impact the mood of a game very easily, and it’s a place I’d recommend all GMs either improve upon or collaborate with players.

    5) I walk away from the table. I feel that without good synergy at the table, players can get stuck because they’re focused on what they want/need to be doing because they’re worried about the group. When I do this, I plan for a crucial moment. Explain what that moment is, then tell the group: “When I come back, decide on a course of action.” That takes the pressure off that player, and encourages them to work together.

    6) I hand out Plot Points. At the beginning of Act I (and so on), I ask players for a recap of the previous scene and hand out Plot Points to the player who summarizes it. I sometimes ask players to recap their favorite moment of the previous act provided they can recommend what someone else did. That, sometimes, adds interesting flavor to the table because a player might not think they’re doing a good job–until someone else says they are.

Hope that jumpstarts your brainpan for this particular issue! Happy gaming!

2014 in Review!

I had one of those moments a few weeks back, the kind where you’re forced to stop and wonder what you’ve been up to for the past several months. We were driving through the redwoods, and we stopped at the base of a very large tree. I suppose that’s an understatement, given the fact that they are, indeed, “the” redwoods, but to actually be there… To listen to nothing–no birds, no frogs, no crickets–nothing… The only bit that’s left when there’s total silence is either that or the thoughts swirling around in my head. Usually it’s the latter, which often turns into some musical refrain. Sadly.

Anyway, the big question that popped into my head was: “Have I done enough?” Did I accomplish my goals for 2015? This year, I’m happy to say, yes. Yes, I did. I wound up doing more than I initially anticipated, and managed to achieve said goals on top of major life upheaval (moving) and family medical emergencies.

This may not sound all that exciting to you, but the fact that I was able to go through over a million+ words and put a nail in 2014’s project management plans despite Real World Concerns is a huge deal for me!

In 2014, these were the games and supplements that were released:

I’m very grateful to see all of this work make the light of day. Many, if not all, of these releases are eligible for industry awards as well. Hope you count some of these among your favorites!

A huge “thank you” to my collaborators and business partners, my writers, editors, and artists, and to my fans and readers for your support. It’s been a great year, and I’m really looking forward to 2015!!!

On Writing with Cats

2015-01-07 10.12.02

I’ve been avoiding the cold, icy northern climes of my office in favor of overstuffed chairs, hot chocolate, sunlight, and warmth by way of cat. So how does one write with cats? Carefully. Oh, very carefully… One does not disrupt the calmness of the fat cat, for fat cat will retaliate in so many ways… For he demands… Cuddles…

I love my boys–I really do–but there are three specific times when I don’t. 1) 4:30 a.m. 2) When I’m beading, because Rimmon goes after the thread and any loose beads. And 3) When I’m on a tight deadline, because they don’t flipping care about the deadline. They care about the cuddles! And the catnip! And the eating at specified times or else they’ll waste away into nothingness!

In all seriousness, the title of this post could easily be: writing regardless of real life distractions. Cats? Oh yes, they can be quite the distraction–but so can everything else. Heck, there’s even software that promises a distraction-free zone. If it works for you, cool…but the software doesn’t matter to me. Distractions will happen, and I think part of developing self-discipline is understanding that. You will fall off the wagon. You will write a piece that sucks. You will write something that your editor loves and your fans will hate. It happens.

I feel that bad habits need to be managed, versus eliminated, because perfection is a work of fiction. It doesn’t exist. Here’s how I view distractions:

  • Am I working too much? Is that “distraction” trying to tell me something? e.g. lover/bff/cat/family member/etc. Breaks are healthy, after all, provided I get back on the wagon. If it gets to that point, where I’ve got people telling me I’ve been sitting on my butt for far too long, then I know I need to look at other methods of managing my time.
  • Have I scheduled a break? Knowing that crunch time isn’t effective, I break up my larger projects into smaller milestones, and take breaks after I achieve a smaller goal. Alternatively, I sometimes go the opposite route when I need to brainstorm in between pushes. Crunch time, just so you know, is a term used in video game management. I also use it, however, because it’s often reflective of the hurry-up-and-wait on projects. Here’s an in-depth article about why crunch time doesn’t work.
  • What is my level of annoyance? Oh, this is a pretty big one. If I’m super pissed that I’m in the middle of something Very Important and I get distracted, then that may be a sign I need to chill out, breathe, and take a step back. I can focus very intently on a project, so much so that the world around me slips away. Just because I can do that, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable for longer periods of time. That, really, is what I am building right now because of the transitions between work-for-hire and my original work. I can’t build sustainable habits if an interruption will, quite literally, break my mood.

And here’s just a few of the tools I use to help me self-assess how I’m managing these distractions:

    1) Timer: Blocking out speedy bursts of word count, followed by timed breaks. Gets a lot done and everybody around me–minus cats–is keyed into my schedule when that’s on.
    2) Code System: Tracking a variety of key indicators in my planner to ensure I’m not off track. Then, I graph those tracks to see how I’m faring.
    3) Associative Behavior: If I was going to do ONE thing every day, that wasn’t writing-related, what would it be? e.g. Dishes, bed, etc. Then, I use this as an indicator that yes, I have done something human-maintenance related to put me in the right frame of mind. Right now, that’s getting dressed for the day. YES I MEAN PANTS!
    4) Meal Planning: Okay, this one may sound a little stupid…but I can’t stress enough how important meal planning is for me. If I know what I’m going to eat ahead of time, I am removing a big ole distraction. e.g. The “What are we having for dinner?” conversation. I’m not scrambling to figure out this basic need, eating out too much, spending too much time away from my computer, etc. Food can be a trigger for multiple distractions, so I try to eliminate this one whenever possible.
    5) Noise-canceling Headphones! Last but not least? I received a rather expensive pair as a gift, but I would replace them if they went away. Cutting down sound really eliminates a lot of distractions for me–especially white noise that would put me to sleep!

That’s all I have time for today! Back to the grind!

On the Importance of New Experiences

There's a trojan on your computer

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to talk about the process of writing a bit more in the coming months. Specifically, though, this is about my process and how I view writing as a lifestyle or vocation–which does make me a little uncomfortable. Soap boxes are supposed to be used for soap and, per the whole reason why I started 365 Days of Squee, my ranting is best channeled into more productive activities like attacking the treadmill, baking cookies for other people, and drinking whiskey on occasion.

As anyone who’s talked to me knows, I’m not a huge fan of one-true-wayisms in life, the universe, love, or anything. I may be a force of nature, but I believe this with every ounce of my icy, black heart: do what works for you. Because of that, I tend to shy away from sharing what I do or think because my goal is not to be a self-help guru for writers. (I’m a helluva lot more Poe than Emerson, to be sure.) However, I think that some amount of prodding on this has done me some good, in the sense that I feel like I’m finding some balance between “what I know” and “how to share” this stuff. Or, in other words, there’s a few of you (e.g. the reader) out there who give a flying piece of bacon about my work.

Thus, I commence the first post!

So what is today’s creed? This might sound totally stupid, but there’s something I feel that’s crucial to being a writer: new and/or random experiences. Having a routine is useful for discipline, but too often this can lead to being comfortable, which can turn into laziness. When it (being lazy) happens to me, it’s because I’m apathetic or desensitized to who (or what) is around me. The days melt into one another, Saturday is no different from Wednesday, and I peer at the ground instead of at the sky. (Now mind you, winter exacerbates this issue because of SAD, and I feel that solutions to developing good habits originate out of being able to identify what’s wrong. So far, so good. Mostly.)

However, having a routine isn’t everything to me as a writer. It’s important, sure, but it can lead to a lot of disillusionment as well, because routines can be a part of unreasonable expectations. I’ve done “x” amount of projects or words like a good, little writer. Why hasn’t “y” happened? Why are there no ticker tape parades? I’ve done 100 sit-ups. Where are my washboard abs that I was promised? To me, being a writer isn’t about levels or tiers on a pyramid; nobody knows what the future holds when you’re a writer.

It’s partly for this reason, the: “Oh crap, do I need to read tarot cards to predict my career path?” that I feel it’s crucial to seek out the random and the new, to fold in new experiences and try different things. That little bit of chaos helps me survive, deal with my big question mark future and–BONUS–gives me more fuel to draw from when I am writing. It could be little things like picking up a book in a genre I normally don’t read, learning a new language, or a bigger thing like planning a trip or scheduling a writer’s retreat. Either way, some amount of new and random is healthy, overall, and can be quite addicting–especially if I’ve fallen into routine for too many days/weeks/months at a time.

Mind you, dealing with the new isn’t the same as conversing with my fellow humans (and possibly some cyborg/alien types), but it can help with social anxiety/shyness, too. As much as I’d like my own private sushi chef, for example, I still need to interact with people to get such culinary fish-ness as I am a lowly writer.

In summary, I feel that new experiences are necessary to maintain my writer’s brain. Not only do they fuel my creativity, they also help make me more resilient as well.

    Mood: Sage writer is sage
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Surprisingly too many
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30 on the elliptical
    In My Ears: “Shrunken Heads” by Wolfgang Gartner (Joey Youngman)
    Game Last Played: Brain Age 2
    Book Last Read: The Drunken Botanist
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hogfather
    Latest Artistic Project: B-B-B-Beading
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

Last Squees for the Year

Mario Christmas Avatar

Been a busy past couple of days, and I’m just now starting to get caught up on year-end chores and holiday-making activities. Yep, I’m behind. Which means half my cards haven’t been sent out yet and there’s cookie dough still sitting in the fridge–three kinds! Thankfully, my cards say: “Happy whichever holiday you celebrate.” So technically if I get them done before New Year’s… Yes, I’m terrible I know.

I’m glad we went to California and very grateful for the time I spent there. It was a whirlwind of a trip, what with deadlines packed on top of travel, but totally needed. I have pictures (of course) but they’ll take a while to sort through and upload. Joy of joys!

With that last, here are the fifteen remaining squees for the year. This’ll take me up through December 31st!

1.) The Hogfather: It’s an annual tradition for the holidays!

2.) The Muppets’ Christmas Carol: On Netflix! WOO!

3.) Finding out that baking recipes are supposed to be conducted with unsalted butter. Thanks to my friend Suzanne for helping me figure out my cookie fu!

4.) Seeing the redwoods. How beautiful!

5.) Figuring out what was wrong with my netbook. So, HILARIOUSLY, my memory was borked because I had synced all of my cloud storage to that device instead of just the one folder. Nice, eh?

6.) The suggestion that I revisit talking about the process of writing as opposed to the YOU MUST DO THIS NOW kind of writing advice. Hard to find a niche when so many others are already blogging about the how to’s of writing. This is definitely a jumpstart to my brainpan.

7.) A really kick-ass draft of [redacted], which will be shared in 2015!

8.) A Kickstarter for [redacted], which will likely launch in January!

9.) A skull spoon, for tea. Want!

10.) And on that last… Sugar cube skulls!

11.) Possibly cheesy, but I figured out what to do with the tombstone cookie cutters I have. For sugar cookies, I can decorate them with RIP 2014! HAH!

12.) Party went well and I figured out logistics for next time despite brain space issues. Thinking this’ll turn into a monthly event.

13.) I’m back on the workout train and my chemistry is starting to normalize. It really is disturbing how easy it is to get one’s body out of whack, but inactivity–especially for writers like myself who get sucked into a cycle of caffeine, carbs, and whiskey whilst on deadline–is pretty damn detrimental and hard on the body. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t drink to get drunk, but the triumvirate of sitting for hours at a time plus too much coffee plus an apertif made me crankier than I expected it to. I didn’t realize how much it screwed me up mood-wise, but there it is.

14.) A book I picked up in California is The Drunken Botanist. FIVE STARS!!! This is GREAT for writing research and general knowledge about planets and such. Plus, the cocktail recipes are pretty awesome…which brings me to a moment of serendipity. I had the Aviation at The Alembic, and lo! and behold! the original recipe is in that book.

15.) As the story goes, I’m baking gingerbread for the first time. (Zombies and skeletons, mostly.) However, my paltry attempt is nowhere near as awesome as Martha Stewart’s Downton Abbey made out of gingerbread.


    Mood: Getting caught up
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: managed
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30 on the elliptical
    In My Ears: The Hogfather
    Game Last Played: Brain Age 2
    Book Last Read: Gah! It’s on my nightstand!
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hogfather
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

Previous Posts Next Posts

March 2015
« Feb    

Have a Cup. Take a Seat. Be Social.


Back to Top