Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Time Traveller's Wife

I saw The Time Traveller's Wife recently. I thought it was a good film. I'm hard pressed to decide if it was sci-fi, drama, or romance. But it was intelligent and well written. And it got me thinking. I recently wrote a post about playing characters with attachments to other characters. Never mind the story potential that exists simply in a character with uncontrollable psi powers (in case you don't know, the male lead in the Time Traveller's Wife is a timeporter, but can't control when he ports, or to what destination, or for how long), this plot made me consider the idea of running totally mundane characters who have to deal with their relationships with people who are always off doing something dangerous.

Just think of how many people are married to soldiers in active military duty. It's a hard life, but certainly it can be interesting to examine the dynamics of their relationship. Think about the scores of women who were constantly afraid that their husband would die in World War II. What about the drama of a joyful reunion when the soldiers returned home? Or even worse, the misery of a family who received a telegram informing them that their husband/son/father would never return home? Surely there's some story possibilities in these sorts of relationships?

Now multiply that times the woman who's married to a superhero. Marvel is one of the few places I'm aware of where this sort of dynamic has been touched on, in that Spider-Man developed a relationship to a mundane, and even eventually married her. I've seen a number of relationship develop between supers (Cyclops and Jean Grey, as one example, or even Disney's The Incredibles), but not many between superheroes and normals. Superman's relation to Lois Lane never even went really all that far, at least not of which I'm aware.

Anyway. I think it's an interesting idea for a game. Maybe play the wife (or, if we want to break the mould a little more, the husband) of a powerful secret agent who's always being sent on dangerous missions in enemy territory. Or the father of a superhero who constantly fights against powerful villains. Maybe your character is the child of a vampire who's trying to avoid a group of vampire hunters.

If you've never read Neil Gaiman's Stardust, I recommend that you do (the film version isn't nearly as good; it lost a lot of the essential Gaiman quality in being translated to the big screen -- and for that matter, if you do read it, be sure to get a copy that has the beautiful illustrations by Charles Vess). It's the story of a young man, Tristram Thorn, who is the offspring of a mortal man and a faerie woman. He is raised ignorant of his heritage until he makes a rash promise and is obligated to travel to the realm of faerie. It is there that he meets his mother for the first time, and even then, doesn't realise that she's his mother until some time later.

The story is wonderful in itself, but think of the potential for games if we tweaked the premise slightly. The main character is the child of a human/fae pairing, and his mother has left him with his father in the "real" world before returning to faerie. The two worlds only ever meet once every seven years, for one day, and it is on that day that the child gets to visit with his mother. Imagine the story potential!

Anyway, I think that's an interesting idea. Maybe someone can make a game out of this. If you do, I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dice

Few items are as representative of the hobby of gaming as a whole as dice. Apart from those few games that use diceless systems (such as Amber Diceless Roleplaying) or alternate systems (I've heard of a game based on playing cards, though I can't remember what it was called), every game requires the use of the SPRNGMs (Sacred Plastic Random Number Generation Modules, as a friend used to call them). The only other items needed are some books, paper, and pencil. None of which are unique to gaming. Some games require maps and miniatures, but most can get along fine without. So really, if there is to be a symbol of gaming, it should probably be those wonderful little polyhedrons.

Some have expressed surprise at my adoration of the little numerical blobs; as I am generally a proponent of story over combat, my friends seem to think that I would be anti-dice. But I'm not! I tend to love the look of them, and have a small collection (I tend to only add interesting or unusual dice, so it's nowhere near as impressive as the one detailed at http://www.thedicecollector.com). I have a few d6s made from brass, some oversized ones, a small bag of twenty tiny (about 3mm across each) six siders, a d24, 2d7, two dice that are designed to be spun like tops rather than rolled (1d6 and 1d8), a d30, and a couple of dice-in-dice (one that is a small d6 inside a larger d6, one that is a small d10 inside a larger d10, and one that is two small d6 inside a larger d6).

My personal favourite is the d10, because it looks the nicest, and makes a great top! Although I'm fond of the d8 as well, just because I have a fondness for the d8. Although there's something to be said for the d4 (you have to love a die that can be used as a caltrop!). I continually fantasize about designing a game that uses an obscure type of die (I'd love to write a game based on the d30, or even better, the d14).

I once saw a video of Louis Zocchi talking about the science of dice and why most of the dice you buy at a game store are unreliable. It was very interesting, and the next time I have a chance (or the need) to buy dice, I'm going to try to buy his. I am a bit of a dice fetishist, I will admit. I even have an idea for a set of furniture either built from or designed to look like dice.

But that's my thought on the matter. I love dice. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tylenol

Something I used to do on occasion was to play in a "Tylenol" game. This gets its name from the premise that you'd find what appeared to be a bottle of Tylenol on the counter with a label that says, "Eat me." On taking one of the pills, you'd find yourself transported to a game world, transformed into one of the denizens. It is the ultimate form of the "If you were a character in (game x), what would you be?" Obviously, most games are played in D&D, but I've played tylenol games in a number of other settings, and most of them don't even require the bottle of tylenol to get there! For example, in Vampire, you can just be embraced. Any sort of game that involves a trasnfiguration like that can work just as well. 

If you didn't already know and haven't figured it out yet, a Tylenol game in one in which you play yourself. Rather than creating a character as normal, you simply list those stats that you actually have. Then apply modifications to adjust for the in-game characteristics (for example, maybe you'd apply the elven racial template).

I've played in a few, though I only really remember two, and one of them I was running, so I wasn't really playing, although I did have myself written up as a character and was involved in the story. It can be fun on occasion to experience the vicarious adventures as yourself, but depending on what player type you are, it may or may not be a plausibly realistic depiction of how you'd actually behave. But games aren't meant to be psychological tools; they're supposed to be fun! So who cares how plausible it is?

In both of the games in which I was involved, the system used was the original World of Darkness. There's no reason it can't be done in any setting, though. One of the most intriguing concepts for me is a GURPS Time Travel Tylenol. How fun would it be to go traipsing through history? Why write up a character to do this when you can just do it yourself?

An interesting idea, at any rate.