Chad Perrin: SOB

21 November 2009

Progress: A Novel Thing

Filed under: Geek,RPG,Writing — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 12:47

(TL;DR Summary: I’m writing a novel that started out as a way to develop a roleplaying game setting. I haven’t let the NaNoWriMo pressure to write 50K in 30 days influence me, but I’ve already written more than 50K words of the novel anyway. I plan to keep writing until the whole story has been told.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

On average, I’ve been writing something in the neighborhood of 2,500 words a day this month. There have been days I basically wrote nothing (including the first couple days of the month, when I was still trying to find inspiration for a story), and days that I wrote around six or seven thousand words. I haven’t really been paying too much attention to my actual rate; I just occasionally divided the number of words in my story so far by the number of days that have passed, for the most part.

A friend of mine who I started out using as a sounding board for ideas has become something like my biggest fan. He’s the only person reading the story so far, and every single day that I see him online he nags me with some good-natured haranguing exhortations to write more story right now dammit. He keeps wanting to see what’s going to happen next.

Why I Don’t Care About Word Count

I didn’t really set out to write 50K words this year, per se. I’ve been working on fleshing out the details of a new campaign setting for Pathfinder RPG, and I decided to use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to help me find more inspiration toward that end. I had run into a bit of a roadblock in terms of figuring out what I wanted to put in some of the territory on the map, and decided that writing a story that takes place in this setting might help me figure out what will be there. It’s working pretty damned well.

Of course, my secondary goal is to have a complete, and (after another draft or two) hopefully good, story when I’m done. Between those two goals — developing the campaign setting and spinning a ripping yarn — there isn’t really a whole lot of room left to dedicate myself specifically to the task of hitting a specific minimum word count. I didn’t want the pressure to perform, to achieve 50K words (that’s about 150+ pages of a paperback novel), to compromise my primary and secondary goals at all, so I just decided that pressure to produce word count was not going to matter to me. To hell with that. It’s about what I produce, and not just too much. Velocity is the important factor, not just speed — because no matter how fast you go, if you’re headed in the wrong direction, you’ll never get to your goal.

As CS Lewis put it:

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

Of course, just refusing to head down the wrong road in the first place is probably the preferable option in that case.

The Competition

Our NaNoWriMo region has an annual friendly competition with a neighboring region. We talk trash at each other in the forums and compete on the basis of both average word count and percentage of “winners” (that is, people who have crossed the 50K mark by the end of November). Participation in the competition is opt-in; one has to post one’s intent to be part of the team for one’s region by roughly two weeks into the month (or to withdraw by then, if one had been overly hasty in committing to it before realizing that, say, measles or a car crash or a surprise visit from the in-laws would take up too much time in November) in a sign-up thread in the forum. Through what I suppose one could call two “generations” of MLs — sort of a regional NaNoWriMo organizer and “leader” of sorts — in this town, I’ve participated in that competition every year, and have always finished above 50K and above my region’s average word count.

This year, so that I wouldn’t have the weight of responsibility to the regional team against the rival region’s team to produce great word counts, I decided early on that I wouldn’t throw my hat in the ring. That’s not the only reason, though.

The Cheater

This year is the first year for a woman who shall remain nameless in this SOB entry as a co-ML. A friend of mine is the other co-ML. Let’s just call the woman “Gemma”, as a code name for purposes of referring to her.

Last year, which I seem to recall was her first year ever trying to write 50K words in a single month as part of the NaNoWriMo event. She ran into some trouble keeping her word count up to par, apparently, so she started sticking song lyrics into her “story” (not really much of a story at that point, I think) to pad out the word count. Well . . . it’s sketchy. I tend to feel like that’s marginal behavior at best, and not really in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. A friend of mine who goes to write-ins in November and uses NaNoWriMo as an excuse to write software instead of a novel seems to be working far more within the spirit of the NaNoWriMo experience than someone who just gives up on writing 50K words of story in a month, instead filling it out with song lyrics just to have enough words in a file to pass the automated word count check for validation at the end of the month.

This year, in a position of responsibility as an ML and as our region’s primary organizer for the competition with the rival region, she’s violating the spirit of things even more. Whereas I just figure that putting song lyrics into a “story” to pad out the word count without actually adding meaningfully to the tale is only cheating yourself under normal circumstances, as the ML she should see that kind of behavior as cheating in the competition. It’s not just cheating yourself, but actively cheating in what’s supposed to be a friendly competition! It’s not winning that really matters, but motivating ourselves to write, and having a way to connect with our fellow writers in another region via a little friendly rivalry.

I said she’s violating the spirit of things even more than last year. Yeah. It gets worse. She actually brags about the song lyrics she sticks in her so-called “novel”, and also about World of Warcraft chat logs. Yes, really. Even worse, she’s telling other people in our region’s team in the comptetition about this at write-ins, and encouraging them to do the same thing, apparently. This does not sit well with me at all.

Rather than dirty my hands by association, I took this as yet more reason to ensure I absent myself from the competition with the neighboring region. I refuse to associate myself with what may end up being a hollow victory gained through cheating.

Real Progress

Despite all the reasons I have for not caring about any arbitrary word count goals, I hit 50K words before the 20th this month. I’ve made some reasonably impressive progress, and I would easily fall within the first ten people (out of 45) to hit 50K in my region’s team in the competition with the neighboring region — even ignoring one cheater. In fact, I think I’m the tenth person to hit 50K in the region overall — with 236 people who have it set as their “home region”.

We’re under a week and a half before the end of the month, so I expect that the rate of people hitting 50K will climb somewhat now. Only the most prolific writers will get there before the end of this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the word war between our region and the neighboring region plays out.

Regardless of that, though, I’m just going to keep writing. I think my story might be about half finished, at just over 50K words. It looks like I’ll hit at least 300 pages’ worth of prose in this first draft of my novel, and I probably won’t finish writing it until at least halfway through December. The beginning of the month of November marked the beginning of my efforts to write a story, but it seems neither crossing the 50K “finish line” nor the end of the month of November will mark the end of my work on this story, unless I suddenly find myself sprinting to the finish in a fit of manic inspiration before the end of the month.

Maybe, if I get it sufficiently polished up with a couple of major edits, I’ll even publicly post it online for the world to read (or not, as it sees fit). I don’t expect that to happen before next November, at the earliest — but maybe I’ll surprise myself, and find that I’m as productive a rewriter as I am a writer.

I’ll probably polish up and publicly share the campaign materials as a complete campaign setting, too, if that interests you.

31 October 2009

NaNoWriMo as Campaign Preparation

Filed under: Geek,RPG,Writing — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 07:14

(TL;DR Summary: I’ve decided to use this year’s NaNoWriMo as a means to flesh out a campaign setting.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

As National Novel Writing Month looms ever nearer, I have been fighting with myself over what to do for the month of November this year. I made the mistake of telling a friend of mine about an idea for a novel a couple of years ago that involves a war on the surface of Mars, and he has been so interested in the idea that for the last two years he has been haranguing me to actually write it for NaNoWriMo. I haven’t been able to really capture the inspiration to do so yet, though, so it’s still sitting on the back burner.

I was thinking long and hard about tackling it this year but, as time runs out before the end of October, I realized that it just wasn’t coming together in my head. I have been hesitant to commit myself to participating directly in NaNoWriMo this year at all, in fact. I think, though, that I have decided I have an idea that I simply cannot allow to lie unexplored, so I’ll take a whack at writing 50,000+ words of a novel in 30 days one more time this year.

Velesh Thumbnail

The thing that finally made up my mind (if my decision turns out to actually be final) is the fact that I’m working on the development of a Pathfinder RPG campaign setting I call the Eastern Kingdoms. It takes place in the northern half of the eastern reaches of the larger of two continents on an in-development map of a campaign world called Velesh. The Eastern Kingdoms is an area dominated by squabbling, humanocentric, petty kingdoms. It is a grim and gritty setting, where magic is rare, and dangerous, and viewed with fear and awe. Arcane magic is in fact condemned as witchcraft, and the closest thing to divine magic there is the power gained by trafficking with daemons — which have their own religions, where they are worshipped as gods.

Rather than turn this SOB entry into a rambling, disorganized description of the Eastern Kingdoms setting, I’ll get to the point:

Eastern Kingdoms Thumbnail

I have something like two thirds of the territory of the Eastern Kingdoms generally divided up between five kingdoms and an area where smaller political divisions have defected from nearby kingdoms to form a loose confederation of mutually distrustful and fractious pockets of semi-order. I have some details of major religious influences, the recent histories of the various political divisions worked out in broad strokes, and the structure and politics (to varying degrees) of the several kingdoms described in my notes. This is all in preparation for a campaign I am planning that will begin with the PCs as members of a notorious mercenary company that profits from the strife and turmoil of perpetual conflict between the Eastern Kingdoms.

Of course, I still have a third of the territory on the Eastern Kingdoms map to fill in, and a fair bit more flavor and detail to impart to the areas I have already begun describing and defining, before I have things settled enough to provide real depth to PCs’ backgrounds. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in, because I plan to start writing a tale set in the Eastern Kingdoms, and use the driving need for 1667+ words per day, as a minimal average over 30 days, to fuel my inspiration as I work on fleshing out the Eastern Kingdoms. With luck, by the time November is over, I will have one of the most richly detailed and flavorful campaign settings I have ever created.

14 October 2009

Wound Points

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:23

(TL;DR Summary: This is my variant of the Vitality/Wounds optional rules for dealing with damage. It improves verisimilitude for d20-compatible game systems, as compared with the default Hit Point system. It’s also designed to be simpler and smoother than the Vitality/Wounds system as presented in Unearthed Arcana.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In Introducing the Mage Class, Release Candidate 1, I mentioned that I’m using a variation on the Vitality/Wounds system presented in the D&D 3.5 Unearthed Arcana book. I first mentioned something about it more than a year ago — at least as far back as June 2008, in Damage Systems in D&D and Pathfinder and Making Combat Better with the 20+Nd9 Critical System.

The system has undergone a little bit of evolution in how I use it since then. The current form of it, which I developed while thinking about how to put together a listing of house rules to use in a new campaign, looks a little something like this:

Taking Damage

  1. Two stats on the character sheet that are relevant are Constitution and Vitality. Basically, “Vitality” is what we now think of as Hit Points. In that respect, it’s no different from the original Vitality/Wounds system. There isn’t a Wounds total as a separate stat on the sheet, though — there’s just Constitution. This is because, instead of treating the on-sheet stats as pools that can be depleted, I treat them as thresholds. More on that later.

  2. One takes damage as Hit Points. HP are recorded on the sheet as a positive number, rather than subtracted from a Hit Point pool. Some people already do this when tracking HP damage, simply maintaining a static HP pool total and a cumulative total of damage taken, though I think the vast majority probably maintain a static HP pool total and a second number that is that same total minus any HP damage taken so far.

  3. Any time a critical hit occurs, the HP damage gets assessed in two ways.

    • The HP damage is assessed as a Wound Point damage quantity, which is tracked as a cumulative number the same way as normal HP.

    • The HP damage is also assessed as a Hit Point damage quantity, added to the running total of HP damage taken, but before it is assessed it is multiplied by the critical hit multiplier of the weapon. More on that later.

    More on that later.

  4. If someone takes enough HP of damage to exceed his Vitality total, any additional damage is assessed as WP instead.

  5. When HP equals or exceeds Vitality, the character is unconscious. When WP equals or exceeds Constitution, the character’s life functions cease. In practice, the character is dead. More on that later.

Resuscitation

A character whose WPs equal or exceed his Constitution is dead. Of course, they might still be saved by use of magic or heroic lifesaving Heal checks. Every round after the WP total equals the Constitution score, another WP (and another HP, if the character hasn’t already taken as many HP of damage as his Vitality) of damage is automatically assessed, though, so such attempts to save the character should be made quickly.

Apply a -10 penalty to any Heal check made to resuscitate the character. If the result is enough to bring the WP total below the character’s Constitution, the character is healed by that many WPs. At that point, the point of damage every round suffered because of taking more WP damage than his Constitution score halts. Any bleeding damage, however, must be dealt with via a separate Heal check or magical healing attempt, or the character may take more WP damage and end up dying again.

Magical healing just applies to Wound Points as normal — so that any magical healing that can reduce Wound Point totals do so, and if the total is brought below the level of the character’s Constitution score, he has been resuscitated.

Whys and Wherefores

The following is just a listing of some reasoning for some of the decisions I’ve made in adjusting the Vitality/Wounds system.

More On Thresholds

One thing that programming has taught me is that data should not be stored in multiple places. This is particular to programs, of course — and says nothing about backups. Another such lesson from programming is that of simplifying the operations of a program so that, where possible, the same set of steps can be used to perform multiple operations. A character sheet is, in some respects, similar to a program. That similarity helped inspire me to reduce the duplication of data on a character sheet and unify the way different, but similar, operations are handled.

By using Constitution as a threshold for Wounds damage, rather than copying the Constitution to produce a new and separate Wounds stat, I’ve reduced the duplication of data on the sheet. By calling the Wounds damage Wound Points, I’ve made it a parallel with Hit Points, and by calling the total of the Hit Point capacity of the character Vitality and making that a threshold for a positive Hit Point number that accumulates damage taken, I’ve turned the potentially somewhat different pool-tracking Vitality and positive threshold use of Wounds into a pair of identically managed threshold values.

More On Critical Damage

The canonical Vitality/Wounds system in Unearthed Arcana suggests using critical multipliers as an adjustment to the threat range of the weapon. Doing so involved a bit too complex a bit of arithmetic to make it reasonable, though. It isn’t difficult arithmetic — but it is complex enough so that, in the course of play, it is likely to get ignored or fudged. The formula for translating critical multipliers into threat range modifiers looks, in its simplest form, like this (with CM standing in for the critical multiplier number, and TR standing in for the minimum number for the weapon’s threat range in the standard weapon stats; NTR is the new threat range):

NTR = TR - CM + 2

Given a Longsword, with a threat range of 19-20 and a multiplier of x2, that translates to:

NTR = 19 - 2 + 2 = 19

For a Handaxe, thats:

NTR = 20 - 3 + 2 = 19

It’s easy enough to make the necessary modifications to the weapon stats on a character sheet for weapons that are regularly used, but when picking up a weapon (say, during an escape from jail) or when a GM has to deal with off-the-cuff NPCs and random combat encounters, it’s too easy to get details like that lost in the shuffle. The problem, of course, is justifiable laziness. We aren’t playing the game for excuses to do extra arithmetic, after all.

More On Unconsciousness and Death

The way that damage is assessed to Vitality and Constitution by way of Hit Points and Wound Points allows for a character to fall unconscious without dying, if HPs reach the level of the character’s Vitality before the character takes enough WPs to die. It also allows for a character to die before falling unconscious by taking enough WPs in damage to reach the level of his Constitution without doing enough HP damage to knock the character out. It does all of this without having to introduce a separate system for determining whether a character falls unconscious.

Summary

The following is a summarized explanation of the system, and the way it’s currently described on the house rules description I’m putting together for the new campaign:

Hit Points are a measure of vitality rather than actual physical health. As a character tires out, takes bruises and scrapes, and starts lagging behind an opponent with superior skills in combat, his vitality is sapped, leaving him more and more vulnerable to life threatening wounds. A healthy vitality total is equal to the character’s total hit dice plus his constitution bonus multiplied by the number of hit dice — the same as for rolling up hit points when not using this damage system.

Any time a successful critical hit occurs, or the character takes enough hit point damage to exceed his vitality, damage is instead assessed to a wound point total. When the wound point total equals or exceeds the character’s Constitution, his or her life functions cease. Wound points continue to accumulate at a rate of one per round in addition to any cumulative bleeding damage; the character may be restored to life by making a Heal skill check. Any points in excess of 10 are compared to the total wound points, and if the number reduces wound points to below the character’s Constitution score, he or she is resuscitated. If not, the attempt has no effect. If the character is still bleeding, he or she may still die again due to wound points in excess of Constitution; stopping bleeding requires a separate Heal check.

Critical hits do normal weapon damage as wound points, but they also do HP damage using the critical multiplier as indicated in the weapon’s stats.

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License