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Shimmin Bloeg

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December musings and self-pity

Shimmin Beg


It's a while now since I made did very much Cthulhu-related, the Derelict post being the exception. I've had low-level health problems for the last few months which have just cut my available energy, and also made it hard to focus. Since work demands quite a lot of that focus, there's not a lot left for hobbies.


The following self-indulgent, self-pitying whinge is skippable, but there might be some broader points of interest in here somewhere...


Gaming writing (be that scenarios or blogs) is surprisingly demanding. I shouldn't really be surprised by that any more, but a lot of the time I am able to roll out a tolerable post within just a couple of evenings, mulling over the finer points in quiet moments at work. On the other hand, those evenings I tend to suddenly realise it's 11pm and I've been typing editing blogposts for four hours - which goes to show how much attention is actually involved. When I can't muster that focus, it's slow and painful work.


I suspect my particular style of writing doesn't help either. My blogposts tend to be fairly analytical, which means I need to be able to muster the points and arguments in my head, juggle them around, think up counterpoints. I like to understand how things work, mechanically and psychologically. I like to consider counterfactual cases - what if instead they did this? And I do like to feel they're reasonably comprehensive, at least as far as my own capabilities allow. But that sort of thing, while it falls very short of academic writing (thankfully no longer needed), still requires a certain amount of the same skills and almost as much energy.


Case in point: I'm trying to write a follow-up post for The Derelict discussing the issues involved in single-monster scenarios. I have bits of it floating around my head, but it's so frustratingly vague, and I don't have the energy to force it to coalesce. Oh, I can put down a line or two, but I can't hold the article in my head and write in a coherent way, and I quickly run out of motivation. It's not the article, it's just exhaustion.


So! That aside, the year has been okay in gaming terms (though in few others, I think most of us can agree).


I'm waiting for feedback on Lincolnshire II, and hope to look it over again in January with an eye to playtesting it sometime soonish. If it works out well I'm wondering about trying to combine the non-plot parts of both, giving me essentially a Gaslight Lincolnshire resource with two scenarios associated, and then looking to add the third when I feel ready to tackle it again. At the moment I'm duplicating a lot of background material across the two.


As usual I'm getting ideas vastly faster than I could write them, even if I didn't have a day job. Only yesterday I had what I think is quite a cool idea, though it would need a lot of input from some archaeologists. I feel writing a scenario about archaeologists, substantially based on doing archaeology, probably requires more information than even Helen's Handbook supplies. To be fair, I'm already writing one, but it's... let's say less authentic.


I've started listening to The Curse of Ninevah and am enjoying it so far. It's nice having some longer things to mix with the little BBC programmes for my 45-minute walk to work.


One thing that does strike me, as a biggish listener to actual play podcasts, is how grim a lot of it is. There's a lot of Call of Cthulhu (I think it's one of the better games for the format, being low on mechanics and high on events) and I've sort of struggled to find much else since some of my older podcasts ended, but I find many of them are quite bleak or grim. The players tend to be having fun (YSDC certain do, as do RPPR for example) but the games themselves rarely seem upbeat, even when they aren't Lovecraftian horror. I do repeatedly come back to the idea that I'd like to find some positive and cheerful games to play and listen to. Surely it must be possible? Or does the medium just not really lend itself to the kinds of narratives that work that way?


Anyway! I'm hoping Christmas will give me the time (and the break from work) to recover from whatever mystery illness I've got, and recharge for a thoroughly productive 2017. It'd be nice to bludgeon down that Unwritten Scenarios pile a little, especially as there's now at least three campaigns on there - one of which requires essentially writing a full CoC supplement :S


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The nature of Call of Cthulhu means it is indeed rarely upbeat, certainly in its plot-design (and that's what we mostly play), but there's nothing stopping people playing and recording such games.


It may be worth checking out some of our old Adventure! (White Wolf, pulp-style) recordings resting in the original Silver Lodge archives list (if you've not heard them already).


I'd also be interested to hear what kinds of RPGs you think do have upbeat narratives/scenarios?

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Thanks Paul!


Rereading that post (never post late at night...) I should hastily qualify that I very much enjoy listening to Call of Cthulhu - which is possibly why so much of my podcasts folder is full of it... and a lot of the games have a cheerful table atmosphere.  We do enjoy a good horrible death, after all. The various YSDC Games Day recordings are a great example, and I'd say on the whole that one-shots tend to be more upbeat than campaigns, partly because there simply isn't time for them to become gruelling.  In many cases I think also one-shots allow for a sense that the protagonists have put an end to The Horror, even if it's at a cost.  Campaigns generally emphasise that any victory is temporary.


Another idea I'm struggling to articulate is that the length and complexity of investigative campaigns (with dozens of characters and clues) does fairly often seem to leave people struggling to maintain energy towards the end.  Walker is perhaps the best example from YSDC?  The final stages of HOTOE I remember were also a bit of a struggle.  That seems to be a structural thing.  In CoC's case, there's often a lot of loss along the way, and the endings themselves often involve further sacrifices, but any victories they buy are typically somewhat hollow.  While that can be a very satisfying experience as part of the genre, it's also downbeat.


I never did get round to listening to Adventure! for some reason.  They may have been lost in the Great MP3 Player Crash of '15... I will redownload them.  Thanks!


It's an interesting question.  I must confess now that I think of it, I'm struggling to pinpoint exactly what an upbeat narrative is!  Narratives do tend to revolve around challenges, after all, and in most cases that means bad things happening.  Even if you defeat the Bad Person, bad things have still happened, often to a lot of people.  The most upbeat narratives in general tend to be things like romance or adventure stories.  The former doesn't play well with RPGs for various reasons (number of players, for one), and a lot of the latter still involve plenty of bad!  One of the distinctions is often that adventure stories present events as exciting rather than bad, though as you get older and view the events with a fresh eye it can be harder to accept that.


Fantastical adventure does a reasonable job at being upbeat.  For example, if you accept that a lot of D&D monsters are evil forces of nature, then you can wholeheartedly rejoice in wiping out a threat and bringing peace (and delicious gold) to the countryside.  Rompier games like Inspectres and many FATE sessions tend to give unqualified victory.  Lasers and Feelings is supposed to be the same, although the one session I've played I managed to make into mostly a comical tragedy... These games also tend to position the player characters as straight-up heroes who care about each other and who do good things because it's the right thing to do.


On the other hand, systems like World of Darkness, Fiasco, anything postapocalyptic and a lot of teenager-focused games (like Monsterhearts) are about dwelling heavily on angst and bad feelings, and being fundamentally unpleasant people who have toxic relationships and do bad things to each other.


I think one of the aspects is that the genres seem to present the bad events differently, and also less realistic games are easier to distance yourself from.  The murder of a shopkeeper in CoC or World of Darkness feels quite different to me from the murder of a smith, or indeed a whole village, in a D&D game.  I suppose we parse things differently based on their genre?


I actually used to listen to a D&D 4e podcast which had a very long Lovecraftian-inspired campaign.  The final outcome was melancholy in some senses, as nobody made it out of there alive - but they made the stars wrong again for a very long time indeed, and it was the object they'd been knowingly working towards for a long time, so it felt pretty positive.


So I think broadly I'd tend to say D&D and its imitators, games designed for comedy genres, and things inspired by the optimistic strain of early C20th sci-fi.  I don't have a particularly satisfactory answer, unfortunately.  Maybe I'll find something in this latest round of hunting.


Sorry, I'm not sure that helped!

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I like listening to the "How We Roll" podcast. They do a good job with the Call of Cthulhu. I am not certain that they are upbeat... But it sounds like they are having fun so that comes across well on the recording.


Are you looking for the RPG equivalent of Amelie?




How about the Goonies? Or The Lost Boys?


I mean of course for RPG inspiration.

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Thanks Trev.  I think I may have heard their Inspectres episode - I must check them out again.


Amelie and the Goonies may be a good prompt, yes.  It's just that between listening to Call of Cthulhu games, HP Podcraft episodes, writing Cthulhu scenarios and reading Lovecraftian fiction my media has been pretty downbeat all told!

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Let's not discount the impact sickness may have had on you. I've been on again and off again sick since the end of November when my extended family came to visit, and I've barely felt myself since then. Health problems make even the things we love seem overly complex and bothersome, the founts we went to for inspiration cloudy and obtuse, and it is only in the throes of sickness that I have moody and somewhat resentful outlook on our hobby. I know work makes it hard, but do take care of yourself Shimmin, no matter how dreary or tragic the subject matter, it can still stimulate and entertain a well rested and healthy mind. We owe it to our workplace, family, fellow players, and ourselves to be in good enough health to pursue our goals in the best condition we can.


Your scenario workload seems immense as well, I've only been able t tackle two such projects at a time, never three, and I assure you they weren't up to the quality your work is. Try and take time to work on one at a time, switching to the other only when a measurable piece of progress has occurred on the other, otherwise in my experience, you'll jump from one to the other, and never get much further in any of them.


In regards to a archeologist-based scenario, you needn't be so informed to write something good. Imprisoned with the Pharohs and Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't come from sources of complete familiarity with archeology, yet they both continue to thrill and impress today. Obviously I'm not saying lower your standards, but perhaps OVER-preparing is not always necessary? There again, your professionalism in your writing has always been impressive and I'd never question your work ethic, but I don't think the professionalism and the enduring quality of your scenarios were based just on the research you did. You have an for detail and accuracy, and I think you will bring that to any work you tackle, fully informed on the subject or not.


I LOVE the Lovecraftian scene and can't get enough of the Scabrous horrors, bleak odysseys, but my time is often split between the Trail and Call of Cthulhu games I love to run, and the more upbeat, and certainty more adventurous Star Wars: Force and Destiny scenarios I run at my local game shop for a very different crowd. Perhaps this has kept me from falling into the same rut of melancholy I'm told many come to if they fill their heads to long with Lovecraft and his ilk, usually I'd RATHER be laying horrors and sanity shattering reveals for my players, but being required to do so in the context of a Fantasy like Star Wars has perhaps kept me a tad more well rounded than I'd otherwise be. The Force and Destiny system is quick and meaty, and a multitude of quality podcasts follow its exploits, be warned there's a lot of fan-fictiony drek out there too. ;)


Also, Shimmin, I think we'd be remiss to deny there is a certain melancholy to this season. Be it the amount of seasonal responsibilities thrust upon oneself, or the lack thereof and certain resentment for not partaking in what everyone else seems to be drinking, the weather, which I hope is mild for you walking 45 minutes to your job every day, the sudden and somewhat ominous emphasis on finances. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big believer in Christmastime, I love it, but am not blind to its downsides. So you add physical illness on top of seasonal depression, it can be quite the toxic cocktail, especially in regards to productivity. 


I agree one shots are often more optimistic than grueling campaigns,and usually set up a Christmas themed Scenario to be played with friend and sometimes family during this time, though my recurrent illness has made that impossible for the time being. It sounds like you have more than enough on your plate without planning something like that. But I still say, take care of yourself first, and then cleave to whoever it is in your life that makes the lumps of life a tad more reasonable. Know that your work is very much appreciated by the community, and that goes double for me, and you deserve a break and the ability to recuperate this holiday season. Here's to a proper New Years sir, may it find you well and productive.

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Aklo, thanks for your very considerate and thoughtful response!

I must admit I wasn't expecting any comments at all, so it's been very touching hearing from people.

You're quite right about the sickness - and I'm sorry to hear you've not been well yourself.  It does seem an unhealthy season this year as well as a dark and chilly one.  As you say, it casts a cloud over everything.

Your feedback is always very encouraging.  It's so good to hear that people enjoy what you're doing!  I may try posting my skeleton for Lincolnshire III in the Silver Lodge, and see whether over the holidays anyone has inspiration for my plotblock.

I'm sorry you won't be able to manage your traditional Christmas special.  I hope you'll have a decent break yourself, and the chance to rest up and feel more yourself for the new year.  Who knows, perhaps an unexpected April Christmas scenario will be the twist your players need?

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Cheers Shimmin! There I was trying to cheer you up and you turn around and improve my outlook substantially.


Full weekend's break looks like its in my future (and favor) and I look forward to sharing it with friends. But in a calm, sequestered, peaceful manner. ^^


I also like your suggestion to place a small Christmas scenario in the month of April for the coming year. Lot's of time to plan and work on that, and will make up for the wasted time this dratted illness has taken.


Thanks again mate, and take care.

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