Saturday, December 18, 2010

It Stands For Death & Dismemberment

Now, I've written a few stories in my time. A few of them even have endings. A few of those actually have decent endings. Something I've never written, however, is a story for a game.
I've always been curious about Dungeons and Dragons, but I've always been turned off by the amount of stat comparisons, difficulty checks, dice rolls and general other nonsense that has to happen in order to have fun. I'm much more interested in the narrative part of the game; it's a video game where almost anything can happen! It's much more of a sandbox than regular games, because you're playing with someone's interpretation of the game rules, not with a computer whose rules are set in stone.
Because of this interest, and because of some new friends who are alright with the idea, I endeavored to create something that I call Dungeons and Dragons Ultra Light, loosely using the naming conventions of fonts, whose weights are measured in degrees from Bold to Ultra Light. That's right, now I'm at least two kinds of geek.

Like the kind of guy who makes a steampunk 20-sided die.

Essentially my game (playfully referred to as D&D Ultra) is the poor man's version of the regular game: There are no game boards, stat sheets, miniatures, and there's only one type of die. The ol' 20-sided, or d20 as it's known to players.
I sketched out some basic rules that made the game play more like an old Lucas Arts adventure game than D&D. It made me realize that the only thing that sets my D&D Ultra apart from, say, Monkey Island or Full Throttle (apart from their games having significantly better writing) is the random dice rolls. In Full Throttle, if you want to open a locked door, you'd click “open” and he'd say, “I need a key for that.” In my game, if you want to open a locked door, I might have you roll the die to pick the lock or use a spell to open it. This is actually what I wanted, because my interest with D&D has always been more with the social interaction than the combat. The dice rolls help keep things interesting.

Rolling dice in this game would only slow down the awesome.

Here's where we get to the portion of the blog that actually talks about writing. When I set out to make a game for my group to play, the first thing I did was search around for a usable pre-made campaign that I could use. Unfortunately the ones I found used a format I wasn't familiar with, and the adventures were far too in depth for some of the people in my group. Although I knew nothing about D&D, let alone writing a campaign, I decided to dive in headfirst and write my own anyway. During one sleepless night, I wrote out the first four areas of the campaign in my head. The next day I sat down and committed my ideas to paper (well, to a word processor) and added enough extra stuff to finish the story. It's very simple, really. As an actual story it wouldn't hold up at all. Frankly I just wanted to make a few interesting areas for my friends to run around in.
Once we actually played it, I learned what I did right and wrong. I previously knew I couldn't anticipate every action the group wanted to take. I naively assumed the group would loosely follow the path I gave them. I had a few interactions and descriptions on paper that I could read off, but 90% of the time I was making things up on the fly, which was immensely fun, but it would have been nice to have something to reference.

For instance, in the first area you have a few people you can talk to: The bartender, the barmaid, an old soldier and a really drunk guy. (It already sounds a little like Monkey Island, huh?) You can talk to all of them, but I had only written responses to one question for each character, and naturally those were the questions nobody asked. I also discovered that my group almost consistently either wanted to flirt with everyone or simply murder them. I was almost prepared; I had written in difficulty rolls for Flirting, Threatening and Bluffing. However, I didn't anticipate the murderous nature of my friends, which in itself is a little frightening.

It turns out that it takes many, many pages of text to be fully prepared for the group's choices. I found a free D&D campaign off the company's website and now I better understand what it says. If you flip to the back there are tons of little paragraphs detailing what happens when a player touches X thing or threatens X person. It's a little bit like programming a video game, except it requires no programming, just a lots writing.
It's a great writing challenge, and yet I find myself wanting to write many, many more adventures.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nightmare at 20,000 Degrees

I was recently very ill and I ran a high fiver. Having a fever makes my brain do funny things. I was burning so hot that I let my brothers watch a movie on my computer while I tried to sleep; I knew that I wasn't going to be sleeping anyway; the past has taught me this. Instead I elected to roll over and let my fever burn while I listened to the movie. It wasn't very good; it was about Harrison Ford as a lawyer trying to prove that he didn't murder one of his coworkers. There were no car chases, explosions or anything else interesting. Now, I'm not one to object to courtroom drama (get it? Object? I'm so clever), but this wasn't even the good, Perry Mason kind. However the movie did let my brain interpret the characters and lines into a sort of home-made mashup of itself. It's literally the only way to make the movie interesting.
Once the movie ended and everyone went to bed, I took a hearty dose of Nyquil and twitchingly slipped into some unpleasant non-REM sleep. My brain became stuck in this one awful dream. It's going to be hard to describe because there's nothing like it.
Essentially, I was meeting these people who I think were Italian. However, they didn't speak Italian (or maybe they did), because this language was based around a black, endless supply of cubes arranged almost exactly the way you see below.

Amazingly, Google Image search already had an image of my dream on file.
The only difference between my dream and the picture was that it was like a cube planet made of black cubes. Naturally, the planet was a cube instead of a sphere. I need you to understand how exhaustingly massive it was. Whenever the Fever-Italians would speak, it was like somebody would grab my by my brain stem and yank me down a nonsensical path through the cubes. Each word would take me to a different place on this complicated, black cube. The cube would twist, turn buckle, warp and deform with every new word. I think I was trying to learn the language, but it was simply impossible. The more they talked, the more the city of cubes twisted in seemingly random motion. I couldn't see a pattern to any of it.
It was a tangled nightmare, and it kinda felt the way this looks.

I dreamt this from when I went to sleep around midnight until 6:30 in the morning, when I got up use the bathroom. As I shakily returned and slid into bed, I noticed that my fever had gone down significantly, perhaps completely. The covers were much colder than they had been only moments before. As I pulled my two blankets around myself, I thought, “oh please, not more of that awful Italian language dream.” I was actually terrified that I would have to go back, which I had been subjected to for hours, unable to escape.

It was quite relaxing having an orderly mind.

Fortunately, I didn't have it for the rest of the night. I sat in bed, staring at the ceiling, hoping that I'd be able to go to sleep. Apparently I managed it quite well, because the next time I awoke it was 12:00 in the afternoon. I still felt horrible, though. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

English is Crazy

After an entire semester spent struggling through Spanish, I've come to appreciate my native language much more. Spanish, like English, has its own set of rules to follow. There are exceptions, modifications and just plain weird things about the language that we, as English speakers, don't use. If I were better at Spanish, here's where I would whip out a few direct examples of what I'm thinking of. But I'm not good at Spanish.

Is it offensive that they used shades of brown to denote "Spanishness?"

As I learned the broad strokes of Spanish, it made me start to question English's oddities. Like, why do we say, “way to go?” What does that phrase even mean? I see the word “way,” which means a style or method, but I just get confused when it's placed with “to go.” Are we saying that someone did something just the right way? Perhaps it's a reduction of “that's the right way to go,” suggesting that someone did something good. Who's the guy who decided to reduce this phrase into a meaningless hunk of words, huh!?
I can't prove it, but I suspect this book had a lot to do with it.

Here are some more phrases that could very well confuse and infuriate someone who is trying to become more proficient with the language:
Break a leg
Keep your eyes peeled
Look sharp
By and large
The apple of my eye

What is up with our English? And lets not forget words with bizarre alternate meanings that relate to things that seem completely arbitrary.
Cold (Refers to low temperature OR viral infection)
My mother kept telling me that if I didn't wear a coat out in the cold, I'd catch a cold.
Rose (A type of flower OR “to go up”)
The rose rose from its humble beginnings in the dirt.
Brood (To ponder moodily OR “offspring”)
Charlie's brood were known to brood.
Blubber (Mammalian fat OR “to utter while sobbing”)
Teresa usually began to blubber when the subject of whale blubber came up.
Tender (Sore OR gentleness OR “to present for acceptance”)
Bill tenderly tendered his resignation, which was difficult because his arm was still tender.
Count (A European nobleman OR “to recite numbers”) (Sesame Street has known about this for years.)
The Count would count the tiles on his ceiling when he couldn't sleep.
Season (A specific annual time division and “enhance the flavor of food")
During the winter season, Mark noticed that Sarah would season her cooking more heavily.
Coast (Seashore OR “move aimlessly”)
While riding my bicycle, I coast down the hill by the coast.
Polish (To make something shiny by cleaning OR someone or something from Poland)
My Mom made us polish the Polish furniture.

Oh well, since it's the only language I have, I guess I'll just have to keep using it.