Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cutting Room Floor

I hit 500 posts last week—not published posts mind you, those only stand at half that number—but 500 hundred drafts that have not seen the light of day because I gave up on them before I hit that shiny, red post button. Some are outright rants brimming with whatever flavor of the month passion, some flit from thought to thought, some are painfully long with slow expositions, and some are just painful.

Every once in a while I resurrect one—the Dad and Vietnam story from last week for example—polish it up and put it out there. Those posts are invariably missing one key element to make them work: a good hook into something larger or broader of interest to readers; a solid lede to give it punch; an observation to push it out of being trite or overdone; and so on.

To date I haven't run out of something to say—just ways sometimes to express it in a way that my worst critic—myself--can stand.

Want a window into my jumble? Here we go. Here are the headers and ledes from four cutting floor posts (all over three months old).

Outtake 1:
Character-Based Sandbox Campaigns
On the face of it, Top Secret is an odd place to keep digging for experimental bits. Back in the day it was—as most of the historically-themed second-generation games—an awkward cousin of the TSR family. Nowadays with little to no current following, we can safely and sadly say it's in the dustbin of gaming history. Still Top Secret, in it's pre-TSR publication days as Spy World, had it's roots in the mid-70s creative explosion of experimentation with rpgs and as such you can still mine curious bits from it that may either shine a light on alternative paths not taken or be of use for classical play campaigns here and now...

Outtake 2:
House Rules: Learning As You Go
One learns many things experientially while in the GM hot seat. In the heat of (simulated) battle, you quickly learn that many of your best-laid plans work in ways you never intended positively or negatively—or just plain don't work. In fact, it's often the oh-so clever ideas that you so proudly clap yourself on the back on that often are the biggest offenders...

Outtake 3:
The Fantasy Game, D&D Variant Game
[No pithy lede, mostly a long outline]
Alternative character generation system (slightly more detailed version of website system)
    1. Quasi-Traveller, background and event-oriented though, not adult career. Childhood and young adulthood events determine dice pool for attributes.
    2. Players have choice of background (urban, rural, barbarian, demi-human, exotic)
    3. Random equipment table option (modified from my LotFP one)
    4. All characters with INT 15 or over start with one cantrip (0 level MU spell)
    5. All characters with WIS 15 or over start with one orison (0 level Cleric spell)...

Outtake 4:
Spellcaster Demographics
How many spellcasters live in yon town? It's something we don't often think about on a deep level--or at least admittedly its something I rarely think about--but it is a demographic yardstick with profound implications. Campaign thinking in D&D seems to hang on the magical consumer economy for player characters. The distinction between low and high fantasy settings thus revolving around the frequency of magic items, the relative likelihood of a magic “store”, the availability of magical services from NPCs, etc...

Why post them, you conveniently ask?

Simple, all four of these are candidates for Lazarus treatment. Which ones deserve it? (If any, after all a good friend is one who tells you have a big dollop of toothpaste dangling on your chin.) 


  1. I hate to say, Chris, but I think all four are topics I would read. Doesn't really help you I suppose, but that's the price for success harhar.

    I guess if pressed I'd say three sounds pretty intriguing. Is this related to that Holmes Expert experiment you were thinking about a while back?

  2. The problem is that I have a hard time sifting through the ideas that have merit, but flawed execution and the ones that just suck outright. I picked some of the better ones, so perhaps these are ok, but I just can't say definitively.

    Long-winded way of saying, yes that's sorta of helpful Ken. (I will take your question as a soft vote for three.)

    Yeah sure, there were some ideas that flowed out of the Holmes discussion, but the bulk of it was coming out of the work with the alternative chargen subsystems and the opening discussions of what would become the current Domain Game project.

    Thanks for the input at any rate.

  3. I'd be most interested in "The Fantasy Game".

  4. "The Fantasy Game" I take it is a homage to Gary Gygax's working title for Dungeons and Dragons before publication?

    My vote goes to two and four.

  5. I'm quite interested in looking at those older, less talked about games for interesting ideas. Jeff Rients did this recently with Boot Hill. I think Gangbusters was based on a premise that Players with cops and robbers would be at the same table (not sure how that worked in play), and now you mention Top Secret . . .

  6. After the Vietnam post I must encourage you to dig up more! 1 & 2 get my votes.

  7. I'd be interested in them all too. This is a great, more democratic way to determine what gets posted..! Every blogger could put up a list of stubs like this once a week and have the decision on what to develop made by the readers. Innovation right here!

  8. All of 'em would be interesting, but maybe 3 and 4 more so to me.

    I'm just amazed at your level od critical discernment! I have only a couple of aborted posts in blogger. I don't get ideas quick enough to throw too many away after writing a bit! I gotta go with whatever I come up with. ;)

  9. @Wampus
    Yeah Jim it is indeed, though I think the story is high likely to be apocryphal according to some of the founding generation.

    I am interested in exploring some of these other games too as they were part of our rotation (even if only played for a month or two).

    It's interesting that you raise the competitive potential of Gangbusters as the Top Secret thread was supposed to be a follow up, I seem to remember, to this post:

    Thanks. I would also recommend that readers check out your own three-part series of personal reminisces. (I move slowly I still have some comments I need to post.)

    It's funny that you say that, I was originally going to dress this up somewhat disingeously as me being all democratic and participatory, but it's more of a sad, sad cry for help than anything (though politically I am all in favor of participatory democracy).

    Seriously though, I do enjoy the ability to break down the fourth wall and engage your readers more directly that blogging encourages at times. It's a trend that I think would like to experiment more in.

    My blogging ideas seem to come in non-linear box cars, my brain flips back to old posts, something I read a few months ago, someone else's old post, etc. and then I mull it around, try it on for size with a few paragraphs. Often I just don't like out it fits and I move on to the next idea.