ROW80 Check-In 1/10/18

Progress has been fairly good this week. I’ve enjoyed writing more informative blog posts. Tabletop RPG supplement writing is an interesting balancing act between writing fiction (all the background and setting details themselves) and informational writing (all of the rules tidbits and instructions for players). I thought that a series of blog posts would help me sharpen up in both domains. So far it definitely feels like it is.

Aside from the daily writing, I’ve also been making a conscious effort to read more. Reading is something that I was very passionate about in school, but I think I got kind of burnt out on it through the end of high school and college. I never really went back to it until recently, where again life got in the way of my free time for a while there. Unfortunately I have a tendency to go for the longer books. I’m currently reading the Stand. With my lack of focus on reading lately, it feels like I’ll never finish that damn book, but I’m enjoying every page of it.

Off I go to write another Canopy background post! The next one will be a quick primer on the world of Canopy itself. I think I’m going to stagger future posts a little bit though, try to schedule them to publish ahead a bit so I can avoid the cluster of posts follow by a long drought.

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The Intended Form and Format for Canopy (and a Mini History Lesson)

Today I will be detailing what the product of Canopy will look like, when all is said and done, and why I’m choosing to do it this way.

First, a little history. As I said in my last post, most RPG supplements historically have fallen into two main types: Settings and modules. Modules are essentially pre-made adventures. They contain all the maps, enemies, and narrative elements necessary for a GM to run a story. They also typically contain some details of the surrounding areas and the general setting, like what the king is like or what wizard built this particular dungeon etc. They tend to be able to tie into other adventures to create larger stories. They’re little bite sized tidbits of a world, that you can tie together to create a fuller whole.

Settings, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. They work at the macro level, giving big sweeping histories of anywhere from a kingdom to an entire continent or world. They detail major factions at play, major wars or other events in the past, and typically contain a lot of details about towns and major people in the setting etc. They are the broad strokes to a modules finer details.

Most supplements fall into one of those two categories. There is also a lot of crossover between products. For example, D&D has the Forgotten Realms setting, which contains both setting books, with the broad strokes, and individual adventure modules, with the finer details.

One of my favorite examples of this cross-pollination is the Gazetteer series for Basic D&D. This is where I got a lot of the inspiration for the formatting of Canopy. Basic D&D was intended to be a version of Dungeons and Dragons which had “lighter” rules, to make it easier to get into, compared to the behemoth that was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Comparing Basic D&D’s 124 pages across two books to AD&D’s whopping 484 pages across 3 individual volumes is enough to illustrate their approach. Basic D&D itself covered levels 1-3, and then added 4 additional volumes (starting with Expert next, covering up to level 14) to slowly add complexity and build up to a greater whole. AD&D just dumped the entire kitchen into one set to cover levels 1-20 right out the gate. For a group just starting to play, 125 pages is much easier to stomach than 484, and then once that is mastered they can move on to greater complexity. There are arguments for and against both methods, but there is something appealing to me about the slow buildup that Basic D&D took.

When it came time for the supplements, a similar effect is seen. While adventure modules have always tended to be slim volumes for both Basic and Advanced D&D, with just enough information to run a single story, setting supplements tended to be much thicker books. As a point of comparison most of the D&D core setting books, such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, come in at 200-300 pages a piece, usually at the higher end of that spectrum. That isn’t counting additional books to add even more detail to those same settings.

The Basic D&D line, however, took a different approach again. The main setting for Basic D&D is known as Mystara (or “The Known World” depending on where you look). When it came time to detail out their setting books, they introduced the Gazetteer line. Each volume in the Gazetteer line ran between 80-110 pages or so, 1/2 to 1/4 the size of AD&D supplements. This makes it a much more manageable chunk to play in. They detail a smaller area than larger settings books tend to, and focus more on the individual details of that area. The brilliant part of this, however, is that TSR went on to produce 14 total Gazetteer books. Each one can be played in individually, without even glancing at the others, but taken as a whole they detail out a setting the size of those larger setting books. Aggregate, they come to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1400 pages total about the Mystara setting. Just as the rulebooks slowly built you up from less than 100 pages of rules for levels 1-3 all the way up to 5 books taking you through level 36 and on to godhood, the Gazetteer line gave an insane amount of detail to Mystara, while still making it simple for a group to play in a little chunk of the setting at a time.

This is the approach I am taking with Canopy. I have some pretty grand plans for this world, but it will be released in individual sub-100 page volumes. The current plan is for 5 to cover the entire setting. Each one will be playable individually, without requiring you to read the whole 5 book series. If you like one particular area, you just pick up that book and go. Each one will cover a unique geography, cover different playable species, and have a rogue’s gallery of the baddies one might find there (along with various other morsels).

My hope is that this will make it an easily digestible, but still deep, setting. Stay tuned for more details as to what this setting actually entails!

What I’m Doing

In this post: My plan for this blog, and a little bit of info on what the Canopy project is.

My current plan is for this blog to become a lot more active. I’m transitioning this to a more general-purpose personal blog, away from the one-off prose poetry project that it started out as (although that still might be posted sometimes).

So what will this blog be then? For my friends and family who read this blog, part of ROW80 is posting updates on goal progress to the ROW80 site and their Facebook group on Sundays and Wednesdays. That means that twice a week you’ll see an update regarding my writing process in general.

In addition to that, I’m going to start posting about Canopy itself. Even in the Facebook group dedicated to it, specific setting details have been fairly vague so far, intentionally so. I was afraid of putting out too many concrete details, both because I was afraid many of them might change, but also out of a slight paranoia about people plagiarizing my ideas. In actuality the finalized setting books should have enough inherent value in terms of finalizing those ideas and drawing them all together into a greater whole, and such articles can only really work to the projects benefit. Plus, if people copy me that just means that I’m doing something right. I am going to start putting together essays on the people, sites, and dangers of the canopy as a way to both inform people who might be interested, as well as get a more fluid place to put my thoughts together to decide on what all goes into the finalized books. Full disclosure: These ideas are not necessarily final. What goes into the final books may be modified from what I post here.

As far as how I’m holding to my goals so far (30 minutes a day on the project, 5 sentences complete) I have been struggling, but I have found that my mind is on Canopy more and more throughout the day. I have been getting some ideas for it driving to work, preparing meals, and brushing my teeth. So it’s already started paying dividends there, and the actual measurable goals of it are getting a little easier.

Since this post is aimed at the ROW80 folks, I figured I would clarify exactly what it is I’m doing in this post as well. I’ve received quite a few questions about the Canopy project, and I quickly realized that the idea of a tabletop role-playing game supplement is a little alien to most people. For the uninitiated, tabletop role-playing games are essentially story-telling games. You might hear it described as improv, but with dice. To me, it hearkens back to the days of our ancestors sitting around a fire telling stories: a live, collaborative, creative activity. The one most people have heard of is Dungeons & Dragons. You have one game master, and usually between 3 to 6 “players.” The game master (or GM) describes a situation–“Your party enters a cave and sees a small band of goblins guarding a treasure chest”–and the players take turns describing what their character does in that situation–“I try to sneak around and see what’s in the chest” or “I attack!” The players or GM then roll dice to see if they succeed, and play continues from there. It’s a way for participants to act out the roles of different characters, with a framework of rules that provides structure and probabilities to their choices.

Canopy is a setting. Back in the early days of the hobby, all that existed was Dungeons & Dragons (it was the first). It had a bit of an implied setting that the stories took place in; you had elves, dragons, hobbits (known as halflings), goblins, and a set of magic spells named after great wizards. Aside from that though, it was mostly open. Game masters were expected to make up their own maps and dungeons and backstories and castles and villages for their players to adventure in.

Over time though, companies saw that many groups were interested in playing in other peoples’ worlds, where they wouldn’t have to do all the legwork. They started to put out supplements to the rules that detailed adventures and settings that people could play in (many of which started out in their own homes for their friends). All the maps, locations, and backstories were detailed in advance, so GMs could decide to play in that particular world and hit the ground running.

So there are really two main types of products for RPGs: Rulebooks, which tell you how to play, and supplements, which detail where the adventures take place.

Canopy is a supplement. It will detail the peoples, the important locations, the history, and the villains of my setting. It will allow other people to play in my world in their own homes. The ruleset it is based on is called Savage Worlds (which you can find here), which is a set of rules that are designed to be generic and fit in wherever you need. So you use their rules, to play in my world. Canopy will also offer some new rules and modifications to rules that will make it more unique to my world, but that will be detailed in other posts.

Feel free to ask me any questions about the Canopy project, or RPGs in general, down below. I am very passionate about this type of gaming (I use it in my work as a residential counselor with youth to help in skill building) and love to talk about it! Also, keep in tune to my blog for any updates on Canopy in the future. The next post I hope to give a general overview of the setting itself.

New Year’s Resolutions (ROW80 Goals Post)

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I tell myself it’s for all kinds of pragmatic reasons, bundling them in with self help best-sellers and superstitions in terms of universal feel-goods. I’ve always felt they’re a bit of a salve to ease the sting of a year’s stagnation, promising next year will be better. We celebrate a year finally over, then slap a whole ton of aloe on it and look toward a brighter future.

As I get older I’m starting to gravitate towards them more. That stagnation just stings more every year. I think though that it has always stung, I’ve just been better at denying it in the past. Now I feel like I need to do something about it. I also think that more than ever before, I realize that there is a use for that salve. Sure, if you fry yourself, aloe up, then go out next week and do it all again it’s merely a means of temporary comfort. But if you use it to atone for your bad habits, then make changes, it has a purpose. That healing can be here to stay.

So ROW80 can be my pharmacy. It can give me the salve to give me hope of healing, and I’m going to do my damnedest not to burn again.

So as I’ve stated before, my ultimate goal is to write consistently. I’ve been too focused in the past on turning writing into money, trying to create something out of nothing (“Phase 1, start writing; Phase 2, ???; Phase 3, profit”). So my plan is to build good writing habits. For more concrete goals, my plan is to spend 30 minutes on writing a day (planning, research, etc.) and end that time with at least 5 sentences of actual writing (inspired by this post by EdenMabee).  The project I am working on is a setting supplement for a tabletop roleplaying game, so hopefully that will help me get back into the habit of not only the writing itself, but also the planning and outlining involved in that kind of writing.

So off I go to slather up. Wish me luck!