This episode, Grant and Peter talk about making real-world locations you’re not familiar with into interesting, gameable locations! First, though, we have a lot of well-deserved plugs to get through. The Gameable Disney Podcast is absolutely amazing, and both of us recommend listening to its entire backlog of episodes. Christian Geek Central is awesome (and not only because Mikel did a fun interview with us.) And Grant in particular is a big fan of System Mastery, and he just sent them Deliria to review (warning: probably NSFW.) After all that, we get into the meat of the episode, and break down a bunch of useful resources to use when setting a game or scenario in a real-life location you don’t know well.
Especially dedicated listeners (or those that tuned in for Episode 50’s live recording session) have been exposed to the longest-running inside joke in Saving the Game’s history: Blarey the Podcast Train. I live about a block away from some railroad tracks, and when the freight trains come through, the engineers seem to take a perverse joy in laying on the horn just right, so the sound waves bouncing off the sides of the houses turn the entire street into a giant megaphone. There are certainly more annoying things in the world, but the blaring (blaring horn – Blarey – get it? Yeah, you really didn’t need me to explain that, did you?) of that train horn in the middle of a podcast recording session certainly makes my top ten list of recurring irritations I wish I could be rid of.
But as long as I live on this street, Grant is going to have to edit around breaks in the conversation as we all pause to allow the train sounds on my audio track to fade into the background. The train has derailed conversations and gotten them back on track when we had to pause in the middle of a tangential discussion, it’s spawned its own jingle (“Blarey, the podcast train – he’s here to ruin your aud-i-O!” [thanks for that, Branden—Grant]) and has, as I mentioned earlier, become an inside joke among the hosts, to the point that, for all of its distracting qualities, it’ll feel like the end of an era whenever I move and record an episode from someplace where the familiar rumble and deafening honk aren’t going occur.
If you keep an eye open, it’s possible to do similar things in-game. In Episode 55, Grant and I spent some time discussing our Shadowrun PCs and in particular, how my PC, Frost, developed an in-game desire to return to the punch clock world of honest (and stable) employment. We discussed how that developed out of a joke, but we barely touched on the fact that the (in-game) joke rose out of another PC’s annoyance. The PC in question got into shadowrunning in order to avoid being part of the regular working world, and mine had the gall to drag him into that world, albeit for a short time.
Another PC of mine, a paladin with some psychological baggage, changed away from a hard, grim outlook when some other PCs pointed out to him just how ridiculous he seemed scowling and brooding all the time, and a third one managed to completely isolate himself from the rest of his adventuring party by being impatient and short-tempered with another PC who was obnoxious, but generally good-hearted.
It’s not a complete measure of a person by any stretch of the imagination, but how people deal with things that are bothering them, both individually and in groups, says a lot about who they are and what their character is like. Some folks will take an irritation and co-opt it, making something fun (or at least bearable) out of it like the StG hosts have done with the train that comes through my neighborhood, wrapping layers of humor and shared experience around the problem until it’s not really a problem any more. In this way, it’s almost like the process of an oyster making a pearl. Others will allow the irritant to control their mood, like the last PC I mentioned. Others still will change because of it, and some, realizing that they are the irritant, will try to make themselves less abrasive. None of these approaches to irritating circumstances is the “right” one when you’re creating characters, but it’s worth keeping them (and any other responses you can think of; my list certainly isn’t exhaustive) in the back of your mind for character development.
Who knows? Maybe that thing that’s just a pain today will eventually turn into something with its own theme song tomorrow.
Grant and Peter return to talk about laying the groundwork for character development before the game starts! We lead off with a reminder about Sojourn 2 (and the forthcoming Sojourn 3), and a request for listener input on topics and for reviews on iTunes. Then we get into the topic at hand: Setting yourself up for successful character growth ahead of time. We go over some methods, benefits and ideas; and we wrap up with a STG first—Peter and Grant attempting to put their own advice to good use on-air. Enjoy!
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26
I have an odd relationship with difficulty. Sometimes it just frustrates me. I play most shooters and other action games as well as most story-based RPGs on “normal” or “easy.” I tend to get annoyed when I’m playing a digital card game and the random number generator seems to favor the computer’s draws more often than not. But there are times when that falls away. I tend to thrive on a certain amount of pressure at work (even if most of it is internal), I love the feeling I get when I figure out a solution to a real-world problem, and I definitely like some more difficult gaming experiences.
I think the difference is that there is more than one kind of difficulty. One type represents being inadequate in some way I’m unable to overcome. This type of difficulty manifests in being shafted by a random number generator, being unable to twitch fast enough in a FPS or RTS to do anything but die, or even encountering an unexpected and unavoidable traffic jam on the way to work. I can’t control the random number generator, as I age, my reflexes aren’t going to get any faster, and there is no amount of good planning that will save me from the consequences of someone else, 20 minutes ahead of me, getting into an accident that snarls traffic in all directions.
The other type, however, comes from inexperience and invites growth. Some of my favorite gaming experiences have come from this type of difficulty. Way back in the late 1990s, Jagged Alliance 2 kept me on my toes and I moved a rag-tag squad of mercenaries around a map trying to liberate the oppressed country of Arulco. That game is really tough, but the toughness feels fair; enemies are subject to the same rules as you, and while they often have better numbers and equipment, they are seldom any match on a personal prowess level for your team. In addition, staying calm and using solid tactics will usually be enough to get you out of all but the thorniest jams. XCOM: Enemy Within plays out in a very similar manner, as do a number of other great turn-based strategy games I’ve played over the years.
Two more good examples are the entire roguelike and rogue-lite genre cluster and Lords of the Fallen, which I’m playing in preparation for taking a crack at a Dark Souls game. Like the aforementioned turn-based strategy games, they give you a consistent set of rules that everything in the world plays by, then puts you in a set of circumstances designed to test how well you can work within those rules. As you play, you can feel yourself getting better. When I first started playing Lords of the Fallen, a single rhogar marauder was more than a match for me. Now I can take on two at a time and usually come out victorious (if not unscathed).
Finally, there are deck-building card games, which I have very hit-or-miss luck with. I’m good enough at Magic: The Gathering for it to be fun in a casual context (and I love Commander/EDH) but I’ll never darken the door of a tournament. I tend to get my clock cleaned in Race for the Galaxy and Dominion, but I love those games anyway, I can feel myself getting slowly better, and the success I experience in all three is more satisfying not only for the failure I’ve experienced, but for the knowing why.
There is a parallel, I think, between the struggle to get better at some game and getting better at being a person and a Christian. The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of athletic competition often when he’s talking about the Christian life, and I think he’s onto something. Resisting my habitual sins and being more loving, more forgiving, and more learned in my faith isn’t effortless. It’s sometimes really hard, in fact. But I don’t think we’re supposed to look at the struggle as a futile one we can’t make any progress in. Much like a more experienced player or a strategy guide, we have Jesus, and Paul, and countless other scriptural figures to show us at least some of what we need to do if we’re going to overcome the obstacles in our path. And even with that help, we’re never going to succeed 100% of the time. But much like with those pesky rhogar marauders, if we keep at it, we’ll eventually find that things that used to seem insurmountable to us are now challenges we have a solid chance of overcoming.