“I was over hipsters before being over hipsters was cool,” said Greg.
“No, no, stop right there,” said Brigid. “That’s too obvious. Too cliché. You’re just phoning it in, now.”
“Aw, c’mon,” said Greg. “Do you realize how hard it is to be have just the right amount of world-weary cool while still maintaining a kind of innocent charm? It’s not easy, what I do!”
“Well it’s too late now,” said Brigid. “You just blew the whole thing. Toss it and start over.”
“Um…” Greg shrugged. “No idea. I got nothing.”
“So you’re going for straight-up nihilism, now?”
“A-ha! I’ve got it!” said Greg, and cleared his throat. “Being a coffee-loving hipster is hard. I just burned my mouth because I drank my coffee before it was cool.”
Brigid just stared at Greg, flatly. “Go back to phoning it in,” she finally said.
Sleestak, Skeksi, Tellarites
Morloks eating trilobites
Wormhole, portal, dimensional rift
Klaatu barada, catch my drift?
Ghostly creatures of living gas
this planet is forbidden; none shall pass!
Atlantis, Lemuria, the land of Mu
Autotrepanation is bad juju
Frozen in time and lost in space
in a vinyl playset with a carrying case
Shoggoths quiver, phantoms creep
androids dream of electric sheep
It can happen here! Watch the skies!
Search a thousand years for the girl with green eyes
’cause when the worlds collide and Mars attacks?
It’s just a show, so just relax.
“Do a little dance,” said Greg. “Make a little love. Get down tonight.”
“You can’t make me,” said Brigid.
“Well, no,” said Greg, “I just thought I’d suggest it.”
While my work computer suffers from a brain hemorrhage (is that spelled right?), I’m going to take the opportunity, rare for me any more, to sit and ramble about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. And I’m going to start with what may be the most puffed-up, hubristic (is that a real word?) thing I’ve ever said:
I think I’m as good a writer as Neil Gaiman.
Not always; I mean, when I’m having a good day and he’s having a bad one, that kind of thing. The point is, in terms of my quality of prose, I’m in his league.
But of course, he’s a famous, respected, professional author who makes a living (and one assumes a pretty good one) with his craft, whereas I’m this guy on the internet, y’know? So what’s the difference?
My theory, at least at the moment, is volume. Neil Gaiman writes a metric buttload of stuff, all the time, and he sells it to anybody and everybody willing to pay. The sun comes up, he sneezes out a short story and sells it to some magazine, then he works on a novel for a few hours, goes to lunch and finds a Doctor Who script in his back pocket he’s been meaning to send off, then comes back home and works on his Ted talk.
He’s creating, all the time. He’s always got more stories to tell. This is where I break down.
I don’t feel like I’ve got lots of stories to tell. I’ve talked before about having tons of characters and settings but no plot: this is what I mean. This is the giant broken part of my writing craft that I’ve struggled with since forever. I’m working right now on a story idea that should flow from me like a rushing river, as it combines many things that I love dearly. Think “Jeeves, Wooster, and horrible monsters,” and you’ll get a glimmering of the notion. I should be all over that, right?
I’m not. I have no idea what happens. The characters are sitting around a table staring at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I keep shouting at them, “How should I know? Telling me what you do is your job!” and they just keep on staring.
This is why Neil is Neil, and I’m me.
But writing and making art is what I’m here for; one of the reasons I’ve been so horribly depressed lately is that I’m not doing what it is I’m supposed to do. (Pony fans: insert a reference to ‘What My Cutie Mark Is Telling Me’ here. ‘cos I ain’t gonna do it. ;P) So if the difference between Neil Gaiman and me is volume, volume, volume, that means I need to start creating more. Anything more.
To that end, I’ve been instituting a “make something every day” policy. It doesn’t have to be a finished piece every day (and in fact, there’s no way I could do that kind of volume in the 15-45 minute increments I’ve got to work with), but it has to be some kind of progress. Obviously, more is better, but as little as a sketch or a paragraph counts. The key is that no day goes by without at least a tiny dot on the progress bar.
I think there have been results already: yesterday’s Fictionlet (the first in months) was well-received, I’ve got the beginnings of an art piece that I’m looking forward to seeing the end of, and some creative thoughts regarding my new comic idea have bubbled to the surface.
It’s agonizing, glacially-slow progress, but even that is more than the no progress I was making, say, this time last month. Here’s hoping that it snowballs.
I’m halfway through my life. I don’t have time to “hope for better things in the future” any more. I’m in my future. If it doesn’t get better now, it’s not going to.
“So I’m going to pick up some dinner,” said Greg. “I can grab some for you too if you want. Would you prefer pizza or Chinese?”
“Ugh,” said Brigid, staring at her laptop on the table. “Not another decision. I’ve been making decisions all day. I’m worn out!”
“Well that’s not surprising,” said Greg. “It’s a dangerous and wearisome business, making decisions.”
“‘Dangerous and wearisome’?” said Brigid, raising an eyebrow.
“Every time you make a decision, you split the timeline, creating another alternate universe,” said Greg. “Formal wear or business casual? Universe. Less filling, or tastes great? Universe. Stuffing, or potatoes? Universe. When you stop to think about it, it’s an awesome and terrible power! You create not just worlds, but whole new universes! You are like unto a goddess! Of course it’s going to wear you out.”
Brigid just gave Greg a smirk. “Right. Well the goddess wants pizza,” she said.
“Oooooh!” said Greg. “And the Chinese takeout universe implodes under a collapsed waveform! Pizza it is. Billions of lives snuffed out; billions of new lives created. I won’t tempt fate by asking what toppings you want, I’ll go with the usual.”
“You do that,” said Brigid. “Meanwhile, the goddess is going to go take a nap.”
“I shall inform your supplicants, Your Terrible Majesty,” Greg said, pulled on his coat, and stepped out.
So I’ve got a few sessions of Savage Worlds under my belt, most notably using it for Ghostbusters, but also with two sessions’ worth of Coventry, and the time is coming for me to decide what I actually think of it– and more importantly, if I want to keep using it or not.
Savage Worlds does have a lot going for it. Because there’s no such thing as “balance,” GM prep is easy– I think up a thing, assign a few dice to it, and go. If I can’t decide what the value for a given Trait should be, I make it d6 and call it done. Because there’s no hit-point tracking and very little in the way of status effects, combat is always very fast. In a deliberate attempt to push the system’s limits (and see where they were), I came up with a couple of different scenarios that involved lots of NPCs on both sides, with the players controlling allies as the game recommends, and I have to say that the combat system worked like a well-oiled machine. The only times that wasn’t true were situations where I couldn’t remember the rules (or kept remembering them wrong).
On the other hand, for the same reason of there being no such thing as “balance,” it can be difficult to tweak a scenario for maximum enjoyment. Depending on how kind/cruel the dice are, and how well bennies get applied, any creature tougher than a goblin could potentially be a cakewalk or a TPK. In one instance, an NPC attacked a huge monster with a machine gun and all the NPC’s dice exploded, meaning she hit it with raises each time, rolling enormous amounts of damage. Even though the huge monster was a wildcard and had bennies of its own to spend, she still burned through ‘em and killed the thing with one pull of the trigger.
In the same session, the PCs, by judicious use of bennies and a lot of crazy firepower, obliterated dozens of enemy forces, only to have one of their own number blown to a fine red spray by a machine gun fired from a helicopter. The game is just as it says on the tin: savage indeed.
This OMGdeadly nature of the game is not as big a deal in Ghostbusters– one of the campaign’s house rules is that if you get incapacitated, that just means your character is sent to the hospital in traction until the next session– but in a setting where character death is a real danger, it takes some getting used to. One of my players in particular loves to throw his character right into the middle of the biggest hornet’s nest he can find (which is why he went up against the helicopter with a machine gun), which is all well and good in a game like Pathfinder, where there’s probably a cleric around to pump him full of healing, but in Savage Worlds is an express ticket to Dirtnapville.
It also means that I have to come up with “more stuff” to put into any given scenario to keep the players from feeling like they haven’t had to work for their success. After handily chewing through two dozen guys, they’re not likely to find six guys a challenge, unless I crank up the skills of those six guys to 11 (which could tip the balance quickly into TPK). It’s very twitchy. Pathfinder and the like are pretty forgiving systems, with lots of wiggle room for players to get in over their head and back out again. Savage Worlds, not so much. Where PF says “fine, scratched, hurt, in danger, dead,” SW says “Fine, fine, dead.”
Another factor here is that the difficulty to shoot anyone is almost always 4. Difficulty to shoot a big, slow-moving goon? 4. Difficulty to shoot Spider-Man when he’s jumping all around? 4. There are modifiers for range and extreme size and so forth (and a few Edges at higher levels that give you some dodging bonuses), but any setting where most fighting is done with guns, you pretty much have to depend on cover to keep you alive. The problem, from a tabletop RPG standpoint, is that standing behind cover and plinking away at someone else behind cover, just isn’t much fun. Realistic? Probably. Is realistic always a good thing? Probably not.
All of this said… dayum, but prep is easy. I looooove that. So… tough call!
Players, what do you think?