28 Dec 2014, 00:00


When I was a kid, blue skies meant swimming, and friends, and ice blocks, and staying up later because who goes to bed when the sun is still up? The only thing we feared was the end of the holidays; when we’d be forced to return to school. Looking back it’s clear to me how ridiculous that was – one, and it almost goes without saying, that’s not a fear; and two, it’s not like anything changed – we still spent the days with our friends; laughing, and playing, and doing whatever the hell it was we did back then. We certainly never glanced at the sky with apprehension and fear. And we didn’t pray for bad weather.

I met Naeem earlier this year. He and his sister were flown back to Australia by a missionary organisation who were sponsoring their asylum request. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the interview room were his eyes; they held pain and yet remained determined, they showed the responsibility he felt for his sister. I suppose I could just be projecting what I now know onto the memory, but eyes have a funny way of saying more than words ever can. He wore a smile, a true smile, not one put on simply because of the situation. I walked to the table, pulling the door closed as I moved. I poured a glass of water and offered it to him. His smile faded slightly as he observed the glass.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No, no… just memories.”
“Do you need a minute?” I offered. “No, I’m fine.” I was slightly surprised by how well he spoke English, “Your English is really good – did you study it in school?”
“My.. my mother would teach me. There was no school in my village.”
Remembering the details from Naeem’s file, I felt a small stab in my chest hearing him talk of his mother – something I’m sure absolutely paled in comparison to the pain he and his sister must be feeling.
“Your mother, she was killed in the drone attack?”
“Along with most of my village, yes,” he remained brave, his voice not shaking at all. My eyes followed his gaze to his arm. There was a large scar running the length of it.
“Is that how you got the scar?”
“Yes. I am lucky.”
“That’s a very positive attitude to have,” I said.
“I am safe now, in your country. The drones do not fly here, and here is where I now live yes?”
There is a moments silence as I try to find the words. Any words really. How can we not take these people in?

This was written as part of a Writing Prompt “challenge” with two mates of mine, Luke and Mark. Our prompt this fortnight was “We’re all afraid of the skies now”. The piece needs work, a consequence of leaving it to the last minute - but deadlines are deadlines.

Creative Commons Licence
Naeem by Jamie Reid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

06 Mar 2012, 00:00

Sometimes I know where I'm going

It’s a weird thing, writing.

Sometimes you can look out across what you’re writing, and it’s like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer’s day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you’ll be going on your walk.

And that’s wonderful.

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog.

You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

And that’s hard while you’re doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn’t exist in that order down on paper, half of what you’d get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.

And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you’re doing and where you’re going, and you couldn’t see or know any of that five minutes before.

And that’s magic.

Neil Gaiman

11 Jul 2011, 00:00

House Rules (or The book also says GMs discretion)

Not that long ago I was gearing up to run a Serenity campaign for some friends of mine who are new to tabletop gaming. After an email discussion about how I like to run games, and what the players were expecting, we organised a time to generate characters.

I sent them blank copies of the character sheet (so that when we sat down at the table they were already familiar with it) and a 3x3x3 template for them to fill out. I asked them to bring concepts for their characters with them, so that they knew what their character was about before we started.

A few days later everyone came around to my house. They had brought their concepts with them, and most had pre-filled the 3x3x3. “Excellent!” I thought, “They’re really getting into this.”

There were some awesome character concepts brought to the table, and the 3x3x3’s provided some useful background ties I could use to add flavour to the campaign. Unfortunately (you’ll soon see why) one of the players had brought a completed character sheet with him too.

It’s at this point I should explain, for those that don’t already know, that Serenity uses “Assets 1 and Complications 2” to provide not only mechanical advantages, but roleplaying flavour, to the characters.

My friend had included five assets and five complications on his sheet. I explained that as a house rule, I normally only allow the equivalent of two major (there are also minor) per side of the sheet (assets, and complications). He proceeded to quote the Core book at me saying that he’s keeping his sheet like that because it’s in the rules. I explained my reasoning behind the house rule (even experienced players can find it hard to play that many interlinking assets and complications, it adds a lot to the character; and that I like to leave room for the characters to grow naturally through game play. By leaving empty slots, the character can gain assets/complications throughout events in the game (think Amputation)).

He still wanted to play with five assets and five complications. He argued that the character he’d thought up required all of the Assets and Complications and that taking any away would alter the character too much. Not wanting to upset and possibly make his first tabletop experience a bad one, I relented and allowed him to play with the full sheet.

A week later we met for the first session, which wasn’t that great (my fault). Wanting to give my players a fun session I tried a different approach to a first session, and I think it failed. But that’s another article.

Should I have stuck true to the house rule and had him alter his character? Should I have told my players of the house rule in the initial email in anticipation of them bringing created characters to the character generation sessions?

What house rules have to had to bend/ignore in order to keep your players happy? What’s your opinion on “but the book says I can”?

  1. eg. Lightin’ Reflexes (Major) which grants you a bonus to initiative

  2. eg. Blind (Major) which obviously means your character is blind; as such suffering negatives to things normally involving sight, such as moving through unfamiliar environments.

09 May 2011, 00:00

I should listen to this advice...

The closer we get to the thing we really want, the more resistance we will feel. We will feel some force pushing us away, the closer we get to some thing we think we really want. And for a lot of us that could be writing. Let’s be honest: it is not that hard to write. It’s not really that hard to type. It’s really hard to make something good when you’re writing.

It’s not that hard to do anything, really. But the problem is, if you start really, actually doing it instead of thinking about it, instead of, like, polishing your beret, if you actually start doing it? It’s scary. It’s scary - not to be a writer, anybody can call themselves a writer - it’s scary to write. And if you don’t believe that, ask yourself why so many people who try to do it all the time have such a problem sitting down and typing. And it’s not because typing is hard, it’s because getting close to that thing is scary.

Now is that related to fear of success? Maybe . because I think it still represents fear of change. People don’t like external stuff being forced on them, but they’re also not great at doing it themselves. Most of us tend to think that glass is always gonna be sitting there ready to have milk poured in it. Well, that glass is temporarily unbroken and your life is temporarily unbroken. So enjoy what it is for now, because change is not something that’s negotiable. And I think once you accept that, and once you accept the true, gut-wrenching scariness of the fact that you don’t have that much control over that much stuff, something like sitting down to write suddenly seems a lot easier than it used to.

The fear is what keeps us scurrying to familiar problems. I think most of us would rather have familiar fear than the potential of an alien anxiety. Fear is going, “There’s a bear out there!” And anxiety is going, “There might be a bear out there!” Anxiety is based not in a thing that’s there right now and threatening you, it’s based on your own amount of reluctance to confront whether there really is something there. When you fear fear itself then everything becomes scary because everything is alien, everything represents change, and everything represents a threat.

I should take this advice.

06 Apr 2011, 00:00

The time has come...

A friend of mine sent an email to our group of friends earlier this week seeing if anyone wanted to try out the Serenity RPG. I have been trying to get this group of friends to try RP for years so I was delighted, nay giddy, when I opened the email and read through it. I replied almost immediately with the affirmative to his hint at me running the game for them.

I ran a Serenity campaign down at the store for almost six months until some personal things within the group meant that I wasn’t comfortable running the game anymore; Which was a shame because some of my favourite scenes I’ve ever GM’d came from that campaign.

My friend had some questions, and when I was replying to his email I ended up sprinkling in a little of my gaming philosophies, so I’m reproducing the email here in it’s entirety.

Mr Doug, and others;

How do you come up with the story of how your crew gets assembled? Is it going to be like the first episode of Firefly where they all just meet and events bring them together for a more long-term arrangement? Do we even RP the start or does the GM just tell us why we’re together?

An excellent question. And the answer is: it’s up to you guys (the players).

A longer answer might be.. In the last Serenity campaign I ran, we had the crew all start on a space station (I wrote and handed out reasons for each character being there, then negotiated with the players that had a better reason / one that fit into their backstory more) and we started the first session like that. Some characters had a motivation (ie.. get off this station before the bad guy finds me) and others knew each other. We spent the first session role playing the meeting of the crew. It was a good fun session that set up the crew, and allowed the characters relationships to develop naturally through role play. It also gave everyone (some who hadn’t RP’d before) a chance to see how it works by letting some of the more experienced guys take the lead. It gave everyone a chance to try out their characters, and introduce them to the other characters, in ways that.. perhaps hid their true intentions :P

The campaign I’m playing in now started a similar way.

That’s not to say that just starting on a ship with a crew that already knows each other won’t work; but I’d suggest we RP out the first session as a kind of ‘getting to know you’ session (It’ll still most likely have action and combat :P).

Also, Steve and I were talking about ships. I figured we’d probably start off with a pretty basic ship. I think there’s an old Firefly in the book for less than 2000 credits that might be a good starting ship depending on how we start off . Can you build your own ship? I think I read that you can somewhere and Steve and I came up with some pretty neat stuff while brainstorming.

Again, this depends on the players.

In the campaign I ran, the players had to work together in the first ‘episode’ to get/find/acquire/build a ship; I left it up to them how they wanted to get off the station. They could have hitch hiked a ride somewhere else if they’d chosen. My style of GMing has always been reactionary; that is, I like the players to be able to make decisions about where the game goes. Often times I’ve sat down to run a prepared session and had to throw most of it away (into the “for later” folder :P) because the players have taken the game in a completely different direction than I intended. And that’s ok, it makes it more interesting for all of us, and gives you guys a chance to direct the action. For me RP is more about collaborative story telling than “GM vs. Players”.

So, to answer your question more directly, it depends on how we decide to start the ‘season’. You can already have a ship, or you can find yourselves in a situation where you need to ‘acquire’ a ship.

I hope that answers your questions. I’d suggest we all sit down together and nut some of this stuff out. We can work on characters, and decide how we want to go about starting the Season.