Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Star Frontiers And "Creative Refereeing"

You've heard about Star Frontiers Digitally Remastered, right? The Evil DM mentioned it some time back, and when I looked it over I was quite impressed by what Bill Logan has done to put Star Frontiers back into gamers' hands.

Chiefly I'm impressed by The Star Frontiersman -- a free 'zine dedicated to SF. This thing is bitchin' rad -- full of adventures, races, equipstuff, locations, artwork and items of interest to anyone running a science fiction game, period. Heck, there was even a one-page feature with some collected science fiction artwork for GM inspiration. It makes for damn good RPG support. HOW damn good? Well, I've never played Star Frontiers, but this stuff makes me want to.

The 'zine is up to issue #7. I was perooooooosing* it last night, and I came upon an article of special interest to me: "Creative Refereeing" By Brian Conway. (Go download it, it's free.) It's an article about adventure design and creation, and we know how I feel about that. I printed the article pages, read 'em, and brought 'em to work to play with.

The article details the author's process for putting together an adventure, by starting from a basic idea and fleshing out by asking and answering questions. He drops in some techniques for plotting backwards, for using red herrings, and for avoiding linearity. His process is similar to Ye Olde Adventure Funnel, not surprisingly, because brainstorming and fleshing out just makes sense.

Conway, however, does things a bit differently. The first thing I noticed was that he suggests starting not with a simple goal like I do but with a broad "treatment" (movie-style!) of your adventure, which you then poke and prod at to give it more definition. Solid advice, good stuff. I've been trying it, as I said, and I like it.

The biggest thing on which he and I diverge is on preparation: Conway praises it, and encourages you (the GM) to prepare your plot as much as you can. I quote:

Ultimately, it comes down to preparation. You may even be required to "wing it" to a degree. But a good referee improvises things like combat tactics and conversations with shopkeepers and such. Your preparation will limit your improvisation to a minimum. If you find yourself improvising frequently, particularly on important plot points, then you have not prepared well enough. While this is not the end of the world (or the galaxy), it is a mistake you should not repeat.

I, on the other hand, am all about having just enough to wing it, and then rushing in like a pantsless clown forced to entertain Queen Elizabeth at gunpoint.

The thing is, I don't really disagree with him. I think he makes perfect sense, honestly. On the other hand -and maybe this is just my wacky spirit-, I'm much more willing to change my plot at the drop of a hat; I don't wanna make a habitof it, but I wonder if Conway means to advise you to be as stuck to your guns as he comes across.

He has a bit of GM advice specific to SF's rules and setting, and the advice is good. The guy knows what he's doing, and I'm officially adding this article to my bag of tricks.

The test for me, however, is to avoid the temptation to backlslide into an over-preparatory, self-demanding perfectionist whose hat's too far down his head to see -- or, as it were, whose pants are too tight to boogie.

So! Star Frontiers Digitally Remastered. Go, scope, dig .

*Yes, that's how I say it. Wanna fight?