Allen Varney here

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by rabindranath72 » Sun Nov 01, 2009 11:35 am

Hi Mr Varney,
I have recently acquired Stormbringer 5th edition by Chaosium, and I have seen your name in the playtesting credits. Care to share anything about this experience? I am a huge fan of Basic Roleplaying games, and Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer in particular, so I would be interested in hearing a first-hand account.

Cheers,
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Sun Nov 01, 2009 6:10 pm

I have recently acquired Stormbringer 5th edition by Chaosium, and I have seen your name in the playtesting credits.
Huh! I haven't seen Stormbringer 5e. I'm guessing it must have adopted the Allegiance rules from the earlier 1993 edition of the game, which was temporarily re-christened Elric! That previous edition was in the works when I was travelling around the world on a seven-month backpacking trip (1992-93) and stayed in Melbourne, Australia for a time with Chaosium freelancers Mark Morrison and Penelope Love. They put together the Call of Cthulhu supplement Terror Australis and, later, the landmark Horror on the Orient Express. They were excellent hosts, such that I had such a fine time, I ended up imposing on them for a discourteously long time. (I later learned the proverb "Houseguests are like fish; after three days they start to stink.")

At that time Mark was also involved in developing Elric with Chaosium's Lynn Willis. I brainstormed a Moorcockian alignment system with Mark, who wrote it up and sent it on to Lynn. I got generous credit in the rulebook for that minor contribution -- Chaosium has always been scrupulous about crediting everyone involved in a project -- and I guess that conscientiousness has carried over to the new Stormbringer, and doubtless on to infinitely many future editions.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by rabindranath72 » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:56 am

Thanks for the information! Indeed, the 5th edition of Stormbringer is just a reprint with some additions and corrections of the old "Elric!" game.
Any insider info on why they decided to change the game from Ken St. Andre et al. version to "Elric!" ? There are quite a lot of differences between the twos, and in many ways the old version was easier to use in play, and more rules-light.

Thanks,
Antonio

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Tue Nov 03, 2009 12:48 am

rabindranath72 wrote:Any insider info on why they decided to change the game from Ken St. Andre et al. version to "Elric!" ? There are quite a lot of differences between the twos, and in many ways the old version was easier to use in play, and more rules-light.
I have no insider information at all about Chaosium, though I have talked several times with Chaosium founder Greg Stafford (creator of Glorantha and designer of King Arthur Pendragon). In fact, I just profiled Stafford for my "Days of High Adventure" column in the online gaming magazine The Escapist:

"Greg Stafford, Mythmaker"
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Colin McComb » Tue Nov 03, 2009 6:21 pm

Allen -

I wanted to drop you a line and let you know that it was both a surprise and a pleasure to run across your name in a wholly unexpected place. Here's the thing: I'm teaching game design and an Intro to the Game Industry course. One of the books we use in the Intro course is Jeannie Novak's Game Development Essentials.

Your name came up twice in the course of the book. Good quotes, to the point, and, one hopes, useful to my students. Thanks.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:27 am

Colin McComb wrote:I'm teaching game design and an Intro to the Game Industry course. One of the books we use in the Intro course is Jeannie Novak's Game Development Essentials. Your name came up twice in the course of the book. Good quotes, to the point, and, one hopes, useful to my students.
That Essentials book is part of a whole series -- I think there's over a dozen now. The packager, Jeannie Novak, somehow got my name (from Greg Costikyan, perhaps, or from my Escapist magazine articles) and invited me to pontificate briefly in a few sidebars.

I also have a comment in the Essentials book about storytelling in computer games, where I basically said the act of introducing a story into a computer game is largely pointless, like (I borrowed a phrase from William Gibson) "grafting mosquitoes to wheat plants." The editors felt it necessary to preface my comment with a disclaimer along the lines of, "This doesn't reflect our views, but it's interesting."

(I also wrote about the incompatibility of the story-immersion brain state versus the game-immersion brain state in my Escapist article "Immersion Unexplained.")

Hey Colin, YOU should be in those Game Essentials books! Ping me at allenvarney (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll put you in touch with Jeannie Novak.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Havard » Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:39 am

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Ashtagon » Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:49 am

I just want to say that it is absolutely awesome to see world famous game designers choosing this little forum to chat and network :)

This site was originally done as a stop-gap emergency measure, but its blossoming nicely, and I hope will remain a permanent part of the pen & paper RPG scene :)

And thank you to all the forum members who made it possible :)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Bonetti » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:30 am

Pretty cool to see such luminaries hanging around :-)

Allen: you mention stories not working well in computer games. This has been a topic of discussion in the interactive fiction community for some time. Although I've lost touch with what's gone on there over the last few years, the author of the game Christminster wrote an article about the design process some years ago. He had a particular approach he referred to as "plot calculus" as a way of putting story pieces in place -- and letting the player figure out what the full story was. I'm sure it's not original, but it's the first place I saw the idea codified.

Gareth Rees' article: http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.6g.html

(Since text adventures really have nothing except writing, plot, and puzzles, this is a very important component of design.)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Big Mac » Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:57 pm

Allen Varney wrote:(I also wrote about the incompatibility of the story-immersion brain state versus the game-immersion brain state in my Escapist article "Immersion Unexplained.")
Hmm. This immersion concept is an interesting one. Have you ever tried Live Action Role Playing? I find that very immersive. In the past I've been so "into" a game that I've totally been thinking as my character.

Fantasy LARP has battleboarding*, and I find that the battleboarding breaks cause me to drop out of characters, but when I was playing Lazer Tag based LARP we mostly stayed in character from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

* = For those who have not done LARP, battleboarding is a time when LARP referee, gets all of the players to say how much damage and healing they have had, so that their hit points (or whatever the system calls them) can be updated. The ref keeps all of these running totals on a clipboard...which is the "battle" board.

I've even had a couple of in-character dreams! :lol:
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Wed Nov 04, 2009 4:24 pm

It isn't that playing a game isn't immersive -- it's that it's a different kind of immersion from the experience of getting caught up, hypnotized really, listening to a story being told. In one state you're active, alert, constantly interacting with the situation; in the other you're passive, mesmerized. It's "flow" versus "hypnosis."
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by rabindranath72 » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:58 pm

Allen Varney wrote:
rabindranath72 wrote:Any insider info on why they decided to change the game from Ken St. Andre et al. version to "Elric!" ? There are quite a lot of differences between the twos, and in many ways the old version was easier to use in play, and more rules-light.
I have no insider information at all about Chaosium, though I have talked several times with Chaosium founder Greg Stafford (creator of Glorantha and designer of King Arthur Pendragon). In fact, I just profiled Stafford for my "Days of High Adventure" column in the online gaming magazine The Escapist:

"Greg Stafford, Mythmaker"
Cool thanks! I wonder why Prince Valiant was not quoted? It was a very innovative design, years before White Wolf introduced its supposedly innovative "Storytelling" system.

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:45 pm

rabindranath72 wrote:I wonder why Prince Valiant was not quoted? It was a very innovative design, years before White Wolf introduced its supposedly innovative "Storytelling" system.
Crap, that's because it completely slipped my mind! Argh. Lovely game, Prince Valiant, and also quite the loveliest art ever to grace an RPG of that time (reprints of classic Hal Foster newspaper pages).
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Havard » Mon Nov 09, 2009 10:14 am

Allen, if you were asked to write a follow up module to the HWA-trilogy, perhaps a Return to the Hollow World or something like that, are there any elements you would have liked to include?

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Mon Nov 09, 2009 4:01 pm

Havard wrote:Allen, if you were asked to write a follow up module to the HWA-trilogy, perhaps a Return to the Hollow World or something like that, are there any elements you would have liked to include?
My original pitch to TSR's Bruce Heard for the HWA Hollow World trilogy of adventures was that, at the end, the PCs would help destroy the Immortals' Spell of Preservation that kept each Hollow World culture static and unchanging. This would open the setting for the players to make major changes, if they wished -- to reform evil customs and take part in building a new (hollow) world. The Spell of Preservation was a convenient rationale for the persistence of these historical cultures across millennia, but once the campaign begins, the device loses its purpose.

Bruce Heard, who guided the Mystara line with extremely close attention by TSR's standards, demurred. He thought, having gone to all this trouble to set up the Hollow World this way, why immediately go and screw up the basic premise in the first adventures? Consequently, the ending of HWA3 kind of lacks thematic oomph, for at the time I couldn't think of a good alternative. (See my early post in this thread about the terrible writer's block I was suffering at the time.)

I think both views, mine and Bruce's, have merit -- but I still think the Spell of Preservation is a bad obstacle to PC adventurers, much like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. I would still get rid of it if I could.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Cthulhudrew » Tue Nov 10, 2009 3:52 am

Allen Varney wrote:...The Spell of Preservation was a convenient rationale for the persistence of these historical cultures across millennia, but once the campaign begins, the device loses its purpose...

I think both views, mine and Bruce's, have merit -- but I still think the Spell of Preservation is a bad obstacle to PC adventurers, much like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. I would still get rid of it if I could.
Very interesting, and I can see where (given the conclusion to HWA3 and several other elements introduced in the modules along the way) you were steering things towards this goal.

Like you, I can see the merits of both opinions, but I think I would also probably eliminate the SoP in a HW centric campaign. One thing that I have been discovering as I've been making efforts at trying to come up with some follow-up HW Gazetteers in the TSR vein (several in various stages of progress), is that it is very hard to try and make a satisfying and fulfilling campaign within the rather narrow parameters of the SoP. As is, the HW campaign seems to really only function well as an overland, genre/era crossing setting, where one constantly introduces outsider PCs to new variations on settings. When trying to play a native campaign- particularly one that is more or less self-contained within one area- it becomes a bit harder to do, IMO.

Not to mention that some areas (Kubitts, Gentle Folk, Blacklore Elves) really require some major work to function as fleshed out campaign settings in their own right, and instead seem to be little more than one-off oddity encounters ("Pacifistic Elves, wow, that's weird." Dramatic pause. "Okay, let's move along now.")
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Havard » Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:37 pm

Allen Varney wrote:
Havard wrote:Allen, if you were asked to write a follow up module to the HWA-trilogy, perhaps a Return to the Hollow World or something like that, are there any elements you would have liked to include?
My original pitch to TSR's Bruce Heard for the HWA Hollow World trilogy of adventures was that, at the end, the PCs would help destroy the Immortals' Spell of Preservation that kept each Hollow World culture static and unchanging. This would open the setting for the players to make major changes, if they wished -- to reform evil customs and take part in building a new (hollow) world. The Spell of Preservation was a convenient rationale for the persistence of these historical cultures across millennia, but once the campaign begins, the device loses its purpose.

Bruce Heard, who guided the Mystara line with extremely close attention by TSR's standards, demurred. He thought, having gone to all this trouble to set up the Hollow World this way, why immediately go and screw up the basic premise in the first adventures? Consequently, the ending of HWA3 kind of lacks thematic oomph, for at the time I couldn't think of a good alternative. (See my early post in this thread about the terrible writer's block I was suffering at the time.)

I think both views, mine and Bruce's, have merit -- but I still think the Spell of Preservation is a bad obstacle to PC adventurers, much like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. I would still get rid of it if I could.
Allen, forgive me for going into fanboy mode here, but this answer is way more awesome than what I expected!I understand Bruce's reasoning, but I have also found the Spell of Preservation the most problematic aspect of the HW.

Having the changes to the setting occur in a module set perhaps 10-15 years after the original HWA series might make more sense since by that point people will be expecting changes anyway. A campaign leading up to the destruction of the Spell of Preservation could be totally epic. I envsion an adventure visiting several of the major HW cultures, digging up clues or somehow working towards their final goal. Which HW countries need be involved? Since it is a sequel to the HWA trilogy, I would suggest that Shajapur and Ashmorain are somehow involved.

An alternative to the destruction of the SoP might be tweaking it somehow. Something bothers me about removing an element altogether. Changing it radically perhaps, but maybe leaving some kind of residue, like a sort of curse?


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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by night_druid » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:36 am

Ending the Spell of Preservation in Hollow World may force the immortals to create a new culture perserve *cough*Mystaraspace*cough*, while allowing Hollow World to change. Heck, they might like to see what falls out...throwing some chaos into the system. :lol:
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Hugin » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:39 am

In many ways I think we as DMs are the worst part of the Spell of Preservation. It allows a whole lot of things to change, just look at the Azcans. It isn't as restrictive as we play it to be.

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Chimpman » Wed Nov 11, 2009 5:21 am

Hugin wrote:In many ways I think we as DMs are the worst part of the Spell of Preservation. It allows a whole lot of things to change, just look at the Azcans. It isn't as restrictive as we play it to be.
Amen to that.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Big Mac » Wed Nov 11, 2009 6:57 pm

Allen Varney wrote:My original pitch to TSR's Bruce Heard for the HWA Hollow World trilogy of adventures was that, at the end, the PCs would help destroy the Immortals' Spell of Preservation that kept each Hollow World culture static and unchanging. This would open the setting for the players to make major changes, if they wished -- to reform evil customs and take part in building a new (hollow) world. The Spell of Preservation was a convenient rationale for the persistence of these historical cultures across millennia, but once the campaign begins, the device loses its purpose.

Bruce Heard, who guided the Mystara line with extremely close attention by TSR's standards, demurred. He thought, having gone to all this trouble to set up the Hollow World this way, why immediately go and screw up the basic premise in the first adventures? Consequently, the ending of HWA3 kind of lacks thematic oomph, for at the time I couldn't think of a good alternative. (See my early post in this thread about the terrible writer's block I was suffering at the time.)

I think both views, mine and Bruce's, have merit -- but I still think the Spell of Preservation is a bad obstacle to PC adventurers, much like the Prime Directive in Star Trek. I would still get rid of it if I could.
I'm fairly ignorant about Hollow World, so take this as an uninformed opinion.

I'm inclined to agree that the PCs should be able to somehow end the Spell of Preservation (if they want to), but I would think that it is a fairly important part of the HW concept, so I would think that a single adventure would not be "worthy" of that big a world changing event. If you look at Dragonlance, that put an epic story into 16 adventure modules. I would say that your concept is far too cool to crunch down into a single adventure. I think it would have deserved a trillogy at the very minimum.

Spelljammer has a similar grand concept: the hypnotic nature of the Spelljammer, which makes everyone who lands there not want to leave. This seems (to my untrained eye) to be a very similar concept (that locks the flying city into an unchanging state).

I think that these sorts of concepts can make very good hooks, but I think that there are always going to be GMs that see them as obstacles to adventure and who want to demolish them. I think that when a game designer builds this sort of epic thing they are always going to attract players who want to be able to say: "my character blew up the big epic concept and changed the world".
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Allen Varney » Wed Nov 11, 2009 9:06 pm

Big Mac wrote:I'm inclined to agree that the PCs should be able to somehow end the Spell of Preservation (if they want to), but I would think that it is a fairly important part of the HW concept, so I would think that a single adventure would not be "worthy" of that big a world changing event. If you look at Dragonlance, that put an epic story into 16 adventure modules. I would say that your concept is far too cool to crunch down into a single adventure. I think it would have deserved a trilogy at the very minimum.
I agree. My pitch was to remove the Spell of Preservation as the climax of my HWA1-3 "Blood Brethren" trilogy of lengthy Hollow World adventures, Nightwail, Nightrage, and Nightstorm.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:14 pm

I'm not sure how fans would have reacted to both Wrath of the Immortals radically changing Mystara by sinking Alphatia and a set of Hollow World adventures wiping out the Spell of Preservation.

It would have kind of seemed like nothing in the setting could be trusted not to be changed at TSRs whim - which might have been seen as a good thing by some, but I think a lot of people like "comfortable" settings where they know what to expect from campaign to campaign.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by Gawain_VIII » Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:06 pm

I think an epic adventure that leads to a weakened SoP shouldn't be part of Blood Brethren's finale--rather it should be a new set of adventures (cover designed by Havard) in which the PCs are a key element in Eriadna's goals to return Alphatia to the OW. Like WotI, final outcome is directly affected by PC actions. In the end, it will be the PCs who determine Ariadna's degree of success. The more successful, the weaker the SoP--resulting in a "returned" Alphatia (and a very unhappy Zandor).

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Re: Allen Varney here

Post by BlackBat242 » Thu Nov 12, 2009 5:10 am

Man... reading all this talk of "epic module series for a specific goal", and multi-part "characters are to do exactly this" adventures, I keep seeing this image (especially with the mention of the 16-part DL series):

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