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Recently I was playtesting a new game with the designers and some friends. The game is a cyberpunk dystopia (my jam) and we were playing teenagers. I had just been dissed (people still say that, right?), and I told the GM, “I am going on future Twitter to rant about this.” Everyone at the table nodded in acknowledgment and went on with the game.
This past weekend, I was running my first session of Masks and our Nova let loose with their power and attracted the attention of the super law enforcement group AEGIS. As they arrived on the scene I told the players, “Hovercars from AEGIS, SHIELD, are overhead.” They got it.
In my Hydro Hackers game, there is a piece of equipment, in the equipment list, I am always asked about, Hive Account. When asked I always say Hive… that’s Google, and everyone gets what I am saying.
So what do all of these have in common? They are using Proper Nouns that are meaningful to our time and our culture, in order to convey a concept for a game that is set not in our time or in our culture.
That is what I want to talk about today. What are some of the best ways to utilize Proper Nouns when we play?Grammar Review
A proper noun is, “a name used for an individual person, place, or organization, spelled with initial capital letters, e.g., Larry, Mexico, and Boston Red Sox.” (Google Define)
So in the above instance Twitter, SHIELD, and Google are all proper nouns from our time and our pop culture. Hive is a proper noun from the world of Hydro Hackers.
So we have our own proper nouns that define our world, and the game worlds we play in can have their own. And that is the tricky part because when it comes to the proper nouns from our world, we are ok. We are steeped in them, so their meanings are known and we are comfortable using them in casual conversation.
But the proper nouns of other worlds, our campaign worlds, are not as easily known to us, especially if the world is completely new to us. Which means that we can’t always recall the names or when we do, it takes a few beats, making using them in ad hoc dialog tricky. The good part is that it gets better, but it can be tricky especially when we are first learning a new game/setting.Why do we use them?
Proper Nouns are a tool for us to convey setting. We use them to name cities (Waterdeep), to name important people (Elminster), or organizations (Harpers). They are evocative and they do as much to convey the setting as the art that is used in the book. For instance, in a fantasy world if we say that the Queen’s name is Karoths that is very different than if we say her name is Caroline. In fact, many would say that Caroline is a bit 4th wall breaking because it sounds too much like our world.
Game designers and writers also make up proper nouns for legal reasons. Many proper nouns for businesses are Trademarked meaning that there are laws governing who can use those terms and how they can be used. So to avoid any Imperial entanglements, we just change Google to Hive, and we are on our way.
Finally, writers, sometimes use their own proper nouns satirically where they will parody a proper noun to both avoid Trademarks as well as to poke fun at it. Rather than saying Coke ™ or Pepsi ™ Paranoia has Bouncy Bubbly Beverage. Because we can all use some BBB, the Computer says so, and the Computer is your friend.Why we get tripped up with Jargon?
I mentioned before that when we are trying to learn the setting and play the game at the same time. People don’t sit and memorize the lexicon of a setting before they play the game, we just make characters and start playing. That is for established settings.
For me, personally, as a GM, this is where I am terrible; naming things on the fly. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailThe other thing that we run into is that when we are playing games where world creation is more improvised and collaborative, we don’t even have an established lexicon, we are trying to make up names for things on the fly. For me, personally, as a GM, this is where I am terrible; naming things on the fly. If I am doing prep, no problem, I can look things up, try things out, etc. But if I am in the middle of a game and need the name of an airline on a SciFi world, I am done for.
And because of those two things, learning new settings, and making things up on the fly, we can sometimes get tripped up. So we need some techniques to help us out.Proper Techniques for Proper Nouns
When it comes to established settings the best technique for teaching new words is to treat it like a foreign language and teach in parallel, by using the proper noun from the world and giving it the equivalent from our world. In most cases, when you are looking at a setting, you will be able to see the parallel concept that was used. So when you are describing an element of the world, say its name, then say the parallel world.
For instance, in my Masks example above. I introduced AEGIS, as they arrived on the scene, but n the same breath, called them SHIELD, in reference to the Marvel Universe equivalent.
In doing this, I am helping to create a link between those two in my player’s (and my own mind) which will make remembering AEGIS easier in both the name as well as what their role is in the game.
For impov games, I recommend that you use the current proper nouns first if you need something fast, and only create names for things that are going to be sticking around. So in my example above using Future Twitter was fine, because we were playing a one-shot, and it was enough to get my point across. Now if we were playing a campaign, as a GM, I may have after someone had said Future Twitter, I may have asked something like, “What is the name of the most popular social media in this world?” Then let the players work out the name.
After we created the name, I would have made sure we kept using it, but it would have been easier to keep track of because it would have been created by the group, and those kinds of things, tend to be better retained.Name Everything…Eventually
Using proper nouns in games is a great verbal technique for conveying setting. It can be tricky for players and GMs when encountering a new setting. Too many proper nouns and suddenly the game’s focus is not on adventure and drama, but rather for trying to remember this world’s name for a Bard. In improv games, it can be just as tricky, to come up with a good name for an analog, without it sounding silly and without it taking too long.
By mixing in proper nouns from our world you can create verbal shortcuts that help to covey a lot of information without slowing the flow of the game down. Over time, as we gain setting mastery, this practice can fade away as we become comfortable with the lexicon of the game.
What are some of your favorite ways you have used proper nouns in your games? Do you use common names in your fantasy worlds? Do you use modern businesses in your SciFi games?
Update More game industry workers will soonÂ lose their jobs, as ArenaNet confirms Kotaku'sÂ report that employees ofÂ Guild Wars 2Â dev ArenaNetÂ were warned today to expect big layoffs. ...
Hey Gnome Stew Fans! We’ve got some exciting news for you. Gnome Stew is making some introductory forays into Twitch streaming and video content. We’re starting with a one shot game called Mortzengeersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak! The game will run live on Saturday, March 2nd at 7pm eastern time and we will move it to our youtube archive from there.What’s The Game Going To Be Like?
This will be a very serious, drama filled, examination of the human spirit… wait, no, it will be none of those things, it will not even contain any humans. Our first game is a Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition module by The Hydra Cooperative. It takes some inspiration from old 60s cartoons like The Pink Panther or old Rankin Bass claymation specials like Mad Monster Party. Four of the Gnomes ( Jen Adcock, Chris Sniezak, Daniel Kwan, and Matt Neagley) will be taking on the roles of 4 gnomish characters who are invited to a dinner party that will go horribly awry… Chuck Lauer will be providing some support for the stream and John Arcadian will be running the game.
Want to get a taste of it? Check out the interview we did with the creator of Mortzengerstrum, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peaks.
So, come join us on twitch and chat with us during the stream. Follow along with Brand, Fizzle, Bripmop, and Blooma on their adventure and spread the word through twitter, twitch, discord, facebook, carrier pigeon, telepgraph, turtle courier….
There's a healthy competitive scene around the (up to) ten-player competitive arcade gameÂ Killer Queen,Â and now the game's creators are coming to GDC next month to share how they pulled it off! ...
The Science Division are often the unsung heroes of Star Trek - a bit odd when you consider the whole mission is about exploration and discovery, things that scientists are good at. Apart from Spock, who was Science Officer as well as the second-in-command of Kirk's Enterprise, the on-board scientists are just produced when there's a problem that science can solve, then sent back whence they came until the next time. Apart from the medics, that is, who are part of Science Division but with a much higher profile. Here's a chance to redress the balance!
The Introduction - To Seek and to Know - talks of science and medicine being at the centre of the urge to explore space. Finding out what's going on is a key driver for exploration and explorers have to be kept healthy whilst doing so. When not treating patients, medics are also interested in exploration - perhaps they'll find a medicinal plant or medical knowledge hitherto undreampt-of on the next planet. However, those scientific and medical professionals who join Star Fleet are quite special. Adventurous, certainly, but this is a part of the organisation that recruits seasoned professionals, older people, as well as train their own at the Academy. With a note from a grateful student whose training saved the day during an exercise, we move on to an outline of the contents of the book. There's also an example of individuals from various branches within the Science Division working together to resolve a potentially lethal problem, and a note indicating that technologies differ depending on which Era you game is set in, and how these are to be highlighted through the rest of the text.
Chapter 1: Science Division goes into detail about training, organisation, responsibilities and so on, with three main strands of scientists, medics, and counsellors. This is presented in the style of a briefing document for new Science Division officers and makes for a fascinating read. It outlines the protocols for exploration missions and science missions, and discusses the Prime Directive at length with some ideas on how to deal with breaches thereof. It also touches on time travel. There is a Department of Temporal Investigation in the assumed present day (TNE era), and some inklings of a Temporal Integrity Commission which appears to have been established in the future (29th century) - their agents won't reveal much, for obvious reasons.
Next Chapter 3: Science Division Characters looks at expanding the core rulebook's character generation process to make more detailed and diverse Science Division characters via extra Lifepath options and new Focuses and Talents. This allows for the sort of specialisation that you'd likely see - geologists and botanists, trauma surgeons and infectious disease specialists, and so on.
Then, Chapter 4: Research and Development examines the vast range of specialised equipment available particularly in the field of medicine, from hand-held devices to fully-equipped hospital ships. There are also details of lifeforms and other phenomena that have been encountered with ideas for further research and a discussion of the Q Continuum and ideas of dealing with encouters there. I'd say 'stay away' but sometimes it comes to visit anyway...
Chapter 5: Using the Science Division is crammed with ideas, providing rules for creating everything from medical emergencies to xeno-biological mysteries (why does every habitable planet grow something that looks exactly like Earth grass, I wonder) and running missions with a science/exploration focus. There's also suggestions for how to run adventures that involve medical interventions to save a ship's company, a planet or even the entirety of known space. This chapter also contains rules to aid the development of new alien lifeforms, sentient and otherwise, even those that live in places an unprotected human could not go. Finally Chapter 6: Sciences Personnel provides an array of fully-developed characters to use as NPCs - perhaps when an exotic specialism is required - or as an example for generating your own.
This is an excellent resource that should inspire you and your group to 'boldly go' like you never have before, with loads of ideas to help your exploration missions make many discoveries - and generate a mound of academic papers!
Join Ang, Chuck, and Wen for a discussion on the complications and problems with “fridging,” or endangering vulnerable characters without reason. Will these gnomes be thoughtful enough to keep out of the fridge, er, stew?
Download: Gnomecast #60 – Don’t Fridge the NPC
Follow Chuck at @InnocuousChuck on Twitter.
Follow Ang at @orikes13 on Twitter.
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ConferenceÂ organizersÂ encourage you to take advantage ofÂ the freeÂ GDC 2019Â Session SchedulerÂ to lay out our week at the show in an intuitive, easy-to-navigate fashion. ...
Fresh off the end of the game's public beta, Media Molecule has announced that Dreams will be launching into early access on the PlayStation 4 this spring. ...
A good proportion of my income in 2018 came from professional GM work. Now, this doesn’t include my work at the Royal Ontario Museum or Level Up Gaming. What I’m referring to is my work as a freelance GM-for-hire. 2018 consisted of 2 private schools and 8 families. At my busiest, I was running 4 games a week – each supplementing the income from my day jobs. From standing weekly appointments to hospital calls and birthday parties, I had the opportunity to play games across the GTA for a modest living.How did I go about obtaining clients?
- Word of mouth. Many of my initial clients were former students from my museum program. They had “aged-out” and were still interested in having me run games for them. They then assembled friend groups of people who hadn’t worked with me before. This led to them introducing me to their school principals and well, the rest was history.
- Media. Having a webpage, social media presence, and business cards are essential. It lets you communicate to your client that you are a professional and can provide them with valuable information about your services (games you offer, rates, availability, etc.)
- Know your worth. Don’t undersell yourself.
- Build trust and rapport. Be professional. Send invoices and keep good records. Remember, you are not only operating as a freelancer, but also as an ambassador of the hobby.
- Listen and identify the needs of the client. What kind of game do they want to play? What tone do they want the story? Often, the needs of you client, especially if you’ve been hired by a family, may not match your preferences.
- Remember that the key to a good session as a professional GM is a combination of content, story, and value. Come prepared with reflexive content. Involve the players in the story – give them agency over the experience. Finally, make sure that their tabletop experience is unforgettable. If you have miniatures, terrain, or even maps you’ve drawn, they bring immense amount of value to the tabletop experience. Even if you don’t simple visual aids like the Index Card RPG (see my previous post on this) do wonders for your table.
- Set expectations and employ safety tools at the table.
- The exchange of money for GM services can be difficult for some, particularly those who embody the GM vs Player Character mentality that was all too prevalent in the early stages of tabletop history. Remember that they are paying for your services. Remove your ego, and the tabletop experience will be better for everyone involved. Now, more than ever, it’s about being the PC’s biggest fan. Encourage them to grow.
- This sort of work is precarious. People’s schedules change.
- There is potential for game burnout – the lack of desire to play those specific games. I’ve often found myself turning to skirmish wargames like Gaslands or RPGs I haven’t played with clients. If you think of it this way, this might actually be an advantage. It encourages you to try new games!
Was this the dream come true many hardcore gamers envision? In a way, yes it was. It provided me with a significant amount of secondary income to a) fuel my hobby, b) increase the value of my product, c) allowed me to develop my GM/table management skills, and d) provided me with opportunities to playtest adventures. But this kind of work is volatile. Clients can cancel last minute, leaving you without any work. This kind of work also leads to burnout.
So take care of yourself. GM-for-hire work is incredibly rewarding, just give a lot of thought to why you’re interested in doing it in the first place.