venerdì 18 novembre 2011

Thinking out loud...

A month has passed since my last blog entry. Way too long, considering my initial intentions. I can identify several causes for the delay, in particular the fact that I have been busy going to conventions and promoting the publication of The One Ring rpg. Essen Spiel in Germany and Lucca Comics and Games in Italy have been very exciting, but also time-consuming and energy-draining.
Lucca wrapped almost a month ago, you say? Well, it's true, but when I got back I was tired, and in no time I got sucked into a frenzy of deadlines and urgent projects that really have plunged me in a kind of perpetual twilight, where I enter my studio in the morning and resurface only when it's dark already. It's probably an experience shared by many western-world workers, and it's certainly not the worst...
Especially for one reason: I am basically doing something I like. I read and reference books, I look at pictures, I write and I play and I rewrite what I wrote, I discuss and brainstorm and argue with fellow game designers. In time I see something take form, and eventually be physically created. Every time it happens I marvel at the beauty of having played a part in the birth of that something, a new set of dice, a boxed game, miniatures, pieces of artwork that I didn't draw myself but that recreate something I described...

Prototype Feat die and final one compared

My map of Wilderland, after my daughter Anita
started using it as a pirate treasure map...

Someone might argue that I am not making a lot of money out of what I do (and I know some of those someones...!); especially since it seems I reinvest a lot of that money into books and games that someone else designed! But wouldn't I do that anyway, as any self-respecting gamer out there? I think so. 

So, no, I am not complaining, just thinking out loud. And it's very easy to feel comforted in my persuasion: all I need is to take a look around the studio here, and see all the prototypes of maps, and dice and counters I have lying around in heaps, or laid out on the table, and then look at the shelves where the final things sit, in all their production glory. Almost everyone I described my job to has commented what I do in the same way, even if with differing intentions: "You just never stopped playing games since you were a kid! Do you call that a job?" Well, yes, I do. But I do see what they mean... :)

mercoledì 19 ottobre 2011

But wasn't the Ring supposed to be One??

I just finished working on The One Ring basic set of books! Again!! Yes, as I wrote here before, I have been working on L'Unico Anello for Giochi Uniti, 336 pages of rules and background in Italian. And finally it is over... It's been exhausting, but it seems we did it! Many thanks again go to Marco Crosa who translated it, to Amado Angulo who spent some sleepless nights checking for errors (I don't feel sorry though, he doesn't sleep anyway...) and to Marco Maggi, who made the final editing pass. Judging from the pictures taken by Federico Burchianti of Giochi Uniti who received the galley proofs it will look as magnificent as the original version from Cubicle 7/Sophisticated Games. The cherry on top is that we had the chance to include the handful of errata that were found in the English-language edition so far. So, a big thank you goes to all The One Ring early fans out there!

It's a good feeling... now I am free to pack up my things and fly to Essen, Germany, for Spiel 2011, the biggest gaming convention in the known world: I cant' wait to see what our friends at Uhrwerk have done with Der Eine Ring...  wait! Yet another ring?

lunedì 10 ottobre 2011

Eight is Company!

Last month I took a big decision as far as my gaming life is concerned... I gave up the hope of reviving my old playing group of buddies and I started looking for fresh blood. The reasons are manifold, but the main one is probably that I was tired of running after my old friends to get some gaming going.
They are good friends, and they are dear to me, but our gaming activity got worse and worse in recent years, and I have a nagging suspicion that on top of the usual trouble everyone experiences growing up - or rather, growing old... - my friends had some trouble dealing with my gaming having something to do with work. I can understand that - to a degree, but I can't do anything about it: I am a game designer, and I need to play games, many games, my games and everybody's elses games too. It's indeed part of my job, but I don't think it would go any differently if I wasn't designing games. I have always been interested in experimenting, and my taste for diversity has always clashed somewhat with the intention of my friends to play just a handful of titles.
So, to make a long story short, I dropped a couple of casual remarks with an acquaintance of mine who I once played a game of War of the Ring with: he is the owner of a Pizzeria, and in that occasion we played the game inside his place. Well, it didn't take much convincing, and in just a few days we agreed to meet again inside his restaurant with a bunch of his friends. And that was last night; when I got to the place at the appointed hour, with my copy of The One Ring in my bag, I was met by no less than seven people! Filippo, that's the name of the owner of the pizzeria, got together a bunch of friends, including his girlfriend Francesca, his sister Elisa, Elisa's boyfriend Tomaso (yep, one M, weird for an Italian), his friend Jacopo and partner Christiane, and a common acquaintance, Federico, a fellow Aikido practitioner!
You know, I am used to play rpgs with kind of smallish groups, three, maybe four guys, so I was pretty sure we were heading for some chaos... I was happily disappointed, as we spent a delightful evening getting to know each other and creating the company of characters for a new The One Ring game. Almost everyone in the group was new to role-playing games (!), and some was even green to gaming in general (!!), but everyone was enthusiastic and eager to start, and so it was relaxing and felt nothing like work... yes, for I must confess that I worked a little bit, playtesting some more of the new Men of the Lake alternative culture for TOR, a type of character two out of seven players picked up without any prodding from my part - probably because everyone found them somewhat similar to ancient Venitians!
So, that was it. New group, new gaming life. Next time we meet, it will probably be to start playing (playtesting?) one of the adventures out of Tales of Wilderland - it will depend on where in the area they will decide to debut their adventuring career. A breath of fresh air!

mercoledì 28 settembre 2011

Collateral benefits

One of my goals behind the decision to write a blog was to relax a bit, to be relieved of the stress of a period where all I am doing all day is work... but in a period of such frentic activity it is very easy to just end up commenting what you are working on. For example, one of the my more time-consuming current endeavours is following the Italian edition of The One Ring rpg, due out by the end of October.
This is quite a funny story... I originally wrote the game in English, but I didn't get to translate it in Italian. In fact, I was very happy to hand out the job to Marco Crosa, one of the best out there, who has been working on Lord of the Rings games since another age of the world. He has done an excellent job, and reading my own words in a different language has been enchanting. His translation has been edited by Amado Angulo, a polyglot Mexican you might know from page 102 of the Loremaster's Book (and whose Distinctive features include 'Keen-eyed' and 'Trusty'), and then finally revised by yours truly. I am also doing the layout work for the books, and today I finished composing the character sheet. Since I was at it, I decided I might try to tweak its layout (by Paul Bourne) a bit, to fix one problem it had: the lack of space to record a character's Cultural Weapon Skill, if he has one (not Paul's fault, but mine!). And to be fair with our English-speaking fans I thought I might do a version in English too...

So, here is a link to a .pdf for my revised version of the character sheet. I'll post a link at Cubicle 7 forums too, so if anyone has any suggestions I'll be happy to read about those there.

TOR character sheet revised

lunedì 26 settembre 2011

A good read for The One Ring Loremasters

One of the things I will eventually blog about here is my The One Ring game. TOR is a tabletop role-playing game set in Middle-earth, the most famous literary creation of J.R.R. Tolkien, a legendary land known especially through his two masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (hopefully I will return later to make amends for such a terrible summary!). The One Ring (a two-books plus maps slipcase) is making its way to game stores in the U.S. and Europe, and deals primarily with the region called Wilderland...

The One Ring at Cubicle 7

Now, writing a rpg is a taxing endeavour, and writing one about such a beloved literary work may be daunting. It took me more that three years, and I used every source I could to provide players with a playable environment. Among my many sources, direct and indirect, I found the writings of Michael Martinez to rank amongst the most insightful, provocative and entertaining. Michael is a true Tolkien enthusiast who combines his scholarly knowledge with a strong creative impulse. Over the years he has written many Tolkien-related essays, always succeeding in saying something interesting and fresh about the chosen subject. His work has certainly been useful to me, and I would have loved to have read the linked piece below before I wrapped up the rpg project, as it deals about one of my favourite ME topics: the unknown life and customs of the Woodmen of Mirkwood. Who has seen my game and read the chapters about Wilderland knows that there is a good deal of non-canon material in there, as Tolkien didn't give us too much to work upon. But he left us with many intriguing tidbits, details that can be connected to paint a wider picture. This is what Michael Martinez does in his piece 'Horror in the Woods', a must-read for every TOR Loremaster out there, ripe for the picking to set an adventure in the land of the Woodmen...

Horror in the Woods

domenica 25 settembre 2011

Interesting places I have been this summer (1)

At the end of last August I finally took some days off, and once again headed for Puglia. It's my wife Beatrice's home region, so over time it has become a second home for me too (me and my wife Beatrice go back a long while together now...). It felt like I had my last holiday ages before (and it probably WAS ages before...) so we decided to do something we never did before, maybe also to show off a bit with our daughter Anita.
For starters, we booked a suite in a very nice (and usually expensive, we got it from hotel in Lecce called Torre del Parco.
'Torre' means tower, and the hotel is actually built in an structure dating back to the XV century... Anita was really excited at the idea of staying in a real castle, and the suite was everything we expected a suite in a castle tower to be: an extravagant place of luxury, with a four-poster bed, a large Jacuzzi-style bath (a small swimming pool as far as I am concerned), etc. ...

Anita was beside herself with excitement, and it was difficult to convince her that we actually had to leave the room to visit the city... luckily after much coaxing and bribing we succeeded, and spent some lovely hours in the city center: Lecce is one of the nicest towns in the south of Italy, with many archeological and architectural sights and places where to simply hang out and relax. When we finally headed to the hotel we were really happy at the prospect of resting under the vaulted ceiling of our unconventional suite... unfortunately, something went wrong - at least, for me...

I don't remember at what time it started, but that night I experienced the worst nightmare I had in years, possibly in my entire life. Just remembering it makes my skin crawl and look behind my back as I write. I don't remember the details, but it was me, Beatrice and Anita, we where walking together heading somewhere, and Anita lagged behind, so I was forced to stop once in a while and see what she was up to... and there she was, stopping on her tracks as I looked at her, and then suddenly moving very fast toward us, "The Ring"-like, when I was just turning my face away, so that only with the corner of my eye I could see her face twist into the most horrible demon-face, Linda Blair style! I was terrified, and slowly resurfaced from my sleep, only to enter in the worst half-sleep state I can remember, where I was conscious to be in the castle suite, but still capable to conceive that some terrible possession might have really occurred, and that my demon-daughter could be anywhere in the vast, silent and dark suite, as I curled in my bedsheets...

Needless to say, when I finally rose the next morning I didn't feel exactly that my money was well spent in the castle suite! Anita was as lovely as ever, but it took a while for me to dispel the scary images from my mind. I even spent some time considering to inquire about any possible hauntings in the hotel, but then concluded that it wasn't probably something the hotel staff might have been interested in discussing. I certainly didn't feel like talking about it at length yet. Writing about it now revived something of the thrill I felt (nothing even nearly pleasant...) but I felt it was worth recording somewhere!
Oh, why am I writing in English? Well, part of my job requires me to write, read and speak English, so I figured that blogging in English would help me with that. An additional stressful requirement I am enforcing on myself to get some discipline in my life...

There's a first time...

So here I am, talking (writing) to myself... a weak attempt at organising my work and time spent on the web. Will the effort needed to keep a blog reinforce my working output? We'll see... but I felt I had to try, I spend already so much time writing imaginary blogs in my head that I might as well write a real one. Will anyone read it? For the moment, that's not really the point. So. Let it begin. Press the orange button.