Tag Archives: thoughts

Tabletop RPG: Serenity the RPG System Thoughts

(After a long drought, finally an RP post! Sorry ya’ll, I had the plague and it will not go away.)

So I had bought the Serenity the Roleplaying Game’s book ages ago, along with a big old Verse map and a giant book about a specific cargo run. Why? Because I was interested in seeing how playable it was. Now, the book itself isn’t laid out in the most logical of senses, and sometimes it seems a bit screwy to me. I’m not going to critique the system as a whole, but instead, talk about how it plays.

I ran it this last weekend for a group of three players. It was specifically meant to be short, one or two sessions, three at an absolute maximum that I didn’t see happening, and so in an effort to keep it short, I chose to use one of the episodes of the series (“The Train Job”) as my framework. Bonus, most of my players had either never seen the show, seen only a small percentage of it, or hadn’t seen it in well over ten years and had since forgotten a large chunk of it. I had no worries about them actually recognizing what I was up to.

The game started off a little shaky–I’m not used to DMing, and I was trying to think of how to describe something I had seen in a show to convey exactly the right tone. But as the players started to make their plan and I got comfortable, we all started to enjoy ourselves. This is where the good parts of the game really started to show themselves. It isn’t loaded down with rules and schematics, but instead relies on the imaginations of the players and the DM, and on the way that they RP things out. It also gives some players a bit of flux.

What I mean by that is the use of Plot Points. I know of other DMs who will deliberately fudge rolls if a character rolls poorly and it may lead to someone having a bad night, or for similar reasons. Serenity makes that almost unnecessary with the use of Plot Points, provided the characters haven’t been just slinging them around. By really using them when they can tell a roll is important, it lets them get the desierable outcome without some…somewhat shady but good intentioned shady…actions on behalf of a DM, which I can appreciate.

That being said, 1’s still happen, and critical failures can lead to problems. But I’ve taken the stance that just because you failed the roll it doesn’t mean something catastrophic has to happen, and depending on what it is, the party isn’t screwed. In my most memorable case from this last weekend, one failed the hiding roll with a 1 while the other did really well. So I did something like you’d see out of a comedy skit to explain how both got hidden because of how well the other person rolled covering for both of them. Everything still proceeds, and everyone at the table got a laugh out of it. Failures don’t have to mean instant-death, and I was glad to get to DM something like that.

Is the lack of detail sometimes annoying? Oh very. And the rate of lethal damage applied to the weapons, while realistic, means that combat is never going to go well, and I’m still thinking about how to balance that out in a longer game. I also have to figure out whether I’d want to do something similar to Whedon’s work, where there is a long arc that we’re building to but a lot of it plays out in small moments, or if I want the long arc to be the focus with occasional side jobs. But that comes back to the flexibility of the system. It really lets you run the type of game that you want to run.

I don’t know if I would recommend this system for a newbie DM and newbie group of players. It’s not laid out in a way that’s neat, there’s a lot of holes, and the combat is harsh. But for a group that has messed around with a few systems, it is pretty forgiving to let them let their hair down for a bit. As a newbie DM, I had the advantage of knowing the world best, which gave me the measure of control that as DM I need to have any kind of confidence. With a group of die-hard Firefly fanatics, that isn’t going to be the case…but other new DMs may not have my anxiety crutches, so your mileage is just going to vary on that front.

If I can trust my players to stay off my blog, I might talk about the planning I go into for longer campaigns, but that’s a big maybe. I wouldn’t want to accidentally spoil anyone’s backstory or arc for them, and that will cause sour feelings. (Plus some of the players are uber private, which I respect.) In the meantime, if you can get your hands on the book or a PDF of it, it’s worth a page-through at the very least.


Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.

Writing: Thoughts on Querying…

I feel like preemptively labeling this part one, I’m sure I’ll have more as the process continues for me. For those curious, yes, I am still querying. I sent my full draft to an interested agent, but seeing as how staying in contact with her over the last six months became…difficult…I am actively seeking other options. Query Tracker, btw, is a great tool. I was reluctant to use it because I wasn’t sure it was verifying the agents, but nope! It’s safe!

So some funny (or annoying) things that have happened or I’ve seen, and my reactions.

One agent actually had a note on submissions: “No more vampires, sorry.” That made me laugh, and it also made sense? I wish more agents did that. Like rather than giving us broad genres, they specifically said, “I am sick of seeing this, I want to see this.” And no, telling me you want “strong storytelling” and “books I can’t put down” doesn’t tell me anything. That’s super subjective. If you are sick of first person narratives, say so.

I ran into two rather curious things, too, that gave me an amused rant to put on Twitter if no where else. I saw a lot of agents listing interest in LGBT fiction. And my immediate thought is, “Errr, you’re missing a letter?” A is important, especially for my books. In addition, romance tended to run through extremes–either EPIC or don’t bring it to me, it has cooties! Which all of that makes me laugh, since my main character is so far down the gray scale of demi-sexuality she is almost ace. (Which is the A.) It definitely shows room for growth, at least in my opinion.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s a mixed situation to the flooding of inboxes that agents get. There’s basically three things going on, and all of them have their pros and cons. Though to be honest, one super annoys me more than any of the others.

One solution is the no response means no. Ugh, that’s harrowing. Because of their work schedules, agents can’t guarantee when they will get to a book outside of a pretty long time frame. I get just wanting to hit the delete button and move on to the next, but I wish they would at least have a form they sent back to end the misery. But again, that takes time, and it’s time they may not even have. Others do have a form response that they send, and they guarantee replies within a certain window. Obviously as a writer, I love that, but I wonder how much it pulls away from the writer’s work.

The third solution is the one that cheeses me off if it’s not handled properly. Having an intern help with the slush pile of new submissions. On one hand, if it’s used as a tool, I feel like it’s the perfect solution here. The agent can go through the queries while giving notes out loud to the intern who is keeping track themselves, and then the intern can go generate the responses while the agent moves on. My issue is when its the intern who is going through the slush pile themselves and determining what the agent even sees. (What I have dubbed “intern-gating.”) I know one agent who does it of the ones I’ve done so far and even stuff that she has requested in a contest or conference to see gets turned back. Thankfully those people email her directly and get told to send it to her, but ugh, what a waste of people’s time.

The amounts of material requested also run the friggin’ gambit. Could we not come to a consensus, particularly one that doesn’t handicap the writers involved? The more pages there are, the more the agents have to read, I get that. I just think five pages isn’t enough. Ten, at a minimum, can at least get you to the action…or if it doesn’t, the writer has bigger problems. (There is a reason Sun’s Guard: Ten went through so many drafts, I was desperately trying to get to Moonshine faster.) I mean, I’d prefer the first three chapters, but I know that’s a lot for some to get through too.

I’m on the fence about a synopsis. On one hand, I think it is a handy tool for agents. On the other, I think it also can be very misleading? I tried to keep mine focused, but that was hard. Ginny had to hold me in from going down some of my subplots, partly to save space and partly to keep agents from getting distracted by seeing what isn’t there. I can’t imagine the trouble that other people went through. My professors weren’t much help, I remembered talking to Chester about not knowing what I was doing, and she said no one does when it comes to synopsis.

So there are my funny stories/observations. If you’ve got anything of your own you’d like to share, give a shout. As it stands now, I’m going to keep poking away at things. Hopefully someone will take the bait…

Riddick Thoughts

Okay, so this one is less of a review and more of my random, circling thoughts about this film series as a whole. Will I someday do a more individualized, in-depth, movie-by-movie review series? …I don’t know. Depends on how the rest of the series goes. But I do have some thoughts on the entire thing that I would like to share, both for those who are also fans of the series and for those who haven’t really been able to get behind them. (I understand both sides.)

And as if to make this more confusing, I’m going to start with the second movie. Why? Because it was the first one in the series that I saw. I didn’t even know about Pitch Black for years. I caught The Chronicles of Riddick on some random channel while at my grandmother’s house. I was losing (miserably) at our marble game, and I welcomed the distraction, even though I missed the first ten minutes of the movie and had no idea what was going on. And talk as bad as you want to about the plot of the second movie… I liked it. I kinda got obsessed with finding out what was Riddick’s back story, what was going on with the girl named Jack who then became the killer named Kyra, and then the ending (which I won’t spoil for the rest of you) made me about ready to scream, especially when I found out exactly how old the film was at that point.

Was Chronicles a little too story heavy? Yes, especially in comparison to the first in the series (I’ll get there, I swear). We had a lot of plots, including prophecies and quests from various different characters, thrown at us, and there were only two or three characters who were consistent from the previous film, making continuity between the films a problem. Even as someone who was jumping into the series right in the middle of things, I was left sitting there on the couch at my mother’s on my third or fourth viewing of it going, “Okay, some of this HAD to have been established in the first film. Because there is way too much stuff going on here otherwise.” (Answer: very very little was established in the previous film.) And speaking of characters, did I mention there were a lot of them? Yeah, a WHOLE lot of them, and we were expected to remember who each of them was, and what their little quests were, and it didn’t help that Riddick was a little too perfect, too much the center of attention of things either. That said, there were some awesome parts to that movie. It is insanely quotable, just because the dialogue was so well-written. I love the dialogues between characters, especially when someone can gets Riddick to stop being all, “Grr,” long enough to be Vin snarking. It’s the most apparent between him and Toombs and/or Kyra. I may or may not be known for going, “Skittish, Toombs,” or “Death by teacup,” in response to certain questions asked to me because of this movie.

So between the years of my first discovering this movie and the news that there was a third one in production finally reaching my ears, I managed to get a plot synopsis of Pitch Black, and then very recently actually watched it. Yeah, I can see some serious issues between the two of them. Whereas Chronicles was trying to build up this world and plots without really pacing it right, there wasn’t a lot done in Pitch Block to establish the world beyond getting the situation built up for the survival plot of the film. We were given a hint of the back story to Riddick and his relationship with Johns, but everything else was just about getting off the planet (as well it should be, considering what it was). While I could see why fans would want a sequel to it, I don’t think Chronicles was quite the sequel it needed. Or rather, if Chronicles had been half as plot heavy, it might have worked. Pitch Black was focused only on the particular planet and the people who lived on it trying to survive, which worked for it and laid some groundwork, it just didn’t blend well with its immediate sequel.

The third in the trilogy struck an important balance between the two films. While there was some continuing of the plot established in the second movie, there was also some focusing back on what Riddick the character wanted rather than what the prophecies/the writers’ wanted. It set the stage for the same kind of survivalist horror that started the franchise off, but it also played into the back stories established in the earlier films. It fed into those who loved Chronicles, but it also could have (and I hope did) brought back the fans from Pitch Black. The monsters felt a little recycled to me, especially after I watched the first movie at last, since the design looked very similar, even if how they functioned in their world was different. I’m also getting really sick of this whole plot device of whatever finally makes Riddick look human, be it a person or an animal, gets killed. It’s getting annoying. But the film sets up for a fourth, final film well. (If they stretch for a fifth, I might start throwing things.) It was also an enjoyable watch, even if parts of it in the beginning squicked me out a little.

So what are my likes and problems with this series as a whole if it is one of my favorites? As a whole, it works well to balance a rich world and plot with proving the survivalist theme with Riddick. I don’t know if this is me romanticizing the character or not, but I honestly don’t see Riddick as this blood thirsty serial killer. Is he violent, yes. Does he play way too many mind games, also yes. But the former I am more than willing to place on what had to be a rather traumatic upbringing, and as for the latter… It’s an interesting character trait. He survives, and in the process, that has made him into what he is, all in an effort to survive. His race is also potentially a lot more primal than our own, which leads me to think a lot of his mind games are an attempt to establish dominance over other males he encounters. I think that’s part of why people keep cheering for him, even if he is supposed to be waaaay at the bottom of the sliding anti-hero scale.

*Spoiler Ahead*

I touched on one of my problems already, but…I am really sick of the death of anyone Riddick gets close to. I mean, Kyra and him had such an interesting relationship, and I really wanted to see it play out. I even have a friggin’ head canon established over what would have happened if she hadn’t been converted and then killed in Chronicles. (Actually, me and my best friend have this established, we did it in a fit of boredom over two days and just using the wiki.) I wish we could actually see Riddick have to keep up with a relationship for longer than a day or two. Or with something that isn’t a dog/giant cat.

My bigger problem is the mixed medium. I know this has become a big thing, where you have some of the story in the movies/show, and then the rest in some sort of web medium or even a video game. The problem that the Riddick series is having with that is they can’t keep their own story straight. Some of this comes from the fact that Riddick is meant to be the only survivor of the Furyan race, so we can’t know exactly what happened there. But we’ve had two or three different versions on how his eyes became shined like they were. Stick with one, people, stick with one! There needs to be some consistency, or else fans like me get cranky.

I’m hoping we get the next film done soon, so the hype from the last is able to feed into the frenzy. While the series has its flaws, as a whole it is one of my favorites to watch, and I can’t wait to see what happens when Riddick finally makes it back to Furya.