Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Something I Read

It is usually a red flag when someone decides to write a story based on their RPG session or sessions. It's not impossible to do well, but it's easy to do badly, and the more tightly the story hews to the events of the game, the more likely it's going to be a terrible story even if the adventure was absolutely fantastic. The simple truth is that games make very bad stories, at least if they're recounted as they happened.

Games can, however, make a great starting point for a story. One of the things that separates the good from the dreadfully dull is a willingness to apply a little alchemy to the tale, to tighten up the pacing, get a little less literal, maybe take a few liberties, and concentrate on a story that is good rather than one that is accurate. One excellent means of making this transformation is to change to a medium other than text, especially something visual, like a comic.

It is with all that in mind that I recommend Clockworks, a steampunk/fantasy webcomic by Shawn Gaston that's based off a Savage Worlds campaign.

So, I dig Savage Worlds and all, but there is really no better advertisement for that game than this comic. For all that it looks good and tells a story, it's still got enough recognizable gamer-ness that it's hard to read without thinking how much fun it would be to run a game like this. It's got one of those premises (not-quite-city-watch in the bad part of a huge steampunk city) that a lot of games shoot for but which usually ends up falling down because it's so hard to capture properly. Clockworks does a great job of demonstrating that visuals make all the difference - like most steampunk-ey things, the aesthetic is one that is simple to grasp when well illustrated (as it is in this case) but which is much harder to really nail down otherwise.[1]

I'm also not joking about it being a good advertisement. Savage Worlds is a game I like, but it's about 15 degrees off from what I'm looking for, so it's a perpetual also-ran when I'm considering games[2]. But Clockworks keeps it bubbling to the top of the pile because, in part, I have no difficulty believing this story I'm reading could be captured with Savage Worlds. This good feeling has lead directly to the purchase of a couple Savage Worlds books and the serious considerations of others, and when the day comes that Mr. Gaston and company produce their own Savage World book for this setting, you bet your ass I'm picking it up.

1 - Am I saying steampunk is a primarily visual medium? I guess I am. Even the books seem to rely on a shorthand for goggles and gears that only really works if you already know what it look like.

2 - The fact that superheroes are better served diving for cover just doesn't sit comfortably with me. I get why it's so - SW scratches a tactical itch without getting too crunchy about it - but I feel like genre suffers as a result. This is not a flaw in the game, merely a difference in taste.

(images totally illicitly clipped from the Clockwork Comic)


  1. You officially have my permission to clip images from the comic, especially when sending people to the comic. (I'm pretty sure those bits are well covered by fair use anyway.)

    And thanks, glad you enjoyed it. The last 20 comics or so have been interesting, because I'm juggling a half dozen or so plot lines at the moment, that will all consolidate eventually.

  2. Lodoss is based on a DnD scenario, which is wild, and not all that surprising. I've always liked the 13 episode Grey Witch OVA.

    Steampunk comic will have to be read :)

  3. Have you considered adding the combat maneuver Heroic Dive For Cover, which grants the same bonus as Dive For Cover, but requires the hero to strike a heroic pose (appropriate bon mot optional for a bonus) in the face of the attack? <grin>

    Actually I must try Necessary Evil at some point, it being the only superhero system that I haven't actually tried (at least to my knowledge), despite it's excellent genre-bending premise. The problem for me is that experience has taught me to be rather chary with superhero games built upon game systems designed to portray normal folks (and vice versa).

  4. @Rev At $10, I was pretty happy with the investment in Necessary Evil, even if I never end up actually using it.


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