Series Info...In the Trenches #8:

Making “Stuff”

by Laurel Stuart
May 3, 2002

There's nothing quite like moving to make one appreciate just how many junk we collect over time. I spent the last few weeks packing, toting and unpacking boxes galore all the while promising myself that I would never own so much "stuff" again. This is the same promise I make every time I move, but over the passage of two or three years, books and trinkets seem to breed in dark corners and all those innocent purchases add up. When the boxes come out and the moving van is parked outside, I'm trapped.

One of the challenges for a Storybuilder is making enough interesting "stuff" to fulfill the needs of the characters. Every object in the game — food, clothing, furniture, the characters themselves — is going to need a certain amount of descriptive text. The more "color" you can add to your game, the more engaging the chat theatre will be for the players. Just keep in mind that regardless of how much you offer, they will be hungry for more. This is particularly true in the case of portable objects.

Beyond just coming up with the ideas and descriptions for different objects, you'll have to put consideration into what these objects do and what can be done to them. The easiest way is to think in prepositions and comparative size. Can you sit on this object? Can you tuck it into your pocket?

That's only scraping the surface in regards to developing a new object. There's still more questions to think about. Will it be edible or capable of inflicting damage on a PC? How can you make this purse different from that purse — or do they really need to be different at all? The bigger your chat theatre, the higher the quantity and diversity of "stuff" will need to be.

Previously, I discussed how to make rooms. Room building is particularly time consuming. Fortunately, Portable objects, the "stuff" that characters collect and carry with them or stash in their rooms are easier to make in the sense that they usually have far fewer Details than rooms. The fewer Details, the quicker you can write those objects up and input them into the database. However, while you might be creating a total of 20-50 initial rooms, you will need hundreds of portable objects to keep your players happy.

What's more, some portable objects will need lots of variations. There might indeed be a very good reason to make a small brown leather purse and a large black vinyl purse and a red purse with silver clasps, and on and on.

Why? "Stuff", regardless of its actual purpose ends up being valuable as a game currency. Shannon delves into the topic in "Objectionable Economies", one of the very first issues of Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities. Originally, the Marrach builders didn't think that "stuff" would have mass appeal in a socialization-based game. They were mistaken.

What Skotos learned with Castle Marrach is a simple, painful truth: RPG characters tend to collect and horde stuff even more than people do in real life. Any item left lying around is going to be picked up and carried off by one character or another. Unique items that have a little more "bang" to them — more comprehensive descriptions and/or unusual properties — are going to be extremely collectable and probably sold or traded by characters as part of future scenes. As a Storybuilder, its your job to ensure that there's enough portable objects of varying type to reasonably accommodate your players. That means you are going to be very busy creating interesting "stuff". The more you create before launch, the simpler your life will be later on.

There's been effort to create an Object Library for the Chat Theatres. Someday, Storybuilders will be able to pick and choose among object prototypes to quickly custom build objects for a variety of game genres. Right now, that library is closer to a half-stocked book shelf. This provides new Storybuilding teams with a responsibility to not only create wonderful objects for their own games, but to contribute to the Object Library itself. A room a day may have been too ambitious an endeavor, but there's no reason that every member of a Storybuilding Team can't make at least one portable object every day.

Here is an example portable item already in the Object Library: a cigarette.

Portable objects typically use three views: Brief Look and Examine. "Glance" is used only for rooms. Below is the information contained in the Default Detail for the cigarette.

Brief: filter cigarette. Look: a filter cigarette. Examine: This is a filter cigarette, wrapped in white cigarette paper, with a brownish end.

The listed base adjectives for the Default Detail include filter, tobacco, white. Notice that tobacco isn't used in the actual description, but the builder who created this portable probably included it because players could easily infer that cigarettes contain tobacco. The base prepositions are close, against, on, inside, and near... meaning that this cigarette could be close to another object, or against it, or inside it, etc.,

Beyond the default detail, there are two secondary details — the filter and the tip. This means that a character can view those specific parts of the cigarette and get a little additional information about each one. Both of these secondary details have Brief/Look/Examine Views, base adjectives and base prepositions all on their own. In this particular case, the descriptions for the secondary details are pretty simple; as objects go, a cigarette doesn't appear very complicated. At least, its not complicated until you want characters to not just carry and trade cigarettes but be able to use them.

What if a character wants to be able to smoke a cigarette? Should lit cigarettes have different descriptions than unlit ones? How does one go from having an unlit cigarette, to a lit cigarette, to a cigarette butt in the ashtray with seamless transition for the parser? This is a situation where StoryBuilding becomes StoryCoding — and its currently beyond my own ability.

Nevertheless, those are the kind of questions I need to start asking if I intend to have cigarettes in my game. My very first venture into a Chat Theatre (The Gables on RPGNet) involved my character finding a cigarettes, a cigarette case and a lighter. For the life of me, I could not figure out how to get a cigarette lit or smoked which was extraordinarily frustrating to me as a player. I can only imagine it would be equally frustrating for players in Devil's Cay. So as the Developer and Storybuilder, its my responsibility to make sure that PCs can smoke if I'm going to include cigarettes. Being the mischievous sort, I'd love to figure out a way for first-time smoker PCs to have involuntary coughing fits after that first puff. Little gimmicks like that add an extraordinary amount of charm to a game.

In my next article, I'm going to describe different types of portable objects and the kinds of properties they could be imbued with, and how those properties are addressed in the Interface. Meanwhile, I invite everyone who wants to try their hand at basic Storybuilding to submit portable object descriptions in the ITT or Storybuilding forum and we can work through the basic object-making process step-by-step with your example.

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