Lexicon and Microscope: G+ Thoughts

Seekers of Lore
Seekers of Lore

Andrew of Fictive Fantasies threw a lot of ideas at me regarding this project. I’m going to try to organize, distill, and respond to them here.


Set an explicit starting point and ending point (calendar-wise). Then you could do “Volume II” if it went really well, or focus on one in an area of the game world.

After reconsideration, agreed. I’d originally thought to leave it open-ended, but explicit and specific period makes it easier for people to commit to take part, and makes it somewhat easier for people to focus. There’s a reason I like the 13- and 26-episode anime series and don’t care for the 300+ episode series.

I think “turns” are going to be important here, for managing continuity. A turn might be a week. All must be submitted by midnight Saturday. Sunday, rest and review, so the academics are all up to speed on the new established continuity. Then round 2. I mean, you don’t NEED to do this. Maybe provide a tool to the scholars for tracking what articles have been accepted into continuity, and tracking which ones they’ve ready, to help keep track of what they need to see so they don’t contradict it.

If turns are weekly, perhaps a three-month session end to end would be appropriate. This makes for twelve or thirteen turns.

In Lexicon each article is expected to be 100-200 words. Originally I’d thought daily for a month, but that may be pretty aggressive, especially if you have to incorporate what was posted yesterday and align with previous canon. I think it can be done, but would be stressful and end up pretty disjoint. I think we can do something better with your ideas here.

In a way, you’ve got the same problem as a comic book company. All these titles coming out making new continuity every month, and you want the authors to step on each others’ established history as little as possible.

Another possible structure tweak would be to require scholars to submit an article on an established event / threat / era / etc. each “turn” and allow up to 2 specialty articles based in the scholar’s specialty.

Allow scholars to pick that specialty; geopolitical ramifications, monster threats, diplomatic negotiations with neighbors, legendary heroics, biographies, etc.

Other scholars can riff off the established events, and pull in material from other scholars’ specialty articles, while tossing out references to their own specialties.

How does this sound?

  • One turn per week, for three months, for a total of twelve turns. Probably kick off at the beginning of January and run through the end of March.
    • Turn ends Saturday midnight (Pacific time, since that’s where I live… and Saturday night I’m usually in a game until 9:00-10:00 PM Pacific time).
    • Posts are live by Sunday morning and ready for review.
    • New topics identified or ‘reserved’ by Tuesday midnight, if we want to avoid collisions. We might not; two Scholars duking it out academically could be entertaining… but it might work better as a special event thing.
  • At least two articles per week.
    • One article is net new and is whatever is of interest to the Scholar. If you want to write about the sacrificial magics of the Shawloon savages, despite there really being nothing else about the Shawloon in the wiki, or of sacrificial magic anyway, go ahead. It’s a bit of obscure knowledge and it seeds some ideas.
    • At least one article that expands on, adds to, or otherwise builds off an existing article — written by someone else. If you talk about the sacrificial magics of the Shawloon savages, I might pick up on the Shawloon element and start talking about the geography of their homeland and just why they are savages, someone else might explore sacrificial magics across the realm.

Generally one Scholar should not edit another Scholar’s writing, but it seems reasonable that if kept to implementing hyperlinks it should be okay. This lets us drop the prerequisite on adding (and tracking!) unresolved links, and leaves selection of new topics to the Scholar.

One of the things I like about the Lexicon structure is that it requires interaction between the Scholars. You can’t just sit off to one side writing everything there is about one topic, you must respond to your colleagues. Periodically seeding with net-new articles gives an opportunity to be wholly creative (not following up), but overall most of the writing should end up fairly related to other posts.

On Scholars

I had a couple other ideas for addressing the difficulty of start-up. One passing fancy was to use the Apocalypse World character generation method of having the scholars determine who was a friend, who was an enemy, who was a former student risen to prominence, or other relations between academics. That could lead to hilarity.

I’ll want to think about this one. I don’t know how much rigidity people would want to see in the characters they are writing.

It might be cool for scholars to write their biographies at the end of the “game.”

Or write autobiographies — a paragraph or two perhaps — at the start of the activity, so we know what roles people are assuming. If we end up with two masters of geography, so much the better.

Determining Focus

Here is a potential focus. You could have a prince rising to the throne, and as a gift, the Queen Mother has gathered the wise academics of the area to “brief” the new king on various matters of significance that are important to understand in taking the throne.

You could throw out a handful of event names, like headings in history books, attached to dates (or establish a range of dates in the starting material.) Sages could draw on their reserves of wisdom and learning to present summaries of the events, with attendant footnotes and such (that would expand the events and personalities beyond the original.)

You could have scribes take these papers and presentations, and that could be what the final project represents.

Using this format, you could host symposiums on a number of topics, or for a number of reasons, dating each one so subsequent information could debunk or expand previous scholarly work.

Therefore, academics could be encouraged to focus on a few things, though they are disobedient and cranky and egotistical and unlikely to behave. Focus on the geopolitical significance of events, conflicts, and locations. Focus on potential threats a new king must fully understand. Focus on allies; the how, why, and importance of their relationships.

This is not only interesting and creative, but can be directly applied to creating lost treasures, historical artifacts, secret societies, monster descriptions, clan grudges, and on and on. In other words, eminently gameable.

I’m not even going to try to distill that one, it’s brilliant as it is. Lovely ideas.

I find this is departing somewhat from the setting I originally had in mind for Seekers of Lore. It feels like it’s better suited for developing ‘the world before’ the departure of the gods… and I am remarkably fine with that. I think perhaps instead of focusing on what ‘is now’, which is supposed to be kind of broken and scattered, without structure or place, describing ‘what was’ makes a much better starting point. It gives the opportunity to form something more cohesive than the scattered remains of civilization (which helps! ‘building something broken’ is hard), and if I later shatter it (as suits the campaign premise) I can have something much more consistent to work with.

A more substantial idea is to give each scholar the chance to briefly define a significant period of time in the world. Give each scholar 24 hours to do it, and if they do not, they miss a turn; bring it to a conclusion when you feel you have enough background.

To keep it concise and gameable, aim for something like the example of what I did here. I did this all on my own, but you can see what I mean about each person maybe adding a twist and direction to the overall meta-setting.

This sounds a lot like Microscope. I can see spending a week or two (it’s Christmas soon, very time-invasive) on high-level geography and events (in Microscope terms setting the palette — though Microscope focuses more on time and events than on geography), then we spend the more active period expanding (and expounding) on the detail.


Considering putting it out in a hyperlinked .pdf

I really see no reason why not. The size and structure of this project could lend itself to a ‘book format’ when complete.

Somehow I feel that as neat as this would be as a rabbit-hole wiki, there’s real advantage to having a print version too… I could even do some illustrations if you wanted.

Illustrations are welcome, especially when accompanying an article. I see myself doing an occasional map or the like. Unlike many things I see myself working on, by its nature this project would benefit from some inconsistency in the art because it comes from different sources.

Also, it might be super cool if scholars got a copy of a book. =)

I can’t see not making the PDF available. Physical book… at the least I would make it available for POD, depending on circumstances and cost I could see footing the cost to send copies to the Scholars who participated (perhaps above a certain threshold, nine of the twelve turns?).

As for product… well, with the advent of POD, I have a PILE of books at home that were never made available to the public, that I made and printed for myself and select friends. There may be a jump between “books for us” and “books for everyone” that I did not mean to suggest. Still, yeah; if you wanted to make it more widely available, and people who were participating were cool with that, why not?

I expect I’d pursue a model something like Jack Shear does with his Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque books — break even or a little better. I don’t aim to _profit_ off the work of others unfairly, but if I can set a reasonable price that lets me provide the Scholars copies of the books that would make me happy.

If you did one, and it went well, then you could consider using the profits from the first volume to offer “scholars” money if they hit certain criteria to be in the second volume.

Indeed. Taken honestly I don’t expect to see anything resembling profit off this. I suspect even at $5 over printing cost per copy I would not cover the time required to lay it out… but if it costs $15 to print and I can sell four or five times as many copies as I have Scholars then I can get the Scholar copies out without being out of pocket. Anything after that would go back into the project.

Seriously though, even if you don’t monetize it, at least consider POD for a reference copy for you, the scholars, and maybe something players could arrange for their characters to buy so the player could get a copy. =)

I think it comes down to whether or not the participants are comfortable with my selling it. I’ll happily do a free PDF version and you can take it to POD for yourself, or I can sell it and (hopefully) net enough to cover the cost of sending each Scholar a copy. I like the idea of the Scholars getting souvenir copies, but hope to have enough participants that I cannot comfortably afford to provide them out of pocket.

So… I provide PDFs and each person can get it printed or not, or I provide free PDFs and sell (via POD) to gain the money to send the participants physical copies of what they worked on?

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  1. Andrew

    Thank you for your consideration of my ideas! I’m pleased to be part of thinking this through.

    Another option for the books is to say “Hey Scholars, if you want a book then paypal $20 to me and I’ll send you one.” Order it, put the Scholar’s address in for shipping, and bam, done.

    Given the way you have structured your thinking here, the focus might use an amendment. An adventuring company or guild or a mercenary force is preparing to go into a ruined area. They have sponsored a symposium of scholarship to put together all the information there is on a few high-profile ruins in the area, and the overall area’s history and inhabitants and legends.

    That way the Scholars are working on a framework the DM can use to date ruins, invent cool cultural treasures, manage waves of previous inhabitants in a site, identify traditional battlefields and contested territories.

    That gets you a laser-like focus on creating the back story that you can surely use, while fleshing out some geography and culture. Plus you can have Scholars who know who they are giving information to, and why, who may not be fully sympathetic–or might want a cut of certain discoveries.

    By the time you get to actual PCs going in, consider some of the collateral benefits. They could have instructions to bring back any books, get rubbings of wall murals, sketch statues, map areas, as part of the payment to Scholars. They would have a ready-made network for fencing exotic antiquities. And they might have to do escort missions to get academic types into places to further their lore; publish or perish could be quite literal here.

    A final note on Scholars; to begin with, they need a specialty. I think Scholars are sure to let slip information about themselves over the course of the project, so the autobiographical blurb at the end is likely to be much more accurate. =)

    How many Scholars are you looking to include?

    • Thank you for sharing your ideas! They’re taking this in directions I hadn’t considered, for the better.

      I think the first iteration might work best if it focuses on common background. I expect there could be some self-selected targeting on bits that are personally interesting, but establishing a baseline for later development is likely pretty valuable.

      After a baseline is developed there will be some framework and context for the work that follows. The initial run (twelve turns over three months, aiming for a couple dozen articles from each Scholar) should provide a pretty decent foundation, but there certainly isn’t enough space there for high detail.

      If we assume 100-200 words per article (consistent with Lexicon, 24 articles per Scholar, that could mean an average of 3,500 words per Scholar… in other words, two or maybe three of my regular blog posts. That’s not a huge amount of detail (or I write really long blog posts). Of course, some may write even longer articles, or more of them, but even if everyone tripled the goal (instead of 150 words on average, about 500 words on average per article) that’s still only 12,000 words each.

      As far as how many scholars, I’d welcome pretty much as many as wish to take part. I think a core of five to six should be pretty good, providing enough voices and enough content (on the order of 20,000 words perhaps) to make a viable baseline. If I can get a dozen that follow through I’d be delighted. Twenty and I’d be shocked (and possibly dealing with about 70,000 words, or 100,000 if they are ambitious).

    • I think I will not-answer any publication element quite yet, until I see what we’ve got for participants.

      I’m open to a free/Creative Commons PDF (probably with a “go ahead and POD this” note in the front).

      I’m open to doing it as a one-off thing between me and the Scholars (or as a ‘limited-access’ POD product).

      I’m open to setting it up as a product (and making sure the print proofs are good, etc.) with any profit going back into the program. I really don’t want to try to profit off something I’m asking others to do without pay, that’s not cool. Keeping it as profit-neutral as possible but still offer it as a product, or spending whatever profit does come of it on further rewards for participants (possibly in later iterations, if we continue, or even as simple as reimbursing for the hardcopies ordered when the money comes in… though I’d really like to send the books rather than cash, y’know?).

      No decision at this point, I think it is best decided once we know who is involved. I’m leaning toward the last one because I think it offers the coolest results, but I understand how people can be sensitive about ‘making money off free work’.

  2. Andrew

    Hm… if we are pretending to be Scholars, AND you are asking us to be succinct, that’s a treacherous rip-tide that strains credulity! I understand wanting to keep the requirement reasonable, and also not wanting to get buried in text, but 500 words is pretty short. If the ceiling were raised to a height of at least 1,000 words I personally would be happier.

    I mean… you’ve read academic works, right?!? =) Even if we keep it fairly succinct, for flavor alone there will be some word padding.

    My comment above was 333 words. To do a creative entry any justice, and be shoehorned in such a tight space, is a hardship for verbose contributors.

    • I was basing my word count estimate on Lexicon’s guidelines, which talk specifically about 100-200 words per article. It is evident that would be a pretty severe constraint, when it was not intended as such. I certainly have no problem with someone writing longer.

      For example, when I use my Entity Definition template I can often get an entry on a single page, almost always two or fewer. The Kreshtar Tribes entity is 213 words and fits on a single page pretty easily. It’s also very concise, and even sparse.

      On the other hand, the Ghost Hills entity runs… rather longer. It’s about ten times as long and doesn’t come close to fitting on a single page — but could probably fit into five pages. To be honest, though, in this activity it would actually be split into several articles.

      So… yeah, clearly 200 words is going to be very short indeed. I think it’s a reasonable fit for a very high-level description, or at the early design stage, but it’ll most likely want fleshing out eventually before it gets used.

  3. Andrew

    I just think it would be great to say 100-1,000 word range. Not too long to read, but gives a little more space if a topic warrants it. This could certainly be adjusted as the project continued, if need be.

  4. GreyKnight

    I’ve been following the conversation, but I’m tired out (we’re a week past deadline…) so haven’t contributed much. Hopefully come the weekend I will be back in creative mood and can try to come up with a Scholar character!

      • GreyKnight

        Sure, I like what I see. I am not sure how to come up with a specialism but I’ll try picking a few random words out of the dictionary and see if inspiration strikes.

        Regarding final biographies: you could have Scholars write biographies of each other, with the understanding that they may or may not be hatchet jobs. :-)

        • That could work, sure.

          I’m not a fan of locking characters down at character creation, so waiting until the end to finalize them is sensible. Writing each others’ biographies is a nice touch, I think.

          Perhaps do autobiographies at the beginning so we have an idea where the Scholar is coming from while we work, then biographies at the end that get published, could work. Or opinions of each other!

          Each writes an autobiography of what they think they are, and their thoughts on the other Scholars at the end. I’m not sure if it would be “all about GK’s Scholar” (GK’s autobiography and comments from others) in one place, or “what GK’s Scholar thinks about all of the scholars” (autobiography and comments on others), but that’s hardly important at this point…

          Hrm. I wonder how difficult it might be to allow Scholars to “scrawl notes” (added as marginalia?) to each other’s articles. Perhaps as a special edition :)

          • Andrew

            If you want to see what glosses by other scholars could look like, The Art of War is an example; a very short entry, followed by interpretation (some of it seems to clearly miss the point, others are insightful.) That could be done by allowing “replies” on the article. I think that would be overdoing it for the first outing, but could be interesting later.

            Another possibility would be to have special editions available later on, where one Scholar glosses the whole work and you can get that Scholar’s version with that Scholar’s insights. =)

            For specialties, I think that would work best defined at the beginning. I suggested a few categories I think work well. And, not every Scholar NEEDS to be specialized; some are generally learned in that field.

            I’m a fan of autobiographical notes after the project wraps, because it takes time to find a voice. As for writing each other’s bios, that doesn’t totally turn me off, but it doesn’t grab me either.

            An advantage to doing this project more than once is the format continues to be refined by experience and practice rather than thinking with no examples. I think it’s plenty complex for a first go.

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