Monday, September 21, 2009

another quick one before bed

Big lesson for the night: Story Now! games can learn a lot from other forms of story-media, like television.
Case in point: the premiere of House reminded me just how important scene-framing is, especially pretty aggressive scene-framing, to keep games interesting and fun. Lesson learned -> it's not about emulating other genres, it's about using the tools of other genres to have more fun doing RPGs.
I could have cut a LOT of travel sequences from Mask and made the game a lot cooler. For that matter, I think I should avoid the "see the world!" impulse in games unless it stays within the emotional framework of the story - it is HARD to evoke wonder and awe when describing physical or sensory experiences. No problem at all to get a bunch of oh, damn's from the group when describing an action, between people, but it's damn hard to evoke the English countryside and have that be, you know, fun.
I plan on being a lot more aggressive from now on with my scene-framing, as GM - I may start keeping tabs on the next Bang coming up in the story, just to keep myself from thrashing around in old-school, we-must-record-every-moment style crap.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

That inner voice

I believe that both a prerequisite for, and goal of, good role playing is to encourage people to find their own creative voices.
That is all.

Derailed by Game Night

So I checked out the weekly Thursday indie/small press game night in Falls Church, at the Compleat Strategist.
It was awesome.

I played Spirit of the Century - amazing! I don't have too much time to get into a whole thing about how it went, but to be fair, we didn't get much further than character creation before I had to jet. Still, the highly collaborative nature of character creation was some hot bees, lemme tell ya. Also, my character was based very heavily on the Kriegaffe from the Hellboy comics - imagine a steampunk cyborg ape, raised by Nazis. Good times.

I also just got Shock: Social Science Fiction (v. 1.2), which looks really exciting - the references to Children of Men (see it!) make it all the more interesting for, like Ron Edwards said, doing sci-fi where the fiction is really about something cool and meaningful (that's more or less what
he said).

Looking back at how Questing Beast went - the players came up with interesting characters, and we spent two hours with a Saxon raid on a village. I wasn't a huge fan of the highly individualized chargen, which sabotaged our brainstorming on how to include the characters in each others' sagas.
The very concept of parallel, individual sagas (Polaris does this too, though I haven't played it yet and can't materially claim that this is what it does in practice) feels like the antithesis of the "Guest Starring..." feature in SotC's chargen - you actually devise some adventure that your protagonist has already gone through, and you randomly determine another protagonist who "guest stars" in your tale. It's totally badass, and really draws the characters together (not to mention taking full advantage of the whole group's creativity; wha-chaa!)

We have another session tomorrow; I'll see what the group thinks of the game so far, how they rate it, likes and dislikes, etc., and then see how the session goes, if we end up doing it.
I say "if" because SotC really opened up my head and showed me cool new things you can do with an RPG to get that creativity pot bubbling; I may buy Dogs in the Vineyard soon to check out their sweet, awesome see-and-raise conflict resolution rules, which sound really neat.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Real games aren't finished til you play 'em *flex*

Two friends are meeting up with me this Sunday to check out Questing Beast. I'm pretty excited, and I have some things I'm going to watch out for while we play:

- In QB, winning happens very "cleanly", as opposed to other games wherein victory can be achieved only with complications (Polaris, OtherKind, etc.): I shall see whether this feels too squeak-clean or not. The fact that winning on the dice establishes narrative control rather than simply the right to have one's will executed by the roll (i.e. you can narrate for a couple of paragraphs, introduce new props and characters[!], instead of being told 'you win!') definitely makes things a lot more interesting.
Maybe it'll have a "pass the conch" kind of feel.
- QB is definitely a game that has that "inner vortex" Vincent Baker has described. So much of the game that you play ends up deriving from each player's written Romance, which is where you derive your character's traits (this is the Pool system), so it's actually just fine that the resolution rules are so scanty - they aren't the only thing going on. We'll see how it feels to let that manifest, and I shall take notes accordingly.
- I'm really excited about devising an Accord (the kind of Arthurian setting we want) and the players writing up Romances for their characters. I'm also stoked about what sort of characters people will have - I'm imagining a badger squire and a fox lady-in-waiting, for some reason ^_^

Updates to follow, once we play!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A new stage of development as a designer

I've talked to a Sacramento gaming buddy about this at some length.
I haven't RPed since my player, V, went back to Spain. It was a little demoralizing, frankly. After a lot of thought, I've decided that the Thing To Do is to play more games, get a better sense of what's out there, what I can learn, and THEN maybe (more like "probably", to be fair) climb back into the design saddle again.

I'm still amazed that Baron Munchausen, which appears to be "just storytelling" and lacking any tactical or detail-obsessive elements, actually is a very funky sort of tactical game (realllly stretching the term to its limit) and is, in fact, an explicitly competitive enterprise. Fascinating, captain.

I plan to try out The Questing Beast soon, though I admit I'm skeptical. Anthropomorphic Arthurian fantasy sounds pretty awesome, don't get me wrong; I'm just suffering from Real Game Psychosis, that disease that convinces you that new or different approaches to RPGs aren't "real games", especially if those games are "rules-lite" (in the conventional definition of such, i.e. short books). What makes me a little wonky from reading through TQB is that while the character-writing exercise is intensely, definitively thematic, the mechanics that you use to interact with your character's history (and the Motif points you derive from it) are so free and open as to be a little confusing.

Maybe it's because you get to focus on whatever aspect of Arthurian sagas you like; maybe it's that the setting is not the focus of the rules, but merely a gently attached situation to explore that could be replaced, if you like. Arguably, using the same mechanics, but dropping the bunny knights and the jackal Saxons, would make things feel totally different. The author points out that your character is your vessel through which you explore themes that you've decided on; the point of having a farmer-badger instead of a regular human is that it establishes the character more firmly as a symbol or a mask, instead of a "[pawn] on a board" as the rulebook tells it.

Everybody likes playing furries acting out a verison of King Arthur; we'll see how it goes. Zen is about direct experience, because theorizing is only a tiny fraction of living. So, we'll see ^_^

Friday, September 4, 2009

One last whack at Creative Agenda

I picked up the Baron Munchausen RPG today, a strange, funky version of it that's more or less an in-character document - the titular character is the 'author' relating the rules and the text, with the meta-text element of him arguing with his 'off-camera' editor (as in, he relates his side of their ongoing disagreement in sort of real-time). Neat stuff ^_^

Anyway, it's been described by Ron Edwards, and by the guy who sold it to me, as "almost an RPG" - it's a lot (a LOT) like an idea I had about Vikings making boastful tales and then calling each other out on lies and getting points for it. That's also pretty much what happens in Baron too.

Anyway - so my realization is that any given game's support for CA is really quite simple, especially if it's fairly coherent. "Rules" in this context, by the way, means everything from mechanics to setting to, y'know, the basic reason why the game says you should play it.

Step On Up - the rules strongly support chances to show off how awesome and skillful you are, up to and including victory conditions. 4th ed. D&D definitely includes "minor-scale" win/loss situations where you get to show off what a tactical genius you are.

Right to Dream - the rules focus on supporting a certain kind of setting, premise, genre, etc. This could theoretically also include a game about a particular sort of character that you want to explore - the White Wolf games tend to focus on exploring a "lifestyle" of one sort or another.

Story Now - the rules focus on exploring a theme, philosophical premise/dilemma, something like that. This has generally been expressed so far as either an emotional (My Life With Master) or philosophical (Polaris) struggle - the struggle for freedom from the Doktor in the first one, and the struggle between integrity and self-preservation in the latter.

Anyway. Point is: CA is really pretty transparent to me now; good stuff.