Friday, November 26, 2010

ah, well

I just asked my folks if they'd try a game of Fiasco with me. I figured this could be an easy-ish sell: it's quick (2 hours or less), it's simple (even by normie standards), and it's based in heist-movies-gone-awry.

They turned me down, sadly.

But their objections were interesting: my dad said, "Thanks for offering, but you don't just play those things once." To which I replied, aha, Fiasco is a one-shot game! He gave a murmur of approval, but did not change his answer. I will follow up with him - his "real" reason may be something like "I'm not interested in that activity for any length of time", or he may change his mind at some point.
My mom, in response to hearing how long the game could take, said, "A couple of hours? That's like playing a game of Risk!" To which I replied, "No, really, I mean two hours. Literally a couple." That did not change her opinion of the idea.

Conclusion: something absurdly quick and one-shot, like Happy Birthday Robot, might be in order if I ask them again at some point.

Happy *grumble grumble* Thanksgiving. I feel like kind of a tool for taking their rejection a little personally - but it's one of those awkward situations wherein someone gives a misinformed reason to not want to do something, but may also have no particular interest in doing it, even if the confusion is cleared up. We'll see.

edit: Christ, but I have no interest in doing the whole "no, really, it's fun" routine. I don't think I'm going to do that anymore; it depresses me and usually doesn't work. Blech.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poor Cedric Diggory!

Watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on TV, I hatched upon a design theme I would include if I got to work on an HP game.

Basically, it's: relationships are a lot of work, sometimes awfully so, but if you can get it, love is very much worth it. In magical terms, it lets you break the rules once in a while. Neat! Dark wizards, naturally, are folks who have no more love in their lives, or who forsake love at just the wrong moment for the sake of ambition. Thus, they have to become extra-ruthless and clever with their magic (and with other things) in order to compensate.

Alternately, I would be quite intrigued by a game of My Life With Master, hacked to use HP as the setting and premise, wherein the protagonists are all Dark wizards serving You-Know-Who. The identity of the Master should be obvious ^_^

Sunday, November 7, 2010

[Chronica Feudalis] Not what I expected

Today I had an adventure in close-reading, and I think I've learned some important things in the past couple of days about how games work.

I used to flip straight to the "standard task resolution" rules in a new game book, trying to get a sense of the very core of a system right away. For some reason, my high school and college days were a time when knowing this solitary thing, and nothing else, was quite important.

Of course, there are lots of games out there that would be much poorer for it if they were stripped down to only the basic "mechanic" - imagine Polaris without Zeal and Weariness, for instance, using only the Key Phrases all the time without any kind of superstructure "around" them to elaborate them and provide the downward arc for Heart characters. Kind of sucks away half the game and forces the players to just kind of grope in the direction of that sort of play, doesn't it?

Segueing... playing Chronica Feudalis tonight with Chad, a college friend, was good and surprising. I prepped about as much as I needed to, with a little cheat sheet and a good online dice rolling program. I could definitely use a physical copy of the book, but not so much so that I'd buy one just yet; I'd hold out for a campaign or something, or just beg someone to print out the .pdf. Yes, perhaps that makes me a terrible person, but... okay, I have no justification other than poverty, and when my promotion goes through in January, I'll no longer have that excuse.

Anyway, that stuff about Polaris above connects strongly to my initial bafflement at Chronica - the basic resolution seems really, really straightforward and flat until you start learning more about Aspects - freeform traits with mechanical weight that you can switch on and off. Aspects make all sorts of things about *every* character come to life - tonight's best one was definitely "My son is a sodomite", which my lone player inflicted on an archbishop's assistant to blackmail him. Very nice.

Another thing that's changed about how I read is how I sense things like GM/player agency, and how a very close reading of procedural text is key to minimizing unintentional hand-wavey play. This edition of the game (the first edition, I reckon) is a little vague in places, but it's pretty awesome how it throws Aspects all over the place, giving and demanding Ardor (metagame points that manipulate Aspects). If you let the GM tell you one thing that one of your Aspects makes you do, and you do it, you get Ardor. If some equipment you're carrying interferes with a task, you get Ardor. Basically, if you surrender a little authority, or make your life a little harder, you get more narrative pull.
It's interesting, though - the exact procedural text falls on one side of causality: certain things that make sense in the fiction are going to trigger an Aspect being Endured, but the player decides whether or not to have an Aspect Compelled (eliciting a particular, unwanted behavior).

You can spend Ardor to introduce Aspects on other characters, temporarily turn off one of your negative Aspects, or resist the causality of your equipment thwarting your efforts - your heavy armor will surely count against you when diving in to save the duchess, unless you spend some Ardor to ignore its weight.

Our session tonight was one scene: Chad's priest, a bastard son of the duke, forced into the cloth to keep him out of the line of succession, learns that the King of France will be coming through the city (Troyes at Champagne, in France) and supping with the duke and the archbishop. The priest espies the archbishop's assistant at midday Mass, and confronts him afterward with (true) rumors that the man's son is a sodomite.
We used the social conflict rules - the "Parley" - and Father Luc threatened to release his list of suspected sexual degenerates to the wider Church - risking a general inquiry in northern France - unless the assistant could promise that he'd
get the archbishop to look into a supposed (fictitious) heresy brewing in the nearby countryside. Details were fuzzy, of course, but the assistant agreed, belatedly remembering that the imminent Royal Feast would then divide His Grace the Archbishop's attentions. [I made the assistant an Agent, a level two (of three) opponent, only to realize how much tougher this made him as an adversary than a Simple, or level one foe. A level one opponent might have broken too easily, though, and we were constrained by time, so I simply had the assistant back down more readily than he really had to, which fit the severity of the threat against him.]

Father Luc, naturally, offered to represent the Archbishop at the feast. If the offer were rejected, he'd be forced to sit at a lower table, away from the duke and Luc's noble half-brothers, and stew in the shame of his low birth. But if the Archbishop goes for it, and agrees to have the bastard priest sit at the high table in his stead, then Luc could rub it in his father's face!
Of course, there are a few pieces to this plot, and only the first has been laid, thus far. I'm pretty excited about where this will go, and I'm going to read up on some actual play reports that suddenly got a lot more interesting to me ^_^

Last thing: we used gchat, wikipedia,'s dice roller, and .pdf's of the game. Hurrah for 21st century gaming! Incidentally, I rolled actual, meatspace dice, out of an old, repurposed bag of Royal Salute whiskey. Good times.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

lair of the cyclops, first test run

I got to try out my Swords & Wizardry adventure tonight. It went awesome!
Also, this:

We had a whopping FIVE players to start; this whittled down to four when one guy lost interest as the equipment list came out (I swear, equipping a PC is like a minigame in its own right).

We almost lost another over a rules dispute (someone basically wasn't listening when I called a house rule to a vote - - I had the players arrive at consensus over each house rule I wanted to use - - and he literally did not understand what we had agreed to, and got for-real upset when the confusion arose). I was nicer and more conciliatory than I should have been.

The house rule was: spend 10 min./spell level of a spell you wish to memorize, and you may memorize it right then and there. However, you're still constrained by the number of spells you may have at the ready at any particular time. The idea was to focus the constraint of resources to the bounds of a particular encounter, not a particular day of game time. On reflection, one of two things could happen instead: a) if time is a resource, it needs to matter consistently, and b) maybe just allow this with information spells/I chose to employ this idea BECAUSE of information spells.

Anyway. It was super-awesome: my notes were in pretty good order, the rules definitely had just the right level of complexity (on the low side, with lots of wiggle room), and I got to see what it's like to have PCs be a hair's breadth from death.
I fudged one thing, one time: I made a fall cause d3 damage, not d6, since a pit trap I'd placed ended up affecting three players at once! Oh nose!
This is why we ask what the marching order is, though ^__^ Next time, no fudging: I will let that character die, and have the player roll up someone new and see where it goes.

The players were pretty ingenious, asking good questions and giving me good chances to flesh out details that I hadn't really considered (but were totally the right kind of details that matter just enough as Color that it's worth thinking them up).
Also: I had a great time being a very neutral Referee, callin' it like I see 'em and being consistent and fair. Fun stuff!

The mini-con where I'm running this again is on the 6th - next Saturday! Holy crap! I may end up just taking a day trip to DE instead of a whole weekend, for my brudder's birthday. Whoo!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

[dwarf fortress] on patience

Just so you know, when you're cooking up a new world in Dwarf Fortress, and it takes a while loading terrain, towns, peoples, etc., LET IT FINISH.
I just tried playing adventure mode after only giving the game 400 or so out of 1000 years of "prelude" to build a world, and all the sites where towns should be were completely empty. Kind of a "coming soon - Hill Valley" time travel moment.
edit: Okay, what was actually going on was as follows - the current ("DF2010") version of the game basically has Adventure mode on hiatus - it's supposed to be basically content-free until a (soon) future release.
Sigh, good to know (thanks, forums!). I woulda been wandering that desert forever!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

agency, hobbyism, and Participationism

I was checking out a Forge thread tonight; in this thread, Callan and I were asking somewhat-leading questions to suss out the thread author's interests, preferences, CA leanings, etc.

I think what we found was a fan of Participationism. Straight up, yo. Seriously - this person explicitly said that an RPG consists of a GM running a game as a way of somehow augmenting the process of telling a story they wanted to tell. I have to ask - what's the point of using a game system as part of that process?

My guess is that RPGs were what got this dude into group storytelling (or, maybe, group get-together-it's-GM-story-time, to be more direct), and now there's some desire to tell the story with a few little number-thingies draped around the story for, to paraphrase him, the sake of keeping track of how probable different details are. As in, players ultimately do the thing the GM is leading them off to do, maybe with a little improvisation in the moment, such that the GM-preferred outcome doesn't change.

I have to admit, writing that out, that it's not clear whether this is the kind of activity that he enjoys, or if it's simply what he expects/believes it to be. I remember, when I only knew of Illusionist and Participationist play, I longed for more player agency - character abilities like fortune telling or wish-granting or similar seemed really important to be, as a way of getting around the wall of GM authority, such that what I say would automatically matter, without being peer-reviewed and peer-approved by the GM.

I swear, explicit player authority, subject only to overwhelming disinterest or dislike by the overall table, was my golden grail in high school. I longed for something like that, something that would let me express my ideas and make them stick to the fiction.

Some part of me wants to say "If you enjoy this play, that's fine!" But I really don't understand why it's fun - I really enjoy being told a good story, but if I have to take the time to build an avatar through which I experience the story, I would like some significant input. I don't even enjoy video games with a "plot"; some explication or sense-info is fine (like old roguelike "level feelings"; Google it) to add a tone or feeling to a section of the game. But it's like beating up enough bad guys to be rewarded with the next scene in a play.

Unless the play is really good, mind you - I do like hearing stories, as I said, but only if they're good ones.

I dunno - I guess my point is that *because* it's a game, I want to be directly involved. If I'm watching Wallace Shawn share an anecdote on stage, I wouldn't try to interrupt and contribute my own plot twists and details. But if you say "hey, why don't we do this thing together; it's fun", then I'm going to want to move my race car around the board, thank you. And I want where I land to change what's going on.

I think that Participationism is mostly a hobbyist's approach to play, rather than something that newbs are really craving. It's idiosyncratic, endemic of poorly written how-to-play texts (and poor GM sections, especially those that lack good examples of play) and the muuuuuch more isolated conditions that gamers faced in the days before widespread internet use. As in, D&D didn't explain very well how it was really supposed to work, and whatever wording was in the text gave a lot of people some bad ideas about how to play.

I'm not saying *incorrect* ideas, mind you, because I have no idea how Gygax or Arneson or any of those guys played, or how they wanted us to play, or anything. But I think a lot of people learned to play in this silly fashion, thanks to a combination of unclear text and a narrow social context - one that praised/praises agreement and consensus - we developed a hobby that's rife with this type of play.

My point is that it doesn't have to look like this; most people in the hobby have never been exposed to true player agency. When they experience it, I think most people appreciate and like it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Host a Dungeon (ap post)

There's a great source of lonely fun out there that, like traditional sources of lonely fun (i.e. preparing a dungeon for play), will enable yet more gaming in its wake:

Here's a rundown of what happened in my 2nd game, in which I finally realized how adventurers work.

The dwarves of Enog Rinmol made it a few turns, carving out a small but sturdy little settlement under the earth and making money with a gold mine (literally). Sadly, they struck a cavern containing a deadly microbe, some kind of plague, and wiped them all out immediately. Sigh. That happened in my first game, too.

Anyway, a magma pipe formed deep, deep down, sending up a volcano (and thus an awesome, convenient ingress to the dungeon once it cooled).
Humans settled the nearby Overworld, their farmlands soon quilting the nearby countryside. A tribe of fungaliths (??) showed up in higher caverns, and began exploring nearby tunnels, only to encounter a human city, wipe it out, and die off in the process.
A settlement of earth-men (?) claimed new chambers hollowed out in the side of the now-dormant magma pipe, just off the dead dwarves' gold vein. They fought off numerous incursions from green slimes, wandering evil wizards, and other critters, managing to stay strong enough to hold off an encroaching dragon from the deep.

Giant ants actually drove the dragon from its lair, to my surprise. They showed up in the old dwarf-hold, and kept it at bay until adventurers could show up and wipe *them* out. Eventually, for want of monsters in the dungeon, some undead warriors appeared in a cavern off an underground river. They were soon cannibalized by a vampire who floated in off of said river (a custom monster! Shyeah!), who was in turn wiped out when the Thought Lords (psychic slave-masters) showed up.

Here's where things stand: a crew of adventurers, battle-scarred but staggering under their pile of loot, is encamped at the foot of the dead volcano. The fungalith caverns stand empty, whatever strange things they called wealth sitting right where they left them.
The earth-men are weakened, but wealthy. Again, I have to wonder what they would consider treasure.
I forgot to mention the kobolds - they settled into the tomb where the undead warriors dwelt, and now hold their treasures as their own. The Thought Lords are hiding out within the depths of their vaults, having taken heavy losses from the vampire.
The dwarf-hold stands utterly empty, though little of the gold vein has been tapped.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

[dwarf fortress] Zed the Unmerciful

The title refers to me.
I tried using screw pumps tonight - basically an Archimedes screw, for the curious. I placed one at the bank of a river and tried to see what it would look like to turn it on, powering it by hand.
This last detail was the problem. The loyal dwarf workman turning the handle got the pump working, all right, promptly sweeping himself into the river.
He drowned in minutes.
Silly me, I forgot to tell them to stop using the pump - and thus, two more hapless dwarves came down, one at a time, to try and operate the thing. They, too, drowned almost immediately.
Now that I've shut off the damned thing, I'm going to try powering it with a nice water wheel or something. Sheesh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

0e D&D has those little details...

Just lookin' at the Swords and Wizardry text, and I noticed that the ability score descriptions don't actually reference the "meaning" of the scores, only their mechanical effect. "Strength" does not measure your character's power, it "gives your character bonuses when attacking with a ... melee weapon." Very straightforward, almost jarringly so.
The best of these has got to be Wisdom:
Wisdom is the Prime Attribute for Cleric characters, and any character with a Wisdom score of 13 or higher gains a 5%
bonus to all experience point awards. If a Cleric has a
Wisdom score of 15 or greater, he gains an additional
first level spell.
Note the utter lack of reference to the fiction. Wisdom serves literally no other purpose than to, potentially, give you a bonus to experience and Cleric spell-casting. I cut my RPing teeth on much more complicated tables for ability scores - anyone else remember 18/01-00? If you rolled an 18, you got to roll on an additional chart to see what kind of 18 Strength you had - it's basically a minigame. That, and, who knows why, the 2nd edition design team decided to make 18 and 19 Strength very, very different values - they were preserving the might and majesty of rolling an 18, I guess?
Speaking of minigames - the whole 0e ability score thing is really six short games that give your character little party favors for winning - the physical stats grant bonuses that seem so triflin' that it draws the power of a good Int or Cha roll into question - you mean to tell me that +1hp/level is as much of an accomplishment (more or less) as knowing four languages? If you're a magic-user, the access to 7 out of 9 magic levels is pretty rad, too.
Maybe since every character has a score in all six abilities, they're just being granted a "suite" of different perks, a sort of grab bag with categories or something. I dunno.
Tomorrow I may sketch out some ideas for Level Three of The Lair of the Cyclops - it's technically the fourth area from the start of the dungeon, but I read a thing, and decided to hold off on Level Four encounters for now.

As it stands, the XP to be gained in these four areas gets you most of the way through the 3rd character level (jeeeeez, is that ever an overused term, with multiple, distinct meanings ^_^;;), unless of course you're a bad-ass Cleric with +15% XP - - Clerics already advance in level about 25% faster than Fighting Men, and 40% faster than Magic Users, so the extra bonus is just crazy - you can level up your Cleric twice(!) as fast as a Magic User if you rolled good Wisdom and Charisma (and the MU didn't). Is that why they're considered the most powerful class in the default S&W game? 'cause they get to access their higher-level content so much more quickly?
Honestly, I think it brings us back to being a polyglot (high Intelligence) vs. getting a single extra hit point every level - you have to claw and scrape for every little extra bit of help on dice rolling, but if you're clever you can possess advantages far beyond those of mere combat perks. Maybe? I don't know - it seems like Magic User is an "advanced" class - they rely the most on careful rationing of resources, but those resources can result most readily in "crazy shit happens" - consider how easily a lowly Hireling could reason out a mundane equivalent of a Fireball spell, and how hard it would be for a Magic User to reach the fifth level. So, you need to be super-careful with what you've got, but in exchange, you don't have to think as hard to get it to do what you want. Maybe?

It's late, and I'm trying to delve into the design ethos of the game. It's kind of interesting to ponder the role of "talking through" challenges - certainly, MU's have to think things through when it comes to combat situations, but they may have some spell on hand that's perfect for a puzzle or other non-combat encounter. The notion of being that careful both in and out of combat seems like a natural space for the Thief role to fill, but to properly do that, you'd need a character with very little explicit in-game resources of any sort. That would be a true "master class" for 0e - you literally have only your wits with which to win the day. (for that matter, the Fool archetype might very well make more sense here than that of the Thief, just to highlight the character's lack of special tricks or tools at hand)

This makes Clerics kind of the un-thinking-man's character - you have healing spells and attack-magic, you can turn undead, you can fight pretty well well... you've got it all!

It's pretty odd, in this light, that Thieves, who could be the aforementioned "master class", have so many weird little tricks in dungeon-crawl games (they do lots of damage with Backstab, they can circumvent drawn-out puzzles with Pick Lock and Disarm Trap...), and the nature OF some of those tricks seems to center around obscure or unusual situational rulings in-game:

"Well, instead of talking about tumblers clicking, or the shape of the key-head, let's just say that *your* dude can roll dice to open the door. Well, instead of pouring sand in a bag to get the idol's counterweight just right, let's just say your dude rolls dice to bypass the giant-boulder trap." This rambling thought-train stems largely from the enthusiastic suggestions of the "Quick Primer for Old School Gaming", most especially the "sixth Zen moment", that is to say,

This is a game about exploration, not combat.

Even when you're in combat, the point is to turn every possible, literally conceivable, advantage to your own ends, meaning that combat is just another puzzle. Your character's magical or martial powers act as a golf handicap or a buffer against having to use pure reason and description to get every little thing you want. This ties in to the "second Zen moment", or,

Player skill, not character abilities.

I was going to say that there is no [Forge alert!] "Conflict Resolution" in 0e, but that'd be incorrect - the conflicts you're tackling really are composed entirely of their component tasks. That's why you can't fudge *how* you do the thing you're doing; you get to fudge the How in games when the What (are you trying to accomplish) is more important. All we have here is the How - the game is all about encouraging and rewarding skillful players. On some level, the degree of seamlessness between What and How is pretty much complete, such that the rule book doesn't really cover anything else.
Hell, the bit about p.c. alignment is pretty sparse - to the point where they're basically saying, "Okay, this particular 0e game was actually published in the 21st century, long after other games had started using alignment. We don't really care one way or another, and there is absolutely no game effect for choosing whatever you want [for your p.c., that is. Protection from Evil is a 1st-level spell*]. But, hey, if the little bit of color it adds is important to you..." I have to respect the designers' complete apathy to the notion of Telling a Story, or The World Making Sense, in the face of Beating the Game.

*one last thing: I read the spell description, and it actually protects against "enchanted monsters", including both demons and the generally neutral-seeming elementals. Also curious: the Cleric can make this spell last for twice as long as the Magic User can. That feels like plain old niche protection; [Forge term] "Color" be damned!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Well, ahem

I have been convinced that I have misjudged Luke Crane's game designs.
I have been sold on trying out Mouse Guard.

Basically, the concept of Beliefs finally clicked for me - I was reading a Narrativism explano-thread over at Giant in the Playground (because, apparently, I am still a wee bit obsessed with definitions and Forge wonkery), and then I read a review of Mouse Guard at a site called... ew... Gnome Stew.

They started talking about how Beliefs are part of MG, and it dawned on me that, yes, a character's Belief(s) could really be like their own personal Premise - something to hang their moral choices on, with a little structural presence additionally. Cool!

Now, one might fairly ask, "Do you *really* only get excited about a game if it supports Narrativist play?" Well, what gets me down is a game that's Incoherent; I think the past few months have shown me that all CA's, when supported effectively, can be just as enjoyable for me as good ol' Story Now.

To be fair, my yearning for Gamism is fairly limited, and extends to mostly D&D-esque fare. The thought of playing a comic that I didn't find hugely enjoyable, in a style that doesn't usually grab my attention, didn't sound very interesting. I guess if you could fix one of those things I'd be sold on it.
Speaking of, anyone ever play the Slaine d20 RPG? Ha, just kidding - no way, man. No goddamned way. Ick. I love(d) the comic, yeah, but I think there are some pretty sharp limits to what kind of system, overall (wish I had a link to someone I once read who claimed d20 wasn't really a complete game system) I would wade through for preferred content.
Naturally, writing the preceding paragraph has convinced me that I must write the actually-good Slaine RPG. Sigh. Just got back to writing my novel, too...


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Game Chef 2010 Submission Post

This here link is my submission for Game Chef 2010.

It's called The Doldrums, a game of caste warfare, alliances, and lonely heroes. Check it out! For 3+ players; one or more mancala sets required for play.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

quick reality check

How can I ever give anybody crap, even inside my head, for pursuing something that "won't make them a living"?

I design role-playing games for fun. Who am I to judge? Yeesh.

Rolling to hit vs. Memory Lane

I was just thinking about the time I gave D&D4 (Eberron) a not-so-charitable shot. The GM was very big on her Overarching Plot, see, and wanted to just kind of bring us up to speed during the first session.
I was unaware of this/didn't care to cooperate.
In my introductory scene as a priest of the hearth-goddess, I nearly got into a screaming match with some lord over the ethics of my assigned quest. This was not because the GM was playing him in any particular manner; I was trying to get an angle going for what my character was like, and "religious fanatic" seemed a good one.
Wouldn't you know, the GM was downright puzzled at my overacting. I had assumed that if I was placed in a scene, I was free to do as I pleased in it, provided I didn't just wander away (which would, legitimately, be kind of unfair). But it felt like I was supposed to just keep hitting the "A" button, as it were, to scroll through the NPC's dialogue.
Not down for that.
Second occasion of my ridiculousness: the War-forged member of the party gets some guff from a city guard. I ask him his superior's name, and he gives it, but the guide leading us around the city informs me immediately that "That's just how things are in this town."
I shoot back, "I am a man of the gods! I cannot stand by and allow such petty outrages!" (or some such high-flown diction)
He shakes his head at my naivete. I, the player, grind my teeth a little at being stone-walled... again.
Anyway, I ended up going a little crazy later on in the session while some of the other players (5 of us, altogether, I think) have a very extended conversation about... stuff.

I told the GM afterwards that this wasn't the game for me. Her response was a polite version of "no kidding." I had wanted to give it a try, and I accept that D&D4 can be a very different experience than this (whether it's to or not to my liking is unknown, yet).
But, looking at various story-games threads about Apocalypse World, about sandbox games, basically about very character-centered, player-choice-matters games, makes me wonder what I could have been thinking to try something a bit more 1990 (i.e. the middle wave of AD&D, where GMs stopped practicing Old School Zen and started all that stuff that Ron gets anger-y about), knowing my own proclivities for Maximum Protagonism!

Anyway. Let this be a lesson: never play in a game just to be polite if you suspect you'll really hate it. Even if you might be pleasantly surprised, being pleasantly disappointed is just too much of a waste of not just your time, but the group's.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Game Chef 2010

Hey all,
I'm in the midst of working on a caste-warfare/Greek theater game called The Doldrums. It's for Game Chef.
Also: I'm on a design team (basically we cheer each other on and offer criticism) for Game Chef 2010. We have a team logo/image! It is so rad.
Above is my cover image for the game. Woo!

Monday, June 14, 2010

I didn't know the SLA had a Yukon chapter..

The excitement of reading the following snippet of chat is one big reason why I love sharing RPGs with new people:

: oh man! so could we maybe work together to come up with a rpg sometime? i have a couple random ideas percolating but it'd be fun to get yer thoughts and stuff
10:09 AM me: dude write 'em down
i absolutely want to hear your thoughts
can i quote what you just said on my blag, btw? :)
Rebecca: cool!

This chat came on the heels of me and B playing some Fiasco the other night; as soon as we'd finished, pretty much, B told me she had some ideas for a game design of her own. I swear, RPGs just do this to people, and it's awesome.
Onto the game: a couple of adult siblings return to their childhood home, a science station in northern Canada. They find a body with an old friend's photo nail-gunned to the chest, and proceed to get into all sorts of acid-dropping, cult-following, full-auto gunfire kind of fun.
Things were a little slow at first, as B got a sense of what the game expected of her, so to speak. She relied a lot on describing the internal state of characters in her control, and we definitely (in general) had a somewhat fast and loose "ownership" of various characters.
Given that there were only two players, sometimes it got a little funky deciding who would play whom. Overall, though, we made it work.
The setup was something she really, really enjoyed (as did I), and I think that's wicked-cool: I love me some randomized plot-seed generation!
The game definitely suffered a little for our paucity of players in that the dice system didn't *quite* work as planned - during the Tilt, you're going to appoint only two players to share elements for the big twist, pretty much guaranteed. Only two. So, naturally, the giving-away-dice rule for Act One was a little meaningless, in our situation. Still, as a learning game, it was fine.

Speaking of which, I pulled two little tweaks (quite transparently, to my credit) to make things easier, especially at first - we rolled to see who would go first, and then I suggested, when the dice went B's way, that she be the one to *choose* who went first. She chose me, iirc ^_^ Secondly, I would often ask her whether she'd rather Establish or Resolve the scene when it was my turn (partly, admittedly, because I was cool with whatever and I didn't often have huge scene ideas between scenes, only during them).

Overall, I think the game would benefit (for me) by playing it with the recommended 3+ people, just to see how that'd go. Also, Fiasco's in-scene mechanics are very hand-wavey; dice-rolling and number-counting definitely bracket the Acts, and we have a Tilt and an Aftermath in there, too, but, man, mid-scene, it's kind of weird when violence happens and nobody has any mechanical way of saying how it's going to go down.

The setup system is so friggin' cool, though, that I think a little early-00's style "story-vision" (i.e. "like, man, we don't want our system to get in the way of your ideas!") in the design is tolerable :)

Now we're onto discussing her idea for a game about patients in a medical facility who are trying to escape. An idea for a skill/trait: I Feel Fine, used to pass for a normie when needed and, maybe, to resist the staffers' attempts to administer treatment. It's very avant garde and intriguing in its subject matter; go Becca! ^_^

Saturday, June 12, 2010


So - I've been thinking a lot about using a mancala board as the main tool for a resolution mechanic; it occurs to me that there's an additional idea I had that might be good to throw in on top.
Basically, you have Friends.
Well, let's back up. As our good friend Sheikh recommended here, you have skill levels in the mancala resolution -game thing. Sooo here's how we frame them: each character has a set of things they're good at OR resources they alone (or alone-ish) can exploit.

There are three types of characters: the Main (the star!), Cotagonists (co-stars/first among equals), and the Omnes (everybody else). If you have a Main, a clear outlier (in importance) among the characters (someone like Elric, Dr. House, or Dexter [from Dexter, natch]), then that character gets three skills/assets, with ratings of 6 and 1. If you have Cotagonists, they have skill ratings of 4, 3, and 1.
Omnes have pretty much one rating for everything they do, based on their importance in the story/to their protagonistic nemesis. That rating can be anywhere between 1 and 6, with 6 being reserved for the central antagonist in the story. Alternately, obstacles or other not-person barriers to the players could be rated accordingly - the Sea of Swords ( a vast swath of rock formations, zero water, and maybe bandits) merits a 4 if it's a grand but not final obstacle to getting deeper into the Southlands. I dunno.

So. You pick your assets, and now we make Friendships a little more clear. Friendships have two steps in 'em - two times you can take advantage of this relationship before that person wants nothing to do with you. Theoretically, a given Friend could be a group of people instead.
The point of Friendships, beyond the social assets they provide (i.e it's good to be cozy with some people), is that they provide assets you don't have. This is super-important - in conflict, retreat is (nearly) always an option, so if you hit a wall, you can go back and find someone to help you. If you use a Friend's asset in place of your own on the mancala board, reduce your connection to that Friend by one step.
If you reduce your connection to zero steps, that relationship is either over or on hiatus - that Friend doesn't want to have anything to do with you or refuses to help you. You can get back in their good graces again, though - with Laurels! A Laurel is any sort of favor, gift, honor, or what have you that the Friend would actually appreciate, as defined by whoever's playing that Friend. One Laurel restores one step.

I advise that player to push for all they can get from the situation, but what they demand must be something the other player is capable of giving. I see no problem at all with demanding something the supplicant can't currently give - that'd be the beginning of a quest, I suppose!

Two more things about Laurels - first, you can determine what's "fitting" in one of three ways: the supplicant may decide privately what he's going to give the Friend, and maybe give it unasked as well, in play; both parties may discuss, out of character, what would be appropriate, and run a scene wherein the giving occurs, if necessary; OR the Friend may announce, in play, what his/her desire or demand might be.
So - talk about it out of character, or one party springs it on another. Or talk about it in-character, I guess, but only if it's interesting.
Second thing: new or brief Friendships - if you can only make contact with a stranger, or someone who will only interact with you for a short time (someone you meet on the road, or suchlike), then you and the player of the Omnes can discuss what you might need to give this person to get them to do you a favor. Once you've gained, and used up, one step with this person, it's likely that the relationship, such as it is, will dissolve on the spot, but it may be that the Omnes character is well-liked by the group, and either sticks around or returns sometime later in some form.
So. That, combined with a mancala-based resolution mechanic, and I think we have a game starting to form. :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

from the BAD IDEAS thread...

at - - an awesome thread, if ever I've seen one. Basically, what is your crazy or absurd or "stupid" idea for a game? There are some gems here.

A game that incorporates mancala into its conflict rules.
Scoring goals gets you closer to your objectives in the scene and capturing enemy stones trips up your opposition from reaching theirs. Getting extra turns means either you get to build on your success OR you just take an extra turn on the board!
It occurs to me that one of two things should happen when a given game of mancala is over - either the conflict has been settled between the two characters in question, or the story itself is over. Ooh! Because the mancala round ends, the *current* conflict is over. The next time you start a round, it coincides with a new conflict starting for your character. If you resolve the main conflict of the story and you're in the middle of a round, that conflict is resolved as part of a denouement or is continued in the next tale.

Oh, man. I have got to think up answers for things like "number of goals scored" or "number of stones captured". Woot.
[... goes to get a mancala board]

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quick update - new games and new players

Once some actual scenes get underway, I'll have something more substantial to share.
For now - - the Dwarf Fortress character creation session was a success; we'll have an explorer, a disgraced military officer, and a heartbroken poet all trying to run a settlement in the middle of the jungle. We'll see how it rolls!

Secondly, B and I made characters - and a situation - for Fiasco. We used the On the Ice playset; we have a couple of siblings, children of scientists, who have returned to ice station McMurdo (purpose unknown yet), only to discover a body in a hunter's shed. Polaroids have been nail-gunned(!) to the dead man's chest, and there's a note, in Sharpie: "Your move". The Polaroids depict the deputy director of the station talking to someone - since the kiddos (now adults) don't really recognize anybody who's around the station these days, they aren't sure what the hell's going on. First session to follow soon!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CV - RPG style

I need to take a moment and write down designs I have in progress, designs I've given up on, and ones I've more or less completed (late-beta constitutes "completed" for this list's purposes).

La Familia (mostly finished Otherkind-dice game of factional rivalries and Clan Treasures)

Dwarf Fortress (homebrew game of overwrought, dwarfy passions unfolding underground; based lovingly on the game of the same name; still a WIP, but with recent progress)

Tell That to an Angry Mob (horror/weird fantasy monster game about loyalty and love and being an outsider; still a rough sketch)

Mask of the Emperor (dead, and scavenged for ideas; my samurai game of reputation)

Giants in the Thicket (a fun little WIP about villagers working out their differences so they can all slay a giant together)

Leviathan (new! a murder mystery game with Polaris key phrases and a deck of cards; it gets a little political and a lot sneaky)

The Hellenes (Mask-inspired Greek gods-and-heroes game, with some informative holes in the rules. Dead, but scavenged well for ideas)

Potter's Tale (early-college crack at game design; experimented with two sharply different fantasy worlds side-by-side, one animal and one human)

If you have any questions or ponderings about any of these, let me know and I'll happily share what I got in greater depth. The purpose of this list is to make me feel a little better about getting stuck on projects, and of course there's my fruitless compare-self-to-Vincent-Baker issue that I'm working through, too ^_^

Ah, sigh.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ice Station Nerdly, Theory, Etc. [3 of 3]

Finally, we get to Radiant. As I'd guessed, this game is definitely inspired by Apocalypse World - the rules summary, which is nice and short, has a series of headings that basically go "To do X, roll Y, then spend your successes on Table Z." AW has a bunch of these, called maneuvers, and so does Storming the Wizard's Tower.
It's hard to guess why people compare it to AW more readily, given that a) Radiant doesn't divide any of its maneuvers by character class and b) Storming pretty much has the same thing going on - though stuff like "to read a situation" or "to show someone up" are more in AW's format, whereas Storming divides these things into broader classes like "Controlling Others" and "Charged Conversations". Fundamentally, the mechanics do not differ very much, although Radiant has you rolling great handfuls of dice instead of a simple 2d6, AW-style.

Anyway - - this game is, to put it one way, an attempt to play Exalted with rules that are actually good. The basic Exalted book is required as a reference for play, as it contains all the setting information and the list of Charms (magic powers, akin to spells) that PCs get. The skill system is interesting in that a regular-use word like Lore refers to solving problems by knowing more than someone else does.
The GM had prepared some pre-made characters for us, along with the scenario he was going to run, which made things a little easier to get started - - digging through our sole copy of the Exalted core book to pick Charms would have been kind of a pain. That's the only detail of character creation that's very time-consuming, though - like in Storming, you establish things like A Friend and An Ancestor, as well as original categories like I Love, I Regret, and I Fear I Will. These things help to color play, and maybe introduce NPCs, but they're mainly a characterization tool rather than a mechanical implement.
I'm still wrapping my head around the conflict system, but essentially you look up a relevant maneuver, roll, and spend your successes on the chart. If it's a competitive action, especially combat or some such, things are a little different - combat tends to involve spending successes to knock points off your opponent's skills, like in Donjon. Reduce someone's relevant skill to zero, and they start losing Essence points instead. Your Essence drops to zero and you, officially "enter a coma", but we took that to mean, generally, that you'd be totally useless and incapacitated for the purpose of the conflict rather than comatose per se.
We never actually engaged the Health Points system, which sounds like a much tougher route anyway - you get to add your Essence score to your pool when you roll to defend yourself from attack, so your opponent has to be substantially more powerful than you (Solars get three Essence, compared to everyone else's two) in order to actually wound you. Given that skill damage is more immediately useful, I can only guess that you go after someone's Health Points when you really, really have to make sure they die.
Another neat, funky thing you can do, either offensively or defensively, is shift the conflict. You can roll the skill+attribute you want to force someone to confront you in a particular way. There's an element called Mobility that I'm not quite clear on yet, but it seemed to play out like this: you have to roll skill+attribute to begin a conflict with someone, and if you succeed you get both the terms of the conflict as you like them (Martial arts! Arguing! Archery! Or whatever!) and you start the process of wearing down their relevant skill points.
If you fail this initial roll, I think they can break off from the conflict and keep their distance from you, keeping their lovely skill points intact. I'm having no luck locating a .pdf of the game, but a search will probably produce results when I can get around to it.

Overall, it was a surprisingly flowy, abstract take on a very flexible, action-packed game. The conflict system is fueled powerfully by four factors: creative description, teamwork, and birthrights and charms (cool items and cool powers, respectively). There's a table of bonuses awarded on the character sheet - those factors are the Y-axis and standard/environmental/impressive make up the X-axis.
A good description gives you one extra die to roll; if you work a pre-determined element of your surroundings into your description usefully, that's worth a total of two extra dice. If your description, more or less, impresses everyone at the table, you get three extra dice AND a point of willpower, which can be spent to a) give you one more success or b) if you're defending, knock out all your opponent's successes. Yes, several willpower-bidding wars happened during play; it was great! Given that willpower is required to power Sorcery (very powerful Charm-like stuff, basically), our sole sorcerer in the party had to be very cautious with her willpower, and worked hard to earn it.
If you throw yourself into making really awesome descriptions, you'll have a powerful defensive/middling offensive resource to wield. You can gain willpower from combining Teamwork with Environmental, though, which is nice.
Charms give an absurd amount of extra dice - four for a decent Description, then 8 for Environmental and 12(!) for Impressive. However, Solars have to worry about their auras revealing their nature, the more Charms and Sorcery they use, so lots of sneakiness was called for. Still, we were able to do lots of cool stuff both with and without Charms, so we didn't feel stuck.
I really don't have any complaints at all about this game, aside from the somewhat tricky nature of Shifts in Conflict. That, and a bit of unclarity around how Willpower may be used. Aside from that, it's a solid challenge game with an enormous amount of color and spunk just flowing off of it - good times! It really redeems the Exalted setting and puts it toward some good use.

Ice Station Nerdly, Theory, Etc. [2 of 3]

Best Friends was kind of strange - it seemed to have the least amount of "game" to interact with, at least the way it played out. The regular game involves a bunch of teenage girls who are frenemies, and a GM concocts a scenario or set of situations (not exactly sure) that could push the girls to compete with one another. We played "Gay Hairdressers Edition", though, meaning that our characters were twentysomething gay male cosmetologists on a reality TV show akin to Top Chef, etc., with elimination challenges and a big, final prize of 10,000 dollars and a salon of one's own.
Character creation was a lot of fun - you have Pretty, Cool, Smart, Tough, and Rich for your stats, but you don't get to determine them yourself. Instead, you go down a list and decide which other player you hate "because he's Prettier than me", "Cooler than me", etc.
Next, you go around the room and ask each person what they put (if you have 6 players, it adds up quite evenly; fewer means you have some repeats, which works). For each person who decided they hate you 'cause you're prettier than they, you get a point in Pretty. And so on, through the five stats.
My character, a Russian gay guy in the US on a student visa, had 4 points in Cool (a "gargantuan" amount of coolness) and 2 in Smart ("significant" smarts), but 0 points in everything else. 0 means I'm completely useless in that respect - my looks, my athletic ability, and my finances will never be of any help to me.
Actual play is divided into a) the GM announcing a premise for the current scenario and then b) going around the room and asking folks what they'll be doing for it. In our case, each scenario involved trying to accomplish a goal AND trying to shoot down as many other players' attempts at same - you start with three chips, and if you want to stop someone from succeeding automatically, you spend a chip (which you then give to the person you marked as [blank]er than you, whatever the relevant stat is). If your victim would really rather succeed, he has to spend a chip in response.
The way it plays out is this: people who have the highest stats in something do best when that stat is used a lot in play - if Tough is important, whoever's Toughest at the table will be getting chips a lot. If you play to your own strengths, that's a safe move, too - provided you're the best at something, there'll be lots of times when someone has to hand you a chip to try to make you lose! Each time you get your way, either because you went unchallenged or you spent a chip in response, you get a victory point. Those add up at the end to determine who got their way the most frequently, and was thus the overall winner.

The game was a lot of laughs, but overall I felt like the flow of play was quite choppy, and many times players felt very on-the-spot to devise their latest revenge plot; a simple who's-ready show of hands might have worked better than going around the circle every time. This game is very high on reversals, betrayals, and alliances, but/and it's kind of easy to get lost in the immediate screw-your-frenemy hijinks and forget where the overall victory tally stands. Still, our GM was good to point out the current totals on occasion, which helped us maintain more solid priorities. Also, in the late game, we started coming up with ideas that amused one another enough that the final round was largely conflict-free; there's definitely an element in the game whereby you could drop the direct competition, but/and if you do that enough there's no clear winner, if you don't like that sort of thing ^_^

So yes, the game is straight-up competition and challenge, but there's enough wiggle-room for going between cut-throat and kind play styles that alliances and cease-fires are actually pretty meaningful - two characters hooked up towards the end of the game and had a sexy non-aggression pact, and despite my efforts to turn them against one another! Definite, pure-and-simple Gamism, with a fun and super-easy premise/setting to serve as the backdrop. The specificity of the premise is so non-essential that we came up with some bizarre alternatives - Best Friends: Senate Subcommittee and Best Friends: College of Cardinals! Surely, other alts besides Gay Hairdressers could work too, and without hindering the fundamental Challenge goal of the game.
I think it could use some tweaks to smooth out the rounds of play, but a group that's really rolling creatively could take the game as-is and run with it.

Next: Radiant! And maybe some theory stuff, too.

Ice Station Nerdly, Theory, Etc. [1 of 3]

I played Radiant and Best Friends today, as well as Jungle Adventure. All of these happened at Ice Station Nerdly, which was a rousing success! Not as many people as I'd seen before, but every game I played in was pretty full.

First, reviews of the games I played!
In no particular order - - Jungle Adventure is basically a text-based adventure game, with command line, realized in a tabletop game. The GM is the Parser, or the entity that receives carefully phrased commands from the player(s) and declares the effects of those commands in rote fashion.
Seriously - for each of the limited options available in a given locale in the scenario, there is a specific response the Parser is required to give. For example, in the Native Village, if you interact with the Witch Doctor in a way not covered by the options, the Parser reads you the line "The Witch Doctor glares at you." Every time, actually - our Parser got to the point where he started saying only the relevant verb - "glare" - to save time.
This was pretty much a straight-up puzzle game, though pre-knowledge of that style of computer game made adapting to the format a lot easier - one of our players was less of a computer person, perhaps, and would phrase things in a way that wasn't specific enough for the Parser's instructions.
After a while, though, the puzzles became a little frustrating - did we need to wear the necklace in location X to cause something to happen, or did we just need to have it in hand at that point? Fortunately, the joy of getting a new and different response from the Parser in a familiar "screen", such as "The Witch Doctor crouches to the ground and draws a map in the dirt!", instead of glaring at us again, made the head-scratching worth it. It's a bit of a language game, in a way, in that you have to use the correct verbs to entice the Parser into cooperating most readily. Also, you can save your game, and whenever you're killed (or if you win, presumably), you receive a point rating from 1-100, based on how much of the game you successfully discovered.
I think this is the first pure Sim game I've ever played - Exploration is definitely the biggest, most central point of it all, as there's really no competition to speak of and the story, as befits the source material, is completely fixed and handed out in tiny, semi-autonomous chunks. Yes, the game is quite challenging, but there's hardly anything that directly serves as an in-game indicator of progress or success - - you don't find out your point score til you win or die, so the point system seems to be a friendly pat on the back, after the fact, for your uncovering cool stuff.

Next: Best Friends, Gay Hairdressers Edition!

A Return

I'm going to Ice Station Nerdly today - a mini-con in the DC area thrown by folks from
It's been a while since I've done any roleplaying stuff, and I'm pretty excited.
In Session 1, I'm playing what appears to be a hack of Apocalypse World - it's called Radiant and it's an homage/reimagining of Exalted, but with a very different set of rules.
In Session 2, I'm playing a setting hack of the game Best Friends - the basic game is all about a bunch of women who are "friends" who find any excuse to quarrel. This version is called Gay Hairdressers Edition, and you can infer what that means! ^_^

I'm intrigued by the ramifications of playing two different hacked games today - this thread at story-games (somewhere in there...) addresses the issue of Drift, and a couple of different opinions flowed out of that - - 1) any change, to setting or mechanics, meaningfully affects System and play. The given example was making dwarves lose their beards. 2) non-mechanical changes certainly change the play experience, but only setting stuff that's directly connected to mechanics actually change System meaningfully.

The second opinion is mine, by the way. There was some discussion about being cautious when Drifting to avoid unintentional bad effects, and the standard "Forgies hate Drifting!" argument, which was silly and irritating. Drifting is fine; you just gotta know that's what you're doing, that the changes are meaningful, to the point where Forge Actual Play posters are strongly encouraged to be up-front about any changes they've made to the game, so as to make discussion as informed for all as possible.

One thing that's been annoying about discussing Big Model/GNS at story-games is that people who dislike it as a framework of analysis feel quite strongly about disproving its validity. I ask you, has the internet ever convinced anyone of anything? Of course it has, but angry, ad-hominem-laden forum arguments are hardly a bastion of idea exchange.

It occurs to me that debating the basic validity of the Big Model isn't something I'm interested in at all; just give me my fellow Forgies and we can have susbstantive debates within a shared framework, thank you very much. Ah, well.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Over at the ol' Story-Games, there's been a flutter of threads about GNS stuff. The link right there goes to a discussion about whether or not Simulationism exists - a chat had many, many times before, for sure.

In any case, the poster JD Corley asked me to clearly define Narrativism against Sim, and, well, I decided something.

Ever notice how many games with strong Narr cred are all about relationships? At least, to me they are. Consider Hero Quest - your character's stats are basically all the strengths of his various ties to culture, spirituality, and family and friends (and enemies). Consider Polaris - your character sheet is literally a relationship web with some Themes (potentially more relationships!) surrounding it.

I think I'm onto something - maybe games that fail to quantify relationships at all are the ones that fall flat, story-wise. Games like D&D and the World of Darkness bunch all have character creation systems that focus only on the individual character (ok, ok, Backgrounds move beyond that a bit, but they're pretty simplistic and non-specific when they DO refer to things like allies and contacts, AND they give almost zero structure on determining the nature of said relationships. Anyway...) and not on how said character is part of a larger world.

I absolutely, 100% think that's why Questing Beast didn't work for me - it doesn't bog you down with too many rules to follow, but the ones it does have are too general - they don't give you much direction for character creation, and the stuff on resolution of conflict only exists to establish authority/credibility for description, nothing else.

Marxism and RPG Design

So - most of us have read The Jungle. We know it contributed to the creation of the FDA and some major regulation of the meat industry.
But Sinclair didn't write it for that explicit purpose. He considered that a victory, I'm sure, but when he wrote it, he was trying to convert people to socialism.
Now, I'm a Marxist-Leninist (and we can talk about that, if you want). I have a particular outlook on how societies function, how groups and individuals do act, and are capable of acting, etc. In that vein, I'm intrigued by the prospect of writing books and RPGs that make use of Marxist ideas, but I don't want to be an Upton Sinclair - I don't want to try that hard to "convert" anybody.

One might then ask why I'd be doing it at all, if I didn't want that; the point is, I guess, I don't want to get emotionally fixated on that as a goal, and I don't want to write a screed that fails to be enjoyable/entertaining on its own merits.

That being said, I came across Spectre of the Beast - a game of civilizations undergoing sweeping changes. It seems pretty interesting - you use innovation, community, and idealism as cultural forces at your command, while you try to keep Hope high and avoid succumbing to the Beast (violence, really).
This isn't a complaint, per se, but it's a game that follows the perspective of Great Men and Women, and it's those folks who have the power to shape their cultures. Again, not a huge emotional investment in rebuking that analysis, but as a Marxist, it got me thinking about that Giants idea I had - one in which a whole community has to settle its differences and band together to defeat a common threat.

I see Giants in the Thicket as a potential, friendly response to Spectre - "like, man, those Great Men in History just push the last stone that starts the avalanche. It's not all about them, maaaan!" Something like that.

That's the goal I'm setting out for myself, but first I'm going to play Spectre with some friends and see what we think. It looks neat! ^_^ That'll be my first RPing in forever, too, although I'm playing Best Friends next Saturday at a local con (Ice Station Nerdly), and apparently it's "Gay Hairdressers Edition". How exciting!

Monday, February 1, 2010

new games! plus different gaming styles, expectations, etc.

I just had a bit of a gaming bender - four days of intermittent MMOs, RPGs, and TCGs! All that was missing was a board game, but the mood didn't strike ^_^

First things first: new things. I played Warhammer Online finally, and it was substantially better than other MMO's I'd played before. Mainly the interface was cleaner, the graphics a bit clearer and with a nicer art style, and a few small improvements have been made, which I don't feel like going into. I will mention Public Quests and Open Parties - the former are quests you can pick up simply by being in the area of the map where the quest is happening, and you can see NPC drama between characters unfold (like Lord of the Rings Online has, but it's not instanced), and you get a timer to let you know how long it'll be til the whole thing resets, once it's ended. Everyone who contributes to completing the PQ's objectives gets a crack at *something* - no Ninja-style theft of loot to worry about! If you contribute, you get a personal bag of loot (a choose-one scenario, there)!
Open Parties are a little similar - you can search for a group of players to join up with in the area, if it looks like they're on the same quest, but the unique thing here is that you can just join the party, *snap* like that - in time to help random strangers kill a bad guy you've been questing for. It means less work for players, less time spent bargaining with strangers just to get help with a stupid quest, and so on. I approve!
Also, okay - gear is way prettier in this game than I'm used to, in that you actually look cool fairly early on. It's Warhammer, so it's over the top, but not action-figure-goofy like in Warcraft. Very nice.
One more thing about that - it's hard to explain, but item crafting is a highly customizable process that's easy to pick up; it also has a really, really snazzy interface. I have a Chaos character who's a Butcher/Apothecary, meaning I can loot animals for special items that I can then turn into potions and salves and things. The creation process and the interface for it really make it amazing - try it!
Lastly, they have a "free forever" trial - you can't play past level 10, can't do auction-house stuff, and a couple of other things, but you can do PQs, crafting, parties, etc., AND you can have a full allotment of characters (10 per server, an unknown max), AND these trial characters never go away. Ever! Yeah!

Okay, that's enough about that. Super exciting game, though.
Mooooooving on.

We played La Familia this weekend; it was set in Ankh-Morpork, of Discworld series fame, and it did not disappoint ^_^

Also - we picked up the weird-old-west card game, Doomtown (defunct since 2000, sadly) - it's funky, it uses a poker hand to resolve who goes first and who wins in combat, and you've got all kinds of crazy stuff going on - cowboys, bandits, Indians, shamans, dark wizards, walking dead, mad scientists, corrupt businessmen, radioactive coal called Ghost Rock, pirates along the quake-shattered coast of California (which is now known as the Great Maze), and so on! It's great fun.

As far as play styles are concerned, expectations, etc., my friends and I had some good talks about winning, losing, whether/when that's fun, and how to find the right type of game to accommodate everybody's interests, comfort level, and such. It seems that immersive, collaborative gaming that doesn't focus on cutthroat conflict or high-stakes challenge is the best fit; sounds good to me! We actually had a much more extensive chat than this, which included ideas for hacking Settlers of Catan into a discovery-style game with a map that's revealed over time, in-character dialogue, and lots of negotiation as to what's REALLY going on with the Robber :)

More to come!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On game design theory and its applications

As you can certainly tell from past posts of mine (check posts marked "creative agenda" if you don't believe me), I'm not one to shy away from Forge-style theorizing. Over time, and especially in the past year or two, I've had a wonderful opportunity - meeting up with a lot of folks from Story-Games has given me the chance to seek out all these cool indie RPGs I'd heard so much about.
When I finally got to play Polaris, for instance, it was a little bit like a rite of passage. Though, I have to admit, it was a lot more inspiring to put together La Familia and, somehow, have it work even better than I'd imagined.
So yeah - I've gotten to see the concrete results of what some would call theory-wank. I've definitely met my fair share of folks who don't much care for the deep end of RPG theory/design, and usually that's a-okay.
I say "usually" because I've definitely gone through a period wherein I've proselytized on behalf of story-games in general, and Narrativism-supportive games in particular. When this proselytizing has worked, so much the better, and my excellent! recent game of Polaris shows that pretty well.
But when big-time RPers haven't been interested in what I'm pushing, I've come to realize that there's a sort of fault-line between us. Nothing personal or ideological creates this divide; it's not as big or as complicated as that. Plain and simple: I had bad experience X, they had bad experience Y, and while X led me to seek out a fundamentally new way to RP, Y simply led other folks to seek out new people with whom they could play.

Let me unpack that a little: for me, the biggest bad experience I had in RPing was, bluntly, a big difference in priorities at the gaming table. I can even point to the precise moment when this started to really gel for me as something I needed to address; it was after a couple of years of lurching around at the Forge, where I had yet to really grok anything about the Big Model, but I was very eager to try out all these cool new games I saw - the subject matter, the creator-owned nature of the games, the collaborative process of design via the forums - - it was all pretty great.

But - my precise moment. I was playing a game of Exalted, and I was running an Abyssal, essentially a sworn soldier of darkness who drinks blood to gain power and wants to unleash oblivion upon the world of the living. Fun stuff! I didn't just want the cool powers available to him; I was also really interested in his story - why he was a death-knight, what he thought of oblivion, his dark masters the Neverborn (shudder), etc.
I'll spare you a lot of the details, but he eventually realized that he really, truly believed in total, worldwide destruction, you know, as a good thing, and quite sincerely at that. His dark masters, however, were content to jockey for power between one another, fighting each other as much as they fought their sworn enemies, the Solars (sun-themed heroes). So, over the course of the game, I explored the relationship between my character, other Abyssals, the Neverborn, etc., trying to drum up fellow "true believes" to the cause.
It didn't go well, but at least one of the other player-characters was also an Abyssal, and so we schemed and argued together about the point of unleashing destruction.
At the end of the game, we all confronted a Big Bad of some kind, possibly a servant of the Neverborn, a rogue Neverborn, something like that. There were some Solars fighting the creature, too, and I decided the best possible way to finish my character's story was to try and join the side of the Solars, begging their forgiveness and wanting fervently to have comrades who were just as true-blue as me.
They were very, very hesitant to accept me, what with our races' vendetta and all, not to mention the battle going on, but hey, they didn't kill me! That was the last session for the campaign, as well, and I felt, at long last, like I really got to tell a story! with a game, instead of being actively thwarted from doing so. Sure, the game mechanics got in the way (whiffing sucks! I advise all game designers against it), and only one of the six people playing with me actually showed any interest in what I was doing (they were content to be "run through" the scenario in a very traditional way).
Realizing I was out of step with the group wasn't new; realizing what it was that made me out of step was a bolt of light in my eyes!
Since then, I've gobbled up every Story Now game I can get my hands on, and I've even made forays into Gamist play, as well.
But, like I said, I've noticed that some people just aren't as excited about trying new ways of gaming as I am, and sometimes folks who *are* that excited don't have any desire to elaborate on it in the kind of language that I do.
Which is, you know, okay and all, and I'm definitely thankful to be around more people these days who like indie games.
It's a little weird to also note how quickly the *application* of theory, or at least the observation of Forge theory put to practical use (i.e. a game design, and then the playing of said game), makes all the verbosity of forum theorizing kind of melt away - I can much more intuitively guess at what Creative Agenda(s) a given game system supports best, as we play, which I've mentioned before (in the context of how simple CA really is, once you see it in action). Other concepts, like Fortune in the Middle, turn out to be equally simple in application - it's as simple as "can I affect the final result after we roll the dice, or do I need to put all my Boost Power in *before* I roll?"
And yet, naturally those little tweaks can make a huge difference. Fortune at the End does not do well with a Story Now agenda, as it really saps player agency away (in my opinion). If Fortune happens, and then we can tweak it, even if said tweaking is limited and finite, it at least gives us one more meaningful choice to make, as players. [lol i totally meant fitm WITH TEETH]
I was playing Last Night on Earth, uh, last night - it's a zombie apocalypse board game. There's a touch of Fortune in the Middle in there, as it happens - when you're inside a building, you can either move or search (as opposed to just moving, if you're outside), and searching gives you a one-card draw from the Hero Deck (Human Deck? I forget). The FitM part is there because you roll the d6 to see how far you can move, and then you get to decide whether to take that move OR search. It's nifty!
Heck, come to think of it, Step On Up play is all about meaningful choices, too - they're just more strategic or tactical instead of thematic. So yeah, FatE (ha, irony) has been a procedural default for some decades now, in most games I've encountered, but when you make that tiny tweak (courtesy of theorizing Forgies, thank you verra much! ^_^), things begin to flower, as Mao would put it.
Anyway - I've learned that RP theory has undoubted practical applications (duh! Actual Play!), but not everybody wants to see under the hood, or think about how to build a better car, when they like their driving experience just fine, so far.

Monday, January 18, 2010

graph paper, ahoy!

Man, designing dungeons is hard!
Nevertheless, level one of The Lair of the Cyclops is complete!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Starting to like this idea of "Old School"

This is a pretty interesting (free!) resource: the quick primer to old-school gaming! It contains a few tips on how to compare and contrast (in the author's view) the different mentalities behind older (read: D&D circa 1979) and newer (read: anything you can buy at Borders) RPGs.

Incidentally, it's tied in to the Swords&Wizardry rules set. I'm tired and it's a little hard to explain (the word "Zen" gets used a few times), so I leave you to this sweet, free download.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

0e D&D

Here's something I'm obsessing over, of late: Swords and Wizardry, the open-gaming-license version of "original" Dungeons and Dragons!

It's a Gamist design, through and through; what's more, their design ethos is this - simple rules means something customizable and easy to pick up; it also makes referees more flexible and able to adjudicate on the spot, rather than being trapped by complex design.

I. Am. Fascinated.

Download the core rules (and a whole bunch of other cool stuff!) right here. It's all free!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Funny thing happened on my way to the Mistake...

Three sessions in, my new Polaris campaign is complete. We had a lot of fun, banged out 14 great scenes, one Star Knight almost crossed over from Novice to Veteran (a male midwife with delusions of glory and grandeur, and a cruel streak a mile wide), and we left it at this:

- two Knights heading into the South to destroy a cursed, bronze artifact (only Southern forges could possibly melt it down!)
- the almost-Veteran riding out to the Mistake to fulfill a vision quest and significantly delay the inevitable (by finding a McGuffin, Sir Knight would make all demons there sterile for one year, and unable to attack the Remnants for just as long!)

Sounds pretty good to me! Yeah, we shared a feeling of "did we mess that up?", but we surpassed it by agreeing that we just didn't want to carry on any further. There was some concern, initially, that traveling South might go beyond the game's intended material; whether or not that's true, it's fair to say that the task of imagining the South was more than we were up for, and that sapped some of our interest.
Also, we poured so much emotion and creativity into those 14 scenes that we were kind of running on empty, by the end, not to mention that lots of Real Life stuff came up for us as a group, and we decided to have fun talks about our lives instead of playing a game.

We're all interested in starting a new game of *something* soon, once things settle down a bit in general. Any suggestions are appreciated! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Game Jamming

Gabbie and I helped each other out today on our respective game designs. She gave me some wicked-good things to chew on for Giants in the Thicket, and she shared her ideas for a CCG-ish/boardgame-ish thing, Coat of Arms. It's neat.

More to come in this space when I ain't so tired.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hiding in a thicket

This post here, at story-games, gave me the urge to revisit an old idea I had about giants, and people hiding from giants in a thorny forest.
Granted, it's not the thread so much as it is my conjecture *in* the thread, haha, that leads me to think this thing. But still!
Here's a bit of what I have so far:

Giants are strong; Giants can beat anybody. The only thing they fear is the Forest.

The Forest is full of thorns; People can go there and hide there from the Giants, but while they're away the Giants can knock their houses down and wreck everything they've built.

The only time that People might capture a Giant is if they let one smash and crush all he likes, until he's too tired to go on, and then he Sleeps.

A Sleeping Giant can be tied up, or rolled away on logs, or even killed! If the People all work together, they can do it.

Sometimes, People will make deals with Giants: crush my neighbor's house, and I will give my sheep to you, to eat! Giants can take whatever they like that isn't alive, but they can never catch anybody who runs away and isn't cornered.

Giants are slow; the People can always get away from them. So can animals and other things. But the People cannot hurt a Waking Giant – they are just too strong!

Giants live in rivers, under lakes, inside mountains and hills, but they do not go in the Forest. Its angry thorns and awful nettles pierce their mottled hands and feet, and are so sharp and prickly that a Giant cannot kick down the trees of the Forest, for they are in too much pain to do anything but go away again to pick the thorns and sticks and nettles from their flesh.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Polaris rocks! [another AP thread, kinda]

I promise that soon I'll give a scene-by-scene rundown of the Polaris game I started today; suffice it to say that this game can be bloody amazing!
We have half-giants, infanticide, the transference of family curses, and artifacts from the mysterious South (the whole world is south of Polaris, after all...), and my male midwife character lost a hand to a magic arrow, gaining a third eye of Starliiiight Powerrrr in its place!
This. Game. Rocks.
Since we're playing with 3 people, instead of the recommended 4, we had to mash the two "Moon" (supporting character/judge and arbitrator) roles together into one, meaning that, at times, it got a little confusing as to who should be doing what, and for whom.

Also - we learned a bit more, on the fly, how some key phrases work - the diff. between But Only If and And, Furthermore is apparently this: the former gives you access to the sweet shutdown phrase It Was Not Meant to Be, which requires both you and your opponent to take back your very last statements, respectively. Did not get that for the first six scenes, but once we got it, the reason to actually choose between BOI and AF finally clicked. Good thing!

It's possible, by the way, for Exhausting Themes (as in, the exhausting OF themes; the themes themselves do not tire us) to either be an easy or difficult thing - if your themes have a lot in common, you can do lots of the same kind of thing, but you get in hot water easily, whereas if your themes are all different from each other, you can do more, but maybe only once each. Good to know!