Friday, December 2, 2011

i'm so excited about our apocalypse world game!

- Diamond, the Chopper, just picked the advance "get a holding (detail) and wealth", meaning that sleepy, spy-ridden Adobe Town is gonna become a bustling city soon, and that's the coolest!
- Biff, owner of Diamond, is gonna take over as MC sometime soon. I get to be a player soon! yayyyy
I need to decide between:
Not sure which I want. Maybe make a sample pc of each and see what the haps.
- Vega, the Operator, has joined our ranks. She's an ex-Hardholder hoping to get back at her former lieutenant, the infamous Lord Havok.

more to come! this game rocks :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Re: Callan, snakes and ladders

I assumed that Ron meant something like, "following the carrot of reward [in whatever game he was talking about; i forget] does not actually incentivize exploring the game further."

In Chronica Feudalis (a historical-medieval adventure game that stole Aspects from the FATE system), there are only two sources of currency or character improvement. One of them involves Aspects: if you let your character's Aspects be turned against him/her, you get a reward which can only be spent to activate OTHER Aspects, yours or that of the scene (like weather and stuff) or that of other characters.
So, it's basically a zero-sum game for the players: every time they let themselves be kicked around a bit, they can do the exact same thing to someone else. It's all very GM-led (the GM has infinite Aspect tokens), and this isn't to say it's not fun, but you don't really change or develop from this - you're just poking and prodding at what's in front of you. Pure Exploration of character and situation, no inherent moral or ethical dimension at all (so no "native" support for Narrativism), and honestly the fact that the GM has infinite Aspect-tokens (or whatever they're called) means that there's no way in hell this game is "battle-tested" as a good supporter for Gamist play, as GM/player competition is hopelessly one-sided -- the GM can spam your Aspect: Self-Defeating til the cows come home.

So - second reward system: skill training. This one is actually a very different sort of Simulationist logic - - while Aspects are actually a pretty neat way to chew the scenery and Explore being a medieval person, skill training relies on the logic of "game-system-as-physics" - that is, the idea that the rules must accurately reflect the way cognitive, physical, and institutional processes *actually function* inside the game-world.
Going off to a trainer does fuck-all to add to your Exploration of being a medieval person other than to give you ... Exploration of what it's like to go to school as a medieval person. Given that there is very little focus as to what one "does" in Chronica Feudalis, I suppose a game that centered around training facilities, or at least featured them meaningfully, could play to the game's apparent natural points of focus. But this is meeting a good-but-uninformed design a good deal more than halfway :)

[EDIT: my bad! Turns out I had only read the advancement rules about halfway through. Here's how it works:
1- you train with a mentor or by yourself, turning one of your skills into an "in-training" skill.
2- you go out and use that skill in a scene "where something is at stake" (quoth the rules)
3- either make a skill check for that skill, or make a skill check of your trainer's skill - - ChronFeud skills use a die-step system, so your skill's rating is in the form of a d-whatever. Thus, improving a d6-rated Swordsmanship skill would require a 6 or higher on whatever skill check you use, so training with a.. trainer who is better than you would make more sense than training alone, especially when you get to higher levels of ability.
4- once you successfully improve a skill thus, it is no longer "in training" until you do this all over again
I admit, that actually makes some good sense, from the perspective of a Sim-style "game-rules-as-game-physics" approach.]

At this moment, it seems that I have a much better idea of what Reward Systems are: they are the system's internal structures that encourage you to play the game a certain way (design intent made manifest). If you want to play the game a different way, it usually goes one of two ways:

1- the game fights you, actively hampering your ability to play the game you were "hoping for". Such games cannot be Drifted without extensive reworking of existing rules. White Wolf games come to mind; I'm no fan of the Humanity system, the Paradox system, any of it, because it doesn't do what it's trying to do in a way that actually helps me explore the themes I see lying dormant in that content. Sorcerer does Humanity better by a country mile than Vampire could ever hope for.

2- the game just lies there, forcing you to bring your Creative Agenda with you in a suitcase, so to speak - that is, the rules are open or sparse enough (in terms of what CA you were hoping to engage in) that you can work entirely on the level of the fiction to make things happen. That is, in the case of ChronFeud and Narrativism, if you write up a few leading questions for PC creation in order to tease out a Kicker or two and some intra-party juiciness, you can use these answers (much as Apocalypse World does) to "kick off" play in the right direction for what you want. AW, however, does it a fair sight better in that it combines the leading questions with a LOT of tools for the MC to keep things moving. Without those tools (present in the system or present in the group's skillset), there may be a fair bit of difficulty keeping things going once the initial "steam" of those Leading Questions runs out.

[EDIT: despite my corrections above, I stand by this second point, here. The only thing that the training system adds to the game is a sense of explicit, in-fiction cause and effect for improving your character's abilities. Many, many other games get by just fine without approaching char-improvement in this way, even games that are "fiction-first" like Apocalypse World.
I think a group's time and energy are better spent paying such close attention to the consequences of their actions with regard to the fiction and its internal "logic"; I know that this attitude reflects my own play priorities, though, and if you like this sort of thing, go for it, but I will politely decline any invitation to join in ^__^]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reward systems - are we getting anywhere, or..?

Thinking about this thread at the Forge, which mentioned RPG "reward systems".

I think a reward system could be a "hamster wheel" if the way to earn gimmes and Currency doesn't actually encourage people to engage in the point of the game, nor encourage them to "drive towards" it. Basically, your Exploration of the game system should promote the Exploration of "what play is all about" (be that competing for glory in Agon, or wading through moral quandaries in Dogs, or making tough choices in ApocaWorld) by-way-of Exploring character, setting, and situation.
For instance, some games have it so that the rules for advancement (a common avenue for Exploring the game system) are detached from the "presumed" content of the game - - maybe you MUST seek out a trainer in order to improve your abilities, but the majority of the game is dungeon-crawling, far from the academies and gymnasia (where the trainers are), then people have to go outside the normal fictional "play space" in order to "earn" the encouragement to buy into the activities of the game.
"Gold=xp" editions of D&D have a pretty clear, intentional reward cycle, especially if you can't level up until you leave the dungeon: you need to explore "efficiently" and try to use all your cleverness and care to maximize your gold-haul and minimize your exposure to danger. Dungeon crawling, using gold=xp/exit-to-levelup, is different than dungeon crawling that's defined as kill=xp/levelup-down-here. Not better or worse, but one is more of a puzzle game with a combat element and the other is more like a combat game with a puzzle element.
Specific reward systems do more than just encourage Creative Agenda; they also encourage a particular taste or style of play. Each reward system has its own particular take on elements like competition, exploration, and theme, serving as different varieties of play of a particular sort.
In D&D0e, the emphasis is on coordination, detail-inspection, and careful rationing of resources. We could say 0e rewards Attention to Detail.
In Agon, the emphasis is on inter-player competition, individual acts of heroism, and exciting, bombastic command of resources. We could say Agon rewards Chutzpah.
These are related types of gaming, but they are nonetheless distinctive enough (due to their respective systems and the style thereof) as to make playing them each a very different experience.
Polaris vs. Dogs in the Vineyard is good, too - - in both games, your character is powerful and in a position of authority. But the crushing weight of world's end (in Polaris) means that, logically, to advance your character is to hasten the apocalypse - - you have to lose Zeal and gain Weariness to get better on your dice rolls. Each advancement pushes you closer to the end of the game. You can avoid this by being "weaker-willed" against the Demons - - be more agreeable with your Mistaken, more willing to compromise and let things go, and you will last longer. But you will also be giving the Demons more of a foothold in your world. Fighting your battles is the only way to prove your worth, but fighting ALL battles only hastens your inevitable doom. Sort of a gloomy, Ragnarok take themes of fate and destiny.

Meanwhile, in Dogs, your character is always right. People may disagree and try to block the execution of your judgment, but you know they're just demons or idolators. The big question that helps to twist this theme is: how far will you/must you go to get your way? You have to be very tactical when crushing heresy, all the while wondering if you really deserve the authority given to you - - sometimes your judgments ruin lives unfairly. It's much like running an actual religious institution: handling dissent and disagreement proportionately, deciding how many administrative resources to dedicate to handling a problem, and of course wondering all the while whether any of it is worth it, ultimately.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

settlers UNLEASHED!

Biff and I started joking around about capitalism during a game of Settlers tonight, and after the game we hashed out some ideas about how to play as the humble peasants of Catan instead of their lords and masters.

- Each player keeps track of two hands of cards: their own and their king's hand. A player can only use resources from their own hand, not from their king's hand. The game itself plays the role of the kings.
- Each turn, each city OR settlement in your color produces one resource-unit from each adjacent hex.
- Next, roll the dice, as usual. Whatever number is rolled, hexes that would normally produce will instead "eat" one resource of the appropriate type from your hand - this resource goes into your king's hand. Call this "tithing". Cities, though, eat two resources of each type from your hand.
- If you roll a 7, you can place the Robber on any hex you like; any player with a city or settlement bordering that hex takes one random resource from their king's hand and puts it in your hand.
- Each turn, check your king's hand to see if it can afford to buy any development cards. Buy all the development cards you can afford (using the king's hand only!) and play them as soon as possible (your next turn, I think). Lumber and bricks just sit in the king's hand (you must trade them with the bank or any available harbors, in order to collect as much wool, ore, and grain as possible - for development cards!)
- Development cards that award resources are instead tithed by that player to his or her king's hand. Those that award victory points work normally.
- When Knight cards are played, they are placed under the Robber's new location; this hex now produces nothing, but demands tithes when its number is rolled, and upon Robber-placement, a random resource is taken from an adjacent player's own hand and put into your king's hand. When the Robber changes locations again, such Knight cards return to the corresponding King's hand.

Not sure how victory points factor in or how I'd want them to be different. What I'm going for is some kind of end-goal of turning a city into a "free republic" a la the Italian Renaissance.
Help me develop this :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sunny the RPG

Been thinking about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and how to realize it as an RPG.

Some elements:
- the gang tries to come up with a plan or scheme, usually in order to get one over on somebody. Let's call this The Plan.
- each member of the gang will attempt to push the scheme in a direction that benefits them most, even at the expense of their friends. Let's call this Taking Advantage.
- getting one over on a friend or someone else seems to give the gang more control over further events: once they've demonstrated their (temporary) superiority to someone else, they tend to keep having success with their endeavors for a while (til random chance smashes it all to pieces in some absurd or contrived way... say, this DOES sound like an RPG!). Let's call this Value - you have to demonstrate it. Value is a currency for getting your way more effectively.
- it does seem, though, that someone with Value can use it for others, if they wish. I see absolutely no reason to stop players from doing this; clearly it's exactly what was going on with the Denim Chicken.

- Of course, if the Plan starts having setbacks, you can always Take Advantage of a fellow gang member in order to regain Value, and drive the Plan back in the direction you want.

Hm. I'm guessing that Keys would be an excellent way to represent the different characters - each of them is about projecting a certain desired persona, and in turn having short-lived moments of fallibility or selflessness for comedic or dramatic effect (usually just comedic, like in Mac's Project Badass tapes).

I think this basic idea could be ported over to other "Cast of Bastards" style shows - as in, a comedic ensemble cast whose members are antagonistic towards each other, yet affiliated with each other in some fashion. In Sunny, the affiliation is that they run a bar together; in Arrested Development, the affiliation is familial.

Goals would probably be a useful device for establishing the interests of protagonists - goals could be short-term and temporary, or long-term and earnest, ranging from the Sunny gang's fleeting financial investments, to Tobias's Queen Mary, to, I dunno, Bender's commitment to boozing and whoring at any chance (though Futurama falls more into the category of pratfall comedy/comedy of errors, with only one Bastard among the protagonists [hint: he was built in Mexico]).

There might be Talents also, which are both the problem-solving appoach a character takes AND things that a character could spend Value on to achieve success. So... Mac could pummel someone, whereas Dennis is more of a scheming, cackling manipulator; Charlie is better at getting into weird, cramped spaces, while Dee is pretty good at fast-talking people.
You can go outside your archetype (and use other people's Talents) by spending Value. If you describe yourself using someone else's Talent without spending Value, they might get a bonus against you - - George Sr. is pretty much a master of teaching people lessons, and usually gets the final word in these sorts of situations.

Hm. Giving this serious consideration...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Story Now play looks like

So I feel like play-style is a pretty stable thing; I, for one, will pick a relationship, goal, or situation in play and charge at it, hands outstretched, in order to get a good grip and squeeze drama out of it.

Relationship? No one can tell this person what to do but me! This way, interacting with him/her will be charged with potential conflict.
Actual play example: [game: Storming the Wizard's Tower][my character: a fisherman, father to a (secretly) pregnant shepherdess] The blacksmith's apprentice is my daughter's best friend. She knows about the pregnancy, and (out of character) says as much aloud.
Best part? I made a Charged Conversations roll, then asked, "Is my daughter actually pregnant? Is that the truth?" GM thinks about how to respond (since I was asking about something a player said, not a character. Yes, quibbling is a big part of what RPGs are about ^__^), and then says, "Yes. She is." I really liked knowing something as a player, but not as a character, and having the dramatic irony give off an awesome vibe.

Situation? I will seek the origin of the curse upon your house, and later we will ret-con that I actually placed the curse, myself! Hahaha! Now, there is another twist in the emerging situation, and it pits us against each other in a bad-blood way. Cool!
Actual play example: [game: Polaris][my character: a Knight of the Stars who is a skilled male midwife; tasked with concealing the deformed byblows of another noble house] The women of the House of Corvus, it is whispered, give birth sometimes to reptilian monsters that do not live beyond birth. It's my job to dispose of them discreetly. Then, one day, when I'm burying one in the courtyard, I discover a lizard-figurine buried in the dirt that's just stinking with dark magic. (I enter this element into the story because it seems like a fun answer to, "Why is House Corvus cursed?")
The sages inspect the thing, and determine that it is, indeed, the source of the curse. Another of the Knights (a fellow player), cynically suspecting treachery on my part, narrates, "Sir Fornax moved the curse-lizard from the courtyard of his own House into ours. He means to push his own line's barrenness onto the Corvus clan!" Ha, well, I didn't challenge this assertion using any Key Phrases, and decided it was just too awesome a twist to turn down.

Goal? I will pick the worst (best?) possible moment for my quest to conflict with yours, so as to achieve delicious drama.
Actual play example: [game: Exalted][my character: an Abyssal (a champion of death) who truly believes in the purifying power of Oblivion] My master, a Deathlord, is uninterested in anything but his own consolidation of power. When this means fighting other Abyssals instead of banding together to spread our dark power, I rebel, flee the Deathlords, and throw myself on the mercy of the Solars (champions of the sun, my people's implacable foes) rather than serve a lord without integrity.

Note - Exalted lacked any direct means via the rules (explanatory text about background and setting is not "rules" in the normal sense) for me to address theme in the way that I wished. On the other hand, if goals/relationships are not tied closely to the game system in some way (explicitly, or emergent in play), it can be tough to find your "way in" to that. My character was pretty crappy with the dice rolls in this last example, so really the only recourse I had was in my allegiances, not my actions, in play. I wasn't blocked from exploring Theme all on my own, but it would have been a lot more satisfying if character creation had gotten other players thinking in this direction, too.

Bottom line: rules can't stop you from playing as you wish, but if you follow them, they sure can help with a particular style. You can tell pretty quickly (during character creation, maybe; definitely in play) whether the game is working with you or against you. Is the game too creatively demanding for your tastes? Does it get lost in the "fluff" instead of who wins and who loses? Is it too creatively constraining? Lots of things can go wrong; playing a game that seems to "get" your style is an extra-awesome experience.

Friday, November 4, 2011

tales of Apocalypse World: Red Front

I used to think that a couple of my AW players were being really passive in our game, but I was reading this thread about passive players, and it occurred to me:

- my players seek to avoid conflict, yeah, but they're doing it because it's true to their characters. It's kind of impressive: the tunnel-rat Gunlugger only leaves his hidey-hole if anyone bothers him, and if they do, he shoots them dead with his 4-harm high-powered rifle. The Angel, who wears a scramble suit and does hir doctor's rounds for the town every single morning, wants absolutely no trouble or discord with anyone, ever. Zhe makes no enemies, holds no grudges...
In short, they're both a real test of my ability to tease out scarcities that matter (so there's conflict), but it could be a lot worse: they could decide that I'm trying to give them "cues", and then they would try to follow them.

It actually came up kind of directly, the other night: Rue the Gunlugger's player, John, joked that obviously Boo the Angel should follow the biker gang to the local warlord's citadel, because, "It's the RPG thing to do, right? Go check out the big city, you know, explore a little?" Still, he did mean it in jest, and when Boo's player, Valery, just laughed and carried on trying to avoid any conflict with the townspeople, it was clear that she felt no such pressure, or at least was resolute enough to ignore it.

I love playing with people who don't have mainstream-RPG baggage ^___^

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Istari are some kind of angel-wizard light beings who like to smoke up

This is a taste of what I'm working on. Can you tell I just re-read the Hobbit?
That book was largely impenetrable to my 12-year-old brain, but my 28-year-old brain has fallen head over heels in love.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

[AW] Adobe Town, session 3 highlights

Highlights from tonight:

1- Diamond the Chopper, plus most of his gang, bring a shipment of salvaged steel parts to the stronghold of his master, Havoc.
They enter the gates, set aside their weapons, and bring the shipment to the ... garage. Havoc has claimed, and kept up, a McMansion circa 1995, complete with two-car garage, linoleum flooring, and Redskins commemorative plates on the mantle.
So, a bunch of hard-bitten, neofeudal bikers, chilling at a couple of card tables, checking out the particle-board cabinetry and chintzy wallpaper. Loving it.

2- So, three farmers from the Mudflats creep up into the huge concrete drainage pipe where Rue the Gunlugger sleeps. They want revenge after he pointed a gun in their mate's face the other night, over a matter of someone treading barefoot on a misplaced hypo.
Rue wakes up in their grip, gets his machete free of its sheath, and kills the first of them. The others scream and run, and he picks them off with his rifle.
More farmers come to investigate, as does Diamond and his gang. There's a bit of a standoff, but as soon as the village elder Do gets a good look at the bodies, he screams and cries for vengeance. One of the farmers, a fellow named Rum, breaks and runs, while the rest charge the bikers with staves and scythes in hand.
Diamond's gun is knocked away, but he grabs a club from a farmer, and starts giving as good as he gets. Rue lets off a couple rounds to scare the lot of them, and the elder gets them to back down in the face of overwhelming arms.
Boo the Angel pops in to tend to the dead, and manages to bring one of them back to life and health. While the cowed farmers are carrying their friend home, Rum (remember him?) comes running back with a six-gun in hand. Diamond grabs iron and tells him not to shoot, "What's done is done. You've no quarrel with us now."
Rum shoots anyway, and notches Diamond's armor. The Chopper shoots back and blows off the man's shootin' hand, which sets the crowd on him all over again until the elder Do clubs two men with his staff and screams, "No more blood, you fools!"
Boo goes and sees to Rum's bloody stump, and a second, final truce is reached, at last. Phew!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ode to an Apocalypse World NPC

To Mimi.
Mimi, you crazy, crusty-haired junkie. You threatener of men's balls, you dropper of needles where others will step on them, barefoot.
I love you, dude. Don't change.

Love, your MC

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I would recommend that, if you play Hot Guys Making Out, the uke or receptive role should not be taken up by someone who is uncomfortable with male homosexuality.
Just. Saying.
You'd think this kind of thing would be obvious. -__-;;

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This. The CAs' whole purpose is to help you see, not the diversity of your own play, but the diversity of possible play, including, most importantly, play that makes you go "ugh,so not a fan." Or, "but ... how is that even fun?" Or, "sure, but that's not roleplaying."
Thanks to Vincent for reminding me why Creative Agenda is really not a big goddamn deal. In hindsight, the wild, poisonous, contentious, sometimes productive debates about CA/GNS, sweeping the 'nets every once in a while, are basically an argument about whether or not there are different ways to role play, and to enjoy role playing.
It's super important that one take the time to play lots and lots of different games, figure out what we like (a broad or narrow range, whatevs), and then play those games.
I have played a lot of boring games, a few games I hated, and an increasing number of games I love. CA is one way* of talking about how they differ; it happens to be very difficult to explain in the abstract, not so hard to grok once you've played games that support very different Agendas.

So, I intensely dislike Exalted-the-game, even if I'm a bit of a fanboy for Exalted-the-setting. I absolutely adore Apocalypse World and Kagematsu and Polaris; I'm pretty sold on My Life With Master and Dogs in the Vineyard. Sorcerer is neat, Swords & Wizardry is a lot of fun, and A Penny For My Thoughts is a good time.
I'm the most interested in games that draw a lot of their structure and concepts from the way that narratives work (the precise medium being imitated is irrelevant). Games that are all about problem-solving, detailed questions, planning, etc. (dungeon crawls, f'rex!) are fun too. Overall, I most-highly value games that are focused, that have a highly intentional design ethos, and that push me into an emotional space that I'd have a hard time recreating on my own. Seriously, I've cried during sessions of Polaris and MLWM, and AW has gotten me misty-eyed a number of times. I love that kind of stuff.
Basically, it all comes back to actual play. Play games, find out what you like, what you love, and what you hate, and keep up with the good stuff! Life is too short to play games that aren't any fun.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reflections on the One Ring RPG

Thanks to the .pdf being so readily available, The One Ring RPG already has dozens of pages of comments in forums like Story Games and, so there's already a lot out there to look at.

I've gotten hold of the .pdf myself (and will, yeah, most likely buy the boxed set), and I have to say, I'm really excited about this game!
A few comments and quibbles:
- yes, there is a passing similarity to Mouse Guard, but not a strong one.
- yes, the formatting is such that particular rules can be a little tricky to find at times, but if you read it from beginning to end you'll find everything; some things just aren't repeated like they should be, or are first mentioned in odd places and then never mentioned again (like what the Feat die and Success dice look like..)
- I have been underlining all kinds of things, just to overcome the semi-weird formatting; things that look important but aren't flagged and bolded have been underlined or circled in black pen (thanks, b/w printout!)
- you roll a d12, the Feat die, every time you roll the dice. If it comes up an 11, it's the Eye of Sauron, which negatively affects the result. If it comes up 12, it's the Rune of Gandalf, which has a positive effect. Kind of wonky that they went with 11 instead of, you know, 1, but whatever. Strictly speaking (I need to investigate this), it could be that the Eye still counts as an 11 but also creates bad or weird side effects. Still, kind of odd.

Straight-up cool stuff:
- adventures occur at the rate of one per year, followed by a recovery period called the Fellowship Phase in which you manage your reputation, your wealth, and your spiritual health (by shedding Shadow points); this phase lasts between a week and a season, and "caps" the adventure.
For context, the journey from the Shire to Rivendell could be considered one adventure, since they take their sweet time healing Frodo, something on the order of weeks!
The journey to Mount Doom, come to think of it, would be one enormous adventure from there on out, since the poor hobbitses never really get a break after that. Maybe I'm just recalling the movie version of events, though. Merry and Pippin catch a bit of a break when they encounter the Ents and get a chance to rest up at the Enthall, though.

- corruption! Okay, so I'm not quite sold yet on the cool-factor of gaining Shadow points from traveling through tainted lands, but experiencing anguish and doing horrid things to others both seem like legit sources of Shadow points. The latter, especially, is reminiscent of Polaris and its Experience Tests.

- to remove Shadow taint from yourself, you must make a Craft test or a Song test. Yep, just like in Earthdawn, making beautiful things is how you free yourself from the taint of evil. Cool! (okay, okay, in Earthdawn, strictly speaking, making beautiful things is how you prove that you are free of evil's icy grip, rather than how you remove yourself from it. Close enough ^__^)

- the game is set about five years before "the shadow returns to Mirkwood". Given the time-frame mentioned above, that means you've got about five adventures ahead of you before the War of the Ring's first blow will be struck (that is, the ringwraiths capturing and torturing Gollum, and finding out where the One Ring is). Naturally, that means the players have five game-years to walk into the Shire and encounter Bilbo Baggins and, who knows, maybe hear a little tale about his magic ring...

- the text is chock full of little story-gamey gems that demand a close-read. Yes, this game is in the Trad Games tradition (in that Trad rather than Indie is where the creators have been hanging out, where they got their experience and inspiration, etc.), but it's got neat little things in it like:
"the player shall declare the intended result of his action. On a success, he narrates what occurs," [paraphrased from the text]
"When a player selects the skill he will roll to complete an action, and when he describes the action itself, the other players shall have veto power over these decisions for the sake of logic and theme. If the players cannot resolve the issue, the Loremaster [GM] shall make a ruling." [paraphrased from the text]
To be fair, there are also depressing little tidbits like,
"...nothing ruins a good session of play as [much as] a player questioning the Loremaster's knowledge of the source material" p. 7, Loremaster's Book
"Before the game begins, the Loremaster should have at least a generic idea of how the plot of the adventure should unfold.... The Loremaster needs to have an idea of when [the events of the plot] will happen." p. 13, Loremaster's Book
So, yeah, you get some of the standard stuff about "The GM makes the plot, and the players are its main characters", (Google the "Provisional Glossary" and search for the phrase "Impossible Thing Before Breakfast" for more context).
To be fair, if the LM cannot "barf forth Tolkien-style apocalyptica" to the players' satisfaction (lil Apocalypse World reference, there), then the LM probably shouldn't be LMing. It's kind of neat that the rules explicitly state that the person best qualified to LM is whoever knows the most about Tolkien in the group, so at least they offer a method of handling this head-on. ^__^
Secondly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pre-game prep. What I find objectionable is outcome prep, rather than simply content prep. Any veteran GM will tell you they've written up all sorts of amazing things on their lonesome before a session, only to never quite get a chance to use them in play. Understandably, the outcome/content distinction is not made explicit here.

Additionally, there are really neat little rays of light poking out, indicating that the designers were of two minds about player autonomy, which is cool:
"The last thing a Loremaster should do is to restrict his players ... in order to make them conform to his idea of how the game should progress. Players must feel that their characters can attempt any action, no matter how limited the chances of a successful outcome." p. 7, Loremaster's Book

Additionally, along the same lines:
"Managing the game system properly is absolutely vital for the creation of a truly cooperative role-playing experience....nothing is more destructive to a player's suspension of disbelief and immersion in the game than the feeling that his [hero's] fate is being dictated by the Loremaster's choices and not his own." p. 17, Loremaster's Book
Really! How cool is this?
Following up is this:
"... the rules are not the province of the Loremaster alone, but are an invaluable resource to be shared with all participants." p. 18, Loremaster's Book [emphasis mine]

Basically, you have what appears to be, and seems to be largely received by players as, an ordinary adventure-journey game that, thematically, takes D&D full circle into explicitly Tolkien-themed waters. But, clearly, there are elements of player empowerment, and a few gems here and there in the Corruption rules, that demonstrate it can be something more or different or stranger than that.

I didn't even mention character creation stuff, or Encounters!
To sum up the cool bits super-quick-like, there are several opportunities to plug your character concept into a larger context: many of the Backgrounds you can choose from (which actually determine more about your character than the character-class-equivalent, "callings") explicitly mention family members, social status, and community ties, right there in black and white. Lovely!
Now, of course, connecting your character's odd, unpleasant, or strange Background to, well, the rest of the game... the trick is to take it with you! That's going to take the GM's assistance. For example - Tookish hobbits are not trusted, considered wild, unpredictable, and adventurous. So - should the GM simply have a few NPCs mutter about your Tookish features, clucking their tongues?
No way! See, the biggest mood-killer for building Theme and whatnot, I think, is obsessively making the game about the traveling. The Journey mechanics really don't need to be front-and-center; they aren't even that complicated, so you could use kind of like a complicated AW custom move to further stress the scarcity and danger of Middle-Earth.
Additionally, Encounters are reserved for dealing with single or grouped (friendly or neutral) NPCs that you meet on your travels; the GM reserves judgment for deciding what constitutes an Encounter, but it puts a bit of emphasis on making such things significant in some way. The part I find the most compelling is this: all PCs have virtues (valour and wisdom), and NPCs look at one or the other virtue to decide how well they regard you.
The value of the chosen virtue dictates how many failed dice rolls the party can make during the Encounter before the NPCs decide they've had enough of your bungling. Things like racial prejudice (yep! In the rules!) and your characters' social standing (especially with the culture the NPC(s) belong(s) to) all affect how many of your failures they will endure. If you reach their Tolerance (that's the game term, yes), they will basically decide they aren't interested in listening to or dealing with you further - - what that means in detail is rooted in the direction the fiction is taking.
It's like taking the old-timey D&D reaction roll and expanding its scope to include a whole scene, rather than just a random little die roll at the moment of encounter.

Lots of cool stuff. I'm working on getting a campaign going. We'll see what comes of it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

swords & wizardry, player input

Ye gods, that took me back.
It occurs to me that in games with a very heavy GM presence in the decision-making process (GM-as-final-arbiter, for example), those occasions in which players DO make creative choices are moments to be treated with something almost like solemnity.

Those moments tend to take the form of decisions made by the adventuring party or whatever, such as: which path should we take? Should we finish off this adversary who begged for mercy? Et cetera.
The issue presents itself as, essentially: "I have hardly any say in what's going on in this tale. Please respect my wish to let the ogre-mage live, as that is an expression of what little autonomy and control I have here."

It's kind of an uncomfortable feeling. I would likely quite enjoy switching over to Dungeon World, as suggested by a player, but we shall see.
This may also be a product of playing S&W with folks who usually do not partake of games of that type, but I don't usually play such games either! And everyone at the table was itching to push things in a more modern, story-gamey direction, even the D&D veteran.
That is totes fine! I've definitely seen what we can do with the system, and I have to admit that I'd probably love designing Dungeon World adventures instead.
I have some reading to do.

I will add that I have been genuinely respecting all dice rolls (no fudging!) and respecting player decisions as much as possible. I did kind of nerf a boss by not playing him as hard as I could (I really need to stop being afraid of PC-deaths), but that was my only self-criticism afterwards.

Friday, May 27, 2011

the void, actual play, and getting it wrong (or right)

Yeah, that Dwarf Fortress hack of Polaris? I may post about that someday. Maybe.

At the moment, I have a thought: when someone asks you "What's your game about?" they're really asking (or you should really be thinking) "What happens in play, independent of/because of the rules?" Sometimes you will answer the first question one way, and the second question in a very different way. And, of course, sometimes the game ends up focusing on different things for different people.

For example - Kagematsu. The author tells you, quite explicitly, that it was a game written to capture that feeling of petty competition between women over relationships, and the way that women are often socialized to be pointlessly judgmental of one another.
When I played it, it was a game about flirtation, awkwardness, and sexuality. Gender entered into it, sure, but not much - the deference and awkward pauses had as much to do with status differences as they did with feudal Japanese gender roles.

This also ties into what the "fruitful void" is all about - you cannot see what a game is really, truly about until you have played it. Even then, some games require at least a couple of sessions before all their different things can display themselves.

Kind of like how after a few Advances, your Apocalypse World character is just no longer likely to fail at things s/he's good at, anymore, meaning that hard choices are not presented to you as often anymore.

So - the point is this: why not try starting out with what kind of play experience you're envisioning? This can be tough, and pretty abstract, but at least at some point in the process, you're going to need to know/decide/imagine what play itself should look like. This goes far beyond the genre, the setting, mechanical ideas, even player roles. What kind of stuff happens in play? What are we doing? Build from there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Camp Nerdly, May 2011

I played three games today: My Life With Master, D&D Basic Set ('79), and Polaris.
Now, on to details.

MLWM was setting-hacked, set in 1960s rural Washington State with a very Manson Family vibe. We had some great scenes, and folks were really good at characterization (a creepy big brute with a van, a guy who could only speak if he was waxing intellectual, my Patty Hearst impersonator...); our GM was also excellent - he put on black leather gloves during the Master scenes, and was really intimidating and creepy. It's clear to me now that MLWM is a kinky game.

The downside was a combo of two factors: first, it's not a game that involves the whole table very readily. Secondly, FIVE players were at the table - that's a lot of segmented play, i.e. five separate mission scenes and five separate Overture scenes every time we go around the table. I was thinking that my idea, Gang War, would benefit from some of the procedures used to portray the Master, but play would need to be a lot more open/less structured to work for stories about desperate people joining gangs to survive.

D&D Basic involved the famous Keep on the Borderlands adventure. It was pretty amazing - almost indistinguishable from Swords & Wizardry: very freeform, very deadly combat. The fighter and the dwarf were killed after charging at some spear-goblins, my thief ran away, and the DM ruled that there was 3 weeks of downtime in the fiction while the other players rolled up a couple of elves.
The DM then employed an interesting house rule: he briefly narrated what my thief, Otto Lampblack, had been up to in that time, and then granted me a level. Dunno if that was something he'd devised ahead of time, but after that, the rule was - if some PCs die and the survivors have to retreat, cue downtime and a level-up.

We briefly discussed how level 3 is about the point where a lot of things start to bloom for your character (and I think someone else said this online somewhere, recently) - - abilities that cue to your level relative to monsters begin to matter more, the infamous start-with-1-hp is no longer an issue, and characters begin to differentiate a lot more.
This all makes me want to start a campaign all the more.

More on Polaris soon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How Mysteries are Solved in a Dramatic Fashion

The following is especially true of supernatural or suspense tales.

Scenario A, "The cost of knowledge" - A scholarly, curious, or wise character encounters new information that pushes open the mystery a little bit further. That character is then antagonized in some way, as dramatic "payment" for advancing the plot in this way.

All good drama needs to be consistently dramatic, and a scene wherein a character is just finding out stuff could be pretty boring. To liven things up, the acquisition of information comes at a cost, either during the acquisition or immediately after.

During the acquisition: (Jurassic Park) "My god, those velociraptors are trying to break into this computer lab! I have to hurry!" The cost is that there's a risk to the attempt itself - Lex (the young girl) has to turn the compound's electronic locking mechanism on NOW, or she'll be killed by the 'raptors. If she fails, she'll either die or have to abandon the computer terminal, and both those options guarantee an escalation in drama.
If she succeeds (which she does), she provides some payoff and relief for the characters - the electronic locks activate, and now they have a safe base from which they can start regaining control over the crisis.

Immediately after: (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) "He chose... poorly." [the Nazi archaeologist promptly dies and turns to dust] The cost comes from the discovery itself - Donovan (the main bad guy) identifies the wrong cup as the Holy Grail, and dies for it. If he had been right after all, the conflict would escalate, as the Nazis (or at leastone Nazi) would have access to the Grail. Overall, a ratcheting up of tension for Indy.
Because Donovan actually failed, the Nazis became less of a threat overall, but the chance of Indy choosing the wrong grail would increase the immediate tension and conflict in the situation. Long term gain, short term loss.

Scenario B, "Surprise!" - The info-gathering character (the "informer" from now on) discovers something important and we are immediately shown that the new info is true. Both the audience and the character(s) find out something at the same time. The cost of the information is that there's no time to use it.

This comes (mainly) in one of two ways: either 1) the "informer" announces the info and someone in that same scene (the "informer" or someone else) is immediately affected by the truth of this new info, or 2) the "informer" announces the info and the scene cuts to another character being affected by the new info.

Scenario C, "Chekhov's Gun" - the information-gathering character makes a revelation that does not immediately create tension - instead, the tension comes from the information being ignored or disbelieved.
In the case of Chekhov's Gun, information is simply established as fodder for a later scene - the gun is on the mantle in the den, we (the audience) know that now, and thus any later scene in the den could involve the gun in some way.

So, when actual information is relayed in this way, the audience is given information that is not demonstrably true through what's happening in the plot. For instance, a horror-movie character will earnestly tell his friends that the noises in the woods are werewolves, and you gotta help me, man!!

In Scenario C, he is regarded as crazy, and ensuing scenes that do not feature werewolves possess a tension based on the absence of those creatures. Every scene that does not have werewolves in it, after we've been told that there ARE werewolves in the forest, demands an answer: Are there werewolves or not? The tension should build from scene to scene, until finally the "crazy" character is either proved wrong or proved right.

If the audience is told the information at point A, and the protagonist finds out at point B, the plot in between must create tension via the period of ignorance (on the part of the protagonist) in order to keep things interesting. Every time someone or something references the protagonist's ignorance is an opportunity for pathos, tension, or a joke.

A & B are situations in which time is a very small factor.
C is when it is a larger factor - you establish information for future use.
A & B are what I'm interested in - the act of searching for information "buys" the information and makes it true. It happens right away.

Friday, May 13, 2011

OSRAW! Fight that troll, Willow!

Had a good conversation, post-game, last night with George. He's critical of Dungeon World, feels like it's not quite there (or maybe he'd be more strident about it than that!), and one of his particular criticisms was an issue of scale:

In a game of Dungeon World we played at a Jeff-con, the party's bard managed to use a move, Fascinate, to bewitch a frog-god and convince it to follow him to the ocean, where he would threaten to force the god into the sea and kill him (amphibians breathe through their skin; the GM ruled that gods are no exception here) unless the frogman armies left the city alone.

So, from a D&D/OSR perspective, the idea of threatening an amphibian enemy with salt water is pretty badass. Everyone at the table agreed it was a really cool plan, and the GM ruled accordingly.

The other side of the OSR viewpoint could be/would be, however: how the heck did a level 2 bard manage to use his magic on a frog god, just like that? I mean, whatever, but the status of god would matter more than the status of frog, just like how some kinds of undead are harder to repel than others.
Even if it'd be amazing to see the party cleric repel a nasty mummy-king right into a bonfire and watch him light up like a thing on fire, there's still that part of the fiction that says, "Yeah, but, isn't this adversary pretty powerful? Couldn't his incredible evilness deflect the power of this dime-store holy symbol?"

That gets me thinking about the role of levels in Dungeon World - pretty much any charm-related/mind control spell in any incarnation of D&D is going to address the monster's level or hit dice. Player-characters get stronger based on level, not just in terms of benefits like attack bonus and hit points, but intrinsically - the saving throw rolls get better over time 'cause of some inherent excellence that develops with leveling up.

In Apocalypse World, advances can sharpen or broaden a character, and they eventually lead to a character retiring from play. You can't get more than 10 advances before you MUST take the advance, "Retire your character (to safety), and create a new character to play."

Dungeon World has rules for going up to level 10, and it has some moves that don't scale at all to level (such as Fascinate). I think that a direction should be chosen - are levels going to matter a lot more, or are we going to use them only for the vibe they give? I think either option would be cool, but at this point it feels like one of those is not happening. I wasn't particularly bothered by it in play, but it's an interesting notion: there are certain things that low-level characters can do just as well as high-level characters. That definitely grinds against the spirit of D&D. If I have to gain 10xCurrent Level experience points to ding, it'd be nice if it counted for a bit more.

I think the scaling issue could be fixed just by including info about levels, for monsters or for PCs, in a lot more moves.
On the other hand, what if "level" is just a misnomer, just a colorful term, and leveling up is really about gaining more abilities, not necessarily more powerful ones. But, in DW, that does depend on the class: any of a bard's moves can be bought any time you level up, whereas the cleric has some moves for levels 2-5 and some for 6-10.

At the same time, this is all entertaining a particular argument. How I really feel is that it's way too hard to level up in D&D, given the benefits that affords you, and especially when compared to AW.
It might make more sense to flatten the xp requirements for leveling, just making it 10xp/level, or some other flat but high-enough amount that it doesn't happen too fast but you do get to do it often enough that it feels actually possible.
Pre-3rd edition D&D is clearly a game about having almost nothing to work with and getting through a tough spot regardless. The level-up rules are a carrot for extended play, but really, I've never actually played in a D&D game long enough to go up a level. Especially in its OSR incarnations, D&D play seems to mainly be about having the pluck, courage, and sheer good fortune to make it through some really tough scrapes intact.

I don't know if a game like AW, with all kinds of ways to improve your character and to show off your powers, is really suited to capture this particular form of D&D. I think that a sweet fantasy adventure game is perfect for AW, but more for capturing what folks like me wanted D&D to be (a way to live out 80's fantasy flicks and Dragonlance novels), not what it actually was.

My recommendations: flatten the xp advancement, put in stuff about retiring your character, put in stuff about the intended scope or length of a campaign (somewhere between a 2-hour epic and a season's worth of TV), make dungeons a part of play and not the point of play (think Moria in LotR, rather than the module adventures of yore), and dispense with the whole monster-level-thing.
If we change up monsters like that, then various benefits of leveling wouldn't make sense anymore: HP gains, bonuses to the attack roll, or really any improvement that doesn't come from stat gains or new moves.

The other road (keep levels and the design ethos they bring to the table) is totally fine, of course, but I think DW is currently in a sort of middle ground where neither approach is really being explored enough. I think DW is an awesome project, and I want to give it another shot before I put any work into making OSRAW (Old School Revolution - Apocalypse World).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

sim: what it is, what it isn't

Any ideas about what sort of difference there could be in Conflict Rez as it applies to Story Now vs. Right to Dream?

I'm not sure this even applies! I think the "site" at which Creative Agenda occurs is far broader than Conflict Rez. "Resolution" here is shorthand for player-driven resolution, but that's no reflection on CA.
You know what? I don't buy that it's possible to have Sim that's all about faithfully portraying a genre. I mean, I have never encountered Ron's fabled Sim game where the GM protects the genre from outside influence.
Maybe that is a literal statement - maybe I haven't encountered such a thing, but it's out there anyway. It sounds like the mechanics are protecting the genre in Pendragon, for example (but the GM isn't doing it) - being a Romantic knight is about grappling with the tug between virtue and ignobleness (if that's a word...), and so in Pendragon your virtue-themed stats mean you're pinging back and forth between them the whole time. You aren't allowed to simply be a knight, and explore what that means for yourself.

Of course, when I say "allowed", others might say "abandoned"! The things that make a knight into the "time bomb" Ron Edwards talked about somewhere - Story Now requires characters that have been "wound up" and have plot waiting to unfold, but it also, equally, requires procedures and mechanics that allow players to drive play forward with their choices.
But honestly, I don't know if I've come across his alleged "pastiche-play". I think V:tM is about being a vampire and stuff, but the mechanics don't empower the player to engage in the struggle of it all. When you lose Humanity points, it's totally a GM-centered thing. In Sorcerer, you agree to burn them. The difference is the procedural text, I think - - there really needs to be an understanding (on someone's part, if not everyone's) that the point of play is to hand the players morally and emotionally complex situations and give them the wheel. The first bit (complex situations) is procedural play, what the GM/GM-role is for. The second bit (the wheel) is the mechanics, what the player-role is for. The mechanics help them drive around in the emotional/moral complexity; whatever other dangers or strife are thrown in there too, they exist to draw out the emoraltional (ha) stuff.
(forgive me while I go on about the general idea of CAs for a bit...)
Gamist play is very similar, with a crucial difference - the point of play is to hand the players dangerous or unsafe situations, and empower them to decide what to do about them. There can be licentious, disturbing, or harrying material in there for flavor, but it's not the point.
It would seem that Sim play can have any kind of content it pleases, but most Sim-ish gamers I've met aren't interested in taking the wheel. They like being thrown into morally harrying situations, maybe, but they don't seem interested in getting there on their own. This isn't an attempt to impugn their play style. But what I've seen seems to be "Hey, GM! Put me in some interesting situations, wouldja?" (as opposed to "Let me do it!") And that mentality seems to dovetail with some concern for how things are supposed to operate, in terms of game physics, genre expectations, etc.

I was thinking about those scenes in movies where the hero has to choose between two people who are about to die. In movies where the hero chooses, the character would end up in that situation as a result of their own actions. In movies where the hero ends up escaping the choice, the character ends up in the situation because of others' actions.
Take Batman Forever, if you will - in that scene where Nicole Kidman and Robin are both about to fall into respective death-pits, Batman refuses the choice and saves them both. If the point of the film were about the pain of deciding between love and friendship, he would have made an actual choice; failing to do so would have made the film fall flat, unless a Cunning Twist is employed.
Like, if a film is about a guy who has a male best friend and a girlfriend, and he and his best friend end up falling in love, that might seem like not choosing at all, but really he has determined that Love Is Friendship.
On the other hand, if the movie was about the difficulty (not pain) of choosing between love and friendship, then we're watching Saving Silverman - the choice is resolved by a) Silverman finding a new, less objectionable love interest and b) one of his closest (and most jealous) friends finding that what was missing from his own life was (gay) love. The movie is more about what a pain in the ass it is to juggle close friendships and a romantic life, rather than about the pain of choosing and then living with that choice.
It seems to me that Nar play is about choices and living with them, whereas Sim play is more like "slice of life" fiction - the point is to portray, or explore, a "correct" vision of a particular lifestyle, world, or whatever.

I think it's probably impossible to use truly thematic Conflict Resolution in a Sim game. If play focuses on exploring dramatic themes and gives the players the power to make meaningful decisions about them, that's Nar play, straight up. If either element goes away - thematic content (i.e. it's emotional, it's ethical, it's about choices) or strong player input, it changes.
You take away the thematic *oomph*, but not the input, and you have Gamist play. It can still pluck your heart strings, but the mechanics and procedures aren't going to help you do it. If you play a heist game and it's all about the cool plan and what could go wrong, it's Gamist.
You take away the input, but not the oomph, and you have Sim play that's focused on emotionally engaging the players. Horror games are definitely molded from this clay pretty often - in V:tM, in my opinion, the Storyteller is supposed to make the players confront how ugly and creepy vampires are, but he's showing it to them - they poke at it and turn it over a bit, and look it up and down, but ultimately the Storyteller brings it mechanically/procedurally, by enforcing Humanity checks.

If you take away both, you might end up with upbeat, Illusionist adventure games, or, basically, various relatively low-emotional-risk iterations of Sim. I think. Certainly, no-oomph/no-input is the kind of Sim I grew up on.

Okay, so I guess Conflict Resolution does sound like foreign territory, from a Sim perspective. I dunno, though - CR has been painted as the difference between merely performing a task and making the effect of that performance stick. The sticky widget seems to be how we define making it stick - do we do the thing from a mechanical perspective so that we can beat a dude, or do we do the thing so we can handle a relationship?

That is, are we engaging the mechanics to gain meaningful authority over the outcome of a conflict? If yes, then it is Conflict Resolution. If we are engaging the mechanics but don't gain meaningful authority over it (that is, if the authority stays where it would otherwise lie), then it is Task Resolution.

On one level, CR is where tasks are nested - you must achieve your goals through tasks in order to ground your play in the fiction, lest you get the equivalent of:

Checkmate: Whenever you get into a fight, roll +sharp. On a hit, win the fight.

TR, on the other hand, is the opposite of "tap A to win the game" - - you can only do the component tasks, and you never get the narrative weight to say "Yep, this solved it." You are asked to handle individual bits of the fiction, but they never become the whole until someone (likely the GM) touches them - they remain the "sum of the parts" only.
Gamist play would be totally ruined by TR - if your actions don't meaningfully settle the matter (there are rubrics for determining this in a successfully Gamist design), then you've been hosed by the GM.
In Story Now play, TR totally can't happen - if your actions don't matter, how the heck are you going to address Premise?

Going back to Story Now vs. RtD: I played AW last night, and it's weird how the procedures do a lot of the heavy lifting in that they push the players into making choices about stuff they care about. They don't push them so much as help them along - the MC's various moves basically help to raise the stakes or take a loose thread and tug on it. Ultimately it's the players who are pushing things forward; the MC just helps them maintain their forward velocity.

I don't know how much more I can say about RtD play; I feel like I can only define it by what is lacking from Story Now play, rather than "positively" defining it as something unto itself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Been too long!

It's been about five weeks since I updated.
That's a little too long for my liking.

Anyway, I'm working on some ideas for the Ronnies, and I'm just going to post the first draft of the introductory text for now. Here goes!

The War of the Sheaves

a game of war, matriarchy, and caste

It's been one hundred years, or five generations, since the war, whichever is longer. It's been hundreds of harvests since then, to be sure.

Why the war happened doesn't matter all that much; it may to you, but that's your own affair. What matters to the both of us is what came next: Durum, a city, a frail old lord's domain, came crashing down. First, the men all went to war, to swell the Emperor's armies.

The women and children were left behind with a few old soldiers, the elders, and the lord himself. They were used to hard and thankless work, those women and children, but the war only worsened their toil: much of cloth they sewed and grain they grew went to men, like always, but now the men weren't even around to take it! It was taken, stolen, more like, by men from the White City, faraway men who took the fruits of their labors away, for strangers to use.

No one knew, or no one would say, when the men would be coming home. True, not every single man had left old Durum, but nearly all the husbands and fathers and brothers and uncles were gone, gone like ghosts, down the slopes and into the valley and out of sight like the moon when it's set. Those women who knew their letters did write for those who didn't, and when the White City men came next, for more cloth and more grain, they had a whole bushel of notes and letters and things for those men to take to the men who had gone.

Not a woman among them ever did learn what became of those letters.

The men from the White City, though, they came back – time and again, they were back, regular as harvest-time, ready with wagons for clothing and grain. Yes, they remembered the letters; no, they didn't know if the men had gotten them. Every time they came, some wife or daughter would ask, and every time their answer was the same. And the women would sigh and huddle together to watch the wagons vanish down into the valley with the sun as it set.

That is, of course, until they time when they didn't.

It might have been because the harvest was so small; it might have been that someone thought to herself, My son is never coming back. Or maybe she had thought of her husband.

Whatever was in her mind on that day, the men from the White City, they were loading up their wagons and crossing names off a scroll with the Emperor's face on it in wax. This woman, this wife or mother (but probably both), she asked him, “Did you ever deliver them letters?”

And the White City man (he was new), he said, “What letters?”

And the woman, she took up a stone and she killed him dead, like thunder.

And all the women, they ran up, yelling and screaming like the horses of Gods, and they all took stones and they threw them, hard as nails, and the White City men, they screamed too, and fell, and bled and died.

When it all settled down, the women started thinking what they'd done, and they were all afraid. They fretted and wept and tugged on their braids, so afraid that the White City would know, that word would get out and they'd be dead.

That's when one of them said, “Now we have to kill the old lord, stop word getting out.”

And so they did. They did it with their stones and hands and sickles and ropes, things in the ground or out of the ground, and when it was done, they stood together in the field by the keep and felt their fear go out of them. It went into the sky and into the ground and the water and stones, but it was gone from them, and when they wept, it was for the husbands and sons they would never see again, not for themselves.

That's when Durum became what it is, now.

Anyway, my basic game idea is kind of a fusion of Polaris and Solar System mechanics - Keys are prominently featured, and group- or faction-level development, conflict, and interaction is going to be handled through a bargaining system that employs key phrases.
It started out as a game to cover the austerity protests in Greece, France, and Britain, but I decided it might be more immediately accessible as a game if I explored a currently-shelved idea of mine for a beleaguered, matriarchal mountain culture resisting the dregs of a broken empire. Yep.

[edit]Here's that link I promised! 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters is offering free hosting for the Ronnies. Thanks, 1KM1KT!