Game Design

Games I want to run #5 – My Life with Master

My Life with Master: a must-play as far as I’m concerned.

Game Design

Games I might want to run #4 – Burning Wheel

One of those fantasy games that (like HeroQuest) I plan to try out with my DnD group after they wrap up the current campaign (assuming we ever finish the current frelling module): Burning Wheel

Links & Resources

Hamlet, the Masquerade

Rather, Hitherby Dragons: Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate

“Eat of onions, but by no means garlic. Those slaves you have enthralled, and found to serve, bind them to your soul with hoops of steel; but do not hasten to enthrall each girl you meet. Beware the werewolves, and do not fight, but remember, if you must, that they as well fear thee. Taste every maiden’s blood, but give your blood to few; dress to impress, but not with glitzy fashions that in five years shall pall–for the fashions of the day are the zoot suits and stirrup pants of tomorrow, and the reputation that you lose for goldfish shoes is not easily regained upon the morrow. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, but borrow sunscreen if you must; and this above all: do not let Hamlet know the truth, for he has slain vampires more cunning and more terrible than thou.”

Links & Resources

Fab Five

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 84: Five Games

What five games would you love to run/play if you had a willing group and a weekly time slot?

Well, this shouldn’t be hard.

Actually, limiting it to just five will be hard.

Game Design

Games I might want to will run, #3 – Inspectres

First off, there’s a good review of InSpectres, here.
Now, a summary:

Game Design

Games I might want to run #2 – HeroQuest

Next up, let’s take a look at a fantasy system: HeroQuest.
First, a particularly good and useful review can be found here, listing both the good and the bad of the system, all of which I entirely agree with, and some of which I’ve co-opted for the summary below.

Game Design

Games I might want to run #1 – Dead Inside

So I’ve got a bunch of games laying around — stuff I want to run, to try out… whatever.
I communicate more succinctly in the written word than the spoken, however, so my enthused rambling face-to-face usually tends to miss a few things that I really wanted to mention about any particular game.
Therefore, what I’m going to do is assemble (and I mean that literally) a summation/review of the various games that I’d like to take a stab at some point — some I have in mind for the weekend folks, some I have in mind for the DnD group… some would work for both, so g’head and read — you might see something you like. If so, lemme know.
First up (simply because I’ve been reading it this morning) Dead Inside:

Game Design


Here’s an observation, neither novel nor groundbreaking. d20 in it’s current incarnation will never be a good system for non-dungeon crawling (i.e., search for traps, get treasure, kill bad guys).
It boils down to search time. Your To Hit and Armor Class bonuses are prefigured, as are your Damage dice and Skills.
Search Time to hit a bad guy? If I haven’t memorized it, it’s a glance at the character sheet.
One PC decides to subdue and bind a bad guy, rather than kill ’em.
What happens?
Several people flipping through books, GM jokes about being taken by surprise and unready for non-lethal action from the players. Search Time is quin-trebles.
D20 suffers from selling itself as a universal system — when you try to do anything other than killing or skill checks, you’ve just doubled or tripled (or worse) the search time.
The game encourages XP rewards for finding alternate and creative solutions, but doing these things is such a pain in the ass it’s not worth it.

Links & Resources

Game of the Now

** Atomic Sock Monkey – Dead Inside **
I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to play it, but I want to own it. Now, please.

Links & Resources


Perverse Access Memory: WISH 83: My Character’s Motto

What are your characters? mottoes, in ten words or less? Quotes and formal mottoes encouraged.

Japteth: Harm Not the Dead.
 &nbsp(Unofficial: You die, you’re mine.)
Dylan: Everyone has secrets.
 &nbsp(Unofficial: Sometimes, you wing it.)
Bob: Never trust Jedi.
Gwydion: In Her Majesty’s Name.
Hmm… I should have more characters, so I can have more mottos.

Links & Resources

Steam and Wonder

Victorian Roleplaying Themes — mine it for all it’s worth.

Game Design

Compare and Contrast

I’ve often said there’s practically no difference between the basic PC conflict setups for Amber and Vampire (whether that’s a good or bad thing is left as an exercise to the reader.)
Someone actually worked out the similarities.
Heh. I can think of others, but they’re definitely not wrong.

Game Design

Wednesday Weird

The Wednesday Weird is a writing exercise where each week a topic will be posted and participants will write about in it in their own blogs, livejournals or the comments section. The Wednesday Weird is for gamemasters, writers and anyone else who wants to practice their creativity through this excercise. Each week in the Wednesday Weird, I will supply a fairly common cliche in gaming and/or fiction. Participants will then be challenged to take that cliche and give it an original twist…..something a little weird, then explain why it’s weird.

First up: The Mugging
Basics: The basic mugging goes something like so: mugger comes out, weapon in hand, and demands your money.
My twist: Mugger comes out, weapon in hand, and demands that you take his money. Take. Not Have. He literally forces you to steal it, at gunpoint, then runs.
Why?: The poor bastard stole a cursed coin or bit of scrip and the only way to get rid of it that he can figure out is if someone steals it from him — problem is, no one mugs a mugger, and he’s had to take matters into his own hands.

Game Design

Doing the Cool Thing

Reading one of the ‘Actual Play’ entries on the Forge left me a bit… confused. Here’s an excerpt:

We did a system switch: Spycraft to Wushu.

It’s like the 6th game in the run, and we bailed on poor d20, which was boxing us in. My chief complaint about d20 I think is that it provides a lot of information about what a player and character cannot do. Your opinion may differ.

So anyway, Wushu. It’s not for the lazy. No time to space out. You gots to be thinking up cool ways to earn those embellishment dice.

Our group really got into it by the end of the session, really riffing off each other’s narrations, gaining embellishment from things that other players had worked into the scene.

I’ve bought and read Wushu awhile back , and it’s a good, fun system. To explain the above
1. You basically have to succeed by rolling a number of dice
2. The number of dice are determined by your stats
3. You get more dice for coming up with cool stuff in the scene you’re in
Not just personal stuff, like sliding down a banister into the bad guys, but anything very cool and like an action movie. You walk into the room — and you add:
the camera is tight on my face, I’m wearing sunglasses and the fearful old man we’re about to question… his cringing expression is reflected in both of the lenses of my sunglasses.
That’s cool… have another dice.
Here’s my confusion: SPYCRAFT DOES THAT. Am I crazy? Is there not a mechanic for getting extra action dice for coming up with cool stuff? Hell, you can get action dice just for being funny.
That aside, the thread (located here) did talk about the challenges of coming up with cool stuff all the time — how much of a pressure that can be, but also had some good ideas for making that mechanic (talking mostly about Wushu, but it works else) work.
I have hopes of using some of that in the Spycraft game tomorrow, because yes, the game does have the mechanic but, being d20, the players don’t naturally lean toward that sort of co-GMing narration.
I will do to Spycraft action dice was Stan did with the NPCs in Nobilis and encourage the cool thing.
Or I’ll try at least. We’ll see.
Side note: Something I mentioned to Margie yesterday that’s odd — I used to frame almost every scene of my games using the sorts of language that would most commonly be associated with movie and television action — I used to really jones on the framing of a particularly cool image.
I don’t do that anymore. Used to. Don’t now.
Not exactly sure why.


Cool, baby. Cool.

So for the last couple weeks I’ve been contributing the insanity of the Lexicon Of The Second Age, in which people are sequentially writing up entries on the Second Age of Creation for the Nobilis setting, following certain guidelines.
Once a few standard practices and guildelines worked themselves into place, things have gone swimmingly, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the next entry from the others and the next entry to write — there’s tons of stuff that’s come out of the project that I’m already planning to use in my own campaign.
Today’s “O” contribution was a little tongue-in-cheek (after several entries worth of Serious Topics) — a time-jaunting band of heroes who spent the Second Age saving the world, doing good, and rocking out (a Noble tribute to the Hong Kong Cavaliers).
Good times.

Game Design

Game theory

The 20′ By 20′ Room: Definitive Narrativism links to essays on the Forge (a rpg forum I won’t bother to link to because you either already know what/where it is or, like me, don’t find forums that useful) that define the current chic among RPG gaming theory — the GNS model, in which gaming styles are broken down into Gamist, Simulationist, or Narrativist styles.
In short, the essays are fucking long. Here’s the short version, because I am in no way recommending reading the bloody things unless you’ve got some time to kill:

Links & Resources

Note to self: reviewing at my leisure

RPGnet: Review of HeroQuest

Links & Resources

Schedule updates

Weekend games on the Game Calendar updated through May — Friday games to be updated soon.
I’m liking this tool a great deal.

Links & Resources

In summation

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 82: Three Word Summary

Sum up one or more games that you GM or play in 10 words or less. (Three is best, but not everybody is that pithy.) Don’t restrict yourself to current games if you have great ones in the past.

Starting with current and working backwards:
Chrysalis A: Creating Party Central
Chrysalis C: Excrucian Target Practice
Necropolis: God! You people…
Spycraft: Jess’ gonna kill me.
DCM (DnD): Everyone roll initiative.
OA: Grandpa’s damn Quest
Prince of Alderaan (Star Wars): Roll Sense Motive
TiHE: Don’t trust Unicorns

Game Design Nobilis

Making Magic… magic.

A long email exchange on magic in rpgs — not a lot that resonated with me, but I did want to refer back to this passage, which touches on a possible problem I’m having in Nobilis (and possibly other stories).
Emphasis mine:

… [I am] against taking magic for granted, relying on the system, instead of trying to elicit that which the system is designed to facilitate. Relying on the system has the paradoxical effect of making the magic both more and less real: on the one hand, it removes everything from the realm of concrete action and physical description, distancing everyone from what?s really going on; on the other hand, by invoking rules, one lends an air of authority if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. ?I?m using Waters of Vision to try and see what?s going on? implies that the magic is real*; ?I?m peering into the water in the bowl on my dresser to see what I can see in the ripples? leaves crucial room for doubt and ambiguity**.
(The paradoxical epistemology of rpgs: precisely because they are so subjective?based almost wholly on the subjective cause-and-effect dialogue between players and referee?they end up being much more objective than the real world.)

* — “Real”, read “measurable and solid”, which is so antithetical to the idea of what magic is in most settings that it makes Magic into Not-Magic (Technology). Magic in DnD (and in virtually every other RPG out there), for instance, is actually Technology — very reliable technology, come to that.
** — But lends a solidity to the act itself. Compare “I do a Divination of his location.” to the actual concrete actions described in the example above: which one immerses you in the world of the character more? Which allows (or forces) a certain emotional separation from the scene?
This all goes back to a problem I choose to perceive in the Nobilis games I’m running, in that most of the sessions fail to have anything resembling a mythic tone to them. I know that most of this lies with me — to have a mythic feel, a lot has to come from me, and frankly I think most people of my generation are going to have problem with mythic thinking — it’s not what we were raised on, after all — sesame street is a far cry from being raised on oral tradition stories and fairy tales at bedtime. My myths are those of Tolkien — a magical world with very very VERY little that is overtly magic in it: a world with histories but not myths… myth doesn?t enter into it, and the closest thing to fairy tales are Bilbo’s encounter with the Trolls and the regrettable Tom Bombadil (who really should have been in a short book of his own… preferably in a different world entirely).
And to top it off, I taught myself systems at a young age whereby everything that happens in Tolkien can be quantified (RPGs) — just to milk that last bit of wonder myth out of it.
(Note to self: buy many books of fairy tales — read them to children as they grow up.)
So, back on track, I don’t necessarily know the imagery of myths, and thus my Nobilis games tend to feel more like (best case) an Unknown Armies game where everyone’s playing an Avatar or (worst case) a Supers game.
Supers… the myths of our time, and more’s the pity; though you can have mythic supers tales (cf. Hitherby Dragons), that’s the exception, not the rule.
So, Question the First: how to think mythically? How to encourage the players to think/act mythically?
The other thing that is leeching the magical out of the Nobilis game is that I’m very focused on the rules right now, because I’m trying to teach them to my players — so that even when they simply describe “this is my concrete and emotionally immersive action”, I break it down from the subjective-but-immersive to the objective-but-non-immersive — I’m very much into showing everyone what gears are turning behind the curtain right now, because I want them to see how the machine works.
My motives are good: I want people to know the rules well enough to be able to ignore them, but I’m beginning to think that that’s not going to happen, at least not quickly.
So I think “We’ll, we’ll let everyone be subjective-concrete-immersive and I’ll be the only one making sure the game system is being observed and everyone can just trust me that it’s fair.”
Which is fine, if everyone trusts me, and maybe they do. I’m nervous about that because I-the-player got really burned on that about a year or two ago and I’m still compensating for that in most of my games, trying to make sure that everyone knows I’m working with a fair and balanced rules set even if they never asked.
So, Question the Second: How to move from my current mode of “objective-non-immersive” to “subjective-immersive” to let people be engaged in the action, not the rules. Ideally, the goal should be that the players are always utterly confident that they did what they say they did, but unsure as to whether the ‘magic’ will behave as expected. This is easier, provided trust-in-the-GM by both the players and the GM.
What frustrates me about this is that I was DOING this (creating more mythic imagery and veiling the hard rules) at the beginning of the game before I really learned the rules, and I’m doing it less now because I’m thinking of them too much.


Order of events

Interesting thoughts on why to decide your Estate last when creating a character in Nobilis, stored here for my convenience:

The crux of Tony’s process is that the Estate is the LAST thing you choose when designing your character.
What it does (I feel) is discourage people from playing Estates and Affiliations instead of characters.
In my attempts to play Nobilis I have seen characters who seem designed to govern a pre-selected Estate. That’s okay, but I maintain that it’s only okay with careful consideration and balance. Without a critical eye, choosing the Estate first (from my experience) can lead to a more shallow and two-dimensional character. Why? Because the tendency is to create a character whose background is retrofitted to rationalize and justify why they were ennobled as that particular Power. (ie. the computer hacker who is the Power of Computers, the painfully shy girl who loves to read to the exclusion of anything else is the power of Libraries)
Or the abused child who grows up to be Affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark.. It begs the question of who wants to play an abused child and why? Is it just to rationalize why you’re affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark- or because it’s truly part of the character?
The London cabbie who is the Power of Coincidence is more interesting in my opinion, because he was somebody before he became a demi-god.
Now someone will fairly argue that Imperators might select some one to steward an Estate based upon their interests and predilictions. I’ll grant you that. I do maintain that it leans towards to a more contrived character, but no – not a guarantee; this is a generality, not a hard and fast rule.

The only note I will add to this is that, in my limited Nobilis experience thus far, I’ve had the most ‘problems of two-dimensionality’ with the characters whose backgrounds were designed around their (eventual) Estate. I love everyone’s characters, but them’s the facts.
The old Amber-ism of ‘make up the character you’ve always wanted to play’ works pretty well here. (Hell, in any game, come to that.)

Game Design


As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes miss things that are going on with the players in my games.
Back in TiHE, I used to periodically take a poll of everyone to see how they thought things were going — a feedback sheet if you will — but I stopped doing that after awhile because, well, I’ve been playing with the same basic group since about 1997 or 1998 now, and I figured I’d… y’know… KNOW.
Also, when I look at campaign I’m running, I have a general idea of how things are going… who’s doing what, who’s ‘getting somewhere’ and who isn’t, et cetera. Generally I think that’s pretty accurate, since I’ve got the bird’s eye view of the world.
For instance, in the Chrysalis C campaign, Fungus is the Investigator — she’s the one who has made the most progress in figuring out the (*counts*) two or three main mysteries of that group’s storyline — she’s had to fight tooth and claw for every bit of info, but she’s essentially the one who’s gleaned 90% of what there is to glean about the mysteries that affect the group-as-a-whole. Conversely, Sian has gotten the most tangled up in side-stories and personal drama, and Mariska and Lil’ Doc fall somewhere in between.
Tonight, Margie presented her POV of the Nobilis game to me… which essentially amounted to exactly the opposite of what I just said: Fungus gets nothing done, and all sorts of things happen to Sian. (Actually, I guess that’s not wholly opposite of what I said, it’s just a really surprising summary — Fungus has a lot of info s/he hasn’t acted on yet, and while lots of stuff happens to Punishment, none of it is GOOD stuff 🙂
Obviously, I think I need to go back to polling people.

Links & Resources

Pure. Gold.

Random Name Generator
I want this thing on my palm.

Links & Resources


The makers of the Historic Tale Construction Kit have taken various bits of art and lettering from the Bayeux Tapestry and loaded them into a web-based application that lets you use the elements to create your own story. No, really.
I want to use the to retell the Miami Breakthrough or something 🙂

Game Design

Eight is enough

Game Wish asks:

What do you think is the best cast size for the games you?ve played? What are the factors that go into your answer: genre, play group, gaming system, etc.?

The simple answer is “four or five players, plus GM”, regardless of game system. Ironically, I rarely GM groups that small.
Right now (or recently) my group sizes were (NOT counting the GM):

  • DnD: 7 (and too big, really)
  • OA: 4.5 (with .75 npcs)
  • Nobilis: 4, or 7, or 8, depending on how you look at it. I’m currently running two groups of 4 in a concurrent intertwined storyline on different days. While I might do a massive Group Thing in the future, doing all eight people regularly would drive me nuts and probably be less fun for most everyone in the long run — that said, we started the Nobilis story with one group of seven.
  • Pulp: usually six, which still feels big, but it’s mostly designed for Convention play, so what’re you gonna do?
  • Star Wars: six, and again, that was really a bit unweildly.
  • Amber: I ran TiHE with anywhere from two to seven people, plus the GM. We started with five and when we dropped to two I didn’t know if I’d ever figure out how to run the game at that size. I figured it out, and it went really well for awhile — it was just different — then we added a few other people and it took me awhile to remember how to deal with a larger group.

I’ve got other games I want to run and a genral idea of how many players I’d want for each, but I’ll keep all that to myself for now.

Game Design


Following in Ken Hite’s footsteps, my list of what I consider the ‘best’ RPGs, currently.

Links & Resources


The Harrow: The RPG Collection

Links & Resources

All your deity are belong to me.

You must all go read The Righteousness Game at Hitherby Dragons now.
Go. Seriously. Now.

Game Design

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 78: Two Characters, One Game

Do you think allowing one player to play more than one character in a game is a good or bad idea? Does the style of the game make any difference? What about the format (FTF, PBeM, etc.)?

I can only address FTF for obvious reasons. Lesse: right now I’m running a DnD game and a Nobilis game (split into two different groups of players on two different days, but with an intertwined storyline and setting).
That’s it? Hmm. Seems like a short list.
Also: playing in a DnD egyptian-style thing and Dave’s Spycraft game.
With the exception of Nobilis, the sole example of multiple-character play would be in various side-kicks or allied NPCs that get ‘run’ in combat by whichever player volunteers for the extra work. Taken in turn:

Links & Resources


In an effort to knock the creative rust off my brain, I’m participating in the creation of the OceanOfStoriesWiki – Lexicon Of The Second Age… sort of collaborative encyclopedia for Nobilis’ second age. Here’s hoping we get through the alphabet.
I like this wiki-tool-thing: could be terribly useful for certain kinds of sites/material. I’ve actually downloaded the stuff to support the same sort of thing that Lexicon is using, and am pondering doing something with it to categorize Firefly material (both RPG-related and Fanboy).
Setting up a wiki’s not as easy as setting up that calendar app, unfortunately.