Masks Prep: Brainstorming + Random Situation Tables

– Problems, difficulties, goals, and victims should all have a FACE (or faces): people that the heroes interact with
– (Masks moves are about interacting with people – if a situation doesn’t provide that, character will struggle to engage.)

– Pick a location one or more of the team are from or have history with (default)
– Pick a location that looks juicy and interesting
– Pick an additional location (second pass only)

WHAT HAPPENED HERE (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– Adult Heroes messed something up there
– Locals messed something up there
– Hyper-phenomena of some kind messed something up there
– AEGIS messed something up there
– Mundane Governments messed something up there
– Villains messed something up there
– Adult Heroes responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– Locals responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– AEGIS responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)

IN THE PRESENT (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– [MacGuffin] must be delivered to the location
– Important People/Supplies must be accompanied to the location
– Locals/Local Government are creating further difficulties for the location
– Hyper-phenomena are creating further difficulties for the location
– AEGIS and/or Outside Government is creating further difficulties for the location
– Villains are creating further difficulties for the location
– Pick a second element and interweave the two
– The Adults (take your pick) have no clue what’s really going on. Good luck.
– The Adults have no clue what’s really going on, but think they do (pick a previously-used element above, but it’s wrong)

– Locals/Local Government will attempt to handle the current difficulties on their own (and do so poorly)
– Locals/Local Government will blame the heroes (and superheroes in general) for current difficulties
– AEGIS will take drastic action to preserve the situation and push the heroes towards the difficulties
– The difficulties will get worse
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist
– The difficulties will target the heroes directly

How to Train Your Dragon with Risus hacks

I’ve been playing an RPG with my kids set in the Archipelago of How to Train Your Dragon. As a prelude to writing about the play itself, here are the rules I’m using.

Dragons: Wanderers of the Archipelago

A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures

(Based mostly on Risus Guard, a Mouse Guard hack I cobbled together, which in turn is based on on Evens Up, by D. Stahler, Simpler Risus from Risusiverse, and Mouse World, by Dan Cetorelli)

And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.

The Basic Rule

When dice are rolled, rather than adding up the results, each 4, 5, or 6 (4+) is counted as a “Success.”

Discard rolls of 3 or lower. In addition, sixes always “ace:” each six not only counts as a success, it is immediately re-rolled, with a 4+ result added to the success total (and continuing to ace as long as a six is rolled; the beloved “exploding dice effect.”)

Swap the “Inappropriate Cliché” rule for “Imaginative Use”: If you can explain how you use your cliché, you can try it. In combat, Imaginative Use of a cliché deals +1 damage.

“Round peg in a square hole”: If you’re using an inappropriate cliché in a test simply because you have no better option, and can’t (or choose not to) come up with an Imaginative Use, your opponent rolls two additional dice, or the number of successes needed increases by 2.

How It Works

Simple Skill Check

Instead of rolling against a target number, a certain number of successes are required to achieve a desired result, generally adhering to the following difficulty scale:

Easy: 1 / Tricky: 2 / Hard: 3 / Heroic: 4 / Legendary: 5 / All But Impossible: 6+

The process used to determine the difficulty rating in Risus — by figuring out how hard the task is in the context of the cliché’s relevance — is used the same way here, as is the idea that the degree of success or failure may affect the overall result.

As a general rule (because I like PBTA games) – getting some successes but not enough successes is a good time for a mixed result: you get some of what you want, but at a cost, or with complications.

Single-Action Contests

Both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most number of successes wins. Ties can either be rerolled or go to the side who rolled the fewest dice (Goliath rule) or most (respect the skillz), depending on the group’s preference.

Multiple-round Contests (Combat)

Each round, both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most successes wins, resulting in the loss of one cliché dice (or more, depending on the situation) for the loser. Ties can be handled as above.

Note: In combat, the ‘success counting’ die mechanic means differences in cliché levels aren’t as huge a deal.

Team Ups During Contests

In team-ups, a leader is chosen for each team (leader role can change between rounds, if it makes sense). The leader gets to count all the successes from their rolled cliché. Everyone else on the team rolls their clichés as normal, but only count sixes as successes toward the team’s goal. (Sixes from helping characters can still Ace, with the Ace rolls counting as success on 4+, as normal.)

When a team loses a round, the leader takes cliché damage.

If a team member is taken out of a conflict due to sustaining injury or being unable to roll any dice in a round due to accumulated penalties, the character’s status will be determined after the conflict by the winning side.

(Players should remember that in single-action contests and combat, opponent’s dice can ace, as well.)

Too Many Dice

Sometimes characters, teams, or (most often) their opponents will have access to clichés of greater than six dice. Don’t roll more six dice; if a cliché is higher than six, every two dice over six simply adds a success (round down). So a Unstoppable Red Death (20) would roll six dice and add seven successes.

Funky Dice?

Funky dice can still be used in this system, if you want (not sure I do, but…) If you want to use them, have ALL results of Six or higher ace. Obviously, the odds of acing on a 10 or 12-sided die-roll are pretty good.

Character Creation Options

Allocate ten dice to your clichés, as normal for any Risus character. Humans are the baseline in this setting.

Lucky Shots can be purchased as normal in the Risus rules, if you like.

Sidekicks and Shieldmates from the Companion rules can also be purchased, and should be; they work perfectly for dragon companions, as well as particularly useful, rare, or high-quality gear that is better than what you would already have as tools of the trade for your clichés.

Generally, build your dragon companion by taking away 1 die from your cliché pool to make a 3-dice cliché for your dragon. Strike Class dragons (being more rare, intelligent, and powerful) can be built with 6 cliché dice (at the cost of two character dice), but still shouldn’t have any clichés higher than the character’s highest.

Dragons can usually team up with their rider during contests, can act on their own (or at the command of their rider), and can act entirely on their own with their rider rolling to help them, if it makes sense.

Example One: Brega’s dragon companion is Moonshade, an indigo-scaled Deadly Nadder. She invests 1 die into her dragon as a Sidekick/Companion, and buys “Moonshade: Over-protective Nadder (3)” as a cliché for the dragon.

Example Two: Most dragon riders do not wear much in the way of armor (or at least the basic armor they do wear (shoulder guards and the like) rarely seem to matter for most viking clichés). Hiccup, on the other hand, as a pretty cool shield, and decides to buy it using the Sidekick/Companion rules, which allows it to help (sixes count as additional successes) on any rolls where such a crazy shield would help (though it might also work against you in some cases…)

Gronkle-iron-reinforced “Utility Shield” (3)

(Once you start tallying up Toothless, Hiccup’s Shield, Wingsuit, and other crazy gear, you start to suspect his actual clichés might be… kinda crap.)

Optional: Skills within Clichés is probably fine, though maybe let that come out during play of the character.

Scale (super-optional)

Humans are definitely not the biggest things in the world. The progression of size scale goes something like:

  • Terrible Terrors
  • Humans, wolves, speed stingers
  • Smaller dragons (gronkle, et cetera)
  • Most dragons
  • Larger Dragons (Screaming Death, Catastrophic Quaken)
  • Very large Dragons (Typhoomerang, Eruptodon)
  • ???
  • Red Death

Or, Simplified:

  • Little dragons
  • People
  • Most dragons
  • Really Big Dragons
  • Insanely Big Dragons

There are a number of different ways to handle difference in scale. Off the top of my head:

  1. Larger creatures in a physical conflict get 1 ‘free’ success for each level of scale they have above their smaller opponent(s).
  2. Funky Dice. In physical conflicts, the two scale spots directly above people use d8s; the two above them use d10s, the two above them use d12s, and Bears and Moose either use d20s, or allocate (still terribly imposing) cliché values to different parts of their body.
  3. Beyond the scope of dice: most creatures have cliché ratings, but for the truly imposing, they might perhaps be better handled as natural phenomena, rather than mere animals. The same might be said of large groups of lesser animals (a flight of dragons, for example, or a big pack of speed stingers).
  4. All of this largely pertains to physical confrontations – social/mental conflicts would hit different clichés which would only rarely use funky dice.

PbtA with Little Kids

(I found this in a text snippet, as though I meant to post it, but as near as I can tell, I never did, so here it is.)

The Rules

Say what you are: a crystal lady, an adventurer, a princess with a big cat.

When you face trouble, roll your two dice. If what you are helps, add 2 to the result.

  • On a ten or higher, you do it amazingly.
  • On a seven to nine, you do okay, but something else happens.
  • On a six or less, you might do it, but you’re definitely in trouble!
Track ‘damage’ on your “courage” bar.

Courage: O O O | O O O

And… thats it.

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.

And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…

Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

200-word RPG Challenge submission: Freaks

So this thing is happening:

The 200 Word RPG Challenge puts your writing and editing skills to the test!
What can you do with only 200 words?

I’m studiously ignoring the line: “the game doesn’t necessarily have to be fun”, for reasons that should be obvious, and decided to submit a thing.

Here is that thing.


doom patrol mignolaWe’re playing heroes mighty, but maligned; devoted, but shunned. Feared by the same people they protect…



Think up a character. Golem. Vampire. Angel. Vampire angel? Go nuts.

Pick a Specialty:

  • Sneak
  • Fight
  • Manipulate
  • Use Powers
  • Investigate

Define Your Power

  • List Blessings. Think “thematically related; but incomplete.”
  • List Banes. Why are you a freak?

These can color scenes. If they’d affect a Conflict, say how.


Establish character(s), setting, situation.

Each scene, everyone wants stuff. Play your guy and push for it; you’ll hit a Conflict.

Grab one FUDGE die for your GOAL and one for the RISK. (No risk? No roll.)

… there’s another Risk.
… Banes have effect (stop here).
… Blessings have effect.
… your Specialty matters.
… you’re prepared.


  1. If Banes apply, discard the best die.
  2. If Blessings/Specialty/Preparation apply, discard a bad die for each.
  3. Assign dice to Goal and Risks.

Goal Die:
+ Goal achieved.
0 Mixed success.
– Opportunity lost (for now).

Risk Die:
+ Risk defeated
0 Danger Remains
– Injury, Loss, Goal interference

If Danger/Injury Remains, it becomes an Added Risk whenever, until you fix it.

Thanks: Otherkind, Ghost/Echo, Trollbabe

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.


Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.


  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

Mulling over a Star Wars game

mos eisley

Like (I imagine) a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d run a Star Wars game, if I were going to run a Star Wars game.

Main problem? Too many viable answers.

  1. I loved playing WEG’s d6 game when I was in college. The system doesn’t scale particularly well, but I’m enough of a realist to acknowledge that I’m probably not going to run a campaign long enough for that to be a problem. It’s a fun system.

  2. If I was going to run a game OMG RIGHT NOW, there’s about a 70% chance I’d just grab FAE and go, with no tweaks.

    • If I expected the game to go more than a few sessions and still wanted to use something like FAE, I’d tweak Jadepunk, renaming Aristocrat to something like “Leader”, maybe, and ditching the Jade-related stuff. The character aspect structure is good, and the Assets system has a good amount of depth for codifying gear like ships and lightsabers and cool battle armor. (There’s just enough gear porn in Star Wars gaming to make this attractive.)
  3. Use the PtbA-simplified Streets of Mos Eisley playset (basically a World of Dungeons hack1). Then bolt on a few other bits, namely:
    • Renaming the stats to the same Jadepunkish approaches (Leader, Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, Scholar, Scoundrel). I like this for several reasons, mostly related to having nice variation between people playing the ‘same’ class. There’s some really cool synergy between the SoME classes and stats that aren’t so much stats as FAE-like approaches. Jedi with high Scholar and Leader is a very different character than a Jedi with High Fighter and Scoundrel. You can do general NPCs easily just by not giving them a class.

    • Add Bonds (renamed Connections) as they are used in Worlds in Peril, allowing them to be ‘burned’ (lowered) for roll bonuses, and requiring a Connection to the Force for force-users or potential force-users (which value moves toward the Darkside when you Burn it, natch).

Note: Doubt I’m actually running a star wars game, but it’s what my brain is stuck on right now.

  1. Where World of Dungeons is basically a Dungeon World hack that asks “What if everything was a Defy Danger roll?”, and then demonstrates it would be pretty awesome.] 

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.


Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.


Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”


“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”


“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

Mulling Over *Mountain Witch* mashups

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:

  1. Prepping for a traditional “ronin samurai” play-through of the game, hopefully on Hangouts, hopefully soonish.
  2. Pondering various settings hacks for the game, including Dwarves/Dragon, Adventurers/Castle Ravenloft, Spark Prisoners/Escaping Castle Heterodyne, and so forth.

The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:

  • Protagonists have been, until the start of this game, pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do, and what they do isn’t usually very nice.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skill (for instance, having a bow lets you be a combat threat a much longer range than with the default daisho).
  • Trust – who you trust, how much you trust them, how that changes as the story progresses, and how that trust is used for or against you – is a huge deal.
    • Related to that: there is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters, so that the trust everyone has for each other is a bit uneven, right from the outset. (In the baseline game, it’s based on the zodiac of your birth, in the dwarf version it’s based on your birth stone, with Adventurers it’s… I dunno. Something something handwave figure it out before we play.)

A new setting hack occurred to me today, though, that’s really pretty interesting – the basic idea is using Mountain Witch to run The Hunger Games.

  • Protagonists are or have been pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skills (which is why everyone’s scrambling for special supplies at the outset of a Game).
  • Trust and how it’s used is a huge deal.
    • There is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters; in this case replace the Zodiac with the Districts, with a similar network of “you start off trusting these guys, and not these guys” for everyone, plus a bonus “and you really trust (or really don’t trust the other person from your own District).

At this point, all I’d need to do is map the basic outline to the four acts that Mountain Witch defaults to, with bonus points if the game actually starts well before the beginning of the Game itself (in the Capitol or something).

Well, that and change the two default questions players answer during character generation.

Double-bonus points if it’s not literally Hunger Games, but something in that general ‘survival YA’ vein.

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.


  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:


  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.


  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.


  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.


  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).


Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.

“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.

“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”

I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.

SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.

Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.

So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.

What We’re Starting With

At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:

Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.

The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.

Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.

Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.

Where We’re Trying to Get

Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions.  The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.

Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.


  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?

1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.

We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.

2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.

You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.

Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.

Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…

Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.

Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.

4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets

Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)

A Word about Healing

Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.

One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”

And that’s it

No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”

FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.



High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.


Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.


For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.


As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice – Putting the Play into Practice (4/4)


Okay, let’s see if we can pull all this musing into some kind of coherent plan for missions. There’s a lot here, so let’s boil it down.

Here are the parts of the topic already covered:

  • Part 1 and Part 2 talked about the fundamentals of PvP in Eve (as broken down by Ripard Teg), and how those could be applied to new missions.
  • Part 2.5 answered some questions that parts 1 and 2 generated.
  • Part 3 talked about the ways Ripard’s “stages of PvP” could map to “stages of a mission.”

From that, I want to boil down some of the rules and guidelines for making new missions based on the precepts of Eve PvP.

  1. Current PvE missions are kind of terrible. Outside of the UI, it is in PvE mission content that Eve truly shows its age: dated, primitive, simplistic, and boring.
  2. Aside from being boring, all but a few of the missions teach piloting behavior at direct odds to every other part of the game. Yes, running missions will teach you how to interact with Eve’s UI, but in all other respects missions actively train that player in ways that makes them demonstrably and steadily worse at every other kind of play in the game, including:
    • Poor ship selection. (Bigger is better! Battleships beat everything! Gear determines success!)
    • Poor ship fitting choices. (Cap rechargers! Propulsion modules are pointless! What’s a Warp Scrambler?)
    • Poor target selection/situational awareness. (Shoot the battleship first: it’s got the biggest bounty. What do these icons over my HUD mean? Nevermind, don’t care!)
    • Poor threat assessment. (There’s only fifty of them and one of me. No problem!)
    • Poor or non-existent manual piloting skills, let alone an understanding of transveral and/or signature/speed tanking. (I’ll just approach the next acceleration gate and slowboat that way as I kill everything.)
  3. I’m not talking about missions getting harder, unless by “harder” you mean “requiring some preparation and thought.”
  4. I’m not talking about replacing all the old missions, because the old missions form a backbone of salvage that the market needs. That said, those missions where you’re fighting 50 on 1 should CLEARLY MENTION that you’re not fighting a credible threat like capsuleers, and mention this OFTEN.
    • Corollary to this: mission agents should be dismissive of the threat of normal fleets to a capsuleer, and if anything overreact to the possible threat from even a small group of ‘capsuleer’ NPCs in a mission.
  5. Higher level missions do not automatically (or even often) equate to ‘you need a bigger ship’.
  6. The level of the mission should determine how much “ship fitting” hand-holding the player gets beforehand.
    • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a bad time.”
    • Level 2 missions: ”This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to perform [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
    • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
    • Level 4 missions: ”This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give us eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

Important:  This is about bringing the skillset of the PvE pilot closer to skillset of the PvP pilot, so that acclimation from one mode of play to another is easier and, thus, more likely to see crossover.

This is not about moving higher level missions to low- or null-sec. Doing that won’t ‘force’ anyone in the game anywhere, except “out of the game.” It’s a GAME, people will play how they want, and if you try to force them, you’re just hurting the game.

Now, with all that TL;DR summary in place, let’s talk some specifics.

1. It’s Not the Size of the Ship…

Different ships fit different roles. Each class of ship has areas were they excel, and others where they are weaker. Bring only one type of ship to a fight, and you are that much more likely to encounter a “hard counter” that will annihilate you.

Missions should drive home an understanding of the strengths of various ship classes.

FF (Frigates): Excellent Tackle. Excellent Scout. Decent bait, provided support is nearby. Moderate to Good EWAR platform. Not-bad support option, in some situations. Reasonably good damage mitigation versus larger ships, thanks to high speed, but otherwise comparatively fragile. Comparatively poor damage.

DD (Destroyers): Serviceable tackle, if nothing else if available. Serviceable Scout, if nothing better is available. Decent bait, provided support is nearby.Generally poor EWAR platform. All but non-existent support capability. Moderate to poor damage mitigation (tank can be matched by some frigates, too slow to speed tank very well.) Comparatively OUTSTANDING damage: Excellent versus frigates or other destroyers. Excellent cost-to-damage option versus larger targets.

CC (Cruisers): Generally poor tackle versus smaller targets, good “heavy” tackle versus bigger targets. Not recommended for scouting, but often decent bait. Potentially excellent EWAR platform. Potentially excellent support capability. Good to great damage mitigation. Good to great damage (though you probably won’t get that AND good mitigation). Great all-around ship versus moderate resistance, and can tweak fittings to deal with many different types of ships. Best versatility for cost.

BC (Battlecruisers): Generally as a cruiser, but more so. Exceptions: poor EWAR or support except in gimmick small-gang fits. Even more flexible options in terms of modules makes it potentially more versatile than a Cruiser (giving up less to get what it needs) at higher cost that may or may not be worth it.

BB (Battleships): Poor tackle. Terrible scout. Obvious bait. Rarely used as ewar, except on dedicated ships. Support options are often somewhat gimmick fits. Great damage mitigation. Great damage (and can easily do both at once, by comparison to smaller ships), though applying damage to any smaller targets may require specific modules (webs, scramblers, target painters, et cetera).

One of the main reasons to make sure missions continue to ask for all classes of ship, regardless of mission level: it helps players understand that no class of ship ever becomes ‘useless’, regardless of the level of play you reach.

2. Your Role in this Mission, Should You Accept It…

Damage: We have a lot of missions like this already, and if any more are added, they should be against “capsuleer”- grade opponents, to teach pilots to access threats in way that more closely represents every other part of the game: one-tenth the number of ships for the same amount of overall threat.

1v1: Get capsuleers challenged to 1v1 “duels” versus NPC capsuleer opponents (or arrange for them to “challenge” an NPC via the agent). This can be balanced by level of mission, with ship restrictions to ensure the player doesn’t steamroll. Even better: don’t worry about the ship restrictions, and just have the NPC warp out if you show up in an inappropriate level of ship or bring backup. Have this sort of thing cause the failure of the mission, since the point is to get the guy to fight, pin him down, and kill him, whereas scaring him off will “set our pursuit back by months, if not years.” HOWEVER: if you can get a scram on the guy and THEN bring in backup, that should work. It does in the rest of the game. Honor-shmonor.

I’m not going to do more of these, because most of them show up in some other area: Damage dealing is requisite.

Wait, one more consideration: Range. Some missions should specifically call for sniper fits, mid-range fits, or brawler fits, and what the means should be different for different classes of ships.

Long range artillery: Awesome, though maybe not THIS awesome.

Tackle: Oh what fun we can have here.

First guy through the accel gate. Sort of like ‘cheating’ at the 1v1 above. The idea is to go in on an otherwise superior opponent and get a tackle, holding it until your (NPC) backup arrives. Higher level missions provide the NPC target with webs, neuts, scrams, smartbombs, backup of his own, and may mean the backup takes longer to arrive.

“I was there.”

Speaking of giving your NPC forces a chance to warp in, why the hell don’t we have a mission like this?

That would be cool.

“There are pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.” – I’d love to see a way to do this right in high-sec, right on the station where the Agent is at. “Enemy” NPCs show up outside the station. You need to get tackle on them so NPC support can come in and finish them off. Instant-undocks can make getting away from the fire of the ship much easier (maybe an earlier mission walks the player through making one for a ‘scouting/lookout’ mission). Get tackle and let the NPCs mop up. All NPCs involved would be impossible for others to shoot without being CONCORDed, to prevent mission griefing.

In-mission variation: The mission is in a non-gated deadspace pocket, and the pilot is encouraged to warp in at range to land on top of the offending ship. Those that don’t do that get a quick lesson in how to spiral approach. 🙂

In fact, seeing the way in which the UI can be affected by the new scanner overlay coming out soon, I have NO DOUBT that a ‘how to spiral approach’ tutorial missions could be built, with blinky box overlays on the HUD to show where to manually pilot in order to keep from getting splatted by a distant sniper.

Catch that guy before he gets out of range! Basically, get scram/web tackle before the NPC leaves. The best idea here is if you have a mission where the enemy have set up a Stargate (See: “Halt the Invasion”) and the enemy ships appear through the stargate and land in your trap. If you get both scram/web, the target dies. If you get only one, he might make it out. If you get neither, he’s gone, and you fail.

EWAR/Support: Sometimes damage isn’t the point. In this situation, you’re asked to come in as support for an NPC gang or even a solo pilot. Specific types of EWAR will probably be called for, and the reasons for the need given:

  • “We need target painters to get a bead on those little bastards.”
  • “We need tracking disruptors so we can get under the guns of those big bastards.”
  • “We need energy neutralizers to break the enemy’s self-repair capability.”
  • “We need ECM so the enemy rages in local and leaves.”
Support modules (repairs, etc) are called for in something like one training mission to sort of ‘resurrect’ a damaged ship. It’s terrible. Missions for logi/support pilots should exist, and thanks to the new support frigates and tech1 cruisers, can start right away. The job is simple: wait for the NPC to shout for help, get in there and keep him standing. Alternately, warp into an ongoing battle and try to turn the tide of the fight with your amazing rep skills.

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side — a great player skill to train. This is an excellent opportunity to build missions around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose, so you get an idea of what’s needed (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Asteroid belt on Planet 1 at 50. Now the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

"Clearly, I am a harmless loon. Come fight me!"

Non-bait scouting might be more of a tutorial, and teach the player to use d-scan on 360 max range, narrow beam long range. 360 short, and so on.

Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”

Combine any of the tackle/bait ideas with a “prototype (nee: civilian) cynosural field generator” and have the player call in their backup with a full-blown cyno. (No beacon in local, and ‘works’ in high-sec — hence “prototype”.)  This is a mission — one of the few — that should send the player to nearby space held by the enemy faction. Some missions might be a “bait, get them to attack, then light the fire and hope you live” situation, while others would be more of a ‘sneak our forces in behind enemy lines” scenario which, if done correctly, would result in no combat all. “Tiptoe in, tiptoe out. Like a cat, one might say.” Obviously, as with the rest of the game, any size ship might be appropriate for a cyno job, depending on the type of mission.

There is, not for nothing, an excellent opportunity here to tie this kind of mission into the lore of everything that’s happening in New Eden right now. Tensions between the empires are rising, and these sorts of behind the scenes sneak attacks would be great to get into the game.

Would it be cool to be able to call Hot Drop O’clock on an enemy force you tricked into engaging? Sure.

You know what else would be cool?

What if you take a mission from the Minmatar, and they want you to sneaky-cyno a fleet of their ships into Gallente space? No combat, of course — it’s all just ‘training maneuvers’ — completely legitimate. Still, probably better not to ask any questions, though you might be able to guess their reasons.


All classes of ships used, in all levels of missions.

Jobs to perform that mirror the roles you play in PvP, and the play priorities.

Sometimes, the need to run after you win. Sometimes that means having missions where you kill a specific target and get out, and sometimes it means MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about a few minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

No real changes to the current missions. (Except making sure players understand that non-capsuleers are NOT in the same classes as the pilots “like you”… and making low-sec mission rewards actually provide rewards comparable to the risk/cost of living in lowsec, so they’re worth it.)

Fitting priorities and expectations more in line with every other part of the game. Basically, short and brutal fights where mobility, buffer, and burst tanks far outweigh the importance of cap stability, and tackle modules actually AFFECT THE NPCS. (I’m looking at you, Faction Warfare destroyers that fly 5500 meters/second while scrammed. So stupid.)

What do you guys think?

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (3/4): Stages of a Mission

So let’s continue this conversation about how to create new PvE missions in Eve that are more engaging, interesting, and just generally “better” by applying the fundamental rules of PvP as explained by Ripard Teg over here. This is the last the of “mapping” posts; the final post will give examples of the kinds of missions we could get out of this method.

Stages of a Mission

From Ripard:

All PvP in EVE comes down to five basic stages:

  • Preparation
  • Travel
  • Engagement
  • Combat
  • Disengagement

Make no mistake: all PvP in EVE operates within these five stages in one way or another. If you’re not the one following these steps, your enemy is.


This is where you decide what ship you’re going to bring for the job at hand, and a place where Eve Missions truly fail to reflect every other area of the game. Missions as they stand right now are simple: bring the biggest fucking thing you can squeeze through the acceleration gate. I if doing level 4 missions, just make sure you ship can put out some combination of sustained tanking + sustained damage that equals about 1000 dps. The end.

This teaches terrible lessons to a new player to the game in terms of making good ship selection for the task at hand.

“There are war-dec pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“We have hostiles on our static wormhole in cloaky tech 3 cruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“The FC is doing a frigate roam.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“There’s an enemy destroyer in the Medium Complex in system.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“I need someone to scout ahead of the fleet.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

It also leads to frustration on the part of anyone dealing with such a pilot, because they say things like:

“Man, I feel so cheap and ghetto in this frigate.”

Consider: the guys you’re flying with might spend 90% of their time in those ghetto frigates you’re talking about, successfully killing idiots in Battleships that think they can beat every other sub-capital ship in the game. You are not endearing yourself. Some of the best solo and small-gang groups in the game fly frigates ninety percent of the time, not despite the fact that frigates are twitchy, hyper-responsive, relatively fragile, and the ship class most unforgiving of mistakes, but because of that.

We can address this issue in new missions in a number of ways, but the main one is this: Disconnect the size of the ship from the level of the mission.

Instead, the level of the mission should determine how much personal research the player needs to do to figure out what sort of ship they need to bring to the mission.
  • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a rough time.”
  • Level 2 missions: “This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to do [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
  • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
  • Level 4 missions: “This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give use eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

To quote:

Your first job is to understand what kinds of ships the FC wants and to comply with that. If the FC is asking for cruisers and below, respect that. Do not bring your battleship.

Some of the requirements of the missions may hinge on:

  • Flying style — “Hit approach and F1” should not be the only tactic people need to know.
  • Range of the engagement (brawling, point range, skirmish range, sniper range).
  • The job you’re supposed to actually perform.


Holy crap do some high-sec people bitch about having to travel a couple jumps. They’re like the New Englanders of Eve. Sometimes trouble will come right to you and you’ll fight in your home system. But sometimes you need to travel.

Why the HELL are the missions always defensive? If, in Gallente missions, I’m fighting Amarr anyway, why the hell am I not being sent on away missions to Amarr space sometimes? Genesis is, like, five jumps away! Take the fight to them once in awhile. Sheesh.

The way missions work right now sets up bad expectations in pilots encountering PvP for the first time.

“Where are we going?”
“Roam’s forming in Rens. We’ll check out twenty or thirty systems in Great Wildlands, then up into Curse and maybe Scalding Pass, then we’ll see how it’s looking by then.”
“I… think I’ll sit this one out.”

I’m not saying every mission should be 15 jumps away, but cut the fucking apron strings sometimes: take some cues from the Gurista and Sisters of Eve epic story arcs. Travel is a part of (say it with me) every other part of the game.

If you really want to do something unspeakably cool: set up a mission where the pilot gets to take a Titan bridge. That would be excellent. Bonus points if the mission agent chews you out for bumping the titan out of position.

And how about gate-to-gate-to-gate escort missions, designed on the lines of basic fleet scouting? Yes, some mission griefing is possible in that situation, but it could be mitigated by making sure Players shooting the escort NPC was a Concord-able offense.


Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side.

This is an excellent opportunity to build a mission around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

Try to look helpless.


We already have LOTS of fights where you have to kill everybody and their pet dog. Far more interesting and useful are situations where you’re getting messages from your Mission Agent about different targets. Level 1 missions start out with one guy you need to kill and can then leave, while Level 4s might get to the point where you need to tackle two different guys and put damage on a third to keep him interested until your NPC backup arrives, followed by methodically working through a randomized list of named targets.

EXPLAIN, IN THE MISSIONS, WHAT THE HELL “Yellow boxed” and “Red boxed” are, and what they indicate. Have Aura do a damned tutorial, with proper animations.

(Unrelated: for your colorblind players, the UI really needs to be updated so players can change the colors for “yellow” and “red” boxes… and damn near anything else.)

For Bonus Points:

Have fights where your job is logistics, with NPCs calling for reps. Start with Logi frigates and one guy you need to protect, to level 4 missions with Logi Cruisers, 30 friendlies on the field, and randomized broadcasts for repair (this would need some kind of UI additions, probably, but it would still be extremely valuable and pretty damn fun).

For MORE bonus points:

Have missions where you don’t get support from NPC repair ships without using your fleet “Broadcast” buttons and/or hotkeys.


Sometimes, winning means knowing when to get out. That means (a) having missions where you kill a specific target and GTFO, but it also means that many, MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about [rand(7-15)] minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

The enemy now knows exactly where you are, exactly what your composition is, exactly how many of your ships they have destroyed, and they are probably watching you. You are extraordinarily vulnerable at this moment.

Mission Agents will direct you to recall drones, “scoop loot”, and will be advised to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. If an allied NPC fleet of ships is on the field, they may advise you to stay fairly close to them until they’re “ready to leave.”

These new missions, the way they are structured, will not substantively add to the overall “NPC Loot” intake in the overall game: we have missions for that, so these missions are about ISK, Loyalty Points, and a few nice drops off a few key ships. These are not missions where it’s a good idea to reship into a Noctis.

Almost Done!

Did any of this give you cool ideas for new missions? Share them in comments, and I’ll add them to the fourth-and-final post.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2.5/4) — Answering Questions and Comments

The last couple posts have attracted some good questions and feedback, and raise some points I want to address before I move forward.

The questions came in from all over, however, so apologies if I don’t attribute the questions to the right speaker in all cases.

Narol Decyg:

I would personally LOVE for missions to get harder.

That’s… fine, but it’s really not what I’m talking about. When I said the mission NPCs should get about 10 times harder, I also said there should be about one-tenth as many of them. That isn’t about difficulty, but about teaching players in missions that five ships can be a credible and dangerous threat, so that when they see five players coming at them, they don’t think “oh, I can tank 50 NPCs — I’ve got this in the bag.”

More about his further into the post, actually.

Druur Monakh

One core aspect of PvP is evaluating and taking a risk against ultimately unknown odds – namely your human, unpredictable opponent. No AI will ever be able to emulate that, no matter how PvP-like the mechanics are. PvE would have to simulate the inventiveness of real players to clear this hurdle, and I don’t see it happening in any game.

Absolutely. There’s really no way the AI is going to get as good or as hard as playing against another good player (it can easily simulate fighting a bad player, though) — you can rebalance the NPCs to be generally harder to defeat, however, and use fewer OF them, to teach players better threat recognition.

Also, far more of what I’m talking about for these missions is about what the player’s are called on to do, not what they’re going to fight. Missions right now are stupidly, stupidly simple: go in, kill everything, and (sometimes) grab A Thing and bring it back or (rarely) deliver a thing to a box. It’s fucking terrible.

More on that further down.

Niamh Aideron

… or move more missions to low sec but increase the rewards to reflect the increased risk from PvP ambush.

Two thoughts on this:


I don’t personally believe that moving currently-highsec missions to lowsec will do any good — ultimately, I think it will harm the game, to be honest, because there are people playing the game who, if forced to travel to Low or Null sec to continue doing what they enjoy doing (missions), will simply quit playing. Most of us know we don’t want that, and the people that say they do are idiots. Multiplayer games only work with multiple players.

With that said, I do think missions in low-sec should have higher payouts than they do currently. Missions given in highsec but going to lowsec should pay better than highsec going to highsec, and lowsec-located agents sending you to lowsec should pay very well indeed — in Loyalty Points, especially.

I don’t believe in forcing players a certain direction, but I do believe in luring them. 🙂


What I’m advocating in this series of posts are mission changes that call for techniques and ship fitting philosophies that have use and merit valuable in areas of the game OTHER than PvE.

I don’t care where people live. At all. I definitely don’t see the ‘natural flow’ of the game to be High -> Low -> Null. That’s just group-think from a (very) organized minority in the game.

What I do care about is whether or not players feel as though they are suitably equipped to take a weekend roam into low-sec, or spend a month ‘deployed’ to the constellation controlled by Mordu’s Legion. Missions don’t do that right now, they could, and really they should.


I don’t agree that you can improve EVE PVE content by making it more like PVP. PVE players and PVP players want different things and trying to turn one into the other will just annoy both.

There is already one type of mission in the game which meets most of your criteria: the universally reviled low sec courier mission.

Forcing some hi-sec distribution-mission-running hauler to go into low-sec for a mission isn’t “making the missions more like PvP” — that’s just taking someone and throwing them into an environment where they don’t know what to do. That’s not what I’m after at all.

As I said, I have no interest in trying to force all high level missions into more dangerous space. That is often the solution that people talking about this come up with, especially if they just happen to be from nullsec. I think, personally, it’s a bad solution.

What I’m talking about is changing the design of PvE missions so that they can be completed following the same basic approach and fitting philosophy as PvP. For instance:

  • Mission runners should know the difference between a Warp Disruptor and Warp Scrambler, why you’d want one over the other in different situations, and how it interacts and/or complements a Stasis Web… or a tracking disruptor… or whatever. More, there should be missions that call on players to use one or the other (or, for a real challenge, both at the same time on two different targets).
  • One of the primary design differences between PvP and PvE fittings is Cap Stability, or how long you can run everything on the ship before you run out of juice. Standard Mission Fits go for 100% cap stability forever, because slow and steady wins the day. In the process, however, you sacrifice so much on your ship fitting that your ship is laughably easy to destroy in PvP. PvP ships, conversely, aim for about 2 minutes of functionality in a solo or small-gang situation, and if they get more that’s either a specialty-fit ship or a happy accident. Active Capacitor Booster modules are a mystery to Mission Runners, because why would you use something that only keeps you Cap Stable until the charges ran out… and fill up your hold with the Charges in the meantime? THAT’S WHERE MISSION LOOT GOES.  Conversely, passive Cap Rechargers are horrible, horrible things to see on a ship that’s intended to be used against other players, and I see them on people’s ships ALL THE TIME. I think Sleeper-killing PvE ships are quite close to a happy medium between the two — closer to the sweet spot for PvP-teaching PvE content than anything else out there right now: my alt’s Drake can run everything on the ship for about eight minutes, which is just about enough to clear a Class Two sleeper site, solo. If I’m not solo, it’s even easier, because I can flip off some of my tank in between, and more to the point, I’m fit in such a way as to be a semi-credible threat if I happen to get attacked while running sites.

Those are a couple examples. I’ll have more in part four of the series.

The point of all that is this: when a pilot decides to join some friends for pvp roam, and the FC says “Just bring something fast with short range guns, MWD, scram/web, and a buffer armor tank”, the pilot in question can say something besides “Whut?”


Your posts got me thinking about one of the things I’ve always disliked about Eve.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve. If a ships material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

I don’t know if you agree or disagree, but I’d love to hear you address the ship size/cost imbalance in PvP.

Man, there is so much to talk about here that it could easily be its own post, but I’m going to stick to my guns and get all these comments addressed.

So let me just break this into tiny parts and talk about each one.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

First, I will challenge the term “low investment.” If you’re talking about skill points, Frigates use EXACTLY the same gunnery, missile, and tanking support skills as battleships. Especially when it comes to tanking skills, a well-skilled Frigate pilot and well-skilled Battleship pilot are IDENTICAL.

Further, with the skill tree changes, there is very little training time ‘distance’ between a well-skilled frigate pilot and a well-skilled battleship pilot in terms of just flying the ships around. The Navigation skills for a good pilot of either are identical, and training distance from level 4 Racial Frigate to Level 4 Racial battleship is ~12 days.

So the only truly significant difference in training time is the guns, because right now, if you want to shoot tech 2 large guns, you need to train both tech 2 small guns and tech 2 medium guns. I think it’s important to mention that because once the new expansion drops, guns will be only thing in the game that works that way. Missile systems and Drones have never worked that way, and all the Ship skill trees that work that way today (you need tech2 Assault Frigates to fly tech 2 Heavy Assault Cruisers) are being changed in a month or so. I think it won’t be long before the Gunnery skill tree changes as well — it sure as hell should change, because it’s stupid to have it work differently than everything else in the game.

Anyway, ignoring guns (which I am), you’re talking about less than two weeks of training time between a well-skilled frigate-only pilot and well-skilled battleship pilot, so I’m dismissing the idea of “low investment” in terms of skills, because in the “five frigates versus one battleship” example you give, the amount of training represented by either side is — all other things being equal — vastly in favor of the five frigate pilots.

What about cost?

There’s a tendency, when comparing ships, to just look at hull costs, and that’s terribly misleading, because ships have fittings, and those fittings narrow the cost gap between ships immensely, even if you fight on a budget.

For example, almost every one of the frigates I fly — all of whose naked hulls cost about half a million isk, give or take — will be worth about 12 to 13 million isk once they are fully fitted and supplied with appropriate amounts of ammunition for PvP (read: enough for two reloads, most of which will never be used before the ship explodes). If I’m flying a Fed Navy Comet (which I can acquire for rougly 1.5 million isk via Faction Warfare, but which retails on the open market for roughly 13 to 14 million for just the hull), the value of the ship goes up to about 22 million, all told — roughly the same value as the Destroyers I fly.

(Yes, you can fly them cheaper. You can also fit them more expensively. I’m using my fitting standards as the baseline, because it’s what I know.)

By comparison to my average Comet, this Vexor we killed is actually the cheap ship — the hull plus fittings were only 15 million. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Tormentors  more expensive than that, and I don’t really even like Tormentors.

“But,” you protest, “that’s a bargain basement fit for a cruiser. That’s hardly a fair comparison to your frigate, which is fit with mostly tech 2 modules.”

Sure. This Thorax is closer to 40 million — about the cost of three of my frigates or two of my destroyers, and as a general rule I would think it fair to expect it to BEAT or drive away three of my frigates or two of my destroyers in an otherwise-even fight.

But if three frigates brought exactly what they need to fight a thorax (read: a lot of tracking disruptors and enough webs to keep me from jumping a gate), I might die without killing any of them. That’s just preparation on their part and poor target-selection on mine: that particular thorax is a terrible choice for fighting frigates, and in any case that’s not what I built it for. (I didn’t build it to fight two battlecruisers and two tech 3 cruisers either, unfortunately, even though that’s what I ended up facing.)

On the flipside, I might take a Vexor (which is now entirely comparable to and a better brawler than the thorax) against worse odds — three destroyers, for example — and hope to kill one and escape the other two. These things happen.

Let’s get to bigger ships, though. How about this Myrmidon? Aside from some changes I’d made to the tackle modules, there’s really nothing wrong with that fit as far as PvP goes — it’s a fairly traditional triple-rep Myrm, and comes in at right around 105 to 110 million isk. (I’m adding a bit, because of the drones he was attacking with that don’t show up on the kill.) Based on the value of the ship, that should be the match of 8 to 10 of my 12-13 million isk frigates, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it really isn’t that hard to find a single frigate that’s worth just as much. Are those two ships comparable? Could one kill the other?

Is the Isk value any kind of indicator of the correct answer?

Of course not.  That’s no more relevant than the fact that Guardians in LotRO have really expensive gear and Loremaster’s armor is relatively inexpensive by comparison. Remember one of the Principles from yesterday: You are not your ship.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve.

Bottom line: don’t try to tell me that the Isk value of the ship’s naked hull is any relevant indicator of its threat level. If you point me at a Battleship, I’ll point you at a frigate that cost more, and I won’t even have to look that hard — that fight was last night, and frankly I’d rather try to solo the Armageddon than the Hawk.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude.

The fittings on the ships level out actual difference in ship values in many cases, and even if they didn’t, ISK value is no indication of actual worth, any more than Plate Mail should mean that you always beat the guy wearing the robe. It helps, but it doesn’t determine the winner.

Second, when it comes to little ships killing bigger ships, I have two words for you: Star Wars. Here’s another two: Battlestar Galactica. How about…

Actually, no: it’s easier to say that the idea of smaller ships being able to hurt larger ships if they can get in close enough to get “under” their larger, slower guns is one well-established in the genre, and leave it at that. Big ships expecting to fight smaller ships either need support from smaller ships, or need to fit themselves in such a way as to be able to deal with little ships.

Which brings me to…

Third, when you’re talking about battleships getting demolished by five frigates, your usually not talking about a PvP-fit battleship — you’re talking about a PvE fit battleships who think they are badass and are actually incredibly poorly fit for PvP.

The video’s sadly been taken off Youtube because of the background music used (which is stupid: that background music encouraged me to buy three of that band’s albums), but I’ve seen a solo Dominix pilot fight a gang consisting of a Brutix, Hurricane, three Rupture cruisers, and a Stiletto interceptor, kill all but two of the ships, and leave the field intact.

Would I do as well in such a ship? No, obviously, but that’s on me, not the ship — I’m bad at Eve. With the introduction of the Micro Jump Drive, battleships really have a new lease on life in solo and small-gang PvP, because they can force engagements into their best effective range (where things like Heavy Neuts can be applied to pesky small ships) or, if their opponent won’t come in and hold them down, they simply leave the field with the MJD. And all of that really ignores the updates coming to the Battleships with the summer expansion.

Battleships are better than frigates. Frigates cannot be fit in a such a way as to deal with every eventuality, from fighting a battleship to fighting frigates. Battleships can be – making them quite literally a bristling island of threat versus whatever they might face.

Can they deal with 50 opponents at a time, like they can in PvE?  Of course not, because PvE missions are incredibly misleading.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

This is where a tremendous amount of the disconnect comes between PvE missions and PvP. Missions set a terrible expectation for new Eve pilots, and the first time a PvPer shows them the reality of the situation, it is a cold slap in the face.

The problem is, I know exactly why the missions are set up the way they are and (worse) given the reason for it, I can even understand and conceptually agree with it.

The thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST remember about current mission NPC is this:

You Are Not Fighting Capsuleers

Now, as soon as I say this, everyone who knows anything about the lore of the game will nod their heads and say “right, right…” but how often do you really think about that in the game? Almost never.

But the fact of the matter is, YOU are playing someone who, with little or no crew (depending on the size of the ship) is controlling a space craft the way you would control your own body. It is your body, for all intents and purposes, and when you face mundane ships crewed with mundane humans, who all have to do everything so incredibly slowly, you fucking destroy them, because you are quite literally a god among mortals — an adult challenging first graders.

This is you.

Yes, you are the match for fifty or sixty or even more of these insects. Good for you.

The problem is, you kick the shit out of grade-schoolers for months on end, and you start to think this is normal — that this is how the whole universe matches up to you — 50:1, with the advantage to the 1.

Suddenly you run into someone else like you.

They aren’t slow. They aren’t weak.

And they haven’t been spending their time fighting seven-year-olds at recess. They’ve been fighting with other grown-ups.

I call this the Amberite Issue — a tribute to the Amber series by Roger Zelazny — also known as “What do you mean there are other gods?” In short, you are immortal and impossibly powerful to nearly anyone you’ll meet in whole universe… except for the other people like you. To them, you’re just another young punk who needs to get his ass whupped a couple times to learn some respect and actually become marginally useful.

NOW this is you.

I know why CCP does this: you are a god, and you should get a chance to feel like one. I get that. Some of those ridiculous “50 vs. 1” missions need to stay, if only for flavor.

But when they come, they should REALLY be pointed out by the mission agent.

“Listen, they have an entire fleet defending this base — support craft, battleships, missile batteries, everything — but they don’t have any capsuleers, so really this is going to be a walk in the park.”

(I mean, that’s why Sleepers are so nasty — they’re almost capsuleers.)

Then do a mission where the whole defense force is, say, “a small squad of five novice capsuleers” and have it be just as hard as the full fleet of normal pilots.

When that’s done, make sure the mission agent mentions that while that was hard, at least they weren’t actual full-fledged capusleers like yourself.

Make sure they say that, and make sure they say it a lot.

That, plus getting the pilots some experience with tactics and modules, might help with the shock of trying PvP.

That’s it.

More soon!

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2/?)

So here’s the premise:

  1. PvE mission content in Eve comprises some of the weakest PvE content in any MMO, and is inarguably one of the weakest, least-fun parts of Eve itself.
  2. PvP in Eve is pulse-pounding, adrenaline-dumping, heart-beating-like-sneakers-in-a-clothes-dryer stuff.
  3. We can improve the PvE in Eve by adopting some of the fundamental guidelines of PvP, and in the process make it much less of a shock for a PvE-experienced player to PvP.

In the last post, I talked about how a couple of the fundamentals mentioned by Jester can apply to missions, specifically:

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose 

Bigger is not always better. In Eve, going Bigger can be a wildly inappropriate and/or stupid choice. Missions should call for lots of different sized ships, depending on the mission and irrespective of the LEVEL of the mission: there is no reason we can’t have Level 4 missions where a tech 1 Atron frigate is a viable option — maybe the best option — and many good reasons why we should have them.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock

Variations in mission content should surprise pilots routinely and cost pilots resources beyond ammo. Sometimes ships blow up. Some missions (like the one in “Advanced Combat” Tutorials) should require a ship be sacrificed for the greater good.Truly demanding missions where death is likely should have commensurate rewards if you can pull it off without losing the ship.

In fact, why not get rid of the idiocy of Ship Insurance and just have missions with a high chance of ship loss pay out at least as well as Platinum Insurance on the most appropriate class of ship for the mission? That way, you’re compensated if you lose the ship, and dancing a jig if you don’t.

“But what if the pilot brings friends?”


90% of PvP in EVE is preparation

PvE players learn no sense of PvP threat scale from doing PvE: they tank 15 battleships, 20 cruisers, and 10 frigates in a mission and can’t figure out why five condors flown by regular players can kill them in about three minutes. Back-of-napkin calculations suggest PvE mission opponents should be ten times more dangerous and one tenth as numerous, ballpark.

But that’s just the last post. What about Jester’s other fundamentals?

Don’t blame others for what happens in PvP

I’m not really sure what you can do with this in PvE, except shutting down appeals for losing a ship to a mission you had no business taking. HTFU, people.

I know someone who lost a cruiser when they charged into their first Level 3 mission. They appealed it, and the GM replaced the ship.

I was, in a word, appalled. I’m plenty new-player-friendly, but come on. The player fucked up, they should deal with the consequences. Obviously. If they don’t want to lose ships, they should stay docked.

If you are flying with an FC, the FC’s word is law 

This isn’t even that complicated: LOTS of MMOs have complex instructions for their missions; by comparison, the missions in Eve are insultingly simple and boring. Give the players complex instructions for missions and either penalize the HELL out of their rewards if they screw it up or (just as acceptable) provide large bonuses if they get them all right — think of it as Hard Mode for a mission, with rewards for better performance, and the stuff the agent asks for is the same stuff that is routinely required in (say it with me) every other part of the game:

“Shoot only Target X. Leave everyone else standing. Yes, even the annoying bastards webbing you. Focus. Fucking. Fire.”

Sneak into the complex. Stay cloaked. Get within 10 km of Your Target, decloak, and Activate your [Mission Cyno]. Try not to die until the Module stops running, then warp out, but even if you get blown up, mission accomplished.  Forgot to stay cloaked, or just tried to kill everyone yourself? Everyone warps away, and you fail.

“Shoot Target X. STOP! Shoot Target Y! STOP! Shoot Target X again! X! X X X! Now Z, but keep a web on X! WEB ON X! STOP SHOOTING Z AND KILL X! KILL! X! GOOD! X is down! NOW RUUUUUUUUUUN!”

Movement is life

This goes back to ideas for several of the other principles. Small, fast ships should sometimes be the perfect solution for high-level missions. Also, with mission NPCs should be tougher, harder hitting, and less numerous, making movement more effective as a defensive measure.

PvE mission runners should understand that sometimes just getting to Point B as fast as possible is “Winning”, and they should learn that even when you bring a big ship, slow = dead. Afterburners are just as much a damage mitigation module as they are movement boosting.

Related to this, get rid of the 40-minute slugfests. Any “real” fight in Eve that a solo pilot or small gang has the slightest chance of winning  is going to be Nasty, Brutish, and Short. PvE pilots should have the same expectations in this regard as PvP pilots: if a fight goes past 5 minutes, it’s probably because something is going wrong, and they should consider getting out before reinforcements arrive.

(Yes, I know big fleets are sometimes different, but solo PvE teaches solo PvP in this case, right?)

Maintain situational awareness

Since we’ve got fewer NPCs on the field, we can make them meaner. More Neutralizers. More Webs. More Scrams. More Ewar. (Fewer ships on field mean that even the much-hated ECM NPCs can be dealt with with some Eletronic Counter Countermeasures ‘tank’ and target prioritization.)  Teach the pilots to pay attention to everything that’s happening and react to the problems in order of threat level, not just “shoot the biggest guys first.”

You are not your ship. You are not your pod

This just goes back to not flying what you can’t afford to lose. Ships are disposable, when it comes right down to it, and while losing them always sucks, quite often the win you pull off by sacrificing your ship makes the loss MORE than worth it. Big rewards for ‘sacrifice’ missions will take the sting out of it, I suspect: people are running missions to make isk, after all.

Learn from your defeats. Learn from your victories

Mission-writers can do some heavy lifting here. If the pilot takes a mission where ship-loss is highly likely, but saving the ship is possible, and the pilot fails to save the ship, have the mission-agent offer some tips and advice on how NOT to lose their ship the next time – yes, this is an opportunity to talk about transversal, spiral approaches, gun tracking, optimal ranges, and other such advanced stuff.

But That’s Not All…

I suspect this series will be in four parts. Part Three will cover the five Stages of a Mission, and I’ll wrap up in Part Four with suggestions for new missions, stolen directly from common solo and small-gang PvP scenarios. See you then.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (1/?)

When I first started playing Eve in earnest (which does not count the attempt some seven years ago) I went through all tutorials (this was only a few years ago, right after the new avatars, but before Incarna, so the tutorials weren’t as utterly terrible as they had once been), then did the Sister’s Epic Arc, and then started running missions.

I mean, that’s what you do in MMOs, right? Tutorial, then the mission chain the tutorials send you to, then take missions from whoever seems interested.

Mostly, I did those missions on my own, but I was sometimes joined (and often advised) by Gor, who was a veteran of High-sec PvE and any-sec industry. I remember the first time he actually rendezvoused with me in a system (Nine jumps away! The vast distance! Travel takes so long!), stoically floating next to my trusty Vexor cruiser in his slowly pulsating Megathron Navy Issue battleship. Many times, he would lead the way into a mission, knowing the massive bulk of his ship could handle virtually anything the NPCs could throw at him, and that I could safely proceed to pick off the small stuff without fear of reprisal.

Time passed, and I became interested in Exploration and eventually Wormholes. Once I’d gotten to what was probably the absolute BARE minimum level of skill for handling the most basic of Wormhole anomalies, I went hunting for them, and convinced Gor and CB to come along on a little daytrip into the first uninhabited system I found.

Gor brought one of his mission-running battleships.

It wasn’t pretty.

Gone was the idea that anyone was ‘safe’ in the site. Anyone on the field was a valid target, because the Sleepers switched primaries randomly, and even if they hadn’t, none of us could really handle the incoming damage: if you had a hole in your defenses – ANY kind of hole – the sleepers found it, bored in, and tore you to pieces from the inside.

After a dozen attempts at the site, we finally prevailed, looted the field, and limped back to known space. I’m fairly sure most of us were on fire.

Gor was, to put it mildly, peeved. Insulted, really. The way the sleepers had manhandled one of his best mission-running ships was just… well, it was clearly broken, is what it was — it was just ridiculous — he hadn’t been that close to losing a ship against an NPC in years.

Eventually (it didn’t even really take that long) we figured out how to fit ships that could handle sleepers, and we adapted our play to their little foibles as well. There were some painful losses along the way (and not all or even most to Sleepers), but we managed. Eventually, it all became routine — even the most challenging of PvE in Eve is pretty predictable, manageable stuff.

Later, I dropped into a random site in known space and was struck (shocked, really) by how EASY it was — compared to Sleepers, these known-space NPCs were a walk in the park. I even ran a couple missions — easily destroying objectives in an Ishkur frigate that I had once struggled to complete in a Myrmidon battlecruiser. Some of that was my increased training, yes, but far more was the simple fact that I’d been forced to up my game.

“I understand your frustration now,” I said to Gor. “These guys don’t prepare you for Sleepers in the least.”

“I know,” he said, sounding disgusted. “I almost didn’t come back to wormholes when you wanted to try again.”

Now imagine how much worse the shock is if, as someone new to PvP, you jump into a fight thinking that missions have prepared you for what’s to come.

You expect this.
You get this.

What’s that going to be like for the new PvPer?

Well, they’d be insulted. The way the other player(s) manhandled their ship was just… well, it’s clearly broken, is what it is — just ridiculous.

And that impression is not the fault of the PvP — it’s the way in which missions (and really any of the currently designed PvE) completely fails to prepare you for everything else in the game.

So how can you fix that in such a way as to make the PvE suck less (it is, honestly, quite poor — ironically the worst 10% of the game, yet all that 90% of new players ever experience) while preparing players for the sorts of the gameplay you’ll regularly encounter in PvP?

You Play the Way You Practice

Recently, Jester started up a PvP 101 series that I’m going to use as a sort of brainstorming blueprint for improving PvE in Eve. Jester’s guide is very good, and the things he mentions a player needs to consider are important regardless of what you’re doing in the game, so why not use the missions to teach those lessons, since that is where players coming in from other MMOs will start anyway?

The goal is three-fold, and the results are all beneficial: reduce or eliminate the profound culture shock that players experience when moving from missions to PvP, actually familiarize them with the skills and techniques they’ll use in that environment (beyond just “this is what a web is”), and improve the missions themselves by making them more interesting and engaging.

But… why?

Jester said this best, so let’s just let him explain it:

Player-versus-player combat in EVE is a rush that is very difficult or impossible to duplicate in other games. Your first few times in PvP battle, your heart rate will go up, your hands will shake, and you will have a visceral emotional reaction to what’s going on. Even after months or years, from time to time you will still have this reaction. When you are killed, you will feel compelled to obsess about why it happened and when you succeed, it is something that will cause you to smile for hours or days afterward.

Compare this to Eve’s PvE experience, which involves missions so boring that players routinely fall asleep if they run them for too long, and win anyway.

General Principles

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose.

One of the first and most profound differences between PvP and PvE in Eve is that, with PvE, Bigger is Always Better. This calls back to most traditional MMO designs in which the bigger and badder a mission is, the bigger and badder you need to be to defeat it. Think of any MMO where someone figures out how to beat a high-level mission on a low-level toon, and that method will quickly be labeled an exploit, a patch will be applied, and the innovative player in question should count themselves lucky they weren’t banned.

That’s… not how Eve works.

First of all, innovation in play is sort of the point.

But more importantly, this idiotic ship progression requirement in missions is teaching players the best ship for any given situation is the biggest fucking thing they can undock, and that is simply not the case in any other part of the game. Sometimes, you need something small and fast. Sometimes, you need something tough, and damage doesn’t matter. Often, you need something that’s got a bit of a bonus for a particular role.

Some faction warfare missions kind of work this way: in almost all of the highest-level faction warfare missions, the best ship for the task is the incredibly fragile stealth bomber frigate. That’s a fine start, but it’s ultimately a bad example, because it’s still just one ship type that must be used.

There’s a mission, for example, called The Reprisal, where you have to kill a commander flying a battleship. It’s one of several missions of this type in Faction Warfare, but in this case the target you need to kill flies quite fast (reducing the damage sustained from the bomber’s torpedoes) and actively repairs damage (eliminating what little damage he does take).

The solution to this problem in every other part of the game would be to get a fast interceptor or attack frigate to haul ass after the target, get a web and a warp scrambler on the guy, and pin him down while the bombers do their work.

Doesn’t work. NPCs don’t work like real ships, and can just go as fast as they like for as long as they like. Scramblers don’t work to shut down the high speed of the target, and without that a web doesn’t work nearly well enough.

So: the mission fails to teach players anything about how every other part of the game works.

How do the players deal with it?

They just decline the mission, because it’s terrible. Not worth the effort, and introduces no interesting game play.

Solution: change around the missions to let pvp modules (and pvp-style fittings) have significant impact. Have agents offer hints and suggestions to that effect. Level 1 missions might be as simple as flying a tackle frig in and holding down a target until the NPC battleship can land and take him down… but the exact same mission can be offered at level 4, except now the target in question has a web he uses on you, a heavy neutralizer he uses to cap you out, and let’s say five aggressive frigates flying escort that you need to deal with WHILE keeping the target pinned down.

That would be interesting. More, it would mean that the best solution for a level 4 mission isn’t whatever damned battleship you have in the hangar. Sometimes you need an Ares interceptor.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock.

And sometimes, you need something cheap and very, very disposable, because you know you’re going to lose it.

THAT is the thing that all but one mission in the whole game fails to teach:

Ships blow up. Pods blow up. They aren’t you and it isn’t the end of the world. You are immortal, so act like: reship and get back in the goddamn fight.

Frigates are just like any other consumable, and roughly as durable as these soda cans.

Missions should have unexpected twists and unknown triggers that may result in ship loss. To be somewhat balanced, those unexpected twists should happen more often when (a) the best ship for the mission is cheap and/or (b) the mission level is higher, or where the threat is clear and obvious in the mission text.

Adjust rewards to compensate, if you like, but ship loss should happen, and it should be no big deal.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation.

Thanks to the eve-surivival website, you can prepare up to your eyeballs for missions, but the preparation you do is completely unrelated to the preparation you do for any other part of the game.

Missions set up some of the most unrealistic expectations in terms of your ship survivability.  How many level 4 missions in the game involve warping into a site and seeing a kitchen sink collection of fifty ships on your overview, from frigates to battleships?

You know what mission runners do in that situation?

Target the closest guy and start firing. They already know they aren’t going to lose the ship.

You know how that same fight goes in a PvP situation?

Without support, your ship will be scrap before you lock your first target.

Imagine the culture shock when some experienced mission runner jumps through a gate, sees five pirates on his overview, and those five ships — one tenth the number of NPCs he just destroyed in his last mission — wipe him out before he can even get back to the gate.

“Unfair. Broken. Unfun. Impossible. Never going to do PvP.”

Solution: First, change up missions (again) so you aren’t always bringing your biggest, most expensive ships. Second, use the missions to set realistic expectations. That means cut the number of opponents in missions by a factor of ten, but increase the relative difficulty of “pure combat” missions by 10%, overall. A player familiar with missions should have learned how to assess threat levels in every other part of the game by participating in missions — it should be fun, but it should also bestow relevant experience.

There’s a mission — I think it’s the second to last mission in the Sisters of Eve epic arc — that kills a lot of ships. It’s a tough fight, especially for one player in a tech1 frigate.

And it’s just one guy.

Just one.

“One guy,” this mission says, “can be a credible threat.”

It’s a good mission. It has value.

… and then you get done with the arc, and you go to normal missions, and get something called The Barricade and learn you can ignore all that “single ship is credible threat” bullshit.

But Wait, There’s More

This post is going on a lot longer than I’d expected, so lets break it up into multiple posts and see where we end up.

More soon.

In the meantime, grab a frigate, look up a friend in game who does that scary PvP stuff, and see if you can tag along.

Believe me, it’s not that bad.

Life in Eve: Heavy Hangs the Head

This bit of reflection came out of a (sadly) half-finished conversation with Dave and Margie, where we were talking about my time with Faction Warfare in Eve, and their time playing Ingress.

The Minmatar/Amarr faction war zone has been a little crazy the last few months. Amarr units have been on an organized tear, capturing a sizable chunk of territory — more than I’d ever seen them take over, actually — enough to have a clear advantage in terms of system control. More, they’ve held onto it for quite some time.

Disconcerting, but also (weirdly) a bit of a relief. The last few months prior to that push, our group had been involved in occupying and defending a constellation of systems that, to be honest, we just didn’t have quite enough people to manage, especially in the face of the previously mentioned Amarr offensive. We held on fairly well, and even managed to push our side’s war zone control back up to tier 4 (out of five) for awhile, but it was exhausting, and eventually we just wore out and retreated to an area where we had more allies and fewer systems to worry about.

Now, with the pressure to hold ground gone, we’re left fighting roving battles across a landscape that, thanks to Amarr taking a bunch of systems, suddenly presents many more targets of opportunity. This, like the rest, is a new experience for me. I came into the war at a time of Minmatar dominance (selecting Minmatar over Gallente primarily because I wanted to shoot slavers more than I wanted to shoot corpo-fascists), and often had to wander over to the Gallente/Caldari war zone and fight with my allies, because with the Amarr holed up in fewer than five systems (out of ~70), there just wasn’t much to do. Things have changed: with half the war zone in Amarr hands, the question isn’t what to do, but what to do first.

The current situation has given us many opportunities for spirited autocannon debate.

And in some cases, “what to do” ends up being “recapture lost systems.” This opportunity arises because (as we’ve learned and the Amarr presumably are now discovering) holding big chunks of territory is kind of… wearying, and that seems to be by design.

See, a lot of the ‘draw’ of being on the winning side in a conflict is the idea that you’ll reap nice benefits. This is true in faction warfare… to a point. It turns out dominating the whole war zone isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. As you approach high levels of war zone control, it becomes far more difficult to hold it and/or capitalize on advantage. The costs of system upgrades increase exponentially, until you get to a point where holding the highest tiers of control cost more than you’re making — you’re better off dropping down to a less resource-intensive, easier-to-maintain, albeit slightly less profitable level.

In short, achieving total dominance is a hollow victory: it’s costly to keep up, the rewards gleaned at the highest levels don’t justify the effort, and if you’re just logging in for some quick and easy fun, the fact you pretty much own everything means (thanks to little enemy territory and a demoralized foe) you have no options for entertainment… which is rather the point of a game.

Conversely, now that the Minmatar are behind the Amarr in terms of war zone control, we have lots to do, but still have a good resource base to work with. It doesn’t hurt that many of the main Amarr groups don’t seem to have much patience for the slog of territory ownership — the lure of a good fight usually prevails, and it feels to me as though they’re getting bored with the drudgery of being on top.

That’s okay: we’ll seesaw our way to the top, if they’re sick of it, then they can take it back, and on and on in perpetual, bloody, entertaining motion. I’ve seen far worse designs.

CCP has struggled to achieve this balance for a long time in Faction Warfare — as my friend Dave has observed, it’s not a problem unique to Eve — and they’ve made more than a few slips and trips on the way, but it seems to me as though they’ve finally hit very near a sweet-spot that reminds a bit of Conan:  Lots of fun and rewards in the midst of struggle, but heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and how willing the king becomes to throw down scepter and rejoin the fray.

I can’t imagine CCP could wish for much more.

Life in Eve: How I Learned to Love Hating “Safe Zones” in New Eden

I didn’t intend to write any more stuff about CCP and the development direction of Eve; it’s not really what I do.

However, I was having a good discussion on Reddit about yesterday’s post (someone put it up there and I dropped in to say hello), and one of the threads of conversation gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea. It started like this. Someone asked:

But don’t you worry that it [restriction on non-consensual PvP] could compromise the unique identity that EVE has built for itself?

I think it’s clear from yesterday’s post that the personal answer I came to in regards to that question is ‘no’. I said:

I love the scams, the free for alls, the Asakai’s, the alliances disbanded from within, the wormhole ambushes, bomber’s bars, freighter ganks on the way to Jita, and the 70-minute logi-assisted lowsec complex brawls. I love it all. But looking at it from CCP’s point of view, I believe they’ve got to be asking hard questions about whether or not they can introduce a few [safe] systems in New Eden… like… hell, I dunno, the 1.0 and 0.9 systems and training systems, or something. That might be all it takes to reduce the number of “tried it, hated it, everyone’s fucking evil on that game” guys who leave four hours into the trial period. If I’m CCP, and I have any faith in the game at all, I have to believe that if I can keep that trial guy around even a little longer, I’ll secure another player.

Except I didn’t say [safe] systems — I said “Mandatory Safeties Green” systems.

Because that’s all it would take, isn’t it? Certain systems where everyone’s safeties get flipped green and locked there until you leave the system. Easy, easy code.

More importantly, it gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea for building a storyline around this. Stay with me.

1. We have pirate rookie ships on the test servers right now.

Pretty cool, no?

2. Based on the existence of pirate rookie ships, we can assume (for a moment) that CCP is seriously considering a way for players to switch their allegiance to a pirate faction.

Y’see,  there’s no way to get rookie ships of a particular faction in the game unless someone in the game is a member of that faction. So it follows that if these rookie ships exist, there’s going to be some way for players to join those factions, sort of faction warfare style.

3. If that happens, imagine a significant number of pilots will do that, and damn the consequences.
I really don't think this is a very difficult thing to imagine, knowing our playerbase.

4. Let’s further assume that being in a pirate faction is more than just vapid window dressing.

If the certain mechanics in the game are slightly different for pirate faction players (such as the stuff Jester suggested a few months ago), you see a sudden and serious upswing in player-on-player violence. I’m thinking specifically of the idea of pirate faction players getting paid bounties by their pirate faction not for killing NPC rats, but for killing empire players — kind of like how faction warfare rewards you with loyalty points when you kill war targets — and paying out especially well against those players with high sec status.

High sec status: that’s important. It means that a veteran carebear who should know how to protect his shit is a far more attractive target than a two-day-old newb in his first catalyst.

5. In response to this upswing in “terrorism” (which, ironically, CCP engineered), CONCORD implements highly intrusive, insulting levels of “security” in certain high-profile areas of New Eden.

CONCORD reveals the ability to remotely lock a pilot’s ship system’s safeties to Green, something they’ve perhaps always been able to do and haven’t had a good excuse to try.

It’s security theatre, and offers no demonstrable levels of increased safety for anyone, but they do it anyway.

As an American who flies frequently, I'm sure I have NO IDEA what that's like.

6. People hate this new restriction, but (at least for the most part), they hate CONCORD for it, not CCP.

This effect can be ensured if CCP drops hints that it’s just a “storyline” restriction — a yoke we will be able to throw off later, if resistance in-game is high enough. In addition to player resistance, you can have some empire factions that rage against it (Gallente, Minmatar), some that seethe quietly (Amarr), and those that openly embrace it as a natural fit (Caldari).

The Amarr: great seethers.

7. The story concludes in summer of 2014 with some kind of in-game event.

In this event, capsuleers band together to say “This is not how New Eden works!” and shuts this CONCORD restriction off.

Seems to me this would:

  1. Be a pretty neat story arc.
  2. Combined with the pirate faction stuff that offers ‘bounties’ for high sec status kills, simultaneously add ‘safe zones’ and make New Eden more violent.
  3. Sort of ‘build the brand’ of Eve – what a great story that would be for the news outlets, when all of New Eden rises up to state, as part of an in-game event: “Nowhere is safe, and we like it that way.” What a neat way to get players to band together: sort of an in-character Summer of Rage, with beneficial effects (press) for the company and the game.
  4. Give CCP a year-long window in which to cushion new players a bit.

I dunno. Seems kind of cool to me. Thoughts?

Life in Eve: Life on the Playground

My kids go to a charter school. This may not mean much to anyone reading this, so I’ll sum up what it means to me by saying that charter schools are basically public schools with limited enrollment, where the parents are encouraged if not in fact required to be more involved. There’s an after school program my daughter’s in that literally would not be running at all if her mom didn’t volunteer every week to come in and help the teacher with it, which she does because she feels it’s worth the time commitment.

And in any case, we have to volunteer: every kid’s family must log at least 40 hours at the school every year.

I do most of my volunteer time as a playground monitor for recess. I like it: I get to see my kids, meet their friends, play the gruff but affable grownup. Whatever.

And I get to watch the kids play, which is always… enlightening. The first time I ever did a session as a monitor, I found out that when my daughter isn’t doing kinematic dismounts off the jungle gym, she plays soccer. Impromptu, full-tilt, free-for-all soccer. On the concrete basketball court. And is – literally – the only girl out there, among a surging riptide of boys who clearly aren’t planning to cut her any slack. She makes her own choices. Good thing to know what they are.

During one recess, I spotted a kid making a different choice. Something of a reverse of Kaylee, he was one of the few boys not playing soccer. Instead, he’d found a railing to perch on, mostly turned away from the rest of the playground, and was eyeballs deep in a story, the hardback book about as thick as The Stand, though probably a bit less apocalyptic.

Oh man, I thought, I’ve so been that kid. And I had. Not always, but if I was in the middle of a really good story and recess rolled around? Kickball could fucking wait, you know?

Then, while I watched, a couple other kids crept over and dumped a backpack full of woodchips over the kid’s head, which kicked my level of empathy up a notch. I’d been there too, once or twice.

What did I, parental playground monitor, do? Nothing. To my mind, as much as it sucks, it’s not so very different from the challenging academic curriculum at the school — it’s the same reason I don’t make the soccer players stop when one of them comes over with basketball court road rash all up his (or her) arm. Choices. Consequences. Good stuff. In any case, the woodchip backpack dumpers didn’t repeat the assault, and the book reader just brushed off the pages and kept reading. If he wasn’t going to reward them with a reaction, I certainly wasn’t going to. A minute or so later, two of his friends (good friends, I think, one boy and one girl) came over and cleaned the wood chips off his head and uniform — he hadn’t bothered, not while anyone was watching — then sat down with him and kept an eye on his six while he read them parts he liked.

(Okay, maybe I wandered over and stood in more direct line-of-sight of the kid’s perch. But that’s it.)

Would I have got involved if the kids had come back with another backpack full? Probably. If the backpack had been full of rocks? Obviously. If the kid had come to me for help? Sure, if only to offer advice. Otherwise? No.

But let’s change the situation a little bit.

What if, instead of recess, this was some kind of independent after-school program: A massive playground, offering virtually every kind of activity any kid could want to do, but at a cost.

Further, I’m not a volunteer in this scenario, but an employee, and there are a bunch of other, competing, similar-but-different programs like this out there.

Does that maybe change the way I approach that situation? Of course it does. It’s not about letting the kids have a ‘tough love’ experience that will hopefully make them a more self-reliant person. It’s not, in fact, about education of any kind — it’s about making money by providing entertainment. It’s about retaining customers, which in turn is about making those customers — all of those customers — happy.

With me so far?

Okay, let’s talk about Eve Online.

The Eve Playground is a product — it exists to make money for those running it, and while as a product it might satisfy many other needs among its playerbase (most of them social), when you get down to brass tacks, the company that maintains it serves no other purpose higher than “Be a profitable business.”

And let’s be fair: Eve is a pretty good product. Eve players like to joke about “this terrible game” (and it’s true that at the end of a decade, parts are showing their age), but as far as full-featured playgrounds go, it’s got a lot to offer: pretty much everything to offer, really, when it comes to playgrounds, whether you want play in a prefab treehouse, build your own treehouse, conduct mock battles between tree house kingdoms, explore the vast woods out back, play dodgeball, crawl around on jungle gyms, play in the big playhouse with surprisingly accurate hardware and fully functioning Easy Bake Oven, or even sit off on the side, your back to almost everyone, and read.

“You can do any of that,” the pamphlet assures the prospective parent, and it’s technically true.

But there are problems.

2012 was about spending time dealing with the things which build up in a game that has been running for nearly 10 years.

That’s CCP Unifex, Executive Producer at CCP. To figure out what Unifex is talking about, look at what the company did with the game in 2012. I think a fair summary would be “make the game more accessible for new players, and give those same new players something close to a fighting chance against the kids who’ve been on the playground a lot longer.” Yes, some of the changes did other things as well, but ALL of them affected new players. All the ship classes immediately available to new players: buffed up across the board. Major “late game” mechanics like logistics, brought down to entry-level gameplay. Improved (if still not great) tutorials. Ever-so-slightly simplified systems. A UI more like the UI of modern software systems. A vastly improved Faction Warfare model (already one of the better new-player-accessible, NPC-‘controlled’ systems in the game).

It’s easy to see why to make the game more new-player accessible, but a lot of the effort with ships and so forth isn’t so much about immediate accessibility as it is leveling the playing field. Why is that a big deal?

Well, this playground is pretty fucking rough on newcomers when you get right down to it.

CCP has always adopted a very hands-off approach to their playground: technically, you have the right to sit off in the corner and read, but at the same time, that other group of kids “have the right” to play dodgeball, and on this particular playground, that “right” extends to the fact that some of those kids will include anyone they feel like in their dodgeball game, even if the kid in question is doing something else and doesn’t have the least interest in dodgeball.

Yes, if they come over and smash the book reader (or the jungle gym crawlers, or the kids playing cops and robbers) in the face with the ball, they’ll get a minor time out, but no one’s going to call their parents, and they will never lose their access to either the ball or the playground. Doing so would deny them the activity they want to engage in on playground, right?

Except their activity, the way they’ve chosen to play it, makes it impossible for those other face-smashed kids to use the playground their way.

To which the free-for-all Dodgeballer says “Fuck those kids. They’re fucking lame anyway.”


Except those kids pay to use the playground, too.

In fact, there are a LOT MORE of those kids than Dodgeball kids, ESPECIALLY if you only count the dodgeball kids who forcibly include everyone on the playground in their game. That numeric discrepancy is a real problem if you’re the guys running the playground, because (a) some of those non-dodgeball kids will leave —

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

— and more importantly, a bunch of potential kids who have never tried out this playground never will, because people talk, and what they say isn’t always good. “Come get a fat lip from a dodgeball while you’re innocently playing house,” isn’t a marketable ad campaign.

Welcome to Eve. Here's a free wrench.

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

See, the kids on the playground are, collectively, pretty much shit at fixing this problem, because kids don’t want to stop doing whatever it is that is most fun for them. Even the most approachable dodgeball players can only go so far as to offer sarcastic advice about how to change the way everyone else plays, or point out how the book-reader’s habits made the face-smashing too much for a dodgeballer to resist.

“It’s really their fault, you see,” they explain. “If they were more like us, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

And they’re wrong, of course. There still would be a problem. If you’re the guys running a playground that says “Here is a place where you can play however you like, but you’ll have to respect this playstyle more than any others”, you will reach a point where everyone who’s likely to find that playground fun is already there.

That’s fine, if you’re playing dodgeball: you have enough people to play your game.

That’s not fine if you’re running the business, because businesses need to grow.

And it could be Eve has already reached that point of saturation. Forget dodgeball: heaven help you if you’re some kid who wants to build their own tree house (and really who hasn’t wanted that at some point in their lives?): all the tree houses are controlled by four or five major tween gangs, and they will gleefully curb stomp anyone who tries to join in without an invitation and/or humiliating servitude. Dodgeballers are a Hello Kitty birthday party by comparison.

This is, if you ask the treehouse guys, not really a problem at all.

So what’s CCP going to do?

Not what they ‘should’ do; I’m not arrogant or blinkered enough to pretend to know better than a company that’s managed ten years of success — I’ll leave that to other bloggers.

No: what are they obviously going to (or must) do?

EVE is a universe where you can do all sorts of things, and we will continue […] expanding on what’s available to do. We’ll do this with releases that are themed around some aspect of the New Eden universe.

This means […] we will find a theme that can connect features and changes that touch multiple play styles in EVE across a spectrum of activities like exploration, industry, resource gathering and conflict.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

So: any expansions they work on, going forward, will (ideally) expand play options for everyone from the book reader to the dodgeballer to the treehouse warlord to the woodland explorer. Smart.

There are some people who […] enable others to have fun in EVE. […] We believe that helping these […] archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive. […] We want to make EVE more accessible […] as a way to find new features to develop for play styles or time requirements where we have gaps today.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

Eve is a playground, yes. Play how you like, yes.

But Eve is also a product, and CCP needs that product to reach more people. In order to do that, they need to level the playing field not just between new and old characters, but between play styles.

And that means that at some point, it’s not the kid reading the book in the corner that’s going to need to adjust the way they play, for the continued growth of the playground.

Maybe – just maybe – that means dodgeballers find out that it’s a lot harder to involve unwilling participants in their game. Which, as a dodgeballer myself, I think is fine, because we hardly lack for willing players.

Maybe – just maybe – it will mean that it will become a lot harder to hold on to multiple treehouses, and a lot easier to hold on to just one. Again, I think that’s good, because war games are more interesting with more people involved.

Do I think there’s some place in Eve for a safe zone? I don’t know, and guess what: I’m not being paid by CCP to come up with a definitive yes or no answer. I do think it’s a question worth asking periodically: is non-consensual PvP really that big a part of what defines Eve and makes it a great game?

Food for thought: There were two big events in Eve last week, related to PvP — events that verifiably brought in new players when they got out into the larger news: a single-misclick that turned into one of the most massive super-capital fights that low security space has ever seen, and 28,000 destroyed ships in a pre-planned free for all in null-security space.

You know what those two events had in common? They were consensual PvP. Yes, one started because of a misclick, but it was a misclick that — even if it had been executed properly — was meant to start a fight. In fact, any of the really big stories that have come out of Eve in the last 10 years — the scams, the fights, the alliance-killing betrayals — all consensual PvP of one kind or another, as defined by where it happened, or the people and groups involved.

High-sec mining barge ganks don’t make the news; they don’t bring in new players.

What to nail me down on something? I do think consensual PvP is better. More interesting. More compelling. More sustainably fun in the long run, for the largest number of people. I’ve done both kinds, and when it all comes down to it, I’d rather play dodgeball with the other kids who came to play dodgeball.

I didn’t start out playing dodgeball, you know. I was playing cops and robbers in the ‘safe’ part of the playground, and played for long enough without getting face-smashed (much) that I got interested in everything else going on.

But I was lucky.

CCP really can’t rely on “lucky” anymore. They’re going to need a few more monitors stepping in if they want more kids paying the bills.

Life in EvE: “I’m not a Pirate.”

A few nights ago, members of the militia had banded together to work on retaking an Amarr-held system in the warzone. This was a pretty big undertaking, and to pull it off in a relatively short timeframe required round the clock participation; it wouldn’t be enough for our US-timezone-heavy alliance to do it, because any Amarr active in EU and Aussie areas would just undo our work.

So the fleet is a mix of lots of different corps and alliances, with lots of different countries represented. It’s fair to say we all have a slightly different way of looking at how life in the warzone works.

This eventually led to an enlightening conversation.

As we’re capturing yet another complex in the enemy system, recon reported a fairly good-sized fleet coming in, but they aren’t Amarr — it’s a gang of pilots under the Ivy League banner — graduates of Eve University who like to slum out in low- and null-sec space from time to time.

Sure enough, they headed for the complex, jumped in, and started shooting. I’m left with a bit of a problem.

None of them were viable targets for me.

They weren’t outlaws, they weren’t in faction warfare, we don’t have a secondary war declared with them, and they haven’t suddenly been flagged as criminals or “suspects” for engaging our fleet, because they’re only shooting those pilots on the field who are outlaws and, thus, legal targets for the technically law-abiding Ivy Leaguers.

Luckily, two things happened: first, the support ships in the Ivy League fleet started repairing their fleet mates, which flagged them as part of a legal ‘limited engagement’ that I’m somehow part of and, second, our fleet commander called those same pilots our primary targets. It’s like two great tastes that explode when put together.

Long story short, we stomp the other fleet pretty handily. Go us.

Later, I commented that for those of us in the fleet who actually care about our security status, it’s handy — if a bit silly — that the guys supporting the enemy fleet became viable targets for repairing the combatants, even if the combatants themselves never did.

“Just shoot everyone,” says the FC. “If you’re living in Low-sec space and you aren’t an outlaw, you’re doing it wrong.”

“I’m fighting a war,” I replied. “I’m not a fucking pirate.”

So… What Can You Shoot, You Pansy?

One of the things that was added in the most recent expansion was the idea of a “Safety” that, like a gun safety, generally keeps you from doing anything that’s too terribly stupid without a bit of forethought. The basic settings for the safety are:

  • Green: The game won’t let you do anything that would cause you to be flagged Suspect, which in turn lets anyone at all in the game legally shoot at you until the flag wears off in 15 minutes. Not coincidentally, this safety setting also prevents many of the actions that lower your overall security standing.
  • Yellow: The game will let you do things that will flag you Suspect, but won’t let you do anything that would flag you Criminal. This means you can do stuff that will allow player retaliation, but you won’t pick up that flag that will cause CONCORD to instantly destroy you if you wander into High Security space with the flag active.
  • Red: You can do anything, anywhere, and damn the consequences.

It may surprise you to learn that you can (if you want) take part in Faction Warfare full-bore without ever switching your Safety off of green.1 That’s how I’ve chosen to roll, most of the time.2 Here are a list of my viable targets:

War Targets (Faction War) – This one is kind of obvious. If the target is part of the opposing forces in the war, you can do whatever you like to each other. If it’s gold and shiny, you are hereby encouraged to shoot it.
War Targets (Declared War) – This is more of a specialized thing, as it shows up for any member of a group for which your corp or alliance have a privately declared, CONCORD-approved war active. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same as a faction warfare target.
Outlaws – This has nothing to do with wars of any kind — the target simply has such a bad security rating that any and all pilots in New Eden are encouraged to make them explode, and may do so wherever they like.
Criminals – This may seem a bit redundant with Outlaw, but the distinction is important: An Outlaw’s standing makes them a perpetual target, while someone with a Criminal flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Pretty much the only thing in low-sec that will give you a Criminal flag is destroying the pod of a non-wartarget.
Suspects – Like the Criminal flag, a Suspect flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Unlike the Criminal flag, there are quite a lot of actions in Low-sec that will give you this flag — the short list includes attacking non-wartarget ships (not pods) and looting containers or wrecks owned by someone else. This is useful to law-abiding Faction Warfare guys if some non-Outlaw neutral attacks some non-Outlaw militia member – you’ll see the stranger pick up a Suspect flag, and know that he’s become a viable target for retaliation.
Limited Engagement Participant – Of all the flags, this one is the most opaque to me, with the most obscure and possibly goofy mechanics. The basic idea is that it’s supposed to allow you to shoot back when someone you wouldn’t normally be able to attack starts shooting at you. It’s also been set up to flag anyone who helps someone you’re engaged with, such as someone repairing your opponent. If that were all that happened, it would be pretty simple, but what I’m seeing in practice is where the weirdness creeps in.

For instance: I’m in a fleet with Pilot A. Pilot Z (who normally isn’t a legal target) shoots Pilot A. Pilot A is now in a limited engagement with Pilot Z, but I am not — I still have no legal targets. Pilot Y starts repping Pilot Z, joins the limited engagement with Pilot A, and is also flagged as being in a limited engagement with me, even though I still can’t legally shoot Pilot Z, and haven’t done anything to help Pilot A.

I mean, I’m not complaining, because it gives me a legal target, but… what?

Kill Right Available – This is another slightly odd one. The pilot with this tag has, at some point in the past, done something that has given another pilot “kill rights” on that pilot. Typically, this means they either blew up a ship or pod in high-sec, or killed a pilot’s pod in low-sec. Kill rights mean that if you get on the same combat grid as that pilot, you can ‘activate’ the the kill right, which makes that pilot a legal target for anyone for the next fifteen minutes — kill rights now basically deputize the victim pilot for the purpose of dishing out single-serve retribution. In turn, the “kill right available” flag shows up because the pilot who ‘owns’ kill rights has made them publicly available — meaning anyone can activate them. SO: the pilot with this tag isn’t a legal target, but he can be made one.

So: that’s the stuff you can shoot legally, and thus preserve your law-abiding security status.

I’m not a pirate, so this matters to me. Maybe it will to you, too.

1 – Granted, this isn’t saying much; you can leave it green in null-sec or wormhole space too; it doesn’t affect those areas in the least.

2 – When we were ousted from Faction Warfare for a couple days, I fought in one battle against the Amarr in which I had to “go yellow” to engage called targets, and I did, because it was necessary for the war. In all the other fights, the Amarr conveniently engaged me first or were Outlaw enough I could shoot them regardless.

Life in Eve: Retribution is Coming #eveonline

So last night, I actually found myself online at the same time as Em, and we had time to talk about the changes coming up with “Retribution” — the winter expansion. The upshot of that conversation was that a lot of the stuff that I’d categorized as “everybody know this is coming” was stuff that Em hadn’t heard about yet.

So I figured I’d list out pretty much everything I’m aware of that’s coming with Retribution. A few caveats:

  • I’m not going to talk about Crime Watch and the new Bounty system, because not much has been posted about it yet.
  • I’m going to be briefly summarize the changes, but this is still going to be a monster of a post. Can’t be helped: there’s a TON of stuff coming in this expansion.

Now then, let’s get started:

Faction Warfare

  • WAR ZONE CONTROL – War zone control does not currently encourage players to hold space, only to upgrade Infrastructure-hubs when they need to buy stuff from the LP store (upgraded warzone control gives truly massive store discounts for the limited time the upgrade is in place). The upcoming change removes the  discounts, and modifies the amount of loyalty points you earn doing FW stuff instead.They’re also going to make it harder to upgrade and downgrade the control in individual systems within the war zone, which should make whatever tier you’re at more ‘sticky’.There are a number of things they’re putting in to make this happen, but basically offensively taking out offensive complexes won’t ‘bleed’ the stability of a system’s upgrades quite as hard (though it will still pay as well), defensively plexing in a contested system will actually reward you something other than standing, and guys can’t just farm some system that’s been stripped down to a totally vulnerable state for days on end — vulnerable systems will give offensive plex-runners no payout at all.Opinion: Greed is a good motivator. This should encourage factions to actually keep and maintain desirable levels of zone control for the  LP bonus rather than just push to the max level for 40 minutes every couple weeks to ‘cash out’. More zone control effort = more fights. The changes to the loyalty point payouts for offensive, defensive, and vulnerable-system plexing are very good — see the other FW Complex Changes, below.
  • NEW SYSTEM UPGRADES – Current benefits from upgrading a system are a bit lame, especially in systems with no stations. The new iteration will, per level of upgrade in a system, add:
    • More manufacturing, copy, research, and invention slots in stations
    • Reduction in ship repair costs
    • Reduction in market taxes
    • Reduction in manufacturing times (this one is a pretty huge deal)
    • Reduction to starbase fuel cost (only happens twice, at tiers 3 and 5)
    • Able to anchor Cyno Jammer (only at tier 5 control of the system) to prevent getting an enemy capital ship fleet dropped on you. This is a special item and basically takes about 5 or 10 minutes to spool up, and lasts an hour.
  • FW COMPLEX CHANGES – there’s a whole lot of changes to make it harder or outright impossible to ignore PvP in plexes. CCP wants these locations to be a good hot point for fights (anything to change things so every single fight isn’t on a gate or a station is a good thing, in my opinion), and they’re doing a lot of good stuff to make that happen.
    • The ‘capture’ beacon will be moved a lot closer to the entrance to the complex, so attackers don’t have to first traverse 60 to 100 kilometers of empty space to get within range of their target.
    • All beacon capture ranges will be normalized to 30km.
    • Any hostile pilots or hostile NPCs inside the complex will prevent the capture timer from counting down, so if an enemy shows up, you need to kill ’em or drive them off.
    • They’re adding a frigate-only complex, and reorganizing which ships can get into each of the four types of complexes, focusing on restrictions based strictly on size, not tech level of the ships.
    • Since complexes can’t be captured if there are enemy NPCs active in the complex, you need to be able to kill them, though there will be fewer (only one active a time), so you can legitimately do this technically PvE activity with PvP-fit ships. (Also, they don’t spawn if there’s any PvP happening.) Also, the NPCs will be active-tanked to a level appropriate to their ships size, which means that there shouldn’t be any more situations where a frigate is soloing a battlecruiser-class complex.Opinion: All in all, good changes; a hard counter to the no-gun, warp-away, risk-adverse, plex-farming bullshit going on right now.

Mission NPCs (including Faction Warfare NPCs)

All mission NPCs will get upgraded to the “sleeper AI”, modified somewhat. That means that NPCs in all missions will switch targets based on threat (instead of just aggroing the first guy who warps into the site and sticking to him until killed). They will target drones less than Sleepers do and will, if possible, target ships of roughly the same class as themselves, provided such targets exist.

Opinion: The fact that supposedly hardcore EvE players are whining about NPCs finally obeying “threat” code that’s been standard in MMOs for ten years makes me laugh. Harden the fuck up.

Many Ship Changes are Coming

Well over 40 ships are either being revamped, tweaked, or simply created from scratch. Starting from the smallest and working our way up…

Tech1 Exploration Frigates

These ships are, today, basically used as disposable ships for lighting Cynos, and that’s about it. CCP wants to see them in their intended role: solo running of high-sec exploration sites throughout New Eden — a great occupation for newer players — or to support more advanced ships in low-sec, null-sec, or wormhole space. They’re all getting bonuses to hacking, archaeology, and salvaging so you can use them to both probe and run the “mini-profession” sites. Their combat ability has been directed at drones (3 or 4 unbonused light drones) instead of weak weapon bonuses — enough to kill the rats in high-sec sites (although a combat frig will clear them faster) — fit a light active tank, drop drones, and kite.

Opinion: The only downside to these changes is that it makes all four the ships feel sort of… the same. That said, they should be good at what they’re intended to do, and a good way for a new pilot to practice scanning and make some money. Now, if they’d just change the hull for the Imicus — god that’s a stupid-looking ship…

Tech1 EWar Frigates

Since these were formerly “low-tier” frigates, they’re getting pretty significant buffs to make them ‘as good as other frigates’, while focusing on their given role. CCP’s goal is to see these ships become commonly used by newer players to take useful roles in fleets of many different sizes. CCP has also said they expect to release them alongside some tweaks to certain ewar mechanics themselves (for instance, the Griffin getting another mid-slot for yet more ECM, but apparently ECM’s getting tweaked so that it’s going to balance out).

The Crucifier (Amarr) and Vigil (Minmatar) are being bonused towards longer-range disruption, while the Griffin (Caldari) and Maulus (Gallente) are more medium range oriented.  CCP has also said that some EWar was over-nerfed in the past (hello, Gallente) and will be looked at.

Tech1 Support Frigates — Your first “healer” ship

One of the coolest things CCP is doing with this expansion is establish better ‘training’ paths for certain classes of ships — you want to be the support/repair/buff guy? Well, you don’t have to wait two months to finally fly a viable ship! You can start with Support Frigates, move to Support Cruisers, and then to the tech2 Logistics Cruisers that we all know.

Each race will be getting a tech one support frigate, bonused in remote repairing. (10% bonus to repair amount per level, 10% reduction in capacitor draw for reppers per level, and a flat 500% bonus to remote repair module ranges). They’re also giving them more scan resolution across the board, cutting the cycle time of small remote armor and shield reps in half so that these ships can respond more quickly to the fast pace of frigate combat, and reducing the fitting requirements of these modules. These ships have a max rep range of 28.8km with Tech2 rep modules and are generally among the slowest of the tech one frigates.

The Support Frigates are generally created from the ‘mining’ frigates that no one ever uses for anything, ever. This is perhaps the trickiest part of the winter frigate rebalance, since CCP is creating an entirely new role for frigates in a fleet, and hopefully shaking up frigate and other small-gang combat quite a bit.

These ships are, by design, weaker for their size than Tech2 Logistics Ships. This reflects both the lower cost and Skill investment and the design goal that they add to current frigate warfare without eclipsing all the other ships in the lineup.

More Tech1 Combat Frigates

We’ve already seen the changes to the Merlin, Incursus, Rifter (not much change), Punisher, and Tormentor (the mini-Armageddon — a design philosophy in which CCP acknowledges that the Amarr battleships are the best the Amarr has for PvP, so let’s copy those designs in miniature). These last three round out the Combat Frigate lines to 8 ships, two for each race. All three tend to favor long-range combat.

The Kestrel, in contrast to the heavier-tanked, gun-toting Merlin, is the start of the Caldari training path for pure missile damage. It’s going to do good damage with any type of missiles you can fit on it, with great range. It’s also going to be quite a bit more fragile than the new Merlin, though tougher than the older version of itself. It’s also getting a bit faster.

The Tristan is moving away from being a mix of missiles and guns, to being a mix of guns and drones. It will be able to field a full flight of light drones, with almost a full second flight of replacements or utility. It’s guns are bonused for tracking, to deal with the fact that it will probably fit railguns over blasters (it has a nice bonus to targeting range). It’s about as slow and tough as you remember. It’s going to be a hell of a fun ship to bring on frigate roams.

Finally, the Breacher is another missile-boat. It gets an agnostic missile damage bonus, like the Kestrel, but (and I like this) it’s second bonus is to shield repair amounts, making it a tiny, missile-tossing Cyclone. I approve.

New ORE Mining Frigate (Please name it the Chribba.)

Designed as an entry-level mining ship, this will replace the old mining frigates in the Industry Career Path tutorials. It has an outstanding mining output, capacitor, and mobility, with an astounding (for a frigate) ore hold of 5000 cubic meters. Its purpose is to be a fast hull capable of mining in hostile space (even if the current value of high-sec ore defeats this goal quite a bit). It also serves as an AMAZING gas harvester. With its inherent +2 warp core strength bonus, it should stand a fair chance of doing its job without being instantly tackled and killed.

With it’s bonuses, the ship can do with two mining lasers what it would take any other ship five lasers to accomplish. This means that when gas harvesting, it’s output as good as any gas-harvesting battlecruiser you care you name, with almost twice as much ‘ore’ cargo capacity for that gas.  Even without a propulsion mod, it can be built to be practically unscannable, cruise around at close to 500 meters per second, and align-to-warp in 2.5 seconds.

Oh, and it gets a flight of three light drones.

I will buy these things by the six-pack.

Existing Destroyers Rebalanced

CCP sees destroyers trading resilience and mobility for firepower. Existing destroyers are mostly fine as they are right now, but they are getting a few tweaks, notably the Coercer, which is in sad shape.

The Coercer is getting a second medium slot (finally!), losing a low in the process. It also got more CPU and Powergrid, so it can squeeze on the largest small lasers (once those weapon’s fitting requirements are changed, see below).

The Cormorant swaps one medium out for a new low slot. Capacitor, agility, and signature radius were inconsistent with other Caldari ships and were adjusted.

The Thrasher and Catalyst were barely touched.

Four New Destroyers

The new destroyers keep the same role as existing hulls – anti-frigate platforms. However they use alternate weapon systems to reach that goal, which means drones and missiles. Next to the existing destroyers, they have slightly less mobility, more signature radius, less capacitor, but are a bit tougher, with better damage projection due to the weapon types they use. Price will be roughly the same as existing destroyers.

Amarr: The Amarr destroyer is designed to take down opposition through indirect means. It gets bonuses to drone damage and hit points, and 20% range bonus to energy vampire and neutralizer modules (which will take up some or all of its six turrets with small neuts that reach out to about 13 kilometers). It’s basically sort of a mini-Curse. The damage is nothing special, but energy disruption ability plus drone control makes it, potentially, a real game changer in smaller fights. Like the Arbitrator, it has large bay of drones (able to field flights of five light drones at a time), giving it many options and utility choices.

Caldari: Missiles, missiles, missiles, missiles, that’s what this hull is all about. It spams missiles from eight launchers at quite a long range, and boasts improved explosion velocity to catch those pesky annoying little orbiting frigates.

GallenteCombines both turret and drone damage. Will probably have five turrets bonused for tracking (railguns), with a single utility high slot. Damage is lower than a Catalyst, but much better damage projection (two full flights of lights in its drone bay) — especially with drone damage amplifier changes.

Minmatar: This ship is unique among all Destroyers as it has a bonus that improves survivability – it is designed to zip around in the battlefield at high velocities (it gets a bonus that reduces its signature size when using a Microwarpdrive) while spewing missiles from its seven launchers. As a downside, it’s less efficient at hitting fast moving targets at greater ranges, like the Caldari hull.

Weapon and Module Changes

There have been a bunch, and I’m going to summarize a lot, and probably forget many things. This is the stuff that seems to be attracting the most attention.


Light missiles and rockets got buffed. All larger short-range missile systems got buffed either directly, indirectly, or both. Heavy Missile Launchers got ‘nerfed’ so that they perform more in line with long-range weapon system — compared to those weapon systems, they’ll be second highest in DPS and volley damage once the changes go in. Several types of missile launchers got easier to fit. Tech2 missiles generally got buffed, though a few became less useful.


Smalls and medium lasers got easier to fit, and several got renamed to be less stupid. (No more small lasers named “medium” something.)


Medium artillery cannons got easier to fit, and some ships (Hurricane) got their powergrid adjusted down to compensate. (As I mentioned yesterday, this ‘hurricane nerf’ isn’t much of one, though there may still be more changes coming.)

Drone Damage Amplifiers got easier to fit.

Ancillary Shield Boosters got nerfed down a bit, because they needed it. Basically, they have the same repair capacity, but they can’t keep it going for nearly as long before they have to reload (and then die).

Ewar Cruisers

These are the Disruption cruisers, inexpensive ewar platforms. CCP is revamping the tech1 Ewar cruisers with similar goals to the Tech1 ewar frigates. Two are focused on pure ewar with range bonuses (Blackbird and Celestis) and two are more hybrid ewar/brawlers for small gangs (Arbitrator and Bellicose).

Arbitrator: Bonus to tracking disruptors and drone damage/hit points. Not many changes, as CCP sees this as a really good ship already. In general it got a bit tougher and the capacitor got buffed. It’s got better weapon options now as well — rather than trying to squeeze on unbonused energy neutralizers in an effort to be a poor-man’s Pilgrim, the Arb pilot can run with two lasers and two missile launchers in its highs, if he wants to.

Blackbird: Bonus to ECM jam strength, optimal range, and falloff. Slightly better tank and capacitor. Now has a small drone bay. Ridiculous base targeting range (85km).

Celestis: Bonus to Sensor Damp effectiveness and optimal range. Big drone bay (two full flights of lights, or a flight of mediums) with the bandwidth to match. With the added drones and two(!) more low slots, it’s even better at ignoring its intended role to triple-web-kill frigates.

Bellicose: Bonus to Target Painter effectiveness and Missile Launcher rate of fire (with four launchers). Complimentary bonuses! Amazing! Way more CPU for fitting. Better shields. Faster. I’ll be having these.

Tech1 Support Cruisers

These are the tech1 remote repair ships designed to operate alongside or instead of Tech2 Logistics ships.
These ships continue the ‘upgrade path’ started with Support Frigates, which new players can follow all the way into T2 Logistics ships (or even carriers). These ships are weaker (both in reps and tank) than Tech2 versions, but they are designed to be capable in a mixed Tech1/Tech2 fleet, when what counts most is participation.

CCP Fozzie:
“If we’ve done our job right, then when a newer player shows up to your Armor fleet saying “I’ve got an Augoror, how can I help?” the FC will respond with “Join our logistics channel, the guys in there will get you set up with the cap chain and anchor“, rather than “LOLN00B come back with a real ship.

These ships are very close to their Tech2 counterparts in range, speed, agility, cap chain ability, and cap stability. They should be able to hang out with a Logistics crew and do their thing, albeit at reduced effectiveness. They also rely more strongly on role bonuses than skill bonuses, so that they will continue to be viable even when your pilot doesn’t have Cruiser 5. (Their repair range and cap chain ability remains basically the same no matter who’s flying the ship.)

Also, as with the the Logi frigate balance pass, CCP adjusted the repair modules at the same time, reducing some fitting requirements significantly.

The downside for their cheapness and low skill requirements will mainly be rep amount (at best, two-thirds of a Tech2 Logistics ship), signature radius, sensor strength, and tank.
Basically, all four ships got:
  • A 15% bonus to either either Remote Armor Repair amount or Remote Shield boost, per level.
  • A 5% reduction in the capacitor use of the appropriate module (remote shield or armor reppers), per level.
  • A flat 1000% bonus to the range of the appropriate module (and to Energy Transfers, for the Augoror and Osprey).

In addition, the Osprey and Augoror get a flat 200% bonus to Energy Transfer Array transfer amount (welcome to the cap chain), while the Exequror and Scythe get a bonus to the repair amount of Logistics drones.

They all get a few more fitting slots, improved power grid or CPU (or both), buffed tank, buffed capacitor, and increased drone capacity. (The Exequror tops the charts on this, as it can field a full flight of bonused medium logi drones, while the Scythe has the weird bandwidth and drone bay values that Scimitar pilots should find familiar.)

Attack Cruisers

Somewhat more anticipated cruisers than Ewar and Support Cruisers. “Attack” cruisers are the faster and lighter of the fighting cruisers.

The gap between Attack and Combat cruisers mirror the gap in the frigate lines, although for cruisers the divide isn’t as sharp. These ships do have less EHP than the Combat cruisers, but can still be tanked pretty well if you sacrifice some of your firepower.

These ships (the Omen, Caracal, Thorax, and Stabber) saw quite a bit of adjustment, though the really lame ones got more love.

Omen: Speaking of lame, boy did this guy get some love. Double-bonuses laser turrets. Another low slot. Improved powergrid and CPU. Roughly a 20% increase in mobility. Much better drone capacity.

Caracal: Excellent missile platform. Improved tank. Two more low slots. Much better powergrid and CPU. A nice fat boost to base speed.

Thorax: Probably adjusted the least of the group. Slight weaker tank, but a big boost to base speed, leaving it second only to the Stabber. A bit more CPU for fitting, another medium fitting slot, and that’s about it.

Stabber: Poor stabber, how you’ve been mistreated all these years. How can we make it up to you? How about being the fastest attack cruiser by almost 20%? Bonused turrets with a falloff buff for better kiting? Another low and mid slot? Better tank?

Can’t decide? Then you can have all of the above!

You still only get that one little light drone, though. No luck there. Sorry.

Combat Cruisers

Last but not least, the Combat Cruisers are designed as front line warships with both solid damage and good staying power. These ships got less dramatic changes than the others. The average tank of the set is only 2% higher than the average tank of the old “Tier 3” cruisers. Their main advantages over the other t1 cruisers are in tanking and a more robust capacitor.

Maller: No longer the useless, over-tanked, under-gunned bait ship! The maller gets a bonus to damage on its five laser turrets and a bonus to armor resists (rather than raw hit points, like the old version) (oops: got this confused with the Navy Augoror). A nice fat boost to powergrid should make fitting the medium turrets a lot easier, too. It picked up a chuck of base armor hit points, and also got about 25% faster.

Moa: Basically the shield version of the Maller, with a bonus to hybrid turrets and shield resistances. Doesn’t look like much else changed on this ship, but I never got the sense that it was that weak — just unspeakably ugly.

Vexor: If it ain’t broke, dont’ fix it. The vexor gets a bonus to both medium hybrid turret damage and drone hitpoints and damage. It loses the utility high slot, but gains both a mid-slot and low-slot, making it very versatile. The extra powergrid may even mean it can fit right-sized guns! Very solid tank (tons of structure hit points, because Gallente) and improved speed.

Rupture: If anything the Rupture was tweaked even less than the Vexor. One less high slot (why even bother making launchers an option), one more mid-slot (yay flexibility!). As with all minmatar, it’s faster than the other ships in its class, and remains a great option.

… and I’m spent.

Life in Eve: Quick Post on the Hurricane Nerf #eveonline

Quoting CCP Fozzie:

Since we plan to reduce the powergrid needs of all medium artillery by 10% across the board, we are also planning to subtract 225 Power Grid from the Hurricane.

The upshot is that […] fitting a standard shield autocannon cane with neutralizers and a Large Shield Extender will require dropping a few guns down to 220mm.

Lots of people are freaking out about this. This is a bit ridiculous for two reasons.

1. The hurricane deserves this adjustment. Like the Drake, it’s too good: better than most any other battlecruiser class in the game.

2. No one actually went and looked at what they could do with a Hurricane with the new powergrid totals.

[Hurricane, Post-PG-nerf 425s Shieldtank w Neuts]
Damage Control II
Gyrostabilizer II
Gyrostabilizer II
Gyrostabilizer II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II

Experimental 10MN MicroWarpdrive I
Warp Scrambler II
Adaptive Invulnerability Field II
Large Shield Extender II

425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
Medium Unstable Power Fluctuator I
Medium Unstable Power Fluctuator I

Medium Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I

Warrior II x5
Light Armor Maintenance Bot I x1

So the current ‘cane has a powergrid of 1687 with perfect skills. Subtract 225 powergrid, and you have 1462.5 powergrid.

This fit:

  • Requires 1461.35 powergrid.
  • Rolls out at 1552 m/s.
  • Does a whopping 698 DPS.
  • Still has a solid shield tank.
  • Still has two medium-sized neutralizers, just like it always does.

In short, with good skills, this really doesn’t change much.

With less-than-perfect skills, you still don’t have to drop down to 220mm autocannons — you just put in a couple Meta3- or Meta4-level 425s to squeeze everything in.

(And even if you do switch to 220s, the damage is quite close to 425s, with better tracking — if anything, this change will make hurricanes even more dangerous as anti-support ships.)

I won’t even talk about the Drake changes — it’s been a long time coming, and if anything I don’t think it goes far enough.


This is sort of a general gaming post, though it’ll end up talking about EvE very specifically at the end, which is only fair since EvE is where this whole line of thought began.

A few days ago I was doing an interview with Anton Strout for the Once and Future Podcast and (because the ‘cast is equal parts about writing and the rabid nerdity of the guests) Anton asked me when I first got my start with gaming.

For the sake of my own dignity, I won’t get into hard numbers, but my answer involved the novelization of the movie E.T., and me begging my mom to buy me the pink DnD boxed set from the Sears catalog. It was a while back, is what I’m saying.

On the long march between then and now, I ran a lot of bad games, for which I will make few apologies, because at the time I don’t think any of us realized they were bad games. Me and my high school gaming buddies (who dodged typical mid-eighties nerd hazing by also being most of the starting offensive line for the varsity football team) might have gotten the rules wrong as we stomped through Castle Ravenloft, but that didn’t stop it from being a good time. Monsters were vanquished, horrors were driven from their places of power, and the village graveyard acquired more than a few fresh headstones in the process, each marble slab engraved with the name of a beloved player character (levels 3-5) who’d failed a save against poison, fear, or (most often) death.

Thing is, getting a rule wrong was never (directly) what made the game bad. After all, when you’re talking about a game (any game) the only real qualifier for “bad” is “not fun.” Misruling could lead to that, sure, but most of the time, a lack of fun came from two places:

  • Something social, outside the game itself.
  • The absence of uncertainty.

I’m not going to talk about the Social thing right now — that’s well-traveled ground. I do want to talk about that second thing.

Ask any gamer about the best moments they’ve had in their gaming, and you will usually hear a story about some nail-biting conflict.

My crazy barbarian decides to try to trip the dragon he and his allies are fighting, despite horrible odds — and it worked.

My buddy’s knight takes on an evil paladin wielding a sword that can kill him with a single unlucky hit, and the fight comes down to a mutually fatal roll of the dice.

Our team has to hold the western flank against the the advancing Imperial forces on Hoth to give the transports time to escape, then get away themselves… by stealing Vadar’s shuttle.

Good times.

You know what no one’s likely to mention?

“This one time, I walked into a room full of 50 goblins with crossbows, but my Armor Class was so good they couldn’t hit me and I just used Great Cleave and killed all of them in like… two turns.”

“I walked into this hook-and-chain trap that was supposed to do a bunch of damage to a group of people, but it was just me, so the damage for a whole group hit just me and basically turned me into a pile of giblets, instantly.”

“We tried to talk the King into letting us do something, but we couldn’t convince him, because the GM had something different planned.” 1

I think you can see the core difference between those examples, but I point it out anyway.


In my opinion, certainty is the death of fun in most any game, and it may be one of the things that separate “games” from “sport” (where certainty of victory comes via skill and ability and lots of hard work, and is justifiably celebrated).

If you’re on the winning side of things, certainty is boring. The classic example of that is the old “Monty Haul” campaign, where the GM is basically there to make sure you find all the treasure he put in the dungeon, and never have to feel the sting of defeat. Fun as a powertrip, maybe, for awhile, but ultimately coma-inducing.

If you’re on the losing side of things, certainty is — at best — frustrating. When there’s no chance at all of success, even the ‘live to fight another day’ kind, then you might as well check out of the whole thing now and save the time you’d otherwise waste on caring about the outcome.

Over many (many) years of gaming, I’ve managed to figure out (one situation at a time) when something I was doing was killing fun by making the results (good or bad) a foregone conclusion. (Sometimes this was a question of mechanics; sometimes it was a question of “the inviolate plot.”) It also helped me identify what was going wrong when I wasn’t having fun as a player, both at a table or online.

Slamming my head against the same raid boss over and over, when it’s clear we don’t have the right group or the proper gear to succeed? Not fun.

Fighting that same raid boss when we’re this close to pulling off a win, and every attempt might go for us or the bad guys? Exhilarating.

Farming that boss once we have all the best gear, know the fight backwards and forwards, and all the surprises are gone? Boring.

Wandering around the newbie starter zone with my max-level character, picking flowers to level my Herbalism? Boring.

Sneaking through a zone 10 or 20 levels too high for me, running for my life in an effort to get a specific location or find a special macguffin? Fun!

Getting insta-killed out of nowhere when you unknowingly walk your new character into a high-level PvP zone? Frustrating.

I think we get the point. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re running or playing a game in which you have any kind of input (usually tabletop, but not always). Are you bored? Add challenge to what you’re doing by changing the choices you make. Are you hopelessly frustrated by never-ending failures? Change things up, or take a break, right?

So let’s talk about EvE
First, EvE PvE content — from missions to mining to exploration — is pretty terrible.

Now, maybe (probably) it doesn’t seem terrible when you first start playing the game, because you don’t know enough to realize how very (very) certain the outcome of any PvE mission content in the game really is; you don’t know how much DPS you need to be able to tank to survive a mission, and even if you do, you may not know how (or simply be unable) to fit your ship in a way that will achieve that threshold. Your lack of knowledge provides the uncertainty that is not otherwise present. 2

Once you know much at all about the game, though, you start to see the reality of the situation. The groups are always exactly the same size. They always do pretty much exactly the same amount of damage. They always aggress the first person they see, they never switch their aggression to another person (unless the first one leaves). Once you have the situation worked out — once you know how to approach it, it’s about as challenging as your fiftieth game of Minesweeper.3 The ‘best’ PvE in the game (Sleepers and Incursions) injects a bare amount of uncertainty with randomly switching aggro, which is still pretty hopeless. Almost any other MMO you care to name (even those that predate EvE) have long since worked on more advanced combat AIs.

“But the PvP in EvE is so much better than everyone else: completely emergent, completely unpredictable, completely uncertain!”


Yes, a big part of the draw in EvE is the PvP (whether it’s PvP with bullets, tactics, or the infamous metagaming). Even if you don’t personally seek out PvP, it’s still a factor in your play, because once you undock, someone else can shoot you. They might choose not too because of the potential consequences, but they always have that option. Always. There isn’t a one hundred percent safe, PvP-free zone anywhere in space. (Hell, for that matter, you’re not entirely safe from PvP even if you never undock and just work the market all day — Market PvP is a very real thing in EvE, but I digress.)

For as long as there has been PvP in EvE, there have been people bitching about the PvP. A lot of that kvetching and moaning (on both sides of every subject) has do with mechanics like ECM or the ever-present accusations that this or that tactic or practice is “dishonorable”, “ruins the game”, or removes any chance of a “good fight.”

Dishonorable. What a word! Simultaneously loaded with drama and completely meaningless in any debate involving more than one person. 😛

You can kind of sort out what most of the people using the term intend when they say it, though.

“Your actions have removed all questions of skill, choice, and your opponent’s actions from the equation, ensuring your victory.”

Put another way.

“You have removed all uncertainty.”

Put another way.

“You’ve taken everything that makes a game fun out of this situation.”

Now, that’s a comment that’s likely going to earn you a lock of mockery in EvE (which is why no one says it that way). The leader of one of the biggest groups the game is famously quoted as saying “We’re not trying to ruin the game, we’re trying to ruin your game.” Tell those guys that they’re taking away the elements of the game that make it fun for other people, and they’d probably exchange high-fives and another round of Jagerbombs.

But let’s ignore the walking embodiment of the John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory for a moment, and just look at the basics here.

EvE is a game.

A game’s primary purpose is to provide fun.

Fun in a game (unlike fun in sport) arises from a sense of uncertainty.

Removing uncertainty removes fun.

What’s the kind of stuff that removes that uncertainty?

  1. Overwhelming force.

Actually? I can stop there. There are lots of ways in which “overwhelming force” is expressed in the game (attacking a group of 5 with a group of 20 (if only: 1 vs 100 is just as common), shipping up, a impenetrable wall of ECM, logistics support for a ‘casual roam’, et cetera, et cetera), and pretty much all of it takes place in the game with the specific goal of ensuring victory.

Is that a bad thing? No, not if the goal is winning, which is a goal I completely understand. EvE is a costly game in terms of time and resources — when you lose, you really lose stuff, so people often forget (or forego) “what would be fun” in favor of whatever the best way is to mitigate risk.

I’m not going to say that this is bad for the game. In a lot of ways, it’s what makes EvE what it is, and I like what it is.


If you find yourself frustrated by the game, may I suggest taking a step back and looking at your current style of play.

Is it possible that the reason that you’re not having much fun is simply because you’ve methodically removed the elements that make a game fun?

Uncertainty is fun.

Uncertainty comes from risk.

As an experiment:

  • Distance yourself in some way from groups that treat ship losses an inherently bad thing.
  • Release your death grip on “Killboard Efficiency.”
  • If fights are always boring, maybe bring fewer people. Or leave the ECM or the off-grid boosting alts (or both) at home.
  • Take a fight when the outcome isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do.

It’s hard to do even when it’s just you — it’s even harder when you’re making decisions for a whole group of people.

Going back to my tabletop roots, it’s damned hard as the GM to take the plunge and start rolling all the dice out in the open and letting things go on without that safety net of secretly fudging a potentially fatal roll. I mean, OMG: what if your dice get hot and you kill the dude one of your guys has been playing for two years?

Similarly, what if your decision costs your fleetmate his 2 billion isk strategic cruiser?

Most people don’t know what would happen, because they don’t have the guts to risk it.

But what a story they’d have if they did.

1 – This is, incidentally, why I prefer to roll dice to determine the outcome of social conflicts, rather than let “pure role-playing” determine the outcome. No matter how mature or unbiased we claim to be, that sort of ‘system’ is one highly susceptible to out-of-game social maneuvering of various kinds, the least harmful of which is the simple fact that if you know the GM well enough, you know exactly what argument will convince them to let you win. It’s the same reason I don’t like playing Apples to Apples with my best friends anymore — there’s absolutely no challenge to it; we know each other too well. Roll the dice, and enjoy the fact that the outcome may not be what you expected.

2 – This is what I call the Chutes and Ladders syndrome: Chutes and Ladders is a terrible, boring game… unless you’re too young too realize it’s terrible, at which point you probably think it’s the Best Game Ever.

3 – Mining is even worse. Barring the possibility of being jumped by a random player (which isn’t part of the mining system itself), there is no variation at all: ask any serious miner how much he can mine in an hour, and he will be able to give you an answer down to the second decimal point for every type of ore available. I don’t know what ‘injecting uncertainty’ into the baseline mining experience looks like, but it’s what needs to happen to make it suck less.

Mulling over a ‘tapestry’ style throne-war game

So I’ve been reading the George R.R. Martin books. They’re good, and if you haven’t read them and like fantasy stuff, you probably should read them.

Just don’t read any other fantasy book right after reading one of Martin’s — you will not do that following book any favors. Switch genres.

Also: man Martin likes to put his character’s through a wringer. Wow.


One of the things with these books is that every chapter switches to a different POV character. Each book gives us about eight or nine or so. A lot of them are the same from book to book (so far as I’ve read, anyway), and it’s worth noting that all these ‘main’ characters1 are (almost all of the time) geographically separated from each other.

It makes me chuckle, because reminds me a lot of some of the games (especially Amber and, more recently, Galactic) that I’ve run, because every chapter reads like “Okay, what are you doing? Fine, let’s play that, and now for the roll, and ooooh, you didn’t roll that well, did you? Well, here’s what happens — sorry about that — now who’s next?”

And it seems like that would be a pretty fun thing to do with a game when you have a good supply of potential players, but a limited window of play time each week AND players who may not live anywhere near you. I mean, we have google hang-outs (and a pile of other voice/video options), free virtual tabletop software, and about a zillion ways to collaboratively take notes, regardless of where you are. Some of it’s face to face, some of it’s not, but it’s all part of the tapestry of the story, yeah?

My goal with something like this would be to make sure it didn’t end up being a Play-by-Post for some folks and a normal game for everyone else; partly because that’s not fair, and partly because I’m terrible at maintaining participation-level interest in play-by-post games. In short, you make sure everyone gets the same number of chapters, whether they are at your table online.

Anyone done this much? I know Constantcon is a year-long successful thing, and probably indicates that it’s possible, whether or not it’s possible for me.


1 — Calling only those characters a main character isn’t very accurate. There are lots of characters who are hugely central to the story, but simply aren’t POV characters.

In a game like this, I think every player would have to have secondary characters they can switch two who are near the new POV characters. When it’s Jon Snow’s turn, everyone pulls out their Black Watch guys. Sansa’s turn means everyone grabs whoever they’re playing down at the Red Keep. Maybe these secondary character work more like the crew from Galactic, or maybe they’re (eventually) full-blown characters in their own right. Dunno.

A few more thoughts on the “Blanket of Ashes” game idea

I’m not set on running this. Playing a ‘song of ice an fire’ style ‘throne war’ game also appeals.

Just off the top of my head, and aimed at gathering up people’s thoughts.

  • I (probably) don’t want to play “Middle-earth, with all the serial numbers left on, except Sauron won”. Inspirations for the setting include Tolkien, but also:
    • A New Hope, for reasons already mentioned
    • The Black Company (especially the first three books)
    • The Midnight rpg setting, though to be honest it’s too d20 tinted for my taste
    • The Mistborn series… except not the magic, in any way shape or form. Eh. Basically I like the idea of the volcanic ash falls. That’s about it.
    • In my little notebook, I have written: “Big Bad – The Chosen” and, underneath that, “the Five.”
  • I like the idea of magic being unstable/on the wan as a result of the Big Bad winning. Burning Wheel Gold’s changes to sorcery reflect this really well.
  • Magical items ‘tainted’ every so slightly due to most of the big bad’s  power being in an artifact. The constant balancing act of ‘this makes me more of a badass, but also makes me more susceptible to the wiles of the Enemy’ seems fun. Most precious of all would be those items that escaped that taint.
  • I also like the idea that a change to the status quo (magic coming back) likely makes some of the enemy more powerful as well.
  • I like the idea the not everyone (PCs included) think revolution is a good idea, or even necessary.
  • I like Burning Wheel for this especially since they cleaned up a lot of the ‘rim’ systems like Fight and Range and Cover.
  • It’s important, I think, for the events that led to the current state of the world to have happened far enough in the past that the true facts are muddied, if not outright forgotten/supressed. Anyone who was actually around at the time (undead, elf, orc, whatever) is in hiding, stopped caring, doesn’t benefit from the truth being known, or all three.

Would it be worth it/fun to do a Lexicon world-building kind of thing to flesh things out… it amuses me that any entry that says “this is what happened” might/could/would be incorrect to a greater or lesser degree.

Mass Effect, Tolkien, and Your Bullshit Artistic Process

[The following was originally posted on my main blog, but as it’s gaming-related, I figured I’d put it over here as well.]

Everything that follows is my opinion and, further, is infested with spoilers for both the Mass Effect series and, I suppose, The Lord of the Rings. Reader beware.

In late February, I said (on twitter) that I thought the Mass Effect universe was probably the most important science fiction of a generation.

Since then, the executive producer for Mass Effect 3 has been working tirelessly to get me to retract that statement.

If you follow gaming news at all, you’ll already know that there have been great clouds of dust kicked over this particular story — the gist of it is that Mass Effect was brought to a conclusion with the release of Mass Effect 3 (note: not brought to its conclusion, just brought to a conclusion — more on that later), and while 99% of the game was the same top-notch, engaging, tear-inducing stuff that we’ve come to expect, the last five minutes or so is a steaming, Hersey’s Kiss-sized dollop of dog shit that you are forced to ingest at the conclusion of the meal, like a mint, before they let you out the door.

It’s fair to say that it’s soured many players’ impression of the experience as a whole.

Now, I realize that many of the folks reading this may not have played through the Mass Effect series. First of all, that’s really too bad, because it is very, very good both in terms of play (which steadily improves from game to game) and story (barring one steaming exception) and (I think) completely worth the time.

But secondly, I’d like to keep you non-ME people involved in the conversation, so I’m going to draw a comparison that I think most anyone likely to visit here will understand, so that we can all proceed with reasonable understanding of the issues.

Let’s pretend for a moment that The Lord of the Rings was released not as a series of books, but a series of games. More importantly, the company behind the series decided to do something really hard but rewarding with the game — they were going to let you make decisions during play that substantively altered the elements of the story. That means that some of people playing through this Lord of the Rings story would end up with a personal game experience that was pretty much exactly like the one you and I all remember from reading the books, but that story is just sort of the default. Whole forums were filled up by fans of the series comparing notes on their versions of the game, with guides on how to get into a romantic relationship with Arwen (the obvious one), Eowyn (more difficult, as you have to go without any kind of romance option through the whole first game, but considered by many to be far more rewarding), or even Legolas (finally released as DLC for the third game).

And that’s certainly not all of possible permutations. Some players actually managed to save Boromir (though he leaves the party regardless, but gets you a whole extra army in the third game if he’s alive, and makes Denethor much less of a pain in the ass to deal with). Some folks don’t split up the party, and spend most of the game recruiting supporters through the South and North, from Aughaire down to Dol Imren. For some, Gimli dies at Helms Deep; for others only Merry escapes into Fangorn (which makes recruiting the Ents all but impossible). Hell, there are even a few weirdos who chose NOT to recruit Samwise back at the beginning of the story, and actually play through the whole first game without him (though the writers reintroduce him as a non-optional party member once you get ready to leave Lothlorien).

And what about the players who rolled the main character as a female? That changes a LOT of stuff, as you might well imagine. (Though, thankfully, all the dialogue options with Legolas are the same.)

Are you with me so far?

Okay, so you’re playing through this game — you’ve played through parts 1 and 2 several times, in fact, sometimes as a goody-two-shoes, and sometimes as a total bad-ass. You’ve got a version of the game where you’re with Arwen, one with Eowyn, one with Legolas, and one where you focus on Frodo and his subtle hand-holding bromance with Sam. You’re ready for Part Three, is what I’m saying, and out it comes.

And it’s awesome. You finally bring lasting alliance between Rohan and Gondor, you form a fragile-yet-believable peace between elves and dwarves, and even manage to recruit a significant strike-force of old Moria orcs who don’t so much like you as much as they just hate the johnny-come-lately Uruk-hai.

The final chapters open. You face down Saruman (who pretended to fund all your efforts through the second book, but then turned on you at the end of the Two Towers), which was really satisfying. You crawl up to the top of Mount Doom, collapse against a rock, and have a really touching heart to heart with Sam. It’s over. You know you have all your scores high enough to destroy the One Ring with no crisis of conscious and no lame “Gollum bit off my finger and then falls in the lava” ending, like the one you saw on the fanfic forums last year.

And then out comes this glowing figure from behind a rock, and it’s… Tom Bombadil.

And Tom explains your options.

Oh, and you're totally going to die too. And all the roads and horses throughout all of middle earth vanish. And by the way did you know that Sauron and the Nazgul all actually just work for Bombadil? True story.

Now, let’s just ignore the fact that the company behind this game has been quoted many times as saying that the game will end with no less than sixteen different endings, to honor all the various ways the story could go, and focus on these three options.

None of them have anything to do with destroying the ring, do they?

Has ‘destroying the ring’ (alternately, destroying Sauron) been pretty much THE THING you’ve been working toward the whole game? Yeah, it has. In fact, it mentions “Rings” right there in the title of the series, doesn’t it? Rather seems to make The Ring a bit of a banner item, doesn’t it?

But no, none of these options are about the Ring; they’re about one of the b-plots in the series, and one which you pretty much already laid to rest a few chapters ago.

So… okay, maybe this isn’t the END ending, you think, and you pick one of the options…

And that’s it. A bunch of cut-scenes play, Mount Doom explodes with fiery red light, you die, and the credits roll. The end.

Ohhh-kay. Maybe that was the bad ending. Let’s reload a save and pick option 2…

Same. Exact. Cut scenes. Except Mount Doom’s explosion is green. What?

Alright… umm… let’s check #3…

Nope. Mount Doom’s explosion is Blue. That’s it.

And, absolutely inexplicably, every single one of these cut scenes shows Gandalf, Aragorn, and SAMWISE escaping the explosion on one of the eagles and crash-landing somewhere in Lorien where they all pat themselves on the back and watch the sun set together.

What? But… Sam was with you. Aragorn and Gandalf… did they start running away halfway through the last fight at the Black Gate? Your boys abandoned you?

So, given this example, it’s possible — even for someone who didn’t play Mass Effect — to understand the fan’s reaction. The ending has no real connection to the rest of the story; barring the last scene and one conversation with an unnamed Nazgul in Book 3, it would lift right out with no one even noticing. It completely takes away your choices at the end of a game about making world-altering choices. It effectively destroys the Middle Earth that you were fighting for 100 hours of gameplay to preserve — no magic? Maybe a completely wiped out dwarven race? No one can travel anywhere without painstakingly rebuilding roads for a couple hundred years and replacing horses with something else? Also, no matter what, no matter how much ass you kick, you’re dead? Yeah. No thanks, man.

And that’s not even paying attention to stuff like how (and why) Sam and Gandalf and Strider ran away at the end. I mean… even if you’re going to do a shitty twist ending, don’t be so goddamn lazy about it. Don’t sit there and claim that criticism of the ending is an attack on your artistic product, because frankly that ending is full of holes and needs a rewrite and probably two more chapters to flesh out. (More on that in a bit.)

So… that’s where the Mass Effect franchise was after ME3 came out. A lot of confusion. A lot of rage. Some protests of a very interesting sort, where the gamers against the terrible ending decided to draw attention to the issue by raising something like seventy-thousand bucks for geek-related charities.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper.

Let’s continue with this Lord of the Rings video game analogy. Let’s say that after a bit of digging, people realized that Tolkien actually left the company to work on other projects before the game was complete. He wrote up a detailed outline, though; something that clearly spelled out exactly how the main arc of the story was supposed to play out, in broad strokes, basically spelling out what we would expect the ending to be, pretty much.

But Tolkien left. So they get another guy in. Someone else who’s written stuff about some kind of powerful ring…

They get Steven R. Donaldson.

(Those of you who know me and my history with the Thomas Covenant books can guess that this analogy is not going to be a positive one, because seriously: fuck Thomas Covenant.)

So they get this Donaldson guy in to helm the end of the series, and it turns out he’s the guy who comes up with the Tom Bombadil, fuck-the-continuity-of-the-series ending.

Why? Maybe he’s pissed about being the second choice. Maybe he’s not getting paid enough to give a fuck. Maybe he just really wants to do this kind of story, but can’t be arsed to write a series of his own for which it makes sense. Maybe the original ending outlined by Tolkien got leaked on a forum the year before the last game came out, so people decided it had to be changed, even if the alternative makes no sense. I don’t know.

What I do know is the there was a different ending written out for the Mass Effect series, the short version of which is that the Big Reveal in ME3 is that the Mass Effect itself — the magical black-box technology that allows interstellar travel and powers a ton of other things from weapons to expensive toothbrushes — is causing a constant increase in dark energy in the galaxy, and that’s causing all kinds of bad things (like the accelerated death of stars).

The Mass Effect — you know, the thing from which the name of the series is derived — is the secret behind the Big Reveal. Who would have thought?

So, in the end of the game-as-envisioned, you’re given a choice of saving the galaxy by sacrificing the human race (making humanity into a Reaper that can stop the Dark Energy decay), or telling the Reapers to screw themselves and trying to fix the problem on your own (with a handful of centuries left before the Dark Energy thing snowballs and grows out of control on its own).

Which, in a word, would have been better. Certainly FAR better than some kind of stupid Tom Bombadil/Star Child explanation where we are told that the (synthetic AI) Reapers destroy advanced organic civilizations every 50 thousand years to prevent organic civilizations from… being destroyed by synthetic AIs.

Now we don’t just have some gamer complaints about the terrible ending, we have a demonstrably better ending that was actually supposed to be the one implemented. Complicates things, doesn’t it?

But Why All the Hate?

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I (because of my background in certain types of tabletop role-playing games where players get as much say in the story as the guy running the game) think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it’s a story, and it affects me as a story does, and there it is. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

And since it’s such a good story, people know how the thing is supposed to proceed, and they know how it should end.

You start out in ME1 trying to stop a bad guy, Saren. He’s the guy who gets us moving (because he’s a bad guy, and that’s what they do — bad guys act, and heroes react to that and move the story along). As we try to stop him, we find out there’s something bigger going on than just a rogue cop on a rampage. The picture keeps getting bigger, the stakes keep getting higher, and we keep getting our motivation and our level of commitment tested. Are we willing to sacrifice our personal life? Yes? Okay, will we sacrifice one of our friends? Yes? Okay, how about the leaders of the current galactic government? Yes? Okay…

It goes on like that. You fucking invest, is what I’m saying, and that’s just in the first game.

In the second game, the fight continues, as we have merely blunted the point of the spear, not stopped the attack. Our choices in ME1 had consequences, and we start to see them play out, for better or worse. Meanwhile, we’re trying to stop Evil Plan #2, in a suicide mission that could literally cost us nearly every single friend we’ve made. In the end, we get the joy of victory mixed with the sadness of the loss of those who didn’t make it, and it’s all good, because it’s a strong, healthy, enjoyable emotional release.

And now it’s ME3, and the stakes are even higher. We’re not recruiting more individual allies — we’re recruiting whole peoples — whole civilizations. Planets are falling. Worlds are being erased.

In the words of Harbinger, this hurts you.

Why? Because you know these people who are dying. You’ve spent over a hundred hours traveling this setting, meeting people, helping them, learning about each of their little stories; building relationships with, literally, hundreds of individuals. Every one of these planets going up in flames has a face (even if it’s a face behind a breathmask), and no one falls in this final story that wasn’t important in some way to you or someone you know.

(By contrast, the enemy is faceless and (since the reapers harvest your former allies and force them into monstrous templates) largely indistinguishable from one another — as it should be in this kind of story. You do not care about a Husk, though you might mourn the person killed to create the thing.)

In short, you aren’t just playing this game to get the high score. You’re fighting for this galaxy of individuals you’ve grown very, very attached to; to protect it and, as much as you can, preserve it. You’ve spent several hours every day on this, for months. It matters.

"Hard to imagine galaxy. To many People. Faceless. Statistics. Easy to depersonalize. Good when doing unpleasant work. For this fight, want personal connection. Can't anthropomorphize galaxy. But can think of favorite nephew. Fighting for him."

(Best of all, you get to shoot bad guys in the face while you’re doing it, which takes this heavy topic and makes it engaging at that level as well. It’s like soaking up all the gravitas of Schindler’s List while enjoying the BFG-toting action of Castle Wolfenstein at the same time.)

The end comes. We talk to all our friends. Everyone’s wearing their brave face, talking about what they’re going to do afterwards, which beach they’re going to retire on. You start to think that maybe the end is in sight and maybe, just maybe, you might even be able to see some of that ending.

The last big conflict starts. You fight some unkillable things and kill them. You face off against an old nemesis and finally end him.

And then…

And then you’re given three choices, none of which result in anything any different from the others, and none of which have consequences that have any connection to the goals we’ve been working on for the last hundred hours or so.

Those people you were just talking to? They’re gone. Or stranded on an alien world. Or dead. All those planets you helped? They’re gone too — cut off, or starving, or maybe just destroyed in manufactured super-novas. Nothing you did or accomplished in the last three games actually matters — it’s all been wiped out by one of three (red, green, or blue) RESET buttons you pushed, because pushing one of those buttons was the only ‘choice’ given to you at the end.

As a species, trained for thousands of years in the way stories work, we know this is a bad ending. Not “tragic”. Just bad. Poor.

This isn’t about a bunch of priviledged gamers complaining about a sad ending, because there are well-done sad endings that make contextual sense.

This is about a mechanical ending to the game that doesn’t end the story — that provides no emotional release — one so disassociated from the previous 99% of the story that the fans of the series collectively hope it will later be revealed to be a dream (or, in the context of the setting, a final Reaper Indoctrination attempt).

Dear writers: If you create something, and your readers hope that what you just gave them was, in reality, an “it was a dream all along” ending, because that would be better than what you wrote, you seriously. fucked. up.

Is the ending, as an ending (taken out of context with the game we’ve been playing), a bad one? No. It’s an interesting theme that was explored extensively in a B-plot within the series and which could certainly be the central thread of a series of its own.

But it’s not the ending of this story. Our goals — the one we’ve been fighting for — are never addressed. There is no closure, either happy or sad — we want our emotional release as it relates to the game we actually played. Maybe that means tragedy at our own stupid hands — maybe victory wrested from the biomechanical jaws of defeat (and at the cost of a greater looming danger ahead).

The ending we got? It didn’t make me angry or sad or happy. It left me unfulfilled, because it ended the game talking about something I didn’t actually care about, and left me waiting for that emotional release that ME1 or ME2 pulled off so well.

The idea that the player’s should just deal with the ending, because it’s Bioware’s ending and not theirs is one of the interesting points in this debate, simply because it rides this weird line where we don’t really have a cultural context for what the Mass Effect series is: Is it a game? Is it a story? If if it’s a game, then who cares about the story, and if it’s a story, then treat it like a book and stop pretending you get to influence it, stupid consumer.

The answer is more complicated: Is it a game or story? Yes. Moreover, it’s a game that’s welcomed player input into the narrative from the first moment, and as such, should be committed to honoring that input throughout. It’s a story, but it belongs to everyone telling it.

But It’s Art!
There’s a recurring tune being played by Bioware in response to this outcry, and it goes something like this: “We might respond to these complaints, and we might flesh out the ending we presented, but we’re not going to change anything, because this is art — this is the product of artists — and as such it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces.”

Which is, speaking as a working artist, complete and utter horseshit.

If you make a movie, and you put in front of focus groups, and they categorically hate the ending, you change it. If you’re writing a book and your first readers tell you the ending is terrible, you fix it. (Ditto your second readers, your second-draft readers, your agent, your editor, your copy editor.)

Or maybe you don’t — maybe you say “this is art, and it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces”, which is certainly your choice — but don’t expect anyone to help you bring that piece of crap to print.

Anyone can tell a story. You can sit in your special writing nook and turn out page after page of perfectly unaltered, immutable art and be quite happy — you’re welcome to, in fact.

But when you decide you want to make a living off it? Even if you want to just make a little spending money?

Then the rules change. Then it’s work. Then it’s a job. More importantly, then it’s part of a business model, and those golden days of your art being inviolate and immutable blah blah blah are well and truly behind you. Name me a story that saw print, or a movie that saw the Big Screen, and I’ll show you art that changed because of input from someone other than the the original creator — from someone looking at it from the point of view of the consumer.

Bioware is a company. Making their stories into games is their business model. Hiding behind some kind of “but it’s art, so we’re not changing it” defense is insulting, disingenuous, and flat-out stupid. Worse, it perpetuates the idea that the creator’s output is in some stupid way sancrosant and, as art, cannot be “wrong” or “bad”. If you as a creator imagine that to be the case — if you think that kind of argument is going to defend your right to never do a rewrite or a revision or line edits or to ever alter, in any way, your precious Artistic Process — discard that notion.

Or become accustomed to a long life as an “undiscovered talent”.

Wasting time playing DnD

No, I’m not saying that playing DnD is a waste of my time, settle down. Breathe.

I ran into a pretty interesting thing I wanted to talk briefly about, though.

This week, I have a lot of gaming going on, which is kind of exciting; after months of pretty much nothing in the way of RPG play, I’m playing DnD, running Dragon Age, and then playing Burning Wheel — all in about five days.

Pretty heady stuff.

Last night we played the DnD game; that gave rise to this post. (Which should have probably been called ‘Wasting my time while playing DnD’, but who’d read that?)

Anyway, to my point.

For the last over-a-year, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty regular game going on weeknights. We’ve played quite a few games, most notably (in my mind) Don’t Rest Your Head, Diaspora, Primetime Adventures, and other stuff like that. Games in which, speaking broadly, there are a lot of ‘flags’ attached to your characters — things where you’ve said “this is something that interests me about this guy: I’d like to play around with that in the game, please.”

For instance, in the Diaspora game, Kate’s ‘flags’ (read: Aspects) had to do with being a bit of a lapsed pirate, something of a swashbuckler, a ship’s captain, and having some unfriendly family members looking for her. This was the stuff that was interesting to her, and as the GM I usually felt pretty safe if I planned for something or someone to come along and hit one of those elements of her character.

I could list many more examples, but they’re all pretty obviously along this line, and they all have a few things in common: “hitting” those things in an interesting way is what the players want, so it’s socially rewarding in the game, and most of the time it’s also mechanically rewarding.

Also, if I’m doing something as the GM that doesn’t touch on anyone’s flags in any way… well, the question to ask at that point is “What the hell are you doing, dude? I trust you, but get back on task.”

And that would be fair.

So. DnD.

No flags.

Now, Tim and I have been hammering on his Return to Northmoor campaign for awhile (him for QUITE awhile — I’m Johnny-come-lately), and for the ‘first arc’ of the game I think we’ve done a good job of creating a ‘flag and reward’ system for play that isn’t much of a rules hack.

This short game we’re doing right now isn’t that, though — it’s the mid-arc part of the Northmoor saga, and as such the original ‘secrets’ stuff doesn’t work, exactly. We did some in-character secrets-to-be-revealed, but they didn’t really work in the same way, and they made things a little wonky at the table.

(We’re addressing that by cribbing from Dragon Age and setting up Goals, rather than Secrets-to-be-Revealed, and I think that’ll work better for this arc, but I digress.)

How wonky? Well, when I answered Tim’s ‘secrets questions’ for my character, some of my answers were pointed at Kate’s character. I was all enthusiastic about this ‘what if Beren and Luthien hadn’t hit it off right away’ idea, and went with that — didn’t check with Kate on it (should have), and rattled it all off.

Kate didn’t finish her questions. Chris couldn’t make the first game.

So… guess which were the only “flags” flying for that first session? Guess what every scene seemed to center on?


Which is fine, except those weren’t Kate’s flags for her character. At all. So it wasn’t much fun for her. I think the quote was “it was fine for the first scene, but it’s every scene.”

For her, every scene was wasting time on stuff she wasn’t that interested in.

Second session, everyone else has had time to fill stuff in. I was trying not to play up my flags, because I felt like I’d got enough time on them the first session, so I played extra hard on whatever anyone else provided.

One of those ‘provided things’ was this kid I’d known in the past who was now all grown up. I’d introduced him to the game, Tim brought him in, so I felt obliged to play up whatever he was potentially doing in the story…

… which was trying to propose to Kate’s character. Oops. More time spent on a thing Kate was already tired of.

Then there was a kind of echo chamber thing with the Mysterious Bog Avenger that Tim introduced, who was some kind of vigilante who — inexplicably — dresses up like my character.

He gets introduced, so I play to it… then some NPCs react to my reaction, so I react to their reaction, so they react to …

Yeah. You see where that went. Or didn’t. I couldn’t drop it, though, cuz the only other thing I had going on was the thing with Kate’s character that I didn’t want to mess with at all.

And I couldn’t play to the flags on the other characters, because we hadn’t done the “Goals” yet — we just had Secrets, and I didn’t KNOW them because… yeah. Duh. SECRETS.

I finally fell back on a half-mentioned obsession with the MacGuffin we’re hunting down, just for something to talk about.

So what do I mean about wasting time?

I’ve gotten in the habit of playing to the flags on the characters at the table, trusting that doing so will (a) please and entertain the player of said character and (b) reward everyone involved in some mechanical way. Playing to those themes is, in fact, part of the game.

Well, no: it’s part of those games — the one’s I’ve been playing. It’s not part of DnD, and even though we’re in the middle of hacking that, we didn’t have the hack up to date last night, so it wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to do — give people indications of what everyone wanted play to be about and reward them for it. Without that, the whole hack is just a cool ‘power up’ chip we get for free each session.

(And in any case the hack will always and only ever be something extraneous to the Original Game — like having a battery mounted DVD player mounted in your car — nice, but easily forgotten and unused, unless you keep giving it power.)

In DnD, if you’re just playing to your own flags (or, as with the Bog Avenger, to no flags at all), it feels like you’re wasting time.


Well, A, you’re not hitting interesting elements of play for anyone (or only for yourself); and B, you aren’t engaging DnD itself by doing the stuff it’s good at doing (combat).

Which means you’re just spinning your cogs, not interacting with any of the machinery — you might as well be chatting about the most recent Dancing with the Stars, because you aren’t playing any part of the game, (even the part you added).

(Yes, you might be roleplaying… but about what? And who cares? Improv is great, but the audience needs to give a shit, y’know?)

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to note that it’s given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ve started thinking of as ‘the Northmoor Hack’.

That, and I’m looking forward to all the games happening this week.

Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

My thoughts on the Mouse Guard RPG

I’m very excited about the first play session of our new Primetime Adventures game this Wednesday, and while I’m putting a lot of mental effort into it, another game is on my radar, and I really had to share.

There are a few games that I think of as the touchstones in independently published roleplaying ‘story’ games. Sorcerer. Inspectres. Dogs in the Vineyard. Primetime Adventures. The Shadow of Yesterday. The Burning Wheel. My heart wants to add Spirit of the Century to the list, or Don’t Rest Your Head, but while they’re some of my favorite games, they also came along later, and they were built with a somewhat different priority in mind than that first list.

Those who know my gaming habits know that I’ve played or run (or both) most of the games on that list — usually a number of times (usually not as much as I’d have liked) — with good reason. Each one brings something special to the table that either isn’t available elsewhere, or which became an element copied numerous times in other games. They’re seminal, as well as being fun.

The one exception on that list  of seminal, inventive games is The Burning Wheel — I’ve never played Burning Wheel.

Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t OWN the game — I had the very first edition of the game, hand-numbered, in pencil, with a little thank-you note from Luke Crane.

But play it? No, I did not.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good game – many many people will say a great game – but it’s very very crunchy.

And I don’t mean it’s “Crunchy for a Story Game,” the way Agon is; I mean it makes games like DnD, Warhammer, and GURPS look like diceless freeform.

Those other games reward players with better ‘performance’ once the players have achieved a degree of system familiarity. Burning Wheel goes a bit other other direction: it punishes the absence of system familiarity – it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character.

At the time that I got Burning Wheel, I was already doing a very long-running DnD game, and frankly I didn’t *want* to run another crunchy, high-GM-prep system; I just didn’t feel as though people wanted to dive in and learn a whole new system with that much detail. Hell, *I* didn’t; the game sat on my shelves for several years – skimmed, but unread. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. In the meantime, I ran other games — with DnD handling our/my need for crunchy tactical games, our indie gaming was taken up with other things — with limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules, the folks I play with are just more likely to choose games with a lower level of required investment than BW.

But I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “Story” elements of the game (character Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, and Goals) were just as effusive. When the Revised version of the game came out, I picked it up; when Burning Empires came out, I read and re-read information on the game and its setting. But it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard.


Mouse Guard is a roleplaying game where players assume the role of the titular Guard from the comic books by David Petersen: bipedal, intelligent mice who protect their communities from a variety of threats in a semi-medieval setting. There is no magic in the setting, nor are there any humans; the threats to those precarious communities are the seasons, the weather, the wild animals, and (sadly) the very mice the Guard are sworn to protect. Their goal is simple: to keep the roads open within the Territories – to keep from becoming prisoners in their own cities – mice in gilded cages, if you like.

To me, the idea that the creators behind Mouse Guard (who were also RP gamers of a more classic sort) wanted to have an RPG for their product didn’t surprise me – nor did the fact that they wanted a more story-driven game. What surprised me was that they were going to get the Burning Wheel crew to do the game. What surprised me the most was what I started to hear about the Mouse Guard RPG:

  • A streamlined version of the game. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date.
  • Accessible to new players – not just new-to-BW, but new to Roleplaying.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • Strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • Lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.
  • There are already a number of ‘hacks’ to port the game to settings that I find very interesting. (Such as “Realm Guard”, which involves playing Dunedain in the 4th Age of Middle Earth. Mmmm good.)

Also, it didn’t hurt that the book itself — 8″x8″, hardbound, 300+ pages, but with a ruleset that can be completely summarized on the backside of the official character sheet, and thus chock full of setting material, advice, and artwork rather than charts — is f’in gorgeous.

So I got it.

I read it. Cover to cover, like a good book. I annoyed Kate by reading sections out loud, explaining rules she didn’t care about, and recounting examples from the source material she’d never read. Hell, I’m still doing it.

Here are some of my thoughts.


In short:

  • The player defines the character via their Beliefs, Goals, Instincts, and Traits, and it is ONLY through bringing those elements to light during roleplay, in the game, that you are rewarded with Fate and Persona points (which probably do pretty much what you expect).
  • Skills improve through active use. Period. Through play. Period.

The Mechanics of Success and Failure

Basic tests in Mouse Guard are simple RPG fare: either unopposed or “versus” checks – in either case, the player needs X number of successes to achieve Unmitigated success. Your skills are numerically rated (usually from 1 to 6), and when tested, you roll a number of d6s equal to the skill rating, count those rolling 4 or higher as successes and discarding the “cowards” that came up 3 or less. If you’ve played Shadowrun or Vampire, you’ll recognize this.

The innovation here is that there is no failure result in the game. What’s that? A crunchy-tactical game where you can’t lose?

Kinda. If you fail to get success outright, success is achieved at the cost of “Conditions” or a “Twist.” With conditions, you win, but you acquire (or more) conditions, such as Tired, Sick, Hungry, Angry, Injured, and so forth.

So you can save your wounded companion, even if you blew the roll, but now you’re Tired.

You can escape from the Owl, but you’re Injured… and Hungry… and Tired. Ouch.

Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...
Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...

Twists work similarly, but instead of taking a condition, your conflict is interrupted by (or leads to) a twist that takes the story in a new direction… and which very likely leads to ANOTHER conflict.

In other words, that bedrock concept of Indie Gaming GMing – “Failure should make things more interesting.” – is hardwired into the game.


Scripting is a core concept of extended Burning Wheel conflicts — the “big” conflicts in BW use this kind of conflict, where opposing sides pick a short series of actions without knowing what the other side is going to do — potentially leaving themselves wide open at the worst possible moment, or tactically outguessing the other side at the perfect time.

I love the concept of scripting – it has that kind of immersive realism I sometimes enjoy – but in practice, I know the BW implementation leaves some people cold.

In Mouse Guard, the scripting is a far more streamlined version of the basic BW scripting… simpler, but with powerful choices — perhaps the best implementationof the mechanic. Far from being just a guessing game, you have to weigh which actions your character is good at, which your partners are good at, which your “weapons” are helpful for (scripting works in any kind of conflict, from weapons to survival to chases to oration debates), compare each of them to the actions the opponent might do taking into account what he and his weapons are good at… and then realize your opponent is doing all that too, at which point it becomes very much like a strategic board game mechanic, in terms of the mental gymnastics required to use limited information to outwit the other guy.

And, like the basic skill tests, Failure and Success has many many shades — it’s only by utterly defeating your opponent without letting them get a paw on you that you get exactly what you wanted, exactly how you wanted it.

Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.
Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.

Teamwork is vital. That’s one of the fundamentals of this game. You are little mice in a great big world, and quite frankly you will be ultimately unable to complete your missions if you don’t work together – eventually, even with the skill system having “outs” for failed rolls, you’ll hit a Full Conflict with scripting that simply blows you away, with no way out but death. The prey are bigger than you (hell, the herbivores are bigger than you, and they’re eating all the food!) the seasons are bigger than you, the weather is bigger than you… you need to help each other.


“Call it what you like, but I’m still failing”
Now yes: failure isn’t “failure” in Mouse Guard, but it stings to play a game and lose the first conflict – maybe the first several – but the way the game is set up, all that means is that a new, unexpected situation crops up. (And in other way, reminiscent of With Great Power, such struggles feed you the resources you need to Kick Ass later.)

There are a lot of games out there that are basically mission completion games. The point of those games is to use your resources well in order to successfully complete a mission. In those games failing the mission is failing; it isn’t game-destroying, but it is a failure. You had a chance to step on up, and you didn’t step, as it were.

Mouse Guard looks a lot like a mission-completion games. Mouse Guard feels a lot like a mission-completion game. But I don’t think Mouse Guard actually is a mission-completion game.
Mouse Guard is a game where you tell a story about heroes who go on a mission (little heroes, but still). That’s a close thing, but its also a sharp and important divide.

One of the most excellent things about that difference is that it might teach everyone at the table to let go a little bit and try something heroic rather than spend ten minutes figuring out a safer plan.

To act, rather than deliberate.
To act, rather than deliberate.

I don’t care if it’s mice (though I like the other settings people are porting the system into) — the simple fact of the matter is that I think this is one of the best tactical, crunchy, story-driven games out there — maybe the only one that’s all three.

I can’t wait to play.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.


So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”

Something to save to my Blackberry

The simplest little RPG ever

This is an RPG intended to be played with kids. It requires one adult (or semi-adult) GM, and assumes that the player characters go out and have adventures. Said adventures need not be violent gore-fests, but they can be heroic swords-and-sorcery affairs if that’s the way you swing. There is a built-in “Boss Fight” at the end, but that can be a mean substitute teacher as easily as a dragon.


Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.

The One Where He Totally Geeked Out Like a Mid-1980s Gamer Nerd ((Hacking DnD 4 into Lord of the Rings))

I noticed early on that LotRO’s main conceit about their “Health Bar” really really works in DnD 4th with regards to healing.
Lord of the Rings refers to your ‘health bar’ as Morale — so it’s mostly representative of your will to continue the fight — the rest of the game works in similar ways — where death =’s ‘retreat’ and so forth. This makes ‘healers’ in Lord of the Rings (which is really quite a low-magic setting) make sense — they are the minstrels with their uplifting songs (VERY Tolkein), the Captains with the rallying crys and bold words, and even the Lore Masters with their quietly whispered words (or sometimes taking your worries on their own shoulders to ease your burden).
That idea really works in 4th edition DnD, especially when you look at the Healing Surges everyone has (accessible in combat as Second Wind) and the names of the healing-type abilities for the Warlord (Captain), which indicate that they’re really just boosting your will to continue the fight.
Mike Mearls was saying in an interview that it changes nothing in the game if a player wants to take all his mage spells and switch them to ‘cold’ damage instead of, say, fire; it’s the kind of customization hacking he expects from players in the game as they make their character their own.
Then I thought: it would be a pretty simple thing indeed to hack the Cleric into a sort of lore-master and/or minstrel (or both, depending on which path you took at creation) simply by changing the names of the powers and changing their “implement” from a holy symbol to either a wizards staff or a musical instrument. Do that, drop Mages and Warlocks from the game (or leave them for the bad guys), and you’re pretty much ready to play in Middle Earth in LotRO style.
So, to sum up…
– Drop Dragonborn and Tieflings. Duh.
– Elladrin are the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell.
– Sylvan elves are the elves of Mirkwood.
– Fighters: unchanged. Depending on build, they are either Champions or Guardians.
– Rogues: rogues are more melee damage dealers than the LotRO Burglars, and their benefit to the group is slightly different, but it’s still similar enough. Halfling rogues should favor trickster builds, probably, with the other type being more common with sylvan elves and the like.
– Rangers: virtually no changes.
– Warlord: call em Captains and you’re done, though I think a lot of them would be multiclassed.
– Cleric: the ‘sit-in-the-back’ build (whatever the name) you tweak in Power names and Implements to be Minstrels, and the ‘up-in-your-face’ build you likewise tweak to be Loremasters.
– Warlocks: probably only bad guys — infernal types serve Sauron entirely, I’d guess. Fey types work alright with the High elves, and Star-pact warlocks would make an interesting type of Loremaster, maybe.
– Mages: too overt to be anything but bad guys, really.
This would simulate LotRO pretty well, would work for a game setting like Midnight quite well, but still be too much magic for true Tolkein.
If you really wanted to be totally hardcore Tolkein, not LotRO, you remove Clerics and Mages. Healing would fall entirely to the use of Healing Surges and any Captains you had with you. Warlocks stay in the setting in very particular instances. Infernal Warlocks are bad guys, Fey Warlocks are the Elf Lords, and Star Pact Warlocks are Gandalf and Sauruman. (Keep the Ritual List, from which you’d likewise remove things like passwall and the Portal magic, but keep the ‘rezzes’ for when Frodo gets insta-gibbed a ringwraith on Weathertop. Only the various Warlocks would get such Rituals automatically — anyone else would need a Feat to learn a few — Aragorn did so.)

Burning Aspects

This is a SotC rules tweak. I didn’t come up with it, though I am tweaking it.
FATE and Spirit of the Century already let you change a character’s aspects whenever it’s appropriate or interesting or just plain cool to do so. That’s well and good. It’s a kind of ‘staying put’ character advancement.
I want to put a spotlight on that, when it happens. Some of the most dramatic moments in stories come when characters experience a radical change of heart. In SotC, the character is exchanging one aspect for another. In the Shadow of Yesterday (which has MANY things in common with FATE and SotC) it would be when you Buy Off a Key, which is a pretty awesome thing in that game.
So combine the two.

Continue reading “Burning Aspects”

In a highly volatile nutshell

Fred Hicks asks:

What do *you* think needs to be in a 15-minute demo of Spirit of the Century?

The best, though not necessarily most useful response:

Small mook group to be scared/confused by the talky types, then mowed down by the brawlers, but not before the BigVillain joins in.
On a Zeppelin.
Which is on fire.
Over Manhattan.
With a bunch of cute socialites on board as passengers.
And the Zeppelin is heading straight down for an orphanage.
That you finance with your immense wealth. Someone stop me!

That would be an awesome 15 minute demo.


I dreamt a game mechanic last night, based on the five Chinese elements and Rock-Paper-Scissors, as in “Fire scours Earth. Earth blocks Water. Metal slices Air. Like that.
Except I think almost everything beat Air and Metal, the way I dreamed it.
So anyway, the character sheet has a kind of pentagram on it, where the five points were the elements and the lines between them were arrows that pointed toward which elements they beat, creating a big star… and each point was a circle you could put chips in to show how strong you were in that element… though I don’t really know what being strong in that element would do for you — maybe let you win in a conflict you’d normal lose (like Earth turning around and beating Fire, or something) or the number of times you could “play” that element in a conflict, per session, or something.
I don’t know what the bloody point was, but it looked cool in my dream-head, and I don’t have time to think about it right now, or do anything about it, so I’m putting it here.
Click to embiggen.

One frog, squished into two pages

For no particular reason, I decided to see if I could (via harsh editing and severe formatting) squish the Frogger rpg I wrote down to two pages.
Downside: I lose all the great illustrative quotes that kept me chuckling while I wrote the original rules.
Upside: everything is much more concise — I wish I’d done this during the 24-hour time frame, then let it expand back to normal dimensions and more explaining — it would have been better.

So where’ve I been for the last 24 hours?

So here’s what happened.
Over on Story-Games, someone posted this:

You played it till your thumbs blistered, now write it up RPG style!
It occurs to me that many people today who browse the 1KM1KT website have only played computer games and have no (or very little) experience with tabletop games.
This 24 Hour RPG contest is about introducing our computer gaming audience to the world of tabletop gaming!
Adapt a computer game into a tabletop RPG in 24 Hours! Any computer game will do: Doom3, PacMan, Zaxxon or World of Warcraft (for the uninspired).
The goal is to breech the gap between hardcore computer gamers and the awesomeness that is tabletop role-playing. Read that: “Try and make your content accessible to new gamers.”
The submissions will be judged by the folks here at and the winner will have their game heralded in our newsletter, bumped to the front page, and will receive a fabulous 1KM1KT fun pack! The fun pack consists of an official 1KM1KT T-shirt and T-shirt packing material! (T-shirt packaging material may present a choking hazard)
The Rules:
1) Games must be based on PC or console style video games.
2) Games must be completed within a continuous 24 hour period.

And I thought:


And I didn’t really think anything of it.
And then I thought:

Maybe X-Com.

And I did, in fact, actually work out about five post-it notes worth of thinking on the X-com idea. Meanwhile, on the original thread, people were talking about some whacked out stuff like Katamari Damacy and stuff like that. One guy took 90 seconds to write up Pong, using two quarters, and I’m sorta looking at the X-com thing and knowing I could never give it the tactical grit that I love in that game, not in a 24 hour span, not really.
And I told Kate about the whole thing, and Kate was like:

Man, you should totally do like… Frogger! Or… ooh! Pitfall. I used to LOOOOVE Pitfall!

And I was like… yeah, heh. Funny. X-com x-com x-com… I even started up my old saved game of X-Com from last year and played a few nights away. Good game.
And then someone in the Story-games thread posted a link to Lifemeter, which is like a site where people draw art based on old console games… and there was This One.
And I thought… damn… office guy… why an office frog?
And then I went and looked at the old art for the side of the Frogger stand-up console. You’ll see what I mean.
And this goddamn game got stuck in my head.

This is the nightmare of modern office life: work that crushes the spirit, office cubicles as cells, and managers as wardens. The office is a dehumanizing environment for the employees – the kind of thing that makes you a cog in the machine – a number. Nothing.
Faced with that, driven to a breaking point, human beings generally do one of two things: create their own petty fiefdoms and delusions of importance… or Get Out.
Frogger is about Getting Out. You remember the artwork on the side of the old Frogger arcade console? (Here’s a hint: look at the picture on the front cover of this game.) A frog, rushing somewhere, vest and tie awry, briefcase in hand. It’s easy to think that he’s imitating the White Rabbit, muttering “I’m late, I’m late…”, except that you know from the game itself that he’s trying to get Home. He’s an office worker, trying to get away, get across all these obstacles, and get to the thing he wants – the thing he needs.
Something happened to our worker bee that made him want to get away from the buzz; something hit that cog and made it slip off.

I grabbed the idea of that little game… and Office Space.
…Falling Down.
…Lost in Translation.
…Harold and Kumar go to White Castle…
And then…
…Shawn of the Dead
…Grosse Pointe Blank
…Road to Perdition.
This is what I ended up with.
Frogger, by Doyce Testerman – 24 Hour RPG submission – 2006

Granted, the book’s so big you’ll hardly notice…

Huh. I forgot to post this.
If you’re in a game or hobby shop and happen to see the Deryni Adventures RPG (based on the books by Katherine Kurtz), check out the byline page: I’m one of the contributing authors.
The game’s written for the FUDGE system, and I wrote the “Fatigue” rules that the game uses (originally written, I think, for … Amber, but never really used much, then converted to Fudge and Swift.)
Anyway, it was cool to see my name in print.

eighteen again

After feedback and lots of questions from some folks, I’ve updated and reposted the write-up for eighteen. I think it is now tighter, closer to what I was aiming for initially, playable, but a ways from being “right”.

I warned yah I’d do it…

With apologies to various good golfing movies, the sport itself, the hobby of roleplaying, and Ron Edwards, I present an alpha-draft of eighteen: a golfing epic for sorcerer.
* I need more descriptors, including (possibly) a better way to approach (har) Cover.
* An example relationship map would be very good to have, including a number of other players for the tournament, officials, club pros, potential significant others, et cetera.
* That said, I so want to run this. 🙂
Update: conversation about it here.

Now on Deck…

With the exception of one Nobilis session… two weekends ago (egads)… there really hasn’t been much gaming going on this month. This is unusual, since in my experience our gaming group has been blessed with (a) participants and (b) lots of stuff going on. The lull is kind of weird, but very typical for August of any given year. Couple that with the fact that I’m trying to wrap up the only two games I’m currently running (Nobilis and D20) and already finished up Sorcerer last month, and you’ve got some REAL quietude.
So, lacking actual play stuff, let’s talk about what I’d like to do:
X-Com, the RPG: Between soldiers, pilots, scientists, diplomats, spies and secret agents, every player in the game should have about six characters in their ‘stable’, and would likely have access to at least four or five NPCs as well in some sessions. Combat, intrigue, espionage, covert ops, wet work, weird science, psi powers, love, betrayal, mutations, genetic experiments… zombies… there’s just no bad there.
Also, with all the failed or uncompleted spin-offs, I’ve got material for literally years of storylines.
The only question is what I’d use to run it. BESM would work for the gear, but might fall flat in other areas. FATE would do the characters beautifully without a huge amount of time investment, which is handy when I need a dozen NPC grunts and six Grey Soldiers in two minutes, but the downside there is that I really want to capture the tactical battles of the original Microprose game, and for that I need some more rules. Savage Worlds is supposed to have a really light and fast (which is key) squad-level system with an RPG wrapped around it — that could work. Hmm.
Dogs in the Vineyard (see the lumpley link in the sidebar) — Already on order. I have high hopes for this with the right group, though I’m not entirely sure what the right group would be.
Lots of Sorcerer stuff (again, see link). I want me some Sword and Sorcery… I want some rust and blood. Or Kindergoth stuff… either way.
Heroquest: at the bare minimum, I want to make this the replacement ruleset for the d20 group. Taken a step further, I want to run a supers game with it — I think it would rock, especially with some fun trope shifts.
And writing… there’s also writing I should be doing. :/

Open Mouth A, insert Foot B

You know what’s intimidating?
When the Ron Edwards PM’s you with “I’m utterly swamped, could you please address the questions in [post x]?”
… and the questions all require accurate comparisons and contrasts of ‘official’ Forge terminology — terminology I’m completely sure that any of two dozen other people on the site understand far better than I do.
Oh, and the first part of the thread includes a post in which he introduces a term I’m fairly sure I’ve never even seen before, and one of the questions is ‘what you do mean by that term?’
Finally, let’s make it this much worse: Paul Czege (author: My Life with Master) has already answered the guy, but you’ve been asked to add more.
I realize it’s not exactly like being asked to speak at a Nobel Prize presentation, but it’s still daunting.

Neel meets Sorcerer

Neel Krishnaswami posts a Sorcerer One-Sheet to The 20′ By 20′ Room. Fully expect it to be brilliant, because it’s Neel.

Sorcerer’s one-sheet style is a really handy template for blog posts. As evidence I offer All Things and Nothing, a Sorcerer game which is Nietzsche by way of David Lynch.

A note to myself for future reference

With regards to running FATE (which I plan to use in the future for at least one if not two or three things):
It’s possible, even likely, to get so used to hit-point-driven combat systems that it might seem as though a fight in FATE was not a “real challenge” if the characters come through it without any marks on their damage tracks. The thing to remember is that FATE really has two damage tracks: the actual damage taken, and the pool of Aspects that one might ‘check off’ during combat to improve results.
A game like d20 has one ‘ablative resource pool’ — hit points — while FATE has two (and possibly even other, smaller pools for specific Extras or what-not), so while it is, of course, relevant to notice damage the characters took, it’s also important to notice how far they had to reach into their Aspects during a fight (or any other conflict, actually).
A lot of checked-off Aspects as a result of a conflict means just as much (if not more) reduced effectiveness during the remainder of a scenario than the damage track (and far more than a partial loss of hit points in d20, which has no mechanical effect at all).

Character mix-n-match

Doc’s Blog … Confessions of a Game Addict: Game Dream 3: Is it Me or is it Memorex?

Some people play RPGs to enjoy a viewpoint or way of acting that they just couldn’t do in real life. Others seem to play characters whose motivations are more their own. And some folks do all of the above and everything in between 🙂 What character of yours was most like you “in real life”? Which of your characters is the least like you? Which did you find more fun to play, and why?

Continue reading “Character mix-n-match”

Unknown Armies meets Firefly

This weekend, I had a chance to play-test a Firefly game session using a stripped-down version of Unknown Armies 2nd edition. (Details on chargen are over here, but basically I just stripped magic out entirely and used the street-level campaign.)
Anyway, the game went reasonably well (though, damnably, we didn’t get a chance to finish up what should have been a one-shot session, due to interruptions) and the system seemed to work pretty well. There are, however a few tweaks I would make (or have already made) to the chargen.

  • More skill points. Using the ‘street level’ points for stats seemed to give scores that felt realistic and accurate for the characters (both those from the show that I was using to ‘calibrate’ the system and those that the players made up — however, using the street-levels for available skill points meant there just weren’t enough to go around and really flesh out the characters. We were using 15 bonus skill points — I think that in the future, I’m going to go with the same number of Stat Points, but change the ‘extra’ skill points to somewhere around 70 to 100. (Basically, I think the characters we see in Firefly have Stats that fit Street-level, but I don’t generally feel like I’m doing justice to their skills.
  • Passions can be invoked multiple times in a session instead of once-per-passion. This is the thing that will let a player get those cinematic moments when they need them — it also reemphasizes the Firefly conceit that a person is more effective when they really care. Mal’s a decent shot with a pistol, but when you’ve betrayed him and you’re threatening one of his crew, at that moment he can put a bullet in your brain from twenty feet away while at a brisk walk, without aiming. Cool.

I’m also pondering using Conflict- instead of task-resolution. Rather than rolling for each little task in the middle of combat or major conflict, I’d move to a Sorcerer/Fate type of resolution where a roll represents a short-ish series of related actions. Rewrites to optional skills like Fast Draw might be necessary, but it would still probably be quite viable.
We’ll see. I’ve been wanting to mess around with this system for Firefly for awhile now and I was glad to give it a whirl… I think it offers a lot of features that emphasize the parts of the show and characters that deserve emphasis — it’s not perfect by any means, but there’s some really good stuff there.
That said, I’m looking forward to a chance to try out Dust Devils in the ‘verse as well.

Sorcerer and the non-optimal character sheets

[I promise the actual play from Friday night is on the way. I’ve got it about half-written, I swear.]
I mentioned this parenthetically in the previous post but it bears repeating (and adding to my SorcererWiki, actually): one big difference between Sorcerer and pretty much every other game on the market (at least every game I’ve ever encountered) is the character sheet.
To be more specific, in almost any game the sheet is meant to express your character at their current optimal functionality; generally, in-game modifiers pull down (lowering stats, scores, skills, or removing equipment or spells or whatever) — the sheet is the top end — things just get worse from there. This seems so obvious that it hardly needs to be noted… except that Sorcerer doesn’t do it that way.
What you get on a Sorcerer sheet is the character when they’re not really trying too hard.
The assumption that the character-on-the-sheet is the “optimal” version (and failure on the part of the GM to correct this assumption *coff*myfirstgame*coff*) is erroneous and is usually why players fail to capitalize on the bonuses that come from ‘contextual play’: most folks with experience in other games will look at the sheet and think “I have a Will of 5,” when it is more accurate to say “If I don’t really put much work into it, my Will is 5. If I’m really phoning it in, it’s probably more like a 4, and if I’m truly firing on all cylinders as a player, my Will is a 6, 7, maybe even 8 or more.
It’s also worth noting that it’s the players actions during play (bonuses for tactics, cool scene setting, et cetera) that make the character more effective, not usually the character’s actions (such as using a ‘boost’ ability or whatever). In the long term at any rate the former method of enhancement is more more reliable than the latter.
The game more than supports this kind of play; it really requires it in order to do well and will kick your ass otherwise. Some of the differences I’ve noticed in play between the first game I ran and some of the later stuff is the simple fact that I’ve eventually started to point this feature out to people before the game starts.

FATE and the El Dorado game

One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer when I look over a new game is “What do I want out of the game?” This is a key question, because the answer I come up with is also going to be the answer to “What ‘thing’ do I want the system to be able to do as a central function?”
To reverse engineer this, so I can evaluate the system in those terms, the opposing question ask about a game system is “What does this game facilitate as a central or key mechanic that interests me? What kind of game does that create? Does that interest me?”
You can rephrase the question as “What is special about the system that simply couldn’t be done in your generic-game-of-choice (GURPS, D20, BESM, FUDGE, et cetera) without rewriting the whole thing?”

Continue reading “FATE and the El Dorado game”

Which parts are you?

Lumpley, via the Forge

I’ve got a theory.
There’s Setting, System, Character, Situation and Color, right? I think that you can start a game as soon as you’ve nailed down three of the five. That means that a game text must provide at least three of the five to be a whole game. But I really don’t think it matters which three.
You can write a game that provides Character, Situation and Color but leaves Setting and System to be set up by the group, if you want. In fact kill puppies for satan is like that.
Or you could write a game like Sorcerer, providing System, Character and Situation and leaving Setting and Color to the group.
Ars Magica provides Setting, Character and Color, with maybe some Situation too, but not much System at all. (Call me on that, I dare you.) All the WoD games are probably about the same, there.
Obviously, the thicker your game the more you can provide.

Hmm. A game the whole geek family can play:
* Trollbabe: Color (disguised as setting), Situation and character.
* Gods and Monsters: Character, Situation and Color. (And more system than Trollbabe at least.)
* FATE: System, Character. Players must add/select one or more of Setting, Situation and Color.
* Nobilis: Setting, Situation and Color (very little of the actual character is apparent in the stats — there’s more even in d20, where at least skill-point selection reveals preferences and interests.)
* Amber: Setting, Situation and Color (ditto Nobilis, except it has even less system)
* D20: System, Character. Add setting, situation, and color (usually as expressed within skills/feats) to taste.
Hmm… thinking of stuff like Hero and Gurps and whatnot, it seems like most of ‘generic’ systems only have two-of-five, with splatbooks or player input to provide one or more of the other elements.

G/N/S translated into my own words, using examples

Once upon a time (about six months ago), I stumbled on some pretty good games via reviews on and 20×20 room. The first of these was My Life With Master, which was so different in a lot of ways from what I tended to think of as a role-playing game that I wasn’t even sure if it really was a roleplaying game.
It was, however, cool as hell. That I knew.
Reading through the thing and the notes in the back led me to some sites I’d been to before, off and on, but never really delved into too much — Momento-Mori and the number of games available for download there (notably InSpectres, which was a real mind-blowing ‘investigation’ game), and the Forge.
Stuff on the Forge led me to reading up on quite a number of other games whose goals all seemed to be pretty novel and very interesting to me as a GM and even moreso as a player: Sorcerer, Urge, Trollbabe, Dust Devils, Donjon, Paladin, Universalis, et cetera.
These were, I found out, products of folks working on building “Narrativist” games, a style (dare I say “movement”) of games built not (usually) to test out new game mechanics or (necessarily) to create an incredibly detailed setting — but to explore a character dealing with conflict.
“Umm… dude… that’s like… every RPG… ever?”
Well, that’s not to say that other games… older games… didn’t give you a session or a campaign where you got to deal with character conflict. Most every game out there does… that’s sort of the point.
What the narrativist guys were doing was talking about the Literary definition of conflict — that means “a question is posed within the story (overtly or covertly), and the protagonist answers that question through his or her actions.”
So: A ballroom full of hobgoblins that you have to get through to save the princess is not a conflict in these terms; it’s a challenge (which those Forge guys then associated with “Gamist” styles of player).
A conflict by this definition would be something like: “You’ve been given great power. How will that change you?”
The players then play the game, and their characters’ actions define their answers.
Peter Parker’s actions say: Great Power means I must now be responsible.
Bruce Banner’s actions say: Great Power exposes my greatest faults.
Logan’s actions say: Great Power just raises more questions for me.
Or whatever.
What I’m going to do below is talk about three styles of play that the folks on the Forge use when talking about game group dynamics, and use examples of both Games and Example Moments from Actual Play to illustrate what I think each style means in the real world.
I don’t know if any of this will be useful to anyone but me — that’s okay, since it’s mostly just me working on figuring it out.

Continue reading “G/N/S translated into my own words, using examples”

I lasted a whole week without spitting out any G/N/S terminology…

Hmm. I think I’m going to go a bit longer, despite someone handing me (another) nice short definition for the three styles of play today.
It’s not the most accurate description, exactly — I might put it in my own words later — but it works. For what it’s worth the whole thing has really helped me (personally) understand why some of the people I play with react to in-game stuff the way they do. Hell, it helps me understand my own enjoyment (or lack) of a game session.
If nothing else, it made me notice when I’m sitting with a group of six people who think they’re all there to play the same game and three want to play game A and two want to play game C and one wants to play game B, and the issues that might come out of that. That’s Result — it makes me a better GM — maybe even a better player (arguable).

Fudging Fate

“It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.”
— Dame Rose Macaulay
Okay, so ***Dave has (rightfully) voiced some concern over the problems with running Spycraft d20 — while it’s a great adaptation of the system to the genre, the d20 cruft-accumulation added to the not-at-all-inconsiderable Spycraft-additions to the rules has created a sort of never-ending learning curve on the rules.
Translation: we spend as much time looking up stuff now as we did 4 levels and 16 sessions ago. Frankly, that shouldn’t happen.
So, in an effort to keep the ship airborn by jettisoning unwanted baggage, he started looking at other systems. Since I am currently the designated system-whore, I offered up some suggestions, which lead to FATE, which is basically Fudge all growed-up. It’s good stuff, people.
The problem — the only real problem thus far (and one that presents itself even moreso in vanilla Fudge as well), is that there’s some customization required. Granted, this isn’t Fudge, where you have to create your own stats, your own … everything…
but it is a generic system* with all the good and bad that comes with that, and that means custom-built skill lists.
Which means, after digging into the rules (and digging the rules), you’re still stuck hammering out a skill list that isn’t (a) too long (b) too short (c) too plain (d) so ‘flavorful’ that you can’t play it.
It feels a lot like designing a game, which is… well, fun if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but not fun if you’re… not. My brain (and, I’m sure, Dave’s) is fried — turning over questions like “do we need scrounge if we have Streetwise? what level of detail should that kind of activity need in this genre?”
Ugh. I’m down to “Fire bad. Tree pretty.” Pass me the beer.

Game News

Green Ronin has the publishing green-light to revise and release Warhammer FRPG (my favorite ‘blood and rust’ game of all time).
That’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that there’s some table-talk about coming out with an RPG for Warhammer 40k… the closest thing anyone’s ever done before now was Spacehulk. Color me intrigued.

Movie Logic is not like our Earth Logic

Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Saying that shards of broken glass are razor sharp is an understatement. A shattered window contains thousands of incredibly sharp edges and dagger-like points. It takes almost no force for one of these points or edges to cause a laceration. However, people in movies routinely jump through plate glass windows without receiving a single scratch.
Broken glass has at least two mechanisms for slashing a person diving through a window: its weight and its inertia. First, large heavy shards of glass can fall like guillotines, slicing off body parts. Second, when a person jumps or, even worse, drives a motorcycle through a window, the shards of glass tend to stay in place due to their inertia. The only way to move them is to apply a force. If the person’s body provides this force by pushing on the edge of a piece of glass, it can slice right through clothing, skin, and flesh. In the real world, jumping or driving through a plate glass window would be suicidal.
There are individuals who have accidentally fallen through windows without sustaining serious injuries. There are also people who have survived the Ebola virus. However, in both cases the odds are not particularly good.

Not sure if this is the thing to read before a Spycraft game…

My Life with Drill Sergeant: Full Metal Master

Population: One: Monday Mashup #37: Full Metal Jacket
Oh, I could do something here with Sorcerer, tying everyone’s kickers into what they fear. I could do something with the “Basic Training Horror” inside of a setting like Nobilis, but there’s a really clear, perfect answer to this mashup: My Life with Master.

Full Metal Jacket is about, in part, the lengths men go to to avoid that which they cannot face. In some cases, that?s death. In some cases, it?s something else. I think I?d want the definition of the things the characters fear the most to be an integral part of character creation, in some way, because my mashup of the movie would be oriented towards catching the harrowing mood that Kubrick produced.

Well, when you’ve got a system in which the only numeric ratings relevant to characters are Fear, Self-Loathing, Weariness, Reason and Love — ladies and gentlemen you’ve got the game for this kind of spiral into darkness.

And there?s no suspense: the characters are going to wind up smack dab against the things they want so badly to avoid. The question, in this game, is what they?ll do exactly once they realize where they?re going.

To quote lumpley, the suspense doesn’t come from wondering if something’s going to happen — it comes from wondering how something’s going to happen.
That’s what My Life with Master gives you — the crushing weight of inevitability and what your reaction to it will be.

The Forge on Batman

Not just Batman, actually, in fact…

every single character that can be referenced for this stereotype/archetype is also a Big Softy. Show him a struggling young couple, a stray animal, an old but still feisty craftsman, or anything similar, and he’ll put his blood and bones on the line to help them.
Conan. Mad Max. Batman. The whole bunch of’em, all softies. The inability to see that characterizes a large number of role-players who continually want to play vicious bad-asses who are not Softies and then wonder why no one wants to play with them, or why they never quite feel like they get the character “right.”

It explains something I’d never really tried to voice about why Batman ‘works’ in the hands of some writers and doesn’t in the hands of others, but the relation to PCs in RPGs is also a good one.

Lumpley, again

Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore:

Seriously. How many times have you created a character who was far cooler in your head than he or she turned out to be in play? How many times have you prepped a campaign only to find that, in play, it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped? Have you ever thought that, y’know, reading game books and imagining play and preparing for a game is almost as much fun as actually playing? Or even more fun than actually playing?
The hobby doesn’t value or teach collaboration. It values and teaches competing sole-authorship. Pre-game invention sells books but robs players of their ability to contribute; pre-game meaning is thrilling to imagine but dull to actually play. This arrangement we’ve got going is frickin’ broken.
The solution is to design games that’re inspiring, but daydreaming about how much fun the game will be to play seems pointless and lame, and you can’t create extensive histories or backstories because that stuff’s collaborative –
– so you call a friend.

Chicken, Egg, Amberites

A conversation on the Forge regarding how or when the idea of Player Authorship crept into your style of play. What follows is my reply, which I’m posting here simply to have it at hand:

So: Are my experiences with player authorship relatively common to those of other Forgers? How as a greater/lesser degree of such effected the games that you have run or played in?

Largely, it’s been an evolutionary versus revolutionary process for me.
Playing DnD back in high school (lo those many years ago) it was all gamist/sim stuff — players played and the GM made the story. Period. Full stop. It was ’89 in the midwest — whattaya gonna do? 🙂
This style of play continued into college. Towards the end of that period I was running a game using Dangerous Journeys/Mythus (a game I still adore). This was my first experience with characters who essentially started out as competent, experience people, and it had quite a lot of influence over the game. Everything was very heavily Sim, but there was a lot of player-initiated plotting and interaction, though still well within the bounds of the designed game, and I remember the players sometimes trading in Joss (luck) to get things to happen that otherwise would not have. Never occured to me that that was player authorship, but it certainly was.
The next game was my first time GMing Amber, which I think was a game that people looking for more authorship control might have naturally gravitated towards at the time, since it gave the player so much say over what was going on — I specifically remember part of the Combat section that told players to “just add what you like to a scene — you need a sword and your in the castle? Put one on the wall and grab it!” Heady stuff. One player faked his own death and passed himself off as a ‘new’ family member for two-thirds of the entire eighteen-session campaign.
The setting helps with player-empowerment as well, since there was an inherent ability within the setting for the PCs to invent entire new worlds exactly (heh) to their personal specifications, populated with people they found interesting, and focusing on their own stories since they were compentent enough to be able to go off on their own. Players could seek out whoever they wanted to seek out, have the encounters they wanted to have (“I shadowwalk to someplace were there’s a bar fight”), and talk to whomever they liked, even if they weren’t nearby (Trumps).
This was one of the revolutionary shifts to the player/GM dynamic. I started GMing with much less prep on ‘scenario’ and much more focus on ‘what happens as a result of the player actions’. I don’t think it was diceless, karma-based play that did it, I think it was the setting and the sense that not having dice really ‘opened things up’.
I moved after that and spent a few years finding new players (and learning that I can’t PBeM worth a damn and playing Muds, where my need for Player Authorship was (sadly) channeled into an obsessive need to spend as much time Building as I did playing), after which I ran a very rewarding, very long, Amber game. While I gradually became less and less enamored of Amber DRPG’s “system”, this essentially cemented my expectations for player-control. In fact, it got to the point where I actually became annoyed with the players who seemed to ‘just sit there and wait for some NPC to give them a job’. The players that worked well in the game were those who were self-starters or who would take a plot hook and run with it. “Passive” players were just a lot more work.
Following that game I did some stuff with the original little BESM book (which I think of as a sort of 2nd edition Amber RPG in a lot of ways). This didn’t work quite as well in terms of giving the players input (which meant I was prepping a bit more and not really thrilled about that). D20 was out though and everyone was in the mood for some ‘old skool’ games.
The glow of that faded, however (though not as quickly as some of the campaigns have, unfortunately), and I found myself looking for something that would give me that “shared creative energy” that I had in previous games. (I still didn’t have the Forge vocabulary to see that I was looking to recapture some Author-stance for my players.)
I was really down on the ADRPG, which led me to put it off for a really long time, but eventually I gave in and bought Nobilis. (Which I think really feels like an Indie game — it’s big and thick and published by someone else, but it’s owned by the author and has a lot of shared philosophy with the kind of play you can get out of Forge games — grist for another thread, perhaps).
Love at first read. Granted, the book is… well, a big beautiful mess, but there’s a great ‘Nobilis 101’ doc on the internet that really helped me get the rules, and I started running a game. That was a year ago, and I’ve been very pleased — it’s a great game and allows from some fantastic character interaction.
Also, in the last half of that time-period or so I started picking up on the threads of thought on the Forge and have begun implementing some of the techniques found here as a way of giving the Nobilis system the last few things it didn’t naturally have built into its setting (the way Amber did) to facilitate player authorship.
The Forge was the other big revolution in the evolution, as it’s crystalized and defined some of the things I’ve been looking for without knowing I was looking for them. I’m starting up a proper Sorcerer game this Friday, having some great fun with the pre-game chargen (using something called Themechaser for background stuff) for an online Paladin game (running Tuesday nights on #indierpgs) in which the player creation has already influenced the setting, and I’m just hopping up and down in anticipation of getting to the next Nobilis sessions and tightening the focus of the Premise for the game and getting some more player control going.
Whew! Long post. Really helped me get my head around where some of my inclinations evolved from, though.

Sorcerer and the Dark Side :)

So in sketching out the Shannon character for this post, I became aware of a really cool ‘dark-side/light-side’ thing going on:
When she was setting the character up, she chose to connect Humanity to ‘Mastery’. I’m naturally inclined toward connecting it to something like Empathy, but one of the example sorcerer groups (the Black Wheel) fit the Mastery idea pretty well, and I thought her history could tie into that, and that might be interesting. End result, we went with Humanity=Mastery for her, even though I didn’t really have the impression that it would be a compelling definition of the Attribute.
And then she chose “Rageful/Vengeful” as her descriptor on Will.
Now, for those of you who don’t know my wife, imagine she and I smirking about this and making jokes about Playing to Her Strengths — Jackie has a… pretty easy time playing characters who channel their anger in both constructive and destructive ways — call it a talent if you like, or art imitating life. Anyway, what we ended up with was this quiet librarian who’s not very good at social situations and for whom the core of her Will is basically a hard kernel of anger and resentment… lots of which is generated by the awkward social scenes that seem to gravitate toward her. (Sounds like the bad-guy/girl for a Stalker-Thriller movie.)
Also, within the game, you can (in theory) get bonuses for using an Attribute in such as way that it dramatically emphasizes the descriptor for the Score. (Note emphasis on ‘dramatically’ — I understand that it’s no good to just say “I hit him, and I’m mad”.)
What this boils down to is that, in the short term, it’s in the player’s (mechanical, game-based) interests for Shannon to ‘lose it’ in critical situations — it’s interesting, it’s appropriate to the character, it’s dramatic, and it’s also potentially worth a bonus on her dice.
It’s also, long-term, a bad idea.
See, the definition of her Humanity is “Mastery”, remember?. There’s lots of things that could cause a character to risk a drop in Humanity (contacting and summon Demons is a universal risk for anyone, regardless of how they define Humanity), but in addition to the ‘standard’ reason, things that cross the line in regards to your personal definition of Humanity also mean you’re risking a drop in the stat.
Well, “Losing it” in some violently emotional way is one of those things that causes a Humanity test in our definition of Mastery/Humanity.
First response: Hmm… nice dynamic.
Second response: What a great, classic bit of character drama! (Particularly fun since we didn’t set out to create that crisis for the character… we only realized it later.)
Do you go for the quick and easy pay-off of flipping your lid and letting out your anger or do you keep control of yourself, thereby protecting your Humanity in the long-term but robbing yourself of some easy strength at this particular moment?
Give in to your anger… Heh. Classic stuff. I’m loving this game and we’ve only played one session.

Continue reading “Sorcerer and the Dark Side :)”

Failure in Trollbabe

Ron Edwards is working on a final, hard-copy version of Trollbabe, trying to get it done in time for GenCon. In a Forge Thread, he talks about the fact that he’s changing the range for Social tests (making them one-better than the lower, rather than higher range, thus making them the ‘middle’ number of the three tests). (He also mentions a change to the way Magic is going to work as a ‘conflict starter’, which I haven’t had a chance to really look at.)
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, the thread became a discussion of dealing with failure in Trollbabe and the fact that what failure looks like for a Trollbabe depends entirely on the player’s narration and how they interpret a low chance of success in a particular task. (Or, balancing a low chance of success with the world-view that a Trollbabe is a bad-ass at everything… even something they technically have a lower chance of success at.)
There’s a great example from Bob McNamee, which I have to share here:

Continue reading “Failure in Trollbabe”

Thinking outside the Toybox

There’s this thing in gaming that really doesn’t work: adding new optional things to a system that the players are very familiar with.

This could be talking to the players and ask them to try to use some different method of play or an optional rule, adding in a few cool rules from another game that matches the goal of the GM, or just trying to encourage the new thing in play as GM.

These are all situations where the new thing was ‘optional’. I’ve never seen it work.

The reasons are simple. Typically, players feel that they’re supposed to do what they were doing before, plus some other things that just add to the level of complexity.

The most common thing that happens is… nothing. The players still see the original game’s system and they don’t adjust in any way to the new stuff.

Alternately, players alter their mode a little but then feel they’re being made to do things that are uncomfortable, boring, or just not what they expect out of that game. Canalized players know what they want, and even when they’re presented with something that’s potentially fun, they might not see where it’s fun. Especially if it happens to conflict with what they normally consider fun.

Put another way, if they can play the same old way, they will play the same old way.

Let me give two examples from two different system/settings: d20 and Amber.

D20: I’m currently playing in a Spycraft game. Tremendous amount of fun. One of the things that’s different about the game versus standard d20 is the concept of action dice. I’ve been reading all this Narrative-game theory and checking out games like Trollbabe and Paladin and stuff and I think “Holy crap, this is a way to give Player’s some narrative control over the situation.” so I burn these things like water — I’m invariably out of the damn things about an hour into each session. Loosely stated, they give you the option to give yourself bumps to your rolls that you’d really like to succeed at, the option to call in favors and so forth from home base, and they also must be traded in to convert a d20 ‘threat’ into a ‘critical’ — it’s the only way it can happen.

Anyone want to take any guess as to where 90% of all action dice get spent?

Yup. On the thing that you have to spend it on. I’ve seen players at the game sit there and potentially accept failure in lieu of spending AD’s during the game — and I don’t think it’susually because anyone’s waiting to see if they get a crit later that they can use them on — they just don’t *think* of it. (Not to take too much credit for anything, but when the other players spend have spent AD’s on bonuses to skill checks, it’s usually because I badger suggest it to them.)

Why? Cuz the optional things get pushed out by the d20 mindset. Crits you know — crits require this mechanic. That’s what they get used for.

Amber: It won’t surprise anyone when I point out that I’m not in love with the ADRPG’s resolution mechanic — the “static karma, plus drama’ systems just don’t work for me — whether via dice or some sort of resource pool, some dynamism is just something I think the system needs. YMMV.

I sat, astonished, when I started to grasp the elegance of the Nobilis diceless system, because with the Miracle Point pools it did what I didn’t think a truly diceless, fortuneless (no dice, no cards) system could do.

A few days ago, I ran across a saved copy of Mike Sullivan’s Amber system for his New Mutiny game. Reading through it (about one page), I was stunned to notice that it had a ‘resource pool’ mechanic right there –granted, it’s more like 7th Sea or HeroQuest’s Hero Points than Nobilis in that it uses the same pool of points that you used to raise your stats with, but it was there, and I’d seen it almost two years before Nobilis.

Why didn’t I remember it? Because I saw the whole thing as an Amber system, and that ‘optional’ rule for pushing up your score was immediately fnorded out by me — I simply didn’t see it — all I saw were the ‘mandatory’ rules variations he’d set up for defining attributes (themselves a good thing), not the optional ‘pushing’ rules.

There’s a simple solution to this: just play a game that strongly supports the change you’re looking for from the ground up — either do this to try out the feel of such a thing, or do more long-term to get the kind of play you like without modifying the old system. The biggest advantage is that these games have the ‘thing you want to try’ built in at some integral level, and they’re largely new ground for the players who, lacking any preconceptions about the gameplay, will try out the new rules.

Here’s a quick example: In the ADRPG, in the section on combat, Wuj points out that the player’s got a lot of leeway with combat scenes — if you’re in a hallway in Castle Amber and you need a weapon, you can just use the logic of the setting and say “I grab a sword off the wall from where it’s behind one of those heraldic shields.” It’s one of the coolest bits of advice I’d ever read at that point in my gaming life, and that kind of player control just blew my mind.

No one does this. No one. I’ve played over two-hundred sessions of Amber and I’ve never seen a player do this. (They might ask if there’s a sword there, but they never just put one there themselves.) Why? It’s optional.

Then there’s Trollbabe, wherein, if you miss a roll, one of the (five or six) ways that you can earn a reroll is by introducing ‘a new object’ into the scene.

Time elapsed in actual game play before someone used the logic of the setting to introduce a handy improvised weapon? About ten minutes. It was, in fact, the first thing anyone used to earn a reroll.

Why? It’s built into the system.

Maybe something that might work for a game like Spycraft would be to play a session of Wushu or even Sorcerer (hmm… Spy-genre Donjon… hmmm) — everything cool you describe gets you more dice and you will, quite frankly, get your kung-fu ass HANDED to you if you don’t set up those cool actions.

Then take that play experience and try to translate that kind of feel back to the pre-existing mechanic Spycraft — the players are maybe doing more stuff with the dice, doing more things that would *earn* them the dice in the game, and the GM is letting them flow more freely, like Force Points in Star Wars (wasn’t really cool: it’s gone; used it to do something cool: you’ll get it back; used it to do something cool at the perfect time or this resulted in a dramatic scene or something; get it back and have another — all this in addition to the other reasons they give for distributing them in the game itself.)

Conversely, I think to really see the strength of Mike’s New Mutiny system design, you take the system out of Amber entirely and run something else with it… hell, Ancient Chinese Sorcery wire-fu works as well as anything else and lets you “push” appropriately — then take it back into the game it was meant to.

But, the bottom line: if you want to break a habit, make a clean break first.

If you want the players to exercise more control on the story in the game, you drop them into InSpectres. Period. They don’t really have any choice but take control or the game just stops.

To paraphrase Mike Holmes: It’s the reason why Everyway cards work in Everyway/Amberway and can’t just be dropped into a standard ADRPG-system game game with real success: if changing the system alone were enough to change mode, then those nifty alterations would work. The cards get ignored, though, so that people can focus on the ‘actual system’, even if they might save their butt. Where in “what would my character do?” does the player consider when to play “Unlooked-for Ally”? He doesn’t.

I’ve mentioned that I’m wrapping up my DnD game soon. After that happens, my plan (providing my players don’t run screaming from the table at the idea, which is a possibility) is to do some short-run games (1-5 sessions each) in systems that players haven’t played before — the genre will probably remain fantasy for most of it, but I’m looking at stuff like Donjon, Burning Wheel, HeroQuest, Sorcerer & Sword, Paladin, and another thing I’ve been playing around with — what they all have in common is that they would work in the same setting we’ve been using and introduce new concepts to game play as an integral part of the game.

Integral. Cannot be ignored. Et cetera. That’s where you get outside the box.

Thought from Friday’s game…

“Next campaign, I’m not going to give a bonus to hit for coming up with interesting descriptions in combat: I’m going to give penalties for not doing it.”


There’s a game I’d like to write up in full that I never will. Two reasons:
One is simply that almost all of the mechanics of the thing are based off of a great indie game called Trollbabe. While the author might be (in fact, probably is) down with people riffing off his game, to do him justice I should be charging for it and making sure he gets his due. This conflicts with the second thing; making money off of it would be illegal, in that setting a game in Amber is the right of someone else in the gaming world. (Not that they’re doing anything with that right, but there it is.)
So, the only way I could do it as a complete rules set for Amber would be to make it free, which screws the original game’s author, which I won’t do.
So this is best I can do: kind of an OGL “You must own this book to use these rules” type of deal — go buy Trollbabe, by Ron Edwards. Just do it. It’s ten damn dollars and probably the best money you’ll spend, per dollar, on any game. If you disagree I’ll pay you back.
Jesus, still hedging?
Well, you can go read the review here, which should give you enough rough understanding of the rules to get you though the rest of the post, but really you should just cough up the tenner.
For those of you who’ve got Trollbabe, but don’t know about the setting of Amber, go buy the five books of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series and read them, or just ignore this post.
Now then, you’ve bought. You’ve read.
Everyone on the same page? Good. Let’s try out a game called Amberite.

Continue reading “Amberite”

Games I might want to run: #6

Donjon (site), Donjon (review), Donjon example characters — player-driven dungeon crawling — it seems as though this could be either an InSpectres-level romp or a serious game. I’m intrigued.
Paladin (site). Probably for a small group… maybe 2, maybe three. Maybe good for Justin. Good mechanics at any rate.
Trollbabe. Review. Example of play here. Again, a smaller group. I’ve got a lot of hope that this game might be really good for some of my players.
Sorceror. I put off getting this for a very long time. I was wrong to do that. Great game. Great. Already looking around for Sorceror and Sword.

Character inspiration

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 85: Character Inspirations

What inspires you to create characters? Do you have partially-developed characters in mind for use when you get into a new campaign? Do you shop characters around, or do you come up with new characters when you get into a campaign? Why? If you GM, are you bothered by receiving a solicitation for a ?generic? character, or does it enthuse you to get a solid proposal even if it?s not closely tailored to your game?

I wonder how well this ties back into making the same character over and over.
Let’s look at the last few character’s I’ve made for games:
* Dylan isn’t a continuation of any ongoing riff I’ve been trying to play: as a general rule, he’s a ‘new’ character to me, especially when you take the complications of his home life into account. I got the basic idea from … I guess Alias and the character Jack on the show — at least the profiling bit, but that came on later — really I just think I’m better off playing a faceman — I tried an laconic character with Bob and it doesn’t really work for me. So, Alias, with some home-life stuff from… who knows. Some of the stuff I have in mind for him is based solely on my plans for the character, while other stuff is growing out of my interaction with the game.
* Japteth is something else entirely — conceived solely for the purpose of working within the setting and campaign, he doesn’t really work in another setting or story. Again, he’s sort of a faceman/leader type, but not in a charming way… in a bossy way. I wanted a guy who commands the legions of the dead because that’s his right… someone who can talk to gods without quailing because of the utter surety he has in his duty.
* Jacob, in CryHavoc, was a character I’ve been trying to play for several years in several different settings and systems. I finally had to a chance to play him, and now I’m pretty much over it.
* Gwydion, the smooth-talking scotsman bard was another I carried around for awhile (not nearly as long as Jacob) trying to get ‘right’. I think I did that in LGreyhawk (before it all went to hell), and while I would have liked to have done more with ‘Her Brilliancy’s Secret Service’, I think I got what I wanted out of the character, and I don’t need to play him again.
* Bob was a joke that turned into a character that turned into a joke. The campaign I was playing him in didn’t support that kind of player, but at the same time I have no desire to ‘try again’ with him at a later date.
And then there’s Kethos, the guy I keep trying to play in any number of games… Amber NPC, Living Arcanis demonkin… heck, even Grez’k in LJ is sort of a Kethos adaptation… or he became one. On the one hand, I’ve never really been able to finish playing this character… on the other, I think my friends are tired of seeing him at the table 🙂

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:

Continue reading “Games I might want to run #1 – Dead Inside”


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.

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.

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.

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:

Continue reading “Game theory”

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.


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.

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.

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:

Continue reading “”

PBeMs for the masses

WISH 30: Is PBeM Roleplaying?

Are PBeM (Play-by-email) games actually roleplaying? Why or why not? How does PBeM differ from or approximate roleplaying face-to-face, or other activities that you feel it is similar to?

I’m going to say no, using criteria that some folks wouldn’t or don’t.
1. To me, a roleplaying event of any kind is characterized by a social gathering — I’m not going to be entirely meat-exclusive and say that it requires everyone be in the same room, but it is a social situation for the players (anecdotes and laughter that have nothing to do with the game itself… that’s my style of play I guess — PBeM’s aren’t social for the players as a general rule — they are for the characters, but not players.
2. A roleplaying event involves a level of immediacy — in responses, in formulating reaction, et cetera. Talk to me about IRC, chat, or MU* environments meant to roleplay and I’m on board with the idea that you can have a roleplaying game going on in that environment, simply because of the immediacy of it… PBeMs are a kissing cousin to that; collaborative writing experiments.
Some folks might argue against that assertion (that PBeM is more of a collaborative story-writing exercise than roleplay), saying that writing is much more structured than PBeM, but for all that you might be firing emails off to people quickly, nothing in an PBeM compares to the instantaneous online interaction of a chat room or IRC or what-have-you, and forget about face-to-face — regardless of the speed of emailed replies, actions is more considered, prepared, structured, and planned with PBeM… yes, to the point where, IMO, what you’re doing is writing the story of what your character is doing in character than being in character.
Caveat That doesn’t make it less of a good experience — it just makes it different. (Not the kind of different I enjoy, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)

Yes, Mother

Monday Mashup #17: Psycho
Hmm. I think I’d got with My Life with Master on this one, simply because I’ve been wanting to do something with it for awhile (although my current fave idea for MLWM is to run the classic I7 Ravenlof adventure as a MLWM scenario with the PCs as servants of Stradd, the traditional adventurers as the Others, etc.)
In this idea, the Master is the owner of a hotel, and the minions are hotel staff. We’d have to go a bit larger than the Bates, so lets mash in a good-sized old place like the Stanley Hotel (just to get a little bit of The Shining in there).
The twist here would be that Norman’s not presented as the Master, but as one of the fellow minions, following the orders of his Mother (whom the character’s never see) — Norman would use all the rules in the book for NPC minions (only using Reason and Fear for rolls, etc.), essentially making him simply a foil for the PCs who eventually reveals himself as the Real Master.

Hello, Clarice

I’ve got some catching up to do… Monday Mashup #13: Silence of the Lambs
I’m combining this with Nobilis.
Lecter is a captured excrucian, gone from cannibal to destroyer-of-bits-of-creation. Because he has been captured by the PC’s and they have no proof that he’s actually done any harm, they’re stuck with either keeping him under lock and key or releasing him, and they aren’t going to release him.
He therefore becomes a source of information — insight into the other monsters out there in the world whose motivations are beyond the understanding of normal folks but which are completely understandable to him.
In the stories, Lecter’s motivations were alienation and aesthetics; he only killed the most stupid, annoying, and distasteful. Playing around with this, you get a pretty archetypal Excrucian — they are truly alien by nature (coming from beyond Creation), and aestetically motivated, as they try to ‘collect’ all the portions of creation within themselves… perhaps not strictly cannibalistic, but close enough. Our little captured excrucian never expects anyone to understand him… who in Creation could.
Until he begins to sense that he might have an ally (or at least willing dupe) in the form of one of the PCs: someone particularly bright, particularly ruthless, notably pragmatic…
Hmm. This is an idea I might have to use.

Changing the world

WISH 73: Player-Driven Shifts

What’s the biggest PC-driven shift you’ve ever experienced in a campaign? If you were a player, what made you feel like you could successfully change the GM’s world? If you were a GM, was this planned or something the PCs surprised you with?

I’d probably have to give the golden screw aware to Scott Herndon’s affect on my TiHE campaign, in which he presented positive proof that the universe had 10 primary points of power within it, when I was firmly convinced that it was eight. His reasoning for this was so good that I actually went looking for the other two myself and, upon finding them, realized a great deal more about the story than I had previously.

The life of the NPC

WISH 71: Unwritten NPCs

For GMs : when you plan or play your NPCs, do you intentionally leave out some of the story for each? Do you hold something back and let the Players imagine the rest or do you present NPCs from the core of who they are?

What I generally try to do with NPCs is present them based off of a core idea of their character, with all the contradictions and oddities that that generally entrails, but at the same time I’m listening to what the players are doing with that character, how they read them, what they think is going on with them, and incorporate the best of those ideas as well.
This has worked particularly well lately within the Nobilis game, most notable where ***Dave has picked up on a tremendous amount of the hidden stuff within Haley, the Power of Imagination, and run with it. Good stuff.

For Players : Do you rely on the NPC as presented, or are you usually looking ?between the lines? to figure the elements that are hold-backs?

I’m naturally inclined to be narcissistic in real life, so thinking about NPC motivations isn’t my strongest suit. Since I write up stuff on my own, I tend to come up with involved reasons for NPC actions that, while amusing to the GM, are nowhere near the real deal.

Do you care that the NPCs might have as many conflicted qualities as the PCs?

Only if it’s somehow relevant.

Should a game really revolve around the PCs in every respect, including a certain ?artificial? quality to the secondary cast? Or are you happier if the NPCs are ?sticky??

I prefer NPCs who seem to have lives going on beyond what’s going on with my character — that makes them more interesting tome and shakes me out of my natually PC-centric POV.

Butterfinger, we barely knew yah…

WISH 72: Character Interruptus

Talk about a few characters you had to stop playing before their stories felt finished. Where do you think they would have gone?

Sara Parker, a.k.a. Bombshell, was a pretty cool Supers character. A leader who didn’t want the job, a secret identity, a second-layer of secret identity, a dark secret, and more character hooks than you could shake a stick at.
Where might she have gone? Well, I think Dave would have been missing at least a few lovely opportunities if Sarah hadn’t at the very least (1) been kicked out of the group as a spy, (2) been kicked out of the group (again) as a traitor, and (3) run into her ‘dead’ parents, apparently working for the bad guys.

Pondering the flow

So, we’ve had a few players cross-over from one Nobilis game group to the other now, and someone asked one of the ‘crossers’ which one of the groups stayed on track better.
His answer, to say the least, surprised me a bit, so I set about the Saturday session with the goal of getting the thing in focus a bit better. The result (as summarized elsewhere):

Nobilis seemed to be focused and on track and yet somehow ?off?.

That’s just how it seemed to me, at any rate. Wasn’t really sure if anyone else saw it that way.
Dave chimed in:

Re Nobilis, I thought the session went well, too, but I agree that it was “off.” May be because folks are scattered here and there, and not necessarily pulling toward a common goal. Or maybe not.

There’s a magic formula there, somewhere, with the Nobilis stuff. People are all addressing the story but…
Hmm… I’m not feeling like everyone’s gears are engaged? Everyone’s addressing the problems at hand but not always involved at the same time.
Case in point: as much as I liked the scene with the Wyrd sisters from from last game, the scene where everything really felt ‘right’ was Sian visiting Meon.
Could this be because it was a personal project… er… rather, a personally-devised solution to a problem? I think maybe so — it felt much more player-determined, which is a point at which a game like Nobilis or Amber really seems to start to hum, I think… when the players have their own projects to work on, or are coming up with their own solutions and actions.
The scenes that have, thus far, worked really well, since the split of the group into two (in no particular order):
– Lust and Crime disposing of the Excrucian weapons.
– Sian and Justice in general.
– Sian and Meon in general.
– Death traveling back in time (by Gating along the ‘path’ of his own lifeline) to collect his former ‘tribe’ as warriors.
– Donner and Cities making a private arrangement of mutual benefit.
Things that haven’t really clicked:
– Most anything where someone said ‘I need you to do this’, especially when the ‘how to do it’ part is defined at all… giving them leeway to solve the problem in whatever way they feel like always seems to work better (though that still comes in second place to the scenes that are completely self-determined.
So I’m not sure that ‘common goals’ are really what’s missing… just need to get to that point where everyone’s engaged in their private idaho’s, I guess. This isn’t new ground or discovery for me (or anyone else reading this, I suspect) — it’s just something I need to remind myself of from time to time.


Halloween tomorrow night — some folks are coming over and I think I’ll run a one-shot for something or other. I’m concidering using
(1) Genre Division’s Ghost Stories. Very cool game and nice easy rules to learn.

Short version of the rules: Roll 2d6. Try to roll low. Let me know if you roll a 2 or 12. Compare against your skill+attribute for the attempt and tell me if you went under it or over it, and by how much. Or just tell me the roll and I’ll figure it out. If you don’t have a skill, roll anyway.

(2) Unknown Armies: should be fun just to make up a character, but that might be more work than folks want to do (though it really isn’t much). The advantage I have with Ghost Stories is that I already about 12 pregen characters to choose from.

Short version of the rules: Roll percentile dice. Try to roll under your target number, but as close to it as you can. Let me know if you roll under 01’s or double anything (11’s, 22’s, 33’s, etc), whether the number makes the roll or not. If you don’t have the needed skill, roll anyway.

We’ll see. We’ll see.

I’m never want to run a game where I can’t use this story somehow

A one-year-old boy has been bitten 30 times by a group of more than a dozen other babies at a nursery in Croatia.
Frane Simic was covered in a series of deep bite wounds all over his body, including his face, attacked after the class nanny stepped out of the room to change another baby’s nappy.

Dr Sime Vuckov, head of the hospital in Rijeka which treated the boy, was found later in an abandoned parking lot nearby, staring into the middle distance. “Biting between young children is not uncommon,” he said, possibly taking a deep, deep pull from a bottle of unlabeled Chechnyan vodka and wiping beads of sweat from his forehead. “But I’ve just… I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Police have launched an inquiry into the biting frenzy but admit they are clueless as to the babies’ reasons for attacking.
“Right now, we’ve narrowed it down to two basic possibilities,” said Olga Shevchenko, Senior Officer of Demonic Infant Activities, in a prepared statement. “One,” she said, extending an index finger that had been partially bitten off during an investigation in late 2001, “the child is some kind of living dimensional vortex who will eventually mature into his native power and destroy the majority of the coastal countries along the Aegean Sea in a bid for power – the other children were merely acting instinctively to destroy the evil they intuitively sensed, or Two: the child was the newest inductee into a secretive toddler cabal and was proving his loyalty to the group. We see that sort of thing all the time.”
“I don’t know,” one caregiver at the school commented, holding a hand-rolled cigarette to his lips with a shaking hand, “you expect this kind of thing in… Herzegovina or Montenegro, you know? Not here.” He shook his head, as though trying to will the memory of the incident away. “Not in Croatia.”


Arrowflight‘s magic system is…
Well, it reminds me of something.

I attempt to create a Wall of Earth spell from the Elementalist “Wall” template. To make it a literal wall, I have to add at least an Armor Value of 1. That adds 1 to the base difficulty of 2. But that’s only an AV of 1 — no tougher than heavy cloth. If I want my wall to be as hard as, say, plate mail, I’ll need an AV of 9. Each level of AV increases the difficulty by 1, so now I’m at a difficulty of 11 — that’s not going to work. So, I add a requirement for a two-handed motion (rather than the default single hand motion) for -2 difficulty, a short incantation (rather than the default single word) for another -2 difficulty, and a rare focus item — let’s say, the heart of an earth elemental — for a -3 difficulty. Now my spell has a difficulty of 4?

Dunno. It is a LOT like the spell-creation system I designed for Hocus Pocus, Mumbo Jumbo. Dunno.
Maybe that’s what I get for writing stuff like that out and then posting it for free.

Weeknight relaxation.

Ran the ‘Chrysalis A’ group last night (the first time with the full group), and got things rolling with the patented “throw sixteen problems at them at once and let them sort that out… by the time they do, the group dynamic will have gelled.”
One notable quote from the game last night that I want to make sure to mention related to a task set them by the Boss. During the events a few sessions ago, a big cave complex under the town collapsed, killing quite a number of town inhabitants in sinkholes and the like — they are supposed to replenish the population by bringing in 30,000 new people from… well, wherever, so long as they aren’t simply ‘made’.
The comment, following about ten minutes of theorizing about ‘How’ (involving everything from kidnapping to disaster recovery to time-travel), was this: “Let’s back up and decide who we want to get. We know we can get whoever we want once we decide who that is, so let’s not worry about that part.”
That’s one of the great Nobilis secrets: it’s not the how that matters, it’s the why and the who. I’m really pleased that this fact was spontaneously voiced by the players. Yay.
There is a great deal of good to be said for scheduling a regular game on a weeknight. It encourages people to focus (in theory – in practice, I seem to be immune), it feels a bit more intimate, and (for me, anyway) it refreshes you and seems to shorten up the week somehow (since you get a chance for a little playtime in the middle of work, basically).
The downsides are mostly having to figure out where everything you need the next morning ended up during the game session the night before.

Kinda Cool

Grey Ghost Press is going to use the Fatigue Rules I wrote up for Fudge (and Swift) a few years ago — incorporating it as part of the magic system in their upcoming Deryni RPG.
I’m pleased about this — I’m not a big Fudge-gamer (through I’ve picked at it off and on for years — since ’93, actually), but I have tremendous respect for the author of the original rules and I remember many Saturday afternoons in high school spent reading the Deryni books — I loved the juxtaposition of the weird, almost psionic-type ‘magic’ and the strictly orthodox religion, (although I’m much less enamored with the writing now than I once was).
Anyway, I always liked the way the author worked mental fatigue into the stories as the real limiter on the power of the Deryni, and I’m tickled that that element of the story will be represented by a system I came up with.

Lately, I’ve been pissing people off.
No, I can’t point at anything specific for this statement, but I’m vaguely (disquietingly) aware that I’m rubbing folks the wrong way. It’s not intentional — I make a comment here and there that are simply a truth (or a truthful retelling) and I end up with someone less happy with me than they were previously. Maybe I’m just not guarding my words as well as I have in the past — that’s certainly possible.
Why mention it here? Mostly because it’s got to do with gaming. I ended a game recently due to similar problems, and I’m due to wrap up two others within about 7 sessions each (though those two are largely going away simply because they’ve gone on long enough).
It might be that I’m stretched thin creatively (and if so, spread twice as thin on patience), but I don’t know if that’s true. In my experience, going back to the well for more inspiration doesn’t dry it up, it digs it deeper.
Maybe I’m just ready for new things. The DnD game is about two years old this month (and I was talking about ending it over a year and a half ago in March of 2002), the OA game apparently started around February of 2002, Cryhavoc’s about a year and a half…
I think I’m just ready for other things. The stuff I’m really enjoying right now are the new things. That’s not a coincidence: anyone is going to be more energized about new projects than about stuff they’ve been involved in since Millenium Bug was a serious threat.
What’s that got to do with my mood? Well, that frustration is starting to build up to the point where it’s overflowing into other things. The fact that it’s having that kind of effect is enough to annoy me even more.

Hell freezes over, film at 11

I will not be GMing any games this weekend, including Friday night.
As near as I can tell from my Palm calendar, the last time that happened (not counting the weekends when we were out of the state for some reason) was November of 2002, and I’m still not sure about that, cuz I think I might have been running OA on Sundays even then.
That said, this is definitely one of the first times in… I believe FOREVER that I’ll go the full weekend without GMing, but still playing something every day of the weekend.

The 10’x10′ room meets the next generation

Related to this post on Justin’s ongoing struggles to improve (and our ongoing struggles to help him), I felt I had to add this addendum:
This Saturday, Justin decided that he wanted to GM a DnD game for me, Jackie, and ‘maybe a few others’. (Ironically, I’d just commented to Dave the day before that I was hoping he’d find a few gamers around school, since that was at least odd, deviant behavior that I understood.)
He dug through the $2.50 ‘pocket adventures’ that we’ve been accumulating for the last couple years, found one he liked, commandeered every blank battlemat in the house, and spent most of the time we were playing Nobilis on Sunday “prepping the module” upstairs, by transcribing all the maps in the module to the battlemats.
He’s informed me that 4th-level characters will be ‘workable’.
Remembering the ways in which roleplaying helped me learn to … well, learn … how it helped me meet and make friends in school, and how it kept me most importantly occupied during high school and college, I have to say that I’m very pleased that he’s interesting in trying his hand behind the Screen.

Being the Grown-up Gamer

Stumbled across an old article on Pyramid’s site entitled “How to keep Gaming after Adulthood”. The author makes some excellent points about what makes gaming as an adult more difficult than it ‘used to be’.

[…] the conditions under which most of us learn to roleplay — high school and college — are ones that afford us more free time than we ever see again. As a result, we tend to develop a roleplaying style that involves hanging out for hours, slowly meeting NPCs in town adventures or making our leisurely way through a room-by-room dungeon or a massively epic adventure, secure in the knowledge that whatever doesn’t get finished can be picked up next week. After all, you have the time and no one’s going anywhere.
Gaming in [your youth] is a form of hanging out that actually seems to invite a time-wasting approach — one that lends itself to very intricate game worlds modeled on all those bulky fantasy trilogies that have maps at the front, or sci-fi novels that have the answer to every technical question worked out in advance. The GM probably whiles away the idle hours during the week by adding new game-world information for fun

… looking at ***Dave, here 🙂 …

and the players (if they’re anything like me and my friends were) make up characters that will never see use, just because they can.

Umm. Guilty. Duh.

This is all well and good for that life-stage, but if you try this as an adult, you’re going to spend a few bored hours waiting for the excitement and then going home wondering if it was all worth the time. Usually it isn’t.
What you need to do to survive the transition is to rethink your playing style. This is a fairly major shift that encompasses everything from session length to genre to player selection.

I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with everything the author had to say, but by and large the thing was packed with great tips (and good advice on using genre television as good outline for scenario design).
I have thoughts on a few of the ‘for starters’ bullet-points, specifically.

Continue reading “Being the Grown-up Gamer”

Assimilating the Straights

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers

Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

Ahh yeah, the loaded question of converting the heathen. I have to say that I really haven’t done much of that over the years — I ran a gaming club at college that pulled a lot of people together, but generally that just meant that people who were already into gaming were meeting other people who were. (Not always the case: I remember the time De walked up to the gaming booth at the University Activities Fair and asked me to ‘explain this thing’ to her.)
But let’s see: you’ve got a cool, funky ‘norm’ who’s into genre fiction, likes genre movies and action films, doesn’t get too freaked out when they meet the gamer geeks you know, and seems like they’d enjoy the whole thing. What do you do?

Continue reading “Assimilating the Straights”

Magical Box of Limited Expectation

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 57: System, Setting, Style, and Play

Do you find that you play differently when you play in different game systems? For instance, do you approach D&D or Champions the same way you approach Vampire or Werewolf the same way you approach Amber or Nobilis? Do you build the some kinds of characters? What are some examples of different characters in different systems, and why do you think they evolved that way?

Continue reading “Magical Box of Limited Expectation”


Randy and I were having a conversation last night about character ideas and starting power levels. I’m one of those people that enjoys starting out at first level with a campaign. Randy isn’t, perferring instead to begin play with a character that more closely matches the capabilities of the orginal character concept.
There was a lot to say on the subject…

Continue reading “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”

Psychoanalysis and the Gamer

So my biggest problem with the games I’m running right now are:
1. Most are too big (have too many participants).
2. There are too many.
The most recent development in this is, of course, that the Star Wars game came to a screeching halt on pre-game on Friday, two sessions before I’d planned to wrap it up.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the games I run, why I run them and how I get into certain situations that leave me with bad endings like the Prince of Alderaan got me. Also recently, I got one of those personality evaluations at work, via the Insights system and, while it’s not perfect, it does pretty damn well with only twenty-five questions, and says a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as a … well, person, actually, but also as a gamer. Here’s some excerpts, applied to the problems I mentioned above.

Continue reading “Psychoanalysis and the Gamer”

Roll the Bones: Role Call 24

Have you ever felt like it was time to take a break, short or long, from roleplaying?

A few months ago, I had every intention of ending my bi-weekly Star Wars game — 2/3rds of it isn’t really working for me, and while I like the story arc, I just don’t have the time to make it really come out right (or the desire to make the time).
In a sense, I’m still ending the game, but with a couple of the players getting ready to move to Texas, I decided to keep it going long enough to finish the current arc. I’ve had some reasonably good ideas recently in that regard, and it should end up (a) interestingly and (b) soon — both of which are pretty important to me.
I think it’s important to mix up your games — play a bunch of different styles of stuff — modern, fantasy, horror, and both diced and diceless. It keeps everything fresh and keeps you from getting sick of the ‘same old thing’ that can crop up when using the same system for three different games (*coff*guilty*coff*).

Woulda coulda’s.

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 51: New Genres

What are three genres that you?ve had limited exposure to as a gamer that you?d like to try or play more of?

Listed quickly:
I’d really like to play some ‘spy genre‘ stuff — I’ve got an awful lot of spycraft d20 material that I could use toward this goal, but the idea here is that this is a genre I’d like to PLAY, so I haven’t been reading up on too many modules. That said, the only way I’ll ever get a chance to play all the character ideas I have for this genre is if I GM the thing so I can make up lots of NPCs. 😛
I think it’d be fun to run some Unknown Armies stuff (dark mystic conspiracies in a modern setting, basically) but I know enough about my Usual Suspects (the folks that are easiest for me to schedule pick-up games with) to know that it really wouldn’t suit that group very well.
I’d like to play in a Nobilis game. It’ll probably never happen to my satisfaction, probably, since it’s unlikely that I’d find a GM whose into the same tropes that I am, but maybe at a con or something…

Schticks and Schtones

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 53: Schtick

What are three examples of physical or verbal schtick that you?ve used to develop your characters?

Well, with Gwydion the Skald, it’s the scottish accent, laid on nice and thick.
With Sscraseetota’bobah (you may say “Bob”), my wandering mystic in Star Wars, it’s the monosyllabic, halting speech (he’s not fluent in Basic).
And then there’s ‘thick as a brick’ Tony Vincetti, with his traditional American-Italian acceent and such pithy comments as “Collateral Damage? What’s that? Like, ‘damage we will do in lieu of damage we’re gonna do later’?”
I use schticks for most of my characters and almost all of my NPCs (or at least any of the ones I really want to stand out). I don’t really know when I started doing it, but I know I do it more and more as time goes on (and as I care less about what people think of a grown man who talks with funny voices).
My current beef? I wish I was better at doing the Mako-style voice that you hear in the narrative voice-overs in Conan and Samurai Jack.


Role Call 23
What’s your favorite character you’ve made up for a game that you never got to play?
Hmm. Too bad this isn’t “that you only got to play once”, because that list is long and distinguished. The only problem with this is that I’ve been gaming a pretty darn long time, so eventually I do get a chance to recycle characters that didn’t make it to the tabletop the first time around.
I’d have to say this award has to go to Barret, a guy I made up for a Vampire campaign that never made it out of the grave. (har) I envisioned this guy as looking like Dolf Lundgren from the much-maligned poster for the Punisher movie: very pale skin, big-ass dude, etc. Kicked ass in hand to hand, if I remember right.
Blah blah blah… why was he interesting?
Barret was mute: an absolute horror of a human being, Barret was a womanizer and abusive to boot — he picked up a new girl every week or two at one of the local bars (the setting was supposed to be a college town). One night, the woman he picked up turned out to be a vamp. She sensed his inherent vileness and took him home where she then beat the hell out of him, ripped his tongue out, and then ‘made’ him.
Since the vampire’s ‘image’ is cast on their appearance when they were made, the tongue never grew back since it was removed prior to his ‘enlightenment’. Thus, he’s mute, stays the hell away from women, is deeply screwed up and conflicted, doesn’t know what to do with himself…
and really, really wants to kill his sire. I had a lot of fun writing this guy’s background up.

In a more normal, less-detailed vein, I’ve always had a hankering to play Niko in an RPG. Stated in d20 terms, he’d be a Monk/Sorcerer cast in the mold of the Chinese Wizards in “Big Trouble in Little China” or the Mako-character from the first Conan movie. I described him once with wide hands, a broad, smiling face, bald head, and tiny runes sitched or painted over every inch of every object he owned. He’d be a very funny, outgoing, positive attitude guy who’d probably die a hideous death at the end of Book One and be mourned by all.
Or something. 🙂


I’m combining two role call questions into one post.
Role Call 19: In what pre-fab roleplaying setting have you had the most fun, and why?
I suppose that’s really a toss-up. On one hand, there’s Haven, a complete, detailed fantasy city that’s got so much going on that it’s largely unnecessary to provide scenarios that leave town. It was published (complete with a very DnD-like game system) back in the early eighties. The trick to the setting was that players were intended to be thieves. Yes, everyone. Since, the player group was assumed to be folks who weren’t very good in combat and didn’t have magic, the setting (and the scenario suggestions) focused heavily on intrigue, sneaky stuff, espionage, and lots of character interaction — NPCs were given detail descriptions of their personalities — their actual combat stats were included almost as an afterthought in an appendix at the back of each book — it made the whole setting wonderfully cross-platform. In short, it was decades ahead of its time in the roleplay supplement market.
I found the setting at the bottom of a friend’s box of stuff he was getting rid of in college and immediately fell in love. I ran a fantasy RPG campaign in the setting that I had a tremendous amount of fun with — very swashbuckling with lots of politics and social backstabbing. Good good stuff. I’ve tried to run stuff in that setting since then with mixed results, so I suppose at least half the success can be laid at the feet of the players I had.
Role Call 20: In what homebrew roleplaying setting have you had the most fun, and why?
I’m going to have to plug the Pulp Adventures game that Rey and I have been working on for about a year and change as a large-scale campaign 1930’s pulp era campaign that we run with upwards of thirty or fourth active players in the Denver area (and hopefully elsewhere soon). The rules are modified (simplified, I think) d20, but the premise is what we have the most fun with. It all came about while we were looking at the original rules idea and Rey said “yeah, it’s cool, but how do you logically get a mystic, a primitive hunter, an explorer, and a hoodlum — none of whom know each other — to actually work on a problem together and have the story be believable?”
When I came up with the answer to that, I realized that we had a really good setting on our hands.

Now, with all this said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Amber. The only problem is I don’t know which category it falls into — on the one hand it’s completely prefab, but on the other hand every game setting is different, sometimes wildly so, and has nothing in common with any other Amber game but the names on about twelve commonly-used NPCs.

Matrix/Nobilis connection

Just seen it. No spoilers.
I will, however, say that as much as the first Matrix could ‘map’ to the Nobilis concept (at least for the combat), the sequel draws the parallels even closer and ties in at much higher meta-levels. One speech in particular (no details) could easily be excerpted and used as a Nobilis side-bar bit of fiction, unedited.
Good movie. Lots of fun ideas to play around with.


I’m at that stage in learning/absorbing a game where I eat/sleep/breathe the thing.

Unrelated: This is real turning point — can the players I have in mind for a game withstand the unrelenting deluge of information I shovel at them as I try to absorb a thousand pages (counting the web) of information by osmosis and force of will?

Anyway, when I’m at this point, you notice/imagine tie-in references in everything you see and read.
Dorothy Allison (author of Bastard Out of Carolina) says in an interview she likes characters who are S.O.B.s because they are capable of action. Interesting way of putting it.

“Remember that dirtbag who dumped you right before senior prom when you’d already bought a dress to match his tuxedo? Use that S.O.B.!

“Remember your indignation and hurt and copy it over into your character. Just change a few details for the lawyers. You steal people you love and people you hate.”

So, I read that, and the first thing I think is “weird, that’s exactly the same rules you use for who you can make Anchors.”
Then I start to wonder if that author/noble parallel was the point, which tells me I’m thinking about it too hard.
Anyway, I thought it was a good quote — I probably would think so even if I wasn’t on this current … what did ***Dave call it? “Nobilis kick.”
Which is a fair enough assessment. 🙂


WISH 44: Picking Games
Another old WISH that I’m getting caught up on.

How do you choose games to join or to run? What factors influence you: timing, people, system, genre, etc.? Do you weigh different factors for different kinds of games, e.g., online vs. tabletop vs. LARP? Is it a group decision or a decision you make on your own?

Continue reading “Picky”

Something from one word that works better when posted to this page then my main one:

“So then I just tossed the thing in the river.”

His face twisted. “The artifact?”

“Yeah.” I looked at him. “What?”

“That is not. How. You do it,” he said.

I reflected on the nature of evil artifacts and had to agree.

House Rules

We’re doing these already, but I wanted to get them down in writing so that it’s clear to everyone.
Dissipate Energy
Dissipate energy only works against energy damage to Wounds. It has no effect against vitality damage or stun weapon attacks. Also, the DC for the Fortitude saving throw is “10 + damage dealt,” not just “damage dealt”.
If a character hit by a stun attack makes his or her Fortitude save, the character is unaffected by the stun attack and takes no damage. A character who fails the Fortitude saving throw is unconscious for 1d4+1 rounds. This ruling includes characters in the area of effect for a stun grenade. This supersedes the rules in the SWRPG-RCR.


Forgotten New York, a study of the city-that-was. Tons of fun stuff for the right campaign.
Related: Dark Passage is a cool site detailing(sometimes with just pictures, sometimes with accompanying text) explorations of abandoned buildings, subways, and structures. (via ***Dave)

Random drifty bits

What I’m running:
Star Wars “Prince of Alderaan” campaign.
DnD campaign
Oriental Adventures campaign
Pulp Adventures
What I’m playing:
Cry Havoc
Living Greyhawk*
Living Force*
Living Jungle*
Living Arcanis*
* Truly, the living campaigns let me play in a bunch of stuff I’d never have a chance at normally.
What I’d like to be running:
Oriental Adventures more regularly.
Spycraft as a very small home game. (One, two, maybe three players).
Star Wars campaign
Living Arcanis as a monthly home game (while somehow continuing to play my character).
More Pulp Adventures (which necessitates writing more modules for it).
What I’d like to be playing:
Living Arcanis (mostly because of my character, although the plotting is strong*)
Living Force (mostly because of my character*)
Living Greyhawk (mostly because of the storyline)
Living Jungle (largely because of the storyline and setting)
I think one of the great strengths of a Living campaign — playing them at a con, at any rate — is that the players can enjoy the setting/storyline/character without being ‘stuck’ with a GM they aren’t entirely happy with… every table is a different GM, so if you get one that isn’t all that, at least you know that the next table should be … well, better hopefully, but at the very least different.
* – I wonder, since I don’t play very much, how many players continue playing in a campaign they don’t find that interesting largely because of their character. I see a lot of players whom I know to be very creative people recreating/reusing characters from old campaigns — I have to think that the reason they want to revisit that character concept is because they don’t feel they fully ‘played it out’ in whatever previous game the character was in. In that vein, these observations:
I don’t think I’ll ever need to play a Gwydion or Bob again (more definately for Bob), although I might use Gwydion simply because I’m lazy and it’s simple for me to portray him.
I keep recreating Kethos – he’s been an NPC in… something like 3 games and now he’s a PC for another game… I know it’s at least partly because I never got a chance to really make him a main character.
Conversely, Seebor (whom I’m playing in Living Jungle) is basically a throw-away character — I couldn’t tell you two things about his history, although I think I have his portrayal down well — in that case, I’m not playing Living Jungle to play the character, I’m playing to participate in the storyline and setting. I know how Seebor acts, but I don’t have any idea why.
So… I know people who have a generic character template they fall back on to fulfill a specific role that allows them to interact with the storyline (I did that in Living Jungle by making a ‘generic strong hunter’), and I know players who are playing the game mostly as a vehicle towards playing a particular character (Amber players do this a lot — I did that with Gwydion and Bob, who were both conceived without close regard for the actualstoryline of the setting — Dave G does that with his string of “monks with a name that starts with A”, although arguably, that might actually be his ‘template’ character).
Getting Depth
With luck, your preconceived, fully-realized character might begin to reflect parts of the storyline as they grow, thus becoming more a part of the whole setting, but as they came into the world with a lot of detail already (so to speak), they might not ever entirely ‘fit’. They might never feel quite ‘done’. This is happening successfully with Gwydion, unsuccessfully with Bob.
For me, the best possible combination is a ‘character template’ character who, in interacting with the campaign, gains depth retroactively by interacting with the setting and/or by discovering/revealing history. I say this only because that’s generally the way I write my characters in stories; I only know how they act — I find out WHY they act that way as I go. (Or I never do, and that’s alright as well, because people are complicated and not even they themselves know why they do everything, or remember their entire history perfectly.)

“Well, I didn’t know you were called Dennis, did I?”

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 14: Cross-Gender Play

What do you think about cross-gender characters (i.e., men playing female characters and women playing male characters)? What about GMs playing them as NPCs?

Wow, this could be a long post.
In my ‘regular’ gaming group (by which I mean the dozen or so people with whom I game regularly in one genre or another), there are quite a number of people who (either infrequently or invariably) play cross-gender characters. I’m going to talk about them in turn and my response to them, and contrast them in turn with some of the folks that never play cross-gender (in my experience).
Juli’s probably the poster-child for successful male characterization (see Lysander in the TiHE pages for more info). She almost never plays females (and rarely plays anyone who isn’t a fighter/warrior/athlete of some sort), and although her men tend to be… comfortably in touch with their baser interests, they all come off ‘right’. A little rough around the edges, not much good in a social setting, but ultimately with a heart of gold… maybe a lot like the guys she tends to surround herself with. Her portrayals are honest, visceral, and from the gut: she simply is the guy she’s playing, and while she’s playing them, she whole-heartedly feels the way a guy would feel in that situation — her portrayal is emotional in a large sense. It works. It seems odd to say it, but when Juli’s playing, she’s often playing a large part of herself, which is odd to say of a happily married woman playing beach-bums in chainmail 🙂
She plays guys so well that one of her characters inspired one of my favorite characters to play: Tye, who is very much in that ‘lopsided grin bright blue eyes’ mold.
Dave H
Dave is all about subtle body language. He’s created… lesse, three four female characters (out of six total?) for one or another of my games, and what I take out of almost all of them is that he puts a lot of effort into the subtleties conveyed visually by a character. His chinese cat-girl looks like a chinese cat-girl, and is quite different, visually, then Della, a sort of slightly-cherubic Beru-with-a-blaster pistol newlywed adventurer he runs for some of our Star Wars stuff. His portrayals are always carefully considered, and the more complicated the scene, the more he thinks about how the character in question would react. This is a very different method than Juli, but it also works, and it’s great fun to catch his little ‘tells’ that he’s planted here and there.
Dave G
Dave’s played a few women either in games I’m running, playing, or both. His portrayals are a great contradiction for me: he’s very comfortable playing something of a ham in these situations, and his female characters are always a little over the top. I don’t necessarily consider them sexist — I guess I’m curious to know if women do, but I think someone would say something if they did — in some ways it’s the same question that’s raised in my mind when I see a woman playing a ‘flaming’ gay man. The contradiction? he’s playing a… almost a parody (but a parody that certainly exists in literature and other media), and I like more honest characterizations, but he plays it so well that I still enjoy it. Does it work? YMMV.
Initially, I didn’t list Margie as one of my cross-gender players. Then I realized that, of the six games I’ve GM’d with her in them, she’s played four male characters. I had to wonder what it meant that I forgot. Upon consideration, I think it comes down to this: each of her characters have certain important characteristics, but none of these key character bits hinge on the sex of the character (understandably, Dave H approaches his character concepts in a similar way). In her case, the sex of the character is merely part of the whole picture.
Riiiiight. Jackie’s obviously not one of the cross-gender players. She plays women because she finds strong female characters interesting. Males aren’t. The reason I mention her here is that her characters do exhibit some of the polarization one sometimes sees in cross-gender characters: professional virgins with no interest in romance, or very sexually aggressive characters.
Well, I’m not going to sit back here and just point fingers at everyone else now, am I?
Me as a player
I’ve only come up with one character that just seemed to ‘need’ to be female. That’s Sarah Parker, aka “Bombshell”, the team-leader and group ‘brick’ for Dave Hill’s super’s game. She’s sort of an amalgamation of Fairchild and Alias (the TV show, not the comic), and as such, there was a certain… sensitivity that I needed in the character that seemed to be female in nature.
I doubt I pulled it off in the flesh. I didn’t do the sorts of female tells that Dave does, I wasn’t ‘in’ the character the way Juli is, and Sarah’s not a vamp, so using Dave G’s technique was right out — I suppose, like Margie’s characters, most of the femininity of the character was in my head. (When you can lift 170 tons, there isn’t a lot of waifishness to portray.)
Also, people just don’t look at me and instinctively use the female pronoun set.
I’d love to write the character. I think she’d be a tremendously interesting and fun protagonist, and I think my wife would like reading her. Who knows?
Mostly, though, I play males, and frankly I think I play them better, so that’s what I lean towards. There you are.
Me, the GM
I think I’m much more successful (not perfectly so, but better) with the female NPCs. I’ve always been happy with Fiona from TiHE (though she was rarely played), and I’m currently pretty happy with Nayda in Prince of Alderaan.
Scene: Nayda has amnesia due to a combination kidnapping/drug overdose. Group has arrived at the apartment of a guy who claims to be a recently-abandoned ex-boyfriend of hers. Stepping into the abode, they are greeted with discarded food wrappers, dirty clothes, and a scent that could only be described as funk.
Nayda: (whispering to others) I know I’ve never been here before.
Keema: I thought you had amnesia.
Nayda: I do, but I know I’ve never been here before. [significant glance around the room]
I think Lori (playing the only female character in the group) finally started to understand Nayda at that point, and I think I started to get a third dimension into the character. Maybe. We’ll see.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a pivotal female character in a story that I’ve written (I end up playing them much more in RPGA stuff). Maybe my preference for male characters just carries over.
I’d really like to be able to play the virgin/sexpot dryad from Cort’s ACNW game as well as he does… that would be my ultimate goal. I’m not there yet.

Yeah, but what’s he like?

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 13: Character Backgrounds

How do you like to build character backgrounds? Do you think they are important or not? Do you prefer to write an elaborate background, or fill in later? Do you find character quizzes like the one in the ADRPG or related exercises like the round of questions in Everway character development to be useful?

I tend to build character backgrounds in pieces, grabbing bits from here and there in my head. I think they’re important as a concept, but I’ve had as much success with a very sketchy idea that turned into a detailed persona as I have with a very detailed background. Perhaps more: I think that with a very detailed background you can end up writing yourself into a corner that conflicts with the game you’re going to be playing in. I’d rather write a few short things that give a sense of personality with only a few hints of actual history (more of less, seasoned to taste, depending on the campaign).
I’ve had the most initial fun with “this is the character, and this is his ‘bit'”. If that works, you can fill in the depth as you play.
I don’t particularly care for character quizzes as a player, although they are interesting enough if they aren’t going for more detail than I’m comfortable with defining at that point. I’ve never done the Everyway QnA thing (all the players, pregame, ask each other questions, in character, which should be answered truthfully, but may or may not be known In Character once the actual campaign begins), but it seems as though it might be an interesting exercise IF you were playing the right kind of game.
IF. Big if.


Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 12: Mood Maintenance

How do you keep the mood? And once lost, how do you try to bring everyone back? Can you? Is it even possible? And what do you do with that one player who is always the first one to crack a joke and break up the tension you’ve built to so carefully, no matter how many times you’ve asked/warned him/her not to do that?

I’ll be an arrogant bastard and say that I don’t have many problems in any of my games, but this one definately is a problem, and a big enough one by itself to make up for the absence of others.
The problem is me, at least in part: I usually can’t resist ‘making the joke’ if there’s one out there to be made. This is true of myself as a player and as a GM (although I try to curb it as a GM a little bit), and I apparently have ‘led by example’ until my players follow suit… and most of them don’t need help.
I’ve got a few players who are especially bad about this, constantly cracking jokes or quoting vaguely-related movie lines… practically anything (it seems at some points) to avoid remaining in some semblance of character for two consecutive minutes. The odd thing is that I’ve never really given any thought on how to deal with it. Major digressions cost the players experience points (or gain them experience points, if I’m the one digressing), but I’ve never focused on mood breaking, and I’m beginning to think that maybe I should.
I’ve read some of the other posts on this subject, and I like some of the ideas that have come out of it. I think my DnD game is going to see one type (mood breaks = random encounters for 0 xp) and I’ll try another one on my Star Wars group (regular breaks to allow the chit chat which that group seems to so desperately crave).
Interestingly but not surprisingly, my Oriental Adventures game doesn’t really have this sort of problem. (Then again, the nature of that sort of game means that mood is far more a central requirement in the enjoyment of the game than for most.)
Or maybe I think that, which makes it so, and if I took that attitude with the other games, I’d have a similar result.
Hmm. Bears thinking about.

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 11: Character Recognition

Have you ever seen or met someone — in person, on TV, in a movie, or whatever — who made you think “Oh my goodness, that’s my character!” Who was it (if you know), and what were the similarities?

I had to think about this for a long time, because while I might adopt a mannerism here or there, I’ve never come up with a character and THEN have someone remind me of them.
The closest I can come is the character of Calamus in Strange Weapons. About a third of the way into the book, I recognized that John Glover, as the Devil in the lamentably short-lived show Brimstone, made a great Calamus. After that, I kept hearing Glover do all Calamus’ dialogue in my head. In some ways, that even helped.

WISH 10: Fun Creations

From Turn of a Friendly Die:

What’s the most fun you ever had creating something in a game that changed the game-world?

There was a point early on in TiHE where one player decided that, mathematically, there had to be ten “factors” in the universe (including the three dimensions + time). I don’t recall the specifics, but he’d written something up for a future earth that utilized amazingly engineered sources of power that no one completely understood… all they knew was that they Math for the power source only worked with Ten factors involved.
It was convincing enough as an argument that I reexamined the sources of power (at that point, including the aforementioned 4 dimensions, I only had a total of eight). With that impetous, I realized there could and should be a ninth and tenth, which then changed significant portions of the later story.
Ander and his player had a huge influence on the game — sadly, that’s not really reflected in the game logs.
I guess I was happy with the Twilight power I came up with for TiHE.
I tend to come up with plots that change the setting, not items. I think my all-time favorite in that department was when I realized in about session eight of TiHE that Benedict-with-one-arm was a fake; Osric posing as his captured-and-currently-blinded brother. That was fun.

Coming to a Conclusion

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want in a game system; what works for me and what doesn’t.
I want to know objectively (not subjectively) what the character is capable of in most any situation likely to occur within the genre. I want a game system that defines those values ahead of time.
I want the GM’s subjective opinion to determine what an NPC is going to do, but I want a hard-and-fast rule to determine what the result is. Either relying on the GM’s personal opinion to determine an action’s result or using a game rule to determine an NPC’s action is a failure in game design.
Those criteria in place, I just don’t see myself playing Amber Diceless campaigns anymore. Every time I try to work on something long-term for that system, I feel like I’m wasting time on a dead end.
I acknowledge that no game is perfect, but some are less-flawed. I can choose to ignore any rules that try to take subjective storyline control out of the hands of the player and GM’s hands. I can’t simply choose to ignore that there is no viable objective task resolution in ADRPG. After eight years of doing Amber diceless, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe subjective task resolution works, and by “works” I mean “satisfies and entertains the participants, long-term”.
For me, it better to start with structure and remove what I don’t need than build structure on a surface that won’t support it.

Honey, can you pass me the dice bag?

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 9: Significant Others

Have you ever gotten a significant other into gaming? Those of you in “mixed marriages”, where one spouse is a gamer and the other isn’t, how did you work this out?

I got Jackie into gaming about a year after we started dating, then into Amber, etc. Thus far, I have never been wrong about whether or not she would like a particular game or not. She’s a great player (although her Amber characters tend to follow a certain mold), and the games where she plays a character further outside herself are frequently her best characters.
Just last week in an RPGA game, she and I were both playing and she got a better score from the group that the end than I did. She was surprised, as that’s never happened before. (Oddly, she tends to design her great characters for games in which she doesn’t play with our friends regularly; they tend to see her ‘regular’ character personality a lot.)
I’ve never ‘met’ anyone via gaming, but two of my close friends who are now married met in my first Amber game.
My first long relationship involved a non-gamer, but she often attended the games, sat quietly and (if I remember correctly) paid attention to what I was saying better than some of my players. “Weren’t you guys listening? He just said the door is covered in slime. Jeez.”
I think she played a couple times, but it just wasn’t her cuppa.
To my personal credit, I’ve never been accused of bending the rules for my Significant Other.

Maxims, the Sequel

WISH 8: Maxims, Redux

Pick three gaming maxims that other people wrote about and discuss how you think they have applied, or not, in your experience as a gamer. Do they make sense? Are they true or false? Maxims that simply never occurred to you are also eligible for discussion.

Arref said: So much for Plan A.
Plans are fine and good things, but I’ve seen so many game sessions bog down in the planning stages of some huge project that the frustration would start to mount before anything even happened.
From a GM’s point of view, I think preparation is important (more or less so, depending on the game that your running — I would rarely bring prepatory notes to an Amber session, since it was enough that I had thought about the game during the week — conversely, I find preparation is important for my d20 games so that the game doesn’t flounder. I have some theories as to why that is, which I’ll expound on later.
Michael said: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘Whatever you do, don’t roll a one’.
My wife, whom I love and introduced to gaming, somehow picked up from another player the idea that GM’s shouldn’t touch your dice. Everyone else can and that’s fine — she frequently lends her dice to other players — but woe to any GM that touches her dice.
Forget about rolling them: when I’m GMing, I’m not even allowed to shove them back across the table to her. If I do, I get a severe chastising, and the ‘tainted’ dice go back in her bag for the night.
If I’m playing, I can use her dice all I like.
I’d make fun of this, but I have my own quirk: I use a laptop when running my games, and of course I have several dice rollers on there. My rule is this: I do all my GM rolling on the laptop — my personal dice only come out of the bag when I’m playing. If I use them for both jobs, their karma gets all mixed up and they don’t roll well for either task.
So there. 😛
Julia: It’s not the GM’s game, it’s everyone’s.
In the best game, I am barely more than just another player in the group. I don’t like being the pivot that everything hinges on.
This kind of goes back to the level of preparation for the GM: with Amber (or some other high-powered games), I could play it light with the game prep because the players themselves would carry a great deal of story simply by working on their private projects.
I think other, lower-powered games require more GM prep because there is simply less player-driven action.
That’s not to say character-driven — I hope a great deal of it is that, but player driven, not so much — the reason is simply that people expect to be functioning as a group in such games, and the mindset of ‘working on my own stuff’ isn’t there.
I want to break myself of this habit — allowing or encouraging it, whatever it is. With some games it’s easier — I think that BESM it would be pretty simple; some games makes it more difficult, since the group-mentality is built into the premise of everything (d20). Also, I’ve got a lot of ‘traditional’ players in my DnD game, which doesn’t help.
Participating player: “Am I hungry? What restaurants do I see?”
Contributing player: “I’m hungry, I’m going to that little chinese bistro I found.”
I think I’m making progress with my Star Wars game… my players are helping with that of course.
It’s understandable — I know lots of games where THE rule is NSTFP: “Never Split the Fucking Party”, and it’s a GOOD rule. I just like it when people break the rule and head off on their own thing. It’s exciting.


WISH 7: Maxims

List three or more maxims/proverbs/bits of conventional wisdom/etc. that you’ve learned in your gaming career, and explain what they mean and how you’ve seen them apply in your gaming experience.

I’m going to list the maxims first, then edit the post in a few minutes and add the details, because this will take time, I have to run errands, but I wanted to get my first thoughts down.
Everything is window-dressing.
Probably one the single most important GMing rules I ever encountered, which is funny since it wasn?t presented as a GMing but a Design rule for Champions. I designed a lot of stuff using that game system when I was in college and the rule stuck in my head.
This is what it boils down to: fireballs or grenades, lightning bolts or blaster rifles, FTL engines or Flying carpets — the effect and purpose of a thing is nine-tenths what it does and one-tenth what it looks like, but everyone focuses on what it looks like. This truism has become more and more important to me as I design settings, stories, and games — do what you like, but when it all comes down to it the backbone of it a game should allow you to compare a witch’s firebolt to a cyborg mercenary?s flamethrower on the same scale… aside from window dressing, they might be the exact same thing.
Hot rods or tamed dinosaurs = cool way to travel.
Old star ships or ancient magical artifacts = glitchy way to travel quickly.
Nuclear bombs or primal chaos = ridiculous levels of destruction.
Trumps or cell phones = instant communication and quirky functionality.
Window dressing. Don?t be distracted by the window-dressing.
Don?t be afraid of getting big.
This one comes from the Amber DRPG and is probably the most useful bit of advice in that gamebook: don?t try to force you player?s character into a box of your design if they?re gotten to big for the box… just make the box bigger. RPG?s have been around for close to thirty years now, the good ones have stayed around, and if they are well designed (which they probably are if they survived that long), then this is true: they can handle it if the world gets bigger.
Partly, this ties into the window dressing maxim. Here?s an example: a month or so ago, I kicked the ever-lovin? crap out of my DnD group. This was understandable as they were fighting a dark god?s avatar. I won?t get into numbers, but the best fighter had only about a 25% chance to hit with each swing, the spell casters were wrestling with the thing?s natural resistances, and everyone else was using their best tricks just to help the most effective people out. Afterwards, one mentioned how much tougher the fights were now that they were higher level.
To which I said bullshit. When they were at fourth level, I used two ogres and six orcs, but the results were the same: 25% chance to hit the main target, mages (using web and sleep) unable to solidly smite the main guys, and everyone else working like hell to keep everyone fighting and breathing. Both fights took almost exactly the same toll on the part, relative to their strength at the time.
So they become minor diefied heroes and want to keep playing? No problem: if you were ever able to handle them, I guarantee you still can.
Everyone needs a niche. (Everyone?s a star)
This is just one of those things you realize after awhile — a trick for making everyone in the group happy.
Here?s the thing: no one really wants to be the sidekick. They might play Robin, but in their mind, this Batman story is actually being told from Robin’s point of view.
That’s impossible to do in a multiplayer game, at least 100 percent of the time — if it is true, then everyone else but the ?star? is unhappy. Everyone has to be a star sometimes. It?s fine to watch Buffy or Angel and say ?that?s a damn good show?, but if that were a group of players, everyone would start hating the person playing the title characters and resenting the GM?s fixation (especially in the first two seasons of either show).
Contrast this to Farscape. Hell of a lot more like a group of PC?s there.
Everyone wants to shine… everyone wants their moments. For that, everyone needs a niche — something only they can do or which they can clearly do better than everyone else. In my experience, this can be Amber DRPG?s strength and weakness: with ranking, you might clearly be the best at Attribute X, but there are only Four attributes, so what do you do when there are five, six, seven or more players? Power niches? They still need you to be good at an attribute, and if owner of that Attribute also has ?your power?…
It?s tough, and it lies with the GM to say ?that?s a really neat character concept, but we really already have a computer whiz… how about focusing more on Repair and Craft skills… it works with the history and you would be the tech/mechanic.
Before the game starts, it helps if you know what all the character?s niches are. Depending on the game, it may fall to you or the player to highlight that niche, but either way you need to be aware of it. I guarantee the player is.

Secret, secret, who’s got a secret?

WISH 6: Secrets

Sometimes the plot of a game requires a GM to keep secrets. Is it better for the GM and other players to keep most out-of-character knowledge secret, or to assume that players are capable of keeping in-character and out-of-character knowledge separate? Where and how do you draw the line as a GM and/or player between what secrets should be kept and which ones are OK to reveal?

There are ‘secrets’ (things about the campaign only the character in question currently knows), and SECRETS (things about the CHARACTER that no one suspects).
Generally, I’m quite free in sharing ‘secrets’ in front of others — my players know not to act on the information. Sometimes I decide to keep that exchange of information quiet so that not only the character but the player is solely aware of the info. I usually do this to give the player a boost in the game — when only they truly have the information, they feel empowered and motivated — it can help a floundering player find direction.
With SECRETS, however, I am much more careful and don’t even like having oblique conversations about the subject where other people can hear them. (This is mostly because my players are smart cookies and will figure things out with any sort of real clue.)

…and again.

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 5: Communication

Gaming requires the GM and players to communicate a large amount of information about system, plot, setting, character, and actions (among other things). There are a lot of places where a failure to communicate on the part of the GM and the players leads to disappointments for the GMs and the players. How do you deal with miscommunications and invalid assumptions as a player and a GM? Give one or more examples of situations and how you resolved them or how you are avoiding them.

One of the downfalls to freeform games is that a great deal is left open to interpretation by the reader, whether that reader is the player or GM. Add to that previous assumptions built on games with other players and gm’s, and you have a real mess right off the bat.
I’m no rules monkey, but I’ve found that I can have the storytelling freedom I want without throwing out every rule in the game… it’s like a sonnet — very strict rules, but complete freedom within if you know how to find it — some people find it terribly stifling, some find it freeing, allowing them to spend more time on the message and less on the structure.
Example: If you’re playing a structured game, you don’t have to deal with “I think my character should be tougher” or “well, I thought 4 hit points WAS tough enough against that guy” or “I really envisioned my fireball being bigger”. Sure, someone might say that, but the obvious answer is that there are clear rules for MAKING yourself tougher, your fireball bigger, or knowing if 4 hit points is ‘tough’, using the mechanics that everyone agrees on. If you didn’t do that, then tough noogies.
Now take the freeform rules: you thought you designed your character correctly, because the rules are vague and open to interpretation, and the gm didn’t have time to cover every frelling aspect of a day-in-the-life of your character, then we have a conflict based on failure to communicate.
The GM just needs to explain more? I’m in an Amber game right now in which the GM explains everything up to and including how far we can jump, what we can lift, and how long we can hold our breath, based off the same four stats everyone else uses… and we STILL manage to disagree on basic functions of the game system. That’s a hell of a lot of work when there are other systems that make the whole thing clear from the start.
Why work with a game system that starts you off on such a crappy footing, with extra work to do?
It all comes down to structure and rules for me — I hate arguing about them — not their interpretation, mind you — that can sometimes be refreshing as a mental exercise — but arguing whether or not the rule even exists makes my head steam. Pre-existing structure is good.
How do I avoid the problem? Well lately, I simply avoid GMing freeform games. Playing them — well, then it’s someone else’s headache. (Sometimes a headache caused by me, I suppose — there I go with those assumptions.)

Catching Up

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 4: Systems

Describe three systems you have gamed under: one you thought was good, one you thought was all right, and one you didn’t care for. Is there a system you’d really like to try that you haven’t? Which ones wouldn’t you try based on reading them?

d20. Seriously. Knowing first-hand where it came from, and what it used to be like (and swearing off of it in the middle of 2nd edition), I just can’t help but love the simplicity of the mechanic — the SAME mechanic, regardless of whether it’s combat, skill checks, whatever.
Sometimes I enjoy the tactical challenges of the combat rules… Attacks of Opportunity, etc… I loved playing Space Hulk and Battletech, too… sue me. Sometimes I don’t jones on it, but that’s alright too.
Currently, I run a straight (but very money-poor) fantasy campaign, a Star Wars campaign, an Oriental Campaign, Pulp Adventure, Jungle, and I’m thinking about running a one-on-one d20 Spycraft campaign. I’m waiting for Farscape (coming soon, I hope), and I’m buying d20 Silver Age Sentinels as soon as it comes out next month to cover Supers. Of course there’s also d20 Amber, which I think I’m getting really close to revealing the second iteration of — it CAN work… I really believe that.
(The problem there is no one I know is as into d20 and Amber as I am to give it a try, and I’m simply that I’m so sick of using Amber as a setting that I’m going to have to come up with some other ‘godlike’ setting to test the rules in.)
Also, having veritable tablefuls of new material being turned out by independant publishers is great.
All right
GoO’s BESM system is alright. I really liked it for a long time, and I even think I wrote some good stuff for it, but there’s two things that sort of messed it up for me:
1) The dice mechanic is assinine and counter-intuitive. I ignored it as long as I could… so there.
2a) I didn’t end up on a good footing with the folks working at the company… it sort of mars everything I do with the game system.
2b) Bringing on David Pulver was a mistake in my opinion, changing the direction of the company from ‘nearly diceless’ to ‘nearly Gurps’. I which the game had gone the development route of Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies and not the direction of Big Robots and Cool Starships. Those two books show a profound difference in design philosophy… but one was written by David “I’m in charge of the production line now” Pulver, so guess which way they went?
If it weren’t for (2), I would fix (1), which would make this a “Good” game for me. Ahh well.

Also in this category: I wish I liked Gurps more than I do, because they do great sourcebooks and it’d be nice not to have to convert everything to some other system.
Rolemaster is just too easy for me to twink out.
Want to Try
Legend of the Five Rings. I’m running a d20 game using some of the setting, but the mechanics for the original game system look slick, elegant, and seem to fit the setting very well. (I get to see a lot of the game system, since I’m frequently converting stuff to d20… it sort of feels like Shadowrun (multiple dice) meets Everyway’s elements.
Read and didn’t like
I really wanted to like Nobilis. I really don’t.


In an effort to reduce the boring “anvil chorus” of a typical DnD combat, I added a house rule on Friday night.
No bonus if you ‘just swing’.
+1 bonus if you describe the attack in an interesting way, including where you’d like to hit and what you’d like to accomplish.
+2 bonus if you can do the above and tie it into the things that had occured in the previous round in an interesting way (build off it).
Basically, giving a bonus instead of a penalty for called shots (and I think I might have gotten the idea from someone’s recent WISH entry, which I still have to do 😛 )
Result: far more memorable combats, with much more vivid descritions from both the players and the GM (shame on me for needing this boost, but oh well), and a far clearer understanding of what was going on.
The bonuses were not unbalancing (and weren’t used all the time at all). In general, only the ‘big’ fight seemed to warrant it, just like a movie — the drones just got cut down, ho hum, and the big fights were much more detailed and interesting.
There were a couple times when a narrow miss was turned into a hit when one player urgently told another “describe it, you might hit!” Good stuff.
I don’t think I’ll do the same for Star Wars — doesn’t exactly feel right for the genre, with all the wild shooting and lack of sniping (that and Jedi’s are annoying enough with their glowsticks without getting bonuses for attacking weapons). Don’t know.
Definately adding it to the Oriental Campaign, though.

If I had $1,000,000

Actually, how about this:
You have $100 to spend on RPG’s… for your entire life. What do you buy?
Assume you have no existing RPG library, and include any CCG’s you play.
Big Eyes, Small Mouth Revised 2nd Edition – $16 on ebay, mint.
Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook – $24 on ebay, mint
SpyCraft Espionage Guide d20 – $20 on ebay, mint.
Oriental Adventures d20 – $17 on ebay, mint.
Everything else (this includes Amber (available on eBay for $10 right now), the core d20 SRD, and the beta version of Silver Age Sentinels) is available online in some free incarnation or another — it may not be formatted beautifully or ‘finished’, but if I only had 100 bucks to spend lifetime, it would have to do.
Leaves me twenty-three bucks to buy pizza and soda with.
How about you?

Wish 3: Ideas

From Turn of a Friendly Die:

Discuss three setting ideas or ideas for elements of settings that you got from movies/books/TV/etc. that you have read or seen recently. These do not need to be full-fledged settings, but can be single elements that could be incorporated into existing games.

I tend to get more excited about genres more than settings, but let’s see what I can come up with…
1. Peking, as portrayed in Eight Skilled Gentlemen — a fine book and a series that I highly recommend. The distinct strata of society found in China, circa 630 a.d. is well-portrayed here, and gives you lots of grist for a polyglot city where so many things are going on that no one could possibly keep track of it all.
2. Raymond Chandler’s L.A., as seen through the eyes of Phillip Marlowe. It’s sort of a cross between what you see in L.A. Confidential crossed with the random idiosyncracies/insanity of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The city is corrupt, the suburbs are worse, and god help you if you leave the city limits. I recommend it highly to anyone doing noir stuff.
3. The hotel that ACNW is hosted at. Duh. Anyone that can’t do something with that place needs help. Example from Strange Weapons:

The place I had been directed to was on the eastern outskirts, a converted farm that might have qualified as a town unto itself during the time of its construction in the first part of the last century — private water tower, brewery, power station, and a number of residence buildings connected in maze-like fashion to become wings of the main house. The entire place had been restored and reopened as a hotel.

The rooms were reasonably large, the beds and other furniture were a mish-mash of styles and eras that matched nothing and fit perfectly. The walls of the entire place were hand-painted with varying levels of skill and included portraits, landscapes, scenes, and disturbing abstracts, any of which might end up replaced or repainted between my visits. Most guest rooms had to share a bath with others on the same floor and there were a grand total of perhaps a dozen phones on the premises, none of which were to be found on a guest?s night stand. There were no televisions, even in the pubs, and the cellular reception was terrible.

It was heaven. I stayed there whenever I was in the area and paid for it personally so that no one at work would ever find out about the place — all my expense reports indicated I stayed with a local friend.

True, but not entirely accurate.

Wish 2: Romances

Again, from Turn of a Friendly Die (recently added to the linkbar).

Describe two romantic relationships involving a PC you’ve seen in a game. One should be a romance that worked for the participants and the other should be one that failed, died, or came to an end. What was good and bad about these relationships from the point of view of plot and character development? How did the GM make the romance appealing to the players?

Alternatively, talk about a time when a PC in a game you were in turned down a romance and why. Was this a good or bad decision for plot purposes? Why was the romance unappealing to the player or character?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lysander and Daelyn from Things in Heaven and Earth. Sander basically ended up boffing the crown princess of a GC shadow by accident (it was a case of mistaken identity on her part), and the two were forced to get married.
Initially, it was all about the sex, then it was about the stress of rulership (her Dad was killed, making her Queen and him Royal Consort) and it’s hugely painful affects on their relationship, then it was about meeting each other again “for the first time” and really seeing one another again.
In the end, it was maybe the only entirely “normal” relationship in the whole game… maybe in all of the games I’ve ever run.
Lemme think: again, I’m really interested in what’s going to happen with Nayda in my Star Wars game, but I think I’ll mention Corwyn instead.
Corwyn was the first NPC I GM’d though a relationship. This was 4 or 5 years before playing ADRPG or reading the Amber books, so don’t ask where the name came from — Corwyn’s a she. Cor was a foil for one of the PC’s in my first “Haven” game, which in my mind is still one of my favorite games and an experience I’m still trying to echo — the player of the PC involved in this (Roland, for those who know my college gaming group) was (and is) fantastic, and I think we were both stretching our legs on that story arc. It was shy, uncertain, and easy to mess up with a wrong word or a thoughtless action — in short, it was the quintessential First Romance.
Roland drew a good picture of her and the rest of the group… I wish I had a copy.

So this is what that feels like

Wendi was there first, and Rey showed me how the damn things worked, but I really feel like, within the group of people (not just talking about my friends here, but simply people I know) that I know and interact with on a fairly regular basis (in reality or virtual space), I was ahead of the curve on blogging, and even got some really good people using the tool. Especially with gamers and folks of that sort, it’s really a natural fit for the sort of constant stream-of-thought documentation that goes with creating something entertaining that’s also basically free, for public consumption.
The reason I’m mentioning it: last year I was out at ACNW in early November. This would have been about six months into my blogging activity; I’d just come off of a really big hit-count month for the main page, had posted about 17.5 thousand words in October (until I did NaNoWriMo, it seemed like a lot), and I was using the blogging tools available to revamp most of my gaming pages to a greater or lesser degree, so of course I was talking about it.
No one knew what the hell I was on about. Blank looks were the best thing I could hope for, even when I tried to explain it (“man, it’s pretty cool”).
These days, things are different. I went surfing around today and noticed that almost every one of the people that I know ‘create’ stuff in Amber have a blog-ish thing going on now. At a local convention, I was recently informed that my blog is actually something of an in-joke for people who read it — a reference that they can all share between themselves. I don’t know if that’s a group of the truly hip or the truly lame, but at least it’s a group.
So this is what that feels like: being one of the first, at least in my little group, and seeing everyone else catching up and saying “man, this is pretty cool.”

Bit Players

Turn of a Friendly Die has an interesting little query:
Describe three NPCs (not major villains) that you really liked and what they added to the game. The NPCs can be from any game you’ve been in as a player or GM, and any system or genre.
Kethos: Sort of a hybrid of several of Michael Wincott’s characters from this or that movie, Kethos started out in Keys to the Pattern as a Bad Guy, but that campaign ended too quickly and I hadn’t gotten him out of my system, so he appeared again in TiHE. That was a strange situation, as Jackie was so sure that he was still a bad guy that I had to go to great lengths to convince her (and everyone else) otherwise, making him Scum-with-a-heart-of … well, tarnished silver at best, but you get the point. Still one of my favorite guys.
Vaughn: Flora’s kid in TiHE, Vaughn had several strikes against him — he was introduced by a player who could rarely play, was manipulated by his mom, and was quite simply plain… not as flashy, tough, or flamboyant as any of his kin but still a good guy… maybe one of the better guys – and he loved his cousins. I think I found a place for him in my head when he told Breann “I’d rather be a secondary character in your story than the star of mine” to explain why he was willing to do the things he did for her and her brother.
Nayda: Currently a walking plot-hook and love interest in my Star Wars game, Nayda has (I think) real potential to become something more than than what she is… the players are constantly trying to make her one-dimensional (“the addict”, or “the slut” or “the danger magnet”), and like Kethos, my efforts to make everyone see that there’s more there than that is giving her a lot of texture she wouldn’t otherwise have had.
All my best NPC’s are those honed against other players.

Dirty Little Secrets

  • I don’t mind how many exp I give out in the DnD game, because I won’t miss this game when it’s over, and leveling people quickly gets me to the conclusion a bit sooner. I’ve got the end of the campaign predicted, based on current exp/session rates, and I’m looking forward to it.
  • The most complete story arc I have right now is for the rarely-run Oriental Adventures game.
  • The fact that Episode 2 is jumping ahead 10 years is immobilizing my ability to work out the Star Wars game’s timeline.
  • I’m desperately trying to finish up the Campaign Start of Pulp Heros before I get bored with the whole thing. Given my normal pattern, I’ve got about 45 days before I hit a 2-month ‘down cycle’.
  • Playing Amber Diceless only motivates me to run d20 Amber.
  • I’ve got too many players, too many games, and not enough time pay full attention to any of it.

No comments required, I just feel like venting.

OGL stuff

These guys want me to do some work with them, prompted by Hocus Pocus, Mumbo Jumbo (which I wrote for BESM in the 1st Edition days).
Surprised. Complimented. The site is nice, and the idea and plan is a good one. I’m intrigued.
That said, I’m not taking on any more projects until I finish the NaNoWriMo, but this place looks pretty interesting (haven’t checked out the rules they’ve written already, though, so…).
Anyway, gamers of the world who read this page (a six of you) — might wanna check them out.


Added a new Shapeshifter class to the d20 Amber Basic Character Classes. I really like how that guy turned out. Also, tweaked ranger and got rid of Druid.
Things still to do:

  • I figured out the rules for making Trumps (needs more detail), but not the rules on how to use them. Extension of this: mental combat.
  • I need to fiddle with the age brackets for chargen. Realized it’s not quite right yet (following some testing).

Addendum: Just doubled the size of the Feats section, adding a bunch of “Background” feats, as well as things like Improved Familiar and Heroic Recovery (A.K.A. “Cockroach”).


Updates to the Amber d20 pages. Specifically, did some work on the character classes, notably Ranger. Started the painful process of eliminating non-genre spells from the Magic section. Finished the Feats and skills for Logrus (Probably won’t do the non-canon powers for a long while, especially since my favorite power (Twilight) can be done more easily with the Prestige class Shadowdancer).
Did a bunch of reformatting in the skills, feats, and power skills section, and reeditted the equipment section.
Also, slowly replacing the term Gold Piece with Game Point (thus abstracting money).

Blast It!

(but for how much damage?)
I’m really close to a new version of Swift, but I’m hung up on how to handle the sustaining of damage in a way that’s both reliable and not over-detailed. Right now, it’s not quite where I want it.
Also, I need to do something in the way of scale, I think. Maybe. I’m pondering a simple two-page add-on for vehicle rules.
Addendum: wrestled around with this most of yesterday and finally got something I think is clean enough, and which factors in all the things I think are important.