Measuring specific amounts of Peanut Butter and Chocolate

Okay, I can’t leave this alone yet, so… check it.
Let’s say we want to chart coherently Narrativist games on an x-y axis.
I’m going to arbitrarily make the x-axis the “RPG-ish” axis, and the y-axis the “Story-gamey” axis.
And the scale is… well, because of what I could think of (or crib) for criteria — 0 to 7 on both axis. You have seven criteria you check off for each axis, and that equates directly to the ‘score’ for that axis.
X-Axis: Protagonist-based
[ ] Strong person-to-character ownership
[ ] In-game currency tends to be character-specific
[ ] Story structure is largely focused through character POV.
[ ] Play structure tends toward scene/conflict
[ ] Use of task-resolution, or conflict resolution can ‘break down’ into higher-detail mode
[ ] Adversity mostly provided by one person (GM)
[ ] Limited narration distribution
Y-Axis: Story-based
[ ] Character ownership varies
[ ] In-game currency tends to be whole-group or player-specific
[ ] Story structure is largely focused at narrator-level POV.
[ ] Play structure tends towards “turns”
[ ] Conflict-resolution-based system.
[ ] Adversity-creation is distributed across participants.
[ ] Automatically distributed narration
As an example…

Continue reading “Measuring specific amounts of Peanut Butter and Chocolate”

The common reference point of which all others are but Shadow

You know… all this searching for common language in terms of game-stuff made me realize something else.
I might never play another Amber game the rest of my life, but (at least here, with the people I’m likely to be talking about this stuff with) the Amber setting and NPCs provides an excellent ‘common language’ for example situations of play. πŸ™‚

Building a Barn — group campaign creation

Over in the chocolate/peanut butter post, MT said:

I keep thinking that there are challenges that were made by players (character background, character choices in-game), challenges built by GMs (modules and scenarios, world events), and challenges agreed to by the group as a whole (well, more results-oriented “group agrees that that’s the evolution/eventuality). (And maybe system challenges: random encounters?)

I’m going to challenge the term ‘challenge’ as it’s used in this paragraph. I think ‘conflicts’ or ‘potential conflicts’ might be clearer and speak more to what each participant is bringing to the table. Example: “I hate Corwin” is a potential conflict introduced by character background. So is “I love Deirdre.”
Now, in that example above, the best GM-conflict that I can quickly think of is this: “Dierdre wants you to help Corwin” — and I’m shameless — I would totally hit that sucker like a kid getting to ring the dinner bell. It’s not a module or scenario or a world event, but a crisis-point, packed with significance: no matter what the player chooses to do, including nothing, says something very significant about that character, and expands out like a pebble-ripple to color the tone of the whole game. I think that making up good Bangs is really all the prep you need to do for a lot of character-oriented games.2 They are of much less use in games like Capes, or they look very different.
Now, you can take this further — you might ask all the players to tie themselves into three NPCs from a pre-set list, giving them a relationship to them where something important is at risk; you might ask each player for a ‘super-bang’ of their own devising — something that happens at the beginning of play that takes ‘the way things are’ and makes it impossible to simple ‘continue as i have been’ — there’s lots of ways to get the players to give you more player-authored conflicts or potential conflicts. 3

I think that’s a different (if related by marriage) issue. You talk about rewards. I see you looking at how human intervention (GM/PC) connects to game structure (rule-set, etc.) and the resulting rewards. Are you looking mostly at in-game rewards, or does story=reward? (Or both? Or neither?)

Both. Definitely both, especially for these types of games that we’re discussing.1
I’m just going to make this whole initial post an exercise in ripping off Sorcerer ideas for Amber, aren’t I?
What you might do in Amber is require a player-authored Kicker and give that player a “spend” aftere they resolve that Kicker in play — usually, resolving it means the end to that character’s current ‘arc’, and that makes a good point to reassess and reevaluate (and spend points! Woo!) Then they write up a new Kicker for the next session, and play continues.4
The out of game reward requires a little meta-talk about what the theme is going to be in the game. “Family Loyalty” or “The Worth of a Promise” or “Paying Your Debts” or something. (I’d give you an example from one of my Amber games, but I really can’t — I don’t think we had one.) Once that’s done, and the GM is constructing Bangs that (a) hit those ‘flags’ the players built into their characters and (b) echo back into the agreed-on theme, you get that non-mechanical “dude, cool” moments out of play that equates to a non-game reward.
Footnotes below (so that I can pretend this post isn’t as long as it really is).

Continue reading “Building a Barn — group campaign creation”

In summation…

So… driving home after the Shab al-Hiri Roach game (which I still haven’t written about. :P), I had this simple thought: “there are indie-hippie-narr games that are more like traditional RPGs, and others that are much more ‘story-games’, and I really should be paying attention to which way a new game leans, so I can set expectations with people when I pitch one.”
And I posted my thoughts on that, and … yeah.
We wandered all over the map in that thread — different agendas that different RPGs have, blah blah blah — much more than I’d intended, but all really, I think, very cool and very useful and an excellent kind of common language or points of reference for talking about this stuff.
And best of all, I think it’s something that we developed ourselves (though tinted somewhat with the theory crap I’ve read before), and therefore just that much more relevant and valuable.
Good stuff. Really glad it happened.
Now then…

Continue reading “In summation…”

Chat with Kate (the dirty truth comes out)

me: hi πŸ™‚
    writing big comments.
Kate: i saw some of ’em.
    My eyes glazed over…
me: Yep.
    Half of it is figuring out what I think, honestly.
Kate: but i think you’re a genius!
me: "He has to be smart — everything he says bores me to tears!"
Kate: heh
me: It all boils down to this: I want to be able to tell folks about a game in a way that doesn’t leave them expecting something they don’t get.
Kate: which is a good reason to sort all this out
me: "It’s a fucking cool ass Roleplaying game." means something so very different to each person that hears it.
    Me, versus you, versus Jay, versus Keeley, versus Margie, versus Dave… all very different images just popped into our heads.
    So better language needs to be used, so I dont’ have the worst possible thing happen: someone I care about comes away from the table disappointed and/or frustrated.
Kate: how noble!
me: Nope! πŸ™‚
    I like being able to brag that I ran a kick ass game.
    I can’t do that if someone’s pouty. πŸ™‚
    It’s really all about me
Kate: I see…

Is “subjective fun” redundant, or an oxymoron?

Awhile back, I posted a question up to the story games site, esentially asking seriously, how many sessions have your TSoY games run? Parenthetical to that, but more interesting in the long run, was the question of ‘how many advances per session were your players earning?
The results of that were really interesting, and ranged from “something like 60 advances (bought with 5 xp each) in 8 sessions” to “20 advances, total, over 30 sessions” — the gist of the whole thing being “your group is going to normalize toward what’s most comfortable for them.”
Which… all this debate about what’s an RPG versus a story-game versus gamist, versus narrativist aside… is really the point.
Go. Play.
What your group likes and enjoys will, like a buried zombie that senses the tread of a hapless teenager nearby, rise to the top.

Chocolate with Peanut Butter, or Peanut Butter with Chocolate?

So… after playing the Shab all-Hiri Roach tonight (which was fun and a really good time for all) and discussing Capes in broad terms over the last couple days on my blog with the players in my group, I’ve figured out a significant distinction between different types of games that I think avoids some misconceptions and frustration when introducing or even just discussing a new game with folks.
Of the games I’ve been playing in the last, say… two to three years (not counting d20), there are essentially two types:
1. Roleplaying games that have a ‘story, now’ focus in them (frex: Sorcerer, HeroQuest, The Shadow of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vineyard). By that I mean, you have ‘your guy’, you play them, and story arises from the conflict and Crises of Choice with which they’re faced.
2. Storytelling games, perhaps somewhat descendants of, say, Once Upon a Time or the Baron Munchausen game, that focus on telling a Story, with roleplay as a secondary element, usually as a delivery method of said story. (My Life with Master, Shock:, Bacchanal, Shab al-Hiri Roach, Capes).
It’s not always clear-cut — InSpectres is *probably* in category 2, but it’s such a goofy romp thing — I dunno, it’s hard to say. Primetime Adventures I *think* is in category 1, but it explores the elements of Story so well, it’s again hard to say. I think that certainly there’s a WHOLE range of places a game can fall on a scale — maybe with… say… Capes on one end and super-crunchy Burning Wheel on the other.
And also, with more comfort with a game like the Roach, perhaps the system goes away and the game moves to more RP focus — that said, the Roach structure lends itself more to being aware of said structure… I mean, my perception of SaHR might change with familiarity, but… Capes? Capes isn’t going to. It’s *about* constructing a cool super-heroic story MUCH more than ‘playing your guy’, and I should add that it’s GOOD at that, I think, but it’s not the same thing as, say, Sorcerer.
At all.
Why does this matter?
Well… if I’m aware of that, and I analyze the game from that point of view when I’m first reading it and learning it, and then put that out there with people when I talk about it: “This is a story-telling game. We’ll be doing some roleplaying, but the focus is sort of narrator-level, Baron Munchauseny story-telling with some RP” — if that expectation is SET, you don’t get as much potential frustration from someone who was looking for the cathartic release that comes from killing something and taking its stuff.
I mean, when you’ve got a guy in your group (or you ARE the guy in your group) who wants to play a super-hero guy, beat up some bad guys, maybe make a couple tough moral choices, but essentially play his guy and let the story flow from that… Capes will piss him off. I’m not picking on Capes. Capes is a good game, but it will not be what he was in the mood for — what he wanted. It COULD be, on another day, or when expectations are clearly set ahead of time, but not if they aren’t.
It’s good to know what you’re gonna get, and it’s clear to me (now, finally) that it’s not enough to say it’s a ‘hippie indie/Forge rpg’. There are layers. Nuances. Out and out significant and important differences.

Not this, but that.

Randy and I were talking last night, and I mentioned Capes — parenthetically commenting that it and games like it (which is to say, games with more player authorial input like Amber, Nobilis, Sorcerer, Mortal Coil, TSoY, Galactic, Primetime Adventures, Shab all-Hiri Roach and even FATE, depending on how you run it) appealed to me was because it meant I got to use players’ creativity more in the game or (with the full-on no-GM games like Capes or SaHRoach) I got to flat out be-a-player more.
His reply was “well, you don’t like being a player anyway.”
And… okay, yeah, I do GM a lot, and I’m bad at being a player, but neither of those things are because I don’t LIKE being a player.
1. I like contributing bits of ‘scene’ at a director/author level to stuff that’s going on. In most traditional games (with the exception of Amber/Nobilis and the like, and those are HARDly traditional RPGs, just old) that level of input ability is solely under the control of the GM. If I want to DO that, I have to GM. Period. I can look at Fate or Mortal Coil and say “hey, there are concrete mechanics in place in this otherwise pretty traditional game that give me the ability to do that kind of stuff EVEN WHEN I’M A PLAYER,” and I get tingley in my naughty places.
1a. Giving players this ability scares the shit out of potential GMs that I could be playing with, and it shouldn’t — Amber players have been doing this for years.* Nobilis players have been doing it for (fewer years, but still) years. *I* have been GMing games where the players steer and/or change the story for well over a decade, with progressively more and more freedom to do this and overt acknowledgement that they’re doing it, AND been successful at this, and I am NOT THAT FUCKING SMART. Other people than me can do it. Other people do it all the time.
1b. GMless gaming is such a bogeyman in RPG circles. Why? MOST GAMES in the world do NOT have a “Player Who Does Not Play, But Just Runs Stuff” — games where all the players involved are responsible for understanding the basic rules of the game they’re all playing and, through that understanding a strong social agreement, keeping everyone basically all playing within the same Shared Imaginary Space. It’s not new. It’s not even HARD.
2. I’m a bad player because I don’t get much practice. See 1, above.
Now, I *have* played in some games where (a) i did a good job being a simple player (b) I (mostly) didn’t do any scene imagery contributions (at least not official ones) and (c) I had a good time, consistently, and for long periods. Those are rare.
So… yeah. Partly, i want to run these dirty-hippie-indie games so that someone picks one up and says “hey, I wanna run this.” That’s not the only reason, because I *do* like GMing, but thats part of it. πŸ™‚

Super in a non-supers way

It occured to me a few days ago that I have very very few character City of Heroes or City of Villains that actually fit into the mold of a superhero comic book. Out of the (vast) stable of characters at my disposal, Hang Time, Strategist, and maybe Hyperthermian are the only characters I’ve got that could be dropped into a silver- or modern-age super hero comic with no one noticing. I think one of the reasons those three characters have gotten the lion’s share of my play time and roleplay and fiction-creation (still true, even now when I’ve got a lot of other toons at high-ish levels) is BECAUSE they fit the genre the best.
No great revelation there, but I think it’s interesting none the less.
I wonder if some of those other characters would be more compelling to me in the context of Paragon City if I tweaked their concepts a bit — would ToonX be more playable for me if I altered him to the point where he’d be a good Teen Titan or Avengers fit?


Over here, one of the Jason’s poses the question “What is your ‘Thing’.”
What he means is… well, he gives examples rather than spelling it out, but the sort of thing that you do with characters to sort of make them feel really comfortable to you.
And it’s weird. I can think of the “thing” for like, everyone I game with. I couldn’t really think of mine.
Like… okay:
Dave tends to gravitate toward support-role characters, generally. Bards. Medics. Fawning, enthusiastic, cat-girl rogues.
Margie likes to have the means to figure things out — by that I mean, the means to acquire all the pieces of the puzzle — or even just most of them — she’ll handle putting them togehter herself. πŸ™‚
Jackie characters are totally secure in their convictions, which leads them into trouble when they encounter other views.
Randy likes to see the oncoming weather forecasts and get people organized in time to batten down all the hatches. (And he likes to be able to get around quickly.)
With Lee and De… I’m not sure I’ve played enough games with them to see patterns.
And I puzzled on mine a bit. In fiction, I explore (repeatedly) the cycle of mourning that surrounds traumatic loss, but I don’t really think I do that with my roleplaying characters. Dunno. Maybe Jacob, at least originally.
Looking at patterns:
I play a lot of face-men types — bards who focus on storytelling; rogues focusing on the con-men aspect coupled with some showy skills; the ‘disguise/infiltration’ expert in a spy game. Maybe that’s my thing, but that feels more like a delivery system than the virus. Hmm.
Okay… taking it further…
I had to play a cleric in one game, so I made him the Boss (at least in his own mind) to give me a means to achieve the face-man fix. In the Champs game I played a long time, my horrible-charisma martial artist still became the team leader — his TV interviews were a delightful horrorshow.
There are very very very few characters I’ve played who weren’t geared to be ‘the one who speaks for the group’ — if not the leader, then at least the diplomat. The ones that weren’t that — I generally didn’t enjoy, long-term. (Though they might have been very very fun, short-term.)
So… what’s your type? (And did I guess right on the one’s I guessed?)

RW Emerson, on MMORPGs

You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), _Journals_ (Oct. 1842)
Heh. Yeah. I’ll take joy.
You know the funny thing about this whole mess with the ‘private’ areas of the Alliance forums being made public? It doesn’t matter to me.
Yeah, I said some not nice things, but I daresay I never said not-nice things to folks that I was, in some OTHER venue, nice to. I might have said things differently if the forums sections had been public, but I would have said the SAME things. If someone out there read something I said, and it made them mad — well, I’m sorry about that, but I’d be astonished if any of it surprised anyone.
I said the same exact thing in January, and I’ll say it again now: I’m not ashamed of anything I said, and (aside from the time I wasted on writing out all that admin crap that just wasn’t worth the time spent) I don’t regret any of it. Period.
And, well, not everyone can say that. There is a lot of stuff up there that the authors are really wishing had never seen the light of day, cuz there just isn’t any way to spin when both of your faces are exposed.

The Aging Gamer

Story Games for Everybody – Designing for the 25-35 Demographic

3) I have disposable income, better than I had at an earlier age, but I need to be more selective with it.
I can spend $50 on a game, or I can spend $50 on a movie or beer. I _know_ I’m going to drink the beer or see the movie. I’m not as surre about the game, no matter what I’d like to have happen.
4)If I can get 4 people together for 4 hours, 2 of them are going to be kibbitzing. It also might only happen once a month.
If we end up playing a game, something had better happen. 4 hours of chargen? I think not. 4 hours of a single combat? It’d better be an epic battle, not two rooms and a couple weedy goblins.

Good stuff, and more good stuff down thread, notably:
1. There’s no point in capping the age range at 35.
2. Related to number 3 above, TIME is just as much if not MORE of a resource allocation problem than money.
3. Chargen shouldn’t take a four hour session… but what if chargen itSELF is fun… what if it’s ALSO play?
Good thinking juice.

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

TSoY “Averages”

Over on the excellent Story Games forum, I asked folks who’ve been playing The Shadow of Yesterday about how long their campaigns have run:

– How many sessions has your series run?
– How many advances?
– What are the tell-tales you’re seeing that indicate the story’s coming to a conclusion? Strictly key-based, or are there other indicators?

The responses are very interesting, and run what can only be called the GAMUT from one extreme to the other.
One example: “We’ve run about 30 session, and we’ve gotten about 20 advances, per character, in that time.”
Another: “We’ve run five sessions, and we’ve earned about forty to sixy advances”
My conclusion from this — your TSoY mileage may vary. Alot. πŸ™‚

Eating Stake

I’m going to rave a bit about game systems where you set Stakes for a conflict and how that can change a game. From Mike Holmes’ article about Conflicts and Cool Failure, here’s two rules:
Rule #1: Failure Doesn’t Mean the Character Looks Bad
Rule #2: Failure Means Conflict
Played The Shadow of Yesterday last night, trying to keep these rules in mind. Every conflict the players were asking for I set up as “Okay, if you win, you get X… if you don’t win, Y happens.” What I didn’t say was “you don’t get X.” I gave people things that made the situation more complicated.
“If you win, you open the safe, if you don’t, the guy comes back and interrupts you before you’re done.”
“If you win, you find the magical passage, if you lose, the voodoo master senses your approach.”
The players picked up on this with their stakes too: fights weren’t life or death — they were things like “I want to beat them up, take their stuff, and leave them telling people my name and what I did to them.” When my npcs started getting beat up — they Gave. Why? cuz it wasn’t going to KILL them. They got a couple bruises and cuts and lost their money. They can LIVE with that.
When John was fighting a big nasty witch and got to a point where, in DnD, he be dead or fleeing, he Gave on the Conflict. Why? Because the witch wanted to Charm him — that was a loss-consequence the character could deal with, and which the player suddenly realized he could TOTALLY play with and use.
Did those losses make things more complicated? Oh hell yes. If that one-shot went into a second or third session, I think the whole Island of Cloud would be a smoking ruin, but MAN would it be fun.
Did it change the scenario and the characters themselves? Definitely.
Stakes, man. Cool failure with interesting consequences. That’s good stuff.

I like…

Since I’ve got a one-shot game to GM tonight (the first I’ve GM’d with strangers in awhile), and I’m going to want to play around with some of my conflict methods, AND I’ve got a couple long-time players also coming in, I wanted to solidify the things I like in a game, using this The Two-list method of finding your Game preferences
Here’s the first list. Second list will happen in the comments, once tonight’s game is done:

Continue reading “I like…”

Book, Game, Movie

There are three stacks of things on or near my desk at home. Each stack has a book, a movie, and a game in it.


  • Book: Dark Tower, #7
  • Movie: Wild Bunch
  • Game: Dogs in the Vineyard


These stacks were not intentional groupings, but the pretty much indicate what I’m planning in the way of games to run.

Once again: Failure = Fun?

Failure is Always An Option: Character Defeat is Player Victory Too

The biggest benefit of failure being entertaining for players, is that they can stop worrying about try to play to win, and instead concentrate on playing their characters in a way that’s entertaining. This is how HeroQuest facilitates heroism – not with Hero Points there to save the character’s bacon, that doesn’t work a remarkable amount of the time – it’s loving failure as much as victory that drives players to have their Heroes act, well, like heroes.

Ask the Blind Man

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came and shot those two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man; he saw it too.

I keep thinking…
“You could run a game where this would all be possible.”
“It could be serious.”
and then I get creeped out.

And somehow I played with Kaylee alot…

As noted here, played Kethos and Pummelcite enough over the weekend to get Keth up two levels to 29 and Pummelcite to 31.
And ran about 8 to 10 hours on a task force with Hang Time.
… and talked about another Task Force tonight with the Munchies.

Think I need to go golfing or something.
Was going to do Firefly on Friday night, but between how I was feeling and some other stuff, I wasn’t up to GMing.
I need some regular games, or some kind of regular things that lets me see the locals more.

Goals in a Conflict

The thing with the Heroquest system is the Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution; it’s all about the former and unremarkable at the latter. To put it another way, the question in an HQ game is never whether or not you pick the lock on the safe, but whether or not you get The Thing You Want. Picking the lock is only the means to the end.
The point to that statement lies in remembering that every conflict you have in the game should have a Goal stated, and once that Goal is stated, the Stakes of the Conflict are then fairly obvious. (A.A. Milne capitalization rules are now In Effect.) When I remember this, a conflict really hums in the game, when I don’t, it’s pretty flat. The best part about this is in determining what it is that will happen if you fail. Failing is awesome in HQ. It’s fun — at least it can be, if you as the GM don’t screw up setting up the Stakes for the player’s stated Goal, and in doling out Consequences.
The big hurdle to figuring out that Failure != Horrible Unfun was in my own misinterpretation of the rules — I’d missed the little clause that said you could only change a Conflict result by one step using Hero Points, and players were (understandably) spending however many points they needed to in order to avoid any kind of failure whatsoever. Fine on the surface, but it led to a mindset of ‘failure can and should be avoided at all costs.’
I corrected this mis-reading during our last game and this time, people failed here and there. They’d spend a point when they wanted to capitalize on a win or mitigate the results of a loss, but by and large we were more ‘exposed’ to failure… and it turned out pretty cool.
Again, when it didn’t, I blame my failure to think in terms of a Good Goal, and the resulting Interesting Consequences.
Mike Holmes, for whom I have all kinds of respect as an HQ GM, wrote about this at some length recently. I’d link to it directly, but it was on a mailing list, which presents a problem. I’ve reproduced the key bits below. Bold-faced. underlined emphasis, [and boxed commentary] mine:

Continue reading “Goals in a Conflict”

Reading the Encyclopedia

You know what I’d like to do?

I’d like to make up a really rough sketch background against which to play around of Lexicon. “The Wose War and Scandal of Eddings Barony”, “The Atomic Apotheosis”, “The Parliamentary Assassination of 2128”

Get a group of people together and just… you know. Go to town.

Then, when it’s all laid out, set a game in the setting you all just created.

I think that would be fun. The problem would be that the Lexicon game itself might ‘finish’ the setting. Hmm.

Week in Review

Messed around with a couple lower-level characters — notably Bear Claws (who I think still has (annoyingly) the hero-side of the Valentine’s missions to finish… so I need a villain to help me out there.
Got Toothbreaker with Keth and Myca, but not on Bear. Got… Handsome on… Pummelcite… and Beautiful for Gilly (both of whom are level 20 now, finally).
Everyone else? Hell, I didn’t even get most of my people logged in to pick up the “Heart of ____” badge.
Coming up, there’s Monday Munchies, then I’ve got a couple things I’m supposed to or need to do with John on Tuesday evening (hard to play him — just not fun for me since he got kicked out of the Guard — don’t ask me why, I dunno — so maybe the RP on Tuesday will help me get back into him). Would like to do some work with Markov’s missions — nothing like Assault Rifle snipers for the Zen of Soloing.
… other than that, no plans. With Spring Fountain this coming Friday, Margie Gras on Saturday, and a probable hangover on Sunday, I don’t expect to get a lot of play time this coming weekend, and I’ll be out of town the weekend after that, so… yeah, don’t expect a glut of stuff coming out of the CoH side of things in the nearish future.
Face to Face
Got everyone involved in the Firefly game together to do character generation. That went pretty well, and now I’m set to come up with some information on the NPCs that will make up the rest of the crew, as well as information on the ship itself. I’m pleased that the chargen went as well as it did, and I’m equally glad that I had the foresight (this time) to NOT jump right in and try to ‘run something’ — I think it’ll let me come up with a better backgroup for the characters, as well as a better plotline. Time to work on Bangs for everyone. πŸ™‚
Need to set up some time to do the exact same thing with the Sorcerer group.
Spring Fountain, which is about 8 sessions into a roughly 10-session plotline, is meeting on Friday. I need to write up a ‘when we last left our heroes’ post for everyone, including myself. πŸ™‚
And that’s it — a lot of prep, but also stuff to look forward to.

NOT CoH Plans #2

So I want to plan for other Face to Face gaming, besides wrapping up Spring Fountain.
I know… I know… control your shock.
I’m thinking of…
– Heroquest (fantasy, star wars, amber, or supers)
– Dogs in the Vineyard
– Firefly (using any of a number of possible rulesets – Risus, FATE, DitV, Primetime Adventures, UA, or even the SERENITY game (I know… shocking))
– Sorcerer (yeah, I know — a bit of a hassle-some game mechanic, but I still love the game… I’d like to do a post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery thing — the Clicking Sands idea)
If you’re down for any of that, sound off and say what for.

NOT CoH Plans #1

Xian Quan — still very much interested. Need to look at the different ways we can run this, online.
FACE TO FACE — let’s see:
I’d also like to play through the end of Spring Fountain.
Those of you in XQ — are your characters done… or even an idea pitched to me?
Those of you in Spring Fountain — are you down for starting that up again?

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.

In which someone pats me on the back without realizing it.

Another fun Firefly moment:
I’m on a mailing list for the Risus RPG (which most of y’all had the opportunity to mess with a few weekends ago). Well, as silly as Kringle in Time is, some people actually use Risus to run fairly serious stuff, and one of the more popular topics of discussion right now is the year-long Play By e-Mail “Firefly Risus” game that someone’s running — there’s been a LOT of discussion about how to represent not only the canon characters and stuff, but on how to run a game set in the Firefly universe in general.
The best part for me was a couple days ago, when some guy I don’t know (and who doesn’t know me, or even know I’m on the list) piped up and said:
“One suggestion I have: no Firefly game of any kind, using either canon or non-canon characters, in any system, should go anywhere at all until the people creating it have had a chance to check out — it’s just invaluable.”
So… cue a big grin from me.
Because that… comments like that, from fans or near-fans, or writers or gamers… that’s just. exactly. why. I. built. the. site.

Nobilis Meets Amber…

Hitherby Dragons: Bang

There are twelve avatars, and the thirteenth which is Death.

It is normal for the royal family to produce fewer than twelve children in any generation. It is rare that there should be a thirteenth.

Thus there is no difficulty when an older child takes it upon themselves to walk down to the pit of the avatars and jump.

For example, one cannot consider Cedric selfish in any manner for taking the first of the twelve avatars.

When he made his choice he was fifteen and he had three siblings only. His condition was one of abundance. He walked down to the avatar pit. He stared down: the pit was deep and black and full of edged in sharp rocks. It resembled an ecstatic’s vision of the entryway to Hell. Cedric steeled himself against fear. Then he jumped.

As he fell he connected to an avatar. This proved his blood and confirmed him as a child of the throne. Great black wings surrounded him. Stars burned around his head. In this fashion he became one with Night.

Very cool. Check it.

Blog reorg

Added a CoH category to the Blog entry posts so as to break it out from the more generic ‘supers’ category.
Said CoH category already had more entries in it than any other category besides Game Design and Links (not even close) — even a few more than Actual Play.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Certain things that always seem to happen with me and multi-player online games:
1. I make a wise-cracking, relatively-fragile, power-throwing character that I really enjoy playing.
2. I make a more serious, older, “uncle” character who can take a pounding.
3. The wise-ass character joins a group of some kind.
4. Very shortly thereafter, the wise-ass is given some level of responsibility in the group.
5. Not too long after that, the more serious character is given (shared) control over the group.
6. Every one of my characters takes a hit in the play-time department as a consequence.
I’m going to do my damndest to avoid six, because somewhere in there, I start keeping my characters secret from everyone I know so I can actually play, but then have no one to play with, because I’m hiding from everyone I know online.
Repeat after me: it’s just a game. It’s not a job. Recruiting is not my thing — if I must have responsibility, let it be to lead others to good in-character play by providing an example — let it NOT be ‘paper-pushing’.

How do I prep?

Over here, here, Shawn wrote:

How do you prep and run so many different games? I’m blown away by planning & running one game every other week or so! I mean, my group seems to have fun (they keep coming back, which I guess is a good sign), but I’m so fatigued. And that’s, as I said, just one game.
So, how is it possible to play out so many different games?

Continue reading “How do I prep?”


Had to cancel the HQ game tonight due to schedule conflicts.
Which, I gotta say, bums me out more than I’ve had that kind of thing bum me out in a pretty long time. I was looking forward to some insteresting stuff.
Dunno if that speaks to how the game is going, the system itself, my general state of mind, or what.

A comforting thought

I have, on two seperate occassions this week, been distracted from playing City of Heroes to the point where I literally forgot I had the game on and timed out long before I remembered.
In both cases, the distraction was simply my prep for Heroquest. πŸ™‚


You know what’s cool?
What’s cool is when you get a new game in the mail, especially when it’s something really badass like The Shadow of Yesterday, which I’ve been dying to get my sweaty little hands on.
You know what’s cooler than that?
When, that same day, the author of the game emails you and says:

Would you mind if I started a Shadow of Yesterday wiki on your wiki site? I like the idea of one big wiki for all these indie games, and would start one of my own, but yours already pretty much rules the school.

Would I mind?
Of course not.
It’s cool that what started out as me, taking notes on the games I was playing so I could understand them better, has evolved into a place where such things have been collected for a LOT of indie games.

More HQ d20 rambling

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the HQ game with the d20 group is fights and conflicts.
Specifically, fights that they lose. Also, conflicts that aren’t fights that still *matter* and command screen time during the game.
What do I mean?
When, in d20 combat (and remember that I said “combat” here, not “fights”) if you lose, there’s really only one way (95% of the time) that will end — you’re dead. Granted, the players might win and decide to save one -5 npc to question, but NPCs taking prisoners? Doesn’t happen — feels like a GM cop-out, or the NPCs only have time to take out one guy before they die, so it doesn’t come up.
With HQ, actual flat-out “you’re dead” consequences (and note I said that and not “results”) only come out of a fight about 5% of the time — beyond that, you’ve got lots of nuances… you can, as a player, lose a fight and still be cool… fail in the battle, but win the war.
On the of the main reasons for this is because you set the Goal for the fight, and it’s the GOAL you can lose, and the CONSEQUENCES that hurt you (or not). In d20 combat system, the GOAL is always “live”, and ‘reward’ is what we’d call the Goal in HQ, so if you lose the GOAL, you’re dead.
HQ does it like so:
You’re fighting orcs at the gate of a keep. The Goal of the fight is to get inside. You have a marginal failure. You do not get your goal. Period. Marginal failure indicates that you don’t get it and you’ve got a minor (-1) penalty on a limited set of tasks for some time. That’s it. You might have killed 40 of the damn things and looked good doing it… but there were just… too… many.
How DnD does it:
You want to get inside the gate. There are orcs in the way. You initiate the combat system against the orcs. You lose. You’re dead.
Which one sounds more like something that happens to the heroes at Helm’s Deep? I’m just sayin’.
As for Conflict that aren’t fighting? Let’s consider.

Continue reading “More HQ d20 rambling”

More d20 -> HQ thoughts

Another thought from the same thread on the Forge, this one having to do with the idea that characters in HQ can fail in maybe one contest ever session and still be cool, and how to voice that to the players:

Anything in particular I could try to ease the group over into a new mindset about success/failure and fun/unfun?

First, have a frank discussion about something. How many times did you fudge the dice in D&D so that they’d win? I’m going to guess that it was a bunch. Or have to retreat in the final scene to heal up and come back later to take a second stab at it. Where’s the story in that? So you over-ride the rules in order to ensure that the story is better. Why? Because you’re one of those conscientious GMs who wants to insure that the “story” part of the game happens. D&D does little to support the creation of drama itself.

Guilty. Oh so very, very guilty. People in that game like to joke that all I want to do is kill off the group and end the game, but ladies and gentlemen, if that were true the game would have been over in November of 02. I’m just sayin’.

Then ask them if they were aware of your fudging. When they say yes, and that it bothered them in some ways, then ask them if they’d like it if you’d never have to fudge again.
When they say yes (yes I’m making a hell of a lot of assumptions here), then ask them if they trust you to make sure that their characters are cool.

See, that is a very good question — do you trust me to respect your character and the coolness therein? If yes, we’re gold. If no, then why the hell are you playing with my untrustworthy self?

Because, after all, this is what the fudging was about in the other system, where only success is cool. If they trust you, then they have to understand that you, as GM in HQ, have the power to assure that, when they fail, they fail with aplomb.
Without altering the system at all.

Yeah, something I’ve been talking about for a year now is how to be cool even when your fail. Hell, looking good while you’re failing. When you lose a fight, is it because he fought badly? No, the ability level of a character does not change in a contest, the only variable is the die roll. The character always does as well as his ability level would indicate – failure is (usually, not always) the result of the randomness of situation that occurs. I fail to seduce the chick not because I’m not cool – the character sheet says I’m good at this – usually, I’m cool. No, it’s because some stupid waiter spilled soup on me at an inorpportune moment – that’s me blowing the roll.

So, if the players trust you to let the dice fall where they may, and to make their character’s look cool when they fail, then what’s next? Here’s an interesting thing. Ask them if they thought it was realistic that all of their opponents were always tailored to their ability level? That is, why is it that they only met orcs when they were first level, and ogres when they were fourth? Why didn’t they meet up with any Ogres at first level?

Man, if I had a buck every time I’ve heard people bitch about this.
Oh, more often, get annoyed when I mention it. No one wants to be reminded that, in the Big Fight, the main fighter needs exactly the same rolls to hit and takes exactly the same percentage of his hit points in damage from the Big Bad, per round, as he did at 1st level.
The only thing that changes is (a) the names (b) the special effects (c) the painful extension to the length of each fight.

d20 to HQ gaming conversion

I’ve got an opportunity coming up to demo Heroquest for the d20 playgroup that’s been running since… oh… pretty much since this blog started back in 2001. (A campaign I think I started posting about wanting to wrap up somewhere in early 2002, but there you go.)
In preparation for this, I’ve been poking around the Forge and looking at situations where a group moved from d20 to Heroquest and what kind of challenges cropped up. Here’s one such:

Player #2 said he missed the “tactical” dimension of d20 and was a bit bored by the first fight.
We talked after the game, and it turned out that by “tactics” he means the whole d20 rules shebang. How many squares on the battle grid for that Fireball? How many rounds will this Stoneskin last before our fighters will have to beat the retreat? Who’s getting the last two potions of Blur and when do we drink them to ensure the effect doesn’t run out during the fight?
All this is rules, stuff that “happens” on the battle grid and can be counted out and displayed using minis. It’s got little to nothing to do what actually happens in PLAY before, during and after a fight. What about using the terrain and light/darkness to your advantage? What about staging a distraction? What about playing on the enemy’s emotion to shake/enrage/move them? Heroquest does all of that, and that’s not even going to the more exotic examples such as reciting heroic poetry to stop someone lobbing their axe at your head.
DnD supports the first sort of tactics but not the second: tactical rules play, yes. Tactics that matter in an in-character way? No. Combat is abstracted to what goes on on the battle grid and in computing the effect of the numerous combat and magic rules subsets. It can be fun, yup, I enjoy it sometimes.

The drawback for that can arise after playing/running DnD for too long is you lose awareness of the other dimensions of a scene, and the way I observed it, that’s true of everyone in our group. The instant there’s potential for violence, we go into combat mode. The GM above mentioned that in their playtest session it meant that they all drop out of the “play” and into a rules mindset.
I’m of two minds on this topic:
One is that yes, this can be a problem. I haven’t GM’d Heroquest yet, but I’ve been doing combat in other similar types of games (Sorcerer and Fate spring to mind), and it can be difficult for folks who’ve done a lot of d20 to do anything other than stare blankly at their sheet and wonder what to do next… they’re used to seeing a list of feats… buttons to push… whatever, and trying to think in terms of the PLACE in the game and the SPACE their characters are moving in and how they can use that in the game can be a stumper. It’s less difficult to overcome this in HQ than Sorcerer, I think.
The other side of this is that I’ve snuck HQ into the d20 game in two instances — one was in a mass combat with one of the more knowledgeable of the d20 players, and he took to the descriptive, tactical nature of play that HQ encourages like a fish to water. In the second example, the players didn’t even notice I’d used an HQ extended contest to resolve the conflict… they just played.
So I think this is doable. I think it will work. I’ve got two weeks before the game. I’ll post more up here as thoughts arise.

Writing-Gaming Connection

[Wow. Tough to figure out what blog to post this on. I think it goes here by virtue of the GNS reference that I don’t want to have to re-explain anywhere else.]
Thread on the forge about how literature refuses gaming, precipitated from a comment from a published writer about how he’s consciously worked to keep his books from being viable settings for roleplay.
The conversation gets on track after a bit, and there’s a few snippets of conversation in which folks basically say “well, authors are essentially focused on story as the raison d’etre, while most traditional games focus on ‘what would it be like to live in this place in this way’, so I can see where that would not appeal to them.”
Then someone points out that a narrativist-style game like My Life with Master might be the sort of game that’s more in line with the storytelling agenda of an author.
This is an interesting bit:

I’d say the only significant difference (other than the medium of the output) in the process of the writer and the Narrativist roleplayer is that the writer is roleplaying Solataire while the roleplayer is relying on the collective input of the other players. The same awareness of how a characters words and actions ripple throughout the setting and effect other characters is required. And the same judgement as to whether any particular set of ripples is desireable or not is required. Both the writer and the narrativist player will have a character perform an action in large part because of the statement made.

Emphasis mine.
Narr player vs. writer = group effort vs. solitaire versions of the same effort. Hmm. I consider myself a Narr player (at least part of the time — actually, a Narr GM and a Gamist player, maybe), so in a sense I’m used to the idea of creating a story about … whatever… with a lot of creative input from other people.
“Straight” writers tend to not do that during their initial process — that’s what editors and second-draft readers are for.
It occurs to me that this might be why I’m much more comfortable with someone reading my stuff as soon as I finish typing it, while I’ve already moved forward to the next couple pages. As I understand it from other folks who write (established professionals or people who aren’t yet but will be), this sort of interaction would drive them bat-shit crazy.
Doesn’t bother me. I think that’s a good thing. Not ‘better’, per se, just good.

Generic Heroquest

Issaries has already comissioned a “generic” rpg game using the core HeroQuest rules and to be published with several sample genres of example worlds to play.
The Table of Contents has been approved and the author is now hard at work. We do not yet have a publication date.
We thank the fans for their interest in this fine project, and beg patience from everyone while the author completes the project.
Greg Stafford
President, Issaries, Inc.


How to play Dogs when you don’t want to play Dogs

Based on the back-cover copy for DitV and incorporating a suggested alternative setting from the GM’s section:

Dogs in the Junkyard is about the Mob’s enforcers, young men and women called on to keep the Family together and keep the business running — not necessarily in that order. From their home in Chicago, they’ll travel from burg to isolated burg, carrying news and instructions that can’t be trusted to phones or the mail, taking care of the Family and “taking care” of the disloyal.
The setting is a fiction inspired by any number of mob movies and television shows. The air is dirty, the suits are spotless, the guns are loud, and Silence is Golden.
Picture the Family, facing jailtime and prosecution from the Law, murder and betrayal from their competitors (and sometimes their allies). They?re running a business based on graft and violence, founded on family loyalty and respect. They?ve been around for years, but they’re still in danger on all sides — times keep changing, after all. The business has to be subtle and agile these days and it’s vulnerable to attack from within (betrayal, either purposeful or unthinking) and without. Under that kind of pressure, pride becomes resentment, resentment becomes hate, hate becomes violence… and everyone and their cousin is waiting for someone to make a big mistake.
You’re there to hold it all together.

…not that I’m remotely qualified to run this; I don’t have the media exposure I’d need at all.
Execution of the ‘towns’ would be essentially the same — a big mass of people, at least some of which have family ties to each other — in which Pride leads to Injustice leads to “sin” — strictly speaking, activities which weaken the strength of the Family in the area and allow either internal or external forces that will eventually tear the place apart.
Reading through all that blurb, it strikes me as a good… “something” for someone turned off by the default DitV setting, which in turn would probably be less interesting for the folks who already like the concept as is. It also nicely supports a “yah can’t just kill everyone, every time” idea — it’s bad for business. πŸ™‚

Change is… eh.

Well, I went back to a slightly tweaked version of the original blog page; not due to negative feedback as much as my own dislike of that intra-framed window. Ugh. Someday, someone will code a plugin for PMWiki that does what I want (basically a true “include” function), but right now, it’s not available.
I rearranged the layout here to follow the basic layout of the wiki. Also went through the wiki and reorganized a bit, creating customized sidebars (thanks for the hint on that, Dave) for the more expansive subjects (Sorcerer, Heroquest, the Duchy, and a few others) to allow for easier navigation within subjects.
Like I said: change, but nothing spectacular.

The Sorcerer/Amber Connection

So here’s an interesting thing:
One of the main bits of preparation that you’re supposed to do (as the GM) for a Sorcerer game is the Relationship Map. Now, if you don’t look at it too hard, it doesn’t really seem like much of a big deal — there’s a bunch of NPCs, and you’ve basically got an idea of what they’ve done, what they’re planning on doing, and what (potentially) they want out of the PCs. Some games would call this Background, but between a good Relationship Map and strong Kickers from the players — you’ve potentially got a really interesting story.
Ideally, the core of the Relationship Map is done up before play or even character generation begins, and the players are made aware of the basics — who’s who, what most people know about them… that sort of thing. The responsibility of the players is to tie themselves into the r-map in at least one, preferably two or more places.
To make matters even simpler, the sorcerer book (sorcerer & soul) that talks about this technique even goes so far as to show you how you can use the plot and characters of a good book to create your map — first, removing the book’s protagonist (PCs will fill that role) filing off the serial numbers, changing the genre, the era, the setting, but maintaining the basic relationships.
The author’s book recommendation in this regard are good noir detective novels from Hammet, et cetera, not because of the mystery (the mystery’s never really the point), but for the nice convoluted network of people and… ahh go get the book and read the rest.
Anyway… thinking about the source material recommended, who that influenced, and the games I’m familiar with, I realized that Amber is an R-Mapped game: network of characters with clear and strong relationships between each other and things they want — and the players are expected to make characters that tie into this map.
Then, all the GM has to do (in Sorcerer, this is the player’s job, but otherwise…) is come up with events that set each character into motion — something that changes the status quo and sets everything on it’s head — something they can’t ignore.
Sounds like pretty much every successful Amber game I’ve ever heard of.

Getting Focus

While digression and kibbitzing has been a perennial complaint/joke/bugaboo around the gaming table, there was a point about two years ago when I’d gotten (I think) quite a bit better at keeping a game focused and moving things along — I think I owe a lot of that to my (then) habit of participating in convention gaming tables for Living campaigns (Star Wars, Greyhawk, and others) — simply put, when you’re at a convention and have put money down to play (or have a table full of people who have), and you’ve got 3.5 hours to get through 5 to 8 encounters in an enjoyable fashion, there’s a lot of incentive to focus.
Now, it’s an unspoken assumption that home tables are never as focused as Con games: it’s a larger group of people (at least some of the time), the setting for play is much more informal, there’s less of a time-crunch (you can always come back next session and pick up where you left off, right?), and of course you’re probably closer friends with your home group than the folks you randomly end up with at a convention table, so there’s going to be more visiting…
But I’m not sure if I buy that.

  • I (and the rest of the folks I game with regularly) are adults without a whole lot of free time — granted, when I hear most adult gamers lament that they never get to play Face-to-Face, it’s clear that our group of players schedules and plays more games than most, but that’s because we make a serious time commitment to play (more on that below), not becuase we actually have more time. As much as any player with 3.5 hours to play at a Con table, our time is at a premium.
  • Visiting. We do a lot of it, and I mean in general, not just while playing. More to the point, we do a lot of it in the same areas we play in — the family room becomes the gaming area simply by adding upside-down frisbees loaded with dice to the decor and scattering rule books around.
    • I’m not SURE if a change of locale (even a minor one) would help put people in a better mental space to play, but I think that the Need to Visit needs to be acknowledged among a group of gamers who are also friends. The fact is, if we’re scheduling a game to start a 4pm, and we BS until 8pm before we start playing, it obvious that we WANT to visit in an informal way, and that it’s going to be a lousy resultant game, regardless of what happens.
    • Possible solution — allocate some of the currently-slotted game-time as designated Visit Time — acknowledge that the visiting and kibbitzing will happen regardless, so SET A TIME to end it, concretely… maybe combining it’s conclusion with a physical move to The Place Where We Game and out of The Place Where We Visit, if that seems helpful or necessary.
    • Corollary: set a regular break (every two hours or something) where you leave The Place Where We Game to kibbitz and refuel for 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Many of the games I run are the sorts where you can (allegedly) get more done in 2.5 hours than you could in 10 hours in most mainstream systems, provided that’s what you’re doing: playing… getting things done… focusing. Maybe someone says something that reminds me of a story about my kid? Fine: I’ll make a note of it so I can bring it up during a break… something.
  • Maybe this is Social Contract stuff that needs to be set out prior to a new game starting (there will be Visit Time, Game Time, and regular breaks, so everyone gets booed and hissed for mixing activities and diluting both). Maybe it’s worth a try.
  • I have to wonder about group dynamics in this, and System… the OA game, for example, has identical composition to other games that have all kinds of focus issues… that’s a curiosity.

There should be a way to regain the kind of “Our Time Here is Precious” mindset that give’s us more in-character moments… whatever… just better payoff for the time spent, WITHOUT going back to regular Con Game participation to get myself in that 3.5 hour mindset (which in any case only works so far as the rest of the group has also done so).
There should be… Hmm.
Nothing more concrete to add here; I’m just thinking outloud.

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. πŸ™‚
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 πŸ™‚ 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? πŸ™‚
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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚
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 πŸ™‚ …

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. πŸ˜›
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. πŸ™‚


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. πŸ™‚


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 πŸ™‚
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. πŸ˜›
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 πŸ˜› )
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.

Food for thought from Rey…

It’s not spoiler stuff — it’s just thinking out loud. Still, some might want to abstain.
Leia: “General Kenobi. Years ago, you served my father [here referring to Sen. Bail Antilles/Organa] in the Clone Wars…”
Which we knew already — it now makes sense that she refers to him as General, not “master”, since with only a handful of Jedi left by the time of the Clone Wars, his military rank would have been much more significant.
But here’s a tidbit:
Leia: “My mother died when I was very young…”
Leia, unlike Luke, has a few vague memories of her real mother (Luke doesn’t because he was hidden away with the Lars family on Tatooine.) We are given to believe that Leia’s memories are of her REAL mother.
Fact: Bail’s not married yet in Episode 2.
Fact: Leia refers to Bail as her father.
Fact: The mother that Leia refers to is presented as her true mother.
Conclusion: Bail marries Padme? (I figured he adopted Leia and that Padme didn’t factor into it, but this is much more interesting.)

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.