SotC Hack

John Harper (author of Agon) is playing in a Spirit of the Century game and hacking in some things that I really find useful and interesting. over at The Mighty Atom: SotC Hack is a post about tweaking the Stress/Consequences bars to make Consequences happen more and generally speed up combats a bit. It’s a direct yoink from the upcoming Dresden Files rules.
Actually, he’s got quite a few insightful SotC tweaks discussed over there (and Fred Hicks is conferring with him in the comments), so it’s worth checking the whole thing out: The Mighty Atom.

As though I needed another reason

[Breaking the Ice] – You proved me wrong!

When I initially heard about Breaking the Ice however-long-ago that was, my immediate gut reaction was “Oh, come ON! That won’t be fun!” I don’t know what it was about the game (or rather, the idea of the game) that rubbed me the wrong way. But there it is: me, monstrously predisposed to hating Breaking the Ice.
The flip side of have strong gut reactions to lots of things is that you eventually learn that your gut isn’t always right. So, when I had the opportunity to try the game out, I did.
It was really, really fun.

Someday, I hope to get a chance to play that game. Until then, I’ll just carry it around and reread it. πŸ™‚

I have played Spirit of the Century and I am exited.

There are a dozen reasons why, but the bottom line is that I think this is quite possibly *the* game to use for a regularly-scheduled, everyone-makes-up-a-character-and-whoever-shows-up-plays, campaign.
In quick summation:

  • The Century Club is the easy background that ties everyone together and explains why [random list of this evening’s participants] were called in for [current problem].
  • The adventure setups can easily be resolved in one session.
  • The characters are very very competent (nigh on Amberite-level), so it’s really no problem if only a few people can play that week, or if a bunch can — the opposition can remain the same.
  • Character progression is comparatively slow and applied to everyone (not just the folks who show up a lot), so you don’t need to worry about falling behind if you’re busy for awhile.
  • The episodic nature of the villain-of-the-week, coupled with the fact that half of any GM’s prep will be making up a list of PC Aspects to compel in interesting ways, plus that fact that less-played PCs don’t fall behind means that (a) Anyone can GM if they want and (b) the various GMs can have their own characters to pull out and play when they’re not in the hot seat. It is EASY to switch GMs around in the same setting with minimal fear of stepping on someone else’s uber storyline.

Picture everyone with a character. A wiki full of the NPCs we’ve introduced… a list of all the pulp novels we’ve “written”… and the sure knowledge that, say, “Saturdays are a Game Day.”
I am excited. πŸ™‚

Boiling down Theory

Most of the roleplaying game theory out on the intertubes that originated on the Forge is part of the Big Model. You won’t have heard me talk about the Big Model before, because frankly I don’t get it — I talk about small parts of the Big Model, because I feel like (a) I get those, or (b) I possibly CAN get those, if I work at it.
Over at Knife Fight, someone posted a friends summary of the Big Model that pretty much boils it all down into a nice simple glaze I can pour over whatever food I happen to be cooking. It’s tasty, it’s basic, and it’s (in my head) straightforward. I have appended that post, with notes, below the cut, because i would always like to be able to find it.

Continue reading “Boiling down Theory”

What I keep coming back around to:

I enjoy games that have more story-focus than DnD… Don’t get me wrong: I like tactical games. I really do. I love DnD when that’s what i want to do; I wish I was in a regular Savage Worlds game, or something else with miniatures. Seriously. But I want some game going where the system acknowledges “my whole ‘thing’ is about X” and have the game system actually care about that. Not just the GM or the players, but the system.
PTA is the EXTREME version of that, where you’re pretty much all issue. I like PTA, but I feel like I’ve had… so far… more extended success with games like Heroquest and Sorcerer which are closer to a ‘normal’ game, but which still allow for those story elements.
I don’t know how much that matters, but I’m getting so damned frustrated with games that only make it two sessions and then crash for seven months, assuming they ever come back to life, and I’m trying to find the magic bullet game that (a) gives me what I want and (b) lasts a few sessions, cuz… dammit.
And I don’t think it’s the systems. I’ve had good long runs of newer games — I have to hope it’s largely circumstances and not just me fucking forgetting how to run a fun game.

Old School Holocaust

The boys of the Durham Three go super-old school with a game of Twilight 2000 and discuss what about the game is definitive old-school and what makes that awesome.
Quote of the podcast: “I just don’t have a problem beating up feral children… in a game. You put a feral child in front of me in a game, I’m not going to feel bad about blowing him up with his own grenade.”

“I’m so making a post from this email.”

So Dave is getting ready to run a Primetime Adventures game, and in between bouncing actual Show ideas around, we’re talking about PTA’s system itself, and getting used to the weird parts. I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff he’s been thinking about, and I thought the ensuing conversation was valuable, so I’m posting it here, somewhat rearranged from the emails so that it’s… umm… readable in this format.
Green is me, blue is Dave.

Continue reading ““I’m so making a post from this email.””

Theory, Hardcore

I was going to do two posts this morning; one about this, and one about someone using Spirit of the Century to run a Classic Traveler game, which is cool.
However, this is an important link, and I don’t want to distract from it.
Vincent’s Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore
This single page of posts, written by that Dogs in the Vineyard guy over the course of months, comprises the most lucid, easy to read, approachable discussion of ‘indie’ rpg theory you’ll ever find, period. Everyone who’s ever even kind of sorta looked sideways at all those Forge neologisms or dealt with one of those hippie games I play should read it. Everyone should read it.
More importantly, everyone SHOULD read it. Read, especially, “A Small Thing About Suspense” and “A Small Thing About Death” (I’m looking at you, Tombstone RPG!)
But read it all. It’s all good.

I hate that idea umm… Here’s what I like about that idea…

Remi, from the Durham Three podcast, posts some actual-play on Primetime Adventures, played at Camp Nerdly (which ran the same weekend I was all warm and sunny in Florida, so I don’t really feel bad for missing it.) [Camp Nerdly – PTA] Sexitricity.
Why am I linking it? Because in one part of the thread, Remi breaks down how he handles the Session Pitch — he said earlier that he disallows any negative input at that point in the game, and someone asks for more info, and he brings it:

First I ask everyone for something that’s gotten them jazzed in the last week or two. An idea, a TV show, a piece of music, whatever. I make it clear that the show is going to be a synthesis of what everyone’s excited about, and that I’ll be the one doing most of the formal synthesizing. I go around the table in whatever order people want to go. For this session Duty, The Bene Gesserritt, Babarella, and the Preacher comic book series were all mentioned.
Joshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said “Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!” and someone else said, “The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . .” and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked. The pitch session could have degenerated right there into people sniping one another’s ideas, which when you’re gathering material is death. The player immediately turned around and said what he’d like to see out of a companion-style idea, and we built from there.

This is something I wish I’d read before the “Tarot Game” Mortal Coil session. As that did not happen, I’ll have to settle for enforcing that guideline unswervingly in future play, in any game, even in-game (especially with strong narrative-switching like PTA) — a kind of “never say no to the scene” improve acting rule/technique.

The “we just had a joke” timer.

GameCraft :: View topic – The Disruption Hourglass of Death (table rule, any game system)

Anyway, I do love our style of roleplaying, and it’s just a big habit of mine to, even in the middle of a serious moment, to break it up with a bad pun, or a joke, or a double-entendre or something. Rick has recently been doing the same thing, and even more so. This hasn’t disrupted things to the point of, “Shut up, you dick, you’re breaking my concentration!” or anything like that. But we all agree, even the comment-giver, that:
* Levity is AWESOME, and welcome in certain amounts.
* However, busting caps right in the middle of a dramatic moment with a pun can really take the spotlight from them.
* And more often than not, since the mood has a ‘crack’ in it, it’s very easy to follow it up with more jokes (Rick says something funny, Quintin follows up on it, I get in, and 5 minutes later we’re like, “OK, what were we doing again?”)
* Which leads to derailing the drama.
One crack every 5-10 minutes or so? Harmless.
However, we know ourselves better, and know that that first crack usually starts a chain reaction which derails the discsussion or roleplaying moment.

I’ll simply point out that the group Andy describes in the post sounds a LOT like the local Denver group, where one joke inevitably leads to another; or where one quote from a movie inevitably leads to another quote (or, more inexplicable, the SAME one, repeated, as though to confirm we heard).

Elemental

I dreamt a game mechanic last night, based on the five Chinese elements and Rock-Paper-Scissors, as in “Fire scours Earth. Earth blocks Water. Metal slices Air. Like that.
Except I think almost everything beat Air and Metal, the way I dreamed it.
So anyway, the character sheet has a kind of pentagram on it, where the five points were the elements and the lines between them were arrows that pointed toward which elements they beat, creating a big star… and each point was a circle you could put chips in to show how strong you were in that element… though I don’t really know what being strong in that element would do for you — maybe let you win in a conflict you’d normal lose (like Earth turning around and beating Fire, or something) or the number of times you could “play” that element in a conflict, per session, or something.
I don’t know what the bloody point was, but it looked cool in my dream-head, and I don’t have time to think about it right now, or do anything about it, so I’m putting it here.
sheet.png
Click to embiggen.

Primetime Adventures: Finally!

Dave’s still putting up the AP from the Pilot Episode, but I wanted to get a link up to PrimetimeAdventures / Strange Allies. We finally got to play this game! Woo!
It was a little wonky, getting started, but we hit our groove near the end of the session and I do believe I’m still buzzing from this thing, a day later. Good good stuff. Some could-shouldas to consider, but good, good stuff.

When is a game “finished?”

Lots of talk in the last couple days about what constitutes a “finished” game. (My threads on teaching your game flowed out of that conversation actually.)
Matt Wilson, who wrote Primetime Adventures and Galactic, gives up the best rule of thumb on this I’ve seen so far:
“You need players to consistently be able to sit down and play your game out of the box, without help, without you available as an unpublished supplement.”
There you go. It’s nice that so many of these indie games have the author easily available to answer questions, but the best ones — Dogs and PTA spring to mind, as they have for a few days now, but Conspiracy of Shadows and TSoY are there too (they may not be in-game-referencing-friendly, but the rules make sense without lots of online help — are the ones where that’s not necessary; where you are reading Actual Play threads not to understand what the hell to do, but just to get cool ideas.

Teaching Your Game: Using Adult Learning Techniques to Deliver Game Content

In an email, Jason Morningstar wrote:

Hey Doyce!
Your comment:
“I’m a professional editor for technical publications and training delivery (which I’ve found game texts may benefit from stealing from, in terms of information delivery and teaching the game).”
was very exciting to me. I want to learn; let’s figure out how to make that happen. Mostly I’m interested in how your experience relates to a game text and play instructions. Want to start a dialogue at S-G about this?

And actually I was already working on (a) some learning materials for work and (b) a post that used most of the same stuff from the work document, applied to game design, so I started a series of posts on the subject.

Forge Con, the “quick” version

I left my journal/notebook at home today (along with a bunch of otther stuff I should have remembered), which included all my detailed notes on the happenings at ForgeCon Midwest, which I attended this weekend. Without the notes, I’ll just hit a few highlights:

  1. Contrary to my grandiose plans, I didn’t end up playing one ‘new’ game (defined here as ‘something I haven’t played before’, not necessarily ‘hot off the presses’). This was due partly to circumstances (I’d hoped to play Primetime Adventures or Agon, but no one was running it) and partly due to my own choices (since I had several options at times and chose games I was already familiar with over other stuff, for a number of reasons). With all that said, it was still really cool for folks like Ron Edwards to seeks me out and specifically ask me to jump into a session of It Was a Mutual Decision (the story of a romantic break-up, with wererats), even if I didn’t play it. This is also a good thing, since I won’t be coming back from the Con with my hair all blown back and white, proclaiming the next great game we GOTTA play — it reinforced my appreciation of games I already know I really like.
  2. So what did I play?
    • The Mountain Witch (GMd it) — this was during the first gaming slot, which got slarted late in general, and ended up being more of a two-hour demo of the rules than a full-on-and-proper session. That said, we had three ronin with some great abilities and neat backstory, a nice negotiation with my favorite tMW NPC, Uncle Tengu; a fight with some zombie soldiers in my favorite tMW ‘set’, the Black Meadow; an encounter with the Witch’s Mistress, and ended with a duel between a ronin with a sword, and a ronin with a rock. The one with the rock won. it wasn’t even close.
    • Heroquest (played) — this was a lot of fun for me, since I was playing with Mike Holmes, who essentially taught me how to run this game via his long-running ‘live’ IRC-chat-based game that is now into it’s third season, third in-game decade, and fourth year of play. We did a six-person horror-themed one shot in a traditional Glorantha village, and verily it was cool. I enjoy failing in that system as much as I do winning in other games, and spent a lot of time working out ‘bonus’ abilities like “bum hip” for my grouchy old sherrif. Tons o’ fun.
    • The Shadow of Yesterday: Brokedown Castle (GMd, with some actual prep) — this game took place in the evening and actually had a nice turnout, though pretty much no one who played were the people who’d voiced interest in playing prior to the con. Heroquest-Mike turned around and became the player for this session and proceeded to hand me a great NPC in the form of his Goblin translator named Glarb. Has Margie can attest, I have a lot of fun mangling the translation of things from player to the next, and Glarb became a plot-turning pivot on which several scenes hinged. Result: Lots of fun, lots of laughs, a good Bringing Down the Pain contest between the (PC) albino ratkin sorcerer and the (NPC) arcanely schooled nobleman. To contrast that, I should have prepped a stronger situation going in — I went in with some very sketchy NPCs with some leading bits of information about each of them, and asked the players to plug into that relationship map — that worked, and the stuff they came up with did (as I’d planned for) create a whole-cloth conspiracy out of the scraps I’d brought to the table, but just a leeeeetle more momentum from the NPCs would have helped things move a skosh more briskly.
    • Galactic
    • (Played — playtest) — Matt Wilson was down for the con and, once rested, wanted to try out his new version of Galactic. I GMd a playtest group for the game already, and REALLY wanted to see what he’d been doing with the game, so I jumped at the chance. This lead to some really great design talk with Paul Czege (creator of My Life with Master), Eric Finley, and Matt, and I think we really sanded down the last few ragged edges on that thing. Result: this is a tight, tight game. As good as the clunky draft of the game was, this is SO MUCH BETTER. Tighter. Cleaner. More focused. Gone or replaced are many of fiddley bits, leaving one system with a really unified, elegant feel. It’s not genius yet, but it’s totally fun and playable right now, and it’s going to get better — it cant not at this point, I think. Matt still hasn’t had a chance to playtest the system all the way through a whole ‘arc’ and into the end game. I pointed out that my play group is all ABOUT longer-form play and getting to the end game, and told him to get me the damn rules already. There was a lot of nodding.

  3. I should have brought Nine Worlds. My roomate Iskander/Alexander is very much in love with this system, which I’ve owned for awhile and haven’t read, and talked about a couple sessions they’ve played that seems to bring out a great kind of Nobilis-Lost-500 feeling that’s a lot of fun. Must go back and read that thing.

And that was about it. Lots and lots of visiting, and talking about gaming and games and stuff we liked and what we didn’t, about the direction the indie scene is going, and the fact that people in the indie scene don’t use editors, and really really should… and good things like that.
If nothing else, the con let me meet some people I should have met ages ago (Jae, Matt, Mike, Ron, Aaron, Eric, Blankshield… just off the top of my head), meet some folks I really enjoyed and have only recently become aware of through the forums (Clyde, Keith, Thor) and really get a sense of the people behind the UserIDs. Great stuff.
Also, there was a lot of talking about Space Hulk and Warhammer — that’s always good. πŸ™‚
And I’m now totally okay with not liking Capes. Or Shock:. I know I’m not alone, and I know my reasons are much like the reasons that other people have — people with whom I share many other gaming preferences. It’s not this thing that i don’t get — it’s this thing that just isn’t for me, for a number of reasons both artistically, enjoymentally (a new word) and just plain TECHNICALLY.
Like any of these sorts of things — it was a lot of time spent with folks who enjoy the same fun you do, talking, playing, and just enjoying being a part of a really grand hobby.
That’s a good thing. πŸ™‚

Bringing Down the Finnish Pain

The Bringing Down the Pain “Group” rules from the Finnish version of TSOY, translated back into English. It’s worth noting that the guy who translated the game is also a very good rules wonk and tweaked things here and there in the rules, so seeing his version of the rules are really interesting and often enlightening.
At any rate, it’s not that his version of the Group BDtP rules are different than the English version, they’re just looking at the whole situation, and explaining it, from an very different angle (134 degrees rotated horizontally, 32 degrees vertically :). It might be useful to get your head around it.

Random Thought on Tweaking a Game System for a ‘weird’ setting

So here’s a thought, grown from an offhand comment in a podcast last week.
If you’re going to run a game in a setting, and plan on tweaking a game system to run it — specifically, a game system that’s designed for something else — you should first, foremost, and without exception run at least a short game with that system, in that system’s default… let’s say “genre.” By that I mean:
– If you’re going to use Sorcerer to run kid’s fairytales, use it for a normal game first.
– If you’re going to use Dogs in the Vineyards for a Vampire game, use it normally first.
– If you’re going to run Conspiracy of Shadows for a Delta Green/Resident Evil game, do the dark fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Spirit of the Century to run a 18th century swashbucking game, play a standard Pulp thing first.
– If you’re going to use Heroquest to run Firefly or Star Wars or Amber, use it to run some kind of fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Shadow of Yesterday to run Jack McGraw and the Mind-Kings of Jupiter or Shadowrun, use it to run a fantasy game in the world of Near first.
What I’m saying: access the system as intended before you decide what comes and goes during a customization; drive the car before you try to rebuild it into a 4×4. They don’t have to be long games, but they should dig deeply into the system’s conflict mechanics and the reward system and how progression works, before you pull an Italian Job on the system and start tearing off ‘unnecessary engine parts’.
This isn’t relevant to any particular game or situation — I’m as guilty of jumping right to the Modified Version as anyone (Petrana, and that’s fairly mild; Firefly, which wasn’t), but I think it’s a good rule to keep in mind.