Cool, baby. Cool.

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

Game Design

Game theory

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

Links & Resources

Note to self: reviewing at my leisure

RPGnet: Review of HeroQuest

Links & Resources

Schedule updates

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

Links & Resources

In summation

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 82: Three Word Summary

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

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

Game Design Nobilis

Making Magic… magic.

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

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

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


Order of events

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

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

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

Game Design


As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes miss things that are going on with the players in my games.
Back in TiHE, I used to periodically take a poll of everyone to see how they thought things were going — a feedback sheet if you will — but I stopped doing that after awhile because, well, I’ve been playing with the same basic group since about 1997 or 1998 now, and I figured I’d… y’know… KNOW.
Also, when I look at campaign I’m running, I have a general idea of how things are going… who’s doing what, who’s ‘getting somewhere’ and who isn’t, et cetera. Generally I think that’s pretty accurate, since I’ve got the bird’s eye view of the world.
For instance, in the Chrysalis C campaign, Fungus is the Investigator — she’s the one who has made the most progress in figuring out the (*counts*) two or three main mysteries of that group’s storyline — she’s had to fight tooth and claw for every bit of info, but she’s essentially the one who’s gleaned 90% of what there is to glean about the mysteries that affect the group-as-a-whole. Conversely, Sian has gotten the most tangled up in side-stories and personal drama, and Mariska and Lil’ Doc fall somewhere in between.
Tonight, Margie presented her POV of the Nobilis game to me… which essentially amounted to exactly the opposite of what I just said: Fungus gets nothing done, and all sorts of things happen to Sian. (Actually, I guess that’s not wholly opposite of what I said, it’s just a really surprising summary — Fungus has a lot of info s/he hasn’t acted on yet, and while lots of stuff happens to Punishment, none of it is GOOD stuff ๐Ÿ™‚
Obviously, I think I need to go back to polling people.

Links & Resources

Pure. Gold.

Random Name Generator
I want this thing on my palm.

Links & Resources


The makers of the Historic Tale Construction Kit have taken various bits of art and lettering from the Bayeux Tapestry and loaded them into a web-based application that lets you use the elements to create your own story. No, really.
I want to use the to retell the Miami Breakthrough or something ๐Ÿ™‚

Game Design

Eight is enough

Game Wish asks:

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

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

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

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

Game Design


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

Links & Resources


The Harrow: The RPG Collection

Links & Resources

All your deity are belong to me.

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

Game Design

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

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

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

Links & Resources


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


“Still… not as scary…”

The creator of Nobilis, reinventing the ecosystem of the world’s oceans on Hitherby Dragons.

The ocean should be made of custard. On a purely practical level, it would be tastier and more nutritious than sea water. On a more idealistic level, it’s one of the few things that could entice me to take up a career as a sailor: a custard sea, with little gummi fish! (The fish would have to be gummi fish. Otherwise they’d drown. Normal fish can’t breathe custard! That’s a silly idea.)
Gummi fish wouldn’t be the only wonders of a custard sea. There’d be white chocolate reefs and a Bermuda’s Triangle made of deadly meringue. Would the sailors consume it or would it consume them? You’d never know. Not without going there!
Most of all, there’d be little candied fruits suspended in the custard. And you know what that would mean?
That’s right.
An end to scurvy IN OUR TIME.

Links & Resources

What more need be said?

GURPS Vorkosigan

Links & Resources

The technology of game scheduling

Thanks to Dave noticing that, once again, Hosting Matters provides both top-notch support and the coolest toys, I’ve been able to (quickly and easily) install Web Calendar for use as an online, interactive Game Calendar, with reminders and participants and the whole nine yards.
VERY, VERY cool.
The default page shows all the events that have been marked as Public Access, which lets us show all the games and conflicts coming up. Dave and I are sweating the admin details, basically.
The only weird thing about “Public” view is that it shows all the timed events in the timezone of the server machine, which is 4 hours later than Colorado time. (If you’re someone who can log in, you can set your preferences to ‘subtract 4 hours from server time’ to display all the times correctly.)
Anyway, the calendar’s open to most anyone to see, and any you actual gaming participants (you know who you are) actually have sign-ins that you can use to go in to your personal calendar view, where only the events you’re involved in will display.
Actually, come to that, if you have a login (which any game participants do), you can actually use this as a planning calendar for yourself that you can access from anywhere there’s internet access — you’re certainly welcome to do so, if only to note times you’ll be out of town — only the events you make ‘Public Access’ will show up in the ‘Public’ calendar.

Game Design


Timeline Tool. Online.


The beginning of the end of the beginning…

So I wrapped up the OA campaign last Friday night with the the most unwrap-uppy wrap-up I’ve ever done. Let’s go over the salient points:
I introduced a new Evil Faction.
I reintroduced a new Bad Guy.
I failed utterly to bring closure to any of the various personal storylines going on, merely advancing them slightly and leaving them dangling in tantilizing ways.
In short, I did little more than leave things in a very good position for a sequel campaign. So good, in fact, that my players are already asking for it. (For which I partly blame Last Samurai).
And yes, I’m considering it. But not now, and not soon. I accomplished the closure of one of the campaigns I was trying to close up, and I’m going to revel in that for awhile (and keep plugging away at the end of the current DnD game).

Links & Resources

Precious goodness

R. Sean Borstrom at Hitherby Dragons explains the dancing pope army:

The Vatican forces will also clean your floors. They’re a dancing Pope army *and* a floor wax. This makes them practically unstoppable.

She really is a genius. I’m a bit awed.
Also, check out the “One of these days” entry.

Oh, funny story about chest-bursting aliens. Once upon a time, there were the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rooster (but not Hen, since girls are a different animal), Rabbit, Monkey, Dragon, Horse, Hopping Vampire, Snake, Goat, and Alien…

Links & Resources

Giving up the linky love

Props to, which is a really good unplugged gaming site.
Of recent note: the Christmas Gift Guide for Gamers entries, in varying price ranges.


Stepping into other shoes

After some thoughts provoked by the posts here and here, I opted to eschew the turn timer for the Nobilis game tonight.
Result? Mixed. The scenes were much more complete and felt a lot more ‘whole’ to me, but at the same time there’s something good to be said for an impetus to wrap up a scene instead of letting it simply fade and fade and fade and faaaade to black.


Schedule through February

You people make the mistake of asking me to work out a schedule, then this is what you get.
(Though I’ll note will some glee that a GREAT DEAL of this is not GMed by me, and some I’m not even playing in.)

Links & Resources

[Insert “Huzzah” and “It must be mine!” here]

Dork Tower, the Game
Dunno if it can compare to the freebie goodness that is Dave’s copy of Dork Tower FRAG, but still, heh.

Game Design

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.)

Links & Resources


A Nobilis chancel-making tool.

Links & Resources


The 20′ By 20′ Room

Roleplaying games are really interesting.

From that sentence, all else flows. Roleplaying games are interesting, and interesting things are worth talking about. One way to talk about things is via this probably over-hyped new technology known as the weblog.

Links & Resources

Fight the power

Mike Sullivan: Magipunk, v 2.0 — great stuff. Something that would be fun to play with/in.