And… Action!

As I already mentioned, we played some Primetime Adventures this weekend — this was the first episode after the series premiere of our “Weird War Two” show — and ***Dave has once again done fantastic work in putting together a great game log of Strange Allies, Episode 1, “Djinn”.
This was a revelatory session for me as a PTA producer — somewhere in there, I went from “okay, I think we’re at a conflict” to realizing “Oh, THIS is how you play Bangs in this game. WOW!”
Great stuff.
My only coulda-shoulda for the session is that I should have suggested that the climatic scene conflicts for Margie and Randy should have been more about their characters’ issues, but that’s a relatively minor thing.

Man, I am loving Primetime Adventures

So I’ve run two sessions of PTA now (the Pilot and now Episode One of “Strange Allies”: fighting the arcane plots of the Reich in WW2), and played in one.
Really, REALLY feel like we’re getting the hang of this system.
– Don’t say “okay, I think this is a conflict, the NPC wants this, you want that.” Think to yourself, ‘the NPC wants this’ and then have them DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, right in the character’s face, and say “Okay, given that situation, what do you want, player?” In other words, SHOW, don’t TELL. Awesome.
– Cut to the next cool thing, drop the scenes that you wouldn’t show in a TV show. This might be the best ‘rule of thumb’ to apply to really help you cut to the important stuff in a game.
– You can always squeeze the scenes harder. 🙂
Great parallels between Randy and Margie’s character’s storylines: rejected loves, dangerous beasts within, facing off against things that each represented the worst of what they might become…
… and poor Dave, the one human anchor point in this mad little storm.
I prepped three lines of text before the game, and we made a TV episode out of it, with demonic djinn and fascist Italian sorcerers and “I love yous” and marriage proposals in Paris and…
I’m very very pleased with how we’re figuring this game out. It’s like all the tough choices of Sorcerer, but playing characters you actually like. 🙂

“Now a regular weekly publication!”

It’s a Spirit of the Century-palooza. First, we had a character generation shindig down at Lee and De’s for Nine Princes in Pulp (Amber, with a thick layer of pulpy goodness), and now…

“The Century Club Presents…” is (a) a fictional pulp periodical that tells the heroic tales of the Century Club and (b) a pulp pick-up game using the Spirit of the Century system. That means a game influenced by the pulps — serial adventures of the early Twentieth Century starring iconic characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow and echoed today in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Rocketeer.
We’re aiming for each session to be relatively self-contained, so that the players participating each session can change with no real problems. The characters are all affiliated with the Century Club, and this loose structure provides continuity, while allowing the freedom to create nearly any sort of adventure and include whomever shows up that week to play.
The idea here is to get a regularly scheduled game going for which the specific day of the weekend, the locale, the participants, and even the GM change as we go, depending on who can make it that week.
As of Sunday, we’ve got seven characters mostly made up, but WE NEED. MORE. POWER.
I’ll be sending out another message today, organizing a “There’s still time to SAVE THE WORLD!” get together for this weekend. The more players we have, the better the chance that there’s always enough people to play. 🙂

Bang bang bang

I’ve talked (a lot) in the past about running games that are essentially built on nothing but Bangs (or as SotC would have it, decision points). In (very) brief, this is a mode of GMing in which (most commonly) you come up with dilemmas that the character has to deal with, somehow. That’s actually simplifying it: Bangs are about creating a situation in which the reaction says something interesting about the character.The elements of this situation (and this is important) have no ‘right’ choice in mind.
In game, play progresses up to this situation, then the situation is presented, then the player(s) look at their options (probably inventing new options as well), and make a decision. We all (even the player) learn a little something new about that character in a backhand way, and play continues in the direction their choice and actions dictate. *
I haven’t always explained the technique very well, despite using it pretty much exclusively for a number of years. Thankfully, someone else stepped in to talk about it.
Mike Holmes is one of the best GMs I’ve had the pleasure of playing it, and he is something of an expert in this style of play. During a recent discussion of ‘what a Bang is,’ someone asked Mike to start up a new thread in which he breaks down all the different kinds of Bangs you can bring into your game.
He took up the gauntlet here: Story Games for Everybody – Bang Types. Good stuff, presenting even more variations on the theme that I plan to shamelessly rip off, because there’s a BUNCH I hadn’t really considered.

Continue reading “Bang bang bang”

Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.

So I went down to Lee and De’s yesterday and, with Randy, Meera, and Kingsley, made up characters for a run of Spirit of the Century, in an Amber-that-never-quite-was.
Yeah. Amber.
An Amber with ray guns, planes that flap their own wings, clockwork-driven trump machines, a steam-driven monstrosity called Morgenstern, and growing fleets of zeppelins with Unicorn and Silver Rose emblems on the side.
The Great War is over, and things have changed.

Continue reading “Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.”

Conflict Resolution vs Task Resolution: FIGHT!

So there’s a conversation on Story Games about “Conflict Resolution” systems and “Task Resolution” systems, and asking which one people like better.
I liked the conversation. I’m going to distill my thoughts here.
The whoza-what-now? (where I explain what I’m talking about)
See, there are two main kinds of resolution mechanics talked about, because there are two main kinds identified in extant RPG systems, today.
Conflict Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Specified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do, you say “I want to find the important papers.” or “I want to find out who knows the Emperor.” or whatever. You specifically state what you want, and the rolls that follow determine if you get it.
Task Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Unspecified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do in those same two situations, you say “I want to open the lock on the safe.” or “I want to use my Charm skill on the princess.” or whatever. You specifically state what you are doing, and the rolls that follow determine if you successfully do that specific thing. Whether you get what you really wanted is not considered.
Got that? Hope so. I’m moving to the last bit.
What’s my point?
Well, I have a pretty strong preference for conflict resolution.
Why is that?
Here’s my thought: Everything interesting in RPGs is about resolving a conflict. Everything. Do I get that thing? Do I get away? Do I find my dad? Whatever.
The problem with task resolution (specifically, conflicts where ‘what you really want’ isn’t specifically … considered) is that the mechanics don’t resolve that conflict for you — they just tell you if you performed an action successfully.
The two have nothing to do with each other.
You can roll for all the successful tasks you want, but ultimately, succeed or fail, whether you actually achieve your goal is left to — well, 99% of the time, it’s up to the GM. Maaaybe opening the safe was what you needed to do to find the papers, maaaaybe the princess is the person you need to give info from. But maybe not, and if not, you just keep rolling meaningless rolls that waste time and do nothing, until you finally “click the right pixel” — something that has nothing to do with all the rolling you’ve been doing in first place.
In short, the task resolution whole system is there to keep you busy until the GM’s ready to let you have what you want. Or not.
That’s pretty shaky game design right there.
Foot notes:
((1)) “My GM wouldn’t do that,” is not a relevant argument. A good GM can counteract a bad design. The bad design, however, still exists.
((2)) Why yes, this does go back and touch on both “I want to play with all the rules” and “What do I need a GM for anyway?” (The answer, of course, is “for the FUN stuff.”)
((3))This isn’t about ‘story games’ versus ‘trad rpgs’ or anything like that — it’s about cutting right to the honest heart of the conflict and doing something with the system that RESOLVES it. Roll one die (like Trollbabe). Roll fifty (DitV). I don’t care; just so long as what we’re doing is honestly determining “do I get what I wanted or not?”

Wierd internet gestalt

So, I was at the Forge forum, and reading down the forum thread: [Forge Midwest]Interview with Ron Edwards, and promised myself to listen to it, cuz I met both the participants for the first time at the con, and that was really cool, and apparently the interview is good also.
Then, down toward the end, there’s this:

We all wonder, ‘why are you [story-game proponents] so pissed at systems like White Wolf? They inspire rich story in their setting and flavor text, and the rules are simple enough to get out of our way and let us tell our story.” And it becomes a badge of honor to say, “there are lots of times we don’t even ever roll dice, all night long!”
Hey, I’ve been that guy and part of me still is. But the thing is, what I think The Forge and Ron and so many others who’ve been growing the story games movement over the past seven years, what they’re saying is, “If you have to get your system out of the way in order to go into story mode, then you need a new system that actually can be used IN story mode.”

And I look at the last couple posts I’ve made and yeah… that’s at least part of what I’m saying.

I want to play with all the rules.

I’ve had a chance to play in a couple games outside my normal list in the last couple weeks, and they reminded me of some things I really prefer in my gaming.
One of them was very much a classic homebrew basement game — lots of combat system, and all the roleplay success hinging on the interpretation of the GM. The other was something that was sort of a mix of that with the more current hippie games, but still with a strong leaning toward “GM Fiat” as the means of determining difficulty levels and like.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Excellent GMs made the experience enjoyable. Did I care for the games in the LARGER scheme of things? No, I didn’t. Largely because of the way the games depending on the GM’s personal take on whatever was going on to determine success. It meant that, if I played the same game with another GM, not only would the play be different (obviously), the acutual GAME SYSTEM would be different. I would not, in short, be playing the same game.
Lots of players will tell you “I don’t like having a set system around the roleplaying scenes. Yes, maybe a big character or a notorious character should have an effect on the NPC’s reaction to me as I roleplay but I trust the GM to judge that fairly and take it into account; I don’t want a system to do that. ”
First, to those players: you DO have a set system around your roleplaying scenes. A “system” is “the thing that we use to give one or more of us the authority to say ‘this is what happens’.” In the example above, the “system” is “the GM decides what happens.”
That IS a system. If you don’t think so, I direct you to the Amber DRPG — that’s the only system the game uses.
And I don’t mean to make a whipping boy out of ADRPG — LOTS of home campaigns replace the WRITTEN rules from published systems for at least a portion of the rules — whatever they don’t like — with that “the GM decides” system; they either do it consensually as a group, explicitly within the rules, or the GM is doing it behind the scenes and not telling anyone. Or the system does it explicitly. It happens all the time. Either way, the group probably trusts the GM to take on that job.
I don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong I may trust, say, Dave or Randy or whoever to wing something like this, but the don’t trust “the GM” as a generic person to do so. There are a couple reasons.
1. I play with lots of GMs. This kind of ‘system’ basically boils down to me trying to convince/charm/cajole the GM into giving me what I want. I don’t want to fucking argue (in the legalese sense) for something — I want to declare an action, engage with a mechanical system, and roleplay the result. If I wanted the quality of my arguing/roleplaying to be the thing on which my success hung, I would have become a lawyer.
2. Consistency. I want a mechanical, written down system that we use for every situation. The problem with this “GM decides” system is that it only works the way you expect if you’re playing with *your* GM. What happens if your *other* friend is GMing? You have to adjust. Do you still trust him? Sure, but it’s going to be different. How about if *I’m* GMing? Or you? Or that other guy? Every one of those changes means that any encounters (social, usually) that use “the GM decides” System are going change, sometimes dramatically, and “what will get me success” is also going to change, dramatically.
I mean, you wouldn’t want that to happen in combat, right? “Oh, Bob’s GMing, so I have to remember that the 5 of every suit is wild, and anything above 7’s are an automatic hit if I’m using a shotgun…” because that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.
I want a system in place when I’m striving for a goal.
A written-down system.
A consistently 100%-used system, so that if one week I’m playing with one GM and the next week I’m using the same rules with another GM (or if I am GMing) the game is essentially the same, apart from how the GM plays the NPCs and what sorts of conflict-laden Decision Points they hit the players with.
This point is particularly important to me right now, as I ponder a new Spirit of the Century game in which several people, perhaps many, will sit in the GM seat. If one week we have to think “oh, we’re playing X’s version of the rules” and the next week we have to think “oh, we’re playing Y’s version of the rules… they won’t use this and this and this rule, but they will use this…”
Well, I won’t play very fucking long.
Use all the rules. In these games we’re talking about, you can.
People look at games like Dogs in the Vineyard or Dead of Night or Heroquest and see very lean rules. They look at D20 and see really thick books, because d20 has more rules. D20 has lots more rules.
In practice, however, I think the NUMBER of rules actually being used by a d20 group and a DitV group is about the same.
Percentage-wise, a lot less of the d20 rules set is actually being used; it’s been replaced; this isn’t really anyone’s fault — I don’t think a normal human person CAN run that game with all the rules — there are too many, even in just the core 3 books, to remember, and some are just too much of a pain. Anyone use encumbrance? How about the NPC-reaction tables?
Dogs (compared to D20, for the sake of common familiarity) is small and lean because 100% of the rules are meant to be used, all the time. * Nothing in the game is optional. Period.
((At least with the homebrew game I was in this weekend, the rules aren’t ignored — whatever is there, IS used — there just aren’t rules written down for a big chunk of what people typically do in an RPG: an alien coming to earth and reading the rules wouldn’t know there was any part of play that involved portraying your character; it’s not mentioned, you just have to know that part. 🙂 ))
And I’ve played in good systems that effectively and enjoyably build a real system around even roleplaying scenes — a system that makes those scenes as interesting and involved as combat. It does happen. It’s not even that unusual anymore. Some of them aren’t even “Story Games.” Heroquest and Spirit of the Century are very very traditional games, yet they do this.
The equally good part? These games function exactly the same, regardless of who’s running the game, if the person in question USES ALL THE RULES.
There is an almost automatic, trained instinct in GMs who’ve run a lot of traditional games to pick up ANY game and look for “the thing that can be ignored in this system.”
These ‘little’ games just don’t have that part.

Continue reading “I want to play with all the rules.”

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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.