Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Bricolage and Sim

So I wrote this, and for some reason that crystallized something in my head that I've been trying to figure out.

As far as I can tell, Bricolage is an intrinsic part of roleplay. In the Big Model, to me, it hovers right under Social Contract (once you have your contract, you can begin to Bricole).

However, the notion that Bricolage is the process of Sim, in the same way that addressing Premise is the process of Nar, resonates very powerfully with me. I feel like that's right, basically. But I don't know if I can square that feeling with my equally powerful feeling that Bricolage is intrinsic to all roleplay.

One thought is that Bricolage in Sim is "Bricolage on purpose", much like addressing Premise is "story on purpose." I'm not sure if that squares up true, though. More pondering to ensue.


Monday, June 27, 2005



+ I'm roleplaying! Running a game of Adventure! with some pervy mechanics fixes. Have yet to see how it goes, but I'm feeling confident.
+ I'm working! After a damn dry week last week, have a bunch of calls for this one. And working fireworks. Go July 4 go!
+ I'm happy! 5-year anniversary this week, totally awesome.

- I'm roleplaying, but not designing. Sooo busy - working M,T,Th,F,Sa,Su,M, gaming M and hopefully F, busy W with the rest of my life. Timestream has suddenly been shunted to the back burner. Sadness. New goal = middle of July.
- Little to no blog activity, at least for this week. Too busy/tired to make coherent posts. Lots of stuff in the 'sphere that I don't know how I feel about.

+/- Been working on my reimagining of Kildarrin. + because it's about damn time, and its getting me excited. - because its time I should be spending on getting Timestream out the door.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005



"All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words...The novel should be understood as a structure built to accomodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff...put a sign on whatever wall you face when you're writing. The sign says: And now, I'm going to tell you something really cool.

-Steven Brust, The Paths of the Dead pp.396-397. Also credited to Gene Wolfe.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.


The Craftsman Ideal

Do I need to link to the other discussions about this?

I build a lot of stuff, for theatre. I've started to design much of that stuff, as opposed to working off of someone else's design, and with each design, I realize how much more I have to learn. However, I've pretty much plateaued in terms of my ability to physically build stuff, for the time being. That is, I know a lot of techniques, I know a lot of different tools, I know how to cut planks of wood and put the peices together to make a lot of different things. It's figuring out what those things are, and what they mean, and how they're going to fit on stage, and what kind of atmosphere they're going to evoke, and how usable they will be by the actors, and how well they'll reflect the play, and all that other design stuff that I still need to learn.

Now, I look at RPG design. I still have to learn all that stuff about what things are, and what they mean, and all that about the tools. It's like, I'm just figuring out how to use a miter saw, or I'm figuring out what I use tapped screws for, or what color paint makes red light look sexy. Guys like Vincent Baker and Matt Wilson, as far as I can tell, know all that. They know the tools, and are experimenting with what to produce with those tools.

The difference is, in the theatre world (and most crafts), I can go and watch other plays, talk to designers, take classes, and learn from those with more experience. In the RPG design world, those with the most experience are still figuring out how to put things together - this is still a stage of innovation.

Now, there's a finite, albeit very large, amount of ways to design a set. And if you go to a lot of plays and musicals, and see a lot of sets, you see how there's certain standard ways to get certain effects, or to play off of certain themes. Many designs are criticized for being crazy or out there just out of the desire to be different, or to "reenvision" the show, while others can be bog-standard but be praised because they exactly work for that particular show.

We're not at this stage yet, and I feel like it's going to take some time. The (indie, at least) RPG community still appreciates innovation for its own sake, and we haven't yet reached a place where choosing exactely what's appropriate, and what works, is the goal. I'm aware that this is something that's said a lot (you need to design to your goals exactely), and thats a great influence, but a lot of actual designs...well, yeh.

That's my constant fear, when designing a set - am I making it this way just to be different? Am I applying this interpretation because I think that it's something that nobody else has thought of yet, as opposed to its appropriateness? But I don't have that fear with my RPG design, not yet. I'm still happy to experiment with things just to be different. I suppose this reflects my progression in each of these crafts, to this point.

Boy, do I have a long way to go.

Sunday, June 19, 2005



I think the term "instance" really needs to get incorporated into theory discussions, as in "an instance of play", which means an actual game that you did play/are playing with your friends. Like, you know, D&D Campaigns or WW Chronicles that you talk about.

So, instead of getting confused with "my game Capes is narrativist" (see here), you could be all "my instance of Capes is narrativist", as opposed to "my game, Capes, that I wrote, is narrativist".

It's not a big deal, but this is my sandbox! So, when you see "instance", you know what I mean. Man.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Illusionism is Bad Roleplay

I'm gonna come right out and say it. Illusionism (scroll down about halfway) is bad roleplay. This is because it limits, if not completely stifles, the process of bricolage.

My basic principles that I'm coming from here:

Roleplay is a collaborative creative endeavor.
A collaborative endeavor requires that all those involve contribute in some fashion.
A creative endeavor requires that something is being created that did not exist before.
The process, in roleplay, that enables collaborative creativity is bricolage.
Therefore, an endeavor that is not collaboratively creative is not (good) roleplay, and the absence of bricolage makes it difficult, if not impossible (I'm not sure about this yet) to be collaboratively creative.

I think you can see my argument from the above talking points, but here's a little more explanation. An illusionist game, especially one that involves force,* impinges both on the players ability to contribute (restricted mainly to color input), and the creation of something new, as the GM already has something scripted out in their head. I'm going to draw a parallel with the creative process in theatre, because that's something else that I do a lot. A production where the director doesn't accept input from designers or actors usually ends up being a poor production, especially when they have something particular in their head that they want and will not compromise that vision. In theatre, this can and does lead to the ruining of reputations and others involved with the production quitting. In roleplay, this leads to...few, if any, negative ramifications. (A subject for another post, though those familier with Ron Edwards views on this know what I'm getting at here.)

This isn't to say that the GM should bend over backwards to have no guiding concepts or input - collaborative, remember? Like the director who has a specific vision of certain moments, and will shape others input around those moments, the GM both absorbs and contributes to the process of roleplay. Now, on to what this has to do with bricolage.

When the players are being Forced, they are limited in their ability to bricole. Anything brought in that doesn't fit the GM's vision is sidelined or denied. Similarly, the GM restricts himself, only allowing a certain set of bricks (for lack of a better word) to be brought to the table, because he can't introduce anything that would throw his script out of whack. The entire pool of things to be applied to the game is very small, and so only a limited product can come out of it.

To state again: Bricolage is the process by which a group engaged in roleplay collaboratively creates. Restricted bricolage = restricted collaboration, creation, or both.

A final point: this isn't to say that you need to incorporate everything, all the time. Bricolage involves throwing stuff out, and shaping and claiming things in ways they weren't before to fit your product. The first step of a game (choosing the game itself, settling on a genre, deciding where and with whom to play, etc.) involves paring down the infinite possibilities to one, albeit very large, set. But, if the set is too small, you can't bricole to the best of your ability because you don't have enough stuff. It's like going to a junkyard and building a working car. If you have the option of going to every junkyard in the city, you're probably going to start off by choosing a set (say, all those that have primarily muscle-car scraps), and then going through that set. If you choose one junkyard, you won't be able to build a complete working car that satisfies you completely.

I'm more than happy to discuss anything in here in the comments, if something seems out of whack.

*for non-Forgites, I'm talking about games where the GM has a set plot and railroads the players onto that plot, often involving over-powerful NPC's and complete lack of direction if the characters stray off the path. Specifically, I'm talking about games where this is a hidden process, and the GM makes the players think they're making choices when they actually are not. And yes, this is how I played for a long time, and I really wish I hadn't.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Minor Changes

Anyone can leave comments now, not just Bloggers (sorry, sorry...). So...uh...do it.

Also, if you want me to link to your gaming-related blog, post here with the info. Go go blogosphere go!


Posts I Wanna Make

(In no particular order)

The Craftsman Ideal.
The Big Model and Bricolage.
Too Many Games.
Hobby and Hobbyists.
Why My Games Suck.
Second Editions and Metaplots.
The Univeristy RPG Design Major.
Short-Form vs. Traditional. Fight!

I think there were a couple more, but my mind is like a freakin' sieve sometimes. Anyway, lots of work this week, so this will be a sign-post for me so I don't forget anything.

I finally got the No-Press Anthology, which is pretty damn sweet. I definitely want to play at least three of them, maybe five. I don't dig all eight, sadly enough, but it's a great anthology, and I heartily recommend it. And, with my 21st coming up, I think there may be a guilt-free game of Over The Bar in my future...

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Before I Forget...

I also want to mention that I really really really wanna write a game based off of Stephen Brust's work. Preferably the Vlad Taltos stuff, but the romantic novels or even something coming out of To Reign in Hell would be totally awesome. I even have ideas about mechanics based off the number 17.

Man. A huge ol' simmy game about Drageara (I'm sure I spelled that wrong...) would be so freakin' fun.

Plus he looks like a pirate.


Cleaning. Geh.

Today is cleaning day, which is bad cuz it means that I prolly won't get anything done in RPG-land, but is good because it means my environment will become much more condusive to writing, which I could use. Though, I did type up some new Devourables for Meatbox Massacre that were generated out of some fun play, and sent em off to Daniel Solis, which is waaaaay cool. The best thing about Indie games is that you can talk directely to the writers and make suggestions and be taken seriously. It blows me away every time. Totally punk rock, man.

I would really like to get a Meatbot league going, or something. Maybe I'll try organizing one at the FLGS near me. That would be hella cool.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Timestream. Bricolage.

So this post here about Bricolage is great. Also check out this forge post about it. Read at least the first one, or this won't make any sense.

The reason that I'm so into this concept is that I see Timestream as a game that very much only works well when the group, consciously or unconsciously, is bricoling. The traditional "what do you do now" process that many RPG's fall into isn't going to work. I tried it, I know. That's because, with time travel and other fun-ness literally constantly available to the characters, they have all the power to break out of GM-defined plots or just jump out of any defined situation if they're not digging it. So how do you create conflict and tension? My advice, which I'm trying to write up in a non-theory way for the book, is basically to bricole. The GM should just pull anything they want out of the air that fits the situation, and worry about how it all coheres later.

Example: the chars are sitting around, bored. Boom. A satellite falls through the roof, and it has a TV screen on it, and on the screen is the sister of one of the characters (and, hopefully, the mom or wife or teacher or something of the others), bound and gagged. Uh - on top of a volcano. With some guy wearing an iron suit pointing a gun at her. That sounds cool. Now, the players have no idea who this guy is, or why he has the one guys sister, and neither does the GM. Now, during play, one of the players remembers that his characters former lover hated his sister, or something. Sweet. The GM pounces on that, decides that the dude in the suit is actually the jilted lover, who was abducted for a secret government experiment and went insane in the process. Later, this is dicovered, and the player goes "wait, I thought that she was way younger". And the GM decides that this is the older version of the woman, from the future!

And so on.

So I'm not sure how great that example is, but my point is that in a gamespace where continuity is inherentely fucked, the only way to reliably pull everything together is to play off all the plot threads that have been established already and reincorporate them into the narrative. And thats why I think that Timestream is a game based on Bricolage.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


State of the Union

Time to clean house. Here's the current state of affairs of everything to do with Hamsterprophet Productions, basically.


Still my number one project, and I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My goal is still to release it by the end of the month - the date in my head is the 29th, I don't know why. Sounds like a good date, right? I have one more (very important) section to write, then a final proof, then putting together all the packages, then setting up things with lulu and RPGnow, which I'm sure will end up being more difficult than I want it to be.

Anyway, it's been such a learning experience for me, and I wish that I had tackled this project later in my design career, because I'm not sure I've done it justice. Well, that's what second editions are for, right? Still, it'll be nice to have seen a project through end to end, and I think it'll be a good base for my future efforts. Which leads me to...


Iron Game Chef rocks my world. I wrote Carry for it, and am way pleased with how it came out. In a nutshell, the game is about exploring people under stress, in the specific medium of a squad of Marines in the Vietnam War. It's all about changing psychological state and coping with disaster, and aims for an endgame where nobody walks away unscathed. I got a very nice Peer Review (my reply is further down in that forum), and I'm pretty excited to see what the judges thought of it.

I'm not sure why I'm so happy with it - something about how I managed to pick a scope that worked perfectly for the competition, and how the ingredients got integrated so well, and how I want to play it and see if it actually works. I mean, it totally needs more work (what doesn't), but I think polishing it up, finding some quality artwork and releasing it as a free PDF download is in the pipeline. Speaking of the pipeline...


If anything, this is my Great White Game (thank you, Ben Lehman, for the terminology...), and I've been thinking about it and brainstorming it for...a long time. It first saw the light of day when I did it for my high school Senior Project - basically, all the seniors get five weeks at the end of the school year to do some project that they were into. I wrote this RPG, my first serious one, about a city at the crossroads of everything, where magic and technology mix and any combination of anything is possible. It's totally a D&D/WW/Shadowrun techno-fantasy heartbreaker, but it hasn't let me go. There were some good seeds in that first draft that I'd like to pick up and recenter the game around, but if I handed someone everything that I have written for it and told them to play it, it would be a goddam mess.

My ambition is to somehow bootstrap my original setting and cool ideas into a lean, sleek, simulationist-aimed game about how your core beliefs and prejudices (literally) shape you, set against this decaying cityscape. Is it ever going to happen? I hope so.

Best of the Best

A game I've been tinkering with, and actually playtested a couple times, but that I'm not feeling too good about. It's based on the action-adventure-with-a-mystical/creepy-bent genre, like the Blade films or the series Witch Hunter Robin. It has a cool thing about slowly revealing the characters through play, instead of generating backstory and such, and the very cool feature of literally sitting down and starting to play. No prep required is the goal. Unfortunately, actually playtesting felt really clunky and awkward, and I think I need to go back to the drawing board for it. This may be my next big project, but it may not.

And, Finally...

I really, really, really want to write a political game where the players play entire countries, and you play through the development of civilization. I have no idea if it's even possible, but I want to make it work. I think I'm going to try to do some actual work on this game in the near future, and see how things develop. It's so hard to break out of the anthropomorphic paradigm for RPG characters and not have it feel like, or actually become, a boardgame.

Other Stuff

And I have a bunch of notes on other things that I may pick up or not. I am going to try to post here more often and use this blog as a development journal, if nothing else. I'm also going to try to do more "system doodling," just throw around ideas and systems on paper to see how they click. I'm not going to lie, when I try to talk about Theory I get all inarticulate and messy, so there's probably not going to be a lot of that on here. I dunno, I'm just wierd that way.

Anyhow, good times.


Cue Blog. Go.

Welcome to Hamsterprophecy, my new game design and production blog. Sweet.