Saturday, July 30, 2005


Game Chef Results! Finally!

So the Game Chef 2005 results are in. A hearty congratulations to Jason, Eric and especially Mischa for their running-up and winning, respectively! Woo!

I am currentely basking in the warm glow of making it into the "inner circle", the top 9 games that they selected the winners out of. Totally freakin awesome. And now I can keep my promise to myself and start (re)developing Carry, as the contest is now over.

Game Chef owns about 12 kinds of awesome, and I certainly hope that it continues next year - and that you, Mr.-or-Mrs. Game Designer, take part.

Well, congrats again to everyone involved, and I hope to see you next year!

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Carry Playtest

(Also posted here at the Forge.)

So we just finished a playtest session of Carry, my Iron Game Chef 2005 entry. You can download a PDF of it here, if you want. It's about 15 pages. It's about the psychological side of being a soldier in Vietnam.

The session was pretty good from the playtesting standpoint, slightly less so from the roleplaying aspect - as in, it was very useful, but not particularly fun. Part of this was due to the holes in the game that need to be filled. Basically, you have a cast of characters to choose from, but no indication of the relationships between the characters, so you start out the game in a pretty big vacuum, especially as it's supposed to revolve around the conflicts between the characters. As the GM, it was hard for me to frame scenes at first.

On the plus side, I discovered something that I really like - the GM has total pacing control, giving them a pretty hefty responsibility, which I had felt was lacking from the rules as written. I think it's really cool that this is a product of the relationship between the written rules, and not something blatentely included. I am all about emergent dynamics, and I wish I had done that consciously. Oh well, I'm still learning.

The mechanics seemed to work as intended - as in, they did what I wanted them to do, and while we had to fill some holes, we didn't find any "breaks" in the rules as written. However, before I totally sign off on them I want to play out a full game (i.e. a full reward cycle) to see if everything continues on the trend as it was. The game is meant to played out entirely in about a session (from character picking to Endgame), so hopefully that shouldn't be too hard to test.

So it seems fundementally robust, but needing a good amount of work on the Setting level. Which isn't bad for a game written in a week.


What Is It We Do, Again?

In this Forge thread, I said

What about role-playing as a conscious act of creation? As in, X roleplays because he/she wants to create something entirely new that can only be done through the medium of the RPG.

Now, I'm of two minds about this - on the right, this could be said to be an inherent property of the RPG, and thus not really a "reason" to play as such. To the left, however, I think that taking advantage of the medium is its own reason. I mean, you can get social reinforcement, escapism and group therapy from other sources as well, but it is only be roleplaying that you what we do when we roleplay.

Damn. We should have a word for that somewhere around here, right?

And then I got a PM from TonyLB (cool!), who said

Man, that cracked me up. I mean, it's serious yes, because if we had a clear word for it, the linguistic possibilities opened would slowly revolutionize everything about how we think about RPGs. But, serious or not, it's also funny that we spend so much of our lives doing and thinking about... err... y'know, that thing... with the dice, or not, but most of the time. That thing! You know!

And he's absolutly right.

So, what is it that we do when we roleplay? What is that process that's unique to the RPG medium, that we love so much, that we can't get anywhere else, that we, gentle bloggers, all spend so much time reading and thinking and talking about? Well, I'm going to take a stab at it. Wish me luck. This is pretty much me stream-of-consciousnessing it, be warned.

So, starting from familier territory. I like to say that roleplay is a Collaboratively Creative process. Creative, I don't think I need to go into. Collaborative - a group of people working together. So it's not like novel-writing (by a single author, at least), or painting, or any other single-person creative activity. Well, here's some other collaboratively creative pursuits, and how they differ from RPGs.

  • Multi-author fiction
  • - Multiple people, working with the same cast of characters, presumably working towards the same goals (in terms of plot, writing style, themes, etc). Now, I have no experience with this kind of thing, but it seems to me that it shares some of the same differences with RPGs that single-author fiction does - that is, editablity, pre-plotting of story arcs, and general control over all content by, for all intents and purposes, one entity. That is, any actions or character development would, it seems to me, involve decision-making by committee.

  • Sketch comedy
  • - Pre-written sketches which are then practiced and performed for an audience. Little to do with RPGs, actually. No character development or overarching plot (in general, though its possible). Again, decision-making by committee.

  • Improv
  • - Hmm. On-the-spot improvisation, strict rules about what input is permissable and by who, similarly strict rules about negation of input. Generally for comedic value, but not necessarily. Played for an audience, though is practiced without one, which is probably the biggest difference from RPGs.

  • Theatre
  • - Interesting. The biggest difference is that the group is working from a pre-written script, which they usually have no hand in (except for directorial editing). However, actors do get to make decisions about their characters, under the guiding hand of the director - who the buck stops with in the process can change from director to director, or even from show to show. Every time it's done, it goes to the same (literal) place, though it can span a range of emotional or mental spaces.

  • Bands/Music-making
  • - Also interesting, and also something that I have little experience with. Ron likes to draw parallels between an improv jazz band and roleplay, with everyone having defined roles and having to riff off one another in order to create a unique product each time thats more than the sum of its parts. However, most music is intended to be performed in front of audience (even if it doesn't actually get there).

  • Film-making
  • - My pet metaphor, at least for designers, but several obvious differences, many of them similar to Theatre.

    The common difference, if you will, is that all of these collaboratively creative pursuits have the intent, if not the actuality, of being performed for someone else - for an audience that has no hand in the creative process. I know, it's a pretty "duh" realization, but its a starting point.

    So far, here's what we do when we roleplay: We engage in a process of collaborative creation without the intent to perform to an audience that has no hand in the creative process.

    Stage 1 complete to my satisfaction. Stage 2 forthcoming.

    So, thoughts? Am I treading on obvious ground here (answer: probably, but its hopefully going somewhere)? Issues with my setup so far?

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005


    And Now For Something Completely Different

    This has nothing to do with RPGs, but it has everything to do with why I love the internet.



    So me and my boy were exchanging blog addresses (oh my, what is the world coming too...), and he wanted to know whether he would understand anything I talked about, cuz he's not really a gamer. And, uh, basically, I don't know. So this thread is for him, or anyone who manages to stumble across this blog and not know what the hell is going on, to ask questions and the like. Let it be so!

    Monday, July 25, 2005



    Sweet. I spent a lot of today tackling rough edges for Timestream, and it's so very close to being done. I'm seeing my cover artist tonight, so I should have the cover ready to go in the next couple days. [edit: make that next week. oh well.] Well, hell, here's my checklist:

    - Cover. Scan the painting and put together the actual cover. Write up the back cover blurb.
    - Get the copy back from my final editor and make any necessary changes.

    - Email all the people who's pics im using for interior art and get their info for credits (more on this below...)

    - Finish the example character sheet. Done!

    - Create a quick reference sheet with all the tables on one page, make it pretty. Done!

    - Insert all the page numbers into my Page XX cross-references, then triple check it. Done! See if I can figure out interior document links in InDesign to make it all spiffy-ified.

    - Print it all out and do a final lookover.

    Then all I have to do is update my website, decide what service I want to release it under (Lulu, Paypal it right from my site, something else...), and get crackin on the print version, getting reviews, etc.

    All of my interior art pieces are public-domain photographs, mostly from
    morgueFile, and are fucking gorgeous. Here's one of my favorites:

    But yeh. It's a killer motif, and it's gonna look really good. In case you couldn't tell, I'm really, really happy with these images. Most of them have comments along the lines of "tell me how you use my picture", so I'm going to try to get in touch with all of them and offer them an artist credit if they want it.

    I'm so excited for my little 'ol game.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005


    Read This

    Which came first, the Chicken or the Littling?

    Monday, July 18, 2005


    When Is Theory Theory?

    An essay in two parts.

    Part One

    In most academic disciplines, there is no one "theory". That is (to draw on my own experience), there is no "theory of politics" that people write about and debate. There's a number of theories about smaller pieces of the overall discipline, like social movement theory or presidental power theory. But it's nigh-impossible to try to explain everything about it at once, almost to the scale of a category error. There's just too much stuff to bring in at once to satisfactorily explain it.

    Now, look at the academic side of entertainment - for example, film theory. Now, this isn't an area in which I am particularly well-versed, but I have read some of the juicy stuff, and I feel like it's an appropriate parallel to draw. Mainly, many film theorists bound their discussion - that is, they talk about a particular film, or a particular phenomenae (audience-protagonist identification, say, or voyeurism re audience member), with reference to particular techniques of analysis. Is there a "theory of film"? I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. Correct me if I'm wrong, though.

    So, the "theory of role playing"? Eh?

    It seems to me that this whole theory thing is being gone about kind of backwards. It's a new, young field. We still don't even understand a lot about process and dynamics. Is it really serving us well to be looking for a kind of unified theory of role playing? (Caveat - this is my own observation, not necessarily what anyone is announcing what they're doing, or anything). We're at the point where we can identify different parts of role play through descriptive analysis (GNS and 3-D models, basically). Now, trying to figure it all out is just too much. It's too big. We need to look at smaller peices and start delving into them individually.

    I think guys like Vincent and Ben are starting this, with their restrictions on their blogs (i.e. thematic-focused role play only). This is cool, and kind of a rollover from the narrativist-preferenced core of the Forge. Where's the rest? Who's focusing on sim/bricolage, or gamism? Who's looking at techniques? Who's looking at constraint on the creative process? Everyones dipping into everything in fits and starts, often through the games that they're writing and their relationships with other bloggers. I include myself here - I'm still searching for my hook, for the piece that I really want to bite into and grind it all out. But, perhaps, we all need to start thinking about this kind of thing. And have dialogue with each other about, bringing your insights to bear on those of others.

    Part Deux

    Lets look at film again. I think there's clear parallels in general structure. It's a field mainly seen as one of entertainment. There's a very small group of people who think and write theory (the academics), a larger group the reads and applies the theory (the directors, cinematographors, etc), and a mass audience that, in general, doesn't give two shits about theory. But, you know what, directors go to school, and read and learn theory (including technique), some better than others. And some apply it well, and some don't, and one can usually tell the difference. Sure, there's a whole Indie film scene, and some of them just make movies, and some are good and some are crap. But how rarely does some director come out of the woodwork, with no background in the field, and make films that totally blow people away? Hitchcock was one. I'm sure there were a couple others back at the dawn of modern film. But today?

    Again, we're just starting out. Ron Edwards might be our Hitchcock. But, I think we should aim towards the same basic goal. My point is that, even if the end consumer doesn't care, the creators of the entertianment all do theory to some extent. They take advantage of the body of theory thats there, and apply it, sometimes well and sometimes badly, to create entertainment. Which I think is really cool.

    So, does theory need to be mainstreamed? Not really. Does it need to be developed and made accessable to those who design games? Hells yes.

    I'm starting to fade here, so I'm ending this, but I'm pretty sure my points have been made. Questions, as always, are encouraged.

    Friday, July 15, 2005


    This Corridor Is Boring

    This was probably one of my favorite gaming moments, which happened in my last weeks session of Adventure! The characters were being led down a brightly-lit, underground corridor by large iron men, and I was droning on about doors and the lighting and stuff like that, and one of my players was all "So, are we done with the corridor yet? Cuz this is boring."

    It's my favorite for a bunch of reasons. First off, because he was right - it was boring, and he told me so, and it was totally cool, and we moved on to the next fun part. Second off, it was one of the very few boring moments we've had since we started this game, and it hilighted to me how we were totally not having 20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of gaming. We've been having, like, 3 hours of fun in 4 hours of gaming, and thats with a half hour break in between and bathroom and water breaks. You see that? Nine times as much fun. Thats freaken awesome.

    My brother had work tonite, so I ran a one-shot of Inspectres with the two other players instead, and it was pretty cool. It wasn't fantastic, but there were some great moments, and some laugh-out-loud moments ("Oh, I guess I should mention that I'm a big black guy" after about 20 minutes of play being, in context, hilarious). Afterwards, me and the aforementioned player hung out and talked about gaming, which was pretty awesome. And, you know, we talked like adults about stuff that was causing him some consternation, and we came to a solution, like, y'know, real people talking about something that mattered. I find it hard to beleive that this is apparentely a minority situation among gamers, but thats the stereotype thats reinforced in a lot of places, so I kinda have to beleive that it is, which is sad.

    But you know what he said? This friend of mine, who I've been gaming with for about 10 years, off and on, who doesn't really game with anyone else or is into any kind of theory or anything like that? He said things like "the most interesting characters are normal people in messed up situations" and "D&D was really boring because the only time you roll dice is during fights, and thats the last 20 minutes of the session" and "the problem with fantasy games is that people don't think theres consequences for their characters actions" and "kewl powers are fun, but shouldn't be what the game is about."

    You don't need to be a theory wonk to get all this stuff, you just have to be willing to talk about it and willing to think about what you find fun and what you don't.

    I told him to keep telling me when the boring things are.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005


    Process, Process, Process

    Focusing is hard.

    I'm starting to hit diminishing returns with Timestream, in terms of the effort-put-in to getting-it-done ratio. That is, no matter how much work I do on it, it doesn't feel like it's getting any closer to being done, so it's hard for me to put forth the necessary effort to get past this stage.

    This sucks, and this is why people have editors. It's not just so that your text will be pretty, it's so that theres someone who can come in when you're creatively exhausted, look at everything, make a halfway decent Index and Table of Contents (which is taking fucking forever), and catch your XX errors and slipping page numbers. I mean, this is the crap that I'm stuck on, and my own vision of the game won't let it slide (though that little guy in the cheap seats that says things like "its only 40 pages, you don't need an index" is starting to sound more reasonable).

    It doesn't help that my energy is also going towards Iron Game Chef (mainly in terms of anticipation), thoughts on the Kildarrin redux, my Adventure! game that I'm actually running, and all the little stray wisps that get caught in my skull (like the concept of a collectable RPG). Oh yeh, and work and school.

    The last mile is the hardest, man. But that's my bitching for today. Back to the salt mines.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005


    Punk Rock Isn't Dead... just put on a suit and went to business school.

    Here, RPGpundit sez "
    While Wizards/Hasbro certainly has a wiser management, it is their willingness to be on the forefront of system that makes them industry leader, and D20 is that system. Its openess to variation, adaptability, and ease of play are what define roleplaying to the extent that most new RPGs out there that are NON-D20 are trying desperately to create systems that nevertheless follow the same basic mechanical structures as D20 (Ie. one streamlined system that can be applied smoothly to all mechanics). Paranoia XP did that, WFRP2 does it, even the new WoD has moved in that direction."

    Now theres an indie credo if I've ever heard one. One streamlined system that, y'know, applies to all mechanics in order to create a specific gaming experience. System matters, man.

    Does this mean that gamers really do want System Matters-style games, and the big boys and the indies are converging in terms of design? Is it coincidence? Is it the evolution of gaming? The idealist in me says yes! as more gamers realize that a system designed towards specific goals tends to work really well, they'll start looking towards games designed with goals that they want that may not be D&D. The pessimist says its coincidence, and in 10 years everyone will just play on computers anyway.

    Anyway. I think its an interesting comment.



    I recentely picked up a book entitled "Fiction Writers Workshop", by Josip Novakovich. It's basically a series of essays on fiction writing, with short exercises designed for you to do to work on different aspects of writing and to keep your skills sharp - basically, to practice.

    I've started some of the exercises, which are good so far, and have been thinking - what can we do, as designers and as players, to practice role-playing? Primarily, I mean for those who view it as an art form. Artists sketch, writers write short form exercises, actors do scenes and improv, musicians do scales. Are there things that we can do to practice? I know theres been some good Forge threads about practicing for designers, which I'm sure a search in the Theory forum will turn up. But what about for players (including GMs)?

    Is making a character practicing? Running through a combat? Creating story hooks? Where does practice shade into prep, or does it? Would practicing role playing make you better at it (I beleive it would, but I'm sure its up for debate)?

    I think these are valuable questions. And, how cool would it be if, as a designer, you put a section in your game entitled "How to practice playing on your own so when you play with your friends you will have more fun." I think that would rock.