Friday, December 30, 2005



Timestream is now available at Key 20 Direct. Right now the PDF downloads are available - if all goes well, physical books should be available by the end of the month.

A big thanks to Jason at Key 20 for his overall awesomeness.
Edit the 2nd (priority order, not chronological...): Physical copies of Timestream are now available for direct purchase from my storefront. PDF downloads also available there, but I highly, highly recommend going through Key 20 for those instead (as there, you get the whole zipped package at once).
Edit: Also, out for the weekend. Not that it matters too much, except that there will be no Game A Day posts until next week, which will be starting off with the "December in Review" post. Word.
Edit The 3rd: Also, sick as a dog. Blogging, alas, falls pretty low on the priority list when I have limited energy. Back ASAP.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Why Play?

This is coming off of a question posed by Mike Mearls at the end of his latest LJ post, as well as some of my thoughts about my goals.

I hear people say that D&D is all about killing monsters via teamwork, and WoW is the same thing, but I don't think that explains *why* people play D&D. I don't think I've ever heard anyone tell me they play D&D because they like to kill stuff and gather treasure. That's an expression of the game in motion, but it doesn't necessarily explain why people play the game. People didn't play Pac-Man because they liked clearing mazes filled with dots. They didn't play Super Mario Brothers because they liked jumping over turtles. And people don't play D&D or WoW simply because they like killing stuff, gathering treasure, and becoming more powerful.

Why do I game? which is the same as What are my goals as a gamer?, I think. It's not that easy to answer.

To have fun, yes. But not enough. Too vague.

To spend time with friends who have the same interest. Still too vague.

To use my imagination. To make up something (creator) that I enjoy watching unfold as well (participant). I just...really enjoy the process of roleplay. Of making characters, putting them into relation with each other and a fictional world around them, and then taking the input of everyone at the table and pulling that together into a coherant narrative. That's kind of the GM answer, I think. As a player, I enjoy exploring my character, and asking what makes sense for him to do in this how about this how about when he has this background that comes back to haunt him...I like to build a backstory through actual play, and be able to look back on it and see the characters journey.

Does that answer the question? Maybe. But it's back to the wierd self-definitional issues that roleplay has. I enjoy roleplaying's roleplaying.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Framing Our Discussion

The point of theory is to answer questions.

I'm going to take a look at the theory schtuff that we have so far, and what questions those are answering. Because, really, so much of debate can be set aside once the boundaries of the query are established - that is, a lot of the time, people argue about shit that the theory isn't trying to address.

The Big Model is kind of incoherent on this question, which is one reason why it's easy to attack it for not being "complete", I think. But, looking at different parts of it in semi-isolation makes it a little easier to see what it's addressing. At base, the question the Big Model is trying to answer is "Why do people roleplay," with the requisite after-questions of "Why is much gaming dysfunctional," and "What do the previous answers mean for a designer?" The recognition of Social Contract, and then the formulation of Creative Agenda are the responses to the first two questions, and I think they are sound ones. The last one is trickier. Thats where all the stuff about Stances and Techniques and Ephemera come in, but again most of this stuff mostly descriptive. So it's talking about stuff that exists, but there's little connection to how to, like, put it into a game. Which is fine - I don't think this is what the Big Model is about.

So, it seems to me that the Big Model has done a bang-up job of observing and describing what people enjoy when they roleplay, and how that stuff creates and/or can ameliorate dysfunction.

Joshua BishopRoby's Interaction Model, on the other hand, is about the actual processes that create that enjoyment. That is, he's talking about what elements go into getting everybody on the same page, and then how they interact with each other to produce an enjoyable experience. So, the Interaction Model is about describing what actually happens when people get together and play.

Chris Chinn on Deep In The Game, talks more about the roots of dysfunction in game texts and how that can be changed. So, he's bridging into design here, in terms of what designers need to actually do in order to provide a good experience. This is also what Troy is doing on Socratic Design - here are questions that the designer needs to answer in order to design their game. These guys are both talking about the groundwork that needs to go into your game, keeping things like CA in mind.

Now, the best example that I've seen so far of taking a good, hard look at actual design elements of a game is John Kirks Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games. Basically, he analyzes common design patterns in order to both identify common mechanical elements, and describe how they work when put into different combinations. So, Design Patterns is about actual mechanical design stuff.

If I were to put together a syllabus for this stuff, it would look something like this:

- What is roleplaying? (What I've been working on, there should be a new post about this soon)
- Why do people roleplay? (CA. Also Technical and Social agenda stuff, from Ben

- How does roleplaying work? (Interaction Model. Techniques, Stance and Ephemera. Conflict/Task resolution.)

Beginning a Design
- Recognizing and avoiding dysfunction. (Chris's stuff, and CA)
- Beginning a design. (Troy's stuff)
- Elements of design. (Design Patterns. Forge stuff about scene framing, conflict resolution, etc)

More Design Elements
- Ritual in roleplay (Ben & Polaris. Meguey. Chris Lehrich's stuff)
- Fruitful Void/Emergent Dynamics (Lumply)
- Other stuff.

- DIY (Clinton)
- Everything on the Publishing forum at the Forge.
- Con Presence (Luke)

Hmm. This post turned kind of rambling.

The point is, in an academic sense, we need a framework of some kind to hang discussion on. Not that I want to compartmentalize people or ideas, but there needs to be a synthesis of thought before it can be robust. This is why I'm a fan of the RPG Design Journal idea. Something central, that can be challenged and critiqued as a unit, not just dismissed as voices in the wilderness.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


GNS & Miniatures

This started out as a post on the Game A Day Project, but turned into a real blog post. The post there is the result of these thoughts.

Today, I'm going to talk about a miniature wargaming system that I think would be cool.

This thought arose out of my ponderings on what I enjoy about Warhammer, as a hobby and as a game. As a hobby, I enjoy painting miniatures (though I am now at the critical mass - as in, I have enough for whatever armies that I can field decent-sized ones to actually play, but not nearly all of them are painted. At the rate I've been going, I won't need to buy new miniatures for 10 years. That's a good thing). I also enjoy putting together army lists, reading the Codex's, and thinking about how my army fits into the overall background of the capital-A Army. I also enjoy coming up with little backgrounds for officers and character models, and sometimes I keep track of their exploits over a series of games and give them promotions.

As a game, I enjoy seeing them all on the table. I like the strategic challenge of playing against someone at or slightly higher than my own skill level. If it's a reasonably close game, with ups and downs, I enjoy it, whether I win or lose. If it's a total crushing loss or victory, I feel kinda gipped.

Now, this is total contrast to many people I've played with - that is, the ones that min/max the army list to get the best (most effective) units for the least cost, the ones that load up on invincible characters and skimp on "core units" as much as possible, and the ones that are happiest when they are dominating the table. Not only do I usually lose to these people, I find the game itself unpleasant.

This screams Sim/Gam clash to me, in a way that makes total intuitive sense to me. So, maybe it's an example to store in the memory banks when trying to explain the difference, in actual play terms, to roleplayers that also miniature game.

Now, on Game A Day, are my thoughts for a Sim-supporting miniature game.


Merry Merry!

A quick note to wish all those celebrating a totally awesome whatever you're celebrating. If you're not celebrating anything, well, have a fantastic couple of days. If you're American, and in a snit about people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," get over it.

That's right - I'm one of those bleeding-heart pinko PC people. Damn sniggity.

I also hope you get in some good gaming over the holidays. Word.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Carry, Revision 1!

Finally, the revision to Carry is done! Well, kinda. But mostly!

Carry was my entry for the Iron Game Chef 2005 competition. It was a "inner circle" winner, which means it placed in the top 9 of the ~30 (40? I don't remember) entrants, but not in the top 3.

The game is about a squad of soldiers in Vietnam, and how that circumstance brings out all the tensions and issues between and among them. It's based heavily on Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, as well as the movies Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. It's a tightly structured game - you choose a character in the squad, play through all the other characters getting killed, mustered out, etc., and then have an endgame that (should be) a kind of cathartic end-to-all-their-stories, a la My Life With Master. It's not about having big guns.

I'm looking, at this point, for readers and playtesters. I will be demoing the game at Dreamation 2005, in mid-January, and would like to get some outside feedback before then if at all possible.

The revised PDF file is here. It's 22 pages, ~300 Kb.

Some Forge Threads:
[Carry] Good Playtest, Mediocre Play

Game Chef Threads:
First Post on the Peer Review Thread
Peer Review Response: Carry
Judge Responses

Why am I saying mostly revised? Well...
Except for Endgame, it should be totally playable. Basically, I need to see how the addition of Burden Die change things, and if those are good changes.

Questions and comments, on this post and on the game in general, totally welcome.

P.S. - also started an Indie Game Design thread on the Forge, here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Less Talk, More Do

Head over to Victor's and tell him what you think about beginning a Journal of RPG Theory.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


What Are My Goals?

Warning: long post full of self-reflective wankery, and probably whining.

Something strange is going on. Maybe it's just that I'm becoming more aware of it, but it seems that there's been many recents bursts of anti-Forge sentiment, in addition to the usual suspects. Many of which bring up good critical points, though, I think, oftentimes made in a generalized and over-perjorative manner.

There's also the stirring of post-Forge movement, which I don't know how I feel about.

Of course, this is all coming at a time when I am the absolute happiest with the activity, clarity and general awesomeness on the Forge Publishing and Actual Play forums, as well as when I'm in the middle of getting my first title some traction, and getting ready for the playtest cycle on my next one.

So I feel pulled in many directions, and having to take stock of
Which seem to be conflicting, in some ways.

On the creative level, I'm perfectely happy making something I like and think works, putting it out there, and revisiting it every so often. But I also take it seriously, as (ideally) a craft - and that means I think it's worth charging for. I don't see why I shouldn't make beer money off of the amount of effort and time I put into design and play (because, really, they need each other), especially when I feel like I'm fulfilling needs that I don't see filled in the marketplace.

However, do I have the will to really make a business effort out of this? I don't know. So far it's been hard, and I hope that payoff is coming down the road, because it sure as hell isn't immediate. I fear that at some point I'm just going to not be able to sustain the effort any more, say hell with it, take the losses and leave everything as a free download.

All in addition to a time when I'm unsure of my place in the community, as well as the future of that community. Unless the three-tier system implodes under its own weight (which wouldn't be horribly surprising, but I don't think is a certain thing either), we're never going to be a significant market presence. One reaction to this is "fuck the market, I'm doing my shit, and it's different anyway." Which is totally cool. But that's not me. I don't want to identify what I do as something other than roleplaying. I don't want to sidestep all the "mainstream" players. I was one, and I still play those games, and have fun. If the indie community moves towards becoming a seperate community with a seperate market, thats cool. Will I be part of it? I don't know.

Another reaction is to focus on our strengths, in a thoughtful manner. Focused games with a specific play experience in mind, honesty in design goals, availability to the community and willingness to consider critiques and evaluations in a forthright manner, support for each other (both by playing each others games and hiring each other as editors, artists, etc) in addition to a low-risk, low-audience business model. Now, doing this while maintaining positive links to the larger role-playing community, is that a challenge? Probably. But it resonates with me.

I don't know where I'm really going with this. I fear that the Indie community is going to fragment into individual voices in the wilderness. I hope that there will be cohesion and progressive development, even if it means dropping a lot of Forge baggage in order to be more inclusive/welcoming. I see both as possibilities.


Sunday, December 18, 2005


Good Summary

In this Forge thread, Sydney Freedberg said:

"Hey, don't prejudge us -- or your own group, or even yourself. Now that I'm versed in Forge theory and understand not only that different people like different games but also that certain personalities do best with certain mechanics, I'm way less prone to write someone off as a "poor roleplayer" or "a powergamer" or "a munchkin," and way more likely to think, "oh, he likes to do [this thing], I bet if we played [insert other game here] with him, we'd have a lot more fun." It's easy to think of Forge theory (especially GNS) as a device for labelling people as one type of gamer forever; in fact it's a tool for figuring out that you can have different kinds of fun with different kinds of people, as long as you don't insist on your own One True Way of Fun with people who are into something else."

Exact same thing happened to me. I think it's easy to forget the point of the Big Model, especially when we start getting into more esoteric (though exciting) bits of it. And it's one of those so-basic-why-would-you-even-not-think-of-it-things. Of course, different people like different things! And when you get two people together that don't both like what they are doing, there's going to be conflict! Duh!

But the Big Model gives us the second part, the "I bet if we played [insert other game] here" part, or at least a start on it. As players, it gives a common vocabulary (though sometimes bizarre) to talk about why we like different games. As designers, it gives us insight into what choices we want to make, and why we are making them. And all of that, to me, is awesome.

I dunno. Every so often I need to remind myself of these basics.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


The Lamest Thing Ever...

...Is that I got this quote from a friend's away message.

"The F/S, or "fun-to-shit," ratio must be greater than 1 for it to be worth it."

Where would you say your gaming F/S ratio lies these days?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Game A Day Project

I'm starting a new project. It's partly practice, partly fooling around and, hopefully, partly productive. I've created a new blog for the Hamsterprophet Productions Game A Day Project. The goal is to post one game concept, setting idea, mechanic or other purely design-related tidbit every day, as fleshed out as I have time and willpower.

It's something I've been wanting to do for a while as a pure exercise. Why now, and why on a blog? Well, I feel that keeping it public will keep me to it. I also think it would be cool to get comments on ideas, whether they reach any kind of fruition or not. And maybe something will inspire someone else out there. That would be cool.

At the end of each month I'll go through that months posts and compile a best-of, flesh out those concepts a little more (incorporating comments, of course), and re-post a month summary.

How long will it keep up? Who knows! But it'll be exciting.



I'd never heard of it, but apparentely theres something called a Squidoo Lens. And there's two new ones of interest that have been created: Martin Ralya set up a lens for Game Mastering, and Rob Maudib set up a lens for RPG design & discussion. It's a step towards keeping track of the full-on Forge Diaspora, which is cool. I know I'm putting them both in my Sage sidebar. Thanks Martin and Rob!

Sunday, December 11, 2005


A New Review of Timestream

...can be found here. Many thanks to Andrew at Gamewyrd for the review!

Thursday, December 08, 2005


[Imp] Theoro-Actual Play

Here's a theoretical actual play transcript of The Imp Of The Perverse

Transcript only, no notes about system for this one.
GM; P1 playing Julius, and Minerva's Imp; P2 playing Minerva and Frederick's Imp; P3 playing Frederick, and Julius's Imp.

GM: The door creaks loudly as it swings in on rusty hinges. A waft of stale air puffs out, and you stare into blackness.
P1: I light my lamp. “Come, my friends. The villagers were very clear on the source of their troubles. Let us proceed!”
GM: Your lamp reveals a spiral staircase leading downwards and spiderwebbed walls, all roughly cut out of stone.
P1: I lead the way.
P2: I'm in back, clutching my derringer.
P3: I follow Julius. “Be careful, we don't know whats down here...”
P2: “...only that it sucks the blood of children. We must destroy it.”
GM: You descend into the earth, the flickering lamp providing your only guidance. As you descend, it grows colder and colder.
P3: Julius's Imp is going to make Julius drop the lamp.
P1: Nice. My chilled fingers grow numb, and the lamp slips out of them, shattering on the stone below. There's a brief flare of flame, then it goes out entirely. “Oh no!”
P2: I shriek in fright.
P3: I freeze.
GM: After Minerva's scream, there's a brief moment of silence. As you stand there, straining to see in the absolute blackness, you all become aware of the oppressive weight of the mountain hanging over your heads...
P1: I want to trigger an attack on Minerva by her Imp – her perversity is “Buried her sister alive.”
GM: Okay. Whats your intention?
P1: The Imp wants her to be so shaken by guilt that she can't do anything.
P2: Oh, I was thinking that she could think that she is her sister...
P1: Oh wow. Yeh, I want that.
GM: All right. If the Imp wins, Minerva thinks that she is her sister, being buried alive. Frame it.
P1: Suddenly Minerva feels like the earth is pushing in against her.
P2: “No!” I know that I was in stone, not earth.
P1: But you hear a grinding sound, as if the stone is collapsing.
P2: I fall to the ground, struggling against the stone.
GM: Julius and Frederick hear Minerva shriek again, and then the smack as her body falls to the ground.
P3: “Minerva!” I drop to my knees and feel around, trying to find her. I'm going to add to her side.
P1: You are finding it hard to breath...
P2: I start coughing, but find that I can move more readily. I yell “Minerva, no! I love you!”
GM: You both here her yells, and her continued struggle.
P3: “Minerva, I'm here! It's Frederick...”
P1: You hear your own voice, cackling with laughter...
P2: But I feel a hand, reaching through the stone to get me!
GM: As Minerva's voice rises in a maniacal laugh, Frederick finds her writhing on the stairs. As you touch her she stops, as if cut off by a knife.
P3: Minerva! Are you all right?
P2: I'm shaking and sweaty. “Yes, I...yes.”
GM: From the darkness below you you hear a deep, guttural voice. “But not for long. Fools.”
[Equally intense action scene]

I'm starting to get excited about this one...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Never Going Back

Everyone, read Before Stakes: What is your intent?

I don't have anything to add to that thread that hasn't been already said, but it throws into clear relief one of the greatest things about recent, indie, conflict-resolution based RPGs. When clear intent and stakes are determined, it excises boring play. When everyone knows what all the players want out of a conflict, not only does it enable you to skip situations where you want the same thing, but your characters are taking different actions, it also allows everyone to know what people find interesting and exciting about the game as a whole, enabling further play to be more focused towards those interesting and exciting things.

There's a reason why people who love indie games love indie games, and this is a biiiiiig part of it, methinks.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Inside The Simscape: Constructive Denial

In the comments to my last post, Rob said

"the multi-layered aspect of [my game] would seem to make it a "multi-sim" hybrid, as the various tools easily address different Sim focuses, not to mention the possiblity of gamist intentions."

Cool. I'd like to talk about different Sim focuses, as I think we're pretty much in agreement that the Sim "range" is pretty wide open. I'd like to go from these bases:
So I think a good place to start is talking about how constructive denial works in terms of each element of exploration, hopefully with examples from play.

Note: I started this next section as an afterthought, then realized it deserved it's own post. So, we'll get the elements of exploration next time.

Constructive Denial, General Comments

I'm going to make up a bunch of stuff real quick.

It seems to me that a useful framework is to see the terms Constructive and Denial in a 4-square comparison with their opposites.

Constructive | Constructive Denial | Constructive Acceptance
Destructive | Destructive Denial | Destructive Acceptance

Some examples. Say these people are playing Adventure!

Constructive Denial:
P1: I'm gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I'd rather waste him.
GM: As if sensing your intention, the doctor yells "Wait! If you kill me, you'll never find out where I hid the Diamond of the Zulus....and your long-lost sister."
P1: "What? I don't have a sister!"
GM: "Yes. You do."

Constructive Acceptence:
P1: I'm gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
GM: Ok. [Graphic description of blood, brains, etc.] As his body flops to the ground, a small tube of paper rolls from his hand. It's a crude map.
P2: "Maybe this is a map to the location of the Diamond of the Zulus!"

Destructive Denial
P1: I'm gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I'd rather waste him.
GM: Your gun jams as you pull the trigger.

Destructive Acceptence
P1: I'm gonna shoot him in the back of the head, execution-style.
P2: Dude, this is the evil genius. We need to find out his plan.
P3: Whatever, I'd rather waste him.
GM: Ok. [Graphic description of said wasting]

I would say that destructive responses to input are, for the most part, not to be desired for coherent, non-Participationist play. And the key difference between constructive denial and constructive acceptence is that denial is an active response, while acceptence is a passive response. It's easier to just go with whatever the other party says than to take it, think about how it contributes to the overall enjoyment and intention of the game, and then respond in such a way as to mold that input towards those goals. I'm sure that a lot of observed behavior straddles the line between denial and acceptance (is "yes, and/no, but" a denial or an acceptance, for example?)

Now, the process of Sim is constructive denial, not constructive whatever. This makes intuitive sense to me - measured and continuous denial shapes, conforms and guides input, while continuous acceptence, even if measured, leads to free-wheeling and wildly all-over-the-place input. It's constructive denial towards a goal - bricoling the Source material with the groups input.

So there's a couple different ways to go in order to look at play preferences that happen in the Sim sandbox. I think a good starting organizational rubric is to look at how constructive denial (and, for counterpoint, acceptence) works in terms of each of the elements of Exploration, and what kinds of observed behaviors support these interactions.

For now, I welcome comments on the (probably many) problems with my initial formulations about Constructive Denial.

Monday, December 05, 2005


To Sum Up

In case anyone missed it...

My understanding of the basics of CA in the Big Model is as follows:
I'm primarily interested in Sim, and the process of constructive denial, and as such that's a lot of what I'm going to be talking about. I also have more to say about what role-play as a form is all about.


My obligatory reaction to the theory & GNS forum closures at the Forge: I've never been particularly comfortable posting on either of them (I prefer my own sandbox), and I look forward to how the conversations in Actual Play and Publishing evolve. I also now need to pay more attention to blogs, and need to look into some kind of this crazy feed aggregator technology (anyone know a good plug-in for Firfox? Or is it already in here somewhere?)

I also think this is a really interesting idea, and something I would definitely read, at least. We'll see if anything develops.


Thoughts, comments and questions welcome!