Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Doing Carry Right: The Big Three

This is post one of my series of posts about Carry wherein I conduct all that question-answering that you really should do when first writing a game. Also, this post is intended to be an example of the kind of analysis that Jared, Luke and Vincent were getting at at VeriCon.

What? is your game about?

Carry is about the psychological issues of soldiers in Vietnam. It's about seeing how the pressures of war change this group of men, and how their own issues and burden feed into that process. It's about considering how we fictionalize conflict, and it trys to get at the fact that war fiction interfaces with the actual events of war in a very strange and unique way.

[The Jared & Luke in my head are now nodding, but with bemused looks that indicate that I may say that now, but lets see how smart I am once they're done with me.]

How? is your game about that?

All of the characters are defined by their Profile, which fluctuates over the course of the game. Some profile are more psycho, and others are just abnormal. Over the course of the game, the non-played characters in the squad get killed off, focusing pressure more and more on the played characters. Finally, there's an endgame where the surviving characters snap and turn on each other. Mechanically, the endgame determines who actually survives, and what legacies and memories the played characters leave behind. The mechanics have a high level of variability, in order to encourage and allow the nonsensical nature of what happens to troops on the ground in war.

[Luke breaks in, to tell me that I haven't said anything about the soldiers Issues, and he thought the game was about that. I go, oh yeh, almost forgot that really important part]

Also, the players create Burdens for their characters, which are the issues and problems that they bring with them into the war. These Burdens are the lens through which the characters interface with their Profiles and the events of play.

[Jared says that thats a lot of stuff, and it's time to move on.]

What? behavior does your game support/reward?

Well, there's two parallel sets of resolution mechanics. The first, for Squad scenes (non-combat, essentially), makes you give the dice you roll for conflicts to other players. This rewards the recipient for impressing the other players in a Fan Mail-like fashion - but, in rewarding others, you are also increasing their future effectiveness.

[OK, so how does this support seeing how pressure changes the soldiers over the course of play?]

Well, everything is a tradeoff - you want to win conflicts, but in so doing you weaken your future effectiveness and increase someone elses. The only way to get more dice other than that is to change Profile - so, if you get low on dice and noone is giving you any, you have to go a little crazier.

[What about Burdens?]

Your Burden is represented by a permanent die, which you can use in conflicts if you can bring your Burden to bear - essentially, if you can sell the table on it.

[Cool. Whats the "parallel mechanic"? And why have two, isn't that just making it more complicated?]

Well, the other one is for Action scenes, basically for combat scenes. The highest ranked played character has to give the other characters orders, which they can agree with or not, independently of whether they follow the order or not. If they agree, they give him a dice, if they disagree, they give the GM (representing the adversity) a dice. When the GM calls it, they roll their dice pools, and the difference is points that go towards killing, wounding and maiming members of the squad. This is entirely dependent on the difference in the rolls, not on who has the higher total.

[Oh, there would be more questions. But this is long enough already, skipping to the good part:]

So, does section 3 match up with sections 1 and 2?

Looking back over it, no. It doesn't. The behavior that my mechanics support: trying to maximize your effectiveness via impressing others. Choosing between orders and the survival of the squad.
Bringing your Burden to bear as much as you can. That kind of stuff.

So, class, what is my game about? Impressing the other players. Making choices about the value of obedience versus the value of survival. Seeing your Burden everywhere. That stuff under the first question, thats emergent post-play evaluation and back-cover blurb material.

The bullet-point to take away from this demonstration is that your game is about the behaviors that it rewards.


Monday, January 30, 2006


Notes from VeriCon

Vincent Does Theory
He invented a rule that got us to do something we wanted that we wouldn't otherwise do without that rule. RPGs are the same.

Agreement around table is the only thing that makes anything happen.

Rules don't resolve disagreements between players, they resolve discrepencies in agreement.

Expectations - violating expectations in game can be/is on the same scale as "real life" dissapointments.

Luke: Permission. I give permission to do X, it hinges on process to maintaining agreement. Permissions create expectations.

Jared: Example w/D&D, Call of Cthulu and Paranoia. People who only play one have certain expectations, built by the game text/experience. Other games, like Vampire, don't have a tight focus on expectations, and players have to engage more actively.

Luke: All games have a premise, some muddled, some clear. Premise creates expectations; expectations, permissions and agreements create social contract. All games assume functional social contract. People -> group -> cohesive group - > playing game.

Jared: House rules in RPGs can create lots of discrepancy in expectations.

Question: How is giving permissions different from creating expectations?

Vincent: The process by which I allow you to do X - thats permission. Expectation is that I want you to do X. Establishing rules to meet expectations is creating permissions.

Luke: Functional game = same page in terms of we all have X expectations and give each other Y permissions.

Question: How do explicit permissions/expectations interface with actual events in play that could steer play away from perm/expec?

Luke hands Vincent chalk.

Vincent: "If I use chalk I'm just going to draw a line." He proceeds to do so, marking hashes along its length. The line is the procedures of play, the hashes are events. All games have seperate procedures and events.

Luke: You could say that procedures link events.

Vincent: draws this picture

In order to illustrate that as long as functional play is happening proceduraly, events don't really matter per se.

I interject with a stupid comment that derails discussion. We establish that overall expectations for game are premise, and situational expectations are preferences that change with the changing events of play.

Thor & Luke: Game designer & rules & text & group all intersect on generating expectations.

Moving On

Question: When designing a game, how important is it to design all-new mechanics?

Jared: Definitly look at games out there. Lots of games come out of published games the designer wishes was better. Personally, enjoys making his own mechanics because its more interesting.

Luke: Focused on one game, Burning Wheel. His advice, take a game you enjoy, and destroy and obliterate and burn out everything you don't like about it. It'll become unrecognizable, then you add in stuff that makes you happy.

Vincent: Totally bogus to design a game just to design it. His job is to find what he likes and make it do compelling that you'll like it too.

Three Questions

Jared: Three Questions: 1) What? is your game about. 2)How? does your game do that. 3) What? Behaviors does it reward/encourage in the players.

Luke and Jared proceed to grill people on their designs, with amusing and enlightening results. The following notes are amusing things and/or bullet points, but I think 3 or 4 people offered up their game designs to be...critiqued, generating various amounts of discussion.

Luke: (in response to "What do you mean by 'what'?) "No fucking Forge 'what do you mean by the word 'what' shit. Answer the question."

A well designed game won't have mechanics that don't interface with the premise.

Jared: GURPs isn't a game.

Luke: Disagrees. Strenuously.

Dev makes Luke fall over.

The Point: What you do in play with mechanics is what your game is about. Look at the distance between start and end of a section of play (a full reward cycle, in Forge lingo). Whats the difference? What has changed? Thats what the game is about.

Setting Versus System

I get a phone call I have to take and miss the first 10 minutes of this section. Again, lots of discussion, and these notes are summary and/or amusing points. When I get back:

Vincent: No such thing as a "game world" because all we see is moment by moment.

Personal thought in reference to the "level playing field" argument: You don't want to feel like others will get something you won't, so appealing to the mechanics as an impartial judge becomes important to you.

Jared: In response to comments about octaNe being a better game to play Die Hard with than Feng Shui (yes, this was all on topic): "Which is why I'm a better game designer than Robin Laws." He asks us not to mention this to Mr. Laws.

Vincent: What I need to know as a player is what I can contribute to each event in play, and how that contributes to the other players and their characters. Stuff on your sheet is a useful mnomic device to remember which rules to apply to which situation.

Luke: (in reference to comment that you experience a movie by yourself but play RPGs as part of a group) Just as you are the most important member of the audience at a movie, you are also the most important person at the table, except that you have participatory power (implication: and thus a different responsability).

Joshua (Newman)/Emily: "Physics" kind of means genre conventions and premise conventions. The physics of Star Wars are that Han Solo is cooler than everyone else, etc.

Luke: There is no game world, just people around a table.

Vincent: Rules can refer only to things in the game world, but they don't have to. Limiting yourself to stuff that is there in the world means you're missing out on lots of stuff that would support what your game is about.

Jared: The idea behind game design is to make it be about something. You can only model reality so far, and only if thats what your game is about.


I took no notes here. Everything was pretty much stuff that has been covered in the Publishing forum at the Forge. It was cool to find out that Vincent has spent only game money on game stuff ever since the first printing of kill puppies for satan.

Oh - and for the second weekend in a row, Jared ran one of his own games, a short game of InSpectres. I couldn't stay for it (damn!), but there ya go. I also, sadly, missed out on a mentioned game of Jungle Speed.

But yah, this was cool. I know my notes may make no sense, so feel free to ask about something and I'll do the best I can to explain.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


More Awesome News

I am very happy to announce that Indie Press Revolution had brought me on board! Woo-hoo! They currentely have the print editions of Timestream available, both perfect and coilbound, with the PDFs soon to come. All my stuff is here.

Oh, and I recommend that you use IPR instead of lulu for the perfectbound, because it's over 25 bucks. Which means you get free shipping.

Update: here's the official Press Release.

Thanks Brennan!

Friday, January 27, 2006


Carry the 2nd

Carry revision 2 is now available for perusal. Click here to download. I also posted a Connections thread at the Forge with some more information.

I'm totally looking for playtesters, by the way.

Changes from revision 1.1:
  • Formalized Burden Creation to include feedback from Dreamation: three sentences that gestalt into your Burden, discussion of lines and military experience.
  • Decided that there will be 3×5 cards for easy Grunt choosing and reference.
  • Moved all of chargen into one section, with the Squad section just being for reference.
  • Explicated that dice are chosen in ascending Months In order. Added some guidance as towards choosing initial dice pools.
  • Reworked and expanded Profile descriptions, including their best and worst Approach.
  • Added rule that the GM can bring in a Burden die on a Fodders side if the Grunt rolls theirs. There’s a strong possibility that each character writeup will include a “Fodder Burden” entry, which is that characters Burden if they are not taken by a player.
  • Added rule that you can roll your Burden Die even if you can’t use anything in your dice pool because of your Profile/Approach.
  • Cleaned up Squad Scene conflict resolution rules (IIEE stuff, mainly).
  • Added that you must change Approach when pushing a conflict.
  • Added some stuff to how and why you should give people dice after rolling, as well as a tip about keeping multiple dice collections separate.
  • Added some explication as to how Action resolution works, and why you would choose to give to one or the other.
  • Added rules for establishing Backstory on the fly during play (thanks Rob!).
  • Reworked Endgame. It should be better now.
  • General editing, rewording and clarification.
  • Updated all examples.


Ticket To Ride: Europe

So I got this game at a silent auction, brand new, for 18 bucks. So it has a pretty low barrier to me thinking I made the right choice.

Oh man. What a good choice.

I played a couple games with my suitemates last night, and it was pretty dern fun. In terms of game design, it's fantastic - it rewards the following behaviors: taking the most risks (and succeeding), going as big as possible, and going as quickly as possible. However, the system is such that trying to fulfill all three at the same time throws them into tension - making really long trains takes extra time to draw extra cards, and so does trying to take the most risks. Taking a big risk (in terms of going for the longest routes) only works towards getting the longest train if its in the same region as the small routes, and so on. So you have to make measured choices. Throw on the layer that everyone is going through the same process and a little resource management, and you have one fun game.

So yah. Identifying behaviors to reward, creating structures that force choices and sacrifices to be made among those behaviors - good stuff.

I look forward to this semester being my semester of playing more games, of all kinds. In my suite we have Loaded Questions, Ticket to Tide and Cranium, and are shortly receiving Apples to Apples (fun!) and Jungle Speed (GPA will drop!). Not to mention I need to play Under the Bed and My Life With Master, as I own them but have not yet played.

The times, they are good.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Another Thought On Art

The whole modernist and then post-modernist thing in art, specifically in film and in writing, is about deconstructing the traditional narrative and finding other ways to express via that medium.

The whole modern (in the sense of contemporary) thing in RPG design is about replicating the traditional narrative.

I find this interesting - I don't know if its relevant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Carry Continues

If you are following/interested about Carry, there's a fantastic AP Thread at the Forge.


The Best Thing About Dreamation

Was that it reminded me that role-playing is fucking fun.

Like, seriously. All this theory bullshit? It's cool, and its valuable, and there are great things that come out of it. But I didn't think about it all weekend, because I was having such a good time actually playing.

For all the shit that people give Ron, he's right about one thing. Actual play, actual play, actual play. Without play, this is all meaningless.

Yes, some people can't play, for whatever reason. It's a reality. But for those of us that can, we should, or we have no business as game designers.

I don't care what you play. I don't care who you play with. All I care about is that you have enjoyable, healthy play. If you get it from D&D, thats awesome. Shadowrun? Fantastic. PtA? Great. Doesn't matter. Play, talk about your play, make it better.

Along those lines, I'm going to russel up some play right now.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


What I Learned From Dreamation

Friday Night

Why yes, trying to get over the George Washington Bridge on a friday night will involve lots of traffic.

Running in at 8.02 for your 8.00 scheduled demo is not the best way to start off a Con...

...unless nobody shows up for it, and you play Mortal Coil instead, where you learn that:
- Nobody likes a pretty boy.
- These people that you read their words on the intarweb, they are cool fucking dudes and dudettes.
- Immortal Soldier God with a drug problem and a gun = bad, but hilarious, times.
- Why yes, Keith Senkowski does indeed curse as much IRL as he does on his blog.

The game Jungle Speed is so freaking awesome, I still have the tremors. And I, like, suck.

Saturday Morning

Tony L-B is Major Victory.

I wish I was a cool kid, like Jared Sorenson.

Alexander curses as much as Keith, but will tell you how to make your demos not suck instead of kicking your ass at Jungle Speed. So thats cool.

Brennan doesn't take himself too seriously. I like that in a guy who's handling my money...

Tony will take what Alexander told you about your demo, and distill out something that will actually make someone buy your game.

Explaining your game to someone who has never heard of it, multiple times, will eventually make you remember why you wrote the damn thing in the first place.

Holy fucking shit. Someone will actually PAY me for this thing? Like, me, in person? Give me money in exchange for my product? I don't know if I can deal.

Saturday Afternoon

Being totally ready for your afternoon demo, and still having no-one show up, still sucks...

...unless you happen to be sitting at the same table as one of the Continuum authors, who doesn't have any players either! Talking shop with someone whos into your niche can be pretty freakin' sweet.

Jesus Christ, is Tony ever not demo-ing Capes? Well....no.

Thats right. The last copy of Under The Bed EVER! Bitches. (Well, until the next printing...)

With Great Chili = Awesome.

People asking you if they can demo your game (Carry) is very, very cool. Like, too cool for words.

Saturday Night
Just....wow. Carry is going to be really, really good. Once I, like, write all the good parts.

In case it wasn't FIRMLY established, PtA pwns us all. Hie thee to this AP thread.

Rebecca's job is to take care of you. She takes her job very, very seriously.

The absolute best thing you can do for your weary, emotionally wrecked body is to dump adrenaline into it by playing a couple more hours of Jungle Speed. I'm told that the twitching will, eventually, stop.
- Knuckle wounds only mean you play the game seriously.
- Beware the Harbinger.
- Why yes. I will build the wizards tower. Thank you very much for the opportunity. Dick.

Cash money in your hands = glow of sweet, sweet satisfaction.


To reiterate, everyone really is that cool. In addition to the above, Ben, Emily, Shawn, Lisa, Thor, Andy, Joshua, Luke...and I'm sure I'm missing many....thank you.

And I'm spent. There's fodder for many more posts here (mainly about Carry), and I'm sure that stuff I missed will come out. But yeh. I had an awesome time, despite my 2 no-go games, and whats more a valuable time. As one may expect, my fears were unfounded, and with this one under my belt I feel hella more confident.

Now, to see if GenCon is even a remote possibility....

Friday, January 20, 2006


Signpost: Elements Of Design

Gah. Hurried post, but I want to write up a descriptive document along the following lines:

Elements of Design (Conceptual): The Elements of Exploration. Scene Framing. Distribution of Credibility and Authority. Reward/Reinforcement Cycles. Underwriting.

Elements of Design (Mechanical): Flags.
Fortune/Karma/Drama. Currency. Guages & Tracks. And many more.


Player Buy-In, or, We All Want To Play

Here's something interesting that I've observed about the indie scene and it's development. Because much of it is in response to the general bizarre social dynamics and outright dysfunction of the roleplaying community over the years, there is this wierd kind of over-compensation in design. It goes like this:

I don't want my game to support dysfunctional play (alternately, I want my design to hilight dysfunctional play so that the group can deal with it in the open).

One of the hallmarks of dysfunctional play is the deprotagonized character - that is, the character with pages and pages of backstory about an ancient prophecy blah blah blah that, who, in play, just sits there as he kills orcs all day. Or the like.

The reaction to always being deprotagonized is that you stop investing in the character, leading to a downward spiral (my char never gets to do anything cool, I'm not going to invest in him and try to do anything cool, etc).

I want to ensure that everyone is invested in their character (alternately, everyones invested in everyones character) in my game.

And tipping over into the interesting part: If I don't make everyone be invested, they won't be.

It's something that I feel underlies some conversations and designs - the idea, or fear, that if something like player investment is not demanded by or supported by the rules, it won't happen at all. It's easy to see how this corrolates to the System Does Matter ethos, right? Or do I need to go into this?

But, here's the thing - in a functional group, everyone is there to, y'know, play. There's this lingering fear that the people at the table will be intentionally reticent or trying to "break" the game (I know I have it), and the reaction to it is to try to design around or against it - "making" people invested in their characters so they have an interest in sustaining the game.

But the fundemental assumption of roleplay is that you're making shit up with your friends, right? There's an initial amount of buy-in that happens just by sitting there, at the table, playing the game. Your interest in investing in your character is that you want to play the game. Your reward for your investment? A good time.

Obviously, there are certainly different forms of investment, aimed at different play experiences, as well as things like investment in the game world or in the other characters. But I feel like starting with the assumption that the people are there in order to play, not in order to mess up play, is one that isn't necessarily made. And it should be. Its healthy.

Maybe I'm just focusing about this because it's something I've noticed in my own design-think, and that I'm working on fixing. But the basic point is this - social dysfunction will always trump good design. Design for the functional group.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Oh, Deary Dear

Warning: softy personally stuff ahead.

So, I'm looking at the schedule for Dreamation. My Saturday Timestream game is at the same time as the Continuum tournament game.

(For those who may not know, Continuum is a time travel game that came out a couple of years ago (2002, maybe?), and it widely regarded as a really, really cool game thats really hard to play. Timestream is, of course, my "cinematic" time travel game.)

Now, Continuum is a fantastic text, both in ambition and in execution. There is so much thought in there, and so much of it is well-realized in terms of mechanical process, that you can't help but admire it. All of which is, sadly, hitched to a fairly boring/traditional task resolution system, with all the extra combat rules (hit locations!) and bizarre character progression that that implies, not to mention a design philosophy that I find at once fascinating and slightly repugnant (your character can't gain Span until you, the player, have been playing a continuous campaign for months or, for higher levels, years? Uh...ok dudes). I will say that the Time Combat rules are a completely and absolutely brilliant conflict resolution system, and that if the entire game was based around them, I probably would not have had the drive to write Timestream.

So, as you may be able to see, Continuum was both a huge inspiration for me, and a game that I was very much reacting against with Timestream. Which may explain why going up against it, as it were, is putting big, big butterflies in the ol' digestin' hole. I feel like my potential audience totally overlaps with theirs, so thats one problem, but I also feel....I dunno. Small. It's been out for a while, has some amount of presence (at least in the Indie community, where I've seen many a mention), and is bigger in both imaginative and physical scope (i.e. it looks and reads like a "real RPG"). And here I am with my little 6x9 84-page "light" system with no fan base. It's hard not to feel intimidated.

Which is totally an emotional reaction - rationally, I'm sure that my presence there won't be a blip on their event's radar, and that the indie track audience probably isn't the type to be clamoring for tournament events. Not to mention that, since my event is a continuation of the one the night before, I'll hopefully (fingers crossed!) get a repeat player or two. But it's as if I got a serious opportunity to submit a set design for a Broadway show in a professional competition, or something. I'd do it, but I would feel mighty presumptuous going up against the established designers...

So, basically, on top of my general nervousness at going to my first Con ever (!), and meeting all of these awesome designers and gamers (!!), and talking to folks about business-y stuff (!!!), and selling product for the first time (!!!!), and worries about running my first demos of my first games and not having it suck (!!!!!!!), I get to have this niggling back-of-the-mind voice worrying about being dismissed as not good enough to compete with Continuum.

Why yes, I do have a touch of performance anxiety. Why yes, it does make me feel better to throw it out for public consumption.

In any case, it'll be an interesting car ride.


CUT TO: Samuel L Jackson punching a snake. The snake is wearing a pair of jeans.

I saw this in my latest issue of Wired.

Snakes On A Plane

There's snakes. On a mutherfuckin' plane. AND THERE AIN'T NUTHIN YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.

Related things you must see: this, this, and this.

I feel it is my duty, as a humor-loving human, to spread the word. Snakes on a plane. Summer 2006.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Dreamation 2006 & Other Matters

In case you don't know, Dreamation 2006 is happening next weekend. Full details on the con are here.

Michael S. Miller and Tony Lower-Basch have been doing a mad good job of coordinating the Indie Games Explosion gaming track and vending booth. Which promises to be about 19 kinds of awesome. For a schedule of the indie games offerings, check this out.

I will be there, running two sessions of Timestream and one of Carry, hopefully playing in a couple games of somethin', and cutting my chops at the sellin' booth. I'm totally geeking out at the prospect of meeting the fine, fine people that will be in attendence. I really hope I'm not totally lame. Anyway, for more formal details on my own schedule and demo offerings, check the website.

There's other news coming down the pipeline this week, also, but I'll wait till everythings actually set before announcing.

Also, I've been getting a little pickup in sales of Timestream, which is awesome. This is just me being excited, not really news, but hey.

I also have an essay entitled "What Roleplay Is" that I've sketched out, building on my early posts here, that I'm trying to pull together. It's basically a descriptive analysis of the unique dynamics that define the act of roleplaying. I look forward to getting some feedback on it from you smart people.

Carry is coming along. I'm putting a lot of thought into the endgame, and hope to have something clean for the demo at the con. Speaking of which: if you're going to be there, and are interested in playing, it's not going to go till 4 in the morning. I anticipate 2 hours of play (which is what it's designed for), and then Q&A and feedback discussion. But yeh, don't let the time slot scare you off!

Huh...and it appears that my website needs a little fixin. Dern.

Anyway, that's all the news, for now. Word.

Thursday, January 12, 2006



I really don't know what to make of the Push/Pull thing. I'm letting it percolate in my brain for a bit, methinks.

In other news, I'm finding it really difficult to work on stuff right now, which is bad, because I need to pull my shit together for Dreamation. I'm starting to get the Fear again. Blah.

So, basically, read this as an apology for not posting anything worthwhile recently, with a hopefullness for pulling out of the slump soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006



Good Call, Ben. Check it out.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


It's Alive!

The new Hamsterprophet Productions.com site is up and running. Still needs some tweaking, but hey, it's about a bazillion times better than the old one. All hail Wordpress!

I did decide, however, to keep my blogs seperate for the time being. I dunno, I kinda like having seperate things. Could it change? Yeh, eventually. But for now, I'm happy.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


An Entirely Different "Wow"

So I'm looking through the chapter on Shadowguiding from White Wolf's Wraith: The Oblivion, because the whole Wraith/Shadow thing was very cool, and I'm stealing a lot of it for Imp. On page 177 I come across this sidebar:

A Matter Of Trust: It is recommended that at the beginning of each session, player and Shadowguide sit down for a few minutes to discuss the character the Shadowguide will be tempting. Some players may balk at this, fearing that by sharing the secrets of their character with their Shadowguide, they are also giving the Shadowguide's character an unfair advantage in the form of knowledge of their Passions and Fetters.

While unscrupulous players may take information they learn out of character (i.e., as Shadowguide) and let their regular characters use it, Wraith players should be mature enough to seperate what they know from what their characters know, and to trust their fellow players not to "metagame" or cheat. If you can trust your fellow players to report their dice rolls honestly and create their character honestly, you should be able to trust them to keep your character's secrets.

(from the 2nd Edition, 1998)

Oh man. Sometimes, there aren't the words.


I M Lemming

Now, in case anyone hasn't figured it out, I really just want to be Joshua BishopRoby. So I'm playing around with Wordpress for my website, mainly because I'm tired of it looking like it's straight out of 1996 (which is when I learned HTML, so it basically....is). It'll prolly take a couple days to get up off the ground, but then this here thingy is moving over dere. I think Game A Day will stay here (seperate spheres, seperate spheres...) for the nonce, though.


Friday, January 06, 2006


Reactions to Art/NotArt

The latest widely addressed topic - are RPGs art?

I think that, yet again, there's a huge f'in difference between the Text and the Play. In short, an RPG sourcebook is not art. Actually playing an RPG, thats where the art does or does not happen.

The Text is an object. It can be aesthetic or not, well-written or not - basically, it can be a nice thing or not. But it's not a novel. It's not a text that has been written in such a way that your interaction with it brings beauty, or meaning, or whatever into your life. It's closer to a play (though, I would argue that plays-as-written are a seperate artform than plays-as-performed), in that it's something that has to be enacted.

The Actual Play can be art. Is it always? No. But it certainly has the potential - I truly think that a session of roleplay can be as beautiful or as touching or as memorable or as meaningful as any book, play, sculpture or painting.

The difference, though? The artist, in roleplay, is not the author. It is the players. That's right. I don't think that I'm an artist - I'm an enabler. If I am good at what I do, I enable the true artists to do their thing, reliably and well. If I'm bad, I give the artists a vague idea of what they can create, which they may or may not actually acheive.

Does it need an audience to be art? Of course. And every single fucking session of roleplay that has ever happened has had an audience - it's the participants. Roleplay is based upon the interaction of audience-participants, remember? Roleplay is the only entertainment form in the world that is always seen by the exact audience that it is intended for. When roleplay becomes art, it is always witnessed by those best enabled to appreciate exactely what that art is saying.

The unfortunate reality is that, the majority of the time, RPGs are read and not played. Which, given the reality of math, is unavoidable. But it leads to the conflation of the author/designer with the artist. RPGs are a kind of combined form of entertainment (Text) and art (Play). It's no surprise that people hold strong, strong opinions on both sides.



A lot going on in the last week or two.

First of all, I am now skyped, as all the cool kids seem to be doing it. Nic = hamsterprophet. I have no headset, but it seems to be working ok via internal mic & speakers....anyway, do with it what you will.

Second, my latest Game A Day post is actually, like, topical. In other Game A Day news, I'm going to be lamecore and cut back to only posting on weekdays - I need time to recharge every so often, and weekends seem like a good time to do it.

Thirdly, I set up a couple of Google Alerts for hamsterprophet and various Timestream and RPG combinations, pretty much for shits and giggles. It's interesting - I get a couple of searches every other day or so, but the thing actually clicked on is almost never my site, blog or product on other pages. It's very cool that there's that many searches related to me(!), but very strange that the first click-through is always to something tangential (like, my GamingReport.com profile? wierd). So, it may be an interesting experiment to do something of the like for yourself. Just a thought.

Fourthly, Victor & Josh & me spent some time talking about the RPG Theory Journal idea, as well as got in touch with Mr. Jonathon Walton, and it looks like we're going to encourage PUSH and work with it to see if it meets the needs we see for the community. Basically, when it comes out, get it and read it. Think about it. Start thinking about what kinds of articles YOU want to contribute. Victor has good advice - start development through blogging and discussion, pull it into an article, start polishing. PUSH is open to all kinds of content, from theory articles to short-form RPGs to reviews (I think). Anyway, it's a great project, and I look forward to the first issue!

And, uh, yes. Some theory stuff soon. Keep on keepin' on, all you rockin guys and gals.