Sunday, February 26, 2006


Carry: Sweet Devolution

Finally played out a full game of Carry. It was awesome! Class in the morning, full report to come tomorrow, but quick highlights:
  • The mechanics work. Yay!
  • There need to be mechanics changes for 2-character play. Fair.
  • Sgt. orders a prisoner killed. The Cpl. disagrees with the order, but does it. This leads to more fallout for the squad. Perfect mechanical support of this moment. Awesome.
  • The two characters facing off, forcing the surviving squad members to chose which side to join. Great scene.
  • The slow transfer of the Cpl. character from supportive of the Sgt. to totally against him. Nice.
  • The inevitable tragedy that is built up to over the course of the entire game. Kick ass.
  • Having at least 3.8 hours of fun in 4 hours of play. Rockin'
This game kicks ass. More tomorrow.

Edit: AP thread up at the Forge. [Carry]Sweet Decline

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Timestream Premier Edition now at Key20

The perfectbound, full-color edition of Timestream is now available at Key20 in addition to IPR.

That is all.

Edit: And the coilbound, black-and-white (Reference) edition is also available. Note that Key20 has a nifty automated process that will get you the PDF for free if you purchase either print edition.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Another Reason To Love Hippie Games

We kicked off our Aberrant game last night, to great success (I thought, at least). We spent the first 45 minutes or so polishing characters and talking about them, and generating a group Kicker - I believe I used the phrase "Ok, so we have characters, and we have a situation. Now we need an event that will kick the characters into that situation. Ideas?" And off we went. It was tres awesome, and even the minimal notes I had made ended up being useless, as the game went in a very different, and fun, direction. In a nutshell, we determined that Project Utopia was piloting a program analogous to the Army Reserve, the Utopian Auxiliaries (UAX, because everything with an X is EXTREEEEEME!). The Kicker was that the girlfriend of one character and the nephew of another both "volunteered" to be part of the program, which the Aberrants, a faction all the characters are involved in in various ways, beleive to be spreading its totalitarian plan of Nova sterilization. (If anyone needs a translation/explanation, I can do so in comments.)

The part that made me re-realize how far we've come from this kind of game, though, was this: at one point, the boyfriend character was confronting his girlfriend about what kind of treatment she was getting at the Utopia facility. I asked his player what he wanted to roll for the conflict, and he said "Uh....I love you + you're my girlfriend? It's a relationship, I dunno what I should roll." I made a smarmy comment about how the Storyteller system isn't exactly...suited...for such things. But it made me think about how there's a slew of games out there, right now, in which you can essentially roll I Love You + You're My Girlfriend and have it be exactly right.

Anyway. Keep up the good work, everyone.

(Oh, and this marks my 100th blogpost. Woo!)

Monday, February 20, 2006


Carry Playtest Report...

Is up at the Forge. Many thanks to Joe McDonald and his crew. My response is there, and is reminding me of that old saw about the designer that doesn't write down the rules that he actually uses to play with.

So, new version of Carry to come soon...I will hopefully be playing some myself this week, so after that.

Comments and questions welcome on the linked thread!

Friday, February 17, 2006


My History with Roleplay

I read Tolkien really early. Like, I think my dad checked the Hobbit out of the library for me at 6, and I read the Lord of the Rings on my own shortly thereafter. So I was into fantasy shtuff right off the bat, and when I saw the old red-box D&D at Toys-R-Us with the Dragon on the cover, I snagged it.

My first memories with that, other than just reading the books and thinking it was really cool, was running around with my friend during recess in third grade. We would pick a class (this was when Dwarf and Elf were still classes, IIRC), and spend our starting money on the one-column equipment list (I always got wolfsbane). Then we would fight imaginary monsters on the playground.

Somehow, over time, this morphed into me getting the 2nd Ed. AD&D books, and me playing actual games with my friends. My memory isn't particularly strong, so I have no idea how long this process took, but I knew I was GMing games in various campaign settings (Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft - I still love Ravenloft) by 5th grade.

Cue lots of D&D. None of it was particularly memorable - making characters, fighting some stuff, maybe two or three sessions, making new characters. I was usually playing with only one or two other people, so I would often run a character in addition to GMing. I loved reading the sourcebooks almost as fiction, but play would rarely interface with anything but the broadest color. I did run modules from time to time, but I think 3 sessions was really the longest any of that ran either.

I did a lot of stupid shit along the GM is God mode - like making a player with a wizard character actually memorize and recite to me the Magic Schools chart from the 2nd Ed. PHB, each school and its opposing school, in order to get an extra first-level spell. Like making everyone sign a contract (I don't remember what it said at all) in order to be in the game. Like lying and telling a friend that I didn't want to play with that I stopped playing, just so he wouldn't ask anymore.

I remember that I drew a lot of maps, typed up a lot of NPCs and created a lot of room descriptions that never saw the light of day.

One day, sometime in middle school (7th-8th grade, somewhere in there), when I was at the bookstore (not a game store, but a Hastings with a pretty big RPG section), I saw this game called Vampire. I was into Ravenloft, and vampire-y stuff in general, so I got it.

I remember. I was all WHOAH! You don't have to roll to make characters AT ALL! You get to choose all of your stuff, and have all these cool powers, and its in the modern day, and WHOAH! This is SO DIFFERENT!

Cue about 4-5 years of gradual WW play and collecting. We also played 2nd Ed, but I think we played more WoD games. I do remember some of these characters - and, yet again, "campaigns" would rarely last more than 3 or 4 sessions at a stretch. I don't feel that we were particularly into making a Story, but I knew that I was totally into the mythos of each gameline, like all the Clans and Disciplines and the Metaplot and how it all hung together in certain evocative ways. There was a lot of killing things and taking their stuff.

A couple of things from this period - once, I statted up these werewolves because one my players was totally "twinking" and I wanted to teach him a lesson. He had a silver broadsword, for some reason, is all I remember. Anyway, he got initiative and took out both werewolves in ONE ROUND, and I was so pissed I threw a handful of dice at him. This was....a low point.

At the end of high school, two major things happened. One was the release of WW's Hunter: the Reckoning. The other was my "senior project."

Senior project was 5 weeks at the end of school where you could do anything you wanted, as long as you could make some case that it was academic and that you had some product at the end. I designed a roleplaying game. My goal was to take all the parts I liked about WW and AD&D and put them together into a fantasy/sci-fi setting where anything was possible. The less said about it, the better - though, someday, I want to revisit it and make it awesome.

Hunter grabbed me by the balls. I was so into it, all the themes and the everyman-struggling-against-the-darkness and the mystical overtones and the multiple points-of-view and everything. I somehow drifted onto the WW Hunter forum, which supported both in-character posts to the canonical Hunter-Net, a mailing-list that only Hunters had access to, and OOC posts about the game, arguing points of canon, etc. I played through an entire character arc on those boards, from Imbuing to his eventual suicide, over the period of about 6 months, and he continues to be my favorite and most fully-realized character I have ever played. My Hunter forum play will eventually get its own writeup - but this was the first time I had felt like I had put closure to a story arc.

My senior project taught me that I needed to learn more about designing games, and that I really wanted to design games. These impulses led me to the Forge at the beginning of college.

My freshman year, I played with a group that exhibited almost every single bad gaming stereotype you could think of. We played 3rd Ed D&D, a Vampire elders game set in Victorian Age Vampire, and the aborted attempts of a couple of other games. This year, combined with my introduction to the Forge, taught me that I needed to game with friends, not make friends with gamers.

The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I played a summer game of Mummy: the Resurrection with two of my good friends from my high school gaming years. It rocked on toast, and is probably still my favorite long-form game. We met every week, played, and completed a full story arc. Yes.

Last summer, played a similar game of Adventure! It didn't click quite as well, but it was fun, and satisfying, and I wish I could play it longer.

Now, I've been playing a lot of one-shots of Indie games, as well as getting a game of Aberrant off the ground. The last 3 years have been a gradual upwards trajectory of play ranging from good to awesome, in a huge variety of ways.

I don't think I had a particularly negative or damaging formative play experience, but it was very tightly limited. My wanting to design games stems less from trying to fix things that broke me, and more from the sheer joy of doing it. Now that I have some design under my belt, my priorities are changing a bit, but I still think the process is a huge part of why I do what I do.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006



So just as the shtuff about Ron's Brain Damage post gets to really swirling, I run across these threads on

What games have you been thrown out of?

What games have you walked out of?

Many of the accounts (3 pages so far in the former thread, 14 and counting in the latter) concern Vampire and Shadowrun games. Not all, by any means, but a siginificant portion. These include games where the GM shot the poster with a paintball gun when his character was shot in-game, where the poster was physically attacked by another player and gave him a bloody nose in self-defense, where posters have been given smokescreens and run-arounds to be kept away from other gaming groups, where posters say that they should have walked or should have been kicked out for their behavior, but weren't.

Anecdotal, self-selecting, etc. But....these threads come at a very illustrative time.

Edit: Things just keep striking me. Like this quote from a thread entitled "What exactly is an RPG": "A bunch of guys (or gals) get together, one of them tells a story, everyone else plays the part of a character in the story. The storyteller, usually known as the Game Master, tells what is happening, the players tell what they do in response to what is happening, and the storyteller decides the outcome of their actions, usually by rolling some dice and comparing the result to one of the characters' skill scores."

I'm really glad that I don't play like this any more.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Sim Designs?

I have yet to see anyone make a solid statement for a published system that facilitates Sim play.

Anyone want to bite on this?

What kind of Sim does it support?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


My Thoughts On Unsung

Note: This isn't really a review, especially as I haven't played the game (yet). I've read it exactely once, and am giving impressions, mostly as they relate to Carry.

I got Unsung for a couple of reasons. First, it's one of those games that I kinda-sorta paid attention too during it's development, and I want to establish a habit of actually finding out how those end up. Secondly, it's been mentioned in passing that it's in the same general vein as Carry (i.e., a war game that doesn't suck). Thirdly, I need to do better with the whole reading/playing other games as I'm developing mine thing. So, I get on the intar-web and order the coil-bound version from In general, I prefer coil-bound, so I'm always happy when its offered. It's 53 pages, color front cover, 8.5x11, written by Kirt Dankmyer via his Ivanhoe Unbound imprint.

The game is cool. My focus is on how it's similar too and different from what I'm doing with Carry, so that's what I'm gonna talk about.

Basically, Unsung is about forcing hard moral choices onto the characters, with a heavy dose of shared appreciation of said moral screwage. The "setting" is a group of characters who regularly face situations that will force those choices, with the actual setting qua setting being left up to the group (though Kirt offers a fantastic spread of genre settings that hit pretty much everything that qualifys). Systemwise, characters have a small number of traits (6, I think), with a simple d20 roll-under mechanic for determining success.

Carry, on the other hand, is about exploring the effects of the one specific high-stress situation (squad in Vietnam) on the characters, and how their issues interface with the rising stress, and their pre-determined doom. Just to make that clear.

Anyway, the core of Unsung is Gifts and gift points. Essentially, a player can give another players character a Gift whenever it would be appropropriate. A Gift is a detail or event in the scene that forces a moral challenge on the Gifted (heh) character, who must then succeed at a Responsibility check to retain control of the character. If they fail, they suffer a Lapse, where their character must take the morally easy/expedient choice, usually the most violent, brutal action they can. The Gifting player gains a Gift point if the Gift is accepted (more on this in a sec). Gift points can be used to help succeed at rolls (including Responsability checks), take over non-protagonist characters, increase stats, etc.

So, the core of the game is creating a group of characters that continually face morally stressful situations, then having the players Gift other characters with tough choices in order to gain the currency of increased effectiveness and advancement. There is also a Retirement point system, which means that the group accumulates RPs in every mission, and then when they hit whatever threshold (default 50), its time to wrap up the narrative. Character death is also very possible and needn't be avoided, as it can be a powerful statement. Also, gift points stay with the player, not the character, so you still are in on the game even if your protagonist bites it.

This is all cool. My only problem with the rules is the continual presence of veto power - usually, if anything is going to happen to your protagonist, both you and the GM have a veto to use over it. While I admire the social contract enforcement application of this rule - as in, there is a continuous tool available to you when you feel like others are being inappropriate towards your character, encoded in the rules - I feel like it's ...kind of weak as a design statement. To me, it takes the game from being about forcing moral choices to being about allowing moral choices.

However, the issue that it addresses (in my mind) is very real, and very applicable to Carry. That is, this kind of genre gets into some heavy shit. Making the choice to kill a child to save a group of hostages, for example, or to execute an innocent man in order to preserve peace between warring gangs - this is all stuff that, for some people, will push buttons. Especially for police officers, military personnel, and other people that do have to or have dealt with these real issues, how do you make the game a valuable experience?

In Carry, I'm looking to call for a very clear discussion about people's backgrounds and their lines with the material that will come up in play - but once that has been had, all bets are off. In Carry, if you can't deal with the shit that comes up, there's either been a breakdown on one level (social contract level or literal communication level), or you've just learned something about yourself. In Unsung, if you can't or don't want to deal with it, you have a veto. Different approaches.

The awesome thing is the Gift system, and how that encourages everyone to get involved with everyone else's issues. I touch on it in Carry with the Backstory mechanic, but it's not very developed. The difference is that, in Unsung, the actual adversity comes from everyone at the table. In Carry, the GM provides adversity until and unless the players actively pursue conflict among themselves - until the endgame, when the characters have to turn on one another. But, if playtesting reveals that more total table input would be appropriate, I'll definitly be using Gifts as a model.

Oh, and the other thing I really like about Unsung is the Rule of Currency, where if one roll would obviously influence the chance of success of the next roll, you apply a modifier based on the former to the latter. Where this gets really cool is you can roll Instinct (what it sounds like) to apply to Guts (doing violent stuff), and you always have the option to double that bonus, for the cost of making a Responsability check (as of you were given a Gift), possibly suffering a Lapse. This balance of rewards and fallout really appeals to me as a designer, and it's a very cool and elegant way to say that when people gain strength from their savage nature, they will probably lose their moral conviction. Very nice.

Hopefully that makes some sense. Is there anything else anyone is curious about? Any more explanation needed for anything?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Good Stuff Out There

For those who aren't "in the know", Story Games is ready for more! The Story Games Forums are supposed to be a middle ground for people who want some free-wheeling gaming discussion peanut butter in their Forge attitude/focus fudge, or, alternately, want Forge-y behavior and attitude vanilla swirled into their "Sell me on..." and general-hanging out chocolate fro-yo. The metaphors, they are a a-mixin. Anyway, check it out.

Thor makes a damn good point in The Algebra of Settings in RPGs

Emily has a great February deal on Breaking The Ice. If you've been on the fence, the time is now!

There is a playtesting forum for Carry over at The Windsor Gaming Resource. They haven't played yet, but its great to get feedback from gamers who aren't necessarily into the indie scene. My favorite comment thus far:
This really wasn't what I expected. When you stated that it would be played in one session I didn't expect something so open ended. As in on[e] session could take some time, and there is a ton of replay value as the scenes would change each game. I expected more of a 'tournament module' type of thing like you see for D20. Here are your characters, here is the adventure, it should take about 3 hours, go! I am again impressed by the format, the concept and the balls to try something like this.
Wow. Thats awesome. I can't wait to hear about their actual play!

And I have to finish reading BtI, Unsung and the last couple pages of OctaNe, not to mention Amber Diceless and reviewing the bits of Aberrant I don't remember. It's good my reading load for real life is light, because I wouldn't be getting any of it done. My thoughts on Unsung will be posted when it's read, as a couple people have expressed some interest in those.

Oh, and if you haven't been reading Deep In The Game you should be.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


My Week In Gaming

Saturday: Game Design seminar w/Luke, Jared & Vincent at VeriCon. Ticket to Ride w/girlfriend and suitemates.
Sunday: Chillaxin.
Ticket to Ride w/suitemates.
Tuesday: Brainstorm session with weekly RPG group, laying out agenda for the semester. Schedule weekly meeting on Sunday nights.
Wednesday: octaNe and Jungle Speed arrive.
Thursday morning (midnight-2.30 am): Introduce people to Jungle Speed. Play up to 7-person games.
Thursday day: Unsung arrives. More Jungle Speed as I run into people.
Friday: Apples to Apples arrives. More Jungle Speed. Reading OctaNe and Amber Diceless. Play the drinking game variant of Apples to Apples.
Saturday: More Jungle Speed. More Ticket to Ride (1 5 person game in afternoon, 2 1-on-1 games w/girlfriend after dinner).
Sunday: Guess what? More Jungle Speed. Game night, we talk about our first medium-length story arc and create characters for Aberrant. Afterwards, more Jungle Speed.

I count this as a good week.