Sunday, July 30, 2006



Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

I thought I could stick it out, but I was wrong. I have moved to WordPress.

Update links and such to

[Edit] Mmm...thanks Joshua. Comments have now been turned off here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The Book As Artifact

Here's a honest question: are there any large-press games that are being produced with an eye towards how the book itself, as an artifact, informs play?

This is one of those things that really excites me about the creator-owned design and production process. We can make books that, by their physical makeup, interface with the imagined content that playing that game generates. One thing I'm really hankering to check out at Gen Con is Keith Senkowski's Untitled. I'm also very curious to flip through Shock:. The cover is gorgeous and evocative, and I can't imagine that the content is any less.

I know that Ron has posted about how he put Sorcerer together the way he did because he wanted picking it up and flipping through it to be a different experience, from the get-go, than picking up a standard-size game book. I think InSpectres has a good physical presence at the table, personally. Small and unobtrusive and glanceable.

Carry is laid out in a manner inspired by military field manuals (credit where credit is due - I may not have gone through with it were it not for Keith's prodding). It's pretty stark and serious and no-nonsense. I think it works. I'm very curious to see reactions from people who pick it up sight unseen.

This is one element of a larger concern that is becoming stronger within me. Production is an element of design. As I start to conceptualize new projects, I've been thinking about how the final product will look, and work, as a part of how the game itself will play. At this point, I can't even imagine saying "Well, maybe it'll be 5.5x8.5, unless I get a high enough page count, in which case I'll go for full-size, maybe with a hardcover."

Where am I on the spectrum with this? And what kinds of other concerns that relate physical book design to the gameplay experience should I be incorporating?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I Wish I Could Think About Something Else, But I Can't

Carry AP at The Forge: Levels Of Engagement

Preorders will close on Friday at midnight (East Coast US).

I'll be sending out emails, but in case I don't track you down: If you're going to be at Gen Con and want your preorder there, let me know (here in comments or

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


On Stupidity

From Stephen Brusts' LJ

I was aware that considering the greater part of humanity to be idiots is popular in the science-fiction and fantasy community; I had not realized the importance it held in many people's personal identity. This intrigues me.

Of course, such an attitude is death to an artist. An artist who holds that opinion has only a few choices: to write down to his audience, thus producing insulting drivel (Hollywood is the obvious example); to see his audience as some sort of "elite," which leads to smug, snobbish work profound only in how cleverly it says nothing; or to deliberately cut himself off from any audience, generally followed by either cessation of work, or by a decent into the most worthless self-indulgence.

Friday, July 21, 2006



I finally managed to put the right words to the concept behind Carry.

Carry isn't about Vietnam. It's about the fiction that American culture has created about Vietnam.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Another Timestream Review

So, a while back, I received an email from a very nice fellow with the Cerberus Too ezine, a Dutch gaming magazine. I don't really understand the structure of its relationship with the other stuff on that page, but the long and short of it is that I just today got the review translated into English! Many thanks to Herman Duyker for his helpful service. Below is the email he sent me:

It looks like this is a Flemish (the dialect of Dutch spoken in the North of Belgium) review. Text "in quotes" is a direct translation of one or more sentences; the rest is to briefly show what a paragraph is about.

Quite a lot of the review is actually a brief recap of the rules. I have mostly tried to translate the opinions, and left the paragraphs with the rules in it as brief statements of what that bit of text is about.

Note: I've bolded the direct quotes -N

(p.1 col.1)
- Timestream colofon

- Introduction of the Timetravel genre
- 3 types of characters - Travelers, TMers and Thralls
- Welcome to Timestream
- Small press RPG with freedom to create char & background
- Arena's and how they work - not quite like skills, but as areas of expertise

(p.1 col.2)
- Choosing a Style
- Travellers choose 3 Aspects and Ranges

(p.1 col.3)
- TMers choose 3 Techniques out of 6 available ones and choose an Arena to go with that
- Thralls cannot influence time themselves, but get that power from others. They can choose 3 Aspects and/or Techniques, but need to take a Loyalty and Masters Control Arena.
- Timestream isn't just played with dice, but also with tokens or counters. There are two pools, Time and Strain. A player starts with 10 Time and 0 Strain. Next is an explanation of gaining and losing Time and Strain, using tokens, and what happens when you reach 10 Strain.
- Each player chooses 1 or more Goals and Obstacles.

(p.2 col.1)
- Phase 2: Creating the Relationship Map or R-map that connects characters.
- Each player chooses a number of Anchors for his/her character (usually 2). An Anchor is a person to whom the PC is connected in some way. The Anchor needs to be someone that interests the PLAYER as well.
- This results in a R-map, showing the links between PC's. "This is a quite unique way to connect the characters, and for a change is something different than just saying that all the PC's are mercenaries, that everyone works for the same organisation, or that all characters accidentally meet up in an inn where a rich noble is just announcing that he is hiring adventurers to (strike out what doesn't fit) rescue a damsel in distress / search for an ancient artefact / protect a caravan."
- After choosing the Anchors, each player comes up with a Goal / Obstacle pair.

(p.2 col.2)
- Like time, about every attribute of a character in Timestream is likely to change. "The pleasant thing is that the reasoning here is very logical and fits perfectly within the idea of the game. A PC will not get stronger or more dextrous all of a sudden, but certain things (like reaching Goals, overcoming Obstacles, and breaking Strains) can raise or lower attributes."
- One thing that might be strange for many roleplayers, is that you do not roll for every action, but for an entire scene. Generally, you need one to four rolls to finish a conflict, depending on importance. "Even more special is that the winner of the conflict narates what has happened. This means that players take over part of the gamemaster's task!"
- Rolling for a conflict means adding an appropriate Arena and a possible Obstacle. Each Anchor in the conflict gives a +1 on the roll.
- When you fail, you must either lower the Arena used, the Obstacle, or your own Time pool by 1, or choose to take 1 Strain counter, or increase a Goal by 1, if it was involved in the conflict.
- When you succeed, you can raise either the used Arena or Time by 1, remove 1 Strain, or (if the conflict was related to a Goal) lower a Goal by 1 and remove 1 Strain, or increase an Obstacle by 1 and remove 1 Strain.
- It is important to note that the scores of Goals and Obstacles can go up and down. Until the score of a Goal has reached 0, it is not possible to reach it. Obstacles lowered to 0 are neutralised.

(p.3 col.3)
- It is also possible to study or train for the improvement of Capacities and Arenas.
- Besides this, there are various rules which fit in seamlessly with the concepts of this game.
- Despite the fact that time travel in Timestream won't break many heads, there are some rules to which it must comply.
- "Timestream is fairly simply laid out, with only a drawing on the cover and an image of a clock inside, but it is a pretty unique and original RPG. All rules support the concept completely and the interaction between the players and the gamemasters is something we usually only find in more obscure RPG's, like those by Jared A. Sorenson. The only problem is that no real opponents are described.\ No metaplot is suggested and there are no clear opponents. This makes the setting look incomplete, and makes the gamemaster do quite some work before he or she can launch a Timestream campaign."

Category | In short | Valuation
Layout | The layout is pretty Spartan, with only a painting | ****5
on the cover and the image of a clock inside. The
structure of the text is quite good, on the other
Content | The basics of time travel are set out very clearly | ****5
and many options have been thought out.
Unfortunately, there is hardly any setting
information given, which means the gamemaster will
have to decide for him/herself what to do with
all those cool characters. This game cries out
for a campaign supplement
Gamesystem | One of the best aspects of Timestream. The rules | ********9
are well thought out, original and fit perfectly
within the concept and the idea of this RPG. On
top of that there is a lot of player input,
which makes Timestream totally different from
almost any other role-playing game.
Score | A great role-playing game, that could use some | *******8
more (different) background(s).

Original by Dirk Vandereyken

Not bad!

Also, more good news coming down the Timestream pipeline, in the near future. There are developments afoot...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


My Manuscript Weeps Red Tears

So Luke sat down with me at DexCon and devestated my manuscript for Carry. In the best way.

Anyway, he gave me many tips for using InDesign, like, correctly - and I have but one thing to say:

Paragraph styles, I love you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The Comments

Carry...Carry's dark, man. - Judd

The game ended up being surprisingly affecting, and was good, so I pre-ordered it. - Alexander

The game itself is really sweet, dark as a coal miner's ass crack, but really interesting. - Kevin

So far, they have been sparse and fleeting. I hope that this is because it is a hard thing to express, and not that there isn't anything else to say. Time will tell.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


DexCon 9 Recedes

Holy shit.

Thats some good Con.

Judd's keeping tabs on it here. Bookmark that, because there will be many posts to come.

Sleep now. Work tomorrow. More later.


God, I'm paralyzed with the sheer amount of cool stuff there is to say about this DexCon. For now, here's a rundown of the games I played:


First, Polaris. Tony was going to try to cover a With Great Power... demo that Kat was unable to make, but only one person showed, and what he really wanted to play was Polaris. So Tony grabbed me and Shawn DeArment and we went for it. I think our fourth player (god, I'm so bad with names - which was NOT helped by the fucking lame badge puzzle that involved intentionally misspelling everyone's name tag...Dave, maybe?) wasn't quite prepared for the amount of soul-crushingly self-punishing crazyawesome play that me, Tony and Shawn can bring. But we had a really good game, and it was a nice first AP of the game for me.

Second, Carry. And what a group it was that sat down to play. Alexander (aka Iskander), Tony, Shawn, Steve and Rich (both of whom I met for the first time), and Judd. I was so freaking nervous, and the actual game got off to a sloooooow start. But, in the end, it rocked pretty hard. Again, the focus that Tony and Judd and Shawn, at least, brought to the table was cool, but in retrospect, we more pulled the mechanics along behind us then really engaged with them. The total gametime was something like 2.5 hours, and it was sick and dark and powerful.


First, a pickup game of Mortal Coil.

Oh, Mortal Coil. If Brennan wasn't so damn nice, I would cockpunch him for daring to write such an awesome, and awesomely beautiful, game. Alas, his bearded face brings nothing but sunshines and rainbows, and my efforts are thwarted.

So, Mortal Coil, run by Brennan, and with Alexander (again), Chris the Spook (Praetorian at, I beleive), and one of the Ganaktagok Ganagtagang (I stole this phrase from someone else's blog, because it's awesome) - Fred, I think. Brennan's all "So, whats the tone?" and we're all "Bleak and depressing." The last scene of the game - my love, who was until a scene ago my mortal enemy (until she hated me so much that I used her hate to make her magically bind herself to me), brain melts as she forces me to run from the Witchfinder General, who only hesitates in following me because I used our bond to make her strike at him. The one making her brian melt? A little girl, who was until recently bound to one of my fellow rebels, in an organization that abuses children in order to heighten their emotions to where they can do magic. And we're the good guys.

Anyway. My summary: Mortal Coil is like PTA, but ALL THE TIME. Also, it's the most gorgeous gaming book I've ever seen. Jenn Rogers (who did all the art) is so freaking talented, its unbeleiveable.

Second, Carry. This time with Shawn (again! and playing the same character! He's a madman), RobNJ, Kevin "Award-Winning Game Designer" Allen Jr., Jeffery (who played in Hare and Hound at Dreamation), and a fellow by the name of Kevin, who has played a lot of Twilight:2000. This game kicked some serious fucking ass. We really engaged with the mechanics, which was nice, and I think more satisfying for me as the designer. Again, dark and painful and powerful as hell. I hope someone writes up an AP post, because I don't have much more to say than that. Well, except for my favorite quote about my game at the Con: "Dude, this is a FUCKED UP game, where my stakes are that, if I win, I'm going to FAIL my Find Traps roll."

Somewhere in here, I also saw the proof for Dictionary of Mu. Which is the most gorgeous gaming book I've ever seen. Art by Jenn Rodgers and layout by Luke Crane, you say? Why yes, that may have something to do with it.


First, Burning Empires (!). I got up early to do breakfast with Crane & Co. (as well as Tony and Jared), and figured hey, I'm up, I should play something. Judd's table for Mu was full, so Burning Empires it was. The game was fun - I was a little overwhelmed by the context and setting info, but Luke started the session by saying that the scenario's a work in progress, and I have some feedback to email him about that. I played with Alexander, Chris the Spook, and another fellow who had a good time, but was pretty overwhelmed with the mechanics. But...well. Here's the thing. Burning Empires, in addition to being the most gorgous gaming book I have ever seen, period, bar none*, is also destined to be the most awesome military-style space-genre game ever. And I say this as someone who isn't really a fan of the genre. It WORKS, and it works WELL, for everything you ever wanted to do with soldiers in space. This book is going to fucking fly off the shelves, and it DESERVES IT. So I was happy I got to play the first demo EVAR.

*why is this so, you ask? What? The phrase "680 full-color pages inside of a digest-sized hardcover with gorgeous art" doesn't really capture it. When you see it, you will see.

Second, a pick-up game of Donjon. Run by Alexander. With me, Chris the Spook, Judd, Michael Miller, Dro and Mayuran. This game kind of bit. Something about the 7 players with the books directions to go shopping first and the task-based resolution just made it unfun. I'm sure there will be an AP about it soon.

Third, Carry again. This time with three folks who showed up for Pulp Era, but then Dregg cancelled it because he wanted to go play Cyberpunk, I think. Anyway, it was neat on a lot of levels. One of them had played Shock: at Dreamation with Joshua Newman, but other than that they didn't have much experience with indie games. Also, one of them was female, which marks the first time to my knowledge that a female person has played the complete game (Emily Care Boss played the proto-game at Dreamation, tho). The game went well, though not as well as the first two nights. I think 5 is the magic number of players for the game. 4 and 6 is no problem, and 3 and 2 can be done, but it loses a little in terms of sheer volume of fucked up shit happening. The girl didn't seem very engaged, in a "I'm here to spend time with my friends" kind of way. I would pull her a bit, and she would go to exactly where I pulled, and no further. They didn't really try to game the mechanics, which was sad, because I love how gaming the mechanics just makes the results more twisted. But, the game did go well, and I was well and fully over my nervousness by then, and I sold two pre-orders to them after, so I guess they liked it too!

And I played Plunder with Alexander and I think Fred, though I don't really remember, at some point in there. And the fucker robbed me of victory with a well-timed mutiny. I have a cockpunch waiting for him when he leasts expects it...

Anyway. That's the game summary. More to come (prolly in another post).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


DexCon 9 Approaches

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for DexCon. I was going to leave this morning, but I needed to use today to finish up my (ahem) first professional show (!), which opens this weekend.

I'm running three games of Carry (god, the stage fright...) and taking pre-orders, and short-demo'ing and pimping Timestream. I plan to play lots of Jungle Speed. I also want to get in some other games...hopefully My Life With Master, Mortal Coil, and anything else that tickles my fancy. I'm also bringing Citadels, which is a card/board game I really enjoy, and that I have yet to play with more than four people. And there's apparently some "Indie Publishing Roundtable" on Sunday, which sounds like a hoot.

I have no idea if there's wireless at the hotel. If there is, and enough interesting things happen, I may throw up some "live-blog" style posts over the next couple of days.

Word. If you'll be there this weekend, come say hi at the IPR booth!

Monday, July 10, 2006


RPG Design Handbook: Chapter 1 (part 2)

Table of contents here.
Chapter 1 introduction here.

Identifying Your Play Preferences

The core tenant of this book is that design is rooted in play. Quite simply, your play, and what you enjoy about roleplaying in general, will directly and fundamentally inform the games that you design. Thus, it is worth taking some time to work on identifying what, exactly, you enjoy about the games that you play, and what you don't. (Hell, it's worth doing this even if you're not formally thinking about designing your own game. But I digress.)

Now, there are a number of conceptual frameworks within which to think about your play. These theories vary in degrees of specificity and philosophy, and many are presented in the next chapter. But, before skipping ahead to figure out which pigeonhole you identify with, you should do some thinking on your own.

This is a two-part exercise designed to get you into the mode of thinking critically about your play.

First, sit down and reflect on the games you have played in the past, and those you are currently participating in. Simply write down what things, in general, you enjoy about these games, and which you don't. This could be genre of game ("I like fantasy-themed games"), social interactions with other players ("I don't like it when people don't speak in-character in dramatic scenes"), mechanical bits ("Dice-pool systems are awesome"), or character-related issues ("I don't like the 'flawed hero' archetype"). Don't be shy - write down everything that comes into your head.

Now, put that list away. At your next session of play, pay attention to the things that push your buttons, good and bad. Take notes if it helps (and isn't disruptive to the game). The goal is to note what really excites you, or really annoys you, and then to identify the cause of that excitement or annoyance. After the game, sit down and write out another list like the first, but only about that specific session of play.

So now you have two lists, one of general trends and one of a specific game. Look at them in conjunction - they are both valuable sets of data. Go through them, but after every entry, add the word "because," then finish the sentence.

"I like fantasy themed games because I love fantasy literature, and I want to explore those worlds on my own."

"I don't like the flawed-hero archetype because I find myself more engaged by straight good vs. evil kinds of stories."

These "because's" will probably align into some general trends, and you will see some patterns emerge, including using the same "because" for a number of your preferences.

The point of this exercise is not for you to take this list and hold it as your gaming gospel. The point is to get you critically thinking about your play. It's a total immersion treatment for shunting your brain into a critical pattern of thought, in order to make it easier to both set goals, and make choices that are meaningful in trying to reach those goals. The actual lists are only as important as you consider them to be for your own purposes.

Chances are that this process will also spark some ideas and connections that maybe you hadn't thought of before. This is good!

Another powerful exercise is something that I gleaned from Luke Crane, the designer of Burning Wheel. I call it the "Immolation Technique."

Think of your favorite game. Now, go through and purge out of it everything that makes you unhappy. If you want to be really hardcore, take a sharpie and exacto knife to your copy of the game; it will probably suffice to make notes, or just to do it in your head. But by everything, I mean everything: mechanics, GM advice, flavor text, character options - everything that does not make you ebulliently joyful about that game.

Now, chances are, you will be left with a smoking ruin full of holes. The next step is to fill those back in with things that make you happy. Again, making a physical or mental list is probably going to be helpful here. The process of connecting the charred framework to your shiny new ideas - thats the design process.

Again. The first step is critically thinking about what you enjoy and what you don't enjoy. Identification of preferance makes it easier to set goals, and makes those goals more applicable to what you really want; setting goals make it easier to design mechanics and interactions, and makes those design choices more powerful and meaningful.

Edit: Joshua BishopRoby (who's name I almost always end up misspelling) is giving the two-list thing a whirl on his blog. Rock.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Carry Character Cards

I'm working on a set of cards that can be printed out on Avery 3x5 index card sheets, or just printed out and cut out on whatever paper. Here's some work in progress:

They look nice all printed out. They should make gameplay smoother as well.


Warm Glowy Feeling

Paul Tevis & Ken Hite mention Timestream (very much in passing) in the latest Have Games Will Travel. They seem to like the cover.


Sunday, July 02, 2006



I don't often feel like I read one thing and it switches on the light bulb....but this is one of those times. And surprise surprise, it's something Ron said. Here is the link.
"Thud. The non-role-players' resulting stare of puzzlement and hesitancy is fully justified. Why would anyone want to do that? Of course they'll be unsure; they're looking for the part which any social/fun activity has to have in it - the social and procedural reinforcement process. What do they do which "works?" Without that, and even without the negative practices I mentioned before, they won't have received the explanation they were looking for.

It'd be like explaining Monopoly by saying "we move pieces on a board!" and leaving it at that. Without even knowing what a turn is, or how you get money or how you know someone wins, they are definitely going to hesitate as play begins, or even as they sit down at the table."
I always have trouble explaining role-playing as a "thing" to non-gamers. This is....very helpful to my po brain, in this regard.