Monday, 29 December 2008

Gen Con Australia 2009

I see that there's a facebook group for Gen Con Australia 2009.  I don't imagine that I'm going to learn anything from this that wouldn't see on the GCO website, but at the very least it'll give the organisers some indication of numbers.

If you're on facebook, go join the group today.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Volunteer graphic designers

Are you a volunteer graphic designer with a desire to help with an indie games mini-con? Let me know! I'm after some help with promotional materials for Go Play Brisbane

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Future gaming

Two things come to mind for the future of my gaming life.  The first is another day of Go Play Brisbane.  If you're a late subscriber to this blog, see the remnants of the last one here.  March 2009 looks good at the moment.  If you were at the last one (September 2008), I'll send you an e-mail soon to gauge your interest.

Secondly, I'm trying to find some plush polyhedrals, suitable for a toddler.  There's no rush on this one because the future-toddler with which I plan to game is still a newborn, but all the obvious sources of kid-friendly dice seem to be drying up.  Alternatively, I could start looking at d6-based games like Mouse Guard.  Leave a comment if you know where I can get these things.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Narrative Control - Go listen!

In the past few months a new gaming podcast has appeared that is well worth your time.  It's called Narrative Control.

So why should you listen to it?  It's got several good things going for it.

It's short!  Each episode is 20 to 30 minutes long, so you have no problem squeezing it in, unless you are very very busy indeed.

It's focused.  Some gaming podcasts are long and rambling, with tirades, rants and diversions all part of that show's, uh... charm.  Narrative Control, on the other hand, stays with the topic and gives it a punchy treatment.

The content is good.  This stuff isn't 20 minutes of focused garbage.  It's full of good information, useful tips and explorations of good gaming concepts.  Now, if you're the perfect GM and you've read everything on The Forge then you might not care for this content, but then you'd also be the kind of person who says, "Can't come to bed, honey.  Someone's wrong on the internet!"  (Thanks to Paul Tevis for that quote).

Lastly - and this is the best feature - using the information in Narrative Control will not only make you a better GM, but it will make you and the other players better players.  

This is the best new gaming podcast of 2008, and well worth your time.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Hankering for Exhaustion

It's been too long since I played anything, and I'm hankering for a game of DRYH.  I've said it before, but I still think that DRYH is the key challenge for this year.  If I can get that right, I'll be a better GM at everything else.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Don't Feel Your Anger

This is another DRYH setting hack.  It's the application of DRYH to Star Wars, but very specifically to the story you'd tell about the temptation to go to the dark side of the Force.

Exhaustion becomes... The Force
I chose this one because using the force is exhausting!  It requires concentration and focus, and the more you use, the more powerful you are.  But use too much and you'll collapse from the effort.

Madness becomes... Anger
This is the danger cycle for the nascent Jedi.  To really unleash the power, it takes more than Discipline, it takes passion.  Anakin was most powerful when he unleashed his anger, and the Emperor encouraged it.

Now, to add to this, the Fight and Flight responses need to change their flavour.  The Fight response can remain the same, resulting in an unbridled massacre of men, women and children (for example).  The Sandpeople don't stand a chance.  Flight, however, is going to be characterised by terror.  The darkness of the dark side is like staring into the abyss.  It can be overwhelming to a Jedi not used to it, and will probably terrorise them.

Similarly to Don't Lose Your Head, you could choose to limit the number of Force boxes for a padawan and let them increase as the character gains more competence with the Force.  It makes for interesting character progression, and also reflects the stronger temptation of the young Jedi to use their Anger to get more dice!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Don't Lose Your Head

Some various ideas occurred to me recently about setting hacks for Don't Rest Your Head. It might be more accurate to say that some of these are just different contexts for the DRYH rules, but that's just semantics. The interesting part is play.

Don't Lose Your Head
Yes, this is the Highlander setting. Although the setting is quite old (at least 22 years old, by my reckoning) it is still quite evocative and has potential for some great roleplaying.

Exhaustion becomes... Bloodthirst
For those who remember the first movie (we don't talk about the other thing that was allegedly a sequel) there is a remark made about the Kurgen that “all the killing has driven him mad.” This is a real phenomenon for soldiers, or anyone else who has to wield a firearm for money, and I think that there is plenty of scope for this to be part of the struggle for the Immortal. This is a human variant that is driven to kill in order to become all that it can be. The urge to seek each other out and battle to the last is instinct, and I think that this would be an interesting characteristic to keep in check throughout the story.

Madness becomes... Quickening
This stuff can do anything, and takes the place of a good plot wildcard. Does the Immortal need to run like the stag? Can do. Perform some crazy acrobatics while dodging a sword cut? Can do. Meditate to find another Immortal? Can do. Use it too much and the Immortal will gain permanent Quickening, meaning that a little of their humanity (Discipline) is lost and they are one more step removed from mortality. Lose enough discipline and the Immortal is a dangerous NPC with no humanity left, but with plenty of Quickening.

The only system hack that I would suggest is the starting number of Quickening boxes and the acquisition of more. Start the new Immortal with only two or three boxes, representing the limited control that they have over it. There are two ways in which this could increase: mentorship and taking the head of another Immortal. A mentor can increase it by only one box, no matter how long is spent under instruction. Taking the head of another Immortal, however, would add another box of temporary madness that the Immortal can use. As an example, Willam Mcleod starts out with two boxes when he meets his cousin/uncle Connor. After some training, William goes up to three temporary boxes that he can bring to any conflict. After taking the heads of two other Immortals, this goes up to five. So, for each conflict, he can bring up to five temporary dice of Quickening.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Gaming Group as an Ensemble Cast

One of the common methods used to explain or teach a roleplaying game to someone is to liken it to a movie. It begins by asking the new gamer to remember her favourite movie and then to ask her to imagine herself as the protagonist of that story, making decisions as that character would decide. Unfortunately, this is a flawed model of story-making for all gaming groups. That kind of story has one or two protagonists, along with a cast of dozens of interested parties and even more people who might never know the story but who depend on the protagonists.

The gaming group is more like the kind of movie that has an ensemble cast. There are more than one or two main characters and as the audience of the story we are meant to be interested in all of them. So, as a game master, it is important to understand the differences between the popular story-form that has only one or two protagonists and the story-form that has many characters. For the former, the story is about those characters. It is about their struggle and their triumph (or failure). Those kinds of stories are best suited to games with only one or two players.

Conversely, the larger gaming group is the ensemble cast. The story is rarely about those characters but is more often about a theme that connects them. Take the movie Higher Learning as an example. This is a movie with an ensemble cast, with several smaller stories that interweave and ultimately meet in a tragic end. However, the movie is not about the story of any one of them. Rather, it is a story about racism and acceptance. The key to the story is the theme and not the narrative of the individuals.

So what kinds of themes are present in our games? What is the theme of the adventuring party in the fantasy setting? Perhaps it is nothing more than adventure itself. How about the cyberpunk setting? Rebellion against the domination of corporations and government. So, as GMs, we need to ensure that our stories are about putting those characters in to those themes and situations, and about giving opportunities to explore those themes. Without paying attention to these themes we are left only with the many variations on the level-me-up games.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Morality of Games

The other week, when Nathan Russell dropped in to Brisbane for Go Play Brisbane, we had some extended chats about the nature of gaming and of games themselves. In amongst all this was a hefty discussion of my Game In Design (the game with the working title of Nobles) and I made a comment that I want to make again here.

Roleplaying games make moral and philosophical assertions through their mechanics.

Now, initially one might think that the word "mechanics" should be "story" but upon closer examination it is apparent that it's the mechanic that does this. A good game (according to various versions of game design theory) includes mechanics which reward players for a particular kind of behaviour. The story will always arise from the mechanics; if it didn't then we could - and would - tell the same variety of stories with only one ruleset. Dogs in the Vineyard stories told in GURPS, for example. I'll concede that it's possible, but it's not likely. DitV creates a particular kind of story because of its game mechanics, and the same is true of other game mechanics.

If a game system creates a particular kind of story, then the abstract concept of that kind of story is connected to the morality implied by that system. Here are some examples.

Dungeons and Dragons (and others of this kind) imply a moral statement something like this: defeat monsters and you will gain items that make you more powerful, better enabling you to fight monsters and gain more items; ergo, the central path to self-improvement is through the violent defeat of monsters. It's not simply that the PCs use violence to defend against The Darkness, but that through violence the PCs actually improve.

Don't Rest Your Head is particularly Nietzschean in that the characters are asked to dig deep within and become what they already are. Characters are driven to exhaustion in order to add more dice to the pool. Characters use their Madness talents to add more dice, and these talents are taken from the basic elements of the characters themselves. Through magnifying the character as it is, the character becomes a larger version of what they already are. And also note the flipside to this, becoming what they already are (that is, pushing exhaustion and madness beyond mortal limits) is a horror itself. To be quite technical, the horror of the DRYH overman is the self qua exaggerated-self, the horror is the same God that Nietzsche pronounced as dead.

To return to my point. Games imply a moral or philosophical truth, deep within the mechanics of that game. Most designers may not realise it at the time of design, and in that regard we have something of an insight into the designers themselves. The game is the absent-minded drawing, the unintentional revelation of the mind of the designer.

Monday, 22 September 2008

As you were

Go Play Brisbane came and went on the weekend. For me personally this was an interesting experience and one which achieved the three primary goals of a local indie games convention.

1. Have fun
2. Meet other players
3. Meet other game designers

I managed to arrange it so that Go Play Brisbane delivered all of this to the participants. Nathan Russell and Mark McPherson were both there, with their games in tow. We talked about the design and production processes of Dash-in Dungeons (a 3 year project!). We also met other players of indie games in Australia - all of whom are keen to play more. And most importantly, we had fun playing indie games.

The fun is the most important part of it all. Meeting other players, meeting designers, organising conventions... all these things exist to support the fun generated by play.

And for that, Go Play Brisbane was an unqualified success.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Car Wars - the Movie

This post has nothing to do with indie games, but a game I played many years ago and which now belongs in the Cult Classic section of your local gaming hyper-mega-mart: Car Wars by Steve Jackson Games. I played that game a lot, but not as much as I sat down and designed cars for it. Most of my enjoyment was in engineering the cars, in much the same way as someone in a points-based game would engineer a character. And surprisingly it was a lot of fun.

Nevertheless, I see that a new movie is en route to us, and it seems to fit neatly within that genre of armed vehicular combat. Affectionately entitled Death Race, the poster alone seems to give the whole thing away. It'll be big action, corny dialogue and bad acting for the whole 2 hours (or less, whatever...) but I will go into it with one simple question in my mind, "How does a miniatures gaming experience compare to a movie experience?"

Now, some of this can be answered by looking at other genres (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) but I feel as though I'm too familiar with those genres. With a break into minis and into Car Wars I expect to learn different things about it. I'll be sure to put some thoughts up here when the time comes.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Houses of the Blooded

I bought a PDF copy of Houses of the Blooded this week. Just in case you hadn't heard, this is the new game from John Wick and is currently available for 5USD as PDF from various places. I got mine from IPR without hitch.

At the moment I've not read more than a few pages of it, so it's too early for me to give a solid opinion of it. Layouts and fonts are all very classy, and the use of PDF doesn't seem to pose any threat to the dead-tree editions. It's 436 pages, but it really should be printed with two pages to an A4. Even so, 218 pages from a single-sided printer is a big effort.

I'll have some more comments later, I'm sure.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Ack! Playtesting!

Well, now I'm in a bit of trouble. I've got my two games to a point where I need to test them some more. If I follow the example of other game designers I'd get together with some local gamers to run the games and get some feedback. So now I need to hear from you. Are you interested in doing some preliminary playtesting one or both of my games? You need to be in the Brisbane region and willing to provide useful feedback. Drop me a line at andrew (dot) mg (dot) smith (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Success!

I mentioned in my last post that Nobles was to be split, and split it has been. Now I have two games about the ascent to power. They're both competitive games and both without a GM. Playtesting of Nobles 1 and Nobles 2 should take place in and around Go Play Brisbane.

Speaking of which, have you registered? If not, go there now and register!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Time for a Schism

I've arrived at the conclusion that Nobles cannot be beaten into the shape I wish for it. However, it can be sliced in twain, divided into two separate games. One of them will be a simple card game and the other will be a complicated card game.

And now I need to finalise the simple Nobles (or rename it and finish it) so that I can get started on the other one.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Needlepoint

I like listening to gaming podcasts and reading gaming blogs. If my consumption of media were the measure, then it would be easy to think that there was nothing else in the world other than gaming (with some philosophy and psychology thrown in for good measure). However, it's important to remember from time to time that gaming is a small, niche activity. We're almost an industry, but only in the sense of "cottage industry."

And the thing I like to think of that reminds me of this is needlepoint. Run a search at Google and you'll get over three million hits. There are corporate sites (the big evil capitalist bastards) and there are free sites (the indie needlepointers) and there are fan sites (house rules) and gatherings (mini-cons) and even podcasts.

There's more media out there for needlepoint and it's a cottage industry that's been around for centuries. Whenever I think that the indie gaming industry is starting to sound a little too pompous, I only need to think of needlepoint and the smile returns to my face.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Eighth Sea is Available

Michael Wenman has now published his game, The Eighth Sea. Buy it now from Lulu.

I played the final session of this at Gencon Oz and enjoyed it immensely. It felt like he'd made it the Convention Special Edition because of all the props (a whiteboard! a wine bottle! a human skull!). It uses a great system of making failures easier next time, and successes more difficult. All in all, the result is a game with plenty of opportunity for gonzo and large story telling.


Note: skull may or may not have been an actual human. If it was, the human was about the size of a child.

Mindless link propagation to Braunstein

Go read this article on Braunstein now. It's a great read.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Tick says, "Keen!"

I know that the GPB stuff is on the other blog, but I have to say how excited I am at the prospect of getting a Brisbane mini-con for indie games. The store owner is keen. The GMs are keen. And I somehow managed to get a special guest to come along.

This ought to be a good day.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Don't Lose Your Mind

Last week I bought my pre-order of Don't Lose Your Mind. Having read the PDFs now, I'm genuinely excited by this. The book adds good content to the game as well as great gaming tips for playing characters and for running DRYH.

The other thing I liked about reading the PDF is that it prompted creativity for me as well. Text in the book spawned more ideas in my head. That's a good thing - a very good thing. I like it when a text stimulates my cerebral processes.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Rules Bandaids

I'm still working on the basic ruleset for Nobles. I keep getting good ideas to make it better, but then those good ideas present different problems. Nuts. It feels like I'm going to end up with a game of bandaids, rather than a well-constructed and intentional system.

Gah. Maybe this is just a case of designer's nerves.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Go Play Brisbane

I've started a separate site, using blogger, to help me manage the communication of Go Play Brisbane. Not surprisingly, it's called Go Play Brisbane.

So if you're one of my Brisbane indie readers, go subscribe to GPB immediately.


Monday, 21 July 2008

Hitting the Heavy Bag

I picked up an expression from listening to the Sons of Kryos episode 59: hitting the heavy bag. It's the concept that game masters need to engage in some training to ensure that they are honing their skills. A GM should be offering good games and good entertainment for the players, and the SoK guys launched a thread on this. Read the thread sometime to get lots of opinions on it.

Since the thread was launched (and now fizzled, as do all forum threads), I've encountered another element of good GM training that I want to add. For me, hitting the heavy bag in the next couple of months will include mastering
Don't Rest Your Head or Grey Ranks. After playing them at Gencon, I've come to the conclusion that these two games are the right challenge for me to improve my skills as a GM. I see that either of them gives me the opportunity to understand and practice collaborative scene framing which is centred around the goals of specific characters while still facilitating a story about that group of characters.

How about you? What do you do to hit the heavy bag? What books do you read, films do you watch, techniques that you test? Or, do you even try to become a better player/GM - maybe you're happy with the way you play now. Drop me a comment.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Stories of Games

In the Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastery seminar at Gencon, one of the audience posed a question, but with a preface that included the idea that telling stories is an ancient activity, having been done for millenia around the campfire. He then made the comparison to cinema, novels, television and even roleplaying games as contemporary variants on the campfire.

I like to suggest that this anonymous questioneer is not quite right with regard to roleplaying games. Cinema, novels and poems are all story telling media. A pre-written story is conveyed through one of these means to an audience which does not participate in the telling of that story. Nor do they participate in the making of that story.

The key phrase here is "story making." A roleplaying game, with several participants, is not merely story telling, it is story making. As a group the players make stories about a group of characters. Some games limit each player to a single character and delegate the rest to the GM. Other games leave it open for players to take on the roles of multiple characters. In either arrangement, the players are responsible for making the story, and not just telling it.

Having this knowledge on top of the table will help turn your dice-and-stats game into a story game.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Art for Nobles

I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day and I brought up Gencon. After a few "what's that?" type questions, I find myself with an artist for Nobles. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mark Peric, bassist and graphic artist.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Where to play more indie games

Ever since the good response to the IGE at Gencon Oz, I've been thinking about where to host another indie game in a convention style atmosphere. Two ideas sound good to me. I can either run the event as a standalone event, just for indie games; or I can run a couple of indie games at someone else's convention.

From what little I know about the Brisbane gaming scene, it seems that there are a few places around that could facilitate this.

The Queensland Gamers Guild has gaming sessions every month, but from what I see of the schedule it's mostly for wargaming (e.g., Warhammer). Have I misread the QGG page?

Brisbane Independent Gamers seems like another option, but the game list seems to have a lot of miniature gaming.

Speak up, Brisbane indie gamers. Would you like an indie game there one day? Perhaps Spirit of the Century, or Space Rat?

Monday, 7 July 2008

An indie summary of Gencon Oz

The first Gencon Oz was, for indie games, a good experience. We had games from Australian designers being launched, we had seminars on indie game play and design, and we had full registrations for all tables of the Indie Games Explosion. Best of all, the organisers are enthusiastic about our contribution and are keen to give us more space for larger events in 2009.

And now for some details.

Seminars
There were two seminars for indie games across the four days. The first was on Thursday night, with a panel of Nathan Russell, Michael Wenman and Robin Laws (and I got to be MC for this illustrious group) and the topic was "Steal This Trick - The indie games you should play at least once". For an hour the panelists spoke on the topic and took questions from the audience.

The second one was in the last day of the con, and wasn't actually advertised in the programme, but we still managed to get people to come. It was intended to be a session on indie game design, primarily with the guys who were launching games, but we turned it into a Game Design Roundtable as was done at Dreamation. Two games were thrown on the table and dissected by the assembled group. Both of the designers set themselves goals to have ashcans ready in six months, in time for Melbourne's Arcanacon.

Indie Games Launched
Michael Wenman came up from Sydney to launch The Eighth Sea, his game about time-travelling pirates with a penchant for making money from temporal disturbances. He ran two or three sessions every day, and was fully booked (and over booked!) for each one. The pre-orders list grew quite well, I hear.

Nathan Russell decided to only run his game - Space Rat - through the IGE, and was handsomely rewarded. I sat in on an hour of one session and enjoyed it immensely. Due to a delay in printing from Lulu he didn't have any product to sell, but he handed out stacks of postcards and flyers. He generously left me with one of his few pre-release copies to add to my library. Thanks, Nathan!

Indie Games Explosion
According to the registration table, all sessions were fully booked and even though about 10-20% didn't turn up, we had gamer after gamer approaching us and ask about empty spaces at the table. We estimate that about half of them had never heard of any of the games, and were still keen to play. We also estimate that about two-thirds finished the games and asked, "Where can I buy this game?" Unfortunately, the only thing we could do was point them to the IPR online store. We hadn't really expected people to try and buy these games from us, but they were keen. I would have loved to point them towards one of the retailers, but none of them were carrying indie stock either.

In short, the indie gamer crowd had more demand than supply and the organisers noticed. I suspect that we left our mark partially through the registration database and partially through the periodic visits from Robin Laws, Peter Adkison and the Gencon staff. I need to give a big thank you to Scott Vandervalk, Nathan Russell and Michael Wenman for bringing content to the con. I also need to point out the great support from Peter Ball and the rest of the con organisers for squeezing a non-standard event into the programme.

And now... go plan the next one.

Editorial Addition
In my original post, I forgot to thank the folks who came to the round table. Thanks to Scott V, Louise, Lon, Michael (and his wife), Craig and Danica. We'll do it again next year.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Halftime at Gencon

So it's halfway through Gencon and I have to say that the con is exceeding my expectations in almost every way. The gaming has been great, but the best thing has been the response to the Indie Games Explosion. When internet pre-registrations closed (the Monday morning before the con) we had 47 places left from our 90 places available. At that point I thought we would have a lot of flexibility, and perhaps half-full sessions that we could use to run games that were more focused on a smaller number of characters. The reality, after just one day, is that we have had every table of every session full. Even overflowing at least once. I couldn't have expected it. Over and above this, I heard yesterday that all our sessions for today (Saturday) are full already, and that we might be offering one final session on Sunday. It's not in the programme right now, but at this stage anything seems possible.

This is largely due to the great work by Peter Ball. He looks tired, but he is still happy and works hard to make it all happen. I'm glad he's involved in this because he's supportive, helpful and friendly. Great work, Peter.

To close, I'm going to give a very quick summary of what I've been up to so far.

Thursday
- Met Nathan Russell in person for the first time. And from that point, I met a bunch of people from the Newcastle gaming scene, and frequenters of Imbercorvus.
- Bought some Campaign Coins. Wow. These things are great. They have good heft and are already in use for my Don't Rest Your Head games.
- Played a demo of Heroclix, and was soundly beaten by my friend Mat. 3-0. Ack! He's a great tactical player who didn't even use one of his minis.
- Played a game (or part of a game) of Cleopatra. This looks like an interesting strategy game and it has some great supporting plasticware for game pieces.
- Hosted (was MC of...) the Steal This Trick seminar, with Robin Laws, Nathan Russell and Michael Wenman. This was a great seminar, with about 30-40 people.
- Had dinner with Robin Laws. He's a great guy with interesting things to say on a wide range of topics. My only regret was the "Vietnamese" restaurant we chose wasn't all that Vietnamese. Ah well.

Friday
- First session of the IGE: I played Spirit of the Century with a great group. That adds 6 to my count of new people to game with. Some of these guys had played SOTC before, and most were from Brisbane. If I can find my notes from the game, I'll add their names.
- Second session of the IGE: 80% of the group demanded Don't Rest Your Head. So that's what we played. I don't feel that it was my best game, but the last hour of game play was pretty good, and I especially like the epilogues that the players created to close off the session. Fantastic.
- Played Grey Ranks with Peter Adkison, Robin Laws and Luke (no surname, just like Prince and Madonna). This was shakey at first, but after the first round of learning, the second and third rounds were fantastic. I hadn't played it before, but now I want to play it again. I also have to say that Robin is a great gamer, showing great rhythm between silence and speaking, between plot development and plot resolution. I learnt a lot. Thanks Robin!

And now... time to embrace Saturday at Gencon. See you there.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Where to find me at Gencon

So, if you're looking for me at Gencon, this is my schedule so far.

Thursday
6pm Steal This Trick. I'm the MC for this seminar, featuring Michael Wenman, Nathan Russell and Robin D. Laws.

Friday
10am Indie Games Explosion
2pm Indie Games Explosion
6pm Indie Games Explosion

Saturday
10am Indie Games Explosion
2pm Indie Games Explosion
6pm Indie Games Explosion

Sunday
9am Robin's Laws of Gamemastery
4pm An untitled seminar on game development


And that's it! I've left some good space in there to wander the floor and chat with passersby, but mostly it's about the games. Let's roll them bones.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Don't Rest Your Head Played

I played a game of DRYH on the weekend. It was a great experience, with lots of learning and improved game-play for all concerned. Thanks to Paul and Brendon for being so enthusiastic about it.

One of the interesting things that happened was a player-player conflict. Fred Hicks has said that this is really only implied in the text, rather than explicitly described. However, he has posted the following on Story Games (full thread here).

- If they're going at it with each other, they're making their own Pain. No need to get the GM in there, save that he could use the opportunity to spend some Despair to make the PvP fight go poorly. So no Pain dice as a factor.

- Players must combine their Exhaustion and Madness pools to determine what dominates. They do NOT combine their Discipline pools for this determination.

I approached it differently in the last game, and it worked, but I like Fred's idea better. If only I'd seen this before Saturday...

Nonetheless, this is a handy solution to a problem from the Saturday game.

Cookbooks as RPG books

Just read this, and laugh at yourself.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Game on!

I always get a little excited when I have a game coming up. This week it will be Don't Rest Your Head. It's such a tiny game, with mechanics that are intentionally in an internal conflict. Total success is rare. Partial success (that is, a success mitigated by pain, exhaustion or madness) is far more common. And, from all accounts, the exhaustion spiral is something terrible to behold.

And I see that Evil Hat is in the process of releasing a supplement for it too: Don't Lose Your Mind. Nice work.


Friday, 13 June 2008

Secret Gencon Oz Project Revealed!

If you will be at Gencon on Thursday night, come to this seminar.

Steal This Trick: The Indie Games You Should Play at Least Once
Small games often contain big ideas, pushing the boundaries and testing mechanics that more established games can't. Join our panelists as they discuss their favourite small-press/indie games and the fresh ideas that drive them. Featuring Robin Laws, Nathan Russell, Michael Wenman, Andrew Smith

Yes that's right. I will be sharing a stage with Robin Laws, talking about indie games. remember, it's Thursday night at 6pm in Seminar Room F1.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

IGE Games List

And the list of games for the IGE just keeps growing! This is where we're at right now, and I'm still waiting for the other few GMs to say what they're going to offer.

Primetime Adventures
Dust Devils
Cold City
With Great Power
Hero's Journey
Spirit of the Century
Don't Rest Your Head
Agon
Nobles - (yes, a playtest session for my own game!)
InSpectres
Og
Vs Monsters / Vs Outlaws
Space Rat


Tuesday, 10 June 2008

R.I.P. Erick Wujcik

Erick Wujcik has died, after a prolonged illness. I first encountered his name with Ninjas and Superspies, a game book that still brings back fond memories. when I learned that he was the creative force behind Amber, I felt as though my world was getting smaller. I've never played Amber, but I know it as one of the primary games played by Fred Hicks, author of one of my favourite games, Spirit of the Century. Fred appears to be honouring Erick in his own unique way.

I got the joy of playing a game with Erick once. A mate of mine was being a kind stranger to him as he toured the world, allowing Erick to stay a few nights with him in Brisbane. Of course, he organised a game of Palladium Fantasy and invited me along. It was a whole heap of fun. I learnt a lot just by playing in that game.

I brought along my copies of Ninjas and Superspies, and Mystic China and asked Erick to sign them for me. They still sit on my game shelf, pride of place.

My friend (the hospitable one) told me later that Erick passed comment on my game style, saying (a paraphrase only) that I was a "pretty good roleplayer."

It's a small comment, but made by someone who knows his stuff, so I value it. Thanks, Erick. You will be missed.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Wizards are Magic Item Geeks

I was listening to the WOTC podcast of a pre-release session of D&D 4th edition with the guys from Penny Arcade. During the session, Gabe (who had never played a tabletop RPG before) asked about the motivations for his pre-gen wizard character. The WOTC DM said that motivations will come from various placed, but in general wizards tend to collect magic items (staves, wands, orbs, etc.).

It was at this point that I drew a connection between wizards and technology geeks. That is, you could create a wizard character who is not a Gandalf type, but rather is the kind of wizard who just has to have the latest magic gadget. He would rave about its features endlessly to anyone slow enough not to get away. Just think for a moment about the reaction of an iPod enthusiast when they talk about the latest release from Apple. Or a computer-building geek who just found out about a new motherboard.

I've never run into anyone who plays wizards that way, but I sure hope to. It makes for a more interesting character trait than a magic-powered adventurer. And to be honest, it probably wouldn't be much of a stretch for the average gamer to play.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The limits of gaming

I was recently confronted with a comment on a forum that suggested some stories are easy to adapt to roleplaying games, whereas others are not - implying that there are some stories that are not worth telling through RPGs. Let me unpack this as a comment on how people play games.

First of all, this comment was not made on an indie forum. I think it's safe to assume that the poster prefers to play mainstream games, with D&D probably at the top of the list. With that in mind I would suggest that the kind of play that this person enjoys involves building character stats, levelling up the character WoW-style. So, the appeal of RPGs is the same as the appeal of WoW. When it comes down to it, WoW is the new version of having the top score at the arcade. The characters in WoW can be compared against each other and engage in PvP. Therefore, it should be considered as a competitive game and provides enjoyment for people who like competitive games.

At the heart of a game like D&D is a sense of competitiveness. There is the drive to make one's own character better than the others, to inflict more damage, to neutralise more opponents. All to be done with more power than the other characters. To return to the prompted statement it is apparent that to suggest that a plot cannot be told in RPG actually reveals that this person only thinks of gaming as a competitive activity.

And that's fine, for a certain stable of games. However, it is not the limit of gaming and I'm happy about that. What it shows is that the depths of gaming have not yet been fully explored in Australia. Looks like a good opportunity, if you ask me.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Stealing from Grey Ranks

A game mechanic that I've been toying with in the last couple of weeks is a grid that indicates the current status of the character. Since Nobles is a game about duplicity and public image, I decided to pursue this idea so that the duplicitous nature of the characters can be tracked. After all, a smooth-talking leader could be rotten to the core, or could be genuine. Presentation and actuality are not one and the same thing.

I'd heard that Grey Ranks, by Jason Morningstar, made use of a grid arrangement as well. So I've bought a copy of the game, albeit in PDF format, to find out what he's done with it. I already have the basic concepts of my grid, but there's always a chance that his could be better than mine. If so, I would need to figure out whether I should bother making a game, or whether I should simply write a supplement for Grey Ranks rules.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Why make a game?

I've been thinking more about Nobles of late and trying to answer the question, "Why am I making this game?" I could be spending my time making adventures and scenarios instead. I could be spending my time finding more players. So why make a game?

The first thing to say is that I have no intention of making money from this game. I'm toying with the idea of just giving it away as a free PDF, or perhaps as a low-cost PDF through IPR. Nobles is not (at the moment) a game of quality equal to something like Spirit of the Century, or Dogs in the Vineyard. I don't expect that it will ever get to be that good, because that's not why I'm doing it. Also, I quite like my current employment and don't really want to invest the time to promote my game and change careers to Game Designer.

Secondly, I'm designing this game to better understand how games work. I thought about trawling the Forge and reading all the threads on game theory and game design, but I would much rather learn this by doing. I want to try and design a game that includes various features, that does the thing I want it to do. By making a game, I get to learn it the hard way, but I will learn it the complete way. The end result should be better games for my players.

Ultimately, I don't expect to become a game designer (although the story of how Kill Puppies for Satan led to Dogs in the Vineyard plays with my mind a bit), but I want to become a better GM. Making a game is part of my plan. As Judd Karlman would say, this is hitting the heavy bag.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Local press coverage for GenCon

It's a tiny article, so I'm glad that my wife scours the paper every week for things to read. Nevertheless, the local tabloid has an article on Gencon Oz.

So, for as long as you don't mind reading what Uncle Rupert has published, and for as long as that link continues to work... click away. Perhaps a higher number of clicks will encourage them to write more stories about it.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Gencon Oz schedule is up!

The Gencon Oz schedule is up and the Indie Games Explosion is there. Get yourselves some tickets now and play the best games you never knew existed.

The other Secret Project (tm) is not yet up. I'll let you know when the cat is allowed to come out of the bag. Until then, the cat stays there.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Car Wars ?!?

I know that this blog is primarily about indie games, but for a change this one is also going to be about Car Wars. Yes, that quaint little map game about gladiatorial vehicular combat. Sometime in 2007 I bumped into another Brisbane guy who likes to play the game, and now he's working on a kind of Car Wars revival. Cool. I always enjoyed playing that game. There's a lot of suspense and tension in it, and the deaths are usually a spectacle worth enjoying (in true gladiatorial style).

I think Car Wars succeeded in creating a sense of tension when it was played quickly. However, it's all too easy to get bogged down in a lot of extra rules and concepts. For anyone out there wanting to improve their Car Wars experience, play it fast. Plan your moves while the other people are taking theirs. The faster you take the move, the better the experience for everyone involved. This will happen more easily if you design your car with a strategy in mind. Take that strategy to the table and play it to the limit. Don't change your mind, just play the car for all it's worth.

This also applies to something like Spirit of the Century. When you design your character, it will have a small number of key strengths based on aspects and the top three skills in the pyramid. Play them. Play them hard. That's what your character is about, so ham it up and go for it. Is the apex skill Fists? Then punch the villains. Is it Science? Then make declarations about all sorts of things to do with the physics of the strange doomsday machine. A fast-paced game relies on minimalism rather than complexity. It may sound one-dimensional, but it's the sacrifice one makes for action. Even in film this is true. A complex story about complex characters will have a lot of dialogue and monologue. Not much action. However, make the characters simpler and you'll get more action in the film. Take this to your games and have fun.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

American Convention Season

I see that the American Summer convention season has started with GTS. Everything's starting with a bang. IPR is well represented - thankfully - with a booth. Check out Fred Hicks' blog for a great photo of it.

My plan is to make use of Gencon this year to get a sense for others who are interested in my style of gaming. And by "my style" I mean the short-run games with a handful of sessions, based around different kinds of stories and different kinds of mechanics. So Gencon will be about a lot of networking with other GMs and game stores. When I can find a good venue, we'll kick it off.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

More Brisbane Roleplaying - NOW!

I don't make new years resolutions, I make plans.

My new plan is set around finding more people with which to play indie games. I'm not really looking for a campaign, but I'd really like to play different games that do different things. Furthermore, I want to run these games. It's not just playing, but running them that really interests me.

Do you play roleplaying games?

Do you live in the Brisbane area?

Do you want to try some indie games?

The comment space is yours, completely without moderation.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Indie Games at GenCon Oz

I feel quite encouraged by the folks organising GenCon Australia. They seem to be quite responsive to the efforts of a few of us indie games folks and are coming up with ways for us to promote indie games (ours, and others). I can't give out details at this stage, but I can say that I'm keen for it and that if you're looking for indie game events, either as a player or a developer, then there will be plenty of opportunities for you at the con.

Make sure you drop by the tables.


Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Nobles following Mythender

It seems that Ryan Macklin has found himself in a similar position to me. Unbeknownst to you, faithful reader, I have struck an impasse in my development of Nobles. Should I make it a fully fledged RPG or just a battle game? Ryan is asking himself the same question about Mythender.

As it turns out, I had planned to take the same path. Develop the components and build an RPG on top of them. It's taking its time (in and around some more philosophical commitments) but I still plan to have a small A5 staple version ready for GenCon Oz 2008.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Nobles - The Power 19

I started working on the Power 19 list for Nobles on the weekend. Nobles is in a state of flux at the moment. I had a core mechanic that I had playtested and it seemed to work just fine. And then I had an idea about how to expand it and now I need to go through a structured process in order to make sense of it all.

The key was that originally Nobles was a game played between Nobles who were warring to claim the title of High King. And then I saw yet another documentary about the victory of Henry V at Agincourt and everything was up for grabs again. The key detail was to do with how nobles were treated in battle. In that time, such people weren't executed in battle but were captured for a ransom. This single fact now insists on being part of Nobles and I'm thrown back to the start again, with a war mechanic that works well, but with several unanswered questions. So now I'm in the process of adding a number of features to the game, including (but not limited to) a scoring system, four paths to the throne, treaties and the discovery of assassins. The last one is causing me the most problems. I have some ideas about how to implement it, but have settled on none of them thus far.

More to come as Gencon Oz approaches.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Supanova

I picked up a flyer for Supanova on the weekend. Last year I only went as an observer. I didn't run any games, but I took my nephew along and returned with a couple of pieces of Madman merchandise and several photos of some cosplay people. I can't imagine myself getting into that hobby, but I'm always impressed by good cosplay.

So this year I've promised to take my nephew again and we'll have a cool time, and I'm also thinking about returning at a separate time to check out some more goodies, maybe play a couple of demo games or just hunt for indie games fans.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Gary Gygax Fails Saving Throw

Not my headline. Not my usual kind of game, but D&D Creator Gary Gygax Fails Final Saving Throw: Dead at 69 says a lot. I started on RPGs with AD&D, about 20 years ago. Thank you, Gary, for such a start.

I think we should have a game to commemorate a life that brought us all such joy.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

GenCon Oz and Australian Tourism?

Dorky, but ultimately pretty cool. Check out this fansub for GenCon Oz promotion. Kudos to Daniel Perez for it.

The Event Is In!

Indie Games Explosion has been submitted to GenConOz. I'm thrilled! We won't be the only ones running independent games there, but that's the point. We want to be part of it, making the games happen and increasing exposure for the talented and creative types out there who have invested so much into creating these great games.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Nobles? Chilvalry?

So I started thinking about Nobles the other day and realised that there is the possibility that I could do so much more with the game. As it stands, it's a simple card game that covers the battlefield, but the more I think about it, the more I see that I could actually make this into a game about the code of chivalry. It's time to hit the research pages and see whether that's really what I want to do.

And if all goes well, I'll have a version to playtest at GenCon.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

GenCon Oz Publicity

There are only five months to go until GenCon Australia becomes real. I don't think I can convey just how excited I am about this. The chance to play games with such a wide range of people is something I can only imagine.

With that in mind there are a two things to say about it. The first is that the previous name of "Games On Demand" has been dropped and instead we're going with Indie Games Explosion. Since we're going to model the event after an existing event in the US GenCon, we may as well steal the name too.

The second item to pass on to you is that we're starting to raise the profile of the IGE on various message boards. Take a look around the usual places for indie games and you'll get more details about it. You'll also see the same details here, so if you're lazy you can just check back here.

See you at GenCon!

Friday, 1 February 2008

GenConOz: Games on Demand

I think I've narrowed down my list for GOD to just three: Spirit of the Century, Agon, and Don't Rest Your Head. I'd honestly like to run more, but I think I won't be able to practise enough between now and then to ensure that I can run a decent game.

Honestly, I think that DRYH will be the most difficult of all of them for me to run, because it is the least crunchy of the lot. Agon has such a simple heroic premise that it's easy to ensure group motivation. SOTC is similar in that regard, but DRYH is the one that still confounds me a little.

Sounds like a worthy challenge, if you ask me.

Friday, 11 January 2008

How I should have handled the chase in Agon

I've been stewing over this for a few days now and have finally figured out how I should have handled a particular scene in last weekend's game of Agon. This is the situation. One of the heroes (Cronos, son of Gorgos) had been scouting around a village and had set off a trap. The trap wounded him and also raised the alert that he was there, so a conflict ensued. Cronos decided to use Cunning and try to sneak his way out of trouble rather than run his way out of trouble (Athletics).

What I should have done was call for a contest of Cunning and suggested that Cronos find some creative abilities (e.g., Athletics) to add to the roll. As the Antagonist, I should have paid strife for an advantage for the pursuers because of their superior numbers and perhaps increased it to 2d8 opposition.

The second key thing that I should have done was spend more time defining the outcomes of the contest. That is, a Cronos victory should have enabled him to escape whereas a Cronos loss should have resulted in a capture - including disarmament.

And the third thing I should have suggested, but not insisted on, was invoking Hubris when Cronos lost the contest (which he did, and then refused to give up his weapons).

As the Antagonist/GM I didn't handle this very well and the story stagnated for a few minutes. I will take this as a learning experience and should know better for our second game. The guys at the Durham3 are of the opinion that it's not until the third session of a game system that everyone gets on top of the rules and makes them start to sing.

So there's only one more dodgy session to go. Yes!

Monday, 7 January 2008

The aftermath of Agon

My monthly indie game took place over the weekend and I'm happy to say that we all enjoyed it. For a first game, I spent surprisingly little time flicking through the rule book and I think that's testament to John Harper's work in keeping the concept simple. Of especially good use were the reference tables available for download from the Agon site. They saved us all a lot of time.

I won't go into the details of the first quest, but I feel that I timed it well enough. What I need to do better next time is throw more Strife at the heroes. They were simply too strong for the NPCs and minions that they encountered. With one cautious player and one gung-ho player it wasn't long before the cautious player was using the gung-ho player as a shield.

The only other snag that I feel we hit was with regards to persuasion. In a contest of Oration (seems to be the most appropriate ability), when the heroes win there was no doubt that the NPCs would have to fold. However, if the heroes lose there is nothing to force them to submit to the goal of the NPCs. I think I might need to make it more clear that when the dice are rolled, it is a branching point in the story. I think I also need to frame the scene and the contest better to ensure that the players don't simply say, "No, I'm not going to do that, no matter what the dice have rolled." I will have to be more explicit in laying out the consequences of winning and losing a contest.

Mistakes that I made
  • Armour impairments can be removed during an interlude, as with any other ability
  • The Shield ability should be used during combat
  • Defeated minions are only worth 1 glory, without adding the Strife cost
  • I didn't spend Strife correctly

Other things that I will change next time
  • NPCs will be fewer and more powerful
  • Objectives will be more linear
But there will definitely be a next time. Oh yes indeed.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

At Last, the Agon

Today is the day I get to try out Agon for the first time. This should be an interesting exercise since none of the three of us who'll be playing have played it before. I'm especially interested to see how the competitive aspect of Agon plays out. There'll be cooperation, but how much? I'll put a play report up sometime later.