Thursday, 24 December 2009

Monopoly as Horror

Right up front, here's what I'm arguing for: Monopoly should be viewed as a horror game that forcibly destroys and consumes all the protagonists. And now let me explain why I think that.

The basic form of Monopoly starts the players with cash and no property. They take it in turns to make random moves around a cyclic track. After each move they can make choices to buy property, sell property or modify property. Players are eliminated when they have no more property or cash, and eventually all wealth and property is controlled by a single player.

I'm going to abstract this by one step, removing some of the ostensible symbols along the way.

The movement of the players is cyclical and random. Control of when and how the players can move is not controlled by the players at all. Each player must move, there is no alternative. Furthermore, each player must move a distance that they do not determine. Imagine these same two conditions in something like a dimly-lit house or hedge maze and we begin to see the basis of the horror situation. Furthermore, in this game form there is no exit from the house or maze, and the player will encounter the same room or feature over and over again. The players must move when they are told, where they are told, and to the same locations over and over again.

Accumulation is a necessary phenomenon, forced by both the cyclical movement and the survival instinct. Failure to accumulate guarantees the destruction of that player. Embracing the phenomenon generates faster accumulation. But the accumulation comes at a price: the destruction of the other players. Accumulation is the means for the survival of the self as well as destruction of the other. Ultimately, the monopolising player accumulates enough power to become the final agent of destruction who - in a final act of empty horror - rules over all the possessions in a city inhabited by a trail of corpses.

So I return to my original point: Monopoly is a horror game. Players move against their will to places they didn't choose and which they will revisit repeatedly. They do this in order to become the means by which all other players will be destroyed, leaving only a concrete cemetery to rule.

It all seems pretty bleak at this point, but there's a little ray of hope hiding in the rules, a way to avoid destroying or being destroyed.

No one buys anything.

Continue the movement around the board and accumulate the cash, but don't exchange it for anything in the game. Pay the occasional fine from Community Chest or Chance as you must, but it won't ever be enough to drain all your cash. The way out of the horror of Monopoly is a cooperative effort not to buy anything in order that everyone survives.

I've no idea whether this was the intent of Monopoly (probably wasn't) but I think we can draw a parallel for the moral choice to compete or cooperate. The former leads to lonely desolation and the latter leads to community survival.

Even the worst games make moral statements, often unintended.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Wishes Come True

Back in January I posted my 2009 gaming wish list. Now it's time to see how many wishes came true.

1. Run games for others, without necessarily organising them.
This happened once in 2009, when I made it to Newcastle for the EGG meeting in August. All I had to do was turn up with a game ready to run. Nice!

2. Organise another Go Play Brisbane
Done. I didn't get around to organising the second one, though, on account of some other commitments. Watch for Go Play Brisbane in 2010.

3. Run indie games at Gen Con Oz
Done, done and done. With a giant d12 on a stick, and tables of gaming goodness, this was the gaming highlight of my year. It was coupled with two good seminars as well, in which the gaming prowess of others came to the fore. Honestly, it makes me feel good to be able to help others find new games or to design their own games.

4. Burning Wheel Campaign
This one didn't happen. However, there are still 7 days left in 2009 for me to at least try Burning Wheel.

5. Try at least 2 new games
Indeed! Poison'd, A Penny For My Thoughts and Zombie Cinema immediately come to mind. I'm glad I tried them. I'm still undecided about buying Penny, but the Aussie dollar is strong at the moment...

So that was my 2009 wishlist, just about wrapped up. It was ambitious and I didn't achieve all of it, but I managed most of it. 2010 has its own wishlist, and you'll just have to wait to find out what it is.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Chess, Warhammer Style

Turn sequence is an important part of any game. The order of initiative is established by some games to reflect the abilities of characters, and it's a common mechanism. The idea of each player taking a turn in sequence is seen as a fair system to arbitrate the activity of players. Nevertheless, it has some problems.

The biggest problem is the downtime for other players. In a group of four or more players, with complex characters in a system that allows for loads of options, any player who uses their turn to deliberate will enlarge the downtime for others. I've not yet read a game system that forbids this, meaning that the system allows for long, deliberate turns that make other players snooze or reach for books and other distractions.

Once, I heard an actual play recording of Escape Or Die! by Fred Hicks. The game includes a mechanism to help with this problem. Play moved around the circle, with each player framing a scene for the character on the left. In the background, a timer was counting down a number of minutes (one less than the number of remaining characters). If the timer expired, Doom was increased by one. The only way to reset the timer was to make a complete lap around the circle of players. Listening to the game, I enjoyed the tension of the doom clock and the chorus of "Doooooom!" when it reached zero. I also remember one player who liked to narrate long, drawn-out scenes and actions - oh the frustration! His penchant for elaboration chewed into that timer, leaving less and less time for others to play, but at the same time engaging the players because they knew they'd have less time to frame a scene and act it out.

Another choice is a game I've neither played nor read: Sons of Liberty. From what I can glean here and there, there are no turns, in the sense that I've discussed above. If you have cards in your hand that let you take an action, you can play your turn. If anyone spots an actual play recording of this, let me know. I can only imagine the potential chaos.

Board games typically make use of a turn sequence. Monotony, er... Monopoly is the classic example. It not only has a lengthening downtime, it also has a horribly demotivating death spiral. I don't play it for those two reasons. It's rarely fun for everyone.

If you're wondering about the significance of this on your favourite games, and perhaps thinking that I'm spilling a lot of pixels for no real benefit, consider changing the turn sequence mechanism of chess. Chess has alternating turns in which each player is allowed to move a single piece (complex moves like Castling notwithstanding). Now suppose you were to play chess with the same turn structure as Warhammer. Players take it in turns but on each turn can move every piece once. What does that do to your chess strategy? [1]

Perhaps take it further and apply a Sons of Liberty approach. You can move one piece at a time, but you can keep moving pieces as fast as you can move your hand from a finished move to another piece. What does that do to your chess game?

The mechanism for turn sequence has far ranging effects on the game. It's the framework for the framework, so to speak. In thinking about my own game-in-development, this is a key area I've yet to decide upon. At the moment I'm ruminating over the Escape Or Die! concept and a highly procedural concept (e.g., A Penny for my Thoughts). We'll just have to see how it goes.


Footnotes
1. Conversely, what would it do to your Warhammer strategy if you could move only one piece or squad in your turn?

Friday, 4 December 2009

John Cleese on Creativity

OK, all you budding game designers. Take about 11 minutes out of your day to watch this. It's John Cleese speaking about his experiences and thoughts on creativity. He has plenty of credibility in this area, as one of the Monty Python writers, so I hope you can learn from him for your own game design.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mature Appreciation

Something I've noticed about indie gamers (and especially indie game designers) is that they seem to bring a maturity to the table. I don't mean that they're immune to making fart jokes or anything like that, but that they seem more inclined to be there for the game and for the overall experience of the game as the designer intended.

I could go so far as to characterise this as a willingness to experience someone else's work. It reminds me of the approach taken by some art lovers who go to galleries in order to understand what someone else has created. It requires that the viewer make the effort to really see the piece, to know the context in which the piece was created, and to explore the feelings stirred up by the piece.

This is not my argument for the proposition that RPGs are art. What I'm saying here is that I've noticed in many indie gamers the same form of appreciation as is evident in people who appreciate art. It's a maturity that wants to understand someone else's opinion and perspective, and I like it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Practical Magic

I was reading through the Magic Burner tonight and am wholly intrigued by the idea of practical magic. For those who've not read it, these are rules that let you incorporate magic as an everyday thing, as something that most people use and that is mostly used for mundane things. Rather than making a cake, it's a magically tasty and magically nutritious cake. Rather than just forging a plough, the plough can magically cut through the strongest roots and dislodge stones in the soil.

It made me think of technologies like steam power, internal combustion and electricity. A long time ago people knew about steam and fire and electricity, but had no idea how to make it practical. Eventually we reached a point at which it was ubiquitous in daily life, but not quite beyond the understanding of most people. Particularly, I think of internal combustion engines. The basics of that engine have been understood for decades and there are people all over the world who tinker with it in sheds and garages every day.

So what would an RPG setting with this feature look like? One option is that practical magic became so widespread that technological innovation would never take place. The problems solved by steam, petroleum and electricity would be solved by magic. But imagine the governmental approach to it: a magic utility company, funded through taxation and with the mandate to ensure that the magic is available, regulated and safe. Or consider the free market, in which magic items are not potions of invisibility, but potions of stain remover. If magic were principally practical and mundane, it would feature in a game in an entirely different way to other fantasy. It would almost be invisible, but it would give such flavour to the game setting.

I want to play this.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

RPGnet review of Poison'd

For a little more about Poison'd (if your interest was piqued by my earlier remarks) then take the time to read this review.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Cthulhu Art

I'm no fan of Cthulhu literature (haven't read any), but this pic was too good not to share.



cthulhu rising by *nebezial on deviantART

Go Play Brisbane

Dates for the 2010 Go Play Brisbane will soon be available. Go see the website at http://goplaybrisbane.wordpress.com for details.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A target date for the Dresden Files

After all the waiting, the folks at Evil Hat have set a target date for a release of the Dresden Files RPG. That's not necessarily the final date for when people can get their hands on a printed book of the game, but a date when people can get their hands on something playable and complete. Read the announcement for the details.

I've restrained from criticising the whole venture (DFRPG = Don't Finish a Role Playing Game?) for a couple of reasons. Evil Hat has produced some of my favourite games. They also set a very high standard for themselves. They continue to persist with gaming and the nay-sayers of the gaming community, giving great advice on designing and running games. Lastly, I don't see the point of bringing people down when they're sincerely trying to produce something good and are met with more delays and complexities than expected. I'm not their boss, I'm just a customer. My feedback is useful, but not authoritative. The DFRPG has a long history of mistakes that you can read about elsewhere. Go and vent over there if you must, but only after you've read the story.

Of course, I always wondered about whether the One Bad Egg project would distract from DFRPG. Officially it didn't - the lead developer for DFRPG isn't part of One Bad Egg. Since I have nothing to do with the creative processes of the Hat, I can't argue against it. I can only wonder. It's just horribly circumstantial that the announcement of the end of One Bad Egg was followed so closely by the announcement of DFRPG target dates.

I've also wondered whether it was a good move to delay release because Jim Butcher seems to write faster than Evil Hat. Perhaps a publishing model that included a core rule book and supplements could have been used to deal with this. A supplement for each novel in the series, or one supplement for two or three novels, could have provided an ongoing product line. Still, I can only speculate. If you know of any commentary on this, can you post a link in the comments of this post?

Overall, I think this is a good move by Evil Hat. The DFRPG has been in development for a very long time and has generated a lot of passionate and toxic argument on the internet (and elsewhere, I'm sure). With all the lessons learned in marketing (discussed at length by Fred Hicks in several podcasts over the past couple of years) I think this will be a well managed, if not formulaic, release.

My expectation is influenced by my experience with Evil Hat games, blogs and podcasts; as well as by the disappointment of the long development time. Nevertheless, what I expect is a well produced game that has great content, robust rules and admirable publishing standards. The key people behind the project have a good track record with other games and also with steady improvements in their publishing ventures. If you're a fan of the Dresden Files, I expect you'll be pleased with this game when it comes out.

And sometime next year I'll find out whether my expectations will be met. Keep up the enthusiastic work, Evil Hatters.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Rules Sequence

I was writing the rules for Siege and it occurred to me that I had no idea how to order my table of contents, my text structure. I've seen roleplaying texts take various forms in the solution to this problem. Clearly this is something that requires a bit of thought and planning.

For now, the approach I'm taking is to sequence it according to what a player needs to know in order to play the game. Whether this will eventually be the structure for the final text remains to be seen. I can see some good reasons to keep it that way, however.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Go Play Brisbane

I think it's time to start planning the next one.

Watch the blog for an announcement about it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Writing a draft of the rules

I'm part of the way writing the rough and ready version of the Siege rules. It's an interesting exercise to do this, converting the concept into sentences. So far, I've learnt that it takes some considerable skill and text to be able to adequately explain a rule. What seems easy to understand in my mind needs to be easy to read and understand for someone else.

The other thing I've learnt is that by writing it down I can start to see what's missing. The image in my mind of how the game will play needs to translate to text. I actually have a mental picture of people sitting at a table, writing on paper, flipping over cards, rolling dice. It's wonderful guidance. I'll be able to explore that mental image (footage?) to find the game tools that are missing from the text.

This game is part of The Stockade project.

Friday, 2 October 2009

How Poison'd was Poison'd

At Gen Con this year I decided to bring Vincent Baker's game of Poison'd along. The con was due to fall on Talk Like A Pirate Day and I had no pirate games. Poison'd was preceded by a great recommendation from the podast community, so it was an easy choice.

During the con, it was run twice at the indie tables. Once was by me, and once by Jason. It wasn't quite the rollicking success I'd hoped. What I want to do here is explain what went wrong and how I plan to fix it next time.

Mistake 1: I ignored the primary rule of Vincent's games. From the little I know of his games and from reading his blog, Vincent wants people to remember that the fiction is first and last, with forays into the rules only where required. The fiction determines which rule to invoke. This relies heavily on the GM knowing all the rules and all the various elements of the fiction that are tied to the rules. I, unfortunately, made a significant and improper call in regard to combat when one side is clearly outgunning the other (e.g., "I whip out the gun and shoot him in the head!" to an unarmed person). By trying to force this through the combat and escalation rules, it left a sour taste in people's mouths. I should have used the rule for attacking a helpless opponent and had that been successful, immediately moved to the rules for mortal wounds.

Mistake 2: I let an inexperienced person run the game. My first group was told up front that I wanted to run the game, that it was my first time with the rules and that I would only proceed if they were willing to be my experimental group. 18 hours later, one of these players wanted to run the game and inherited all the same mistakes I made the first time. I should have said no.

Mistake 3: I didn't promote the use of Xs well enough. This is a game that requires characters to lose before they can win. More accurately, it requires that characters lose big before they can win big. Consequently, players were hesitant to drive the fiction in the directions required to stock up on the Xs. Ultimately, the character with the highest Brutality was triumphant. I should have pressed this point at the beginning of the game, and several times throughout the game.

Mistake 4: I didn't promote the ambitions well enough. The ambitions, especially of the sample characters from the game text, are set up to provoke conflict. A lot of conflict. And by achieving these ambitions, characters get to raise their Ambition stat. Consequently, the players didn't drive the fiction in those directions until too late in the session. I should have made these ambitions the core of the game, rather than relying on bangs to keep it all moving.

There are probably several other mistakes that I made, but these are the biggest and most embarrassing of the lot. I've not done any justice to Vincent's game and I apologise to him and the fans of Poison'd for this. I really want to play this game again, but I'm afraid that I may have a tough time trying to find players now because of my mistakes.

Damn, bugger and blast. I'm really sorry, Vincent.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Out of control

One element that I want to bring into the experience of Siege is a sense of being out of control. The Police player must feel as though his character doesn't control the whole situation. If the Police did, there would be no danger to the Hostage. Likewise, the Hostage player must feel out of control because the Hostage is in peril. And the Hostage-taker (still working on a better name - suggestions are welcome) isn't in control, otherwise they'd have what they were demanding.

To facilitate this, many of the narrative declarations about characters will be contributed by the other players. In doing this, the player will experience the unfolding of secrets and facts, as well as the uncertainty of being out of control.

This game is part of The Stockade project.

Monday, 28 September 2009

A Good GM

It may surprise you to learn that one of the many podcasts I listen to is the WOTC podcast for D&D. Not very indie of me at all, I'm sure. So when you get over the shock of my class betrayal, continue reading.

The aspect of the podcast that I want to bring to your attention is an example of great game mastery. Currently, the podcast is a series of actual play episodes with a WOTC GM (Chris Perkins), the Penny Arcade guys, Scott from PvP and Wil Wheaton. Not only is it hilarious (with much foul language), it contains the work of a great GM. Listen carefully to what he does.

Knows the rules - quickly! The players want to try something and Chris very quickly has an answer. He doesn't let the rules get in the way of the game. Where necessary, he involves the players for the text on their powers and abilities, but only to help them know how to use those powers.

Evokes without cliche. NPCs have voices and attitudes, but they aren't crappy cliches like a bad 80's fantasy movie. His rendition of a bar-wench and of a dwarven warrior are great, without making me cringe.

Lets the players shine. This crowd has a particular sense of humour. Chris gives the players enough material to work with to make the snappy jokes, the one liners, and the moments of exultation that they enjoy about their games.

Keeps the adventure moving. This game doesn't bog down. If a combat takes a long time, it does so with interesting components. It's not long and boring, it's long and interesting.

Makes NPCs multi-facted. NPCs almost never attack with a single attack type, they use everything available to them. This is partially (I suppose) to advertise to the listener about all the great features of D&D, but it makes for great listening. When the NPC has a turn, it's not always with the same weapon or spell, it's one from a wide variety of actions.

If you are a GM and have time for podcasts, I strongly recommend listening to this and critically analysing the GM techniques. You'll learn a lot.

And to Chris Perkins, well done. You're a great GM.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Other People's Memories of Gen Con Oz 2009

After a little trawling around the place, here are a couple of YouTube vids form the cosplayers point of view. Always impressed by this crowd.



Thursday, 24 September 2009

Initial comments about Siege

Siege is a game that will capture the feel of a siege-based movie. It will play through in a single session of two to three hours, with no preparation beforehand. Just like a movie, facts about the characters will be revealed in play, making the players just as much audience as they are story-makers.

Characters in this game will take the roles of Police, Hostage or Hostage-taker. With more than three players, some of these roles will have more than one character.

Throughout the game, as facts are revealed about characters and situations, characters will gain advantages over other characters. These advantages could relate to the situation, such as "The doors are wired with explosives" or relate to characters, such as "I know that you've embezzeled from the pension fund." It will be up to the players to create these advantages and then to react to the advantages that others have over them.

The whole game will be forced into an end-game situation when any of the characters have nothing left in Resolve or Patience.

That's it for now. I have several mechanisms in mind to facilitate all these, and I hope to have a quick set of rules available soon to start playtesting with some amiable people.

This game is part of The Stockade project.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Siege is my new project

So at Gencon I joined in the mad project of The Stockade and have in mind to take a game from idea to playable publication for Gencon 2010. I'll be posting about its progress here, rather than at a separate blog, but all the relevant posts will be tagged as Siege.

What's it about? You'll just have to keep this feed in your RSS reader to find out.

Gen Con Oz 2009 is over!

Four days of gaming.

That's a lot of gaming. I really only did two days of it. Day 1 was all about finalising some printing and assembling a Giant D12 On A Stick. HUGE thanks go to Mark Peric and Worldwide Printing at South Brisbane for this. Great result. If you're looking for art for your game, contact Mark Peric. Here he is finishing the assembly work.


Days 2 and 3 were all about indie games on demand. So many gamers, all having fun. I was booked to run for all six sessions, but Lon Teal volunteered an extra session on Saturday morning, leaving me to wander the trade hall and pick up some minis. Bargain! Of the five sessions, I ran one game of Poison'd and four of Spirit of the Century. People love that game. I need to run Poison'd again. It was my first attempt at it, and I'm sure I made mistakes. This is one of my gaming groups, posing at the D12.


The Friday surprise was finding someone in the trade hall that stocked indie titles. Lacuna, Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard... I finally bought my copies of Monster Burner and Magic Burner. Both last year and this year, people at our indie game tables ask whether these games can be bought at the show. And now Games Paradise have stepped in. Calling cards were exchanged. Watch this space for more!

Sunday was a great surprise for me. The War Stories seminar with Mark and Nathan provoked some great questions from the audience. I just carried the microphone around, but people were taking notes everywhere. I'm looking forward to the games that come from this.

The other Sunday surprise was the Game Design Roundtable. Over two hours we managed to go through five games. One was about a royal loss of innocence, as David brought Dirty Princesses to the room. Timothy Ferguson brought a game about competitive running of a resort, complete with dirty tricks and vice. He walked in without knowing if it should be a board game or an RPG, and he walked out considering whether it should be a card game. Sam brought a computer game about giant monsters. I wasn't expecting a computer game, but the process worked well for him as well. Samuel (another one) joined in with his game idea about high fantasy mages, and was almost recruited for Ars Magica. Lastly, Steve Darlington finished off the session with his espionage game idea, and I'm keen to see whether he leaves the super powers in there.

Had a great time and have every intention of doing it all again next year.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The 3-2-2 Rule

There is a rule of thumb that's around in the gaming world: the 3-2-1 rule. That is to say, when attending a gaming convention each day should have a minimum of 3 hours sleep, 2 square meals and 1 shower. Paul Tevis denies that this is his, but no one can find earlier usage of it ... apparently.

Despite that, this is almost good enough advice. I want to add another shower to the list, though. Or at least a can of deodorant or some cologne in each backpack.

I'm glad that the Brisbane Convention Centre has high ceilings and good ventilation. 3-2-1 might just be enough!

Hope to see you (not smell you) there.

Gencon Oz Schedule

Just before Gencon Oz kicks off, here's the summary for where I'll be.

Thursday
This is my only time to see the trade floor, and I think I'll only get to see it in the afternoon. The morning will be full of last-minute preparations for indie games on demand. Not sure what I'll buy. Last year's haul included Campaign Coins and WOTC miniatures (D&D and Star Wars). I look forward to it in eager anticipation.

Friday
Indie. Games. On. Demand. This is my entire day, from before the 10am session through to after the end of the 6pm session. I'll be at the tables from about 9am to 9:30pm. These are some of our busiest sessions, I hope we can fit you in.

Saturday
Same as Friday. I'll be there from setup to pulldown. By the end of it we will have offered about 2o-something different games from 8 GMs, 4 concurrently-running games, 5 players per game. I'm going to need lozenges.

Sunday
I'll be hosting the 9am session called War Stories and then the 10am session (2 hours) called Game Design Roundtable. If you want to take your game from idea to print, these three hours are thoroughly worth your time.

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

And we're back .. just in time

Rabid readers of my blogs will know that I've been largely preoccupied this year. I'm overjoyed to say that I managed to knock it off the list in time to prepare for Gencon Oz. There is still a lot to do, but somehow in September I managed to get that finished, spend a week in China for work and finish organising Indie Games On Demand.

So turn up! Get along to Gencon and play them thar games. I'll even be offering Poison'd in my menu, and you can play it this Saturday, which is Talk Like A Pirate Day. Don't say we don't think about these things.

Monday, 24 August 2009

E.G.G. A Penny For My Thoughts

The final game I played in my trip to the EGG this month (apart from the catch-planes-on-time game) was A Penny For My Thoughts. This indie games darling of 2009 has received a lot of press since its release date was announced, probably because the Evil Hat crew have honed their skills in marketing over the years, and also because the author, the editor and the layout-er (?) all have podcasts and significant web presence. In other words, if you followed the American indie games scene at all in 2009, you know about A Penny For My Thoughts. You couldn't miss it.

I went into the game with a little trepidation, fearing that it might be over-hyped, and came out the other side with good news. The experience I had playing this game was unforgettable and left me wanting to play again, though not immediately. Read on to understand why.

The game mechanisms are simple, and they effectively allow the players to take key points of the plot and connect them in creative ways. They also drive the game directly to the narrative, rather than being mired in the paraphrenalia of the game itself. Because of this I, as a player, wasn't distracted by the gaming artefacts and could get involved in the story.

The game experience managed to engender a sense of wonder and curiosity, partially because I was interested in understanding this new game, and also because the game immediately places the players into the fiction. As a GM who plays mostly convention style games I've often had to start a session by explaining the rules. Conversely, in Penny, this is written to be part of the game and means that I had the sense of being in the fiction (a patient being treated for memory loss) straight away.

I think that the group I was with didn't quite do justice to the first of the three recollections: Recall a pleasant memory. We followed the rules of the game well, but during the first part of the turn, the leading questions (followed by the "Yes, and...") were almost all dark or sad. I don't think that we, as players, stepped up to the task properly and created a pleasant memory out of those facts. The end result was that all the stories in our group featured empty-souled delusions and depressions, or were more at home on Jerry Springer's "Worst of Springer." Herein lies the challenge of the game for me as a roleplayer (GM and player). Learn to take the ingredients from other players and turn them into something more than the sum of parts, to turn them into a story. This dialectic is the challenge that I experience when I run Don't Rest Your Head, and is the technique I most need to work on. A Penny For My Thoughts is a good workout.

So, where to from here? As a group we discussed it afterwards and concluded that the vanilla Facts and Reassurances document could go in dangerous directions, and that before playing the game some boundaries should be set between players to identify topics which should be excluded. By "dangerous" I mean that the game could stir deep emotional traumas in the players, and that bringing them to the surface in pseudo-therapy could do more harm than good.

I want to play this game again, with different Facts and Reassurances and also with the question that was implied in the recent episode of Narrative Control: "Was I there too?" Or perhaps, pointing to another player, "Was she there too?"

If you like your roleplaying game to spend most of its time in the fiction, and you like the challenge of weaving diverse and disconnected story elements into a single narrative, then you will enjoy A Penny For My Thoughts.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Nobles Sent

I mentioned before that Nobles was ready to be published. This little study in game design helped me to appreciate more about games and gaming. Perhaps the best lesson I learnt from this is to know what the boundaries of a game are, and to make sure that the game owns that space.

It's like knowing that chess is a battlefield strategy game, and that it's not a game about building train routes. Chess has its focus and should stay there. Even one famous alteration to chess still ensures that it's a battlefield strategy game.

If you want to see Nobles in print, you'll have to wait for the next issue of Here Be Gamers Extra and then print it yourself. Sometime in the future I'll make it available as a standalone PDF too.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Gencon Indy - Occupancy Rate

Over at the indie games on demand News page, I sometimes update the figures for occupancy of our events. The last time I checked it was around 18%. With 5 weeks to go, I thought that this was a reasonably good rate. By the time Gencon Oz started in 2008, we were booked solid.

For the sake of comparison, I went to the Gencon Indy site and browsed around. Courtesy of the event guide in CSV format, I ran the same numbers for the whole convention. Here is some interesting information for you.

Maximum number of tickets for events: 140,235
Number of hours of gaming: 17,830.5

That's a lot of gaming.

And then I found the "Tickets Available" column and ran a quick calculation.

Number of tickets still available: 90,455

So the occupancy for the whole of Gencon Indy at the time the CSV file was last generated on the day that the convention opened is 35%.

Even with such a large convention, there are still a lot of people waiting until the last minute to get into a game. The 18% for indie games on demand looks even better than I had previously thought.

Friday, 7 August 2009

E.G.G. Zombie Cinema

The second game for the EGG day was Zombie Cinema. A lot has already been said and written about the neat packaging of this game (a VHS box) so I'm only going to say that holding it in my hands was a great experience. It's quite the artifact, but I think I had hoped for some more zombies on the cover.

The game itself is clever for a lot of reasons. First, it's easy to learn. I think it only took 5 minutes to explain the rules. Second, it's highly narrative. The words of the narrative determine the rules which are called into play and it's through the narrative that players get involved. The dice and tokens are (principally) a secondary concern, being led by the narrative. Thirdly, it's clever because it blurs the line between the characters and the audience, with decisions to be made at the level of the character and the level of the player/audience.

The simplicity of this game make it a great little pickup game, and a game that I could easily play with non-gamers. I think this one might join my game collection.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

E.G.G. Spirit of the Century

In my last post I said that I ran a game of SOTC for the E.G.G. August meetup. These are my reflections on it.

I used the session to test the adventure I'll have on offer for indie games on demand. It's a clever little adventure, playing around the numerical significance of January 1st, 1901. I brought some partially generated characters to the table, the same ones I've used for SOTC cons in the past, with phases 4 and 5 of character creation left undone so that the players get the opportunity to try out character creation. This, as usual, worked OK. For Gencon I plan to bring new characters, and also to leave only phase 5 incomplete. This ought to give more time for play, without eliminating the experience of character creation. Also, the new characters are going to have a distinctly Australian feel to them, since the adventure is set in Australia. If you want to know more, register for Gencon and for indie games on demand. The end result was the classic SOTC kind of game, over the top, with zany narration and plenty of scope for the genre to shine.

Special thanks to Nathan and Jason for taking the time at the end of the session to give me feedback on what they enjoyed and what they didn't. There's nothing quite like constructive feedback to help a GM. Nice one guys! See you at Gencon. Go register for it!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Every Gamer? That's me!

I finally managed to reach the Every Gamers Guild meeting. Fantastic! Courtesy of some smarter travel arrangements than my previous failed attempt, I made it there and back in one piece. And because of Nathan Russell, I had a place to stay.

Ostensibly, the reason I went there was to see a local piece of architecture. At Gencon Oz 2008 the Novacastrians raved about it as the shining glory of their town planning. It stood proudly (prodly?) on the shoreline, fully exposed to visitors and locals alike. A quick look below (thanks to a Wikipedia photo file) reveals the artificial construct in question.

File:Newcastle view.jpg

But enough dicking around...

The game day itself was fantastic. I think I'll split some detailed thoughts into other posts throughout this week. It started with a game of Spirit Of The Century, a request from Riley. I ran through some ideas from the adventure I'll offer at the indie games on demand tables at Gencon this year. Second was my first game of Zombie Cinema in which I played a Russian housewife. Dodgy accents are fun. The gaming finished with a game of A Penny For My Thoughts, which stirred the same response from me as Grey Ranks.

And of course it was great to catch up with some familiar faces, as well as some new ones. Seems to me that Newcastle is a contender to become the gaming capital of Australia.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Nobles - Ready to be unveiled

In what's become something of a kata for me, my perennial project Nobles is about to be released. Details on the format will come in time, but it's on its way.

I say that it's become a kata because it's a little project that I maintained in order to understand how games work and how people and games interact. It's never been intended as a complex or rich RPG. Rather, it's the kind of exercise one engages in in order to perfect a single technique. Those techniques can be used at a later stage to produce something more complex and interesting, but that's a larger work which requires the basic technical components to be mastered first.

So, the little kata that I call Nobles will be ready and available soon for your tabletop gaming enjoyment.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Once more unto the breach

After my earlier fiasco at attempting to get to Newcastle, I'll be boarding a plane next weekend to get to the EGG for a day of gaming. Nice!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

That's how they roll

Just finished listening to the latest episode of That's How We Roll in which our intrepid hosts unleash their opinions in a rambling kind of way. Listening to it is like panning for gold. Scoop up a watery sludge from the bottom of the creek and start swirling. If all goes well, the gold nuggets will start gleaming in the sunlight.

And, to be sure, there is gold in this one if you are involved in gaming beyond being a player or a GM. That means any kind of involvement in the production of a game (writing, editing, art, and so on...), or the production of a podcast, or fanzine, or even organising a convention. From where I sat for this one, the nuggets are all about communication with the rest of the gaming diaspora.

At one level, though, the advice was a blend of customer service and ettiquette. Fred has been vocal elsewhere about the need for politeness in the face of negative criticism, and he continues it in this episode. I agree with him that part of the problem is the medium of communication: the distance and anonymity of the internet opens up space for people to behave in ways they wouldn't in a face to face encounter. So in amongst it all is Fred's plea for people to cultivate interest in the reasons for something rather than the reasons against something.

The other good nugget from the show is Chris' process for communicating about the Endgame mini-cons. Having run two mini-cons at a FLGS, I couldn't help but focus on this. Before I run the next one I know I'm going to have to prepare a checklist or something, just to make sure it all happens in the right order and that I don't miss a vital step.

So if you do more with your gaming than play or run games, go engage in the gold panning required for this episode of That's How We Roll.

Hiatus

I had a brief break from blogging. It turned out to be necessary but it's resolved now. On with the show.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Appreciate

For no reason other than appreciation, I wanted to draw your attention to a few people who continue to make indie RPGs interesting and fun. This is not a complete list, but it's a recent list.

Paul Tevis - for his ongoing podcasts and the (finally!) released A Penny For My Thoughts. Knowing that it took a couple of years to bring it from idea to publication is encouraging.

Fred Hicks - for continuing to produce top quality games, despite the taxing world of new parenthood. 7 months ago I became a dad and I put a lot of other things aside for my boy. I've no idea how Fred does it.

Nathan and Marty - for bringing an Australia gaming podcast to the world. If you're not listening to it already, you should.

John Harper - for inspiring me to continue with my low page-count game design ideas, and for gorgeous layout. Gah! My visual artistry couldn't even wrangle the scraps you throw on the floor.

Many many thanks to you all.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Fight Scenes

I watched the new Transformers movie on the weekend, taking the time to treat my wife and I to one of the lounge-style cinemas. We ordered some nachos and a couple of hot drinks to come in a little after half-way through the movie. Now nachos aren't the easiest things to eat, and it takes some hand-eye coordination to get the food with the right balance of ingredients, and put that food in the mouth. It's just tricky enough to force me to take my eyes off the screen.

I had to make a choice: watch the movie so that I don't miss anything, or watch the food so that I don't drop anything.

And this is the moment when I realised something about stories and plots, and how it has now affected the way I watch stories and the way I run roleplaying games. I remember, quite clearly, thinking, "It's just an action sequence. All that matters is who wins and what happens to the characters after the fight."

For the theorists out there, this is a case of Scene Resolution rather than Task Resolution. For me (in the here and now), the only importance of a fight scene is how it impacts on the plot, so much so that I can look away from the Michael Bay extravaganza of Optimus Prime battling half a dozen Decepticons by himself... just so I can each nachos, and I don't feel as though I've lost anything.

This is how I like to run games these days, but I hadn't expect it to have such an impact on the way I watch movies.

(By the way, if you liked the first Transformers movie, you'll like the sequel. Enjoy!)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

John Hodgman

This is, quite rightly, doing the nerdly rounds. Watch and enjoy.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Gencon Oz 2009 registrations are open

Just like the heading says, registrations are open for Gencon Oz. This time last year, they were about to close and there was a little panic around the place that events wouldn't fill. Still, the indie games explosion filled, and so did Michael Wenman's Eighth Sea. One of the workers at the registration booth made a comment to me on the Thursday that there were no RPG spaces left anywhere.

For 2009, I expect that the hall will be a little smaller and will have a feeling of being more densely packed. Even if the same number of attendees are there, the smaller space will increase the atmosphere. That's a good thing, for sure. The high ceilings, even though they carry away the odour of thousands of sweaty gamers, make the whole thing seem under-attended. But that's a trick of the eye. Thousands of people made their way to the con.

And dozens of them came to play indie games. I'm excited about it again this year. And this year the indie gamers will be much easier to find.

And no, I'm not going to tell you why I say that. You'll just have to register for gencon and see for yourself.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Freudian Slips are Intentional

I've said before that games make moral statements, right down to the design mechanisms. In fact, it's in the mechanisms themselves that the moral statements are made.

So I'm glad to see that it's also in the setting. Go read it for yourself and then reconsider why you want the orcs to be evil.


Monday, 15 June 2009

Indie Day

The fine people of Every Gamer's Guild are hosting their monthly game day on July 4th. In America this is Independence Day. In Newcastle, it's indie games day.

This is too good an opportunity to have an indie game with some people I haven't seen since Gencon 08, so I'll be going and running games. The sessions are only 2 hours long, so the games have to be punchy. At the time of writing, I intend to run Spirit of the Century and either Agon or Burning Wheel (perhaps The Sword).

SOTC will get a slight revision, though. I think I'll try it with only 5 aspects per character. I've found that in most convention games, about half of the aspects aren't used. Either they're not great aspects, or there are too many aspects for players to grasp in a short timeslot. I'll figure it out closer to the day.

And lastly, there is the potential for some after-hours gaming with a Secret Project I'm working on. Stay tuned.