Monday, 26 January 2009

Space Rat - Character Creation

This is the first in a series (a series which might be punctuated by diversions) about Space Rat: The Jack Cosmos Adventure Game (henceforth known just as Space Rat).  This is one of only a few Australian-designed indie games that I know about and I think it's worth some love in the blogosphere and also on your gaming table.  So stay with the feed for more.

Just for now, I'm going to let you know what I like about the character creation for Space Rat.  I think it has three main strengths to it.

1. It's quick.
Very quick, in fact.  For my style of gaming, this is important.  I need my players to be able to get up and running with a game quickly, and the important contribution that they make at the start is the character.  Making a character in GURPS or Champions or Burning Wheel takes some time and energy, whereas Space Rat characters (the Femme Babes) can be done in less than 15 minutes.  After that, you can start playing - assuming that the GM will let the players know the key rules as they arise during play

2. It gets the players thinking about the game in terms of prose, not numbers.
With the highly numerical games (see previous list) there is a lot of emphasis on the numbers, on the quantified aspects of the characters.  Immediately this frames the game for the players in terms of comparisons.  For Space Rat, there are very few comparative descriptors on the character sheet.  The bulk of it is text, written by the player to describe the character.  The other clever part of this is that you only need to underline the words in the paragraph to make that clause part of the character.  Compare against Spirit of the Century.  I've seen players have no trouble coming up with the novels for the phases of character creation, but then having some trouble putting an Aspect from that story into words.  Now, Space Rat is certainly less complex than SOTC, but the translation from text block to aspect (for want of a better word) is as easy as an underline.

3. It has a strong connection between the character and the story.
Because the characters are two-dimensional cliches (it's a comedy game - you need cliches for comedy) there isn't much clutter on the character sheet.  Therefore everything on that sheet can appear in every game.  Between the player and the GM, there's no reason that it can't all fit into the plot without feeling forced.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Indie Game Designers in a Recession

Under the current global economic conditions, I've begun to wonder about the viability of RPGs as a revenue stream.  Admittedly, they aren't a  prosperous revenue stream in the first place, but with the recession now upon us I feel that this has some wider implications.


If I look at the relationship between RPG Supply and Demand, I suspect that we have more supply than demand.  The IPR practice of taking stock as consignment is clever and lets them ride out these fluctuations.  Keeping 200 copies of Spirit of the Century on the shelf was a good idea 6 months ago.  Today, keeping 200 copies of other (less popular) titles on the shelf is going to cause cashflow problems.  We are in a situation of over-supply, I believe, but I don't think this is a problem for the indie game designers.


Indie games are designed and published with small scales in mind, and most importantly with few overheads.  The typical indie game designer does it with spare time, while being supported by a full-time or part-time income.  The cost of living is off the books, so to speak.  The very model used for publishing (print-on-demand, or PDF distribution) is actually the salvation of the indie game designer under current conditions.  Small print runs using POD, or even just selling PDF copies means low production costs, and it means that the designer/publisher can attempt to balance supply with demand.


The impact on the commercial RPG publishers isn't so rosey.  Already there have been retrenchments at WOTC.  The fear that spare cash will dry up has struck already.  That's sad for the staff who have had to go - no argument there.


But this allows the indie designer a glimmer of idealistic hope.  Design games because you want to, not because you need to.  Make the games interesting and clever.  And if you're really idealistic, make them cheap for people to buy.  After all, if we all lose our jobs, a good game of something cheap will let us spend time with friends without feeling compelled to spend lots of money in the process.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Don't Feel Your Fear - redux

I'm disappointed with my earlier effort at a Star Wars setting hack for Don't Rest Your Head, and this is my revision.

To start with, I want to use the DRYH system to represent the temptation for a Jedi to turn to the dark side of the force. Vader and Sidious often said that it was more powerful, and Yoda said that it's the easy path. Sounds like a temptation to me, and one which has a balance that creates tension for the story and the characters.

In the DRYH system, the function of Exhaustion and Madness is to tempt the players. More dice gives more power. Too many dice makes the character fall. The function of Discipline is to rein in the effects of Exhaustion and Madness and the function of Pain is to provide opposition to the character's actions. To convert this to a Jedi story, we need to understand what tempts a Jedi. We get our clues from The Jedi Code and from some advice that Yoda gave to Anakin.

The Jedi Code

There is no emotion; there is peace.

There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.

There is no passion; there is serenity.

There is no chaos; there is harmony.

There is no death; there is the force.

Yoda's Advice

"Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is the path to the Dark Side."

From these, I would nominate that the two temptations for the Jedi are Darkness and Passion. They fit into DRYH like this.

Change Exhaustion to Darkness and change a Crash to a Taint.

Remember that, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Max out on Fear and you get a taint of the Dark Side (a point of permanent Madness)

Change Madness to Passion and leave a Snap just the way it is.

Anakin's slaughter of the Raiders as vengeance for the torture of his mother is a great example here. An option with which I'm toying is to eliminate the Flight response altogether, and require only Fight responses.

Don't change Pain.

Pain is still pain.

The last thing to do is work backwards to character creation. Standard DRYH questions can be inappropriate to creating the kind of Jedi Temptation stories I have in mind. They develop as follows:

Character Questions

"What's been keeping you awake?" becomes "What did you give up to become a Jedi?"

"What just happened to you?" remains the same.

"What's on the surface?" should be "How do you fit into the Jedi Order?"

"What's beneath the surface?" remains the same.

"What's your path?" relates to progression in the Jedi order or knowledge of the Force, the only two destinations for a Jedi.

There you have it. I hope to run this setting hack sometime this year, either at Go Play Brisbane, or at Gencon Oz. Your comments are welcome, especially if you think I've misread something about DRYH or the Jedi.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

2009 Wish List

It's a new year, hooray! I immersed myself in the arbitrariness of dates and years, only for as long as it took to reflect on my 2008 gaming life and generate a wish list for 2009. I couldn't really call these resolutions because I'm more opportunistic than planned with my gaming.

1. Run games for others, without necessarily organising them.
It'd be great to just say, "Hey, I want to run a game of X if you can organise the players, the time and the place" and have it happen. I think there's a prevailing perception that it's the GMs responsibility to organise everything, but it doesn't have to be that way. To that end, if you live in Brisbane and want someone else (that is, me) to run any of the following games for your group as a one-shot, let me know.
Don't Rest Your Head
Spirit of the Century
Space Rat

2. Organise another Go Play Brisbane - or two!
I had loads of fun with this and want to do it again, with more people. 'nuff said.

3. Run indie games at Gencon Oz
I had even more fun with this than with GPB. This is high on the list, and is scheduled around the time that my thesis is due. Go read Divine Trauma to follow that particular adventure. A lesser wish, tho far from a substitute, is to get to more local cons. If all goes well, I might even try to get to a Sydney, Melbourne or Newcastle con (to repay the huge favour).

4. Burning Wheel Campaign
All my gaming is convention style. It's one-shots all the way. If I was going to get into a campaign, I'd really enjoy Burning Wheel. Not sure if I'm keen to run it, preferring to play in it. Of course, I'm not sure how I'd go with timeslots (refer to previous comment about a thesis).

5. Try at least 2 new games
And by "new" I'd like to think that I'd find some gold from 2009. A worthy substitute would include good ones from years past, such as Primetime Adventures.

So that's my wishlist for 2009. Note that there's no mention of Nobles in there. As I've said before, I don't think I want to publish it; I just want to design it so that my own game skills get better. It's my DIY peek under the hood of game systems. Anyway, I hope to see you along the way as the genie grants me my wishes.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

First Blood - DRYH

So my first game of 2009 was Don't Rest Your Head. That should be of no surprise to regular readers, or anyone who speaks with me about gaming. For one reason or another, it was a game with only one player and I, and I was pleasantly surprised just how well it survived the intense focus.

I was also pleasantly surprised by certain in-law reactions to where I'd been all afternoon. Kudos to them.