Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Siege is running out of Patience

Siege, my game about a hostage situation, is running out of Patience. By the rules of the game I'll only be able to take physical actions soon. If you'd played the game or read the rules, you'd know what I mean. In the real world, I've set myself a project trigger point of the end of 2010. That would mark the end of a three month period for blind playtesting. The sad news is that no one has volunteered for this necessary part of game design.

Like any good project, there are certain conditions that tell us whether to proceed to the next point, revise and check again, or to cancel it. The end of 2010 is my deadline for this decision. So I'm on the final countdown to that point.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Gaming Bag

I'm seriously considering buying a dAPRO Digital Artist Backpack as my gaming bag. It's perfect for an iPad (where nearly all my game books are), a couple of books, character sheets, some dice and writing implements. I don't use props or minis very often, so I don't need to worry about lugging them around.

Monday, 13 December 2010

A new game design idea

I was struck with inspiration for a game project the other day. As usual, I've been looking around for existing systems which do something similar, or the same, rather than creating something new. The more I looked, though, the more I realised that it would have to be a new project.

So I started sketching some notes and this led me to my next conclusion. This project appeals to a single person: Me. I've tried explaining it to a couple of people and failed to generate enthusiasm. Either my pitch is poor, or the concept itself is unappealing as a game, or both!

The concept is a bit high, to be sure. Much like a lecture on the aesthetic philosophy of Kierkegaard, it will have its devotees but it will never draw the crowds of a U2 concert. I'll probably do it anyway, but only because it interests me.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Version Wars

One possible explanation of the version wars in games.
"Is there a schism between the folks who love color tattoos and those that like black & white ones? Or the fans of the original Star Trek who hate the folks who like the far inferior newer Star Trek models?" - Seth Godin, the bright line of small differences

The significant message from this is in the last paragraph: "The really good news is that the tribe cares."

When you're organising games, or writing games, or playing games, remember that the people you're playing with actually care about the game. They like the activity, and specifically this activity. That's an encouragement for any of the organisers in the gaming world out there.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Blind playtesting for Siege is still open

The blind playtesting phase of my Siege project is still open. I'm looking for people who will take the rules text and run the game with their group, and then to answer some questions for me about the game experience and the rules text.

All the details are available at the project page.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

What I said on ZedGames

As it turns out, 4ZzZ was having troubles with their podcast and live streaming but didn't discover this until the show was almost over. This is some of what I said.

Print-on-demand makes it easier to publish in smaller volumes, even though the production cost is higher per unit. This facilitates more innovation and more product choice.

Printed self-publishing isn't new, but POD allows people to print small volumes in sizes other than Letter and A4. Games discussed here included Don't Rest Your Head and Braunstein.

Publishing through PDF is a zero-cost production method, once development costs are recovered. I wish I'd mentioned the Free RPG Blog here.

Pricing for PDFs is wide and varied, from the expensive to the free. Games discussed: Houses of the Blooded, Dresden Files.

Bundles of book-plus-PDF are a great marketing exercise. Games discussed: A Penny For My Thoughts, and a plug for the Bits & Mortar Alliance.

PDF technology offers more than just a non-printed document. Linked text throughout the document is just one example. Games discussed: Happy Birthday Robot

Digital publishing is not limited to PDF. D&D Insider is an example of a specific application for the digital distribution of game rules and character creation. WOTC's move away from PDF to DDI is a way to guide people to WOTC content, without actually blocking third-party materials from being used in D&D. Games discussed: D&D.

The future of digital publishing is anyone's guess, but the untapped area is probably the realm of the app, especially the app that integrates rules, character generation, note taking and dice rolling. I couldn't remember the name of the iPad app at the time, but it's Dicebook.

Despite the availability of digital publishing, digital dice-rollers and apps for your smart-device-of-choice (including my confession as an Apple Hipster), the gameplay experience at the table isn't significantly altered. Minor changes are seen in the books we carry to the table, and perhaps the realisation that some players might be on twitter rather than checking a rule or engaging with the game. It's vital that in any RPG, the point is to engage in the social activity of story-making with the others at the table. Games discussed: None, but a big shoutout to Vincent Baker and his model of dice & clouds.

There you have it. We covered a lot, and thankfully it was more than print-vs-PDF.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Print and Digital Publishing on ZedGames

I'm to be a guest on ZedGames tonight, talking about the print and digital publishing avenues for games. Ostensibly it could be little more than another "print vs PDF" discussion, but I'm reasonably convinced that there's more to this than those two options.

Wow. Look at that alliteration.

Anyway, if you can tune in to TripleZ from 6pm (GMT+10), you'll hear my dulcet tones echoing out over the airwaves or via live stream.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Neoncon CreativeU

I've been watching the Neoncon CreativeU schedule build. It makes me both happy and jealous. Happy because I like to see conventions do more than just play games, and jealous because it's bigger and better than what we mustered together for Uprising.

So if you're able to get to Neoncon, you should go. It's bigger and better than what we did in Uprising. My jealousy is a recommendation.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Second Generation Gamer

Courtesy of Narrative Control and Theory from the Closet, I've discovered something about myself. Sean spoke about someone he'd gamed with as being a second generation gamer - the gamer child of a gamer parent. More of this happens with each passing year, as the generations who grew up with original D&D become parents and pass on the hobby to their kids.

Now, I've never thought of myself as a second generation gamer because I picked up the hobby from my older brother and he picked it up from his school friends. Put like that, it sounds like a virus, but that's just how it appeared in my life.

Or so I thought. The notion of a second generation gamer made me think of my father, the retired major, and then the penny dropped. It was another military man who had created Braunstein as a hobby offshoot from genuine military training exercises - wargames. And now let me tell you a little about my father.

He joined the British Territorial Army as a young man and served with them until he migrated to Australia, whereupon he immediately enlisted in the Australian Citizen Military Forces (later, the Australian Army Reserves). He continued in the service until forced retirement, and then spent an additional few years as an officer supervising the Australian Army Cadets. All told, that's fifty years in the civilian military forces. During his time in the Australian Reserves, he spent many years training officers, with specialisations in military history and wargames. He would set up the situation for the trainees, including terrain and mission objectives, and then provide them with responses to the actions that they took. Sometimes he would take a non-referee role and take control of the enemy forces, commanding them from a separate war room, set up in another tent or room of the barracks.

In gaming parlance, my father was a GM. Suddenly, all those years of making plastic models of battleships, WWII aircraft and miniature armies with him fall into sharp relief. When I look at him through gamer lenses, he's not only a GM, he's a support GM who looks after NPCs, he's a miniatures gamer, and leans quite heavily on the side of realism in his preferred rules[1].

I've always known this about Dad, and always thought his military interest sparked something in me too, but I've never appropriated the tag of "gamer" to describe him. When I do, it makes me a second generation gamer - a gamer who is now on a mission to find a game to play with his father.

1. Indulge me as I tell another story to support this. An area of special interest for him was the American civil war. He had studied it and used it in officer training, even down to the contour maps of the battlefields. About a decade ago, he made his first visit to Gettysburg and from his memory of the contour maps found General Lee's command post, pointed to another point short distance away, and remarked, "You know, if he'd stood over there, he would have won this."

Monday, 25 October 2010

First Skype Game

I played my first game over Skype the other day. Seemed to work well, and brings trust to the table like never before.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Free Nobles for Everyone

Now that I've finally caught up with the Blogger Pages, I've decided to put the rules for Nobles up on the web. It's free, free, free!

For those who came in late, Nobles is a card game about civil war. I made some posts about it while I put it together, but I haven't touched the rules since just before Gencon Oz 2009. I hope you can find the time to play and enjoy it.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Social Contract Theory

I keep hearing, from various podcasts and so forth, about the "social contract" at the game table. It's unfortunate that it's such a common comment, because it's actually a poor model for the activity of playing games. The good news is that I'm not going to bore you with my reasons. It's enough to say that it's a bad choice and that I wish it would go away from talk about playing games.

For further reading, please see the relevant article at the SEP.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Relationship Maps

I'm going to quote Steve D here, because this remark sums up the rest of the post.
Lots of games tell you to create a relationship map, but Smallville tells you how to do it.
So very true. I played Smallville at Uprising last weekend, and the very next day I ran a game of Don't Rest Your Head. I usually try to scribble my own kind of relationship map when people are crafting characters in DRYH but it's never quite been the most useful diagram. I could glean bits and pieces from it but not quite enough. When I used the Smallville conventions for relationship maps, my DRYH game had a shot in the arm. Things were much clearer for me.
And now I see on Story Games a short thread about the very same thing. The technique is trivial and easy to learn. If you're not already doing something like this, it's worth your time to investigate and learn it. I think your game will be better because of it.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Now blind playtesting for Siege

At Uprising I was reminded that I ought to do some blind playtesting for Siege. It's true. I've been slack about it because I wasn't confident that it was ready to share around. But now I'm ready to share it and find out how it plays in the hands of others.

So if you're interested, download the playtest guideline and then organise a game of Siege. Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sagefight as Madness Talent

This is my tongue-in-cheek mashup of Don't Rest Your Head and Sagefight. Enjoy, or even critique.

It began as a fun pasttime with friends. "Hai! Hai! Hai!" Each beat an opportunity to vanquish your opponent. Each pause the intersection of instinct and intent. And then, the strike! Touch their palm and they simply walk away.

But you played the game every day in your mind. As you walked down the street you could hear the beats of the movement all around you. The train. The joggers. The stock market. And now, even the universe itself has opened up its beat to you. That constant driving rhythm, like a drum in your mind, synchronising everything that exists like some great clockwork machine.

What can I do?
(1-2 dice) Synchronise yourself into the rhythm of machines and computers around you, able to see their patterns and predict their movement. Your chaos is one step ahead of their order. Not only do you know the machine, but you know the right place to tap and make the machine simply spin down to a quiet halt.

(3-4 dice) The ebb and flow of biological systems, as complex as they are, is as machine to you. From heartbeats to cell division, the interplay of these finely-tuned systems spins and loops according to fundamental chemical interactions, and you can dance to that beat. A double-step here and there and you can switch that bio-machine around. Stop a man's heartbeat or accelerate his cell division. Interrupt cancerous growths in their onslaught. Predict the flow of electrons throughout the neurons in her brain, and stay one step ahead.

(5-6 dice) Everything is part of the cosmic machine now. God wound up the spring and let all those untold trillions of wheels turn, and you can see them turning together. With the right tap you can bump the moon off its orbit, see the change in the stock market before it happens, or reach into a man's soul and tap so that he simply walks away from life itself. And no matter how far away you are when you do it, it's enough to disturb Officer Tock from his duties.

How does it break me?
Fight - Tap, tap, tap everything. Too many things are happening around you and the sounds of all those systems is like a thousand drummers playing a thousand different beats. You've got to make them stop, and you slide into a well-practised kata that makes anything near you stop and run.

Flight - A little error of judgment and the world has tapped you as adroitly as you normally tap it. The frenzy and flurry come to an abrupt stop, and quite calmly - perhaps mindlessly - you turn and walk away, far away.

How do I change?
Your sense of the spontaneous is slowly eroded by the relentless ticking. Everything is now a matter of watching for the pattern and then reaching into it to make it simply give up. The constant synchronisation of your body with the world around you has made your movements less and less fluid. Your movement becomes caught in the rhythm of Sagefight.

What am I becoming?
You erode the things around you by their capitulation, depriving them of their resolve and persistence. With no one around you to rage against the dying of the light, your own will to persevere collapses as well and as it falters, you can no longer tolerate determination or purpose in anything else. The feedback loop drains you of your self-discipline, and it is replaced by the instinctive drive to expose the fragility and futility of striving. You have become Damn Soulless.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


It really was the best three days of gaming in 2010. I know that sounds like a big call, but it's true. If I consider the quality of the gaming, the social aspects of the three days, and the depth of content from seminars and workshops, it tops the charts across the board. And if I throw in the amount of fun we all had? The charts just won't be good enough to handle the score.

I ran games of Siege and Don't Rest Your Head, and even managed to play in a game of Smallville, run by Steve D. With Nathan Russell, I finished the first Stockade project and launched new games into the wild. With the assembled game designer crowd, we started four more game design projects in the Game Design Roundtable. And I was even witness to the first ever Iron Chef Board Game Challenge, in which four board games were designed from nothing in just two hours - with the privilege of being one of the judges alongside guys from Monty Haul.

And best of all, I met new gamers and we made stories together.

Yep. It really was the best three days of gaming in 2010.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Siege is ready for Uprising

Siege is ready for Uprising. O lordy! Like most people who've worked on something, there are always parts that I want to fine-tune, but I need to leave them alone.

So if you're one of the lucky folks who are registered for my game of Siege on Friday afternoon, you get the play this puppy. Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Vocal Preparation for a Con

During the approach to GenCon Indy, I listened to a few podcast episodes that dispensed advice for the con-goer. With GenCon Indy in the rearview mirror, and Uprising straight ahead, I wanted to hand out some advice of my own.

Gaming is a vocal exercise for most of us. I've not yet met a gamer who played in sign-language, but if you do then you can probably disregard this post. For the rest of us, it's all about talking and listening. After a day or two of talking, your voice can be worn down quite a bit. Typically, the solution has been to reach for the lozenges. As Michael Franti lamented, that's the pop-a-pill culture shining through.

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, right? So here's the prevention in a few easy steps.

Warm up your voice on your way to the con.
Singers do it. Professional trainers and presenters do it. If you've ever heard John Farnham speak, you'll be able to hear the sound of a voice that's been taken care of for a decades-long singing career. The last time I heard him, he didn't sound like a 60 year old man. You can do this with a few simple exercises. YouTube has videos to demonstrate it. Wikipedia has articles (with a bit of musical jingo) about how to do it. Get your voice ready before your start and you'll survive the hours of gaming talk, with all your silly voices and laughter and sound effects, depending on your gaming style.

Warm up your talking muscles on your way to the con.
The same people who warm up their voices often warm up their other talking muscles too. Think about the muscles in your cheeks, your lips, your jaw and your tongue. Now read any sentence aloud. Did you notice how many muscles moved in that time? You're going to use them a lot, and if you want to make sure they last the con, give them a chance to warm up. YouTube is again quite a useful for exercises like these. Here's a search on YouTube just for lip warm up. You might feel like a clown while you're doing these, but even if you have just five minutes alone (perhaps in the car, perhaps in the morning shower... wherever!) you'll have enough time to run through a few of them.

Rest your voice. I know, I know. It's a con full of geeks. Every geek wants to be the alpha geek by showing off what they know, Simpsons references, arguments about Star Wars and Star Trek, blah blah blah. You'll be talking a lot. But if you give your voice a chance to rest, it'll last longer. And by not talking, you get to listen to other gamers. They like to contribute to the game too.

Lubricate your voice on your way to the con and throughout the day. Your body has natural lubrication systems. Don't think about it too hard. But where does the body get this from? A lozenge? Not at all. Drink water. Drink plenty of water and let your body turn that water into the right stuff for your voice. And of course, after you've peed it all out, you'll need more water. This is the oil in the engine of your voice. Don't be stingy.

These are simple tips to make sure your voice lasts the con. And they don't cost you a thing, so they're cheaper than lozenges as well as more effective. Happy talking!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Theory from the Closet

If you're not listening to this podcast regularly, you're missing out on some great gaming discussion. Clyde records it and refuses to edit it, so you get the conversation in all its glory. He's had some very interesting people on lately, with good things to say - even if you disagree with them, the mere fact of the disagreement is validity enough to give them worth.

So go there now and start listening - especially to the interview with Vincent Baker.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Abney Park RPG

Whether you think steampunk is the coolest thing ever, or it's just what happens when goths discover brown, this is some interesting news for RPG as a medium. Abney Park is working with Cubicle 7 on an Abney Park RPG. The announcement has a mockup of a book cover for you to enjoy.

My first thought (and comment on the site) was that it would make for a great supplement to Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, but that might not be true. I haven't finished reading S7S yet but the swashbuckling might not quite be the right fit for Abney Park. As long as the rules for the new system make stories which are different to S7S, it's a good choice.

More interesting than this, though, is the crossover between a band that occupies an alternate reality and an RPG. There have been musicians like this before. Gorillaz do it nicely. Queen did it with their Queen II album. David Bowie did it again and again. You could argue that Flight of the Conchords do it. I think this is an interesting foray by RPGs into another kind of intellectual property. Books, film and TV have been done, successfully and dismally. The choice of the fictional world of a band is not such a stretch.

And that's the new challenge for you budding designers. Make the RPG for Gorillaz, Queen, David Bowie or Flight of the Conchords.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

What Swords Do

In the world of gaming, most stories are action or adventure stories. Add some more story games like Kagematsu and the situation changes. Still, most RPGs pay attention to fighting rules and no matter how much we argue about it, most of these rules don't exist to present realism, they exist to prolong your character while you make him do something foolhardy.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw this clip. Behold, a two-handed sword in demonstration (especially watch the boots at 2:55). Note that this clip deliberately shows off the lethality of the weapon.

Swords are terrifying things. In the games I run (supposing they have swords), I've forgotten this and I shouldn't. A single swing of a sword is the difference between life and death and I want to try a game where this is a significant element.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Roleplaying advice from Victor Wooten

It's not often that I get the opportunity to bring music and gaming together, so I'm going to relish this moment.


And here it is. I want you to watch this youtube clip of Mark Peric (friend of mine) and Victor Wooten (mentor and friend of Mark's) during a bass workshop. Mark's on the left and Victor's on the right. The sound quality isn't great, but that doesn't change a thing about their astonishing talent.

The RPG advice starts at around the 5:00 point. Skip through to it if you like, or listen through it. You won't be disappointed.

Victor has been Mark's hero for a number of years, and Mark helped organise the master class with Victor. And yet watch what Victor does. He identifies that Mark is a talent in his own right; he points out that his job as a bass player is to make the other musicians sound even better; and then he gives all the spotlight to Mark.

Now Victor has earned the right to show off. He's really that good. But he does better than that by working with Mark to create something bigger than either of them. He puts aside the individual goal for the sake of the audience and for the sake of Mark's participation in the performance. Victor's humility has turned a good performance into a great performance. These guys were making it up on the spot, performing for the audience, and enjoying the result for themselves. And when they inject humility into the activity, the end result is even better.

As gamers, we can learn from this. A gamer is a fusion of creator, performer and audience in much the same way as Victor in that clip. And here are the key points to learn from Victor Wooten.
1. Remember it's a group activity.
2. Step back from the spotlight and let other players take a solo.
3. Bring a crescendo to someone else's performance without taking it over. Add details to make them look good, rather than making you look good.
4. Enjoy the performance.

Sounds simple. And with Mark and Victor playing the background, it sounds good too.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Confessions of an Evil Hat Fanboy

On the weekend I bought a copy of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. It had been sitting on the shelf of my FLGS for a month, ever since they got in an order of some other indie games - including my copy of A Penny for My Thoughts. So I put it on my gaming shelf, in the indie section, and then paused at what was blatantly obvious from the spines.

I'm an Evil Hat Fanboy.

I don't know if someone has come up with a nickname for it (I shudder at the thought. Fan-group nicknames make me cringe: I'm looking at you, Duranees!) but it's increasingly true, with one very important and perhaps stunning exception.

I don't have the Dresden Files RPG, and I probably won't buy it.

It's not that the game is bad. It's a FATE game, and I really enjoy Spirit of the Century. In fact, Spirit is my most-requested game for Games On Demand. Based entirely on that, I expect Dresden to be a great game, with good design, good play, and good writing.

It's not that the game is expensive, especially with shipping to Australia. Like many gamers, I've bought game books that I've not used very much. The replacement dollar value of my library is embarrassing. Dresden would look great on the shelf and great inside, from what I hear about it in reviews.

It's just that I've never read any Dresden Files books. I bought a comic mini-series once and thought it was OK, but it didn't grab me enough to buy the novels and then the game. So I confess my sin against Evil Hat!

I, Andrew Smith, Evil Hat Fanboy, do not have the Dresden Files RPG and have no plans to buy it. Give me Penny, give me Swashbucklers, give me Spirit, and best of all give me Don't Rest Your Head, and I will play them as penance. May it rescue my gamer soul from purgatory.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Bits and Mortar

Today's excellent news is the announcement of Bits and Mortar.

From the announcement:
"The past several years have seen growth in consumer acceptance of PDFs and eBooks. With an eye on using this to drive customers to their friendly local game stores, a coalition of publishers have formed Bits and Mortar, a pro-retailer, pro-brick-and-mortar, pro-PDF, pro-eBook initiative."
I'm pleased to see an alliance forming around this policy. The idea is simple and the effects are great for the game-buying public. Up until this point it was only in the hands of individual publishers, but at the time I write this I see six publishers listed. The named object (policy, alliance, website, thing) becomes a rallying point, a point which is outside any of the individual participants and around which others can gather.

Best of all, this is a strategy to keep cash flowing through the friendly local game stores rather than letting it migrate online. Although I have no problem with online shopping, game books are different from novels in that they require other people in order to get the most from that product. The game store is a great place to meet those other people, so it's useful for the hobby overall that publishers support the development of networking within that community.

So yes, yes and yes. Congratulations to them all for this move. And you, dear reader, should tell your local game shop owner about it. Send them this link (http://www.bits-and-mortar.com) with a couple of very excited sentences about it, and then show your support in action by going to them to buy your next game.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Friday, 30 July 2010

From the Ashes of GenConOz 2010

Australian gamers were dealt a terrible blow a fortnight ago when Ian Houlihan regretfully announced the cancellation of GenConOz 2010. This was widely regarded as a Very Sad Thing.

Several smaller groups started working on their own activities to fill the void, and after a week started talking to each other about working together. And that's how it is that from September 24-26 in Brisbane Australia there will be Uprising. If we can't have the Best Four Days of Australian Gaming, we'll cut it down to three instead.

Alongside Warmachine, L5R and Magic there will be seminars on GMing, seminars on game design and workshops on game design, featuring some of Australia's finest freelancers and indie game designers.

Watch for updates at The Stockade.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Siege game rules done

I think my game rules for Siege are done. It works. It plays. People can engage with it.

I'm still a little worried about the Hostage character. What happens if they escape so successfully that they leave the game? Does the game stop being fun for them? I also want to know what happens if a Hostage character takes actions to wear down the resolve of the Captor, or if they force the relationship with the Captor in a non-adversarial direction.

My next step is to package up the game rules into a PDF for others to try. It won't be pretty, but it'll be playable. Well, as long as I explain the rules in a clear and interesting way. No problem, right?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Kuang Hong Illustrations

My go-to game is Don't Rest Your Head. I'll run it anytime. It's satisfying to me in every way. So when I saw these illustrations from Kuang Hong, my heart skipped a mad beat. It's part of a toy series that he's working on. Can't wait to see what's next.

A dream about jealousy by *noah-kh on deviantART

His own caption is, "I'm a little toy in a big world,i love my mistress so much,and i just can't bear other toys share the love with me.One day i have a sweet dream,OMG, my dearest mistress killed all the other toys in the room,haha'."

Hell yes.

The call by *noah-kh on deviantART

The dinner by *noah-kh on deviantART

Don't. Rest. Your. Head.

The Beast of Limfjord

So apparently I ran a session of The Beast of Limfjord. That much is true. And here are some other true things about the experience.

I ran it with an hilarious and enthusiastic group. Peter Blake played Signy, Timothy Ferguson played Hrofgar (and how! It was a joy to behold), and Fridrik Bjarnason played Erlend. They were keen to try it out and gave a good effort to break it. This was, as I have failed to mention, a playtest. Breakage was possible. Perhaps I should have mentioned the "you break it, you bought it" policy.

So here are some true things that didn't go well.
I didn't make the challenges challenging enough, or give enough challenges. TBOL is all about the challenges. If you run this game, hand them out like they expire tomorrow.
Players like to defeat things in a single roll. This game has options to make failure interesting by adding complexity without actually stopping the heroes. Show this a few times and the urge to succeed in a single roll should fade.
The players made a good attempt to break the rules about Edges, by stacking them and stacking them. It felt like a D&D game, with bonuses coming from everywhere. This was a specific topic for the playtest, so I imagine that Nathan will take the feedback (more detailed in an email) and tweak it.
Hrofgar is mighty. With Iron Hand, Curmudgeon and Glorious Death, he can be quite an epic hero. GMs beware.

And here are some true things that that worked well
It's epic. So epic. Play is larger than life, perhaps a little cartoony, but not too much. I can see how it could be tragedy too.
Easy dice rules. No difficulty to convey them or let them weave into play. They weren't distracting either, so the story flowed nicely.
Rumours are great source materials for the adventure. The nature of rumours in a story about myth is evocative. No one really knows facts about the beast, just legends. Great stuff.
Legends are great, I think. Even though I've not played D&D 4e, they seem to occupy the same function as D&D's Daily Powers, without explicitly saying so.

Overall, I had fun running it but I wish that I'd done a better job of it. It was epic and entertaining as it was, but I want to run it again and see if I can redline it. You should keep your eye on this game. Playtest it now.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Nature abhors a vacuum

Let's not muck about here. GenConOz is gone for 2010 and that leaves a little void. So it's time for others to step up and do something with that opportunity.

I can't say much more than that for now, except that if you were planning to be in Brisbane for GenConOz, you should keep your tickets and accommodation bookings. Oh yes, you should definitely keep them.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Go Play Brisbane, Concluding Thoughts

Go Play Brisbane is finished again. Without giving a blow-by-blow account of the day (there's a Story Games thread for that anyway) I want to make some quick remarks.

This was the fourth GPB mini-con, and for four cons in a row there were new people. And for four cons in a row there were regulars. I'm so pleased that (as Aik wrote on Story Games) there's a Brisbane indie community. That's the reason a GPB was created in the first place. Win. Win. Win. That community is the cradle of creation for indie games. I expect that there will be more and more games come from Australia and from Brisbane because of this little community.

And as if to support that claim, consider these two statistics: 60% of the games played on Saturday were Australian-designed games in development; and more than a third of the people who attended are working on their own games or freelance work.

It's a privilege to be involved with GPB. I'm glad to be part of it. All signs point to more GPB in 2011 and beyond. It's too much fun (and too rewarding) to put down.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Happy Parole, Joker!

My beautiful copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! arrived last week. As an artifact, it's a treasure for my game shelf. I'm glad to have a PDF as well, to preserve the book. I mentioned before that it was Go Play Brisbane last Saturday and I might have been able to run it.

I was in luck's way and we could run it. But I wanted to change the key phrase, so we played Happy Parole, Joker! And this is the story we wrote.

Happy Parole, Joker!
Joker walks the streets, hunting for a laugh, but also for work.
Lowlifes flee in fear, but don't laugh.
Joker drives rapidly through a drive-through downtown, avoiding
Joker thought about impending mayhem, but thoughts were enough for him.
Joker found a petrol can, picked it up and cackled.
Joker found an oil rag and made it into a wick.
Joker danced merrily and chuckled and ignited twenty-one trashcans but Batman was watching.
The flames rose higher, threatening innocent children.
Joker danced away, gleefully singing and kicking puppies into the sewer.
Batman swooped down on Joker and tackled him, posing in his cape.
Joker mocked his foe, dropped his trousers, waved his rear at Batman.
"Happy parole, Joker," said Batman, looming from shadows as he punched him down, but Joker kept laughing.
Batman was infuriated and scowled as Joker broke free.
Joker ran down the shopping mall, pull down racks of goods and became trapped under Batman's electrified net.
Robin punched him repeatedly as they bundled him into the Batmobile's boot.
"Can we stop at McDonald's drivethrough on the way to Arkham, Batman?" said Robin.
Batman said nothing, his eyes toward Arkham.
In the boot Joker smiled, knowing his Ronald McDonald clones would soon awaken.

It was fun, for sure, and there were some aspects of our game which I want to tell you about.

We had four players. So of course the story was a bit longer than those in the book. Unfortunately, each person had nothing to do every fourth turn. If I was to change it, I would make that person the scribe. Not only would it give them something to do, but it would avoid the next feature as well.

When each person was adding words, they did it in silence, busily counting words on their fingers (or tapping on dice and coins). This is different to other story games experiences in which the game is near-constant verbal narration. So to fill in the silence, the other players started other conversations. Good? Bad? No, just distracting.

We didn't share coins early enough. You can see this early on in the short and simple sentences, and later on in the longer and complex sentences. When you play HBR, share coins early and widely. You'll get a shorter story, but the early sentences won't feel as clumsy as ours.

We let the innocent children burn. When the story was finished, I read it out and only when I got to, "The flames rose higher, threatening innocent children" did I realise that none of us had put out the fire. You have to pay attention to earlier sentences, and that's another reason why adding words in silence is bad. Don't let the children burn because you want Batman to catch Joker.

Just based on that single play session, I think this is a game worth playing and replaying, especially with other settings. There's a bit of fun to be had thinking of those other settings too, but I'll leave that to you.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Gen Con Gone

Just in case you read this blog more than you pay attention to the Gen Con Oz sites (including facebook and twitter), you would have missed the announcement that Gen Con Oz 2010 has been cancelled. Read the announcement here.

This is a sad announcement, but one laden with the realities of commercial considerations. A convention needs to break even or make money, otherwise it won't be back. And for gaming, this is a real concern. I heard Fred Hicks remark that indie game publishing is "how to make dozens of dollars the hard way" and he's right. Gaming is not mainstream in Australia, so it doesn't attract cash like other activities. Console gaming is big, but Gen Con isn't only about that. Pen and paper games are even less popular, and indie games? Well now.

But is that the end of gaming conventions in Australia? Not by a long shot. Even though most tabletop gaming in Australia is Warhammer and other miniatures gaming, just having Gen Con around was a shot in the arm for roleplaying. It introduced me to other indie gamers in Australia; people I consider friends, and people who continue to write and play new and innovative games.

I, for one, will continue to run Go Play Brisbane events in the medium term future, as well as continue to be involved in the Stockade project. And I'm looking forward to seeing Gen Con Oz return sometime soon (2011 would be nice!). Our hobby needs conventions if it is to continue as a viable commercial endeavour, or even as a social endeavour. We need to continue to meet together, to cross-pollenate our ideas between gaming groups so that we can fend off stagnation. This has created a void in the 2010 gaming calendar, but I feel confident that there will be other opportunities arise.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Go Play Brisbane

Oh yeah. It's on in two days. I'm sorely tempted to change my game offering to include Happy Birthday Robot but that's being fickle.

Still, I want to play HBR sometime soon. I'll be in Melbourne next week. Maybe I can find some gamers there who want to try it.

And who want to convert it to Happy Parole, Joker!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

ZedGames tonight

So I'm off to the 4ZzZ studio tonight for Zedgames. I'll be tweeting my way through the evening. Check for #zgau to catch tweets from me, the hosts and the listeners too.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


Our friends over at ZedGames are having their first birthday bash - and they've invited me along. Tune in and check it out.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dice Pools Are Awesome

So as it turns out, once you start thinking about decision points in a story, they reveal themselves to be quite complex. I've been working on Siege and in particular have been wrestling with the interaction of decision points with the character stats. In Siege, a decision point has the potential to affect characters and relationships, as well as the story itself. So I have to ensure that the rule for decision points engages this interaction in the way I want.

As it stands now, I think I have a solution to the problem. The next step is to find a way to keep it simple. I would despise creating a game that distracts from the story with unnecessarily complicated rules. And as you can tell from the title of this post, I think the solution is a dice pool rule.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Asymmetry by Design

I've reached a breakthrough point with Siege and am busily embellishing my rules with paragraphs. No more lists of bullet points for me. As I do this, I'm struck by the asymmetry of the design. It's only marginal, but it's there and it's deliberate. The Captor, the Police and the Hostage are not balanced against each other. They each have a different role in the fiction, so there are different conditions that apply to them right from the start. I'm looking forward to another playtest soon, and will be looking specifically at how the asymmetry plays out.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Go Play Brisbane

Another Go Play Brisbane is soon upon us. In fact, it's almost exactly a month away. It looks like an exciting little day, with most of the games as playtests for games in development. Looks like there's a bit of a movement brewing.

If there is one thing I could wish for, though, it's more people to run games. Looks like we're going to have a delicate balance of games and spaces this time around, and no over-inflated gaming groups.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Penny and PDF

I bought my copy of A Penny For My Thoughts yesterday. Nothing new there, I'm sure, except that I bought it at a brick and mortar store. For a little indie game that was written and published on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, this is good going.

The shop in question is a little hesitant about indie games, I feel. The best experiences they've had so far are Mouse Guard (sells well) and Dresden Files (good pre-orders). Their nervousness comes through in two areas: shelf space and PDF. The copy of Penny was high on the top shelf (almost at the roof), in front of the solitary copy of Spirit of the Century. It was the first time I'd seen either game there so I was excited enough by that. So, although it wasn't at eye level, it was still on the shelf and that's good progress. Of course I asked for a receipt so that I could claim my PDF from Evil Hat, and that launched a little chat about the Evil Hat PDF Guarantee. He was quite happy to facilitate it, even asking if I had a flash drive with me (I didn't), but was skeptical about Evil Hat's policy on trust. "Let's see how long it lasts," he remarked.

To be honest, I think he voiced what many people have thought[1]. Capitalism functions on self-interest, to be sure, but I think there's more to the PDF Guarantee than that. The fact remains that I could have easily bought the book from IPR with the PDF bundled together, but I made the choice to order it through brick and mortar. I wanted them to see how easy it can be to deal with small publishers, and also to get more indie games passing through the inventories of game shops.

Although I'm not a great game designer, I thoroughly enjoy the indie games that I own and I want to share that. Until now that's been limited to some games in my home, organising indie games events at Gen Con Oz and organising Go Play Brisbane. Buying Penny from a brick and mortar is the next step: evangelising to the game store owner and staff.

So I've bought a game from a store that didn't stock it, that is cautious about the PDF guarantee, and that lets me run indie games days in their store. If this isn't an Elton John "Circle of Life" moment, I don't know what is. And the conclusion to this whole story? Everyone wins.

1. And probably posted on lots of forums. I don't read many so I wouldn't know.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Artefacts of Fortuna

We love and loathe our gaming dice. When they roll well they become lucky, almost sacred. We remember the time when they maxed out three times in a row and made the game into the stuff of legend. But when they roll poorly they are a curse, as though they were a millstone hung around our necks to drag us down into failure.

The ancient Romans believed in many deities, and one of them was Fortuna. She represented the fickleness of life. When she smiled on a mortal good things happened, but when she didn't... She was responsible for the fortunes of life. No matter how skillful or deserving the individual, Fortuna could still swing the result any which way.

In our games, the dice are the artefacts of Fortuna. We roll them when we realise that there is uncertainty in the story. The outcome is not guaranteed, regardless of what's written on the character sheet, so we turn our story over to Fortuna and her meddling. The uncertainty of the result adds to the highs and lows of our experience of the story, just as much as the Romans knew she was responsible for the highs and lows of their lives.

Machiavelli, in his much-maligned little book The Prince, wrote about the interference of Fortuna for an entire chapter. In language that betrays the misogyny of his time, finishing with,
"I conclude therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her." - Machiavelli, The Prince
In other words, Fortuna favours the bold. When faced with uncertainty, you must act! If we invoke Machiavelli over our games today, we could only say, "It is better to be adventurous than cautious. Take up your dice without caution, but with violence and audacity command them!"

Written for The Bones blog carnival.

Monday, 31 May 2010

iPads and Game Information

I ordered an iPad the other day. It's not here yet, but it's not far off either. One of the reasons I bought it was to save me the trouble of carting gaming books around. Since most of the games I play also come with a PDF, a decent PDF viewer will help out no end. I hear that GoodReader is the way to go for this, so I'm sure I'll get it and cram every gaming PDF (along with lots more besides) into the iPad. It won't replace my interest in having the game book as a physical artefact, or even as the primary source for learning the rules. Rather, it'll be useful as a supplement to the book. A searchable PDF is more useful than a sparse index any day.

But, ah hah! This is a workaround to a larger problem: having the relevant information close to hand so that the story is uninterrupted. Most of my gaming is convention gaming, introducing people to new games. I have three hours to introduce them to a game, including explaining the rules and playing out a scenario. Even with the speedy resources of an iPad at my disposal, it's still a distraction from the fiction and a disruption to flow of the game.

So I'll still prepare my cheat sheets, the one-page summaries of the rules for new players, and hand them out (I may even save them as PDF for my iPad). These are more useful than you know. The only thing more useful than a cheat sheet, is a cheat sheet that is part of the character sheet. Giving a new player a single page, complete with their character and the relevant rules is the best supportive artefact I can give in that context. It keeps the focus on the game, not on the game book (paper or virtual) and allows us to fit more game into our day.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Not character, not story

For almost two years I've been thinking about a conversation I had with Robin Laws about how RPGs and story structures relate. He's made lots of comments about it both before and after, so the message continues to come back to me. The nub of the point is that if an RPG is to be a story-telling exercise, it needs to contain rules that go with the ebb and flow of good story telling. There are plenty of games that seem to contain rules like this. Just as one example, Spirit of the Century includes the potential for character aspects to be compelled, thus simulating the notion that the protagonist will endure hardship in the leadup to triumph. Compel enough aspects to get the hero in trouble and this gives the hero enough fate points to overcome even the most significant obstacle.

In order to incorporate this into Siege, I'm looking into an opportunity that is not character driven (like Spirit) and not story driven (as though the plot has a form to follow). It's... well, you'll have to wait until I flesh it out some more.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Addition, not subtraction

I'm changing the rules for conflict resolution in Siege from a roll-under to a roll-over idea. The maths changes without difficulty so all probabilities remain the same. The big achievement is that roll-over rules are more easily understood to players and this takes the rules out of the way of the fiction.

I like to think that rules are necessary, but they should never overshadow the fiction. Bring the rule in where it's required, but make sure that sends the players back into the fiction quickly. A less-convoluted rule helps to make this happen.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

In Defense of Good and Evil

This is an extended response to Episode 28 of Here Be Gamers. I didn't really want to flood their comment page with an essay, so here's the 12" remix of my comment there.

Good and Evil as part of the cosmic fabric.
Although in the actual world (the one we're in now), good and evil are seen as moral values that we superimpose over actions, there's no reason to insist on the same model for a fictional world. One of the questions that is typically asked when a GM is creating a world for the campaign is "How does magic work?" We don't have any problem with a magic system based on emotions, so how about a magic system based on morals? Take the Star Wars universe. The Force isn't neutral, it has a light side and a dark side. George Lucas has created a universe in which Good and Evil aren't perspectives, they're interwoven with a fundamental force of the universe. Although gravity and electromagnetism are neutral but fundamental forces, the Force isn't. Good and Evil interact with it. By taking them out of the Star Wars setting, you lose that aspect of the story. In that kind of fictional world, we shouldn't reject the dichotomy of Good and Evil just because it works differently to the actual world, we should embrace it. It's part of the ontology (as the philosophers say) so it should be part of the story. The same is can be said for D&D. If there are alignments, and there are items (weapons, artifacts, etc.) with alignments then Good and Evil are part of the ontology of that world. So embrace them by making them part of the story.

The Monstrous is Evil because Evil looks Monstrous
Yes, that's a tautology. However, that's one way that the monstrous features in fiction. We embody our fears and apprehensions into the monstrous because it is so radically different to what we know. One way to read a book like Frankenstein is to see it as an embodied fear of science and technology. At the time it was written, medical science was deconstructing what we thought we knew about the human body. Suppose it proved that the human was just a biological machine? No soul? No death? Of course this is monstrous! It's terrifying and can be treated that way. By making the fearsome thing (the evil thing) monstrous, it clearly distinguishes it from the kind of being that makes up the audience. The audience is human, and shares a fear of the monstrous Thing. When it appears more inhuman, it is distanced from humanity while at the same time becoming more tangible as a thing to be located. Once located (in the body of the monstrous) the audience and other characters can relate to it.

These kinds of fictional worlds aren't morality tales about the misunderstood beast (unlike Beauty and the Beast), they're about a clash between what we know and the neverending onslaught of the unfamiliar and the alien. Protagonists look like the best that humanity can offer (brave, strong, beautiful, etc.) whereas the antagonists are misshapen beasts which are so far removed from even the worst that humanity can offer.

Conservatives and Revolutionaries
So let's leave ontology and fictional functions alone for this last one. Suppose the fictional world is like the actual one, and suppose also that Good and Evil don't affect appearance. The dichotomy of Hero and Villain seems amiable enough. Still, with the examples from the podcast we might be better to say Conservative and Revolutionary. The conservative hero wants society to develop organically, slowly, all together; whereas the revolutionary wants sudden change now! One will use the political process whereas the other will use force (or threats of force). The difference in these kinds of stories is really about what the character will accept as the means of change and the pace of change. It seems out of place for a D&D game, but totally appropriate for Burning Wheel or a superheroes game.

To take Good and Evil out of an RPG simply because it doesn't align with what we understand about the actual world is a mistake. If these strong ideas are out of place with the fiction, then remove them by all means. However, if these ideas are part of the universe itself then leave them in. The decision should be based on the fictional world of your story, not the actual world of the gaming group.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Stories and RPGs

I had the chance to catch up on a lot of TV recently, and I noticed a lot of things that just don't seem to be features of most RPGs I've played over the years.

Most scenes have only two characters. Even if there are background characters, the scene is about the relationship or interaction of two characters. Of course there are scenes with more than two, but they don't make up the majority. Compare this to RPGs, in which the whole party is always present, all the time (and often with all their stuff in pockets and backpacks).

Most scene transitions don't care about travel. If a scene needs a character who was on the other side of the city just a moment ago, the character just appears in the next one. Sometimes it's represented by a knock on the door, or something similar, but the travel itself doesn't usually matter. And this applies to a wider range of things, not just travel. We need to remember in RPGs that we can skip some details without adversely affecting the story. Even if you want a William Gibson story, he leaves out the unnecessary details especially when he includes what seems to be atmospheric details. Only keep what you need.

Violence is a small part of TV shows, even action shows. With the exception of in media res, action is always preceded by lots and lots of talking, all of which builds to the tension that seems only to be resolved by violence. Most TV characters don't use violence as the first choice for solving problems, but in RPGs, it's a huge part of the game. See Rob Donoghue's Some Space to Think: Children and Tasers for more about this perspective.

And so on and so on. I think that game designers, GMs and players need to think about what they want from an RPG and play accordingly. Although, I think that if you really want all action all the time, you'll probably feel better playing a miniatures game than an RPG or story game.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Trust and Sympathy

After a lot of reflection, it's apparent to me that I need a Sympathy or Trust mechanism in Siege. There has to be something that measures the current status of the relationship between characters.

I want the measure to help the game in several ways. It should be asymmetrical, because Amy might trust Brian a lot, whereas Brian has no sympathy for Amy and is intentionally deceiving her. It should also be descriptive, so that it invokes a narrative feel to the game. Lastly, it should affect the actions that characters will perform and, in turn, affect the direction of the story.

I think I can learn a little from The Mountain Witch to start with. But what other games should I check out?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Siege Playtest

Last month at Go Play Brisbane I ran a playtest of Siege with three willing guinea pigs. Thank you guinea pigs. It was a good experience and one I should repeat. Overall, I got some interesting feedback. These are two of the nuggets worth sharing.

I need to ensure the Hostage has motivation to stay in the story. Typically, a Hostage is imperiled and would like to simply escape. That makes for a dull story and uninspiring participation by the Hostage player. So I need to create some hooks that lock the character in for the duration.

By changing the dice, the story can be an hour episode from a TV show (d4), a feature-length film (d6), or an extended edition director's cut (d8). Nothing else needs to change in the rules except the dice you use. I like this a lot and will be sure to include it in the rules text.

Everything else? Maybe you can be in my next playtest and find out.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

4ZZZ and Zedgames

I had the great opportunity to be interviewed by Chani from Zedgames today. We spoke for an hour or so about Go Play Brisbane, indie games in Australia and gaming culture in general. After a little editing it should be in the show this Wednesday night.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Go Play Brisbane

Go Play Brisbane is on in only a couple of weeks. Have you registered? If you do, you get priority in game selection over anyone who walks up on the day. Registration is easy. Just send an email with your name to goplaybrisbane@gmail.com

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Will Hindmarch on Games as Art

Perhaps the most reasoned, well argued essay about games I've read in a while. This is Will Hindmarch asking, "Are Games Art?"

Other gamer writers, take note of his style - not just the content.

StarWars.com | Hasbro Toy Fair Round-Up!

This looks like the new miniatures game for Star Wars. At least fans won't have to collect action figures and minis now. Is this "Action Figure Galactic Battleground Card Game" (AFGBCG) the Hasbro equivalent to Inquisitor?
The new Galactic Battleground Card Game for the 3.75-inch figure line features a unique pack-in card, base, and die, and will be included with Clone Wars, Saga Legends, Battle Packs, and Figure and Vehicle Packs starting August 1.StarWars.com | Hasbro Toy Fair Round-Up!

The name reminds me of Battling Siezure Robots, or Super Gachapon Fighter Omega Infinity! but without the flair.

Friday, 15 January 2010

My Indie Events at Gen Con Oz 2010

Originally, I was going to say that this was a pointer to the indie events at Gen Con Oz 2010. However, what I'm going to post is that it's a pointer to some indie events at Gen Con Oz 2010. A A page about the indie game events that I'm going to register and organise is now available at the Stockade project site.

And if that's what I post here, then it comes with a second layer of meaning for all you indie gamers out there - a kind of two part challenge. First, I'd love to collaborate with you. There's more than enough room for people who just want to turn up and run games, or who want to turn up and participate in the Game Design Roundtable. I get a kick out of helping to make it happen, so I'm happy to do the legwork to register the events and coordinate the effort - giving the GMs more time to concentrate on bringing games to play. If it means more fun for GMs and players, I'm glad to help make it happen. For the last two years, at the end of Gen Con I've been able to look back at the con and know that I've made it possible for people to have fun with games they've never heard of before.
And the second part of the challenge is for those who want to be more indie than indie. Bring your own indie event to the con. If you have your own game and you want to run it for three solid days, then bring it, promote it, push it, play it. Share the fun with as many people as you can, without bring constrained by indie games on demand.
If you're keen to be part of indie games on demand, drop me a line now. You can reach me at andrew.mg.smith ---at+++ gmail.com or through facebook.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Siege Complexity

I'm going to take my own medicine with Siege. Until now, I had defined the stats as making use of a step-die system. I had thought that this would help represent the rise and fall of Resolve and Patience, creating a kind of death spiral for these two. The idea was that a character might have a d8 Resolve that was tested at specific triggers, and if the result was a 1 the die size would reduce to d6. Players could choose to push the character and retain the d8 but the "step down" would occur on a result of 1 or 2. In either case, the character's action would have to be tainted with a diminished resolve, represented in the fiction. The character runs out of resolve if a d4 roll gives a step down result and cannot push.

Instead, I think I can achieve a similar result by standardising the die size and using check boxes. Suppose we use d8 as standard, the same Resolve check would be to roll the d8. If the result is 1 then mark off a box of Resolve. Alternatively, the player can push their resolve and avoid marking the box by increasing the failure result to 1 or 2.

Suffice to say, running out of Resolve is a bad thing in a Siege situation.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Crunchy and Smooth

Over at the Ninja vs. Pirates back catalogue is the interview with Paul Tevis about A Penny For My Thoughts. Hiding in there were some details about the Game Chef contest which triggered his game design. It was something like this:
Pick from two lists of four ingredients, but choose only three from that list.
All I could think was, "A gamer thought of this." And somehow I think that if it were either "Choose one of these two groups" or "Choose any three from this list" then I wouldn't have given it a second thought. It's the combination that makes it stand out.
One layer of complexity just doesn't seem to be enough for gamers. We're drawn to the multi-layered systems, and to all the combinations they entail. Making it more complex seems to make it more appealing, perhaps by making it look like a dilemma, something that needs to be optimised.
I guess this kind of crunchiness puts the decision in the player's control. Which weapon to use? Which spell? And then, when to use them? Or even, which character to wield them? The crunch is part of the appeal of the game, giving the opportunity for strategies to be devised in order to accomplish character goals and, more strongly, the player goals. It's good feedback for the player to have evaluated the options and the interaction of layers, and then to accomplish what was required.
However, I think there's a limit to how much crunch we can all stomach before the game becomes Operations Research. A fully-functional game system with lots of crunch might be accurate, but if it's nothing more than an exercise in optimising a multi-variable system, it's a different kind of game. I can't help but remember the advice from Poison'd, that the fiction should determine which rule to employ, and that the rule should always drive the game play back to the fiction. A very crunchy game can do this, but for a player experience the result will be retrospective story, the story that we tell after the game. A smooth[1] system works hard to have the story told at the table and needs elegance in design to ensure that the play experience is about creating the story, and not optimising the mathematics.
A lot more could be written about the role of the players and the GM in helping a crunchy sytem to become smooth, but I'll stop here with the remark that the GM and players can make it smooth if they know the rules extremely well. Getting the system to help you make a story takes longer with a crunchy system. For my money, a genuinely elegant system design does this with the least amount of experienced crunch. The elements can all interact, for sure, but it needs to hide so that it doesn't overwhelm the story being made.

1. RPGs are like peanut butter, we have either crunchy or smooth. That's probably my own hack on game theory vocabulary.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Planning for Gen Con Oz 2010

I have officially started to plan my events for Gen Con Oz 2010. Stay tuned for more info, but in the meantime...

indie games on demand
game design workshops
...and the big new one for the year: Launching games from the Stockade project.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

2009... the tick in the box

I mentioned before that in my 2009 wishlist I wanted to play Burning Wheel, perhaps a campaign.


With barely two days of year as buffer, I managed to get in my first game of Burning Wheel. To all the people out there who's reviews I'd read and heard: you were quite close to the mark. The game is largely as you described. I won't go into a review here, but I'll share some impressions.

This game is quite detailed and crunchy, without being a burden. The detail isn't in the gadgets, it's in the rules. There seems to be a rule to facilitate whatever it is the players want to do. For a first game, this was a little overwhelming.

In fact, I think we probably spent a little too much time looking up rules than we did roleplaying. Admittedly, this is something that might be a matter of play style. I found that we could leap from decision point to decision point without much in between, and the game still flowed, albeit a little roughly. Personally, I like to narrate and act out until the dice are required, otherwise the story is just a series of branching points with no connectors.

The duel of wits actually made me feel the emotions of a debate. I was tense before each exchange and when I lost (badly, I should add) I felt embarrassed and angry because I was forced to concede something valuable. This was an unexpected immersion into the character and story. As soon as the duel was over, I immediately had the experience of player, character and audience. This is a great feature of the game.

Unfortunately, I didn't really get my head around the beliefs that my character had. Maybe I spent too much time thinking about the rules, or maybe I just didn't play the character as written. I would like to have played the beliefs more strongly and use the other rules to support this. I'll put this down to unfamiliarity with the rules. Next time I play, though, this will be a different balance.

There's a lot more I could say about this experience of Burning Wheel, but for now that'll do. Overall, it's the game experience I thought it would be. I think that it'd really hit its stride in a campaign, and with sessions longer than three hours. I'm glad I bought it.


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