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 ---at+++ 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.