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.