Monday, 21 February 2011

Star Wars Agony

It's no secret that I like Star Wars. I've never played any of the RPGs, though, but I've played the WOTC minis game a few times and have several minis. But as I was thinking about what to do with all those minis this morning, I figured that I could use Agon rules to play a good Clone Wars campaign. Substitute the Jedi Council for the gods, the Jedi for the heroes, various Force powers for the weapons, and several other cosmetic changes and it'll work nicely.

Interestingly, I'd like to change the Oaths to Doctrines in some way. Oaths bind one character to another as a debt of obligation in Agon. The only obligation that a Jedi has is to the doctrine of the Jedi council. It'd be great to see a Jedi compelled to move this way or that in combat as a result of necessarily obedience to the Jedi code.

That's today's Star Wars mashup, at least. Enjoy!

Friday, 18 February 2011

No Gen Con Oz in 2011

...but I'm sure you didn't read that here first.

In an announcement overnight, the Eventions team told the world that they will not run Gen Con Oz in 2011, having also cancelled it in 2010. This has made a lot of people upset and started calls for replacement events. I saw one levelled at Here Be Gamers to "just run the alternative events again."

I confess to being a little surprised at the announcement. After two years of running it, and then a year of not, there was a great deal of interest in bringing it back in 2011. Maybe I'm a bit optimistic. I'd like to think that we learn from the failures and find a way around them for the next challenge. At least this time Eventions hadn't committed so much as to accept registrations and payments, so that's evidence of a lesson learned.

Even though gamers are quite loud on the internet, I don't know whether that's actually a reflection of the total sentiment or the actual market size associated with Gen Con Oz. I'm leaning towards the former.

In the absence of Gen Con Oz, what will attendees do? The cosplayers are an enthusiastic bunch, and have lots of other opportunities for their hobby. They have events like Supanova, places like the Mana Bar, the everpresent photoshoot-on-the-internet, and plenty of meetups around the place. The computer gamers have everything from solo play at home, to online play at home, to private networks, to events like Supanova (again!). Board gamers? It's a similar story. Card gamers? Ditto. Miniatures gamers? Ditto again. And on top of all that is the upcoming Auscon. So who's missing? Story gamers (ok, ok. roleplayers). It's the most complicated of all the participation events typically seen at conventions, and the one that requires the greatest input from retailers.

My point with all this is that the Australian geek crowd has outlets in a dozen other places. So why are so many upset or disappointed? I think we love the name of Gen Con. It's a revered brand, made even more "sacred" because it's so far away. It's a kind of Mecca, or Shangri-la. Many of us know someone who slapped down the cash to fly across the Pacific to get to Gen Con. It's such a pilgrimage and shows a devotion. To have Shangri-la come down from heaven and land in Australia was such a treat. With projected expectations like that, it's no surprise that the disappointement is so strong. We love the brand, and that's what draws the crowd and what costs people like Eventions some extra money. Licensing brands isn't cheap or easy. The brand owners want to make sure that they put the brand into safe hands, so they make it too expensive for backyard operators.

The hard work will be to create something as beloved by Australian gamers (et al) to meet a similar recreational need. There are plenty of smaller conventions out there that currently do it for their cities or regions. Perhaps Australia cannot sustain a large convention like Gen Con Oz at all.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Religious Identities in Your Game

Religion often gets the blame for violence and war in human history, and it's fair to say that it should accept responsibility for some of that. I think, though, that in the West we isolate religion too much and try to assign blame on that single factor, whereas religion doesn't stand alone at any point or for any person. Or to put it another way, religion can't be added-in or subtracted-from in the same way that a sport or hobby can. So what does a religion do?

Religion gives identity, and in most cases it adds to identity.

Throughout human history, identity has been a combination of three factors: religion, land and ethnicity. Even though we can break down these into smaller categories, the big three are religion, land and ethnicity. When we read about any population, we always read about these three. The key to understanding how religion fits is to first understand that these three factors can't easily be pulled apart. For example, the Babylonian people (ethnicity) lived in and around Babylon (land) and worshipped Babylonian gods (religion). They understood that the people in the nearby country were a different people, lived in a different land, and had local gods.

The three elements together provide the binding features for the society and if any of those factors are threatened or removed, it causes a problem. And in story games, problems make story.

In your game, you can use religion to give your characters identity by tying it to the land and the people. Lore checks can reveal that the Lothir people in the Handar Valley worship Ahud the sun god, for example.

Individual characters can also gain identity from the religion. In Christianity, St Paul was Saul before he became a Christian. The conversion moment was enough to warrant a name change. Even today, converts in some countries change their names to one more suited to the new religion. Furthermore, children born into a religion are often given names of religious heroes, named by parents to honour the antecedent and perhaps as a hope for the life of the child.

Identity can also come through religious observances. A religion might have a systematic marking system in either clothing or tattoos. Conversely, they might abstain from tattoos altogether, or engage in some other flesh alteration like circumcision or ritual piercings. Consider also how hair is worn or shaped. Is there a religious significance to it? What happens to the Samson character who has long hair as religious devotion, and then has it forcibly cut off?

Religious symbols also provide identity markers for peoples and characters. It might be incorporated into the battle standard for the people, or on the currency ("In God We Trust").

The dark side of any such symbols is the obvious definition of who is an insider and who is an outsider. In Nazi Germany, homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothes, and Jews had to wear a yellow star of David. The presence or absence of symbols in a society can be telling for prejudices or honour, and compounded further if those symbols have social and religious meaning.

Religion provides identity in many ways. In your game, you can use this as background: descriptions of architecture or idioms. You could use it as deeply felt personhood, in which a people group believe they are chosen by the gods for a special purpose. You could run a story about the ostracism associated with conversion and apostasy. Religion and identity are tightly woven together, and can give depth to your characters, and in turn provide plenty of drive for stories.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Siege Blind Playtesting Has Results

Despite my earlier remarks, it seems that people have been playing Siege. I've started to receive a couple of play test reports and am quite pleased with what I've read. Not everything went smoothly, and it's obvious that I need to change the text in a couple of places to make sure that it's more clear to the reader, but not everywhere. At the end of February I'll take all the play test reports and revise the text.

A bit of progress goes a long way to making a happy Andrew.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Counter-factual Play

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpgI like to listen to the Philosophers Zone as a podcast and in a recent episode the topic was the Philosophical Baby. Slightly out of context was this comment by the guest (Alison Gopnik) about imagining counter-factual realities. Although this quote is about babies, it's worth reading it substituting "babies" with "gamers" or "story makers" to give it the context for this blog. I hope you see what grabbed my attention.

Well in fact, what we discovered is that babies and young children are extremely good at imagining counter-factual alternatives, other ways that the world could be, other than they way that they are now. That's what children do when they are involved in pretend play, which is one of the most characteristic things for 3 and 4 year olds to do. 3 and 4 year olds will spend 24/7 often as crazed world princesses and ninjas and who knows what else.

One of the great puzzles has always been why do they do that, why are they often in these alternative universes? And one thought is that if what babies and young children are doing is figuring out the causal structure of the world, an old philosophical idea is that understanding causation is a good idea because it lets you construct counter-factual, it lets you imagine other ways that the world could be. And what we think is that just as in their exploratory play, children are finding out all about the world around them in an uninhibited way. In their pretend way, children are exploring possibilities, but they're doing it in an uninhibited way.

(emphasis is mine)

I think this is a great way to think about our story games, as an exploration of other ways the world could be. Mind you, I wouldn't want to live in some of the worlds my games have created, but there are others that would be pure delight.