Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Checklisting the Narrative

Last week we played Lady Blackbird. I'd not played it before but had heard great things about it. Thankfully all the rumours proved true. It's an enjoyable game and you should play it with your group sometime.

During the game I noticed an interesting behaviour. I've seen it in other games as well (FU and SOTC to name a couple) but it really stood out in Lady Blackbird. I call it checklisting. It goes like this:
I lunge for the control panel to close it before the guards come through. So that's 1 die for taking an action, 1 die for athletic trait, 1 die for acrobatic tag, 1 die for sprinting tag, and 1 die for nimble... 5 dice!
I get that this is how the rules work, but after a couple of times through the checklist it started to irk me for two reasons.
1. Players make tenuous links from the traits and tags to the action they're taking. In the example above you have to imagine that the race to the control panel was not only a sprint but also included leaps and tumbles.
2. There's no narrative, just a series of adjectives. The character doesn't make a dash for the door, leaping over a crate on the way, to lunge for the panel and hit the button in time. Instead, the character succeeds because they're athletic, acrobatic, a sprinter, and nimble. One of these options makes for entertaining fiction, and the other is shorthand.

I found myself denying the players the option to do this when I knew they could do it with more flavour and story. Some of the players in the group didn't want that experience so I let it slide for them, but for the players who like the loosey goosey aspects of story games I insisted on it. They had to tell me about the sprint, about the leap, about the tumble, and about the moment they nimbly slipped between sometime in order to achieve the shortest path to the control panel.

As it happens, this kind of play style can be hard work after the first couple of times. It's easier to just checklist the thing, roll the dice, and play after the result. Maybe it's just me, but I like even just a sentence or two that connects the dice with the story. I want the dice to help the players to create the story and tell it verbally rather than leaving the details to the imagination.

So how about your game table? How do you connect the dice to way the story is told?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hillfolk for me

It's here at last; my kickstarter copy of Hillfolk. It's much larger and has more pages than I had expected (although I could have checked the page count in the PDF). Still, it's a beautiful book, reminiscent of the gaming books I bought in my teens: large and hardcover.

I can't recommend this book enough for all your "loosey goosey"* gaming needs. The followup settings look to be quite promising as well. Between this and Fate, I may never need to buy another game again.

Although I probably will. ^_^

* A necessary description for this product, as listeners of KARTAS would know.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rob Lang Really Likes Siege

I find it difficult to say that a game of mine has fans. Nevertheless it seems to be true, and I would go so far as to say that Rob Lang is the biggest fan of Siege that I know of.

Or at least that's what I learnt around seven or eight minutes into this.

Thanks for the appreciation, Rob!


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It's time to play

After a flurry of posts in the first few days, a brief post in week two, it is now time to complete the final phase of Nagademon 2013. Play it.

That's right, tomorrow night I'm taking this little game to my regular gaming group to see how well it works with them. As usual I have a few things that I'm looking for from the game. Most of all I want to make sure that it's a fun or engaging game. The idea seemed to make sense to me but I really want it to be fun for other people who don't live inside my head. All those homunculi enjoyed it, but they're not real. Apparently.

I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Solo Playtesting Tells the Obvious Secrets

I ran through my rules again today to make a documented play test, a solo test if you will. I made characters, wrote tribal values, rolled dice, collated results, narrated results of rules. The end result? A shaky game. A wobbly, uncertain game. A lumbering journey through a short story.

But it's a story and it's a game. There's a story game in there, lurking beneath the surface of those bullet points and ideas. That's the first, and the biggest, obvious secret I learned tonight.

Buried deep in the die rolls, however, were several other secrets. Who gets that +1 you mentioned? Does that failed roll really exile the character from the tribe, and from the game? What kinds of things make for a worthy raider?

All of them are the obvious errors and omissions from my notes. They're the big, easy corrections. They're the kinds of things that really need to be cleaned up well before any encounter with actual players. I was tempted to fix them on the fly, but I committed myself to playing the rules as written. That's an important part of play testing. Play what's written, not what you think would fix the problem that you think you've found.

And now, to fix the obvious problems I just found.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The reason why they fight

I mentioned that my Nagademon 2013 game had a problem in the area of audience empathy. I think I may have solved it. Important to the setting (and therefore the story) is the value that the character's identity is found in the tribe. I hadn't really integrated this as fully as I could into the game but I had expected the players to drive their characters along that path. After a day or two of thinking about it consciously and subconsciously, I found my answer.

In the first iteration of the game I created a phase for the players to define the values of the tribe, and later had a phase in which the players had to play out their attempts to resolved personal tensions between the characters. Although this sounded like a good idea at the time, it didn't really connect the characters into the importance of the tribe itself and as a result didn't support what the game is about. This game is about characters who are willing to kill and die for the sake of the tribe. If I insisted on a phase in the game that concentrated on the interpersonal relationships, I think it would have been a distraction. Instead of that, the phase has been replaced by the opportunity for characters to embody the values of the tribe.

And now I'm going to give a little context for all of that. I hope it'll make more sense this way.

There are several phases of play.
   1. Read the tribal values, establish the setting.
   2. Create characters (includes identifying which values your character has broken)
   3. Make restitution to the tribe.
   4. The tribe is raided; with many men killed, and their children stolen.
   5. The characters prove their worth to join the raiding party.
   6. The tribe sets out to rescue their children.

The problem phase was #3, but I think I've fixed it now. Only another round of dummy testing will tell me if I've avoided the problem I found earlier. If only it all survives an actual play test.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Dummy testing success!

I ran some dummy tests last night for my Nagademon 2013 game. The good news is that it was very successful. I found something wrong with what I had.

It's an issue of what makes a good story. I like to think there are three key elements to a story for any protagonist.
   1. What does the character want?
   2. What's stopping the character?
   3. Why should the audience care?

The first two are standard fare for most story games. The last one is about getting player involvement in the game. Players have an emotional connection to their characters and need to share the motivation so that they make the character do something. I've been at game tables with players who've been confronted with The Big Bad Threat and responded with, "Why should I do anything about that? I'm going to find a monster, kill it, and take its stuff."

In my game the first two are clear: get the kids back from the cannibals, but your place in the raiding party is not assured. The third one is where I found the problem. Mechanically it's fine, but emotionally it's not strong enough. There's a good set of obstacles in that part of the game, but I want them to have a stronger connection with the rest of the game.

I consider the dummy testing successful because it found this problem. Now to fix it!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

First Blood of the Nagademon

The outline is done. What I have now is a playable game, but only if I'm running it. I had Siege in this format for several plays before I started putting text around it. The rules of Nagademon don't allow this kind of luxury, however, so I need to get the next couple of rounds of play testing completely.

My next immediate steps involve running some dummy tests by myself to see if it works as imagined. After that I need a group of players to try it out. As it happens I know a couple of people who are keen to play, but who have never played a story game before. This seems like an interesting opportunity to see how well it works off the shelf without any gaming presuppositions.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Roll initiative against Nagademon

The battle with the Nagademon has returned for 2013. This year I've started the month with a solid idea and have started the first hack at it. Already I can see influences from Burning Wheel, FU, Fiasco, and Siege. I'm stealing with pride.

Right now, the game itself is a one-shot game in which the players play members of a tribe that suffers a raid from cannibals who steal their children. The characters must earn their place in the raiding party that will go to rescue the children.

I'll keep the title to myself for now because I'm not yet convinced by it. Watch this space for more!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Fate Core Rocks My Socks

I'm digesting Fate Core. I couldn't really say that I'm reading it because I'm going slower than other books and carefully poring over every concept. Each page comes alive by intersecting in my mind with the play style and campaign of my gaming group. I'm thinking about how it will change our Diaspora story and also how I'll go about explaining the differences to the group. 

Each step, each thought, each page... They all enrich the games we are yet to play. And for that reason Fate Core is rocking my aforementioned socks. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Poison'd Poison'd

I ran Poison'd the other week and before I did I re-read the rules. No news there, just good practice. Then while I was running it I started flicking for a rule I needed (stats of The Resolute) only to discover that it wasn't there. 

And right in that moment, I realised that my print copy and my PDF copy were different. The sudden realisation was closely accompanied by the memory of heart-stopping minutes of GM terror from previous convention games; desperately flicking through the pages in front of gawping players, the silence murdering the story like a pillow to the face. No wonder I'd never been able to find what I knew was there. All my prep was done by reading the PDF, but I prefer to take the paper copy to the table. 

My Poison'd has been Poison'd. Tom Reed, you've struck again from beyond your watery grave.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Poisoning the Captain

Looks like my next game will be a break from Diaspora, instead making space for a one-shot. Not just any one-shot, this will be the fearsome and entertaining Poison'd! Time to break out the old favourite GM question, "Are you going to let him get away with that?"

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Two things I'm working on as a GM

1. Pacing. This seems to be easily forgotten while playing. We become entrenched in a moment of play, captivated by a detail of the situation, and when it's resolved we've spent too much time in part of the story that doesn't move things forward. There are things I can do for this. 

a) Reduce the number of things the NPCs do to the PCs. 
b) Weaken the NPCs to lessen the challenge and finish things quickly. 
c) Strengthen the NPCs to force a surrender or retreat.
d) Increase the stakes for each die roll.

2. Compels. This is part of my current Diaspora game. Each session I start with a pool of fate points that I haven't spent by the end. Each session also has plenty of fate points left over for each character. I'm going to try the following. 

a) Write three compel situations for each character. 
b) Force a lot more die rolls for each character, preferably with higher challenges, to burn through their own pools so they feel the need to be compelled. 
c) And if they don't work I'll reconsider the refresh levels again. 

How about you? Which GM techniques are you improving, and how?

Friday, 13 September 2013

From story to drama

It's taken a while but I think my Diaspora game has turned into a campaign. We've played ten episodes and the player characters have fought alongside each other, fought with each other, travelled with each other, stolen from each other, gotten drunk with each other... just about everything except slept with each other. One of them even had his half-brother kidnapped and then forgot about it.

Although perhaps "campaign" isn't the right word. It's turned into an ongoing drama. The group has broken the urge to stay together, or even to work together. They're associated by convenience, alongside achieving their own goals.

It's such a joy to turn story on and extend it to a television length season. Soon we'll reach episode 13 and I'm hoping that together we come up with a cliffhanger. We might take a short break to play a couple of one-shots, and possibly come back to it.

(And as a side note, I might convert the game from Diaspora to Fate Core for season 2.)

Rapid switching

I've been working on a GM technique lately. For want of a better name I've taken to calling it Rapid Switching. I use it when the characters are separated from each other, and especially when they're all in individual pursuits. 

To do it I break from one character to the next after only a couple of minutes or actions. It might be after a few volleys of gunfire with a villain, or some argument back and forth with an NPC, but it is nearly always long before that encounter is complete. Sometimes I might switch to and fro as many as four or five times before it's resolved. 

What I'm trying to achieve by doing this is threefold. First, I'm minimising player downtime. I don't like waiting 20 minutes for my opportunity to play and I'm sure my players don't either. Rapid switching gives players short and frequent opportunities to play. Second, I'm emulating something I enjoy in tv and books. I can interpose fights with dialogue, or fights with fights, or fights and chases. Third, I can maintain dramatic tension. Things are unresolved for everyone for longer and there's a shared sense of it for all the players. 

This rapid switching has helped our game sessions. What about you? Have you used anything like this? How did it work for you?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Making it fun

I'm turning ideas for Gettin' Away With It over and over. There's a system and a flow for it all but I'm stuck with a key hurdle. 

Is it fun?

Is every part of the game fun or do I have components which exist only as support for the parts which are fun? The game itself should produce stories like Breaking Bad, either with a serious flavour or a fiasco-esque flavour. At the moment, however, there are parts which seem like a drag to play through just to reach the fun parts. 

Every part of this game has to be fun or engaging, otherwise it's getting the chop. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

My GM Style

It was just last week that I found myself explaining my GM style. Reflecting on that I think I use this style more than I realise. 

I like to put a cookie (macguffin) in the middle of the group and see what happens. Some characters want the cookie for themselves. Some want the cookie recipe. Some taste the cookie and discover it tastes terrible, or that it's poisoned. The best cookies are worth fighting about and the best stories I've experienced as a GM are the ones that the players drive by trying to sort out what they should do with the cookie. And from time to time I put it other cookies (or, to mix metaphors, other tasty treats).

This style might come across as a bit last to some but it seems to be ideal for the "play to find out what happens" style. It uses a lot of Bangs but needs me only to prepare concise points for a game session. 

How about you? How would you describe your GM style?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fate Core of Course

My first experience with small press games, indie games, free games was when I stumbled onto FUDGE. My head spun. I wondered whether the system was any good. I mean, it was free, for goodness sake. At the time all the free RPG content I knew was from the Palladium Mailing List and had almost no guarantee of being any good.

I read it, though it was weird, and then found FATE 2.0. And then the bug bit. I bought dice, even before I had a reason to roll them. I made up a strange Matrix-esque scenario just to try it out. Since then I've treasured that free PDF. And I've paid for Fate games. Spirit of the Century and Diaspora are both on my game shelf, and I've had such fun playing them.

It's with joy that today I held in my hands my signed copy of Fate Core. Such a long time after that free PDF, today I have a book. A hardcover book. A book that was refined and polished, with high quality art and editing and layout. A book that is the result of years of hard work from the developers, with countless hours (months? years?) of actual playtime in the wild.

Fate Core is here. My heartfelt congratulations to everyone involved in its production. Thank you for a great game system.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

When Other Players Assign Aspects

I mentioned that I was going to use a Burning Wheel trick in my Diaspora game. Mentioned, done, succeeded. The players took turns at suggesting ideas and phrases for the last character. We used each other's creativity and perspective to help round out the character and to weave him into the plot. Those aspects immediately came into play and became part of our overall story. 

Mission accomplished. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Stealing from Burning Wheel for Diaspora

Burning Wheel has a nice system of gaining traits. Other players suggest them based on how you play your character and with enough agreement from the group, that trait becomes part of the character.

Tonight I'm going to smoosh that into the opening section of our Diaspora game. Diaspora allows a player to change one of their character's aspects at the start of a session. We have a new-ish player who wasn't with us for character creation so he's missing a few aspects from his character. He's been with us for two sessions so we've seen a bit of the character. I'm going to ask each other player to suggest an aspect for the new character, based on what they've seen or perhaps what they'd like to see, and if the new-ish player agrees then he gets the aspect.

Let's see how well it works.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Found! A forum thread about Siege

I found a forum discussion about Siege. The title is delightfully misleading: Siege, the perfect Story Game.

I don't believe it either, but I'll take that praise! The only sad part about it is that the poster then says he'd never play it because he doesn't like that kind of game.

But still... it's the perfect story game. :)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Paragraphs and Dialogue

I finished listening to the Walking Eye AP recordings of The Spark playtest the other day. In the middle of it all was a moment that the cast were trying to determine how to resolve things and one of them (Jen, perhaps?) said that it's a bit like a paragraph that needs to be finished before moving on to the next paragraph.

Normally the jargon of the story games community is a scene, sometimes a frame (for the comics games like With Great Power). Hearing "paragraph" triggered in me a thought about dividing a story game into paragraphs and dialogues.
A paragraph as analogous to an action sequence, with the focus on descriptions of what characters and things are doing.
A dialogue as analogous to improvised acting, with the focus on conversation between characters.
A game designed around this could use slightly different rules for each. A portion of game could be a Paragraph, with dialogue thrown in as flavour or for some small effect on the Paragraph. Players would describe what's happening and the rules would need to support the opposition between players for the outcome of the Paragraph.

The other parts of the game would be Dialogue. This would allow the improv-minded players to shine, with opportunities for acting and silly voices. The rules would need to support the freedom of improv while providing a structure for direction or resolution (other than the players just shouting over the top of each other).

I'm not a clever enough designer to make this work just yet, but I can certainly see how both the Paragraph and the Dialogue exist already within games as styles of play. My Fiasco games tend to be heavy users of Dialogue, whereas my Fate games tend to be heavy on the Paragraphs.

I have a game scheduled this week with my regular group. I'm going to watch for Paragraphs and Dialogue, to see how our group plays and to watch how much Paragraph and Dialogue interact with each other.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Wild Game Design

I had a voluminous design session for Gettin' Away With It on the weekend, although I'm not sure how productive it was. It felt like a solo game-storming effort and I've probably created half a dozen subsystems within the larger game. Thankfully, I think I'll be able to chop them out of the rules without remorse when the time comes.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Choosing a Setting for GAWI

GAWI? Sure, that's my new shorthand for Gettin' Away With It. And what I've been thinking about for the game is the setting. My first instinct is to make it the contemporary Western city, but part of me thinks that's a little lazy. My alternative is to reskin reality, much like Durance. Durance is the game about colonising Australia, but set on another planet to make it more interesting.

At least with that in mind there's the option to distort reality for the sake of the game. I can give the police legal powers that they would otherwise have. I can set up new opposition for the characters, or just make today's opposition more difficult or pernicious.

There's more work in that choice and will lengthen the project a little, but I think it'll be worth it.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Good Aspect, Bad Aspect

Writing a good aspect for Fate takes practice. They flow easily from the short paragraphs and back story that arise during character creation, but that's not enough. As a GM for Fate games, I see aspects that don't get used. They're on the sheet. The player put them there, but never uses them.

My weakness as a GM is not yet seeing the potential use for them in a story. I remember a couple of convention games where people set down a list of aspects that were like a castle. They were crafted so carefully as to make them invulnerable. Clever. Nimble. Ambidextrous. They may as well have written Awesome.

Some of my current frustration comes from my current game of Diaspora. At the start of every session, everyone refreshes fate points. If they're frugal enough in the previous session they never have to be compelled to earn any more. If they're lucky with the rolls, it's even less likely that they need a compel.

To make the best of it I see a couple of options.

1. Make all challenges absurdly difficult, forcing the players to spend all their points and need more before the end of each session. This seems poor and vindictive. How did everything suddenly become harder? Did all the antagonists suddenly level up?

2. Lower the refresh to three instead of five. Maybe this is a balanced approach, more suited to the three hours sessions we play.

3. Abandon the refresh altogether. Harsh, man. Harsh.

I've some thinking to do about this. I'll do one of them and let you know how hard my players squeal.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Benefits of Game Design with Kids

I posted a couple of weeks ago that my kindergarten-aged son wanted to make a tank game with me. I enthusiastically started making it in my head with a view to guiding him along a path to a game that had toy tanks, a tabletop, some obstacles for the tanks to hide behind, dice, and the goal to shoot each other's tank/s.

Thankfully when he and I started on the game I asked him some important questions.

  1. What do the tanks do?
    1. Move
    2. Shoot
  2. What do the tanks shoot at?
    1. Cars
    2. Trucks
    3. Aeroplanes
    4. Helicopters
Now imagine the sound of me slapping my forehead at the mistake I narrowly avoided making. He didn't want a game that set players against each other; he wanted to be on the same side as me. We made an ambush game. Two tanks were going to ambush a convoy that was protected by aeroplanes and helicopters.

The game itself wasn't innovative. Move vehicle, choose target, keep a tally of the number of hits required to destroy a vehicle, remove destroyed vehicles. We had to find a mechanical way to represent the convoy and die rolls substituted nicely for those decisions: which vehicle enters the table next, what does it shoot at if it can shoot, how far does it move, and so on.

Most importantly for me was the initial exercise of defining the game. His idea of fun wasn't tainted by his expectations of what a game should be. My son has reminded me of the value of not accepting the methods and mechanisms of other games as the only way to design, as well as the value of accepting those same mechanisms as part of the toolkit.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Making a Tank Game

One of my kids spotted my copy of Car Wars Tanks on the shelf. Unfortunately he's only four and Tanks is a little too complex for that age group. Well, actually that's good thing because now he and I are going to make a tank game.

Here are the parameters, though.
1. Playable by a four year old.
2. Uses tank miniatures or toys.
3. Quick setup.
4. Short games.

Seems easy, right? Yep. Sure is. I'm resisting the urge to design it now because what I really want to do is design a game with my son. And that's the last parameter.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Gettin' away with it

Perhaps it was nothing more than the delerium of illness. One thing is sure, though, I have a new game project underway. It's a crime game called Gettin' Away With It. Several pages of notes exist right now. Over the coming weeks they'll turn into pages of actual text and then into a game.

Watch this space for more.

Swancon Wrap-up

The title is something of a misnomer since I was there only for the Saturday. At least 75% of the rest of Swancon happened without me there and has its own bards to tell those tales. However, what I did manage to witness transpired thusly.

I delivered a seminar (An Introduction to Story Games) early Saturday morning. The audience, though small, were engaged with the topic and listened intently. If you weren't there you missed out on the following:

  • Story games occupy the intersection between the mode of production of fiction, the mode of performance of fiction, and the mode of consumption of fiction. To put it another way it's writing, improv and audience all in one activity.
  • Good story games are structured to drive the players' consciousness back into the fiction with temporary detours into rules.
  • My mind is currently chewing over the notion that good game design gives the tools for creating problems in the fiction so that the players can respond (solve?) those problems

All of that was decorated with examples from the forge, Vincent Baker's model of clouds and boxes, Robin Laws' analysis in Hamlet's Hit Points, as well as a host of other games and luminaries.

After this was said and done I set up a demo game of Fiasco in the gaming room and ran it several times before taking a break for lunch and a quick tour of the rest of Swancon, followed by a non-demo game of Fiasco. There were the requisite number of fedoras to qualify as a writer's convention, sufficient numbers of cosplayers to make for a presence, and at least one kilt. The dealers' room was mostly about fiction, including a significant collection of works by Gail Simone.

Speaking of Gail, I had hoped beyond hope that Fortuna would allow us to cross paths in between our scheduled activities but alas Fortuna did not smile on me that day. My copy of Wonder Woman #36 shall remain unsigned for now.

Kudos must go to Terry Chilvers for his organisation in the gaming room. He was organised before and during the event. I knew what was expected of me and had all the resources I needed to make it happen. It seems clear that I owe this man a game of Fiasco sometime.

And there's no con without networking. My aging business cards came in handy and may serve as the gateway to the next thing I contribute to in the Perth gaming scene. Watch this space for more.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

What am I to do with 68 aspects?

The last gaming session was the setting and character creation for a game of Diaspora. My group doesn't have much experience with FATE's aspects and that turned out to be the most difficult part of the evening. It'll come with practice, though.

Looking at the summary of the session I can see no less than sixty-eight aspects staring me in the face. Sixty-eight! Between five characters and six systems that's what I have for story seeds. One of the character has a spacecraft too and those aspects are yet to be added into the mix. The astute reader-and-Diaspora-fan will calculate that the total aspect count will soon be above seventy.

With rich pickings like these I expect that we will come nowhere near the depths of the characters and stories open to us. Our first play session is later this week and we are ready for launch.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Story Games at Swancon

If you can be at Swancon later this month you have the opportunity to hear me as part of a panel about story games. We'll be discussing particular games - though I've yet to choose which one I'll concentrate on - and the fiction they produce.

Keep your eye on the Swancon website for details of the exact time but it will be on Saturday. For most of the afternoon I'll be in the gaming room running demos for a few story games so that the curious non-gamers can get a taste of what story games are about.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Are girls allowed in the game shop?

On the weekend I made my regular pilgrimage to Tactics with one of my sons in tow. He's saving for a toy TARDIS and likes to go and see it whenever we're in the area. On the way there he asked, "Are girls allowed in the game shop?"

At first glance you might think he'd be conditioned to think that games are for boys only. It's true that most of the customers in Tactics are male, but certainly not all of them. As far as I can tell he was looking for an excuse to isolate me from the rest of the family just to have some exclusive time with me while chasing the elusive TARDIS.

But seizing the opportunity I told him that it's not just for boys. Gaming is something that both boys and girls can do. Games are for everyone. Like most toddlers he accepted what I said. Part of me deeply hopes that he'll take this sense of inclusivity with him throughout his life. He might develop an interest in games, fantasy, and science fiction. He might grow out of it. Wherever life takes him, I hope that he always remembers that conversation, or at least that lesson.

Or as Steve D would say, I hope he's got the MESSAGE and that he won't ever forget it.

In fact, you should go check out the MESSAGE. Gaming is for anyone.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Two levels of game enjoyment

The latest hot stuff in the lunchroom conversation these days is the show My Kitchen Rules. So I watched a bit of it to see what the fuss was. Have no fear, I did the same thing with the Harlem Shake and Rebecca Black. You can see the lengths to which I'll go in order to get my head around pop culture references.

I've no intention of continuing to watch the show but as I watched I saw an important lesson for game designers. It's possible to create a game that is unenjoyable as a participant and enjoyable as the audience.

In the episode I watched there were two contestants who hosted a dinner party for the other contestants and judges. At the end of meal all the guests gave scores for each course. Each episode the role of hosts moves to the next team.

From what I saw it was clear that almost none of the contestants enjoyed having scores come their way. Like most people they think they're more competent than they are so naturally they're disappointed with the scores. Secondly the scores come from the competition, all of whom want to win so naturally there's a tendency to score harshly. Being caught in this kind of game, where the competition determines your success and failure, would enrage me. It encourages spitefulness, vengefulness and bickering. It's unenjoyable.

At the same time this is one of the most popular shows on TV so there are plenty of viewers who enjoy it. I think they enjoy it for the same reason that bitchy soap operas are enjoyable. The show generates spitefulness, vengefulness and bickering: in other words, it creates conflict between people, and the audience likes to see conflict created and resolved.

To repeat the lesson: it's possible to create a game that is unenjoyable as a participant and enjoyable as the audience.

My Kitchen Rules is such a game and is a perfect example of what to avoid when designing a tabletop game. Remember to make the game fun as a participant and as an audience. Creating conflict is good for story games, but don't do it at the expense of player enjoyment.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Thinking FU

I ran a game of Spirit of the Century the other week after finishing a six month campaign of May the FU Be With You. I run FU much like I run Spirit and that's hardly surprising. In many ways FU is Fate on a strict vegan diet. It's lighter, faster and can be blown around by hand waving. It's that hand waving that helps out so much. The link from what the players speak (that is, creating the fiction) and what the dice do (that is, forcing the fiction one way or the other) is solid and intuitive.

There are a couple of things that FU doesn't do and I don't think it pretends to do them. There will always be an element of matching the right system to the right setting and the right kind of story.

It's hard for me to criticise FU, partly because I've greatly enjoyed it and partly because I know Nathan. I wish it handled character development in some way. I hacked a house rule to let players spend a FU point to change gear or a descriptor, as long as the change was accompanied by an appropriate plot development. And I wish it didn't drive players towards being one-trick ponies. I've paid the price for having a character who couldn't use everything all at once, leaving me with a small dice pool. Defining descriptors and gear that work together is the means to munchkin the FU (awful grammar, I know). With the right combination a player can bring a pool of five dice before penalties. That kind of character, though, tends to use the same solution for every problem. It works well for characters like Wolverine (I stab it with my claws) but not so well for Batman (I investigate, I fight, I have money, I...). It can be dissatisfying to play that character except when they succeed so often.

I hadn't intended this to be a review of FU, just some thoughts that were percolating around in my mind.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Spirit of 2013

After a long, long hiatus from the game, tonight I'll run Spirit of the Century. It's an impromptu game that I'm running to demonstrate it. The group is moving to play a supers game and was going to use Mutants and Masterminds, then FU, but now I've suggested Fate I find that I'm the only one who knows it.

I'm going to use the great characters from the book itself as well as get some players to create their characters on the fly. It's a one-shot game and I need to flex its muscles for the group so that they can see how it works.

It brings me back to the days of the first Gen Con Oz. Those indie games on demand tables demanded nothing but SOTC for nearly the whole time. Let's see what comes from tonight, although I expect pulpy fun and laughs.

Saturday, 5 January 2013


I'm a FATE Core backer. Woo!

It's no secret that I'm an Evil Hat fanboy. I like their games and own most of them. I'm keen to support the company - and the game - that was my gateway drug into indie games. I remember downloading the PDFs for FUDGE and FATE all those years ago and wondering what to do with them. What on earth was I going to do with a system that used Aspects? And where were the polyhedral dice?

Finally seeing FATE in a beautiful book format will be a great pleasure for me. I'll keep it next to the printed copy of FATE 2 that I have from all those years ago.

As it happens, my regular gaming group is changing to a new campaign and we're deciding the system we're going to use. FATE is a leading contender. The timing is excellent.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Lego FU Thank You

The game is complete! I have the PDF in my hot little (digital) hands, and you can too!

There are some people I want to thank right now for helping me make the game.

John Reid: layout guy with a brain full of clever ideas. He spoke at me in techno-babble and then patiently explained the steps behind the babble in order to make my text look good on the page. He owns his own graphic design business, LoveHate Design.

Leith Reid: editor with more grammar-fu than I1. I've discovered that if you have her working on your text the correct strategy is "Accept all of Leith's changes and focus on her questions instead."

My playtesters: for putting up with my corruption of their otherwise fine Star Wars game. Peter, Michael, Pam and Oskar, thank you so much.

Nathan Russell: for making FU in the first place. It is teh awesome!!!!1!!


Siege Reviewed

There's been a review of Siege posted at Discordia. It's in Swedish so you might need to use your favourite translation software to read it.

Just a paragraph (courtesy of google translate).
Siege is super easy to get started and have four basic steps that, in principle, constitute the entire game. Select the type for each role person / player (police, hostages or hostage takers), give the role the person some skills and flesh, playing out scenes in the adventure that affect the role of persons to one another and drives the plot forward and finally - give each role person an epilogue.

To be such a superduperenkelt games is Siege surprisingly playable. I suspect it has with the limited premise to do.


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