Archive for August, 2006

Avatar/4N Initial Playtest Thread

2006 Aug 29

Shreyas and I both came to GenCon with pretty character sheets but only vague ideas about how they supported the kind of play that we had in mind. This didn’t bother us. We’re both interested in designing game products that are actually the tools used, in real time, to create play, instead of having books and sheets simply be records of play information. So the tools came first, in this case, and then we decided to try and figure out what sort of play they led us too. (Kevin Allen Jr. was walking around at the time and asked what we were up to; that in turn led to the infamous and ongoing Reverse/Engineer design contest, but that’s beside the point…).

The sheets we used for Avatar (what would become the Four Nations project) are posted here (PDF).

Hopefully Shreyas and Thomas will pitch in and help me retell how the session went. I still have all the character info and records from it, so I’m going to go ahead and post what I have:

Name: Toph
Nation: Earth Kingdom
Age: 12
Gender: Female
Major Personality Traits: Bored, Bitchy
Relationships: Hates Parents
Martial/Bending: “See” with Earthbending, Crush People With Very Small Rocks (added during play)
Major Possession: The Stick
Major Dharma: Escape Parents, Become Earthbending Master
Earth Path: Learn “Crush People with Rocks”
     – This Guy’s an Idiot
     – My Way Works (Sorta)
     – Knocked Myself Out With a Rock
     – Crush People With Very Small Rocks (END)
Fire Path: Change “Hates Parents” to “Likes Parents”
     – I’m Not a Kid
     – My Dad Got Me Into This
Air Path: Pretend to Be Nice
     – I Can Hold My Tongue
     – Wait ‘Til They’re Not Looking
Water Path: Make a Friend

Name: Kusa
Nation: Water (North)
Age: 16
Gender: Male
Home: Northern Water Capitol
Major Personality Traits: Competative for No Reason
Relationships: Jealous of Katara
Martial/Bending: Waterbending Accidents
Major Possessions: Kayak
Major Dharma: Make Pakku Look Dumb
Water Path: Find New Teacher
     – I’m Outta Here
     – Caught in a Storm
     – Kayakwrecked
     – Try Again
Earth Path: Become a Pirate
     – Bosun Overboard!
     – Don’t Waste Grog
Air Path: Make a Friend
     – Scrubbing with Kai
Fire Path: Take Charge of Life
     – I’m the Lookout Now

Thomas decided he wanted to play Toph, a major character from the show who hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet. She’s a young blind girl who can “see” Daredevil-style by using her Earthbending powers to sense vibrations. She is known to have a bad relationship with her controlling and overprotective parents.

Shreyas decided to play a semi-new character. In one episode, Katara (a female Waterbender and one of the show’s protagonists) beats the crap out of a bunch of young male Waterbending students, to show that girls can be just as good as boys… or even better. Shreyas named one of these guys Kusa and decided that he was pissed off at Pakku, the Waterbending instructor.

I should probably explain that “Major Dharma” are supposed to be long term goals.

Also, let me explain the basic idea of “Dharma Paths.” Characters can have up to 4 different active Dharma Paths at each time, one for each element. And they basically record your progress as a character and enable you to change old traits or add new traits by completing a kind of “journey” as a character. You go through a series of events and they lead you to a new trait. But this trait CANNOT BE THE TRAIT YOU WANTED when you began the journey. It has to be at least a variation, but it’s often something completely different. You may think you know where the journey’s going to lead when you start, but life always surprises you.

Okay, so the characters didn’t start off with all those steps filled out on their Paths. They didn’t even start out with all those Paths. I think Thomas started with just his Earth and Fire paths determined, while Shreyas started with just Water (correct me if I’m wrong, guys).

One of the fabulous things was that Toph wanted to change “Hates Parents” to “Likes Parents,” but because of the way Paths work, we knew she’d never actually be able to do it, which is so fitting for her character. Thomas chose that goal for her KNOWING THAT SHE WOULD FAIL, which was just delicious. We all were on the edge of our seats waiting to see what her misdirected attempt at learning to love her parents would lead her to.

Okay, there’s me setting the stage. One of you guys wanna explain the Avatar Cycle dail and our thoughts about it? They kinda evolved over the course of play.

Non-Commercial Roleplaying

2006 Aug 29

Over at Story Games, I started to get a bit subversive.

Oops :)

Push Sales Report: July 24 – Aug 24

2006 Aug 27

Our first month was pretty good.

23 PDFs
63 Print (44 of those at GenCon)
86 Total Copies Sold

$762.13 Total Profit
$95.27 For Each Contributor, including Clio
$0.00 For Each Commentator (maybe next time, folks!)
$285.80 For Me (triple duty: Contributing, Editing, Layout)

If you wanna look at my spreadsheet, I’ve posted it here.

I think I’d like to pay Contributors bi-annually, if that’s cool with you folks. So you’ll get a check at the end of January (for the first 6 months) and then another check around GenCon 2007 (for the second 6 months). If people have concerns about that or need their money sooner for some reason, please let me know. I have no problem getting you your money earlier; I’m just trying to avoid more paperwork and hassle.

Another idea to float to Contributors:

I’m not going to try to force this in any way; it’s just an idea right now. What do you think about the possibility of releasing the PDF for free and/or selling back issues at cost once Push vol 2 comes out? I’m just thinking about the trouble of keeping track of multiple lists of contributors who have submitted things to multiple volumes and it just gives me nightmares that there will be confusion about who deserves what money. So I was wondering about the idea that any given volume of Push has a year to make money for its contributors and then it just becomes something we distribute freely (though we still own all the rights to it!).

There are some real issues with that idea, of course. I’d have to talk to Clio about it, since Lulu would still be making money off selling copies even if we weren’t and that seems a little… odd, I guess, though not if you think of them as any other printer.

And I don’t know if people would wait and buy issues of Push because they wanted to get it free/cheap. Or if our loyal readers would feel cheated by the price break for latecomers.

And I don’t know what that would mean for IPR distribution if, for example, Push dropped to $7 from $17 after a year. Or maybe we cease distribution of vol 1 once vol 2 comes out, like other magazines?

Maybe that would end up being just as much of a hassle as keeping Push 1 the same and just sending out annual checks to contributors to previous volumes. That, I might be able to manage.

In any case, those are my Push-related thoughts of late, as I begin pulling people together for vol 2.

Dreamteam for Push 2

2006 Aug 22

So, off the top of my head, right this minute, if I had to tell you who I wanted to work on Push vol 2 (and trying to pick new people and let the previous contributors comment or sit this one out), this is what it might look like:

Thomas Robertson
Jessica Hammer
Annie Rush
Tim Kleinert
Mike Sugarbaker
Kevin Allen Jr.
Mo Turkington
Victor Gijsbers
Neel Krishnaswami
Elliot Wilen
Jason Morningstar
Chris Chinn
Ginger Stampley or someone else (on PBeM)
Sarah Kahn or someone else (on online freeform)
Jerome Larre or someone else (on French RP)
Andy Kitkowski or somebody else (on Japanese RP)
somebody from the Terra Nova blog (on RP in MMORGs)

Paul Tevis
Brand Robins
Ken Hite
Judd Karlson
Dev Purkayastha
Claire Bickel
one or both of the Bakers
Jonathan Tweet
Nicole Lindros
Steve Kenson
Christina Stiles
Robin Laws
Mike Montola
somebody from Contested Ground
somebody from the Terra Nova blog
somebody from the online freeform community
– Emily Care Boss
– John Kim
– Shreyas Sampat
– Eero Tuovinen
– Jonathan Walton

Probably too many indie people, too much tabletop. But slowly diversifying. In any case, there’s one proposal. If I forgot you, let me know.

Lands Under the Sun

2006 Aug 22

Four Nations map.

Four Nations LJ Community

2006 Aug 16

I’ve started a LiveJournal community for the Four Nations project that Shreyas Sampat, Thomas Roberson, and myself hope to publish by next GenCon. The book will be a short (less than 100p), full color hardcover filled with pretty pictures, so it might take a little longer than that, but what’s life without a little ambition?

The first post talks about our plans for a fully modular and customizable mythic fantasy setting, which hints at our hubris. I’m sure Shreyas and Thomas will be glad to tell you about some of the other things we thought up during the roadtrip back to Boston, once they get good and settled at home. Shreyas took some notes.

Friend us or subscribe to our feed if you wanna be updated on this insanity.

The City On The Moon is peopled with unborn children. Sex is the ritual which summons them into this world. Even the Dead believe this to be so. The Apostates, however, do not. They speak of their Lost Queen and the army she is building, a moon army with which to conquer the earth. It is nonsense, of course, but even our own people are so rarely sensible. They listen to these whispers, for the City’s growth has become evident to the naked eye. Just yesterday, the Royal Astronomer spotted a new tower being constructed on the edge of the Lunar Sea. I fear a panic.

Review: Agon

2006 Aug 15

I just reviewed John Harper’s new game, Agon, which is my pick of GenCon. Check it out. I usually like hippy-dippy pseudo-freeform games, but this is crunch with punch.

Teaser 2

2006 Aug 15

(See Teaser 1)

And so death dwelt among the people for the first time, killing the old and young alike. But death, like a good hunter, left the hardy and strong alive so that the people continued to prosper.

When one of the people died, they shed their age and wounds, their sickness and madness — for those were the troubles of the dying, not the dead. And their descendents and friends prepared them for the long journey ahead. The dead were given food, traveling garments, money for the road, and a sturdy walking stick, for there are no doors to the Twilight City.

And so the dead left the villages of their birth, marching slowly but steadily towards the darkness that falls outside the light of the sun and the watchful eye of the moon. The City waited to welcome them, but there was no hurry.

As the Ghost Keepers say, “the City is ever patient, for it holds eternity within its gates.”

Four Nations Redux

2006 Aug 15

On the way back from GenCon, Thomas Robertson, Shreyas Sampat, and I spent pretty much all of Monday discussing how to make a replacement setting for my Avatar-based game system, such that we could publish it without dealing with licensing.

What we came up with is, in a single word, awesome.

We don’t know what we’re going to call it yet, but this could definitely end up being a big deal and also one of the first indie games that results from a truly collaborative effort among a small group of designers.

Shreyas just posted the first hints of what we’re doing. I can’t wait.

I Can Get You to Do Anything

2006 Aug 3

(from a conversation with Brand)

    I recently began suspecting that the reason I love roleplaying as a medium has a lot to do with the infinite canvas. I can tell roleplayers to do anything, absolutely anything, and they will be game for it as long as it’s part of an entertaining “game.” That’s really astounding.

    It’s sorta like scripting a piece of performance art. I could write a game for, say, 1 mature female, 1 boy child, a pianist, and a puppeteer. The woman and boy are Mary and Jesus off buying groceries at a market in Egypt (they’re still hiding from Herod). The pianist and the puppeteer collaboratively create the people and situations they encounter in the market, based on guidelines I lay out. Jesus and Mary react to these situations.

    AND PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY PLAY THIS! Isn’t that nuts?! And that’s not even half the things I can get people to do, just by writing a “roleplaying game.” And that’s SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

To reinterate, what does “roleplaying” mean anymore?

I’d argue that it has come to mean people intentionally and collaboratively creating an experience.

It’s merely traditions and context and shared vocabulary that provides form to all this and makes it seem like a collective whole when really it’s a host of very different activities. How many different ways can you “create an experience”? How many different kinds of experiences are there?

Our river has run into the ocean.