Archive for October, 2007

Advrom Preliminary Ideas

2007 Oct 6

Emily and I talked about writing freeform games to playtest at the next JiffyCon in November. And then Elizabeth and I talked about collaborating on a game called Adventure Romance (“Advrom” for short), an action game with lots of thrilling fights and stuff, but where the system measured changes in the status of relationships (as in Breaking the Ice) instead of injury and fatigue and special abilities and stuff (which were all just color). So here’s my notes from talking to Elizabeth about this project.


I said:

    One thing about these stories, I think, is that the romantic couple (or group of romantic rivals) is established very early on in the story or quickly becoming obvious, even when it isn’t necessarily obvious to the protagonists (I’m thinking, like, The Horse And His Boy). So that needs to be part of character creation, not something established in play.

    I’m kinda on the fence about how many players such a game could be for. I can see it working really well for sexy two-player games, but I can also see the fun of having other players represent antagonists, rivals for affection, comrades, or even other distinct couples. Like, say, in Twelfth Night or As You Like It, everybody ends up paired off at the end, after a bunch of jockeying around.

Then Elizabeth said:

    The first thing that comes to mind– only thing, really– is kind of the “Signature Style” thing from Exalted. The thing which really flavors the dynamic of any adventure romance is the Adjectivey (or Verby) Noun of the protagonists. Roxanne: the guy is the Eloquent Mutant, and the girl is the Independent Scientist. Princess Bride: the guy is the Passionate Adventurer, and the girl is the Faithful Princess. Shaolin Soccer: the guy is the Crazy Rake and the girl is the Quiet Mutant. Maybe we could come up with a list of archetypes, or a system for making archetypes (that sounds more hippie and indie), and the archetypes would heavily color the combat and romance mechanics.

    Due to the transforming power of mush, ZOMGlove could (should?) shift a character’s adjective. Usually something fundamental changes at the climax of the story– the Humble Protector becomes the Rebellious Protector when the object of his affection is forced into an arranged marriage by the Sultan! etc.

So then we came up with some archetypes:

– Arrogant
– Liberated
– Clueless
– Humble
– Bumbling
– Absurd
– Shy
– Passionate
– Fickle
– Spoiled
– Misunderstood
– Rebellious
– Doomed

– Prodigy
– Innocent
– Youth
– Messiah
– Rapscallion
– Protector
– Artist
– Mutant
– Magnet
– Sinner
– Mouse
– Superstar
– Zealot

Then I started thinking about defining characters not by their traits (things that they are) but by their behaviors (ways that they do things).

– Stubbornly Avoid Dealing with Your Growing Infatuation
– Assert Control/Affection in a Passive-Aggressive Way
– Be Unthinkably Cruel to the Object of Your Affection
– Make Them Work for It
– Do Little Nice Things to Make Them Notice You
– Make Them Jealous by Courting Their Best Mate
– Get Yourself into Trouble So They Have to Show They Care
– Be Distracted by the Hot-But-Wicked Side Character


To start out on this issue, I said:

    I was thinking that there could be a gradual shifting of attraction over time, which the players could totally see coming but the characters themselves might not be totally aware of (like, say, in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). Have you played The Mountain Witch or Cold City? They have really interesting Trust mechanics that have the relative amount of trust between characters shift as the story goes on. I was thinking that something in that vein would be cool.

Then, more recently:

    I was also thinking about the different states the relationship can start in. “Unrequited” seems common, but there’s also, like, “Engaged” and “Married” like in Hook and Pirates 2. Sometimes a marriage is in trouble and you go on an adventure to save it. (Elizabeth says: “Hate! Hate is an important one, or at least, vehement dislike with lots of sexual tension.”) Right, it seems like emotions are unrelated to the official status of the relationship. Like, you can hate someone and still be their fiance. But clearly the relationship’s Emotional and Official and Physical status may be important, like “have they kissed yet,” “have they admitted their love,” “has he been slapped.”

And then I brought up the Intimacy Ladder from Bliss Stage, which measures the developments of a relationship by landmarks, in a manner similar to what we’re describing here. We’re still talking about what ladders/scales to have and how exactly to measure relationship developments, but something that mixes Bliss Stage with Breaking the Ice sounds cool.

Lots more still to come later. We haven’t even begun talking about how fights work, really, though it probably has to do with the behaviors that I mentioned above, which are basically Burning Wheel-style “Martial Actions” but based on emotional manipulation. They’re “Love Tactics.”

Cold City Hack II: The Pacific, 1939-1945

2007 Oct 4

Lordy, I’m gonna have to talk to Malcolm about doing a couple Cold City supplements. First there was Mwaantaangaand and now, I was just doing my work, minding my own business, when I read the following:

    By the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, Japan had built up a comprehensive intelligence network in China… The Ume Kikan [Plum Blossom Agency] was one of four “flower” agencies established by the Staff Headquarters of the China Expeditionary Army to conduct intelligence in different parts of China. The other three were the “orchid” (Ran) which targeted the Guangxi Clique leaders in South China, the “bamboo” (Take) which sought to win over Wu Peifu and other former warlords in North China, and the “pine” (Matsu) which was active in Northwest China.

These four intelligence agencies just happen to match pretty closely to the four “flower” tiles in the game of majiang. Now, making some majiang-based varient rules for running Cold City in North China — trying to destroy the monsters created by Japanese biological, chemical, and technological experiments — that’s already pretty tempting. But then I read…

    The role of the Ume Kikan could be obtrusive, and leave the Chinese [collaborators] feeling humiliated… [O]ne of the participants, Tao Xisheng, likened the talks [between various Japanese-controlled puppet factions] to a mahjong game in which the players never decided strategy; instead decisions were taken by Japanese advisors reaching from over the shoulders of the players.

Um… and there’s the mechanic right there. The players play majiang and the GM, acting for the Japanese, constantly makes move for them over their shoulders, manipulating the flow of the game.

Kublai Khan Is Dead

2007 Oct 3

Simon C and Dave C’s sweet game of Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan on Snailspace has inspired me to post a slightly updated draft of the rules on One Thousand One. I added all of Simon’s comments from the Actual Play report (though I stupidly called him Dave in responding to him at Story Games, doh!), which should definitely help with future revision attempts.

Avatar Archive

2007 Oct 1

Final post for today, promise.

I just finished archiving the Avatar: The Last Airbender posts on One Thousand One. Combined with the existing archive of Avatar-related posts on Secret Wars, this creates a near-complete record of all my work on this game. Yay!

I may eventually move the relevant Secret Wars posts over here, but that might be too much work. Much of the work and ideas I fiddled with over there are reflected in the current rules draft anyway. I have updates in my head, especially after the last playtest, but they aren’t written anywhere right now.

Heavenly Kingdoms

2007 Oct 1

Just posted my entry to Game Chef 3 (2005), Heavenly Kingdoms: The Game of Drunken Taiping Exegesis. Honestly, I still think it’s one of the most fun games I’ve ever written, though I’ve never actually played an entire game of it.

The simple mechanics involve two players taking turns putting forward random stanzas of this religious poem. Each player describes how his/her stanza continues the story already established in the previous stanza. It models a kind of shared storytelling that, I think, is different from most of the games you see, something more from the Baron Münchhausen or Once Upon a Time school of games.

Scott Pilgrim’s Primetime Adventures

2007 Oct 1

I’m trading Elizabeth the first three volumes of Scott Pilgrim, the greatest comic since Sharknife, in exchange for her old camera.

According to wikipedia:

    The series is about 23-year-old Canadian Scott Pilgrim, a slacker, hero, wannabe-rockstar, who is living in Toronto and playing bass in the band “Sex Bob-Omb.” He falls in love with American delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers, but must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her.

Here’s how you play Scott Pilgrim using Matt Wilson’s Primetime Adventures.


Pick a number of Volumes you’re going to play out. The real Scott Pilgrim has 7, but that may be too many, if you want something focused, or two few, if you’d rather do something as involved as Ranma 1/2.


Your series will be centered around a main protagonist who we’ll call “Scott,” even though they can be called anything you want in your game. All the other PCs must be connected to Scott in some way, but it doesn’t have to be directly. If one player is Scott’s gay brother Jimmy, an art school student, another player can play Jimmy’s middle school boyfriend/rival, Howard, a record store clerk. If it’s not obvious already, all the characters should be hipsters or other jaded cool-losers between 15-30.

Character names are always ridiculous. I’m not sure how to describe the right kind of ridiculous. Remember this is a hipster power fantasy and I think you’ll do fine. A banal or classic-but-unusual first name followed by something that’s not really a last name is a good call. If they sound a bit like bad James Bond characters, you know you’ve nailed it. Edward Gunslinger. Ginger Soirée. Rick Adroit. Meredith Flagship.

The Premise

The premise of your game should fit the following format:


For example, in the real Scott Pilgrim series, the premise is:

    Scott must defeat Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends.

But in your series, Alicia Excelsior, the premise might be:

    Alicia must exorcise Robert’s 18 demonic step-fathers.


Scott is always the Spotlight Character of any particular Volume, but he does not have a potency of 3 like normal. Instead, Scott as 0 potency and is effective in conflicts thanks solely to Fanmail, either Fanmail he earns or Fanmail that is spent on his behalf.

That’s It!

Play and be merry! The rest of PTA should work pretty well just as it is.

RPGnet & Push 2

2007 Oct 1

So, after futzing around a bit after GenCon, it’s time for me to really hit Push 2 hard and get it ready for commentary. I have all of the current drafts printed out and redlined (and have for a while), but I need to get those comments back to the original authors so they can make edits before I do the final pass. Then it’s off to the commentators and we’re closer to gametime.

In preparation for focusing my attention back on Push and away from my personal design projects, I also contacted Shannon Appelcline about writing a column for RPGnet, following on the Fine Art of Roleplaying column I wrote in early 2004. He seemed to think it could be a possibility, so I’m beginning to outline the first few installments.

Here was my proposal:

    During the first half of 2004, I wrote a column for RPGnet, “The Fine Art of Roleplaying.”

    Many things have changed since then. I finished college and a Fulbright Fellowship in China. Now I work for an independent foreign policy think-tank in Boston, writing papers for the government on various international issues.

    I also edit and publish Push, a journal on new developments in roleplaying, which is in the process of putting together its second issue, which will hopefully be out by December.

    For the past several years, after leaving The Forge and striking out in a different direction, I’ve been basically doing my own game design and thinking off by myself, mostly on my personal blog.

    Lately, though, I feel more attracted to the idea of interacting more with the public, online face of roleplaying, which RPGnet represents a fair portion of. I guess I feel like there are many interesting developments happening on the fringes of roleplaying that many people never get to see because of all the cliquishness, internet posturing, and so on. The Forge, even back when I was reading it regularly, is not the most accessible place for newcomers and can tend to have a limited perspective on the hobby as a whole. And many roleplayers are mostly concerned about what’s happening within their favorite game lines and may not be aware of general trends in the hobby as a whole.

    So my proposal for a new column is inspired by a common topic in foreign policy study: I want to look at the contemporary “Issues and Trends” in roleplaying design and play, picking one to talk about every month and discussing it in detail by talking about how recent games or companies have chosen handle a given subject and where things may be headed in the future. Topics could include things like GM-less play, the evolution of alignment systems, trust mechanics, open game systems, diceless play, publication formats, print-on-demand, combat systems, the planning of supplements for a core game line, resolution systems, and other issues and trends that seem to be going on in roleplaying.

    I want to take a big picture look at the industry without focusing too much on sales numbers and distrubution, focusing instead on what the products are actually like and comparing developments in tabletop scenes as diverse as Exalted, d20, and the newest indie games, which I don’t think happens often enough. Despite the barriers that separate various roleplaying sub-communities, there are interesting synergies and shared themes that enable us to learn from what other people are doing in their games.

Right now, I’m thinking that the first column may be about the tradition of having “things your character cares about” give you advantages in conflicts, but I’m not sure I really know where that begins, not having played a lot of old school RPGs like Cyberpunk and AD&D. I know a bunch of people point to things like The Riddle of Steel‘s “Spiritual Attributes,” but I guess I doubt that TROS was the first game to fiddle with stuff like that. Suggestions?