Archive for September, 2008

They Will Play Your Game Wrong

2008 Sep 29

I’m stealing a quote from the excellent gameplaywright blog, as a counterpoint to the stuff I quoted from Vincent earlier:

“Players will incentivise themselves to death. If the optimum path is boring, they will do it, then blame you, then quit.” —Dave Williams

In many folks’ perspective, you don’t worry about those players. A game is a tool and if they use the tool to poke themselves in the eye with over and over, it’s not your responsibility. However, I would argue that it’s not always obvious what you’re supposed to do with a tool. Maybe they assumed it was, y’know, eyedrops. But I do think that there is definitely danger in, as many traditional games do, overcompensating for people who may or may not be 1) idiots and, more importantly, 2) not part of your target audience.

So the truth, I suspect, lies somewhere between Vincent and Dave here. I’m just not sure what that means. Can you design a game assuming people will play it “wrong”? And if so, how? Mo and Brand have been talking a lot about building flexibility and local player/group decisions into the mechanics. I think there’s something to that, but I’m not sure I’ve got enough experience to do that in a sophisticated fashion yet.


What Lies Beneath

2008 Sep 29

For Agonia, I decided I needed the equivalent of Wormwood’s crawling towers and Engel’s traveling pillars of fire. The idea is basically to have a “fantasy aircraft carrier” for the bag guys that moves around and serves as a mobile base for their assault on all things good and holy.

As I recently discussed in another thread, there’s something really disturbing about really huge architectural constructs, things that are way too massive for humans to have built in one or even several generations. Once a piece of architecture becomes timeless and unnatural, it hits right at the “civilization is the work of the devil” meme that’s pretty powerful. Lovecraft certainly understood that. Also, you can see its power in Brueghel’s painting of the Tower of Babel…

… as well as Stradano’s diagram of Dante’s vision of hell.

So I’m imagining areas where the ground has collapsed, revealing the secret buildings and passages that exist under the earth, where all the demons and other foul creatures have lurked unknown for millenia. I imagine that looking down into one looks something like this:

Characters’ efforts, then, are to close such openings or drive creatures back down into them or even venture down into them and destroy demons in their homes. And the players would collectively decide where these holes had opened up when the game began, with one of the default ones being right on (or next to) Jerusalem, due to the dark mystical workings of the Templars.

Normalizing What’s Cool

2008 Sep 29

I’m not sure I agree with Vincent’s recent comments, but I do know that they are important. They’re definitely part of a larger reaction to the fallacy that everybody should be able to play / enjoy every game and an extreme diagnosis for the problem of dysfunction (stop playing with these people or play something else).

I’m talking about what I think is cool. I design games to get you to say things that I think are cool. So should you, if you design games.

My supposition is that you and your friends all agree with me about what’s cool. If you don’t, you won’t pick up my games in the first place. (Which is fine. If you don’t think is cool what I think is cool, you won’t like my games, please don’t bother.)

If you don’t even agree with each other about what’s cool, I’ve got absolutely nothing for you. Are you sure you should be playing games together in the first place?

Seriously. I’m categorically uninterested in roleplaying, theory or practice, when the players’ agreement about what’s interesting isn’t a rock-solid given. Any theorizing where you have to attend to “the speaker thinks it’s cool but the listener doesn’t,” no thanks. I’m out, good luck and god bless.

How to End a Scene

2008 Sep 28

Paraphrasing a somewhat drunken conversation between myself, Dev, and Nathan Paoletta last night. Nathan was somewhat miffed that people are going apeshit over Matt Snyder announcing the closing of Chimera Creative, when nobody seems to have noticed Nathan’s recent announcement about Hamsterprophet Productions.

  • Ron has been clearly doing his own thing (Spione) for an explicitly non-scene crowd for the past several years.
  • Clinton is busy being a ruby rockstar and has always hated the “scene” portions of the post-Forge community.
  • Matt just announced his retirement from publishing.
  • Paul has never joined IPR and has always done his own thing.
  • Vincent is making an explicit effort to make games for audiences that are not members of the post-Forge indie crowd.
  • Jared has always given the finger to the scene.
  • Luke makes his own scene, more or less.

Hopefully this means that the trendy scene portions of the post-Forge community will gradually fade away and be replaced by something else. Seems like the obsession with the “new new thing,” what Malcolm Sheppard (who did have some good things to say on occasion) called the indie games interpretation of the supplement treadmill (must buy newest indie games!) is still persisting, but maybe some shifts are beginning to happen? Who knows. Too early to tell yet, I think, but it does seem like major shifts have been going on over the course of the past couple years.

System Does Matter + Lumpley Principle = ?

2008 Sep 26

In talking with Brand, it’s abundantly clear that the majority of the post-Forge indie roleplaying scene is still wrestling with how to answer this question, myself included. “System does matter” still seems to mean “mechanics matter” in most cases, where the ‘Loopily Poopily’ (as Vincent likes to call it) defines system as “everything that happens at the table,” including all inter-player interactions that have nothing to do with written game mechanics. We still have a hard time making those matter, taking them seriously as something we should pay attention to. This problem is probably the most central one facing our design and play community in the past 5 years, and will continue to be for probably the next 5 years.

Where I’m Coming From

2008 Sep 26

According to Mo, who I’ve never met or played games with, but who I think is totally correct:

I know a good number of people who have social sockets. I have long suspected Jonathan Walton of being one, though having never gamed with him I can’t say for sure. Social socket folks get their primary and lasting enjoyment in the game through the other people at the table. It’s the collaborative endeavour of roleplaying is what makes them hot to play…

Jonathan, I think there might be something like an aesthetic socket. I’d say yours is secondary, and I would guess it is Shreyas’s primary socket (again, haven’t played with the man, so can’t say for sure). Something like: It’s not the end of the world if the story’s not full, the characters aren’t deep, or the system boring and generic, as long as we’re creating a thing of beauty

Just so you know. I think you can see these preferences, both explicitly and implicitly, in many of the designs I’ve worked on or am still in the process of putting together.

Visions of Agonia

2008 Sep 25

Josh Roby asked me about Agonia over on Story Games, and I said:

It’s the infected hellspawn of Wormwood and the German crusaderpunk game Engel, with WH and WH40K as kissing cousins… It’s Agon in Latin & Arabic with a demonic plague transforming the world, blackpowder weapons, symbiotes, sorcery, and wood-and-iron siege engines you wear like power armor. Scream your allegiance to the Archangel Jibril as you fire your Cordoban djinn-fire arquebus into the abyss.

Honestly, that’s not quite what the game does right now, but that’s what I want it to do, I think, by the time I’m done with it. But I also want it to have a flexible, somewhat-nebulous setting that the players collaborative create themselves, probably by gradually drawing it on a map over the course of the campaign, Geiger-style. Also, I think I want the Ghastly Inversion of Hellmouth Purgatorium to be one of the sample adventures.

Still pondering.

Learning to Not Be #1

2008 Sep 23

I work in an office with several folks who think it is in the best interests of the world if the United States is able to preserve its military and economic superiority over all other nations and thus preserve the Pax Americana that’s existed since the end of the Second World War. This is the basis of a large swath of American economic, military, and foreign policy for many decades (yes, even during the Clinton years), articulated by organizations such as the Project for the New American Century.

Personally, I think that the greatest challenge facing the United States (and possibly the world) in the next 50 years is figuring out how American can not be a superpower, since our predominance is impossible to maintain indefinitely. Unlike most other states, we don’t have much practice at playing second fiddle and are particularly bad at it. Additionally, the perpetual competition with all other nations in an attempt to preserve our superiority (in arms, in economics, in cultural dominance, spreading liberal democracy) keeps raising the stakes, making the possibility of America’s decline from the top spot more and more likely to be disruptive and violent, that we will either go down swinging or another state will feel required to muscle its way to the top.

In any political system, handling peaceful transfers of power between successive leaders, regimes, or political parties is critical for stability and preserving the legitimacy of the current system. The current global system of international relations between nation-states is such a political system. But I worry that the US is not prepared to peacefully transfer its superpower status to anyone, which will call the entire system into question, challenging it even more directly than it has already been in the past few decades.

The Oracle Must Be Consulted

2008 Sep 18

In a Wicked Age-style oracles for running The Matrix. Just a sketch right now, but I’m going to try to keep working on them. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Basically my thought right now is that individual sessions are built by rolling on the Broadcast / Desert tables to acquire a mixture of Matrix / Real World issues and then the Oracle / Need an Exit tables are used when the situation demands. Right now, I’m building models of the tables based on quotes from the movie, to try to develop the right voice, but eventually these will be generalized.

Exactly What I Needed to Hear
Consult this oracle when a character consults The Oracle.

“But you already know what I’m going to tell you.”
“You’ve already made the choice. Now you have to understand it.”
“I love candy.”
“Sorry, kid. You got the gift but looks like you’re waiting for something.”
“He’s going to sacrifice his life to save yours.”
“One of you is going to die. Which one, will be up to you.”
“All I can do is tell you that your friend needs your help.”
“You are a bastard, you know that?”
“Everything that has a beginning has an end. I see the end coming, I see the darkness spreading. I see death.”
“I’d ask you to sit down, but, you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.”
“You’re cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.”
“That’s the way these things go.”
“I wanna tell you a little secret, being the One is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.”

Agents Are Coming / I Need an Exit
Consult this oracle when a character is trying to get out of The Matrix or has gained the attention of Agents.

“You always told me to stay off the freeway. You said it was suicide.”
“Franklin and Erie. An old T.V. repair shop.”
“It just went dead.”

The Desert of the Real
Consult this oracle when the characters return to the real world.

“The machines have gathered an army and that army is drawing nearer to our home.”
“Are you here to escort me to the stockade, Captain?”

Prepare to Broadcast / I Know Kung Fu / Guns, Lots of Guns
Consult this oracle whenever the characters need a reason to enter The Matrix, which is almost always an excuse for a big fight scene at a great location.

“There is a building. Inside this building there is a level where no elevator can go, and no stair can reach. This level is filled with doors. These doors lead to many places. Hidden places. But one door is special. One door leads to the source.”
“The Keymaker is mine and I see no reason to give him up. No reason at all.”
“All of our lives, we have fought this war. Tonight I believe we can end it.”
“In five minutes, I’ll tear that whole goddamn building down.”
“Just follow the sirens.”
“We have the name of their next target.”

Making the Matrix Work

2008 Sep 17

I’m pretty sure you could run The Matrix using just Dev’s mirrorshades trick, the fight mechanics from Mist-Robed Gate, and some kind of situation/character generator, like a really good IAWA-style oracle or Dogs’ town creation rules. Hmm… how to go about creating the latter?