Archive for February, 2009


2009 Feb 15

Looks like Dreamation is a no-go, considering I have an overdue paper for work that I have to finish this week. That’s the second big con I’ve had to back out of in a row, after GenCon this past summer. Scheduling should be better, I hope, if I end up going back to grad school in the fall, but I feel the worst about disappointing folks that were expecting to see me or play in my sessions. I was really looking forward to finally playing some of the Murderland games too.

P.S. If you pre-registered for any of my events, email me (jaywalt at gmail) and I’ll try to make it up to you somehow (free copies of Mortal Coil Revised and Transantiago, maybe?). Vinney is already giving me a world of shit for having to cancel after pre-registration, probably because it means some people who chose my games may be locked out of many of their second choices now. That totally blows and I apologize for having screwed-up other people’s Dreamation schedule.

The World Flower Keeps Growing

2009 Feb 13

Trying to get the board to work for a variable number of players, 4-8.


Product Design Concept

2009 Feb 12
  • Print the board for Transantiago on the front of a 12″ x 12″ record flat
  • Print the rules on the back of the flat, so they can’t be consulted once play has begun
  • Package the flats in groups of 3-5 (however many will fit easily), inside a blank LP jacket
  • Print some custom stickers to label the jackets
  • Sell them, through somebody, with the intent that a new board is used each time the game is played, creating a visual record of play

Female MCs from London

2009 Feb 12

So I’ve been on a British hip-hop kick for a while and, since I got food poisoning from the Chinese chicken I had for lunch yesterday, I was up for most of the night and decided to browse YouTube for some new music. One of the coolest things I found was this video of 20 or so female MCs from the London area. The variety is great to see and many of them are clearly super talented. My favorites are probable No Lay, Mizz Teejah, Lioness, Freeza, Ria, and Sly. That, in turn, led me to this terrific music video by No Lay, who is sufficiently badass to spit rhymes while braiding a toddler’s hair. And, then there’s this incredible non-stop flow by No Lay and her boy Ghetto.

Sad to Be Right

2009 Feb 11

So Hannah (my girlfriend) and I have been watching the steady stream of funky cop shows.

– Cops that solve crimes with ghosts (Ghost Whisperer)
– Cops that solve crimes with visions (Medium)
– Cops that solve crimes with cold reading (The Mentalist)
– Cops that solve crimes with math (Numbers)
– Cops that solve crimes with science (Eleventh Hour)

About a month ago, I told Hannah that it as only a matter of time before we would see cops solving crimes with literature. Lo and behold, there’s a new show — Castle — staring Nathan Fillion as a murder mystery writer who helps cops solve crimes.

Next up: cops who solve crimes with history. Cold Case doesn’t count.

Exalted Hack as of 2006

2009 Feb 10

Some folks on SG asked about my Exalted hack, so I posted the playtest version we used for JiffyCon 2006. It’s up here if anyone else is interested. Might be playable? Not sure.

Dev’s Brilliant Pacing Thing

2009 Feb 10

I finally coerced Dev into posting about his brilliant little game that boils The Matrix (or, potentially, lots of other things) down into a dirt-simple pacing mechanic. I was telling Brand about it yesterday and he was like: “Why wasn’t I using this back in the day to run Rifts?” Why indeed.

So very pretty.

4 New, Useful Things

2009 Feb 9

Rob Donoghue posted a list of 10 Useful Pieces of Gaming Technology, which is a mix of indie design techniques of the past 10 years and more mainstream stuff, including pretty limited things like “weighted skill pricing.” Since Shreyas has been pushing for me to write more about my approach to structured freeform, here’s my list of useful things, to serve as an outline of what I want to write about later. These are drawn primarily from my experiences working on the Good Ship Revenge, the Avatar game, Exalted hack, Mwaantaangaand, and Transantiago.

1. Theme Maps

Here are some theme maps that I’ve created for various games:

The Broken Wheel from the Good Ship Revenge
The Dharmachakra from the Avatar game
The Undying Bell Chakram from the Exalted hack
The World Encompassing Spider Pattern from the Exalted hack
Emily Care talks about the map we improvised at GenCon
The Yowa Diagram from Mwaantaangaand
Original Metro Creation Diagram from Transantiago
The Transantiago Metro from Transantiago

Theme maps are similar to relationship maps in many ways; they set up the initial connections between various themes that you want to emerge during play. However, unlike the way relationship maps are typically used in play, I use theme maps as boards on which to move tokens around. The tokens generally represent specific characters and the association of characters and themes generated by the board and moving pieces is used to determine what the next scene should be about or track progress on dealing with various themes.

Put another way, theme maps operate very much like oracles that are consulted constantly during the game, instead of just at the beginning of play. Like oracles, they piece out bits of setting and theme for the players to deal with right then, as they come up, instead of requiring players to consider the long list of things that they eventually want to deal with and decide which one to handle next.

As I use them, very few strategic or tactical choices that are required to move around a theme map. You do not need to plot your character’s movement several moves in advance, but instead deal simply with the options facing them in a particular scene or single move. You instead explore where your character ends up over the course of several moves and all moves result in interesting places to be.

2. Evolving Traits

Evolving traits are inspired by Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday and the way traits change in Dogs in the Vineyard. Basically, traits need to have a way of transforming into new traits such that the new trait comments on the old trait. Traits don’t become better, they become different, illustrating how the character or situation or place has changed. This seems like a simple thing, but it is really potent. (NOTE: Folks are calling this “liquidity” in the comments section of Rob’s post.)

3. Multiple Tracks of Progression

Characters (and situations and settings) are complex things and need to be developing in several different directions simultaneously. These can be arranged hierarchically (as they are in the Avatar game) — where a significant progression on a fast, easy track leads to a slight progression on a slow, difficult track — or it a serious of different but related spheres that don’t necessarily have a strict correlation to each other.

The description of this one is short, not because it’s simple, but because it’s probably the most difficult of all of these. Figuring out how many different tracks of progression to have and how they should relate to one another is the main reason I haven’t finished any of these games, really. (Well, except for the ones that only have a single track of progression, like Transantiago; that one I haven’t finished because I’ve been buried in other things.)

4. Mandatory Descriptors

Ironically, traits in roleplaying generally have their potency measured in numbers (or die sizes, etc.) when the chief medium of play is description. Fudge-style adjectives move away from this slightly, but the hierarchical ranking of generic Fudge descriptors (Good, Terrific, Poor, etc.) is less interesting than other possibilities, I think. One alternative is to give potency to in-game entities (characters, NPCs, monsters, places, important scenes, etc.) by allowing them to affect the way things are described when they are present in a scene.

For example, say a monster has the description “I await in darkness to bring great slaughter on my foes.” That is really strong, dramatic stuff but, in normal play, it’s unlikely the monster would have the kind of impact that the description suggests. That’s just bravado written on the monster’s behalf by the game writers, when the beast is really a paper tiger. Normally, the monster might lurk in the shadows (“awaiting in darkness”) but it’s unlikely to actually be allowed to “bring great slaughter.”

But what if game entities like monsters (or player characters) are allowed to directly impact descriptions of play based on the traits and descriptions that are associated with them. What if, when the monster appeared, the player responsible for the monster could describe a great slaughter (because the description gave them that authority) or demand that the opposing players describe a great slaughter happening to their own characters? Then that monster is not full of bravado but is truly the horrible menace suggested by the description. It is capable of doing what its description says it can.

The Razor

2009 Feb 7

We are rapidly approaching the day in which the difference between creating something and publishing it is whether anyone else knows of its existence. (Assuming that you’ll create virtual stuff with an online program like Google docs and anybody who knows it exists can Google for it.)

Exploration of Player

2009 Feb 3

So I threw some Forgespeak at John Harper and he threw some back at me, which is only fair I guess. John said that while IWNAY Gamist play may be part of Eric’s preferred play style, that he suspects that a significant part of it is not “exploration” (there’s the Forgespeak) at all. I’m gonna delve into some more Forgespeak to respond, but I think this is an important point in general.

First, Ron’s definition of exploration is — according to the Forge glossary — “the imagination of fictional events, established through communicating among one another. Exploration includes five components: character, setting, situation, system, and color. See also Shared Imagined Space (a near or total synonym).” Basically, Ron’s exploration is near-synonymous with the act of roleplaying, since it exists directly below the level of the social contract. If John’s right that a significant portion of Eric’s play preferences aren’t exploration-based, then I guess they could involve something like a competitive social priority to prove he’s better. But I feel like that’s naturally part of a lot of Gamist play (as well as, like, a lot of life) and not too surprising. It’s true that Eric has clashed with other folks with strong personalities — like Ben and Jared — but that’s not that unusual in indie circles or in life. Strong personalities tend to clash.

Second, Emily and Vincent complicated Ron’s model of exploration when they redefined system (one of the five components of exploration) as “the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.” But while the Lumpley Principle is generally only considered to apply to system, its insight is — I would argue — generally applicable to the other four components of exploration as well: character, setting, situation, and color. Exploration in general, the imaginary content of roleplaying, only exists as 1) the individual experiences of the players involved and 2) the interactions between them. Ultimately, then, what’s being “explored” in roleplaying (in the actual meaning of the word, not Ron’s specialized definition) are the other players across the table from you as well as yourself. That’s why its so powerful.

Third, a number of different games and play styles are specifically interested in jumping right into exploration of others and self without having that be mediated by Ron’s five elements of exploration. Or at least, the mediation is significantly lighter than it is in most cases. Jeepform and its new American derivatives — A Flower for Mara, Under My Skin, etc. — are obvious examples, but some play focused on immersion may also drift in this direction, focusing on how a self experiences being a character, for instance, rather than simply exploring character. Ben’s recent tendency to design games that draw on the actual experiences of the players at the table — Bliss Stage, Land of 1000 Kings — is also related, I think.

Finally, to bring this back to Eric, a key component of Eric’s play, I suspect, is exploration of self and others in a Gamist fashion. That is, he plays to test his own mettle against that of others and, ideally, learn something new that makes him smarter or more effective than he was before. In the process of this, he also learns a lot about other people and shares a lot about himself. It’s like that bullshit Seraph says in the Matrix Reloaded about not really knowing somebody until you fight them. There’s also a tough-love teaching aspect involved, which I think may be overlooked by many of his potential opponents, in that he’s giving others the opportunity to improve themselves by competing with him. I saw some of that twinkle, I think, when I saw him give this short presentation about different modeling schemes. Since that impulse is grounded in the foundation that dwells underneath Ron’s types of exploration — i.e. exploration of players (including oneself) — I personally don’t doubt that it’s roleplaying, but that may be a subjective conclusion.