Archive for June, 2010

Star Wars Adventures

2010 Jun 26

This is me archiving a SG post from May, before I forget it.

So I had a dream last night in which Sage and I were browsing the shelves at some basement-dungeon game store. I picked up a copy of the “Monster Manual” equivalent for this new Star Wars RPG done by somebody other than Wizards. The game was called “Star Wars Adventures” and my brain suggests that this particular book was the “Foe Folio,” but I don’t think it was actually called that in the dream.

In dreamland, I pick the book up casually and I’m telling Sage, “Yeah, right, like this is gonna be any good. Let’s see how they butchered it…”

But, in the dream, the designers GOT IT. They really understood how to deliver content to players so that it was actually useful.

Like, there was an entry on Stormtroopers and it had several sub entries:

– Swarm of Endless Stormtroopers Providing Suppressing Fire
– Stormtrooper Tactical Squad on the March
– Stormtrooper Scout Patrol Out Looking for Something/Someone
– Stormtrooper Base Guards, Bored Amongst the Provinces
– Stormtrooper Jail Guards Halfheartedly Doing Their Duty
– Pair of Stormtroopers Guarding a Door
– Single Stormtrooper Breaking Off from their Squad to Investigate a Noise

And each subentry had a picture of the various different groups of foes you might encounter and their stats, even though the standard stormtrooper stat was repeated in pretty much every entry. But each group was right there, ready to use. Even the picture of each set of “foes” had a box drawn around each individual subtype, showing which one was a “stormtrooper who shouts out what they are going to do” and which ones were just “disposable stormtroopers.” And there were different “IF/THEN” statements amongst the explanatory text, such as: “If the players want to sneak up on the Two Stormtroopers Guarding a Door and ambush them, roll X.”

Danger Sxool: Sophomore Year

2010 Jun 21

Q: What do you do if you’re a retired Psychic Professor?
A: Start a school for training young supers.

New Book on Macau

2010 Jun 6

I took a short break from finals week to read about half of Cathryn H. Clayton’s new book, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau and the Question of Chineseness (Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2009), which is excellent. Like João de Pina-Cabral’s book, Between China and Europe, Clayton includes a chapter on the 1996-1999 boom in triad-related violence and assassinations right before the 1999 handover. Like Pina-Cabral, she argues that it was mostly gang-on-gang violence, with relatively few civilian casualties, but she gives special attention to the frustration of local Macau residents that the violence reinforced mistaken stereotypes of Macau as a lawless gangster haven and drove away a huge portion of tourists, when tourism 70% of Macau’s economy. Locals placed a lot of the blame on the sensationalist Hong Kong media, apparently, for stoking the myth that Macau was horribly dangerous.

Perhaps most interesting, Clayton argues that the surge of violence led locals to accuse the departing Portuguese colonial administration of ineptitude in dealing with the triads, not because they thought that the triads should or could be totally suppressed, but that the state was supposed to ensure that business could proceed as usual, despite the fact that corruption and triad involvement in government and business was pervasive. They welcomed the incoming PRC-led government partially because they were confident that it would be able to restore Macau’s image, and many residents apparently held the (totally wrong) belief that the PRC had totally destroyed and suppressed triad activities on the mainland (ha!).

Can’t wait to read the rest of it.

Note to Self: L’Assassinio di Kublai Khan

2010 Jun 1

I should revise and publish a bilingual English/Italian version of Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, working with Marco & Mattia, as a printed set of 3 chipboard cards in a printed or plastic sleeve: one card for Kyoko’s instructions, one for Kublai’s instructions, and one that explains the premise and has cool art by the da Saccos. One side of the cards would be in English and the other in Italian. There could even be a few other cards that offer example situations to inspire the players or serve as the opening exchanges of play.

How I Can Be a Better GM

2010 Jun 1

I responded to a question on SG about how to be a better GM. This response is really about where I am with GMing right now, after a couple unsatisfying experiences recently, and how I think I can improve.

I’m actually beginning to suspect — which I probably should have realized before — that there’s no such thing as a GM who’s consistently awesome, playing every game, with every group of people, under every circumstances. Just doesn’t happen. Roleplaying is so contingent on a variety of factors, including the behavior and expectations of the other people at the table, that you can’t make it awesome all by yourself, even if you are super talented and experienced.

The real question, I think, is how to use the social authority legitimately or illegitimately entrusted to you, as GM, to make the entire table or the entire game more awesome than it otherwise would have been. And most of the advice given here gets at some of that.

My current #1 suggestion would be: realize that different games ask GMs and players to do really different things, and many of them don’t even clearly state what those different things are. You can’t merely get by on your previous experience and talent at improvising, especially if you want the game to be really awesome instead of just enjoyable. What you need is fluency both with the game you are playing and in interactions with the other players at the table.

Fluency with game mechanics and pacing and such comes from reading, playing, and talking about the game, watching other people run it, running it extensively yourself, hacking it and seeing how that changes the results (for better and worse), playing a bunch of games that inspired this game or later games that were inspired by it, and that kind of thing. Fluency with the players at the table comes from playing games with them a lot and talking about those games, but also from hanging out with them, living or sleeping with them (in some cases), going to the movies with them, arguing about game theory with them on the internet for 8 years, sharing the same background in games played, etc.

If you don’t have that fluency with either the game or the players, awesome sometimes still happens, despite that. Sometimes everything just comes together, either with mechanics that really click, or people who you really engage with or fiction that turns out feeling “just right.” And sometimes playing with people or mechanics that are new and unfamiliar is necessary to push your group into playing more actively and attentively, instead of relying on their shared familiarity and having a fun but easy time of it. Still, in my experience, you can’t really beat fluency with mechanics (in their broadest sense, “what the game desires and requires you to do”) and your fellow players in creating the most solid foundation for awesome.

If you can’t or aren’t willing to invest in that fluency and intimacy, then you have to try to get as close as possible to it in the brief amount of time you have before and during the setup and play of the game. You have to really try to connect with other players and build connections between them as quickly and as deeply as you can, without being a creepy fuck. You have to be able to convey to the players what the game is asking them to do, both on a macro and micro level, which means the text either has to help you do that (“Do XYZ under circumstances ABC”) or you have to do all the work yourself, expressing to the other players your internal understanding of how the game works.

You’re not going to do this every time — just last week I was having trouble connecting with the other players at the table, for weird personal reasons — but I do think you can get better at it. However, it’s something you have to be aware of and actually have the energy to engage directly, especially if it’s being a problem or there are obstacles towards achieving fluency. It doesn’t always take hard work, in the sense of it not being enjoyable, but it does take sincerity, I think.