Archive for November, 2010

Call for Papers: “Magic Missile” for GPNW 2011

2010 Nov 29

And now for an announcement…

The Basics

Ryan Macklin and Jonathan Walton are organizing a short anthology on tabletop roleplaying (broadly defined) to be published in coincidence with (i.e. at the same time as) GoPlayNW 2011, which will presumably occur in late June or sometime thereabouts.

If you’re interested in being a contributor to this project, read all the way to the end. First, we’ll tell you about the project overall, then we’ll tell you what we want from you at this first stage.


The anthology is tentatively named “Magic Missile” (the working title for the anthology Jonathan published in 2006, Push: New Thinking About Roleplaying [PDF]). While this project certainly builds on the ashes of the “Push 2″ project, it’s a new, separate thing and very specifically a one-shot book, rather than a journal or series.


“Magic Missile” will be specifically aimed at what Ryan called the wider “GoPlay culture”: basically anyone who has participated in any of the small local conventions and meetups that have sprang up in response to the most recent wave of small-press games. These are the folks most likely to come to GoPlayNW. The content we’re looking for will reflect the diversity of games they are interested in, i.e. everything from Apocalypse World to Trail of Cthulhu to Smallville to old school dungeon crawls.


“Magic Missile” will consist of short stand-alone games, supplemental material for (or hacks of) published games, thorough reviews of significant games and game-related publications, and more academic-style or analytic articles addressing various aspects of design and play.

All contents will remain the intellectual property of their respective creators and we will deliver the final version of creators’ submissions back to them, so that they can do what they like with their material. The staff of “Magic Missile” (Jonathan, Ryan, and others we may involve) will simply offer assistance with editing, organizing playtesting, and layout — enough to get the material into a “final” form — plus two contributor copies (see below) in exchange for the rights to release the material 1) in a limited print run and 2) as part of the anthology PDF, in perpetuity.
Let me break the contents down:

1. Short Standalone Games: We are specifically looking for games that are unlikely to be polished and released by their designers without strong support and editorial assistance. If you are planning on publishing your game yourself, we would rather you do that. But there are plenty of solid drafts out there that need help moving forward, often drafts produced in contests like Game Chef, and those are more what we want. In general, we DO NOT want folks to submit their games in this category. WE WILL FIND YOU. But if you think your game might be overlooked, since it was written independently or as part of some obscure contest that we’ve never heard of, you are welcome to bring it to our attention.

2. Supplemental Material and Hacks: We would like to feature some supplemental game material — specifically, really good and innovative adventure writing, but other things too — preferably for games that are widely known and played at local conventions and meetups. Both designers and publishers are welcome to contact us about potentially submitting such materials, though work coordinated by publishers will also go through our own editorial process. For supplemental material or hacks, we definitely prefer material that does not require previous knowledge or familiarity with other publications or media, just a familiarity with the rules of the game.

3. Reviews of Games and Related Publications: We would like to read some thorough and insightful reviews of games that you have played at least ten times, with multiple different groups of people. Most often, we encounter reviews done by folks who’ve played a game once or twice but do not yet have a deeper appreciation of the game. This is unfortunate and we’d like to do something about it, by featuring reviews that really get at the meat of a game and maybe even offer comparisons with related games. We would also like to include reviews of recent or respected publications on roleplaying — “Things We Think About Games” comes to mind, or “Rules of Play,” or “Play Unsafe” — that openly wrestle with the ideas these books put forward, not merely describe their contents.

4. Analytic Articles: Finally, we’d like some articles that analyze specific aspects of tabletop roleplaying. We are not interested in publishing broad theoretical frameworks, but are much more interested in building a deep understanding of some facet of design or play. For example, Jonathan was working on an article on endgame mechanics for “Push 2,” describing both their recent historical development (starting around 2001) and the different ways designers have implemented them so far. Analytic articles should assume an interested, educated, but potentially unfamiliar audience and be careful to define all terms and avoid jargon as much as possible. We would also prefer empirical evidence or textual analysis (of rule books or play transcripts or forum discussions) to anecdotes and speculation, though we realize there are limitations.

Editorial / Playtest Process

Once you give us something to work with, the editorial and playtest process starts. Note that NOT ALL SUBMISSIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED IN THE END, even if we like your original proposal. If we cannot come to an agreement about editorial or playtesting issues or if you refuse to make changes that we think are necessary or the draft you submit doesn’t really fulfill the promise of your proposal, we will simply release everything back to you — including any editing or collaboration that has been accomplished so far. The ultimate decision to publish the final work in “Magic Missile” belongs to the author, though if we work extensive with you and then you decide, at the last minute, to take your work and leave us hanging… we will not be super happy. But we expect to keep the lanes of communication open and don’t think there will be too many serious issues. Ultimately we just want to make a cool book and are happy to take or leave any specific piece to make that happen.

Contributor Copies

Right now, we’re planning on providing two physical copies of “Magic Missile” to each contributor, as well as the electronic version. Rights of work are retained by the contributor, as we stated above. Shipping of comp copies will be provided by the contributor, for those who won’t be going to Go Play NW (or see Ryan at another summer con).

Publication Plan

Our plan, at this point, is to print a fixed number of books (the amount to be determined) that we sell through pre-orders, directly to GoPlayNW attendees on site, and (afterwards) on the internet until we have no copies left. At that point, the PDF version of the book will be made freely available to all, though it will be made available earlier to those pre-ordering. In effect, the PDF is “ransomed” by selling through our initial print run.

What We Want Right Now

Now that we’ve told you the overall plan for “Magic Missile,” here’s what we want from you, potential contributor. We want pitches for submissions before we get the submission itself. For pitches:

• Your name
• Tentative title of your piece
• Which category (listed above) your piece fits in
• Estimated word count
• The idea of your piece, in one hundred words or less
• Mail your pitch to “magicmissile” at the domain “”
• Title your email Pitch: TITLE OF PIECE

We want this pitch by January 1st, 2011. For emphasis: January 1st, 2011. If we’re hard-pressed for pitches afterward, we may extend the deadline, but assume we won’t.

Expect us to talk a little bit about your idea. If you aren’t sure what the title is or are fuzzy on the word count, but you feel like you’ve nailed down the idea itself, pitch it to us. Start the conversation.

You can pitch more than one idea, but in different emails, please. If we like multiple ideas, we’ll talk with you regarding which you’re most interested in and if you have time to make more than one. In all likelihood, we’ll not take more than two ideas from any one person.

Note that IF YOU CAN’T FOLLOW THE BASIC INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMITTING A PITCH, it may raise doubts about your ability to deliver a draft or revisions. Put your best foot forward, please.

Our Timeline After January

We’re going to want the actual submissions by March 1st, 2011. That means you have two months after we’ve closed proposals to write a complete article (and more than three from today). We’ll be going back and forth with the editorial process, the goal being text complete by May 1st, 2011 so the book can go into final layout and printing in time for Go Play NW.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and we look forward to your contributions and the awesome book this promises to be!

– Jonathan Walton & Ryan Macklin

Now This Project Has a Name

2010 Nov 23

Purpose Over Place

2010 Nov 23

Finally watching Deep Blue Sea (I know!) made me realize something about Geiger Counter.

Danny Boyle’s invocation of “ship, crew, signal” is insightful but also somewhat misleading. It’s not really about the “ship,” which should feel like a real place but, in truth, only exists for the purpose of pressuring the characters and enabling them (hopefully) to undertake whatever task has brought them here. There’s a reason that the classic “ships” are almost better described as “facilities”: the island in Jurassic Park, the retrofitted naval facility in Deep Blue Sea, even the solar ship in Sunshine. These places only take the form of ships if part of the mission of the crew is getting somewhere. But, all in all, the purpose of the “ship/facility” is in DOING SOMETHING and, in particular, as I’ve tried to set out clearly in the gamma draft, DOING SOMETHING THAT ILLUSTRATES HUMAN HUBRIS.

I’m experimenting with this new focus in the dungeonpunk horror hack that I’m trying to put together right now. Dungeons are a classic example of a place that clearly exists for a particular purpose — for the characters to explore it and uncover its secrets — which is pretty different than some of the locales in survival horror. Typically the characters are relatively familiar with a facility even if the audience is not, though there are good examples where both the audience and characters are equally in the dark: The Descent, haunted houses.

But, in dungeons, the thing that happens at the very end of most survival horror movies — where Ripley descends below, armed to the teeth, looking for something she treasures and prepared to kill whatever she has to in order to make it to the depths and back out alive — that desperation to put an end to this madness, even if it costs your life… that’s where a fair number of dungeons start.

This should be interesting.

On Thought #30: Efficiency

2010 Nov 21

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write some posts in response to Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball’s excellent little volume, Things We Think About Games. The best thing about a book like this is not that it’s even 99% correct but because it makes you think about your own experiences and things you may be taking for granted.

Thought #30 is: Dollar for dollar, a roleplaying game is very nearly the most efficient entertainment you can buy. This is an oft-tauted advantage that roleplaying games supposedly have over video games and the like. After all, you can theoretically play a roleplaying game forever, hours and hours of entertainment, for less than the cost of X-Box game with limited retread.

However, this is also a myth, at least in the general terms stated here. Sure, a hypothetical roleplaying game could potentially be an efficient source of entertainment, but most roleplaying games are not especially efficient. Rather, most roleplaying games require an intense amount of invested time, energy, and money in order to deliver on their promised potential.

For example, my experiences playing Dungeons & Dragons 4E and the Dungeons & Dragons Board Game (i.e. Castle Ravenloft) couldn’t be more different in their respective efficiencies in delivering enjoyable experiences. With 4E, as the GM, I was required to invest substantial time and energy (making maps, building encounters) or in additional products (buying pre-made maps and encounters) in order to bring the game to the table. And there were very few guidelines or “best practices” instructions on how to do that in an efficient manner instead of stumbling through trial and error. Even when there were guidelines, over and over again, it was shown that they were not — in fact — correct. Fights dragged on forever because the creatures had too many hit points. Spending 1 Action Point per encounter was both lame and nonsensical. The group had to learn for ourselves, over extended play, how to play the game in a way that provided consistent enjoyment, and that process included a lot of wasted time and effort. Basically, it was not efficient at all.

In comparison, the more recent Dungeons & Dragons Board Game, despite being much more limited in content and replay value than 4E, was much more efficient in delivering enjoyment. There were several things that the group had to still learn through play — the biggest one was that any character exploring new territory was always attacked by whatever was in the next room — but overall the enjoyment happened with much less trial and error or laborious effort. You didn’t have to prep monsters or locations or plot. Character creation happened nearly instantly, thanks to the recommended power choices. Even players will no gaming background at all picked it up very quickly. It was not, perhaps, as fun as a good 4E session, but it delivered a solid, enjoyable experience with much less effort on our part. Consequently, I’m much more excited to play Castle Ravenloft again than I am to play 4E (or 3.5, or 3.0) again.

So here’s the axiom I would suggest for beginning discussions about the “efficiency” of particular entertainments: Games are efficient if they enable the players to more-or-less replicate the promised play experience with a minimum of unnecessary labor and struggle.

A simpler version would be like “efficiency = fun / effort,” but the subjectiveness of fun makes that less useful, perhaps. You can’t really ensure that other people will like the things you designed the game to do. But you can ensure that they can make those things happen without needless wasted energy. Improving the overall efficiency of player efforts has been especially emphasized in recent games, from Montsegur 1244, to Lady Blackbird, to Apocalypse World, to Castle Ravenloft.

In this day and age, when we have to compete with (or, really, coexist alongside) video games and the new wave of well-designed board games, even roleplaying designers should strive for their games to play faster and easier, without unnecessary hours of prep, extended study, and trial and error. Designers should know how to make their games really sing and be able to communicate that knowledge to their prospective players through guidelines and procedures. We cannot wait for other players to figure out how to play our games properly. We have to be able to show them.

Protected: Call for Papers: Magic Missile (GoPlayNW 2011)

2010 Nov 20

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Coming Soon: GoPlay NW Convention Book

2010 Nov 17

With the Game Chef Playoffs being officially announced today, I think it’s probably better to wait until the weekend to officially announce this, but guess what Ryan Macklin and I are attempting to put together in time for GoPlay NW this year (though probably not officially associated with the folks organizing GoPlay, necessarily):

Game Chef Playoffs

2010 Nov 17

Just made an official announcement about the 2010 Game Chef Playoffs. You can vote for the game you want to win, simply by playing it! How cool is that?