Archive for April, 2011

Connecting the Present to the Premise

2011 Apr 18

Vincent says some really smart things in this comment over on Anyway, about the importance of connecting what a player is doing now to what the overall premise of the game is. This is something that I felt was really missing from a lot of the games I grew up playing, even ones I really enjoyed.

How does what you do in Rifts connect to the idea of resisting an oppressive neo-Nazi regime or eking out a living in a post-apocalyptic world (if that’s even what that game is about)? How does what you do in In Nomine relate to guiding humanity towards their glorious destiny or dark fate (if that’s even what the game is about)? In some of those games, part of the problem is that the aboutness of the game is never really entirely clear, or even a set of different premises that you could choose from, despite some solid efforts at clarification by the writers (talking about tone and such). In other cases, even if the premise is clear, the connection between premise and player actions isn’t clear (as is notoriously the case in Nobilis, the “what do we do now?” problem).

Definitely something to keep in mind, especially for some of my weirder ideas like Firmament, where the connection between premise and “what we do now” seems a bit vague.

AW: The Valkyrie (for free)

2011 Apr 17

Johnstone’s giving away the Valkyrie for free (rather than bartering it for other stuff, as Vincent seems to prefer for AW content), but only for the next couple weeks. Grab it over here if you’re interested.

The Process of Narration

2011 Apr 17

Jamie Fristrom, who I finally met last week, is asking good questions about narration rights in GM-less games over on SG. Actually, I think Jamie’s one of the most interesting new voices to pop up there and lord knows SG needs some new interesting voices.

In any event, I wanted to log my response here, because laying it out explicitly helped me think more clearly about Geiger Counter and, also, how narration works in games with deterministic resolution, where the formal process of narration is especially crucial to structuring fictional outcomes.

Some of these games break narration rights down into various different steps or stages, yeah?

Like, in Geiger Counter, there’s:

  1. Deciding what/where/who the next scene is about (“Jack and Maura are meeting in the airlock”)
  2. Framing the scene (“So Jack’s just come back from printing out some readings and Maura is running a routine check on the space suits”)
  3. Playing characters (“Jack says, ‘Maura, can you double check these figures for me, they look really strange’…”)
  4. Adding new information to the story (“Maura says, ‘That’s impossible. It looks like something is alive inside that asteroid’…”)
  5. Invoking a threat (“The airlock starts activating by itself! The inner door shuts and the outer door is preparing to open!”)
  6. Invoking traits, gear, or other fictional circumstances (“Maura tosses Jack a space suit and struggles to put one on herself!”)
  7. Resolving the conflict after dice have been rolled (“Jack manages to get his suit on, but he loses consciousness just as he gets the seals closed”)
  8. Ending the scene (“And…. cut.”)

It’s not really the case that you can narrate whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a process you have to go through, and the kinds of things you can narrate are restricted by what “stage” of a scene or the overall game that you’re in. As another example, in Geiger Counter, the menace doesn’t attack PCs until it has at least 2 dice to roll, it’s just hinted at. Or, in Mist-Robed Gate (another game you should look at), you can only hint at what you want before the blade has been uncovered.

Also, each time you narrate something, you’re restricted by what you or someone else has narrated previously. Like, above, when Maura’s player introduces the idea that there are things living inside the asteroid, she’s limited by the concept of Jack’s printout of some readings. The new information she introduces has to be something her character could figure out by looking at some printed data. And, if the contents of Jack’s printout had been established in a previous scene (he was taking a geological survey of the asteroid, say), then the kinds of information she can introduce is limited further. Likewise, if someone’s character isn’t in a scene, unless things change, they don’t get to play their character in that scene. That’s a pretty big restriction!

So it definitely matters how games structure the process of narration as well as the issue of “who has authority to say what.”

AW: The Living God

2011 Apr 10

Johnstone traded me some moves for a Hocus that’s renounced or otherwise lost their followers, so we’re going to do one more and round out this group as The Maleficent Seven. The moves and image for this one are by Johnstone, with some minor edits by me.

AW: The Valkyrie, Catalyst, and Fallen

2011 Apr 9

Whipped up front images for these three. Now just have to finalize the moves. American Memory is an amazing reference for old photographs (I think Jason Morningstar pointed me at it). If I end up deciding to print up a bunch of cards at some point, I’ll have to go back and be careful about the rights on all of these pictures, but for just free things to pass around the internet, totally amazing.

AW: The Loner

2011 Apr 9

Finished the next one, for Andrea Mognon. This may be my favorite so far, because ex-operator gunluggers are near and dear to my own heart, having played one recently.

I’ll send this one to anyone who posts an anecdote from their play experiences about something or someone from an AW character’s past coming back to haunt them.

AW: The Broodmother

2011 Apr 8

Finished the second one, for Christopher Weeks, who was pondering what the Brainer would be like as a parent. As a bonus, I included the infamous Brainer gear known as the corkscrew.

Just so folks know, I’m happy to trade these for any other “limited edition” AW content that people have created, no questions asked. Sharing with fellow enthusiasts is the whole point!

AW: The Wurm

2011 Apr 8

Finished the first of a number of mini-playbooks (AW-style “prestige classes”) that I’m trading with folks. This one is for a Hoarder who collects books of lost knowledge. There’s a pretty awesome move where you can take a gunshot to one of the books you’re carrying in your chest pocket, like in all those Westerns. It’s called Bullet in a Bible. You can only get a copy of this by trading something with me or Brenden Conway. So… what ya got?

Black Aurora?

2011 Apr 6 is having a $100 off sale on custom booklets until the end of April, so I’ve been pondering whether I can knock out a new version of Geiger Counter in a month, probably with a new name and focused solely on space horror (and also probably open-source, so other folks can make “Jurassic Park” playsets if they want).

I also found some amazingly striking Giger-esque photographs on iStock, which are giving me ideas.