Archive for August, 2011

PAX Poster

2011 Aug 24

Transantiago: PAX Version

2011 Aug 20

There’s nothing like having a deadline. After waffling about the details of Transantiago for over four years, I knocked this out in a few hours today. The rest of the play materials and rules will be posted before the end of the weekend.

Only 3 more games (Firmament, Super Farmhand, Geiger Counter) to prep after that!

Firmament: Pre-Gen Pics

2011 Aug 19

Man, too much stuff to do before PAX. Here’s some pre-gens for Firmament, though they’re not nearly as ethnically diverse as I eventually want.

Catches Fire (cartographer)

Apex (astrologer)

Thrice (antiquarian)

Do: The Love-Chain Apocrypha

2011 Aug 16

On page 89 of Danial Solis’ game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, there’s a place where it says that I “just want to be free, but can’t shake these chains of love.” No, for real, that’s what it says.

I love a lot of what Daniel’s doing in Do, partially because I share Daniel’s love for one of his main inspirations — the best kids TV show of the past decade, Avatar: The Last Airbender. But Do doesn’t quite capture one aspect of Avatar that is among my favorite things about the show, which is that it puts big decisions in kids’ hands and asks them to make difficult choices.

Avatar is not afraid to deal with big questions like “Is it ever okay to kill someone?” Most of the episodes are about much less serious issues of course — “How do we get these overprotected kids to lighten up and dance?” — but, even in those cases, the kids’ mistakes as well as their triumphs are opportunities for them (and us!) to explore and learn.

This is an alternative, more adventure-game-y set of rules for playing Daniel’s game, which I call the Love-Chain Apocrypha in honor of my description in Do. It attempts to capture these aspects of Avatar, while still seeking to honor the kind of game that Daniel wants Do to be.


Player Roles and Basic Prep

This set of rules requires one player to be the Game Master (GM), portraying the people, animals, and other things that the pilgrims — portrayed by the other players — encounter when they visit other worlds.

The GM does not make a pilgrim character, but the other players make their pilgrims as normal: banner, avatar, name, etc.

Fill your bag with 20 white stones and 20 black stones, as normal.

Breaking Down a Letter

Once the players have decided which letter to answer, the GM is responsible for “breaking it down” by making a list of the various troubles that prevent the letter writer and their fellow worlders from solving their problems on their own. What makes them resort to calling in a bunch of unpredictable (though well-meaning) outsiders? When deciding on the number and type of troubles, you can choose to base them on the symbols listed on each letter, if you like.

For example, if you’re using the letter “Swallowed Whole,” you might list the troubles as:

  • Just Us (FLAG): It’s just Melanie, her cat, and her trees on their very small world, and they are feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
  • Swallowed (TREE): The whale is really big and strong, plus Melanie’s world is inside it! When the whale moves sharply or yawns, Melanie’s world shakes and tilts!

Having only two troubles will make for a relatively simple problem, while 3-4 troubles will be a pretty difficult problem, and anything more than that is likely to be an extensive problem that will take some work to solve, since the world has all sorts of issues preventing them from handling things on their own and these issues will doubtlessly get in the pilgrims’ way as well.

Before play begins, write each trouble on a card and place it out in the middle of the play area, so everyone can see them.

Prepping Other Characters

Before the pilgrims arrive, the GM should quickly jot down a number of important characters, based on the letter and the other people the GM suspects might be important or have their own plans for solving the problem mentioned in the letter. The GM probably only needs one or two characters per trouble and should write a few brief details about each character on a card, as you already did with the troubles, but places these cards in front of the GM rather than in the center.

For example, if you’re using the letter “Swallowed Whole,” the GM might have these characters:

  • MELANIE: age 8, the letter writer, who lives in a house with a cat and two trees.
  • ROLANDO: Melanie’s cat, who is proud, vain, and lazy.
  • MAPLE and OAK: Melanie’s trees, who are trying to cheer up Malanie, but are rooted to the ground and feel like they can’t be of much help.
  • BIG BLUE: the whale, who is completely unaware that it has swallowed Melanie’s world and doesn’t really talk at all; just swimming along, minding its own business.

Sometimes the GM will have to improvise one or two additional characters on the spot, if the pilgrims go looking for people you didn’t think of. That’s cool! The GM should just ask for a few minutes to think and jot a few details down, so they know who this new character is and what they are up to.

Remember that the people of this world are not really capable of dealing effectively with their problem (in the example, the whale) because they are mostly focused on their own troubles (their helplessness and the fact that they’ve been swallowed). However, if their troubles were not the sole focus of their attention, they could probably deal with the problem just fine, without the help of the pilgrims, just through a little creativity, flexibility, and hard work.

Playing the Game

(This part of the rules is inspired by John Harper’s breakdown of “regular” and “hard” moves in Vincent Baker’s game Apocalypse World. [WARNING: Adult language and images at these links]. It’s not necessary to be familiar with Apocalypse World to use these rules, but it might help. Plus, it’s a great game!)

The Pilgrims Get Involved

As GM, whenever it’s your turn to talk, you describe the situation or what one of their characters says or does, then you turn to the players and ask “What do you do?”

Normally, you make “soft moves” (see John’s description, linked above).

Whenever a pilgrim does something that involves one of the troubles you wrote down earlier, tell them how their actions lead them into trouble and ask them to draw a stone from the bag. If it’s a white stone, they’ve temporarily avoided that trouble; if it’s a black stone, they are currently preoccupied in dealing with that trouble. Furthermore, if they’ve drawn a black stone after a series of white stones, the trouble comes down on the heads of everyone who previously draw white stones.

For the GM, black stones are opportunities to make “hard moves” (see the link above) or create “conditions,” lingering effects of previous actions. An example condition might be that a character is trapped somewhere (swallowed by the whale, maybe!) or in trouble (the whale is bearing down on them!). Conditions are essentially circumstances that constrict characters’ range of possible actions until those circumstances are overcome or dealt with.

Pilgrim Trumps

If a pilgrim is faced with a “hard move” or “condition,” they can turn it back into a “soft move” (giving them more options and room to do things), by invoking one of their trumps.

The pilgrims’ trumps are:
– flying
– cleverness
– compassion
– anger
– fun

[need an example here]

Triumphing over Troubles

The pilgrims actions will eventually transform troubles into other situations, which could be new troubles or circumstances that are not really so troublesome. However, not all troubles have to be transformed in order for victory to be declared and the pilgrims to move on to the next world. Some troubles are dealt with by people learning to live with or get along with them.

[need more examples]

Geiger Gamma: Three Sources of Conditions

2011 Aug 10

In Geiger Counter, there are three sources of conditions. Collectively, we call these sources “the Menace.”

First, there’s pressures, which are environmental or circumstantial factors that place the characters in imminent danger, all by themselves. There’s a list of these and each one has 2-4 conditions attached to it. The list includes pressures such as being underwater, underground, in the dark, in space, in a research facility, on a ship, amidst ancient ruins, amidst hostile terrain, isolated far from civilization, or more specific things like being in the arctic, having some critical machinery just break, or facing an impending disaster like an approaching hurricane. Each game can involve more than one of these. After all, Alien vs. Predator takes place underground, in the arctic, amidst ancient ruins. That’s a bit much, but it’s a good example. The associated conditions clearly derive from the pressures, with the arctic being a great place for debilitating frostbite, for example.

Second, there’s ambitions that are unique to each character, often the reasons why they ended up in this pressure-filled deathtrap. A character might be here for thrill-seeking, science!, to rescue someone else, due to a poor choice of occupation, because they were forced at gunpoint, for the money, for the fame, to guide an expedition here, because they are an expert in something, to escape somewhere or someone else, due to desparation, because they are following orders, to do something impossible, to save the world, or for any other stupid or noble reason. Consequently, each character has a few conditions unique to their particular circumstances and hubris, recorded on their character card. Sometimes these conditions can also be given to others when that particular character is in play, since a character might carry a mysterious cursed artifact or expose others to danger through their recklessness.

Finally, there’s horrors, what were traditionally referred to as the menace, an abomination of science, nature, or the supernatural that stalks or swarms after the characters. Having horrors in your game is, in fact, completely optional. The pressures and ambitions your characters are saddled with are enough to doom them, but you can use any combination of pressures and horrors to form the external threats to the survival of your ill-fated band of misfits. Different types of horrors, of course, also allow for characters to be vexed with different types of conditions.

When it’s your turn to play the Menace, its your job to hit on whatever assortment of pressures, ambitions, and horrors makes the most sense to you and for the game. Bring on the storm, play up the captain’s self-loathing, or have the kraken pick off a crew member… or do all three. And there will be better guidelines — a cross between AW-style GM guidance and what I was already working on for Geiger Gamma — on how to do this in a really effective way.

Additionally, as you can already tell, breaking up the Menace this way makes it much more adaptable and open to hacking and new material, in the way that AW and Fiasco are. Creating new pressures, characters (w/ ambitions), and horrors is going to be part of the fun.

Geiger Gamma: New Character Cards

2011 Aug 9

Starting doing some layout on one of the finished chapters of Magic Missile last night. it’ll be good to really nail that template down and be ready for the other chapters.

Here’s a sketch of what I’m thinking right now as far as character information for the new version of Geiger Counter. The game would include 30 or so of these characters, and I’d post the InDesign templates for folks to make more on their own. Playsets would include a list of the most appropriate characters to use for a particular premise (you might have Choi in an Aliens-inspired game but not in Jaws), plus maybe a couple new characters.

Geiger Counter: Flashback/Flashforward

2011 Aug 6

I just found these cards I made a while back, 3 years ago, probably. And I don’t think I’ve ever posted them, but they’re a good hint at more of the direction the current version of Gamma is going. It’ll look pretty different from this, but the seeds are here.

Check out the included stands for marking where your character is on the map and the abstract symbols to represent different characters! Several cool ideas here.

The Return of Geiger Gamma

2011 Aug 5

So… I’ve started working on Geiger Counter again. I’ve been away from it for a long time now, two years basically, but I think I finally have the perspective to let go of all the former trappings that weren’t quite working for me (though they apparently worked for a bunch of other folks) and make it into a game I can be really happy with and proud of.

Of course, a lot of things have changed since 2007-2008, when I first wrote it. Game design has moved forward and outward in different directions. There are other single-session GMless pick-up games now, like the one that just won the Diana Jones award and the one by that Ben Robbins guy. The release-early-and-often model of incremental publishing has gotten more traction through games like Lady Blackbird and Dungeon World. In general, everything has gotten better and looks to continue that way.

Geiger Counter is going to get better too. While the earlier versions will continue to be available — and I’ll probably end up slapping a Creative Commons license on them, in case some of the die hards want to release their own revision — it’s going to look pretty different in this next incarnation. That’s not a threat; it’s a promise.

More news when I have something to show.

Super Farmhand: Hearts & Bones

2011 Aug 3

Here’s an improved version:

Super Farmhand: Life Meter

2011 Aug 2

Yeah, so I finally figured out how to make my old Super Snow Queen idea work.