Archive for the 'Along the Water’s Edge…' Category

Zhang Wang Brings It

2008 Mar 22

There’s this Chinese comic artist Zhang Wang who’s getting a fair bit of buzz on the internet. It’s easy to see why. He’s mastered the art of traditional Chinese linework, useful when illustrating flowing gowns, chainmail, and long hair, but he also takes it somewhere different, something clearly influenced by Western comic art and Japanese manga. Check out his takes on Ox-Head and Horse-Face the head demon jailers of the underworld, the hunting god Er Lang, and a demonic judge.

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Baby Steps

2008 Mar 7

I’ve decided that I don’t have to make a great game covering all 70 chapters of the original Water Margin, right away. I can make a great game covering the first ten chapters and then release free “oracle extensions” online in 10 chapter chunks. So the original game lets you play up to ten sessions and the first extension gives you another 10 sessions of oracles and characters, and so on. After all, how many indie roleplaying groups have campaigns that last more than ten sessions anyway? And ten sessions will keep most groups busy for three months or so, giving me plenty of time to work on the first extension.

Plus, that means I don’t have to read and re-read the entire Water Margin while working on the game (a huge task). I can just read and re-read ten chapters at a time, with an eye on the larger narrative. Like my new model for publishing Push, this makes things a lot more manageable and gets me excited about working on The 108 Bravos of Mount Liang again, instead of quivering in fear at the massive task I had given myself.

Additionally, this kind of publishing model makes a bunch of sense for Geiger Counter too: publish the game with a few style sheets worked out and then start playtesting more style sheets and release them as they get into a more finished form (and encourage other people to develop their own style sheets).

Brand and I Talk about Wicked Age

2008 Mar 1

Here’s excerpts from a conversation Brand and I had a couple days ago, stripped of everything but the stuff about In a Wicked Age and needless competition. Hope this is cool, Brand.

6:42 PM Brand: …Your point about how competitive fights fuck us is also true
6:43 PM As soon as we get over the idea you must 'earn' your 'win' so many new vistas open
me: yeah, that just hit me recently
that we conflate the experience of being the audience of a fight and being the performer creating it
Brand: I've been thinking on it for awhile. But the way you put it was like, so much clearer.
me: and that's true of a lot of roleplaying
the audience-actor unity fucks us a bit
6:44 PM Brand: Yep
As does the need to step on up
me: yeah
6:45 PM i often get sick of how much Gam gets in everything
it permeates all of roleplaying
Brand: The invisible law of dickwaving and puritanism
me: where inter-player conflict is always behind any inter-character conflict
6:46 PM Brand: and conflict is always the best way to get drama
me: like rolling dice in IAWA when people get pissed
6:47 PM like, that works for that game, sure, but EVERY GAME
Brand: The one I want to ask about IAWA, but haven't yet as others don't seem to be to the point, is do you roll dice between NPCs?
Not, mind you, should you by the rules.
But do you, or do you ever want to, in your games that you actually play.
6:48 PM me: i would question why you would want to
since the session is not about the NPCs
Brand: Because Vincent describes the resolution as being between characters, but many people treat it as being between players.
6:49 PM me: hmm… that's interesting
i think Vincent would tell you to do it if it's the right thing to do
but he's like that
Brand: And if a conflict of interests between characters prompts dice rollings, then how do you do NPCs?
See, I find Wicked interesting because I've never played it with a GM.
me: ha
6:50 PM i've never played Geiger with a GM either, but you definitely could
but if you have no GM then there are no NPCs
only PCs
Brand: And when you have no GM, the line between gets pretty thin
me: in 108 Bravos, which is probably GMless, i call them non-bravo characters :)
6:51 PM Brand: Like, when Mo and I play, we have our PCs and they usually are not NPCs, nor vice versa. But when we played it three handed (with Leo), the NPCs became PCs and vice versa all over the place.
me: and, yeah, they have lots of scenes to themselves, with no bravos around
Brand: Like, it started when Leo said at one point "I hate this character, I want a new one."
So that character became an NPC.
Who later I started playing as the focus of my "pc scenes"
6:52 PM me: don't you basically just get three kinds of conflict then?
Brand: Sort of. But who is which at any given point may be in flux.
me: which are all pretty similar, but kinda different
unless you dual-stat everyone
Brand: However, the thing about it is that I read other people's AP and have to force myself to remember that they aren't really doing what we're doing.
6:53 PM Cause I apparently can't play a game without borking it.
me: so what's the PC-NPC difference in your play?
Brand: ….
me: you seem to mean something besides how the characters are statted
Brand: I do
Though that's an interesting one too, and one we haven't addressed yet.
Okay, structurally first.
me: when is someone "being an NPC"?
6:54 PM Brand: Structurally, PCs have scenes framed around them. If a character is the character that a scene is framed to highlight, they're a PC.
NPCs do not get scenes framed around them, no matter how bad ass they may be.
me: interesting, that's pretty different from Bravos
Brand: When Mo and play together, this is never an issue. The PCs we chose at game start stay the focus characters.
me: so you don't have like the prelude from Jaws where naked innocent skinny dipper gets eaten?
6:55 PM Brand: In the three handed no-GM games, this rule got broken a lot. Or, that is to say, NPCs became PCs when their story became interesting to us.
The Jaws prelude might happen, but as a prelude. It'd be like, the sherif's scene. It happens just to lead into the part where he discovers the body.
me: right, so the skinny dipper isn't a character
6:56 PM Brand: Then, second, there is stat wise. In Wicked NPCs and PCs are statted differently.
Yea, the skinny dipper isn't even an NPC. She's a prop.
me: rpgs don't handle prop characters well, we don't even talk about characters that way
Brand: Also, we do that. There are people in the game who aren't characters at all. Like, not even NPCs. They are window dressing.
Finally, there is… and this mixes in with number 1, interest wise.
6:57 PM Like, if an NPC becomes more interesting than a PC, we may just dump the PC.
It becomes less that PCs are interesting because they are PCs and more that they are PCs because they are interesting.
6:58 PM me: this is what Vincent created the crutch of the We Owe list to do, but you do it already without the crutch
6:59 PM Brand: Oh, and prop NPCs often get used as agents of someone else's will. Like we had an NPC that was like the Pope, and one of the PC's was the Pope's killer whore. But the Pope betrays her, tries to have her killed. When the assasins came we didn't stat them, we just had the Pope roll against her.
me: do you use the WOL?
Brand: Which I think Vincent might not do. I think he might have made the assasins NPCs.
We do use the WoL.
Though I think we use it differently.
me: why?
don't interesting characters move to the forefront already?
7:00 PM Brand: It still gives bonus dice. It also does show which characters will come back — which does have an effect on what we do with the game.
They do, but sometimes the preasure of the system puts a constraint on that that gives us a "oh, lets take a different look at that character, and see what is going on there" preasure we wouldn't otherwise get.
me: cool
Brand: Though, predictably, Mo wants to ditch it.
7:41 PM …Oh, there was one thing I forgot — way up at the part about character vs player in Wicked. When we say "no you don't asshole" its a character thing. The character is saying "no you don't asshole" — frequently the player wants the character to lose, but we go to dice anyway.
I don't know how common that is with other people.
me: hmm, i bet not
because "say yes" is definitely a player-GM thing
7:42 PM that's another good issue to bring up
actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure what Vincent's point in "Say Yes" is
Brand: Also, I think a lot of people think "say yes or roll the dice" as being something that is for all games. In Wicked there really is no "say yes or roll the dice" in the same way. It is "the character must say yes or roll the dice"
me: i always assumed it was to encourage people to freeform agreement about non-controversial actions
7:43 PM Brand: In Dogs I often use it to avoid boring conflicts.
Like, when the Dogs go to kill a minor character no one really cares about — he dies. I just say yes.
me: but i sometimes think that finding where the interesting conflict lies can be thorny
Brand: In Wicked, I wouldn't do the same thing (unless the character is a prop rather than a character) because no way is the character going to say yet to being killed.
me: because sometimes you can push and push and the players can keep saying yes
7:44 PM Brand: Yep
me: and the world is an apocolyptic wasteland and the players still want more
Brand: Yep
me: so there's something to be said for Knowing When To Stop Saying Yes
Brand: I totally agree.
7:45 PM Its like a conversation we had in another game recently, where one of the players had a problem because she was tired of everyone making their own character lose all the time.
She said something like "I know characters need to fail sometimes to get good drama, but goddamnit they need to win sometimes too!"
She had a point.
7:46 PM me: sure
7:47 PM i think indie games train us to be masochists
especially Polaris
and the other tragic TPK ones
Brand: Yep
Plus, there is something else, like…
In a lot of games if you want to win something, you have to fight for it. But if you want to lose, you can do that at will.
7:48 PM So if you try to win, you might fail and lose control of where the story goes. But if you conced and monkey stomp your own character, you keep control.
me: right, you don't have to fight to lose
that's more of the Gam getting in our Sim-Nar
7:49 PM Brand: Yep

Draft of a Playtest Draft

2008 Feb 20

I’ve always been a “design in public” kind of guy. I know I always like seeing what other people are up to, even when it’s ugly and unfinished. It gives me a sense of them as real people instead of “Game Design Guru!” And I’m as real as they come, so here’s the oogly moogly that I have so far (PDF), even thought it’s pretty much just the oracle and the guidelines for using it. Everything else is completely unfinished, especially the bravo cards. I bet Stranger Things looks something like this right now ;P

Projects Inform Projects

2008 Feb 20

So here I am, working on the “Ultrametal Quickstart” version of 108 Bravos. I’ve finished an oracle based on the first ten chapters of the Water Margin, I’ve got the rules for using the oracle drafted out, I’ve made character cards for the three bravos that appear in the first ten chapters, I’ve drafted up guidelines for playing bravos, other PCs, and NPCs, I’m working on some GM guidelines for how to frame scenes, and the only problem is… I’m unsure about the dice mechanics from In a Wicked Age, which is a serious problem. Most likely, I haven’t played the game enough to really get them, so that’s probably my next step. But if, in the end, they don’t do what I need, then I’m at a crossroads.

108 Bravos already doesn’t use the We Owe List, Particular Strengths, character creation rules, or Oracle guidelines from In a Wicked Age. If I end up not using the conflict resolution or Exhaustion & Injury rules, then 108 Bravos really stops being a supplement and becomes a full-on hack, a completely different game with some shared characteristics. That would also mean that I need to do a lot more playtesting, because I’m not leaning against Vincent’s hard work anymore. And that, in turn, probably means not having the game ready by GenCon, except maybe as an ashcan draft that I playtest with people there. And that’s all fine, and kinda par for the course. I keep starting these projects that are supposed to be quick-and-easy modifications of other people’s games (Vesperteen, Lions on the Precipice, Geiger Counter, Last Days of Old Macao, Gridiron Gods, Mwaantaangaand) and they end up becoming full-on games. Sigh.

But then Adam Flynn and Dev just posted that they’re interested in playing Geiger Counter again. And I’m thinking, “Well, here’s a game that I’ve already playtested a bunch, including last year at GenCon, and it’s much further along in the process, so maybe I could shift gears a bit until I figure out what to do about 108 Bravos.” And I pick up the most current draft, which is a printed out version of what’s posted on this site, but with black notes scribbled all over it in pen. And the problem that was really vexing me when I stopped playtesting Geiger Counter was how to present setting, how to get people to recreate the feel of The Mummy or Aliens or Scream or Jaws or Jurassic Park or Twister on the fly. And… thanks to In a Wicked Age and Oracles, I now know how to do that.

It’s really nice when things build on each other like that.

Now the only problem is that I’ve got rights to the cover image of 108 Bravos for one year. And if I don’t have GenCon to give away free copies at, then I may have to rethink my distribution scheme. Maybe I could give them away at Dreamation, next January? Hmm. In any case, time to play In a Wicked Age a whole bunch (or, better yet, play 108 Bravos with the mechanics from In a Wicked Age) to see if it works for me.

Chinese Comic Covers

2008 Feb 19

Shreyas was asking me about my inspiration for the cover layout of the Water Margin game, since he couldn’t quite tell what I was trying to do. This is where I’m coming from:





I was even thinking, originally, of having the book open backwards, like books in Asia all used to do, but that wouldn’t really work as well with the cover image I now have. The back of the warrior needs to be towards the spine, I think.

Front and Back

2008 Feb 17

New front.


And back.



Title Fonts

2008 Feb 17

John Harper was dubious about the typography on the cover draft I posted earlier, so I spent the morning fiddling around with a few things to see if I could come up with other options. Results below:


Picture Rights Acquired

2008 Feb 15

Yeah, baby.


Cover Image?

2008 Feb 12

I really like the cover image that I worked up for the Water Margin game. However, I also really dig Mark Leong’s photograph of one of the actors from Warriors of Heaven and Earth (tiandi yingxiong), from his book China Obscura.


There are a couple of reasons not to use it. First, it’s shot in Xinjiang, western Muslim China, far away from the events of the Water Margin. Second, the guy standing by himself, shot through with arrows, is not quite the image of brotherhood and banditry that I had in mind. On the other hand, Warriors is clearly inspired by the Water Margin tradition, Mark Leong’s picture is just incredible, the clothing is basically spot-on for the time period (it’s Tang Dynasty instead of Song, but that’s pretty close), it’s in landscape format just like the booklet in my head, and it has plenty of empty space for the title and other info to go.

I’ve contacted the image site that controls it to get a quote. If it’s somewhere within my price range, maybe I’ll give it a shot. Otherwise, it’s definitely something to keep in mind for future game projects.