Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

Notes from VeriCon

Posted by Nathan P. on January 30, 2006

Vincent Does Theory
He invented a rule that got us to do something we wanted that we wouldn’t otherwise do without that rule. RPGs are the same.

Agreement around table is the only thing that makes anything happen.

Rules don’t resolve disagreements between players, they resolve discrepencies in agreement.

Expectations – violating expectations in game can be/is on the same scale as “real life” dissapointments.

Luke: Permission. I give permission to do X, it hinges on process to maintaining agreement. Permissions create expectations.

Jared: Example w/D&D, Call of Cthulu and Paranoia. People who only play one have certain expectations, built by the game text/experience. Other games, like Vampire, don’t have a tight focus on expectations, and players have to engage more actively.

Luke: All games have a premise, some muddled, some clear. Premise creates expectations; expectations, permissions and agreements create social contract. All games assume functional social contract. People -> group -> cohesive group – > playing game.

Jared: House rules in RPGs can create lots of discrepancy in expectations.

Question: How is giving permissions different from creating expectations?

Vincent: The process by which I allow you to do X – thats permission. Expectation is that I want you to do X. Establishing rules to meet expectations is creating permissions.

Luke: Functional game = same page in terms of we all have X expectations and give each other Y permissions.

Question: How do explicit permissions/expectations interface with actual events in play that could steer play away from perm/expec?

Luke hands Vincent chalk.

Vincent: “If I use chalk I’m just going to draw a line.” He proceeds to do so, marking hashes along its length. The line is the procedures of play, the hashes are events. All games have seperate procedures and events.

Luke: You could say that procedures link events.

Vincent: draws this picture

In order to illustrate that as long as functional play is happening proceduraly, events don’t really matter per se.

I interject with a stupid comment that derails discussion. We establish that overall expectations for game are premise, and situational expectations are preferences that change with the changing events of play.

Thor & Luke: Game designer & rules & text & group all intersect on generating expectations.

Moving On

Question: When designing a game, how important is it to design all-new mechanics?

Jared: Definitly look at games out there. Lots of games come out of published games the designer wishes was better. Personally, enjoys making his own mechanics because its more interesting.

Luke: Focused on one game, Burning Wheel. His advice, take a game you enjoy, and destroy and obliterate and burn out everything you don’t like about it. It’ll become unrecognizable, then you add in stuff that makes you happy.

Vincent: Totally bogus to design a game just to design it. His job is to find what he likes and make it do compelling that you’ll like it too.

Three Questions

Jared: Three Questions: 1) What? is your game about. 2)How? does your game do that. 3) What? Behaviors does it reward/encourage in the players.

Luke and Jared proceed to grill people on their designs, with amusing and enlightening results. The following notes are amusing things and/or bullet points, but I think 3 or 4 people offered up their game designs to be…critiqued, generating various amounts of discussion.

Luke: (in response to “What do you mean by ‘what’?) “No fucking Forge ‘what do you mean by the word ‘what’ shit. Answer the question.”

A well designed game won’t have mechanics that don’t interface with the premise.

Jared: GURPs isn’t a game.

Luke: Disagrees. Strenuously.

Dev makes Luke fall over.

The Point: What you do in play with mechanics is what your game is about. Look at the distance between start and end of a section of play (a full reward cycle, in Forge lingo). Whats the difference? What has changed? Thats what the game is about.

Setting Versus System

I get a phone call I have to take and miss the first 10 minutes of this section. Again, lots of discussion, and these notes are summary and/or amusing points. When I get back:

Vincent: No such thing as a “game world” because all we see is moment by moment.

Personal thought in reference to the “level playing field” argument: You don’t want to feel like others will get something you won’t, so appealing to the mechanics as an impartial judge becomes important to you.

Jared: In response to comments about octaNe being a better game to play Die Hard with than Feng Shui (yes, this was all on topic): “Which is why I’m a better game designer than Robin Laws.” He asks us not to mention this to Mr. Laws.

Vincent: What I need to know as a player is what I can contribute to each event in play, and how that contributes to the other players and their characters. Stuff on your sheet is a useful mnomic device to remember which rules to apply to which situation.

Luke: (in reference to comment that you experience a movie by yourself but play RPGs as part of a group) Just as you are the most important member of the audience at a movie, you are also the most important person at the table, except that you have participatory power (implication: and thus a different responsability).

Joshua (Newman)/Emily: “Physics” kind of means genre conventions and premise conventions. The physics of Star Wars are that Han Solo is cooler than everyone else, etc.

Luke: There is no game world, just people around a table.

Vincent: Rules can refer only to things in the game world, but they don’t have to. Limiting yourself to stuff that is there in the world means you’re missing out on lots of stuff that would support what your game is about.

Jared: The idea behind game design is to make it be about something. You can only model reality so far, and only if thats what your game is about.


I took no notes here. Everything was pretty much stuff that has been covered in the Publishing forum at the Forge. It was cool to find out that Vincent has spent only game money on game stuff ever since the first printing of kill puppies for satan.

Oh – and for the second weekend in a row, Jared ran one of his own games, a short game of InSpectres. I couldn’t stay for it (damn!), but there ya go. I also, sadly, missed out on a mentioned game of Jungle Speed.

But yah, this was cool. I know my notes may make no sense, so feel free to ask about something and I’ll do the best I can to explain.


4 Responses to “Notes from VeriCon”

  1. Alex said

    Thanks for this. Hugely useful for the many of us stranded outside N America. Your notes were worth it for this alone: “Look at the distance between start and end of a section of play (a full reward cycle, in Forge lingo). Whats the difference? What has changed? Thats what the game is about.”
    I’m curious about the GURPS spat, and also wondering about the disagreement/discrepancy in agreement thing. My jab at it is Vincent saying that the rules won’t help if 2 people can’t agree, but they are vital when 2 people can get on the same page, but need some authority to establish which page it ultimately is.

  2. Heya,

    Thanks for putting this up, Nate. And ARGH, I wish I lived near some of these people. I could learn SO much if I could only get to talk, face to face, with guys like Ron, Vincent, and Luke.



  3. Keith said

    Luke actually pulled out the Pulp Fiction What bit? You are fucking kidding me.

  4. Nathan P. said

    Alex: Your welcome! I’m going to do a 3 Question post for Carry tonite or tomorrow to show what they were getting at a little more clearly.

    The GURPS spat was that Jared was saying GURPS is like Unreal Engine, in that its a set of rules, but you can’t just play GURPS, you have to add on more stuff to make it a game. Luke thought that this position was full of shit, but dropped it because it was getting off track. I happen to agree with Jared, so I can’t really argue Lukes position.

    As for the disagreement/discrepancy, yeh, pretty much. The point is that, if someone at the table disagrees with the imagined content, the game stops. But the procedures set by the rules are there to resolve discrepancies, like whether your characters sword hits or not.

    Troy: Yeh, 10 minutes of face-to-face conversation is way more useful than a weeks worth of forum threads. Its cool.

    Keith: Oh man, I was laughing hard at that one. On the inside. It hurt.

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