Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

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Sim and Immersion

Posted by Nathan P. on April 26, 2006

So I was just skimming this Story-Games post.

It seems to me that Sim and Immersion have the same problem. They’re both too damn big.

Let us take some hypothetical examples.

A: I like Sim play!
B: Cool, me too! Lets’s play X.
A: But….X isn’t Sim. There’s not even mechanics for drowning and falling!
B: But…yeh it is. In the books, no-one ever drowns or falls. Why the hell should there be mechanics for it? But there are mechanics for doing double-somersaults! Those are totally in all of the books!
A: Uh…ok. But no-one could -actually- do double-somersaults in that world. There’s too much gravity. That’s actually my big problem with the books – not internally consistent. This game, on the other hand….

A: I like Immersionist play!
B: Cool, me too! Let’s play X.
A: But…X isn’t immersionist. It has too many die rolls. How can I immerse when I have to pick up the dice all the time?
B: But…yeh it is. Every time I play I get so totally immersed in the story, man. It’s awesome.
A: Uh…ok.

I’m not a huge fan of making new terms and categories…but really. Damn. I don’t think there’s going to be much productive discussion until subcommunities of these over-broad categories manage to clearly delineate what they do and why they like it, thus making it possible to compare and contrast amongst those delineations.

It’s like, fuck. If we only had the word “fruit,” it would be awfully hard to order a damn watermelon, now wouldn’t it.

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Squish

Posted by Nathan P. on April 24, 2006

I had a realization while playing Squash today. I miss 2nd ed. AD&D, because I had a grand old time reading the books and imagining stuff. It was a cool feeling, and I don’t really have it any more, and I miss it a little.

These days, I don’t bother with imagining while I read the game, cuz what comes up in play is always more awesome. Thats cool.

[Edit]

So I was reaming out my computer, and found an old document containing the “Role-Playing Guidelines” that the GM for my last, and most dysfunctional, D&D 3rd game a couple of years ago. It contained the following vaguely related gems:

[Under “OOC Chatting”]
All OOC talk will be designated with the “chicken-wing” sign. [This was that we were supposed to tuck one arm under the armpit and flap it like a chicken wing. This was meant to make it harder to have OOC chatter.]

Try to keep it to a reasonable minimum. This is a social game for people’s fun, so some of it is obviously appropriate, but too much unnecessarily detracts from the game.

OOC, when used, should be appropriately humorous, necessarily to the gaming group, or really, really funny in general. Horrific role-playing anecdotes can only be used when I have just made one myself, or when it directly pertains to the current events. Note: this rule has been created because otherwise, we would be a support group, not a role-playing group.

[Under “Bad Karma”]

Bad karma can be earned in a multitude of ways, such as:
o Being disruptive to game play
o Arguing rules in game, if a correction is not immediately visible (book and page, and paragraph reference)
o Being belligerent to other players, OOC
o Using OOC knowledge in game, or taking OOC issues into the game.

[Under “Good Karma”]

Good karma is a mystical entity that randomly strikes those who earn the gods’ good fortunes.

Good karma can not be used on the player who earns it. Rather, that player designates at the time of use who the good karma affects, and how so. All affects are subject to DM approval.

Yah, I’m a little bitter.

In other news, IPR is having a 20% off May Day sale. So hit that shit up. Buy Timestream.

Speaking of which! New, exciting developments for Timestream, coming very soon!

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[Carry] Last Call for Playtesters

Posted by Nathan P. on April 14, 2006

Hiya,

As of very soon, the “public” playtesting of Carry will be over, and I’ll be communicating solely with those who have already played and given me feedback. This means that the current version that’s available for download will NOT be updated, though it will remain publically available for the curious.

If you are interested in playtesting and haven’t gotten in touch with me, you need to drop me an email (n dot d dot paoletta at gmail dot com) ASAP.

Previous playtest threads:

[Carry] But, I want endgame now!
[Carry] Sweet Decline
[Carry] Obsidian Fist Playtest
[Carry] I-CON Game

Feel free to post questions. Thanks!

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I Don’t Want Anyone To Miss This

Posted by Nathan P. on April 12, 2006

Paul Czege sez:

The fact is that games are learning tools. People play games to learn about themselves and to take on skills. Your starting point as a modern RPG designer¹ isn’t the metaphor. It’s what you want to learn. And then you figure out how an RPG could teach it. But lessons are hard. We have defense mechanisms. So part of your task is figuring out how to make the medicine go down. Metaphor is just one tool in that arsenal. It’s a way of veiling what you’re doing, so as to fly under defense mechanisms. But Bacchanal doesn’t have a metaphor, and it’s as much a learning tool as My Life with Master. Bacchanal presumes that effective storycrafting is less about the way you string your sentences together and more about audience management. And it asserts that audience management is achieved by bringing personal honesty to your storycrafting. The game is a bit of a sink-or-swim, but it works pretty consistently because the dice mechanics impose constraints on narration in a way that gives the player plausible denial. “That debauchery didn’t come from me. It came from the dice.” So as long as you have one risk taker in the group, everyone learns something. What Ron is saying is that focusing on the technique of metaphor is putting the cart way before the horse. Figure out what you want to learn.² Figure out how a game can teach you that. Then worry about how to make the medicine go down. And it won’t always be a metaphor.

Paul

¹I say “modern RPG designer” because most traditional RPGs aim at the same thing. They aim at giving the player a chance to validate his worldview and test his personal viability in a complex world. That’s a pretty passive goal. And we all already have shelves of these games. Modern RPGs increasingly work to alter a player’s worldview and impart skills. (Ron’s own It Was a Mutual Decision is a non-Czege example.)

²The way to figure out what you want to learn is to figure out what truly interests you in the media you consume. All this stuff about making the medicine go down is me thinking about how my games work well in retrospect of having created them. I didn’t conceive of My Life with Master out of consciously wanting a tool for teaching how to resolve being controlled via suppression of self-esteem. I just couldn’t stop thinking about a game in which the player characters were evil henchmen.

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Another “Duh” Moment

Posted by Nathan P. on April 11, 2006

Another issue I’ve been having with my Aberrant game (and, with Storyteller games in general) is the awarding of experience. Back in the day, I tried to give out experience as it says in the book (i.e. 1 automatic, 1 for fulfilling a story goal, 1 for good roleplay, etc), and realized I always gave the same player the “good roleplay” award, mainly because he’s good at playing a character with a radically different viewpoint than his own. Since then, I’ve just based the amount of XP on the length and intensity of the session (short or slow sessions net 3, standard is 5, long or awesome sessions gets 7+).

The Duh Moment is me realizing why XP in this system is so unsatisfying for me – character progression doesn’t tie into any actual mechanical stuff. No matter which resources on the sheet they use, or which flags I respond to as the GM, or which rolls are successes and which are failures, it’s still basically up to me to decide how much they get, and thus how fast they progress.

Compare this to Dogs – every single change to your character is a direct consequence of the choices you make while engaging in the escalation mechanics. Boom.

For my Adventure! game over the summer, I tweaked experience to be more directly applicable, and it worked pretty well – your experience pool and your Inspiration pool were the same, and you could give other players Inspiration/XP as fan mail, in addition to the mechanical ways to gain Inspiration and the GM handout of XP. It was cool, because it encouraged the players to measure how important immediate benefits of spending Inspiration was, compared to the permanent benefits of spending XP.

But yah. XP progression in Storyteller gets the “bad design” stamp from me.

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Walk Tall

Posted by Nathan P. on April 7, 2006

Dear Gamer: Walk Tall. is the best thread I’ve read at RPG.net to date. I suggest that non-regular RPG.net readers check it out.

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Game A Day is dead. Long live Game A Day!

Posted by Nathan P. on April 5, 2006

So, as regular (hah) readers may have noticed, the Game A Day Project has been pretty defunct since the holidays. There are reasons beyond my own laziness – two of them, in fact. The first is that when I got started working again on my actual games (Carry, to be precise) I no longer had the energy to come up with gaming-related bits that I wouldn’t necessarily use. The second is that I wasn’t personally getting what I had wanted out of the project.

I am, however, ready to give it another shot, with two major changes. The first is that it’s a place to post, not only game-related tidbits and thought experiments, but also little lessons learned from playing games. Not just RPGS – if you play any kind of game, and have a “huh, this is an interesting/applicable/crappy design element,” but don’t have the interest or energy to making it into a full AP post, Game A Day is where to put it.

The second major change, as indicated by the use of “you” in the above, is that I would like to open it up to the community at large. So, if you would like to post to Game A Day, leave a comment here and I’ll hook you up. You need a blogger account, I suppose.

What’s the point? Well, a repository specifically dedicated to gaming ideas, thoughts, bits and lessons seems like a useful resource to me, and they are the kinds of things that tend to get lost in active forum discussion. Feel free to argue/critique/lambast the idea in comments.

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This sucks.

Posted by Nathan P. on March 30, 2006

This sucks.

[edit]

Wow, RPG.net mods jumped on that quick. Same post here. Still sucks.

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Carry & Other Updates

Posted by Nathan P. on March 29, 2006

Got to run Carry at I-CON for Thor, Dro and Mayuran (three of the Burning Wheel mafia). They were awesome, and I eagerly await in-depth feedback from them. The game jumped from a 6 on the awesome scale to at least a 7.5 just from that game and the tweaks that I’m now making, centering it more on Burdens (where it should be) and tuning the actual play structure. This, combined with the general awesomeness of all the Indie peeps that showed up, made it a good time for me, despite the lack of sales.

I also helped invent a role-playing exercise called Death Stakes. It grabs your man-grapes and squeezes until you realize that illusionism is bad roleplay.

I finished Countdown for Game Chef 2006. It’s not that great as a game, but I find it interesting in concept. I expect I may try to throw together a game, see how it holds up, then make it a little prettier and offer it as a free download. Anyone who wants to play, leave a comment.

I’m about a third of my way through my essay on Sim. Hopefully that’ll get posted soon.

Every day I get home and wish that I could ignore the rest of my life and just work on games. I don’t know if thats a good thing or a bad thing.

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Playing Critically

Posted by Nathan P. on March 24, 2006

I’ve been thinking a bit about something that Luke said at Vericon.

(From my notes) 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.

So the last couple long-form games I’ve run have been Adventure! and Aberrant, two of the Aeonverse games from White Wolf. I understand that there was a d20 version of Aberrant released, but I fie upon that and stick to the modded storyteller system used in the original games.

I’ve noticed that, even though I have tried to play by the rules, there are definitly areas of the game which I just can’t make myself engage with because they bore me. Specifically, the whole “NPCs have the same stats as PCs and you must track them” thing. If I ever have the urge to write a Storyteller-esque game (which Imp kind of will end up being, maybe-sorta), thats what I’m going to fucking burn out. It makes me sad, and sometimes angry. Which is lame. In play I scoot around it by just making up stats off the top of my head that are directly applicable. “Well, you’re using your Dominate power on this baseline guard….I guess he has, like, 5 Willpower. Sounds good.” Straight up No Myth GMing on my part. [EDIT: Looks like I’m not the only one.]

Which sucks, because it throws a big part of the mechanical structure of the game, the balancing between Powers and Taint, out the window. If I want a heavily Tainted adversity, I’ll just make it up, without going into the guts and figuring out what mechanical reason he has to be Tainted. At our last session, I used a power to inflict two different kinds of damage over the course of an encounter, and one of the players (who knows the rules way better than I do) was all “Well, technically, it does one OR the other, which you pick when you take the power.” And I was all “Well, he has the power twice!” Lame on my part.

I feel like the GM shouldn’t have to keep track of more than any other player in terms of resources to affect the fictional material. It’s always been something that I tiptoe around with traditional games, with greater (2nd ed D&D) and lesser (Storyteller) degrees of success. It’s another “huh, I do that in all the games I design” thing that I kind of just noticed, like how I deal with character death.

What do I mean by “the GM shouldn’t have to keep track of more than any other player in terms of resources to affect the fictional material”? Well, take Storyteller (or D&D, for that matter). The players all have a character sheet, which is a list of the resources they have to effect the fictional material of the game, in the form of traits and pools and powers and whatnot. Now, it is expected that the GM should have the same sheet for the principle antagonists, and at least an abbreviated stat block for lesser adversaries, along with knowledge about difficulty levels and what kind of mechanics to apply to which challenging situations. Assume a group of 3 players. That will probably give you at least 2 or 3 principle antagonists at any given time, plus mooks, plus all the environmental challenges they’ll run into. That’s a lot of tracking for the GM to do, and frankly, at this point in my gaming career doing that much paperwork is BORING.

Now look at Carry. Everyone has a pool of dice. The GM has no guidelines to how he uses his, while the players have their Approach and Profile to deal with. This is a design decision that I made, to not have the GM have to choose an Approach. Why should he? He should use his judgement to provide an appropriate level of adversity, depending on his resources, the other players resources, and the overall tone and direction of the game and the specific situation at hand. In practice, I enjoy this much more, because I don’t feel like I’m responsible for maintaining some kind of platonic “well, if you ever WERE to engage Dr. Mephisto on the topic of windsurfing, his Watersports 4 would totally kick your ass” ideal.

So, my mythical Storyteller heartbreaker would give the GM a pool of dice depending on how badass or important the adversity is, and he can roll out of that pool of the dice for whatever he wants in response to the characters actions. Maybe he would choose two or three key traits that give a bonus dice (like, Kicks Magnetic Ass would give him an extra dice for bringing the characters magnetic mastery into the gamespace, or something). Or maybe each NPC has an “Effectiveness” stat, plus the menu of powers, and anything they do that doesn’t have to do with a power, the GM just rolls their effectiveness.

Y’know. Something that would make me happy.

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