By The Stars — Working? Working? — Week Twenty-Eight

The Good News: I finished the initial playtest draft of Serial. If you’d like a copy, e-mail me at thebard at incarnadine dot indie-rpgs dot com.

The Bad News: I only had time for one project and Serial was it. The new character sheet and Dreamation AP will have to wait until next week.

However, I did make notes on the resolution system and further clarified my design goals to focus on the kind of play that I most often do. By The Stars will be optimized for a 4-hour convention slot, but allow for other structures of play as well.

The saga of Mike and his dice…

I played the minis game Heroscape last night for the first time. It uses special attack and defense dice. Attack dice have 3 skull sides and 3 blank sides. Defense dice have 2 shield sides and 4 blank sides. Each shield counters one skull, with any skulls left becoming damage. I had 3 figs. Each got attacked once. In total for all 3, I rolled 24 defense dice. I scored 2 shields. Total. I was dead 5 minutes into the game.

Did I mention that my crappy die-rolls are infamous among my friends?

After that, I played two games of 10 Days in Africa–a rummy-like game from Out of the Box. I won both of those, with a lot of luck. Then, seven of us played Cancellation Hearts, where I succeeded in taking zero points in the three hands we were able to squeeze in.

Contrasting these two games–and just Heroscape vs. Mechaton–I find that I like, and am better at, choice-centered games. The feeling of control is a powerful thing. Even when the handful of cards are so bad that your control doesn’t help you to prevail. Choice forces you to make a decision about how to allocate your resources, no matter how scant they may be. And decisions promote engagement.

“What to play?” “What to play?”

I was thinking about the “single-game engine that you can play any number of one-shot stories with” that I’ve wanted to design for a long time. Play Right!, my Game Chef entry, was a stab at it. I have numerous notes about it over the past 5 years. But, there’s a serious marketing problem with the entire concept.

People shouldn’t have to decide what to play TWICE.

If everyone else’s groups are anything like mine, deciding what to play next is a constant negotiation of shifting interests and priorities. Designing a game that would essentially cause people to say “Alright, we’ve discussed it and we’re going to play MSM’s Game. Now, what type of story are we going to play with MSM’s Game?” seems to set the burden too high. That’s one of the problems that WGP… struggles with.

Finding the perfect amount of player empowerment is a never-ending quest.

By The Stars — Paused. — Week Twenty-Seven

Well, I had off an entire day off due to snow this week and still topped 49 hours at work. That, plus a slew of family obligations and working on the playtest draft of Serial, the game about serial killers that I’m helping Kat with (it’s about half done), have left me with no progress on By The Stars this week. By next week, I want to finish a new version of the character sheet and a write-up of the Dreamation playtest. But we will see what the future actually holds…

Ramblings on Snow

I just finished 2 hours of snowblowing. It was our first real storm of the season and work was cancelled. That means, of course, that tomorrow will be extra hellacious with a side of torture, but that’s tomorrow.

I’ve always liked the snow. I got in arguments in college because I refused to complain about it. I like all four seasons.

I cleared out our driveway, out into the street in front of our house. Then our sidewalk, and the sidewalk and 2 car driveway of the retired couple next store. Sometimes they buy us pizza to say “thanks.” I just appreciate that he mows our part of the lawn between our houses. Even when I haven’t mown for weeks and our grass is knee-high he doesn’t complain. Mowing grass sucks. It’s the same thing over and over again. Push. Flip cord out of the way. Push. Flip cord.

Blowing snow requires thinking. Which way to blow so the stream won’t cover what I just cleared? How is the wind going to figure into this? What angle will give my boots the best traction? There’s strategy involved in blowng snow.

And each storm is a new challenge. Today’s was several hours of light snow on warm ground producing a semi-slush base. That was followed by several hours of dry powder, and then turning to sleet all night long. It finished with another coating of dry powder. This wicked combination produced a snowpack that was both very heavy (the hours of sleet) and prone to blowing right back in your face (the double powder layers). I am drained.

But snow has always held good associations for me. There were the days of frolicking in the stuff in my youth, of course. We lived next door to a dentist’s office and my mom had asked the guy who plowed their parking lot to pile all the snow on the side nearest our house. I made incredible snow forts with tunnels and slides!

Then at college, the sensation of walking to class in the cool stillness with three inches of snow balanced perfectly on every branch and twig of our forested campus. I swear you could hear every flack settling to earth.

Also at college, eleven years ago tomorrow, was my best snow memory. Kat had just arrived on the train for a long weekend visit. We had gone to dinner and come back to campus. It was just starting to snow as we walked over the same paths where she had asked me out two years before. The darkening sky sparkled with starlike flakes. It was cool but not cold as I went down on one knee, held out the ring, and asked her “Will you m–”


That was the best snowy day of my life.

By The Stars — Working. Working. — Week Tweny-Six

It’s been a nasty week at work, including half a day today (Sunday) and next week looks worse. But, I actually made some notes on the setting (yes, you read that right, I wrote setting-notes) of By The Stars. I was thinking about the rationale for and structure of an interstellar government. Combine it with some hazily-remembered history books from my grad school days and:

This needs an interstellar civilization. A sort of combination of Lucas’ Empire, Asimov’s Empire, and Le Guin’s Ekumen. Here’s the thing: History teaches us that dynamic, active, vibrant cultures are those that bridge two civilizations, like the Italian city-states in the 14th century, England in the 19th century, and the U.S. in the 20th. If current trends toward a homogenization of culture continues, there will be only one culture, one way of thinking. This leads to ossification, stagnation, and unpreparedness for unexpected threats.

If the brain trust of the interstellar government saw this monolithic culture as enough of a threat, they would seed isolated colonies across the cosmos to create different cultural viewpoints. Perhaps entire prisons full of Opinion Criminals (or potential Opinion Criminals) were loaded onto colony ships and crashed onto potential planets.

The knights might be from one of these planets. This also allows for a “create your own planet” akin to Everway’s spheres.

Flash forward a few centuries since the seeding. What has happened is small-scale skirmishes, wars, trade disputes, star-crossed lovers and lots of drama. The reactionaries (who never really understood the seeding anyway) have had enough of these upstarts squandering the gifts the central authority has given them, and for piracy and low dealings and the like. They take over the central government, cast out/hunt down the far-thinking, Hari Seldon-esque monks (whose order presided over the Seeding) and organize the Singularity to crush out all diversity, conquer the outer colonies, and bring law and order to the galaxy.

That’s a villian worth stopping.

That’s all for this week. Next week may be late due to President’s Day. See you then!

By The Stars — Working. Working. — Week Twenty-Five

What? No confession?

I’ve nothing to confess but being re-invigorated about designing my game.

By The Stars? Didn’t you pull the plug on that thing a month ago?

Some games just don’t know when to stay dead. Running a By The Stars scenario powered by WGP… at Dreamation last week really re-invigorated my interest in developing the game. I’ve got fresh ideas, and renewed confidence in the game’s reception.

Fresh ideas? How can you say you have fresh ideas in a genre as done-to-death as space opera?

The same way I had fresh ideas about the genre of superheroes. In fact, I’ll be stealing liberally from With Great Power… and drawing on the patterns I’ve seen it produce in play.

For instance, the best Strife aspects I get at conventions are Motivations: The aspects that describe why a character does what he does. In By The Stars, Oaths will, of course, privledge motivation above other parts of the character. Each character will have three Oaths:

  • An Oath that describes a goal the character wants for himself.
  • An Oath that describes a goal the character wants for another PC or NPC.
  • An Oath that describes how that character wants to rewrite another character’s first or second Oath.
    That last one makes Oaths into a fusion of WGP…’s Motivation Aspects and Villian’s Plans. Cool, eh?

    One of the differences between superheroic fiction and the variety of space opera I’m emulating with BTS is the way the whole good vs. evil struggle is portrayed. In the types of superhero stories WGP… is set up to do, you know who the heroes and the villains are from the first page, and they never change. Star Wars is rife with changing sides. Han shoots Greedo, but then saves the day in the end. Lando seems trustworthy, betrays them, then rescues them. Vader kills the Emperor. Those things don’t work under a bipolar setup like WGP… This new Oath structure will support multi-polar play in BTS.

    It will take more than Oaths, and I’ve got some cool ideas about how the card system will work. Plus, Bill has suggested ways to morph the Story Arc into a template for the Campbellian Hero’s Journey that could prove fruitful. And, I’ve contacted my local game store about possibly running in-store demoes of WGP… and possibly using that as a vector to meet new players. We’ll see what they say.

    But that’s all grist for next week’s mill. See you then!