Went to Bruce’s last night to play board games into the new year. Bruce has played a number of miniatures games. Ended up talking with him about why I want to investigate miniatures gaming as research for the kingship game (also referred to as The Game Aria Was Meant To Be). Also talked with Kat about it this morning.

Although this game is low priority at the moment, talking about it so often has helped me to express my goals for it.

This game will be able to handle Henry V, the battle of Helms’ Deep or Pelinor Fields or the climactic battle at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just as clearly and dramatically as the recent movies have done. These battles are dramatic because: A) the story has illustrated just what’s at Stake for each side; B) we care about individual characters in these battles. We just went to see Narnia on Friday, and the final battle was very well choreographed. We were shown exactly why each action brought that side closer to victory.

For instance, at one point in the battle, the good guys fire this pheonix-arrow that cuts a swath of fire across the battlefield. We in the audience can see instantly (because of the camera angles & FX) that this cuts off the Witch’s reserves from the forces already engaged with the good guys. In this part of the battle, evil has lost its numerical superiority. We’re instantly happy because we can see what good it has done. The geography of the battle-map matters.

I want a game that does that. Without the math and analysis paralysis of traditional miniatures as I’ve observed them. Without the high-concept “make it up as you go” of role-playing games like Uni or WGP…, even. I understand the role-playing aspects, and WGP…’s conflict system could handle massive battles with just a new set of characteristics of conflict. But it wouldn’t be what I want.

Y’see, with WGP… as written, the SIS consists of a few guys beating up on each other with their superpowers. It’s simple enough for everyone to keep it straight in their heads. The Imagined Space remains “Shared” because everyone at the table understands what’s going on.

“Mudslide pummels Debris with a powerful left.” Deanna changes style to “Yes, Mudslide hits Debris, who flies back into a building, breaking through the wall. Picking up a piece of rubble, Debris slams you with it.” One thing leads into another smoothly. The SIS remains internally consistant, and the emphasis on describing things visually keeps everyone informed and on the same page.

In the Narnia example above, if I were playing it with WGP…, I could play a card and describe it as “My archer launces a pheonix arrow that cuts off your reserves.” You might not have pictured your forces with reserves at all. You might have pictured the reserves already out-flanking the archers. Suddenly, the Imagined Space is no longer Shared. Battles are so complex, I want the map back as a running sketch of the SIS—to keep everyone on the same page.

I’m thinking of stuff like putting geographical bonuses right on the map or figure. For example, the high ground might have a big “+1” on the map. If the unit of one of the characters that you care about is protecting that spot, but is facing a potent enemy force, you’ve then got a tough, interesting decision. Do I try to hold onto that +1, but possibly lose my guy that’s been great fun in the story, or do I pull him out and give up the advantage? That’s the kind of decision-making I want in the Kingship Game.

Maybe throughout gameplay each player will have some characters at each level of society, to experience the world more fully. Exactly where these guys end up in units will be a big part of battle set-up. And the whole thing will tie into the Stakes for each battle, each negotiation, each action and how it affects the game world going forward.

Kat suggested that I might meet a number of my goals without the map (and the real-world logistical hangup it brings with it) by using something like a list of Assets and Obstacles—your Assets are the opponent’s obstacles. Each round of the battle you need to decide and describe how your forces are safeguarding your assets and/or conquering your obstacles. How these are achieved, and how much they suffer for it (wounded, fallen morale, etc.) will have repercussions in the post-battle Stakes claiming.

I’m not sure I liked it. But I didn’t like the WGP… Enrichment system when she first suggested it, so I’m going to let it stew for a while.

In any case, along with putting together a release schedule of free With Great Power… support PDFs, and getting R.I.P., the game of ghost stories, into playtestable shape, I’ll be doing some military history research and looking into wargames, both table-top and electronic. I haven’t played many wargames apart from Risk and Axis & Allies, so I don’t have a gut-level understanding of the whole “game of the battlefront” thing yet. I don’t instinctively know what words like “outflank” and “counterattack” mean. How can I write a game that promotes that gut-level feeling if I don’t have it myself?

Anyway, Happy New Year to one and all!

Cards over Dice

Yeah, it’s been forever and a day since I updated this thing. Life happened. A lot. I could spend lots of time going into it, and maybe I will. But not now.

I think I figured out another reason why most of my game designs do not use dice. It comes back to the social context of my gaming: How my gaming fits into my life.

Here’s my dirty little secret: I do most of my gaming at conventions these days. I’ve never been a big fan of the “campaign-length” game. I’ve only ever been in 2 campaigns that lasted more than a year. I have a regular weekly game that goes off more like bi-weekly (life happening, again). But I go to conventions and game!

In the social context of a convention, Time is king. You’ve only got one shot to make a good game for these strangers at your table, and you’ve got to make it fun and fulfilling in four hours and then they’re gone to the four winds. There is a great deal of pressure to make every moment count.

When looking at this as a system designer, that means making every application of the resolution system count. Here’s where I think cards (at least the way I use them), or point-bidding like Discernment, have an edge over dice. They are not as subject to luck.

Probability tells us that luck runs in streaks. If you have a 75% chance of success on a die roll, that means that if you make a hundred rolls, probably between 70 and 80 will be successes. Rolling several failures in a row is not unlikely, but it will even itself out with lots of successes in a row later on.

That’s all great in a campaign where, over the life of the game, you’ll make a hundred rolls. But in a convention game, you’ll make maybe 3 to 6 rolls on a given stat. With the smaller sampling size, the vagaries of luck are more harshly felt. That streak of several failures in a row may encompass ALL the rolls you’re ever going to make for that character. So a character that’s supposed to be pretty good in some way ends up coming off as a schmuck. The character sheet and the player says that the guy’s supposed to be one way, but the dice and the system-in-action say he’s another.

Before you say it, I know failure can be fun. Really, I do. I write games about failure. But consistant failure and unlikely failure can be demoralizing.

Cards, as used in With Great Power…, sidestep this by emphasizing the play of the cards you’ve already got. There are usually multiple ways to respond to your opponent, so it’s very hard to draw consistently bad cards. If you don’t have high cards in the current suit, that means you likely have enough cards of another suit to change style and play in that suit instead.

Putting the choice in the center of resolution, rather than the appeal to Dame Fortune, increases the impact of each use of the resolution system. More impact per use in a short game format leads to better game.

At least for me.

An Amazing Film

Kat signed us up for NetFlix, partially because our old video store that had a bit of anime got bought by a chain. I hate chains. Our new video store doesn’t even have Spirited Away.

Anyway, we watched one of her first discs yesterday. Millenium Actress is, without a doubt, the best anime I’ve ever seen. A Japanese Citizen Kane, it flashes back to the life of this great actress, how her life is reflecting in her films, and in the periods of Japanese history where those films are set, and on the value of dreaming the Impossible Dream. Stirring, beautiful, moving.

I’ve got to design an RPG that does sweeping, flashback-format, “This is the story of life” stuff like this, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol. I love them all and I need to render them in RPGs.

But first, I’m working on a ghost story game with Kat. I kid you not.

The good and the bad

The bad thing about last night: I had to work 2 hours late (which was actually the least late I’ve been all week), but had to bring about an hour’s worth of work home with me.

The good thing about last night: Since I brought the work home, I got to listen to the Sons of Kryos Wicked Dead show while I did it. Great interview. This was only the 2nd SoK show I listened to (I have dial-up, so downloading is a logistical task), but I’m really liking them.

At one point in the show, Jeff is finishing up his “GM Tools” segment on GM screens. He’s listed some sort of survey results about the whys and hows of GM screens that he culled from an RPG.net thread. I can tell he’s finished, and I’m thinking to myself “But he hasn’t said anything yet!”

At that moment, Judd says, “Jeff, you’ve gotta make a stand. This is podcasting, you’ve gotta say something.”

It’s cool to be on the same page with the recorded voice on the computer.

So, I made a pilgrammage to The City this weekend to impose on the hospitality of Luke Crane. It was a great time. Hung out with him and Dro and Thor. Got far too little sleep (I miss my ability to sleep in).

Ran a session of With Great Power… The game is sound enough to please someone who’s looking for an excuse not to like it (one of Luke’s friends) and also someone who isn’t generally fond of superheroes (Luke). It went quite well.

I also playtested the latest BW convention game. “Inheritance” is the strongest game yet, I think. Vikings dealing with the death of their grandfather. Very cool. I got to play the hot ingenue that everyone wanted to marry.

Talked about a bazillion things. Got some of my own hypocracy exposed, i.e., I give other people great advice on how to promote their games but don’t follow it for WGP. That’s what friends are for.

All in all, a great weekend. Much thanks to Luke, Thor, Dro, and all the folks I played with.

The Juggler

I’ve got a few balls in the air, gaming-wise. Here’s my current gaming-related to-do list, in no particular order:
(BTW, I don’t know how to use cuts to hide most of the entry behind a link, so I apologize for the length)

The almost-weekly PTA game

I’m Producer for the Monday night PrimeTime Adventures game with Kat, Michele, and my daughter Dalys. The series is called “Stakes” and it’s set in the Buffyverse. Michele’s character is this great, young acrobat who was marked as a potential Slayer. Thus, an NPC Watcher was dispatched to train her. He’s the ringmaster. He brought his niece along as his go-fer and Watcher-in-Training. That’s Kat’s character. As it turns out, just before the first episode, the previous Slayer died, and Kat’s character is the new Chosen One. Dalys’ character is a fortune teller who can sometimes actually see the future. But she can always communicate with her dead mom through her crystal ball. I can’t remember their Issues off the top of my head. Tsk tsk. Bad Producer.

The play-when-our-schedules-mesh Burning Wheel pirates game

I’m prepping a big post on this to lay out the three PCs, their BITs, and my first thoughts on Bangs. This is a tough one to schedule. We started character burning in May and finished it this past Friday.

The freeform roleplay with Kat

We’re still feeling our way. We’ve got this pirate story going on now. It’s pretty cool, but I still haven’t refound my confidence in my freeform abilities.

The biweekly Buffy game: We’re Slaying Here in Allentown

I guess this is the “big secret” I keep from my Forge friends. Paul was stunned when I mentioned it. I never post about it or mention it in any way. For one thing, I’m not running it, my friend Todd is. Only the first season is up at the website. We’re 2 episodes away from wrapping up the 2nd season. I play Desdemona “Desi” Stark, the Slayer in this post-season 7 version of Allentown. This doesn’t require much work besides showing up, but it’s still another ball in the air.

Preparing for Convention Events

I’ve only got one more convention in 2005: MepaCon in Scranton in November. In an effort to draw reluctant gamers to the table, I’m bending my own rule in the first event:

With Great Power… The Astonishing X-men

I don’t like running licenced characters with my own game. But if you’re going to bend the rule to appeal to “the masses” you might as well put “The X-men” name on it. Besides, I’ve been reading Joss Whedon’s series since it started and really liking it.

Burning Wheel The Boon

Yup, not only am I trying to learn how to run BW, but I’m writing my own scenario. It’s pulled from The Princess Bride and some of the kind of stuff that Kat and I do in freeform. You’ve rescued the princess from her captors and are returning her to her father to collect the boon you’ve been promised. It’s never that easy. But there’s 6 PCs to burn, which is a pain. The more characters I burn, the more I can’t stand burning characters. But it’s good for me. Reminds me of exactly what I like and what I don’t.

PrimeTime Adventures Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

THis is the easy one. I show up with the PTA book and blank character sheets. Maybe some pics of the characters downloaded from the net or scanned from Eden’s Buffy books. We redo a season or make up a new one right there at the table. I love the zero-prep games.

Scheduling the Indie Games Explosion at Dreamation

Tony and I agreed that for Dreamation, Tony would run the booth, and Kat and I would run the event track. Vinnie hasn’t given me a due date, so I haven’t gotten started yet, but it’s still looming and will take a decent bit of time in the coming month.

Fulfilling orders for WGP…

I’m still doing my own fulfillment. And I love getting the orders–about 2 or so per week at this point. But packing and running to the post office all the time is yet another ball in the air, thus:

Getting the IPR deal done.

I’m in negotiations with Brennan about offering WGP… through IPR. I’m waiting on a revised contract, then I’ll ship him the rest of my stock.

Getting the corrections found and made for the 2nd printing of WGP…

I’m going to need to order a 2nd printing before the end of October. Any typos spotted are most appreciated.

The WGP… PDF version

I’m supposed to be preparing a PDF version of WGP… for sale. I’m waiting for all the errata of the first printing to be incorporated before starting. Why convert mistakes to PDF and then just need to fix them?

Promoting WGP…

Kat keeps reminding me about this. It’s probably my least favorite part of the process. I’m constitutionally averse to saying “This is my thing and it’s cool and you should look at it.” Too much Catholic-bred humility, perhaps? Luckily, the game is pretty much selling itself right now.

Designing other games

Designing games is my favorite part of the whole shebang. Vincent says we should design to expose ourselves. I usually phrase it as “saying something about how I see the world.” In either case, I think that’s another reason I’m slow to promote WGP…. Since the game is done, I’ve said what I have to say about that aspect of the world. I’ve exposed that part of myself. Time to say something new–to expose another piece. Here’s a brief rundown on the games I have partially worked-on:


This needs a serious reworking from its 2003-04 version. It’s a game about movie stars trying to balance Fame, Clout, and their own Integrity. Even with the reworking necessary, it’s probably closest to being playtestable. But I just can’t get myself excited about it.

Incarnadine: Roleplaying in a Shakespearean style

This is my Great White Game, as Ben Lehman might call it. The Greatest Game I Will Never Write. I may love Shakespeare, but I don’t know that I’m clever enough to render him in an RPG. I’ve been stumped on this one for a while.

The Game That ARIA Was Supposed To Be

I read a review of Last Unicorn’s Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth four years before I got my hands on the game. A game where the players had Player Nations in addition to Player Characters! Cool! In those four years, I kinda daydreamed about what the game would be like. When I finally got those thick, thick books, they weren’t what I was hoping for. Someday I’ve got to write the game I was imagining. I bough some Birthright stuff at GenCon for research purposes. Andy K’s supposed to be working on something like this, too, but only time will tell.

The Game of Storybook Fantasy

I’m not an real big fantasy fan, yet I live in a subculture of fantasy fans. My wife is a big fantasy fan. I rented 1982’s cheesy animated The Last Unicorn over the weekend. Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal sit on our movie shelves. We really need to get The Neverending Story. Kat has a whole shelf of fairy tale books. This is a type of fantasy that hasn’t been well-done by the RPG community. Y’know, like superheroes hadn’t been well done. ::wink:: TSoY is more sword-and-sorcery. BW is more Tolkien, Le Guin, and historical. Everway almost had it, except for being broken and tied to that whole Spherewalker concept. I had a single, strong game idea for this right before falling asleep on Friday and it kept me up for another hour typing it up. This one is the frontrunner as of this minute.

Very, very busy week last week. Started off with recovering from Southern Exposure, only to find that Carl had reviewed WGP on RPG.net He’s was very complimentary, and there was no real fire in the discussion thread, which I kinda screwed up anyway. But there was a small spike in orders, so it’s all good.

Later, Chris Weeks posted about some typos and questions he had with the text. And he prefaced his comments with some very kind words. If you’ve met Chris, he doesn’t say things that he doesn’t mean, so I’m again caught unawares. I’m not good with the compliments. I almost preferred it when they were calling me a mugger.

Friday night was finishing up Character Burning for the Burning Wheel pirates game. I’m prepping a big long post on that for either the Forge or the BW forums. We also played The Sword, although it only went “okay.”

Kat and I are finding our way back into our freeform role-play groove. We haven’t been there in a long while–primarily my fault. I can only stay there for a short while, but I’m working on it.

Oh, and I just posted why I don’t consider MLwM a “horror RPG.”

And I’ve gotta go to work tomorrow, although the kids have off. Youth is wasted on the wrong people…

Southern Exposure 2005, Part II

Picking up Saturday afternoon. My mood was much improved after the morning’s WGP game. I was keen to play in Scott’s Sorcerer scenario, as I had run Sorcerer for him two years ago. I believe he had a full four players signed up, so I hung out with Luke waiting to see if there would be an empty seat for me. There were four empty seats, so the game folded.

This was about twenty minutes after the start of the timeslot. Up until now, Luke had nobody for his scheduled run of “The Gift.” Suddenly, a number of stragglers from folded games (including me, Scott, and Continuum’s Chris Adam) descended en mass. We played The Gift with a full complement of eight.

I was the Dwarven chancellor-type character. The Dwarven prince had never played BW before. He and the player of the Elven prince were buddies and both very entertaining, acting-wise. The elven prince gave a performance like Alan Rickman as a foppish elven lordling. It was fun to watch … for the first hour. I guess because both of them were buddies, they only wanted to posture and circle and never bring anything to a head.

I probably should have driven things harder, but I didn’t want to steamroll the guy (my prince) in his first BW game. That’s a bad habit I need to work on. Particularly in BW, you *can’t* steamroll another player without opening yourself to the possibility of being steamrolled as well.

Anyway, The Gift went alright. I got in a Duel of Wits against Scott as the elven Loremaster. I won with 1 point left in my body of argument because I scripted a perfectly-timed Rebuttal, but allocated too many dice to attack and not enough to defense.

We hung out and ate some of my wife’s amazing pumpkin pie. Then, at 8pm it was time for Master.

I had 2 players who had never played MLwM, plus Kat, who’s bothed minioned for me and Mastered in her own right. We started late. We moved our table. There were some interruptions. The energy just wasn’t there. The two players (Jeff and Jillian. IIRC) had a bit of a flair for the absurd and silly. Always dangerous in a MLwM game. And I didn’t ward it off nearly enough. It was still a pretty good session, which is much more of a testament to Paul than to me. I think I might step away from MLwM for a little while. There’s a potential LJ entry in my head entitled “My Life with ‘My Life with Master.'”

Sunday brought two canceled games, and leisurely packing of the car, heading home, eating at a Turkish place for lunch (not really my thing), goin’ to the orchard, fevered retrieval of K. from her grandparents, and general resting.

All in all, the con was a good time and I’m glad I went. Andrew Morris got people for one of his Capes games, and Tony seemed happy minding the “booth” all day. Of course, i’ve yet to see Tony unhappy, so I may have misinterpreted. Nate P. didn’t make it due to car trouble.

Got to see some old acquaintances, like Scott Lesher, Don Concoran, & Joe Poli. Met some new folks, like Jeff whose-last-name-I-can’t-recall, Michael Hahn, and Luke’s buddy John (whose-last-name-I-also-cannot-recall).

After GenCon, I fully intended to miss all the fall conventions this year. I’m glad I made an exception for Southern Exposure.