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 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 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.

Southern Exposure 2005

I went to Southern Exposure in Cherry Hill, NJ this weekend. The con went much better than expected. Fall cons have, with a few exceptions, been a bit cursed with me. Plus I woke up Friday morning with a sore throat, so I figured the weekend was gonna suck.

Glad I was wrong.

Friday we fought Philly Friday morning rush hour traffic to get there on time, and Kat’s With Great Power… game had four players. Feeling kinda grumpy, I was gonna sit out and watch. But once she had gone through the rules, I couldn’t help myself. No one chose The Stalwart. I had a chance to play my own game, while playing my own character! I jumped right in! It was a great deal of fun, even though I graciously backed out of the conflict scene to help keep things moving.

After the game we checked in to the hotel, grabbed some lunch @ the staff suite and set up for 2nd session. Kat was scheduled to run a Discernment double-shot, but that folded. I ran a session of PTA for 5 people who had never played before. Michele showed up and she and Kat went restaurant hunting.

Shamefaced confession: PTA is the simplest game that I can’t run right. Series and character creation is so collaborative and so fun, that when we start playing, we just keep on collaborating, often forgetting to write in conflict.

With Great Power… ran like that up to and including Dreamation, so it’s probably something in me. I think as Producer I haven’t been throwing enough adversity at the players. Part of that is certainly the gear-switching from total consensus (pregame) to adversarial friction (game). The other part is the friggin’ Stakes rules Matt has written. “The Producer’s Stake is always ‘no.'” So I’m supposed to bring on the big, fat, juicy adversity in all kinds of nonmechanical ways, an once the mechanics show up, I’m supposed to sit there and say, “Okay guys, *you* tell me what the conflict’s about.” It ain’t workin’ for me so far.

Anyway, the PTA game on Friday was pretty fun despite all that. They created a series called “Purgatory 9-to-5” It was an office comedy where the characters worked for a branch of hell, trying to bring in the numbers–damned souls. Sloth was the branch manager. Wrath was the receptionist. Pride was the suck-up assistant manager. Lust was the tech. support guy. Gluttony was the buyer. The NPCs were Greed as the accountant and Envy as the cool guy who used to work there, that everyone was always reminiscing about. I had a faith-based charity move in next store, which got them in hot water with the District Manager.

After a quick dinner at a nearby pizza joint, Friday night I was scheduled to run PTA again. Nobody showed. Scott Lescher’s game also folded. But it was the best folded game ever, ’cause Scott & Kat & Michele & I went to see Serenity.

About Serenity: WOW. I can’t even analyze it. It seized me by the throat and swept me away completely. It’s been a long time since I got so very, very enthralled by a movie. Probably since I went to see The Matrix, not knowing a thing of what it was about except that Kat wanted to see it.

Saturday morning was my WGP game. Again, we had 5 players at the table. Six, actually, since Kat wanted to play but gave up her seat. I ran “A League of Their Own” and it went very well. Surprisingly well, actually.

Y’see, as I said, I was battling chronic grumpiness up until now. I was even half-hoping the game would fold. But it didn’t, so I ran it. I’ve run WGP at conventions so often that I don’t really need my heart in the game to pull it off. My mouth knows what to say, when to say it, what emphasis to put where. This is a helpful skill in a sleep-deprived convention environment, but it’s gotten me into trouble before.

At one of those “cursed” fall conventions several years ago, I was running FVLMINATA. I could also run that with my eyes closed, and still pronounce Flegmaticus and Melancholicus properly. But, as I’ve said, FVLMINATA is a game I wrote, and want to love, but don’t. So, at this convention, I’m running the game, talking the talking, and my heart is *really* not in it. So far “not in it” that I enter this strange state of consciousness like I’m outside myself watching myself go through the motions of running the game. Seeing myself do something that I *really* did not want to do. It was deeply disturbing and I very nearly quit gaming entirely after that convention.

Back to Saturday morning, I’m in the same situation: A fall con in NJ, running a game I wrote, and running it on autopilot because my heart isn’t in it. I’m kinda afraid what might happen. Will I do the split-consciousness thing again?

But what happens is that as the time ticks by, and my mouth keeps talking and my arms keep holding up that ever-lovin’ Thought Balloon, my heart warms up to the game. I remember why I love With Great Power… The melodrama! The tragedy! It was a fun, fun game.

Okay, I’m only through Saturday morning, with a couple of detours, but I’ve gotta post this and get to work. More later.

I’m back from a weekend away. We went camping at Knoebels’ for a letterboxing “gathering” with Kat’s friend Daina. There were a number of rollercoasters–both physical and emotional. My role was basically to be the facilitator–he who makes sure that everyone else has fun. I’m usually pretty good at that, and this time I was able to facilitate everyone else’s fun and squeeze in a bit of time for me, a notebook, and a few gaming thoughts.

Kat reminded me that she loves With Great Power… more than I do. But that’s okay, ’cause I really love it. She wants it to have a Sorcerer/Burning Wheel level of success. I’m pretty happy where it’s at. I’ve often said that I want 10% of what Luke’s got. That includes 10% of the workload. Right now, I’m o-target for acheiving that goal

Kat and I talked more about her problems with Stakes. Part of the way I think about this is best summed up in a picture.

The red line represents what we’re talking and thinking about. The part circled in blue is too easy to skip and just go from setting Stakes to resolving Stakes to setting a new scene. It’s really part of Fortune-in-the-Middle. Once the fortune is resolved, a lot of the scene’s tension bleeds away. Skipping this part leads from anticlimactic scene to anticlimatic scene.

Plus, pulling into character, then out of character, then into character again creates its own distancing problems. It puts a wedge between player and character. That wedge can lower the emotional impact of the play and weaken the SIS.

A few solutions that pop into my head are:

1) Lessen the impact of the “rules discussion” by making it very simple and perhaps even nonverbal. Something like hand signals for resolution or sliding chips forward could accomplish this. So could With Great Power…‘s card comparison, so long as everyone at the table was reasonably familiar with the rules. I had this kind of silent resolution in mind while writing the examples.

2) Another way would be to set up a reward system that specifically targeted the blue-circled section. It would work like PTA’s Fan Mail, but focus strictly on play after the resolution. After all, in the blue circle, you’re essentially like an actor in a stage play. You know what’s going to happen. You’ve just got to play it out as if you’re experiencing what happens.

3) Possibly reviving Fortune-at-the-End for social-type encounters while keeping FitM for physical stuff to avoid the Whiff Factor.

Just got off the phone with Jason Roberts. I think it’s been over a year since I spoke with him. We’re both family men now with kids to provide for. But we weren’t always….

Jason is my cousin and was my first Dungeon Master. We’d see each other on Easter and Thanksgiving and I’d pull out my beat-up character sheet (a gnome named Figtoe–don’t ask) and he’d run me through Queen of the DemonWeb pits or a dungeon he scribbled on the back of a napkin. I didn’t know which dice to use when, or what “Save v. P/P/D” meant. Even so, whenever my character sheet got too worn out, I’d painstakingly copy over every saving throw and weapon stat, waiting for the next holiday.

Jason is four years older than me and when he went off to college he left me a massive box of his old modules, a Monster Manual, and notes (and notes and notes) about his high school D&D campaign. I looked through every module and at every piece of paper. I pulled out a thing or two and put the rest back in its box. It’s sitting in my closet right now. Even at the dawn of my gaming life, the act of creation was paramount. I never ran a module.

Ten years later, Jason and I were both out of college. Both married. I was still gaming as often as often as I could. He was a self-confessed “bookshelf gamer.”–buying games and reading them, but not playing. We’d get to talking at the family reunions. About this and that and scifi and gaming. He had this idea for a game about Rome (Jason majored in Classical Archeology). But not just Rome. Rome with Guns.

FVLMINATA was born. It took more than a year and a ton of work (most of it Jason’s) to make it happen. But it was published in August 2000.

A month later Jason became a dad. Five months later, so did I. Life expanded.

We put together FVLMINATA 2nd Edition. It was wildly successful for a total crash-and-burn disaster. He got a new, extremely demanding job and moved to New England. I got involved with the Forge. Time has passed.

I sent him a copy of With Great Power… and he called to say “Thanks.” We talked for nearly an hour. It was good to hear him get that excited catch in his voice when he’s talking about the cool stuff he’s working on with Jared. It was a little awkward to have no project in common.

It’s awkward to have no project at all.

“So what are you working on, now that With Great Power… is done?” he asked.

“Recuperating,” I said. Which is another way of saying “I don’t know.” Or “Nothing.” Or “I’m wasting my precious time here on Earth.”

We’ve got a lot of history, Jason and I. He spoke of feeling his way back into the gaming world. He got burned, badly, and it’s brave of him to come back. I look forward to seeing him at GenCon next year, maybe.


If I were a good writer, I’d wrap this up with some kind of conclusion. It would draw on the tidbits I’d mention before. It would have a smooth, satisfying, somewhat bittersweet ending with a hint of finality. But I’m not that guy. My conclusions are simple, obvious, and crudely phrased:

It was good to talk to Jason. I’ve missed him. I’m not the dabbler I once was. I need a project.