Wayfarings of Sabit: Schedule Change

Having just wrapped up my seventh month of every weekday flash fiction, I am changing the format of Wayfarings of Sabit. I will be posting Sabit chapters twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. The first chapter of the new story will post on Monday, June 5. I will still shape chapters into discrete stories, but those will wrap up organically, rather than at the end of each month. This will allow me to continue to experiment with story structure and the conventions of serial storytelling, while still giving me time to develop longer projects.

Thank you for your attention and support.

Isle of the Wicked: Twenty-Two

The sun hung low in the western sky by the time Sabit, Wensa, and Allamu reached the rim of healthy trees circling the Wicked Rocks. Below, the twisted maze of boulders slowly disappeared beneath the rising waters. Only the massive spires of featureless black stone remained above the waves, stretching toward the sky.
“Those rocks were set as sentries when the demon Batuul was imprisoned here, centuries ago,” Allamu said. “When the prison was forged, the ocean promised that if the rocks ever failed, she would keep the demon bound.”
“And so she has,” said Wensa, smiling at Allamu. “She saved you to be her hands.”
Allamu looked away. “You are the one whose faith saved me, Wensa. I merely sought escape. What say you, Sabit? Do you seek escape from this place?”
The spear woman looked down at the tangle of black stone and black water. Something down there had lightened the burdens upon her heart. Or had that been an illusion? She looked at the bedraggled remains of green feathers at her wrist. Some trick of some spell, or a demon’s whispered lies, or something else entirely had shown Sabit a glimpse of a future not weighed down with regret.
“The world is wide,” Sabit said. “There are many paths. A destination glimpsed at the end of a dark trail can sometimes be reached by other means.” She looked at Allamu. “There is a ship and crew awaiting a priest who will never come. Shall we chart them a new course?”

—–
Wayfarings of Sabit: Isle of the Wicked is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

Blossom of Ruin: Ten

Sabit thrashed against her bonds with every jot of vigor she could summon. She bowled over the thralls to either side of her. But her legs had been hobbled with thick rope. Sabit didn’t make a dozen steps before she was dragged back.

The sativa-keeper laughed with triumph. “Indeed, you will be a fine addition to our growing tribe. Your skill will lead my raiding parties to far greater booty. And your strength will invigorate our blood. Oh, the mighty sons you will bear me! You bragged to the merchants of a captaincy in Ghabar. You will train our army into a proper phalanx …” He looked down at the white flower in his left hand, and the red-stained tips of the fingers of his right hand. “No. That is not the way of my grand sativa. It can give me your body or your mind, but not both.”

“Both my body and my mind will find a way to kill you,” Sabit spat.

The man pondered Sabit’s fate a long time. Finally, he dropped the white flower to the ground. “Your body is a grand thing, Sabit, but so are the bodies of others. What you have seen and smelled and done and hoped and dreamt—those are prizes worth claiming.”

At the sativa-keepr’s gesture, the thralls forced Sabit to her knees before the mound of broken heads. A pale-robed figure stepped from among the thralls, heavy sword in hand. The sativa-keeper himself lifted the frizzy, dark hair from the back of Sabit’s neck.

—–

Wayfarings of Sabit: Blossom of Ruin is copyright (c) 2016 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters post every weekday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller

With Great Power: Master Edition—PDF only available for sale

Incarnadine Press is proud to announce that _With Great Power: Master Edition_ is now available for sale as PDF only. Print sales will follow in the next few weeks.* Additionally, all purchasers will receive epub format at no additional cost by May 1, 2016.

To buy the PDF: https://payhip.com/b/AkUy

Details and updates are available at the Incarnadine Press website: http://ipressgames.com/index.php/with-great-power/

Use the hashtag #WithGreatPlay on your favorite social media to connect with other players.

_With Great Power: Master Edition_ was cloned from the personality engrams of _Swords Without Master_. It is proud to be Descended from MonkeyDome.

_With Great Power: Master Edition_ is the most fantastic, amazing, strange, invincible, astonishing, incredible, mysterious, and downright uncanny Superhero Role-Playing Game of them all!

*Purchasers of the PDF version during this interim period when print is not yet available will receive a discount on the print version to make up the difference.

With Great Power: Master Edition is complete

Incarnadine Press is proud to announce that With Great Power: Master Edition will be available for sale at the Dreamation game convention February 18-21, 2016 in Morristown, New Jersey. The game will be available in print and PDF by March 1, 2016. Additionally, all purchasers will receive epub format at no additional cost by May 1, 2016.

Details and updates are available at the Incarnadine Press website: http://ipressgames.com/index.php/with-great-power/

Use the hashtag #WithGreatPlay on your favorite social media to connect with other players.

With Great Power: Master Edition was cloned from the personality engrams of _Swords Without Master_. It is proud to be Descended from MonkeyDome.

With Great Power: Master Edition is the most fantastic, amazing, strange, invincible, astonishing, incredible, mysterious, and downright uncanny Superhero Role-Playing Game of them all!

Maelstrom 2014: A New Thing Under the Sun

Okay, so my #maelstrom2014 post is a week late. It’s been a busy week. The convention was a good time, as always. Many thanks to Avie and Vinny and the incredible Double Exposure staff for making it happen. I launched three games and played in two.

*Vast & Starlit*
Friday night I was full of nervous energy and wanted to offer something unfamiliar, challenging, that I hadn’t run before. Vast & Starlit filled those points. I pitched the game as “a setting like Farscape run with a system like Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” I got three players, two of which I had never played with before. The start up was a bit rough. We played for two hours and crafted a game that was a bit scattered, and a bit silly. No one really was willing to do _anything_ to be captain. I think the nerves of a new con and a new group made everyone a little less willing to take the lead, and Vast & Starlit definitely needs proactive players. We did get a fun result from the alien species creation rules: A species who are big and strong and intimidating on their low-gravity home planet, but pushovers relative the rest of the galaxy.

*HERO system*
Since my first game finished after only 2 hours, I had a bit of time before bed. Darren Watts was launching a Hero System game. I had never played Hero, but I had once made a character for 4 hours. This session was fun and reminded me of both the strengths and the weaknesses of traditional gaming. I won’t spoil too much of the scenario, but Darren had very cleverly culled a number of ’70s and ’80s action TV shows for characters and setup, and put an interesting spin on the whole package. One of the strengths of traditional play is that the GM’s vision can be fully realized and explored, which is a good thing when the vision is as clever, amusing, and well thought-through as this one. Pondering on how that long-term prep can be brought to bear on the types of games I like is worth thinking about.

*Ganakagok*
Saturday morning I wanted to return to something more comfortable, but that I hadn’t actually played in a while. A return to the island of ice was in order. Rob Bohl, Flavio, Neil, Kat played our Nitu preparing to see the sun rise for the first time. The Ganakagok tarot, and our imaginations, worked their magic once more, and the specifics of our setting were really great. The island was an ice crust on the back of massive beluga whales. They came together to mate once a generation, and the peoples from the various islands would trade, intermarry, visit family, and the like. We only got through three scenes, but I felt it was enough to get a sense of myth and majesty. In the end, the rising of the sun drove the whales to dive deep, where the people could not follow. Luckily, the people were able to find solid land and prosper there, even though they cast out the one who led them there and forgot the ways of their ancestors. The sheets from this game were donated to Phredd & Krista’s project.

*Lunch*
Not technically a game, but one of the best times I had. Bill White, Marissa Kelley, Brendan Conway, Kat Miller, Mark Diaz Truman, Rich Flynn and I laughed over topics ranging from hacking D&D4 to make it amenable to the tastes of story gamers, to new AW hacks being developed, to that time that Hawkeye saved the entire multiverse. Really. He did.

*Four-Color Process*
James Fry gave quite the thought-provoking panel on racism in superhero comics. I wanted to hear other perspectives on the issue–thoughts that would take me outside my own head and my own biases as I continue to ponder the revision of With Great Power. I was not disappointed. James and his fellow panelists, Kirk Etienne and Cornell Green, gave me quite a bit to think about, and I greatly appreciate their time and insight.

*Everway*
The Saturday evening slot was overstuffed with GMs and unattached players were rare on the ground. So Kat and I grabbed a table with our friends Adrian Stein, Joann Clarke-Stein and played some Everway. Although the “adventure” was called “One Day and Three Knights” we did not make much progress. We had too fun making characters and laughing until our sides ached.

*Heroine*
Sunday morning Kat and I wanted to close out the con with something different. Avie had specifically requested that someone be willing to offer up Heroine, so we did. Our group consisted of Joshua Kronengold, Lisa Padol, Phredd Groves, Kat Miller. Kat played a heroine named Diane who was being forced to move from the suburbs into the city because of her father’s work. While unpacking “the Takers” came and stole her parents, and Diane had to venture into a far-off land to rescue them. Along the way, she met a cat looking for investors to help build his railroad, a perpetually indecisive planner covered in eyes, and a wyvern who painted landscapes. She also delivering a mysterious message from the Night King to the Queen of the Sun. It turns out it was a marriage proposal, and for her services in setting up the nuptials, her parents were returned to her and she was returned home. The game is interesting. I’m _really_ glad that I made the player reference cards that I did. Some of the most important rules are buried inside long paragraphs. I found it very difficult to get enough drama points as the narrator in order to do anything. But I really enjoyed the game, and I think I’ll add it to my regular bag as a pick up game.

Maelstrom was a fun time. I’ll post my thoughts on the convention structure separately, but it was a fun time and we’re looking forward to adding this to our regular convention rotation.

Metatopia 2013

What a good, good convention Metatopia 2013 was. Despite the continual growth in size, the culture of critique and improvement has remained strong. While it’s never easy to talk about what parts of games aren’t working, almost everyone had a great attitude about both giving and receiving suggestions. Thanks to Vinny, Avie, and the tireless Double Exposure staff for continuing to put on such a great show.

We got to the convention on Friday in time for Andy K’s panel on the replay culture in Japanese RPGs. Fascinating stuff about how play culture has spread in Japan through replays. Lots of food for thought.

Next, I had my first focus group on the character and setting creation mechanics of the With Great Power revision. Kay, Rishi, and Adrian gave generously of their thoughts and insights into the needs of superheroic games. I filled several pages of notes, but the single best suggestion to come out of this session was that we should have each player describe their character doing their super-awesome super heroic thing, and then the rest of the players take on the role of the media and give the hero a name based on that description.

Next, I was on a panel with Kat, Amanda Valentine, and Cam Banks, about working with family and friends. There were only a half-dozen attendees, so we rearranged the chairs and gathered everyone into a loose circle–a more intimate arrangement of space for a more intimate topic. I thought it was a very interesting and informative discussion about how things can get complex very quickly when personal and professional relationships overlap. Remember: Communication in both directions is key! Asking is better than telling.

After lunch I was able to return the favor to Rishi, by playtesting his game Variance. It’s an interesting premise that has characters leaping between alternate-world versions of themselves, somewhat like Quantum Leap crossed with Sliders. I think that Jody and I were able to offer some solid suggestions, particularly that if the world-leaping is the central premise of the game, then the in-fictional reason and consequences of that should be central to what happens in the game.

Friday night found me in what was certainly the best, most complete game of the con. A great group of Jim, Andy, and Brendan played Keith Stetson’s Ill Counsel, a game of political deal-making. It was fun to just posture and pontificate as arrogant nobles working out the problems of a fantasy kingdom. There’s a few things that Keith can do to tighten up procedures and adding a map will be a big improvement. But the core is good and functional. While this is fun on its own, I could see playing this as a supplement to an ongoing campaign as a way to generate new political situations in your setting. It was so thought provoking it kept me up for hours when I was supposed to be sleeping.

On Saturday morning, I playtested Mark’s character and setting generation rules for his cyberpunk game Headspace. The procedural clarity of the game is a far cry from the disorganized “make stuff up” appeals that current WGP has, and was a great insight into a structured paradigm of guided creativity. I really enjoyed the process, and I hope our suggestions were helpful. I’m interested to see the game when it’s finished, as the team of highly-skilled operators who share skills, but also the emotionally charged memories that forged those skills, sounds really interesting.

Saturday afternoon was the block of RPG panels. I went to great presentations on Kickstarter, game retailing, and ebooks. I should probably mention that if anyone wants help creating epub and Kindle versions of their games, they should contact me. I actually make ebooks as part of my day job.

Saturday evening I played a narration-passing game called Boneyard where you have a handful of dominoes and how they fit together prompts you to tell a story. Vinny had really packed it full of people and there were eight of us playing, I think. It’s odd to be the only person at the table not having fun. I didn’t feel that the dominoes added anything, and the main thing the game did was give everyone the social permission to be creative within a particular genre. The one playtester suggested it would be a good warm up exercise for role playing. I can see it useful in that sense, but not really my thing as an activity in its own right.

Saturday night I had another great panel on WGP character/setting creation with Mark, Will, Amanda, Joanna, and Darren. Ideas flew thick and fast and again I filled pages of notes. I appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and insight and I hope that I made sure everyone got time to speak. There was so much good advice in this session that’s its hard to pick out just one. The one that leaps to mind is to not shy away from constraint, that superheroes are too broad of a genre to handle all of them. I should take my slice and do that slice really, really well.

After some good after hours conversation, and a decent night’s sleep, Sunday morning had my actual playtest of With Great Power. The rules were less than two weeks old, as I had completely revised the game yet again since BurningCon. They were at the point where I would normally take them for a brief spin with Kat, just to see if the general amounts of dice are right, that the incentives are pointing in the right direction, and so on. Instead, I kicked the tires with Krista, Brendan, Rich, Joe, and Darren. And it was a beautiful, informative disaster. “Disaster” insofar as the dice mechanics themselves do not sync up at all with the goals of the game. “Beautiful” and “Informative” insofar as the goal of the game was discernible by all the players and they could suggest better ways to get there. I filled pages and pages of my notebook again, but the game will be stronger for it.

Thanks to everyone I played with, talked with, and waved to in passing. Can’t wait to see everyone again at Dreamation!

Points of Articulation

Since I’m working on the new dice system for With Great Power, this kind of stuff is on my mind.

Just looking at dice systems, most of them have certain “points of articulation” like an action figure. Places where inputs from the fiction or from player decisions can affect the probability of the roll. One of the tasks of good design is to determine what those points of articulation are, map them clearly to their triggers in the game, and be certain you have a good understanding of what consequences each decision will have on the probability.

Let’s look for example at D&D 4th edition. The basic roll is d20 + bonus number versus a difficulty class or defense value. Where are the points of articulation in this single dice mechanic? Each item in that formula is its own point of articulation: the die roll, the bonus number, and the difficulty class/defense value.

The game puts in lots and lots (and lots) of different ways to change the three parts of this equation. For dice rolls, there are special abilities, usually race-related, that will allow you a re-roll, or allow you to add a d6 to your roll, or allow you to roll twice and use the better one. Access to these abilities is almost always determined in character creation, but their use is decided in play. The bonus number probably has the most ways to alter it: Level bonuses, ability score bonuses, special powers, weapon bonuses, and gaining combat advantage, just to name a few. The defense value will change through the use of abilities, and some powers allow you to attack different defenses than other powers.

In play, these points of articulation drive players to weigh the options when creating their characters, driving them to design characters that do one type of thing very, very well. In play, it encourages players to look for opportunities that combine bonuses of different sorts into the same attack. Movement is encouraged, since positioning can gain you multiple bonuses. This supports the kind of exciting, action-intense combats that D&D 4e was built to create.

As a designer, these exceptions can be the real meat of your game. They are where the players get to take fate in their hand and shape their own probabilities by the choices they make. Players love doing that. Make sure that the choices they make reflect the basic premise of the game. When your points of articulation do not match up with the tactical, exploratory, or thematic decisions that the premise demands, your game will earn the title “broken.” And deserve it.

Ya gotta have consequences

Just watched Shadow of the Vampire, a movie about an obsessive visionary director making the classic silent film Nosferatu. The twist is that the director has hired an actual vampire to pretend to be an actor playing the vampire. The movie was okay, but not great. A great deal of dramatic tension in the first and second acts is about the crew not knowing what kind of danger they are in, and the director making sure that no one finds out. When they finally do learn that the lead actor is a vampire intend on draining the lead actress dry … they do nothing. They just keep doing their jobs exactly as they did throughout the movie.

It leaves a hollow, unsatisfied feeling. The characters aren’t acting like believable people. There is a revelation, and no consequences follow from it. It breaks the dramatic contract. If there is no splash, why drop the stone in the pond?

In RPGs, lack of consequences for action surface in many ways, and all of them sap player interest and excitement.

  • NPC reactionsA character gives a long, impassioned speech on an important issue and everyone else continues their steadfast denials.
  • Fight resultsThe group is faced with a combat encounter that is far beyond their abilities, and have no chance of making so much as a scratch.
  • Predetermined plotsThe players concoct the most ingenious plan ever to circumnavigate the GM’s carefully prepared finale, so the plan arbitrarily fails.
  • Misread flagsA player crafts a character who is the long-lost prince, but the game never addresses this fact.
  • Rules-Genre disconnectThe group is all there to wage heroic battles against foul beasts, but the game only has rules for poetry slams.

Any of these will strain the suspension of disbelief, weaken interest in the fiction, and sap enthusiasm for the game itself.