By The Stars Confession — Week Twenty-One

Forgive me, By The Stars, for I lack the resources to go on. It has been eleven days since my last confession.

What do you need to make a create a great role-playing game?

What A Designer Needs What I Got
Insiration/Passion It comes and it goes, but it’s usually good.
Time/Thought Some weeks I need to fight for every minute, but I’m in no hurry.
An editor Thor Olavsrud’s all lined up and ready to go.
An artist Keith Senkowski’s doing amazing stuff in color these days and ready to work with me.
A reliable group of regular playtesters Nope.

And like a chain with a single weak link, it’s time I face the reality that I don’t have the resources to further develop By The Stars at this time. Lacking an editor would make for a hard-to-understand game. Lacking an artist would make for a drab game. Lacking playtesters would make for a game that doesn’t play well. And what’s the point of that?

My local circle of gaming friends has atrophied considerably over the last few years. So I find myself without a regular game, able to only scrape together an occasional meet-up. By The Stars needs a different sort of play environment. One doesn’t buy-in to a fantastic far-off galaxy for a day-trip. It’s a long-term voyage and I ain’t got the crew right now. I’m not shoving it out the airlock, but I am putting it into cryo-sleep. One day, when I’ve rebuilt my circle of gamers, By The Stars will return…


Which is not to say that I don’t have anyone to play any games with. A good deal of that atrophy I mentioned is due to the extreme popularity of German and German-style board & card games. They have a lot of advantages over RPGs:

  • So long as one person has already read the rules, time from opening the box to finishing the game is one to two hours.
  • Popular games are easily replayable with no additional prep.
  • You can play with whomever shows up a given week.
  • Folks don’t feel that they need to be “a gamer” to play.

They say that when one door closes, another one opens. Sometimes it’s the same door. What I do have is a group of people who meet bi-weekly to play complex games, often those that they’ve never heard of before. I go to a decent number of conventions, where a single play-group lives for only four hours. I’ve got a number of semi-distant friends that can make the occasional game, but not something regular.

These are the game-players in my life. These are the people I should be designing for, because I’m one of those people, too. I may long for long-term, regular play, but, at the moment, that’s as realistic as galaxies far, far away. One-shot play is the bird in the hand. That’s what I need to shoot for.

And I will. I’ve already got ideas that will capitalize on those strengths of board and card games, infuse them with the creative freedom and drama of role-playing, and make them my own. More about that next week…

By The Stars confession — Week Nineteen

Another week without play or playtest in sight. Before the last scheduled playtest fell through, I was getting excited again. Even made some sketches. Maybe I’ll post them some time.

Forgive me, By The Stars, I am on the cusp of failure. It’s been nine days since my last confession.

I think I’m going to have to push BTS to a 2008 release and focus 2007 on rebuilding the actual play in my life. I hadn’t realized just how much I depended on it for design. While working on With Great Power… I was playing a sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible, but always “System Doesn’t Matter” game of Eden’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. In retrospect, I can see how my mild frustration with that game shaped WGP… When play of a broken game isn’t going well, the game designer within can always respond with “but it would work better if we did it this way.”

Which leads me to my crazy idea. I think I might head down to my FLGS and try to set up a game of WEG’s Star Wars. It doesn’t do what I want it to, but it is somewhat popular. If that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll break down and run d20 Star Wars. I need to play, which means I need players!

Nothing is set in stone yet, so I’ll be back with another progress post next week.

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Special Trivia Challenge for Mo & Brand: I write cinematic games. Name me blind film directors.

By The Stars Confession — Week Eighteen

Another week without progress. The playtest got canceled again.

Forgive me, By The Stars, I am frustrated. It’s been one week since my last confession.

Why is my progress so glacial? Why do I get nothing done? Two reasons, the lesser one first:

My Day Job We’ve lost another person in our department recently, which means spreading the work among those of us unlucky enough to remain after this round of musical chairs. And it’s not just the hours. It’s the fact that to get through the hours, I need to focus only on the task at hand, work through my breaks, and switch off my soul. The funny thing with a soul is that its doesn’t switch back on so easily. Even once I return home, my creativity and enthusiasm are nowhere to be found.

I’m Not Playing Since GenCon, I’ve played RPGs seven times. And three of those sessions were on the same day at a convention, so we’re talking 5 days out of the last 126. If I can’t play my game, why am I even designing it? I ask myself. If I’m not playing any games, how can my game be any good? A game designer that isn’t gaming is like a blind painter or a deaf musician. I know that my playtests are going to be horribly unfun both because the game is broken and incomplete (as it should be at this point), but also because I’m out of practice. Role-playing, like any skill, takes practice. And I ain’t getting anywhere near enough.

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In other news, Brennan Taylor and Paul Tevis interviewed me for The Voice of the Revolution. It was quite enjoyable. I think we touched on some good stuff. Look for Episode 3 in the near future!

By The Stars Confession — Week Seventeen

The first playtest is scheduled for this Friday and I’m nowhere near prepared enough.

Forgive me, By The Stars, I have procrastinated. It’s been one week since my last confession.

I have a draft of a character sheet. I have a skeletal outline of the game procedures. I have a lot of things that I just don’t know how they work.

But I have people coming to my house on Friday to play, so we will muddle our way through whatever I have, come up with rules on the fly to cover what I haven’t anticipated. We’ll find a dozen ways that the game sucks and one or two where it’s brilliant.

Ah, playtesting!

By The Stars Confession–Week Sixteen

I had a bit of a stomach bug this weekend, but it’s still been a banner week.

Forgive me, By The Stars, I have been sick. It’s been seven days since my last confession.

The first playtest has been scheduled! On December 15th we’ll start beating on the system in earnest. And what a system it’s shaping up to be!

Rather than skills, I’m compiling a list of sci-fi tropes (robots, interplanetary travel, psychic powers, etc.). Each character gets 3 tropes, one of which is his primary trope. That player is final authority over what exists in the game world related to that trope.

The conflict resolution mini-game involves capturing one another’s dice. So, after the conflict, I’ve got a pile of your dice (each die linked to one of your Oaths) and you’ve got a pile of mine. What next? Well, we each need to play out scenes to reclaim our dice. The best part about this is that it requires the game to start in media res–you start with a conflict and play it out from there!

I’ve got a pile of writing and thinking and designing to do. I’ll see you in 7!

By The Stars Confession — Week Fifteen

Forgive me, By The Stars, for I am strained. It’s been eight days since my last confession.

The day before Thanksgiving, we had to give back the foster kid we thought we would be able to adopt. That sad event dominated the entire week. I sent out an e-mail about setting up a playtest, but have yet to get any response.

I also watched Revenge of the Sith again. It fulfills nearly every criticism I’ve ever heard of the Star Wars saga. It’s a train wreck of a film, a catastrophic failure of visual storytelling. And while it did get my blood boiling, my anger was all focused on Lucas-bashing and not game-building. So I suppose the experience wasn’t a total loss. It reminded me that anger can only lead to the Dark Side.

By The Stars Confession — Week Fourteen

Forgive me, By The Stars, for I have skipped. It’s been six days since my last confession.

With the exception of a half-page of scribbled notes the game is in the same state it was a week ago. However, I’ve secured a place on the hectic editorial calendar of Thor Olavsrud, to be certain that By The Stars will be clear and understandable. Once I have something for Thor to edit, of course.

I’ve also lined up in advance the services of none other than Keith Senkowski as a cover artist. So the game will look as good as it reads.

Now I’ve just got to figure out how it runs….

Be Kind to the Wii Folk

We went to WalMart today. There were about a dozen college-aged kids camped out in Wii hats, playing Munchkin. Kat turns to me and says “We should bring them some With Great Power…” She’s a marketing genius.

So be kind to your local Wii folk, my indie brothers and sisters! Bring them coffee. They’re gamers, too. While they wait for the cutting edge of the console, consider showing them the cutting edge of the tabletop.

By The Stars Confession — Week Thirteen

Unlucky thirteen? Not around here!

Forgive me, By The Stars, for I am slow. It’s been eight days since my last confession.

I have dice mechanics! On Saturday Kat and I tested them in a single, small conflict. They’re rough and have lots of room for improvement, but they offer decision-making opportunities, they’re interesting in their own right, and they have a lot of what I call “knobs and levers.”

What are “knobs and levers,” you ask? They’re ways you can alter the standard resolution mechanic for special circumstances. For example, in classic Storyteller system, the knobs and levers were: 1) How many dice you rolled (generally associated with your skills and attributes), 2) The target number of what was considered a success (generally associated with the difficulty of the action you were attempting); and 3) How many successes you needed to roll in order to actually succeed (also associated with the task difficulty, IIRC). These allow the same dice mechanics to reflect different situations, something vital for RPGs.

Things are going pretty well, considering all the stress in my life. My dice mechanics currently exist only between my ears, so my primary goal for next week is: Write them out. It will enable playtesting. Which is also on the agenda for next week: Schedule my first playtest session.

See ya in six!

By The Stars Confession — Week Twelve

Twelve Weeks? That’s 3 months! And I don’t have dice mechanics that will make it out of self-testing yet. Why not? Well, there was Halloween to observe, a birthday to commemorate, and family medical situations to address.

Forgive me, By The Stars, I have celebrated. It’s been one week since my last confession.

My only goal for this week was: Try out some new dice mechanics–at least 2 different versions. I statted out two characters and tried out one version of dice mechanics, by myself. It seems promising, but so did the ones that ended up being no fun, so only playtesting will tell for certain.

Perhaps I’m a little too fussy about my dice mechanics. I like it when there are tactical choices in how you play the dice that mirror the thematic choices in what’s happening in the game fiction. I don’t want all the choices front-loaded. I don’t there to always be one ideal strategy. It may be too much to ask. I’ll be honest: I’ve occasionally seen it detract from play of With Great Power… when certain players focus solely on the card game aspects and forget that they’re creating a story at the same time.

Do I appease these people with simpler mechanics that allow for fewer decisions? My gut says “No way.” But my head can’t help but wonder…

Anyway, in the next week I will do a simple mechanics-only playtest with Kat. And I will finish the working outline, including the mechanics section. See you in seven!