30 December, 2009
Looking back through them all, I see that I've repeated myself a couple of times with some mechanisms that are very similar (for example, my entry on Flow is very similar to my final entry, my karma resolution entry mentions GM fiat, even though that has it's own entry). At least these duplications tend to be more than 6 months apart, possibly allowing for a bit of evolution in my thought patterns.
It's also interesting to see which of the entries has developed the most number of comments. Ro-Sham-Bo drew far more attention than I had been expecting.
It's also somewhat depressing to look at entries where I've had ideas for Quincunx over the past year, and I've even playtested it multiple times (including at Gencon Oz), but it seems no closer to completion than it did at the start of the year.
Hopefully the index will be compiled and available on the Vulpinoid Studios site tonight.
29 December, 2009
Know when your battles are stacked against you and don't waste your resources in these foolhardy pursuits.
So I present that the last mechanism a gamer should have in their repertoire is no mechanism at all.
In my experience, some of the best moments in roleplaying occur when players and GM put aside the rules and let the intimacy of the moment take them. This could be allowing the story to take it's course, truly immersing in a situation and forgetting it's a game at all, or really becoming one with the character.
A good set of mechanisms facilitates this type of moment, a good GM recognises it and allows it to flourish, a good player allows others to have their moment in the spotlight without stealing their thunder and calling for a judgment according to page XX.
It's a lot harder to do than might be first thought, it's almost zen-like in it's attainment. Those players who are sometimes defined as "gamists" latch onto the rules and often find it hard to identify with their characters beyond a killer combo, or brilliant skill. Those players sometimes identified as "narritivists" become so obsessed with the story and their ability to manipulate it through the rules that they forget the notion of spontaneous story development. Those players sometimes referred to as simulationists become so hooked up on the way the rules should replicate the setting, that they forget to smell the roses or take in the nuanced details that might be present.
I'm not tarring all players with a brush of unenlightenment, but virtually every game I've played in has seen one or more players spoiling the moment because things weren't going their way, or because they didn't like the way things were heading from the perspective of story or situation. Even in games where I've written the rules and I'm running them as a demonstration of what can be achieved through those rules...there are still people who get hooked up on certain mechanisms and don't know when to let go...much to the detriment of the game and the other players.
I'm not immune to it either.
25 December, 2009
Another example is typically found in gaming accessories and scenarios rather than the main rulebooks. A certain scenario might have the characters facing off against a scary monster, so it introduces a fear mechanism when confronting the unknown. In regular play, a mechanism like this might not be necessary, but it really becomes significant when dealing with the specific situations in the scenario provided. You add the subsystems when you need them, you ignore them altogether when they are no longer relevant. A good supplemental mechanism is one of the few lures that will prompt me to buy a game scenario or gaming supplement.
19 December, 2009
Story Games is always quick to shoot down someone when they mention Gamism, Narritivism or Simulationism...and whether the motives are honourable or not, I think it's good that they do this, because the words in themselves are poorly defined (or hold different definitions to different people). Confucius began one of his books by saying that much conflict in the world derived simply from a lack of shared definitions, that a common language would prevent many of the world's wars.
I've hinted that I'm working on a new theorum of game design. Not quite ignoring the "Big Model" or continued work of Ron Edwards, I'm trying to dig at the methods of play, the interaction of mechanisms, the structure of story and the reflection of what people put into a game compared to what they expect in return for their investment (and conversely what they actually get for their return).
Andrew Smith has pointed out that the work of Ron Edwards comes from an anthropological viewpoint. This seems a fair comment, and is certainly an appropriate manner by which a social pastime ould be analysed. But anthropology has a nasty tendency to pigeonhole people and when people don't fully understand the nature of the labels being applied to them, they can react badly to the description. The "Big Model" and it's subtheories tend
I'm more interested in the work of John Kirk, and his Design Patterns of Successful Role Playing Games, which has been circulating the game design community for a few years now. I've mentioned it a couple of times in this blog and it';s been a really influential part of my own game design techniques over the past two years since I've been made aware of it. An updated second edition of the book was also made available this year.
I'm not sure if I'm just going to be treading the same ground with my own work, or if I'll develop an interesting fusion with a fresh perspective. I'm hoping that I strike something revolutionary and special in my approach, something that might inspire a new generation of designers...but that would just be a welcome side effect. The theory is intrinsically a method to clarify the process of assorted roleplaying games, to analyse what goes well and what goes wrong within a variety of game types and play styles.
It's not going to be easy, and I'm sure there will be discussions and arguments along the way, but that's going to be my project for 2010.
18 December, 2009
If you're not familiar with the concept of GM fiat it works pretty simply like this.
The GM simply decides whether your idea will work, the motivation between this choice is usually based on where the action will take the game or story. It can be done well, but it often gets a bad rap because the concept is usually associated with GMs who do it poorly.
In traditional rolplaying games, a group of players gathers to play through a story. There is a subtle difference; they don't gather to communally tell a story, they gather to put a group of characters through a series of set pieces pre-defined by the GM. When a GM uses GM fiat as one of the mechanisms for their game, they simply allow characters to take the actions that will logically lead the story from one set piece to the next, while they make any other actions difficult for the characters to engage.
Difficulty can be defined a few ways; psychologically (it is implied that really bad things will happen if the characters choose to follow the specified course of action), mechanically (any action that takes the characters beyond the predefined scenario faces a target number or difficulty much higher than it really should be), interpretively (any successful actions that push beyond the scope of the pre-defined story seem to have less effect than they should) or even blatantly ("No, it doesn't work!"). It's this last case that really makes a GM stand out as a user of fiat. The first few cases, if used carefully and subtlely, might fly completely below a playing group's collective radar.
Like tables in an earlier mechanism, I've had my attitude to GM fiat change over the years. I once thought that te idea was simply the hallmark of a bad GM...that a good GM could craft a decent story from the actions of their players rather than forcing their players down specific storylines. I looked at the hundreds of modules on a gaming store shelf, never thinking that I'd play straight through them because this type of pre-defined linear narrative belonged in novels, not in games.
I've played in live games where the GM fiat became noticeable, and then blatantly obvious to me...only to end up frustrating me out of the game. Yet other players have really loved these games. I thought it was perhaps naivety on their part, but came to realise that it all links into the concept of illusionism within a game, and determining how much of my creative voice I was willing to give over to a core visionary.
If the core visionary is telling a story that makes sense in my eyes, or is weaving a tale that I'm finding interesting, I'm happy to sit back and take the ride. Engaging enough to keep my interest levels active, but not trying to rock the boat too much.
Looking back on GM fiat in that light, it is actually a useful tool for driving a story forward, especially where more modern games might get mired in a bog as multiple players pull against one another with the actions of their characters. So GM fiat can include the introduction of any element that drives a plot toward a predefined goal. This interpretation means that I'm as guilty of GM fiat as the next GM, I just hide my efforts in the colour of the setting, and the flavour of the actions, trying to subtly use psychological, mechanical and interpretive means to push a story to an outcome I'd like to see.
I have been developing an idea of game analysis through vectors over the past couple of days, defining game concepts through vectors passing from, to and through specific scene nodes. The place of GM fiat pushes a vector in a specific direction, or places boundaries on there a story vector might head...more of this should hopefully start making sense next year, as the gaming vector model is explored, detailed and discussed through this blog.
12 December, 2009
This bugbear of gaming appeared early. I pull out my tattered old D&D Red Box...Save vs Rods or Breath, Save vs Poison or Death Ray, Save vs Staves or Spells.
We move through several generations of games..
I move on to a generic product from the Palladium lineage, Heroes Unlimited...Save vs Coma/Death, Save vs Magic...my favourite nonsensical saving throw...Pull/Roll with Punch/Fall/Impact, and dozens of others to cover resisting any type of effect that could possibly hinder a character.
Lets move onward to advanced games where storytelling is more important than mechanics (or so was the claim)...I'll pull out the more socially oriented of White Wolfs original World of Darkness, Vampire the Masquerade (I could have pulled out the more combat focused Werewolf, but we expect more detail in its combat resolution mechanisms)...even in this combat is divided into a roll for attack, a roll for damage, then a roll to soak (and hopefully avoid a chunk of that damage). Most actions in the game series follow a similar procedure...aggressor rolls a bunch of dice to claim successes (often with a difficulty based on the situation at hand), while the defendant rolls a bunch of dice to negate those successes.
A quick detour over to wargames...the common conflict pattern in these games follows the same structure...roll to see if it happens, roll to see how bad it is, then roll to see how much of it you can avoid.
Attack, Damage, Armour Save.
As originally intended, saving throws were designed to allow characters a chance of avoiding things that might otherwise simply happen automatically. In old D&D, spells just happen; without saving throws, there would be no way to avoid the incoming sleep spell or magic missile.
...but rolling to prevent the impact of something that you've already rolled to avoid...I think that's taking two bites of the cherry and really just slows the game play down. I prefer to think of the outcome in two simple terms, either a person is hindered or they aren't...a situation is defused or it isn't...the specific details of the event can be narrated through the story.
He shoots me but I take no damage.
a) He missed
b) He hit, but my armour deflected the shot
c) He hit, but my armour deflected the worst of it, I suffered a flesh wound and now I'm frakkin' MAD!!! The adrenaline surging through my veins prevents me from suffering ill effects at the moment.
Each would be a different outcome according to dice with saving throws. Using said dice would take some of the narrative control out of the hands of the players, and deprive them of the chance of portraying their characters as they envision them. But then again, some people don't like to work their imagination overtime while playing, and they like following the whim of the dice.
Another reason I'm not a big fan of saving throws is that they are effectively story buffers in another sense. A GM can craft an elaborate trap, and a player can successfully make their save, effectively eliminating that part of the story. A player can be an absolute idiot through the course of a session, knowing that they have a saving throw that will probably negate the effects that other players can throw at them. With this in mind through, I guess that saving throws are a great tool for gamist play, they allow a player to step on up while reducing the chances of detrimental backlash.
Still, I'm not a big fan. Unless someone can really show me an elegant way of incorporating them into a story game.
09 December, 2009
Love them or hate them, tables are a part of many games.
The random monster and treasure tables in many early RPGs.
The devilishly elaborate tables that refer you to other tables when engaging the combat sequence in Rolemaster.
Tables designed for rapid generation of cities, regions and worlds in a variety of Game Master guides.
The curious tables scattered through the sourcebooks of RIFTS and GURPS.
Even the "modern" indie games fascination with oracles, due in no small part to the game "In a Wicked Age", are really just a new form of random data table accessed through the draw of cards rather than the rolling of dice.
I used to love tables, because you could introduce all sorts of elements into a game at random times, or when specific triggers were met. My early games (written in my high school years of the late 1980's/early 90's) seem to have a table on every page now that I look back on them. But this was an era when "realism" was sought in a game, and the quickest way to get "realistic" descriptions was to create a few cool effects then determine the likelihood of them happening and array them into a table of some sort.
Then I went through a phase where I hated them. They epitomised a lack of imagination and a constraint on the ability to tell a good story.
I've verged back to the concept of tables, as long as they are used sparingly and used with a specific purpose.
Like most mechanisms, if tables are used well they can really enhance a game, but if used poorly they just become dry collections of data stored in a randomly accessible format.
Good uses for tables include the ability to inject some thematic detail into an otherwise dry system. Good descriptors can help to provide an effective way of grounding a system into the "reality" of the game world. They can also be used to streamline certain effects, by offering a quick die roll that can then be referenced once for an immediate outcome (as long as they don't simply refer you to other tables....which might be good during character generation or story development, but can be incredibly frustrating in a high tension moment like combat).
Many of the features once found in tables are now handled behind the scenes in many computer roleplaying games, crunching numbers and generating outcomes based on random events are a forte of computers, so it makes sense to handle these things out of a player's sight. This is probably one of the many reasons why tables have gone out of fashion in many of the current crop of games.
...it's probably also a reason why tables often feature so heavily in the genre of game called the "heartbreaker", a longing to return to the old days of roleplaying before computer games became so prominent.
06 December, 2009
...and it's happened again now.
Since a new idea has come to mind, I'll consider it as something worthy to write about.
Player characters are all outsiders. This is a part of the quintessential hero myth, if the hero was like everyone else, they wouldn't be interesting to tell stories about. If a group of player characters were doing the same stuff that everyone else is doing, then it probably wouldn't be worthy for us to dedicate our imaginative efforts toward them.
A lot of early games played of this specifically. You are an adventurer who travels from town to town, ridding the local dungeons of their unsavoury inhabitants, and trading unearthed treasures for tools that will continue to help you explore new towns and dungeons.
Why don't the townsfolk go and rid the dungeons of evil?
Because they are either too weak, too frightened, or prevented from doing so by the local authorities (and this is where the extent of politics came into old school gaming).
More recent games have often sought to bring the player characters in contact with the world around them, integrating them into societies or factions (as I've described in previous mechanisms), byut it's still a case that the only independant thought in a game world typically comes from the player characters. Everyone else is going abut their daily duties, following their masters, reacting to the actions of the player characters, or engaging in their own grand plans that have taken weeks/months/years to set into fruition.
The players characters come in to upset the status quo, and for this reason they are treated differently by the people of the game world. They may be feared, hated, or sought for their skill and abilities.
Of course this is a bit of an over-generalisation. Villains are also removed from the population, and they may be feared, hated or adored just as much as the player characters.
A few games have mechanisms that show how much the key characters are separated from the rest of the world. Consider the class levels in early D&D...most regular folks are considered level 0, maybe level 1 if they've got a bit of experience, possibly level 2 or 3 if they are a part of the local militia or have marked themselves as prominent from some reason. The key characters in the world can quickly ascend to levels 10 or higher, and at this point they are truly removed from the regular folks.
Later editions of the game have allowed regular townsfolk to ascend through "NPC" classes, but these classes provide far less benefits at each level, and a plyer character at level 10 (in anything) far surpasses the abilities of a townsfolk at level 10 (in any NPC class). Those who choose to think for themselves and push against the world around them are both rewarded and cursed.
Another system to look at in this way is the Storyteller games of White Wolf. Vampiric Generation describes how far a character can transcend mortal bounds, but it also bring new levels of danger with every step removed from humanity. Magical Arete shows a persons ability to percieve the true nature of the universe, but with that knowledge comes susceptibility to the forces of paradox.
Many games play on this notion in other ways.
A character might possess a reputation trait that grows as they perform specific deeds. Gradually notifying to the outside world that this is someone to be noticed/feared/adored.
Looking back on my game "The Eighth Sea", I incorporated this concept into character's coherency ratings. Those characters who sought to make changes to the timestream based on their inner desires found their place in the timstream strengthened and their distance from the regular masses enhanced. Unlike some games though, I decided that if a character chose to give up their swashbuckling ways and fall back into the ebb and flow of the continuum, their coherency would gradually drop them back to normal levels.
I can't think of too many other games that reflect this side of the heroes path on a deeper level...the journey back to the mundane world. Sure, an adventurer returning to town after a dungeon is bringing back their find, but can an epic level hero settle down to a family life after years of adventuring? In most games it seems unlikely...but maybe that's just the crowds I've been playing with.
Once a hero transcend the world, there often seems no turning back.
28 November, 2009
A simple answer to all of these questions comes in the form of factions, and many games have made use of this idea.
From the clans of Vampire the Masquerade or Legend of the Five Rings, the orders of Magi in Ars Magica, the corporations in assorted cyberpunk games or even the chapters of Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000.
Factions add instant ties between characters, whether those ties come in the form of communion or conflict.
Of course, factions don't always make a game better, in the same way that conflict doesn't always make a story better. Many kung fu movies are great because they bring creative conflict to the screen, but few kung fu movies are considered masterpieces of storytelling.
Like all mechanisms, you need to consider what you want the outcome to be, and how the mechanism plays toward that outcome.
24 November, 2009
Working on other projects hasn't really helped in that regard either...but anyway, time for number 45.
In many roleplaying games, a character gradually accumulates experience and becomes more powerful over the course of a story. They learn new things, they discover new tools that make them more effective and they face ever more dangerous foes.
This typically applies within the context of a single story, but often also applies over the course of a series of narratives. Characters simply escalate until they ascend to rival the gods themselves.
Fun (in some situations), but certainly not realistic.
There are a few games over the years that have offered an alternative type of story.
Instead of chronicling a rise into power, they reveal a character's responses to a fading glory. There are plenty of mechanisms that have tried to encapsulate this notion, but they all have a similar pattern to them. Character growth is inverse exponential...it starts fast, then gradually gets slower as a character becomes more set in their ways, or simply finds it harder to learn new things.
On the flipside, character degradation is constant.
As a result a character starts gaining strength at a far faster rate than they lose it. Gradually they reach a peak point where their gaining of new abilities retreats to a level comparable to their losses. Eventually, they find that they are unable to learn things as quickly as their injuries and frailties accumulate.
Such characters have passed their prime and the game now becomes a very different beast.
I've yet to find a game that really focuses on this type of story...not that I've really gone out of my way to look for one.
The closest I've probably seen is the miniatures game Mordheim from Games Workshop, which replicated this arc for the characters within a team even if it didn't really focus on the psychology involved. Many times I had characters who reached a point where thir injuries were just accumulating faster than their new skills and advancements...this became a good time to retire the figures and recruit new members into the team.
It's another of those ideas I'd like to play with, when I get the time.
14 November, 2009
It can be applied in a couple of different ways; some of which I've tried, some of which I'd like to try.
The concept is pretty simple, and you could even look at stalwarts of the roleplaying world in this light.
The basic idea is that a character is made up of modular templates.
A bunch of race templates...a bunch of occupation templates. Add one to the other and voila, a character is instantly playable.
Let's try it a different way.
Here's a design I produced for a contest a couple of years back.
This design ended up becoming a part of the foundation for The Eighth Sea, but I'd really like to go back to it at some stage. The idea of a quickly producible character, with everything right there for a player to use in a couple of minutes.
Not sure what else to write on this one.
Of anyone's got comments, please fire away.
01 November, 2009
I've noticed it in a few games, and it's something I've been aspiring towards in some of my own games.
Jason Godesky has made a post about it and has referenced the phenomenon as Fluency Play.
It's an amazing concept and something that many boardgames have done effortlessly for years.
I can't write the concept more succinctly than those who have written about it previously, so here's a bunch of links...
Pedagogy of Play
Story Games Thread
I'd love to do this in Quincunx, and Brigaki Djili has this concept directly in mind.
It;s a method to introduce instant immersion, because the players don't feel like they are "playing a game", instead they are sharing an experience.
The first game I've played to implement this in an elegant fashion is "Penny", but I've raved enough about that one. Apparently Jason has implemented a similar concept in his Fifth World game, I'd like to see how that's been done.
For my own implementations of it, I think a Quincunx character generation process that worked like an HR questionnaire for a new recruit coming into the company. The GM would function in the role of a work advisor, or someone introducing the characters into the company, and this would work well as an introduction to the role for them as well. I'm thinking that a series of questions like the Myers-Briggs personality test could be used to fill out a decent chunk of the matrix (and probably assign the character to a role within the company, with it's relevant paths), while a few deeper questions would fill the rest of the paths. This would have the twofold effect of getting players into the headspace of their characters, and also give them a precursor towrd the types of actions they be expecting during play.
Actual play examples of fluency would be a little harder. I had never really considered desighning the game in this way, and it would take some rigorous overhauling to get it functional in this manner. A step in the right direction might be to increase the interactivity of the characters sheet, with small notes scattered across it to jog the memories of players, and perhaps providing a few more "cheat sheets" that help to explain what is necessary in the different phases of the game.
I was aiming toward this anyway...I just wish I'd prepared these in advance for Gencon.
Brigaki Djili is a differenty beast altogether, and I'm really hoping to get a game that's playable on a few levels. Something that's as instinctive and intuitive as using a ouija board, and can be used ina s similar manner to divine the mysteries of the past and the hidden secrets of the stories being told.
I'm hoping for a single page of game mechanisms, written in a way that could be read out to a group as they start play. Then maybe a paragraph of text to be read with the passing of each round of play, expanding the complexity and revealing new depth as the story develops.
In all, no more than two pages of general rules. The rest is the immersive ritual to get people into the right frame of mind for communal storytelling, and guidelines for how to prevent the story deviating into unintended territories, or guides for keeping a consistent theme in a story.
Time to do some further research...
23 October, 2009
You've got to love a game where over a third of the text is a filmography of great martial arts movies, recipes for Asian cuisine to eat during play, and a quick guide to tea.
But those aren't mechanisms.
The game has at it's core, a sequence referred to as "the knife ritual". It's dramatic, evocative and a little dangerous...It uses a real knife.
The knife can be in a range of states, it begins sheathed and covered by a cloth when the tension is low. It becomes uncovered when things get a little tense. It becomes unsheathed when things are drawing to a head. It is stabbed into someone's character sheet when the edge of danger has been crossed and something nasty occurs. Character successes can increase or decrease the escalation of the knife, depending on their actions in game.
It's symbolic, but that symbolism is pretty clear and obvious.
I tried to do the same with Quincunx, using a series of scene types "vague", "unfocused", "focused" and "visceral". But my own effort to achieve this sort of tension lost something in the translation during my Gencon playtests.
A lot of people have raved about Mist Robed Gate, so I'm going to have to go back to re-reading it. There seems to be an elegance to the knife ritual that needs more exploration.
11 October, 2009
I really enjoy the L5R setting. I've got a thing for Japanese culture after studying martial arts for a few years and over-indulging in manga/anime and other forms of Japanese culture. Last year (2008) we played in a game called Heroes of Rokugan twice, once as a tabletop and once as a freeform. Leah and I didn't get much of a say in how the adventures went, we were just two lowly ranked characters amongst a group who were all willing to take things as they came. We came to the table with no preconcieved notions, and were willing to take a back seat to enjoy the narrative developed by the group.
During a couple of occasions we knew that our characters had abilities that might have been useful to push the narrative in the direction that it wanted to flow. We gained a bit of table respect for succeeding in certain rolls, or assisting in others.
But toward the end of the session we decided to start pushing boundaries. There were rumours of a troll nearby, but the game was designed to allow players to chase down such a monster. I was playing a character naturally inclined to research, and a few of the players had more combat ready characters and wanted to get their teeth stuck into something that wasn't political.
This wasn't the way the story was meant to go, but the GM was willing to allow us to indulge this for a while as the game was running fauirly quickly and a nice detour might help pad things out a bit.
The GM had to look up a troll from the rulebooks, and while she didn't make it far tougher than it needed to be, the monster could have made a quick breakfast from us.
Some incredibly lucky rolls meant that we actually made mincemeat from the troll...at which point the GM panicked. That wasn't supposed to happen.
Quickly some "more influential characters" come by and claim the kill as their own. Under the L5R system, we hadn't followed the intended story, so we weren't awarded any experience for killing the Troll. Neither did we get any renown/glory/honour for disposing of a nasty creature because someone else took the credit for the kill.
It felt like half an hour wasted. Nice story, but it made no impact on the in-game world, and it didn't benefit our characters at all either.
We figured that this might just have been because we were low ranked characters, perhaps after a year of play, we might be able to show up with more experienced characters and might be able to claim a bit more of that glory for ourselves.
Alas we were wrong, 2009 was even worse.
We were playing the same characters under a new GM. This time the module/scenario required investigation and the use of specific skills that few people on the table seemed to possess. It was a game also involving some combat, but we were all magic-users bar one.
The spells of my character involved talking to animals, and while it might make logical sense to progress a story vioa any means available to the table, the story hadn't been written with this as an option. Only talking to specific people would get the story progressing, and those people often seemed to be connected to the criminal underworld (and thus we would lose honour for talking to them), or they were highly rabnked in society (and thus they would lose honour for talking to us).
A catch-22, and we while we exhausted all of our options to get the narrative moving forward, we were blocked with simple comments of "No, you can't do that", or target numbers that were ludicrously high. On the occasions when we actually managed to meet these ludicrous target numbers our successes were dismissive anyway..."Yeah, you succeeded in getting them to talk to you, but they don't tell you anything useful).
Blocked at every avenue because the module/scenario hadn't been written to allow experimentation or thinking outside the square.
Eventually, "hand of god" kicks in. An NPC shows up right before the climax to reveal everything necessary to get a battle scene happening.
Leah and I knew that battle commonly occurs in L5R games, so we've set ourselves up as archers. As magic users, the archery seemed a good way to keep us out of the thick of things.
At range we fire into the melee, I can't remember if either of us hit...at this stage, the game had run over time and I was late for starting my own game session. The next thing I know, an opponent in the thick of battle (on the other side of the conflict), has traversed the gap between us and gets his full actions dice to make an attack against me.
My decision to engage in ranged attacks beyond the immediately melee was rendered null and void because the GM simply said so.
I took it, because I didn't want to start an argument.
A player on the table had specifically cdesigned his character to make use of a vicious spell combination that would augment a single warrior to superhuman capacities. The final produict basically allowed this augmented warrior to wipe out a person with each strike, and take four or five complete actions during the turn (while others have to be content with taking two or three strikes over consecutive turns to take out a single opponent).
The GMs face was aghast. L5R is often about the choice between what is honourable and right, or what is acceptable to the status quo and easy. Running with our tails between our legs would have been easy, taking the fight was the right and honourable thing to do, but it could have gotten us killed. The GM thought that he'd be able to simply wipe us all out with this combat.
Out come the rulebooks, the errata sheets from the publisher, the errata sheets for the Heroes of Rokugan campaign...
...I walked off. I had a game to run and I was already running late for it, my players had actually abandoned me as a no show and were getting their refunds by this stage.
By the time I'd managed to track down my lost players and sorted out the mess, the conflict on the table between GM and players (and between sides within the story) was drawing to a close.
Since he was a "by the book" GM, he had to live by the sword and die by the sword. Nothing prevented the combo from going off and the super augmented warrior sliced and diced the corrupt samurai who were under investigation. Their deaths proved their dishonour according to the module.
Any previous investigation would have been rendered useless anyway, because life and death comes first, while the word of those bearing the highest status comes second.
While I love the setting, from the card games to the miniatures. This really didn't gel with the way the game made it's reputation.
L5R became big because it evolved according to the decisions made by the players. If a certain clan wins a whole heap of card tournaments, it gains an advantage in the global storyline. If a common tactic involves two clans working together, then this will be written into the setting. If a certain combination proves to be broken, then a storyline event will cause it to become unusable.
For over a decade, the players have helped to shape the L5R world of Rokugan.
It's be nice if the writers of Heroes of Rokugan modules took this into consideration. Or at least if the GMs allowed the spirit of experimentation and free thought that has helped make the game thrive.
I don't think I'll be playing again next year.
10 October, 2009
Wide games are fairly simple and most kids instinctively play this style of game..."Hide and Seek" is an example, as is "Cops and Robbers". But wide games tend to apply a type of ruling mechanism into the game, rather than just having them degenerate into arguments. The game of "Murder" commonly played on university campuses is another form of wide game.
There are some distinct similarities between wide gaming and live roleplaying, and I understand a bit of historical precedent between the two. But I think that the field of roleplaying can probably learn a bit more from this distinct evolutionary gaming path.
If you're still not sure what I mean by wide gaming... here's an excerpt from a website.
The website can be found here.
'Wide Games' include any game requiring or making use of any large area of land. Provided you stick to a few simple rules they are very easy to set up, very popular and can take advantage of any suitable area. Areas that are particularly good are where it is easy to hide such as woodland or heath, but they can be played in large open fields, its just not so much fun!
If you are familiar with organizing this style of game then feel free to carry onto the index of ideas. But if you are not then there are a few points you need to know
All wide games need you and all players to be aware of the size and type of playing area. This is mainly from the point of view of safety particularly if you are playing in area open to the general public, as the playing areas used can be anything from a small field to several Km2 or more of woodland or forest. It helps when setting boundaries to take advantage of natural ones like paths, streams, edges of woods or fields. If necessary walk everybody around the boundary and/or spend a little time placing boundary markers that are within sight of each other (this could be anything from strips of bright cloth tied to a tree to custom made posts and lights) boundary markers are only really necessary if is difficult to determine a boundary.
Depending on the age of the players, size and openness of the playing area it may be worth while having several marshals patrolling the area to make sure boundaries and rules are being adhered to and you may even want to consider using mobile phones or short range radios.
I remember particularly fondly playing wide games in my childhood and early teens.
There would be entire suburbs marked as the boundaries and anything up to 200 players involved in a complicated game that might last a full day from 9am to sundown.
It was the attempt to capture this type of interactive environment that first lured me into live roleplaying, but I was never able to capture the thrill that wide games provided in my nostalgia.
I thought of the wide game concept yesterday at work, just out of the blue. I guess I'd been thinking in the back of my mind about the "LIVE 3:16" I've now [promised to run at Gencon Oz next year, and the LARPs I've recently participated in. It got me thinking that maybe Widegames were a dying pastime, I had only remembered them from my youth and from what I remembered about them, they involved organised groups of people running around over wide areas, planning attacks, setting up defences and generally engaging in activities that a post-911 world would deem suspicious and dangerous.
But a quick google search has shown a thriving wide game community. It seems to be focused on the boy scouts, but that's hardly surprising given the fact that you typically need 20+ players to get a good critical mass for this style of play. Somewhat more surprising (but logical now I think about it), wide games have been adopted as corporate tools for teaching teamwork and reliance on others.
If you're interested in some of the links I've found about this style of game play...
84 Wide Games
Girl Guide Wide Games
08 October, 2009
Still it's good to see that there are panels and seminars dedicated to game design running at conventions elsewhere in the world.
V-Con Design Panel
Now I'm just waiting to see (or hear) some of the information from those Gencon Oz panels that I missed.
Hint. Hint. (for those who might be reading...)
04 October, 2009
I had just left high school and was starting to truly forge an identity of my own.
I had gotten a job and was earning my own keep for the first time.
The cold war was ending and the feeling of hope in the world was echoing my own feeling of freedom and the chance for a better life.
Nirvana was showing the world that you didn't need make-up and big hair to play good rock music. And you didn't need to spend far too much money on film clips to get into the top 40.
White Wolf's Storyteller system was showing the roleplaying community that games could focus on story rather than a quirky set of skills and abilities (but it still included these anyway).
I had a good core group of friends, and it felt like we'd all stay friends forever...
I could go on...but that's not the point of my post.
Around this time, a friend and I developed a game called Ukiyo Zoshi (translated from Japanese it roughly means "Tales of the Floating World).
We ran this game at conventions in and around Sydney, and developed a cult following, with all of our games fully booked out (often forcing us to accommodate for more players at the last minute). It was a fun game, but it never really eventuate into anything.
Every now and then I check on the site I developed for Ukiyo Zoshi. You can tell it was written just after the first Matrix movie came out, and you can tell it was something I had grand plans for which never came to fruition.
I'm surprised that it still comes up on the front page of a google search under the terms "Ukiyo Zoshi", especially when the term is actually a form of traditional Japanese literature with dozens of texts written in it's style.
It's one of those projects that's been 15 years in the making, and it will always be a work in progress. I haven't updated the Ukiyo Zoshi website in quie some time because I don't remember it's passwords and I don't even rememebr the email accounts I was using at the time to reclaim, the passwords.
I've just thought of it now because I've started looking into a new miniatures game called Malifaux from Wyrd Games. It's just reminded me of a plan to create a nice generic set of miniatures rules that can be used with ANY figures. I'm getting a little sick of obscure manufacturers producing great figures then linking them to a specific game that is good, but not great....then specifically naming their characters and preventing you from using the nice figures from other manufacturers in their game.
Just a personal pet peeve.
02 October, 2009
- What is your game about?
- How does your game do this?
- How does your game encourage / reward this?
- How does you game make this fun?
- What is your game about?
- What do the characters do?
- What does the GM do (if there is one)?
What is your game about?
At a deep level, it’s about weaving together tales through tapping into a communal subconscious; using this method to unveil stories that may have been hidden by the civilised and educated/indoctrinated conscious mind. Perhaps even exposing the arcane truths of the hidden world through apocrypha, allegory, ad-lib and Dadaist absurdity.
At a shallow and more immediate level it’s about having fun with friends, telling stories where no-one is sure what the outcome may be, how it may be reached or what might be revealed along the way.
How does your game do this?
The game is specifically designed so that no single person dominates the entire narrative. One player may take centre stage for a while, but there is no telling when another person might get the chance to integrate a twist into the tale being told. Players take on the role of storytellers, while also taking on the role of avatars within the story. Events are continually narrated and players are continually encouraged to react to these events as they unfold. The story need not always make sense, but then again neither does life. Those players who engage the complexity of the tale or who take more risks through their avatars gradually gain more control over their destiny and have more power over shaping future chapters of the story.
How does your game reward this?
Players are encouraged to take risks. This may be done by deliberately choosing to face more threats within their own stories, or by attempting to place their own narrative voice within the stories of the other players/storytellers. Those who face more risk give greater power to their avatars within the story; those who narrate within other stories may find that they can turn the perspectives of other avatars to their own advantage.
How do you make this fun?
The game is specifically divided into discreet chapters focused on one or two characters at a time. These chapters a divided into tableaux punctuated by moments of tension; a tableaux begins with the resolution of a tension, the reaction and movement to a new event and the movement to a new tension moment. After a moment of tension, the narrator may change depending on the luck of the draw; this means that a narrator has to make the most of their time in the spotlight. Anyone could be the next narrator (given that they showed an interest in this avatar’s story, and offered their tokens accordingly.)
What do the players do?
The players take on the role of a group of storytellers, the default archetype is a circle of old gypsy raconteurs, but they could just as easily be oracles (of the type encountered by Greek heroes), totem animals (sought by native shamans), or a cabal of intelligence operatives (in a modern or sci-fi setting). The players take turns narrating aspects of the story and guiding characters through the situations encountered.
What does the GM do?
There is a GM in this game, but the person taking on this role does not tell the stories, they merely ask questions to help pace the stories told by the other players. The GM represents a person who has come to the circle of players for their advice, wisdom and insight. The GM may interrupt each player once with a piece of evidence that may confirm or contradict a specific story element being narrated. Once used, these pieces of evidence become indelible facts that may not be removed from the story.
30 September, 2009
Brigaki Djili is a romani/gypsy term meaning "Sorrow Songs".
I'm using it as a name for a new project in which players take on the role of Gypsy seers who reveal the past through communal storytelling.
Each player takes on the role of one of these gypsy seers, while the GM takes on the role of someone who has asked the seers to reveal a hidden story of the past. Each seer takes on the twin roles of narrating the story and playing out the actions of characters within the story, the GM purely acts as a prompt in case the narrative related by the players starts to slow down, or needs a new impetus.
The basic mechanism of the game involves something I've been toying with for a while, drawing beads from a bag.
Each player has a bag and a dozen or so tokens of a specific colour (each player's colour is different). There is also a pile of threat tokens representing the difficulty of different stories being pursued by the characters.
At the start of a session of storytelling, each player may place their tokens into their own bag, or into someone else's bag. They also apply threat tokens into their own bag. The more threat tokens, the more chance of failure, the bigger the risk for the character, but the bigger the pay-off if they succeed. The character who applies the most threat tokens to their own bag and who survives their story earns some kind of reward at the end of the round.
The play of storytelling follows the draw of tokens from the bag...
At the beginning of a story a single token is drawn to set the tone of the narrative.
Own Token followed by…
The player who controls the character begins by narrating how their character explores the world around them, using the skills at their character’s disposal to avoid problems or complications. Nothing beneficial or detrimental occurs to the character through the narrative. Before the next token is drawn, the character must be faced with some kind of a critical story point
Other’s Token followed by…
The player whose token is drawn begins the narrative, they may choose to describe events that occur in the character’s favour, or may describe events that cause problems for the character. explaining
Threat Token followed by…
The player who controls the character begins by narrating how their character has immediately encountered a problem, arriving at a situation where their skills weren’t appropriate or where they simply failed miserably. Nothing majorly wrong happens to the character, but from the outset they are on the back foot and must react defensively to the next token draw.
Once the initial scene has been set up, a second token is drawn. Further scenes are described through a combination of the last two tokens drawn.
Own Token followed by Own Token followed by…
The current narrator continues with their scene, showing how their character has successfully resolved the issue they have just faced. They show how the character gets another step closer to their goal, or how the character overcomes a setback they have suffered. The scene is concluded by setting up another issue where the character could face a turning point.
Own Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
The current narrator shows how their character has faced their issue unsuccessfully, and how things have put them on the defensive. They must now describe how the character faces up to the issues at hand and tries to get things moving forward again. They narrate a new turning point that might allow the character to take destiny back into their own hands.
Own Token followed by Other’s Token followed by…
The narration duties pass to the player whose token has been drawn. This new player now describes a twist in the events, a way in which the scene has changed away from the current character’s intended plans. Not necessarily for the worse, but certainly deviating the characters path. The character’s player gets the chance to react to the changing circumstances, offering a course of action to be determined by the next drawn token.
Other’s Token followed by Own Token followed by...
The narration duties are resumed by the player who controls the character. The character doesn’t specifically get an advantage from the situation, but they are able to get things back onto the right track.
Other’s Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
The narration duties continue being held by the player whose token had been drawn last. The twist in the storyline has led the character into trouble. The character suffers a setback due to this unexpected change of circumstances, if they wish to continue a sacrifice will need to be made on the character’s part.
Other’s Token followed by Other’s Token followed by...
The narration duties continue being held by the same player. The character’s actions have in some way advanced the agenda of that player’s character (they may be present in the scene, or the actions may be helping in a more obscure fashion). The character may or may not realise what they are doing to further these goals.
Other’s Token followed by a different Other’s Token followed by...
The narration duties move from the former player to the new player whose token was drawn. Another new twist has developed, and the character’s path has turned in yet another new direction. Once again, the character doesn’t specifically suffer a setback due to their change of circumstances, but they do find things shifting around them in such a way that they probably haven’t anticipated.
Threat Token followed by Own Token followed by...
No matter who may have been narrating the events leading up to the drawing of the threat token, the character’s player resumes the narration duties and describes how the character has overcome the issues at hand and has resumed control of their destiny. They may now narrate a new critical point to drive the story forward.
Threat Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
Narration duties do not change, the same player continues to describe the events as they get worse. The setback previously suffered has escalated and has now dealt a permanent injury to the character involved. In most cases, the characters story draws to a temporary conclusion unless they are able to draw upon a specific strength or special ability which helps them in the immediate situation.
Threat Token followed by Other’s Token followed by...
The player whose token was drawn takes over the narrative and may describe how the character has failed in their attempt to overcome the threat, or they may describe a new complication that has the potential to make things even worse for the character.
I'm working on some ideas for incorporating character abilities into the system (if a character has a special ability the player gets to redraw certain tokens, upgrade threat tokens to other's tokens to own tokens, if they have a weakness then they might be forced to redraw successful tokens).
But first I'm just seeing that this core concept makes sense.
Ask as many questions as you want, I'm still trying to work through this in my mind and any queries that other people have might help me to really get it clear...
28 September, 2009
The light of truth is revealed in the shadows of gypsy firelight.
There are tales that have changed our society; while the repercussions have been felt far and wide, the details of these stories have been deliberately hidden. Those outside our society have a unique perspective of our history; gypsies, vagabonds, nomads. Their insight and communion with arcane forces allows them to penetrate the façade and reveal the truth. The elders of the kampanya, gather after a feast; a solitary visitor has asked them to reveal a hidden story of the past.
Thus Brigaki Djili begins…
27 September, 2009
"Yarn" - In the form of spinning a yarn or telling a story.
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