Situation Mechanics and Interactivity

September 13, 2021

Quite a few games have mechanics to randomly introduce events or elements into a situation; that could be a chart you roll for weather, or the classic random encounter chart. More modern games move into stuff like immediate conflict/situation shaping elements; (“Roll this chart – Oh, Aunt May has been kidnapped!”).

It’s a good way to broadly emulate genre expectations, however, depending on the group’s preferences, this could either be awesome and low-crunch ways to make play flow, or it could be undermining a key point of what they’re interested as the focal point of play.

To be clear, I’m also not talking about the issues of random tables producing inappropriate or ridiculous outcomes, nor that they might be outside of a group’s comfort zones, etc. based on their own personal lines/veils or genre expectations, rather, I’m talking about interactivity.

The nature of most of the random event generator style mechanics is that players don’t have an interaction before the point of effect; they don’t really have any way to modify or mitigate it, or, that it only happens behind the scenes and they’re not really aware of how/what they’re doing modifies those odds.

You could say that a key point to any focus of play (in old school Forge terms, the Creative Agenda), is that there’s interactivity with it.

Consider the classic Gamist vs. Narrativist split – “The story is just nice fluff to get me to the fights where I can make some tactical decisions” vs. “Fights are cool but the buildup and fallout of what happens with my character is where I make the important choices”. The part that isn’t a focus of play can often fall by the wayside with non-interactive elements that simply skim over it, and the part that is critical people want to have choices and options about.

I think this is one of the reasons the Apocalypse World style countdown clock has become a popular mechanic; the events are telegraphed, repeatedly, and players have opportunities to interact and stop problems (or, to realize, often too late, that they took too long in dealing with them and now they’ve blown up into a bigger crisis).

I’m going to have to come up with a stronger classification for these, but I think it is something very useful to nail down in terms of which games people prefer or don’t care for based in mechanics and systems. There’s a million and one dungeon crawl games, but even people who are into the genre might only like a narrow subset based on WHERE they want interactivity vs. WHERE they don’t.

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Momatoes’ Guide to Google Sheets

September 9, 2021

Momatoes on Twitter has a great thread that links to a PDF doc from a presentation she had on how to best use Google Sheets for character keepers. She includes some great advice about setting up grids and dividing up information for play.

Momatoes Itch.io page has her RPGs as well.

I’m pretty excited to go over this in detail sometime in the near future, because I’ve been kludging together functional, but honestly ugly, character keepers on Sheets, and smoothing that out would be a nice step forward.


Game Hype August

July 28, 2021

A few days early, I didn’t think I’d have one for this month, but, turns out I found some time between all the work life imbalance to look at game stuff outside of my ongoing games.


A Forged in the Dark mecha game still in the early Alpha Stages. This looks like it might hit some of my itch for mil sim giant robot combat. (Can I say how happy I am about the number of mech games in the last few years?) You have options for both pilot and non-pilot characters, some simple but solid mecha building rules and so on. I think it’d be a good game to try and then compare to Michael Prescott’s Too Good to Be True. I feel like we’re seeing sort of a parallel to how a lot of indie games sought to capture the spirit of the D&D family of games while ditching the simulationist chasing mechanics, except in this case, it’s branching from Battletech.

Balatro’s Phased Battle Maps

Balatro draws classic grid battlemaps… except each map is “phased” – it’s designed for you to change the map over the course of battle – whether that’s a building that’s collapsing each round, producing a new, more precarious version of the map as it goes, or a collossi smashing it’s way through the city with each map showing it’s progress. For $3 per map, you also get access to the past maps, which include stuff like a boat going downstream or a very busy street full of carriages.

(Also, much older but still worth hyping, if you are into battlemaps, Two Minute Tabletop has GREAT hand drawn maps, also worth checking out.)

The Shape of Shadows

I talked about this before, but now after the first week of play, I can say it feels partway between a journaling game, an ARG, a Telltale Game, and interactive fiction? When the live game ends in a month, the PDF will be available for people to purchase.

In this game, you are the assistant of magician – who teaches you the art of stage magic… and real magic. Until they go missing. And you will unravel what happened along the way. It’s giving me a lot of Mage the Awakening, Unknown Armies, and Gaiman vibes. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.

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July 2021 Game Hype

July 5, 2021

This is a quiet month. The expected rush around work has been happening, but on the other hand, my GMing has lightened up. I may run a short game on the weekends for some friends I haven’t gamed with in a few years, but we’ll probably stick to something we know well – Primetime Adventures, since we have a deadline of availability.

So, while the links are light this month, just go look at the past game hype posts this year – I haven’t gotten to play most everything on those either, a giant backlog, sigh. If I can get a more reasonable work schedule, we’ll see what can happen there.


A lightweight anime game about robot/alien tech weapon android girls who fight other alient tech android girls as humanity tries to survive. Sort of halfway between Knights of Sidonia, Magical Girl anime, Nier:Automata, and ship-girl media like Arpeggio of Blue Steel or Azur Lane minus the hypersexualization. I’m really interested in how the combat loadouts and the randomized upgrade system works in play and whether it holds up under the 6-12 session range.

Apocalypse World Central Tool Site

Found this site, which has some great tools for character tracking, etc. It’s still missing some of the functionality, so we’re still using Roll20 for our AW game but I think this has a lot of great stuff for anyone looking to play Apocalypse World.

Gender is a Game

Although I haven’t really used this space to recommend articles, Jamila R. Nedjadi’s absolutely fantastic article on their journey in gaming and the space to explore identity, gender and self is something I recommend for everyone to check out.

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Spectactulars and “Anything Else”

June 27, 2021

One of my favorite, small rules in a game is in Spectaculars – characters get a set of skills based on their background (“Identity”) with a percentage chance of success next to each of them. At the bottom of the list, is “Anything Else – 50%”.

It’s a small, simple rule, but it actually smoothes out play in a very nice way.

First, between the many different systems I play, and my brain not being able to just flip a switch anymore on game rules, it solves the classic “Ugh, uh, which stat/skill does this go under again?” question that comes up in games. It’s annoying to me when I’m GMing, but it’s also bad for the player because usually if you’ve hit that moment, it’s because they’re doing something creative or interesting, and slowing down play serves as a minor disincentive.

Second, for players, it also makes a useful reminder – if players look to their character sheets when asked “What do you do?” it also allows works as a reminder they’re not limited to just their immediate powers and skills, BUT ALSO that the odds of success are not terrible (in some games, unskilled activity is a long shot).

A week or two ago, I saw a discussion where someone was worried that some games present the rules in a way that players stop thinking about the fictional possibilities, because “only what is explicitly PERMITTED by the rules” is acceptable. “Anything Else” solves that right there, and keeps it available.

Now, to be sure, you typically want to use any of your other abilities because you end up with better odds of success, but the fact that the lowest chance of success is still 50% is pretty good.

Although I don’t think every game will be served by having an Anything Else rule, I think a lot more, probably would be.

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