Mandy Morbid Legal fundraiser

November 29, 2019

Mandy is setting up a fundraiser to help with legal costs.


This is Mandy Morbid, as many of you know my ex Zak Smith is suing me for defamation after I, and a number of other women, told our stories of mistreatment and abuse.

The lawsuit has progressed to a point where I need to ask for a bit of help with some upcoming costs.

Thanks for reading, sharing, and if you are able donating.


Sci-fi and the right questions

November 19, 2019

I’ve got a few sci-fi things I’ve been tooling around with.  In terms of feedback, sometimes I encounter people who miss a key part of sci-fi – it’s rarely a hard look at “What would life definitely be like with x conditions and y technology?” and more about framing things as what sort of questions and stories do you want to create.

You gotta ask the right question.

For example, if you have AI, or brain uploading, or copying people, you have a whole host of ethical questions to address as part of your setting, and probably in play.

If I want something like a adventure/shooty sci-fi like Mass Effect, where the ethical questions are more “How do I treat people in a given situation and how much violence/lawbreaking am I ok with?” that’s a different set of questions and the former ideas can quickly overwhelm them.

(To be fair, really any genre could have this kind of  host of questions and focus, sci-fi just tends to bring it to the foreground quickly, and tends to be where I have to spend the most time making these curated choices.)

For this reason, I often choose to make/play sci-fi settings with a lot of things missing.  No AI.  Maybe very limited drones.  Etc.   These choices aren’t because I’m not familiar with ideas of the technology or the fact that society will be drastically different with those technologies being widespread, it’s often because that’s not the questions I want to do with this particular game/campaign.

Then the issue of onboarding.

There’s also the second issue, which is that tabletop RPGs are not a passive form of entertainment – it is critical to get people up to speed to be able to play the game.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the 300 page setting required reading, but even short settings still require people to get on the same page for ideas.

With many sci-fi, the issue becomes a matter of which the society is so alien, and difficult, to grasp, that your group becomes lost or confused as to what’s going on.   This kind of story works well in books, because you can take time to re-read sections, and think about what is happening.   In a game, where everyone is collaboratively creating character dialogue, choices, and events, it can be a hurdle.

(This is also true of other genre types too, and the point after which the high concept/fictional culture is so weird to the players or has to fight it’s way through pre-conceived expectations it becomes a hurdle to play rather than a useful feature.)

The wrong answers.

There’s also the point where if you include things thoughtlessly, it naturally leads to setting up answers you probably didn’t intend.  “The good guys made a slave clone army to fight and die by the millions?  How are these good guys?”  Oops.

One of the differences in technology vs. magic in fiction, is that technology is generally understood to be reproducible, while in some cases, magic is not quite so reliable/predictable, and this means if you do something with technology, the question comes up why you wouldn’t do it again/elsewhere?  If you can cure cancer, why not cure more people?  If you can bring someone back from the dead, how long until this becomes a regular use technology?  And then… why AREN’T you doing this?

Obviously, there’s plenty of good stories to have around both technology that can’t feasibly be reproduced wide scale (“You can change one moment in history… but only one.”) or are being forcibly placed into artificial scarcity as a means of social control.  Again though, that’s being thoughtful about where and how you place it in your setting.


“How much crunch is too much?”

November 12, 2019

In tabletop RPGs, few things have “one right answer” and most are “well what do you want?” as the real guide.  However, having a better set of questions and guidelines will take you pretty far and save a lot of time and trouble later on.  “How crunchy should a game be?” is a matter of preference, but I have found two things work as a great guideline for any given group or campaign.

Basic Proficiency

“Do the players have an idea of how to do things with the rules to try to get what they want to have happen in play?”

Note this isn’t the same as rules mastery, it means they have a general idea. Think along these lines:

“If I want to do X, I’ll probably need to make a skill roll using these dice.”

“If I really want to win, I should look at spending hero points”

“I can use my ghost powers from my class to help do X thing”

If multiple people in your group can’t reach this level of proficiency within a session or two, the game is probably too crunchy for the group you have.


Does playing the game feel like work?

“Time flies when you’re having fun” is because the fun factor outweighs the effort, so you don’t notice it.  But when the work outweighs the fun, it feels like a grind and a chore.

Obviously, different players may have different things that feel like work, or different levels that do.  Again, though, if it feels this way for multiple people, it might be the wrong choice for your group.

“Light but not supporting” – a trap

One important thing I want to highlight is that there’s a number of rules light systems that aren’t hard, mechanically, but they also lack rules or support to help you, so you end up doing most of the work of having to do anything from pacing to stakes setting, just that it’s made “invisible” because it’s NOT in the rules.

Again, you can ask those same two questions and with honesty, sometimes, “yeah, I don’t know when to roll the dice” “Wait, how come a single roll does only X this time and when it did Y the last time?” and such become things to consider in a rules light game.

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The Prep Tool Hurdle

October 24, 2019

Right now I GM two weekly games.  One is prep intensive, taking hours to prep for a session, the other is 15-20 minutes.

Aside from the requirements for play and math stuff that make a difference, I realize one of the big issues is whether I can prep while commuting to and from work, or while eating lunch or whether I have to sit at a computer and create a map.

The easy-prep game I never feel nervous because the actual work for prep is something I can do anywhere, anytime, and I can improv easily in play as well.  The hard prep game is a stress every week, because not only do I have to set aside the time, I also have to make sure I’m not too tired, or that no other emergency has come up that eats into that time as well.

As we think about what games to design, run, or play, part of it has to include the issues of tools required even in the prep itself, as that often determines how easy/hard it is to make that happen.


Back from Big Bad Con

October 14, 2019

This was my second time visiting Big Bad Con.  They’ve generally made strong effort towards making more inclusive spaces, but this year included a lot more POC focal space which was nice.

It’s hit the “small convention going into medium sized convention” phase, which is where there’s still lots of fun personal stuff going on, but also a large enough group that you might miss people the entire time you’re there.

I spent most of the time hanging out with out-of-town friends who were stopping by in town, but I’m thinking next year I’ll run some small group games.  A couple of friends are folks who fell out of RPGs back in the 80s, so I’m really interested in hearing their thoughts about some of the new indie games since there’s been so much variance and change since then.


The dealers room is small, but carried a good amount of variety – the only thing which was unfortunate was I didn’t realize the small print showcase was basically time-split for various publishers – so it’s worth checking back semi-regularly.

I bought a few dice from Lucky Hand Dice, which I’ll probably swoop up more once the full site is up and their inventory is up.

Also got a hardcopy of Girl Underground, a portal fantasy game we’ve been playing a lot of and having a great time with.


I only made it to one panel – How to Stop Working When You Love What You Do, which actually had great info, across the board about different issues when you are working in streaming / media production & freelancing.  Some of the advice included hard lines about who can get use of your time (and at what fees), some on scheduling and checking time (especially with projects that can be infinite time sinks), and a lot around boundaries.

I’m pretty excited to check out next year’s con and plan a bit better on gaming and hanging out with friends.


Fiction Feeding

October 1, 2019

Between a couple of games I’ve been playing in and some game design I’ve been doing on my own, I’ve been thinking about something that I’m calling “Fiction Feeding Mechanics”.  These are formalized sorts of designs that come directly from Mo Turkington’s theories on Push and Pull in TTRPG play.

(Also for new readers, whenever I say “Fiction” in reference to tabletop RPGs, I mean the imaginary stuff that’s happening in your campaign and session that you are playing.  Not necessarily whether the game is tied to an existing property or book series, nor the setting stuff specifically.)

Fiction Feeding Mechanics

Game mechanics that take place in the course of regular play that specifically ask questions for people in the play group (players, GM, sometimes specified, sometimes not) to answer that feed into the fiction directly.

The most popular example these days is Apocalypse World Moves – stuff like “You get to ask the GM ‘What is the biggest threat I should be looking out for?'”.

Consider how much more directed this is, than “I rolled 3 successes on Perception. What happens?”.  The classic traditional game mechanic measures success but doesn’t direct narration, which means sometimes you get weak or empty answers, and not necessarily because the GM is trying to cut you out of something, but because it’s a non-directed mechanic and there’s a lot to track and do in play.

Also compare to narration trading games – in those games the key component is who gets the right to TELL something, but it’s not well directed.  The benefit is at least the creative work is spread around so the GM isn’t the only one stuck doing the work, but if the game also expects to limit the scope of outcomes, it simply moves the question of “What are 3 perception successes in the fiction?” to a different player.

As I have often said, the easiest game mechanic is “I say it and it happens.”  So, the second easiest game mechanic is “I ask about it and someone tells me.”  A set of directed questions allows play to move in meaningful directions and avoid things like the jokes about players poking at a normal chair for hours.

Fiction that shows up in play

An important point here, is that a lot of traditional games have a lot of questions during character generation, but much of them end up left behind once play starts.  Sometimes these are because the questions are… not good questions (“What’s your character’s favorite color?” etc.) but also it can be because the game doesn’t have good ways to bring the answers into play.

By putting the directed questions into regular use mechanics in play, you find that it builds a loop of “fiction drives mechanics, mechanics feed fiction”.

Anyway, if you’re designing games, consider what questions would regularly show up in the kind of story you’d want of your game.  The key to a good question is that it either leads to more questions or it leads to more choices/decisions/actions, but not resolving everything.

For example, in a murder mystery game, “Who is the killer?” resolves the situation and ends play, while “Who is hiding something? Who is afraid? Who is desperate? Who is resentful?” are more interesting questions, because while none directly solve the scenario, they bring you along towards it’s resolution (and often along the way show you dead ends, albeit interesting ones.)


Maps in games

June 21, 2019

I’ve been thinking a bit about prep, and maps.  I think there’s a value in thinking about how maps get used in your games, whether that’s “How will I use this map for this campaign?” or “I’m designing a whole game, and how do we use maps in the broadest sense?”

Maps as setting builders

A lot of games, I might use a map as a thing to define setting – the map helps us get an idea of where the fiction is happening, and, say, where characters come from.  But, that’s about the limit of the map’s usage – we never refer to it for travel or worry about distance or time or anything.

It’s mostly to orient the characters in a way – “Oh, my hometown is next to this forest, I’m probably familiar with hunting at least a little.  There’s no rivers around, so I probably have never seen anything larger than a stream or a creek and a pond.”

Depending on your game, the map might be “unreliable” – as in, rather than a representation of how the fictional game world IS, it might be a representation of how the society or characters in that fictional world perceive it… “Here there be dragons” is very different between a world where there are actual dragons about, vs. a world where the characters just believe it must be true because no one has traveled that far.

Maps for situations

If actual travel and placement on the map matters at all, but you’re not bothering with specific measurements, this is using maps for situation.  This is how I usually run most games – the map is sort of a vague “How close is trouble and how much trouble do I have to deal with to get somewhere?” without bogging down into times, travel specifics, etc.

The nice thing about this style of game is that you only really need to mark the map for interesting places, and not worry as much about specifics.

Maps as mechanics

Maps as mechanics deal with actual travel times or how difficult travel might be.  Aside from large world maps, this also includes grid maps for combat – distance and difficult terrain also applies, just in the most immediate way.

The specificity assists in creating specific strategies and choices – where to be, how to get there, how long it will take.  It also means you have to take design into consideration, otherwise you end up with large sections of the map unused or creating types of play you’re not interested in.   Also, the players need to find this interesting as well, otherwise they’ll just consider it tedious and not consider the choices it offers at all (“charge straight ahead”, etc.).

“Map making” maps

And of course, the classic dungeon crawl where the players make a map as they play.  In this case, the “actual map” – the one the GM is using to describe the world, is the map in play as hidden information, and it depends on the players to accurately note and draw out their own map as a reference.  For people into this, it can be quite rewarding, and for people who are not, it is the opposite.  It’s really important to let people know if your game expects this up front.

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