Signal Boost – Into the Mother Lands

September 15, 2020
My friend Tanya DePass is part of a new stream highlighting a new game, which is a pretty cool idea to debut a game. 

Into the Mother Lands is a new sci fi odyssey funded by Twitch, developed by a fantastic team of POC RPG designers, with amazing POC talent both on screen and working hard behind the scenes to bring you a tale of misguided travels, adventurers led astray many generations past. Join us on October 4th, 2020 and every Sunday; to learn how the descendants of a to be revealed ancestor are faring on a world that was once alien to them; but is now home. Learn about their cultures, see what their enemies are plotting, and if they can continue to survive on their adopted home world. Our crew is in for interesting times. Their adventures are powered by the Cortex Prime system.

Join us at twitch.tv/cypheroftyr, Sundays at 4pm Pacific/6pm Central/7pm Eastern/5pm Mountain on October 4th for our adventures!

Follow the shows adventures on twitter @MotherlandsRPG  Contact the show runners at motherlandrpg@gmail.com

Maybe there’s a good space for tabletop games to have solid play preview streams the same way videogames pre-release to streamers to build hype. I haven’t seen anything recently with the Cortex system and it’ll be interesting to see if the system is pushed in new ways.


Bastionland’s Intrinsic/Diegetic Theory

August 29, 2020

This post over on Bastionland on intrinsic/extrinsic and diegetic and non-diegetic fun has a great system for talking about activities and subsystems you build within a game. (Vincent Baker’s post on cues and fiction from 2005 ties in very well with this.)

What’s really useful about this from a design stand point, is that it helps you figure out how a tool is generating the behavior and fun you’re getting from it, or, as a way to consider “why isn’t this quite right?” (Or, “Is this not a good fit for the TYPE of fun I want this game to create?”)

Cohesion vs. incoherency in design

For example, one of my favorite mechanics is Primetime Adventures‘ Fanmail system – it would count as both Intrisic and Extrinsic Non-Diegetic fun – you get tokens that increase your effectiveness in play, but those are given as part of the social reward between players – the group applauding your roleplaying (and, also, encourages everyone to entertain the group as primary behavior). It’s a powerful play loop. (Along with the other mechanics in the game, it sets up the Fruitful Void Vincent Baker referred to.)

The opposite sort of thing might be one of the things that was quite common in 80s and 90s game design – an essay or whole chapters on what “good roleplaying” was supposed to be but worked in direct contradiction to the rest of the mechanics – the Intrinsic and Extrinsic Non-Diegetic rewards were at odds – you were supposed to rely on group social pressure to stop players from following the reward path built into the system too deeply. A lot of the hanging “one-true-way-ism” attitudes about Immersion is leftover from the demonization of Non-Diegetic aspects of play from that era.

Fine tuning design choices

Anyway, from a high theory point, it’s a useful set of axis to start narrowing down some of the issues when people start jousting about Creative Agendas – there’s a LOT of range of different design options and ways to have fun within ANY one of these and I’m thinking this grid is a good way to start isolating factors even within the same Agenda in a way people can identify. (“I like cars” is a phrase many people can say, but why they like them, and what for, can be DRASTICALLY different.)

I think the most use you can get from this early in a design is if you’re looking at other games and trying to identify what’s working or not working in a given system, and when it comes to games you are designing, probably not until you hit the point where “some things just AREN’T working” and you can’t figure out why. That’s when it’s probably good to step back and ask if it’s missing aspects are turned to the wrong type to function well.

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Signal Boost: Help Sean Get Home

August 17, 2020


One of my friends and often-player in my games has been going through a major health crisis for nearly a year, now. He’s been recovering in a care facility, but is looking to get home so he can finish his rehab in a more safe location during this time of pandemic.

If you have a few bucks you can spare, it would mean a lot. He’s looking to fundraise for a wheelchair, a home hospital bed, and to have contractors widen the doors at the house so the chair can get through the front door, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.

He has a long history in the RPG scene, and had worked in a FLGS for years and we often talk about games from the 80s and 90s. I know we’re in “Worst Timeline Pandemic Hell2020” so obviously, if you can’t do much, I understand.

Thank you for any help you can provide.


Award time!

August 10, 2020

I don’t think I’ve gotten “single-handedly” but I certainly have been dubbed as someone trying to “destroy RPGs” for pointing out things like:

  • Play games you like, with people you like
  • If you have to lie to each other about how the game works, or how you feel about the game, something is wrong
  • If hateful bigotry “makes” the game fun for you, whether that’s the presented materials/setting or what you add in to the game at the table, it’s not a defense as much as an admission on your part
  • Different people want different things from games + not all rules do the same thing – pretending otherwise wastes time and gets people upset.

Anyway, I’m super glad to see more folks creating a better space.


Betrayal games and how to ruin friendships

August 8, 2020

I was initially going to write this up as a post as normal, but in working my thoughts out on Twitter, I pretty much said everything I wanted to say, so I’m just going to copy and paste the text here. Sorry that it’s going to be short and disjointed sentences due to that format.

There’s a dividing line between the games that involve bluffing and betrayal that are generally bad for friendships and ones that aren’t.

It depends on 3 things:

1) Opposition vs. false alliance

Poker everyone knows they’re against each other. So there’s no feeling of betrayal because there was no illusion of being allied to begin with.

2) Personal appeals as the means of bluffing

In Poker, the cards and chips serve as tools you can bluff with or deduce information from. Games like Mafia or Werewolf, the primary means of bluffing is how well you can manipulate your friends.

There’s a certain psychological trick in these games that amplify that feeling of betrayal.

As humans, we are generally understanding that lies scale to a situation and we accept how/why someone would lie depending on context.

“How are you doing?” / “I’m fine.” is a way to simply acknowledge each other & avoid deep/uncomfortable conversations for the situation. An appropriate scaled lie. If you’ve got serious lies that it turns out involve trauma in your life, people are more understanding. Same thing.

So let’s say we’re playing a game of Werewolf or Mafia and there’s no money on the table. There is effectively “no stakes” that are meaningful here. In order to lie successfully, “You gotta trust me” “Please don’t do this, we’re friends” puts the friendship as stakes in play.

So, our brain goes, “You wouldn’t put this high of stakes on the table for an empty game” and that’s how the feeling of betrayal creeps in on one side.

The other side is the person who IS telling the truth and not believed. “If you won’t believe me when there’s no stakes at hand, what will you do if it’s something important that affects my life? I thought we were friends.” is the feeling.

Then there’s a third strategy – sowing distrust away from oneself. That depends on playing up negative emotions between other people in the group. So… gossip to tear people down.

3) Time

Finally, here’s the one that I think amplifies the previous in a really bad way; time. A 20 minute game of lying to each other is a short, quick thing. A 2, 3, 8 hour game is not. That’s the timescale we start talking about interrogation & brainwashing sessions lasting.

Games where there’s an agreed time limit or mechanical limit (including “when you run out of money” in Poker), don’t have this as much, while open-ended games do. People are tired, irritable, but again, “you wouldn’t put this much in for a low stakes game, right?”

People break down over time, and thinking also chews up emotional resistance. It’s why interrogations and brainwashing work this way. But you’re doing it for a game. So the brain assumes this must be, for the only thing that matters; friendship & status of self.

You trigger physical survival mode responses, then play emotional manipulation for long periods of time. So yeah, if a friend betrays me in a 20 minute game, haha, that’s good fun. If a friend betrays me in a 7 hour game and I’m exhausted, that’s just inflicting bad brain stuff.

So basically…

So why are these games so popular? Well, strong emotional stimulus STICKS with people. I think, for some people, there’s a “gotta win” drive that might be normal competitiveness, or, the desire to win from losing previously, as a “redemption” model in their head.

That said, I’m all for betrayal games where there’s mechanical tools besides “know how to plead your friends into believing you” and “know how to read when your friends are turning on you” that don’t last more than 2-3 hours at most.

Just be aware when people say a game “ends friendships” it might not just be people being sore losers and immature, you might be playing a game that’s well engineered to create negative spaces in friendships and add a dose of torturous stress on top of it.

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