Archive for August, 2007

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3 tiered Conflict Webs

August 31, 2007

So, a long time ago, I began with the idea of a Conflict Web.

Make up any two characters, write down their names, draw a line between them, and why they’re at odds. Next, draw a line out from either one of them, and add another conflict. Feel free to keep adding lines and expanding until you have a clusterfuck of problems. Bingo, you’ve got a situation you can play with without having to write out all the possible outcomes- just play the characters according to their motivations and tie in the PCs as part of it, and play flows naturally.

I used that basic concept to build the Well of Souls scenario for HeroQuest, though I wasn’t very clear about another idea that goes hand in hand with it. You probably aren’t going to use all of those conflicts, most likely, the players are going to focus in on just a handful as fun. That’s ok, having that variety is what gives them choices.

Now, here’s a step further. Make a conflict web for 3-8 characters, all political leaders in a city, nation, or whatever scale fits your game. Now make a separate conflict web, for the folks just a tier lower than them in the social scale (again, 3-8)- maybe they’re lieutenants, followers, etc. Finally, make a conflict web for the folks just below that.

Now you have a crunchy situation that is good for a full campaign. Give the players a general outline of what the situation is, and ask them what tier they’d like to play at.

Or, maybe they can play with three characters, one at each tier.

No matter what, you have a web of conflict and intrigue waiting to happen.

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No optimal choices

August 27, 2007

So I’ve been playing lots of Memoir 44, and really enjoying the simple elegance of the design.

One of the biggest pitfalls for gamist design is when folks develop optimal solutions for a game’s strategy.  Instead of being forced to rethink how to deal with each situation, the game becomes simply a puzzle- how long will it take for you to find the 1-3 optimal ways to play and then you can just go on autopilot.

This is a big problem for games that focus heavily on character building skills above in play tactical choices.  Find the optimal builds, then let odds work for you and sleep your way through.

Likewise, for position based strategic  games, you can often work out ideal positions or manuevers to employ (see opening moves in Chess, for example).

The interesting thing that Memoir does is that it randomizes the set of choices you have- you might know what would be an optimal move, but lack the cards to power it.  So you often end up choosing between a lot of not so great choices.

So far, I haven’t seen a lot of rpgs really utilize this, though some of the card based ones do, and the whole tree of design that grew out of Otherkind as well.  On the other hand, no one’s really used them for gamism, so it’s a field waiting to be explored.

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Out of the loop

August 25, 2007

The last 2 months have been me mostly handling life critical things, so I’ve been offline, and busy.  Things finally look like they’re about to settle down, which will give me more time for gaming, etc.  In the meanwhile, I’ve been playing lots of Memoir ’44 and Persona 3 in the bits of time I do get.

D&D 4 was no surprise to me- a couple of serious retailers and folks in the industry pointed out that the current product line for D&D was conspicuously absent, which usually indicates a new edition on the way.

I am happy to hear about stuff like quicker prep, encounter-t0-encounter resources, and a lot of people looking hard at the mechanics.  Though, I wonder if they’re finally going to make grappling rules that don’t cause everyone to open books?  I know it was kind of a two way thing for 3rd edition- you want to simplify things but you still want people to NEED to reference books…

On that note, I’m curious what design choices they’ve made to better push product… which  is pretty much how Gaming Workshop does their thing.

Otherwise, I’ve been tooling up a campaign setting for either Burning Wheel or Reign, thinking about using it as an example of conflict webs evolving into modular situations, helping a friend worldbuild for a novel, and living life.

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What should we play?

August 10, 2007

It came to me today that gaming is much like negotiating what to eat as a group…  In the short term, it’s an easy negotiation because everyone is willing to give a bit.  (“I’m not really feeling Italian today, but maybe I’ll just have a salad this time”)  But let’s say you were agreeing on what to eat as a group for the next 6 months?  You’d be a LOT more picky just because it’s a deeper commitment and odds are, you really don’t want to get sick of it halfway through.

Add in the fact that gamer culture has pretty poor negotiation skills when it comes to exiting games or ending them (“We just got too busy”, “Everyone just drifted off” etc. = passive aggressive escape.).

This is another reason I advocate short run gaming.  If you like it, you can do another short run, and keep doing it, over and over.

Of course, for this to work,  you need to have a defined idea of how long a game will run- 3 weeks?  A month?  The uncapped game just runs on and on and without a convenient exit point, people have less ways of working with or through it.

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Play, then theory

August 6, 2007

There is a crashcourse of games I recommend to just about anyone really interested in the roleplaying hobby.  It’s Inspectres, 1001 Nights, Primetime Adventures, Riddle of Steel (or The Shadow of Yesterday), and Dogs in the Vineyard.  In that order.  (there’s more, but those games I find are both easy to get into and easy to digest)

Each of these games pushes and breaks traditional assumptions and boundaries and shows you a different way to play as well as some great design decisions.  If you want to know a broad range of ways to play, and ways to design, those games will show it to you, usually in the span of a single game.

A variety of play, this becomes paramount to both play theory and design theory.  If you’ve only played games that fall into a narrow range of play, it’s rather like trying to talk about music theory having only heard/played one kind of instrument- you’re not  going to do so well, even if you’ve spent 20 years mastering the clarinet.

I thought I’d just repeat this idea, especially while helping out at the First Thoughts forum at the Forge and watching yet another round of folks agonize over whether they should use 4 dice or 5 dice in their game, or whether their elves’ ears should be 2.5 inches or 2.75 inches long, all the while imagining they’re breaking boundaries.  I don’t think these guys aren’t intelligent, they just need to play some more games is all.

Because I really look forward to seeing anyone break boundaries in rpg design & theory.

That’s when the real fun starts.

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Dangerous Characters

August 2, 2007

Some time back, Vincent Baker said that the thing about Narrativist play was that your characters are changable- they’re not set in stone.  They’re dangerous because they might turn out to be characters you don’t like (as a person, not, say, as an entertaining fiction).

Funny enough, I was watching some cartoons and it clicked a little deeper with me.  Safe stories have characters who never change- heroes stay heroes (even if they make mistakes) and villains stay villains (except the one guy who’s really good at heart).  But basically, you don’t see a character take a drastic change like you do in serious stories.

In serious stories, the character you love might make terrible decisions and never recover, or transform into a monster over time.  In other words, like real people, serious stories you can’t be 100% sure of a character.  I guess in many ways, that’s well reflected in the ambiguity and shifting nature of lots of fairytales as well.

I like both safe and dangerous stories, though I think it’s probably a crucial thing to consider when you’re collaboratively making a story.

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Building your own house of cards, pt. 3

August 1, 2007

Options for Better Gaming

So, there’s a list of common things that produce common problems.  How about… not doing them?

It’s hard, because pretty much a lot of those ideas are imbedded as fundamental ideas of roleplaying in many games, and for many people.  If you take one or more away, suddenly, “It’s not roleplaying”.  (see various games which break one or more assumption and the endless arguments if it’s “really a roleplaying game?” or “Are you really playing a character?” etc.)

So what are we talking about?

1. Short Commitment Games

2-4 hours, like a deep boardgame, not 6+ hours like taking on a part time job.  One shots, or 3-6 session games, where players can actually get payoff for seeing a story to the end, rather games with no end in sight.   (“OMG! How can you get anything done?” keep reading, I’ll tell you)

2.  Try playing with a lot of different people

When you have these short commitments, it’s easy to get drop in players, pick up games, play in other groups, etc.  This also changes the basic dynamic- you’re not looking for a perfect group that will stick with you forever, you’re looking for folks who can play now, and are ok people.  In the short run, this doesn’t seem much better than what you had before, but in the long run you build up a network of folks and can find some group of people from the bunch who are into what you’re into, and if you’re into multiple things, you can also get that going on.

In other words, it’s like CCG or boardgamers- you now have a network of gamers, not just a few tiny huddled circles.

3.  Play what you want to play

You don’t have to be caught in THE ONE GAME that you HAVE to play because “everyone else wants to play it”.  Because not everyone else wants to play it- in the network you’ve developed, someone wants to play something different, or at least is willing to try it out.  You might make concessions or compromises here and there, but you also have others doing the same- you’re not forced to spend all your time wishing you could try out new stuff.  You also don’t HAVE to keep playing with anyone you think is a jerk.  Imagine that!

4. Say what you want, meta is ok!

“It would be awesome if the Dark Lord’s army attacked, right now!”  “Maybe the King is actually my half brother, and neither of us know it” etc.   How can you get stuff done in 4 hours?  Because you’re not fumbling around trying to get it to happen through verbal charades.  It also helps that your game groups are now made of folks who want to play -this game-, in a similar style, instead of playing tug of war about what the game is going to be about.

5.  Criticism is ok!

Well, now that you’re playing with a bunch of different folks, if someone doesn’t like the game you’re into, or your style of play, it’s not the end of your gaming.  You can criticize and understand where things work for you, where they don’t.  This also lets you make better decisions in the future as to what you’ll play, how you’ll play, and who you’ll play with.  No need for hard feelings or bitter broken relationships- consider it the same way if someone you know doesn’t like the same kind of food as you- it’s not a big deal.

Basically, the folks I’ve seen work this system not only avoid a lot of problems to play (“How do we keep a group together?” “No one has time to play!” “20 minutes of fun in 4 hours”), but also a lot of the problems that go outside of play, such as the tension between friends or weird “let’s just not say anything and not invite them back” passive aggressive bs.

Take bits that work for you, give them a shot.  Try playing with different folks, see the difference.  People say, “No play is better than bad play” but I have to ask why we should choose between either, when we can JUST play, and play well.