Archive for September, 2007


Why it’s cool, why it’s impossible to get into

September 15, 2007

Fandom is pretty much the same everywhere.  There’s something that geeks you and you become more and more aware of it’s context, it’s subcultural ideas, the in jokes, the references, the themes.

Right now I’m reading the Incredible Hulk, and even though I’ve been a pretty casual reader, it’s referencing it’s own history in such a way that I’m digging it deeply.  It’s building off of it’s own context, and reinterpreting it.

When we play rpgs to make stories, we’re making stories with context for us, meaning for us (and it’s easy, after all, we have a better notion of what’s meaningful for us than a stranger would).  We become fans of our own creations.

And that’s good.

On the other hand, after a point, you have so much built up there’s no easy jumping in point for the newcomer.   Unlike mass media, the new person can’t just sit down with a stack of books, DVDs, comics, and a few glances through Wikipedia and catch up.  All they get to work with is a fragmented history told through multiple voices, a few notes and maybe if you’re diligent some actual play reports or a campaign website.

Does this mean the creative part of the hobby is doomed to replicate the house of cards scenario I described before?

Not necessarily.

The meaningful context that once took 4 months to build by happenstance now can happen in 4 hours.  You don’t need to stick with the same campaign afraid to start over as if you’ve discovered fire and have to protect it with no means of creating it again.

While we might still end up building these intensely personal experiences and narratives as part of play, it’s easier to do now- new folks can get to the good part in 20 minutes, not 20 sessions.

It’s mostly just as hard to share outside of the experience (though podcasting helps), but it’s a lot easier to bring people into the experience of creating for themselves.

And I’m a fan of that.


The Emperor’s Heart, rules update

September 11, 2007

So, I fiddled some numbers, and we’ll see how this affects the game. The changes can be broken down like this:

Award Tokens

How many go in the container? 3 per player for a Standard game. 4 per player for an Extended game. And 5 per player for an Epic game. Basically, you can opt for a longer game, by using more tokens from the start.

Be sure to tell me in your playtest reports how many you’re using and how long of a game that actually turns out to being. I’m fearful that this will completely jack up the endgame resource economy, but maybe not… we’ll see.

Drama Cards & Award Tokens…

Award tokens give you 1 extra die. Period. Doesn’t matter if your Drama Cards apply or not.

(To be honest, this is how things worked originally, though I felt obligated to give some kind of SA/Keys kind of bump for Drama Cards. It wacked the economy and might not be necessary. Let me know)

Villains, Supporting Cast, Immortals

Villains and Supporting Cast get 3 Base dice in conflicts. Immortals get 4 Base Dice. If you have a group of mixed allies on a side, use the highest Base Dice (making friends with the enemies, or at least tricking them into fighting each other, pays off).

The completists amongst you might want to see the updated rules- again, that’s all I really changed for the moment. Clarified rules, with examples is in the works for later.

The Emperor’s Heart playtest rules (9.10.07)


Oh, wow

September 9, 2007

As I’ve been reading the playtest reports and thinking about my own games of The Emperor’s Heart, something occurred to me about Award Tokens as pacing.

They measure how many times someone contributed something awesome that someone else at the table bought into.

So if your group is really good at tossing out things everyone else loves?  Those Award Tokens are going to disappear quickly, and the game will end sooner as you’ve been making completely awesome play for each other.  It will always be short and sweet, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, given how easy it is to simply set up another game right after it.

If your group is bad at hitting each other’s buttons?  Then the game will slow down until someone (or hopefully everyone) figures out how to give each other awesome story.  Then it’ll speed to conclusion.  I’m not sure I could imagine how to help this group out more, between using Drama Cards as Flags, “What if?” as direct input, and Award Tokens to let each other know what they like.

Assuming everyone is awarding honestly, I can at least say some portion of fun has to be had in any given session of play.

This has lots of implications I’m going to be thinking about during playtesting.


The Emperor’s Heart- more playtesting!

September 8, 2007

Last night I finally got to play with 4 people in a game!

It was great to check out the resource economy as well as some fascinating differences in player demographics.  To context- I’ve played with 2 casual roleplayers, 3 traditional roleplayers, and 2 non-gamers who were writers to date.  So far, the traditional players have had the hardest time with setup and rules, the biggest sticking points being Award Token flow, creating scenes, as well as looking to each other’s Flags.  I’m looking forward to more play to really get a better idea on that kind of thing.

That aside, I’m starting to get ideas for how to a) teach the game and b) demo it.

Expect an actual play report some point in the near future, and yes, finally a damn update to the rules!


Siloing vs. Point Builds

September 6, 2007

If anyone wants a clear example of why I generally think point building games lead to unbalance, they can look at David Noonan’s bit on Siloing. Also relevant- the discussion about specialization in Vincent’s Poison’d thread.

Basically, the problem when points are universal is that instead of finding multiple strategies for success, players angle their character builds towards one trick ponies. In terms of actual play, there’s not a lot of “back and forth” or struggle- one trick ponies either dominate at their field or get dominated in another. The only way to get a close struggle is to mirror the build.

Hence why a lot of team based point build games, like many superhero games, involve a lot of fudging or a lot of anti-climatic fights. And if you’re going to fudge it, why bother with points anyway?

A lot of games keep from falling off this edge either by setting low hard caps (“Starting characters can only buy skills up to 3”) or splitting up types of points (Attribute points, skill points, freebie points, etc.)

Of course, this kind of thing only matters where different skills and stats function mechanically different. Stuff like Universalis or The Pool have all things work the same so piling on points in one area doesn’t really make you that much more effective – being “Strong x 3” is actually as powerful as being “Clumsy x 3” etc.