Archive for August, 2009

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Ethical considerations

August 27, 2009

The magic of a roleplaying game is that space for an engaging, gripping ethical decision DOES exist right in the fundamental framework of the game.

I think Luke hits the nail on the head here. He lists other possible motivators in rpgs, but basically the difference he’s pointing to is that this space exists.

I think it scales up to the designers and publishers as well- what kinds of space does your game create? What kinds of media are you publishing?

The nonthinkers assume that this line of questions is intended to lead to standard answers for everyone and eventually ZOMGCENSORSHIP, but what it really is, is poking at all the ways in which designers and publishers don’t ask these questions or ask them in such a narrow range, even going as far as self-enforcing those boundaries, and highlighting the problematic element of it.

We all consume problematic fiction, the question is at what level you can filter as a consumer? As a gamer making and taking your fiction, how much filtering do you need to do with your friends? With the fictional situations the setting and the mechanics and the group create?

Often in these situations the kyriarchy expectations are in place- and “the price of participation is silence” on those very issues, which destroys a great deal of that space- when you’re self censoring to protect other folks’ comfort in privilege, there’s so much lost in terms of exploration in ethics. For example, look at the backlash at a game setting where only women can be calvary… (friends: don’t click unless your BP is low and you have high patience for male defensiveness today)

Though I don’t think every instance of play or design needs to go to that level, just as much as there is always media/fiction created without much thought- it’s the dogged determination at all levels to avoid it that’s troubling and basically chaining down a great deal of the culture in the hobby.

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Casting Characters as a whole pt. 2

August 27, 2009

Coincidentally, as I’ve been thinking about it, other folks have been also reconsidering the issues of ensemble cast games.

I don’t know if it’s absolutely true, but I’m coming up with some informal rules of what things characters need to form interesting ensembles.

Ensemble cast characters need aspects that:

1. Lead to conflict
2. Are used to face conflict
3. Cause friction with the rest of the cast
4. Creates healthy/supportive interactions with the rest of the cast

You might notice that this basically boils down to the duality of “things that lead to trouble/things that get you out of trouble” split between dealing with the rest of the crew vs. dealing with the world at large, but that seems to be the common ground for good ensemble casts in fiction.

You’ll also notice characters that miss one of those four tend to fall into various states of non-protagonism.

Supporting/secondary characters tend to have no particular aspect leading to conflict, victim/hostage characters tend to lack aspects for dealing with conflicts, sidekicks, supporters, and faceless assistants tend to lack any aspects creating tension with other protagonists, and villains lack any aspects for healthy, supportive, sympathetic interaction with protagonists.

What’s interesting is that most rpgs have traditionally focused mostly or solely on how characters face conflict, and little on the rest.

For my mini-rpg, I’ve actually inverted that- the ways in which characters face conflict are mostly given the weakest mechanical effects, and the ways in which characters either generate conflict or build support/trust/comraderie is loaded favorably. Right now the biggest challenge is finding the clearest way of conveying those concepts to get the character concept across well.

More to come.

ETA: OH! This is probably what I was reaching for with the Extended Character Concept generator – there’s probably some way to refine both and mash them together like Voltron…

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Casting characters as a whole

August 20, 2009

For a couple of months I’ve also had a mini-rpg, along the lines of Lady Blackbird in mind. I managed to put together a lot of ideas this week, and ended up working on characters, which made me really re-think a bit about how we design characters in rpgs.

Even when you have one person designing the characters, I started to realize that there’s a lot of subtle art to making a full cast- not so much balancing stats as much as balancing incentives, motivations, strengths and weaknesses of personality- characters who will have interesting times challenging and supporting each other, without making any direction a foregone possibility.

How much -more- difficult this actually is when we’re talking about multiple people, each making their own characters, possibly without an idea of the situation, possibly for the first time together, possibly without unity of vision/concept?

I expect this is why more games are successful when the system causes the characters to form/grow as a part of play rather than trying to set this all up before play. (That’s also discounting the fact that for many games, character generation plays a significant part of play, often requiring long term choices and system mastery…)

More to think on this.

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Racing the Dark

August 19, 2009

I spent the last couple of days down sick, but it gave me time to read a loaned copy of Alaya Dawn Johnson‘s Racing the Dark. I can usually tell how much I’m enjoying a book based on how fast I power through it- in this case, if it were not for the needs of sickness and sleep, I would have done it in one day instead of two.

Racing the Dark is a great fantasy set in a world very loosely based on Hawaii, with an interesting premise- there are elemental spirits, and they can be bound, and, they demand sacrifice. You have great spirits of Fire, Water, Wind and Death, and binding the great spirits has allowed the people to live safely and in harmony.

But the spirits do not want to be bound and long for freedom… and recent natural disasters point to the bindings coming undone…

We follow the tale of Lana, a girl marked by the spirits from an early age, who ends up apprenticing under a witch with her own plans, and from there? Nothing but terror and adventure.

Johnson writes very human, very down to earth characters, even with magic, spirits, death and all kinds of otherworldly stuff flying about. The magic has laws of poetic justice more than simply spells, and it never feels safe, almost always being something that will probably mark you for life. The supporting characters are brought back time and time again, weaving in the larger tale, you don’t have a ton of throwaway characters.

I consider this book to be a spiritual descendant of the Wizard of Earthsea stories- in that it’s a fantasy setting about the prices of magic with very human characters, and I’d recommend it if you enjoyed those books as well. Perfect material for either a Sorcerer or Burning Wheel game in a very different setting.

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Narcissa

August 16, 2009

A friend loaned me Lance Tooks Narcissa, which I’ve been meaning to check out for about a year now. I was already intrigued by the art, and didn’t really know jack about the story. (It actually turned out to be a perfect story to follow the APIA Spoken Word Summit…)

Narcissa is a great story following the title character’s self exploration over the course of 3 days, life- the creative process, disability, family, love, gender, race, faith, life and death. Tooks finds a way to get this all in without being preachy or slamming it, but it works within the internal narrative, and finds a really good pacing that surprised me.

Highly recommended!

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Catherynne Valente is kinda awesome

August 14, 2009

Great books + sane rants:

If you really, in your heart of hearts, think there is a homosexual agenda, a PC army, a feminist conspiracy–why do you feel so comfortable and gleeful spewing bile about them in public? I assure you, the easiest way to determine who has power in a culture and who does not is to look at who feels safe to speak freely, and who does not. The homosexual/feminist/PC agenda? I’ll give it to you in one sentence:

We would like to be treated as humans.

That’s it. That’s all. And that does not actually impinge on your right to be treated as same.

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“But it’s my character!”

August 13, 2009

Wow. I didn’t expect to run across a D&D story in a serious post about the widespread epidemic of rape in our society. Again, escapism for some:

Jewelbeard is extremely liberal. He wants to help people regain their civil rights. He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay, he professes a unremarkable and unverified affinity to anti-racism. But he cannot stop calling his cats filthy sluts, or acting like a fucking asshole in D&D.
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There is nothing wrong with having a place and a time to relieve built-up tension. But by shifting the argument thataways, Jewelbeard neatly sidestepped the question of why there is a tension build-up in the first place. He is basically admitting that not getting to call women bitches and whores and treat them like he hates them on a daily basis creates an intolerable tension within him, and it must be let out somehow. But as long as he votes for Obama and only treats cats and imaginary women like shit, he doesn’t have to investigate the part of him that finds treating women as equals difficult.

So I guess there’s the fundamental difference- do you play a shared imagination game to be free of the shit you deal with regularly OR do you play to be free of the guilt of NOT getting to shit on people the way you long to?

I suppose that’s why there’s such resistance to looking at the social structures in and around roleplaying…