Archive for September, 2009

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Structured Conversations and Turn Taking

September 30, 2009

There’s a neat thread over on the BW forums about reasons to use social mechanics instead of “roleplaying it out” (AKA not using mechanics to resolve social conflicts).

Going to the bigger issues of design and play, functional roleplaying requires all participants to have the chance for meaningful input*.

One thing mechanics do well, is set up a system for “turn-taking”, or generally giving everyone a chance to make that input. A second valuable thing, is that mechanics also put a cap on the conflict.

Just as much as you could sit there for 4 hours describing a never-ending sword fight without mechanics putting a limit to it, you can sit for 4 hours arguing whether to take the Dwarven gold for yourselves or give it to the Dwarven people to rebuild their home. In both cases, odds are pretty good that you’re not going to be able to make that an entertaining 4 hours.

In stories, most social conflicts are resolved rather quickly- the highlighted stances and points are made, and then you move on. One benefit to mechanics is that by putting a cap on it, players have to choose their most relevant points, and not drag it out into a “last word”/endurance argument.

Groups can and do develop social contracts which fit this function, but you do see problems when they try to introduce new players (who then have to learn the implicit rules), or if a players steps out of the bounds, it becomes a big negotiation struggle, as the source of the problem might be completely misidentified. (“My Guy Syndrome” where fidelity to your character = not fun for everyone else involved is a good example.)

Not every game needs social mechanics, though I think in any game where you expect entertaining and meaningful social conflicts to happen, it’s probably a must.

(*Ditto with designing discussion spaces, with the added requirement that you have to develop means to filter the participants from the non-participants, otherwise there is no space for the discussion to happen.)

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Trollbabe

September 30, 2009

I got my copy of the new version this week, and have read through most of it at this point. I’ve been a big fan since it first came out and had some solid play with it under the old version.

What’s Good?

The premise is that you’re a badass “trollbabe” – a huge 6’6″ half-human half-troll woman who wanders the land doing magic and kicking ass Conan-style.

The game has simple but powerful rules that give players input on the direction of the story, both through being able to request scenes, defining conflicts, as well as narrating outcomes when you fail. You get to make re-rolls by bringing in action/adventure genre tropes like “A sudden ally!” or “A found item!”, or by making use of the relationships- allies and enemies you make along the way.

On the GM’s side, TB runs with minimal prep. In fact, there’s not just good advice about how to improvise and adapt in play, but also advice about how much prep is -too much- prep, as well as actual play examples of what -not- to do. I think this might actually be a useful thing to have in more games, as it seems like the general gamer tendency to drift games leads to these places very easily.

There’s some damn, damn good advice on how to drive a situation and bring things to a climax. A lot of techniques I’ve used before, but never thought to articulate to other folks.

What’s less than good?

The tone of the writing is a bit rambling. Which is pretty much the opposite of the usual terseness Ron Edwards is known for. On the other hand, this could be simply me being used to rpgs generally having a breakout of procedure text from sections of advice on the procedures.

The text includes a lot of handholding for gamer baggage- like the section that players control the NPC relationships but the GM plays them, and emphatic reminders to the GM to not dick over the players by making the NPC incompetent or a betrayer… And based on the writing, I have the feeling he’s had to explain this kind of stuff… many times. (“Here’s how to play chess without stabbing each other to death! 1. Put down the knife. 2. Move a piece. No, put down the knife first…”)

My other nitpicks are all visual. I’d love to see more full-page art of the pieces, and I wish the charts were a bit more graphically designed, for simple aesthetics (ditto with the character sheet. I am saddened at the portrait box getting smaller and made less central…)

Overall, I recommend the game and can’t wait to try the new rules. I think, though, it will be interesting to see how some folks parse the text and how much people might skim over and not absorb a lot of the advice.

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Blood & Ink: Fauns

September 29, 2009

Concept

Paradoxical and fickle giants- halfway between Pan’s Labyrinth and Oddsworld Stranger. Physically powerful, yet limited in ways that are likely to create mischief and interesting story twists, without being grimdark about it.

Description

Some trees fall… and never hit the ground.  They fall forward, take their first steps, flip and somersault, dance and sing, shake off the bark and twist and twirl with the hot blood and fur that always possessed their hearts.  They are fauns; free and joyous, forever young.

These massive  corporeal creatures are known for their primal physicality, unquenchable enthusiasm, and vaguely child-like views of the world.  The Faun love any kind of physical challenge- and nearly cannot resist any challenges set their way.  They also tend to be mesmerized with the songs of children.
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Blood & Ink: Harpies

September 27, 2009

Concept:
Warrior-philosophers, halfway between classic Harpies and Tengu. Mystically inclined- daughters of the ashes of the Phoenix, both aligned to air and fire.

Description:

With the death and rebirth of the Phoenix, burning hot embers the size of giant melons are left behind. Collected, cared for, and carefully sung over, they hatch to produce the proud race of the Hakorrah, in common parlance known as the Harpies, whom Summoners have called upon for the knowledge of the skies, stars, and faraway lands.

They hear the first cries of the Phoenix as ember-eggs, and it is the Words of Creation they part-remember, and it is this, that makes up their “Terrifying Screech” ability- a fragmented spark of divine language that stuns their prey, and is what they consider to be a piece of the Great Poem of Creation.

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Go listen!

September 20, 2009

Finally got a chance to listen to Theory From the Closet’s Podcast on Homesexuality & RPGs, which was fun. It’s a slow start but once Alexander starts in full snark rant, it’s quite entertaining.

I like the fact that he points out the connection of issues of representation, norm vs. othering, tying in both to gender & race as well (and stuff like whitewashing book covers to movies) as well as the ways in which “edgy” is kind of a red flag for how backwards people are at. (I remember a conversation a couple years back where someone asked what I was expecting, and I said, “If gaming could be ONLY as messed up as Hollywood, that’s be a step forward…”)

A damn good show worth listening to.

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A design thought

September 17, 2009

What a game is about vs. what it does vs. what the game has in the fiction are three very different things to explain to a group.

What’s in the fiction is the easiest to push- “A game about samurai”, and yet could really be anything otherwise. What it does is more understood by folks who get how systems push people, and what it’s about is usually the least understood because it’s the creative void in a game.

Of course, this is the Color vs. Technical vs. Creative Agenda concept expressed differently…

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The continuing conversation

September 16, 2009

Pattern Recognition: A dialogue on racism in fan communities covers a lot of media/race issues in a really powerful way. It’s really cool to see the kind of dialogue you can get across the board- POC/white allies, LGBTQ & straight allies, across gender, etc. when there’s a baseline requirement for discussion. (ETA: and a great interview w/Verb Noire as well…)

The reason I so often point to sci-fi/fantasy/etc. as media markers is that they’re often not -as tied- to social expectations, and to a degree, form a general space for people to project what they can imagine into. It says a lot going both ways whether you can imagine us in your space or you can’t imagine us at all outside of myths and falsehoods.