Archive for October, 2009


Support Verb Noire

October 28, 2009

I don’t do a lot of donation pleading – I figure if you’re reading what I’m writing, you’re probably the kind of person who’s doing what you can, as you can, with the organizations and communities you’re involved with.

I would like to ask you to consider dropping $5 or $10 to via Paypal as Verb Noire is in danger of losing the entire print run of it’s first book.

The reason I’m supporting this, like I support the APIA Spoken Word Summit, is that this is a venue giving people space to find their own voices.

If you’ve ever been through some shit, you know sometimes, your own voice is all you got to keep you going through the night. It’s really easy to accept what everyone else is saying, because they have a place for you, a role for you, and that place is failure, and that place is hell. It takes a lot of strength, suffering, and luck to find your way out.

You don’t know how much it means when you see other people doing it.

Or how much it means when other people show you that you can do it for yourself.

So, if anything I’ve ever written, has inspired you, please consider helping out.



Dragon Age: Half step forward

October 23, 2009

I was talking to my buddy Les last week about Fable 2, which he’s been playing a lot of. I tried Fable 1, but didn’t like the fact that for a game all about customization and choices: a) the moral spectrum was simplistic and b) you could only play “teh white guy”. (and interestingly enough, the same people who talk about fidelity in a setting seem to never bring up what a disappointment with the representations of the heroes in Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, or God of War…) And it sounds like Dragon Age lets you have brown-ish characters but still not black…

At least the comic has badass plant controlling witch women, which are always a favorite trope of mine.


Communities we want to have

October 23, 2009

Along the lines of Willow’s “Conversations I want to have”…

For some time now, I’ve been thinking the biggest issue for roleplaying comes down to functional play culture and social contract. I see three steps to building that.

Base Expectation: Civilized Behavior

Yeah, I’m re-appropriating “civilized”. A culture, or subculture that casually rolls with hate isn’t civilized. The fact that this even needs to be listed is both sad and a damning point of itself. (ETA: This interview with Ashok Banker seems timely and parallels the situation exactly.)

On the real tip – creating this is actually the hardest and requires the most control of space and filtering processes to keep people from disrupting the space.

Low Pressure Environment and Experimentation

Encourage people to play a lot of different games with a lot of different people. This really lets people see the variety of options, and find something they like. It also reduces the fragility of the overall network and gives everyone more options for putting together groups or joining pre-existing ones. Not to mention avoiding a lot of the social dysfunction of high pressure/high commitment groups.

Encourage New Groups

Encourage folks to go and build their own networks. This makes sense both whether they’re in line with the above or not. If they’re with it, it expands the hobby and sets up an alternate set of play networks. If they’re against it, they’re totally cool to go do things the way they want to- plus it also draws away people who weren’t really interested in the same social structure anyway.


Blood & Ink: Highlights pt. 1

October 20, 2009

Highlights from the Blood & Ink game I’ve been running. I realize that part of what makes roleplaying hard to share is that write ups after the fact, a) only make context rules-wise if you’re familiar with the rules, or b) require that you do heavy editing just to format the fiction of play to share with others.

“Everyone has ghosts”

The child held his head at an odd angle. “I can’t see anyone.” Hape couldn’t remember where he had been, and though he heard the sound of the priestess and his friend, Toroa, his sight was dim, somehow.

Years ago, Hape and Toroa played together in the woods, and Hape fell down a ravine, slamming his head against a rock, never to rise again. Toroa had come at dusk to Lady Hina, begging the priestess to help him put his friend to rest, for the secret he had carried, of his cowardice, all these years.

Toroa and Lady Hina sat in the protective circle, while the ghost-child declared it’s Price, it’s demand for rest. “I can’t find my head. A stone head must be made. Toroa must bear it for a year and a day. So I can rest.”

A heavy burden, but much lighter than the soul of a child, crying in the woods.

“What is offered, what is asked…”

“You call me too early. I gave spring rains, and no floods this summer. Ngaio, you know this is too much!” The river god’s form shifted and twisted, the lanky old man-thing, agitated like water under hard wind.

The Elder Priestess did not falter. “Evil sits at our borders. Let no evil spirit cross.”

“You ask much every time we speak. Well, then, give me a soul that is due to me. Give me a body who will bear my mark to the last of their days. And, no evil spirits shall cross the water. …nor will anything else.”

A younger disciple almost started to say something before one of the elders pulled him back, head shaking. The deal was to be done, the Price paid, irregardless.

Lady Moana stepped forward. The River God placed his hand on her head, and the color ran from her hair down, down, like water pouring off her body. And all that was left was rapid-foam-white locks.

“…what is given, and what is taken”

Nunuku and Moana carefully picked their way amongst the brush and small houses that made up the waterfront of the river. Many night time encounters had given them that sort of comfort of knowing each other’s footsteps and coordinating secret movements- this nearly abandoned area was simple enough to scout along- just across the river the Hapuku campfires burned. The troops were ready. Eager.

A strange man had some soldiers carry a box to the river front. He had it opened and a person-thing shambled forth, listening to commands as the man pointed across the river. It slid and stepped into the water.

Far away, the river rumbled an ominous laugh.

Angry snatching fists poured down the flooding deluge, grabbing any who stood within stone’s throw of the water. Horses, mules, men.

Even from behind the brush, Moana and Nunuku ran for their lives. Nunuku screamed as the water clutched his legs, and Moana’s grip held his arm for but a second before he was snatched down river as the river laughed again.

The water cascaded forth, worse than any of the summer floods any could remember. This was magic, this was anger, this was the god reminding everyone he was free and they, who came to sip at his edges every day, they were at his mercy.


A Theory on RPG Theory

October 18, 2009

One group of people want to understand how roleplaying works. They read a lot of different theories and play a lot of different games.

Another group likes to use theory to take sides- to convince others to join their side or demand others convince them to take a particular side or another.

Though the words sound similar, these groups are doing mutually exclusive activities.

The first group just needs the information and can decide for themselves what and how theory is useful or not for them. The second group requires that any topic be constantly spoken about in order for it to hold water- if no one is talking about it then it’s not important.


Complicated Thoughts

October 14, 2009

Prepare for rambling musings.

Tabletop rpgs are like chess- the fun is in participation, and while nearly anyone can do it, the appeal for hobby play is actually much more narrow. More importantly, exposure is the primary means of building a stable network for players, which makes public play an ideal means of expanding the network.

On the other hand, public play also opens up your game for potential disruption (and loses the feeling of intimate space). Though, I think the bigger disruption is not non-gamers, as much as other gamers, if only because historically the culture has been about tying play preferences to self esteem and worth- and dismissing others through it.

(Also, since intimate and safe space is generally more conducive to roleplaying, does this mean it naturally must work against itself being shared? …hmm.)

Not only that, because play preference is a big deal to enjoyment, the push for one-way-ism and discouraging experimentation also tends to vastly diminish the potential pool of new players as well- if they try out your “one way” and don’t like it, and you’re telling them it’s the BEST the hobby has to offer? It makes more sense to do like local boardgame nights, where people can try out many things and get a taste of different options.

Slightly related thought- rpg theory was born out of a desire for common language of play preference. Focused design is a rather late newcomer to this, which is completely backwards to every other type of game type.

Unrelated: Creative activity can be frustrating, especially when it’s unstructured and lacking tools for negotiation. What happens when frustration > friendship & fun? I suspect you either give up the activity or burn them both.

Kinda tied to both- wanting more gamers, and yet the unwillingness to meet people half-way in terms of building a social contract for a safe and respectful space for everyone.


Blood & Ink: Smooth Start!

October 11, 2009

Ran the first session of Blood & Ink, and it went really well. Which is good, because I’ve actually been bringing some thoughts I’ve had into game techniques for this, and they’re working well.

First off, a compelling situation, and pregen characters. I can sell the game based on a situation (after all, people want to play a game about a throne war, they don’t know why they should care about a game with multi-tiered reward systems to encourage narrative climaxes…).

The pregen characters let players skip on the whole character generation process and get right to play, it lets me make sure the characters fit well together in interesting and fun ways, and give the players clear goals to pursue.

Second, “Enticements not Homework” – 2 page quicksheets on the rules and culture are just enough that people can read it easily, and/or print it out to have on hand during play. Not 200 page setting books or a full rules read through. Not only is it often more work than what people want to put in, it also causes people to get lost and focus on the wrong things, whether setting or rules.

Third, demonstrating process. I would explain exactly the process of how an NPC would do an action (“He’s rolling his Soothing Platitudes, with a bonus die from Falsehood”) so the players could see how the mechanics work. Obviously, I won’t do this every time, or for everything, but it’s a good way to -start- the game and introduce concepts to everyone.

Fourth, keeping paper copies – mostly I did this because I was playing via Skype and didn’t want to have my computer screen cluttered with documents to navigate in the middle of play, but having copies of all the PCs made it easy for me to give concrete suggestions to players during the game (“Hey, you have X skill, why don’t you use that?”).

Fifth, the GM one-sheet. A list of the NPCs, maybe a couple of the stats I expect to see. A list of questions – “Will X side with Y or Z?”, “When will so and so find out about this?”, “How can X convince Y to do Z?” Etc. By keeping them questions, it makes it very adaptable to improvise with.