Archive for November, 2009


Creative Agenda and design cycles

November 28, 2009

This is sort of a different, more generalized way of thinking about CA’s and overlaps a lot with Vincent Bakers’s Fruitful Void and John Harper’s Conflict/Scene chart.

This setup looks at what each Agenda highlights as a focus of play, not that elements aren’t present (the core elements Color, Setting, Situation, Character, System, are always present for all roleplaying).

It also looks at what is -always- highlighted, not just sometimes depending on the local group preference, for example, some Sim games have really high focus on Situation, some have next to nothing, so, we can say as an Agenda, it’s optional as to whether it gets focused on, but not key – these look at things which are key to play.

Think of it that each layer feeds into the one below it, and the one at the bottom cycles back up to the top.

When you’re designing a game, the question to ask is, “What rules do I need in place to get people through those layers and cycle it back up to the top again?”

And yeah, there might be a couple of things where you -don’t- need rules, because the intuitiveness of everything else you just set up… but that’s part of answering that question in the first place.

You’ll also notice for incoherent games, this is a way to recognize which way you need to swing things if you want the game to work one way or another.


Conflicts/Character Decisions
(Shapes & Reveals the characters)
Outcomes and Consequences (cycles back to Situation)


Events/Character Actions
(Reinforces Setting & Color, cycles back up Setting)


Long strategy and resource management
Tactics, short term resources, fictional positioning
(Sets up player choices through tactics and strategy cycles to Long Term)


Quicksheets against Murk

November 25, 2009

Over a year ago, Ron coined the term “Murk” to describe the tendency in rpgs to leave the larger structure issues of play completely absent. (“Who can input into the fiction? How? How do you make a scene? Where does conflict come from?, etc.”)

Some stuff in recent play and questions that have come up made me realize that this is an issue, especially if you’re teaching a game… and, probably where we see a lot of CA clashes, because it’s just not clear.

I made setting quicksheets, system quicksheets, but I didn’t make a structure quicksheet. Of course, part of it is that I’ve internalized a lot of features of play as “standard” even though there’s no such thing as “standard” roleplaying across games.

I’m going to need to think up some standard questions, and see about doing a structure one-sheet. Maybe it’s something we need for a LOT of games…


Figments of the imagination

November 22, 2009

This is everything wrong right here:

Ways to Punish a Slave

When I ran Steal Away Jordan, I found myself wanting more ways to punish slaves. After the third time of describing a horse-whipping, it loses its impact.

Can you think of some good ones? Not too weird, please: I want things I can use in a game.

First, context: Steal Away Jordon is the roleplaying game based on folk tales and history of American slavery – it’s explicitly about trying to live under the genocidal institution of slavery – and the characters are to be played as people- 3 dimensional characters in this situation.

Unpacking above: First, why would you ask this question on a gaming forum, instead of using Mr. Google? Reading a book? Anything? There’s more than enough historical records of the atrocities people have visited upon each other.

But see, that’s actually the first problem in that whole thing- it’s about making it a hypothetical, like, “How do I feed a dragon?”. The point of asking it there is because it’s not actually having to engage the history, the reality of it. I’ve mentioned before both Glockgal & Willow’s observations on our fictionality in the white worldview, and here’s a perfect example of the blinders of their own history!

Second: the reason to do so is for gamer impact!!! Basically, the same kind of logic that goes into stuff like Slumdog Millionaire- where the suffering is pain porn for a white audience. Whippings? Ho-hum! Bo-rrring! We need more cruelty!

Then there’s the responses…. Again, written from the standpoint of practicality while completely normalizing it! “Well, see” I mean, UGHGHGHGHGHG. It’d be like if someone wrote, “How should I narrate child rape in my game? How should I describe the penetration?” “Oh, well, you want to make sure to…”


You know, it’s not that people put this in their games, it’s the way in which it’s so casually identified and the way in which they go about talking about it. I think back to the logic of The 13th Child where the questions of disappearing Indians are all asked in the hypothetical, all fictionalized to avoid dealing with ugly histories, for the sake of white squees.

ETA: It’s come to my attention that people are linking this post as if it were an argument against Steal Away Jordon instead of an argument against white privilege. The game isn’t the problem, anymore than the logic should be “We should silence ourselves because racist white people will say stupid shit” – rest assured, racist assholes will say stupid shit, they don’t need an rpg to do that, they’ve got that skill on lock already.


Diaspora: But Not Without Dog Whistles!

November 21, 2009

Goddamn it. I almost was ready to completely enjoy and support this game.

And, while reading the “platoon combat” section, I come across the entry for “Primitives”, who have the following Aspect:

Crush the White Devil

Really?!? REALLY?!?

I was quite happy to have a game that didn’t mention any form of racial shit. After all, it’s god knows how many thousands or 10,000’s of years of humans across vastly different star systems and ecosystems and genetic drift – humans could look like anything after living under a blue sun and 1.3 G with 2 Celsius temperatures.

OH WAIT PRIMITIVE = NOT WHITE. And clearly the other tech capable cultures are assumed white. And the primitives are clearly violent, irrational, and racist, right?


We’re not being irrational, you assholes keep putting this shit in your games, media, and movies.

This, right after I’m re-reading Battle Angel Alita- where we have the mixed bag culture of post-meteor survivors on earth, a mostly white eugenic society in a tower city, the high tech Indian society at the top of the Space Elevator, post-human cyborgs on Jupiter, post-human genesplicers on Venus, and an Arabic, N.African, and German nation on Mars…

You couldn’t have made a fucking sci-fi game without a nod to racism, could you? It was just too hard to let that many words pass by under your fingers without having to take it there.

White supremacy is primitive and irrational.

The rest of us are waiting for you to come join us in the future.

ETA: Looks like they removed the dogwhistle and owned up to it. Here’s to hoping more companies do the same in the future as well.


Lies for profit

November 21, 2009

Both Glockgal and Willow pointed out that in the white worldview POC aren’t real people, but rather figments of fantasy in people’s heads. Newspaper Rock comments on the fact that when several Quileute youth are invited to take part of the opening night- most of the stars and people are shocked to find out it’s not a made-up tribe:

Comment: Let’s think about this a minute. Millions of people have read the Twilight books and seen the Twilight movie. The media has written tens of thousands of articles on the Twilight phenomenon. Yet after all that scrutiny, half the media don’t realize there’s a real Quileute tribe?!

This is what happens when you turn real Indians into fictional warriors, shamans, and werewolves. You place them in some alternate reality of mystery and magic where they never fought European invaders, signed peace treaties, or established modern governments. By equating Indians with ferocious beast-men, you deny that they have the accouterments of a civilized people: history, culture, language, religion, philosophy, and art.

The problem remains that the fiction about POC is more prevalent than the fact and, when tied with strong aversive racism and privilege, you have a power structure supported by folks who are willfully ignorant and unwilling to deal with people as people, as well as making concentrated efforts to keep us from having access to venues to tell our stories.

The argument “it’s only fiction” really can only apply if you have context to understand the difference between fiction and reality.

And it’s always interesting how one group profits in reality for making fantasy about another.


Diaspora: Tech Thoughts

November 20, 2009

I get that the game is supposed to be super hard sci-fi, with Erector-set looking ships and such. Still, for me, I’m more into stuff like BSG, Mass Effect and Firefly ships- where they’re stylized, look cool, etc. (If I’m playing a game of the imagination, I might as well make things I’d rather imagine… you know?)

So with that in mind, some tech ideas to use when I get around to playing:

Artificial Gravity

AG can produce up to 2Gs, although after you turn it on, it takes about 24 hours to produce a G under normal microgravity conditions. More mass increases the energy costs exponentially, so generally AG is just for crew quarters, or for passenger ships. (so, no, you can’t make G-bombs, or gravity warps to deflect attacks, or tractor beams).

(Game thought: Unless you have gravity, melee weapons beyond knives become mostly useless. All of our weapons and biomechanics are based on using gravity and having anchored footing of some sort. Of course, you could have stuff like chainsaw weapons, contact lasers, etc.)

Heat Lances

A common method for quickly dumping heat is a Heat Lance (also known has a Thermal Harpoon or Temp Anchor). It’s a harpoon connected by tethers to the ship, with coolant tubes – usually not more than a few hundred meters reach. You launch it into something cold (like ice) and run the coolant out to dump the heat.

Most ships have 2-4 lances, and usually keep one in reserve, in case the others get damaged. Military ships which might need to dump heat quickly or special missions might be equipped with several.

Ships that regularly travel through space with cool gases or near atmospheres also have heat webs- long grid-like nets of coolant tubes you just splay out and dump heat quickly.

(Neat game thought- this also means that ships will be leaving a “trail” of hotspots where they’ve dumped heat, and it also means that spots where you can dump heat become strategically valuable spots in space.)

Slip Stations

Any system with regular travel will set up permanent space stations near the slipknots. Great in case ships jump through damaged, also to house regular patrols to prevent piracy. More anarchist systems will probably develop one as well, which might be getting great profit from the folks who escape pirates and haul their damaged ships to them for repairs…

Slip stations would probably use heated coolant from ships to produce turbine electricity, as well as having some level of manufacturing and possibly horticulture.



November 16, 2009

A lot o folks have been really excited about Diaspora- so I decided to check it out. The game is a hard sci-fi setting and it uses FATE, which is very not-crunchy, which is neat.

The group as a whole rolls up some star systems which are connected by “slipknots” (wormholes) in a small handful of connected systems, which forms a cluster. You end up with a closed economy of systems, which have widely varying resources and technology levels. The players set up the actual context of the systems and why/how they got to be that way, which is a nice set up for a campaign setting.

Diaspora is pretty up front about the fact that high tech cultures will be preying resources from low tech cultures, though, it’s a bit hard for me to figure out how to make that into a fun game when the cultures do not even have to intersect (“Hey, you see that one continent there? They’re all learning to make bronze. Isn’t that cute?”)

In other words, it gives you tools to set up a setting, and to set up characters, and to resolve actions, but “what characters do” is something you have to inject into the game completely.

The biggest innovation is Diaspora’s “social conflict” rules, which give options for long term actions- influencing a culture, swinging an entire star system into war or accepting immigrants, etc.

What makes this different than Burning Empires or Hero Quest’s form of long term conflicts is that it actually encourages you to set up maps – with end goals and situations ON the map. “We go to war” vs. “We accept these people” on different ends, and skill rolls are about pushing groups one way or the other on the spectrum.

Aside from being a perfect way to really start setting up the cultures and your situations in play, in long term goals, it also lets you set up really interesting player character dynamics.

You could, for instance, set up a map for each character with an Issue ala Prime Time Adventures (“Hit Rock Bottom” vs. “Give up the Bottle”). You could set up love triangles, or issues of crew trust ala Battlestar Galactica. Of course, just because the option is there, it’s going to be up to each group to figure out if they want to take it there, and if so, how.

Of course, the one drawback to this is that these conflicts work solely through skill checks… and the game has no real incentive for players to really go with sub-optimal choices at any point in play – skills are not “grown” by use, nor is there any reward for not putting your best skill forward all the time. It’s not a super bad flaw, but you’ll probably see players will cluster all their actions around their top skills as a result, like many other games.

All said, I think it’s an interesting system, a toolbox primarily, and it’s going to be really dependent upon each group to tweak and focus play on things they find interesting.