Archive for June, 2010


Sorcerer & Horror Logic

June 29, 2010

Jesse sums up how I usually explain Demons in Sorcerer: “Horror” means ordinary everyday world encounters a singular, unknowable *thing* whose explanation ranges from unrevealed dark human truth to completely incomprehensible.

Ron says, “Demons don’t exist” which confuses everyone. I usually point to horror movie monsters – Jason, Freddy, Candyman, the ghost girl from The Ring, etc.

Each one, in their fictional stories, aren’t part of a cosmology of the world- they’re an exception, a violation of it. The “how” of how they exist might be left unexplained, it might be unexplainable or unknowable anyway.

And you fucked around with the universe and broke it’s shit to knowingly have this THING happen. And you’re going to try to USE IT.

Don’t worry about how the world works, how demons work, or how sorcery works- all of that might be totally unknown.

Focus on this: Who the hell are YOU, to have done this thing, and who the hell are YOU that will make this situation work for you? What kind of person has that kind of verve and arrogance to try to pull THAT off?

That’s Sorcerer.


An example in broken Social Contract

June 28, 2010

Today’s Penny Arcade gives a funny, but accurate example of someone breaking social contract.

I talk a lot about people needing to buy in to playing the same game, and you can see where this kind of thing would be the opposite of that.

Consider that these are vastly different games:

1) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, set in this world, where we’ll beat Tiamat at the end of the campaign!”
2) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, set in this world, and we go find our own direction/do what we want.”
3) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, and maybe we end up in different settings.”
4) “We’re playing a campaign in D&D, but maybe there’s a switcheroo and we end up in Gamma World or Paranoia!”

If everyone agreed to any ONE of these understandings, consider that comic again and think of whether that kind of hijinks would even happen.

Then, consider, if people are coming to play without a common understanding, is the problem really the Deck of Many Things, Wish Spells, or whatever in-game fiction or mechanic? (See also: “I develop gunpowder in your fantasy game!”, “My knight of the round table is a Ninja from the Far East!”, etc.)

Design vs. Culture

Modern rpg design tends to deal with this in two ways. Either:

a) High levels of specificity – in terms of design, setting, color, etc. The game does one thing explicitly, or;
b) Expectation of Social Contract – leave it unremarked and hope the group has enough social contract understanding to work it out.

You could see most of the “how do we work with this game?” conversations online, being broadly under these two categories with a common issue of, “Does your group have a functioning social contract and are you playing the same game?”


PTA: Star Wars pt 2

June 27, 2010

We continued our Primetime Adventures game yesterday, with much fun. I’m not going to go much into the details about the specific events, though here’s some overall observations.

Emergent aspects of Screen Presence

I’ve run a lot of one-shots with PTA. This is the first time we’re getting to do a full season, and it’s interesting to see what’s already popping up by the second episode here.

With both Jono and Sushu working with Screen Presence 1, it actually flips things around and makes it a great episode to focus on their characters- the low screen presence means every conflict is tougher, which means there was a lot more failures at crucial junctions.

Funny enough, this definitely set up an “Empire Strikes Back” kind of situation- the episode ends on everything FUBARed and a lot of great conflict potential for the next session.

Low, low prep

Generally, my “standard” expectation for GM prep these days is a half dozen Bangs (ala Sorcerer) and probably 4-5 highly motivated NPCs. Every time I play PTA, I find I usually only actually need 1-2 Bangs and 1-2 NPCs, and the rest just does itself. I’m always coming in feeling unprepared and it always goes smoothly and spectacularly.

I’m brought back to the observation Ben Lehman made that when people play PTA as “GURPS-lite” the game falls apart, but when they play the game as “Making good TV”, the game works great. I think the social contract and expectation of “Good TV” allows everyone to negotiate play a lot better and makes it easy for the group to work together in story creation.

Overall, this shift to author/director stance in play is immensely useful- the whole thing of the GM prodding characters to try to get players to make interesting input doesn’t really come up when folks buy into that situation.


Part of what makes it easy is that Issues are a really interesting Flag mechanic. They’re a single issue, but play often shows everyone “just knows” to add facets and aspects to the Issue, they don’t hammer it one-sidedly.

I suspect what makes this work is that Issues -aren’t- directly mechanically tied to anything- they’re a direction, a directive, but not a procedural rule, so people can focus on them as a fictional component.

The singularity of it as a Flag also makes it easy to remember, so everyone at the table can easily focus on each other’s characters and support in creating scenes and situations for each other. A lot of games with 3-5 Flags sometimes suffer because it’s hard to keep track of that many for yourself and 2-4 other players at the same time.

My players are out next month, so it’ll be awhile before we come back to this, but it’s been very satisfying so far.


Colorblind Enough to Erase us

June 25, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan babbles some defensive babble about people pointing out the whitewashing of Avatar the Last Airbender.

M. Night seems unable to parse the criticism, “All the heroes are cast as white, all the villains are cast as brown. Hollywood has a history of making POC = evil. This is bad.”, with, literally, “POC = evil”:

The irony is that I’m playing on the exact prejudices that the people who are claiming I’m racist are doing. They immediately assume that everyone with dark skin is a villain. That was an incredibly racist assumption which as it turns out is completely incorrect.

Given that film school puts you through a lot of media theory, we either have to believe he failed and completely was unable to comprehend his classes OR that he’s not being entirely honest about facing the criticism.

What happened was, Noah Ringer walked in the door – and there was no other human being on the planet that could play Aang except for this kid. To me, he felt mixed race with an Asian quality to him. I made all the Air nomads mixed race – some of them are Hispanic, some of them are Korean. Every monk you see in a flashback, in that world, are all mixed race because they’re nomadic.

Hey, guess what? Tibet is between several major cultures. If you look at the people, they share some features with many of those peoples as well!

You’re coming at me, the one Asian filmmaker who has the right to cast anybody I want, and I’m casting this entire movie in this color blind way where everyone is represented.

Strange, for a colorblind casting, that 75% of the leads are not people of color. Also, what’s up with “right to cast anybody I want”? No one seems to have taken away his right to cast whomever, this is a plea to get a pass. Sorry M. Night, brown people can promote white supremacy too!

I even had one section of the Earth kingdom as African American, which obviously isn’t in the show, but I wanted to represent them, too!

Oh! I’m sorry! I should have magically intuited what you did not actually do, but wishfully wished for, and given you appropriate credit! Hey, I just imagined I wrote 10 scripts for your next movies, I really wanted to, but I didn’t get a chance, will you be sending a check for that?

And here’s the irony of it, this has nothing to do with the studio system. I had complete say in casting. So if you need to point the racist finger, point it at me, and if it doesn’t stick, then be quiet.

Yes we’re pointing. Guess what? We’re not being quiet. I think it’s sticking.

The art form of Anime in and of itself is what’s causing the confusion. The Anime artists intentionally put ambiguous features on the characters so that you see who you want to see in it…. If there’s an issue with why Anime does not put particularly specific Asian features from the PC Asian types that people think should be there … take it up with Anime animators. It has nothing to do with me.’

This is like saying Snow White or Cindarella looks like whomever you want to see in it. How about Dora the Explorer? Don’t pass the buck, M. Night. It’d be better off for you to say nothing than to lie so terribly.

Stop using the word “irony”. There is nothing ironic in a long history of whitewashing asians out of asian roles in American produced films. There is nothing ironic in relegating people of color to being extras and villains. There is nothing ironic in perpetuating nearly a century of film propaganda, that still, to this day, impacts people’s daily lives.

There has never been anything ironic about white supremacy, and that you, a brown man, are supporting it?

Not ironic, only sad.


Gabe’s 4E House Rule

June 24, 2010

Gabe of Penny Arcade has a smart house rule where all skill checks in combat are Minor actions.

One of the core lessons WOTC pulled away from Magic the Gathering and 3.0 was that actions, or turns, was the most valuable resource in play. In the middle of D&D combat which is basically a race to reduce hitpoints, it’s pretty hard for most players to justify giving up an action to win that race instead for something of possibly non-useful value.

Still though, despite the changes in terms of the type of fantasy D&D portrays with this new edition, it’s pretty clear that this design fact plus the shift in imagery hasn’t been fully absorbed yet- doing extra stuff in combat is still a novelty in a lot of the encounters they produce, as opposed to an expectation.