Archive for October, 2010

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D&D 4th Edition is JUST LIKE AN MMO

October 14, 2010

I bought my books and every month, in order to hold the books and play, a monthly fee comes out of my account.

Because it’s important to keep me playing or they don’t get any money, the first 10-20 hours of play are always about teaching me what the various things I see on my character sheet are, and I end up fighting rats for a week and collecting 100 pelts. I can only talk to certain characters and they always say the same things.

The optimal way to play is to go to the same sections on the map and do the same things over and over and over to maximize how fast I’m farming gold, experience points, and to get the best random drops.

Nothing I do ever has a permanent effect on the world.

Everyone goes through mostly the same adventures, so if I’m having a hard time, I can look up online exactly what I should do to win each section. After I’ve played a while, I need to organize a time to play with several dozens of people in order to even play a mission.

Because I’m forced to play with strangers, I have to listen to people who I’m supposed to be working with, fling racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs at me. The books don’t do anything about it, but if I try to play an openly gay character, the books take my money and and I can’t play anymore.

I pay to do this in my escapism.

When I stop paying, my books become unusable, and I cannot play.

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I feel like “D&D4 is an MMO” is the equivalent of “Obama is a socialist!”… a bunch of folks who don’t know what they’re mad at, or why, found a word they can use to fling randomly to say something is bad, without thinking about why, or what kind of games they DO prefer.

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An example of indie publishing: Universalis

October 14, 2010

Ralph Mazza put up an Excel file of the sales for his game, Universalis, going from it’s launch in 2002 to current. In total, he’s moved a little over 1700 copies in the 8 years.

For context, Universalis is one of the most amazing and innovative games out there, but sadly, never really caught on.

Players collaboratively build a setting and characters using tokens, and play itself is through a combination of spending tokens, and producing challenging conflicts to earn back more tokens.

The secret design bit that makes it amazing to play is that the best way to “game the system” is to utilize and support the contributions of other players AND to make things everyone else finds interesting so you can also benefit- the game rewards the group getting on a common page and supporting each other creatively. It creates a whirlwind of fun once the group gets into it.

All that said, the game has only been available in hardcopy, so it hasn’t actually gotten to take advantage of PDF sales yet, which hopefully will give it a second life (and, maybe, folks posting actual play reports never hurts either).

There’s a thread on the Forge with more details and a place to ask questions – if you’re looking at doing game publishing, it’s a good chance to talk to someone who has successfully done indie publishing and learn some lessons and avoid pitfalls.

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Steampunk and not reinventing colonialism

October 13, 2010

I’m brought back to Nisi Shawl’s idea that steampunk is a reaction against POC in speculative fiction like cyberpunk was a reaction to women in sci fi:

Ay-leen’s Steampunk & Multiculturalism

Thus, another argument about marginalized peoples’ involvement that has been previously overlooked is the possibility that people of color and non-Westerners are very much interested in steampunk, but choose *not* to engage in the community because they do not consider the community a safe space for them. The most obvious example is the co-opting of steampunk by various conservative, right-wing and white supremacist groups, such as those seen on the white supremacist forums of Stormfront.

Less obvious but still significant is the conversations sci-fi fans of color have about steampunk outside of steampunk community spaces. Garland Grey in her essay “Cause I’m Nerdcore like that: Towards a Subversive Geek Identity” notes that marginalized peoples are still aware of their outsider status in “nerd spaces,” even as they embrace these spaces that are supposedly accepting of mainstream outsiders: “Every time we enter nerd communities, we do so knowing that we may be shouted down and dismissed, bored to tears by useless pissing contests, have our legitimacy or motives questioned, or just be completely ignored.”

In a more steampunk-specific example, naraht writes about the discomfort felt about the prospect of entering the steampunk community as a person of color: “Not that putting brass cases around iPods must inherently be ideological, but the glorification of explorers and adventurers in the late nineteenth century mould isn’t something that can be viewed in isolation. Deep down, or perhaps not so deep down, there’s a sense in steampunk that having an empire must after all have been rather fun. Perhaps for a few it was. And somehow people are still being persuaded to join in the fantasy that they would have been one of the privileged few.”

It’s really frustrating to me the way white geek culture self-segregates- if it’s POC who would like to participate, the bullshit and antics that need to be put up with while the general group refuses to do anything, or, if it’s a POC originated thing (like, say, hiphop) the response is to produce a whole separate scene that refuses to really acknowledge the sources (nerdcore).

Escapism is great, but it’s always interesting what it says about folks when only some people get to partake in the escapism and for others… well, “know your place”.

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Post Apocalyptic Party

October 13, 2010

I’ve been generally out of the loop of new games coming out. I vaguely recall something about re-releasing Gamma World, but wasn’t aware it’s already here.

Gabe from Penny Arcade’s description of GW using card decks as immediate equivalent to “random roll charts” sounds pretty awesome. The booster deck thing is a stupid idea though. They’d be just as well off making randomized decks printable and available with a DDI subscription- and allow fans to make their own as well.

This comes on the heels of me re-reading octaNe, not only one of my favorite games of post-apocalyptic wackiness, but full of good GM’ing advice which has seriously shaped a lot of modern rpg design and play.

And, of course, just a couple of weeks ago, Apocalypse World saw full release for folks interested in a more gritty and brutal game. Also full of great GM advice and mechanics that interface a little differently than most in a really neat way.

And of course, there was Tribe 8, which is probably the darkest and most jacked up post-apocalyptic setting I’ve ever seen, though it’s also probably the only explicitly matriarchial one to build a full game line.

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PTA: A Galaxy Divided – ending

October 10, 2010

We finished our PTA Star Wars campaign today… which was intense.

Story

The session before was both players’ Spotlight episodes, which meant we completely poured on the drama, and basically, this session was going to be mostly reflection about what happened and how the characters felt about things. That said, it being the last session meant I could hammer on the characters’ Issues full force with no regrets.

The war was mostly over- at this point, it’s just pockets of resistance fighting an unwinnable war, stacking bodies all the way.

Rihanna came to see that the Peacekeepers dogma of “necessary sacrifices” never actually ends- the sacrifices keep coming, forever, until atrocity after atrocity became the norm, instead of a price paid to move beyond it.

Gruchakla saw that the guerilla wookies he led were no longer the brave warriors fighting to protect their people- those warriors had died long ago, leaving the fanatics and bloodthirsty as the only fighters remaining.

Both decided to leave the war. On the personal level Rihanna’s relationship with Kenji had solidified and highlighted everything she was really fighting for. Gruchakla’s relationship with his father crumbled completely. After the session, I realized his father took on the role of all the people who Gruchakla had failed – demanding more ruthlessness, full of vengeance, etc.

Sen Jenak appeared again, this time, on his own side – offering both Rihanna and Gruchakla a chance to join his Jedi band – to retake Kashyyyk… and eventually the galaxy. Funny enough, it’s not so much that he, himself, was a great villain, as much as he served as a mouthpiece to the ambition and mindstate of violence and conquest which they both recognized at this point as being a lie.

They faced off with Sen Jenak, along with Gruchakla’s apprentice Ahba-naria, and despite having spent all their fanmail – they lost the conflict.

Ahba-naria is cut down, Gruchakla goes apeshit, leaving himself open, Rihanna takes the blow aimed for him and finally he cuts down Sen Jenak.

The end scenes were Gruchakla over their graves, “I failed again, but I’ll never stop trying.” and Kenji left waiting for Rihanna who will never come back.

Observations

I did well with the lessons from last time and kept plot elements to the minimum and just focused on wrapping up loose ends. Stake setting got tighter because of it.

1. Good stake setting makes failure totally interesting. You should never have a conflict with boring or crappy results, because framing the stakes should always put it along an axis of interest.

Gruchakla’s father challenged him to an honor duel and we set the stakes as “Do you win without hurting him badly?” The issue of winning isn’t at stake, it’s not hurting his father.

In other games, this would be difficult to play out because of the way most games handle combat and damage- it’s hard in most games to make “hitting too hard” a common issue that one can back up mechanically in an interesting way.

2. The more clear players are with the direction they’re going with their characters and a general sense of what they’re trying to do, the easier it is for the GM to frame a scene or for other players to frame scenes for them.

3. Players carrying over Fanmail between sessions does interesting things to the Budget. For example, in this session I got 3 extra Budget from carried over Fanmail, which really changed the tenor of the game. It’s kind of an extra little rule that really helps later episodes have more mechanical kick to go with the fictional investment.

We did a lot in 3 hours. I mentioned that most of my GM anxiety is that PTA requires so little prep that I worry I don’t have enough to run with. Jono and Sushu pointed out player anxiety kicked in because I was hitting them with good dilemmas and tough choices throughout play.