Archive for November, 2010


The Drow thing, again

November 29, 2010

So let’s play the context game, again.

1. D&D has a long history of little or no representation of black people.

Where they have shown up, they’ve typically been evil savages, and, only in the last 10 years, have we had regular token (3 or less, please) appearances of black characters who don’t fall into those stereotypes.

Unsurprisingly, POC depictions generally tend to be weighted towards… sexualized asian female characters, much like most media through a white male lens.

2. BUT, there’s this whole race of literally BLACK elves, BUT they have European features.  Also, they are often depicted wearing pretty skimpy sexualized gear.  (something-something sexualized mulatto issues…)

3. AND they’re evil. And like to sacrifice people. And they’re probably the only humanoid matriarchal society in the setting.

So, the big message is:

Black people… not interesting enough to include in the game. BUT Black WHITE people, who are evil and sacrifice people, totally interesting.

Ayep. And when it comes to LARPing, or things like this, it’s always interesting how few or no black people are in the social circles BUT it’s awesome to pour on the blackface to be elves.


HeroQuest Hack

November 26, 2010

This hack works with Hero Wars, Heroquest 1 or 2. It’s designed to support Narrativist play, specifically. It’ll work for any setting pretty much.


Start by deciding a “scale” to work with. Is this campaign about the survival of a single village or town, or is it about an entire empire?

Don’t think of how big or narrow the adventure will be, think more about how the player characters will be identifying themselves – for example, “I’m a Seattle native”, “I’m a Washingtonian”, “I’m an American” are 3 scales of identity, which talk about different values.

Your game might shift up or down during play, but this sense of scale tells us about what lens we’re working with.

Talk as a group and pick 5 values this community upholds. You need to talk about this as a group, because the game changes drastically depending on which values they are – “Loyalty to family” is one thing, “Women should know their place” is another.

Having all or mostly positive values means the conflicts generally revolve around negotiating which values apply and how to apply them in specific situations. Having all or mostly negative values means the game will focus on internal power struggles and the issues of the protagonists as collaborators and perpetrators in the problems.

Even if you’re working from a common setting, talk about it as a group! It’s going to shape the whole game.

Character Creation

In addition to the normal traits each player character will need to write down 3 Values of their own – either:

a) 2 based on community values listed above and 1 different
b) 1 based on community values above and 2 different

PCs should have at least 2 close Relationships and at least 1 Flaw as well.

Character Advancement

Players earn XP by:

1. Challenging or affirming a Value or Relationship.

When a player does either in a way that shows growth or significant conflict, the GM awards 3 XP. If it’s in a way that would “make or break it”, that is, is a turning point in terms of choices and actions, the GM awards 5 XP.

2. Engaging a Flaw in a way that significantly shapes the story

When a player acts on a Flaw in a way that significantly affects the plot or events, the GM awards 5 XP… only once per session. You get this only once, even if you have 30 Flaws and trainwreck your way through the game.

“Significant” means stuff like being drunk all the time isn’t worth this, but being drunk enough that you go beat up a government official and end up being labeled an outlaw- that would count.


At 20 XP, a player can choose one of the following (but can’t pick the same thing twice in a row):

1. Raise your highest Trait by 5 points
2. Raise any other 3 Traits by 5 points (that is, not your highest)
3. Raise your lowest trait by 15.
4. Add a new trait, equal to your lowest Trait plus 15

If you have more than 20, the extra points carry over. These advances happen in play on the spot. Values can and should change over time, so feel free to rename them as necessary. Other traits may change in description, check in with the GM – a character could easily grow from “Brash” to “Cautious from Experience”

What’s it do?

This sets up the PCs to both a) not be complete weirdo outcasts from the community and b) also not totally in line with the community. It sets up a lot of space for challenging existing community values and also the fun stuff that happens when you have cultures meeting, clashing, and mixing.

Players are encouraged to both pursue and challenge Values and Relationships, which completely highlights both the “The Hero Wars are about…” type conflicts as well as the sorts of cultural cross connections that these sorts of stories are about.

The GM is given an easy tool to define conflicts- simply target people’s Values and relationships. Problems can spring out of anyone using or misusing a Value, as well as outside sources which threaten them as well. These also come out of communities attempting to force PCs to conform.

Why hack it?

The resource system of “Hero Points now or permanent XP later” is never really a good design. The fact is, it takes at least 20 Hero Points spent in advancement to be equivalent to 1 Hero Point spent in a conflict. Given that players get Hero Points just for showing up, it doesn’t really encourage any kind of play as far as an advancement system goes.

Second, it nails down play into Narrativism with reward mechanics. Hero Wars strongly talks about the issue of conflicting values throughout the whole book, though the reward system is neither here nor there with it, and Hero Quest reduced that discussion and added lots of Simulationist play advice and examples. Hero Quest 2 would do the same thing, though focusing on simulating genre tropes of the Heroic journey rather than a specific setting.


Primetime Adventures: Dark Fragrance

November 25, 2010

We’ve hit our second session of our 30’s HK wuxia/triad drama game, Dark Fragrance. Sushu has been GM’ing and posted up some reflections as a new GM and how PTA plays.

It’s really worth checking out – she goes in depth into how she approaches prep, and how that actually plays out. It’s pretty neat especially if you’ve read other people’s thoughts in GM’ing, and I think, says a lot of good both for PTA and her insight into GM’ing.


In a Mouse Guard, Far, Far Away

November 24, 2010

If you ever wanted to do a Star Wars Hack of Mouse Guard…(via io9)


Fuzzy lines and narration trading

November 21, 2010

There’s a concept about narration trading I’ve heard referred to as “The Chopping the World in Half Problem” which is, in games with narration trading, what do you do to stop players from just narrating, “I chop the world in half!”?

Usually, this exaggeration isn’t a real problem, because social contract plays a role in stopping people from trying to wreck the fiction, though certainly where social contract is unclear (new group, con game) or broken, it can crop up.

What’s more of an issue, is where everyone is on the same page with regards to what fits in the game narration-wise, but there’s “gaps” or spaces where you want or need more info in order to not step on each other’s toes.

An example from tonight’s game, was that there was an NPC love interest introduced this session, who we had no background or personality on- which meant, although by the rules we could easily narrate her one-way-or-the-other, because she’s so clearly tied to one of the player’s characters, it doesn’t make sense to just slam in a personality which may not fit.

This was a mild stutter in the flow of play, though one which I think comes up with narration trading games. If you don’t have established ideas/fiction on a character/place/thing, the group has to take a bit of negotiation on handling until a better idea is formed.

In some groups using narration trading play, I’ve seen people use nothing but Push methods, forcing ideas into play because the rules allow it, and expecting anyone to simply Push back if they want something different.

Although this works ok, I find that it’s not totally satisfying, especially since, as a player, it often becomes easier to just cut off your emotional investment in something that someone else has defined very different than what you were hoping for, rather than to go through the effort of trying to stake it out and re-define it after the fact.

What has led to more reliably fun play has been to do some table-talk and negotiate some details before narrating (or even setting Stakes on a conflict) and both of these mean that you’ve dropped back into unstructured negotiation – a bit of work and a fuzzy space to operate in.

I haven’t figured out a procedure for this- deciding when a character -matters- vs. when a character will be a toss-away can be tough sometimes, but I think there probably is a few key questions that could help give direction.

“What do they want?”, “What kind of personality do they have?”, “What do they think about (person/situation)?” might be a way to quickly nab enough information to clear up the fuzzy space.

Again, this is a small hiccup, and one which its important to smooth out without making a procedure be more work than fixing it freeform like we’re doing now.


Polaris/Bliss Stage sale!

November 20, 2010

You can pay whatever you like for Polaris or Bliss Stage!

Ben’s one of my favorite designers- all of his games sharply hit on the human condition, and none of them are like anything else out there. Go check’em out!


Polaris is a game about a dying society at the North Pole. Their world of perfect harmony collapses under corruption and in-fighting while armies of demons gather without.

You, one of the last knights protecting the land, with a sword of starlight and an oath of honor, you will see who and what, if anything, you can save, before you also fall in battle or fail in your heart and turn to the demons.

It’s a GM-less game where the mechanics are resolved primarily through specialized “key phrases” that turn conflicts into bargaining – “I kill the Demon King”, “But only if you are captured in return”, “But only if I am unharmed”, “And so it was.”

Bliss Stage

Aliens have come and conquered the Earth… through our dreams. Everyone over the age of 18 has fallen into a stasis-sleep, “The Bliss” and the kids who have survived the last 7 years have finally cobbled together a means of fighting back.

Jumping into the dream world, you construct giant robots made of your love and care for those closest to you- to fight the aliens and hopefully free our world. But in doing so, your risk your relationships- damage to your dream-mech is damage to your relationships… can you protect your friends? Can you save the world?

Bliss Stage is a post-apocalyptic anime soap opera. You jump between scenes of bonding and friendship… and terrible nightmare worlds of the aliens. Think Satoshi Kon meets Evangelion and you won’t be far off.


Motivation Mechanics

November 5, 2010

One thing I read a bit in the “Roleplaying Rewards” thread from was people complaining that motivation mechanics made their roleplaying stiff and robot-like.

So, let’s look at what should be happening when you play games with motivation mechanics.

1. You come up with a concept you’re excited about

“I’m going to play a noblewoman who is trying to rescue her brother who has been captured, and wants to win the heart of the 4th Prince!” Maybe you just came up with the idea whole cloth, maybe the game has some kind of lifepath mechanics, maybe you used some tool as a springboard for ideas.

So far, no different than any traditional RPG.

2. You create your character mechanically, including putting in appropriate Motivation mechanics as needed.

If it were Burning Wheel, you assign Beliefs, Shadow of Yesterday, Keys, Riddle of Steel, Spiritual Attributes, Artesia, Bindings, etc. etc.

These should reflect the things you were excited about your character from step 1.

3. Play your character as you envisioned in step 1. The Motivation mechanics and rules of the game give you rewards for doing so.

So… basically, you do what you were going to do even without the mechanics… and then the rules support you.

Don’t throw out your roleplaying skills you normally use just because there’s a mechanic attached to it. And if you’re not interested in the things you’ve put as your motivations? Revise them. You should tie them to the things you’re interested about.

“If it’s not that much different in HOW I play a character what do Motivation mechanics DO, then?”

First off, players who pursue their motivations get more power over the game (either by some kind of spendable story point or by character advancement) – the people who contribute the best get to better direct things.

Second, the players who aren’t so good at it? They’re seeing directly what behaviors to model and copy that constitutes good play.

Third, most importantly and most subtly, this is how you, as a group, reshape and customize your own play standards. You don’t just get a point for “talking romantic at the Prince”, you get the points/dice/whatever when you do it in such a way that your group recognizes it as “good roleplaying” by whatever definition you guys actually hold.

As above, the unskilled players see what good play looks like, but skilled players then start picking up more discrete aspects. You form an aesthetic for your group, that y’all are into, and it brings everyone on the same page.

Of course, all of this depends on Step 1 above. If you’re making characters you’re not invested in, if you’re assigning motivation mechanics for things you don’t care about, you’re not going to suddenly care about them.

If you don’t roleplay your character the way you think they should act, appropriate to the situation and the game, you’re not going to enjoy your character.

Yes, this means sometimes you’ll go against those motivations you laid out (“I love the Prince, but I’m not going to do this thing he’s asking”), which is great- it starts showing where the lines are, what you won’t cross, or, how much you DO feel about something. Which, is pretty much what most stories are about – how far will you go, what do you really feel, what kind of person are you really?, etc.

When you pick motivations in those things, you’re waving a flag, “I want my story to revolve around these things!”. If you’re asking for stories you don’t want, or playing a character you don’t like, it’s not the mechanics that are the problem…