Archive for March, 2012


A Closer Look at Whiff Factor

March 5, 2012

Forge Definition of Whiff Factor:

The effect of a high failure-rate for a given Resolution mechanic, especially when the rate does not accord with the character’s expected competence. A common source of Deprotagonizing; usually considered a Design flaw.

Basically, you roll dice/use cards/go through mechanics and “whiff”. My thoughts on it are slightly different- it’s not just the high failure rate, it’s this:

1. The easiest technique for any rpg is, “Somebody says something, that’s what happens”.

2. Every other mechanic is more effort and as such, needs to provide something worthwhile, to add to the play or imaginary events to justify the work put in.

3. Whiff factor is what you get when you have mechanics that do not change the situation- people have followed the step-by-step process and gotten no change for their work. It is, literally, a waste of time.

And, while I say, “No change”, it also includes negligible change as well.

Now, mind you, there’s a lot of design tricks to avoid whiff factor.

No Passive Results

Any easy one is that there’s no “roll to defend” that results in “I guess you don’t get hurt”, but rather, each resolution means one side or the other comes out ahead. This means both mechanically and for the imaginary events, either the resolution solves the whole situation, or at least pushes it towards spiraling to a conclusion.

Primetime Adventures, Hero Quest, Poison’d

Defense feeds Offense

Defensive actions, the kind that negate results, at least give a bonus to respond on the next action. It’s a lighter version of spiraling towards a conclusion but at least gives a solid nudge. Sometimes this involves winning initiative or similar benefits.

Sorcerer, Shadow of Yesterday, Riddle of Steel, BWG, some versions of FATE

Degrading Defense

The ability to negate results drops as you go, also pushing towards resolution. This is typically seen in “hit points” type games, though luck points, degrading armor, these things all fulfill the same function. The effectiveness of degrading defense depends on how quickly it degrades – if there’s too much buffer it means doing more work than what it’s worth.

Burning Wheel, Hero Quest, D&D

Fictional Positioning Pushes

The mechanic pushes for specific results in the imaginary events which changes the situation even if you avoided another result. Stuff like, “Well, you don’t get hurt but your sidekick does”.

Polaris, Trollbabe, Apocalypse World


Margeret Weis Productions and Non-payment

March 3, 2012

Ben Lehman has posted a call to avoid buying MWP books as they have been failing to pay their freelancers. (Of course, I find this out after picking up the Marvel game… :() (ETA4: Correction – Ben doesn’t call for avoiding buying the game, read carefully! He highlights the non-payment issue and points to the fact that you’ll have to make an informed choice as a consumer. This is my bad for bad reading as well.)

I’m hoping that freelancers do step forward and talk about the delays/lack of payment.

Given that MWP works primarily with licensed material, any claims that they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to making contracts, or not knowing the need for contracts seems… a far stretch.

Sadly, we’ve seen this before with other companies, much in the same way. And that we’re still facing identified problems from 12 years ago. And also why the whole indie thing tied into more than just “whee, make games” but also creator control and ownership.

It’s not some “Rargh! Fight the power!” twee shit, it’s just that in our tiny hobby, we can look at everything from the erasure of Dave Arneson to industry standard being 3-4 cents a word and see that, when it comes to creative work, creative people get fucked.

Self publishing is the easiest way to avoid dealing with all of that. Or, you can deal with contracts and perhaps needing legal backup to enforce them.

ETA: A followup from one MWP freelancer.

Definitely read the full post, though these two points stood out to me:

A friend of mine got the payment that’s due before work starts months after the work was turned in. Someone else is waiting for payment on something from two years ago.
No one is making you freelance for anyone. Some of the ish that comes with working on badass licensed properties is a lack of prompt payment.

I’m not sure how the second point justifies contract violation as a reasonable thing, instead of simply having a different contract to begin with.

ETA 2: After a night of sleep, I get what bugs me about this. Anon is saying, “No one is making you do X”, which is a valid argument only when you know what X entails from the start.

If I sign a contract that says I get paid at a specific point, and my payment comes MONTHS after that point agreed to in the contract, I literally did not sign up for that.

ETA 3: And, apparently 2 more folks say they haven’t been paid yet.


Fun Now Manifesto (Reposting)

March 1, 2012

Just read a bunch of forum threads online that make it clear to me this needs to be reposted:

The Fun Now Manifesto

  1. Not everyone likes the same thing
  2. Play with people you like
  3. Play with rules you like
  4. Everyone is a player
  5. Talking is good
  6. Trust, not fear or power
  7. It’s a game, not a marriage
  8. Fun stuff at least every 10 minutes
  9. Fix problems, don’t endure them

I wrote this sometime back in 2005 -2006 and at the time, it caused a shitstorm, which only highlights how toxic the expectations are in our hobby  (See also: Roots of the Big Problems and A Way Out).

While I think it’s getting out there that there is no ONE right way to have fun,  I think that particular idea has been misappropriated to avoid actually engaging with play.

If you’re spending several hours hanging out with people you don’t like in a small group setting for recreation?  If you can’t honestly talk about how you feel or what you want out of your games?  That’s not badwrongfun, that’s just wrong.  (I’m sure there will be yet another ensuing shitstorm. “Fuck you man! Playing with people I can’t stand or talk honestly to is AWESOME!” Huh. Ok.)

This ties back to the core issues I wrote about in those links above about bad design, dysfunctional passive aggressive social techniques, and the propaganda which puts the onus on the game group – transforming a reasonable question, “Did you have fun?” into an unreasonable one, “Are you a good person?”

Instead of being able to talk about what folks can do to have fun in those different ways, the conversation gets shut down because people imagine they’re being questioned/judged about their value as people.

Once you lack the space to say, “Well, this thing wasn’t as fun…” as the first step to figuring out what you’d rather do instead, you basically have lost the ability to have any meaningful conversation about play or design at all.


Battle Angel Alita/Gunnm via MHRP

March 1, 2012

I’m withholding judgment about the actual system of MHRP until I play it, though I thought I’d play with statting up one of my favorite manga heroines. What’s pretty interesting is that while she certainly alters Milestones here and there, she seems to come back to these core two issues, and her powers sometimes add things, she also comes back to this basic power set, though, admittedly, at this point in the series, we’re looking at D10 and D12 dice ratings.  That said, I figured this is mostly wehere she was at for most of the Scrapyard storyline- solid D8’s.

Battle Angel Alita

Solo D10  Buddy D6  Team D8

Never Back Down
Memories of Mars
Burning Sense of Justice

Panzer Kunst Secret Arts
Enhanced Reflexes D8
Hertza Haeon D8

*Focus trade 2 dice of the same size for 1 die +1 step
*Martian Flashback: 1 PP, take your highest Stress die and add it into your Pool for the rest of the scene, but also add it to the Doom Pool.
*Bladework – add D6 to the Doom Pool OR step up the lowest Doom Pool die for each extra target. Roll those extra dice with your pool, then return them to the Doom Pool.

Limit: Conscious Activation – 1PP when Stressed out or unconscious shut down Panzer Kunst Secret Arts.
Limit: Amnesia – 1 PP to Shutdown Panzer Kunst when you encounter someone who knows remembers the style and can counter it. Action vs. Doom Pool to recover it.

Cyborg Body
Enhanced Durability D8
Enhanced Speed D8
Enhanced Strength D8

*Sacrifice Body: +1 to your Physical Stress Die and add it into your Pool for a single action

Limit: Total destruction- 1 PP to Shutdown Cyborg body after being Physically Stressed Out. Regain Cyborg body with appropriate Transition Scene.

Combat Master D10
Acrobatics Master D10
Menace Expert D8

1 xp When you trash talk or start trouble with other warriors
3 xp When you take a reckless and dangerous risk
10 xp When your troublemaking causes harm to those around you OR you give up a fight to avoid harming those around you

All these people have shaped who I am
1 xp When you spend time getting to know someone you’ve protected
3 xp When you go out of your way to protect people you don’t know
10 xp When you accept another’s burden placed upon you or reject it completely.


Handholding for the wrong people

March 1, 2012

There’s this legacy issue I’m seeing in new rpg books that’s driving me up the wall with regards to writing.

There’s handholding for new people, where you explain the process and the steps, and you give examples. That’s good handholding, and I encourage it in games.

Then there’s handholding for people with gamer baggage, which isn’t about giving more advice on how to play the game, as much as advice on how to feel about the rules, as if you had to gingerly coax people to actually try the rules you’ve written and convince them, that yes, they indeed CAN work.

The books cry out with the idea that everyone in the audience has to make the leap over the The Gamer Hurdle, meanwhile, non-gamers are confused why all the hemming, hawing, hedging and convincing need happen at all.

And, it becomes frustrating because it also means that the step-by-step procedures of how to play become buried in this cruft, and often you see Procedures vs. Directives mashed in a way that makes it hard to navigate and impossible to reference without a highlighter or simply rewriting the actual procedures in a quicksheet.

An exaggeration, but not entirely:

The Wrong Way to explain rules

Before rolling dice, the decision should be considered carefully whether dice should be rolled. Some players like to roll dice with their left hands, some like to roll dice with the right hands. No one should fight over which hand rolls dice! Your Dice Rolling May Vary! Be sure to be fair. Be tough. Be realistic. Give the players what they want. For success rolls, 2 six-sided dice must be rolled and appropriate modifiers included. Players have to work to get what they want! Never let people use out of character information! Modifiers should include a stat and skill bonus.

Let’s break that out into something, possibly useful, huh?

1. Decide if you need to roll dice.

This could probably use a deciding rule, a procedure or directive. That can be as simple as, “Does anyone care?”

2. 2D6 + Stat + Skill Modifiers

Here’s a hard procedure rule that’s pretty damn simple and easy to understand if you don’t bury it.

It could probably do with a few examples, not just of which modifiers, but also WHY you might choose one or another.

Anyway, my general advice is to lead with your procedural steps, then explain the directives around it. In a lot of ways, I feel like when I see this weird handholdy writing, it’s like the author almost feels like they have to con the group into trying the rules – “Keep changing topics, keep throwing comfortable phrases at them, ok, now sneak in the actual rule, now pad it out some more”.

In the 90’s, it made a little more sense, especially since it was coming out of an era where some games weren’t really well designed at all, but threw lots of truisms about to cover it. But we’re talking nearly 2 decades later and it’s the same thing.

It’s frustrating to read, and saddens me, because it becomes a game that I will play or run for others, but not recommend to non-gamers as a game. Any game where I feel players need to “decode” the instructions is a failure of communication.