Archive for October, 2019


The Prep Tool Hurdle

October 24, 2019

Right now I GM two weekly games.  One is prep intensive, taking hours to prep for a session, the other is 15-20 minutes.

Aside from the requirements for play and math stuff that make a difference, I realize one of the big issues is whether I can prep while commuting to and from work, or while eating lunch or whether I have to sit at a computer and create a map.

The easy-prep game I never feel nervous because the actual work for prep is something I can do anywhere, anytime, and I can improv easily in play as well.  The hard prep game is a stress every week, because not only do I have to set aside the time, I also have to make sure I’m not too tired, or that no other emergency has come up that eats into that time as well.

As we think about what games to design, run, or play, part of it has to include the issues of tools required even in the prep itself, as that often determines how easy/hard it is to make that happen.


Back from Big Bad Con

October 14, 2019

This was my second time visiting Big Bad Con.  They’ve generally made strong effort towards making more inclusive spaces, but this year included a lot more POC focal space which was nice.

It’s hit the “small convention going into medium sized convention” phase, which is where there’s still lots of fun personal stuff going on, but also a large enough group that you might miss people the entire time you’re there.

I spent most of the time hanging out with out-of-town friends who were stopping by in town, but I’m thinking next year I’ll run some small group games.  A couple of friends are folks who fell out of RPGs back in the 80s, so I’m really interested in hearing their thoughts about some of the new indie games since there’s been so much variance and change since then.


The dealers room is small, but carried a good amount of variety – the only thing which was unfortunate was I didn’t realize the small print showcase was basically time-split for various publishers – so it’s worth checking back semi-regularly.

I bought a few dice from Lucky Hand Dice, which I’ll probably swoop up more once the full site is up and their inventory is up.

Also got a hardcopy of Girl Underground, a portal fantasy game we’ve been playing a lot of and having a great time with.


I only made it to one panel – How to Stop Working When You Love What You Do, which actually had great info, across the board about different issues when you are working in streaming / media production & freelancing.  Some of the advice included hard lines about who can get use of your time (and at what fees), some on scheduling and checking time (especially with projects that can be infinite time sinks), and a lot around boundaries.

I’m pretty excited to check out next year’s con and plan a bit better on gaming and hanging out with friends.


Fiction Feeding

October 1, 2019

Between a couple of games I’ve been playing in and some game design I’ve been doing on my own, I’ve been thinking about something that I’m calling “Fiction Feeding Mechanics”.  These are formalized sorts of designs that come directly from Mo Turkington’s theories on Push and Pull in TTRPG play.

(Also for new readers, whenever I say “Fiction” in reference to tabletop RPGs, I mean the imaginary stuff that’s happening in your campaign and session that you are playing.  Not necessarily whether the game is tied to an existing property or book series, nor the setting stuff specifically.)

Fiction Feeding Mechanics

Game mechanics that take place in the course of regular play that specifically ask questions for people in the play group (players, GM, sometimes specified, sometimes not) to answer that feed into the fiction directly.

The most popular example these days is Apocalypse World Moves – stuff like “You get to ask the GM ‘What is the biggest threat I should be looking out for?'”.

Consider how much more directed this is, than “I rolled 3 successes on Perception. What happens?”.  The classic traditional game mechanic measures success but doesn’t direct narration, which means sometimes you get weak or empty answers, and not necessarily because the GM is trying to cut you out of something, but because it’s a non-directed mechanic and there’s a lot to track and do in play.

Also compare to narration trading games – in those games the key component is who gets the right to TELL something, but it’s not well directed.  The benefit is at least the creative work is spread around so the GM isn’t the only one stuck doing the work, but if the game also expects to limit the scope of outcomes, it simply moves the question of “What are 3 perception successes in the fiction?” to a different player.

As I have often said, the easiest game mechanic is “I say it and it happens.”  So, the second easiest game mechanic is “I ask about it and someone tells me.”  A set of directed questions allows play to move in meaningful directions and avoid things like the jokes about players poking at a normal chair for hours.

Fiction that shows up in play

An important point here, is that a lot of traditional games have a lot of questions during character generation, but much of them end up left behind once play starts.  Sometimes these are because the questions are… not good questions (“What’s your character’s favorite color?” etc.) but also it can be because the game doesn’t have good ways to bring the answers into play.

By putting the directed questions into regular use mechanics in play, you find that it builds a loop of “fiction drives mechanics, mechanics feed fiction”.

Anyway, if you’re designing games, consider what questions would regularly show up in the kind of story you’d want of your game.  The key to a good question is that it either leads to more questions or it leads to more choices/decisions/actions, but not resolving everything.

For example, in a murder mystery game, “Who is the killer?” resolves the situation and ends play, while “Who is hiding something? Who is afraid? Who is desperate? Who is resentful?” are more interesting questions, because while none directly solve the scenario, they bring you along towards it’s resolution (and often along the way show you dead ends, albeit interesting ones.)