Archive for the ‘musing’ Category


Structured Conversations and Turn Taking

September 30, 2009

There’s a neat thread over on the BW forums about reasons to use social mechanics instead of “roleplaying it out” (AKA not using mechanics to resolve social conflicts).

Going to the bigger issues of design and play, functional roleplaying requires all participants to have the chance for meaningful input*.

One thing mechanics do well, is set up a system for “turn-taking”, or generally giving everyone a chance to make that input. A second valuable thing, is that mechanics also put a cap on the conflict.

Just as much as you could sit there for 4 hours describing a never-ending sword fight without mechanics putting a limit to it, you can sit for 4 hours arguing whether to take the Dwarven gold for yourselves or give it to the Dwarven people to rebuild their home. In both cases, odds are pretty good that you’re not going to be able to make that an entertaining 4 hours.

In stories, most social conflicts are resolved rather quickly- the highlighted stances and points are made, and then you move on. One benefit to mechanics is that by putting a cap on it, players have to choose their most relevant points, and not drag it out into a “last word”/endurance argument.

Groups can and do develop social contracts which fit this function, but you do see problems when they try to introduce new players (who then have to learn the implicit rules), or if a players steps out of the bounds, it becomes a big negotiation struggle, as the source of the problem might be completely misidentified. (“My Guy Syndrome” where fidelity to your character = not fun for everyone else involved is a good example.)

Not every game needs social mechanics, though I think in any game where you expect entertaining and meaningful social conflicts to happen, it’s probably a must.

(*Ditto with designing discussion spaces, with the added requirement that you have to develop means to filter the participants from the non-participants, otherwise there is no space for the discussion to happen.)


A design thought

September 17, 2009

What a game is about vs. what it does vs. what the game has in the fiction are three very different things to explain to a group.

What’s in the fiction is the easiest to push- “A game about samurai”, and yet could really be anything otherwise. What it does is more understood by folks who get how systems push people, and what it’s about is usually the least understood because it’s the creative void in a game.

Of course, this is the Color vs. Technical vs. Creative Agenda concept expressed differently…


Casting characters as a whole

August 20, 2009

For a couple of months I’ve also had a mini-rpg, along the lines of Lady Blackbird in mind. I managed to put together a lot of ideas this week, and ended up working on characters, which made me really re-think a bit about how we design characters in rpgs.

Even when you have one person designing the characters, I started to realize that there’s a lot of subtle art to making a full cast- not so much balancing stats as much as balancing incentives, motivations, strengths and weaknesses of personality- characters who will have interesting times challenging and supporting each other, without making any direction a foregone possibility.

How much -more- difficult this actually is when we’re talking about multiple people, each making their own characters, possibly without an idea of the situation, possibly for the first time together, possibly without unity of vision/concept?

I expect this is why more games are successful when the system causes the characters to form/grow as a part of play rather than trying to set this all up before play. (That’s also discounting the fact that for many games, character generation plays a significant part of play, often requiring long term choices and system mastery…)

More to think on this.


Tabletop through Interwebs

July 21, 2009

After getting back into Skype gaming, I’m noticing some things really interesting and specific to the medium.

One program please

First off, we’re juggling between Skype, a PDF of the rules, a dice roller, emails, web pages, etc.

I imagine that whatever publishers figure out a unified program that handles all the group needs in juggling information- they’ll do great.

It’s not just having these functions, it’s having them in a way that makes information management easy- sort of like how you can have a menu system- or you can have a Final Fantasy menu system- the latter is often a great design in making complicated information navigation a joy to swim through..

The Quicker Picker Upper

Skype gaming isn’t just what you do because your friends live in other states, it is what you do because you don’t have time for 4-6 hour face to face game sessions. This means that games aimed at doing the online thing need to look at minimum setup- trying to get on the same page creatively at the beginning is tougher than getting started and finding momentum and creativity IN play.

Likewise, pacing for a “cycle” of play needs to be shorter as well. Probably an hour-long cycle would make the most sense, allowing people to extend to 2 or 3 cycles if they want to continue play.

Imagine the people you’re imagining imaginary people with

For some reason, Skype gaming feels more taxing than playing face to face. I noticed this the couple of times I did Skype games a few years back, but I chalked it up to work and stress and didn’t really think about why I felt tired.

Now, though, I figure there’s probably something taxing to the brain by asking it to visualize the people you’re playing with AND imagine the fiction simultaneously in real time. (There’s also been some recent research that verbal processing takes some processing power away from the visual cortex, which is why cell phones are extra bad for driving…)

I never found this to be the case with IRC/chat gaming, even though it moves 5x as slow for me. But then again, I’m asking my brain to translate written language- an abstract, which is not the same thing as my brain trying to deal with a voice, intonations, pacing, and, monkey brain that it is, seeking to read facial cues.

Do you see what I see?

That said, games which provide common visual cues will probably do better than games which don’t. Games with heavy visual cues (D&D for example), allow players to spend less mental power visualizing and more on creative action and interaction through the game.

I’d be real interested in finding out what tricks specific to playing voice chat rpgs online work best, though I imagine short of some kind of sub-movement sprouting up, we’re not going to see it anytime soon.


More on that Wargame idea

June 10, 2009

8 mph Ansible asked:

So some of the basic components that’s being looked out for how this’ll work is: economics, resource management for logistics coupled with wargaming that probably has some sort of morale & fatigue feature in it?

So, here’s some of the half formed ideas in this:

Command Characters

Each player plays 3 characters. One character is a Leader- all kinds of abilities good at the big campaign stuff (Artesia). The second character is a Hero, not so good at leading big groups, but a badass in one’s own right- good for holding the gates alone, taking down that fell Wyvern, doing quick raids (“Oh shit! It’s Lu Bu!”). The third character is a Follower- a lieutenant, advisor, not as good at direct leadership, but even though second best, loaded with supporting abilities (Felix Gaeta).

Yes, your Hero and Follower get assigned to work underneath other players’ Leaders for some interesting roleplaying stuff there.


Resources are Food, Equipment, Treasure. Different units have different upkeep requirements. Some units have special abilities that reduce these costs (“Scouts in Forest, Farmlands, or by Rivers are -1 Food”) etc.

Playing with that, Villages, Towns, Cities, provide these in different numbers. Having Command Characters with special abilities like “Diplomat”, “Logistics”, “Bandit” might adjust numbers.

Morale, etc.

I’m stealing a lesson from Star Wars Saga – just rolling Morale, general condition, fatigue, etc. into one scale for each unit. And leaving “Unit” vaguely defined with the idea that it’s somewhere around between 40-180 men or so, with the average around 100. I want each Command
Character with something between 1-10 Units under their command- something halfway manageable if you have a group of 3-6 players.

The Roleplaying Elements

I actually want it to -matter- if you save this village vs. that village, if you take time to improve one vs. pillaging and burning it down.

I want it to matter where you’re making a tough choice between doing the “strategically smart” thing vs. sending more troops to try to back up your friend in the hopes he can escape safely.

I haven’t quite figured out -exactly- how I’m going to fit that in- part of me wants some worldbuilding elements so the players add details and do the work of making it something they own and care about in the process.

Again, it’s a very vague idea at this point.