29 August, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #34: Narrative Sharing

The GM sets the scene and tells the story, the players simply enact the actions of their characters within that story.

That's the way traditional gaming is played out.

You go to a convention, and you pay money for a GM to weave a story for you. It's almost like paying to gpo and see a movie, axcept that you can manipulate the story toward one of a few defined conclusions that the GM has prepared.

You play around a table with friends, one takes on the responsibility of setting up the stories, while everyone else creates caharacters to take part in those stories. Sometimes the group has an adversarial relationship with their GM, working to subvert the stories; other times it's cooperative.

But games need not always be like this.

I've alluded to cooperative storytelling in quite a few of my posts, but checking back through the weekly game mechani(sm)s I don't think I've actually brought up the notion as a specific topic. It's something that has really helped to define the new generation of roleplaying games (particularly those designated as "Story Games" and many games belonging to the Forge diaspora).

Sharing the narrative responsibilities isn't a comfortable idea for a lot of people who are happy to "sit back and be entertained". Yet, the other extreme is often considered just as unpalatable, a phenomenon known as "railroading".

But I've always run games ina collaborative manner, bouncing ideas of the actions of the characters rather than instituting specific storylines...and I've been told that my games as far better than those of a lot of other GMs. The step that causes most traditional players a levcel of trepidation is the idea that they can help shape the world around their characters, not just the actions of their characters in response to that world.

In Guerilla Television, I forced this step apon players by having a player begin a scene with a player on one side adding a sentence of description to the setting, while the player on the other side had a chance of introducing a complication into the scene. As GM, I just facilitated the events unfolding and reined in certain players when their descriptions started getting too long winded, or just didn't fit the events of previous scenes.

I also used a metagame currency to allow players to introduce scene framing elements in The Eighth Sea. The games run at Gencon last year gradually refined the notions and once the game was actually played according tothe rules I'd written, they worked well.

Yet, both of these games have definitely revcealed the fact that not all players enjoy the shared narrative reponsibilities.

27 August, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #33: Real Time

I sat here for a while trying to think of some interesting mechanisms I'd encountered during games.

It's not that I've run out of ideas, I guess it's more a case of Writer's Block.

I've finalized the first part of Quincunx and now that it's time to renew regular endeavpurs I look at a blank screen and wonder what to start typing. I'm sure there are hundreds of mechanisms I haven't remotely touched on, but for the moment I'm going to concentrate on the first thing that has come to mind...

...playing in real time.

I hate roleplaying combat....at least in most games I hate it.

Sitting at a table, rolling a die (or dice) to see if you hit, rolling another die (or dice) to see if you actually do damage. Some games complicate this further by referencing tables, or adding in extra die rolls for armour absorption, critical hit locations and effects, or other stuff to make the hit "
more realistic".

Bah humbug!

You might expect Live Action Role Playing to be better. It you want to hit someone,. then you just mimic the swing at them in something that approximates real speed (maybe using half speed, but certainly enough to give onlookers the impression that a combat is happening rather than a dance). But our fun gets spoiled by public liability insurance, and many live gaming systems have a distinct "no touching" policy between participants.

When it comes to combat, the game slows right down again.

My aim for many years has been to develop something that approximates in real time the events of the game world. A two minute firefight should last two minutes, a series of three minute boxing rounds should last 3,6,9,12 minutes. No more.

Social interaction can be resolved easily in real-time, you just have a dialogue between the parties. You can even roll dice while the speech is occuring, looking at the results and adjusting the flow of the conversation accordingly.

I think that's one of the reasons why I really enjoyed "A Penny for my Thoughts" when I played it earlier in the month. It had a dramatic tension inherent in the game, and everything unfolded at it's own pace. There was no disjoint where a player would think about the game mechanisms or the way the dice were rolled.

It was pure, real-time enjoyment.

So in the spirit of real time enjoyment, I propose to simply throw away the mechanisms for a short while and let the story take you where it will.

I've got a dog that needs bit of real-time play.

Back to the hard core mechanisms in a couple of days.

Quincunx Alpha now available

I've been letting things slide a bit on the Blog over the last couple of weeks, but fear not...I haven't been idly frittering away my time.

Instead I've been honing the Rajah Spiny Rat rules set into something that more closely resembles the final product I had in mind.

(Maybe I've been frittering away a bit of my time....but mostly it's been writing, crafting, 3d rendering and compiling. Much to the annoyance of my ever-suffering wife.)

So without any further rant, I give you...

Quincunx Alpha

Tell me what you think.

(Even if you think it's crap).

18 August, 2009

Other Designers

It'a good to se that other designers seem to go through soime of the same issues that I face in design.

See this from Ryan Macklin's Blog

15 August, 2009

Roleplaying is of the Devil

I grew up in a strong Christian household, my dad worked for the Anglican church for many years...especially during my formative years when I was in school. Our family had many friends who were church-going families, our regular social outlet was sundays at Church, friday nights at Bible study and I was encouraged to go to the church youth group when I was in my mid-teens.

For several years I even attended Christian schools.

When Bible study nights were being held at the house of a friend's family, I was introduced to the Palladium game "TMNT and Other Strangeness", I was in my mid-teens at the time. It was roleplaying, but it wasn't that satanic game "Dungeons and Dragons", so my friends parents had allowed it into the house. There was even a saturday morning cartoon about these strange mutant animals and their adventures, so we could just tell our parents that we were playing make believe in the cartoon world.

Our parents thought that it was a bit immature, but those nights of three hours sessions with a single player and a single GM became one of the core formative experiences of my roleplaying life. Wr could get away from the everyday boring world and become ninja cats, shotgun wielding horses, cigarette smoking camels, or whatever other stereotypes we wanted to purge from our psyche through intensely character driven play, and some cathartic violence.

I probably would have done the same thing a few years earlier in my life, using action figures and smashing together toy cars...but my parents weren't fond of these toys either. Writing stories or drawing up plans for games could be masqueraded as homework, so it was a subversive little endeavour that became my major creative outlet. After a couple of years playing these games, other members of my social groups also started playing RPGs, and thus my hobby was validated. Years of prewritten adventures were collated and sorted. The good ones were played out, the poor ones were filed away and reworked until they met a level of expectation that I had determined.

My parents occasionally praised my creativity, my drawing skills, my way with words...meanwhile, my friends parents read an article about the dangers of roleplaying, and had heard inflammatory rumours from other members of the church (...the typical stuff that many close-minded christians feel about the topic of role-playing and that "satanic game Dungeons and Dragons"). Reminiscent of the nazis, my friends parents purged his room of all roleplaying books and sacrificed them on a fire. Perhaps if they had really considered the symbology of their actions, they might have treated the situation differently.

Burning the physical objects merely embedded the notion of their ideas more strongly into our minds. My friend's siblings had let slip that the raid was on its way, he smuggled out a few of his prized books and hid them in a bag under a neighbours house. The contraband was transported across town to my place, and many of those surviving books have become prized possessions (even if only for their personal nostalgia value), a first edition "Cyberpunk", some early Palladium, some early edition "White Dwarf" magazines from the days when Games Workshop still advertised other company's products.

In my mind, roleplaying was now a truly subversive activity. It was a way of rebelling against "moral and upright christian values", we didn't mention the devil in our games, we didn't know why it could have been considered such an evil pursuit....but it obviously was.

Thinking back on it, and having studied a bit of religious history (from various cultures), I can now see that most religious power structures gain their strength from a narrow unified belief system. Any attempt to think beyond the core creed is labelled as "heresy", and those who practice such a pattern of thought are proclaimed heretics, witches, "antichrists" or similar such terms (depending on the religions making the claims).

Roleplaying helps someone to take on an alternative persona, it allows people to think outside their narrow confines. This is anathema to a power structure that thrives on narrow mindedness. My ideas are reinforced by the antics of Jack Chick with his propaganda pamphlets, or sacrificial burning of roleplaying books.

I guess the stories that Mark Rein*Hagan (one of the original authors of the game Ars Magica and the creator of White Wolf's World of Darkness) had a father who was a preacher, were kind of comforting. Here was a pair of games using magicians and vampires as heroes and protagonists, written by someone who probably had a very similar upbringing.

Now that I've gotten a bit of history out of my system...

I've just found Empire of Satanis and Satanis Unbound Lulu. I found them while looking up paranormal and occult photography on a google images search.

Why would I be looking up such things if my belief structure says that roleplaying isn't inherently evil?

If you really need to ask that question then you're mind is too narrow for my answer to have any relevance to you. If your mind is open enough to realise that roleplaying can encompass anything and everything, and if you are willing to accept that anything can teach us useful lessons, then you won't need to ask that question in the first place.

...but enough rhetoric...

I'm fascinated by a game that seems to have been written purely to get the evil and debauchery out of one's system. OK, it's not so much a game, it's more of a setting addendum for an existing game (and has been written in such a way that it can be added to many other games with a little modification).

The game delves into the mythos of Lovecraft, Satanism and the very nature of evil. The players take on the role of demons, unbound by the mere morality of mortals. It doesn't try to be the game for everyone, and a lot of people won't like it, but I admire the author for being upfront about this.

Players are encouraged to let out their evil through this game, perhaps using it as a release valve to prevent them from commiting atrocities in real life, perhaps using it as a practising ground. There are no moral decisions to make regarding the comparison of game events and real world events...what happens in one is distinct from the other. Personally I think it could be dangerous to play a game like this as a Lve-Action event, but that might just be my residual Christian ethics in the back of my mind (...yeah, yeah...I know...this is probably a bit hypocritical coming from a person who spent over a grand hiring a pair of strippers for a Live-Action roleplaying game about inhumane freedom-worshipping vampires).

I certainly wouldn't advertise this game to anti-RPG Christian firebrands...

07 August, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #32: Rubik's Cube

Last night, while thinking about Lego dice, I hit upon a concept that really got me thinking.

Rubik's Cube

The sides of the Lego dice are interchangeable, allowing dice that can be modified on the fly (even during the middle of a game if necessary). There's heaps of potential there, but what about other cubic forms that have an inherently changeable structure.

Most people with a vague familiarity with western popular culture or toys from the last 25 years will have a knowledge of the coloured cube with the rotating sides.

But how could it apply as a mechanism in a roleplaying game?

The same might have been said about a Jenga tower before someone conceived of using it's inherent tension as a metaphor for fear within the narrative.

The symbolism of a Rubik's cube could be transferred between the narrative of the in game evenets and the mechanisms of the real world quite easily.

The first idea to come to mind is a structured universe reflected by a completely solved cube, while a chaotic universe would be reflected by a jumbled cube.

A game about scientists trying to overcome a chaotic universe might involve turns where each player makes twists of the cube based on their skill potential (basic skills might allow a player to make a single twist, intermediate skills might allow two twists, advanced skills three twists). Players get a number of successes on their action by looking at the sides of the cube with matching colours. 2 matching colours on a side equals 2 degrees of success, 6 matching colours equals six degrees of success, a full matching side equals nine degrees of success.

Fulfilling a complete side might be symbolic of achieving a certain effect within the story, different side colours might reflect different storylines. Players could then show which storylines they are trying to resolve by trying to solve a particular side of the cube, other players could work with the agenda of sabotaging certain storylines while trying to resolve others. Antagonists might even have the agenda of simply trying to prevent sides being solved.

A few other developments evolve from this mechanism. The first is that most good successes build on the successes of the past. A player can usually only complete a side once a few other players have made some substantial headway on achieving that goal.

The second is that other sides might go through degrees of improvement or degradation as a single side of the cube is focused upon. The characters find that their actions have ramifications beyond their intentions (for the positive or negative).

06 August, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #31: Lego Dice


So much potential, so little time.

I was introduced to these through a thread on Story Games.

It was interesting that the concept appeared not long after my Brisbane iGod comrade, Andrew Smith was telling me about playing rudimentary wargaming with lego and dice (I think it was with his nephew). It's the kind of concept that Lego is really doing well lately, tapping into the zeitgeist and giving us the toys we want.

But I'm really interested in the potential that comes from dice where you can adjust the faces modularly, mid-game.

The first thing that came to mind was the dice used in the Alkemy miniatures game. That game uses a variety of coloured dice each with different facing scores depending on their colour, and different dice are used depending on the degrees of damage suffered by the warriors.

But modular lego dice offer even more potential, faces can be modified on the fly based on temporary bonuses. Effects can be applied for different colours (maybe if you roll a green, you get a bonus if you're using a nature spell...if you roll a colour applying to some specific ability of your opponent, you might apply a penalty to them). Once you apply modular colours and variable numbers to a single die, the potential is phenomenal.

I can't wait to get my hands on some of these to test some theories and play out some concepts.

But this gives me some ideas for another mechanism (for tomorrow's post...)

03 August, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #30: Yes, and...

A second post relating to "A Penny for my Thoughts", I must have really enjoyed it.

One of the more interesting mechanisms in the game is the idea that people can ask questions which have to be answered with the expression "Yes, and..."

It makes for some really interesting situations when you have to agree with loaded questions, then find a way to work them into the unfolding narrative.

Scene Unfolds: I'm walking down the street...

Question 1: Do you see someone you know?

Yes, and...it turns out to be an old friend of mine.

Question 2: Was it someone who broke your heart when they had an affair on you?

Yes, and it was that very incident that stopped me from being a friend with her.

Question 3: Do you want to kill her?

Yes, and I have thought about it for a long time.

A simple scene turns into something very emotionally charged, especially when the players are really wishing to push the envelope with each other. No matter how positively the questioned player tries to take the scene, some carefully worded questions can really make things difficult (or really interesting depending on your perspective).

It's certainly not a mechanism for everyone, and I know plenty of people who'd walk out on a game in which it was used, but among the right group who were willing to explore similar themes it can be incredibly dramatic and provocative.

Therapy Sessions from the Orphic Institute

I shared my first therapy session using the guidelines provided by the Orphic Institute on saturday night. I proved to have some very strong reasons for my incarceration in a psychiatric institution, but It was a lot of fun...

...well actually it was a new game by Evil Hat productions (written by Paul Tevis) called "A penny for my thoughts". A game where everyone starts as an amnesiac, and through the help of their therapy partners they discover a little about their former life.

I really enjoyed it, and I've spent the last couple of days desperately trying to think of a way to incorporate some of it's concepts into a regular game.

I considered a number of options but today I came up with an elegant and appropriate solution.

Joss Whedon's "The Doll House".

Someone pointed out recently on a forum that the roleplaying game of Joss's other intellectual properties "Serenity" and "Buffy" were typically generic systems. Serenity comes with a "browncoat" of paint and the "Buffy" game has a nifty mechanism where players gain experience for saying witty quips while performing their feats of derring do. Any attempt to capture the real feel of these shows has been left at the door, and theplayers have to do what they can to make the games like the TV show.

My attempts to run a Serenity game have all failed miserably because each of the players has taken something different from the show, and none of them can agree to each other's interpretations.

But I've been trying to think of something that would capture the feel of Serenity, but screw it... one of my next campaigns is going to be "Office Three of the Dollhouse". There are lots of references in the TV show to other offices around the world, I might set it somewhere in Europe, or maybe in Australia.

The start of every session will be a basic game, with operatives who change their skills and thought patterns according to the situations they are thrown into. At the end of every session, we'll use "A Penny..." to establish a piece of background information for each character, gradually discovering why they have given up their lives and their memories to be an operative for the company.

I think I'll actually use a modified Quincunx for the first part of the game.

But "A Penny..." has really inspired me. I haven't felt this way about a game for a long time.