28 August, 2013

What's in a name?

Roleplaying Game?
Story Game?
Collaborative Narrative System?

Whatever you call your product, it's going to say something about the way you view it and the way you intend others to view it.

This links in with beliefs, stereotypes and relationships as much as anything else in the product.

If you call it a "roleplaying game" it sets the product as fairly conservative. It fits in with the dozens of other products on the shelves, and thousands of games online that also call themselves roleplaying games. People who are familiar with this type of product know what to expect from it. A GM, a bunch of players a system for resolving actions and conflict, a way to set up scenarios. The game may have points of difference with the others (and hopefully it does, because otherwise there is no point in a consumer buying it or wasting their time on it).

If you call it a "story game", you start to enter a nebulous territory where different people will believe your game is something special and deviates from the mainstream in some way. It may no longer have a GM, it may resolve scenes and wide ranging conflict rather than specific actions, it may do something else differently. Either way, such a game will probably be perceived as less about the individual characters and more about the ongoing narrative potential.

If you call it something else, people have even less idea what to expect. Such a game stands alone in a crowd...but is this a good thing or a bad thing. If you want people to know what to expect, stick with a traditional title...if you're willing to risk people thinking your product is a pretentious pile of crap then by all means go with the arty sounding description, other people might be drawn to the name as description for an innovative piece of interactive art.

I'm not telling you what to call your product, I'm just saying to think about the ramifications of your choice.

25 August, 2013

A few more images from the comic

Just a few more images from the ongoing work in progress.

24 August, 2013

Cultural Instincts

Sometimes you just know someone is different, they haven't spoken yet, they have barely encountered the outer limits of your personal space...but you get the feeling.

Let's assume that this isn't a skin colour thing, and the clothing they wear doesn't have anything specifically "different" about it. Maybe it's something about the way they hold themselves, perhaps they are a bit more curious in their observation around them, perhaps their actions are slightly defensive and guarded...not enough to really alert you that something is wrong, and when you look again that moment might be gone. But there are enough half-caught glimpses, that you notice something.

I don't know if other people see this in the world around them. I don't know if it's just an instinctive things that has been picked up through decades of work in customer service, and therefore dealing with hundreds of thousands of people over the course of my daily life.

I saw it again today at the place where I do a bit of part time work, where I teach people about wine, taste it with them, and occasionally sell a bottle or two.

She was relatively attractive. Not drop-dead magazine-cover gorgeous, but then again she wasn't coated in makeup. She was just wandering through the area where I happened to be doing some work, she was looking at the more expensive wine and spirits, no different than any other person who'd come into the department. At first I though there was something a bit different about her, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I offered some assistance, but she shook her head. There are dozens of similar encounters every day, some people want to chat, some don't. She didn't...so I let her be.

I didn't know anything else about her, I hadn't heard her speak, but there was something "other" about her.

It got me thinking about cultures in games. How do you react differently to different people? Not just humans versus elves versus goblins...those are distinct racial and physiological differences; I mean something about cultures that mark themselves as different to one another. Perhaps like castes, one person has a certain bearing, and they act differently around people who don't hold themselves in the same way. The words that come next are just a reinforcement of the first thoughts and opinions established by instincts, or perhaps the voice and language are contradictions to our first instincts (and that gives us pause).

I was intrigued by the "otherness" of this girl, some people might feel discomfort...either way it's an instinctive prejudice. I didn't particularly desire her, she was just one of the many people encountered in daily life; but I had formed opinions about her. A few minutes later she came back into my field of vision, with a male who was clearly her "significant other". They were talking in hushed tones, as many people do...he was looking at the display of a phone, she was pointing at things. It was typical activity, so I pushed any thoughts into the back of my mind. They were dressed like anyone else.

Eventually, the two came over. He spoke to me with a thick accent, he spoke to her in a language that I think was Spanish.

I had no way to tell that they might have been foreign before that; no language cues, no ritual movements (like a japanese bow of deference), nothing I could put my finger on. But once they spoke with each other, my instinctive preconceived notions fell into place.

How would culture like this manifest in game mechanisms? It's the kind of thing I'd love to explore in Walkabout, because it's all about the responses people have when they deal with one another, the way someone feels when they encounter the "other". How do the scavengers treat the nomads? How do you know someone is a nomad if they are wearing the same clothes as you? Do you know at all? Do you simply get a vague feeling of otherness from someone who belongs to a different "people"?

23 August, 2013

In response to a special request...

I've been asked to create an manga style avatar of myself. This is probably because my profile picture on every form of social media is an image of my dog, Okami. I hardly ever post pictures of myself, and most images of me on the web have been taken and tagged by other people.

So, even though it's not an exact replication of me...here's my manga avatar.

(If there were more options available on the site, I would have drawn a manga avatar of my dog)

Enough of that...back to game and design stuff.

22 August, 2013

Manga Avatars

This might be a useful tool for quick character portraits

Face Your Manga

I've used it to create a few alternate face illustrations for the Walkabout explanatory comic. They don't quite match the characters as currently drawn, but I might be able to poke fun at this as a part of the comic (Ed says "Hey that doesn't look like me"...Alice reponds "I could only find a picture of your old haircut, I had to do the same for myself").






...and because I was in the mood for playing around, I developed an avatar for one of my LARP characters from a few years back....Yukiko (she was fun to play).

21 August, 2013

Names for the Comic

A lot of the walkabout explanatory comic will be drawn from actual events that have occurred during playtest sessions or convention session. But the whole sequence will be an amalgam of various incidents that help illustrate the specific rulings that need to be illustrated.

Since different people were present in different games (and to protect the innocent), the five characters in the comic will be given new names.

I like the idea of sequential starting letters for names, it makes things easier when illustrating things...Alex, Bill, Charlie, Daniel, Eric; these can be quickly rendered as A,B,C,D and E in images such as relational diagrams or showing how two players interact with one another.

But these are all male names, and pretty western/European (that's not to say there aren't asians, aboriginals or members of other ethnicities with these names, it's just stating that the names have fairly european origins).

For the comic, I'm looking at bringing a few cultural types into play, and obviously there are members of both genders involved.

A is for Alice. Alice  She's the GM and she's fairly new at the whole thing. She's GM'd a couple of traditional games in the past, so she does a fair amount of prep work and sees the story heading in a specific direction. Alice probably derives from a lot of my mannerisms and play, but also draws on traits I've seen in many of the female GMs who are prominent in the Australian freeform and LARP scene. She starts a bit unsure of herself, and while she doesn't want to "prove herself to the boys" she instinctively wants to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and participating in the story. She knows her pop culture, especially television shows like Dr Who, Firefly and Defiance.

B is for Ben. (I really want to call him Ben Chang as a pop culture reference to "Community", especially since he is the pop culture expert on the table). I'm definitely thinking that he should be Asian so that he can play out a scene where someone asks if he likes anime and he gets all offended at the ethnic stereotyping ("Oh, I must love anime must I...you're just saying that because I'm Asian...I'm not Japanese, I'm Chinese") and then he reveals that he has indeed drawn the inspiration for his character from a specific anime. To continue the "Community" references, Ben will be the "Abed" of the group. In addition to this, he's a homage to the high proportion of Asian-Australians, especially those who frequent various conventions and gamer groups. There are quite a few players I've met over the years who will be integrated into this character at some level.
C is for Carl. He's been playing for years, probably started in high school and now that he's in his late 20s, he's been through at least three incarnations of D&D/d20/Pathfinder, he's seen Old and New Worlds of Darkness, he's dabbled in GURPS, and plenty of other systems. He's the regular GM for the group, and is Diana's boyfriend, he convinced Diana to come along while he wasn't the GM...that way the other members of the group wouldn't complain that he was favouring her (I've seen this happen). Carl has been the centre of the group for a while, so he finds it hard to step back from the spotlight, especially when it comes to rule related questions. He'd probably rather be playing a gritty mechanically-heavy game, but feels that Walkabout might be a good introductory system for the new GM and his girlfriend. He's a little condescending toward women but doesn't realise it, he thinks he's being chivalrous. I've met plenty of gamers like this.  

D is for Diana. Diana is new to the group, if anyone was to fit the "manic-pixie-dream-girl" trope, it would be her. She's written fan fiction, but has never had to compromise her ideas based on the stories of other people or the whim of random game mechanisms. Diana is Carl's girlfriend, she relies on him to know the rules for her at first, but quickly gets the hang of things and branches out on her own to follow her own ideas and stories within the wider narrative. Diana is the kind of girl who enjoys a bit of cosplay and would wander into more comic and game stores if she didn't get all the weird looks, and didn't constantly get barraged with geek-trivia questions to prove she isn't a "fake geek girl". She's based on a few females I've met in gaming circles, girls who've long enjoyed fantasy, cartoon and computer games, but have only been dragged along to LARPs or tabletop games through their significant others.

E is for Ed. I don't want Ed to be a flamboyant, overly-dramatic homosexual caricature; but I think I'll throw a couple of overt and covert hints in.  Ed has aboriginal blood, and like most members of his community he is at best half-blooded, but more likely a quarter, or some other odd percentage due to mixed ancestry. He's interested in a game which claims to have aboriginal values and spirituality at its core, but is also very interested in the social aspects of play that manifest through the stories. He's always disliked a lot of games where the story always seems to be about fighting and treasure; he sees roleplaying as a form of improvisational theatre where the twists in the story are generated by playing off one another and the results of the dice/game-system.  

I realise that I've still stuck with very European/Caucasian names, maybe some of them will change a bit (I'm not sure, I just tried to keep them simple and not make them seem too forced). I could have applied the traditional anime conventions of giving each of the four players an elementally inspired personality (with the GM being a central balancing point), but this also seemed a bit too forced.

If I've made any glaringly obvious faux-pas with this set up of players, feel free to let me know. If you think these might make an interesting group to follow, I'd love to hear that too.

20 August, 2013

Further Comic Images

It seems there are quite a few people interested in the work being done on the Walkabout comic; so that gives me the motivation to do more work on it.

In theory, I could repeat the same images over and over when different characters are talking to one another give them some different backgrounds and modify the scale to make the repetition not so obvious. But since I've had a few hundred looks at the post in the last 24 hours, that tells me it's worthwhile doing a bit more work on it. So maybe a few more poses of each character, some varied expressions (for when things go well or when things go badly), and a few more illustrations of how the mechanisms of the game work.

So I'll knock out another two dozen pages, and that's about it for the out-of-character stuff and the meta-details that explain the game. It just needs some refinements to the story so that it highlights the various rules that need to be explained to readers, and once this is done it needs to be formally scripted to ensure it fits into the right number of pages (I'm tossing up between 128 and 160 pages). If it works like a movie script, where each page of script represents a minute of screen time; then 160 pages might represent almost 3 hours worth of reading material.

Then it's time to get stuck into the in-character imagery. I want these pictures to have a very different visual style to them, so I might try to call in an outside artist.

Decisions, decisions.

19 August, 2013

The Walkabout Comic

Regular readers will be aware that I'm writing up a comic to explain the Walkabout RPG. The following images are some of the work in progress pages.

There's a lot more work to do, but things seem to be falling into place.

A steampunk LARP system

I spent another day yesterday at combat practice for the new Fantasy LARP that has set up in Sydney. There were about 10 people participating, but four of them were new faces. In total there are probably about 30 players who will be there on a semi-regular basis (I've only gone to two out of the three events so far). The LARP has been mostly focused on getting players familiar with the way fighting works, proper "adventures" will come in the next couple of months.

This game is basically medieval, just like most fantasy games. There is no specific epoch, so plate armour might appear alongside quilted armour, roman-style breastplates, and samurai armour.  The only thing that's been specified is that there are no gunpowder weapons...and for the purposes of game safety (and compliance with state laws) no crossbows.

During some of the down-time, I was chatting with some of the other players. Leah and I had developed some fledgeling ideas a few years ago, working along the lines of a steampunk LARP. In most cases, fights would be elegant affairs, duels with rapiers and pistols...but there would be exploring and adventuring as a major part of the setting. I brought up the concept and it was enthusiastically received. For dueling pistols, we'd use NERF guns, the typical kind of thing that you see painted up, modified and fatigued in steampunk cosplay.

The system would apply a premium on the cost of bullets to offset the benefits of ranged weapons. It would still work off a hit point system that was relatively easy to track, three or four hit points per character as a standard level (bonuses for high constitution, or an endurance skill). Each hit with a basic weapon would simply apply a single hit point of damage, while hits with "heavy" weapons might inflict two points. Armour would provide a bonus number of hit points (damage comes off armour first when targeted by normal weapons...while damage would be split one point each on armour and character when a hit from a heavy weapon is scored).

I think the idea of hit locations is good in this type of set-up. Especially based on what I've seen from actually participating in LARP fights. I've been managing to score plenty of hits on the limbs, arm shots and leg shots, but getting into the torso and abdomen is tougher (and head shots are banned, so I don't need to worry about that). Perhaps a hit to the torso provides an extra level of damage; thus light weapons do two hit points of damage when the torso is struck, and heavy weapons inflict three.

Adding NERF guns to the mix creates a new dynamic, and might promote a higher level of costuming. I don't know...but the interest is certainly there.

For skills I'm thinking that a simple toggle system would be fine...

Do you have the "pick locks" skill? No, then you can't do it. Yes, then you can try.
Do you have "heavy weapons" as a skill? No, then you can wield the weapon but it only inflicts normal damage. Yes, now you gain the bonus damage point.
Do you have "etiquette" as a skill? No, then it will be considered bad form for you to speak to the Duke. Yes, then the Duke will be more than happy to speak to you.

This would probably link into the previous thoughts I've recently posted about a LARP campaign.

16 August, 2013

Dangers of the Past

This instantly made me think about the unspoken dangers that might still lurk in the cities of the world for the Walkabout setting...actually, the dangers that lurk above the cities.

It all depends on when the apocalypse occurs...how far in the future until the days of darkness arrive?
(It also implies that the electromagnetic pulse encompassing the globe had less of an impact on military technology than would have been originally thought...or maybe there is a ghost in the machine).  

15 August, 2013

An expert tool for procrastination

If you want to spend a few hours procrastinating, and you like old school dungeon crawls, you can't go past

Dungeon Robber.

Take a look, but don't don't say I didn't warn you.

14 August, 2013

She doesn't post much, but it's inspiring when she does

Go over and have a look at this comic, there's not a lot to it on the surface, but there are hints of depth and a far richer world to be explored.


12 August, 2013

RPG Analysis

I wrote this as a response to a post on G+, I really want to write more about this because it aims in the same direction as a lot of my Walkabout work. But I'll just leave this here for now...

There's a form of literary analysis common used for analysing noir and crime stories. I can't remember what it's called (it might possibly be "russian formalism").

If uses the concept that an investigative piece actually has two stories, the "subject" and the "fable". The subject is the story unfolding _now_, while the fable is the story being revealed...the story that has already occurred. The Subject is capable of changing with the decisions of the protagonist(s), while the fable remains a fixed point. 

Pulling this back into gaming, I like to write a vague fable in point forms. I leave the subject purely open to improvisational play, the characters in the story can go wherever they want to reveal aspects of the fable. And since the fable is only key points, it has enough blank gaps to allow players to throw in their own hypotheses. The fable isn't written in stone (it can react to the ideas of the players), but it's events have occurred (the characters can't manipulate it in any way...only reveal it).

11 August, 2013

A riddle

Is someone cynical and critical because they find it harder to create things and easier to destroy the work of others?


Does someone find it harder to create things and easier to destroy the work of others because they are cynical and critical?

What comes first? Do either come first, or are they a part of a self-perpetuating feedback loop?

Walkabout vaguely addresses this premise, but doesn't go too far into it. It's just an idea I'm thinking of exploring further in a potential players guide later.

10 August, 2013


In the Walkabout setting there are nomads who derive a lot of their culture from the ways of the gypsy people and travellers who have existed on the fringes of society throughout history. Have these people simply appropriated the culture of a lost people, or are they proud of an ancient heritage? It's hard to tell...but the settled survivors of the world view them with distrust in much the same way that modern settled people view travellers with distrust. They aren't subject to the same laws as everyone else, they are free spirits. 

I know a Hungarian, if you mention the word 'Gypsy' to him, he starts on a five minute monologue about how they are the scum of the earth, criminals who don't deserve to live, and far worse. I know other people who view gypsies with a romantic eye. The truth is probably somewhere between these, and the stereotypes are clearly only a fragment of the whole (like every other stereotype).

I've just found an interesting article about a modern culture that takes a spin on the gypsy/traveller mythos...

...certainly food for thought.

08 August, 2013

Thematic Content

I'm studying at University again. This semester, one of the topics I'm studying is "Texts and Traditions"; the theme of the topic for this semester is "Autonomy". This covers questions like "Do we really have control of our own destiny?", "What choices in our lives are actually ours to make?", "How does society impact on those changes?". In this regard we are looking at Oedipus Tyrannus to examine some of the early roots of autonomous thinking in the western canon, then we move on to Hamlet, and finally Frankenstein to understand how autonomy was pictured in an age of scientific enlightenment.

It looks like an interesting subject where we examine the ways authors have injected a similar theme into their works over the ages. We examine a theme in the context of the setting, in the choice of words and decisions made by the characters and in the overall plot of the narrative.

It got me thinking about themes in games, and coincidentally, a thread over on Story Games has been following the same kinds of ideas.

Authors tell a linear story, they can manipulate the text over numerous drafts, adding in thematic content to support their intentions, and removing content that muddies their agenda. But how do games deal with themes? How do game designers specifically inject certain themes into their games?

No Theme
The easy option is not to; instead, the designer produces a sandbox approach to play. Here's a bunch of funky toys that you won't find in other game systems, go out and play with them. In this case, it's up to the individual groups of players to define a theme and to choose what their story will be about. Groups who don't find a theme may enjoy the game on a superficial level, but those who latch onto a theme will get a whole extra level of depth to their storytelling. The onus is on the group.

Artistic Theme
The simplest option is to provide a bit of artwork throughout the game that reflects the theme.

Example 1a: A game about a gritty tough life always depicts people struggling or suffering hardship in some way. 
Example 1b: A game about heroism shows glossy figures performing stunts and great deeds.
Example 1c: A game about confronting the unknown shows investigations in progress and perhaps offers glimpses of the things that exist beyond the mundane.

The artwork in many games doesn't support theme in this way, instead producing stock images of typical character types posing for the viewer, or providing such a wide array of image types that the theme loses coherence. A well illustrated game gives a vague direction, but often needs more than this; and even when a theme is well defined purely through the artwork, the players who read the game might get an inkling into the thematic direction, but it is up to them to lead other players in the intended direction.

Thematic Fluff
Slightly harder is the option to tie a theme into the background of the game. This can be seen in many games, sometimes used in a heavy handed manner, and sometimes more subtly.

Example 2a: A game about a gritty tough life provides describes suffering in it's play examples and gives settings where struggles against the mundane are commonplace. 
Example 2b: A game about heroism uses play examples of dramatic stunts and provides settings conducive to amazing feats and derring-do.
Example 2c: A game about confronting the unknown provides sinister locations and suspicious people in its examples.

A common problem with thematic fluff is that when the hints are too subtle, it is easy to overlook them and have a group of players apply their own thematic choices into the story. Many people don't consider this to be a problem at all, they like a fall-back theme in case they can't come up with their own during play, but they like the ability to over-ride thematic content to resolve the stories they want to tell. In some games the thematic fluff goes to the other extreme, it is so overdone and heavy handed that the game seems incapable of telling anything but the one story...over and over. A lot of the current generation of "Story Games" seem to fit this heavy-handed approach, with their designers claiming things like "thematic high-art" as their defence.

Theme in Mechanism
Perhaps the hardest method of thematic content to get right is the connection of theme with the mechanisms that drive play during the game.

Example 3a: A game about a gritty tough life provides lower chances of success, but it might offer ways to twist the story based on failure. 
Example 3b: A game about heroism provides greater chances to succeed or more spectacular results when success does occur, it ups the ante with character choices and makes things seem more epic.
Example 3c: A game about confronting the unknown provides specific mechanisms for psychological effects when stepping out of a comfort zone, it provides benefits for doing so but at a risk that must always be carefully weighed.

When thematic content is linked to a single mechanism in the game, it can easily be removed, and the whole nature of the play experience is altered. For example, players know that if they alter the "insanity rules" in Call of Cthulhu their play experience will change accordingly. When it occurs due to a symbiosis of separate mechanisms, it becomes harder to know how a play experience will alter. This often occurs when a group changes the reward cycle in a game like D&D. Blatant thematic input tied to mechanisms may see those mechanisms deliberately avoided. Subtle thematic input tied to one or two mechanisms may not see the light of day; but when they do, the play group will really get drawn into the game world at a whole new level. It's a tough road for a designer to walk, but the pay-off can be immense.

Combining the Thematic Pointers
When good art, background and mechanisms all point in a specific direction, the theme becomes an intrinsic part of the game. It seems to make common sense, but I haven't seen very many games pull it off successfully. Josh T. Jordan's Heroine comes really close, and I think that's one of the reasons why I like it at the moment. Mage: the Ascension also did it pretty well, and that's one of the reasons why it will be one of my all time favourites. D&D never really did it well, often struggling to be too much to too many different people.

If you've got any ideas for other games that play with themes well, let me know. I'm always interested in new ways of doing things and new perspectives to learn from.

07 August, 2013

Some Town Maps

I promised that as soon as I had an operating scanner again, I'd post a few of the maps I've been working on for towns in Walkabout.

Guess what??...the scanner's working.

Still a lot of work to do on these, such as adding in some buildings, colouring and fatiguing them, and maybe adding some names/notes. But they're coming along nicely.

When too much variation ends up being none at all

After my last post, I've been thinking about an issue that's sort of related to "Exception Based Design", but it moves in a different direction.

I'll explain it with an example.

3rd Edition D&D (and 3.5) released under the open game license were great for the hobby in some ways, but terrible for the hobby in others. They were possibly the ultimate incarnation of "Exception Based Design" where every sourcebook created new exceptions to the core rules, and every character filled specific niches in game-mechanisms and storytelling potential. In the mid 2000s, there were dozens/scores/hundreds of companies producing sourcebooks with the core System Reference Document of the OGL as their basis. 

Every one of these wanted to have a point of difference about it, so it created new exceptions.

Eventually, there were exceptions enough to cover everything. If the fighter had a range of feat that worked off the strength attribute, now the sorceror and bard had mechanically similar feats based on the charisma attribute (ie. you could fight people with your words). 

In a similar example...

Magic: the Gathering started with green basically being the colour of creatures, white the colour of protection, red the colour of direct damage, blue the colour of weird stuff that you did to the deck, and black the colour of graveyard manipulation. There was always a hefty bit of overlap between adjacent colours and a little bit of overlap between all colours (eg. everyone had access to creatures of some type), but generally the colours kept their themes intact.

The problem comes with new expansion sets, and the fact that eventually there are enough card variations floating around that any colour can produce almost any type of deck. I've seen green decks that work through deck and graveyard manipulation, blue decks that are predominantly creatures, and all manner of effective decks that have gone against the original principles of the colours.

This seems to mainly be a problem when the potential of a game expands beyond its original parameters, possibly a symptom of success that most small press companies wouldn't need to worry about. But at the fundamental level, it's a factor of design choices from the beginning.

If a designers specifically wants different aspects of the game to play in different ways, this creates an instant level of strategy within the mechanisms. Some players will be drawn to playing one way, and telling one type of story, while other players will be drawn in different directions. You don't want too much of the one flavour, because it narrows down the potential audience; conversely, you don't want too many competing flavours because it just dilutes the whole thing into a jumbled mess.

I don't really have an answer for how this balance can be achieved, or how it can be maintained as a game expands beyond its origins...it's just something that I'm thinking about.

05 August, 2013

Exception Based Design

I've seen a few posts lately discussing the topic of 'exception based design'; I didn't really look at them too carefully when they first popped up on my radar, but now there have been enough of them to pique my interest.

Tonight I've done a quick Google search to see what it's all about. I had some vague ideas, having done some software programming and web design (where the most common piece of exception based design is making sure a web-page works for Internet Explorer).

I found the following articles/posts:

Whitehall Industries on 'Exception Based Design'

Gamasutra on 'Truth in Game Design'

Most Dangerous Game Design on 'How to Make Games for Everyone'

They each come at the concept of Exception based game design from slightly different angles, but that helps give a better perspective on why some designers choose to use it casually, while others focus on it.

A common case in point is D&D, where the core game mechanisms are fairly vanilla, and every class modifies the rules in some way to reflect a specific range of abilities. In early editions of the game, the combat used a d20, thieves used a d100 for their skills, magic-users had slots of predetermined spells at the start of the day, clerics had quirky rules for turning undead...everyone had their own exception to the rules.

Advanced versions and newer iterations of D&D added further exceptions to differentiate more types of character, and then applied new forms of exceptions in the form of feats and additional rules from supplemental books.

It's an easy way to design, but it's also a lazy way to design...and many other games fall into this trap. In White Wolf's original World of Darkness, there were general rules, but each of the games overlayed a series of specific exceptions, disciplines for vampires (each of which worked their own way), gifts for werewolves (some of which were automatic, other required rolls, or resource expenditure), Mage used a generic and open ended magic system that was unlike anything seen anywhere before...then you had merits and flaws which tweaked the core rules of the game to provide character twists.

Fluxx is all about exceptions, and often how those exceptions interact with other exceptions. It makes for a rich game, but detracts from the ease of playability (especially for casual gamers). When playing a game based on exception based design, you don't need to know all of the exceptions, but the more you don't know, the harder it is to play.

I think this is one of the things that bugs me a bit about the *-world games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts). The differentiating features between characters are all quirky exception based sets of rules (moves) that are overlayed on the core system, many of which work in very different ways. It's a throwback to that lazy style of game design, or maybe not lazy just inelegant.

I know I've fallen into the trap of exception based game design. But lately, in my attempt to get back to basics, I've been trying to avoid it like the plague. Walkabout is the exact opposite, almost everything is resolved in the same way through an interaction between the narrative and a few simple game mechanisms. The names of traits may change, and these changes of name might alter the way they may be introduced into the mechanics through trigger events within the story, but once the traits hit the mechanisms that drive the game it really doesn't matter what they're called...the effects are the same.

04 August, 2013

What happened in the Dark Days?

For Walkabout, I've deliberately left the apocalypse a bit vague and undefined. What happened to tilt the earth? What happened during the nuclear winter when the cloud of volcanic ash filled the earth's sky? What madness descended on the remnants of humanity when their nightmares manifested?

I think I've found a good inspiration for this period in the game's history.

Romantically Apocalyptic

I haven't read through it all yet, but there are inspirations for proto-outlander mutants, spirits (manifesting as monsters and aliens), Geiger counters and folks descending into all degrees of madness. It could easily serve as backstory to a session.

02 August, 2013

Games of Episodic Nature

I'm terrible with these things.

I read a post the other day (it was on my G+ stream, and linked back to a blog article). The general nature of the post stated that roleplayers tell stories in the form of a book, the assumption here is that single games might be chapters of that book, but the presence of all players was generally needed for the ongoing continuity of the book. The author went on to say that maybe roleplayers should abandon the concept of telling stories in book form, it might make the hobby more approachable if stories were told in the paradigm of television. This would mean taking each session as an individual episode and an overall chronicle might be viewed in the form of a TV series. If the story catches on, then you run a second season exploring different aspect of the world.

The author seemed to think that this was a marvellous construct of his own devising.

Problem is, I've been thinking of roleplaying games in this way for years (maybe even decades). I've run a whole lot of games where players were erratic, so it made sense not to end things on a cliffhanger at the end of the session. Who wants a cliffhanger when half the cast won't be present for the chapter's resolution (or the next episode)? It might also be a factor of running so many games at conventions, where you get a tight 3 hours to expose players to your world and get them through a meaningful and self-contained storyline.

I like episodic games...don't get me wrong, I also love epic storylines that build up over time into something that totally changes the world (or at least changes the perception of the world for a small group of people).

I just thought that it was odd that there were players around who hadn't considered the notion of episodic play before.