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Showing posts from May, 2018

200 word marking rubric

I'll get stuck into the entries, probably this afternoon (my time), so I might post the first batch tonight. Apparently there were 700 entries last year, and I'm told that there are mean to be twice as many this year, so it's going to be a hell of a ride. Even if those reported numbers are wrong, it's still going to take a while to get through the lot.

Here's my marking criteria



A premise for play 0: Nothing. 1: This entrant is a bunch of mechanism, or even just one a single mechanism. 2: This entrant give a couple of vague hints, and requires quite a bit of outside work. 3: This entrant is about something, maybe something narrow and needs fleshing out. 4: This entrant is rich in atmosphere and motivation for players.
Some kind of rules 0: Nothing. 1: This entrant has some hints toward a system or method of play. 2: This entrant is based on a basic and crude single idea, generally functional but limiting in what it does. 3: There is a bit of depth to these rules, an…

Overview of the 200 Word RPGs

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Wow, there's some really interesting stuff in the entries that I've had a look at so far.

There's also a few of the standard trends that I tend to see in contests like this...

If we work off the assumption that a complete game provides...

a premise for playsome kind of rulesa way for players to define their charactersan agenda for the players to work towards through their characters
...then virtually all of the games fall flat somewhere.

That's probably a function of the 200 word limitation. It's pretty hard to get all of those elements into an amount of text that many mainstream other games would cram into half a page.


I'm really tempted to do a series of reviews for every game in the contest. Maybe giving every game a score out of 20, with each of those categories above providing somewhere between 0-4 points, then a final 0-4 points based on how well I think the game has pulled the concepts together into a coherent package. If I were to do this, I'd limit …

Using Spare Parts

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To cut the Dispatch Guide down to 24 pages, I had to cut some areas that I wanted to include in the game. So that means the discards from one book become the foundation of the next.
Hopefully it takes less time to get this next book sorted, and I can develop a bit of momentum for this game.

200 Word RPG 2018: The Wanderer (Version 2.0)

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(A few modifications have been made to the game. A few bits that didn't seem particularly clear have been cleaned up a bit. I've also changed the tokens from a single black and a white to a pair of each to add a bit more choice about success and failure for the warrior's actions in the early stages of the game. It's still a case that offering more chances of success early means a higher difficulty in later stages of the game, and conversely making things harder for the wanderer early makes the climax easier. If I write a third version of this game, I'll do it after the 200 word context is over, maybe adding a 100 words, providing a character sheet, or maybe a bunch of potential companion cards with unique looks to them and advantages that can be chosen... we'll see how things go.)
The Wanderer As she strides the Bonelands toward the Onyx Citadel, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A band of companions guide her destiny.
Three questions…

A Metaphysical Point-Crawl

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The Dark Places concept is all about mythic strangeness, entities lingering on the edges of consciousness, somewhere between madness, death and dreams. It was never meant to be mapped; and certainly couldn't be contained by mundane 2-dimensional flatness. The setting is a swirling 4-dimensional vortex, constantly in flux, constantly bringing something new, or recycling something old.



How would adventurers make sense of such a place? 

In simple terms, it's only once they stop trying to make sense of everything that they begin to transcend in the grand scheme. Instincts, gut reactions, action for it's own sake, doing things because they need to be done rather than becoming tied up in the hubris of why they are done and the constraining reasons for why they are right.

But...

Yes, there are expected frameworks in the narratives of RPG space. Gamers like maps, they often like a structure, despite the chaos.

For those who watch the new Dr Who, consider the interconnected weaving o…

Walkabout: Symbolism

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This is European Celtic symbolism.

This is Asian Shamanic symbolism

This is North American First Nations symbolism.

This is Australian Aboriginal symbolism.

Yes, each of these examples are indocative of the continents they are from, but they are each on a narrow subset of the rich diversity from the continents indicated. I've tried to narrow down similar types of imagery from pre-modern eras, and while the first three sets are derived from quick Google searches, they're typical of the kinds of imageey sets I've seen numerous times over the years. The last set of images is on a piece of paper I recieved from Indigenous artists in Moree last year, again similar to many of the image sets I've seen on websites and in books about Australian Aboriginal artwork. I know a lot of the "Australian" symbols aren't native to the Gamilaroi people (who live in and around Moree in northern NSW), they're just the kind of symbolism that is expected of Australian Aborig…

200 Word RPG 2018: Immortal Neon Katana

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Only one will remain. Don’t lose your head.
Total Tokens = 5 x Players.
Immortals have Combat and Cunning. One is d6, the other d8.
Youngest goes first.
Choose someone to describe the scene, and another to narrate your challenge. Challenge narrator may take up to 5 tokens to determine the difficulty. If pool empty, duel someone.
      * = d4       ** = d6       *** = d8       ****= d10       ***** = d12
Player describes their Immortal facing the challenge, then rolls relevant die.
Immortal >= Challenge. Player gains all difficulty tokens.
Challenge > Immortal. Challenge narrator claims a token, others returned to pool. The player’s die used is decreased by a degree. If combat < d4; Immortal dies. If cunning < d4; Immortal goes insane and must be duelled before a winner declared. Once you have tokens you may spend them to: Regain a decreased attribute (1 point per increase, up to starting score). Roll an extra die (cost as challenge dice). If rolling two dice, use high…

200 Word RPG 2018: Lost Souls

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(I'm not as sure about this one, but it was in my head and I had to get it out. I'm stumped on the last two questions for the second round... they need to be somehow related to the resolution of the lost soul's desire, but trying to get the feeling and the wording right with 11 words left is proving problematic. Maybe it's time to start editing words out of other sections when and where I can.)


Lost Souls
Requires: Masking tape, marker, stopwatch
All players sit in a circle and take turns, going clockwise. On each players first turn, the player to the right is “Death” they hold the stopwatch. The player to the left (and sequentially each player around the circle) is asked a question. 
The active player notes the answers.       Who is this lost soul?     How did they die?     What was their desire?     What stopped them getting it? When they stop, Death writes the time taken on the tape, an attaches it to the player’s forehead so everyone but them can see the time indica…

Crazy Idea for a Hit Point Variant

I don't know if there are any other games that do this, it feels like something that should be a part of an OSR game because it uses a lot of the tropes from that field of gaming. Maybe there is, maybe it's new.

Here's the idea.

One of the issues I have with hit points in most D&D and OSR games is the idea that every level, hit points go up, and up and up. You start gritty and fragile, one or two strikes can take you down. Eventually you get to that level 4-7 sweet spot where combats take a little longer, where special powers become available, and where characters start to feel like they can make a difference in the world. Then you transcend this point, combats become a boring slog, roll after roll to whittle away one another's pool of hit points, weapons still do the same damage on a strike but it takes so many more of those strikes to inflict significant impact.

I'm looking to remedy this a bit.

There's a school of thought which states that hit points ref…

Walkabout: Songlines

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This article from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, reinforces and draws on a lot of the ideas I've previously heard. Ideas that have been confirmed by the elders I've been speaking to, but it also doesn't quite go far enough. 

As Australia's first city, the pathways of Indigenous people were certainly used as the basic method to get from place to place, and those paths eventually became the accepted methods used by settlers, then paved for use by carriages and cars.

But in addition to the Sydney basin, this occured across the whole country. Explorers typically followed the paths linking different communities of Indigenous nations, often aided by native guides. When later leading surveyors across the land, the explorers took the paths they knew, and the Aboriginal pathways became locked into the settlers maps as the roads between towns.

Often the Aboriginal settlements were located on strategic waterholes, places where paths crossed rivers, or trading paths cros…

Dispatch Guide

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A bit of time to get some page layout done.


It also helps that I've finally got a computer that can handle stuff like this again.

Hopefully the second book for The Law will go live (at least as a PDF) some time this week.

200 word RPG 2018: The Wanderer

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The Wanderer

As she strides the Bonelands toward the Citadel of Onyx, the last obstacles in her lifelong quest of vengeance await. A small group of companions guide her destiny.
Three questions define you. How do you know her? What did you teach her? She gains advantage What haven’t you taught her? You gain advantage
Everyone starts with 1 black and 1 white token (hidden), blank page and pencil. A bag contains six more tokens of each colour.
Each act, everyone takes turns posing a situation, then asking another player how the Wanderer faces it. Everyone contributes one of their two tokens to resolve the situation, one more is drawn from the bag.
< 1/3 white = full success
< 1/3 black = full failure
Otherwise both apply

Describe what happens. Everyone replenishes their spent token by drawing a random token from the bag. Spent tokens are returned to the bag.
Act One: Flashbacks (What challenge was faced?) Success: She gains an advantage Failure: Someone loses an advantage
Act …

Walkabout: People of the Outback

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Going through some of my old notes, I found a few things that felt a little problematic at the time, but now seem far more so.

In the last round of playtests for the game (which echo back to 2012/2013), I defined a character by a series of template stereotypes in a mix-and-match system. I still like this idea, but it's the nature of those templates that will need to change in the rewrite. Three template fragments were combined in that system. Each template came in a general form, with a specialty that could be used to refine what it means specifically to the character.


First were the "people", where these are the culture the character grew up with and those who they consider their family. The people might be considered a "race" in some games, but not quite. I basically categorised the various types of people by the culture and technology they shared rather than any genetic heritage. The "Nomads" were those who roamed the highways in mobile towns built…

Walkabout: Magic of the Dreaming

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I've been digging through my old Walkabout notes, some of them almost a decade old. I had at least two versions of the game, drawing on different clusters of inspiration.

In the original version of the game, magic was a fairly static affair. At the end of each game, a player could ask another player to inscribe a tattoo or marking on the characters body. The player would literally give their character sheet to another player, and that second player would literally draw on the character sheet in pencil, and fill in a couple of words. This would be related to some deed that the character had performed during the course of the story. If the player liked the idea, they could find a shaman, or do some kind of "quest of permanence" to integrate that marking into their soul. If the player didn't like it, they could erase it during a later game. Characters would have a limited number of these marking slots on their body, and if they suffered a permanent injury like a loss of…

Walkabout: The Bower Bird

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The Bower Bird is found in Australia and New Guinea. It is a collector of stuff. Among the bower birds found locally, the males predominantly collect blue stuff. They line their nests with blue trinkets, bits of plastic, coloured paper, flowers, feathers from other birds, anything that's blue. I'm no ornithologist, but I generally understand that this is done to lure potential mates. The more stuff collected, the more vibrant the male's nest appears to the female bower birds. It doesn't matter where the stuff comes from, I don't know if the specific shade of blue matters, but I'm sure some kind of though process goes through the male bird's head as it ccumulates the stuff.

Modern Indigenous Australian culture feels a bit like that in a lot of ways. Where the male bower bird represents the members of the Indigenous community, and the female bower bird represents government funding bodies, non-indigenous outsiders, and anyone who might have anything to say a…

Walkabout: Fragmented Spiritualism

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Ethnocentrism is a bit like racism, and is often a concept confused with it. Technically, where racism focuses on the physical appearances and differences between people on the surface, ethnocentrism is about the customs and mannerisms of people. Ethnocentrism covers times when someone has prejudice against another person due to them speaking a different language, or having religious differences. It's the Imperial British "bringing order" to the Indian Subcontinent, it's the Spanish conquistadors converting the natives to Catholicism at the point of sword and musket, it's the Han Chinese in Beijing imposing their customs across the other ethnic minorities in China, it's the Jews driving out the Palestinians under the belief that Yahweh is the rightful god of the region, it's the ongoing pogrom by Australian governments against the Aboriginal people over generations.



Ethnocentrism has led to many problems in the world. Each culture has it's own stories…

Walkabout: Moving Forward

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There are a number of reasons why I'm not using PbtA as the foundation for Walkabout.
I still think it's a fad system. A bandwagon that too many people are still jumping on. Eventually people will realise that it's being used in ways it really shouldn't, and there are better systems out there to do different things... a d that underlying it all is a system that is pretty crude to start with. Yes, it does certain things well, but evangelising it into everything isn't doing the game engine any favours.It sets a good starting point for character's, but players are bound by their character's playbooks and developing beyond those original stereotypes is problematic. "Oh", I hear the Apocalypse-heads claim, "it's just like the way story develops despite the rules in old school D&D. The stories you tell can be all about rebelling against those stereotypes, or using those stereotypes to transcend themselves"...or similar such nonsense. I …

Walkabout: More thought experiments.

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One of those questions that always seems to come up in indie game design is...

"What is your game about?" 

Quickly followed by...

"How do the mechanics support that?"

Going through the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions last month I saw that there seem to be three distinct schools of thought (and a few others less prominent).



A few designers develop their ideas first, then shop around for systems that match what they're trying to do (often limiting themselves to a range of popular game systems like Fudge, FATE, PbtA, Savage Worlds, d20, OSR to keep their game marketable). The other school of thought takes a system first (often PbtA), then modifies it until it does the kind of things that been envisioned for the game. Then you get the designers who work from the ground up to create a dedicated system to the experience they are trying to present to their players. The downside among many of these latter designs is that they can end up as "one trick ponies" that can…

Walkabout and Community

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One of the strongest concepts that has come up time and again in my studies with various Indigenous groups has been that of "community". But thinking globally, this is probably similar in most cultures. Community is what makes a culture, and the best way to disrupt a culture is by destroying it's community. This is actually one of the definitions of genocide, and part of the ongoing issues faced by Australian Aboriginal groups even now.


Australian Aboriginal communities know each other by how people link to one another, in this context you introduce yourself by who you know, and how you know them or are related to them. The closest analogue I can think of as I'm writing this is the Ancient Greek world, where people would be identified by their home city and their position within that city. I'm thinking of my reading of Oedipus here, and a few other texts, but I know I'm missing key elements in my description.

Creating a game like this without adding elements …

Walkabout Rebirth

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The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

It's a science fiction cliche, but it stands out because it's so similar to what many of the world's religions claim to teach. The problem is that those in power have always lived by the adage of "do as I say and not as I do". It has always been the problem in the western world, and most other civilisations across the planet for that matter.

Power breeds corruption, corruption breeds power. Imbalance leads to individuals with power, and the only way they see to gain more power is through further imbalance.



Walkabout has always been about restoring the balance. That means It's always been about sticking it to those in power. Confronting the bullies, giving hope to the masses, toppling the tyrants, allowing nature to take it's course.

Years of study with Australian Indigenous peoples from various parts of the east and south-east haven't shifted those thoughts, they've reinforced them.

Combining elements and stirring the pot

Planet Psychon, Sanity Drives, The Dark Places, R-Souls The SNAFU System.

Many ideas, they all have the capability of being combined into a gumbo of metaphysical surrealism. They feel like multiple people working on something similar, but coming at it from different angles. The SNAFU System is just the way I'd combine them into a meaningful whole.

Conceptual angels and demons, reality on the brink, metaphysical insanity, interconnected realities, unfathomable entities beyond the comprehension of the sane, magic that draws on potentials that cannot be explained by science.

But what's it all about?

Arguably, it looks like this project will work better if it remains a collections of hooks and unfinished fragments to allow players to connect it all together in their own way as they play.

Dungeon Geomorphs

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A geomorph is basically a tesselating frament of a map, a bunch of them can be mixed and matched in a variety of configurations to make a huge variety of potential maps. I've toyed with them before (notably here and the geomorph guide here).

I'm at it again. But this time focusing on fragments of maps that might build up into a dungeon. It's basically an add-on for Catacomb Quest, where a cluster of four map geomorphs (in a 2x2 configuration) or nine geomorphs (as a 3x3) might be used to define a single section of the underground world being explored.


In Catacomb Quest, I used suits of cards to define 4 distinct types of threats that might be found under an ancient ruined city. This means I'm probably looking at 36 of these geomorphs (if I do 9 for each of the four suits), for starters I'll create five generic geomorphs including the catacombs entrance, a pair of generic rooms, a branching passageway, and an underground crossroads. Then I'll add five specific g…

Living in a world of R-Souls...

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A cosmology.

I had this idea for a setting, it might tie into an existing project, probably the Dark Places. It works on the idea that their are people with a divine spark, fractured essence of a primordial entity splintered into billions of fragments. Some people have more, some people have less. Those with less are capable of conscious thought, those with more are able to wield control over the world around them. In the old days, there were less people, so you get stories of Methuselah living to 969 years, epic heroes with amazing powers... the excess primordial energy occasionally infused animals and plants, giving them sentience as totems, and at times a convergence of excess power caused entities without physical grounding to spontaneously manifest (such entities might be referred to as gods, angels, spirits, demons, etc.).



As the population grew, the amount of excess energy waned. Fewer totems and non-physical manifestations occurred. In times when the population threatened to l…

#AprilTTRPGMaker 29 and 30

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Let's finish off those last few April posts, now that we're almost a week into May.

29: Your Community


There are massive communities of gamers on G+ and Facebook, often orbiting "big name gamers", or some particular gaming product. I tried doing that with some of the games I've written, but nothing ever caught on. I feel like I drift through numerous other people's communities, but certainly don't feel like I have any communities of my own.

30: Top Tips and Advice

If I had any of those worth listening to, I'd probably be one of those "big name gamers". Even if I didn't have any of these worth listening to, if I was a "big name gamer" people would hang off my every utterance and treat it like gospel even if it was a load of crap.

I'm probably not in the best of moods to be to fishing off these questions. 

People to follow...

Just over a week ago, on day 24 of #AprilTTRPGMaker, I half jokingly said that my greatest achievement was my ability to obfuscate myself.  Then, this week a list of Tabletop Role-playing Gamers did the rounds. It's got 179 names on it (180, if you include the list compiler). I follow a few of them, and a few of them are respected names in various scenes of the wider gaming community... and naturally I'm not there.

Out of curiosity, I looked at some of the names on the list that I don't follow yet.

Some have been circled on G+ by less than an eighth of the people who've circled me... so I guess they're either in contact with "big names" in the community, or maybe they go to the various big name US/UK conventions where they get their names known.

Some of them haven't posted anything this year... so apparently I've got a lower profile than people who don't post things at all.

Some don't seem to post much original stuff at all, and only offer…

Planet Psychon Acidpunk Edition

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I need to start following Chris Tamm's Blog. He's a local (or at least another Aussie... he seems to alternate between Sydney and Adelaide), and he's doing the kind of stuff that I actually appreciate in the OSR.

Here's a link to a project he's been working on, in collaboration with a range of other folks.

It is Planet Psychon. It pushes boundaries, it provides ideas, it seems to work brilliantly with a bunch of ideas I've been having for my Dark Places setting. Actually, I think some of my ideas and some of his ideas have mingled in various facebook groups and other forums across the net, talking at cross purposes but feeding off one another none-the-less.

A lot of the ideas in this book have instantly inspired me, they aren't exactly the way I'd handle things, but nothing ever is. That's all a part of gaming, translating the source material to your specific table... It's a part of all art, translating the artist's message into something th…