Saturday, February 26, 2005

balance and the burden of being GM

There's a whole lot of talk out there about making games 'balanced,' as in how the players all have equal input into the game. You and I both get the same amount of points, we each can't take more than three levels of XYZ, and your cool ability isn't any more useful than my cool ability.
But what about the GM?

It seems to be a foregone assumption that the GM is in some separate class, able to wield godlike powers with the only restraint being a player who says "your game sucks, I'm bailing." The GM always has the final say, can conjure unlimited antagonism out of thin air, and often has the right to dismiss the rules whenever they don't support some premeditated plan. GM powers always outrank any player power, too. Imagine me saying, "ha, I use my Action Point, and that'll get me a total of 22! That means we won!" and the GM says, "nope, uh, four more guys rush through the far door."

It's pretty obvious that there's a clear threshold at which point the player power to say 'screw you' kicks in, but there's a big gray area before that in which all sorts of things can happen that can disappoint player and GM. Ever been the GM and in the middle of an encounter, you quietly think to yourself, damn, I made these guys too tough? Ever had intentions as a player to have your guy do something cool that was totally blindsided by a GM handwave? You can talk about it afterward, and everyone can tell the GM what they liked and didn't like, but why can't they say that during the game? Why can't the players have any real power while the game is being played?

That ain't balanced. I think all that responsibility and power makes being the GM less fun than it could be, and it makes the GM seat more attractive to the kind of person that you don't really want in the GM seat, if you know what I mean.

So how do you redistribute power but still give the GM the ability to provide cool situations that the players can respond to?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Games as Shared Experience

As you will come to know I am photographer. I have recently begun to think about Games as shared experience. A way for people to come together and interact. Not only is it entertaining but I believe it is better for you than getting together to watch a movie or TV. It is shared experience that brings people together. People watching TV are individuals, but people playing games are a community, if only for a brief moment in time.

Games can bridge the gaps in culture, generation, or social class. I am not saying that you can solve the world’s problems by playing games (board, roleplaying, etc ...) but I am saying that with the surge in “alone together” activities such as movies, TV, video games, and those pesky books that there needs to be more earnest social interaction..

The link above is to some work prints I have put together on this topic so far. I am trying to capture both the social aspect of the game as well as those moments that are quintessential to any game. The pondering of the perfect move, the success of a key strategy, or your crushing defeat.

I will also put forth a question about MMORPGS.

Does being part of an online social community that you only interact through via the game count as a truly social experience?
(commentary withheld for the moment)

If you play games within the greater Seattle area and would be willing to be photographed, please contact me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Conflict Resolution

To follow up my post about the state of the art in RPG design, I offer up this bit of wisdom from Vincent:

Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution

Vincent believes that the future of game design is in conflict resolution, and that task resolution is "dead." I agree with him 100%. Task resolution is the domain of an all-powerful GM that holds the reins of the story and doles out input to the players at his discretion. A lot of what makes a good GM in a task resolution game is the ability to minimize the overt force that such a system allows the GM. But why wrestle with such a system in the first place? Conflict resolution is simply a superior mechanic for RPGs played by human beings (task resolution will survive in computer RPGs, however).

As I take my next steps in talking about RPG design on this blog, I will talk from the assumption that task resolution is not worth considering as a design choice. Now's your chance to hash this out before moving on to more meaningful design stuff to come.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Destructicus Prime

In the grim darkness of the future, there is only smash up derby.

Destructicus Prime is a miniatures smash-up derby game that was born when Feng observed that the funnest part of Warhammer 40k was blowing vehicles up.

Basically, you set up an arena on a large table. The arena can include barriers, gates, ramps, bombs, and anything else you can come up with. Players bring toy vehicles of approximately the same scale. These can include models from miniature wargames (like 40k), matchbox toys, animals and monsters such as riding dragons or toy dinosaurs, and so on. Players then race these vehicles around the table trying to score points while creating as much destruction and mayhem as possible.

Making shooting sounds and explosion noises while doing this is recommended.

Since its inception the game has been through five revisions, and the final version plays quite well. I've posted the Destructicus Prime rules on my Web site.

The one thing lacking from the rules are guidelines for making vehicle profiles and for designing arenas, but most people should be able to come up with something fairly quickly. Usually we just make some kind of oval with ramps and barriers. Then we scatter the vehicles around the arena. The freaks usually start on foot in various locations and then run to the vehicles to get them started. Wackiness ensues.

The State of the Art

Before we can get back into a serious discussion of game design, I think it's important to get on the same page in terms of the state of the art in RPG design today. In my opinion, the most important work in RPG critical thinking is embodied in one guy, namely Vincent Baker (aka lumpley).

Vincent's game Dogs in the Vineyard is the current bleeding edge of RPG design, and it represents a lot of very important theoretical work presented in an accessible, attractive package that is meant -- first and foremost -- to be played. Not simply read and collected like far too many other game books.

To get up to speed on many significant areas of RPG theory, I highly recommend a serious read of Vincent's blog, Anyway. In particular these links:

How RPG Rules Work
Roleplaying Theory Open House
The State of the Art

Go. Read. If things like "FitM Conflict Resolution" don't make sense to you, keep reading.

Oh, and Roger? To answer your post from December 2002: A resounding NO. It has most certainly not all been done. Not by a long shot.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Deep Cover, Deep Magic Redux

Revisiting this blog, I see that my last game-idea posts here were about my "Deep Cover, Deep Magic" idea, mixing Spycraft - the "Great Game" - with magic - the "High Art". Well, I don't know who's been reading this blog*, but a couple months ago I discovered Dark Inheritance, a product of Mythic Dreams Studios. Now "powered by Spycraft," this d20/Spycraft supplement adds a "mythic horror" setting to the Spycraft line. I haven't yet had time to read through it properly, but it does look like it's close to the ideas that I was describing in "Deep Cover, Deep Magic," and it does look cool. I'll try to give it a good read and write some more about it soon.

(* I should add, incidentally, that my "Deep Cover, Deep Magic" posts were from December 2002, and Dark Inheritance was first published for d20 Modern in April 2003 - much too short a time for someone to have "stolen" my idea and published a book, nor do I seriously mean to imply that was the case.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Back to blogging

Due to circumstances beyond our control - well, beyond my control at least - the ShootingIron Forums are down and will stay down for the foreseeable future. So, it's time to revive the ol' blog. Let's get some ideas up here.

Edit to add: some clever person can figure out how to get comments enabled again, yes? I updated the settings and added to the template the code Blogger told me I had to add, but they don't seem to be working.