Friday, August 26, 2005

The End of the World is Nigh!

I can't even begin to express the level of awe, disgust, and absolut jealousy I feel about this concept.

Why can't the super popular MMORPGs have content that is meaningful in some way other than draining away your will to do something else?

I want to play them so much, but like an addict I know that the only solution is to not play them.

This combination of CCG and MMORPG is perhaps just the next level of insanity. How can a game like PTA compete in the main stream marketplace? Maybe the point is that it won't. I can only hope for a backlash towards actually social activities, but I fear we are training our youth too intrinsicly and deeply.

*Sigh* I'll just go back to my paper and pencil and write up a new character for some game system or another.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Firefly in the Vinyard (FitV) Character Creation

Character Creation (my initial thoughts)

As with DitV, do not come to the first session with a character created. It will be useful to have watched Firefly (but not necessary) and to have some ideas in mind. Remember that this is your story and you do not have to have everything that they have on the show. You are not playing the crew of the Serenity (but you can if you like.)

What every crew needs:

  • The Captain – The captain owns the ship and must take it as one of his possessions. This means that it is his ship with all of the good and the bad that comes with it. The Captain should be a PC.
  • A pilot – Someone must know how to fly the ship.
  • A mechanic – Someone must know how to fix the ship.
  • A steward – Someone must know how to handle money and handle proper resupply. If a crew member knows how to, then the Players don’t.

Note: I will use the word Crew throughout this document. This refers to a PC or NPC that is controlled by the players, even though they may not actually work on the Ship (i.e. River. She doesn't really count as crew per say, but would be counted as such for this document.)

Since a standard group of players will be between 3 and 6 people, it may be useful to have several NPCs crew members to handle one or more of the above roles. Having an NPC pilot (or backup pilot) is useful as it allows all of the PCs to be directly involved with the conflict.

Step 1: Create Characters

1) Decide how the above roles are going to filled. It doesn’t matter how you decide. If no one wants one of the above roles, then it will be filled by an NPC (See below.)
2) Begin character creation normally. Each person uses standard DitV character creation methodology.
3) Name the Ship. The Captain makes the final decision. It is his ship after all.

Step 2: Create NPCs

1) Decide what other characters (if any) you want on the ship.
a. Maybe you want a Shepard on the ship, but no one wants to play him as his PC. No problem. Lets create him anyway.
2) The group should then create the NPCs. The GM is considered the player for purposes of character creation (ultimately deciding where points go, etc …) but creation is really done with the group.
a. The GM also has the option to “plant” one or two characters of his own design to the ship’s crew (the Doctor and River could have been GM plants.)
b. I do not recommend doing this if the players object, but it is a useful way to introduce some unusual elements into the life of the ship’s crew.
3) A quick note about NPCs – This is preliminary, but it is my thought that any player can decide to play one of the NPCs at any time when his own PC is not directly involved. If a Player does this, he must play the NPC as if it were his own PC, even if the fallout may effect his PC. That is the deal. Examples include:
a. Playing the pilot in a high pressure chase, rather than having the GM play both the NPC and pursuer.
b. You PC is captured or injured and you don’t want to just “sit around.”
c. When a PC comes into conflict with an NPC (verbally or otherwise) one of the players can play that NPC rather than the GM. This allows the other players to think of these characters Crew rather than the GMs NPCs.

Comments appreciated.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Firefly: Dogs of the Vineyard Style

You are a member of a tightknit crew struggling to live life your way on the fringes of space. Each day is a struggle to maintain your life, your ideals, and the lives of your friends. Dogs seems to be the perfect vehicle for this type of Wild West Space drama. Here are the conversions (off the top of my head:)

One (or more) of the PCs owns a ship. He is the captain. How he captains is up to him, but ultimately it is *his* ship with all of the good and bad that comes with. All of the Players should agree as to who is the captain during character creation.

Character Creation is pretty standard. Choose a type, assign dice, pick possesions, etc ... Each player must have a tie to either the ship or to the captain (just as each player in Dogs must have a tie to the Dogs.) For example, "I am a member of the Serenity's crew."

As GM you create Jobs instead of Towns. The Players arrive somewhere for a Job. Here are the details and some NPCs. What aren't they being told? What is really going on? What are the complications?

Adapting the Faith: This is where is gets tricky for me. The players are not enforcers as per Dogs (or any of his examples) but I see no reason why there couldn't be several sets of Faith that PCs could or could not choose to call upon. For example, there could be the Faith of the Shepard, the Code of the Brownshirts, or Pyschic Mojo. That being said, who said the PCs are on the fringes and not enforcers of some type.

It looks like there is going to be a Serenity RPG coming out, which would be useful for Source Material (the system looks fine, but definately more cinematic than gritty.)


Choose your own adventure

Trollbabe and the forthcoming Stranger Things both direct the players to begin by picking a spot on the map and saying what their character is doing there. The gamemaster then proceeds either to improvise off the player's beginning statement, or to present an adventure hook he's prepared, seeing whether he can catch the player's interest.

But why go through the guesswork? You could save a step by simply presenting the players with a few hooks to choose from, and then placing the characters on the map depending on which hook they choose. At worst, if they're not interested in any of the hooks you present, you're just back to the normal starting situation of the players offering ideas for what they're up to. At best, you and the players immediately share an understanding of what kind of game you're both interested in playing.

For that matter, you could even make this the very first step of starting a new campaign in any game - even before anyone begins to make up a character. That way you're also sure you won't get stuck with a bunch of characters (and by extension players) who have neither a connection to nor any interest in the scenario you were going to run.

A game like Talislanta seems particularly well-suited for this method - not only does the game come with a list of 48 different adventure seeds (already conveniently divided up amongst the various major regions of the continent), it's also got a wildly diverse set of countries and cultures to choose from if you need to go the improvisation route - just have the players pick a spot on the map, or pick an archetype's picture and say "I want to meet that guy". But this should work with most games, really.

I'm sure many GMs throughout the history of gaming have used the method of presenting adventure hooks to the players; it's not a new idea. The main points here are that it can be combined with the "put your character on the map" method; it lets the players tell you what they want to do, instead of dictating to them what they can do; and if you do it even before making characters, it helps you avoid the problem of inappropriate character choices.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Taking the Reins

The title of this post comes from something John said, I think during discussion of a Stranger Things playtest.

A while back, while playtesting Magicians of England, I had a strange experience. I got so tied up in the goals and desires of my character, that I forgot I was playing a game.

At the time I chided myself for getting to caught up in the playtest, but now I'm starting to think that I was supposed to feel that energy.

That's not a feeling that I've encountered many times in my role-playing experience. The closest that I commonly get is probably when I'm GM-ing a well set scene that is rolling powerfully towards its finale (my players can probably tell when this happens because I usually stand up and start waving my hands around in the air).

It's been a long, long time since this happened while playing a game however, and the feeling is much stronger. As GM, I have to maintain a certain distance from the fiction. I have many factors to balance, and I can't become attached to one character. When you're a player, however, you don't have these commitments between you and the game.

When I was in the moment, the game mechanics disappeared. They were still there, but I wasn't thinking about them. I was working through them intuitively. I took the reins.

That's what I want from my game: a thoroughbred machine that can take me where I want to go.

That didn't happen for me during the ST playtest (though I had a blast), but I can see that the potential is there. I just need to become more comfortable with the process that ST uses to generate its results. That's probably why I keep mumbling about finding ST "challenging", without being able to say much more. It was challenging because there was something to achieve and some effort required to achieve it.

Playing ST was the polar opposite of most of my "traditional" gaming experiences. They've been an experience of looking longingly over my character sheet fully aware that I've got a chest chock full of tools, none of which will help me get what I want out of the game.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Heartbreak in the City of Forgotten Gods

Last night I played Stranger Things for the first time, and I've gotta say, the game is really great. The biggest thrill for me was seeing the map tiles in action. This tile here figured very closely in the game we played. It was very cool to see everyone weave the map into the narration without really thinking about it consciously.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Magicians of England First Playtest (long)

It's 2 am and I can't sleep, so this is the perfect time to write up the first playtest of Magicians (albeit without notes, which are in my office).

The mechanic I want to highlight for this write up is the plot obstacle mechanic. My experience with un-refereed games (i.e. Universalis) is that plot quickly runs away into random land with little chance of any really satisfying completion.

To fight this tendency, during a scene in Magicians, players can narrate an obstacle (originally called an adversity). Once there are one or more obstacles, players can attempt to remove an obstacle. Once there are no obstacles left, the scene ends. See below for how this worked in practice.

Again, this is without notes, so bear with me.

SCENE I - Rainy Street Oxford.

John suggested that we make a rule limiting obstacles per scene to three. All agreed.

My character (Winthrop "Soddy" Todd, a weedy though cunning fellow) was chosen as protagonist. This means that I narrate the scene set up and that the scene is about my character's goals.

Soddy approached a door in the darkened street. He tries the door finding it locked. The person narrating the door being locked added that this would be an obstacle. I jumped in and narrated that Soddy finds a key under the mat, attempting to remove the obstacle.

When an obstacle is confronted in this way, it is always removed from the game. The goal of the ensuing resolution round is to determine the results of the attempt. There was a bidding round which John won. John narrated that in fact, the door swung open at a touch BUT that a huge mastiff guarded the way. He also added that the house belonged to his character Mortimer (a rather dull member of the nobility, obsessed with newspapers). The mastiff was added as an obstacle.

This illustrates a useful part of the game - the player who wins the narration of an obstacle resolution can add another obstacle. It's a way of saying "I don't want the scene to end yet."

It was also added (I believe by John as well), that the Mastiff was not a real dog, but rather a faeries agent in disguise - something that's sure to come up in later sessions.

I immediately jumped in to resolve this second obstacle. Having player characters does seem to draw you into the action - another thing that I like. My character, being rather intelligent, had the foresight to bring a packet of fish and chips. At this point, Gabe narrated the entrance of his character, the somewhat comical Dr. Nott, and expert on bookshelves and the history of spoons. The two of us rather inadequately tried to bribe the dog with food.

In the ensuing bidding war, several outcomes were suggested, including serious injury to Soddy. Nobody seemed to think that Soddy should be allowed to get by unscathed. I have considered requiring players to narrate getting past an obstacle unscathed when they are controlling a player character, as it encourages the others to bid for narrative control of the results and make things more interesting.

In the end, however, the mastiff was called off by the cook, Orkgrrrl's character. Her character, whose improbably Welsh name I cannot remember without my notes, is a cunning chef with a book of magical recipes and a plan to influence parliament using magical scones.

Scene I was a fairly dull scene, but served to help everyone get their feet wet and establish some hooks for the next scene.

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Current Project: Magicians of England


Nobody knows when the magic went out of England. Nobody knows when the faeries went under the hills and down the faerie roads and left English soil behind. Scholars still read and write and dispute on the histories and legends of English magic. Nannies whisper stories and tales of faeries to their young charges and teach them to ward the evil eye. But magic, real magic, has not been seen in England for centuries.

But it is returning.

Magicians of England is an unrefereed storytelling RPG of magic in the Victorian age.


Magicians is a storytelling game where every player has a high level of narrative control (as opposed to "traditional" rpgs, where the GM is the primary arbiter of what happens in the game.

Magicians has two types of character, player characters and supporting characters. A player character belongs to a player. A supporting character can be controlled and narrated by anyone and may change hands multiple times during play. You don't even have to control a player character to play.

The rules of Magicians are intended to determine who has narrative control at any given time, to arbitrate disputes about narration, to allow characters to expand and customize the rules and the world, and to provide conflict resolution in overcoming plot twists and obstacles.

No player character may begin the game knowing how to work magic, though all begin the game knowing something about magic.

The game is currently in its second beta. I'm expecting to have playtest packets soon (probably after I finish out helping to playtest Stranger Things). If you're interested in playtesting, send me an E-mail.

I'm going to post some more on this soon, including a brief of the first playtest.


RPG History

I haven't had a chance to read all the way through this yet, but I thought it might be good to look at the history of the medium.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The What?

Vincent said this over in his forum at the Forge. He's responding to someone who wondered if the "god" in Dogs in the Vineyard was "real" in the game-world.

My take is that the question's nonsensical, impossible to answer.

The game presents a procedure for you, the players, to follow. Follow it and you'll create stories of a certain type, and you'll (probably) have fun doing it.

The "physics" and "metaphysics" of the "game world" - I don't even know how to talk about such impossible beasties. There's no "game world," even in your game, just some fictional stuff and events. No "physics" or "metaphysics" underlie them, you create them out of your heads following the procedure I describe.

In the "game world" does "God" "really exist"? You might as well ask whether the clocks in "the world" of Salvador Dali's paintings still tell time. "Do their little gears and stuff work, when they're all floppy like that?" All I can do to answer is blink stupidly. The what?

Chew on that.