Monthly Archives: July 2007

Am I Writing the Wrong Game?

I’ve recently been struggling again with trying to write a game- this time, some sort of Kung Fu action game.  You can read a power 19, and some basic rules, in the treads over on the Grumbling Dwarf indie forum.

So I’ve been thinking hard about if I’m writing the right game or not, or if I’m writing a game just to write it.  Let’s look at some of the things I want my game to do:

*Have lots of cool special powers.

*Have tactical and engaging combats.

*Compel the players to action.

*Result in dramatic play.

*Be easy on the GM, as far as prep time is concerned.

*Feel like awesome Kung Fu wuxia action.

There’s a couple things going on here, and it’s important to question- are any of these contradictory with each other?  A vast network of special powers will make it hard for the GM to build characters, so such a game will either need to compromise the scope of it’s kewl powers or have some sort of GM shortcuts.

On a subtler note, dramatic stories and tactical combats don’t always, or even often, go hand in hand- it’s a careful balancing act to make sure they don’t step on each other’s toes, so one doesn’t have to make the choice of winning vs. telling a neat story.  (And I’m not really looking for anything deep here.  Perhaps a slight dash of ‘Vanilla’ Narrativism, if that, but really more in flags- see below.)

So how am I going to do all this?

*Cool powers, yet flexible chargen for the GM:  Mook rules, or intermediary character rules are golden here, as well as stock characters that are actually well-written enough and broad in scope to be useful.

*Tactical and engaging combats, but also drama:  nifty decisions each round, some sort of dramatic stake that shows that things are serious.  Player-driven (i.e. flag choices) story options that make sure the players really want to win.

Hmmm, what are some things I *don’t* care about, and should avoid if I have the option:

*Extensive skill lists.

*Extensive weapon and armor lists.

*Realism, in general.

*An overemphasis on collaborative scene framing, stake setting, or narration rights.  These are all good things in the right game, and I’m likely to borrow little bits of them, but it’s the wrong game to go full out on this stuff.

Who Are My Representatives?

If, like me, you live in Madison, and are enraged about an issue (like the aforementioned recent Presidential rescinding of the right to property)- here’s who you need to contact:

Senator Russ Feingold

Senator Herb Kohl

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

Write your representative about an issue today.  In a country of 300,000,000 people, it’s the only way to make your voice heard.

The Government Can Freeze Your Assets

If it suspects you might impede progess in Iraq in some way, or it suspects you might assist someone who might do that.  (Or basically if it doesn’t like you.)

Yeah, really.

What can you do about it?  Get mad, write your representatives in Congress.  You know, your senators and your representative.  Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, this is in direct violation of the constitution.  It’ll only take you five minutes, and it makes sure they know you’re listening and aren’t going to take it.

Here, I’ll even right the letter for you:


I would like to call your attention to President Bush’s recent unconstitutional Executive Order:

In this terrifing edict, President Bush has essentially rescinded the freedom of property enjoyed by every American- giving the government the right to freeze assets of people who have done nothing wrong other than be alleged to be potential threats.

We must stop this ravaging of our constitution and the rights of our citizens.  I call upon you, THEIR NAME AND POSITION, to do what is right in this manner and fight for the public.

A concerned citizen,


What Lolcat Am I?

My score on The Which Lolcat Are You? Test:

    Lion Warning Cat
    (78 % Affection, 59 % Excitability , 42 % Hunger)

“You are the good Samaritan of the lolcat world. Protecting others from danger by shouting observations and guidance in cases of imminent threat, you believe in the well-being of everyone.”


Take it!

Burning Empires is Incoherent

That’s Big-I, Forge Incoherency there for you:

Incoherence: Play which includes incompatible combinations of Creative Agendas among participants. Incoherent play is considered to contribute to Dysfunctional play, but does not define it. Incoherence may be applied indirectly to game rules. Abashedness represents a minor, correctable form of Incoherence.

Burning Empires has multiple Creative Agenda built right into the game.

I was listening to Clyde Roher’s excellent podcast Theory From the Closet today, particularly his interview with Luke Crane.  In this, Luke seems to have a very gamist slant towards Burning Empires play- the point is to win, and do your all to get there- to Step On Up- and have a really awesome conflict.  This is a great goal, one that I share with a passion- a burning passion, if you will.  But it gets even too gamey for my tastes- the scene economy is particularly stifling, cramming the storylines in a way that not everyone at the table may be comfortable with.  (And as an aside, some of the tactical suggestions I’ve read on the Burning Wheel forums seem antithetical to assumptions I’ve gleaned from the text.)

Anyway, we’ve got a highly gameable, arguably too-gameable game.  Nothing wrong with that.  But let’s look at the (misplaced) Narrativist bits.  How does Burning Empires reward behavior?  Why, with Artha.  How do you get Artha?  For doing story stuff.  For good roleplaying (that’s a Simulationism reward there.)  Especially for pushing your Beliefs.

Beliefs are great, great, story hooks.  They yell out to everyone, ‘this is what I’m about.’  Beliefs are a wonderful tool for driving the story, and getting people involved.  However, they are a hindrance in the tight, brutal, fight-game that is Burning Empires.

What makes for meaty, delicious play?  Player character motives that are similiarly aligned, but not quite, so there’s a little bit of strife in the party.  (A fun one-shot I had involved whether or not we wanted to blow up the prison facility that was about to be infested with Vaylen, or try the harder thing and free the Kerrn in it.  Everyone had a blast with this.)  Luke Crane seems to agree in his writing.

Now!  Here’s the catch.  I have some goals- the Gamist goal to ‘win,’ beat the GM, and blow down the meta score, and the personal (Narrativist) goal to achieve a Belief!  When my Beliefs come into contact with those of another player’s, what do I do?  If I choose to go after the enemy, putting my Beliefs into the background, I’m sacrificing the purity of my character and the story, but if I pursue the importance of my Beliefs, I’m Stepping On Down.

There’s the conundrum.

Boys & Girls

(This is in response to the question ‘how do we get more girl gamers,’ which it doesn’t directly answer, but that’s ok.) 

The biggest difference between male gamers and female gamers is simply that there are fewer of the latter.  Any discussion of differences in gender is going to be so broad as to be practically meaningless, and typical of only one’s personal experiences.

However!  It is important to point out a few key things:

Young girls roleplay.  This should be a ‘duh’ response- they play house, with dolls, etc.  Most young kids in general roleplay, though girls typically play ‘house’ and boys typically play ‘war.’

Ok, so we’re all grown up now, and we’ve got this thing called a ‘roleplaying game’.  Is it any surprise that the grown-up boys (in general) want to play ‘war,’ and the grown-up girls generally don’t?

(Personally I could play hack ‘n’ slash games all day long.  But that’s just me.)

The type of game that *generally* appeals to women is a “story-driven” game, whatever that means.  It’s like playing house, only you’re the Vampire Prince instead of the Mommy.

However!  I’ve known plenty of hack ‘n’ slash or violence-minded women, and even more drama-focused guys.  So that angle may not be as useful as you might appreciate.

Here’s what I can say that WILL be useful.  The following is a list of things that count as ‘turn-offs’ for plenty of gamers looking for new game partners, and just random people trying a new activity.

*Meeting a stranger at his house.  (A neutral location, like a local game store, is far less threatening.)

*Playing in someone’s grungy basement.

*Playing with people who haven’t showered in weeks.  (The stereotypical gamer, the balding overweight underemployed thirty something who has pieces of doritos in his beard, lives in his parent’s basement, can’t shut up about his World of Warcraft character, and spends his Sunday bilking first-graders out of their rare YuGiOh! cards is NOT someone the typical woman will want to ever be in a mile radius with, much less spend an evening every week.)

*Taking the rules too seriously.  (I have been described as a ‘rules lawyer,’ but too much emphasis on rules, especially on rules discussions that take time away from the story, are a big turnoff for nongamers trying out the hobby.)

*Raping her character.  We really hate that.

Multilevel Marketing: It’s a Scam!

Yeah really.  I was doing some research on Market America, and came across this blog site.

Multilevel Marketing, or MLM, claims to work under the following principle- you buy stuff, and sell it!  You’re a self made sales person.  That aint too bad (it aint too great either.)

The wrinkle- you can recruit others.  If they buy stuff and sell it, they get money, and you get money too.  There’s “downstream income” (as they call it in the biz).

If you just thought ‘pyramid scheme,’ you win.

Themes in Horror

Having watched 1408 finally today, and having read the short story a few months ago, and interpreting the different (but similiar) endings, I came to a conclusion.

Oh, don’t read the rest of the post if you don’t want to be spoiled on the basic premise of the ending of either work, although I leave out the details, so if you’ve read/seen one or the other, you’ll be fine.

1408 deals with themes of isolation, a man is alone in a room, and dealing with some pretty jarring events.  The way out comes from accepting help from others.

At the very end, the protagonist extracts himself from the room, but only by giving up (albiet in his own way)- he accepts death, to deny the room victory.  In both situations, it is another who saves him from his death.  In turn, he tells the other not to go in the room, preventing it from claiming perhaps another victim.

The difference?  Mostly in the execution.  In either piece, if for no outside intervention, the protagonist is dead,  although perhaps not consumed by the room.  What can we read into this- perhaps a theme of ‘only through the help of others can one survive the room.’

Lets look for evidence, and read a little further into them- the innkeeper plays an early, powerful role, attempting to be that helping hand to sway the protagonist away, but his help is rebuffed- to benefit from the help of others, we have to let our internal guards down, and let them in.  (This is good; how many times have we since the cliche of the uncaring, self-reliant lone wolf show up in archtypical situations?)  In both situations, the housekeepers work in pairs, which seems to protect them- and in the book, the housekeepers who worked the room were twins.

Let’s put a different spin on it:  “One cannot face the darkness alone.”  (Note use of darkness instead of, say, horrors.)  I feel that this is a powerful theme worth exploring in greater depth in a story all it’s own.

You Know What Game Sucks?

Wushu.  Yeah, that’s right, Wushu sucks.

The first time I played Wushu, it was like the most amazing thing ever.  (In fact, if you haven’t played Wushu, it may be worth playing once to see how far from one’s basic assumptions gaming can get.)  However, with each subsequent playing, the Lie of Wushu became revealed.

See, Wushu isn’t really a game, so much as it is an exercise in roleplaying masturbation.  People go to great effort to come up with a bunch of kewl descriptions, but it often hits the point where you’re just talking to get more dice, not because it’s cool.  And with the principle of narrative truth, your actions are less cool, not more, because all you had to do was think them up and spew them out.

Does the cool maneuver you come up with make you any more competent, or enhance your ability?  No it doesn’t- the best way to ‘succeed’ at Wushu is to just talk and talk and talk.

If this sounds like a bitter, half-assed rant, well, that’s because it is.  Wushu’s hardly a game, and while it’s got some interesting nuggets in it, it aint worth playing.