Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

It’s a brand new year!

So, last year, I had aimed at writing 52 blog posts – here and two other places. Well, that didn’t happen. It almost did – if I had finished my (unofficial) advent calendar, I would have been there. Then life (and Chrstmas) happened. Ah, well.

But what my mad dash towards the end told me, was that I really want to do more with this blogging stuff. The blog’s been more or less in limbo for a while, as I didn’t play a lot of roleplaying games – or games of any kind, really – and I didn’t have a lot of energy or drive to write stuff. Well, that’s changed. I’m playing more games, and I am feeling more of an urge to blog. Plus, I have some projects that I want to write about (but more about that a bit later).

In any case, I want to make some adjustments to the way the blog works. These changes may not be noticeable to anyone outside of me, but I’d still like to state them clearly.

I write about all manner of games (and sometimes other things)

When I started this blog, I was mostly focussing on writing about roleplaying games. Since then I’ve had much more time for board games than for roleplaying games, not to mention computer games. Roleplaying games still fascinate me more, and I will probably still spend more time talking about them than about board games, particularly in relation to how much I play them. But as I play many more board games, and as I play more indie computer games, I’m starting to notice things in those two genres that is interesting – and often ways in which the three types of games are similar, or ways in which they diverge.

I also want to write about films, books, and maybe even podcasts. When I started the blog, I said it was about storytelling, and that is still my focus – when  I play board games or computer games, I mostly prefer ones with an interesting and engaging story (a topic I might very well return to). Generally, if I can see the connection, I’ll write about it.

I often write reviews

I like writing reviews. And I like finding out what I think is good or bad about something. My biggest challenge is often convincing myself that there is merit to my opinion as to what is interesting or noteworthy in something. I’ll try to be bolder, and rely on you, my readers, to call me out when I’m wrong.

I write often – whenever something is on my mind – but I endeavour to be brief

I have a tendency to be long-winded. Once I get going, I just keep on rolling. But that also means that writing a post becomes more of a task, and that makes me refrain from doing so. I want to write more often, but the average length of the post may well decrease. You don’t have time for idle chatter anyway.

I think one problem for me is that I feel like I have to be intelligent on this blog. I will try to allow myself to be searching and questioning when I write something – you guys can help me find an answer.

But about what?

And that is it. My blogging endeavour for this coming year is to write more regularly, and more interestingly. There will still be play-reports from whatever I’ve been playing, but hopefully, they will be interspersed by more posts about other things.

Like I said before, I have some projects that should help me come up with more content for the blog, just as I have some ideas for things I want to explore.

But before I do that, I would like to hear from you guys. What should I be writing? Which posts have interested you? What are the strong points of this blog so far? What do you want to see more of? Concrete ideas for posts are welcome, as is all manner of constructive feedback.

[Game Chef 2013] Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds

So, I have now finished my game for Game Chef. This is where I post it for reviewing pleasure. I would welcome feedback!

Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds

I had a bit of a crisis in the end, when I suddenly decided I needed to change the Awareness Meter (counting upwards to 20) to an Awareness Countdown (counting down to 0). I hope I got it all fixed. Anyway, now off to post on the official thread.

Edit: And here’s a pdf: Brain Bugs and Cyber Minds.

I didn’t make one at first, because I know from my work that, though pdf’s made from Word are usually accessible, this is not always true. As accessibility is one of the requirements for submission, I wanted to make sure it was accessible. (And accessible in this context means it can be read by people with screen readers – that is, blind people).

[GameChef2013] Introducing Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds

I’ve decided that I want to write a game for this year’s Game Chef competition. For those who don’t know, Game Chef is an annual competition in which you design a game within a short period of time (nine days this time – I believe it may have been a week before?). You are given a theme and a number of ingredients to include in your game. Below is a description of the game I’m planning to write – a game I’ve so far entitled “Brain Bugs vs Cyber Minds”. I’ll describe how I’m using the different ingredients, and how I interpret the theme.

Outline of the game.

[Pictured: A black and white icon. A thick double-ended white arrow is in the middle of a black background, pointing up and down. In the middle of the arrow is a simple stylized icon of a person, looking toward the viewer.]

“Humanity is caught between opposing forces.” (Source: http://game-icons.net/)

The game is centred around the first thematic premise:

Humanity is caught between opposing forces, pressuring them from above and from below.

Humanity is caught between two hostile forces. From the stars the Cyber Minds have sent forth their Mainframes to capture more ground for the Synaptinet. This incursion have stirred the Hive Mothers of the Brain Bugs from their resting places within the earth, and they are now sending forth their daughters to fight the intruders.

Despite their differences, these forces have one major thing in common: their main force is not in crude physical combat, but in dominating the mental forces of their domain – and their warriors are few but strong. As such, both rely on occupying the most powerful hosts within the domain – in other words, they try to possess more powerful human hosts than their opponents. How they treat the humans in the process – well, the human hosts are just barely sentients; who cares about them !?

The game is to be an adversarial roleplaying game for five (or perhaps three) players: two Brain Bugs versus two Cyber Minds, with one “Human Host” (GM/MC/referee/common opponent). Throughout the session, the contenders try to possess the most highly ranked Humans within the community.

Creating the setting

[Pictured: A black and white icon. A thick double-ended white arrow is in the middle of a black background, pointing up and down. In the middle of the arrow is a simple stylized icon of a person, looking toward the viewer.]

“Every person in human society have someone above them and someone below them.”

The setting (and cast) is created from the second thematic premise:

“Human society is inherently hierarchical. Every human has someone above them and someone below them.”

Before each game, the participants need to create a setting. After a quick brainstorm, the players agree upon a brief description for the setting. The setting should be a place with a very clear hierarchy: a medieval village, a castle, a royal court, a university campus, an army barracks, a monastery, or so on. The participants also agree on a few aspects of the location, special things that will influence play. For instance, for each side (Brain Bug/ Cyber Mind), there will be something that will serve as an advantage (decided by the side, but the opponents may veto) and something that will serve as a hindrance (decided by the opponents, but the side may veto).

After creating the basic setting, the participants create a cast. They lay out 15 pieces of paper in a pyramid, with one piece in the top row and five in the bottom row. Each piece of paper is equal to one person in the setting. Participants now go round the table, taking turns to define one member of the cast: name the person, say who they are are in one phrase, and give them three traits – for instance, you might write “Sir Archibald, the wizened and surly captain of the Duke’s guard. Faded Strength, Old and Shrewd, Set in his Ways.” In this way, each participant will describe three characters.

Care should of course be taken to maintain a clear hierarchy, so that the cast members in the second row are clearly superior to the ones in row one, while below the ones in row three. It may be a good idea to have a cast members be somehow directly subservient to one of the the characters immediately above them. It would be a good idea to include rivalry between characters on the same level, though that may spring up during play.

I think each cast member will also be assigned three stats: Rank, Physical Capability and Mental Capability. Rank is simply their place in the pyramid (so the top card is Rank 5 while the bottom cards all are Rank 1), while Physical and Mental capability is somehow assigned by the players. I am considering having the Brain Bugs assign Physical Capability, while the Cyber Minds assign Mental Capability. Or else, each player simply divides 6 points between the two, or maybe each side has 12 numbers to assign to the characters they define.

Flow of the game

The flow of the game springs from the third thematic premise:

It is possible to move up and down in the hierachy.

This applies particularly to the Brain Bugs and the Cyber Minds: their objective is to have the highest placed Cast Members as their hosts as the game ends. This is usually obtained by jumping from host to host – however, it is also possible to move a cast member up or down in rank.

All Brain Bug and all Cyber Mind players have two “riders” that they control, plus a certain amount of resources to use during the game. Each must then decide whether to try to place one rider in a high position, or whether to place both in medium positions.

Note: I have considered whether to give each player one or two riders. I think that things might get confusing with two; on the other hand, having two riders means you are less careful with each rider, as you can afford to lose one. I might also allow brain bugs two, but give Cyber Minds better access to occupying new minds…

The game begins without the riders occupying any of the cast members. Passing round the table, each player must frame a scene in which their rider occupies a cast member. Each player can start out occupying one Rank 3 cast member and one Rank 1, or they can occupy two at Rank 2. From there on, the players frame scenes in which they either try to move from one host to another, try to gain an advantage for later, or try to hinder their opponents.

Meanwhile, the Human Host draws attention to the humanity of the Cast Members. Also, throughout the game, he tries to sow conflict between the two opponents, and to help the Cast Members discover what’s going on. The game ends when one side wins, or when the Cast becomes aware of what is going on.

Resolution Mechanic

The Resolution Mechanic follows from Thematic Premise 1. I think it’s going to be a dice-rolling mechanic, with Brain Bugs wanting to roll low, Cyber Minds wanting to roll high and humans wanting to roll in the middle.

For this purpose, each side will be adding particular dice to the dice pools. Brain Bugs add d4s, Cyber Minds add d8s and the Human Host adds d6. On all dice, Brain Bugs count results of 1 and 2 as successes. Meanwhile, the Human Host counts results of 3 and four as successes, while Cyber Minds succeeds on anything of 5 or above – except on the d4, where a result of 4 is a Cyber Mind success. Whichever side has the most successes wins the encounter, while the losers gain resources. Brain Bugs and Cyber Minds gain one die to add to another roll for each success, while the Human Host gains to add one to their Discovery track – when it reaches the end, the Cast catches wise, and the invaders will have to give the setting up for lost.

What do you think?

And that’s it, for now. Questions, suggestions and comments are more than welcome.

Why digital distribution is a good thing for roleplayers, but may be a challenge to creators.

Recently, I went onto the DrivethruRPG to look for some books. Here, I discovered that a good chunk of the White Wolf back catalogue had been put up for sale as pdf downloads, or as print-on-demand. Glee was me as I saw loads of titles I remembered from way back when, and which I had never had the money or the reason to acquire, but had been quite interested in perusing, put up for sale at a more than reasonable price. It quite stoked my interest in running a game of the old school variety, like Mage: the Ascension or maybe some of the original Changeling – or maybe the new Changeling, which in many ways is superior to the old version of that game. Here were more pages of role-playing books put up for sale a relatively low prices, not least because they were just sitting around in White Wolfs harddrive anyway, not earning them any money. These books have been out of print for years and years, and the systems made to replace them is already growing old. I guess White Wolf figured that it was time to try for a wave of retro-WoD, and for dusting off their old titles, something fitting perfectly with the release of the anniversary Vampire: the Masquerade book.

This is all well and good. White Wolf gets more titles out there to generate income, and the players get more choice. Everybody wins, right?

Well, not quite. The FLGS around the globe will not be generating any income at all on this, making them decline more than they already have, potentially closing some of them and making it more difficult for new people to enter the hobby. On the other hand, I doubt many people start role-playing by walking into a games store and picking up a role-playing book. Surely more people are introduced to the game by someone they know who already plays roleplaying games – and those people will have access to more games to chose from.

But this kind of digital distribution may fundamentally change the way the role-playing distribution circle works (it might already have changed – I have been a little out of the loop the last few years, focusing my interest on a decidedly nice grouping of games since I started playing indie games five or so years ago).

Back when I was a wee geekie, internet rpg-stores was still a glint in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Roleplaying didn’t really enter my world until somebody opened a games store in my itty bitty town on the outskirts of Denmark. Going to visit Jan at the store (Goblin Gate) in the big city was like going to rpg heaven: a whole wall full of every conceivable role-playing book – “conceivable” as in “every book I could conceive of. He had all the good stuff: sourcebooks for D&D, for all the World of Darkness books, for Call, Earthdawn, Gurps, Rift, WFRP.
And his stock was dynamic, of course. I remember once asking a friend to go acquire the Vampire book for me – and he came home with a great offer, or so he thought. Problem was, the book he’d bought for me was the old Vampire 2nd edition book, which was going out of print, being replaced with a new version of the system. In other words, he got me an obsolete book. The stores had what the companies was putting out, and when a new system or a new version came out, they could make space for the new materials by withdrawing old systems that weren’t selling any more. And just like Games Workshop has kept up generating sales by bringing out new rules and superior army lists that meant you had to buy new books and new figures to be able to compete, the role-playing companies would make a new system, meaning you had to get a new set of rulebooks and source books to experience all the hot stuff in your favourite games. The companies could cut off your supply of materials for the old system, meaning both that they could make (mental as well as physical) room for new ones, and that you couldn’t necessarily wait to buy them, cause they might go out of print.

This game may be changing. When I can easily buy 15 or 20 year old games online, new games put out by a publisher will not only have to compete with the books currently being produced by rival game producers – they also have to compete by the collective back catalogue of the entire role-playing publishing world, including the earlier versions of the same game; the versions people are playing in, and which they know as their own back pocket. In other words, publishers can’t rely on merely rehashing the same old game and forcing players to buy it by cutting off access to the old system. Or at least, that’s how it might be. Am I right? Or am I missing something essential here?

Gameplay Fictions

I’ve got this concept in mind that I’d like to get out on “paper,” to see if it’s actually worth anything. The concept is “gameplay fiction,” and it covers contra-factual assumptions that a game makes to make the rules smoother. It is derived from the concept of “legal fictions,” assumptions that a legal system may make to make things run more smoothly. For instance, in Anglo-Saxon law, only persons may sue or be sued. But you would want to be able to sue a corporation, and a corporation might be interested in suing you! For this reason, corporations are regarded as persons in American and British law. That legal fiction is actually being used to defeat campaign contribution laws in the States: as persons have freedom of speech, and corporations are persons, you cannot inhibit their ability to take part in public debate.
Similarly, a game might construct gameplay fictions to make the game run better. Most games seem in some way to be simulations of something. Gameplay fictions occur when the system fudges the simulation.

Now, I know that all games are fictions in one way or another, and so the word may be a little odd to use. But if games, in some sense, are simulations of, say, a fantasy world, speculative future societies or entrepreneurship , then gameplay fictions are what happens when the game does something that does not correspond to the simulation.

The example that made me think of this is from the action rpg, Diablo III. From the beginning, a major part of Diablo has been the amassing of items – better and better, so you might defeat more vicious opponents.
But, particularly in Diablo II, there was a little bit of a flaw in this part of the game: whereas some classes – Barbarians and Amazons particularly – based the damage they dealt very directly on the weapons they carried, others – like the Sorceress and the Necromancer – relied far more on spells and summoned allies. This meant that it was far less obvious for them which weapon was the best for them, and the gear mattered less than the skills. Also, this was a system that encouraged sinking as many skill points as possible into a few skills.

In Diablo III, this is changed. Skill points are gone, first of all. Secondly, the gameplay fiction: all damage is based on the damage of your weapon. In other words, when my Witch Doctor throws a jar of biting spiders at her foe, summons Zombie Dogs to fight them or sends a malicious haunting spirit to harm them, how much my opponent is damaged is a product of the knife I’m carrying at that moment. In terms of in-game fiction, this makes little sense – the damage of a wizard’s fireball should depend on his mastery of arcane forces, not of the kind of sharpened metal he is carrying. It does make loads of sense in regards to the game architecture, however, making classes far more equal in their dependence on, and benefit from, loot.
Another example is the attack roll in the nWoD. In oWoD, you had one roll to hit, and then a damage roll. In the new version, you only have one. In this system, having an imprecise, hard hitting weapon is comparable to having a precise, less damaging one. In other words, a warhammer and a foil are considered to be mechanically very similar weapons.

Gameplay fictions occur in board games too, of course. For instance, in the game Dungeon lords, a troll can be used as an extra imp because they really enjoy working with the imps. You can even put trolls in the magic room (“two imps and a candlelit dinner enter – three imps emerge. It’s magic!”) – because they just love imps sooo much (euch – too much information, Dungeon Lords!).

So, that’s gameplay fiction. Do note that I am not for or against them, per se, and I think they are necessary. But one should consider where the fiction is stretched for one’s players – cause that’s where it’s weak!

So what do you think? Am I on to something? Or is it just silly talk? Can you use this concept for anything?

Love in the time of Chess

The clock. Allan doesn’t look at the clock. He doesn’t dare to, doesn’t need to. He knows how much time he has left. Three minutes, or something in that vicinity. Allan doesn’t look at Michael, either. He can’t bear to look at that face, proud of his victory, yet with pity for Allan’s distress. The pity is the worst. If only he KNEW.

Pawn to C4. Queen to C4.

“Check.”

 

The clock. Allan doesn’t look at the clock. He doesn’t dare to, doesn’t need to. He knows how much time is left. Three hours, or something in that vicinity. Allan doesn’t look at his mother, either. He can’t bare to look at that face, proud of her son, yet with pity for Allan’s loss. The pride is the worst. If only she could KNOW. Know about Allan’s soul….

“Tell me, Allan, how come a handsome, bright boy like you hasn’t found a girl yet?”
…mate.
Love in the time of Chess is a scenario about three young chess ingenues. Famous and admired among their colleagues in the chess circuit, they each have their demons to battle. For each, their personal lives have turned into chess matches far more challenging than any they have any played against each other.
The game uses an inventive chess mechanic to tell stories of fear, humiliation, deceit and lives on the brink of ruin. Three of you will take on the role of the three chess players, while the remaining two will take on the role of the two powers that battle for the lives of the three young men, threatening to rend them to pieces in the process.
Another scenario played at FictioVal, a series of fictional scenarios started with a story of a kindergarten where something insidious is going on. I guess this game started out with the soccer fan scenario from last year’s Fastaval: how do you tell a story of the same sort based around chess? Of course this isn’t about the fans of chess, but instead about young people moving into the international echelons of the game. The idea of course had a lot in common with the musical, Chess, though I tried to avoid getting too close to that story. Instead, I see this scenario as drawing upon the mechanic used in Evenstars by Mikkel Bækgaard and others of having two players play opposing forces pulling in the other players from opposing sides. I guess I figure these two powers are conformity and rebellion, the former being synonymous with strangulation, the latter with (self)destruction. As such, both forces lead only to the ruin, either mental, social or physical, of the character.

Antihero, FictioVal and Brast Issinn

Yesterday, I sent the text for Antihero to the scenario team at Fastaval. Hoorah! That’s that bad conscience off my chest – now I can concentrate on all the others.

Like this blog. I’ve not written enough on here recently. Partially, this has had to do with me having a busy life, partially it has to do with me not really having much to say – not least because I haven’t had a lot of chances to play a lot of roleplaying games.
The first is a matter of priority, the second is a matter of making sure I’m challenged. For this reason, I’ve invented a form for myself: FictioVal, a fictional, non existent, con, for which I’ll be writing previews for scenarios that don’t exist. Of course, some might come into existence if I like them enough (or you can either ask me to write your favorite, or ask for permission to write it yourself). Some are going to be serious, some will be tongue in cheek or satirical. Quite a few are likely to be somewhere in between.
The first such preview is already written; the second is right here:
Brast íssinn

Ragnhildar looked up from the pot. The smoke in her face had made her eyes water. Or was it something else? Hálfdan wasn’t sure. He looked down. He heard the hut creak under the strain of the wind. He’d go out and feel the wind on his face, but he knew the wind carried rain, and that even a small gust would sting and freeze his skin. He looked up, and Ragnhildar caught his eye. Her mouth was tense. She narrowed her eyes. He stood up and went out.

Olav took another step. He liked being on the ice. The ice was nice. Smooth and hard.
He took another step. Suddenly, the ice creaked loudly. Olav let out a little cry. He felt the ice move underneath.

Life in the village is good in summer. The food is plenty, the men go raiding and the children play outside. In winter, the food is scarce, and both men and children stay at home, shielding from the cold and the wind. Children grow bored, men grow restless, women grow irritable. And until the melting ice announces spring, everyone in the village must tread lightly or risk shattering the fragile peace.

Brast Ísinn is a jeepform scenario about little irritations accumulating during the long winter. A scenario about keeping your cool. About treading carefully.