Seems a no-brainer, but it is sometimes hard to remember when you’re designing a game. The players (and by that, I mean “the people playing the game”, not “non-GM participants”) aren’t out to subvert what you do. They’ve bought your game, they’ve bought into the idea of it, they are gathered together to try to play and have fun. They are not trying to use loopholes to make the game not-fun.

I was reminded of this when reading a post over on Vincent Baker’s blog from a bit over a year ago, Reliable vs. Unreliable Currency. The post itself is not really what caught my attention, but rather the comments, Ben Lehman’s especially. He talks about sportsmanship, that magical thing that lets a group of people working towards a common goal (fun, good story), but with competing interests (their characters’ desires), not forget the former for the latter.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

A Piece of Work has a long, sordid history. It originally started out as a zombie “survival” RPG called Do Not Go Gentle—a game which might get made at some point, but which we had trouble nailing down. Then it became a kind of straight up cyberpunk game with heavy existential themes. Finally it settled nicely into a genre that seems to call itself cybernoir. I’ve made reference to it in my last post. The term is by no means RPG-specific, and is used to describe a lot of different works.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

So, this weekend past I went to NerdNYC’s Recess. Normally, of course, we Transneptune folk are off in Colorado, but I happened to be in town this weekend, and made the best of it. I met some nice folks and played in some good games (particularly one run by the inestimable Jenskot), and picked up a copy of Robert Bohl’s Misspent Youth off the swap table, which is, I think, the most correct way of getting this game.

It was good to get to meet some folks I had only internet-known, but there’s a particular thought about game design that came out of it, for me.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

Many games have this curious design problem: the mechanics for PCs and NPCs cannot be the same, because it would impossibly tedious to run it that way. At least, this is true in the case of any even moderately complex system. God forbid you need to run GURPS or D&D, let alone Shadowrun. The absolute hardest part of running Shadowrun, if you are a storyteller who is also a masochist and actually does this, is to stat out all of your NPCs. Character creation in Shadowrun is an ordeal, often taking hours if not days to complete. It’s completely impractical to try and do this for your NPCs, even if you’re only statting up the big hitters. I recall the one Shadowrun game I ran (for a whopping 13 sessions) had only three or four biggies that needed stats and even they took about a week to properly make. This was complicated when one of my players hacked their cyberware and suddenly I needed a precise list of her capabilities, devices, their respective ratings and then how much Essence she had left over and so on. That was a nightmare, and it’s posed a huge barrier to running it again. And sure, there are a few example NPCs in the books that are pre-statted, but there are never enough kinds of them and they don’t work for custom antagonists. Exalted has this same problem. Please try making up an Abyssal on the fly, complete with Charms and Virtues and Ability scores. I dare you. Having tried, what I can tell you is that asymmetry between the players and your NPCs is both healthy and right.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

Kit’s been beating the Transparency-in-Design drum lately—explaining the benefits of drawing back the curtain and getting people’s inputs on design. I admit, my instinct when developing something is to hide in a cave and not come out until the “masterpiece” is finished. But frankly, that’s how most design problems occur. One of the unique benefits we’ve had is that there are three of us discussing and playing off of each others ideas. So, here’s an idea we’ve been talking about rather a lot in relationship to Piece of Work.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

Et in Arcadia Ego is our game of Regency-era magicians. It owes a lot to Susanna Clarke, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley. It has also been a fickle beast. We’ve been hacking at it, tweaking it, revising it, overhauling it, again and again for the past few months. It’s very much been a case of the tenth point of the Ten Wings.

But we’ve settled on something that seems to be at least in the right direction. Last night, we tried it out, and a few interesting points arose.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

Have you ever noticed when you play a video game, you never use your big weapons? Austin has been playing Bioshock lately, in a fit of nostalgia for 2007, and he’s been holding on to his grenades or rockets or whatever in a pattern that is very familiar to me. I’ve done the same sort of hoarding. The thought process is something like “well, I don’t quite need to use this powerful resource now, and I might need to use it some time in the future, and I don’t know when I’ll get more of it, so I had better save it.”

This is a common human behavior, even outside games. I have some half-remembered anecdote in my head about people on the Pitcairn Islands hoarding eggs well past the time when they had turned into little sulphur-bombs because they were rare and valuable, and just having them was a symbol of status as much as anything. There are pathological cases, of course, like the Collyer brothers. But I’m here to talk about game design, so let’s move our focus there.

Wickham Market Iron Age Coin Hoard

I want this many! Via portableantiquities on Flickr.

A lot of modern games have what Macklin calls a coin trick. This is an economy of points of some sort that are valuable to the participants in some way usually to do with control over the randomness in the narrative. And often times, players treat these points like Pitcairn Islanders treat eggs. Any time you feel like you can survive without spending them, you don’t.

Continue reading »

Tagged with:
 

Do you write? Even if you don’t, you know about it because writers write about it. You sit down, intending to write, and instead just stare at that blank page for a while. You get up, clean the kitchen. You sit back down. If you’re like me, you realize that there’s a problem on your server that you need to work on before you think you can write. You go and do that. You come back to the page. It stares at you, all the cleaning and playing with server configuration having failed to magically make the page not-blank.

Sure, every writer has their tricks, their ways of making that page stop being so damn blank. But what do we have as role-players? If you think one person alone in front of a pad of paper has enough distractions, imagine a room full of people all trying to find ways to distract themselves from the blank page that they’re all collectively staring at.[1]

But we all want to play. We just need somewhere to start. As I see it, we have two options for kickstarting play: tropes and system.

Continue reading »

  1. And yet of course, we do play, and love it. But sometimes, and you all know what I’m talking about, it’s really hard to start playing. []
Tagged with: