We’ve been playing an ongoing game of Apocalypse World. It’s pretty great, as many of you know. Last night’s session left me with a half formed thought. Apocalypse World does a thing with stakes that I love: it forces you to keep them small.

Now, sure, it’s not a conflict resolution system, in the usual sense. You can’t name your stakes, for a start! The moves dictate what they can be, and so they stay small.

That’s all. I’m not sure what to do with that yet. Your thoughts?

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(Ramble warning.)

You know what’s great? Buying a game, being a fan of it, being able to go to your friendly local game store and get more for that game and incorporate it into your play, reinvigorating it and helping you keep enjoying this game you love. Or maybe you don’t even have to buy it, if the designers release it for free—less support for the FLGS, but easier on your wallet. Or maybe you don’t have to buy it, but you do have to do something for it, some kind of weird activity.

At this point, we’ve moved beyond the “single simple perfect game” vs. “supplement treadmill” debate, I hope. The problem isn’t supplements, it’s poorly-thought-out supplements, it’s supplements with too many moving pieces to interact with the core and the other supplements cleanly. It’s supplements produced cynically to keep milking a property.[1] But neither is a single-book game perfect. If the book is a seed to the random number generator of our brains, we sometimes want or need other books (or content) to get more seeds to get more outputs.

So, we’ve started to see some games doing an interesting thing, making free well-considered content that fits in and adds to the replay value of the original game. The two big examples of this are, to my mind, Fiasco‘s playsets and Apocalypse World‘s playbooks.[2]

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  1. Let me say: I don’t think that any but the second of these claims can be made substantively, but the other two are at least perceived to be the case sometimes. []
  2. While the names are very similar, they’re importantly different: playsets are collections of content for different settings, to be used one-at-a-time in each game. Playbooks are types of character, to be combined in the same game with the other playbooks and with the playbooks in the core Apocalypse World book. []
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I’ve been talking with Alex P. about the theory of multi-party Magic: the Gathering games. He brought up the idea of exploration of the design space as a valuable resource. Magic‘s designers have defined a large and interesting (but easy-to-grok) design space, and have gradually been exploring it.

So, I’ve been wondering how this might relate to RPGs. The well-explored routes seem to be either

  • Release one book, that explains the design space as much as that space will be explored, or
  • Release many books that, largely, tend to expand the design space, because what was previously defined was already full.

What I’m suggesting, I guess, is to release one book that doesn’t fully explore the space defined by the rules, and when more books come out, have them stay within the bounds defined by the premises of the rules, rather than add new space to the rules.

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We’ve been talking a bit about games without GMs, particularly as we work up Lucid for the con. (Quick teaser: it’s an RPG about lucid dreaming. We think.) In so doing, it’s exposed an interesting point. The idea of what a “game master” is depends on the system you’re playing. Adversary? Guide? Prompt? All plausible roles. All different in how they play. The part that has me going is that this is a different distinction than who has control over which elements of the story. It’s not concerned with how, but why. Why has always been a more interesting question to me, if a bit troublesome.

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I know, we’re late to the party.

The internet has been very excited about Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World for some time now, but we’ve only just gotten to play it. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the game, because at this point I figure you’re all familiar with it. What I will do is talk about our thoughts and reactions to it. It was perhaps a less-than-ideal game, too, but it was quite fun.

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So, this coming week, we of Transneptune (with some friends) are going to spend this coming week trying a different game every night. And we’re gonna post about it.

Here’s the schedule:

Hopefully, the posts will go up the day after, but they might be delayed if we’re busy. Which we probably will be.