(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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Just a reminder: we’re not going to be posting as much until we get In a Dragon-Guarded Land out the door. We’re aiming for the first of April, but that release date may be a joke.

I’m a big fan of Bully Pulpit’s games. Lately, we here have been playing some Fiasco, and dissecting it a bit. It’s caused me to do some thinking about what a GM is and does. This is particularly timely for me, as I am trying to decide whether Et in Arcadia Ego needs to have a GM. Both of the other games we’re working on clearly do—In a Dragon-Guarded Land because someone needs to represent adversity and the temptation of evil, A Piece of Work because someone needs to represent the target of the heist. But Et in Arcadia Ego is a game with much more room for player-versus-player interactions, and may not have a role for a GM as such.

Some months ago, Robert Bohl started this interesting thread at Story Games that got me thinking about what I like to call GMderfuck, or GMderqueerness. He talked about breaking down the GM-ful/GM-less binary and instead talking about how GM-ly authority gets distributed[1]. I think a lot of games that are “GM-less” actually have done this. Let’s look at what are, to me, the classic examples of GMderqueer games: Polaris, Fiasco, and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

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  1. Ben Lehman recently commented on this subject, too. I think he’s right, authority is the question. Resolution systems are one place to put authority. []
Human Heart

A heart, courtesy of thevintagecollective on Flickr.

Here’s an idea that I’ve been hashing out with my friends Alex and Amir, neither of whom have enough internet presence to link to, sadly.

Looking at games like Mouse Guard and Dread, we started thinking about limited resources, particularly resources-for-action, and refresh mechanics. Let me unpack that a bit. Both games very nicely constrain action: in Mouse Guard, there are two phases to play, and in one, the Players’ Turn, you can only act n times, where n increases by taking more badness during the GM‘s turn. In Dread, every action brings the group closer to a horrible death by making the Jenga tower more precarious, but every horrible death resets the tower, partially.

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