By now, I expect everyone who reads this has seen the recent XKCD, and read the hover text:

(For the record: the hover text says “Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D.”)

What do we make of this? There’s a lot of (I think fruitless) argument one could have back and forth over whether and how this applies. I think it’s pretty clear that it does apply, and that it isn’t a bad thing. We like narratives, and we like random things, and we like coupling them.

But what this really puts in my head is that many RPGs have something more than this: they have systems that couple not just the fiction to the RNG, but also couple the weights of the RNG to the fiction. And this, exactly, is why rightward-pointing arrows are that cool and worth talking about.

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of L.A. Noire, which is a fantastic game. The most important part of the game is not the action sequences, not even the snooping for clues, but the interviews and interrogation. But sometimes it’s pretty clear how the conversations have a directed acyclic graph underlying them. Of course, there’s really no other option when coding an interactive scene in a video game, and it’s a good model. But what’s really exciting in a tabletop RPG is that, essentially, that graph is dynamically updated with each change you make in fiction, in response to every moment of creative insight and contribution you as a participant have.

These are awesome games, and I am so happy to be living in a time when they are exploding with diversity.

Now, there’s one thing in particular about them that’s hard to deal with, and that’ll be my next post. They take, quite frankly, a lot of energy, and the knowledge of and fear of that energy can provide a barrier to play. I won’t write more about this now, but I will say thanks to Alex P. for putting the question of how to deal with that in my head. I’m working on some ideas.

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People come and go. Sometimes, someone who starts with the best of intentions can’t make it past the first session of an ongoing game due to any of the various slings and arrows of life. Sometimes, a friend is in from out of town for the weekend, and you want them to join.

Some games have beautiful design, but at the cost of being rigid in the face of these considerations: Smallville, for example, doesn’t handle people coming and going very well. Nor does Polaris. Both of these are beautiful games, and if you can get a reliable group, are, I imagine, fantastic.

I want to design games that can have the best of both worlds—the cohesion of a storyline where the same characters reliably recur, and the tolerance for real-world exigencies of games that don’t rely on people showing up all the time. One way to do this is to break the character-monogamy attitude. This leads to another problem, at least potentially: a character played by a rotating band of folks can be incoherent, with no consistent characterization or motivation.

So, are there other ways to do this? I hope so.

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Hey there! My name’s Austin, and I form the third part of Transneptune’s game design trifecta. I got into gaming in high school, starting with Dungeons & Dragons. From there, I spent many winters playing World of Darkness and thinking about a game called Exalted. The latter influenced my game design ideas in pretty big ways, so I’m going to begin with saying that despite its many problems, I do love that game in all kinds of ways. But nevertheless, here are some things I’ve observed about Exalted.

The first thing I noticed about Exalted is the idea of Being Awesome. The Stunt mechanic exemplifies this idea. The concept that player characters should Be Awesome is not an integral part of every game nor should it be. Its sense of whimsical empowerment is particularly unsuited for Noir, Mystery and Survival Horror. But when I was playing Mage: the Ascension and D&D, I was always haunted by the suspicion that the game was promising more than it delivered. D&D may have elves, but when I played it, it was no LotR. It was just a bunch of morally questionable guys killing orcs and taking their stuff. When I met Exalted, I thought I had found what I was looking for, the Awesome.

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I’ll chime in in kind!

I’m Kit. Similar to John, I got my start in RPGs with AD&D years ago, and took a meandering path from there through other games, until I ended up firmly in White Wolf’s World of Darkness territory for most of highschool and college. I had repeatedly skirted the amorphous land of indie games, until moving to Boulder, where John showed me the light, as it were.

On to the point. I’ve been thinking about situation, action and character lately. My friend Griffin has provided me with some interesting food for thought in discussing Aristotelian drama. Leaving aside much that’s extraneous, what seems applicable to roleplaying games is this: characters respond to situation through action, creating new situation, and actions in response to situations express character. If we take “character” less as “an agent or avatar in the game world” and more as a literary entity, the marks on our character sheet (assuming we have one!) exist just to remind us how to react to situations, to express that character.

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The first step of creation is to go from nothing to something.

Hello! My name is John LeBoeuf-Little and I’m working with Kit and Austin under the auspices of Transneptune Games. I thought I’d kick off this blog with a post about my background and what we’ve been cooking up here in the labs. I’m sure the others are going to chime in shortly in kind.

I’ve been gaming since I was in middle school, having pleaded my way into my infinitely cooler sister’s Dungeons and Dragons game. Later on I moved onto the World of Darkness, including assisting with the Rice Mind’s Eye Theater LARP with a very good friend of mine who started the game in his back-yard. I’m a bit of a game snob and recently have been enamored of all things indie. Which is somewhat how I got roped into helping design In a Dragon-Guarded Land.

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