It’s been a remarkable couple of months of silence from me; considering how my default mode is wild speculation and baseless assumption, this is pretty atypical. Such is the way of a day job. Especially so, the day job that features “crunch-mode” prominently. Fortunately, Kit has been writing frequently. I’m continually reminded how awesome it is to collaborate with friends.

After an extended period of quiet my mind has been rebelling, driving spikes of ideas through every waking moment. Which is why I find JB Mannon’s Games Galore challenge compelling. It feels a lot like NaNoWriMo or Thing-A-Day; both of those are creative endeavors I participate in. After floating the idea with Kit and Austin and talking about what we wanted to do, we hauled off and created a game for January.

It’s called Alibi. Players are criminals just back from a heist that went terribly wrong and who are trying to place the blame on anyone else. We’ve only played it a few times, but I laughed more in one evening than the rest of the last two months combined. Play rotates around the group, with the active player asking questions like “Why weren’t the guards taken care of” or “Who called the cops?” while everyone else tries to explain why it wasn’t their fault. As everyone’s credibility runs thin, people’s true motivations are revealed.

Full rules are available here. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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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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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.

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So, without a game from last night to write about, I’ll take the opportunity to take some other thoughts that have been brewing and talk about what I see as the intrinsic elements of a story game, and how to communicate them.

To start with, there are four major elements to a story-game, as I see it, three of which are story, one of which is game:

  1. Setting
  2. Situation
  3. Motivation
  4. Mechanics

The first and fourth are very familiar and pretty much always explicitly discussed in any RPG text. The third became explicit some time ago.[1] And the second? Lately, it’s been getting a lot more attention. I think, traditionally, it has been the bulk of what people think of as the art of good GMing, but games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Fiasco and Apocalypse World have paid some pretty explicit attention to Situation.

Of course, all four of these are heavily, heavily interrelated. Setting provides context and hooks for Situation and Motivation, Mechanics (ideally) provide a system for reminding you of Situation and Motivation, Situation leads to Motivation and Motivation enacted changes Situation. Sure. I’m going to try to set aside the issues of interaction for now, and talk rather about how to communicate these things.

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  1. When John finishes his grand Timeline of RPG Ideas, I’ll have a date that I can actually back up. []
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