madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-08-22 01:01 am

Story Games: Difficult to Sample

I want to write about genres, but I've encountered a problem with writing about the genre of story games. This doesn't refer to story games which include all role-playing games and other games. I'm referring to a style of game that is usually talked about in threads like, "Story game-ifying (insert name of RPG here)."

This definitely points to the existence of a genre. The threads are based on how different The Forge's style of rules are from the traditional ways of building RPGs. What they fail to get is that the experience is different because the players and GM are treated differently. Yes, the rules matter, but it's not just the rules. It appears in the how-to-run and how-to-play advice that accompanies the rules. Sometimes there are rules governing the creation of the setting. Instead of leaving it up to a GM, story games give that power of creation to everyone.

What makes this so difficult to write about is that these threads usually don't mention games in them, only rules from games. Of course, if you're familiar with enough story games, you can probably guess which game they took inspiration from, but those are only guesses.

Of course, there are other threads which call for lists of games that possess a certain rule, such as lists of GM-less games, but counting games from those threads assumes that all story games are gm-less, which is far from true. As I mentioned in my previous post, that sort of turns the concept of genre on its head anyways.

I'll have to think about this to determine what, if any, method could be used to build my research sample.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-08-11 09:16 am

Reframing Narrativism

I had already come to the conclusion that role-playing gaming genres like narrativism consist of more than just rules, but what if the rules aren't a part of the genre at all?

That proposal is pretty bold. Of course the rules will be part of the genre, but which type of rule is different for each game. What they all share, however, is that they put the player at the centre of the story.

I'd like to differentiate players from gamemasters (GMs), because narrativist games tend to either disempower the GM or place the responsibilities of GMs in the hands of the players. In contrast, traditional RPGs tend to treat the rules as a weapon for the GM to use.

But what does this mean for a community of designers that supports the idea that the rules matter? The key is to think of the designer's voice being the rules. Choosing a particular narrativist game is similar to proposing the topic of a conversation. The players are then encouraged to give their own viewpoints on that topic. Those viewpoints are then run by the GM, or whoever holds that responsibility at that moment, who interprets it for the rules.

And viola, you get the narrativist genre, where rules matter, but it doesn't rely on any specific rule. That's why it's so hard to explain narrativism to a die hard fan of Dungeons & Dragons. Narrativism is about exploring different viewpoints.

If that's true for narrativism, how do I apply these principles to the other role-playing game genres?
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-08-02 11:50 am

Dauntless: The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell

John Geary's knowledge of military tactics and protocols are from before he went into suspended animation 100 years ago during a battle against the corporate Syndicate. In the meantime, he has become a legend, and he has to struggle with the differences between expectations and reality. He's thrust into the command role, taking control of a fleet of 200 ships, and each book covers two related adventures as they try to make their way back home from behind enemy lines.

The Lost Fleet is about commanding hundreds of ships and all of the politics and morale involved in that. It’s a good series, but Jack Campbell starts with the bar set a little too low, emphasizing pure quantity and removing any tactical maneuvers. It’s sort of like the first couple of times people play Storm of the Armadas, where the battles turn into a joust, so I suppose it's natural.

Like Storm of the Armadas, it simplifies things by starting both sides with essentially the same technologies. This series also reminded me that human beings can’t react fast enough to aim and fire weapons over the sorts of distances and speeds that are common in space warfare.

More than any other story I’ve read, The Lost Fleet emphasizes the delays between giving orders and having them executed. Quite often the characters actually take naps between engagements. Jack Campbell is the first sci-fi writer I've read that does this. What he doesn't do is explore the resulting PTSD, although that would make for a very different story.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-07-27 08:50 pm

Gambling for Face in the MLC

I've figured out the primary resolution system for Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC), and it has its roots in Texas hold'em poker, except that you only keep track of the number of pairs.

Everyone gets dealt from 0-4 cards, depending upon their skill, situation, and whether or not they're assisting someone else. The GM then starts dealing the community cards into the center of the table, with everyone able to do 1 action per round before the GM deals another community card.

Tasks have a limited number of actions/community cards that may be played. If the player manages to achieve enough pairs, then it is a success.

Conflicts are a little more complex. Everyone gets to bid face points from their character's pool, and must match the highest bid before the end of the round. Alternatively, if the bidding escalates too quickly, a character may withdraw. When someone calls for it to be over, all the cards are shown and the number of pairs totaled.

This is just the basic MLC resolution system. I'll explain the more advanced rules in a future post.

I want to clarify that conflict represents two people opposing one another, not conflict resolution as I'm exploring in my dissertation. This form of conflict only deals with what the characters do, not what they hope to achieve.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-07-14 08:43 pm

How to Design a Better Game

My friend Rob Paterson has analyzed and created a breakdown of good storytelling here. Since games often incorporate stories, I'd like to show how it applies to good game design, and how even better characters can come from it. Let's look at Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard (DitV).

DitV is a very structured tabletop role-playing game about holy justice-bringers in the wild west. It's based loosely upon the Mormon religion, exaggerating the violence.The characters travel from town to town, rooting out and fighting heretics and demons. Effectively, DitV is a story about establishing and maintaining order (#8 on Reiss' list). This is the level that Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) operates at, too, although I suspect that D&D is more accumulating something (called "12. Saving" on Reiss' list) than creating order.

The thing that differentiates DitV from D&D is that,in DitV, the plot isn't the core question around which the story revolves. There's a struggle between ethics, as shown by the code of conduct developed by the players, and morality, as shown by the individual character. Is it okay to root out evil? To what degree will you punish sinners? The story is actually about self-actualization. The difficulty of creating a game around self-actualization is that it needs a certain amount of flexibility.

Premade scenarios, like those created for D&D, assume that characters have had certain encounters and those encounters resulted in certain conclusions (such as victory, or at least survival). DitV seeks to allow characters, and, by extension, their players, to explore those self-actualization questions without assuming any particular answer. In return, the gamemaster's job is to create scenarios that respond to and challenge the previous answers that each player character came up with.

Yes, this is all possible in D&D, but DitV focuses upon this morality/ethical struggle. The twist is that the code of conduct in DitV, the ethics, were designed collectively by the players and rewarded by the rules, while moral codes are handled individually and punished by the rules. Add onto this the usual individual desires and subplots. Because the story is about self-actualization, a good gamemaster can use those to artificially conflate desires with sin. After all, desires are individual, and DitV punishes individuality.

This layered approach to generating a meaningful story is a good one, but I wouldn't want to make it any more complex than this. Additional layers would just make it confusing.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-07-03 10:15 am

Stuck Designing a Gambling Game

I haven’t posted much about Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC) because I’m redesigning the action resolution system. There are several requirements for the system, including:

- it needs to incorporate gambling, because I want to tie reputation into action resolution
- if I’m sticking with cards, the the hand sizes need to stay small (like texas hold’em poker)
- the system needs to give a slight advantage to teams, but not overwhelmingly so

Unfortunately, it’s this last requirement that throws off most gambling games. Most gambling games are either balanced (like poker), or very unbalanced in favor of the house (like roulette). It doesn’t work when there may be multiple sides that get that advantage.

There are a couple of optional bonuses that I’d like to work in, mutual failure and over-success. I’m planning on turning MLC into something of a comedy game, and it’s funnier if everything goes wrong.

So, having exhausted most gambling games, I’m looking for inspiration in other games. I know that RPGs tend to focus upon individuals, but I can adapt systems from both board and card games, too.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-07-02 07:42 pm
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How to Design a Board Game

The local library where I’m volunteering has hired someone to run a board game design event. No, not me, but a designer that I respect for his ability to teach game design. I signed up for it, only to find out I was the only one to do so. That discovery inspired me to start a one-man crusade to promote the event.

Because the event isn't a competition, I plan on designing a game around what I refer to as the Carnival of Shadows (or Carnival for short). The Carnival will eventually be several small games based around the same fictional community. That community has the power to make their shadows come alive and move independently for a night. I wanted to remove the stigma of shadows and associate them with parties and fun. I plan on designing the first minigame at this event. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but we’ll find out!
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-07-01 02:05 pm

Yet More Revisions

No, the editor hasn't returned the most recent version of Storm of the Armadas (SotA) yet, but I've decided to change it enough that the new version will have to be edited, too. Fortunately, the changes will only affect certain sections of the game, so hopefully my editor won't be facing as much work.

This version includes a few changes to how the flip order is handled, eliminating the need for two-sided velocity counters. That comes at a cost, however, in that the counters have to be two-sided or you need twice as many counters. Not only that, but, while the flotilla counters will still have weapon arcs marked on them, those arcs won't be accompanied by the ship codes. I planned on inserting an image comparing the two, but it seems I first need to upload it somewhere else. Ah, the hazards of not having webspace.

The new version of SotA also cuts down on the number of ships in each flotilla, meaning a reduction in record keeping.

Overall, the game plays the same as before. These are just tweaks to the system.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-06-07 11:07 pm

News from the Editor

I just got the most recent version of Storm of the Armadas back from my editor. Besides the usual raft of minor changes, he suggested that I do a major revision of the rules, maintaining that they're poorly organized. I can see his point, too. So...back to work. The game will need at least one more round of revision and editing. I hate that these delays are piling up, but I do believe that the game is getting noticeably better each time.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-31 09:43 pm

Alpha Playtesting Storm of the Armadas

Well, I ran another playtest of Storm of the Armadas today, and found out the game works with me there. The scenarios need adjusting, but the game will be going back to the editor in just a few days.

The scenario I ran today was an intercept. This involves the forces coming at each other from odd angles. Victory could be achieved by getting your dreadnought off through the enemy's normal deployment zone. Alternatively, you could fight the incoming force. We didn't have time to finish the game, but I'm satisfied that it ran okay.

Keep an eye out for the beta test version soon.

Oh, and I figured out a lot about Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC), mostly because someone's creating a videogame inspired by Thoreau's book set around Walden Pond. While the approach is the opposite to my own (nature vs. hotel), the struggles are similar. I'm going to see just how much I can adapt into MLC. I won't be able to adapt everything, and that's okay.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-22 08:45 pm

Material Genres

The concept of genres has many definitions, but I prefer this one:

A genre is a repeatable but open pattern of communication which is shaped by a combination of expectations held by many people and which may be catered to by others. A communication may simultaneously conform to many genres or different types of genres, such as thematic or functional.

Unfortunately, I can come up with genres that threaten even that definition. The term board games, for instance, is spoken of as a genre, but there's a difference. Board games are dominated by one material characteristic, the board. That differentiates them from card games, war games, and even role-playing games.

Is there such a thing as a material genre, or is this just another example of a functional genre? I've always assumed that a functional genre referred to the rules, but if pictures are interpretable as rhetoric (I'm using the academic interpretation of that word, not the common understanding), then it reasons that a board would be even easier to interpret as such.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-16 08:03 pm

Playtesting at Academic Conferences

I've presented many games at academic conferences. They're a great place to get feedback on more serious games, like Terribly Beautiful, for which the target audience is miniscule.

This time, however, I'm running Storm of the Armadas at Congress. It's still a small target audience (sci-fi wargaming grognards), but, when compared to previous games I've presented, it's positively massive. What's more, I've been testing the new version for a while, so I don't expect it to break, but that's always a possibility.

Sometime afterwards I'll be releasing the first beta version, without the artwork, stories or optional rules. The second beta will include the optional rules and replace the two-letter codes for the ships with icons.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-07 01:21 pm

In Anticipation Gamists Trust

I find running Apocalypse World (AW) to not be very fun. For a long time I puzzled over this, pointing out several flaws in the system, but the reality is, I miss rolling dice.

It doesn't matter if the rules use dice, cards, or something else, I like being responsible for not knowing what will happen next. I like feel of whatever the system uses to randomly determine outcomes for that moment before using them. Anticipation is a delicious feeling. Associating it with a tactile sensation only serves to heighten it. Accompany it with the rattling of the dice, or the sound of cards as they slide against each other, and I'm in heaven. Then, when the dice are rolled, or the cards are played, that anticipation instantly transforms into some other emotion, be it joy, sorrow or anger, as the results are determined.

It's that rush that fuels the gamist-style of play. Some games, such as poker, try to extend the anticipation. Poker even adds in chips to expand upon the audible element. Poker isn't a story game, but it is used as a resolution method in various games, such as Deadlands. This makes me wonder about four things:

1. Are games that use poker gamist, or at least hybrid?

2. Why don't more gamist RPGs use anticipation better?

3. How can I implement this into Metropole Luxury Coffin?

4. How does this random idea affect my dissertation?

EDIT: ...or not? I can't find a single gamist game that uses this anticipation/resolution combo. Now, I haven't gone over every game of the genre, but when you look at most of them you realize two things: the genre isn't that big and it isn't as well developed other genres, including narrativism.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-06 03:51 pm
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A Very Old Board Game

After watching the video, I assembled some random pieces, a set of 4-sided dice, constructed a board out of coins and tried playing against myself. It's fun, but it'd be better if I played against someone else. Now, who should I recruit...
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-06 02:24 pm

An Update

This post is just to keep you up to date on where I am on my various projects:

Storm of the Armadas: revising the game after my last playtest

RPG: I've decided to avoid the heroes saving the universe concept, but I'm still deciding which of my other games to edit

Dissertation: Exploring the changing definition of the narrativist genre
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-06 10:20 am
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I'm Going to Finish My PhD

Yes, you read that right.

After a year of complaining, I've finally realized that I need to finish my PhD. I'm All-But-Dissertation (ABD), which makes me a PhD Candidate. Because I no longer wish to enter academia, I can avoid all other pressures, such as publishing in academic journals and presenting at all the special conferences. Of course, I'll need to consult with professors and the ethics review committee because the focus and sampling method has shifted so much, but I'm ready to return.

Instead, I'm looking to become a children's librarian, which only requires a Masters degree. Children's librarians are pretty low on the totem pole of librarians, but that's been one of my dreams for over a decade. The PhD will help me in my pursuit of my other profession, game designer. The two professions, librarian and designer, complement and support each other, with the librarian providing the socialization and the designer giving me a chance to creatively solve problems.

It'll take me a few years to write my dissertation, and that paper will likely provide lots of material for blog posts.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-05-03 08:42 am
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Some Good Advice

In response to my previous post about the question if I should publish a role-playing game (RPG) first, the answer was a resounding yes. But there were additional details about what sort of game would work. It seems that these days people want big stories that let them escape their lives. Stories like Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars: Rogue One, which is understandable since our news media is filled with stories of Trump. Yes, the trend predates the Trump phenomenon, but you get the point.

Can I write a RPG about a big story? The market is full of big story RPGs. Perhaps the most recent and best of them is Apocalypse World (AW). I've played AW and several variants of it, and even own a few that I haven't played.

I don't like AW's conflict resolution rules because it promotes constant fighting. This type of play was the hallmark of Dungeons & Dragons. It's not that I find constant fighting abhorrent, it's just that I've gotten bored by it. The reason why I collect games that are Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is because of how they integrate different secondary rules, such as factions, into the story, and the fantastic suggestions on how to run a game.

Back to the movies. You may have also noticed another thing held in common between the two movies I mentioned, the genre of space opera. PbtA games assign characters special powers, and some of these powers are flat-out weird. I'm surprised that no one else has thought to create a PbtA space opera game. Perhaps they have, and I just haven't heard of it.

So, the next question, should I create a PbtA space opera game, or create a new edition of Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC)? An earlier edition of MLC is available for free at 1km1kt, but the new version will be more comedic.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-04-25 11:17 pm
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What Should I Publish First?

I've been working hard on getting Storm of the Armadas (SotA) ready for playtesting, but it will be very difficult to publish. It has to incorporate so many different pieces: a rulebook, a box, counters, cards, and rulers. Not only that, but I've got to make and playtest the supplements, with all of their components, too. It's a daunting task, especially considering it's the first project I've published in years.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on several role-playing game (RPG) projects. Yes, they still need a lot of editing and playtesting, but RPGs only require a rulebook. I could choose one of my past projects, such as a new edition of Metropole Luxury Coffin, or develop a new game. That way, when I release SotA I'll at least have learned something about fundraising, online sales, and creating a product for print-on-demand. The downside would be that I've got to raise some money soon to pay for the earlier fundraising effort, including a bit of artwork and editing.

I'd really like to read, or hear, your input, so either leave a comment below, e-mail, or call me.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-04-19 02:06 pm
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On Not Throwing the Baby Out With The Bathwater

I tend to watch a lot of Youtube videos. I'm subscribed to several Youtube channels. Of particular interest to me are those channels that demonstrate scientific experiments. One of them, Thunderf00t, is especially good at doing this. He constantly challenges other videos and the scientific claims they make, demonstrating why they're wrong through critical thinking, logic, experiments, measurements and math. This is how science works, through the constant challenging and revising of ideas. I don't agree with every claim he makes, especially ones about technology, because technology is always improving, but his channel is a good one to subscribe to.

Unfortunately, as soon as he starts talking about anything that's not scientific, all that reasoning goes out the window. He especially hates feminists and Anita Sarkeesian in particular. I don't agree with everything Anita says, either, but Thunderf00t's arguments aren't really arguments at all because they incorporate several of the logic errors he fights against with his science-related videos. There are better critiques of Anita Sarkeesian's work. You only need to do a web search for "critiques feminist frequency" to find them. Some of them even show where she gets things right, because critiques are not always negative.

And that's what I like about a well written, spoken or demonstrated critique, that it doesn't necessarily have to refute the original claim. In fact, a critique can support certain claims by showing how they are repeatable (another part of the scientific method) or can hold up under interrogation from another direction.

I once read, and I forget where I read this, that ideas should hold up on their own merits, not because of who said them. A good idea could come from a very disreputable source. Bad ideas come from otherwise reputable people. I know that life only offers us a certain amount of time, and reputation plays a big role in judging the source of ideas, but feel that sometimes reputation plays too big of a role. No one should be above questioning.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
2017-04-17 02:28 am

An Intro to my Dissertation

The online game design community I planned to study was originally based around The Forge. They established a series of role-playing game (RPG) subgenres, initially called: gamist, narrativist and simulationist (GNS). I developed a working definition of what a genre is, but I had no idea how to study genres. I've had to discover how to do that by reading the work of others.

Despite GNS being an important feature of my proposal, I actually failed to define how each subgenre differed from one another. For example, a narrativist RPG incorporates an open-ended question into both its play and its rules. Gamist RPGs were competitive, but they may or may not incorporate winners and losers. Simulationist RPGs were, well, they were complicated, so I'll leave that explanation for a future post.

Instead, I wanted to explore all the special types of rules which became commonplace within The Forge community and its diaspora, such as scenes or fruitful void. The exact definition of those terms varies a bit from designer to designer, giving me more topics for future posts.

Yes, I still plan to study these features, but I believe that the GNS subgenres caused certain rules to become more commonplace, while minimizing or eliminating other rules. Now that I'm no longer involved in the PhD program, I can also study the OSR genre, despite its origins being in another community.

More posts will follow as I figure out new things about this topic.