Archive for November, 2010
Three different podcasts had me on over the last week, two of them taken at NeonCon.
Allan Sugarbaker and I talk about Mythender, which I ran for him and some other fine folks at NeonCon. We talk for around fifteen minutes about the game and my plans for it.
Josh Roby & I are working on a new game, Vicious Crucible. We had Sean Nittner try it out, and talked about it on his show for around 25 minutes.
Another Nittner-Macklin combo, Sean & I talk about player trust in games. His show notes are extensive, so you’ll know if you want to listen by reading them. :) This episode is 33 minutes long.
All told, that’s barely more than an hour of me mouthing off. Some of you take longer to drive to work. So, hey, enjoy.
Diaspora introduced the idea of scopes in aspects, at least with some meaning. You have Character aspects, Scene aspects, Planet aspects, etc. That’s not new, but what was is the idea that you can only invoke one aspect from each scope.
I asked Brad Murray about why they all chose that on Twitter. Here’s the convo:
RyanMacklin: Hey, do you talk anywhere on the blogosphere about why you scoped aspects & limit invocation in Diaspora?
BradJMurray: Hmm, maybe. I think it all pre-dates my blog though. So it might pre-date my thinking altogether.
At the root it’s simple, though: if a task is hard, it forces you to look outside the character for help.
RyanMacklin: I ask because I’m blogging about it, and that’s one place in Diaspora where you don’t explain why. (Unless I missed it.)
BradJMurray: So it’s an anti-super-hero technology.
The fact that we had invented something with scopes wasn’t clear to us until well after publication. It was a reflexive rule.
So my knowledge of its purpose is mostly deconstruction.
Which was enlightening. See, I don’t care for the limitations on scope, though I get why they chose that. I feel like the Fate point economy is the fix for that in and of itself, and I want people to be able to drain all the Fate points they want in a moment. Not saying Brad and company are wrong, just I want something different out of the economy.
Then I started introducing Research Aspects, and there was a crapton of stuff the players could free tag. Crapton. So I stole from Diaspora and said “you can only free tag one aspect of each type per roll.” That prompted me to come up with types.
- Character aspects: the core aspects on the characters; Drive, Hope, Personal Demon, Relationship.
- Consequence aspects: the aspects generated from consequences. (I may go back to making this an except)
- Threat aspects: the core aspects on monsters and the like — many Unnatural Sciences aspects fall here.
- Mission aspects: the aspects on the mission available to all members of ETU. In prior games, “Falsified credentials” and “Spy satellites” were available.
- Scene aspects: what we’ve all come to buy as scene aspects. You can declare them with Survival rolls.
- Situation aspects: maneuvers you place on another character
- Gear aspects: what you invent with Tech rolls
The idea is to not over-privilege Unnatural Sciences. That’ll generate a lot of aspects, but to get the most free tags available, you need to generate Threat aspects (Unnatural Sciences), Gear aspects (Tech), Scene aspects (Survival), Mission aspects (created at the start of the game), Situation aspects (maneuvers), and Consequence aspects (created as a result of combat).
That’s a lot of freebies, and generally you won’t free tag something from each. But it does mean you won’t blow two free tags at once generated from one good Unnatural Sciences roll that makes multiple Threat aspects.
It’s also worth noting that since there aren’t many “I’m totally competent” type of aspects on characters, there is a strong drive to create aspects in play. That’s worked well so far.
Finally, you can invoke those other aspects by spending Fate points, even if the haven’t be free-tagged yet. The free tag still exists for someone else, or for you on a future roll.
 I wish I could do something in WordPress where I could just quickly markup with “link to this tag” without having to open another browser tab and finding out what that URL is.
 I’m sorry, ENnie Award-winning, Golden Geek shortlist Diapsora
Say you’re designing a combat system for a role-playing game. Let me ask you this: is it something that causes complication, fallout, consequences, or anything else that needs to be addressed after the battle?
If not, why not?
One of the reasons people criticize D&D, either earlier editions or 4/e, for being a combat & minis skirmish game is because it feels, to them, like the fighting and the story are independent. When you have a combat, there is nothing independent of success/failure that feed regularly back into the story (by design, not an oversight). Now, you can bind the two by using the GM as the glue, and that’s the general argument against the criticism.
But that’s about a game already designed (and designed well). If that interconnection between lengthy, exchange-based combat scenes and the story afterward are desired by you, the designer, then you can do that. And that means you need to look beyond just success/failure as the outcomes of your fights.
And I’m not talking about the “I need healing” sort of consequence, unless you somehow make that really interesting.
The first example I saw of this was in Truth & Justice (using PDQ). The first time you took a ht in a fight, whatever Quality you took it to would generate a Story Hook for the GM to work in after the fight. And since you got to define your own Qualities (which also act as your hit points or armor), you were declaring what was interesting as a story. The iconic T&J example is to say that Spider-Man has a Good Quality “Mary Jane.” When fighting with the Green Goblin, he takes a hit, and applies that hit to Mary Jane so that his “High-Flying Acrobatics” Quality isn’t hindered. The GM will complicate Spidey’s life soon involving Mary Jane.
Dogs in the Vineyard is the go-to example here, where, when you see to See someone else’s Raise, and you need more than two dice to do it, you take Fallout at the end of that fight/verbal exchange/whatever. Because of dice tactics and because Fallout is also the mechanic for advancement, you’re encouraged at times to take Fallout. At the end of the exchange, you roll the Fallout and apply the changes to your character.
Fate uses a two-step process. Combat often drains Fate points when players invoke aspects to get better rolls. Then Fate points are regained through compelling aspects. So what is created in combat aren’t the consequences themselves, but the need to accept future consequences for currency.
There are other games that do, though there’s also been a trend of doing away with exchange-based conflicts over the last few years. You have things inspired by Otherkind dice that promote consequences independent of success/failure.
I’ve been thinking about this since having coffee with Sean Nitter of Narrative Control. We talked very briefly about Mythender, and he said why that sort of game wouldn’t interest him. He would rather spend his time playing games not doing a combat encounter, whereas I find the story in a fight worth exploring.
I later thought about why I do, and I realized that it’s because of two things: One, I like action movies, so heroes showing they’re bad ass are awesome. Two, I like seeing the fallout or consequences of those action scenes.
Point two should happen more often. Here are some questions to ask yourself when designing a combat system:
- Is there something you can point to that says “this creates a consequence”?
- How would interesting consequences (beyond “I need a medic”) manifest on a character?
- …on the world?
- Can you incentivize consequences?
- Can you create positive changes or assets as a result of a fight?
Are there other questions we could be asking?
 Since I have had fun with it as a stand-alone skirmish game and as a game with a story weaved through it, I’ll happily say: I don’t care about the argument.
 Which is the intent in Mythender. “Healing” is what you do if you try to get a mortal to sympathize with you, since the game is about mythic natures and not flesh wounds.
Hey! NeonCon starts tomorrow! I’ll be there!
Loads of my friends will be at NeonCon. I’m looking forward to it. If you’re going, you might have noticed how many panel & seminar tracks there are for CreativeU. I’ll be doing two, but I encourage you to look at the whole damned list. It’s filled with awesome!
Lessons From Dresden
Friday, November 5th, 2010
Room: Montecristo 3
Leonard Balsera and Ryan Macklin discuss the lessons they learned from designing the breakout hit “The Dresden Files RPG” based on the novels by Jim Butcher.
Note: Lenny might not make it. I’m intending on making this more of a Q&A. It’s hard to distill years of lessons down into an hour.
Your ‘A’ Game: Techniques for Better GMing
Saturday, November 6th, 2010
Room: Montecristo 2
If you want to learn how to engage players at a table, whether friends at home or strangers at a convention, you want in on this workshop. Ryan Macklin will roll up his sleeves and show you how to use various techniques that he’s learned over the last decade of convention GMing–by doing them with you! Ryan will show you these techiques for gauging interest, creating buy-in, and responding to the sort of input players don’t even realize they’re giving. He’ll do this by turning you into play groups and showing you how you respond to these tricks, then turn you loose to try it for yourself. Looking to level up as a GM? Don’t miss this workshop!
I’m really looking forward to this one.
And when I’m not there, I’ll be floating around Games on Demand, running Dresden Files RPG (or, if you’re really luckily, Mythender or Emerging Threats Unit). Follow me on Twitter and you’ll know when I’ll be running stuff.
I might even have some swag on me.
Finally, if Night Macklin is gentle on Friday, I’ll be on This Just In…From NeonCon Saturday morning.
(Occasionally, I’m going to do this thing where I talk about someone y’all should be aware of. These’ll be short, so the verbal felicitating will be kept to a minimum. Here’s the kick-off of that.)
I admire the hell out of E. Foley, on Twitter as @geeksdreamgirl. And I think she should be on your radar.
I found out about her back at Gen Con 2009, when I saw this flyer for her dating profile service, Geeks’ Dream Girl. It caught my attention mainly because I was (and still am) a single geek dude, so I checked out her site. There I found a lot of advice. She has a small team of writers blogging and answering questions that folks have.
More importantly, I found a sense of hope. I found a sense of encouragement. And while I wasn’t looking to take her up on her services at the moment, I respected the hell out of her and what she’s doing. I mean, here I am making nerd stuff that people enjoy, but it’s an ephemeral joy. She’s helping people who typically have low confidence in the turbulent arena of dating get some, get out there, and try. If you succeed, that’s a lasting joy. This thing she’s doing kicks ass.
This past Gen Con, she did a dating doctor clinic, seminar on dating success, and a speed dating event. I’ll admit that I was a little incredulous to the latter idea (not that I voiced it — I’m no expert on such things), being a place where geeks are flying across the country and possibly being too lopsided on guys attending, but she made it work and it sounded like a wicked success. She tried this chancy experiment and it paid off. And I respect anyone that takes bold chances when others, even me, would nay-say.
I say all that to say: folks, she’s going to be at NeonCon this weekend. While I don’t believe she has anything on the books at the moment, if you think you could use her services or even just a few minutes talking with her, man, that’s why she’s there. Let her help you be awesome. Follow her on Twitter; I’m sure that’s where she’ll announce stuff.
For some of you–like, say, me years ago–you need a little more emphasis: Guys, gals, she often takes on people who think they’re hard-luck cases. She can help you, if you want her to. But she can only help you if you ask.
To cap this off, I admire her because she’s genuinely trying to help people find that happiness that so often eludes us. I’ve gotten to hear her be super-excited about her marriage success stories. If more people on the Internet were about helping people and building them up rather than tearing them down or proclaiming doom, the world would be an infinitely better place.
 …ladies. (Man alive, the compels I have to deal with.)
 NeonCon will be my 20th appearance this year. That sort of schedule kills a potential dating life. Which is one of many reasons next year I’m going to reduce my travel considerably.
 Seriously, it totally kicks ass. This is a footnote of emphasis.