Archive for April, 2012
Yesterday, I got this tweet, so today I want to talk about it:
I wrote this game over the weekend” is like saying “I painted the Mona Lisa in a day”; it makes the rest of us
Putting aside the self-deprecating ”trust me, HK-TK is no Mona Lisa,” that it’s only 6500 words, and that other people designed most of the parts to this — that reaction is something I’ve thought about my whole adult life, as it’s been said often to me ever since college.
Except it was said about being a programmer. A few of us were always done with coding labs within ten minutes, when we were given an hour. Other people who were struggling in class would ask us how we were so fast at it. The answer was both simple and useless: in my case, I’ve been fucking with computers since I was six years old. And while the specific subject matter is new, it builds on subject matter I’ve been contacting with for years and years. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish these exams back then (putting aside that I might have just walked away to find a juice box).
No, I know I’m not a particularly fast writer; at least, not consistently so. On the other hand, my friend Matt Forbeck is known for his Herculean writing feats. He’s often teased on Twitter as a robot, or we “lesser” writers tease each other about our own tiny wordcounts. Matt’s an icon when it comes to our industry. But, just as I wouldn’t be able to do the coding things I can without the nearly-three decades of practice and scholarship, neither could he have done his tremendous daily wordcounts right out of the gate.
Well, unless you believe some of the Myths of Forbeck, in which case he was born from the written word itself, so yes, he could.
That’s because what we’re doing in a day or weekend or whatever relies on what we’ve been doing for years before that. I’ve been solidly fucking around with RPG text & game design since 2006, and half-assedly well before that. So I have a sense of what reactions & rewards I want, which pieces produce what reactions, what happens when you put different pieces together, how to present them in text, etc. I’m not saying HK-TK actually works; it hasn’t been tested. But it certainly isn’t something I could have written in 2006. Or 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. Maybe I could have last year.
I’m sure it’s the same thing with John Harper’s Lady Blackbird, which was also quickly written up & visually designed if I remember right.
With time & practice comes understanding of your craft, and with that comes loads and loads of little tools in your mind that allow you to do things faster or better. And while this might impress some people, the reason I’m not self-impressed is because I see all the little marks of time in this document, the mistakes I’ve made in the past or seen others make, places where I am trying things that have worked in the past, stuff like that. I see five years of practice in a hastily written, unedited document.
Pretty much anyone can do that. Just takes time & practice. Which means it just really takes passion. So if you’re passionate about something, start putting some more time & practice in. It’ll pay off like you won’t believe.
And with enough passion, time & practice, perhaps any one of us could ascend to be like Forbeck. ;)
P.S. And just because something looks easy to another person doesn’t mean it was. But the hardest parts of writing HK-TK is another post.
 And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish them without exposure to how other people do things, learning from them. Not unlike taking pieces other people have designed, seriously thinking about them, tinkering with them, and putting them together. Same principle: no one of us is an island.
 Disregarding the fact that I wouldn’t have been inspired by Push until 2009.
For the last few months, ever since I hacked Technoir to play Push, I had thoughts about making a Push-style game. Some ideas hit home after I wrote about using Unknown Armies passions for characters in other games. And in order to make it leave my head (while also using it to take a break from working on some projects that I’ve been working on for quite a while), I challenged myself to write this in a weekend.
Technically, I fell short. I spent two hours today working on it. Anyway, if you want to check out my little, hastily-written game about psychics in Hong Kong’s underworld, here you go.
Later this week, I’ll talk about where the various influences of many games come from and why they’re there. Because, in my mind, that’s actually the important part of this experiment. (Though I do hope the game actually works and is fun, too!)
The following is an excerpt from Mythender, and is a work-in-progress. I was having fun with the language, and I thought I would share to get some reactions. The following covers the rules for doing super awesome shit outside of a battle (though not some of the related rules, like creating lasting blights that mark the land or terrorizing mortals for power from this act).
Performing Badass, Epic Feats
Mythenders are incredible titans, who can do amazing feats! Break mountains, move rivers, control mortals—there’s little you cannot accomplish. But that power comes at a cost, for those feats are powered by your Mythic nature, and from there lies corruption.
When you want to do an epic feat and you’re not in a battle, answer the following:
Is This Feat Mundane or Uninteresting?
Then don’t use these rules. It just happens, with no benefit or further effect.
Is This Feat Inhumanly Possible?
Answer these questions:
- Are you capable of this feat?
- If so, are you creating or destroying a blight?
- Are you embracing or resisting corruption?
Are you capable of this feat?
No Mythender is omnipotent; you each have limitations. You can accomplish an epic feat if it fits under one of these conditions:
- It is merely something that takes godly might, speed, skill, wit, etc.
- You can explain how your Weapons enable you to do this feat.
- You can justify it either directly or inspired by your Fate’s power.
In addition, if there’s a blight that would prevent you from doing this, and the feat you’re doing isn’t attacking that blight, you’re restrained from this action. At least, for the time being.
If you cannot do the feat because it doesn’t fit any of the above, don’t worry! Once you fall and become a Myth, you can totally do it.
If you can do the feat, then it is done, unquestioningly. You and the Mythmaster describes what happens.
Are you creating or destroying a blight?
Epic actions can create or destroy blights. This is optional; not every epic action needs to deal with a blight. (For more on Blights, see page XX.)
If creating a new blight, pay 2 Might, take a new blight card and write its description down. Write your Mythender’s name on the “Created by” line. Finally, check off the first charge box and the Lasting box.
In lieu of creating a new blight, you can bolster an existing blight that you or another Mythender created. Rewrite the blight’s description to reflect how its more powerful, then check off two more charge boxes.
If destroying a blight, pay 2 Might, take the blight card, write your name on the “Destroyed by” line, and cross the card out. Or, if you’re feeling particularly theatrical, rip the card up.
You may only create or destroy one blight if you’re resisting corruption (below).
If embracing corruption, you can create and destroy as many as you can afford. You can use Might gained from embracing corruption to pay for them.
Are you embracing or resisting corruption?
The choice you have here is if you are trying to use Mythic power while attempting to resist its corruption, hoping that it does not change you and make you closed to becoming a Myth; or you can embracing what the world of Myth wants you to become, and gain power from it.
If you are embracing your mythic nature, this is also Terrorizing Mortals for Power, even if you’re doing this in a “nice” way or for kind reasons. If there were no mortals in this moment to begin with, the Mythmaster will introduce some witness your horrific power. Do everything in those rules as well.
If this action assaults or removed a mortal’s free will, it is always embracing corruption. That’s pretty inhuman.
If you are attempting to resist corruption, this is a risk. Grab two dice if the Mythmaster says there are no mortals to witness your act, or one if there are. (Note: the Mythmaster will usually play handball here and introduce mortals in a scene where there didn’t seem to be any. Mortals are drawn to horrific power.)
Reminder: Companions don’t count as mortals, because they no longer have true free will.
Roll the dice. If either come up 5 or 6, you have resisted Myth’s corrupting influence! You’re unchanged. Otherwise, treat as the result of Terrorizing Mortals for Power, except you only claim 1 Might. There is less reward if you resist your mythic nature.
Oh, and if you do fail, the Mythmaster might create a new Blight for the Myth based on how you were unable to contain your nature. Or not. Whatever.
Describe the Feat and Push Forward
You and the Mythmaster should describe what happens, based on blights created or destroyed and how you handled corruption. Once everyone at the table is satisfied with playing out that moment, move on.
Limits to These Gains
While you can do incredible feats, you do not have limitless power. After a feat, you must rest for a few moments—walking around and talking will suffice. And if you do one shortly afterward (around two hours or less), you will not gain any additional Might. The Mythic World cannot grant you limitless power while you still have the scent of mortality about you.
Rashid wishes to put out a raging inferno consuming a town and surrounding forest, one started by fire giants in the prior battle. (Raging Inferno is a persistent blight.) So he summons the very spirits of the fire and shove them back down into the deep earth.
Now, no one had mentioned anything about the fire having spirits before, but the Mythmaster knows better than to question it. Of course it’s fire spirits! And it’s interesting, so we proceed.
The feat’s inhumanly possible, all right. Qualifies for these rules. And Rashid is capable of this feat through his relic weapon, The Book of Dominion over Demons and Spirits. No question about that. He’s focused on destroying the blight, so that question is taken care of.
All that remains is to see if he’s embracing or resisting corruption. He could easily embrace it, shouting at fire spirits and making everyone in the town bow before his terrible awe. But no, he decides that mortals should keep their free will or some junk, and resists.
There are mortals around, so Rashid’s player picks up just one die. He rolls it, getting a 5! He successfully resists corruption! (Which is handy, because I haven’t described how Terrorizing Mortals for Power works yet.)
So he describes forcing the fire spirits into the deep earth, and the fire vanishing with it. The people witnessing still bow before his terrible awe, but not in a “I accidentally destroyed your free will while trying to help” way.
Unna arrives at a village after some monsters have already slaughtered many of its people. So she figures, hey, why not just bring them back?
That certainly isn’t boring. Her Fate is Death, so that fits with her Fate’s power: Power over the life and death of mortals. There’s no blight in play that’s she’s destroying—there are no inactive blights like “people are dead”. She also doesn’t really care about creating one, though she could make one like “my loyal risen army” or the like. But that’s not Unna’s point. She just wants some dead people to be…less dead.
As for corruption, her player says “Bring it on!” Because corruption is sexy, and also gives you sweet, sweet mythic power. Sure, it’ll mean that the mortals she’s bringing back to life will have their free will destroyed, but them’s the breaks, I guess.
The rest of this example is covered in Terrorizing Mortals for Power (p. XX), since Unna’s embracing corruption.
Not Bothering With These Rules
After the battle against giant scorpion-men, Erik the Hated jumps from one side of a chasm to the other, in order to retrieve his sword, Viperbane. The scorpion-general knocked it out of his hands as his last action, as it was being totally ended. Since there’s nothing interesting going on, just a bit of color to show how casually Erik gets his sword back, none of the Epic, Badass Feats rules are used.
Now, if Erik’s player wanted to make a big deal about it, he could push it further, but he just wanted to say “Yeah, I just wanted to describe how I got my sword back. Let’s move on.” Everyone’s happy.
As much as I would like to address this to those publishers that are a problem, such things fall on deaf ears. So instead I want to address this to a certain subset of freelancers: those who don’t need the money.
I know quite a few freelancers who just enjoy doing work in a field, and have a great day job or spouse or both, and don’t care about the money they’re getting from some project they’re on. As a result, they don’t put effort into making sure things like contracts are delivered or payment is even relatively prompt.
But from the perspective of publishers who are forming how they’re doing business, what you’re doing hurts your colleagues who do depend on this for money, as there’s no difference to them between freelancers who need the money and freelancers who don’t. Those who do, those who have to struggle to invoke Fuck You, Pay Me, we looks like chumps because we’re sitting alongside you, who isn’t asking for that.
So if you want to help your fellow freelancers, chase after contracts and payment. Help us out by being a constant reminder of that, and of helping us being a unified force — one that doesn’t create incentives to continue hiring people who don’t need the money, and force unscrupulous publishers to shape up or dry up.
(There’s a related post somewhere in me about those freelancers who need the money but are timid about it.)
During the Moral Ambiguity in Gaming panel at NorWesCon, the charismatic Clinton J. Boomer — a fellow Unknown Armies fan — made a great point about creating characters of depth using some ideas from UA: specifically, the three passions. This came from a conversation about how everyone is the hero of their own internal story, and no one self-identifies as evil except for the mustache-twirling villains.
There are three Passions: the Fear Passion, the Rage Passion, and the Noble Passion. (They are also called Stimuli in the text.) Each is something that is a hot button for a character: what terrifies them, what enrages them, what causes them to raise above their id. The important thing is that every single character has all three. And that’s something that can be brought to a game to make every character something beyond a cardboard cutout of good or evil.
They are always form the imperfect perspective of the character, sometimes internal struggles and sometimes external issues. I’ll skirt the spirit of copyright by pasting the example passions below:
Fear Passion Examples
- Fire. Fire claimed your house, and with it your wardrobe, your record collection, not to mention all your photos and yearbooks. It’s bad stuff, not just dangerous and painful but unpredictable as well.
- Foreigners. When you were overseas, you always knew they were talking about you behind your back, jabbering away in that weird monkey language. Now they’re all around you, even in the streets of your home town.
- Temptation. You don’t drink anymore. When you get drunk you do terrible things, so you don’t drink. Much. No, not at all. In fact, you’re careful to stay away from bars, restaurants, and that liquor store on Third and Main.
- Possession. You don’t like to talk about the exorcism. You don’t like to say the creature’s name. You know it’s still out there and calling it could bring it right back.
- Dogs. You’ve got marks on you from the red jaws and white teeth. Even those barky little shit dogs make you nervous, and big beasts like a Doberman or Saint Bernard? Forget it.
- Victimization. You weren’t the one who got hurt, you were just the one they made talk. You tried to be tough, and that made it all your fault. Now you can’t stand to see people get hurt. To you, watching the victim is worse than being the victim.
Rage Passion Examples
- Backchat. Is it too much to ask that people be polite? You understand someone who throws a punch at you, but a sarcastic loudmouth really gets your goat.
- Enemy Drivers. You’re an excellent driver. You wish all the bad drivers around you would just realize it, hang up their cell phones, and get the hell out of your way.
- Laziness. When someone does a half-assed job, they’re not just disrespecting their duties or their boss. They’re flipping the bird to everyone who has to put up with their shoddy work. God help one of your employees if you catch her slacking.
- Sleaze. Booze. Pornography. Foul language. Toilet humor. The country is swimming in filth, and no one’s doing anything about it. It’s time someone took a stand. Someday a real rain is gonna fall.
- Stuck-up Assholes. Just because you didn’t go to college and don’t drive a Lexus doesn’t mean those rich fucks get to look down at you. Goddamn snobs. Someone ought to take them down a notch.
- Those Fat Cats in Washington. Democrats and Republicans are just the competing teams in the “Screw the Taxpayer” Super Bowl, brought to you live by the Army, the Post Office, and your local Police Department.
Noble Passion Examples
- Entertainment. How much better would the world be if people devoted as much effort to making one another happy as they do to getting rich or becoming powerful? You believe laughter is the best medicine—so if you cheer someone up now, the future takes care of itself.
- Historical Preservation. If we can’t learn from the past, we’re doomed to repeat it, and all those who suffered did so in vain. Preserving our links to the past gives us a firm foundation to build a better future.
- Landmine Removal. Landmines are deadly, indiscriminate, and a bitch to remove. You’ve seen their carnage firsthand and you’re dedicated to removing them physically (by working as a minesweeper) and politically (through activism to get landmines banned).
- One for All. Most people are crap, but you’ve made a tight bond with your friends. They’re all right, and your loyalty to them is unshakeable.
- Pedagogy. Education is the key to it all. Knowledge rinses away prejudice, eases misery, and exalts all that is good about the human condition. Educating others is your mission in life.
- Protect the Elderly. Most old people have already had seven courses of misery and heartache in their lifetimes without an extra helping in the eleventh hour.
How to Use This Elsewhere
This should be straightforward: when you have a significant character, come up with their passions. It doesn’t matter if there’s a mechanical hook, though some games (like Fate) make that easy to do.
It’s easy to make a one-dimension good or bad person. It’s far more interesting if there’s more going on. Take one of the heavy NPCs in Unknown Armies, Eponymous. He’s a straight-up sociopath, and as described: “When Abel says jump, Eponymous throws you off a building.”
- Rage: Betrayal.
- Fear: Poison. Dying of a stab wound or gunshot doesn’t scare Eponymous nearly as much as the thought of dying from some slow, agonizing venom.
- Noble: Throughout it all, Eponymous has always wanted to do a good job
Now we have something more interesting that “powerful sociopath that will kill you as soon as look at you.” We now know what makes him mad — enough to motivate or enough to cause a mistake. We know what he’s deathly afraid of. We know what he believes in.
That’s a take on a villain. What about the other side, someone who is on the surface totally good?
Lili Morgan, agent of the House of Renunciation (which doesn’t need more explanation for this), who believes in helping people:
- Rage: People who are as selfish and uncaring as she used to be.
- Fear: Unpredictable ascensions scare Lili.
- Noble: The abstract, general welfare of humanity. She doesn’t care about individual people.
The noble one is obvious, much like Eponymous’ rage one. But seeing how this genuinely nice person would get angry & break her sense of peace gives us a bit more. And her fear stimulus is the sort of ones that creates a drive, something beyond “hey, everyone should be compassionate and caring.”
What About Your Game?
Do you have a villain in your game that just exists as a foil for the PCs? What’re his/her/its passions?
Do you have a benevolent character in your game that just exists to help the PCs? What about his/hers/its?
 The first time I remember seeing this in full effect was in playing Final Fantasy VIII, where Seifer, after capturing your party, exclaimed about how he was the hero and his day of bringing the villains — your character — to justice was at hand. Fuck yeah.
 There’s a mechanical incentive to make interesting ones, but that’s beyond the scope of this. Again, go buy it. :)
 Which UA has mechanics for. And they aren’t positive ones.