Archive for May, 2012
Here’s another post for the May of the Dead blog carnival put on by the Going Last Gaming Podcast. I was recently thinking about how to handle damage in a horror game. Naturally, it depends on what sort of horror game we’re talking, and I’m overly fond of Delta Greens-style games (at least when they actually respect the “horror” side of action-horror.)
In my ideal horror games, it starts by emulating Unknown Armies: the players never know how badly hurt their characters are. The GM keeps track of that secretly, which means two things:
- The players can never fully calculate the risk factor of a given moment — not just because they don’t have the numbers, but because they’re relying on the GM to tell them what they perceive due to pain, injury, etc. Which could always be better or worse than how the body actually is.
- Having the communicate through description rather than through statistics makes for better horror.
But that comes with a problem: persistence. being told an awesome bit of description won’t help with traction unless we record it — we’re not physically experiencing our characters, and another exciting thing can (and for some people with attention span disorders, certainly will) cause us to forget our character’s state.
You ever have that moment where everything is suddenly wrong because you remembered about an injury, but you’re in the thick of narrative? “Wait, you couldn’t have run up the hill, your leg was injured…shit, uh, let’s not ret-con the last 15 minutes, just remember for next time.” Yeah, that. So recording it is still to our advantage.
We can record experiences just as easily as we can record numbers, like so:
So when the rules state you’re injured, the GM determines that (see the next part) and describes what happens. You then draw it on the part of your character sheet that has a body outline. There could be space underneath that for other descriptors, like “acid burns on right arm.”
Even psychological ones like “I think I’m seeing ghosts” could be recorded, in a space underneath.
(I’m certain I’ve seen this idea — or at least parts of it — before, but I cannot recall where. Maybe the chart for Godlike? Or Deadlines?)
As for damage itself, I have this crazy and possibly unworkable idea: first of all, as with Unknown Armies, the damage is hidden. That means the GM does all damage rolls behind the screen, from and to the Threat.
People can get scared of all sorts of things if they’re only experiencing part of the story — like hearing a bunch of dice rolling, rather than just one, and wincing. That makes me want to play with disinformation in the form of making unpredictable damage:
- 2d10, pick the highest
- 5d8, take the two lowest, describe intense agony — the pain is worse than the wound
- roll 5d6. Damage: 20, regardless.
- 2d8. Describe no pain or wound, aside from a weird goo on the skin where it came into contact and some numbness
The goal isn’t to be cute, but to attempt a representation of the alien nature of what the team’s facing. If one week you’re up against something and you hear four dice rolling when it tries to eat your face, the next week you’re up against something radically different, four dice shouldn’t feel the same.
Now, I don’t know what the baseline health is, and whether I’m looking at a countdown system like HP, or some sort of wound threshold system where every X wounds, you have to make an increasingly more difficult unconsciousness/death check. I’m leaning toward the former, to keep it slim. If the latter, it’ll be something the GM does, I think. I dunno.
I would take the same approach to defining the Threat’s reaction to weapons:
- Firearms: 3d6
- Knives, etc: 2d6
- Flesh: physical contact with bare flesh is extremely violative. 4d10, keep top two. Apply same damage to attacker.
- Fire: 1. But it’s very afraid of it.
- Salt: a large amount of salt on its “skin” will immobilize the muscles around that area
This would be flexible enough to allow a GM to figure out what the hell to do with a player comes up with some different way of harming.
Every now and then, someone tells me they would like to blog more, but feel intimidated. They don’t know what to blog about, feel like it’ll be a time sink, things like that. So I thought I would share to four main reasons why I blog.
Blogging Makes You Smarter
Well, not really. But it does cause you to put to concrete words vague thoughts you have. I talked about this this the past, about blogging half-ideas and the like.
Most of the time when I blog, I have some topic that’s either popped into my head or I’ve verbally talked about while working on a project. So I figure “can I wrote 800-1000 words on that? Maybe less, maybe more?” And then as I sit down, I think “holy shit, I didn’t realize I knew/thought that.”
This makes me, in some ways, my primary audience for my blog. In many ways, this is my personal master class on game design and text design, much like how (and this is just me thinking aloud) Vincent Baker’s blog is his personal master class, useful for him.
As a personal class, comments from others are super helpful — they help me understand where I’m misguided, where I’m not going deep enough, things like that. So having something public adds to this. After all, I am not as smart alone as I am with a dozen people discussing something critically.
(As a side note, that’s part of what I love about conventions.)
Blogging Makes You Quicker
I’m at the point that I can take a topic and write 800 words on it fairly quickly. Most of that is from building skills when it comes to informal essay writing, but it’s helped me learn the art of writing and being comfortable with being wrong. When you’re constantly writing first drafts, you get used to writing them.
I don’t give myself much time to write a post. At most, for a meaty one, an hour. After that, if it’s not done, it gets shelved for a future date — and sometimes those don’t even get published, because I have already taken away quite a bit from making concrete in text my vague idea. And there’s always a new vague idea to explain. But because of my time constraint, I work to produce quickly. I sometimes outline, writing headers first — and I guarantee you that outlining is a tricky skill to master.
Blogging Gives You Material You Can Use Later
Sometimes when I write a post, I’m forming ideas for something I’m going to use later. Pretty much every horror gaming post is that, for a game I’m dying to sit down and make. It’s a place where I can test out little ideas and (potentially) see how people react to them. Some of my Fate posts are working their way in Fate Core, for instance.
Now, I know the whole thing in fictionland about how you shouldn’t publish short stories on your blog because they you can’t resell them, as that counts as first publication. So if that’s a concern for you, don’t publish those. It’s not a concern for me, because I’m not putting my fiction on my site (and frankly, I’m my own publisher when I want to be, so that part doesn’t matter).
Blogging Can Start Your Mental Engine
I’ll get to a point during my word day when I’m staring at something I’m suppose to be working on, something that’s on deadline, and I’ll be drawing a blank. Could be writing, could be editing. And I’m just frustrated at absolutely zero progress. My brain isn’t in that working gear, and not every task comes with a font of inspiration.
When that happens, I stop and turn to my blog. I use writing here to get me into a working frame of mind. It’s like getting a cold engine going — by the end of the post, I’m generally warmed up and ready to tackle the thing I couldn’t figure out. Sometimes I’ll write about what I’m working on: subject matter, text issues, style concepts, something related. Sometimes I’ll write about whatever seems to be distracting me from doing the work, just to get it out of my system
(I’ll also try working on something else, rather than blog. Whatever will get me started.)
Blogging Makes You Known…But Not Right Away
I said four reasons, and here’s a fifth. But it’s not a fifth reason to actually blog, it’s just a reason many people start to in the first place.
Here’s the thing: it takes longer than you think to build up an audience. Longer to get them to comment, and learn what they’ll comment on. Most visitors either read and nod, read and close it because they don’t agree or don’t care, or they click on a link and let it languish as a browser tab or in Instapaper, not actually reading it because other stuff comes up.
So if you’re blogging in order to get people to see your genius, I guess that’s cool. But expect a long road of disappointment…or come up with personal reasons that add to your life beyond fragile Internet micro-fame.
I started this blog because I watched Rob Donoghue get even sharper as his blogged every day. So I wanted to grow similarly. I’d say I’ve done pretty well so far, but the road ahead is long. And it’s awesome.
I was reading over some of the changes to Dungeon World sheets last night, and I came to a weird conclusion:
Dungeon World doesn’t want players like me.
That’s totally fair. So I’ll talk about that a bit. (And this is going to get ranty, which is probably best explained in the footnote.)
[Edit: The comments are awesome. And often saner, because it took a bit for me to calm down from the emotional element involved.]
To be fair, I had that reaction months ago when I heard that bonds became the XP mine. I shrugged, knowing the sort of play I have sen bonds produce, and stopped playing DW at conventions.
Ah, I have to back up a bit.
See, I play DW at conventions. Most of my play of any game is that, one-shot meetings, mini-cons, things like that. So I’m playing with potentially random people. When I’ve played DW, it’s been with the same character, Ben Demonslayer, my Jewish halfling fighter. Because of that, I’m nearly always the target of the Cleric’s “I’ll convert you” bond. I fucking hate that, because I can’t tell of the person I don’t know is either able to make that interesting or is looking for an excuse to be a cockbite.
And I’m really, really tired of the latter.
These bonds existed in the first version. But now they can’t just be ignored, because they’re incentivized. You can choose not to take a “dick bond”, but then your character is slightly less able to help or hinder her comrades (because bonds add to that roll) and have fewer points of growth, as bonds are an XP generator. The first part was always there. With the addition of the second part, I now see this:
If I’m going to play in a convention game, I can fully expect dick behavior, because the DM will explain that the game rewards playing to your bonds.
And this isn’t hypothetical. I have seen dick behavior from bonds played out.
I could still play with my friends, and may from time to time, because bonds aside, Dungeon World is pretty fun. And even though I helped come up with the BBC Highlighting method, I think I like the XP change in DW — it’s seems slower, paced, and steady. I can dig that.
And I can even dig the non-hateful bonds. But encouragement combined with a desire for back story means almost always that every bond is filled in.
The other somewhat interesting point is that if I, as a cleric, want to play a cleric of a god that doesn’t want to convert — because subverting tropes can be its own fun — then I’m mechanically a weaker character and have fewer points of growth. This has some implied setting: the gods of DW are only strong if they are push their followers to proselytize and crusade. The fictional fallout of taking three bonds rather than four.
Here’s a list of the dick bonds in 2.3 that I see:
- Bard: _______________ is often the butt of my jokes.
- Cleric: I am working on converting _______________ to my faith.
- Fighter: _______________ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not. (I have seen so much damned pointless bickering around this one. Dear fuck.)
- Paladin: _______________ ’ s misguided behavior endangers their very soul!
- Thief: I stole something from _______________. (Though, it’s not as bad as previous worded, if memory serves.)
I’m glad to see that the wizard’s most dickish one has been stricken.
Now, I do love, at times, playing antagonistic characters. But when I’m going to engage in that, I’m going to engage in a game that’s about that, not where that’s a near-vestigial aside. Games like Fiasco, Smallville, or Lady Blackbird.
And I could bring this up if I play DW again, but the thought of bringing that up Every. Single. Time I play is wearisome.
I find this interesting, because it’s a change in a game. I first really enjoyed DW, and this change makes me stand far clear of it, as if it’s toxic fallout.
 If I harp on that one, it’s because I cannot see that as anything but a vile, inhuman act of hatred. I’ve had people try to convert me hours after my grandmother’s funeral. It’s disgusting, and it’s something I keep having to see when I play DW. Which is part of why I stopped playing & running it. So the game involves a gigantic trigger for me, pretty much equivalent to me as some class having a bond about murder or sexual violence.
Say you’re working on someone else’s manuscript, either as an editor or as a peer reviewer, and you’re marking it up to give back to them. And let’s further say you’re using something like Track Changes in Word on InDesign, where your alterations & comments will be visible. Here are some things to consider when you’re doing so:
Establish yourself as the writer’s ally. You cannot predict the mood that the writer will be in, so don’t be a cockbite about your edits. Be clear, but also speak to the writer as if you were sitting right next to her. Make it clear you’re on their side.
When you point out confusion, try rephrasing. To highlight something and say “confusing” can work, especially if you have a working relationship where you expect that to start a conversation with the writer as she reads your comments. However, if you can, try to rephrase what’s being said. That makes the form of confuse more clear to the writer.
Point out the good stuff, too. This isn’t just to make the writer feel good (though that can help with the first point), but also to show your frame of mind and highlight things that you would like to see preserved during revision. Sometimes whole lines or paragraphs will get cut during revision because the writer is re-examining the text, and if you don’t call something that, that could get the axe.
Don’t be shy about changing text. Part of your gig, unless you’re just proofreading, is to rework things. It’s up to the writer to approve them, so don’t be shy. Maybe what you did is what the writer meant to say, or close enough and better enough to just need some tweaking. Maybe it’s off, but it shows where you were confused and didn’t realize it, pointing out a place where changes need to happen. And maybe it’ll be reverted — that’s part of why we use Track Changes.
Substantial changes should include comments. Did you move paragraphs around? Comment as to why. Are you adding in entire sentences? Comment as to why. Explain to the writer what was going on in your mind when you made these changes, and that helps show the writer where deficiencies lie, not just that something was clearly wrong to you.
Be open to dialogue. Edits are opportunities to learn & grow. Sometimes you’ll make a comment that confuses a writer because your understanding of the craft is different from hers.
Include high-level notes. At the end, at the very beginning, or separately in email, discuss the work as a whole. That’s a good place to talk about structure and things to consider throughout the entire process of revision (rather than just line-by-line processing).
These are some tips off the top of my head. If you have some to share, please comment!
My very patient friend, Minerva Zimmerman, is working with me to revise, or as I like to say, unfuck a short story I’m working on. Her and the other alpha readers I handed the story to complained about my passive voice. This amuses me, because I catch the passive voice in others’ work, but not as much in my own until after it’s handed back to me.
(Oh, and if you like amusing fiction about how dangerous being in a museum is, her current series is up your alley.)
Passive Voice Words
She collected some passive voice words from some different sites, as her list to check off when she’s revising. She sent me this note:
They are huge indicators of passive voice and are like the tofu of verbs. A good rule is to try limit your use of them to only where they need to be, you need a strong sauce around them to flavor their tofu nature. If you can use a stronger tasting verb, always use one.
And the list of tofu verbs she’s gathered:
(Edit: Yes, it’s been commented that there’s more to passive voice than your verb. We should all know that. There is still merit in highlighting your to-be and similar verbs in drafts, to see how excessive you may be using them.)
The Time and Place for Passive Voice
Note that passive voice is generally weak construction, but is not in and of itself grammatically incorrect. Here’s a great site covering that.
Macro to Automatically Highlighting Them in Word
Minerva went through and manually highlighted a number of problem words, which made me think: wait, I remember some VBA from back when I was forced to deal with that. (I was, long ago, a ASP/VBScript guy for hire. And occasionally dealt with VBA.) I could write a macro for this!
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, just read it as “blah blah blah hey a macro to highlight stuff!”
There’s one macro for highlighting all of the words I listed above, called HighlightPassiveVoiceMacro. There’s another that removes all the highlighting from the document, DehighlightMacro. Note that I’m running Word for Mac 2011. Your mileage may vary.
Now, this will highlight all of them, including those that aren’t actually passive voice. Still, I see that as a feature; that also points out other, related opportunities to clean & tighten language. There’s more to shitty writing than just passive voice.
Due to time constraints, I’ll have to leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how to add macros to your document, and how to have them persist when saving. (Seriously, five minutes playing around and I couldn’t remember that last part.) If you don’t know how and want to learn, start by googling “making a word macro”.
Warning: as with all things in life, no warranty is implied. You should make a copy of your file before screwing with it. Unless you love that moment of agony as you discover a drastic error cannot be undone.
Sub HighlightPassiveVoiceMacro() HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("be") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("being") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("been") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("am") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("is") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("are") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("was") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("were") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("been") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("has") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("have") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("had") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("do") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("did") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("does") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("can") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("could") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("shall") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("should") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("will") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("would") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("might") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("must") HighlightPassiveVoiceWord ("may") End Sub Sub HighlightPassiveVoiceWord(sWord) Selection.Find.ClearFormatting Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True With Selection.Find .Text = sWord .Replacement.Text = "" .Forward = True .Wrap = wdFindContinue .Format = True .MatchCase = False .MatchWholeWord = True .MatchWildcards = False .MatchSoundsLike = False .MatchAllWordForms = False End With Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll End Sub Sub DehighlightMacro() ActiveDocument.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdNoHighlight End Sub
What I leave to other VBA geeks out there: making this more accessible to folks, making a version that lets you quickly highlight what you want, whatever other tools you feel like coming up with. Feel free to post links to ‘em in the comments!