Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another One Of Those DIsorganized Thought Days

-Dungeon I'm working on...
-With all games, I go: I would have to hack the living fuck out of this to make it work. If it's a fantasy game I already have this game I've hacked the fuck out of to make it work so I don't bother. As far as playing? System doesn't matter. GM matters.

-However: I find the "coolness economy" of Old School Hack (and to some degree Neoclassical Geek Revival and Marvel Heroic) (i.e. you get spendable, useful bonuses immediately for doing something deemed cool) very revealing from a philosophical point of view as opposed to the "get everyone on the same page of grit-level and let it happen" economy in more OSR designs.

-Nearly every GM kinda has a "cool points" system in their head, probably. But the reliability of it--and the desire to use it as a primary engine driving the story is a big deal in designs like Old School Hack. I know Jeff will probably go with the essential feasibility me filling the donkey with holy water to trap vampires as a plan because the plan is pretty cool but I don't assume that'll necessarily get my PC much farther than any other vampire-killing plan of equal effectiveness but less coolness. And the dungeon just keeps ticking on whether I succeed or fail. And I like that. (So yes it's true: spendable cool points open the door to less puzzley and more StoryNowish designs--whether you actually run through that door is another issue.)

-Last week I ran a D&D game in no known system for 8 players (Friendly Local Game Store). Mandy ran a AD&D20 PC, I think Satine did, too, one other guy ran a 3.5 monk sans skills, a few other people ran 4e characters (on average, 3 levels lower than the Type III characters). No grid, a few minis. Worked fine. Satine got that PC that died in I Hit It With My Axe resurrected finally.

-Litmus test. How to know a player is lame:
Player discovers Option A (with x flavor) is objectively, mechanically, more powerful than Option B (with y flavor--totally different).
Player chooses Option A, doesn't see why you wouldn't.
Player is not 12 years old

-The blot is an accident, the rest is pure and true:
-Hypothesis: When you roll dice, that's the system going "These are the parts of the movie where the camerawork is beautiful". It can be beautiful other times, like when the DM is talking a lot, and you can roll dice sometimes to speed through time in a montage--like on Jeff's carousing table--but, in general, when the system rolls dice that's when it gets all dramatic and you pay attention. Slow-motion or hand-held or bullet-time. Is this an action western? Or is it a drama western? Whatever you want, but the system's point of view is: it's when you roll dice. If it's the kind of system that makes you roll dice to make a decision, that's the camerawork telling you "this is a drama about agonizing decisions".

-OSR cliche: "We don't explore characters, we explore dungeons" . Not exactly. I think the idea is more: what thing do you use as rocket fuel until the campaign gets into orbit and goes where it wants to go? I use a dungeon to get there. Freak monsters and puzzle traps are the selling point--but once the campaign gets into orbit it goes where it goes. Different gamers may all end up in the same kind of campaigns but they were sold on getting into the rocket ship for the same reason.

"See your PC struggle with survivor's guilt!" Does not sell me on the trip. But I freely admit I might decide it's fun once I'm up there staring down at the world. Who know? That's the fun.

- I just realized something I do not like about storygame-ish designs (I want to call them Beardstache Games since Google + has revealed all those guys have exactly the same facial hair but that is there and not here so whateverAnyway...). Assuming my PC's alcoholism or Pride is as big an obstacle as an owlbear is cool with me. However, I do not want to be told (or decide) during CG that "you will have to confront your alcoholism" any more than I would want to be told which monster I was about to fight. I want surprises.

I want my PC's personality to be as much an undiscovered territory as the dungeon he hasn't seen yet.

I don't mean I want to be told how to play, I want to start out as however I wanna play my guy and then, over the sessions, find out what the setting does to my guy. Like Blixa is pretty much the standard amoral sneakthief but man does he turn out to love his dogs. And man does he get sentimental when they die...

Change will be slow, optional, and totally open. Basically: me being bored with the one-dimensionality of my character is the only engine of change for that character I'm cool with that. Also means I can play with any number of other people who can come and go out of the campaign without forcing everyone to have a story-arc-moment at the right time.

-DIY D&D defaults of: long-term-campaign play and friendly (not convention) play are probably pretty big factors here.


  1. I sort of get what you mean, game begins to exist the very moment the game session begins, all the work, rulebooks and modules before it are just unassembled building blocks. There is no actual guarentee of success and no point in stressing on direction where the campaign took off.

  2. Between A & B...isn't the third option just to...change y flavor of Option B? For my group, changing flavor is easier than changing crunch. Then again, the whole reason I buy books with powers & options is because presumably they've been tested for balance-- I increasingly suspect they haven't been.

    & the "confront your alcoholism!" thing in my group is less the DM saying "you have to deal with your addiction to booze!" & more the PCs saying "well, I'm an alcoholic, even if I hear suspicious sounds, my first thoughts waking up are that I need a drink." Those story options are generally Player driven.

    1. That assumes that flavour and "crunch" are separate things, which in AD&D etc really is not the case.

  3. I want to start out as however I wanna play my guy and then, over the sessions, find out what the setting does to my guy.
    YES. Another test for a lame player: do they still have no weird, non-rules-driven character goals after 3 sessions of play in the same campaign?

    1. I dunno, man. That could be a crap campaign too. Of course coming up with your own goal is one way to route around a substellar game.

  4. I've been having a real problem with hacking up systems lately. Nothing is exactly what I want, and the temptation is to keep hacking and hacking until I can at least approach my ideal (as yet unsighted). Right now I've got a crush on the two extremes of the crunch spectrum: on the one hand, Searchers of the Unknown (which Jeff posted about yesterday; it's so simple that the act of playing it must be almost moment-to-moment hacking), and Burning Wheel on the other (so complex that I would have to run it as-written; I wouldn't know how to change it).

    I've been running an Old School Hack game for a bit. I chose it as a midpoint between the simple systems I like and the tactical D&D my 4th Ed.-loving players enjoy. We're all really enjoying it, but not for the reasons I expected. The simplified, but still somewhat tactical, combat is so-so, not a game-seller so far. The players have not taken to the Awesome Point mechanic at all, mainly I think because they're not interested in being flashy - they're quiet, cunning, and sneaky. They love the cool powers their characters get - eat anything; have a book full of arcane knowledge; sense evil... For me the "killer app" is just the super simple attribute checks. Which basically every game has, or easily could have.

    My takeaway is: it works to give players simple characters with simple, but interesting, abilities; and simple stat checks are neat. Don't let the game get in the way of the game. Rolling dice is fun. But yeah, mainly if the GM is good the game is good. And I owe a lot to you, Jeff, and the rest of the OSR for the advice that's finally made me a good GM.

  5. wishes to hear more about the hydrocephalic Rubik's Cubist in yr pic. What's *his* deal?

    1. In the image URL I see "/7YekhWH0SAw/"

      So maybe he is the ancient mayan king "Seven Yekh, who saw."

  6. First of, what a beautiful dungeon image at the top of the post! Would make an awesome, but scary, poster.

    Second of all… beardstache? I am a girl!
    Many story-game nerds love the OSR—I know I do—you guys don’t need to love us back but slow it with the insults.
    I came to role-playing as a shitty DM or being a player in groups with shitty DMs and the OSR have given me some tools to fix that, story games have given me other tools.

    Maybe some of those tools are not really what you want—heck, I don't like the “awesome points” in OSH either—and that’s fine, doesn’t mean that everyone who’s ever fallen in love with a story-game looks the same or is the same type of person.

    Then you wrote “However, I do not want to be told (or decide) during CG that "you will have to confront your alcoholism" any more than I would want to be told which monster I was about to fight. I want surprises.”
    Ah! That’s interesting.
    Personally, I’m OK with it (especially when we don’t have a GM, like Fiasco).
    I’m less OK with the GM secretly knowing “First they’ll fight a Frotzbear, then a Xyrgogle, then some goblins with bicks”—basically, I don’t want the GM to be hiding a pre-written or even GM-improvised sequence of events.

    Location based (so we can choose where we go, explore) yes, random tables yes, player–pre-approved yes. GM making the plot or the story, heck no. (And that’s just me personally—not knocking other groups styles.)

    You’re nixing player–pre-approved and I’m OK with that, seems you know why you hold that position, too.

    1. Nobody insulted you, don't be defensive.

      the "beardstache" thing refers to some well-known S-G designers. not everyone who ever picked up a story -game.

      Also, it is a joke.

  7. Nearly every GM kinda has a "cool points" system in their head, probably. But the reliability of it--and the desire to use it as a primary engine driving the story is a big deal in designs like Old School Hack.

    There's also the divide between whether you're more likely to succeed if you're doing something aesthetically appealing to the table than if you're doing something broadly deemed lame - vs. - whether doing something deemed aesthetically appealing gives you access to a resource that makes it easier for you to do something boring or lame later. (Thats how I see the idea of the cool "economy."_

  8. i've always resented the "we-explore-dungeons" thing too because WHAT ABOUT THE WILDERNESS, MAN?? i use the wilderness as my gateway drug to adventure, which is a fine old school tradition as well! but i guess you might buy into the idea of the wilderness-as-dungeon... i guess i'm just splitting hairs

  9. Off-topic, but I wanted to draw your attention to this Kickstarter project where an someone is creating flash cards of Demons drawn by Luis Breton for a French book on the Infernal.

    The artwork looks like something you might find interesting.

  10. The "rocket fuel" metaphor is a super-helpful attitude adjustment for someone who has a tendency to overplan. Someone like, uh, that guy over there.

  11. "I don't mean I want to be told how to play, I want to start out as however I wanna play my guy and then, over the sessions, find out what the setting does to my guy."

    Wait... there are people out there not running Vampire (or whatever) in such a way that that is how you play it? So how are they running it?

    I'm helplessly confused now.

    1. I have no idea how people play Vampire except that apparently a lot of them do it when they're young to meet goth chicks, then feel guilty about it then become extremely PC and write about it on the internet

    2. Hah! Yes, that sounds very familiar.

      But seriously, I'd thought it was all about "here's this dude and here's what the world is doing to them", it's pretty much the only way I've done it/seen it done, and now there's this telling-people-how-to-play-their-dude business that's come from somewhere?

  12. If I can defend Awesome Points (hard for me to do since I agree with most everything you're throwing out here except possibly "lame player" casual dismissing) they were very much born out of convention one-shot playtesting, where most everyone's looking to push the wahoo to memorable levels, as opposed to campaign play where grit and long-term intensity are the much more valuable game components.

    Old School Hack's current biggest problem is it's low sustainability for campaigns and the AP mechanics are a big part of that in my opinion. But I'm focusing new Old School Hack playtesting towards campaign play, maybe it'll work, maybe I'll resign myself to the game being just a highly effective one-shot engine, I dunno.

    Also, Scalloped Potatoes and Belle and Sebastian.

    1. I don't understand why you feel the need to "defend" awesome points.

      That's how you want to run your game, that's fine.

    2. By defend I merely mean, "explain where they came from".

      Poor language choice on my part! I didn't feel like they were under attack on any level.

  13. is this useful?

    in 'confront your alcoholism now' games (and stories), character is the dungeon. alcoholism is a wandering monster. probably it has a lair somewhere and if you stumble into it the GM better deliver something suitable.

    sometimes you just wanna run a dungeon! even a DIY dungeon is just a dungeon.

    and/but in 'you are an alcoholic, go be in the world' games, character is the sandbox. alcoholism is a dungeon you can decide to visit. i am told that sandbox gaming is super deluxe but the can't hexes contain brain instead of swamps.

    that's only a metaphor though. and nonideal.

    plus anyway if a GM can't surprise you despite leading with 'you will have to confront your alcoholism' then isn't it HER/HIS problem? just like even if you've read lovecraft and the session leads with 'you will have to confront squiddy things and a sense of humankind's absolute irrelevance, also possibly some miscegenation metaphors,' a CoC keeper goddamn well better be able to bring some fire.

    1. I don't want to play a game where I have to decide my PCs important personality conflicts in advance. Period. Seems dull.

      Jus as i;d like the gameworld todevelop in play (as a GM), i'd like the PC personality to do so.

    2. i take your point. though it seems like some recent games are successful that treat PC traits as premises, and trying to find conflicts where those traits can play interestingly. (e.g. trail of cthulhu or FATE systems.)

      leaving personal taste aside, that doesn't seem to impinge upon freedom-at-the-table very much.

      by analogy (and because i learn a bunch from hearing about this stuff), as GM, do you explicitly solicit suggestions from your players as to what kind of stuff they'd like to do in the game? (if so, does the explicitness vary from system to system? group to group?)

    3. I guess I want the GM free to play off my PC's quirks or not play off them. I don't want anything about them either way to be built into the expectations of the game. (Taste.)

      I listen to the players but they generally are pretty casual and are just like "you set em, up, we'll knock 'em down". If I see the options narrowing I'll usually make sure it's ok with people overall, but more as a quality control measure.

      No complaints so far.

    4. fuck dude your typing
      it varies

      "I don't want anything about [my PC's quirks] either way to be built into the expectations of the game. (Taste.)"

      fair enough.

      did that preference come out of particular RPG experiences, like have you played with those expectations before and found it constraining? or is this like some other general life preference specified for RPGs?

    5. didnt think i would like it

      tried it

      didnt like it

      as a design goal it attempts to put a thing into a game which is already there the way i am going to play the game plus it makes it harder for people who don't want that thing int he game (many of my favorite players to play with me)

    6. i wonder if it doesn't save trouble to just at some point declare 'beardstache gaming is a different hobby altogether from D&D, please adjust your twitter feeds' and just

      split the party

      but then i also wonder why dudes get amped up about the Mythical D&D Endgame when there's already a copy of Diplomacy sitting on my shelf. with the original wooden pieces and everything, and the DIY approach would of course be to collapse the map to a graph then make a topologically equivalent second map from that one,

      except greyhawk or whatever the fuck

  14. Thanks for pointing out "Neoclassical Geek Revival". Looks pretty neat.

    As for the "alcoholism" thing, I tend to buy stuff like that not so I have to confront and/or overcome it, but to have it be important in whatever comes up in some fashion. It's part of that whole "secret language of character sheets" thing.

    Also, I like the flowchart; is there a "game hackers" circle or something? 'Cause I'd be all about that.

    1. Add me on G+ and send me an email zakzsmith at hawtmayle and tell me you did and you want to hear about game stuff
      with a link to yr G+ page's address

  15. Your definitions of "litmus test" and "lame" do not seem to take into account the other word you have used plenty of time: GAME. You either have to redefine what a GAME is or your definition of "litmus test."
    By definition (and I am assuming the theoretical definition of Wittgenstein amongst others)there is always a strategy in a game, and you are always supposed to maximise an utility of some kind.
    You are implying that the utility associated to option B should dominate the one associated to option A, but it's not clear WHY. Without further information, one would assume that A's utility is higher than B's. Hence the one who chooses B is LAME.

    Otherwise, interesting observations. :)

    1. Always remember:
      I am not stupid.

      I understand that a person who optimizes is playing a game.

      However: a person who plays Sticky Cookie is also playing a game.

      They simply happen to be playing a game I do not want to play and they happen to be the kind of person whose idea of fun is incompatible with mine.

      They can go play that way with other people and keep away from me and my taste.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Well, you may not be "optimising" w.r.t. mechanics, but with respect to some other criterion. Which has an higher utility for YOU, but that's not the point.
      In fact, why give false option A if you clearly want the player to choose B? Is this hypothetical player supposed to be reading your mind? You could be simply upfront and say "in MY campaign you are supposed to go with option B. Are you game?"
      You know, you may not be stupid, but people is ADAPTABLE once you clearly state the options.

    4. I think you should reread the thing, i think you missed the important point:

      " player chooses option A (here comes the important part) doesn't see why you wouldn't"

  16. Here here! The ability to hack/tweak a system has always been a selling point for me. This gets me especially excited about the design process going into Type V D&D.

    Random question Zak...what are the average dimensions of the map/paintings you post? If they were the right size, they'd make killer battle-mats!

  17. I've been following this blog for...maybe a year and a half now. It's been my portal into the OSR in general and has been a definite factor in getting me back into role playing after years away. The scanned flowchart in this post finally convinced me to start my own blog! Come by sometime! http://bittersedge.blogspot.com/