HinterBlog

September 25, 2011

Design Note: When a mechanic works properly

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:24 pm

So, it has been a while but I had a bit of inspiration the other day. I thought back on the many vehicular combats in Nebuleon and how happy I am that they work out well most all the time. This comes from having envisioned how I wanted a mechanic to work and then putting to paper just how to do it. More than that though, it is the realization of a idea in a corporeal form.

Example: A team was sent to a polar region of the planet Dons-Kal-rien, a Dremin world. The arctic region was a corporate preserve and proving ground for W.A.R. Ind. These jokers were supposed to use their formidable stealth skills to infiltrate and do some espionage. What they found surprised them. It turned out to be an illegal clone farm for elite Dremin looking for spare organs and such. Well, lots fo adventure later, they end up in a hanger for experimental vehicles with a ton of security. Basic running fire-fight (remember, stealth). They come across a crate of AP shoulder mounter ground to air missiles. One of the security guys is a pilot and powers up a vtol with an experimental (and illegal) particle cannon that basically melts flesh. They get the drop on the pilot as he has to roll piloting to take off (weapon wont fire on the ground) and a weapons tech check (usually you have a gunner to handle that) at a minus. Joker ex-marine has a Heavy weapons skill. Whips out the Missile launcher and fires.

Here is the part that filled me with joy. The weapon hit. We determined the location randomly, and it turned out to be the weapons pod holding the beam weapon. Bam! Taken out. But this monster has high velocity rapid fire gauss rifles on it as well and the pilot switches over to auto-fire and blazes away taking down one of the Jokers. The medic is on her in a flash and begins life support. Ex-Marine joker fires a second missile and this one hits the engine taking the vtol down.

What is missed in that description is the effortless back and forth of the system. It PLAYED like that. The system did not get int he way, it faded but emphasized, it guided but did not dictate the actions.

In short, the system was informative to the outcome of the actions of the players. That, to me, is cool.

February 15, 2011

Better to burn out than fade away!

Filed under: General — bilbo @ 7:47 pm

So, Clash over on I Fly By Night had a commenter talk about the good ole days when games were “very punk rock” and I had to smile. I am not so sure I am nostalgic like that and I was a hard core punk rocker until I was a hard core new waver…yeah, it was like that. Anyway, it brings up an interesting point of commercialism and whether monetization of a market enhances or devlaues the artistic merit held within. Yes, I am channeling my inner thesaurus.

We have to ask then, do better illustrations, higher price points and product lines designed to separate us from our money really a bad and inherently non-artful endeavor. The answer seems to be “Not inherently so”. You can still do all these things, hire artists, editors and professionals to work on a game and still have it be an art worthy game. A fun game.

Here is the news, fresh from satellite V, you can make a crap game whether it has a $50K budget or a $5 budget. Likewise high art or great fun can come out of either. Worse yet, it is a subjective valuation. Just like a piece of art, a game can be a thing of beauty for one person and a total wreck and wast of time to another.

So, what do you loose? In my opinion, when you focus on the business, you loose passion. This, again, can either be good or bad. Passion can lead to incredible flights of inspiration and long hours spent doing something you love. It can also lead to a blindness to critical flaws and a denial of the realities of publishing a book. That is not as serious a lesson as it was even 10 years ago, but can be quite sobering when you are passionate about your work.

Despite what it sounds like above, passion is where my heart is. I have nothing agaist the people out there making fine products but I would rather burn out then fade away.

February 13, 2011

The Sin of Creativity

Filed under: General — Tags: — bilbo @ 3:29 pm

There are many people in many professions who will tell you how horrible it is when YOU are not creative. They are, of course, creative as all get out. They love to tell you about how creative they are but more than that, the love to tell you how uncreative everyone else is. This often amazes me for the simple reason that it often applies to those people who are enjoying that person’s hobby. They cannot be excited about others sharing their interests, they must attack those people for not sharing them correctly. That seems odd to me.

It would seem an observable division in hobbyists are those who are inclusive and those who wish to be elitist. Let’s think about that. Inclusive hobbyists are those that want to see people involved in what they do. They want to meet people and share an interest. When I go to a Jazz festival, I want to be around folks who listen to jazz. Sure, I tend to be more of a swing jazz guy but I have no problem if there is a modern or guitar jazz going on. I might get up and get something to drink then but I would never dream of interfering with someone else’s enjoyment of it. The elitist however, has a “right” way of doing their hobby. They are elite and “play the game at a higher level”. For instance, the guy who will go on and on about his martial art and how “those amateurs” just do not get it. The guy who will tell you, ad nauseum, about his train collection and how it is superior to anything you can possibly understand.

Now, here is the part I do not get. Why do people tolerate or even praise these people? Seriously, I will just get up and walk away. I have no interest in hearing a bigot ramble on about his superiority. Now, do not get me wrong, if you have a passion for what you do and you can tell me about a better way to study martial arts or the fine points of collecting trains then rock on! But one is exclusive or elitist and the other is inclusive and participatory. We should always be aware of the difference and strive for the inclusive over exclusive.

* Before anyone says I am living the definition of irony, I am all for a person believing they are elite, just not preaching about it. When a person decides to invade your sphere of consciousness, they violate you and then must subject themselves to social justice.

December 31, 2010

Veracity and chasing the impossible dream

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:24 pm

I see this most in historical games but it happens in any genre to some extent. The expressed desire that a game be “more realistic” or if it was just more “true to the period”. Sometimes it comes our as “OMG! There is no way that the dino-blaster 2000 could take out a neocybercryoTyanoRex 4500!!!” but it invariably comes down to a question of veracity.

Normally, I would say this is a simple argument of definition.

correctness or accuracy, as of the senses or of a scientific instrument.

I do not believe this is the case with RPGs. Why? Because in our little slice of the world, veracity has become a subjective idea. Yeah, you heard me punk, truth is subjective. Not to go all Kierkegaard on you, but since we are dealing with a fictional work and not one of scientific or non-fiction, you really need to ask a much more personal question, a more immediate question, is it entertaining? It never ceases to amaze me that this seems to be the last thing on many people’s minds when dealing with a game. It seems to them, and rightfully so, that their enjoyment is secondary or some how dependent on the veracity, the externally verifiable truth or factual correctness of a game.

Now feel that. Right there. Your first reaction, you initial revulsion at the thought of a game riddled with errors, impossible to read, sentences that end in the middle. That is not what I was saying. It is the first reaction, a vague feeling that somehow if you have Caesar driving a Porche and shooting dinosaurs with his blaster that the game might be fun. However, add Caesar being born in the wrong year and the entertainment value is destroyed. The game is only good for kindling.

It gets worse. No matter how “correct” the game is, you will always have “errors” in the game. Gamers seem obsessed with this. Designers are driven by a need to try and fill this impossible gap. “Not impossible,” you say,”you merely need to get your facts straight”. I fear this is not the case. It is that subjective truth I mentioned earlier. Someone, somewhere will find something you changed, you made the call on, like how strong a t-rex is or what social changes were important, and hammer them. True veracity, even if attainable, is not a shield either.

In the end, you can only make games that you would play, that you would like. Instead of objective veracity, a designer or GM should shoot for consistency. This is much more attainable, and I believe, far more rewarding not only for the designer but also for everyone involved. With consistency, you have the idea of a thread or theme that persists through out the book. Much like a novel, your character, you world, should not have rules at one point that change at another. Your framework is the basis that you engage the reader from.

Finally, to be clear, I am not advocating inaccuracies in a fictional setting. Far from it, I am advocating creative license coupled with consistency and thinking through the repercussions. So, gunpowder in early Roman Empire is going to have a great deal of far reaching effects on history. However, whether Romans had gun powder in the first century is not the point. If you thought it was, you missed mine. ;)

December 30, 2010

Gamers nowadays or “Squabbins!”

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 11:25 pm

So, reading a review of Roma Imperious (link) I was struck by something. First, I have NEVER had a reviewer, gamer or even historian describe Roma as “threadbare”. However, my second and much more profound realization had little to do with the review. It struck me, and I actually choked up a bit, that gamers have fundamentally changed. I have seen it for a while now. They seem more and more, unwilling and actually offended if they need to put the pieces together. What I mean is that not so long ago (I am talking as little as 2004-5, a high percentage of people I met (a mix of non, new and old time gamers) were EXCITED about the idea of a setting or game where you used your imagination. Where you could see the adventure ideas. It was not about a complete package, like some demonic CRPG where the world was mapped out and you never had to imagine any part that was not available (the game simply wont let you go there).

It just seems that the trend is more and more towards gamers who want every parsec mapped, every eventuality laid out, every horizon planned and awaiting their arrival. The nature of do it your self, or the very idea that a game would be arranged and written in a manner that intentional gaps lead you imagination to places where it flourishes seems to make a game “incomplete” to these folks. I does not even enter thier mind that the system has bits to stoke the setting imagination (eh, Clash). It is a dissection of page counts and a bemoaning that all the pieces have not been carefully planned out for them in a manner that leaves, as the saying goes, to the imagination.

I do not wish to leave you, assuming anyone still reads this, with the feeling I have given up or am wallowing in despair. Quite the contrary, I am mad as hell and know there is room for all types of players in this hobby. To me, the truth may be I just am encountering the wrong folks at this point. Maybe I need a regular group instead of a lot of con games. Still, It is my hope that the spirit of do it yourself is still alive and thriving. I hope folks look at my books a scoff, “Hah! I can do it better” and then precede to do it better!

July 10, 2010

The Practical Side of Brevity

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 10:51 am

There is a time and a place to go verbose and profound, and there are times when brevity is better. Brevity can drive a point home or fire the imagination. Let’s look at an example.

The forest is covered in a gloomy fog, forbidding to look upon, the trees dripping with moss. The darkness seems to cling to all areas as though made of molasses. A smell of a an ancient healthy forest gone to rot assaults your senses in waves declaring, “Leave this place or join us!”. At first, the forest seems quiet then you realize, in the back of your head, there is a screaming, a terror that speaks with your voice. You know this wood is evil and will be your end.

The above might be considered verbose and I would agree. However, it is to the point and appropriate. It would decrease the description, the art of setting the mood to shorten it too much. For example.

The woods are evil and will spell your end.

The above does nothing to fire the imagination. However, we could tighten a bit and spin a different feel.

The wood is dark and forbidding. You are not sure why, but it seems there is an eerie quality that warns you to stay out, to fear it. It warns that your fate will be met here.

Brief and it leaves much of the details to the player. Also, and this is important, it stimulate questions.

Hmm, you ask, why are questions important?

Simply, because it engages the players. It engages their curiosity. The first description engages their senses, describing each one by one. This is a valid means to describing interaction in your games, getting your players to ask questions, to mine for more detail. To build that imagery with their own questions int heir own way, makes for the players to make the setting their own.

So, the practical side of brevity:
1. engages the players in a DIALOGUE with the GM and allows them to be involved.
2. Gets the players thinking about the setting in terms of their interaction with it.
3. Helps them define how they can understand the setting through their own methods of doing so. For example, some folks may care little for “senses” and need hard measurements;i.e. how far from the forest are we, how tall are the trees, how long is the grass. This allows them to engage on their terms, not just the GMs.

Good Gaming!

July 5, 2010

System on a more positive note.

Filed under: Business,Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 5:22 pm

So, what does all this naval gazing really get us? Not much at the end of the day but it may make for some entertaining reading. Recently Clash over at Flying Mice Games talked about system as a distinct set of components. In those he included things we would all nod our heads in agreement but added a few that we would most likely shrug at. In those, we have things like character generation, initiative, resources and abilities. Sure, we would probably say, you either rolling the dice for those or defining the dice you would roll. This is off course system. This is the toto of system, the alpha and omega. Or is it?

The problem here is we are looking at the trees, we are classifying them, defining the as the forest and not understanding how the moss, the brush, rivers and creeks, hills and vales all figure into it. We are leaving out what fundamentally gives system meaning. In a word, that is system.

System is the glue that binds, this is the elements that gives system meaning. System has no purpose, in and of itself. Setting though, this can exist without a shred of system. Wait! you might say, you have setting-less systems like DND!!!!! Not really. Sorry, but DND has a fantasy setting. Upfront. Very few systems are sold without a shred of setting. D20 Modern?!?! Well, a modern world setting. Palladium Fantasy?!?! Right there in the title. However, lets flip it around. Greyhawk? Sure, it was made for DND but it is not tied to it in the least. The many setting books by Green Ronin and others? You can sell a setting without a system because it is the glue that binds the system. It is the hills, vales, rivers and whatnot outside of the trees and types of trees. A truly setting-less system will fall flat because it boils down to a flat engagement of analytics. It does not engage our imaginations, it does not fill that craving for a story that we find so engaging. I am not saying setting equals story but that a setting engages the same area of our imagination and sparks the ideas for a story.

So, bottom line, how does the tripe above make for a better gaming experience for you, the reader. Going forward, assuming it had not already occurred to you, one could take the understanding of setting over system as a means to:
1. Present a setting to your group and let system work itself out. The group likes Palladium, then adapt it to your setting.
2. When picking a gaming product, look more closely at the setting, less at the system. The system, at the end of the day, can be replaced, setting, not so much.
3. When you are disappointed with a game, think about why that is. Is it really the system? It may well be. Is it the setting? If it is, you may have a much more fundamental problem with the product.

Good luck in finding a game you enjoy and Good Gaming!

April 30, 2010

Hate, Vitriol and Melodrama

Filed under: General — Tags: , — bilbo @ 8:53 pm

Well, if it has not been obvious I have been taking a break from the online community for a bit and I cannot tell you how it has given me perspective. On a personal level, I am just more happy (even though I am working harder than I ever have) and have a much better view on things. It has been a breath of fresh air.

On another level, I have reflected on the online RPG community. First, to call it a “community” is a misnomer. It is a diverse group of people across all manner of communities, countries and cultures tied together by interest in role-playing games. Second, it is a “community” drenched and reveling in vitriol and melodrama. It is a really negative place that it is difficult to see from within. I believe far too many people do not realize just how subtly draining and heartbreaking it is. From forum posts where people belittle others not based on what they have said but what broad type of game they play, making absurd claims that in any other area of interest would be laughed at or scorned as simplistic and inaccurate. Instead, you hear refrains of “You have to listen to WHAT he says, not how he says it” or merely the ba-ba of sheeple overwhelmed with their need to belong to yet another, different hate group. Now, I will most heartily agree that there are positive folks out there. Clash, Alan, Scott, Mike and several others you could possibly name. However, most often, it is like you are four guys at a KKK rally talking about racial tolerance while the several hundred white robed looks burn a cross and beat up a black guy. The RPG “community” is like that clan meeting. Tolerance, true tolerance of different games from what you play (note: if you don’t like it don’t talk about it) is just not the common ground of any forum, blog or community for RPGS.

Finally, I have to stress it again, if you are in it, you probably don’t even know it. You think that all is fine, all is great because you had a thread last month that did not devolve into an endless back and forth about the “right way to play”…well, except for that one guy and he was playing the game wrong.

Now, as far as this goes, it is something of a rant in that it should not be taken too seriously. If you are happy, then great. I have just found a few common threads and practices that leave me wondering, thinking that maybe, in a roundabout way, I might be onto something. It is backed up with having some great gaming over the past couple of weeks, meeting great folks who never logged onto RPG.FORUM.HATE.YOUR.GAME.com. Inevitably, the ones who were bitter, the few, were the ones who were avid members of one online community or several. Give yourself a break, play a game.

Good gaming everyone.

April 20, 2010

“You’re playing that wrong”

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 8:36 pm

I have never, in my 30 some years of gaming, understood this as it applies to RPGs, especially in the context of “as the game was intended”. I have run WoD with super heroes, DND in sci-fi settings and monopoly as an RPG. I have yet to find a system that you cannot tweak to do what you want or even just play it out of the box but put a different setting to it. I have seen these, I have no good name for them, shall we try systemic zealot, who believes in some sort of holy grail of “as the designer intended” or “goals of the system”. No one has ever shown me a system that can enforce a type of play and short of a seriously broken system, I doubt there is one. All systems are universal. You may not like the elements that system produces or your opinion may be that the system does not support the elements that you believe are necessary for a setting/genre but those are highly subjective and far from a valid basis for declarations that someone is “playing the game wrong”.

Now, you might say, Bill, my demented game designer, what about the designer, surely, he must know the intended form of play!! First off, stop calling me surely. Second, no, not really. Once you have a game, especially an RPG, it is yours. The designer is irrelevant beyond possible comments or explanations of how he viewed it while writing and playing the game but [b]those views are equally as valid as yours or anyone who plays the game[/b]. I know, as a game designer, I am supposed to push the myth that we are somehow the authority. Somehow, we know what is right for our games and that they can never be played except in the manner we conceive. Sorry to disappoint but no dice…er, diceless…yeah.

So next time you have the urge to tell someone “Oh! you aren’t playing that game the way it was intended!!”, take a deep breath and don’t. Just say no.

Hint for those without a sense of humor: The above may be directed at you, but most likely it is not. If it is (and you would be a weird minority if it did) the good, and I hope it pissed you off.

April 9, 2010

Supers Inc and a 10 year old

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:40 am

I ran an intro at a neighborhood store the other night and had a range of folks at the table. Amongst them were a 40ish engineer, a 20 something comic fan, a 16 old store attendant and a 10 year old girl. I ran a pretty standard Supers Inc game where they had to do a high profile rescue of a Senator’s son. He was 20 and they were terrorists holding him for the release of a list of prisoners. The team did not know it at the time but their corporate sponsors were broke and were sending them to their deaths to recover the insurance money.

Engineer spent most of the time trying to convince me that my physics were wrong. Comic boy moaned about how this was not silver age and I had it all wrong. Store attendant would rather have been getting a root canal. But this little ten year old girl played it to the friggin hilt. She was playing a 10 year old much the same as here but with intangibility. She barely could grasp the system but it did not bother her, she would do stuff like “I want to go through that car and break the engine” and I would tell her what to roll and she would ask what she needed and get really excited about the outcome.

I want to stress, this is not about “getting Supers Inc” but about getting the game. She was having fun. I think there are just some gamers that don’t get that anymore. I cannot for the life of me understand why you would continue to play if you had lost that joie de vivre that games should give you. This is not work, it should be entertainment.

So, next time you are feeling down about your game, sit down with niece, nephew, son, friends kid, who ever of the appropriate age and get your game on. You may be surprised just how much they get, how much fun they have and how refreshing it is to just play.

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