Game Chef

So Brent Newhall submitted a video for Game Chef: Uneven Wings. 

Very interesting idea! And I totally cannot learn how to play this RPG from a video. I’ve never tried so I was curious. 

But…yup. Impossible for me. I’m sitting here watching and he’s explaining it so, so clearly. And it’s bouncing off my brain. 

I think there’s some kind of aggression/defense bidding thing that happens. Is there a premise? I don’t…think so. I think it’s an engine. Shit, I’m gonna try again — it’s only 3 and a half minutes long.

The production is nice! There are some simple instructional graphics, a music track for crying out loud, and that weird harsh b/w filter over the whole thing.

Okay, second go. One player picks “a crisis” that motivates your story, fine, okay. Super open-ended but it’s basically storygame 101. Okay, the characters have a “dream” related to the crisis. It never comes up again.

Looks like the other players (one plays “the crisis” and everyone else is characters) divvy up 10 tokens among “aggression” and “defense,” as basically two stats. You’re secretly bidding those tokens. And then if you win you win (do you spend the tokens? I think you must, otherwise you’d just bid ’em all every time, right?), but if you lose you switch sides — aggression tokens go to the defense side, defense tokens vice versa. And one of them gets scraped off into a side pool. No idea what happens to that pool. I guess they’re just gone.

(Side thought: use the Dream to pull those dead tokens back into your economy? Maybe set it up so that every crisis is followed by a Dream phase, just make it very gentle to get the tokens back into circulation?)

So…it looks like a 300-ish word game narrated into 3.5 minutes in a format that I had to write down to get it into my head. But now I’m super interested: can you design an RPG that can explicitly only be taught visually? And more specifically, via video? Interesting challenge. 

Cool idea, Brent Newhall! I’m glad you turned me on to this.

Game Chef Talk

Whenever I read someone’s screed about things they’d do different about Game Chef, one inevitable topic is that 90% of what gets submitted is unplayably rough. That the bar isn’t high enough. Which, you know, fair point. Really fair. Hell, MadJay Brown and I experienced the horror of playing Gregor Hutton’s 3:16 from a Game Chef draft and, yup, unplayable. (The final game is a whole different story, but you wouldn’t know that if you’d dismissed the contest draft.)

I think there’s a problem with expectations amongst some of the participants, but what I reeeeeally think is going on is that a lot of people want to see more like…an invitational. A closed, tight, very high-end competition that’s maybe judged by a small committee rather than random strangers who may or may not have any shared aesthetics. Or the deep critical background required to understand what a game may be trying to accomplish, whether it’s something you’d “like” or not.

Lots of entangled issues here of course. There’s not much formal game design critique out there, and the informal stuff tends to be incredibly subjective. And then there’s the epic sprawl of game design itself. But I think those can be set aside (honest!). 

Is that something folks would like to see? Let me be clear: I am not actively proposing I do this or anything like it. I’m just talking. For now. 

Or have I completely misread the “why isn’t there a higher bar?” thread of GC talk?

Side note: I’m also super-aware that there are other objections to the contest format that have nothing to do with quality control. Totally get that the contest part of the “contest” is overblown, that people (me included) get bad-neurotic about elements of that, that the quality of feedback is commonly somewhere between iffy and useless (with the occasional shining gem). This thread isn’t about those topics.

Game Chef
Late Entry

This is the freeform larp I should have submitted. Guess I’ll hold off ’til Fastaval.

Title: Daddy Loves Cake

Content warnings: child abuse, privation, cake

This larp is played out in three acts. It is for a father and his daughter. Any two participants may play the game, but those are the roles.

Act 1: The Decision

Instructions for the father: go to the fridge and look for the last piece of cake. Now decide: do you eat it or not?

Additional considerations: 

* Your daughter is not home
* There is nobody else in the house
* There are actually one and a half pieces left, but that pan is taking up an awful lot of room. And that half-piece is so very small.


If you eat the cake, proceed to Act 2. If you do not, pat yourself on the back, you’re a better dad than me.

Act 2: The Eating

Instructions for the father: Eat the hell out of that cake.

Additional considerations:

* The cake is slightly stale
* You weren’t actually hungry
* That half-piece is just a little bit too much to eat.

Act 3: The Betrayal

Instructions for the daughter: go to the fridge and look for the last piece of cake. Of course you won’t see any. Now decide: accept a lesser dessert or wage endless war?

Additional considerations:

* That was the best cake you’ve ever tasted. EVER.
* It is gone forever.
* Daddy doesn’t even care that this is the worst day of your life.


* If the daughter agrees to a lesser dessert, everyone wins
* If the daughter does not agree to a lesser dessert, everyone loses

Game Chef Talk

Here’s an interesting one from Steve Hickey: The Empty City. (

One PDF with a flowchart. No rulebook. Looks like you start in the very middle and follow the instructions as you proceed. Another Twitter game? Hey yeah it is, the first instruction you have to follow is that you tweet something and use the #theemptycity  hashtag. Neat!

Now, I’m not completely new to this kind of game so I can sorta suss out what he’s going for. I think maybe a tiny bit more guidance on what to do would be useful. Also: the flowchart is baffling as hell. Maybe numbers marking the order of play? Like, there are things that link into the flowchart from “outside” the flowchart that, I suppose, you need to do at some point. Order of operations is guessable but it could be clearer.

So it looks like the whole game is kind of an exploration of a weird nightmarish dreamscape. And it looks like you’re meant to follow the hashtag inside the Twitter and work with other players in real-time. There are places where you have to see if someone has used the hashtag inside a certain period of time, and then “ask the hashtag” to provide inputs. Also interesting.

Really neat! Really confusing to follow right now! But I could totally see this getting polished up and being a fun thing to get some Twitter friends in on. One thing that occurs to me: Twitter I think is mostly a smartphone thing, yes? Like, don’t you/we mostly engage with it on little devices? That makes me think the spreadsheet is a) a tough form factor and b) you could probably build a very simple app and/or linked web pages to “run” the game.

Game Chef Talk

I’m gonna start looking at entries that interest me by people who interest me. First one on the list: Larry Spiel’s Dear Deliverance. (

First GC entry? Maybe? It’s a two player game you play over the Twitter! So: infinite audience, I suppose. 

I hate the Twitter.

So the conceit is that one of the players is a “confidant,” and is there to provide advice. The other is a “stranger” looking for advice. It’s an advice column game! Well alrighty then.

Setup is way-undercooked right now. The confidant starts by picking 3-5 “elements” in two categories: issues the stranger is facing, and why the stranger is alone. Issues are issues, anything from substance abuse to codependency, really anything you might see in an advice column. But it looks like the confidant does it absent the stranger’s input, guessing at what might be the lines in play. (For safety reasons it might be necessary to negotiate around the lines previous to the confidant’s setup step.)

The stranger runs with whatever the confidant puts out there, doodles up their fucked-up life in private. Then they decide what pushed them to ask the confidant for advice.

So: I do like that the game leverages the Twitterness of Twitter. It’s meant to be dumped into in tiny dribbles, then disappear, then reappear down the road. Not sure it’d actually work on the Plus! 

Something that jumps out at me is that once play has started, it’s pretty much the confidant providing advice and the stranger expanding on their problems. I like the safety measures baked into the game (the players can tag their posts with stuff like #redlight  to make play stop, or #yellowlight  if you need it to slow down). That’s good, because the prospect of becoming an advice columnist feels dicey.

I think it’d be way fun to play the stranger: it’s basically Fiasco for one, right? It’s also possibly cruel misery tourism. Like, the very first person who came to mind as a stranger is my mom, who is masterful at dragging people into her bullshit and then reweaving and reincorporating her endless problems.

Looks like Larry came up with a similar conclusion: a game he wrote that’s not for him. 

I think the only solid advice I’d have going forward would be to build out the safety tools (like drawing lines ahead of the confidant’s input), and man…thinking long and hard about who you’d actually want playing as a confidant. Now, I also think you could turn it into something more entertaining, something Fiasco like but played out between Twitter handles — the stranger’s goal being to weave ever more implausible awfulness, the confidant’s goal being to provide terrible advice that the stranger actually takes.

Game Chef Talk

Just got my assignments. Some really interesting stuff. 

I thought my design was kind of out-there but no way, there’s some really interesting thinking happening a good ways out of the box. Stuff that jumped out at me from my four assigned games:

* A QR code that launched me into a game document. It’s a very short document! But the interaction of code, phone and then engaging with the game got me thinking.

* Some interesting guided improv — freeform larp is all up in Game Chef’s grill. I really wish I had better grounding in that creative space. A topic to revisit down the road.

* A pure boardgame but with a narrative ending. Interesting. I wonder what my boardgame friends would think of that? 

Anyway, interesting stuff. Really varied. 

EDIT: And out of morbid curiosity, I looked up who’s reading Dragon, Fly. Aaaaaallll freeform larps. Welp.

I can’t think of a better gamer compatibility test than asking “what would you use to run X?” Where X is something about which you have no strong opinions, but is clear enough that anyone will understand the reference. So: a popular genre, a recent movie or book, a common trope.

The stats are in! We had a total of 116 English language submissions.

76 were first time GC designers.

Thank you so much to every one who submitted. Look for info about peer review soon.

To all the first timers, thanks and congrats on being game designers! This kinda takes “a new audience” to a new level.

– Stentor and Cheyenne

Game Chef 2015
Dragon, Fly

So here it is. I’m pretty happy with it.

I made a goal for myself at the beginning of the year: One design a month, every month. So far I’ve only batted about .500. Game Chef 2015 happened to line up exactly right for this project!

I’ve done several Game Chefs and produced, at best, a few interesting sketches. I’ll submit this to the contest, whatever, but what I really care about is you folks.

Play Dragon, Fly! Read it! I think it has legs, and I’m already working on a hack/reframe with different elements but the same play structure. For examples of what comes out of this game, check out these APs: (my own playtest) and , Jamey Crook’s playtest)

I’m hoping to post more under #dragonflychronicles  so they’re easier to find later.

And check out the art that Carly Knight did for it! Stylish and functional, really helps express the game’s ideas.

Anyway. Enjoy. I think it’s pretty special.

Game Chef 2015
A little teaser

So this is the end product of my GC15 game I’m putting together. This isn’t the game itself! But playing the game — it’s a solitaire — produces a story intended to be read by an outside audience. 

It’s not great literature. But it was interesting as heck to work through and I already want to play again. Honestly I felt moved playing and writing it, which is all that really matters. 

Rules in a presentable form in the next day or two. I’d love to see some other folks play too.  #GameChef1st

Dragon, Fly

The Chronicle of Drakevale

Dragonfly is upon us, and the Warrior has gone to do battle with the beast. Perhaps, finally, the cycle of destruction can come to an end.

The Leader

The people of Drakevale have gathered at the manor walls. Of course it’s my duty to protect them. Of course. But there is not enough room in our walls. I tell them to scatter but of course they don’t. They want the comfort of walls even as I tell them it will not be enough. I have no idea what to tell them.

The Wise One

Satan’s servant would not be taking flight if these sinners had prayed like they meant it and, for the love of all that his holy, stopped their sinful ways. I feel my blessing is wasted and this Gomorrah deserves what is coming to it. Meanwhile, this so-called church remains humble and frankly ignored. I deserved a posting in a larger city. Now I will be incinerated.

The Leader
The Manor: A Hard Decision/Pride

Today I had to lie to the people of Drakevale. I told them that we were making preparations to house them here in the manor, and to remain calm in their homes. My men have orders to quietly go through town and select the best of them, those with useful skills for … afterward, whatever that looks like. We’ll need doctors and laborers, not poets and musicians. We’ll need babies! Ha, perhaps those poets and musicians will prove useful after all.

The Spouse

I keep a small household, perhaps smaller than others. Two children, both girls. And my wife of course. Even my dogs are female. Fate has seen fit to bless me with a surplus of womanhood. Irony, then, that I serve both as father and mother as my wife has taken up her mother’s sword to face down the damned dragon. A black pit in my gut tells me she’ll come to the same end as well. Thinking this is how it will end for my daughters drives me to misery. Damn her for having more balls than the so-called warriors of this village.

The Wise One
Regarding our illustrious leader: Secret/Profit

As I suspected, our leader the Duke has cravenly withdrawn behind not only his walls but his lies. He’s told us he’s making preparations for us. Magical preparations if you ask me: where are the wagons filled with rations? Do the blacksmiths’ weapons ring out all hours as they produce spears and helms? What exactly is the Duke doing?

Damn him. Lord forgive me but I curse his name.

The Outcast

The forest is lovely in the autumn. Crisp air all day, touch of frost riming orange leaves. This is a good life here. Clean, cold water. A few apples. I can hear the faintest whisperings of the nature spirits at dawn and at dusk. Oh! How the bishop would huff and pinch his face up to hear me say it.  Fuck those people, I’m never going back.

The Wise One
Thoughts on the avarice that binds us all: Greed/panic

Fascinating, that even in the face of disaster the flock finds a way to profit. I went to the Market this morning in the hopes of finding some fresh baked bread — as luck would have it, the smell reassured me well before I arrived — and sure enough, there’s master profit whipping his servants to put their backs into it. Cows are awkward but dried meats, very portable. Smart. That’s worth a pretty penny. Milk will spoil but cream may last a while. The whole of the town is bent to the task of wringing out every last efficiency. 

I did not see one of them pray. Not one, not once. God will inhale the aromas of their cooking flesh as he received burnt offerings from the patriarchs. I smiled, of course, but not at their enterprise. The sacrifice shall, finally, be adequate.

The Leader
Regarding the Mines: Monster/Darkness

I’ve withdrawn the last of the workers and guards from the mines, finally. They were scared but so brave to remain working even as the stench of brimstone wafted up (so I’ve been told) as the beastie rouses itself in the mountain’s depths. It might even be a blessing if the mines were to be destroyed, what with tales of rock goblins emerging here and there and stealing the occasional sheep. Filthy buggers, surely a danger and just impossible to hunt down. Good luck surviving dragon fire, you little green rats.

The Outcast
Home: Children/Friends

Maybe the hardest thing about leaving the village was the look on the children’s faces. Their parents had taught them to be disgusted but the little monsters…oh that’s rich. They laugh and call me a monster! The Bishop’s god didn’t see fit to give me a perfect form and the children laugh and laugh at me. Unbearable. 

I’ve chosen a safe place in the forest where the brooks run fast and clear but I am not faced with staring at myself in still waters. Not even my own father’s lies about acceptance sank in. I can only laugh, or be disgusted, by what I see. So, no still waters. No reflections.

The Spouse
Final Entry

I have prayed every night that my wife will come home to her children and me. The gossiping neighbors may think she’s, I don’t know, honor-bound by the family history to go forth in righteousness. What they don’t understand is the ferocity of her love, of our love really. She’s not fighting to save the village, although it may end up saved. If it comes time to choose, she will save only us.

The Leader
Final entry

Well, preparations are complete. The walls are barricaded. Our secret did not last, though, and those left outside are mobbed and furious. The village will go on, of that I am certain. The survivors will surely hang me for my duty, though.

The Wise One
Final entry

I have prayed for the last time. Put away the sacred texts, sent the brothers down the mountain at great haste. I have prayed until I have nothing left and damn me for my weakness, I don’t understand. And God will not tell me: why? Why does he allow Satan to consume these people, surely sinners all and yet their children, too? Has God been demanding absolute sacrifice all along, and only now shows us that He means it? I have nothing but questions left, and perhaps some suspicions. 

The Outcast
Final entry

When the dragon finally comes I intend to watch from the highest tree I can climb. And I will laugh and laugh at their despair. Us monsters need to stick together.

The Battle

The Dragon emerged from the mountain to begin its flight. The Mines were destroyed outright, utterly and quickly, and the damage was such that fire rained down onto the village’s markets and the survivors huddled outside the Duke’s walls. The Market was consumed in flames and the Dragon flew on, sparing the forest. 

When the Dragon approached the church, the bishop’s blessings were for naught. It was consumed, but it was a close thing.

At the Duke’s walls, the Dragon was repelled by the Warrior’s bravery backed by a few spearmen heartened by her screams of rage. The beast was struck down, finally, en route to the Warrior’s own home, slain finally after generations of terror by the very sword that had failed the task before.

Drakevale survived and was not abandoned. As he predicted, the Duke was summarily hanged by the mob. And the Warrior was greeted at her home by her loving family, all but the Warrior’s deformed mad sister cackling in the forest, where she continues to cackle to this day.