Day 25: Do you like your scene framing hard, harder, or hardest? What’s the very hardest you’ve had your scene framed?

Not a ton to say today and I’m single-dadding it so not much time either.

Super short version: I think scene framing is a really smart technique depending on the game and players, it means different things for different games, and it’s not a universal best practice for all games everywhere.

NB I’m not at all surprised, reading some other folks’ posts today, that there’s a range of understanding of what this even is. You need to buy into the idea that narrative situations matter and can have urgency. I would not, personally, treat a dungeon problem description as “scene framing” of any kind — no scene, no frame, different paradigm. So, to me, trying to fit all gaming into that technique is to treat the technique as so vague as to be useless. Lots of functional roleplaying has nothing to do with scenes or framing.

I tend to do a mix of lightly framed scenes (mostly me, as GM, editorializing about what I feel like are the important things to focus on in the scene) and minute-to-minute coverage at home. More aggressive framing (more urgency and context) in one-shots and at conventions because we need to get shit done and fast. Nothing bugs me more as a player than sitting down and fucking around with irrelevant and uninteresting content.

Anyway, yay scene framing! Sometimes!

I’ll have more time tomorrow. Sorry for the short one today.

EDIT: Vincent Baker of course has crazy-smart stuff to say about the problems surrounding scene framing. Read him, he’s always provocative and interesting: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+VincentBaker/posts/hreaAFy1GE8

Day 24: What was the very saddest thing you wrote on an index card?

A blast from the past! One of the original self-referential self-mocking indie questions (hence the shitty “art” I put together for the hashtag). Was the sad index card meme from the Andy Kitkowski days of story dash games dot com? I honestly don’t remember.

My gut reaction to the question had been “none, not my jam” but that’s so not true. Thinking through the games where I have used index cards (as opposed to, say, a big relationship map, my preferred table presentation tool), though, I realized that a) it usually means I’m playing something freeform-y and b) that means mad bleed.

So many speculations! But it’s true: If I’m playing something without meaningful random inputs or manipulable economies or a system I can leverage, I go straight to the sad.

I played Ross Cowman’s Life on Mars at RinCon last year, which involves index cards for your character notes. You move around a token to represent various settings your astronaut is in during a trip to Mars, and then halfway you shift to Mars itself, and a whole new set of prompts. And sure enough, without any external prompting beyond a name, my mission captain was a mother slowly unraveling the further she got from her child. I worked my way into an emotional state very much like I started to feel stuck in NYC during Sandy, only extrapolated.

Similar thing happened with Montsegur 1244, although there’s no need for an index card because your character is already on a card. Absent any kind of “resolution system,” went straight to the sad again. And I could totally feel the wavefront of it happening once again in Rachel E.S. Walton’s Mars 244 game at Dreamation this year.

What’s going on?

This didn’t happen with Fall of Magic, which I feel like was more about fantastical journeys than emotional journeys (ie Life on Mars). So it’s not a 100% sure thing.

Hm…Durance, my characters are almost uniformly tragic. Sometimes bleedy. Less often because there’s a veneer of brutality that’s just not in me, and lets me distance myself from the character a bit.

Anyway, interesting phenomenon. I’ll think about it some more.

In the more trad space, I did index cards instead of an r-map for our run through The One Ring. Worked better because of all the travel and the mostly outward-focused situation. I’d do up little tent cards for every PC and NPC, along with cards that say INJURED and SCARED and MISERABLE, so I could slap those in front of a player. On the backs of the NPC tent cards I’ll add little GM notes. Nothing per se sad on any of them.

Richard Rogers made a good point that online play is probably going to bring the end of this technique. Pour one out for the sad index cards.

Mutant: Genlab Alpha

In case anyone decides they want to run the campaign in MGA, they’ll quickly discover that a super-important player-facing tool is hidden deep in the “GM Secrets” section of the book. It’s the table of options they have as the Resistance to fight the bad guys. It is not available as a separate PDF or anything, so here it is.

I swear…the Fria Ligan guys sometimes have the biggest blind spots.


Mutant: Genlab Alpha

Allegedly I’m running this at RinCon weekend after next. I was kind of hoping I could coast on my Mutant: Year Zero experience and a light reading of MGA from a couple months ago.

Last night I broke it open again. Oh my word, there is so much more going on than an anthropomorphic reskin.

I finally dug into the underlying campaign-driving metagame, called strategic turns. It is a month-by-month abstraction of the animals’ rebellion against the robotic Watchers, with the players and the GM secretly plotting against one another by sending their assets off to do things in the various habitats of Paradise Valley. Those actions, and the fallout, are what drive the fiction for the PC group.

You start out with the PCs’ own cell, which is also the Revolution’s inner circle (with the guidance of Truffaut, an NPC Mary Sue who’s there to explain things) as well as a couple NPC cells among the most-rebellious animal groups. So you start with 3 total cells, and each cell can carry out a mission. That either drives down the Watchers’ Capacity (hit points basically) or improves the Insurgency rating of a specific habitat. You need the Insurgency up high enough that the habitat starts producing its own NPC cells.

It’s all very crunchy and abstract! Reminds me a little of Wrath of the Autarch actually, this strategy boardgame-y thing that shapes the ongoing fictional situation.

So…I think I’m just gonna run that for four hours and see where we end up. When the NPC cells go off, it’s just die rolling and shifting around the fiction. When the PC cell is assigned, we actually play that out directly.

In the full campaign there are additional Key Events that get injected into the full campaign, triggered by specific metrics achieved within the strategy game. For one-shot purposes I think I can safely leave those out.

TBH I’m way more stoked to get this going for my home group, now that I understand how it works.

Quick promo:

I have a Patreon (Patreon.com/briecs) for my gaming blog briecs.com where I talk about games and lots of things to do with them! You might recognize my Five or So Questions series where I interview designers about their current and upcoming projects! Please check it out and consider supporting me via Patreon or my PayPal.me/Thoughty tip jar, and if it’s not your thing, please share around in case others might enjoy it!


I’m now on Patreon!

(cross-posted from my circles)

I’ve launched my own Patreon page now to fund my new direction in self-publishing and creator-owned game content. Patreon is a way to show folks my behind-the-scenes works in progress, release early previews and playtesting documents, post design blogs, and eventually publish new campaign settings, RPGs, and supplements for my favorite game systems.

Patreon is where I’m going to start writing and designing SWORDBRIDGE, my mannerpunk fantasy setting, and EIDOLON, which is my neoclassical fantasy setting for spirit-channeling super heroes. And those are just the first!

I would be tremendously grateful if you’d stop in and check out what I have going on there, and if you think others might be interested in it, please feel free to reshare the link!


Day 23: Tell your most scandalous story about getting X-carded.

I have a good one!

I first read about the X-Card when John Stavropoulos​​ started really talking it up. I want to say 2010ish? I’m not going to bother fact-checking that; it was, I think, at some point after he’d gotten the main idea of it down and it was starting to take off, particularly in indieland.

Me: super skeptical. Super. It felt like it violated a lot of social contract stuff and creative agency at the table, but I mostly kept that to myself. Snarked about it in gchat with friends, mostly.

BurningCon EDIT 2013, the one where luke crane​​ expanded the event to a larger circle of Notables: John Harper, Jason Morningstar​​, Vincent Baker​​. And with what felt like the monolithic presence of Jason and Vincent’s fans, the X-Card came along as well. Well alrighty then, let’s give this thing a shot, see how it actually feels at the table.

The first time I sat at a table with an actual X-Card was a game of Fiasco, facilitated by Kristin Firth​​.Uh let’s see… James Stuart​​ and Anthony Hersey​​ and one more person whose name escapes me was at the table; Kristin was fighting a stomach thing so she was there to facilitate. I had never played Fiasco and didn’t really understand how it worked or what its best practices were. I was there to learn! I think it was shortly after Fiasco had shown up on Tabletop and it was yuuuuge.

The playset is some summer slasher setup. We go through all the character stuff; I end up with this obnoxious dudebro half of a pair of twins. I’m already thinking ahead that twins weirdness and slasher stories surely must fit together! I kind of am gunning to be the slasher. Again, I don’t really understand Fiasco yet so I have no idea if that’s cool or not.

So we play a while, spooling out scenes. I really have my hooks into the dudebro, really fun. No idea how the tilt works or the dice economy either, which is distracting and I can’t get a straight answer out of the folks who actually know the game. Which kind of sets up what I think felt like a waaaay-more confrontational vibe than I was intending.

At some point, in a scene with my character’s hapless, innocent twin, I decide to really ratchet up my character’s abusiveness. So, in character, I say something like “Oh come on you reeetard.”

Kristin jumped on that instantly, despite obvious physical discomfort. She’s all “NOPE, nuh-uh, we’re not going there.” Taps the card.

Oh I was steamed.

I remained steamed for months. How dare she censor my creative input!

I debriefed with John about my X-Card experience a few weeks after the convention. The dude is endlessly patient with me, god bless him. I lay out my case, he listens a lot, and indicates that I’ve said nothing new and that the X-Card is an extremely practical tool in his and others’ experience.

A year goes by. It’s still on my mind.

At BigBadCon EDIT 2014, Jason Morningstar​​ invites me to a private table of Night Witches. After talking through setup and playbooks and the super-high-gloss overview, he puts an X-Card in the middle of the table. Inside I’m instantly oh here we go again.

I gotta say: it’s Jason’s speech that moved me. I became a 100% convert the moment he concluded his explanation, which included a bit of editorializing around the actual recommended text as presented at http://tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg .

We never actually used the card, but now I finally had a firm grasp of how it worked. Like a lot of other folks have said, the talk is probably more important than the card.

Armed with his explanation and context, I explained it to my local crew. It shows up at their request when I ran an Urban Shadows game as a couples’ date night thing.

The last time I saw it used was at my Sagas of the Icelanders table at Dreamation this year. Someone suggested something another player didn’t like, we tapped out, rewound a bit, it was all good. It was low-key, blameless, smooth.

The big shift for me was realizing that my creative input does not matter. It’s not special or unique. It literally doesn’t matter what reasons there may be behind someone X-Carding. That’s why you don’t talk about it. I may not like when it’s used to redirect an idea I had. And yet I’m 100% okay when Try Another Way gets used in Archipelago. It’s not like I have a limited reservoir of ideas. And thinking that any given idea is so valuable and precious as to deflect disagreement?

I think gaming could stand a lot more humility.

I’m a fan of the X-Card.

Day 22: How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate games sometimes? It’s okay. Fate players have to hear the truth.

So… Doyce Testerman swooped in and pretty much posted the thing I was gonna post. It’s great. Give it a read. https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/X9hqitw1Bo2

Anyway, when I wrote this one I had several things in mind:

* Losing friends over games
* My confounded personal relationship with Fate (see Doyce’s thing, it’s virtually identical)
* The two headed serpent known as NotForYou/YouDontGetIt

First one: disappointing but it has happened to me, but not because of Fate! Actually it was Burning Wheel, but with 20/20 hindsight I’m pretty sure the system was a symptom, not the cause. I was steaming steadily toward a whole different play/head space, Burning Empires was the accelerant, and without really understanding what was happening, I had a minor player revolt on my hands.

The points of contention orbited around treating the GM (me!) as a collaborator and not a constrained competitor, and moving the creative focus off tactical challenges and GM-driven drama and onto narrative challenges and character-driven drama.

I’m sorry it happened, but I’m not sorry those players and I parted ways at the game table.

Regarding Fate, tho: my first one was Spirit of the Century. Looked pretty cool, I can be in for a zany pulpfest, I’d never seen Fate in action before. I have an old copy of Fudge but it’s kind of not the same.

Dunno man. I think Doyce’s post lays out what I ran into. I didn’t have nearly the same level of study and awareness under my belt at that point. SotC was even where I started my flowchart method for working out just what all is going on under the hood.

Fate looks great on paper. I should like it! I should like lots of things that look good on paper: Elvis Costello, Terry Brooks, Richard Linklater. Dunno. The heart wants what it wants, I guess.

Which brings me to my third thought: The two headed serpent known as NotForYou/YouDontGetIt.

Lordy. So…I think the not for you/you don’t get it charge can be placed descriptively or prescriptively, right? I’ll apply it to my own damned self all the time, because that’s my right. It’s okay if I don’t get something. It’s okay if I’ve decided — after giving it my level best — that it’s not for me. But I have a visceral and violent reaction when I’m told this by someone else.

Sometimes it’s totally well intentioned, and I feel so bad when the howling fuuuuuck you! comes boiling up out of my wretched soul. Keith Stetson and I had an extensive email correspondence after my group played a draft of his Seco Creek Vigilance Committee, and this came up, and I did not react well. I still feel bad, Keith! And you might even be right. It is my Aspect that can be compelled at any time by anyone.

I want to like Fate.

I own quite a lot of Fate and I’ve bought even more even after deciding it wasn’t for me. After SotC we had a short run through Brad Murray’s Diaspora, which has a lot of neat stuff going on but…Fate. Such a smart design on so many fronts, though. And man there’s a lot of neat material out there. I keep looking at Sophie Lagace’s grimsical War of Ashes, too.

So much production and productivity around Fate. I think it was this close to becoming the indie monoculture, and probably would have were it not for Apocalypse World. Many, many people I like and respect love the game, and I love my friends no less for that.

My next attempt is only Fate-adjunct: Phil Lewis’s Wrath of the Autarch. It’s kiiiiind of a Fate game. It uses that sweet-ass Fate Deck. There are Aspects and a sorta-kinda Fate Point economy happening. It looks super neat, and I hope the fact that it’s not precisely a GMed game will get everyone (i.e. me) over the hump.