Unsolved Problems
One Last 2016 IGRC Thought!

I’ve been obsessing over Netflix’s The Crown for a couple weeks now. It is this beautifully produced and brilliantly acted recounting of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, with flashbacks to her father’s reign.

I can’t stop thinking about episode 7, “Scientia Potentia Est.” Mostly I keep thinking about how the episode beautifully captures a storytelling cycle that’s just so very hard to produce at an RPG table.

The premise of the episode, my take at least, is that it’s about two of the show’s major characters — Elizabeth and Winston — coming to grips with their shortcomings. Elizabeth has received a very peculiar education: there’s practically nobody more steeped in the rules of the Constitution and the history of her people, but otherwise she is literally uneducated. She doesn’t understand science, she doesn’t understand geopolitics. Arguably, under her nation’s structure of two pillars — the efficient and the dignified, explained early in the show — she knows all she needs to in order to be dignified. And to remain a powerless figurehead, constantly on her back foot as the efficient men of government report what they’re doing to the Queen but never really need or want her input.

Meanwhile, Winston is an old, old man. They’ve been hitting that theme pretty hard all show. But in this episode, he’s struggling to keep the UK (and by extension, himself) relevant in the face of the US and USSR taking up talks about nuclear weapons in the mid-1950s. His foreign minister has fallen ill, and Churchill experiences a stroke — and all his cronies and mandarins conspire to hide all this from Elizabeth.

So what I’ve been thinking about is a few things: the leadup to the final confrontation between Elizabeth and Winston, specifically, but also the confrontation itself. It is an amazing hour of television, filled with personal and interpersonal conflict but of course not one fist is thrown, not one moment of violence takes place.

Broken down as bullet points:

* I have yet to see a tabletop game that is predominantly filled with nonviolent, but high-stakes, interpersonal conflict.

* I have yet to see a game (in any format) where codes of conduct — society rules, traditions, whatever — meaningfully shape and constrain the acts of the characters.

I mean, probably freeform/larp games can get pretty close to this…but they all typically rely on the cooperation of the players to agree to outcomes. Now, I don’t really know the postwar history of the Elizabeth/Winston era that well, so when the Queen calls her Prime Minister in for a dressing-down, the tension is palpable. Some of that of course is just good acting and direction, and I think that’s not really something that translates well to tabletop. I never get the sense in the scene that either character is agreeing in advance as to how things will proceed: Elizabeth wants to expand her power beyond figurehead; Winston wants to keep his relevance and enjoy his role as WWII hero of the people.

Burning Wheel’s duel of wits system would probably do an okay job, it really is the best in class, but the tools available in resolution don’t lend themselves to quiet maneuvering. It’s all grand speeches and violent denouncements. I’ve played through many, many duels and heck if I can really remember the details of the conversation afterward. It’s very outcome-oriented.

The other unsolved roleplaying thing, the thing that continues to haunt and intrigue me, is constraining the players with the values of their characters. The Elizabeth-Churchill face-off doesn’t work at all unless she can leverage the PM’s underlying respect for the Crown. Churchill has nothing to fight with unless he understands the strengths and shortcomings of his queen.

Dunno…it’s something that is endless intriguing to me. King Arthur Pendragon gets close to modeling chivalrous behavior in terms of the carrots and sticks that incent the players to act with chivalry. I suspect The Clay That Woke will do a good job of messing with the minotaurs’ “Silence” ideology.

That’s…kind of all I can think of. There are probably pretty good implementations in PbtA games in terms of narrowly shaped moves, but heck if I can think of any of them right now. Possibly the transactional nature of sex in Apocalypse World itself is in that zip code. Oh…the man/woman moves and the constant presence of honor in Sagas of the Icelanders of course. Maybe the best there is.

Looking forward to next year, Coriolis has this whole mythology that the characters “believe,” but beyond a mechanic where you can reroll some dice when you pray to an Icon (god), I don’t see anything that, you know, really gets the players to be superstitious, or religious, or really anything other than modern, rational, materialistic people. The other games on my to-play list don’t really have ideologies or superstitions or constrained rules of social conduct that I can think of.

Well, I’m kind of buzzing on prednisone right now so maybe this is all just rambling. But it’s something that’s been on my mind and I’m looking forward to exploring ways to play this stuff in 2017.

(Might mean more freeforms! Eek!)

My mood when I’ve spent weeks reading and studying a new game, I’m ready and eager to start, and I have to wait one more week because adults have schedules.

And nothing else in my rather sizeable stack of rpgs to try looks that interesting. Probably because everyone else at the table is as worn out by learning new games as I am. Ugh, one-shots, I’m so done with them for now.

#spacewurmvsmoonicorn #feydrautha4lyf

PaulCon

Here’s the latest proposal from Tempe Mission Palms, which has meeting rooms and is located right in the middle of some awesome stuff in Tempe:

Best dates they have available are 5/11/17 through 5/13/17. The only overlap I’m aware of is ChupacabraCon.

I can reserve 30 rooms, $129/night would be the rate. It’s highish because it’s also in the middle of spring training (sportsball stuff) here.

The next set of dates would be 6/8/17-6/12/17 and the room rate drops to $109/night.

The meeting room rentals aren’t bad, 5 rooms x 3 days for $2250 total. So spread around 30 attendees, that’s $75/person and since those rooms are rented no matter what, that’s a nut that must get covered even if I don’t get a full 30.

Yah, this is more than a bigger convention. That’s why it’s called economies of scale.

None of this even addresses populating 5 or 6 tables with facilitators/events across three days. Honestly I’ve been so preoccupied with just the logistics of finding space that I haven’t begun to think about, you know, the games. I can’t run everything every day!

Indie Game Reading Club
Indulgent 2016 Retrospective and Looking Forward

This was a pretty good year for the Indie Game Reading Club. Readership is up, engagement has been mostly good. I set up a website – a placeholder, really, for the domain name, for whatever I do with it down the road. Which is possibly, or probably, nothing more than what I’m doing now.

To brainstorm about this post, I went to January 2016 and started going forward. I’ve written a lot this year, good grief.

Games Played

Edge of the Empire/Force and Destiny mashup. Failed because I forgot once again how much I hate working with FFG’s system.

Mutant Genlab Alpha: Nice game, I looove Mutant: Year Zero but this is not that. Enough stuff bugged me that it wasn’t hard to walk away from. But it was a very amusing one-shot at Rincon, as well.

Burning Wheel: Three times! Ran once, played twice. Played once, when a buddy ran his Mechwarrior hack, played again at BigBadCon with Gary Montgomery​​ and Andi Carrison​​, and once when I overprepped and then ran a completely meh session at Dreamation for Ralph Mazza​​, Bret Gillan​​, Carly Knight​​, Keith Stetson​​ and a fourth guy whose name I can’t spell so Plus won’t autocomplete it for me. With the release of the BW Codex this year, I’m feeling drawn to it again.

Mutant Year Zero: Ran a table of it at Dreamation. Fun, not awesome but fun. Great, great table of people. Who was there? Uh… Brand Robins​​, Misha B​​, Carly Knight​​, M. P. O’Sullivan​​ and Mikael Andersson​​. Marvelous table. I feel like I squandered it.

Sagas of the Icelanders: It is good every single fucking time. Ran it twice as a convention one-shot, in fact. It needs/deserves to be a campaign someday.

The One Ring: My biggest and most successful campaign. I love it. I want to return to the Darkening of Mirkwood campaign in 2017. It’ll probably be one of my “17 sessions of two different games” goal.

Urban Shadows: Ran a very short campaign of this for my wife and another couple. Deeply disappointed that we couldn’t keep it moving. Life just keeps on keeping on.

No Thank You, Evil!: Two sessions for my daughter and wife. It’s been fun both times. I got to use the Story Cards supplement the second time and it was terrific. Highest marks.

The Sprawl: Pretty okay. Delivers exactly what it says it will, no more and no less. You want to run a cyberpunk caper? Play The Sprawl. The end.

Seco Creek Vigilance Committee: One-shot freeform by Keith Stetson​​. One of the few one-shot freeforms I can honestly say I want to play again.

Mars 244: The Liberation of Sisyphus: This is Rachel E.S. Walton​​’s superhack of Montsegur 1244, and it was such a pleasure and such a great table. My BigBadCon facilitation is probably the best freeform experience of my life so far.

Soth: Really fun session at BigBadCon, but it’s in a weird space in that it’s a…2-shot, maybe? I feel like it needs either two sessions or a 6-hour slot to get through the whole thing. You could maybe kick it in the ass and push through in four hours, but IMO it would feel rushed.

Zombie World: test-run at Rincon with Mark Diaz Truman​​. It’s promising! It was a good one-shot.

Primetime Adventures: run by the inestimable Jason Corley​​. Amazingly fun experience. I wish I had more faith that my home group could maintain tone and focus because I’d really like to run it at home at some point.

Headspace: It’s got some problems but fundamentally I do like it and so do my players. Not in a great head space (!) to run it right now but it might come back to the table at some point.

3:16 Fury Road: homebrew hack of 3:16 that’s not as catastrophic as other 3:16 convention games I’ve played (also with MadJay Brown​​) but just kind of dumb.

Meridian: cold first run of Christian Griffen​​’s newest freeform storygame. I’d totally bust this out at a convention again.

Undying: not a good game for me or our group. I’m sure it’s marvelous with the right people though.

EDIT I knew I’d forgotten some!

Superhuman is maybe the most compact, yet complete, little freeform I’ve ever experienced. Played at a strong table, could have easily gone on for several more hours. One sheet of paper!

Sorcerer finally, via Judd Karlman​’s Dictionary of Mu cryptobarsoomian planetary romance weirdness setting. Put me in the mood to try straight Sorcerer at some point.

I’m sure I’m forgetting other con games as well.

Conventions Attended

Dreamation 2016, one of the BEEEEG indie gatherings and it was my first time there. I loved it, I wish I could just live at that con all year long. And, alas, I can’t go this year.

RinCon 2016, a local convention which continues to surprise me at how good the indie gaming track is there. I really wish there was something better, something similar here in Phoenix. Short drive, though, and I’m happy to make it.

BigBadCon 2016, another marvelous experience. I think of it kind of as the west coast version of the BEEEEG indie gathering at Dreamation. Smaller, tighter but a very focused and serious place to play games.

Shit Stirred

#indiegameaday2016 of course. Duh. Might do it again, might not. Diappointed that it caused problems and bad feelings for some folks, thrilled at the positive content. Very mixed experience and I don’t regret it one bit.

Games Put Out For Review

Just one, Robot Park. I’m very close to putting another one out. My real-American-West game, Misfortune, is stalled until I can come up with a better framing. It wasn’t an awesome year for me for design or hacking or whatever you want to call it.

Games I’m Looking Forward to in 2017

Of course there will probably be a dozen new games that come out that I don’t even know about. But as of right now, on the cusp of the new year and assuming nothing else appears on the horizon, this is what I’m looking forward to.

Space Wurm vs Moonicorn, for starters. We start that one on 1/3/17 and I’m super pumped.

The Clay That Woke, once SWvM wraps.

Apocalypse World 2E. I miss it!

Burning Wheel, hopefully as a player. I want someone else to run this and I’ve got a good candidate.

Wrath of the Autarch. Hopefully it’s not a huge time investment. Sure looks interesting though.

Coriolis, because come on. Space adventure from Fria Ligan, yes please.

Soth. I think it’d be a gas. The time factor is making it an iffy proposition.

Godbound. I keep reading it and I like what I see. I don’t have a lot of luck with OSR stuff (well…I didn’t have luck with Stars Without Number, I should say) but there’s enough different here that maybe it’ll be different this time?

Tales from the Loop: probably because I’m going to like what Fria Ligan has done with it a lot more once I actually read the text. Right now it’s a fanboy backing on Kickstarter.

Epyllion seems like it will inevitably get run at some point. It is just so tight and so good.

The One Ring, just to see if you actually can start a campaign again.

Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. I want to decode it. It’s a creative challenge.

Noirlandia, probably at a convention.

Parting Thoughts

Oh…I really don’t have any. I’m feeling just kind of scattered here at the end of the year.

I want to play longer runs of things. Exploring new systems is kind of wearing me out; I’m ready to explore the fiction more deeply again.

I really want to nudge my newest player into a more compatible creative space with the rest of us. She’s okay for now, and I think she’ll get there.

My appetite for experimenting with new systems is waning but this may be a cyclical thing. For whatever reason, the slog of learning and teaching and fighting with new games is wearing me out lately.

I would love to finish one of my game designs in a way that other people could actually pay me. I don’t think my IGRC essays are ever going to be a Patreon-type subsidized thing, but someday…someday, maybe.

I’m really looking forward to playing more games with my daughter. She’s just turned 5 and everything is new and exciting and confusing and awesome. So inspiring.

See y’all in 2017.

I think the game challenge for 2017 should be to run 2 games for 17 or more sessions. 2×17+ sessions. If you only run long games, start considering switching once you cross the 17 session mark. If you usually run short games, try to go higher than 17 if possible.

Hard mode: make them complete campaigns/stories in exactly 17 sessions.

Space Wurm vs Moonicorn
Questions so many questions

Okay so I’m now elbow-deep into hardcore prepping for Space Wurm vs Moonicorn, and I’m reading the book with a different set of eyes and priorities. I hope SWvM fans and Johnstone Metzger can help me out!

* First thing that jumps out at me is how to deal with Hunters. Sometimes there are handy stats, but as often as not there’s nothing there. FIrst example: in the Alient Revolt front, or threat or whatever, there’s a list of Hunter ideas. Let’s say I want to send “assassins normally used against political leaders.” Do I need stats? Is it assumed I’ll just make those up? Improvise? I mean if it were Apocalypse World it’d all be fictional positioning, but Dungeon World is crunchier and more specific. Am I supposed to go to the DW monster creation rules? Scour this book and Dungeon Planet for appropriate stats? Honestly I have no idea.

* Next thing that jumps out: not all the Threats have attached Hunters. How can Moonicorn beat those Threats? In the case of a phenomenon (like uh…space madness!), how is Space Wurm supposed to take control? How am I supposed to use them? Are some Threats designed to just be additional complications?

* Gear…sometimes weapons listed aren’t weapons at all so I’m not sure why they’re listed that way. The uh…Other’s “bag of books” for example. What am I missing here? In the event they are actual weapons — Moonicorn’s light saber, for example — sometimes there are actual stats attached to another version of the gear elsewhere (I think the secret police have an NPC with a light saber). Is this just sloppy editing or is it purposeful that Moonicorn’s version is just tags and no stats?

Let’s maybe just start with those.

Hope everyone’s having a nice holiday break.

Branding and Expectations

Okay so right up front let me set forth a few ground rules:

* This thread is not for criticism.
* This thread is not for publishers.
* This thread is not for designers.
* This thread is for consumers of games, so if you happen to be a publisher and/or designer who also consumes games, please jump in but be mindful of my first bullet. Take off your creator hat!

As a consumer of indie RPGs, when you see the label below, what expectations do you have of how the game will work or…feel?

I think anyone who’s played more than Apocalypse World understands that the PbtA label is pretty loose, right? It’s not as tight as seeing the Powered by Fate label, which of course has been put on a pretty wide range of interpretations. For today, let’s stay focused on PbtA. I want to talk about that looseness.

Now, I haven’t played or read all the games with this label on it, nor have I seen all the non-commercial hacks that are out there. But I’ve seen an awful lot of them, so I feel like I’ve got a good grasp of what I’m expecting.

Totally just riffing, and these things aren’t in any order at all, these are the things that come to my mind when I see the label:

* 10+, 7 – 9, 6 – dice
* Hits, mixed, and miss results
* Asymmetrical GM/player roles
* GM doesn’t roll dice
* Playbooks
* Niche protection
* Moves triggered by fictional circumstance
* Custom-built effect sets for every move
* Explicit Agenda and Principles
* Narrowly defined, sometimes idiosyncratic, moments where fortune is injected into the game.
* Common Moves
* Escalating GM moves (“soft” to “hard”)
* “The Conversation” — GM makes moves under specific but common circumstances (on a miss, golden opportunities, when the players are expecting you to — arguing that this is identical to traditional GMing is missing the point so please don’t)
* Narrative tags, sometimes with mechanics attached but mostly for fictional positioning
* Advancement in the form of new, specific Moves

I’m sure anyone who reads this Collection could trivially name a game or more that directly violates any one of these, maybe even several of them. Again, not the point of this exercise. What I’m looking for is audience expectations: When you see “Powered by the Apocalypse” proudly emblazoned across a game, what’s your baseline expectation? As a followup: what element(s) would need to be absent for a game to categorically no longer be “PbtA” for you?

Feel free to add more elements that come to mind when you see the label, too!