RinCon T – one month

I’m going and I’ve planned nothing at all. Now I’m getting itchy about submitting myself to five slots of unvetted gaming.

Who all is in? Right now the folks I know who will be there are Jonathan Perrine, MadJay Brown, Robert Chilton, Brian Poe, Jason Corley. I assume Magpie Games will be there with some kind of representation. Brendan Conway, Sarah Richardson? Katherine Fackrell? Justin Rogers?

What about outer-orbit NM folks? Nicholas Hopkins, Phil Lewis, anyone else? I know I’m forgetting people. I’m old, have mercy on my poor addled brain.

So since today is the last day to submit games so they show up in the printed book, and since I’m picky about both who sits at tables I run and whose tables I play at, I’m… kind of thinking about not really bothering to submit anything. I’m good with running shadow events somehow, somewhere on the grounds (yes yes I’ll be buying a badge).

I know RinCon has flirted with a Games on Demand-like thing. Brian Poe did anything ever come of that? I can’t believe how fast the year flies by.

Anyway, right now I’m just trying to get the temperature of who might be there, and how interested they might be in getting together some 1%er events.


Torchbearer Tuesdays
Session 4

Got back to our Torchbearer game last night. One week off didn’t do any real damage, although the recap was iffy. Good thing it’s built directly into the game!

This was the climax for their delve: facing a pair of guardian statues, loaded with conditions, out of food, balanced on the edge of their 16th roll. Go for a kill, using the warrior’s instinct to always do so (and not take another condition by making that 16th roll) or run the hell away? They chose run, which normally would be great because statues are slow AF and their party size generated a huge dispo (11?). Yet they still fought to a tied-at-zero, because when I put my mind to it I’m a brutal scripter. Everyone escaped, and everyone was injured.

They tried sealing the guardian room with a spell. Failed that, and instead sealed themselves inside an old warehouse infested with giant spiders. No way out but down. Finally they found a decent (only unsafe, not outright dangerous) camp spot, loaded with a zillion checks, and still it was a narrow thing to clean up everyone’s conditions. It was the halfling player’s first camp phase so there was lots of explaining to do. Good news is that now she has a firm grasp of just how important earning checks is — she’d picked a couple up at the prodding of other players but hadn’t completed the circle.

Finally, with a decent map in hand (it’s been 4 sessions and the mapper just now got around to it), they steeled themselves for a final Drive Off, which of course is enormously harder to beat mindless automatons at (dispo 12 + 2 for the number of monsters), yet they fought down to their last dispo, fought it back up, and did the thing. Loot, so much loot. And some intriguing leads going forward.

It’s been remarkable how every scripted conflict has been a nail biter. I keep thinking the party size provides so many dice that they’ll steamroll anything. And they can’t. I may be misinterpreting a rule, though: can only the non-scripted party members provide help? We have six, so we always have an A Team of 3 going with the 3-person B Team providing help dice. I think it’s right.

A few observations, four sessions in:

* I really thought I’d set up, you know, a nice little tutorial dungeon. I did not! They survived but it took extraordinary teamwork and a huge party to pull off. If I start or one-shot another TB game I’ll have a much better idea of how to scale it.

* Everyone, I think, will level up when they get back to town. Some of them are even close to level 3 now. Because of the extraordinarily tough dungeon and brutally dangerous script-fights, everyone’s blowing all their points all the time. I gotta say, I really like how leveling is keyed to artha spends. That’s sharp. Almost entirely eliminates artha-hoarding like you get in Burning Wheel sometimes. I kind of wish leveling was a bit more dramatic.

* I feel like the players are forming a tangible esprit de corps because of the shared danger and absolutely obligatory teamwork. So that’s neat. It’s getting hard for the loners to go it alone.

* We had a few moments where Beliefs 100% drove difficult play. The dwarf adventurer would not leave without a better payday, even when the rest of the party was ready to call it quits, and talked them into sticking around just a bit longer. The human warrior struggled mightily against his Instinct (free Kill conflict) knowing it was probably suicide for everyone else, even while not really caring about his own life. And so on. I’m glad the BIGs are providing good differentiation, although I’m hoping we’ll revise them a bit during/after Town. There are some not-awesome Beliefs that are kind of a stretch to trigger, although I err on the side of generous artha so mechanically it’s not a big deal.

* The halfling stumbled into her Secret Rule! I was blown away, and it was such an emotional high point (they’d just fled the stone guardians and were beat to hell) that I’m revoking my uhhh intense dislike of the “secret rule” idea. The halfling’s is IMO the most pronounced; the other “secret rules” seem more like helpful guidelines about some of the more vague descriptors.

* We had time to kill before the game because electricians had to rewire the lighting in my gaming space, and a couple players expressed that they miss the tighter bond between fiction and action in our PbtA games. They feel the drag of building out the die pools and the abstraction of mapping out scripted conflicts. The entire vibe is different, and when they think on what they’ve gotten done in the fiction it seems like the game is crawling. And it is. But they can also feel the high level of engagement with the process of surviving the delve.

*They’re headed into a Town phase. I’ve never done one. Exciting!

And In Conclusion

I’ve developed a super annoying eyelid twitch. That’s the signal that it’s time for a Plus break! All outta spoons. But I can rest when I’m dead so here are my last two thingamajobs:


Space adventure with feels. Yes feels are a genre, I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. (My trad answer is fantasy post-apocalypse, which I suppose Earthdawn has already covered so we’re done here.)



I’m sitting here thinking about any sense of anticipation. I don’t feel any. I’m not aware of any specific games slated to come out, or if I am I don’t actually care that much (like that Genesys thing from FFG). I don’t really think much about Kickstarters scheduled to deliver, especially a year out.

I guess it’d be nice if I could get one or more of my things test-ready. I had intended this year to be that year, but spoons, so I’m reeling in my con/test/hype plans. Maybe 2018!

Oh there goes the eyelid twitch again. L8r sk8rs.

#rpgaday #rpgaday2017


Mostly the campaigns I’ve signed up for have either been rock-solid and professional (specific shoutouts to Andy Kitkowski, luke crane, and Jason Morningstar for repeat high-quality service, and everyone else for the one-off campaigns I’ve participated in), or have been unprofessional clusterfucks (no I’m not calling anyone out, you vultures).

It’s weird how one bad clusterfuck will sour me on the whole process though. I’m not sure what my personal ratio is. Maybe 10 good to 1 bad? Utterly unfair to the “good” campaigns.

There. That should be adequately uncontroversial.

#rpgaday #rpgaday2017

Nerd References and High-Fives

Oh this whole…thing…makes my skin crawl.

There is a whiff of nerd shame in my reaction. I’ll cop to that. This flavor of virtue-signaling just grosses me out, mostly because I feel like it’s so transparent. And I grew up in an age where being a giant nerd was not a point of pride. It is astonishing and wonderful to me that nerd culture means something different than it used to. But I still have that visceral reaction, that little wince when someone spouts a Monty Python quote or some Star Wars thing.

There’s also this thing that continues to gnaw at me about The Problem With Indie Games These Days. And that is that so, so many of them (premised on the fact that PbtA and Fate largely dominate the scene) feel and play and were conceived of as derivative of other media. Yes, absolutely, this is me #poopingonotherpeoplesfun and I am a monster.

For at least 25 years now, maybe longer, I’ve never quite resolved for myself the tension between dismissing RPGs as trivial entertainments and embracing RPGs as a legitimate and powerful art form. Probably it’s because they can be either, and asserting that RPGs can only be one or the other is unnecessary. Movies can be derivative summer tentpoles, and movies can be art. Also books and live performances and music and every other damned thing. But that tension is there, and it’ll probably always be there. There are so very many derivative, tropesy, trivial entertainments out there and so relatively few thoughtful, meaningful artworks. Never mind the additional social pressure to discount any artful game thing as “arty”, to diminish, to drag down the aspirational work to the same level as the derivative work.

Protestant work ethic (are you being productive?) combined with late capitalism (in what way is this profitable?), no wonder we’re so fucked up. By we I mean me. I’m sure you’re perfectly fine.

Anyway, when I hear players start spouting quotes at each other and reifying their shared identities, I see the game steer toward derivation and think to myself, “There goes an opportunity for real meaning, squandered.”

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Here’s my packing list for every convention, minus the duh-obvious stuff like dice and rulebooks:

* Easel pad for giant relationship situation maps (smaps!) (the one I prefer: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B003327LMW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00). I’ll tear three or four off and roll them into a poster tube if I’m not where I can physically carry the whole pad.

* Index cards. Honestly I can’t get by without tent-cards with names, and I’m also very fond of doodling up index cards as props representing important things or game-states (like my “Fascinated” cards for Space Wurm vs Moonicorn).

* Big fat Sharpies in various colors for the smap and tent-cards

* OHTO Graphic Liner pens for everything else (https://smile.amazon.com/OHTO-Graphic-Needle-Drawing-CFR-150GL005/dp/B016Z78QS4/ref=sr_1_6). I love them.

* Glass beads for resource tracking

* A copy of Jason Morningstar’s Names book (http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/jason-morningstar/story-games-name-project/paperback/product-3594462.html) because I greatly prefer the form factor of an actual book for browsing.

I think that’s it. If I’m at home, add clipboards and a steady supply of Utz Pub Mix.

Other tools I’ve seen in use that got me thinking:

*Misha B’s extensive Pinterest boards filled with representative character art. Genius! I’m slightly phobic about introducing electronics to the table because my regulars are already phone addicts. Last thing I want is to have a tablet there for them to diddle with.

* Jonathan Perrine’s rainbow-hued index cards. I’m a big fan of color coding (I print common-use references like Common Moves in a different color for easy grabbing) and never even thought about the fact that index cards come in different colors.

* I’ve seen a few versions of a nice, permanent (ie laminated ) X Card to drop on a table. Jeez…I’m trying to remember…someone at a recent convention had a whole deck of useful social rules they dropped on the table. Was that you, Tomer Gurantz? My apologies if I screwed that up.

Kind of a boring answer today; no bandwidth for a hot take. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

#rpgaday #rpgaday2017


Happy Saturday, hope y’all are having a nice one.

For me and maybe you, but this isn’t the hill I want to die on, a killer app of the indie/small press game scene is the access we have to the creators of these games. In my mind, this is what makes the current generation of “indie publishers” utterly different than the equally-indie publishers I worked for in the ’90s. And that’s the best resource you could ever ask for.

Probably the most fruitful, genuinely useful conversations I’ve had among all the indie creators I’ve met and talked to — which are many but not even most, ye gawds they keep cropping up like weeds — would be a tossup between luke crane (he double-classes as genius and gadfly) and Jason Morningstar (who specializes in just the genius thing). These two have done the absolute most to crowbar my head open to the vast, truly vast range of gameplay, priorities, and ideas about the nature of This Thing Of Ours.

(If you wanted to talk about extra crap to buy, I really like all the card-based supplements the Fria Ligan folks do with their Mutant Year Zero family of games. Cards are rad, yay cards.)

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Okay so I kind of hate today’s #rpgaday #rpgaday2017 question but it is an excellent Rorschach test of the folks who are replying. None of whom, me included, are predominantly players. 🙂

Thank You

Kind of an indulgent, masturbatory question today — and if I’m saying that in this collection, it must be extra-true.

I’m a GM probably 95% of the time, but in that 5% (usually my convention games) I don’t really do much more than directly thank the GM or facilitator. Costs nothing but a bit of time, but jeez, we’ve been sitting in a small room together for four hours smelling each other’s farts, it’s the least I can do. But as a GM, I know that those direct thanks are a big deal.

But! If you’re a player who doesn’t know what to give the GM Who Has It All (i.e. me or others like me), here are some ideas:

* Be present. Not just in attendance, but actively engaged in the thing. Put the phone away, ringer on mute.

* Ask how you can help. No really. Ask. Playing is a necessarily inward-focused activity, and I think it can create inward-focused play habits that aren’t conducive to table synergy.

* If you’re not feeling it, say so. I don’t know about other facilitators, but my stoke is heavily reliant on the table’s stoke. If you’re not feeling it, I won’t feel it. If you think you’re hiding your disinterest (out of politeness or whatever), joke’s on you: you’re so not.

* Indulge me in a little debrief after. It’s my one chance to, you know, share in the stoke! It’s nice to come out from under the table and join you folks and pretend I’m a star like you.

I think that’s about all any of us need!

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