Torchbearer Tuesdays
First Town Phase

Well, we had our first town phase. It was kind of interesting but also kind of shruggy at the end.

The economies of getting shit done in town are, of course, very tight. And since we’d never really gone through the whole cycle before (I never did during playtest either), everyone was kind of conservative about what they wanted to accomplish and how big a risk they wanted to take. I felt the same way! There are suggestions and some light guidance about what happens when you miss your lifestyle roll, and we did have one character miss, but then I was caught at the crossroads of “but this isn’t the RPG part” and “but if we don’t do rpg stuff in town then what is there other than the dungeon delving?”

It’s a conceptually tough nut for me to crack based only on the text. I’m sure experienced players squeeze a lot more juice out of their town phase, largely through knowing what options are available. I spent a lot of time reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading, the lists of stuff that you could go accomplish at, say, the tavern or the inn or whatever. The town cheat sheet wasn’t a huge help. I feel like the “correct” approach is to have the players just do town things and have me tell them when and if they’ve run into a roll. But given the overall mechanical vibe of the game, and the constant pressure and shortage on every part of their lives, that strikes me as unlikely and unreasonable. It’s nothing like playing through a similar scene in, say, Dungeon World, where everything is driven by dramatic needs.

I did like how, when staged correctly, everyone gets their own Resources stat bumped up from 0 to 2ish on that first town phase. Getting from 0 to 1 just takes a pass, and they all had 5-or-so dice of treasure to spend on gearing up. Getting up to 2 is just another pass, but at that point everyone can help everyone else: five adventurers with a little jingle in their pockets makes for a very powerful buying collective.

That meant that, barring roleplaying reasons (and there were some, I’ve got to give that to the players), most everyone was rolling 6ish dice to pass their lifestyle tests of Ob3ish. Still, we had the one miss.

So the thing about Town that I’m going to have to grapple with is that it’s both highly mechanical (like the other phases) and leaves you dangling where one might hope for more guidance. Just how many adventurers will your parents put up when you drop in on them after being gone a few weeks? Just an example. I had to make a call (decided they’d let one dirtbag into their home) and I’m happy with it, but still. Every time someone wanted to do something, I felt like I had to make damned good and sure it wasn’t already handled by some procedure, and then I could proceed with making a call.

Another one, purely driven by character play: the little halfling crime lord (she’s got Criminal 4!) decided she’d rather just steal food than pay for it. Cool cool, it’s “personal business” so it’s +1 to the eventual Lifestyle ob, but…hm. None of the Criminal factors really describe such a caper. Do I turn it into a whole adventure-y phase-y thing? Like with scout to spot guards and criminal to bust the lock and, iunno, laborer to haul smoked pork out of the smokehouse? I don’t know. And the book repeatedly tells us to kick their ass the fuck out of town and get on with the next adventure. It left me feeling dissatisfied.

(I just threw my hands in the air and said “uhh Ob4 and you can get two slots worth of fresh rations.” Which isn’t game-breaking, probably, and the twist was super obvious so why not?)

So they’ve got a lead (two players rolled to dig up leads, building on each other’s answers, which was neat) and a super-weird leaving-town event that felt completely inorganic, but whatever, it’s a lead.

Designing is Redesigning
Self Indulgent Rambling

I’ve produced about eight drafts of my Secret Project in the past year, and of those probably…three of them were comprehensive rewrites, as in burn it all down, start over, question everything. Like, it was less work to just start from scratch and maybe c/p useful non-system grafs than to try and carefully edit an old draft.

That feels like too many but I’ll bet it’s fairly typical. What an exhausting process.

I think half my problem is a FOMO thing, like, I want to include alllll the clever little gestures and big ideas under one roof. I’ve never been short on cleverness, which is not as awesome as it may sound. Another was that it’s damned hard for me to narrow my game idea down. The impulse to build a toolbox is really hard to shake.

I’ve been working on the fourth comprehensive revision for a couple weeks now, and I feel like I’m balanced right on the edge of bored/frustrated with the whole thing, and excited that finally, finally the thing is narrowed down and specific enough that it feels for-real playable.

I suspect the process itself is the biggest reward I’m going to get out of this. It’s proven to be true: I’ve done two contest designs this year that were enormously easier for me to conceptualize, narrow down to a specific play goal, and write (I hope) fairly clearly. And at the same time, it’s getting harder all the time to justify the time and mental effort to work on the big stuff, my own designs, my own design ambitions.

Related story coming up. Maybe stop reading here.

When I was on the up-slope of getting “good” at mountain biking, as in being able and willing to ride all day, traveling to other countries to ride, building my free time and disposable income around the bike and travel, it felt emotionally similar to where I am now. And I reached…well, not an apex, because the world is full of people who are better than you/me. But my apex, let’s say. And a moment entered my mind at that apex where I asked myself, “great, so what’s the point of all this again?” And I just quit.

It wasn’t all at once. But I’d fallen out of love of the thing. It really did feel like falling out of love with a person after putting a ton of effort into the relationship and then asking yourself “so what’s the point of all this?”

I guess I know myself well enough to fear that happening again. It’s just so easy to shrug off my own enthusiasm, to play it cool with my own excitement. It’s hard for me to maintain focus and excitement in the face of external factors, and I kind of hate that I’m so easily dissuaded.

And yet I’m so close. So close. I’ve got three Scrivener windows open right this minute and I’m like…do you cross the finish line or do you shelve it, again, for an unknown number of weeks or months or years?

Hence this procrastination exercise.

Saturday rambling; feel free to disregard. 🙂

Today’s thought, running in parallel with the theory that, as social animals, humans naturally seek narrative meaning (

Anyway: RPGs are a method of achieving an altered state of consciousness, which is another thing humans naturally seek out. Probably comparable to meditation, ritual, and repetition.

I’m not sure what to do with that, but it’s been tickling the back of my brain for weeks now. I think it’s one reason why I’ve done so poorly trying to mix an RPG’s ASC and chemically induced ASCs ie alcohol and recreational drugs (although I know plenty of folks for whom they are entirely compatible, even synergistic).

I know larp puts ritual and repetition to good use. Some bleeding-edge RPGs do too. I’ll bet if you look at it the right way, nearly the entire gamut of focused multi-hour make-believe activities fit neatly alongside those activities, if not directly invoking them.

“The situation is X, what do you do?” sure feels call-and-response-ish, yeah?

I think if we treat the act of roleplaying this way, the debrief period after (regardless of intensity, bleed, drama, etc.) takes on a different meaning. A method of returning one’s consciousness to baseline, maybe.

Yes yes, all speculation. I’m not drawing lines in the sand or planting flags. Just thinking out loud.

NB: What’s the over/under on how many posts it’ll take before this devolves into an argument about definitions? I’ll set it at 3 and then I’m shutting down comments.

Bonus points if we keep the morality of drugs and alcohol out of the comments. This is 100% not about that.

If I could pick any real-world superpower related to gaming I think it would be the ability to draw.

That’s it. Full stop.

(I really don’t want to go through the work to develop that skill! I just want to wake up with it one day. My stack of how-to-draw books is bigger than my ambition to take it on.)

My non-gaming superpower would be the ability to speak any language.

Apocalypse World and enough hacks to play for decades, including one of mine, with 10% going to the Southern Poverty Law Center. if you have ever been curious about this way of tabletop roleplaying, or even just want one of these games, this is a really great opportunity.