My Personal Terminology Appendix
First List

Last week I hit up a bunch of friends via gchat about indiegame/storygame terms that came to mind. I asked this because I’m thinking about building a glossary of terms I know I’ve used that may have confused folks.

My niche in the roleplaying essayist blogosphere is, I think, to straddle the conventional and storygame worlds and to cross-pollinate the best ideas of both. At least that’s been my back-of-my-mind goal this whole time. So as a result, I think a lot of folks who read me stumble across terminology I’ve picked up along the way.

The ultimate goal would be to write this up as an appendix to a someday Indie Game Reading Club printed collection.

A few notes:

* This is by no means an effort to be comprehensive. These are just terms I’ve used, referenced, or thought were useful. I know there are lots of terms I’ve left off. That said, if one pops into mind, post in comments and I’ll think about adding it!

* This is by no means going to be definitive or prescriptive. The best I can do is provide explanations for how I personally use these words, phrases and ideas. I know in some cases I’ve drifted them. Nobody owns language. Don’t be a dick.

* I’m not claiming authorship or ownership of any of these.

Anyway, it’s just for me, they’re just words, nobody freak out. But yeah, if I forgot any big or interesting ones, toss ’em into the list.

Author (Authorial, Authority)
Big Model
Broken Stair (see also Safety, etc.)
Character Monogamy
Creative Agenda (see also Big Model)
Cult of the GM
Decision Space
Economic Cycle/Reward Cycle
Fail forward
Fiction, The
Fiction First (follow the fiction)
Forge, The
Forged in the Dark (FitD)
Fruitful Void
GM-driven (see also Player-driven)
Holding Environment (A Magpie/Mark term, taken from a discipline of group mechanics study called Adaptive Leadership.)
Hx (also Strings, Bonds, etc.)
Immersion (?)
Indiegame (ownership and distribution vs community)
Larp (LARP)
Lines and Veils
Magic Circle
Narrative Authority (see Author(ity))
Player-driven (as opposed to GM plot/GM driven)
Positioning, Fictional
Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA)
Railroading (as a pejorative)
Roses & Thorns
Safety/Safety Tools (X Card, Flower, Script Change, etc.)
Say Yes (…or roll the dice/ Roll the Dice or Say Yes)
Session 0 (where did that start? TBZ?)
Shared Imaginary Space (SIS)
Social Contract
Social Footprint
Stance (Author, Actor, Audience, ??)
X Card (see Safety)

Scum Day Recap

Last night’s session was super satisfying! We pulled in a couple of the players’ rivals and allies, brought some building tensions into focus, made the crew make hard choices (even to the point of PvP shenanigans as the Mystic tried to get right with his faction, the Nightspeakers, while the Muscle and the Scoundrel were busy stealing from the Nightspeakers because the Ghosts could pay them more). It took some time to lay the groundwork, but it’s feeling really tight now.

Mechanically, I finally made myself look for opportunities to use the Fortune Roll procedure. It was fun! Fun to be surprised by the outcome, fun to let myself off the hook for things that would otherwise look like I was fucking over the characters. The big use was after an elaborate flashback scene, in which the crew had gone to the Ghost scientists to concoct a non-lethal knockout gas. They pulled out all the stops for a greater effect outcome, i.e. enough gas to take out an entire drug lord’s palace. But when it was time to trigger the gas, I went to the Fortune Roll to see just how efficacious the gas turned out to be. The Ghosts are a Tier 2, and I couldn’t see any advantages or disadvantages, so I just rolled two dice and ended up with a high 3. Soooo it turns out they had plenty of gas…but it only knocked out half the drug lord’s goons while pissing off the other half. The badass half that could shrug off a lungful of gas.

Obviously it’s the rolling out in public that defers responsibility for that, yeah? Look man, it’s not me screwing over your plan. It’s the dice. Look. Right there. Not me. It’s great and I’ll be doing that a whole lot more often. It’s a little more work, you know, cooking up lesser/regular/greater outcomes at so many junctions. But it’s an instinct I’m developing nicely, and it’s fun to put the tension in the air. Is the gas gonna be super-strong and just drop everyone for hours or days? Or is it gonna be super-weak and leave you with less but different bullshit to deal with?

Since I had also finally read the “Science & The Strange” chapter, I introduced some Urbots — Precursor AI cores embedded in dumb human robots — and a whole vault full of artifacts. Kind of wish there was a better list of artifacts! The list that’s in the book is fine, and one of the Factions in fact has a list of their own cache and I think I’ll be borrowing from that. It’ll be fun to have them actually use the artifacts in public and see how that plays out. It’s how I’ve always imagined really good magic items in pastiche fantasy: one does not simply wave the Wand of Orcus around. In this case it’s the Cloak of NIght, second of three items in the Raiment of Night, one of the baked-in campaign threads of the book. Lots of mid-tier Factions want the Raiment, the crew knows where all the parts are, and now it’s just a matter of time before someone, somehow, puts all three together.

This was also the first time I had NPC Way users. That’s an interesting place to be, because there’s precious little coverage as to what’s actually possible with the Way. There are the powers listed on the Mystic playbook, and that’s good, and then there’s all the implications of how the Attune action works. Like good and correct Force use in Star Wars, I suspect it’s limited only by plot requirements. Our drug lord target had a Way using mercenary who went by Skulls, who looked like someone who would be called “Skulls,” and had an embedded Precursor artifact in his chest that super-juiced his murder powers. Lots of Fortune Rolls to see how his powers worked.

The book says that a S&V campaign will last around 12 sessions, and I believe that will be true. I think we’re through the second of three acts now, with the third and final act being set up by their last job and several of the Factions’ clocks filling up.

It’s Here It’s Here! The Forest Hymn & Picnic is officially live on Kickstarter!

Just watch the video, even if you don’t back it!

Scum Night!

Tonight is our Scum and Villainy game. #7 maybe? Back to back weeks! I’m feeling a little unprepared, because our last several sessions have been broken up with scheduling problems and I’ve gotten lazy about letting myself dream.

What I like about our game at this point is that there are now lots of established relationships tugging at the crew. Their old bosses are now actively hunting them, the Concordiat Knights are now peer competitors (crew is tier 1 now), the Ghosts and Nightspeakers are kind of co-employers. Might be time to bring a Tier 3 into focus, let them loom large on the horizon.

There’s a thing about S&V I’ve never really embraced but I think I need to: using the Fortune Roll. It feels so loose! But there are tiers and ranks and ratings and magnitudes littered all over the place throughout the game that, I guess, I should be paying more attention to. Systems have ratings and I’ve never used them to generate a Fortune roll. Ship systems, honestly, I still can’t tell when to use them or use the Helm skill. Gosh, Lifestyle level could probably be a Fortune roll. I kind of forgot that artifacts have magnitudes. I think a Faction’s tier can be a stand-in for that Faction’s NPCs, kind of a meta-stat.

Maybe I’m not comfortable disclaiming responsibility for all this stuff to dice. It’s not my habit, and it feels like inflicting yet one more round of creative bootstrapping on myself. I could just decide how a faction is proceeding with its plans or I could randomize it, be surprised, try to make it all fit. Dunno what the right answer is, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I don’t actually have guidelines for when I do or do not “want to decide the outcome,” per the RAW itself.

Another confession: I just realize I’ve never actually read the entirety of the “Science & The Strange” chapter. There’s a lot of useful stuff jammed in there! No idea why I skipped over it.

We’re so close guys!

I don’t have many followers. Like, at all. I gotta count on the cool kids like you all to reshare.

There are a few games out there that do scoundrel space opera. Lots of them do it well. But they don’t do sci-fi like this.

This game does things different by doing hard sci-fi debtrunning with modern mechanisms and philosophies.

It’s more than just D&D or [insert indie hack here] in space. It’s fucking spot on hard science fiction, designed to be science fiction, that you don’t even have to try very hard to get science fiction results with.

Free Spacer is IMO the best hard sci-fi game you can get your hands on.

I wholeheartedly believe that.

But we need this Kickstarter to fund first.

We need just under $4,000 in 3 days to cross the finish line and get this game printing and available.

Help us out.

Disclaimer: I did not work on this game. I am close friends with Christoph and Lisa, and I have had the privilege to playtest the game and do a little art for them. I don’t just want this to succeed to help out some friends. I really believe in this game.

Scum Day!

Last night was our triumphant return to Scum and Villainy. It’s been hard to get back to back weeks of play with the school year starting. Which is weird because I thought it was stupid summer vacations that broke up our rhythm. Dunno. Kids are the worst. Really just families in general.

This was our fifth or sixth session, I can’t remember, and the first one where they had clear marching orders from clear bosses: last session, they ended up destroying their Stardancer and had to ask for a solid from one of the character’s affiliated factions. So, new boss same as the old boss, except they haven’t formally stolen this ship yet.

There are now really clear lines connecting the crew to factions now, which I felt like was hazy for the first several sessions. Janus Syndicate is now actively hunting them for stealing and then destroying their ship; the Nightspeakers have revealed themselves to be the true force behind “The Dark” faction that we’d made up. It’s turned out to be really easy to slot a canonical faction into position since the rest of the S&V campaign materials already support them. Neither the Concordiat Knights nor Vigilance made an appearance but everyone’s acutely aware of them. Same with the Ghosts. So basically we’ve got a constellation of five-or-so Tier 2 factions and they’re now formally a Tier 1 crew, so that feels about right. Anything bigger and they’re just not a big enough deal for the other factions to care about.

If I had a gripe at this point, it’s the big undefined space around the characters’ drives/beliefs/heritage/background, and in a very similar way the crew’s goals/drives/inner conflict/essential nature. I’m absolutely sure these were deliberate choices on the part of the design team. I don’t love those choices! And that’s okay. But every session, we tally up our XPs and that question comes up, and nobody really knows how to answer it. Only one character, the Mystic, has nailed down a drive/belief/heritage core: he really wants to become a Nightspeaker Adept. But! The reason he could hook into that is that it’s a mechanically supported thing to chase. If he takes 3 “Veteran” advances on his playbook, the special ability he chooses can be from the Nightspeaker faction. That’s cool and special and it gives the player something to strive for. Neither the Muscle nor the Scoundrel have come upon a similar goal, and I don’t know that they will. The Muscle is just kind of coming into his own violent nature (he has been a reluctant tough guy until this session, where he finally decided that overkill might be enough kill), and the Scoundrel has consistently been a self-serving addict scumbag, but we can’t quite disambiguate that characterization from the third XP question, “you struggled with issues from your vice or traumas during the session.”

Some of that gap, too, is the gig emphasis of the game. Every session they’ve got one or more Jobs, and they do those jobs, and their investment is largely in getting through a job without fucking dying. (I’m running a pretty gritty game.) But they haven’t really thought beyond the next paycheck at all.

So, like, yeah. It’s a void that needs filled but I’m not sure it’s especially fruitful. It is when there are tools to help the players decide what to chase, but it’s just kind of a point of frustration when there aren’t. We’re still talking through, every session, what to do about that.

On the crew characterization front, I think they’ve settled on “constantly bickering” as their “essential nature.” When they got their new ship from the Nightspeakers, Enigma, they changed their reputation from “professional” to “daring.” That was a fun change, and it’s more fun for them to chase.

Other than the factions coming into focus, the other really satisfying part about running S&V is that I feel like I’ve really nailed down the whole action roll transaction: consequences are getting easy to call out, describing greater and lesser outcomes is getting easier as well (or just not really having anything, but saying so out loud so they don’t spend time and energy deciding whether to shift position or push for effect). Stras I think has sold me on the utility and overall goodness of the Blades way! And I think the players appreciate having some choices to make each time they roll.

We’re still discovering weird little wrinkles in the rules! Did you know you can push to increase effect? I didn’t, not until we stumbled across it in the rulebook. That rule doesn’t appear anywhere on the rules reference sheets. Also, maybe, you can push to ignore an injury effect…but I’m not actually sure. That’s an implication from the Muscle playbook’s “flesh wound” move, which says it only costs 1 stress to ignore wound penalties instead of 2. For the life of me I cannot find a rule about pushing to ignore wounds anywhere, like, at all. There’s kind of an oblique reference in “Stress & Trauma” in the rulebook but all it says is “take action when you’re incapacitated.” Is incapacitation any level of harm? Or just the top-tier “need help” level? Dunno. I mean the probable answer is that “ignore wound penalties” is synonymous with “incapacitated.” Seems like a small thing that slipped past editing, is all.

So yeah, game is still cool, it’s building momentum, and I’m looking forward to seeing it through to the end.

Gaia Project

Every time I play this I love it even more.

Got to play a full four-player game of it on Sunday, and got to teach it to a couple new players. The 14 year old got pretty frustrated with the scoring arc, though, since he had built what appeared to be an insurmountable lead using a pretty common scoring combo (build a federation and take the 12VP token, build a QIC generating engine, and keep scoring that 12VPs every turn) but ended up close to dead last when the real scoring takes place, way at the end.

I ended up within 5 points of first place, and the actual swing took place on the very last play of the very last round, with a vast, sprawling federation formed using like 10 power to buy a galaxy-wide satellite network. I was sure I’d buttoned it up but…no.

This is, not surprisingly, totally what happens to me when I play Terra Mystica as well. I’ve been playing TM on BGA with a few friends because I thought playing Gaia Project would give me more insight and training, but no. I still can’t play TM to save my life.

There’s just something that clicks for me in Gaia Project that doesn’t click in Terra Mystica. I think it’s a more straightforward metaphor, personally. I can eyeball the map better, I like that there are actual tech tracks you’re improving (rather than improving your relationship to the four elemental gods in TM and getting random goodies), I like how the individual technologies work. It’s got so many quality-of-life improvements.