Heaven help me but I’ve started reading through Numenera.

Heaven help me but I’ve started reading through Numenera.

It’s…interesting. Elaborate, gorgeous artwork of course. Really interesting setting. A functional and interesting reward cycle that sort of combines PbtA-style GM moves (called GM Intrusions) and peer rewards/fan mail: when the GM wants to inject a complication (no GM rolling!), the target player gets an XP and then can also give an XP to another player. Or they can reject the Intrusion and lose an XP. No idea what the flow is but this doesn’t sound grossly punitive.

Characters themselves start out as a neat little formulation that reminds me of 13th Age: “I am a [adjective][noun] who [verbs].” The noun is your Type (there are 3), the verb is your Focus (there are 29), and the adjective is your Descriptor (there are 12).

But you know what jumps out at me once again? It’s like…I don’t know…it’s like trad-rooted game designers never saw a premise they actually liked. A reason for play. A driving motivation.

Numenera feels an awful lot like Exalted that way: here’s this amazing setting, truly amazing. Here are these evocative character classes brimming with cool effects. Here are some weird locations. Yes but what do you doooooo?

“Well now you plan an RPG, like you do, dummy,” says the trad player. Which I suppose is true. Chase XPs, search for treasure (which is ostensibly Numenera’s default answer to “what do you do?” but…why?), grind, level up, repeat.

And I get it. I do. There are so many perfectly functional, good gamemasters out there who absolutely do not want someone else’s premise intruding on their thing. Give me a system that doesn’t actively suck, some hot art to get the juices going, lots of character customization, and a wide-open setting with little bits of description. Keep your motherloving hands off my story!

Doesn’t it get exhausting? All that…staring at character combos and setting details and building these one-off bespoke storylines? I mean I suppose it doesn’t, not by a long shot: MCG sells plenty of games. There are plenty of prewritten adventures. I guess I’m naive in my ongoing, decade-long bafflement at how it is something as simple and focused as a premise hasn’t been grabbed by The Roleplaying Community as essential technology. Bafflement at all those gamemasters out there who actively seek this out. I can’t believe they just don’t know there are other ways to do this.

Weird rant, I know. I know! But Numenera I think has promise on the system level (Cypher seems like it works okay, and I can’t wait ’til my kid is old enough to really engage with No Thank You, Evil!, the juvenile version) and somewhere buried in there is, I’m sure, the faintest outline of an actual premise. I’m guessing it becomes pretty clear during character creation, which throws a lot of flags and ideas out there.

Would play! Maybe! I’d need to be in a place where dreaming up branching-path material, week after week, was something I wanted to do.

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0 thoughts on “Heaven help me but I’ve started reading through Numenera.”

  1. Cool review! And a very interesting tangent about the game providing a built-in reason to do something, a pre-defined threat/goal (as opposed to a sandbox).

    I suppose that’s where the cleave happens between a lot of broad v. focused games; does the game give you an (in-world) objective, or does it present you with a playground and expect you to make your own objective.

  2. God, I can’t get over the “find cyphers!” thing as your normal mode of operation. Give me a why, even if it’s weak.

    Into The Odd, which is a fantastic game, has the same problem – “find arcana”. Um okay… No?

    I like the Cypher System, but hate how much reading is necessary for character creation.

  3. So in pbta, the premise is built into the relationship map and moves. In Mutant Year Zero its built into the starting situation of the arc, the threat cards and the metaplot. Then there’s Burning Wheel which has the starting situation questionaire, and good enough ‘theme?’ to keep it on track with low prep.

    Is an ‘end’ necessary for a good premise? It’s one of my favorite things with pbta games. How moves advance and various retirement options sort of push the game to a conclusion. M:Y0 has an end built in, that makes me breath easier when starting it.

    Does the premise have to enable low prep load? It’s def a highlight in my book… But if its helping out with prep work it has to be a bit more mechanical than a basic narrative premise right? Technically shadowrun is all about running jobs for shady Mr. Johnson, but the game doesn’t equip you with many tools between jobs. It’s usually up to the GM to get their hands dirty.

    Anyone have any other examples of games with good premises that you enjoyed running?

  4. I thought you were supposed to explore the setting, dig up clues /ciphers from the world’s past and use that to make some kind difference in the present.

    Granted, I’ve only read it and I haven’t played it yet. But it seemed like the points of light campaigns from way back.

  5. I hear you. I think perhaps it’s that what factions or political groups there are in the setting don’t really jump out, so the setting feels like quite a static place… there’s a vastness and wonder to it but it’s not exactly developing. A few agenda-following groups the PCs could rub up against would fix this, I reckon.

  6. Interesting to read this post, as when building trad games I come from a similar school of design as Monte Cook.  In fact I’ve often said that the closest thing to DayTrippers out there is MCG’s The Strange, both in core conceits and mechanics, and I think I lot of the same judgments you make above could be leveled at both games.  When playing in “Auteur GM Mode” (yes that’s a word I proudly and literally use), the DayTrippers GM is supported by a shit-tonne of randomizers and a loose narrative template, but ultimately shoulders the same types of challenges.  It’s a school of design-thought thing, I suppose.  The idea that the world is not only a blank slate, but YOUR blank slate.  Monte and I are also about the same age and we both worked for Iron Crown at one time.  There’s a thread in there somewhere.

  7. “A functional and interesting reward cycle that sort of combines PbtA-style GM moves (called GM Intrusions) and peer rewards/fan mail: when the GM wants to inject a complication (no GM rolling!), the target player gets an XP and then can also give an XP to another player. Or they can reject the Intrusion and lose an XP. No idea what the flow is but this doesn’t sound grossly punitive.”

    It works very well in play. I usually accept intrusions because saying no is boring. It’s a really fun system to play.

  8. Wow, your take is fascinating to me. I have a small fraction of your gaming experience but I like the mechanics of Numenera (Cypher System) way more than the setting, which is not my jam at all. But I know so many people love it and it gets their creative juices going, which is great.

  9. I’ve played a lot of Cypher one shots now, and the PCs are all pretty hollow. The mechanics focus entirely on powers, and in the games I’ve been in, intrusions have come up fairly rarely. I can’t really say I’ve created a character that I care about yet, which I suppose isn’t something I can say of all one-shots with other RPGs.

    I’m enjoying the games and the people who GM, so it’s not that either. Maybe I just either need to run it or play in a campaign.

    One really good thing about the system is that it accommodates large tables fairly well. The wheels don’t start falling off as they do with Fate and PbtA games if you have more than five players.

    As far as Numenera and The Strange’s respective settings go, they are pretty derivative – but still lack depth. Gene Wolfe + Roadside Picnic, for one; ever other planar game you’ve played already, plus Torg for the other. Not bad influences, mind you, and everybody appropriates the Strugatskys right and left now (their survivors live in another country FFS, so no legal worries), but even so…

  10. Eloy Cintron that post just restated the book. Nothing new there!

    It might be that you’re keying into the “no xp for killing” thing, which is both hilarious and dismaying that it needs to be restated and then apologized for.

  11. This is really interesting – I have not actually read the rulebook, so I didn’t know that Cook apologized for not giving XP for killing. Our GM just told us how the XP system works and I didn’t blink – seemed like a good system to me.

  12. Noah Tucker I’m indulging in some licence here. My reading of all the “xps for exploring, not for killing” talk is Monte defining his thing by the negative space. It’s “no character classes! Know no limit!” once again, the cross trad designers have to bear when they want D&D players to buy their stuff.

  13. Paul, Into the Odd is a lot like a lighter version of Cypher. It doesn’t fix any of the problems you have, but it might be worth reading if you want a respite.

  14. “This means, of course, that some groups might choose to have in-game xp earnings usable only for gameplay uses, and discovery points, awarded between sessions usable only for long-term character advancement.” I think is the relevant passage. He states that he doesn’t personally like that (of course, that’s why it’s not the official rule). Might be trivial. As I said, I’ve read that it is a popular complaint. I have no play experience with the system to confirm or deny, just a read through some time ago. 🙂

  15. Eloy Cintron​ oh, right, I think he’s just describing various philosophies of spending xps under the existing schema. If he is recommending something off-book it’s so subtle I can’t sense it.

  16. Aaron Griffin agreed re all the reading, which is a shame because I think the word word that words formula is supposed to be quick. They even make the claim in the text. But then it’s crunchy as all get-out and surely he’s not asking players to ignore the crunch.

  17. Paul Beakley haha. It’s a touchy point! Think about it from a trad perspective. I can do cool stuff in game if I use these points! But wait! If I do I can’t level up!?!?!? It just takes the decision of if and when to use your XP away from the players. Now the player doesn’t have to agonize over the decision. Might even speed up play and promote spending the expendable points. That should promote a more high action game. Dunno.

  18. Eloy Cintron oh yeah, heck, even I hate economies that require you forego advancement for immediate benefit. It’s an uninteresting decision to me. Like, I can’t imagine anyone I regularly play with actually spending an xp to reroll. Oh hell no.

    I’ve never seen it executed well, or of any interest to anyone I play with. Presumably similar benefits are buried in the cyphers and then it’s a moot point.

  19. My group spent quite a few XP on rerolls last time we played. Only when pushed up against the wall, though. Like the alternative was likely death or similar.

  20. That sounds roughly like my impressions from a short campaign (roughly 6ish sessions). I kept feeling like it was D&D dressed up in an indie costume–even the three classes are thinly-disguised Warrior/Rogue/Mage, three old D&D archetypes.

    A problem I had with intrusions was that, well, they’re a bit intrusive. They’re not like PbtA hard moves in that they don’t respond to anything. They can be arbitrarily dropped out of nowhere. (So in that regard, they’re closer to generic Fate compels.)

    I also thought the d20-ized GUMSHOE mechanics were…kinda cute, but unnecessarily complicated. Especially when it came down to setting a difficulty, where you have the GM giving you a difficulty number from 1 to 10, then you have to multiply that by 3 to get the REAL difficulty number.

    I will add that I absolutely loved the effects of the little magic items Cyphers.

  21. FWIW, with regards to premise, I’ve always thought of Numenera as New Sun-flavored, gimmicky-new-ruleset D&D-like. Ruin-crawling, artifact-scavenging and murderhoboing in the far future.

    But then my tastes run strongly towards the trad end of the spectrum, and I’m always kind of iffy on focused-premise games. So could be my biases talking. When all you have is a hammer…

  22. I like the idea of the XP economy, but I tend to be hard over into not consuming something that will lead to long term advancement, so wouldn’t end up using it on rerolls unless it was incredibly dire. (Basing this on how I play games with expensive/hard to get consumables.)

  23. Timothy Stanbrough No, why would people be engaged with a game they spend hundreds of dollars on?

    Oh, wait, it is literallly a numerical representation of their engagement

  24. Might be time to define “engagement.”

    I mean it’s widely understood that folks spend money, maybe lots of money, on games they don’t actually play. I’ve seen many speculations as to just how big the non-playing market actually is.

  25. Thought — when the GM is expected to do the vast bulk of the story generation, even based on flags the players give them, system-driven premises can get in the way, and players mostly need to know what carrots and sticks look like.

    When multiple people are expected to be driving the story, knowing the premise and having it supported by the system is an important tool for getting everyone on the same page. See Fate or Spark’s campaign creation rules.

    So — when one person, or maybe two people are doing the tale crafting, individual skill matters most — and that’s highly idiosyncratic.

    It’s only when you need to herd a bunch of cats that making this stuff explicit to the whole group helps.

  26. Paul Beakley I have a friend who planned a campaign as a series of transitions through his favorite games he hasn’t played yet…. The initial list was something like 20 games. (It was a kind of Elric concept, with the same characters being ported from game to game. Bogged down on being too much work, but fun to try.)

  27. The weak premise and character is also a big complaint about many infocom-style text adventures. Your character has to want to learn things, solve puzzles, and collect stuff. You the player apply the puzzle-solving skill, and have to recognize the carrots and sticks — “there’s more stuff that you may need for your puzzles over here” and “this area is locked off until something big changes — watch for the cue.”

  28. Heck, we supposedly have a hard rule of “only buy games we’re actually playing, and give away games we’re no longer playing,” and uh…. We still have several we’ve never played and more that we probably won’t play again. (Physical; we give ebooks/pdfs more slack because they are easier to lug around.) Most of the “keepers” are because they’re nice as artifacts or have sentimental value.

  29. But doesn’t a system-driven premise mean the GM is not expected to do the bulk of story generation? Can you give an example of system driven premise that got in the way?

  30. Aaron Berger
    — literally all the best and worst times I’ve ever had in a Vampire the Masquerade game can be directly linked to how well my understanding of the metaplot and premise matches the GM’s.

    This only came out as I began to identify the assumptions of the different game lines — if my GM is secretly a big Mage fan and I happen to design my vampire to explore issues of enlightenment and consensus, it will rock. If I’m looking at the human/technological themes in Hunters or Orpheus and the GM thinks it’s all about the politics of elder vampires? Disaster in the making.

    Most D&Dish games have very weak premises written in, and that can leave a big blank. Storyteller games, especially the older ones, tend to have a surfeit of competing premises and that can lead to confusion and disagreement.

  31. Oh man. Buying games that I don’t play is my life. I play maybe 4-5 on shots a year at a con. But boy do I read and enjoy games. But I don’t think I would define that as engaging with the rules.

  32. Shervyn von Hoerl

    There’s a kind of thing I really like in RPG texts where it’s a story of a world, with detail and description of how it feels to be in that world. There’s very few novels that do that as intensely, and none that do it as purely.

    That’s a reason I read RPGs that I don’t get to play — is your reason similar?

  33. Dude, “Yes but what do you doooooo?” was one of my issues with Coriolis.

    Sure, lots of people spend lots of money on games where the premise is “You play D&D.” I dunno if that means it’s the prefect design choice for everything, but sure, to each their own.

    For me, the above is an important question. Sure, cool settings are great — and I feel cool settings are Monte’s primary skill — but most of them are not cool enough to me that they’re worth spending money on if that’s all that the game offers.

    I dunno. I guess I’m pretty much plussing the OP real hard. If there’s no premise, then I’d prefer the game had no setting either, e.g., I’m happy to play with GURPS or HERO tinker toys and come up with my own “where” and “why”.

  34. Paul Beakley Your point, if I understand it, is that the 24.5 million dollars poured into traditional games are really just people not playing? And that somehow, the other 500,000$ is a bunch of engaged indy gamers?

    Maybe you are right, i can’t know across the country. But I play traditional games 4 times a week. There are multiple sessions of traditional games at my game shop. and the ORR report, which tracks actual people playing actual games has. . . let’s see: http://blog.roll20.net/post/143493281735/the-orr-group-industry-report-q1-2016

    Literally 36,213 confirmed traditional games with 86,367 actual human bodies, just playing online, in a 90 day period. That’s 1069 games a day.

    Let’s look deeper and assume that if every single one of the games in the other category were non-trad games (and I think that’s a completely unreasonable assumption), that’s still only less than 20% playing indy games. And that’s only tracking people playing roll20. And I’m pretty certain a significant portion of “other” is actually traditional games.

    So, yes, in conclusion, I’d say that the vast majority of people spending money and being tracked playing are actually playing traditional games.

    Or is the data of people actually playing games not representative of engagement either?

  35. Paul Beakley as an aside, not I, nor no one I know personally has ever spent money on a game we didn’t immediately play.

    I think if you’re buying games and not playing them, that’s sort of the definition of an unengaged player.

  36. Rerailing: Paul Beakley​ how far are you into your Numenera cheat sheet? I’d like to see if it meshes with my one and only brief read of the system.

  37. Paul Beakley, to un-derail in my experience, and the 100 or so people rotating through my open tables during my weekly games, we are all well aware of the idea of a premise. We all know there’s another way to do this.

    I think there are very good, very clear, very understandable reasons why tens of thousands of people don’t play games with a premise.

    What I’m confused by is why you think we should.

  38. Courtney Campbell​ I’m having a very hard time following your argument/logic. Can you start from the top, please? I can clarify your questions from a few posts up.

    1. My point re $$$ =/= engagement is just that. We don’t have AP cops ensuring that games on shelves are getting played.

    I make no claims at all about indie game sales and play but I’d say exactly the same thing: there’s just no way to know. Anecdotes from this very thread, though, point at lots of unplayed copies of games in circulation. Same as trad games.

    2. I have no idea what point you’re trying to make re # of plays per week. People are using online tools to play games? Yes? Or using logging tools to track plays or whatever?

    I’m pretty sure # of plays of all kinds of games are radically underreported.

    So back to point 1, and really my only thought about money spent: probably it’s proportional, you know? If say 50% of every game bought is getting played, and 80% of the market is trad games, then yeah, that’s a bigger piece of the Actual Play pie. I’m…not sure anyone here is arguing against that.

    Which is why I’m asking you to restate whatever case you’re trying to make. Nobody is disagreeing as far as I can tell.

    Other than your assertion that everyone who buys a game plays it. That’s ridiculous, and I think you’re probably the only person in this thread for whom that is true. I’m not sure why you’d argue otherwise or why you seem invested in a different answer.

  39. Courtney Campbell​ re your most recent post: I feel like you’re being defensive about something I didn’t actually say. I agree, and said so, that there are many many players for whom this is a totally functional mode of play. I’m agreeing so hard!

    You may be new to my collection so you may need to get used to what I post and why I post it. But to be explicit, I don’t ever, not ever, slag anyone for the games they play or why they play them. I guess I’d ask you to re-read my OP charitably and not in attack mode.

  40. Sure.
    . I guess I’m naive in my ongoing, decade-long bafflement at how it is something as simple and focused as a premise hasn’t been grabbed by The Roleplaying Community as essential technology. Bafflement at all those gamemasters out there who actively seek this out. I can’t believe they just don’t know there are other ways to do this .

    This assumption is flawed. It presents traditional game masters and players as ignorant of premise designed games. That is, imho an absurd viewpoint, considering I interact with lots of gamers on a regular basis, and I don’t know any people with gaming as a hobby who aren’t aware—fully aware—of indy and premise focused games.

    So why do you have your flawed assumption?

    1 & 2) Anecdotes don’t matter. How many people play games matter. There are no non-traditional games being played at any of the 3 local game shops. They have them for sale. Looking in places where people play games and those games are tracked give you numbers. This is the data to which we draw assumptions from.

    Going, “Whelp! We’ll never know.” When you’re presented with a count is very strange to me. We know that the count isn’t true, and it is vastly underreported, but with indy games only capturing 2% of the sale market, and the data given, the viewpoint that they are somehow more players that are more engaged in indy games, seems off to me.

    You don’t have to say “we don’t have data.” e.g. ” _ then yeah, that’s a bigger piece of the Actual Play pie._ ” is you know, engagement means people excited about playing right? Playing games? If I’m looking where people are engaged with gaming, it’s Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Pathfinder.

    I don’t understand the reasoning that says that the majority of people playing the majority of games aren’t engaged. Aren’t they? Isn’t that clear, from, well, all the information we have? Why when this is mentioned do you respond by trying to minimize it? (” I mean it’s widely understood that folks spend money, maybe lots of money, on games they don’t actually play. “)

    That strikes me as someone who has a worldview and is trying to dismiss evidence that causes cognitive dissonance, which follows right on the heels of calling the majority of players ignorant.

    3) I don’t know anyone who makes enough money that they can waste it on something they don’t use.

    There’s two parts to this. One is nobody has money to waste in this economy. So I’m spending money on the hobbies I spend doing. The idea that you would spend money just to have a book sit on a shelf, well, that is maybe a life without children? I wouldn’t buy a 59.99 RPG book that I won’t play, because I’d rather buy my daughter something she needs. So the idea that people out there are buying games they aren’t playing strikes me as, I don’t know, posturing themselves as idle rich?

    Secondly, if you aren’t playing the games, then why? I mean, there are lots of excuses to not play, but somehow, there’s like 3,000 people sitting down every day to play traditional games. If you’re rich enough to buy things you aren’t going to use the crap out of, why do you turn around and say that people who are using the crap out of them don’t know what they are doing, because they don’t know there’s a “better” option.

    If the same isn’t true of focused/premise games, then perhaps there’s a reason for that beyond ‘they must be ignorant’ (as in they lack knowledge).

    The real question here that I see this being about is:

    A) Why do you assume people playing traditional games are ignorant.
    B) Why aren’t you playing more often? (I don’t want an excuse, I mean, I personally don’t care. But as someone who plays all the time and has large groups of excited engaged players, I’m confused about why you might not.)
    C)If premise were a better option, why wouldn’t it be more successful? (I can explain why the gamers I game with don’t like them and don’t use them.)

    Paul Beakley I run 3e shadowrun over hangouts alternate tuesdays and friday nights (CST) (30 players, 3-5 usually) and Perdition, a 3rd wave clone Saturday morning over hangouts 10am CST (100 players, 8-9 attending usually). You are welcome to come and play both games, they are open tables. If you’re in the XNA area, you can come to my sunday IRL game of Perdition or 5e, depending on who’s running (3-6 players). All groups are mixed-gender/mixed-race. All are welcome.

    You, or anyone else who is curious is welcome to join.

  41. Okay, “I can’t believe” is the hangup it sounds like.

    A clearer and hopefully more assertively positive phrase should have been “I refuse to believe…” as in, I know folks are exposed to these other methods. English, such a treat when you lose inflection and tone.

    The rest of my post follows from my acknowledgement that ignorance is not at work.

    I’m not sure what’s up with the rest of your reply but I promise, promise nobody is attacking anybody. If you feel attacked, that’s on you.

    If you feel a powerful need to downplay indie game sales and play volume, I agree 100% that trad has won, is winning and will always win. Beyond that…honestly, I don’t understand your point at all.

    Pro tip though: walls of text do not make your case stronger. Can you state it as a sentence?

  42. Ok, walls of text aside, I do understand Courtney’s position.  I’m filtering out the tone and emotions in both of your comments because that’s not data.  But I am still left with data.  The topic of premiseless games is just like the topic of +1 sharing: I personally like it, though I understand why others don’t.  I can comfortably go either way, as can many other people.  There’s nothing to fight over.  Democracy is about differences, yeah?

  43. As If I’m not saying anyone “shouldn’t” like or dislike anything at all. If that for injected into this thread that was not my intent at all. Also I don’t believe it.

    Maybe I need to post my bona fides, about running and playing games since 1980 across I think every kind and school of game design?

  44. Just trying to chill things down a bit, Paul.  Sometimes people get their backs up because things have been contentious and divisory in their past, and they project the anticipation of similar arguments into the present.  But there is no “should” anywhere – neither in my reading of your post, nor in reality.  I wouldn’t mind reading your bona fides, actually, but in the long run I think I’d prefer to read about your experiences with specific game systems.

  45. Re: the topic of premiseless gaming, I think some people like having a tuned sandbox (which this is an example of, or something like Ars Magica: highly flavorful but without a lot of “and now you do this”; you’re expected to come up with that on your own) and some like it more generic (see HERO and GURPS) and some have a lot of baked in plot (games with a lot of meta and faction like Vampire). I tend to think of modules as a way to add premise and impetus to the first kind, seed stories for GMs who don’t want to build it out of whole cloth. I feel like HERO and GURPS tended to release source books to reflect how people who use universal systems are looking more for toolkits to add to their stories, rather than the story itself. Splatbooks for Vampire etc. usually enhance the story as well as add history and mechanics to the game.

    Though there are definitely fusions of this…. For instance the Spinward Marches source material in Traveller, which let campaigns hook onto an overarching metaplot (which had the lovely structure of advancing in time) even though you can play it as more of a sandbox game if you just use the base game.

    So maybe the “What do you do” is up to the group in the base material, with supplements for maps for those groups who don’t want to whole cloth it. (There are definitely some brilliant modules out there, so it’d be a fine tradition to follow.) Since this is a newer game, there might simply not be as much supplement support yet, or perhaps its core audience doesn’t mind constructing the premise. I definitely know GMs who wouldn’t touch Ars with a ten foot pole (“too fiddly, too much work”) and some who took to it like a duck too water.

  46. Gretchen S.​ Damn that’s a good breakdown. Seems like there’s a continuum between “do anything” in some games, “do one of these N things” in others, and “do a specific thing” in others.

    I’m also really curious about the divide between “GM decides what you do” and “players decide what they do”. I think each can apply to the above… Well maybe “do a specific thing” is decided by the designer, not the GM.

  47. Being a strictly trad gamer and iffy on games with super-focused premises, I wonder where games like (old school, TSR/OSR) D&D and (Classic/Mongoose) Traveller sit on this spectrum? Though they are fairly open at first glance, the rule sets often imply premise. D&D goes on and on with rules about exploring underground complexes, opening dungeon doors, checking for traps and rolling for random encounters and surprise and reaction. Traveller goes into detail about starship mortgages and arbitrage trading.

    Compare with, say, Rifts — which just gives you character creation, setting, monsters and assumes you’ll manage to order all of it into a coherent game.

  48. That’s a good point too, Gustavo Iglesias Those games definitely have an implied “this is what you do.” Like giving XP for gold pieces. Took me a long time to understand why some of those games seemed to break when I wanted to drift play away from those implied game objectives.

    That’s one of the reasons that I enjoy these discussions breaking down games and exploring the inner workings

  49. My Sweetie loves to take games with an implicit premise and make the mechanics a sensible part of the game world fiction…. Think Order of the Stick and Erfworld, as campaigns, though with a lot less of the meta awareness and fourth wall breaking. So his D&D can have a very different feel from say RPGA’s flavor, or from the D&D run by a more story game oriented friend of ours. (All fun, but with very different emphasis.) People seem to gravitate to games that are rich in tools that they don’t enjoy building but still enjoy using, and it’s okay by them if that game lacks system support for the parts they enjoy building, because half the time they scrap those parts and build fresh anyhow.

  50. Paul Beakley come on, I give you an honest and clear reply, and you don’t address a single point because it’s too much to read?

    A) Why do you assume people playing traditional games are ignorant.
    B) Why aren’t you playing more often? (I don’t want an excuse, I mean, I personally don’t care. But as someone who plays all the time and has large groups of excited engaged players, I’m confused about why you might not.)
    C)If premise were a better option, why wouldn’t it be more successful? (I can explain why the gamers I game with don’t like them and don’t use them.)http://icv2.com/articles/markets/view/32102/hobby-games-market-climbs-880-million

  51. Gretchen S. Reading your comments, I remember a tidbit I read somewhere. Some designers make games around a weakness in their GM style. Vincent Baker said he made ‘dogs in the vineyard’ to help teach him how to make NPCs stand their ground.

    This of course is not a universal approach to design, but it might explain the different emphasis. If you have never struggled with setting up premises then you might not think to hardcode it into your rules.

    I think also if you’re in the habit from jumping from system to system, its understandable to be looking for the best premise to get things moving at the table fast. Though not all premises cut down on prep time. I imagine that TOR while having a good premise, and supplements to help, still took some work to bring to the table. Or maybe not idk.

  52. Aaron Berger Oh, that’s interesting…. I quite admire building a game to work on a weakness.

    I definitely think that some games are built to provide support for whatever the hard parts are…. The designer doesn’t always build apparatus for the parts they find effortless. I think that can be off-putting for people who don’t find those bits effortless.

    Since we aren’t usually wedded to RAW we do tend to remix if we hit a snag, but that’s not without effort either.

    Admittedly, these days we’re all about the low prep. That’s better for the kind of squeezed scheduling we get playing with our busy friends. Luckily, there’s a wealth of low prep in every style imaginable. We used to do super detailed games, and heck, built databases to support some of them (super useful in a shared world with multiple campaigns and GMs) but now we like less work.

  53. Gretchen S. I was just posting elsewhere that my inability at prep led me to develop a peculiar adventure creation process that hinges on improvising the first few sessions and developing the implications of such improvised content between each session.

    But from a design viewpoint I have been finding the profusion if random scenario generation tools within the OSR very handy. I am particularly fond of Sine Nomine Publishing (Stars Without Number, Red Tide, Silent Legions, Godbound) material.

  54. Hey Paul, did I tell you I played 4-5 sessions of Numenera a few years ago? I agree with everything you say above, except I thought the actual mechanics were more clever than helpful. And crazy whiff-tastic.

  55. Gustavo Iglesias I like those tools as well! The Sine Nomine stuff is solid. That same thing shows up in Mutant: Year Zero as well, through the intersection of ark threats and zone threats. And there’s a campaign and a fairly narrow premise!

  56. Matt Wilson I didn’t know that!

    The whiffing surprises me, I guess because Cook says otherwise. Probably he thinks the xp-for-reroll thing patches it up.

    Totally believe you re clever vs helpful. Quite a few games do that, I think. So many reasons to develop a house system and more often than not it’s not because it’s a good system.

  57. Gustavo Iglesias​ Those tools are really rich! I think random generation can be a great way to get seed ideas, and they take a lot of work out of generating plot.

    For modern settings we’ve had luck grabbing items out of a newspaper for seed ideas.

  58. I intimated above that I like both sorts of games (premised and premiseless).  That distinction led down a trail of “trad” vs “modern”, but I think that’s kind of a false division.  I think what I’m really talking about is more like “campaign play vs quick play”.  For the time-limited, one-shot or quick play scenario, premises are invaluable, because, you know, time.

    But for campaign play, I prefer to let premises arise organically, and I think this is the expectation of designers like Monte Cook as well.  I think this can be seen most easily in old-school “trad” games like AD&D and Iron Crown products.  Campaign play invites taking a “modular” approach to worldbuilding.  In such a case, it behooves the GM (and the designer) to simply let the mechanics be the mechanics (i.e. premiseless rulebooks). 

    Like with DayTrippers and the MCG games in question, the designer assumes that settings and premises will come from a combination of Modules and GM Prep.  So the rules can just be the rules, and then the GM pulls a world together that suits their style and their players’ interests – some modules and some prep – and that’s where individual premises can be found.

  59. I feel like, as I read Numenera a little more closely, there’s probably adequate seeding of leads and ideas about how to direct a campaign buried in character creation. You still have to put in the work! But it’s probably not as hard as I remember Exalted being: lots of awesome powers but no implied fiction attached to any of it.

  60. Agreed.  For both me and Monte Cook, the rulebooks may be “premiseless” but they still do contain lots of little details which may lead to premises for players to whom they appeal.

  61. Paul Beakley I’m no Exalted expert but I think there’s something of an implied premise in the setting, with the Realm crumbling from the inside, Immaculate Order hit squads going after the PCs, the Wyld and the Deathlords closing in and the world being a mess in general.

    Where Exalted falters in this regard, as far as I can tell, is (1) in lacking subsystems for the PCs to actually fix Creation, and (2) arguably in populating Creation with bigshot antagonists most PC circles might not be realistically able to take down (though I admit challenging demigod PCs means walking a fine line).

  62. Gretchen S. i know, right? I collect Sine Nomine games I don’t necessarily play just so I can use the sandbox generation tools with the ones I do — SWN with Traveller, Silent Legions with CoC and CoD.

  63. Gustavo Iglesias​ That’s a good idea! Heh, Sweetie sometimes does tarot readings for plot ideas, but that’s way more concrete and offers better detail.

    As If​​ I do find that games meant for long form campaigns read differently from games intended for shorter campaigns and one shots. Especially if the game is intended to be one where there will be many campaigns. Modules are often written in such a way that they can be tuned to drop into an existing campaign.

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