Friday, October 31, 2014

The Intersection of Ingress

So aside from having a baby in September - which actually made August extremely busy as we bought things, cleaned the house, and had various appointments and whatnot - in July I started playing Ingress.

I really should say no more.

Those Control Fields don't just create themselves

I'm not sure which G+'er got me onto this hamster wheel, but whoever it was they are totally to blame. It might have been +Topher Gerkey or +Eric Franklin. I blame both, even if they don't play Ingress.

So far it has been a fun, and time consuming, ride. But unlike say running an rpg or writing about rpgs, Ingress fits in with the new lifestyle of having a baby. It's keeping me active (I've lost over 20 lbs), and honestly if I'm sitting down and I'm not at work, I will fall asleep. Guaranteed. It also has lead me to have a better understanding of my home town and surrounding area. I know where everything is around here now.

I am finally finding myself slowing down a little bit though. Ingress hasn't lost it's shine, although honestly the badge requirements for levelling make it seem unlikely I'll ever get beyond level 12 or so anytime in the near future. I'm not going to retire per se from playing Ingress, but as newer players level up in my area and step up to take on the mantle of squashing toad portals every chance they get it allows me to turn my sights on to bigger things. Ops, large fields, exploring interesting new places. I'm going to get a mountain bike and hopefully a rack for it, and become one of those bike Ingressers pedalling along the multitude of trails that criss cross the foothills and mountains around me. I can see those portals lurking up there in the mountains, and I want to find them and hack them.

Finally, aside from taking time away from my roleplaying activities, blogging, etc., I think my time playing Ingress has been extremely worth it. I've made some great new friends and become part of the awesome Resistance team down here in south Orange County. In many ways, the community is a lot like the tabletop community. There are really interesting people, a few jerkstores, and overall a bunch of cool folk. The cost of some extra gas money and wear and tear on my car has been totally worth it for the experiences.

Tomorrow is Ingress First Saturday, and our event is in Irvine. I'll be there, so if you're local and play or are just curious, be sure to swing on by.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where Have I Been?

It's been a pretty long time. For the past month and a half or so I've been kind of absent from Google+, gaming forums, and other type activities.

I announced a number of months back that we are having a baby, who is due any day now. Preparations for the baby and a few other changes prompted some lifestyle changes for me. I'm a lot more active now, walking at least a couple miles a day. I'm going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, and just a lot busier in general.  +Ingress is definitely a contributing factor there - but many of the changes to my routine came about naturally, with Ingress just coming along for the ride (often literally).

I'm 44, which means when my newborn son turns 18 I'll be 62. Combine the realization that I need to take better care of myself for him with the natural instinct to want to get things in order with a new baby coming - lots of cleaning, fixing things up, putting things together, etc. - and I've had a lot less time for gaming-related activities. The downside is less time spent on rpgs and related activities. I even have Watchdogs and Thief- which I got for my birthday over a month ago - that I haven't even started playing yet. The upside is that once the baby is born and everything is in order - family-wise, physically, and even to some degree mentally - I'm going to be coming back full force.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Blog Post Sharing Is Needy And Unjustified

Nearly everyone who writes blog posts wants those posts to be read by somebody. Otherwise, we wouldn't write blog posts at all and instead would sit on a bus bench scribbling in notebooks, with the occasional outburst of barely stifled laughter.

Because of this, it's a pretty common practice to share blog posts on social media, push the posts to feeds, and generally promote the blog. It's all fine and dandy to say that an interesting blog will attract eyeballs on its own merit, but in practice that's not how it works. My experience may be atypical, but there's two things that are guaranteed to help out with making sure that at least a few people who might be interested in the subject see the post: post regularly (because then people will at least look to see if there are posts on a semi-regular basis) and share the posts.

On Google+, at least in roleplaying circles, there have been calls to not blast a new blog post to every community. There's some overlap in community membership, and people wind up seeing the same post take over their feed. Lots of us have been guilty of this in the past, and I for one have heeded the requests of various owners and moderators to keep it to a dull roar. I tend to pick a couple communities that the post might be relevant to or might be conducive to a discussion on the topic. One of those communities is Pen & Paper RPG Bloggers, which is dedicated strictly to blogging and blog updates. That means I might choose one or two more - typically, it's the G+ Tabletop Roleplayers Community and that's it, because it's the largest and one of the most active. If it's Fate related, I might post it to Fate Core. If it's worldbuilding, then Worldbuilding or maybe a map community. Kicksnarker for...well, we all know what Kicksnarker is for.

This seems to be working for the majority. I can attempt to get the post seen by people who might be interested, moderators aren't inundated with posts that have little or no relevance, and readers don't find their entire stream covered with the same post over and over. Everybody's happy.

Then, there's this guy.

I see he hasn't appeared on +Top Elf 's Nice list yet...I wonder why
That was a comment on my post to one of three communities I shared this post with (including the aforementioned community that is just for blogging). I responded in kind in the thread, at which point I was told that the mere act of sharing of the post comes across as "needy", and that he is apparently the self-appointed czar of blog content quality and worthiness of promotion.

I really - I mean really - have to resist the urge in tagging him in every blog post I ever write. He's entitled to his opinion. Just as I'm entitled to keep doing exactly what I've been doing: writing posts when the mood or inspiration strikes me, on whatever I want to write about, and sharing those posts in a manner that I think will encourage interested readers. Even if that includes a lengthy post to complain about some dude complaining about posts being spam.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We Are All Game Designers

This is actually due to some some philosophizing I've been doing lately.

Every one of us who are involved in the roleplaying hobby are game designers. Sure, it comes in matters of degree - some players never get much more involved than creating their characters, while on the other end are the obvious ones who tackle creating entire games. But even sitting down and planning out a session is game design.

That's a great hippy-feely notion, but it begets a corollary. It's easy to get lost in the "design mode" and just come up with something that's not fun or doesn't work quite right in actual play (as I firmly believe happened with Exalted 2e - looked good on paper, but not so great in practice for me). It's also easy to get caught up in "gamer ADD" and change things in the middle of things just because some new method, technique, house rule, whatever caught your interest.

That's my designer hat, right there
FWIW, my own Tribe 8 game recently suffered from a bit of, "This looked good when I designed it, but I'm not sure it's working so well in play." There were a number of factors involved, up to and including a reasonably large hiatus from running games; balancing design goals and intended outcomes over the course of multiple iterations of the rules; and finally adapting to playing online versus face-to-face (where I think this would have been resolved much faster). As a result, I've kind of changed things about the skill implementation mid-stride. In this case, I think the change was a good one but it definitely got me thinking about the propensity to be in "designer mode", and the impact it can have on an actual living game.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mecha Games: Are The Mainstays Really Complicated?

So, something came up recently where someone called Mekton Zeta overly complicated. The word "crunchy" was used, as well as a bunch of hyperbole about having to calculate gigawatts to drive generators and such.

It might very well be experience with the system- over twenty years worth - tinting my glasses, but I don't get it. To me, it sounds like someone flipped through Mekton Zeta Plus, saw some numbers and some systems that they didn't yet know how to use, and decided that it was GURPS Vehicles or something. Yeah, there are a reasonable number of moving parts to have to keep track of. A good spreadsheet helps; not because there's complex calculations, but just to help keep things straight. All of the math is straight arithmetic, and most of it is tallying values. But it took me about an hour to create a cybertank over the weekend, and that was without touching the build system in a few years. Sure, there are some things that I do that aren't standard procedure. For example, I don't try to reduce individual systems to fit within the space available. I tally up the total available spaces in the design, subtract the amount of space that's being used by the systems, and then just buy space efficiency if needed because it's so damn cheap.

I have the same reaction when someone talks about the Silhouette construction system - specifically, the one in Jovian Chronicles or Silhouette Core - being complicated or requiring a lot of math. While it's true that there are some exponents and cube roots and formulas in the construction system - it's also entirely optional. You only do it if you want to generate Threat Values (for balancing, although they're kind of useless for that) or some other fluff values like price. Other than that, the build system is less complicated than MZ by an order of magnitude - you pick the size rating, choose the armor rating, give it some propulsion, stat out a few weapons, add some perks and flaws and you're done.

In systems like Mekton Zeta or Silhouette there's going to be some domain knowledge or system mastery involved in making the right decisions - how much armor to put on, how much damage a weapon should do, what's a good range or movement speed, etc. That's a given - a potential GM or player just needs to design a few mecha and face them off against each other to get a feel for it. But the construction systems themselves? They're really not that complex. GURPS Vehicles? That's complex. MegaTraveller? That was complex. Mekton Zeta has more in common with Car Wars than the former two.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Do People Want To Stick Non-Humans In Everything?

So recently on the Dream Pod 9 forum I saw a thread titled "HG Needs Aliens."

The reasoning for this is, apparently, that when you want to add something into a game the answer is:

You knew that was coming...right?
Now, I like games with the non-humans as much as the next guy. I get that people like things that are novel or different or have a "kewl" factor. I think they have their place. But for the love of Crom, they don't need to be in everything. Some settings, particularly science fiction settings (but this is just as true for fantasy or anything else), do just fine without them. Humanity already has such a huge range of variety and uniqueness. A well-realized setting - like Terra Nova - is missing aliens because it was a conscious design choice. They were a color that wasn't used when Terra Nova was painted (metaphorically speaking). Unless you were some post-modern artist, you wouldn't just go splashing fuchsia paint all over the Mona Lesa would you?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Giving Mekton Zero & Heavy Gear Universe Some Love

I came to the realization recently that two of my most nostalgia-inducing games are coming out with new editions and I haven't recently given them a lot of love.

To me, R. Talsorian Games and Dream Pod 9 exist in a continuum. Mekton was my go to for any mecha game for a number of years, spanning the mid '80s until well after Mekton Zeta was released in 1994. Heavy Gear followed about a year later, and Terra Nova quickly became one of my favorite settings. The release of the Silhouette version of Jovian Chronicles completed the circle, as the Mekton II edition (as well as the magazine Mecha Press and various CP2020 supplements) were what put DP9 on my radar in the first place.

Nearly 20 years later we're getting new editions of both Mekton and Heavy Gear. Mike Pondsmith is joined by his son Cody, along with others, in taking us back to Algol in Mekton Zero. Right now the Kickstarter is a few months behind (it was supposed to deliver in March), but we are getting fairly regular updates. So far, the art is exactly what I'd expect from a top-notch RTal product (although I admit I'm not fond of the layout previews). I've reached out to them about getting some kind of sneak peek of the rules, but haven't heard back yet. Above and beyond getting the PDF from the Kickstarter, I'm also in the process of lining up replacement copies of my much tattered and worn copies of Mekton II and Zeta.

I've always loved the Mauler (the green one) 
Arkrite Press has taken up the standard of developing Heavy Gear Universe. They've actually released a novella, Rumble in the Jungle, with updated art and maps. I'm currently reading it (I rarely read game-fiction), and the writing so far is solid, if workman-like. The graphics, including the updated maps, are really nice. The artists captures the feel of Ghislaine Barbe's include Ghislain Barbe, the original artists for Heavy Gear, but the pieces have slightly different personality. If the art and graphic design is indication, the RPG is going to look amazing. I came this close to picking up a copy of the Heavy Gear 2e hardback - again, replacing a much tattered copy - at Comic Quest in Lake Forest this weekend, but decided to hold off.

Miranda Petite has come a long way

So, with that I'm excited for both of them. It's always nice to see new life breathed into old favorites - especially since it happens relatively rarely with the games that I'm interested in.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Twitter Circle Jerks and Social Marketing in RPGs

This is going to be relatively short and sweet.

I don't pay a lot of attention to social media marketing or what's expected to be "best practice." But from some forays on Twitter and whatnot I've gathered the pattern for guaranteed success is:

1) Follow/retweet/like people.
2) Ask them to reciprocate.
3) ???
4) Profit!

It's the ??? part in these cases that kind of stumps me. For resharing of blog posts, news, Kickstarter announcements, that kind of thing I can see the value. The more eyes you get on something like that, the more people might find it interesting or useful. I can see that to a degree when marketing a product - but from I've seen, the follows/refollows/likes/relikes might be in the same general area of interest (say, science fiction) but aren't targeted toward gamers. I'm having trouble seeing how it could lead to meaningful conversion to sales used in this manner.

For example, say you've gotten a few thousand people to follow you on Twitter. But it's only because you've followed them back. None of the them are actually interested in the game - only getting a follow or like back in order to boost their own numbers. There's no way in hell even a small fraction of them are going to give anything more than moral support to it - there's just not enough time in the day or money (for most people).And for something like Twitter or Facebook, a few thousand somewhat disinterested followers doesn't seem much better than having 50 actual fans.

Maybe it's just me being a crotchety old man - I'm sure that all of this social media marketing wouldn't exist if it didn't have any effect at all. I just can't help thinking that in the case of rpgs, it's just a big social media circle jerk/communal back-patting. Apparently, I'm not the only person who feels this way:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Using Supers Games When You're Not A Supers Fan

I grew up surrounded by friends who loved comic books, and I've picked up a lot of knowledge about them through osmosis. When a friend of mine in junior high school wanted to play Marvel Superheroes, I was the only one remotely capable of running it. So I buckled down with a bunch of copies of his Marvel character encyclopedias (I forgot what they were called) and cooked up a game. It went pretty well, and everyone had fun - it actually spurred me to buy Villains and Vigilantes, Heroes Unlimited (although I used that more for TMNT), and even Champions. Up until the point where I unloaded a lot of my rpgs in the late '90s, I probably had at least one superhero rules set in my collection even though I don't play strictly superhero games. Likewise, a very good friend of mine was a huge comic collector. I used to go with him to the comic shop all the time when he picked up his issues. A few people I know used to work in comic stores. On top of that, there have been a number of comic stores that also stocked rpgs where I used to go.

Still, I never quite developed the taste for comic books that others did (surprisingly, I totally dig the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although I'm not crazy about X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, etc.), and since high school I've never really explored super hero rpgs in any depth. The last I can remember was a Champions game when I was 18 or 19. It took me a few days to create my character. Unsurprising to anyone who knows my interest in powered armor, mecha, etc. it was a battlesuit with some kind of wacky liquid-crystal armor.

This got me thinking: what are some possible alternate uses for superhero rules sets? What are some of the lessons that can be learned in terms of power levels and handling edge cases that can be gleaned from them?

Off the top of my head, I think they tend to be flexible enough to handle crazy stuff. There are obvious parallels between some games and super hero games in terms of power level, even if the game itself isn't a "superhero" game. Exalted is fantasy supers, they just trade in the tights for an anima banner. When I was running GURPs, I used GURPs Supers to round out powers, spells, etc. for fantasy games. The same with Heroes Unlimited and Ninjas & Superspies for my Palladium games. It's nice to keep the toolbox stocked with a variety of tools, even if it's that funny shaped one that I only ever use once in a blue moon.

So, with that in mind, I decided to take a look at Venture City Stories for Fate Core, to see what I might be able to use for a non-supers game.  As I've come to expect from most good Fate products, the meat of the system-related portions is only a couple of pages. There's not a laundry list of powers or a complex power creation system. It's distilled down to a couple very simple principles: one, that a "power" is a collection of related stunts. They have a drawback and a special effect. So far, that's pretty super-powery, but I supposed it could be used for other types of powers, magic, etc. The gem in there is the collateral damage effect - basically something that you can invoke that gives a big bang, but also has other big, unintended effects.

I could see using something similar to this for the weapons package for a mech. Instead of building out each weapon individually, it's an ordnance package with a couple of stunts for each weapon system, a special effect, the drawback (like reloading or heat) and the collateral damage effect.

So, there we have it - that's why I like to at least look at supers games even though I'm not really interested in playing them. And, honestly, Venture City Stories looks like a decent spin on the genre that I probably would give it a try.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Homebrew of Doom

Most roleplayers I know like to see how things tick, meaning that a sizable portion of them have tried their hands at homebrewing their own system. It's like a rite of passage for gamers. I started pretty young. Prior to discovering RPGs I used to make little board games out of poster board and construction paper. In junior high school I tried to flesh out the system used in Steve Jackson's Battlesuit into a full-fledged roleplaying game. This was before I discovered Mekton, or GURPS had been released. It was contained in a binder with pages of hand-written notes and charts. It used some elements of Traveller and retained the dot-based movement system from Battlesuit. It even had a point-buy suit design system. I wish I still had that binder, if only to see what kind of accidental genius ideas I had come up with.

But the homebrew I remember best was dubbed Virtual. I started on it sometime in the mid-90s - well before Fuzion made its debut - and it was an unholy mish-mash of Heavy Gear's Silhouette system, Cyberpunk 2020's and Mekton Zeta's Interlock, Dream Park, and some Storyteller thrown in for good measure. Like its Battlesuit predecessor, it was contained in a binder but this time the pages were printed on a laser printer and laid out in Microsoft Works.

That system is also lost to time, but I remember a few things about it:
  • d10 based with a dice pool.
  • Zero was average, and the attributes went from 0-5 for unaugmented characters. There was something funky about the Merits and Flaws system that accounted for negative attributes.
  • There were, if I recall, 16 attributes. I don't remember if they were all independent or if some were derived, but I think they were roughly in groups of 4 (Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual IIRC).
  • It was meant to be a universal system
  • Skills were from 1-10. I want to say that it was a die pool using attribute, with the skill level being the target number to roll under. Multiple successes could be required for some complex tasks. 1s did something special (might have been two successes instead of one).
  • The concept of Roles were there, gutted from CP2020/Mekton Zeta. They were a lot more generic, and more like skill packages. Curiously I think I kept the Special Abilities from CP2020.
  • It used a wound system with penalties, with a soak system reminiscent of CP2020's wound boxes.
  • I did something with mashing Merits and Flaws together, but I'll be damned if I can remember exactly how it worked. I seem to recall that Flaws in particular did something funky with regards to the attributes and skills - they weren't straight penalties. For sure you could still have, for example, Perception greater than 0 if you were Blind, but something happened to the results. Regardless, most of them were lifted from Storyteller.
  • I never completely got around to it, but the mecha design system was based off of Mekton Zeta's, with the inclusion of a number of concepts from Silhouette. This system - or one like it - has been my white whale for a long time. I never seem to get enough traction in trying to design it before I say, "I already have Mekton Zeta...WTF do I need this for?"
In the end, it's probably best that the system never saw the light of day, because I'm sure I would have turned it into a netbook and somebody would be mocking me for it. To that end, I'm going to stick with the upcoming Mekton Zero and Heavy Gear Universe instead of trying to superglue a new system together (as much as I'm tempted).

So share your best, most embarrassing, most under appreciated, or just plain bad homebrew. We all have one hiding in our closet somewhere.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Character Death

I've decided that I have missed out on the fun of the archived RPGBA Blog Carnival topics, so I'm going back in time and tackling each one. Having a defined topic helps keep my writing wheels turning, provided that I feed the hamsters.

I've never been really big on player characters dying in my games. I think it can be one of the weakest forms of failure and often times - depending on the system - the death can be meaningless, if not completely random.

Typically, the response I see to the notion that death isn't interesting is along one or two lines - notably, that if there's no chance of a character dying it is actually taking away player agency to some degree, and can break suspension of disbelief. The game becomes like a FPS where you can just reload and keep going.

The thing is, I've never taken death off of the table in any of my games - I just tend to try to set up situations where fights to the death, or sudden random death, just aren't the best or only option. It, of course, hasn't prevented character deaths completely. One of the most intense PVPs I've ever witnessed was in one of my old Tribe 8 games, where one PC was slaughtered by another PC who fell under the influence of a Z'bri's Atmosphere, who himself was killed by a third. The entire situation was in control of the players, and at no time was death guaranteed even if it was the only logical conclusion from their actions.

It  also looked a lot like this
Part of it might be my choices in games don't necessarily lead to easy resurrection (or, more often, any chance of it at all). Cyberpunk 2020, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles, Tribe 8, Blue Planet...even Exalted doesn't have resurrection. Likewise, the assumption has always been that PCs are competent and aware enough of their own mortality to not do completely idiotic or stupid things. Death still happens, often enough to be memorable but not so often as to be a chore. I think +Jim Sandoval or +James Forest might remember a Mekton or Heavy Gear character (I forget which) who's mech got shot out from under him and escaped on foot, only to get splatted by a stray shot from a mecha-scale weapon. Likewise, the same player who lost a Tribe 8 character to a Mexican stand-off likewise lost another one to a choice that left no room for living through the experience (although he was able to continue playing as a spirit, at least until we could get some closure on his story).

As for breaking suspension of disbelief - most of the means that are used in systems to damage, hurt, or kill characters aren't exactly bastions of realism. At the best they're highly abstracted and overall subject to a lot of gray area, and at worst they're not really tied to anything remotely realistic (falling damage is often a huge violator here). I'd argue that more often than not, game systems result in lethal injuries far more often than would happen in reality, or have unrealistic break points that go from "not-lethal" to "lethal".

In the face of trying to balance odd-ball damage results with suspension of disbelief, I'd rather have some means that makes character death an option and a conscious call (by GM, player, table, it doesn't matter) than a stringent case baked into imperfect rules. Sure, going down to zero hit points or not being able to soak incoming stress or whatever should remove a character from a conflict and result in generally complicating their life a lot. But the only choice shouldn't be, "You die", and that's the way I've played for quite a long time. As far as I know, my attitude about character death hasn't garnered any complaints from my players.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The People of Well

Vast portions of inland Nartham are largely unexplored. While it's known that the native Sia once inhabited a large portion of the continent, near the Albreni colonies on the west coast there is very little surviving evidence of this once-great civilization. This hasn't stopped explorers and adventurers from mounting expeditions into the continent's interior in the hope of finding the remains of Sia settlements or cities. As is their wont, some of the adventurers who return do so with fantastic tales of what they supposedly found.

The tale of the People of Well, or the Siwamo in the Sia tongue, is one of the most persistent on the streets of Dixton. It tells of the last and greatest Sia city, nestled in the badlands on the south-eastern flank of Nartham's central mountain range. Accessed only after a rigorous journey through arid, barren land followed by miles of winding, treacherous cliff paths, the city is built into a hidden mesa.

Those who tell of Siwamo insist that the city's magnificence doesn't stop with the elaborate bridges, statues, and dwellings built into the outer cliffs. The massive cliffs only serve to flank the entrance to the city proper, which is built within an enormous cenote. The circular cave is open to the sky, but descends an unknown distance into the mesa's heart. Accounts differ regarding the exact layout - some say the dwellings and buildings are all built into the walls, while others claim there streets and buildings built on massive stone platforms jutting from the walls - but all agree that there is a large pool or lake at the bottom of the cave, filled with water that is always clean, clear, and cool. The most detailed account - claims the water is held sacred by the Sia who still inhabit the the city. They allow no one to touch the surface of the water save for members of a dedicated priesthood. What, if anything, is inside the water depends on the teller - in some versions it is bottomless, while in others the bottom can be seen filled with riches or even more buildings (tying into persistent legends from sailors about aquatic Sia). Sometimes the waters can heal or have other effects, or else they kill any non-Sia who touch it.

The Sia of Dixton themselves have no stories of Siwamo itself in their oral tradition, although they do tell of similar - if far less grandiose - cities to the east. Most scholars dismiss the tale as an exaggeration, since crumbling, abandoned Sia cliff dwellings are not unknown to the east of Dixton. But the lure of Sia artefacts and technology is enough for adventurers, explorers, and scholars to overlook these details and try to find the city anyway. So far, no organized expedition has returned from the journey inland with anything corroborating the stories about Siwamo - in fact, a great number of them haven't returned at all.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Do You Have To Actively Play To Be A Gamer?

Prior to my mid-twenties, I gamed a lot. At home, at school, in the library, on the field during lunch, on the front porch, at the dining room table, in classrooms, sitting underneath the stairs, in the car, on the bus. Every single place we could sit down and have room for some books, paper, and dice, we'd play

For the adults in the house, it was probably a bit like this
But, of course, as career and family and other things came up, I slowed down. For the past 15 years or so, I've averaged about one game every couple of years, lasting from a few months to a year in length. Aside from dipping my toes into play testing some things year before last, my last regular game was five or six years ago. I now have a regular Tribe 8 Fate Core game going, but that's relatively recent - and want to try to commit to additional regular, but shorter term, games once we get it stabilized.

At no time, though, did I ever feel I wasn't a gamer. I participated in gaming forums, tinkered around with various game systems, and otherwise kept myself in the loop. The thousands of hours I put into playing during my adolescence and young adulthood gave me a very good foundation for how games work. It's a lot like riding a bike - you might be a bit rusty after not doing it for a while, but you don't just forget.

We all know this is what happens when you try to game after a long hiatus

But the idea that whether or not someone is gaming, or hasn't gamed within some nebulous period of time, shouldn't be considered a "gamer" - which seems to be the point when I've seen it come up - is bullshit. It's nothing more than an attempt to try to discredit...something. Someone's opinion, a design choice, or whatever agenda the person putting forward the notion has. It's the idea that there are people out there - players, game designers, you name it - that are screwing up the hobby but don't play games. They need to be stopped at the bridge for the protection of True Gamers, and how much gaming they've done is obviously the way to do it.

When was the last time you played?
What game did you play?
What is the probability of curve of 3d20-d12+5?
Exasperation with people giving opinions but have never played any game at all is a little understandable, but given most of the discussions I've seen revolve around social issues - table consensus, social contract, player agency, how to actually go about the playing of games - I'd say that someone who hasn't actually had a chance to play any games is still likely to have some insight. They've likely dealt with similar in non-gaming situations. Even then, I'd say that people in a perpetual state of not-playing - either by never having played anything at all or due to other circumstances - are pretty rare. Certainly rare enough that anyone worried about whether or not someone else is actually playing games  is just an attempt to be petty. If someone identifies as a gamer that's good enough for me. I'm not going to demand they pull out their Gamer Timecard so I can verify when the last time it was punched.

As a postscript, I'm not referring to this phenomenon in terms of individual games, rather gaming as a whole. I do believe you have to play a game in order to truly understand all of the nuances of the system, how smooth it is in actual play, what works and what doesn't, etc. It's possible to judge a game purely on a read through - but that's limited to content, quality, and the overall rules structure (sometimes you can identify a "broken" rule before playing a system).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gamex Was A Blast

My son and I went to Gamex on Saturday and, despite not having a real plan for what we were going to do there, had a great time. Even if I really want to burn by boots in a fire and then shovel the ashes into a toilet. I love those boots, I do, but never again to something like that.

You are pretty, and big, and stompy. And my feet hate you.
First, mad props to everyone at the convention. +Jim Sandoval has done an outstanding job coordinating the rpg-related events and I owe him something as yet undetermined. I got to at least say Hi to several people, including +Caoimhe Ora Snow+Mark Strecker , his brother Michael, and a couple others whose names I can't remember their names in my sleep deprived state. We missed our friend Devi and his wife Heather somehow, but that wasn't for lack of looking.

We played in the Artemis simulation which was absolutely awesome. Visited the dealer room a few times, and I picked up a copy of +Jesse Butler's Short Order Heroes (finally) and dead tree copies of Fate Accelerated for myself and my son. We also played a pick-up game of a card game called Smashup that was really fun. We spent too much time wandering around because I found the layout of the hotel to be extremely confusing, and it took longer to get lunch and dinner than we had figured it would.

But the gem of the day was +Josh Roby's Vimaryville. It was my first time participating in anything Tribe 8-related as a player. It was my son's first time playing an organized, non-D&D roleplaying game. I was joined by +James Forest (see, it was not a LARP), +Chris Czerniak (who it was awesome meeting and playing with you), and the lovely +Meghann Robern (who discovered the real reason the Fallen can't get anything done - their leaders are idiots).

I won't spoil too much of the actual plot, but suffice it to say that Josh is a craftsmen. He used Cortex+, which I had no experience with but now want to track down some version of, and set up the relationships between the the pregen PCs masterfully. The characters were all "named" characters from the core rulebook - so we had Altara Ven (James), Deus (Chris), Mek the Jacker (Aiden), Veruka the Wraith (Meghann), and Hal Ninva (me), with Troy Fenys and Khymber Reva as NPCs. The relationship mechanics helped each of us really get a grasp for how our characters would interact with the others. Everyone was really into it - my son took a bit to get a feel for Mek and roleplaying in general, and there were some times when a few characters got more spotlight time than the others (although Deus may have solved it by, literally, by saying, "Oooh, spotlight!"). I discovered that Veruka was a bit more Betty White than I had imagined; Deus proved that poets can be dicks; Altara is one whose feelings shouldn't be trifled with; and of course Hal Ninva is Tera Sheban to the core. Oh, and Troy Fenys is a dangerous, violent psychopath but that wasn't a big suprise. The whole thing ended in what amounted to an impromptu stage-show in the Cage that was probably only missing Kanye.

So, all in all it was a very good con with a lot of fun all around. We missed out on a few Fate events due to lack of planning and Sunday and Monday I was basically wiped out from a combination of my being tired, my feet being jacked, and on Monday just feeling like crap. I wish we could have stayed a little longer at BarCon, but it was great meeting some cool new people. With a baby on the way in September I don't know if we'll make Gateway, but we're making tentative plans to bring the whole family to OrcCon.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gamex Tomorrow!

I'm going to be at Gamex tomorrow for most of the day with my son. If you see a guy in a VNV Nation workshirt with a huge logo on the back, likely wearing combat boots, with a floppy haired lanky teenager in tow it's pretty likely it's me. Don't be afraid to come up and say "Hi".

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things (Or, Heaven Forbid I Have An Opinon)

Apparently, I simply can't win. After being raked over the coals for saying sometimes Roll20 can be a pain - I wrote a "ridiculous slant" against Fantasy Grounds not being what I want in a VTT? For just mentioning some things that put me off from it?

The restraint I had to exercise to keep from using memes in this post damn near killed me. I wasn't even going to post anything about it but the temptation was too great...I just can't let some things slide. It's not all a waste though. From the critique we get a remarkably accurate picture of me:

1) As a database engineer, as opposed to a software engineer, apparently I'm not willing to roll up my sleeves to "make things work". I'm just too used to things working the first time I guess, because that's how I engineer them myself.

2) Apparently my lack of interest in paying money for something that has a large number of features I won't use - and, in fact, would need to put a lot of work into having the features I do need (like a Fate Core rules set at the most, and Fate Dice at least) - is not grasping the fact that I could just ignore those features. There's no feeling like paying money for something I won't get full utility out of.

3) Speaking of which, I'm a cheapskate because I consider $136 total to use Fantasy Grounds for a group of four players plus GM to be a "substantial outlay". Sure, only $40 of it would be mine. I'd still have to impress on my players the need to shell out their own $24 each just to be able to play. That's a mere 2400% increase over the cost of playing on Roll20, to get access to a bunch of features I as the GM won't even implement. A bargain if I ever heard of one.

4) I like looking things up in rule books instead of playing tabletop role playing games. Oh, how I'm not a true roleplayer for the liking of Roll20!

But in all seriousness, I'd like to point out something that is slightly askew about the linked forum discussion.

One poster mentions Fantasy Grounds 3 as streamlining a bunch of things and eliminating some need for creating formulas. Great! Except the download page for the trial is for Fantasy Grounds 2, which is the version that I tried (I believe) a few years ago. Which comes with a D&D 3.5 demo campaign - a game that I don't even play. There is not a mention anywhere on their Store page or product page that the current version is 3. Apparently FG 3 is a free upgrade - but I had to go to the Steam forums to read a muddled discussion to find that out.

Finally, my intention was never to slam Fantasy Grounds (or Roll20, for that matter). It was to express my impressions, and my initial opinion, from my venture into using a VTT. Did I do a lot of research before my two posts? Nope, only what I needed to refresh my memory. I'm not a journalist and I'm not running a newspaper. This is a personal blog, with personal opinions, observations, experiences, etc. I'm not always on the mark, and I'll own it when it turns out to be justified that I'm not. But please make no mistake that I'll stand by - and back up - my opinions when I am.

Edited to add: Getting your unmentionables in a twist because someone doesn't like your favorite whatever is absolutely the best way to get them to change their mind.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Has "Powered By Fate" Reached d20 Levels of Critical Mass?

Just saw this last night. It's an entire line of Fate Core books - one-hundred pages and some change, all $15 apiece - that didn't exist before October 2013. That's seven ten books in the span of slightly more than eight months

I haven't looked at them in any detail, and other than the cover art looking like it's at least halfway decent I have to wonder: how good can these possibly be? We're talking a month apiece for development - that's not nearly enough time to playtest...well, anything. Considering that all of them contain some stripped down version of the Fate Core rules, I also have to wonder how much new content or new ideas is actually in each.

It's a production schedule to rival...crap, I swore off talking about them

Which comes down to the crux of my post. Sure, it's easy to glom things into Fate, particularly the genres that these books are shooting for. That's kind of the point - anybody can do it. But is it worth $15, particularly if there isn't really anything new? I mean, I don't have Atomic Robo yet but from what I've read it brings some new milkshakes to the yard. It looks like there are cool widgets in it that actually expand upon the Swiss Army knife that is Fate Core. These other guys on DTRPG would have needed about three weeks apiece  to get their ten books out in the span of eight months. Is there any way that could be an honest attempt to put out an innovative product in the spirit of the awesome little blue books currently sitting between my Portal bookends. Something in the vein of Atomic Robo, or Day After Ragnarok, or Apotheosis Drive X, or the other handful of great Fate products that have come out? Or are these guys just attempting to cash in on the current fad ? [That's a rhetorical question, I think I know the answer] I'm no expert on the d20 glut, considering at the time I was too busy spending all of my money on Exalted hardbacks and overpriced Tribe 8 books, but my impression is that the deluge of half-baked products for d20 wasn't seen favorably. Hell, Tribe 8 second edition had fucking d20 rules in it. For me was a total and complete waste that could have been spent, I don't know, fleshing out the setting some more.

Worse still, I have some projects in mind that I intend to leverage Fate Core as the engine. It's just now I have to contend with the possibility my choice to use Fate would be seen as just because it's the latest craze, instead of the real reason: I actually want to use Fate as the foundation instead of just slapping some aspects together and calling it done. Hopefully, by the time any of these projects see the light of day a lot of this stuff will have dried up. Until then, I think we're going to be doomed to see a Fate appendix in every game from now until people get tired of it.

Finally, if anyone not associated with Starbright Illustrations actually has seen one of these books, I'd be very interested to know what the rules quantity vs quality is, as well as if the implementations are vanilla Fate Core or have any adaptations for their genres.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Seven Ways That Roll20 Wooed Me

It looks like my last post didn't come across the way I planned - such is the way with the written word and attempts at humor. My irony meter was definitely off, because several things I thought were good attempts at irony didn't work. For example, "I am really in IT" isn't some kind of assertion of my expertise, but something I actually said while we were having problems because those issues made me look (and feel) like an idiot. When you have to explain a joke, it loses a lot of its power. But, hey, it started several very good discussions relating to online gaming in general and Roll20 in particular.

Subsequently, as I had originally planned, here's my breakdown of the things about Roll20 that have gone absolutely great and the reasons I'm sticking with it over other VTTs I've looked at. I want to hedge this with the disclaimer that previously to deciding on using Roll20 for my game, I only gave a cursory looks at the other VTTs out there. FantasyGrounds, RPOL, and others (including just simple Skype or G+ Hangouts) obviously meet the needs for lots of gamers out there - but they didn't do a good job of selling themselves to me.

7. Sometimes I Just Want To Be A Pretty Princess
One of the appeals of a VTT for me is being able to leverage graphic elements seamlessly during the game. Everything from custom card decks (I have both the Fate Deck and a custom deck uploaded), to being able to use tokens for aspect cards, to just simply being able to display a picture of an NPC or location are really awesome capabilities. I can just upload all of these things to Roll20 and drag it right onto the play space. The custom playing deck functionality, not only for cards like the Deck of Fate but Fate tokens, is awesome. Since I have some modest graphic design skills, I get to flex them and put them  - as well as my horde of inspirational images that I've collected - to good use.

I'm so glad I learned how to use layer modes in Gimp
6. Just Because Something Is Free, Doesn't Mean It Has To Suck
There's actually two main points here. The first is the free part. While Fantasy Grounds may look pretty it also requires a relatively substantial initial outlay. While I don't mind paying for tools and applications, and I know first-hand that application development is not easy, what Roll20 has done in terms of features and presentation for a free service is impressive. Which is the second point: free doesn't mean that a product has to look like it dragged itself out of 1998. The differences in presentation and the UI between Roll20 and RPOL - which is also free - are substantial. Roll20 looks good and has a slick interface.

Bill Me Later? When you need financing to buy a VTT that might be a bit much

5. You Know What Else Has Structure? Cages
One of the things that turned me off from Fantasy Grounds was it requires you to play a game that has a supported rules set - either included, commercial (i.e, you have to pay for it), or community-created. If that game isn't on the list, you better roll up your sleeves because you have some work to do. Otherwise, you aren't playing. Now I'm sure all of that infrastructure leads to doing some awesome stuff, but you can only do it if you fit everything in their specific buckets. All I really need is a place to store information and do a couple other tasks (like rolling dice, and maybe tying dice rolls to values). That's what Roll20 gives me.

Based on Mark Knight's template, but about to get completely reworked for character sheet compatibility

4. The Customization Needed Isn't Difficult To Master
In the grand scheme of things, if you can create formulas in Excel you can grok the customization needed for characters in Roll20. I was able to use +Mark Knights' tutorials to get my Fate Core character journals set up with few hassles, but even without them I wouldn't have had any problem figuring it out.  The other stuff - like automatic bonuses, macros, even scripts - aren't anything that is needed to get a game going. The impression I get of other VTTs like Fantasy Grounds is the depth of work in order to even begin playing is on the level of the "other stuff" in Roll20 - and that's not for me.

See as easy as @ + {Modifier|0}

3. Hey, I'm Playin' Here!
When a VTT automates too much, or has too many levers and dials to fiddle with, it puts itself solidly in your face. Granted, this impression is from very short exploratory stints - but I expect that my gut instinct about how much FantasyGrounds would get in the way is right (considering how the hiccups I've had with Roll20 have felt). So far, at least when there haven't been other problems, Roll20 has succeeded in fading into the background when it wasn't needed. It didn't force us to have to interact with it just to get on with the game, and I'm sure as we get more adept it will fade further into the background.

Pulled from the FG website. It looks nice...but wow that's cluttered

2. User-Friendliness

Being browser-based with no application to install is a huge deal - from where I'm sitting, there's very little that a VTT needs to do that can't be done in a web browser. On top of that, everyone has a web browser, and for the most part they all work the same. Some VTTs, like MapTools, require that the GM install a server and set up port forwarding. Fantasy Grounds requires everyone have the client installed.

Also, being browser based means Roll20 doesn't present a mess of tabs and fields and other elements taking up real estate and drawing the eyes. No more and no less than what's needed is presented to the players and GM, which is a sign of some pretty good interface design.

The RPOL game settings might be totally intuitive - but at first blush, it doesn't look it

1. People, People, People

So far, the community surrounding Roll20 has been absolutely awesome. For sure, as evidenced by a number of critical responses to my last blog post, it's a very enthusiastic one that really loves the platform. They've been helpful in answering questions, creating tutorials and giving examples, and otherwise helping out in general. This isn't to say that the communities for other VTT's aren't helpful or friendly - only that it's been readily apparent with Roll20.

All of those things are reasons I've found to stick with Roll20. There are always going to be minor glitches and other annoyances - but it is the best I've seen so far. Also, since I play Fate Core a large portion of the play area features that are provided just don't apply to me - particularly the tokens, although I really, really want to find a use for the token features like the radial menus.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Just Noting A Milestone

Today, my little blog exceeded 100,000 pageviews.


That's kind of hard to believe, and I'm humbled at the number. Thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read what I have to say.

Five Ways Roll20 Is a PITA

Roll20, and virtual tabletops in general, to me are the best thing ever to happen to tabletop gaming. It makes gaming more flexible and less dependent on time, location, and having to clean the house before everyone shows up (not that that stopped some people I've gamed with, but still). For people with busy schedules, who can carve out a couple hours a week after the kids go to bed (like myself), it's the only way we'll ever get to game.

But, there's some warts that I've uncovered using Roll20.

5. Really, I Work In IT

So far, nearly every session has run into some kind of technical error. Mostly on my side, which is sad because I'm a certified PC technician and a fucking MCSE. Finding developers who aren't great on the hardware side isn't hard, and from the network issues, sound issues, and random random crashes I've had you'd think I was one of them.

It's embarrassing for me, frustrating on all sides, and eats into play time. Last night I think we got about an hour of actual play in.

This was me after I was actually able to get everything working

4. Where Is That Setting Again? 

Beyond the purely technical issues, getting used to having an extra layer of abstraction to deal with makes things awkward at times. Have you ever covered up everything on your dining room table and wondered where all of the maps, tokens, miniatures, etc. went? I think probably not. Yet last night, we went through most of the session with the players seeing only a black screen instead of the pretty background I made and the custom cards that were being doled out. Turns out I had Fog of War enabled. Also, tying back to #5, some of my audio issues have had to do with my son - who uses the PC to play games and do his homework - changing the audio settings.

3. It's Not Me, It's You

Then there was the "Can you hear me? I can hear you" clusterfuck that turned out to possibly be something on the Roll20 end. Of course, that was after fighting through my own audio settings issues. Once those were resolved, my players could hear me, I could hear all of the Roll20 blips and bloops, but I couldn't hear my players' audio. I didn't know that the problem was on the Roll20 end - again, because I had worked through my own issues so I went upstairs to get my laptop - from a dark bedroom where my partner and her daughter, who was sleeping in there because she had been scared by something on TV earlier, were. That's pretty much like walking in a mine field, especially if your night vision is as bad as mine. After successfully avoiding waking a little girl in screaming terror, I set up the laptop only to have the same audio issue, which resolved itself a few minutes later.

2. If You Just Look Right Here

The issues with the background having Fog of War enabled highlighted one of the other minor disadvantages of a VTT. When you're running a meatspace game, you can flip the book around the show the players a picture, or a particular block of text, or hand out some kind of prop. In theory, you can do the same thing in a VTT - and it's one of the things I get really excited about because I'm able to exercise my journeyman level graphics skills. But it doesn't quite replace being able to dig out some props and pass them around.

Like hats. Especially jaunty hats. We did find party hats for Hangouts though....

1. It's All Just A Setup

Which gets us down to the number one thing: setup. There's a lot of setup that has to be done with Roll20. I guess you don't necessarily have to, but the ability to have all these cool widgets at your fingertips is kind of the point. You have to set up character journals, templates, have some graphics on hand, get familiar with the tools, all kinds of things. There's figuring out how to handle all of the options for the tokens and how to leverage the built-in capabilities like macros. There's the API, which I don't have to use, but I'm paying for the service now so I want to. No sooner did I get the character Abilities and Attributes set up, and Roll20 implements character sheets. Which are such a crazy obvious thing to have, so damn if I don't want to use them too. They only require some HTML/CSS hacking to get a customized one set up, so that meant that I needed to find a nice, free HTML editor. Another tool to learn. They also require rethinking the way the Abilities and Attributes were set up in the first place, which means more setup. None of these things take a lot of brain power with tabletop games, at least not the way I run them.

Props to one of the IT guys at my work for that quote

A lot of it comes with the territory - it's a tool, and in order to use it there's a learning curve. But like many technological tools, it's dependent on even more technological tools to use effectively. Luckily I'm a stick-with-it kind of guy, and I recognize that with only four sessions or so under my belt that it's going to be rough. Even luckier, my players seem to be pretty understanding (and forgiving), so once we get the rough spots ironed out I anticipate it to be an enjoyable experience.

I also feel like I should amend this to note that some of the things I mention are inherent to online playing period, and not just Roll20. It just so happens that Roll20 is my platform of choice because so far it's worked out better than the others that I have tried. Online roleplaying has been around for a long time and a lot of these issues are part and parcel of the experience over the exact tool being used.

Friday, May 2, 2014

My GM "Binder"

Since I've moved over completely to using Roll20 for running my planned weekly game, I've likewise started to use a completely digital solution for tracking and planning my games. In the past, I had the literal GM Binder, typically a three ring binder with colored tabs something like these:

I'd fiddled around previously with a few ideas, and since starting my search had a few options fall by the wayside:
  • Google Docs. Sure, I can have everything from spreadsheets to documents, but navigating all of it is a bitch. I still lean quite heavily on Google Docs (and Drive) for quite a few things, but campaign organization isn't one of them.
  • Google Keep. Nice for shopping lists, but doesn't have most of the functionality I would really want for a "binder" feel.
  • Evernote. Honestly this came the closets for my needs, but it does lack a few features that I really was looking for - particularly separating out various sections within the same notebook (I realize it does it, I'm just not as fond of how).
  • YWriter. This is a free program similar to Scrivener. The biggest issue I have with it is that is purely a desktop application, and would require hacked together syncing using Google Drive or similar. 
Then Microsoft released One Note as free, stand-alone application. I'd seen it lurking around MS Office at work - but I never played with it since I don't use Office at home. I saw the video below about configuring One Note to work as a campaign organizer and, after looking into it, I was hooked.

Also, my issue with a lot of custom-made campaign management software is flexibility. They tend to either be targeted toward a particular audience (usually d20, Pathfinder, etc.) - which is great, because those games probably benefit a lot from having tools like those - or are just shy of being configurable enough without a lot of futzing around. In the future, I may take up an offer to take RealmWorks for a test drive - when I do, I'll likely be comparing it to OneNote.

Throwing together a morass of text, images, links, and who-knows-what-else pretty much matches my GM organizational style. I can have sections that are complete and total chaos, which slowly get winnowed down and organized into something more polished and useful. One Note has proven to be perfect for this.

My final layout of the sections and section groups went through several major overhauls until I came to something that I was comfortable with and presented the information I needed. It's a bit different than what you might see for, say, a D&D game. I don't really need tabs for magic items or monsters, but I did want tabs for the campaign milestones, aspect lists, etc. Of course, there's no reason why I can't add them in if I happen to need them. I also made use of section groups, mainly to conserve real estate and make things a bit easier for me to find quickly.

Click to embiggen

OneNote is filled with a few features ranging from useful to just cool. I'm still exploring the tagging functionality - basically, you can tag various notes and even create custom tags. This is useful because you can use a "Find By Tag" search. Unfortunately there's no way to customize the icons, but there are about 50 or so that can be selected when creating a custom tag.

On the "just cool" side, you can add lines or a grid to your pages, as well as make use of some rudimentary drawing tools.

Combine this with the ability to bring pretty much any kind of content into the notebook - links, images, PDFs, you can even record audio or video - as well as a handy feature called Linked Notes (that I still haven't quite figure out how to get to work as advertised). There are also ways to send pages and clippings to OneNote directly  from the browser (IE includes this natively, but there is a plug-in for Chrome, not sure how to make it work with Firefox or other browsers), and I know that Feedly has a button for it as well.

All in all, OneNote has single-handedly helped me organize my campaign. It just goes to show that when Microsoft hits a home run on an application, they hit it out of the park.

I'm also interested in hearing about other people's solutions for campaign organization - different layouts, templates, formats, etc.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Doom. Doom. Doom.

During this week's Tribe 8 game we're going to (most likely) be embarking on a proper session zero with some actual play, which I'm both excited and a little anxious about -- mostly because of the learning curve with using Roll20.

I've been wrangling for the past week or so on the concepts of the Doom and Salvation tracks, mostly looking into other games that seem to use them. The Arkham Horror and Runebound boardgames are the only ones I can find that specifically feature them. I've not played either game, but the general idea seems to be about what I am looking for: when the track fills up, bad stuff starts happening. What I need to figure out is how the stress/Consequences model will be applied, and whether there's a need for two tracks at all, especially given that I'm using plot stress.

Runebound Doom Track
The players either bet against the oncoming doom to advance their agendas, or make sacrifices to try to make things right. I think the expectation is that, at least initially, there's going to be a lot of doom flying around. At some point either the PCs are going to figure out, stumble upon, or completely ignore what needs to be done to return balance to the cosmos. The way I'm envisioning it right now is that the Doom Track is set up like so:
[ ] [ ] Condition #1
[ ] [ ] Condition #2
[ ] [ ] Condition #3
[ ] [ ] [etc...]
These work basically like Conditions from the Fate System Toolkit. The boxes are standard 1-stress/2-stress boxes. Once they're checked off, the Condition comes into play. What the Condition is remains hidden until it' revealed. We can assume that from a Tribe 8 perspective, the foundational ways the world is fucked up  - you know, the bit about human civilization collapsing, the closing of the Fold, the Z'bri herding the survivors into the Camps, that stuff - are "below" this track. The universe is at a tipping point, and the things that wrack up the Consequences on this track are just accelerating the freefall.

So far so good. The Conditions are setting aspects that make the world a less happy place to live in. For anyone who knows anything about the Tribe 8 metaplot, somewhere around the last of the unpublished cycles things is where the last of the Conditions are filled in. The world is about to be Taken Out unless something is done to start clearing the Conditions up. The Conditions themselves would line up roughly with the large events from each arc of the metaplot (there are about five of them). Of course, they don't have to be statically yoked to the Cycles. If the PCs convince the Keepers to resurrect some nukes and turn Hl'kar into a parking lot, and then turn around and unleash steampunk mecha to wipe out the Tribes, obviously the Doom track can fill up pretty quick

And when that happens, this is exactly what I will be doing

Now knowing what the Conditions are ahead of time is part of the "betting" against the Doom. On top of that, others' actions can obviously inflict stress on the track as well. So when the players are eyeing the two empty stress boxes on the Doom track as they try to channel the River of Dream through some Keeper device, they don't know a bunch of renegade Melanis Z'bri are also mucking around with the Sea of the Lost - and that both of them together are going to inflict enough stress to incur a new Condition. Getting a free invocation on that new Condition will probably feel like a consolation prize when they find out it's The Dead Have Risen and now they have a zombie outbreak to contend with.

Of course, in the early parts of the camp practically everything the PCs need to do in order to to help the Fallen survive are likely to be Doom-stress inducing events. Attacks on the Tribes, hunting Z'bri, messing around with things that they shouldn't, etc. aren't exactly things that would avert the impending collapse of reality. It's also not likely the outcasts are going to become a bunch of pacifistic saints and start acting for the good of all. For one, there's no way they'd survive a single winter if they did and two, it would be really boring.

Finally, we come to the "salvation" part. If the Doom track is like the universe taking a beating, then salvation  means healing it. From a Fate Fractal perspective, this makes for a fun option: when the players do certain things, they get a chance to make a recovery roll for one of the Doom track's Consequences, or to clear some stress. Smaller actions would clear stress, while bigger sacrifices would rename and eventually clear Conditions. By the time the campaign is at the point where this is happening, the PCs are likely to be in a position to actively prevent others from re-incurring the Conditions.

Below is a rough version of the image I'll be using for the Doom Track in Roll20. The stress boxes are paired, with the white rectangle for the condition to be filled in. I'm trying to figure out what else to do with the real estate...I might create some spaces that can be used for other aspects and whatnot.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oh, Hai There!

I've been kind of quiet lately. I was a little burned out, a lot of it having to do with my old job that was sucking a lot of motivation out of me. So I got a new, better paying, database engineer position. But the end result is that I'm not blogging from work - a habit I don't wish to get back into, since I actually want to work at work. And I've been making some changes at home to include some healthier behaviors (not physically, per se, just trying to eliminate some bad habits). I only blog when I really feel it, and the short version is that lately I haven't felt like it.

Now that I'm feeling a little more energized, I've started to tackle some concepts for  My Tribe 8 Fate Core game. I finally launched on Roll20 week before last, and while we're off to a slow start it's giving me time to think about the bigger picture.

Tribe 8 has both a strongly defined setting and an established metaplot. The strongly defined setting part isn't too hard to integrate into Fate Core (make the game about the characters and their personal struggles) but a tightly bound metaplot is hard to reconcile. There's just not as much room for players to drive the game in the direction they want if one is intent on following a metaplot, and that player direction is something that Fate Core thrives on. The obvious answer is to leave the metaplot bloody in a ditch somewhere, but that's not what I want to do. It's a pretty big part of the game for me, and how tightly DP9 bound the setting to the metaplot was one of the stand-out elements of the game. What it didn't have was for a way to engage the players in the same manner that one can using Fate Core. In light of this, I'd like to find a happy medium between the two.

There was a great thread on Story-Games about Tribe 8, and in it +Brand Robins suggests Doom/Salvation tracks. In order for the players to improve the world and move it toward salvation, they need to sacrifice things that are important to their PCs. This may mean they get nothing (in the end) in return, and their sacrifice may be in vain. Or, they can tempt the impending doom to try to get a "win" (such as taking the fight to the Fatimas or trying to exterminate the Z'bri). In the end, it may benefit the PCs or their side, but it moves the setting toward it's inexorable doom. In addition to some great thoughts about community vs. individualism, there's a lot to chew on in that thread.

Next, comes two posts from the Fate Core crew. Invoking at a cost, which +Fred Hicks suggested here, dovetails extremely well with the Doom/Salvation concept. It completely plays to both the question, "What are you willing to pay to succeed?" and the idea that "winning" often means tempting things that are beyond your control. Next, this post by +Rob Donoghue discusses a novel way of handling secrets in the campaign. The Tribe 8 world is full about secrets. And now knowing which of those secrets is true, and either trying to use that information to advance your agenda or trying to use it to try to bring about salvation could lead down a path of failure, death, or even worse.

Finally, to wrap things up are +Josh Roby and co's Destiny Deck, which I would kill to actually become a thing (even if it was just a virtual thing). I have a really strong feeling that the deck is a way to tie these elements together - secrets, doom vs. salvation, costs of success - in a thematic and cool way. So much so that I want to try to cobble together some images to use as cards, and figure out a system for doling them out.

So, that's what my brain is churning over as the gaming sectors come revving back to life. Oh, I also am going to have some Dark Phoenix Publishing fun soon.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Concessions Should Be Ever Present

I've been thinking a bit on Concessions and being Taken Out in Fate Core, in light of some recent discussions on the topic and I came to a realization. Because of the existence of Concessions and how they work mechanically, they're a big 'ol kill switch that can be flipped to get the game out of conflict mode and on with whatever else is going on.

Now this might seem obvious, but the implications are big. Characters don't have to Concede only when they're about to the Taken Out. Concession is on the table at all times, and not all fights have to drag on until everyone is totally smashed up. Once the right opportunity presents itself, one side or the other concedes the fight. The negotiation and terms of the Concession help to guarantee that continuity is preserved and the scene transitions smoothly out of the conflict.

Take, for example, a villain who wants to test the mettle of the PCs. He instructs his men to ambush the PCs but to withdraw before anyone is killed or severely injured. After the first two exchanges, it's apparent that the PCs are stronger/more crafty/better skilled/etc. than expected, and the NPCs concede the conflict. It's agreed that the NPCs fully withdraw, but drop a clue to where the villain's lair is in the process.

Dragging conflicts out until the very end is, traditionally, something that happens a lot in RPGs. Sometimes it's lack of mechanical support, others it's learned player or GM behavior that every fight must be to the death. But it doesn't have to be that way in Fate Core, and concessions should be a consideration regardless of how well one side or the other is doing in a fight.