Archives for category: I Probably Should Have Been Working

“Snuggle Up and Get Real Sad, Up-Ins”
It’s a thing my friends and I say, specifically in response to the The Tales of Ba-Sing-Se episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” That episode will make you bawl and if it doesn’t, everyone is entitled to question whether or not you are — in fact — a Cyberman. It has evolved since then as a catch-all response to an episode or situation we expect to be emotionally taxing. It has been used to describe episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” and more recently “Being Human.” To a degree, it’s a phrase that gets used when we know we’re going to see a lot of intra-character drama… not exclusively, perhaps, but we expect that for the most part we’re going to have character’s exposing their hearts to one another and revealing their internal strife. This is fine and dandy and highly effective (in my opinion) when presenting a narrative to an audience. There is a question to raise here, though: how does this practice — of revealing internal drama to other characters for the benefit of the audience — jive with tabletop role-playing?

Illusion of the First Time
It’s a thing my girlfriend the Theatre Major/actor/director/stage manager has brought up before when discussing actors’ performances. The phrase is apparently associated with William Gillette according to a quick and dirty Google search, but I can’t guarantee that — it has to do with, no matter how many times you stage a scene, it should always appear to be the first time that your character is making discoveries. This can become tricky immediately in role-playing games. Infamous scenes come to mind — scenes of a split party reunited, and since the entire party was at the table when events happened they simply gloss over the story to told. Not necessarily a problem, unless one of the characters is supposedly learning some pressing information from this.

That said, the exact opposite is equally possible — I’m sure many Game Masters and players out there can whip up impressive stories of emotional bombs dropped and revelations had: the villain was your father all along, you’ve been concealing your real class/race/identity from the party all along, and so forth. I’m sure they work and are fun for everyone. I can specifically recall, from my own experience, a stretch of Dungeons & Dragons in which I played a Monk whom everyone regarded as a monk. He was primarily a pacifist, and the game did not last long enough to warrant the complete unhinged fury of Flurry of Blows… but my point is made, I think. Secrets are fun. Reveals are fun.

Aristotle had plenty to say on the subject: basically, we feel really clever when we think we’ve figured something out or when we think we’re understanding.

No Such Thing As Filler
So, what am I trying to get at: the idea of the game-as-conversation or conversation-as-game; having something to talk about when you sit down at the table and sit down into character. The great and forever-lovable Apocalypse World specifically refers to the event of role-playing as “conversation,” with the players’ and Game Master’s duty being to speak when it is his or her own turn. It even considers most of the Game Master’s job to be as “simple” as preparing interesting things to say.

On the surface, this is a simple idea: do your prep work and you’re ready to go. What does this mean? Have your dungeon maps so you can talk about positioning; your aesthetic, so you can talk about pungent mildew collecting on skulls; your stat blocks, so you can talk about claws and venom; your sketches, so you can reference claws and venom sacs; have your NPCs ready, so they can say things that matter. This all seems to be on the Referee though… what about the players?

Well, theoretically: players should be ready to detail the super awesome stylings of their characters. That is, they should be ready to rogue it up as the Zorro-in-residence or hack up some baddies in a truly wizard Conan impression, etc. They should be ready to play their characters… shouldn’t they? Just as players would probably feel a little disheartened by a Ref who scrawled the night’s dungeon on a Cheetos-stained napkin, shouldn’t a Ref be entitled to feeling blue about players who don’t care about playing up their character? Or is that unfair and inappropriate? Or, worse, is it automatically indicative of the Ref’s own failings? I don’t really think it is… I believe a shoddy Ref can put a damper on anyone getting deep into the story and having things they want to say, but I don’t think players without interested in characterization scenes are automatically a result of a bad Ref.

I would hazard a guess that people get really into their characters when they believe they have something to say… by extension, I would assume people do not get into their characters if they believe they have nothing to say. Characters in vacuum receive less characterization than those in a context, I think.

Distill this down: The “problem” — if there is a problem, and I don’t know that there is — is that these scenes of downtime, these scenes of conversation, these scenes of personality bubbling up from beneath your character’s mechanics are what separate the role-playing game from the board game or the war game. Without characterization, you seem to be playing from fight scene to fight scene with nothing of any worth, story-wise, to sink your teeth into.

Cue Characterization Scene: I Apologize
To clarify, I’m not saying this model of moving from fight scene to fight scene or what have you is bad or doesn’t produce good stories; I’m wondering how to give teeth, to give really gravitas to personal scenes of individual discovery or interpersonal exploration, or quiet moments spent together. Is that impossible? Is this idea simply contrary to the constraints of the medium that is “Cooperative Mechanized Fiction,” or whatever title with which you want to saddle role-playing games? Well, I can think of a few that I hold in high regards because of the intelligence that has gone into giving “quiet moments” a real place.

My Life With Master stands out specifically in the way it mechanizes “things to talk about” through a back and forth, escalating dice mechanic. More simply put (because that sentence, in retrospect, looks tedious): MLWM will give you bonus dice of increasing size if you, in order, bring up physical or intimate contact – emotional overtures – true, genuine sincerity. The intrinsic message is “You will have the chance to roll more successfully if you have characterization right now.” Pull on someone’s lapels, discuss a meal, appreciate music, weep uncontrollably, and so forth. Here is your bonus die.

I suppose Primetime Adventures is worth mentioning, given that its mechanics are simplistic and applicable enough to elevate even casual conversation to hyper-relevance. I blush from its inclusion however, in that it specifically wants every scene to be a conflict — this is good for it. It is emulating television and that is good design, but it disallows the “quiet moments” or scenes of which I’m talking. Breathing room. Emotional space.

What about my current one and only, Apocalypse World? Surely it must no I’m going to stop this sentence right here, no it doesn’t. It offers legitimate mechanical incentive to get to know one another, yes I will admit — but this has actually only offered headaches to my group, as they rarely feel they have learned about one another. The only times they feel like their intimacy has changed have been: meeting the new PC in a bar fight, and attempts on one another’s followers’ lives. They have shared scenes before, they have shared agendas before… but by and large, conversation is not a thing that happens. Sitting and sipping seagull wine on the fence is not a scene. The players don’t need to make scenes to report information to one another, because all too often they’ve been sitting at the table the whole time and it feels silly.

(The easy response here is “invent bad news for one player to give to another!” but I feel that falls to closely on the “ref is at fault” mentality that I don’t think is fair in discussing quiet moments in gaming).

My friend has a hack of AW that is coming together, called The Boy and the Girl, which is relevant to this discussion at least slightly. It is a two-player game meant to emulate Person A saves Person B and is on the run fiction… your Princess Brides and your ICOs. In the game, the relationship between the characters can become strained, and for the most part it takes these kinds of quiet moments I’m talking about to calm it down and keep it manageable.

Monsterhearts
Most recently, in playing Joe McDaldno’s fantastic Monsterhearts, the moments of ‘relationship talk’ have been prevalent… and I would hope so, as that is the aim of this product: to create interpersonal moments for characters to be involved in and react to. I’ve observed a couple of really interesting things about the way it handles this. For one, within the mechanics, one can stick other characters with Conditions that can be used to great benefit when rolling against someone — and that can be automatically removed when actions have been taken to deal with them. There are no mechanics behind this rule specifically; the removal of Conditions is completely up in the air, with specific cases for when other mechanics bring it up.

Okay why does this matter: because it suddenly gives teeth to the pep talk, to crying it out, to getting a make-over, to getting a haircut, to going on a date, to going on a camping trip, to watching the sun rise, to … all of these are questionable scenes. Some gamers would scoff at spending time on them when “nothing is happening,” while others would play them to their heart’s content knowing that, honestly, nothing is happening. In Monsterhearts, if I have the Condition “Workaholic” then I want to narrate that social scene that reveals to the players no, I’m not, see? By design or not, quiet moments have impressive power to transform the advantages and disadvantages facing your character.

Before I forget, this sort of thing extends also to Healing in the game. You can heal one point of Harm simply by saying so (and probably by explaining how it happens). However, you can heal an extra point of Harm but only through the tender, intimate care of another person… possibly with sensual subtext. I read that as someone patching you up with no regard for you doesn’t particularly count; I read that as you need someone who treats you emotionally as well as physically. I especially read it as a small challenge to the player-in-question, in that the Ref can offer an extra point of healing on a string if the character accepts/reciprocates their healer’s advances/innocent interest.

Quiet moments with teeth. The moments in your book, TV show, or movie where suddenly, instantly, its become about a real person with quirks and decision-making and fallibility whom you care about. It isn’t just movement and action anymore. It’s that and more.


Never Before Has Grammar Been This Annoying
As an English Major (as can be observed in the tagline at the top of this page), I don’t mind working with grammar. Honestly, I love it. Syntax, grammar, and word-choice are each a fun game I like to engage in — though I maybe less than fantastic any of these things, and I may stumble over my words with frightening regularity.

I think it goes without saying at this point that I do certainly love games.

As a result, there is a frequent form of common ground between my many distracting hobbies (besides being linked frequently on this blog), and that is: rule books. Interpreting dangling participles and garden path sentences is the rule of the day when I first crack open the box of any given game and start digging in.

I know that doesn’t sound awfully exciting. It really isn’t.

When I get the opportunity to read through something or write something for class, I can enjoy perusing the piece and dissecting it to ascertain its inner-workings; examining the ways the sounds and the bits of the sentence play off of one another. It’s play, and it’s fun. When I get the opportunity to play a game or make one up for myself, I can enjoy messing around with the bits of ideas and mechanics; seeing how rules interact or play off of one another. It also is play, and fun. When I am reading a rule book however, it is a strange no-man’s land between the two: I am not reading for leisure, necessarily. I am certainly not playing. I am preparing myself — arming myself! Trying to figure out how to make a given game work like clockwork, and wring every drop of entertainment out of it that I can. I’m a busy college student with papers to write, a fraternity to participate in, classes to get behind in…

I do not have the time to wrestle with rule books at the table. 10 minutes of silence when someone tries to do something and I don’t know how the game handles such a situation is unacceptable — by that point, the others have already checked out and it’s an endeavor to get everyone on track again. Now, imagine this situation expanded to encompass the life of a married couple, a family with children, or a family worried about its car payments, etc. There is no time for trying to understand whether or not you meant the game piece on this side or on that side of the board, especially not in games of social complexity that rely on deception or in-depth interaction.

Diplomacy
On that note, I found a new game this week! It’s called Diplomacy and it’s a war game simulating the conditions of European powers on the bring of World War I. In a lot of ways, it seems like Risk but it differs in a lot of ways. To start, if you’ve ever played Risk then you know that it is a standard board game through and through — by which I mean, there is almost no player to player communication whatsoever through the game. This isn’t necessarily an attack on that game… lots of games fit this model. Connect 4 can be played with no communication, Battleship involves one-way communication and process of elimination (curiously very similar to Guess Who?). Risk consists solely of rolling dice, moving pieces, and occasionally pointing to whomever the territory you’re invading belongs.

Diplomacy, meanwhile, is a highly complex game of social maneuvering as players take on the roles of Generals and Party Leaders in 1901 and build up their nations territories and capital immediately before war breaks out. Sounds about identical to Risk, right? Except that everyone’s turns are performed simultaneously (unlike Risk’s turn structure) and in secret (not in the open for everyone to see). Furthermore, before every round, players allot time to meet and mingle with fellow players to coordinate and plan their actions this turn — to betray friends and support enemies! Tricking players into hating one another, and feigning victim to garner support.

Not dissimilar to the social psychology angle of Werewolves, Diplomacy approaches the tension in a different way. It’s not that you don’t know who to trust (as in Mafia or Werewolves), but that you know you can’t trust any of the players — everyone is trying to manipulate everyone against everyone else. It’s a beautiful pile-up of plans gone horribly awry.

And really complex, you can imagine.

So, you’d hope they’d keep the instructions in the rule book simple and clearly written.

Yeah, about that… This is just a reminder to myself to be more clear and well-spoken in my writings so that one day, long down the road I won’t be the guy being written about for his rule book’s bad examples.

When I finish cutting through all of the poorly rendered grammar and understand this game, I’ll give it a play and write about it! As always, I can be reached at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com with any comments or questions! Please feel free to leave a comment below with a board or role-playing game suggestion for me to check out some time! Feel free to tell me about your nightmare time trying to understand some party game, etc.


Let’s skim past how bad I am at keeping a blog, shall we?

Hey Look I’m Talking About RPGs
Pre-built adventure modules, a popular idea at one point are — if you believe the word on the internet — basically a cash-sink and not profitable enough to form any part of a sustainable business model.

This is what Green Ronin typically says in response to fans of Mutants & Masterminds when they start asking for more iterations of the Time module series (featuring the two fantastic adventures Time of Vengeance and Time of Crisis). I’ve also heard this as an explanation of why pre-built adventure sets are less common, if not rare, in the modern age of Dungeons & Dragons. If it for some reason actually needed disclosure, here it is: I don’t know how true these claims are, but I’ve heard it from the source itself in terms of GR, and I could certainly believe it in regards to D&D based on what I’ve seen at my local game store. If all of this is true — that pre-built adventures are not a sustainable business practice — what does this really mean? It should be a simple answer, but I personally don’t think it is.

What is meant by pre-built adventure? Or Adventure module? I guess what I mean is a document, book, or file containing the overarching notes or beats of an adventure, with necessary rules to implement any new “moving parts” the module is introducing. It should also include information detailing the important non-player characters of the adventure. Simply, it should provide the people, places, and things you will be interacting with — and the best adventure modules detail them sparsely enough that you may redetail them as necessary for your group.

A 4e D&D adventure I’ve purchased fits these specifications. It has NPCs mentioned in passing, with names and details. It has enemies and rules for them. Rules for how to work the MacGuffin, a new moving part for my game. It gives me the overarching beats of the adventure… the parts that have the plot relevant details in them. Okay.

And Here’s The Point
I also just described My Life with Master — it doesn’t name its NPCs, but it gives you a fantastic almost literary analysis of the major one (the Master) and mentions the use of Innocent NPCs in your game. Similarly, a very in-depth breakdown of beats, set pieces, and NPCs is given for Bliss Stage by Ben Lehman — again, the exact details are up to the GM to nail down, but the broad strokes are there. I’m going to include Poison’d too for its very specific story of piratical drama.

And this interests me. Full games that are focused on specific scenes; specific stories to tell. And what interests me more is the idea that adventure modules are not a sustainable enterprise — while a significant number of indie games are built on the premise of telling highly specific stories. It honestly feels a lot like purchasing theatre exercises, or Roman closet plays… or something of that sort. Picking up a particular type of story to tell, gathering the friends and seeing what characters people would like to see get up to what kind of shenanigans tonight. It’s very Commedia dell’arte, with our particular masks and beats to hit in different ways every time. Yeah, that is actually exactly what it feels like!

And I think that’s really cool.

Just thinking out loud in this one. Nothing ground-breaking. Not dissecting anything, and I haven’t in a while so I probably will soon! I’ve been bad at maintaining this blog as the summer got busy and I got very burnt out on lots of gaming stuff. Just a whole lot of work and feeling like I kept hitting walls – but I’m back to work and getting into the groove of things again. Current things in the pipeline to find their way to this blog:

  • Let’s Talka game of awkward confessions and coffee-colored dice, a silly idea cooked up over my plethora of mocha-colored dice.
  • More information about my martial arts/sci-fi game [preston], a game of underworld heroes and nature spirits.
  • Some actual progress on Children who Play With Monsters (Yay!), my game of children runaway to a fantasy land with their monstrous best friends.
  • An announcement about an additional blog (because really… I need another given I’m bad at keeping up with this one?) meant specifically to house actual play reports, short fiction, gaming anecdotes… a place for things that aren’t quite design-oriented.
  • Maybe photos from my production of Of Dice and Men — if my director lets me!

20110618-094325.jpg

All these people, in line, at 9:00am. This is my Saturday, ladies and gentlemen! Kinda cool though, I will admit. I take a certain relaxed approach to this whole time investment only because I did so much work last night. It was extremely productive, and I think I have something cool to share with you nice folks later! Now, back to standing in line! Pictures periodically (maybe)!

20110618-102812.jpg

An adorable guideline booklet for “Magnus Rex” as they’re referring to Batman while on-set. They sat us down and talked at us for a while about how important the role of extra is. It was sweet and all, but everything I know about TV and theatre leaves me pretty sure extras rank below Grips in terms of being appreciated. But maybe that’s just me! Was there for around 3 hours, which wasn’t all that bad really. Spent the time writing and taking notes; just generally working on gaming stuff.

Since I wasn’t honestly up to all that much — just sitting and writing — I don’t have more pictures of casting call.

So here’s a trolley bus!

20110618-100053.jpg


Apparently tomorrow is kind of a cool day! It snuck up on me, but the time has come for Free RPG Day. That’s all well and good of course — you’ll never find me saying no to free games or a holiday revolving around that idea — but I sadly don’t have any nearby store that is participating, so it looks like I’ll have to sit this one out. A shame! Of course, it doesn’t help my involvement any that I am already 100% occupied tomorrow.

The Dark Knight Rises is shooting downtown y’see, and I do believe I’ll be down there messing around and probably taking pictures for my own amusement! They’re casting Extras and I don’t suspect they’ll choose me by any long-shot, but I might as well get out there and take a look at things, yeah? Besides, I’ll bring a bag, some materials, and I’ll spend the 8 hours I’m waiting working on gaming stuff in the lobby of a glitzy hotel! Sounds pretty cool to me. I could go for a change of scenery at this point.

Work Work Work
It’s really surprising how quickly this idea of mine went from “I love games!” to “Wow, games are work!” but I think I’ve lucked out in one particular regard: I’ve been having fun. There’s really no other way to put it, honestly. Despite all of the writing, despite all of the complaining to myself about mathematics, probabilities, genres, themes, “the promise of premise” and more — I’ve been having a blast being hip deep in this work. And I think that is incredibly to my own benefit. I’ve been writing a lot more and that is always a blast for me — I’ve been blogging here, and I’ve been getting my creative juices flowing in the PBP game of My Life With Master I’m Narrating for; hell, I’ve also gotten to enjoy the narrative spoils of testing out Vendetta although I’ve recently slacked on that. Add to that the chance I have to talk about Houses of the Blooded as the chance to play that crops up frequently with my friend Adam, and that he and I took a break from Wick’s incredible game of ven tragedy to give Remember Tomorrow a try… you’ll see I’ve been having the time of any dice-chucker’s life this past month.

I’ve played unfamiliar board games, alien card games, and experimented with ways to manipulate storytelling more recently than ever before. My head has been pounding with ideas, with concepts, with a metric ton of things I constantly feel the desperate need to get down on paper lest I lose them. I’ve been following game designers on twitter, which lead directly to me discovering a really fantastic humanitarian effort — and when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been scanning blogs, reading design diaries, talking to people. I’ve been specializing, I guess, and so my knowledge and perspective have deepened and spread like roots. It’s been amazing, is what it’s been. I don’t really have any other way of putting it. It’s transformed a lot of ways I’ve been thinking about things — or expanded it at the very least.

Nothing super special to say today, honestly. Just a day spent looking back and being really happy.

Also, I have a present for all of you out there. Stay tuned!


After my last post regarding going silent for a while, I of course did the mature thing and didn’t post for a while. Good excuse this time! I flew out of my hometown on Thursday evening, arriving in Atlanta that same night — and through a carefully orchestrated escapade of breaking speed limits, stalling a birthday party, and sneaking into a game of Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow I surprised my girlfriend with an unannounced visit meant to alleviate the soulcrushing job she is stuck in this summer. I stayed in town for the weekend and enjoyed some fantastic times including…

  • playing Werewolves with the friends
  • sitting outside of a pub on a warm night and talking game theory as it relates to independent publishing and Children Who Play With Monsters with her and our mutual friends
  • going boating/swimming on Lake Lanier with the friends
  • seeing Georgia Shakespeare’s The Tempest with the friends
  • enjoying some simple Amazon/NetFlix relaxation with the friends
  • playing Crow’s Hoard with the friends
  • playing Kemps with the friends
  • reading Sorcerer while the friends were cooking
  • eating delicious lasagna made by the girlfriend
  • playing L.A. Noire with the friends
  • getting drowned by surprise midnight sprinklers like a true hero
  • discussing with the girlfriend her upcoming staging of Of Dice and Men

Overall, it was a really fantastic and amazing weekend. I had fun! And that is why I have nothing to say about games today.

Okay, No, Not Really
So I was reading Ron Edward’s Sorcerer for a few reasons while I was down there. For one, it could be argued that Edwards’ game of Faustian bargains  is as critical to the entire concept of “independent publishing” as Dungeons & Dragons is to role-playing in general. Obviously, not everyone will agree with this — and that’s fine — but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Edwards went from an unformatted ASCII file that he would e-mail out to people upon request for free, to receiving $5 bills in the mail for the quality of the game, to now being (arguably) the figurehead/idol of “indie” role-playing games and their designers. So, it would behoove me to have a passing knowledge of the games that some may argue “defined” or at least instigated a generation. The other reason is that after a cursory glance, I saw some elements that could very well help me out in my work on Children Who Play With Monsters! I’m going to continue reading through and seeing what I can glean from it that might patch some holes.

Sorcerer is an RPG that revolves around protagonist who have begun to master the abilities to contact, summon, and bind demons to the physical plane. They may be commanded, directed, chided, persuaded, or whatever method your sorcerer thinks appropriate — all to get them to perform as you desire, to accomplish your aims in this life. As a sorcerer, you are definitively arrogant; self-absorbed to the point that no amount of harm or injury short of death itself can keep you from acting to accomplish your designs. However, you must beware — as every step you take is no doubt beset by the legions on all sides, and they will lie and manipulate with every trick they possess to hold sway over you or abandon you for one greater. And this does not even address the risk posed to your Humanity by tampering with things best left untouched.

It’s like World of Darkness but I feel like I could actually play it without a degree in gothic literature.

Specifically, it’s impossible to ignore the central concept of “person who is bound to a monster” that resonates between Sorcerer and CWPWM. The works are different enough, though — there is always a level of enmity between the protagonists’ and their bound demons in Sorcerer, an element that is intentionally absent overall from CWPWM… also, note the plurality of demons, and the intentional decision for the Child to only have one Monster ever. This isn’t Pokémon. But yeah… the demon and sorcerer are created together, they’re critical to one another, there’s a stat tracking the end game, and the game is system lite. It’s comparable enough that it is good reading to at least see how someone else addressed the parameters.


Poetical descriptions for “not blogging” aside…

I feel as though I have been especially quiet on this space recently. Even with the reposting of Vendetta, I feel like I haven’t been writing much — which is an entirely fair feeling, as for the past seven days I was merely reposting what I had written a week prior. It was a nice break, honestly, but it was also draining in its own unique way. I wasn’t creating in any particularly special way (though I was sure to make some minor tweaks here and there to the document as I published its individual parts) and I think that I was missing that element of design spark throughout the whole affair. I’m going to try fixing that in the near future, and get myself back into the swing of publishing my ideas to this writing space. The creation… the making up ideas to help illustrate higher concepts, that is why I started this in the first place. I’m not in this (or attempting to be “in this”) to show off my totally cool system for swords & sorcery fantasy or whatever else you can find on the internet a dozen times over. I keep telling myself that I’m trying to write something I would love to play, and as I sit here and tinker late at night/early in the morning with mechanical ideas and storytelling caveats I find myself frequently playing a certain soundtrack.

Part of It All
I stage-manage a lot. I’d like stage-managing to be a job I get to do a lot of — a job with a legitimate paycheck, work schedule, and colleagues in the field; the whole nine yards. This past year, I was lucky enough to stage manage the Atlanta premiere of [title of show] (you can see our poster when the page loads; top immediately right of the site’s page listings). It’s a show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical — and it’s hilarious, and it’s uplifting in so many different ways as far as I’m concerned. This is the soundtrack that I listen to as I labor over what I could possibly be bringing to the world of gaming, wondering if I should just give up now and get myself a “more realistic” pipe dream; specifically, it’s the song “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” that get’s put on repeat… and when it’s not that song, it’s “Die Vampire, Die!” instead. And I’m either telling myself that I should be writing something that I would love, or that I shouldn’t be letting my own self-doubt cripple everything I want to be.

Some solid after-school special style advice there, you know.

My showing of [tos] was immensely lucky in that the author himself, Hunter Bell, was not only in-town at the time — but he was in the audience and stayed afterwards to talk to us about the show. He talked about his experiences with it, and what he saw in our performance; we talked about our experiences with it, and got feedback and anecdotes that tied everything together. It was really great hearing the author himself praise what we had set out to do. My highlight of this story comes when I asked him how the show looked overall… lighting transitions, sound cues, black-outs, lights-up, and all of that. I was asking how the entire package looked above and beyond the sum of its parts, how it looked as I was calling it from up in the light booth. He said it looked great, and I think the man apologized for the second act being a bitch to call lights for.

That’s just been on my mind as I write write write and listen to these songs to help motivate me; that the creator would say something like that about what is, honestly, a great show. It makes sense if you remember that Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen wrote the original draft for three weeks and then just sent it off and hoped for the best. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say so far. I need a bit of that cut-loose right there. Everything is a work-in-progress, but I should at least have something to point at and say “This is what I’ve accomplished,” and it will be mine regardless of what people think.

Vampires
Having said all that and honestly meaning all of it: I have not yet staked the Vampire of Despair in my life, and I do not have a playable module of Children Who Play With Monsters completed. I could blame it easily on the fact that, instead, I stayed up for two days writing out the 7000 word document that is now Vendetta — and while this would be true and mildly impressive, it still represents a missed deadline that I set for myself. I’ll excuse things getting off track because of the seven-day posting spread, though, even if it also served to hamper any writing for CWPWM that I was hoping to accomplish. There was no helping that turn of events, overall. I’ll just do better in the future is what it boils down to.

Updates on that front though: CWPWM remains in a state where I can put together a module easily enough if I just sit down and actually commit to getting work done; package the character creation rules in with the conflict rules, include the rulings behind Flashbacks and the Fable, and throw in some examples with a prototype character sheet — and that would about cover the earliest, most simplistic testing to be done about whether or not it really plays like anything at all or if I need to rework that front. I’ll put this together some time soon. However, I’ve been distracted by other projects…

Favorite Things
The obvious one is Vendetta. I actually put together an idea for a character sheet the other day, and a friend of mine has now begun to help me test the system. I figure I’ll include updates on how this testing is going from time to time, including insights on how to improve the game, new mechanical ideas, and any set-backs, realizations, moments of genius that occur. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect, but I am anticipating the worst as my ideas might fall apart — so I figure I’ll be pleasantly surprised overall! It may be about time to put together a Page just for Vendetta at this point. If my work on it keeps up at this rate, it might wind up being my first product! But seriously, I’ve started considering putting together individual pages on this blog for my projects as they approach different levels of completion. I think I will set the criteria at:

You can have your own unique page when you’re completed; you can share a project page when you have a test module.

Beyond Vendetta, work began earlier this week on a new idea that I am very excited to explore. And once again (I’m detecting a theme in how I am inspired to design! And it’s a theme I have no problem with) it takes its cues from movies and television. This project, which for now I’m simply going to refer to as [leon], is going to be my attempt to capture the intriguing elements of humanization in stories told heavily from the perspective of the mundane people whose lives are invaded by men or women trained to kill on command. Theoretically, in this game, the players would take on the role of these everyday people who have it in their hearts to risk their lives and their livelihoods as they get wrapped up in dramas they could not conceive, desperate to save the soul of someone else’s monster.

Not A Lot To Talk About…
Yeah, I don’t have much to say today. Nothing of a lot of interest anyway! Just some mission statements, really. Work More On CWPWM. Test More Of Vendetta. Outline Some Plans For [leon]. I have a lot of notebooks in front of me right now for all of this. One is currently host to an unrelated game’s notes from a year ago; one is the current home for random phrases and ideas that I don’t want to lose, and my random scribbles linking them together with other orphaned concepts; a stack of note cards sits nearby so I can — at a moment’s notice — throw an entire concept down on a card and tuck it safely away somewhere for me to explore at a later date; and a black and red legal notebook is the place in which I am putting all of my ideas that have made it through the fires. The ideas that have some sort of shape to them, some sort of design in mind, an actual form and purpose… these guys go into the black and red notebook in excruciating detail. I’ve made myself a promise, as I was writing my information in the front cover of this book.

When I publish my first game, I will let myself write a company name on the inside cover. I’m excited to do that. It’ll be a fun objective and reward.

As always, please leave any comments, questions, or thoughts in the comment section below. What do you do when you have to grapple with excruciating self-doubt? How do you overcome your fears associated with the projects you’re working on? What promises have you made yourself to reward your continued hard work and efforts? Feel free to talk about them below!

I can, of course, be reached at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com for any further questions or comments. Thanks for reading!


Sidebar
Somehow I managed to go this entire weekend without realizing I had completely failed to post something on Friday. Whoops.

Success & Failure (cont’d)
When there are two sides to a Conflict, one side wins and the other loses; one side gets their intention, and the other does not; one side protects their Ties and the other doesn’t get their way; one side Fights or Commits Ultraviolence and the other suffers. If there are ever three or more sides in a Conflict that includes Violence dice, hell breaks loose. Rather than compare the highest die from each side to determine the winner overall, arrange your dice from greatest value to lowest value as before and compare them across the board for each side’s pool of dice: highest die vs highest die vs highest die, and so on. If the dice all match? It’s a stand-off. Look dramatically at everyone else at the table, nobody dies yet, keep role-playing. It has to be a tie for everyone involved for it to be a stand-off. Otherwise, everyone who rolled higher than the unlucky side(s) has the Advantage, and selects one character from that side and sends him to the Morgue or the Hospital as per the usual rules. Compare the next set of dice, and so on and so on until the side with the fewest dice runs out, or only one side remains.

Yes. Three-way shoot-outs are deadly, prone to barely justified alliances, and everyone gets shot. People who never deserved to get shot are almost always the first ones to take the bullet, and no one tends to walk away unscathed. And before I forget: when you have the Advantage, you are also allowed to target anyone part of your side. Like I said… barely justified alliances. Everyone gets shot.

Survival
Hey! You made it through a game session! Your character lives! He probably made some hard choices along the way… interfered with a Moment of Silence, got into a Fight, earned a Trauma, made a Compromise… It was a busy game session. But the point is, you made it. Good for you. Go ahead and select one of these options for your character: decrease your Depravity by 1 rank; increase a Tie by 1 Point; if you increased your Depravity this game, scratch off a Trauma perpetrated (remember: you can never remove a Trauma you’ve been victim to). You cannot decrease your Depravity to 0 this way. You cannot increase your Tie to 10 this way — Those changes must be done during game-play using a Moment of Silence.

The Final Scene
The end-game. The climax. Time to see what it’s all come down to. The Final Scene is triggered whenever any character’s Depravity reaches 10 Ranks, or one of a character’s Ties reaches 10 points. If a character manages to reach Depravity 10, then they are all consumed by violence — disconnected from the world around them, no empathy, an angel of death in lead and gunsmoke. If a character manages to get a Tie up to 10 Points, then they have discovered their life’s passion — their one, absolute object of affection or personal destiny that they will leave behind their sordid past to achieve. Below are rules for each possible outcome. There is a lot of overlap, and a lot of possible upsets as each situation affects everyone else at the table and brings them into the same high stakes situations as your character. As in the fiction: When one character get’s close to making a life for himself, everything gets that much harder… people get jealous, get stupid, get ideas. And when your character really gets bad, everyone else gets jumpy and expects the knife in their back before the day is out…

Angels of Death, Robed in Lead, on Wings of Gunsmoke
When one character reaches Depravity 10, consider all brothers to be at Depravity 10 when dealing with him. When one character reaches Depravity 10, no brother may sacrifice a Tie to avoid being sent to the Morgue. That’s how these stories end. Lots of tears, lots of bullets, lots of body bags. At Depravity 10, few problems are not solved by Ultraviolence — remember that when negotiating for your Vendetta, or the girl you love, or the brother you hate… Also, when one character has reached Depravity 10, no characters may share sides except for Ties. And would you really put them in the line of fire just for a few more dice? Really? Your goal at this point is to secure your Vendetta (which no one should be making easy for you), and do whatever your crew thinks would be appropriate for securing the safety of your highest valued Tie.

When one character reaches 10 Points in a Tie, they’ve found their calling and want out of the life of violence and struggle to start again with whatever their Tie may be — school, family, ma, the open road… But their dream requires setting right everything in the past. When one character reaches 10 Points in a single Tie, all brothers are considered to have 10 Points in a single Tie — and they should immediately declare what Tie it will be. In addition, any character who has a Vendetta with this character is now considered to have Depravity 10 so long as the Vendetta exists. No character may Compromise using their 10 Point Tie… you can’t be determined to leave your life of crime behind if you’re hawking your ma’s jewelry to feed your escape. Now’s the time to draw a line in the sand. Your goal at this point is to get out the game by committing to a new life — narrate the scene involving your 10 Point Tie and include a legitimate cross-road between their new life and old… then, as if you were rolling for Trauma, roll Violence dice equal to your Depravity against dice equal to your number of Ties. If the Humanity dice win, the character gets out. Give him a bittersweet denouement. It’s only so good. If the Violence dice win, the character can’t rise above himself. Immediately increase his Depravity to 10 and follow the above rules.

In the above, the phrase “consider all brothers to [X],” where X is a score for a certain trait, should be treated to mean: for all intents and purposes where it would matter, treat the trait at the specified value; however, any other derivative effects pertaining to the End-Game are not triggered by this effected score. ie, when my Tie reaches 10 Points, your Vendetta with me means you are now considered to be Depravity 10; however, that does not make anyone else at the table Depravity 10.

Final Thoughts
This game was put together hastily, in a very stream of conscious manner. It’s not perfect by any stretch. It may not be balanced. The End-Game especially needs an overhaul just because it reads in a clunky manner — but the amount of blood and last second reversals it can generate is actually nearly exactly how it should be. I’ve already started working on a second version of this, only because I openly acknowledge the size of the pools of dice needed to play this game in it’s current form. The second version is currently tinkering with dice sizes in the style of Dogs in the Vineyard which is definitely interesting enough. It’s influences are here, in this text, if you look at it: the idea of escalating from protecting your Ties, to Compromising, to Fighting. Then Ultraviolence existing as a complete separate thread for the stuff your character doesn’t love but wants to control. It’s there. In the future, I’d probably gut some of DitV‘s mechanics and use them in Vendetta2.0, with shifting relationships and changing dice values. I’m also looking at inflicting status conditions on the people around you, in the manner of Jonathon Walton’s Geiger Counter (built off of Vincent Baker’s Afraid rules) and Remember Tomorrow. The ability to make a character [alone], [unarmed], [injured], [armed] and the like as the end result of scenes of role-playing is immensely intriguing, and fits with part of the idea I’m having… that you could achieve those with either Fighting or Talking… but you’ll have an easier time of one or the other. Just some thoughts.

I will be playing this game with a friend and I’ll be sure to post some notes about it at a later time. Thanks for suffering through a week of these reposts! Back to real work.


Tools & Weapons
On the subject of violence, certain tools and weapons would understandably make it easier to force your will on others — it turns out, a lot of arguments lose their steam when your rebuttal is baseball bat. If a character possesses a Tool (which we’ll define as anything typically treated as a “melee weapon” in other games), he may treat two additional dice as Violence dice — suddenly makingFighting more likely to go in his favor, and more likely to increase his Depravity as a result. A Gun (those are the two options: Tools & Guns) functions similarly for the sake of this game, with one more terrifying perk. A Gun will either add one additional die as a Violence die, or it will treat all dice involved as Violence Dice. A Gun is the edge in Ultraviolence, and a Gun makes a normal Fight a death-wish.

Thicker than Water
Ties are your character’s tether to this world; their link to the mundane and beautiful. Ties are what your character is about, what he lives for, who he lives for… and a couple considerations and exceptions exist regarding them. For one, Ties can keep you from going too far — they can calm you down, call you back to reality when you’re in the throes of a destructive frenzy. Those scenes where someone important is telling the character that the goon “ain’t worth the trouble?” Those are what I’m talking about. If you pick a Fight in the presence of a Tie of yours, it takes an additional success on the Violence Dice to succumb. This means it takes at least 2 successes on Violence Dice to send the victim to the Hospital, to inflict Trauma, and to increase your Depravity by 1. In the presence of a Tie, in fact, it is impossible to send a victim to the Morgue. Successes from Violence Dice still count as successes; the first is essentially a “freebie” Humanity die in the presence of a Tie. Committing Ultraviolence in the presence of a Tie, however, reduces its value by 1 Point.Ultraviolence can’t be reeled in — that’s counter to the very point of it; your Ties cannot stop it, cannot save you from it.Ultraviolence functions normally around Ties, including sending characters to the Hospital, Morgue, Trauma, and Depravity. It can’t really be stopped. Be careful who you cut loose around.

Success & Failure
Basically, assume that you’re going along with whatever is happening in the game. The Narrator narrates, and you’re interacting withe NPCs, the Ties, the Antagonists, your brothers… but when something doesn’t click? When you want control? When you don’t want to play into the frame the Narrator has provided? Then it’s time for Conflict. Conflict isn’t about you the player getting control technically although that is how it works out; it’s about your Character getting control of the situation going on around him.

A carjacker tears the character out of a car.
“No, he doesn’t. Conflict.”

The Irish crime boss comes and starts collecting protection money from your shop’s till.
“No, he doesn’t. Conflict.”

Your Brother takes your shotgun from under the bar to deal with the guys messing with his car out front.
“No. He Does Not. Conflict.”

You roll Conflict for control of the action. You roll Conflict when the scene is going somewhere your character doesn’t want it to. You could roll to change someone’s opinion after hearing them speak — or you can nod along and agree, and only roll against him when he expects you to act accordingly. That’s your call. Playing along until the last minute? Nipping the problem in the bud when it first comes up? Your calls. You roll when your character wants to steer the course of the action in the scene.

Select the number of dice as appropriate to the Conflict, as outlined above. Remember that you can only use the same die pool once in a scene — so if you fail to use your Ties, you can’t roll again until you FightCompromise, or Commit Ultraviolence — all of which change your die pool. You can try again in a different scene, but understand that it’s possible the conditions have changed and you may not get your way! Or it may be harder for one reason or another! These are the risks of maybe not being willing to draw the gun — you already know the risks of being more than willing to draw the gun. With the number of dice ready, you throw them and arrange them in descending order: highest to lowest. Compare the highest die with the highest single die of your challenger; in the event of a tie, compare the next two highest dice; in the event of a tie, compare the next two highest dice… until you determine a winner.

In the case of a full-tie (each die is the same), the larger die pool is the winner always by Violence, unless the winner chooses to give up. If the die pools are the same size, then the scene is interrupted in such a way that the conflict is moot for the time being. It can be revisited in a later scene, but for now neither side has gotten its way. Take note: A Violence Die beats a Humanity Die of the same value (Violent 3 beats a normal 3).

Since you roll for control of a Conflict, you are always rolling against someone. That’s another player’s character (and one of your brothers) or a character being run by the Narrator, and maybe even more than one. There is not a limit to the number of characters able to take part in a Conflict for control of the outcome, but there are a couple caveats here. Any time a Brother is in a scene with you and on your side (meaning, the exact same Intention declared) choose which of you will roll his dice, and give him a bonus Humanity die or Violence die — of the assisting Brother’s choice. Follow the usual rules for Violence Dice and Depravity for both Brothers, unless their Depravity is unequal. In which case, the Brother with the lower Depravity score and only that brother suffers the effects of Violence dice.

Jeez. You act like you’ve never seen a guy bleed before, Joey. Grow up.

Stay tuned for Part 7


The Guts, The Balls, The Heart
This said, the ability to send someone to the Morgue is not entirely in the player or the character’s hands. Remember: choosing to send someone to the Morgue or the Hospital is a choice available only when a character succeeds in a Conflict through the use of Violence dice. Succeed but not on Violence dice? It’s a scuffle, punches are probably thrown — but everyone walks away. A little bloody, a little bruised, but everyone walks away. Succeed on the Violence dice? Everything goes pear shaped. Too far. Depravity. To send someone to the Morgue: when you succeed on the Violence dice, you must also in the same dice pool roll lower than your current Depravity. Take note: with Depravity ranked 0 or 1, you cannot send someone to the Morgue. Even if you really wanted to, even if it made perfect sense to save your family. You can’t bring yourself to do it. You care too damn much. Sorry if you agreed to do a hit to get your Brother the cash he needs; you won’t be able to go through with it. Should probably find a way to resolve that.

So, the only way to send someone to the Morgue is to get your Depravity up. Remember, that means Moments of Violence, or picking Fights and winning them on your Violence dice — but if your Depravity is 0 or 1, you’ll only have 1 or 2 Violence dice in a fight… what’re the odds you’ll increase your Depravity? Ya know… if you wanted to, that is (because of course you don’t). More generally: how can you increase your chances of sending someone off to the Hospital, just to get them out of the way for a while? There’s a reason for weapons. Makes violence easier, turns out.

A History of Violence
So, an NPC or a brother is doing something that your character takes issue with. Something he doesn’t want to happen. Something that you, the player, would rather not occur in the story that is being played out. You could raise your voice slightly and request ever so sweetly that the story not go that way, or you could deal with it and resolve it like so (actually, that’s a lie. You don’t have a choice. This is how to do it). You may start a Conflict to get your way. Each participant states their Intention in the Conflict; you likely state something different than what the NPC just proposed, while the NPC probably just restates their original point… it’d make sense, wouldn’t it?

  • If the Conflict is an immediate threat to one of your Ties in the scene, or if it is not an immediate threat and the Tie is not in the scene: you receive a number of dice equal to the full Point value of the Tie.
  • If the Conflict is not an immediate threat to one of your Ties in the scene, or is an immediate threat and the Tie is not in the scene: you receive a number of dice equal to half the full Point value of the Tie, rounded up.
  • If the Conflict is important enough to you, you may bring additional dice into play: you receive a number of dice dependent on Compromising, Fighting, and Committing Ultraviolence.
  • If the Conflict does not involve your Ties in anyway: you receive 0 dice and must go along with the conflict, unless you bring dice into play.
  • If you participate in a Conflict: you may not initiate an identical conflict in the same scene; something in your die pool must change.

Dice brought into play by your Ties are, essentially, Humanity Dice. They’re dice there for the betterment of those around you, because you care about them — they represent a willingness to stand up for them, what you think is right; a force of presence, confidence, and intention that may help you get your way. Humanity Dice aren’t 100% friendly. These dice still represent lying, cheating, stealing, intimidation, kidnapping, and extorting as much as they represent persuasion, requests, confidence, and other positive influences. The point is that these dice are fueled by you doing it for what matters to you. You roll these dice in defense of your Ties. If these dice — for all the discussion, debate, screaming, and plate throwing they represent — do not get you your way, you have options.

Your character may try to Compromise if they wish. Decrease a Tie the character possesses by 1 Point in order to roll a number of dice equal to it’s Point total before you Compromised. You try to get what you want, but you sacrifice the integrity of one of your Ties in the process… you offer the money from hawking parts of Pa’s car, you offer money from the bar’s cash till, you beg and plead in the name of your lover; you try to better your chances of getting your way by putting up something else’s worth in your own place. If you get your way, it has nothing to do with you. It will only be because of the Compromise. The Point spent is lost regardless of success or failure. The dice earned persist for the whole scene. The character may Compromise in defense of his Ties, his brothers, or for an unrelated Conflict.

The character may also try to Fight if they wish. Add to your pool of dice a number of Violence Dice equal to 1 + your Depravity rank in order to Fight. You try to get what you want, and you’re willing to throw a punch to get it. Willing to scuffle, willing to swing, willing to kick and scream and bite and bleed — but it’s all for her (or him… we don’t judge!) and you don’t forget that; you try to better your chances of getting your way by throttling the skulls of the people who disagree. If you get your way, the philosophers in the audience might question if it was worth it (hint: you should too). If you succeed on the Violence Dice, then you increase your Depravity by 1 rank, and you also take a Trauma — as does your victim. The character may Fight only in defense of his Ties and his brothers.

The character may also, if he chooses, Commit Ultraviolence. Add to your pool of dice a number of Violence Dice equal to 1 + twice your Depravity rank in order to Commit Ultraviolence. You get what you want. This is not about protecting any of your Ties. This is you, and only you. Your character can never make the claim that he did this for anyone but himself — and he knows it, whether he admits it or not; your character gets his way by putting himself first and damn everyone else. He get’s the mob boss to trust him, but only by shooting you in the gut; he get’s that goon to put his gun down, but only after stomping his hand to mush; he sets you up to take the fall, and the police take you down — he saves you from the fire, but immediately turns around and throws the arsonist into it. Someone gets hurt. Someone will always get hurt. The character may never Commit Ultraviolence in defense of his Ties — he may Commit Ultraviolence when he could otherwise use a Tie, but it’s an admission that he is doing it for himself. The character may Commit Ultraviolence in defense of his brothers.

Stay tuned for Part 6