Archives for category: Thinking Out-Loud

The following is reproduced from my G+ account, with additional content added at the end.

I Work Hard For The Money
So, I have a job. With my big ol’ college education, I work at a hotel in the audio/visual department. I shouldn’t snark at it, I really like my job, honestly. It’s fun in the weird way that I enjoyed TV Broadcasting in high school and working the Theatre in college — something needs to be done and you have to puzzle together cabling and such to make it happen. My major fears are: they’ll realize/decide I’m more trouble than I’m worth and out the door I go, or I’ll eventually get so good that it won’t be puzzling together sound systems anymore… I’ll just know what I’m doing and it will suddenly be boring.

So, yeah. Can’t just let myself be happy that I’m good at my job, have steady income, roof over my head, and a lovely girlfriend. Gotta be paranoid, man.

Or else.

Game Dump, Project [Amada]
Haven’t done anything game-related in a week or two, my Monsterhearts game non-withstanding. So, here is some semi-mindless game-dump which hasn’t been vetted in any way. Aw yeah, my unadultered musings.

Battlestar Galactica Board Game has resource sliders. I want to steal them and make a mecha wartime RPG like “08th MS Team” or Steel Battalion. Mech combat is about the goal/worry of depleting fuel, bullets, and armor. Lead an enemy on a chase and watch their fuel vanish — but watch out for the mortar fire that is chipping off your armor. Secure resources and refill your tickers, but there’s only so much to go around… people who restock the least get the most XP.

Mech’s get 5 basic dice called Fitness for Duty dice, that are just all-around quality of the mech. Crappy mechs who haven’t been overhauled recently lose FDD as the game goes on. Bonus dice are in the form of, basically, Aspects that are mech Specifications. (“Deep Stealth Module” mechs get bonus dice for sneaking, “SSM Mounting” gives you gobs of dice for blowing up other mechs) Keeps it loosey-goosey but still has some detail built into it. Activate your Specs by spending the appropriate of Fuel, Bullets, and Armor.

Something-something-something removes FDD. But seriously, something like you can ignore the damage from an Armor hit by giving up an FDD and detailing how critical systems are harmed when the damage blows-through, bypassing the majority of your armor in a lucky shot. Why would you do that? Well, maybe you think being blind is better than being armorless, or you weren’t planning on shooting back anyway, etc. FDD reflect Weapons Control, Comms/Sensors, Life Support, Locomotion, and something else I’m totally blanking on at the moment.

Making bitchin’ maps would be baller for this game, so you could chart your wartime campaign overtime. Smaller maps should be sketched up hastily for conflicts, and divided into quadrants based on terrain — like, draw a dividing line along where a cliff side drops away to a settlement, or draw a dividing line around some thick woods. I figure you can totally set fuel costs in small increments on terrain movement (so players can plan their sieges and such and someone can bang on the table and shout “We don’t have the resources, dammit!”)

As characters, I figure they’ll probably have stuff I guess since that’s what players like apparently. Pfft. But seriously, I’m hand-wobbling on this at the moment (that deep level of thought where you just kind of weigh your hands back and forth a lot, ya know?) I had this whole gritty d100 idea with scary combat and armor and cover being vital and choosing to take battlescars capping the damage you’re taking so players had some control over how lethal things got. But ya know what, no one likes d%s not even Mama d% and besides d% doesn’t even jive with the ideas listed above unless I decided to explode everything up to the 100s level?

And I don’t think anyone wants the unnecessary book-keeping of “Spend 20 Fuel to maneuver through these shitty woods,” “Spend 40 Fuel to pursue the enemy.” That whole extra 0 just gets annoying because you’ll never find any numbers used between 10s.

I know I want characters to have Knacks and Flaws or some nonsense. Your Knack is some niche-protection. What you want them to specialize in during play, basically your character concept. Your Knack makes you the default author of minutia and things relating to it and the narrative as well as some rerolls probably. Your Flaw is obviously something crappy. It also gives you bonus dice. Wait what? Well, because I want the players to cut the game away to scenes of their characters problems, so when they frame that scene, they get bonus dice on their next challenge. Flaws have ranks that fluctuate through play, increasing or decreasing the number of times you can draw on your Flaw bonus per session.

(Honestly that last paragraph just sounds like I’m trying to reinvent Aspects and doing a terrible job of it so that paragraph can probably just go right to hell and rent a room, but actually I’ll probably keep it in a Trash Document to mine later).

So, looks like I’m tinkering with a game that is a bit of resource-management tucked into some dice-rolling. Okay. I’m okay with those play elements. Also, I should stop writing this because those d%s are starting to look mighty pretty right now, and I won’t wish that evil on anyone.

New Thoughts
The above was all taken from a post I made on my G+ account the other day, so I figure I’ll dump some additional commentary down here and see where it takes me.

The exact thought process behind wanting to go through with this game idea is to address some of my feelings towards The Aegis Project by John Wick. I like John Wick’s work, but it has this tendency to veer towards non-playability as in his game Cat. Cat is unplayable. It is broken — it calls for mechanics that aren’t explained elsewhere in the document, for example. But John Wick has great ideas, you see, and I love that. However, I cannot play The Aegis Project with the number of errors present in the text, unless I had a print copy to go in and write out my own edits.

So apparently I decided the thing to do was make up my own mech wargame? Not the intelligent, calculated reaction by any means — but I wanted a project to tackle. So, for now, it’s just a fun little distracting project.

What I want to do: provide options for military roles and civilian roles; paint a picture of guerrilla-style conflict or “facts on the ground” play; mess around with a new system and work on my mechanic-building chops; focus on the conflict of Need vs Have.

We’ll see where I go with this!

“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.

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.

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!

Let’s dive right in without any time spent rambling about this, that, or the other! The question/issue/thought of the day is: empowering with mechanics the narrator’s otherwise strictly narrative responsibilities/powers.  So, some musings that I wound up generating as part of my work on my Free RPG Day-inspired creation [preston] (I’ve decided! Name the things I’m working on with film references!) that I’m — well, I’m a little proud of, to be honest. Is it original? With all of the games out there, I doubt it. But, that doesn’t change that I had just a bit of fun concocting this.

The Land of Lakes and Rivers
Prefacing thought: I love wuxia; I love martial arts films. I love those stories about societal outcasts being the only ones who can set things right — the only ones who can establish any actual justice in a land dominated by corrupt officials, and groups or individuals bent on taking advantage of the meek. In these stories, there is a concept known as the jianghu that pulls double duty in that it refers to: 1) the sub-culture of outcasts, heroes, and wanderers that populate these stories and the associated temples, clans, and the like… and 2) the actual setting or world in which the wuxia stories take place. These are both known as “the land of lakes and rivers.” Jianghu. This second one is the cool one as far as we are concerned.

The point of this is to create a mechanical incentive towards plots and stories that can serve to add extra flavor to conflicts or encounters, by granting bonuses as rewards to players for going along with your ideas — and granting bonuses to antagonists on behalf of the problems and distractions that arise from these subplots. In effect, players always have the option in moments of stress to get the extra edge they need… but this means introducing extra danger, intrigue, and conflict further down the storytelling line.

So… pull out a sheet of paper when you start your game, and collect a whole mess of dice of whatever sizes you want. You’re gonna scrawl some circles on this sheet of paper, and sketch some lines branching off of these circles too. Once your piece of paper has: circles, lines, and piles of dice then you are ready to proceed, basically.

Guidelines that are little educational: Let the number of dice be indicative of how exclusive or inclusive you want a plot point to be (ie, in a group of five, you want multiples of 5 to include everyone; in a group of 5, a multiple of 1 will likely restrict involvement to a single player) — and let the size of the dice represent how enticing/pervasive/likely to occur you figure the plot point is (ie, d4s for something small, and upwards for greater import).

Landscaping Your Plots
The circles you draw should be labelled with the identities of groups or individuals that are relevant to your game; Antagonists or antagonistic groups, basically! These circles should be thought of as your Lakes — great bodies of water from which many rivers flow, and many stories spring! Take arrangements of your dice, and group them within these circles… 1d4, 1d6, 1d8 or whatever you’d like. Again, number of sides to entice the players, and number of dice to allow/restrict access. Dump these dice into the circles in prearranged groups. This is important, though: the total number of groups is also going to indicate, to a degree, how long the plots are going to linger… because when the lake has dried up, the antagonist has gotten their way.

There’s a Narrator who’s decided that, hey, his Big Bad Corporation is going to be responsible for some stuff in the game! He figures, I’ve got some really fun ideas so I want to bribe everyone to play along, and I really like the idea of making it the kind of plots that only a couple people can get in on… the Narrator draws a circle labeled Big Bad Corporation and puts three groups of 2d8 within. Three people can nab these dice, on the condition that they further implement the Narrator’s plot and antagonist, and get bonuses for it! But later on, the Narrator is within his rights to roll these dice as bonuses for his Antagonist as plans come to fruition!

Ok, but wait — how do we get this water flowing? How do we move these dice off of their host antagonists and showcase their influences in the character’s lives? These are those lines you draw branching off from the circle on your piece of paper. These lines are your rivers. Scribble down plot seeds on these lines. This is you making story offers to your players, letting them know what you have in mind, and casting a wide storytelling net. You let the players make their own decisions about what subplots to bring into play — and you get to see what they actually care about! There isn’t anything special here to explain: scrawl down plot seeds connected to your piles of dice. When people grab those dice, these are their choices.

The Narrator has some ideas, and he throws them down on paper. Underneath his Big Bad Corporation circle loaded with three groups of 2d8, he jots down: “A briefcase whose contents people will kill over.” With only three groups of dice, this seems like an okay plot seed… Players will be able to get their 2d8 by narrating the infamous briefcase into their character’s life, and antagonists will benefit from this and likewise receive dice. One all three sets of dice are gone from the lake, whatever plans the Big Bad Corporation had centered around the briefcase will be fulfilled! Time to make some new plot seeds that expand on this.

Relation to [preston]
I’m using this concept in [preston], basically verbatim to what I’ve typed here, with the only real change being that characters will have a trait about them that allows players to deflect the penalty dice onto NPCs that are critical to the character in question… sparing themselves the harm and bad luck, but risking those dearest to them.

Drama abounds.

So, yeah. That’s my idea for supplying a mechanical incentive for pursuing and elaborating on plot threads that narrators may be interested in, without actually railroading players — it lets you weave subplots, as the benefits, detriments, and subplots gradually appear over time and begin to collect in the character’s lives. Feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or questions because as always I love to hear from anybody who reads this blog — and of course, I am always reachable at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.

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!

So I failed to post the last couple days, but I have been working — I’ve been typing away like a storm!

A storm with a keyboard!
A storm with a keyboard and a definite, directed intelligence!
And hands.

Some general housekeeping here, first things first and all of that jazz. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the blog will reveal that I have rearranged the gadgets in the bottom border. For now you will find Blogroll, Archives, and the Search function all snuggled up in the middle column. This is all subject to change once I start padding out my Blogroll probably! But for now, everything is roughly symmetrical and so my brain can sleep easy. Oh, but wait! You’ll notice now occupying the left column is a twitterfeed! Yes, I have twitter, and I went ahead and cleared it out of nonsense and updated its name and URL to bring it in line with the 20Facets blog. The username for that is @20Facets and I can of course be searched by Alfred Rudzki, or you can always just follow it here as it appears on the blog as a snippet of gaming thoughts and nonsense as I follow some of the names in role-playing. I’ll probably just be using it whenever I have a thought that doesn’t quite justify a whole blog post — although, to date, I think I’ve managed to wring blood from stones when it comes to incredibly thread-bare topics… for good or for bad, really.

Speaking of Rambling Unduly
So, on this computer of mine I have a folder which contains all of the RPG PDFs I own. Included in there is a folder for the projects that I’m working on, including a folder for Children Who Play With Monsters in which I have all of the notes I have written up, jotted down, charted out, slapped together, scribbled, or typed into being — most of which I went ahead and showed off here last month when I gave a breakdown of how I would go about building a character and handling conflict. Sure, there’s a little more in there — I have the beginnings of a table of contents which I’m using as a sort of check list of what I feel I need to write about. It’s led to me producing detailed listings of the options for Allowances, Problems at Home, Problems at School, and such. It’s useful for working on what to put into a test module that others could use to provide feedback. Since then, I’ve been agonizing over how to fit all of it together to produce some sort of meaningful end-game…

I suppose I’ve been doing this because, honestly, I don’t see Children Who Play With Monsters being about the Big Bad or the Vast Evil or the Immutable Tide, the Nothing, The Darkness, The Splicers, The Reckoning, The Black King, The Tar Aliens or whatever. Are they important? Yes. They are undeniably important. Maybe I should have written about this earlier, but I didn’t and maybe for that I should be ashamed — the Child who has fled from home cannot flee into a stable fantasyland. I mean, okay, you could try and pull that, but you would defeat half of the point in these stories… The Child has to leave behind a home where they connect with no one, and enter a world where they are almost singly the most important in the history of the realm. They must be the Chosen One, the Daughters of Eve, that-guy-who-winds-up-with-the-AURYN. They have to move from neglect and pigeonholing into admiration and being the mold from which heroes are expected to spring, basically. It’s kind of a ridiculous weight, but it’s what the Children get when they enter the fantasyland — because it’s the vessel to their maturity. If they continued as they were, with no one even paying them any mind, they would not improve and would only get worse (as I explained previously, when I pointed out most Children are on the edge of becoming real problems). By entering the fantasyland, however, they are forced and expected to grow up to cope with their sudden position as — basically — the “grown-up.”

There’s a reason every other occupant of a Child’s fantasy land is either emotionally immature, small of stature, weakened greatly, or physically undeveloped.

But! These things, they’re cool, they’re handy, they’re necessary — but they’re not the point. They are the means to an end. They are the anvil against which you hammer out the steel that is to be the Child’s end-game; I think that’s the best way I can conceivably put it! The metal is the Child, the fire is the Monster, the hammer is every single Conflict and instance of Big Trouble that happens along the way, and it’s all happening against the — necessary — backdrop of some great opposing force to which only the Child may respond. But that anvil isn’t the point of why you’re hammering; you’re after the sword. You’re after the Child, galvanized into self-reliance, self-confidence, competence, dependability by the interactions with, destruction wrought by, mischief caused alongside, dreams chased thanks to the Monster. You’re after the final moments, as the music swells tenderly and the Monsters squats on the shore of the island far away, waving after the Child’s sailboat — or the Children wandering back through the Wardrobe on a whim — or the Children discovering a whole world with families that love them beyond the ocean.

So, my issue has been this end-game. Because I feel like it’s the point. It’s the thesis to this grand, rambling essay that this game slowly transforms into as every day goes by. If…

It’s a game about your relationship with that Best Friend that defines your life. Also he’s a Monster, so that’s cool.
Jared’s Three Big Questions


The Child and the Monster are inextricably linked in the game, from character design, to how conflicts are handled. The give-and-take of their relationship is a central component to game-play, and their mutual influences for better and worse inform the entire way dice rolls play out. The world of the game for the Monster and for the Child are each individually expanded and defined by how these characters cause (or solve) problems for the other.
Jared’s Three Big Questions

 …then at the end of the game, when all is said and done, those influences back and forth — that tested friendship — that relationship — what happens to it should be what we care about; did the Monster help the Child? Did the Child learn to solve his problems? Is his life better? Or is he instead just better at dealing with it? Is he going back? Is he running away for good because it really is bad? Did the Monster even make it this far…? This is the important stuff. This is what needs to be outlined, or at least pointed to by the rest of the game.

So how do we get to those points? How do we take ourselves from a mess of steel to an actual sword capable of doing some harm? How do we step from a lump of potential to actual, realized, glorious, gleaming final form? The Monster is the vessel for lessons and ideas, serving as guardian to the Child and imparting nuggets of wisdom and perfect observation to help him or her; The Monster also needs these lessons imparted back onto him, because he is just as adrift as the Child in many ways, and this makes the Child step up to the role of guardian in his own right; the two of them must invigorate one another, help one another, and even necessarily hamper one another for their own good — and all of this while they are tested and stressed to the breaking point by the conflicts and challenges of the world around them, and whatever test they’ve been straining to rise above since the Child first appeared.

Tear Out The Engine and Put It Back Together Before We Drive
I’ve basically completely gutted what I had previously written about Conflicts, and that necessitates some gutting of a couple of the elements of character creation. This is nothing too serious for the latter, and a massive overhaul in design and purpose for the former — but it’s all just an idea right now. I’ve kept my files for what is Alpha v1.0, and I’ll be considering all of this work to be Version 1.1… but by no means is it definitive at this point. I’m just exercising the brain with these ideas, but I’m liking them overall for the sake of this talk. If you were particularly attached to my last round of Children Who Play With Monsters talk, then just consider this alternate universe talk I suppose!

For the sake of illustration, I do hereby include two photos taken of my table work for this game. I don’t like to work on the game on the computer, except for: 1) when I am explaining and talking through ideas here on the blog, 2) when I am writing things up in an official capacity, 3) when I feel the need for definitive accuracy in my designs, or 4) I’m doing it for the explicit purpose of showing others. These are pictures taken from when I’ve simply been messing around with ideas as they occur to me… I suppose what I am saying it, I’m including these as a bonus and to illustrate some distinctions between Version 1.0 and 1.1, and I’m asking that the fact that they’re scrawled on a steno pad and note card not be held against me! These were originally never meant for anyone’s eyes but my own!

Steno pad page of a brief sketch of the character sheet

You'll notice some artifacts here, with abandoned ideas like pips, and a silhouette/profile thing for scaling Monsters.

Note card with a more recent sketch of the character sheet

Some new ideas here with new approaches to them... greatly reduced the meta, a great deal more dice involved, and redesigned No-Nos

In my scribblings over what now constitutes I suppose two attempts to put what I was thinking into useful rules, guidelines, and actual game design, I conceived of the basic character making and conflict resolution processes of Children Who Play With Monsters. It was extremely simplistic to start and consisted of:

    • Roll d8 and d12 if you’re with your Monster and it’s Allowed.
    • Roll d8 if you’re alone.
    • Roll d12 if your Monster is alone and it’s not a No-No
    • Roll d8 vs d12 if it’s not Allowed!
    • Roll without opposition from the Monster if it’s not Allowed but it’s a No-no!
    • Add 1d8 to your d8 pool if your Wish-Fulfillment can help!
    • Add 1d12 to the Monster’s Pool for each of his Blurbs that help!
    • If Not Allowed, add 1d12 to your Child’s Pool for each of the Monster’s Blurbs that hinder!

This would generate a pool of dice ranging from 1d8, to 2d8 and 4d12 in really good circumstances, or 1d8 versus 4d12 in really bad circumstances. All while trying to hit or beat the number 6, or the versus roll whatever it might have been. Not too complex, and honestly not too bad overall. No real depth to it, I think, but it’s a pretty solid First Out of the Gate solution in terms of what occurred to me right off the bat. “I want to yell at the Spriggan for being a jerk!” Your Monster doesn’t allow Mouthing-Off! Roll d8 vs d12! “Well, he’s QUIET and wouldn’t silence me, so I’ll take an extra d12. 1d12 and 1d8 vs 1d12.” True, but he’s BIG and puts himself between you and the Spriggan, so 1d12 and 1d8 vs 2d12. Roll off, higher individual die roll takes the Conflict, add a detail to the Fable, continue play; if you wind up In Trouble, add a troublesome detail to the Fable, give someone else a scene, and later return to your “Oh No!” still-in-progress. Things missing from this set-up include any mechanical indication of a relationship with the Monster beyond the simple arrangements of present/absent/with/against quartet — such as, Present+Disinterested, Absent+Protective, With+Reluctant, Against+Supportive, or any other combinations…

Also, no mechanics supported dealing with the Problems listed on the Child’s portion of the character sheet — theoretically, in Version 1.0 you would play until the story-driven event of trumping the Great Badness, leaving the Narrator’s responsibility as maintaining the pacing so that it coincided with the Child learning the appropriate lessons of their life. Which is fine and all, but kind of hackneyed and really represents and entirely divorced effort. This is Mechanics||Storytelling; the two running parallel — one belonging basically to the players and the other to the Narrator… which again, is cool and all, but it’s basically two completely divorced components of what ought to be a single unit. I believe Vincent Baker charted out the interaction in role-playing games at one time, and it looked like people playing make-believe, referencing mechanics to justify the stories being told, with the stories further informing the mechanics called for. Something to that effect — the point is, they all worked together, not alongside one another.

The ideas conceived for version 1.1 firstly expanded on the dice system primarily because I felt that the initial set-up lacked depth. Whether appropriate or ill-informed, we’ll see, but that was the motivation — expand on the dice-rolling, and expand involvement in the dice-rolling. Each player needs 2d4, 1d6, 1d8, 2d10, and 1d12 to play — these are split between seven relevant parts of character creation. Your Child starts with a Maturity of 1d4, which represents their contributions at any given time as informed by the Profile you gave him (Dork, Jock, etc), and will rise and fall throughout the game in reflection/definition of your relationship with the Monster; speaking of whom, starts with 1d12 representing its contributions and its attachment to the Child. The two Allowances it grants you (instead of three, as per 1.0) are given 1d8 and 1d6, and allow you to roll them when attempting an act that falls under an Allowance. The remaining 1d4 would be invested in the Mischief your Monster causes (a replacement for No-Nos)* and the d10s would be allotted individually to your Child’s Problem at Home and Problem at School.  The Monster’s Blurb would allow the rerolling of individual dice, and the Wish-Fulfillment would let you add another die equal to your current Maturity die. Conflict would proceed like this:

    • Roll Maturity against a 6 when the Child is alone.
    • Roll Monster against a 6 when the Monster is alone.
    • Roll Maturity and Monster against a 6 when together, subtracting one from the other to produce a final difference.
    • Add an Allowance to the final result of the above, whenever applicable.
    • Use the Monster’s Blurb to call for individual rerolls from his pool.
    • Use the Child’s Wish-Fulfillment to roll an additional Maturity die.
    • The Narrator should roll your Problems + 6 against the Child and Monster, when appropriate.
    • The Narrator should roll your Problems + Mischief + 6 against the Child and Monster, whenever In Trouble.
    • The Narrator should roll Mischief + 6 against the Child/Child and Monster, when the Monster is causing problems.
    • The Narrator should feel appropriate in rolling Mischief and adding it to the Trouble Threshold to make matters worse.

The idea operating behind this is that the Narrator is given a way to directly challenge the things that the players consider important — they can do this, by throwing in extra dice in favor of the opposition to complicate matters so long as the scene is narrated in a way to tap into the Child’s lingering issues and insecurities. Bobby wants to Mouth-Off to the Spriggan? Okay, but that’s how you get Beat Up at School so the Narrator grabs himself a d10 and gives it a good roll to find the new target number. Furthermore, the results of things not boosted by Allowances have the ability to fall on the low-end of the spectrum, resulting in Trouble which is good as far as this game is concerned. Something I failed to mention before, the option to set your Child’s Trouble Threshold belongs to the player in 1.1, and I would write up a guideline for choosing a number (ie, between 1 and 12, low numbers = slower game, less trouble; high numbers = quicker game, lots of trouble, cascading problems).

In this idea, I’d give the Narrator a pool of d8s equal to the total number of unresolved Problems the Children in the group have — the Narrator could throw these in at his discretion to further complicate the game session, as these should serve to represent the specific planned scenes of opposition and drama he has in mind. These d8s are what create the memorable scenes of, say, the Gmork in Neverending Story or boss fights in A Boy and His Blob, or the specific plot turns in How To Train Your Dragon. These dice are to give the Narrator some room to play around, and they’re his budget for a given session of play! And he should feel more than entitled to combine these with his tricks above, especially getting a particular Child in Trouble — as these dice roll over from scene to scene as long it’s all linked by Trouble.

Okay… So? What? That’s A Lot of Numbers, Man
Let’s look at the dynamic that is created by this. Really, it falls into four categories and the dice just exist to shuttle you between these four results…

Lookit this grid! Bam!

How delightful.

  1. The Child Gets What He Wants And Nothing Goes Wrong (Success/No Trouble)
  2. The Child Gets What He Wants But Something Goes Wrong (Success/Trouble)
  3. The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants But Nothing Goes Wrong (Failure/No Trouble)
  4. The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants And Something Goes Wrong (Failure/Trouble)

Listed from generally most desirable to generally least desirable from a typical gaming standpoint. From the above dice-rolling-breakdown, players have the ability to: Roll Allowance, increasing their total on a given die roll; Roll Wish-Fulfillment, increasing their total on a given die roll; Reroll their Monster, Allowances, Maturity, increasing or decreasing their total on a given die roll. Players are pretty strongly in control of their ability to Avoid or Get Into Trouble more than anything else, especially when you consider that the Narrator can bring dice in to play to make straight-forward Success less likely. The Narrator can bring multiple Problems into play if it’s appropriate, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can introduce Plot Dice, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can instigate Mischief, increasing the Trouble Threshold as appropriate; the Narrator can engage the Child against his own Monster by adding Mischief to the difficulty.

So if players are going, honestly, to primarily be the arbiters of when Trouble does and does not start, then that should be the relevant portion of playing their characters and coming to terms with their stories and such, and it should put them at odds between two things they want; if the Narrator is looking like he is shaping up to be the controller of success and failure, then that is going to generally be the province of story-telling and plot-making — very similar to what I concluded about 1.0, BUT! At least now the Narrator is interacting directly with the players when it comes to Conflicts and dice-rolling.

So, thoughts: If the Child is supposed to be the hero to end the Grim Badstuff, and especially if the players want to do this, it should be possible. I am not above, however, making it the object of the very end of the game — effectively, even, treating it as a bonus on top of the real point of play: resolving the Child’s Problems. Almost, really, in the way that at the end of My Life With Master once the dice tell you that, no! It’s okay! You’ve thrown off the yoke! You have a scene to depose the Master and see what becomes of you and your vigor. In this case, I foresee something similar, with a degree of it being “see who is the chosen one, and see who helps/runs/weeps/etc.” I think the more critical point here is that the Narrator should bring their Problems to bear on this final confrontation, increasing the likelihood of failed Conflicts, increasing the likelihood of your Monster dying to defend you in the final conflict even as you win the day. But what if you want your Monster to make it through? What if you want the two of you to fly away into the sunset and mess with some bullies?

Well, you had better resolve those Problems on the character sheet and take away your Narrator’s weapons then!

  • Play the game. Call for Conflict when you want a particular in-game effect (plot elements, etc); Narrator will call for Conflict when appropriate, to hassle the Child for his Problems, his Monster’s Mischief, and his own Plots. Conflict for in-game effects always has the chance to produce Trouble after all, which is useful in its own way, and vital to advancing.
  • When in Conflict, roll the appropriate dice as listed above! By yourself? Maturity. Just Monster? Monster dice. “Working” together? Both and subtract. Try and work in an Allowance! Lead the Narrator into investing his Plot dice with cool opportunities in-game, by adding cool entries to the Fable when you get the chance.
  • If you Succeed, narrate getting the nifty plot thing you wanted and add a new Entry to the Fable explaining where you’re off to now with your New Cool Plot Thing. (ie, You Managed To Sneak Into The Thousand-Walled City Despite Applecore Refusing To Stay Under His Tarp; tell us where to now, and give us something cool to play with!)
  • If you Fail, the Narrator will narrate how you fail to get your nifty little plot thing you wanted. Write an Entry about how you didn’t get what you wanted. You have the option of Succeeding even if you fail, but only by reducing your Monster’s die size by 1 step — write an Entry about how you do get what you want, but at some cost to your Monster.
  • If you get into Trouble, narrate how things get worse (paying attention to what dice got you there). Write out an Entry describing how things get worse, and let play focus on the other Children before coming back to you for your continued Conflict. When in Trouble, you can opt out of it entirely by running from the Fantasyland — and then increasing your Maturity, and Problems each by 1 step (up to their maximums of d12).
  • If you’re in Trouble but manage to get out, write two Entries in the Fable. One for your awe-inspiring success (of course), and one for the moment of calm afterwards where your Monster imparts a kernel of wisdom to the Child or otherwise shares a defining moment that will drop whatever Problem was part of the recent Conflict by 1 type.
  • For every decreases, drop the Monster’s die size by 1 type as his influence begins to wane, honestly, and your Child ought to be coming into his own right.
  • If you’re Not in Trouble, no real need for narration here — but feel free to increase your Monster’s Mischief by one type to put yourself in Trouble! Maybe you’re pretty certain you can get out of it and get a decreased Problem out of it! Or, maybe you really need that upped Maturity die and you’re getting into it so you can panic and flee — who knows! Move them dice around!
  • … and some other ideas and relationships I need to work out.

Just a whole lot of idea drop. I honestly feel like I may be getting somewhere with these more recent ideas, and my brain keeps firing off more connections the more I read — which, really, is how it ought to be. So, I’m going to keep on reading, keep on writing, keep on brainstorming, and see where it takes me. I think there is some progress in all of this, somewhere. I made it over a giant hump I had previously regarding mechanics and end-games… and even if this snippet isn’t anything like what I eventually come to, it is definitively more than what I started with previously and that gives me something to work on, respond to, and build from.

As always: Comments, Questions, Thoughts below — and my e-mail for one-on-one contact is as ever alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Time to finally let myself get a breather from this post! And then write another one really soon!


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.

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!

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.

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.