Archives for posts with tag: houses of the blooded

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!


Yesterday I talked about the “Big Three Questions,” as they are known, espoused by game designer Jared Sorensen (see my last post for a link to his site). Specifically, I was talking about these questions in regards to my current project Children Who Play With Monsters; I tried to create or show an understanding of what my answer would be to each of the design considerations put forward by Sorensen and John Wick, partly as a mental exercise, partly as good practice for the future, and partly to help steer me through a designing rough patch I feel like I’m passing through. Today I’m looking at a few more questions, this time from a different source.

Vincent Baker’s “Insights”
Vincent Baker is a game designer responsible for a number of independent properties with a lot of really interesting ideas churning right underneath the surface. His contributions to the hobby include Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, In a Wicked Age, Poison, and others (not linked here because, honestly, you should just look them up. Really! Go do it!)

Vincent Baker maintains a webpage by the name of anyway where you can find a lot of talk about game design in general. The man thinks and writes big. That is the only way I can describe it. I enjoy what he writes, and a part of me aspires to be able to identify and discuss the elements of play with the insight and verve that this guy does. Well, deep in the recesses of his blog he has a blog post that can be found here — the long and short of the post goes like this: when you design an RPG, you are making three statements specific to your game. If you didn’t have something to say, you wouldn’t be making the game! You are saying something about your subject matter; you are saying something about role-playing in general; you are saying something about human behavior, too. He calls them “Insights.” Go read the initial post of Baker’s blog if you’d like — it’s interesting to read how he applied these ideas to his own game. I’m not going to repost his entry here because it’s just one internet hop away. I’m just going to go at it.

My Insights — What Am I Saying
1. Subject matter: My subject matter… It’s about monsters, fantasy lands, and children who need someone who understands them — it all goes together as far as I’m concerned; it’s about escapism, and that’s where you see them intertwined in spades. You know, I once heard a study that suggested that when children are growing up there are typically two “classes” of fantasies that they engage in. One, more popular in girls apparently, is pretending that their surroundings are different, or that they come from a different family altogether; in boys, it is apparently instead a fantasy of being someone else altogether. I’m saying that the ‘monstrous best friend’ genre appeals to that sense of childish belonging deep down in the belly of someone’s being.

2. Roleplaying as a practice: What am I saying about role-playing as a practice? Part of me thinks that part of the reason for role-playing is to play the game, play out the story, to find out how it ends. It’s about discovery. You don’t really want to know how it ends… until you get there. You don’t want to orchestrate the ending, you want to set it in motion and let the dominoes fall and watch for the patterns. That’s something I want to aim for… the pieces of the game to move together, towards the eventful final moments when you discover what the world(s) have in store for the Child.

3. Real live human nature: Everyone likes telling stories. Everyone likes escapism. The people sitting at the table are going to be getting into trouble and trying to get out of trouble, and they’ll get out of it by running from it further (More Trouble, the Fable) or by falling back on when things were simpler… using something they already know (Flashbacks). When people run from their problems, that doesn’t guarantee that things will get better… Everyone needs that someone to rely on. Everyone needs that one person. And you’re probably going to hurt that person. You’re probably going to hurt them a lot early on, until you get your head screwed on you and figure shit out. You’re probably going to be hurt, be cramped, be drowned out by them — going to feel smothered, maybe. But they’re that someone you need, and they need you.

So Hey, That’s Interesting
I found this post so much easier to write than the previous one. So that’s actually kind of exciting! Even if I may or may not have a perfect grasp on the framework (the about, the how, the behavior) I’m building my game in, I do know what I’m thinking about when I try to make these decisions. Or at least, I do now. Some of the stuff I wrote above were thoughts I’d had all along — and some of it, especially the third question, occurred to me as I was writing and I tried to just go with it and see what I was trying to say.

And I liked what I was trying to say. I really do. It even works with some of what I’ve been saying before! (Like the idea of how success and failure interacts with the well-being of your Monster.) I have a bit more of a vector on what I want to do with this idea, and I think that will help me.

What’s Up Next
Can’t give a  forecast as to what is coming next this week. Nothing else has really caught my attention at this point; I’ll be playing some more Houses of the Blooded this week, so I may talk more about ideas I get from that. Honestly, that game has inspired some thoughts about another game of mine that I haven’t spoken about yet on this blog — although, that idea may have to be finally trashed (sadly), as I can’t see anything new I can bring to the project in light of games such as Houses and Apocalypse World. Maybe I’ll write about it anyway! We’ll see how it goes! I do, however, have a vague plan to put together a testable module for Children Who Play With Monsters by the very end of next week/end of the month (whichever comes first)! Maybe I’ll accomplish that. I’d like to.

What do you think? Have any thoughts on the idea of role-playing games sharing three “insights” on gaming, content, and people? Do you see any of this in the games you play? Do you see how it doesn’t work this way? Want to give it a try like last time and construct another set of answers? Have fun!

As always, any thoughts and comments on the ideas espoused here can be left below, and I look forward to reading and responding to anything the readers may have to say. I can be contacted, of course, at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thank you for reading, as always!

To begin: I am the worst at my own design blog. Ok, now that we’ve addressed that.

Never More Deserving Of The Category “I Probably Should Have Been Working”
It’s been a while since I have posted here, and the time spent away has been split between a few pursuits: I’ve been reading through and playing a little bit of Houses of the Blooded (mentioned in a previous posting) and just generally being impressed with the — in my opinion — incredibly tight focus the system has on exactly what it is trying to do. It’s a game of blood opera, tragedy, courtly prestige and courtly betrayal, as I may have mentioned before, and to this end players will find the extremely simple conflict resolution mechanic* embraces everything necessary to fulfill the associated expectations. Systems, all of them just minor variations on the baseline mechanic, exist to handle Romance, Insults, Debate, Duels, Mass Murder… “The system is impressive” is the only way I can put it, and it’s not because of any particular depth or complexity; rather, it’s the breadth of the system and the way it adjudicates the necessities of the storytelling.

That is what I want out of this. I want my system to be able to handle exactly what I, players, and narrators need it to handle. I think that is a pretty reasonable goal, honestly.

And so I was reading this book and playing it with my friend Adam, thinking to myself about how to accomplish that with Children Who Play With Monsters. I have my ideas, as previously posted, about how to create the Child, how to create the Monster, and the rudiments of conflict resolution* — and even the first building blocks of an end game! But “how does it all come together” remains an unanswered question and it will be one that I have to contend with for a while more before I know the answer.

*Which on reflection, author John Wick is correct, sounds about as sexy as washing machine instructions

Something Wicked– Wick-ian? Wick-ish. Sorensenian.
Now, following my discovery of John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded, and the realization that he also is responsible for Legend of the Five Rings — possibly the most popular samurai role-playing game, period — I went ahead and I did a little digging around. And, hey! Seems the guy has a youtube account by the name of LordStrange and, while waiting for art for HotB to get in, he posted a series of videos that went by the title “Game Design Seminar with John Wick.” Seems like it would be exactly up my alley, maybe. I’ve watched it through Episode 2 as of this writing, and in that episode John Wick brings up Jared Sorensen‘s “Three Questions.” Listening to what Wick and Sorensen were saying, and absorbing their meaning (hopefully), the Three Questions seem to come down to how to implement the game in your head, and communicate it to other people — in the presentation, mechanics, even just the blurb really; to be able to explain it, period, and make it sound exciting and feasible.

Given that I’m having some difficulties overcoming some obstacles in working on this game, I figure why not go ahead and see if maybe my problem lie with the very concept I am bringing to the table. If you’re curious, the John Wick video talking about the questions I am about to answer can be found here. With that, I’ll try my best to answer these as straight-forwardly as possible — if I can’t explain simply, maybe I’m missing something. And I can’t answer simply, then I’ll learn how to answer simply.

The three questions are: “What is your game about,” “how is your game about this,” and “how does the game encourage this behavior?”

1. What is your game about?
As Wick explains in the video linked above, ‘what is your game about’ is not the setting it is attached to. Rarely is your game about the post-apocalypse or Orwellian dystopias that you think it is — instead, it is about the struggle for Hope in the face of Despair, or illustrating Control and how far you’ll go for it. Things of that sort — what you may be trying to talk about while playing around with your game. Some games are very straight-forward with this, admittedly. Two very different games are up front with this: Dungeons & Dragons and Dogs In The Vineyard spring to my mind immediately. D&D actually is about slaying monsters and getting treasure, and everything about it focuses on this objective… and Dogs In The Vineyard is about judgment — morality in the face of adversity — and its parts all point towards this, with players even simply being told that their judgments on the situations in the game are above reproach… the Narrator cannot tell them their decision was wrong.

John Wick is simplistic with his answer to this. Houses of the Blooded is about Tragedy, he announces at 3:17, by which he means a response to typical games wherein characters continuously get better as time goes on, getting better indefinitely. It’s about not being invincible.

Children Who Play With Monsters is about… what? Friendship? It’s not about the fantasy lands, though I want players to be able to create that themselves. It’s not even about the monster, although that was partly what caught my attention originally and the players are able to create it and play it in the game. “Growing up?” I had a Russian Literature course where the class argued for weeks about the nature of “childishness” versus “maturity” and the dichotomy was damn near impossible to qualify for our arguments. I see the question (and I’ve written on this before) as a matter of benevolent selfishness and learning to understand other people. Children Who Play With Monsters is about… what? Monstrous Best Friends, exactly what I billed it as? Is my aim really that perfect (unlikely)? “That individual person in your life that can invigorate you, stonewall you, piss you off, elate you in a single day; that will forever mark you in life even/especially when they leave your life (and they will, and you will scream and cry and bleed to stop that); that will teach you and rely on you; and you will rely on, and that you will teach. Also, they’re a monster.”

It’s a game about your Best Friend being everything you need, and also a Monster.

It doesn’t sound astounding or incredible or even particularly interesting when boiled down like this. But then, it’s about as straight-forward and ethereal as “Hope,” “Control,” or “Tragedy.” So there’s that.

It’s a game about that Best Friend that defines your life.

2. How is your game about that?
In talking about this question, John Wick cites purely from HotB so comparisons to anyone else are sorely lacking — but it’s not so bad. He explains that every Aspect a character has can be used for both bonus dice, and be used as a weakness by other characters to their advantage. How does he make his game about Tragedy, as defined in opposition to the constant upward climb to perfection in most RPGs? He makes every helpful perk of your character a weapon that can and will be used against him; you accumulate weaknesses as you play.

How is Children Who Play With Monsters about “that Best Friend that defines your life?”

In CWPWM, your Monster is treated as an extension of the Child — they both are created in the same process, share the same character sheet, and are assumed to be working together and making trouble for one another throughout the story and during all die rolls. Very literally, you create both and they influence one another (Allowances dictate what you can get away with; Problems at Home dictate your Wish-Fulfillment as granted by the Monster) — and in gameplay, the Monster will always protect the Child when he gets them into trouble and take harm on his behalf when he is in danger, and could even be driven off by you so you can get your way; conversely, the Monster can get into trouble of his own making or be reticent to perform things the Child needs, and there may even be incentive for the Child to protect the Monster (instead of vice versa) and he may drive his best friend off as a means to save him.

That seems like a very big answer, but I think it’s exactly what is needed here. How is this game about the Best Friend that defines your life? It’s not because of any reason that could fit for another game — it’s not because you fight other monsters (D&D) or because you are playing at being monsters yourselves (World of Darkness). It’s because throughout play, the core game-play opportunity should be for the characters to influence, improve, enjoy, interact with, and suffer for one another.

That means I need to cover those bases in design.

3. What behavior does this reward/how does your game encourage this behavior?
John Wick implemented Style Points to influence players to show off their character’s weaknesses, lining themselves up for Tragedy as he defined it — and giving them access to cool things in the meantime. As he says, Style Points really, really do run the entire game system. So I should be able to construct something similar to his answer for this question.

Children Who Play With Monsters encourages an interaction between the Child and the Monster, ideally making them near inseparable. I encourage this by letting the Monster exist entirely within the confines of the player’s design and control except for situations where the actual game takes over; that is, the player will not be stuck with a Guilty Spark or a Wheatley/PotaDOS (for whatever value of annoying these may have been to the reader). I encourage the Monster to matter to the player because the Monster is one-hundred percent their creation.

Is there any rewarding happening? I don’t think so — not at this stage. This seems to speak to the idea I had recently, regarding a transforming Relationship die (or dice). The shifting of this die type or die pool could certainly act as a reward incentive for players, with it growing in response to in-genre behavior, or behaviors that move the game forward. John Wick mentions his Style Points being a reward for exposing your weaknesses — really, he is rewarding your for moving the game forward towards its “theme,” as it were… TRAGEDY.

Similarly, I could see the transforming Relationship dice acting as response/incentive for reaching the endgame/theme of Children Who Play With Monsters. Extra dice flowing into the game whenever the action contributes to Best Friends defining one another — I see this as what is represented by Flashbacks and Trouble/The Fable in the current build. At least, that’s how I view it at this moment, but it is certainly worth review at this point.

Bring It Together
1. What Is This Game About?

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

2. How Is It About This?

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.

3. Incentivize This Behavior – Go.

Bonus dice I guess. Bonus dice bonus dice.

Like Greek Happiness or any well-laid plan to conquer Australasia in Risk, you cannot consider it a success until you reach the very end — so, you cannot consider the theme of “your relationship with the Best Friend who defined your life” until the last dice drop. So, these Bonus dice will have to feed back into the above and keep propelling the game towards this final focus.

Wow That’s a Lot of Text
Yeah, I admit that it is. That seems to be par for the course of this blog, and so I thank anyone and everyone who reads my work and is nice enough get through all of it. I promise there are kernels of interesting though all throughout.

With some effort, I was able to answer all of these questions put forward by Wick and Sorensen’s camp — and it helped me focus my sights a little more on what I need. It may mean a brief overhaul of what I have, but that’s not even a problem honestly… I have so little to start, anyway. So, I need to invest some though in honestly achieving the things I outlined in response to the Three Big Questions. While I do that, I’m also going to be keeping my mind on a different set of three questions…

Y’see, while writing the above, I thought I had read these questions elsewhere on the internet before. However, it turns out I was wrong. From a game designer by the name of Vincent Baker, I found a completely different set of Game Design questions that he feels need to be answerable by the designer. I’ll be trying my hand at answering those tomorrow.

As always, please leave any questions, thoughts, or comments in the space below! I love receiving comments, let me tell you, and I enjoy responding to them if I can. Feel free, in the comments below, to try and break down any card game, computer game, or role-playing game by the three questions I’ve been discussing above! Sounds like a fun thought experiment to me. Tell me What They’re About, How They’re About That, And What Behavior Is Incentivized!

I can be reached, as always, at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com for any further discussion. Thanks as always!

Nothing particularly exciting to report, honestly. I’m still contemplating the mechanics of the resolution system, and I’m staring longingly at the observations I made last time, and I think I spotted something interesting:

The idea of Flashbacks representing a tie to our world.

And maybe the idea of entries in the Fable representing a tie to the fantasy land.

I’m trying to conceive of how these interact exactly, because I feel like they should! Something like, whichever is more filled-out by the time a certain criteria is fulfilled, determines whether you go home or stay in Fantasia. Maybe.

I figure, as of this writing, something like when you get In Trouble, you’ll have to make a Fable Entry. To reduce your Trouble Threshold, you’ll need to have a Flashback. When you have a Flashback, it’s harder for you to get In Trouble, thereby stifling continued Fable Entries. Maybe a converse, like something regarding Trouble will keep you from having Flashbacks.

I’m trying to work out how precisely these flow into one another! They need to, somehow. It’s how game systems work.

Maybe your relationship die with the Monster acts as the time, actually. Starts as a d4, or what have you. When it reaches d12, you’re on the cusp. You’re about to have to decide, once and for all. Or vice versa. And the player will actually navigate the ups and downs of their adventures, with this “clock” in mind.

All ideas I’m working on, and considering.

However, I admit here and now that I’ve been distracted this weekend by John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded. He calls it “the anti-D&D” and its an extremely evocative declaration. So far, it’s delivered as far as I can tell on the implied promises therein. It’s very interesting, very streamlined in terms of its rules. Very interesting in the way they all interact. I would recommend reading it for anyone who enjoys D&D but has issues with it, or anyone who enjoys an honest to goodness well-crafted game.

No major reports today. Just a work day.