Category Archives: OtherGames


Ok, so much as I enjoyed the WE ROCK (formerly KWORC) posts, those were a heck of a lot of work. I mean, I’m totally pleased with them, and I may at some point go back for another swim but after all that thinking I’m really all for spending some time thinking about how to smash monsters or cool dice tricks. So for the moment, let’s just focus on some cool stuff.

Will Hindmarch has done a fantastic playset for Fiasco which reminds me of The Man Who Folded Himself pushed through the lens of the Coen Brothers and Quantum Leap. This is not a bad combination at all.

Fiasco playsets are, by the way, one of the most fantastic pieces of gaming technology of the past few years. The game rules themselves are quite simple, but each game uses a playset to create the relationships, locations, objects and needs that drive the particular game. Playsets are modular tools that can be swapped out to totally change the nature of the game, yet they’re simple enough that anyone can make one with a little time and effort. Simply brilliant. Brennan Taylor has been working on something similar with Campaign Frames for Mortal Coil, though his approach is a little different (and he’s selling them, so slightly different distro too).

On one hand, some part of me wonders if it’s possible to do a game for free but supplements like this for charge and try that as a model. Another part of me says that’s not workable because you really want to encourage players to make their own because doing so improves the game as a whole. There’s a lot of merit to either approach, and it’s totally something to watch.

Rob Schwalb, the man I like to think of as “The guy who wrote half the cool RPG material published in the past year or two” has started blogging and its well worth checking out.

I occasionally bump up against things I need words for. In this case i was thinking of things which are eye-opening and useful when you first discover them, but eventually get set aside as old hat or foundational, so that when – some time later – someone else finds it for the first time and is full of bright eyed enthusiasm about how this is the most amazing thing ever and you can either nod and smile knowingly or roll your eyes and wonder what kind of idiot they are. As I explain it, it is perhaps weird that it comes up often enough o demand a word, but it really does. But unlike my usual quests, someone actually found one. My friend Shai suggested Liminary, which means something introductory or preparatory, but implies a gateway of sorts (from limen). Its wordplay also suggests liminal and luminary, and that seems just about right. So, thank you Shai.

New theory to explain the Bermuda Triangle. Methane Gas. Not sure I buy it, but it is a great set up for MASTER BLASTER RUNS BERMUDA TRIANGLE!

On a different note, Daniel Perez has written a pretty serious post about balancing love of gaming with life. Lots of stuff that will sound familiar to anyone who has realized their passion is not a practical choice as a way to make a living.

Lastly, I think I’m going to dip my toe in trying to run some tabletop games online, so I’m looking for recommendations for tools. I’ve put out the call on twitter and already have some great answers, but I always welcome more. I have no idea what we’ll actually end up playing, and we’ll likely have a mix of computer types, but since this is a experiment, I’m willing to try most anything.

Choices and Action

Adam Dray, who has been writing a fantastic series of posts about his game setting, Caldera, took a break the other day to write about his experience playing some old school D&D, running The Keep on the Borderlands.

It’s worth a read. Adam’s a sharp guy with knowledge of a lot of systems and a wide range of playstyles, including some less common ones such as online play, and he goes into this eyes open with both fists full of dice, and comes out the other side having had a great time. So much so that I think he surprised himself a little.

Now, I suspect that the thing that Adam is overlooking in his analysis is the impact of the quality of the GM[1] but that can be forgiven pretty easily. A lot of the positive things he speaks to (fruitful constraints, speed of play speed of character creation and so on) are things I’ve been enjoying in some new games and are also things I’m keeping in mind for the Heartbreaker project. But one bit in particular stood out and made me think, and let me quote it here.

Second, there are very few tactical options built into the rules: attack with a melee weapon, attack with a ranged weapon, cast a spell (if you have any), or run away. Of course, the game expects players to make up tactical options that aren’t in the rules and expects the DM to accommodate them; there’s just no rules support for this.

He is, of course, absolutely right. It also pushes players toward creativity, though how it does so is interesting to consider. On one hand, by removing the amount of thought that goes into choices and rules, it frees up the player to be more creative. On the other, by offering the player so few interesting choices, the player is pushed to be creative if only to stave off boredom. There’s more than a little truth to both of these explanations, and I think the real power comes from the combination of them.

Even more I think he’s put his finger on the pulse of something incredibly important. But while it’s a signifier, it’s not an answer. See, this issue – how many choices and how explicit the choices players have – is incredibly important, but it’s also one that has no one answer.

See, explicit choices with mechanically supported effects really are quite cool. They’re fun. They keep players from feeling like they have no options, and they help them feel like their actions matter because they can see the mechanical impact, right there at the table. That’s powerful[2]. It also protects players from a capricious GM whose interpretation of things may or may not end up favoring them.

But on the other hand, it can get overwhelming. 4e has a long list of explicit actions available (some, like powers, are character specific, others like drawing a weapon, are universal). It is technically possible to take an action outside of that list, but because the rules options are so thoroughly detailed, it’s not easy to think in those terms. The stunt system exists to mitigate this, but as much as I love it, it takes a mode of thought that is different than is encouraged by normal play.

And that, I think, comes back to the rub. Each approach has real flaws of too much and too little structure, respectiviely, but each approach can be made powerfully playable by a specific set of GM skills, skills that have a curious amount of overlap.

This may seem cynical, but the straight rules adjudication element of GMing is pretty easy to learn. Even if the game has reasonably complicated rules, mastery is just a function of study and attention. Now, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean its unimportant – this is the foundation for a lot of what the GM needs to do, and flaws will propagate – but this is the very basics. It’s the kiddie slopes.

One of the first real challenges to GM skill comes when things go off the rules. Not merely in terms of how to adjudicate things outside of the game’s sphere (like how to run non-fight encounters in D&D) but in things specifically within the games purview, such as fights. In one of those cycle of knowledge ironies, experience can end up looking like a novice. A GM who doesn’t even grasp the game will allow the players to do anything they describe and just fake it. The GM who really knows the game will do the same. But the GM in the middle often creates an invisible barrier that separates things within the rules from things outside of them, and that barrier can be hard to pass through.

Note. this is rarely poorly intentioned or intentional, it’s just a function of learning and perspective. If the GM can make rulings off the top of his had, but has to pause for a few minutes to check the book every time players go off the playbook, that’s a barrier. He’s training players to stick to the playbook to avoid inconvenience. Similarly, if the GM’s on the fly rulings are unreliable or problematic, that’s another barrier. Players will play to avoid triggering those.

Each type of game leans to its own kinds of barriers. Lighter games have barriers of uncertainty – in the lack of rules support, it an be very unclear how an idea will be expressed. Heavier games have lots of tools for how to express things mechanically, but they create a higher cognitive barrier for going off the rules. But in both cases, how much of a problem this is ultimately comes down to how well the GM (and players) handle that barrier.

On one level this is a long, roundabout argument for the importance of GM skill, which some would probably point out that an argument that doesn’t need to be made. And in a general sense – I agree. GM skill matters. But defining GM skill is something else, something much more difficult, so I’m planting a flag in this. The ability to thin the barrier between the rules and the great unknown is a skill, or more aptly a set of skills. Different types of games force the GM to lean on different parts of this skill, and can accent strengths and hide weaknesses. If you have a good personal rapport with your players, a light system will probably work because they trust your rulings. If you have the kind of rules-knowledge to allow robust extrapolation, a more rules-driven game allows you to showcase that. The means are important, in that they impact your game, but the ultimate yardstick is how fenced in (or unguided) your players feel with the rules in your game.

1 – Because System Does Matter, Just Less Than People.

2 – Note that even old D&D has them – that is more or less what spells are.

Changeling: The Lost – The Chance Court

The Court of Chance

The Silver Coin, The Ivory Court, The Court of Fools

We got lucky, simple as that. A lot of folks will tell you that we were more driven, stronger willed, smarter or tougher than those left behind, but that’s a story to tell yourself to feel like you deserve to have gotten free.

But luck isn’t something that just happens. Luck creates opportunities, and it’s best to grab those when they come up. That we’ve done, and that deserves more credit than all the cunning and courage in the world. The trick now is to stay lucky. Keep your eyes open, and take your chances.

The Gentry are not all powerful – the simple fact that the Lost have eluded their grasp is testament to that. For all their power and knowledge, even their understanding of fate, they are still subject to the vagaries of chance that haunt mortals. The Court of Fools finds solace in this small fact, and seek to continue to ‘ride the wave’ of their good fortune, and keep riding it for as long as they must to stay free.

The origins of the silver coin are subject to some debate. Kurt Bones won the concessions of Chance in a thousand bets across a thousand nights, but when exactly this happened is debated. Some stories talk about it happening centuries ago, while other freeholds still have stories of someone who knew a guy who lost a bet to Kurt Bones.

The Ivory Court views luck as the flipside of fate, a lubricant of randomness that allows the skeins of destiny to move smoothly. Matters of luck are small, but they are tipping points. Luck falling one way or another can make all the difference in keeping a changeling’s body and soul intact.

Members of the court tend to combine a seemingly happy-go-lucky air with a diligent level of attention to matters of seemingly trivial importance. Each fool is constantly only the look out for where their luck is going so they can keep moving in that direction. Cynics observe that for all that they attribute much of their success to luck, their “luck” seems to be more of a function of diligence than any sense of probability.

The Fools attribute their success and failure to luck, and write off their own contribution as a given. Luck is something you can help or embrace – it doesn’t just happen. If you are lucky, life will give you the opportunities you need to do what you need to go.

Now, anyone can be lucky, and many envy the luck of the fool, but there are few people who are willing to accept that their fate is so far out of their own hands.

More details, including the Serendipity contract can be found in the vastly prettier pdf can be found here.