lategaming staying up late, playing games

9Apr/084

Raising the bar

I'm arrogant to believe that I can write and, to be honest, most of the time the feedback has been pretty good. I like writing, it'd be nice to do it for a living (and not the stressful but boring job at $BIG_COMPANY) but them's the breaks. In my spare time I write a lot and only a small fraction of it makes it to the blog here.

I have noticed, however, that my layout and design skills need some exercise and possibly even some help. I can appreciate good design, I just have issues doing it myself. Part of this is inspiration and part of it is time (which I have less and less of) and skill (my photoshop skills are not legendary).

Looking at the character sheets I left for download earlier this week, they belie their age. They were done in 2000 or so and were definitely more 'tell' than 'show'. That's the first thing. They look like Civil Service Sickness Benefit forms. I was sent a character sheet recently that was 7 pages long and full colour. I've seen the pre-gen character sheets for Everway. I think I need to raise the bar considerably.

I also need an artist in general as PJ is now going to be too busy and I don't know anyone else who knows how to hold a pen.

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Filed under: Art, Commentary, Layout 4 Comments
8Apr/083

Shit one.

A real shame.

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8Apr/080

Spiralling Down

I don't blame anyone really. Sometimes I get angry or depressed and curse my friends, my family, the company, the system, the church and anyone else I can name. But it's a short madness and like all things, it will pass.

I haven't slept very well in the last few days. Bouts of lethargy and a resolute stubbornness seem to possess me on these cold mornings. The coffee is too bitter and the crispy flakes of golden corn taste like ashes and feel like razorblades. It has been the same with every meal in the last week. The meat is dry and powdery, the vegetables hollow and watery. I leave most of my food untouched, I clean the plates and I plan my next repast.

I read my mail in the morning but today I let it wait until after lunch. Such is my decadence and freedom. There were some offers of cut-price firmware, live-feed porn and a flyer advertising pressurised space on a new station about five million miles from me. We wouldn't be alone in the dark any more.

Of course, none of it does me any fucking good.

This station won't go online for about two years and I'll be long gone. I logged onto ChatNet and scrolled through the thousands of messages. One read, "Space Age Boy seeks Earthy Girl for Zero-G Hijinks". That made me smile. Ten million years of evolution and still men were firing out crap chat up lines to lonely women. Was this more or less effective than a wooden club?

There was a long thread about some poor shithead stuck out in the dark, spinning around Jupiter in a damaged pod and a quickly decaying orbit. Some pitied him, some laughed and I really wanted to say something smart, something cutting that would make them blush, make them shut up, make them think. Someone had even managed to get a picture. It was a poor likeness, stupid office party from six years ago. One another thread they were running a numbers game on how long it would take for the pod to burst, how long it would be until Jupiter was seeded with my blood, sweat, piss and tears. I took a few moments and used a few tears. Nothing dramatic.

The problem with this situation is that there'll be nothing left. I hadn't been to the Clinic, hadn't left my legacy in a little cup so there wouldn't be another me. There wouldn't be enough left of the pod to scratch an obituary and so the ChatNet onlookers would be my only witnesses. I tapped out a quick message to anyone who could read. Something simple, something regal. It would take a week to hit the Net but by then I'd be spread into a fine mist by hurricane winds in the upper atmosphere of a star that nearly was.

I can't be saved.

Earth and Mars are months away. The closest transport could get here in time but then wouldn't have the fuel or the facilities to effect a rescue. And if they tried, they'd join me in this slow doom. At least they are close enough to actually talk to me. I hate the heavily punctuated conversations with my family on Earth. My family haven't called in two days. I was the black sheep of the family when I took the job and staying i touch seemed nothing more than a formality. The Company was good enough to provide me with a Counselor. She's in her mid-forties and very good at her job, telling me to express myself, that it's alright to cry and that it's wrong to bottle up my anguish. After the third session even she stopped calling.

There's a girl on that transport. She's lovely. I know she's just trying to comfort me but we have long talks in the evenings, we play chess and I dream of her when fatigue finally overtakes me, Her signal is getting weaker as Jupiter creates too much radio noise. I'll see her tonight, tell her I love her and say goodbye. I've never said that to anyone before. Never wanted to. Never needed to. But if I don't say it tonight then I never ever will.

Through the three-inch reinforced plastic windows I can see Jupiter with it's great glaring red eye. I've never seen it so large, stretching to create an everlasting dusky plain beneath me. I'm not within the orbit of Callisto on the way down. Spiralling down.

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4Apr/080

New Downloads

Some people were looking for them so I've put some downloads on the books page:

Wildtalents fanzine 1 60K PDF
Wildtalents 3 fanzine 1.5MB PDF
Wildtalents 5 fanzine 373K PDF
23rd letter character sheet 22K PDF
zombi character sheet 86K PDF

If there's anything else in particular that people are looking for, please mention it and I'll see what I can dig up. Please note that this wildtalents fanzine was something I was doing nearly a decade before Wild Talents (the superhero RPG) was released.

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4Apr/080

Man vs…

The topic of conversation this morning in the car was the substance of plots. Traditionally, we have plots which are Man versus Man (and yes, I intend to keep the male pronoun because anyone who would be sensitive to it likely has stopped reading a long time ago).

Man versus Man
This describes the quintessential struggle, the stuff of legend. Good versus evil, human versus alien, hero versus monster, rebel versus tyrant, civilised man versus the savage; the most accurate description might be the struggle between two directed intelligences. These games are easy to play because the adversary is present and real. They have motivations and malevolence. They are Hans Gruber to your John McLain, Lector to your Starling, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man to your Venkman.

We fight them because they represent the things that are wrong in this world, and they are flashy, obvious wrongs - whether they're stealing millions of dollars with a funny accent, killing Gary Oldman or trashing Manhattan (although we're unsure that killing Gary Oldman is a crime). We feel a sense of satisfaction seeing them put down (even if we know they may return).

Man versus Nature
Some of the best adventure stories are those told from the point of view of a single protagonist where his conflict lies not with the righting of wrongs or the marching of armies, but in the struggle against nature itself. Whether you're weathering a Perfect Storm, trying to survive the Day After Tomorrow or even just making your way through a post-Zombie epidemic Dawn of the Dead, the environment you are in is challenging enough to make a compelling story.

One of the memes of Zombi, was that the walking dead were not your enemy, other people were your enemy. This was borne from every movie:- you can hide away in your fortress and the mindless zombie hordes can beat upon your door but it requires intelligence to breach your defenses. This isn't to say that nature cannot be a harsh enemy. It is mindless but merciless. It can be witnessed when you travel from place to place, be it the cold of the snow-bound mountains, the drought of the desert or the cold emptiness of the vacuum.

Man versus Self
If religion is to be believed, we struggle with this every day. When we consider physical attraction, we encounter the most base 'animal' parts of ourselves. The acknowledgment that another human is attractive goes back to our pre-sentient days and when we continue on our way, we have successfully mastered the animal. This extends obviously to the personal wars against addiction, fetish, desire, greed, sloth and rage. We control ourselves and, as a result, these ideas are possible to play out in a game.

These were most recently examined in the World of Darkness games by White Wolf: I interpreted them as Lust (Vampire), Rage (Werewolf), Pride (Mage), Sloth (Changeling), Envy (Wraith). Though these games it was possible to spend a lot of time engaging in 'versus self' gaming as the player articulated the internal struggles of their personal demons. They are the Louis in LeStat, Hulk's Banner, Star Wars' Han Solo.

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4Apr/0811

The State of the RPG Industry

An article on MSNBC writes about the woes in the RPG market:

"Wizards does not reveal sales figures, but Pramas estimates the overall market for traditional role-playing games at $30 million annually."

When I first read this, my immediate thought was 'piffle!' and that it was a vast underestimate of the market.
Okay. Let's take this apart.

  1. Wizards doesn't release sales figures but we have to assume that Wizards is being honest when it says it's got 300 people on staff. 300 people multiplied by a minimum wage salary of $20 000 is 6 million dollars. But if we assume that people are earning more than that but only a third of them are working on traditional role-playing games (as opposed to board games and card games) and we add in the cost of printing and shipping books, we kinda should keep that figure constant. That's a huge section of the market gobbled up by Wizards if Chris Pramas is right.
  2. Chris Pramas works for a competitor to the traditional role-playing games department at Wizards. Green Ronin has a photo of 9 chunky people (one of which is a woman, the rest seem to be very hairy) and I think we must assume that they're earning $60K each? You'd hope. That, plus the costs of printing etc, must drive the revenue of this company to a million dollars or so?
  3. A few lot of years ago, James Wallis told me over a very nice vegan meal in Cork that the industry had a problem. The market was not very large and you had several large-ish companies fighting for scraps and really, no-one was making any money. Which is why, I think, he decided to go elsewhere. What does this mean - people with talent shouldn't waste their time trying to write RPGs if they can do anything else well.
  4. If the $30 million dollar estimate is right, you can see why Wizards made the land grab a few years ago with d20 and OGL. It was an overt, aggressive move on their part and it created a monster and, due to the economies of small grabby companies and the lowered bar to entry, it really damaged the industry as the market was flooded with Wizard's d20-branded crap. Small companies, including Green Ronin, saw it as an opportunity to land grab as well. Boom, thousands of shit products hit the market and the consumers did what they do best. They bought them, they read them and they felt burned.
  5. This all serves really to further label the market as the 'D&D market' which is a misnomer. I definitely see a lull in the market. Our local club seems to have all the same people, they're just older and fatter. I don't have any visibility of QUB Dragonslayers any more and don't know what they're doing from day to day. Does Pramas have any real knowledge of the PDF games market. I've spent more on RPGs in the last year (PDF and dead tree) than I had in the five years previous.
  6. As a comparison, World of Warcraft is estimated to pull in $1 billion a year by itself. Yes, it's the largest of the MMOs but it's not the only MMO out there.

So what's with the future of gaming then? MMOs are going to be more accessible even though they are more expensive because they offer some social elements with the instant gratification of 'pretty things to look at'. I admit I've been tempted to try WoW and City of Heroes but I always stop myself. I don't want to sit, sequestered in a room and try and schedule hours of gameplay with my significant other. I like to get out with the guys, sit in a room with other people and have it as my night out. The social side of things is much more important than the quick hit of a game.

From a business point of view, the gaming market is always going to be hard to estimate. There's no easy way to estimate the number of gamers out there as some of them never interact with anyone outside their own gaming group. And the people who run homebrew games? From an industry economy point of view, they may as well not exist.

Comparisons with other hobbies must be made. We're not really in a sporting hobby. There's a thriving market for people who play football, who go scuba diving, who surf or sail, climb or whack balls with sticks. We're the trainspotters, chess players and stamp collectors. We have to establish and embrace that we're not cool, we're not the masters of the world and it doesn't really matter. We're not affected by the doom and gloom headlines of the mainstream press. Even card games have some respectability, wargames even more so. It doesn't matter what you look like - from lardass nerd to malnourished goth - you play role-playing games, you're a dork.

And would it matter if the RPG companies folded?

I think not.

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28Feb/080

So you want to be a writer

I got this from the blog of reknowned comic artist PJ Holden

So you want to be a writer? Or do you want to make a living as a writer?

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14Oct/071

Q-CON XIV video

The official video for Q-CON XIV was posted today:

It's good to see it running as I did all the research for the first Q-CON by visiting cons around the country when I was President of 'Slayers the year before. I amended the constitution, got it ratified and and then pushed the idea of running a convention to the folk. The following year we had Q-CON. Alan, who died last year, was President of the society and did a good job motivating the rest of us to work hard. I ran half a dozen games that weekend and had previously set up the Star Trek Megagame to be run down in the Mandela Hall. I was 'Slayer's first convention director and ran Q-CON 2 and 3 which both turned out to be really profitable in the end. Heh, who could have guessed. It wasn't all easy and I hadn't been aware until recently how close to the wire it had been.

Before his untimely death, Alan asked me to run it again...but commitments (like running a business, having my kids on the weekend) were too much to consider it. And, of course, I'd no goodwill left in the society and you NEED goodwill from the folk to get things done.

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22Sep/070

Crucible Design’s Games on Sale at Key20.

After what seems an age, the first roleplaying games I wrote are on sale again at Key20

SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO

The 23rd Letter ( RPG.net Review )

Zombi: The Earth Won't Hold The Dead ( Review by Jeff Rients )

I've linked to reviews before but they're easily searchable anyway.

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20Aug/0712

Top 10 Roleplaying Games of All Time

Just to confuse matters, these are in alphabetical order but to my mind they represent the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to roleplaying games.
Amber - The godchild of Zelazny's novels, Amber brought us some really innovative methods of determining hierarchy and conflict resolution in a diceless roleplaying system. Re-defining the player character as a "godlike being" among tiny humans while also making them juniors in their own hierarchy.
Ars Magica - The definitive fantasy/Mythic Europe game brought us Troupe Play - the idea that you would maintain multiple characters in a single game. This concept has since been applied to almost every genre. Ars Magica still leads the way in running a Mythic Europe game out of the box.
Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu - One of the first games where the ability to hit someone was not the primary focus of creating a character. It was the first time it certainly when more people were interested in creating characters as "professors" and "archeologists" rather than "fighters" and "magic users".
CyberPunk - What did it do for us? In such a combat-heavy game, it got us seriously thinking about initiative, armour, the damage that guns inflict and also how playing a bona-fide X-factor applicant (Rockerboy) was a real option. It also gave us Netrunning and helped us realise that a Netrun was really boring for the rest of the players.
Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) - redefined the super-hero RPG genre by presenting the most flexible, most configurable game system of all time without compromising simplicity. Talk about a game that refuses to die!
Pendragon - a shot in the eye for recent indie games which attempt to force immersive roleplaying by pigeon-holing players into restrictive roles. You play a knight. That's it. Not a priest or magic user. Playing a rogue is right out. Not only that - it pays to be a Paladin. It's essential to your progress to act like a knight.
RuneQuest - the champion of Basic Role-Playing and also shouldering Glorantha, one of the most popular culture-game settings out there. It helped re-define the role of the magic user (in essence, everyone is a magic user) and gave real depth to the relationship between gods and their followers.
Skyrealms of Jorune - my personal favourite as a culture-game setting which stretched the imagination as to what could be really familiar as well as superbly alien. Not everyone could take Thriddles seriously but the background, a web of secrets, was enticing and rich, richer perhaps than any other man-made background.
SLA Industries - a relative newcomer but in spite of the not-entirely-shocking revelations near the end, we had some of the most involving gaming in this setting which, on the face of it, did more for trivialising murder than any other game. It was the first and last game to successfully meld horror and sci-fi.
Vampire - love them or hate them, White Wolf brought a much needed influx of people into the hobby and some of them remained. We've not seen a change in the market since to the same scale and it would be unlikely anyway. Vampire taught us that a game could be about humanity and character and not just about wearing black leather trenchcoats, mirrorshades and strapping a katana to your back.
WFRP - takes a lot of rap for being a game for losers - by this I mean, the game setting kinda reinforces even more than CoC that you cannot win. Even if you do find the demon possessing the guy who is on the throne, tomorrow you'll catch some horrific disfiguring disease and die anyway.

These are mine.

What are yours?

30May/0712

A hatred of self and the games that do it.

How many games put you in the role of playing Ordinary Joe?

Not many.

A recent thread on TheRPGSite talks about:

Originally Posted by The RPG Cliche List
Nephilim Law. In modern-day occult games, mortal humans are considered to have the same intrinsic worth as cattle. (So named for Nephilim, a game that is particularly blatant about this.)

Now, Exalted isn't a modern-day occult game, but you can definitely view it as an anti-humanistic game: in the setting, the various Exalted are the important people in society, and mundane human beings are nigh-irrelevant.

Apart from Nephilim (which Lesley refused to play because she valued the lives of the humans in the game), there are heaps of games which treat the rank and file of the world as nothing but cattle.

The thread at TheRPGSite derails nastily into accusations of racism and a lot of debate about whether the issue is with player characters given their powers or player characters who earn their powers. Those aren't the issue at all.

The issue is more how the game empowers the players and how thy are encouraged to treat humanity in game.

Nephilim treats humans as disposable underwear. Their incarnations destroy the lives of those they inhabit. And they've been doing it for centuries. This provided an issue for many people. The alternative was to inhabit a Thermos and not interact meaningfully in the game (or become a Dr Theopolis-style advisor)

Vampire dehumanises the brutality and violation of feeding in allowing a player character to have a "Herd" score where they can treat humanity like a fast-food restaurant. The designers are at fault as they lost the "tragedy" of the Embrace and the Hunt and chased the gothic-punk "everyone wears leather trenchcoats and hide Katanas up their sweaters" market.

In Exalted, the players are encouraged to become a super-elite. This is based on my interpretation of the Exalted rulebook. You exalt and the game changes into something like Godzilla versus Mothra. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of humanity.

SLA Industries creates inhuman combat monsters who fight contract killers - serial killers with advertising - both of whom take very little notice of the rank and file of humanity. They're bullet-catchers. They're incidental damage in the firefight. They're categorically tragically killed by passing Fire Engines. It's crap being Joe Ordinary.

I must say, I'm not keen on the idea of humanity hate. I think there is a lot of it owing to the idea that gamers are mostly maladjusted teenagers who want to play out power trip fantasies. It's sadly true.

Back in my teens I was really uncomfortable playing games set in Northern Ireland. It was just a little close to home. You're a being of power - do you take a side in the Troubles? And the one game we did play had one player work out his revenge fantasies on people who bullied him in school. Healthy therapy? I doubt it. It felt unclean and voyeuristic. Brr.

Are there many games where you play normal humans? Zombi would be one. In The 23rd Letter it probably pays to be a normal human.

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28Apr/070

Art:

northerain is the blog of the artist behind Bloodsong Media. I like his stuff which he describes as:

My style is more or less based on existing photographs. I use those to paint over them in photoshop. Since they're not sketches, it's impossible to do it in black and white.

Sounds perfect for both The 23rd Letter and what I also envisaged for Qabal. And I am interested in finding out what this image is about.

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27Apr/073

Diddlysquat is dead

Mark notes that Diddlysquat is dead.

I didn't know much about it, to be honest but reading the testimony of specky I'm reminded of lots of the silliness that went on within Crucible Design.

In the end, projects like this are fuelled by a small core of people (usefully termed schemers and collaborators.). Everyone else is pretty much surplus to requirements but as these types of projects tend to be started by friends, people can be a little over-cautious about being honest here. Allowing a project to slide (or worse fail) because you didn't want to hurt the feelings of someone who isn't contributing seems silly on the face of it. But we all do it (at least those of us who are human have).

The most annoying thing, when a project is failing or when someone is being asked to leave a project, is the tendency for some to be passively obstructive (or even actively destructive). I've seen this in the RPG industry as well as in The Real World. Failing to fulfill promises again and again, blame-shifting, becoming upset when duties are removed and yet, when the deadline comes, their inactivity causes the deadline to slide. Problems like this plagued our fanzine WildTalents and seriously delayed the production of every single book we ever published. And when I stopped propping people up, when I stopped doing the extra work to make things happen and when I refused to give credit where it was not due, then Crucible Design stopped producing books.

Q-CON, another project I invested hugely in (I did the preliminary research, coving everything I could from WARPS, got the budget for Q-CON 1, got the people together, ran Q-CON 2 and 3) was always beset at the start of the year by people who had ideas but no intention of implementing anything or completing anything. It meant that with 2 weeks of preparation (after 6 months of failed investigation by two people), I was left alone to run the convention and pull together the Star Trek Megagame. I had to rely on real people with real commitment to fun to get it done (and a wave goes out to Colin and Lesley on this one). Sure, we pulled successful profitable conventions out of nowhere but it wasn't without a committee that was so supportive that they had a vote of no-confidence in my ability to run the convention which failed:- probably more to do with the individuals not wanting to have to take over...

When relations break down within a project, it's best for everyone and best for the project if you take the steps to cut out the chaff. I wish I'd done it with Crucible wayback when but even now I find it hard to do probably because I'm not the git everyone thinks I am.

Really.

Now, identifying the difference between chaff and rot is difficult and I dont think anyone gets it right. Chaff are just people who serve no useful purpose. They probably slow things up because in a democratic committee you have to ask everyone's opinion. Chaff won't kill you but they may bore you.

Rot are much worse - these guys are scheming against you and against the success of the project. These are the guys who will plot with junior members of the team and do their best to make sure their name is at the top of the list of every success and nowhere to be seen in the event of a failure. When you're presenting your work, at a convention or whatever, they're usually the first out with the pen when someone asks for a book signing.

In my experience, the speed at which someone gets a pen to sign a book at request is inversely proportional to their contribution to the book and you can be pretty sure that if someone has their pen out before you ask then they likely were responsible for delays in the product rather than actually being productive.

Thing is: if you're a team leader then you already know who the chaff and the rot are. Be honest with yourself.

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23Apr/070

Riffing off The 23rd Letter.

Ghost Whistler on RPG.net came up with a23rd Planet idea. He was riffing off the name of the game but it made me think tonight about:

The 23rd Century

Fast forward events in The 23rd Letter by two hundred years and you might have an idea of a micro-setting.

Making psychics essential for space travel just seems really tired these days, probably due to Warhammer 40K more than anything. If it were up to me I'd probably promote the importance of biofeedback in maintaining cold sleep. Telekinesis for construction or, probably more usefully, handling of hazardous materials or handling of goods in Zero-G and microgravity. Or the use of Regent for rehabilitation of criminals.

And if everyone had the opportunity to be psychic? If it became a natural part of humanity? Would you see a Gattaca-type society where there was a psychic overclass? How would you FAKE psychic powers in order to advance? Would they have found ways to reduce the Stress involved in psychic abilities?

What about alien contact? Do the aliens have psychics? Perhaps they do and thoughts are in their own language and therefore psychics are important as translators. Or are alien minds so different that they cause immediate madness in a psychic who tried to read one?

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30Mar/0759

Top 5 reasons why D&D sucks

5. Roll-playing Game

While not as bad as some systems (*cough* World of Darkness) in terms of the amount of dice you roll at one time, there are a lot of rolls for resolving single tasks. There are so many extra rules for things (most of which require rolls) that the emphasis is on the rules and dice rather than the roleplaying. You also need multiples of every type of dice - while most roleplayers have these it's still a bit of a pain. One roll per action - surely that's enough for any system? Oh, and don't forget your synergy bonus!

4. Alignment

While I realise that alignment is just supposed to be a guideline, the rulebooks seem to contradict that. You can't play a Paladin unless you're Lawful Good at all times. How do you make a Paladin interesting then, while still remaining a Paladin? They're all going to be shining paragons of justice and virtue. Playing clerics requires adherence to certain alignments, and the same for some other classes. While it might not be constricting for some, to me it's like someone pigeonholing me simply because of my ethnic background or my accent.

3. Levels

Now that I'm a 3rd Level Rogue, I'm more likely to survive being stabbed that I was last week, when I was a 2nd Level Rogue. Having arbitrary levels which state what abilities you have or can have is so ... 1980s. Please, I thought we left that all behind when we left high school. OK, you can use the optional rules (more rules!) around training, to make this a bit more realistic, but still. It bugs me that I can't be (for example) a Wizard who only knows a Magic Missile spell but can cast 5 of them instead of the 3 dictated by his level. It feels like exactly what it is - a completely arbitrary way of rating characters so you can pit them against random monster enounters (hmmm .. I should have put random encounters on the list too).

2. Two Book Minimum

You want to play Dungeons and Dragons? Then you have to buy at least two books - the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide. Oh, you wanted a background? One more book (e.g. Player's Guide to Faerun). Oh, you needed monsters for the background. That's another (e.g. Monster Manual). Brand new at MSRP that's $122.80. Even getting them second hand it's over $50. One list of "essential" D&D books on Amazon has 40 entries totalling $834.75 (that includes Amazon's discounts).

"But Wizards spawned the whole d20 movement, when they 'open sourced' the system!" Oh, really? Great - lots more games based around the same shit system.

1. Rabid Players

So, after spending vast quantities of money on all these expensive and extensive rule books, it seems that the average D&D player doesn't want to be told that the game is pile of poo. Instead, they defend any slight vociferously, even when blatantly in the wrong (or when they miss the point entirely). And this symptom seems to spread into the other popular D20 games (ever notice how often Mutants and Masterminds players say "System X is no good, you can do all that and more in M&M"?).

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22Mar/075

r-Maps (and being ahead of the curve)

There's a lot of talk of relationship maps.

I've been playing with the idea of an r-map for gaming for use as a player aid for a while. It really started to surface when playing superhero games in order to try and keep up with the number of NPCs and subplots that were going on. Later, in Ars Magica, it helped when we had troupe play in effect and every player had at least two characters. Otherwise I'd have gone insane. The thing about r-maps is that they depict the society around the character such as this r-map for NPCs in Amber. That said, I think an r-map showing only the public moods and behaviours would be entertaining.

Now...where was I. Yes.

In Qabal, an r-map was necessary for every player, because Qabal was all about troupe play. The first draft I did of this was circa 1996. I liked the imagery of it because the Tree of Life looked very much like a relationship map and I was quite pumped by that idea. Add to it a card-based mechanic inspired by Blackjack :) using Tarot cards and you had what I thought would be a lot of fun. Likewise in the game currently known as "Illusion", a relationship map is necessary for the PLAYER to keep track of his multiple characters and his relationships to them. How he perceived them. Same mechanic, standard playing cards but less connection to the Tree. But still a beezer idea.

The difference being that a character sheet then appears more like a series of circles with interconnecting lines and the content of each "circle" is the entire character sheet for that individual. For NPCs, they would be much less detailed obviously and tend to be around the edges until adopted by a player (see, another cool mechanic).

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17Mar/0715

Systems

A posting on RPGnet asks us to describe our homebrew systems. I ended up describing mine thusly.

  • Maths-easy 2d6 comedy with either a manga/anime/mecha or zombie holocaust backdrop
  • Qualitative success using 0-3d10 to create a crunchy yet narrative system which can be considered both rules-lite and "a gun game" with a backdrop of psychic powers and government conspiracies dating back to the start of the 20th Century.
  • Card-based Blackjack-inspired mechanics with backdrop of both Stage Magic and Real Magic. Yes, that game. The one I'm infamous for not finishing...
  • [EDIT: Rules light, coarse skilled d6 mechanic - happy now?]

It's a fun thread, some inspiring stuff in there.

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9Mar/070

Zombie Links

This isn't a link blog, but these are very fun.

Zombie World News

"ZombieWorldNews.com is , as far as we can tell, a departure from other Zombie sites. Instead of the reader being a spectator, we hope to draw you in through a dynamic, ever changing scenario, that you can just read and enjoy, or jump right in and contribute to yourself. The main focus is on the world wide impact and reaction to a credible Zombie virus. How countries deal with it. Become insular, close borders, increase security, quell panic, fear and paranoia, even make arrangements for undead disposal. We also want to touch on some often overlooked aspects of a Zombie rising. Such as, how do you cope with shooting someone? For most people it would not be like a shooting gallery. It would be horrific. Is there remorse? These were people, friends, neighbors. What is the personal toll? The psychological effect."

The Zombie Squad

"Q: What is Zombie Squad?
A: Zombie Squad is disaster preparation community.
We focus our efforts towards promoting the importance of emergency preparation awareness and working with local communities around the globe to teach them what is needed to survive whatever crisis may come along like natural disasters or man made disasters. Our mission is to make sure you are prepared for any crisis situation that might come along in your daily life which may include your home being invaded by the undead menace. Zombie Squad also supports other local and international disaster relief organizations/charities. Check out our events page for the latest charity event we have coming up.

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3Mar/070

Do women look for more depth?

Inanna Jones writes a bit about this sexism thing here on the IrishGaming livejournal:

So generalising remark: women look for more depth.

I disagree with Inannajones. I think both men and women look for depth. The depth is just in different seas.

There is a group of guys who look for cheesecake art. They like the hawt Drow femmes and they think that Larry Elmore is a god. They are in the minority and seldom are over 18.

So, what's with "women look for more depth"?

I don't know what InannaJones looks for precisely, she says:

I play RPGs fundamentally for the sake of a damn good story and being able to be personally, intimately part of that story. I love being a hero, love solving mysteries, love being part of a living, breathing, 3+ -dimensional fantasy world. In my experience, both sexes are allowed to do that equally well.

Okayyyy.....that's what I like about gaming. I love the story, I love characterisation, I love putting on an accent, I like making twists and turns in a plot and I love it when my players react as their character rather than as a player. As a GM I have to play believeable male roles as well as believable female roles. I have to play hearty heroes as well as vile villains, of both sexes and of variable sexual preference.

She continues:
I have never found RPGs or the RPG culture to be particularly sexist.

On the same post, deannawol writes:

If anything, the cute, fluffy, romantic "for women" games would piss me off. But that's just me.

It would piss me off too. And I'm not even a woman.

What pisses me off more is being called a jerk and an asshole by an ignorant bigot who knows nothing about the hobby and assumes that just because we're debating whether there is sexism in the hobby, it must mean that there is sexism in the hobby and anyone who says otherwise is the white, heterosexual, male oppressor.

This is a conversation for the pub, or a convention panel. And if any women want to look at the games I have in development here and on the LateGaming private wiki and talk about whether I am making a game with inherent sexist bias then I'm interested to talk.

It seems I agree with InannaJones.

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3Mar/0712

Shakespeare at least had Viola.

Apparently, I'm exercising the power and privilege of my gender by criticising the idea that we should actually de-cliché a cliché in order to make everyone feel secure about themselves. (Question: if a cliché is de-fanged, doesn't it become meaningless?)

The author goes on to criticise my statistics because the sample size is not representative and I wasn't scientific in my evidence gathering. Is the author actually going to refute the statistics or just the method of gathering? Is the author going to provide information that tabletop gaming is NOT dominated by the male gender? Because this post is to discredit mine and yet proves nothing of the sort. My statistics may be off, but not by an order of magnitude. Come on Andrea, rather than attacking the method, attack the result. I don't need to count people at my local club in order to obtain the result that tabletop roleplaying is dominated by male gamers. If you want to prove me wrong, get some proof.

The author admits they "can’t speak for tabletop gaming" but then goes on to compare the situation to that of videogames.

Not the same thing. I'm not interested in the video game community so I'm not going to bother going to the links provided which will tell me how women are starting to become a larger percentage of the video game industry (which, by the way, is a way of admitting they don't dominate it without actually saying that). It's irrelevant anyway.

In a video game, a designer might fill the game with cheesecake art and then expect you to play through it. The gratuitous boob and crotch shots are something that are in your face all the time. You want to play the game, you vew the graphics. Part and parcel. This isn't the case with a tabletop roleplaying game. In many games, you read the book once, then put it down and reply on your imagination to pull you through. Does the reading of the book pollute your imagination with cheesecake art so that you're so pre-occupied with it that you cannot roll a dice, act your way through a scene or enjoy a social activity with some friends?

See, it's not the same situation as a video game, this is tabletop roleplaying; an area the author admits they "can't speak for". She criticises that I compare this game to literary works. The game we're talking about is a direct homage, a game set in the world of these literary works. That fact that the game is filled with clichés that are representative of the literary genre is relevant. If you change them, they stop being clichés.

Our author, Andrea Rubenstein goes on to say that I'm being non-inclusive. That I'm being a callous asshole. She furthers her ignorance of the subject by claiming that I'm a jerk telling a woman to basically shut up and realize that gaming is for the boys. She probably doesn't know that I've created gender-inclusive games (at least by the standards of the piece). she doesn't even know what being "inclusive" means in terms of tabletop roleplaying so quick is she to compare it to a competely different medium.

So why get involved in an argument when you don't know anything about the industry?

To grab a headline. Duh.

Andrea doesn't realise that tabletop roleplaying games are literary works. She doesn't realise that reading through many games is the same as reading a short novel. They tell a story and provide a framework designed to inspire the imagination. This is completely different to her straw man about video games which are a passive form of entertainment (yes, videogames are interactive but only in the sense that certain actions allow the story to be told. You're limited to what's presented to you on the screen. You're not required, or in many cases able to use your imagination. But ignorance of the medium of tabletop roleplaying is central to Andrea's assertion that I'm a jerk and an asshole. Central to her argument is the assertion that tabletop roleplaying must be the same as video gaming.

Andrea Rubenstein is not stupid, nor is she a jerk, nor an asshole. She's just ignorant.

If she and Mary are going to criticise roleplaying games for their content then they really should start criticising other literary works for their content. Let's start with the works of Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming and J. K. Rowling. Each of them has almost a monopoly on male protagonists with women having secondary, weaker or evil roles.

Shakespeare at least had Viola.

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3Mar/070

So I had to go ask some women….

The Bitter Guy calls this a really retarded response.

Fair enough. It probably is retarded to point at something that's fucking stupid and say that's fucking stupid especially when the stupid thing is something that is "pro feminisim". Yes. Terrifyingly stupid. I do have to wonder however as I've brought this up with just about every woman I know (and yes, that extends beyond my mum, my sisters and my 4 year old daughter) and all of them agree that the criticism of the original material, that being the representation of genre clichés, is entirely appropriate. Some great responses were:

"I read late-gaming, and nearly vomited. Sorry, but the thought that there are people making games that allow females to enjoy their drama-mama, nico-teen angst makes me want to hurl. What? Do I get points for "Snappy Comeback"? For "Catch His Eye"? For "Best Entrance"?

Do I get experience for bedding the hot guy at the party or for getting through the night without sloshing wine on my new dress? "

"I'll admit, I'd have a hard time playing an authentic game where women were subjugated. However, I'd either find a way to play in that time period and do whatever I was going to do "underneath that", or I'd play a guy.

Of course, I'm also the type of person that thinks that pandering to someone's social inadequacy because one "must equalize in retrospect" is... er... insecure. We've forgotten how to bank on our intelligence in the wake of learning how to bank on our sexuality. I think modern women don't want to have to admit that the "equality" they have grown up with is a trend. I think it denotes a high degree of insecurity, too, that they need to have everything "just so" in order to rp."

"I think people bend the rules a lot when it comes to creative history in order not to offend women's "delicate sensibilities". We're not really free, you know? As long as we get all riled up about not being equal and whining about it. By patronising them through changing in-genre clichés, you're saying "You women can't rp in a world that isn't perfect for you, so let me soften everything up, dumb it all down, and then you can play with me."

or

"Yes, I'm so attached to my insecurities, that I need to you to homogenize and sterilize everything."

We're getting into some of what I feel is wrong with feminine culture these days.
Being restored our sexual prowess has swung over into being restored our right to be slutty.
Unfortunately, some people don't realize that slutty all the time makes it lose its appeal.
If I can't make a guy want to fuck me with all my clothes on and nothing of interest really showing, then I'm fucking lame.

I think maybe you might need to just employ methods of getting women to divest themselves of their inbred "everyone has to make me feel equal" problem, and just write your damn game.

No, I agree with your post. I don't need to be pandered to in order to rp. "

Okay....that's a long one....but there's more, in another detailed breakdown of my post...

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2Mar/075

More on sexism (plus registration and comments)

I've turned off registration for comments because it should be off. Bit of a mea culpa there.

I am enjoying the discussion on sexism in RPGs which has been continued on thedeadone.net and Mary's blog.

I wrote: "Some game companies are currently trying to market cute and fluffly and romance and “social” games to women which is utterly patronising."

Mary writes back: "I can answer this personally without examples. I see games as inherantly a social thing. Hanging out with a group of people is a social thing.

I'm not disagreeing here but I deliberately put "social" in inverted commas. Gaming is a social activity because it usually means hanging out with people who have a similar interest. This is not the same as a "social" game.

I don't know if I'm communicating this well but I'm trying to illustrate the difference between "gaming as a social activity" and "a game which contrives social situations in game". We all know the former and real men squirm at the thought of the latter. Ahem.

Do I need to examine the way I do things? I have no women in my gaming group. Does this mean I have been shooing them away with my inherent and aggressive male chauvenism?

I did a check with the women I know. Some gamers, some not. They don't think I'm a male chauvenist. I did need to check.

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2Mar/071

It’s about starting conversations with new people

I started a little storm in a teacup with my last post. Even got someone else linking to me. And some of the comments on that posting (e.g. "Enh, I went and read the Late Gaming post, and it's so stupid, I couldn't even work up the energy for a reply.") just prove the point.

Now. Jeremiah has a good point that perhaps the point of female archetypes is to make it easier for females to visualise character possibilities. Okay, I can accept that. The problem being that his commenters immerse themselves in political correctness. For the guy who didn't have the energy to reply because the post is so stupid, thanks for commenting. You could have just put a me too and provided just as much contribution.

Jeremiah writes:"And I have to say that some people just don't get it. And at this point I am thinking it is on purpose."

Yes, some of it is in purpose. The whole point of blogging for me is not a confessional - there's not a lot of point in writing something if it's not going to start a conversation. As Robert Scoble says It’s good for us to change our scenery and start conversations with people we wouldn’t otherwise talk with..

Would Sherlock Holmes have appealed to more women if Dr Watson had been a genre-and-era-busting female doctor? At that point it's getting petty. It's like a TV show committee sitting around a table and cynically asking whether they could appeal to the bi-lesbian-gay-black-asian community more if they included some token characters in their sit-com. Do you really want to be targetted like a demographic rather than an individual? Do you want to be excited because a game has an archetype that breaks the demographic of the genre or would you rather be excited because of the opportunities the game presents. It seems to me that games WITHOUT art might actually appeal to women more if cheesecake art is such a turn-off.

Some game companies are currently trying to market cute and fluffly and romance and "social" games to women which is utterly patronising. There are some games which are really interesting to me from the point of being an immersive roleplayer. Nicotine Girls for example, does not appeal to the side of me that wants to play a muscle bound mutant. But I'd love to find a gaming group that would play it. I may have that gaming group right now but I'm not sure. For one thing, they're all blokes. For a second thing I've only started gaming with them recently and I don't know how far I can push them. Introducing them to Troupe Play was a big leap....

One issue with game companies making games that seem to appeal to males more than females? These male gamers are buying games. That means the law of supply and demand will apply to the big companies. It's a small enough hobby already and the percentage of women who will play has always been a small fraction. I've always promoted strong genre-busting female character roles for the female players in my group (some may remember Aemilia (Ars Magica), Petrina Miles (Ars Magica), and Christine (SLA Industries) from my games (all played by my lovely ex-wife). Therefore you can look to indie game companies where the developers are writing for the love of the game rather than the money. I will have to ask some of my female gamer friends about whether my own games have appealed to them with positive character possibilities. It's a conversation I have to have with myself at some point I guess.

Mary's blog about games that appeal to her leaves me a little confused. One one hand I can see there are some really cool images here. The image for Gurps: Reborn Rebirth looks cool indeed. That's a positive gender model. The image just above it, with the schoolgirls with the swords doesn't inspire me at all. It features more of the things in Japanese culture that we whitebread westerners find odd or disturbing. Okay, the things I find disturbing.

But then it's not about whether I'm inspired obviously. Or what I find disturbing.

I didn't write yesterday's post as a whitebread western male. I wrote it as an indignant gamer and I had significant input from a female friend who agreed totally. No-one wants to be patronised.

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1Mar/0717

If Jesus had tits, would you believe in God?

On mer writes about rpgs we find an opine about how it's such a shame that the pulp-rpg "Spirit of the Century" included archetypes such as:

Gadget Guy, Gentleman Criminal, Jungle Lord, Man of Mystery

and not

Gadget Girl, Lady Criminal, Jungle Queen, Woman of Mystery

Yes. It's a bloody shame. So why don't we create games where sexism and racism are reversed?

Okay, how about we compromise. Let's look at my local gaming club and make some calculations. On Monday night we had about thirty people. And not more than 4 were women. So slightly more than 13%. Let's build games to attract the 13% rather than the 86%!

That doesn't make a lot of sense.

People have wracked their brains in how to attract more women into the hobby and I have to say that I am beginning to see it as futile. There was a huge influx of females (especially hawt gothy babes) when Vampire hit the streets. And now the bubble has popped? They're gone. Or doing other stuff. there's been some releases of anime/manga games which are more feminocentric (that's got to be a new word...) but I look at them and consider them patronising. There are some that even promote love and romance but again, how subtle are they?

I just don't think that gaming means the same to girls the same way that obsessive devotion to an obscure hobby holds attracton to women. What's the percentage of female train-spotters? How about computer geeks (you know, the ones who don't do it for money?). There's a reason why males suffer more from mind-blindness than girls (Asperger Syndrome affects 3-4 times as many boys than girls). Asperger's has been referred to as excessive maleness

I tend to look at the women in gaming with respect to sexism and racism in gaming media with soft focus. For years we've been subjected to pin-up style art of BOTH male and female protagonists wearing nothing but beach-wear for armour while fighting dragons, spiders and immense giants. We don't hear many men complaining about the men. I just think it's a tired, contrived trope.

Does it really spoil your enjoyment of the game if the archetypes are male? Do you find it jarring and upsetting if the pronouns in a game are exclusively male? Does it pain you to your very soul that Wells chose male characters for his books The Time Machine and War of the Worlds? Would Emma have been better if Jane Austen had named the character James and made a comedy of manners about the debut of a young squire? Why the hell wasn't Moses a girl? Would Jesus have been a better saviour if he'd had mammary glands?

It's a male dominated hobby with a target market of males, written by men most of whom have given up trying to attract women in the hobby because, frankly, they're only interested if it's anything but straight tabletop roleplaying. Add in a bit of haemo-eroticism, some corsets and black lipstick and we're flooded with the buggers all happy to play happy families with the one or two male players who wash more than once a week. We're meant to make women excited to play the game by throwing in some token archetypes (voiding the genre I might add) and making more references in the text to fictional female GMs?

What happened to making people excited to play the game because of a compelling background, a system that didn't make me want to push d10s into the eyes of the GM and a player community that didn't just really creep me out with the fact that ten years later, the people at your local club all the same, just older, fatter and still playing D&D.

Sure. Next game I write, I'll add in 50% female archetypes. See how excited everyone gets.

[Yes, this has turned into a rant and I've made the title a good bit more inflammatory than I might have originally. I'd have commented directly on Mary's blog but...I'd have to register on wordpress.com for that and really I can't be bothered. I did have about 40% female archetypes in Qabal....but that was a long time ago]

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24Feb/070

Would I GM for money?

There's a bloke on StoryGames who's advertising his new business: Will GM for money.

The price is $50.00 per month of weekly play, as of the 23rd of Febuary, the price is $10.00 per week payable in advance, which including includes snacks and drinks: a five session pass comes with a spiffy membership card with your characters mug on it in full color. We meet weekly on Friday, 4:00 to 6:00, at at Eudemonia on 2154 University (and Shattuck) in Berkeley, California

Are good GMs really that rare?

I'd not pay a red cent for this kind of crap. I don't know about you but I expect a basic level of language for a GM and frankly, a GM who's an egotistical prick is a major turn-off (And yes, I mean other people who are egotistical pricks. I'm fabulous!) This bloke...well...his command of his first language is not where it needs to be for a PAY-FOR game.

The odd thing is that during character generation on Monday night we had a brief discussion of exactly this subject. We did moot the idea that my players could bribe me. A quid ($2) for a random re-roll and two ($4) for a favourable result. And two again to cock up someone else's roll. And there would be a bidding system that would go up in increments.

That beats the shit out of card based and stone/paper/scissors rubbish we've all been inventing over the last few years.

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21Feb/070

James Wallis is back. And you thought he was just tall.

James Wallis, poster boy for the health benefits of vegetarianism and one of the nicest blokes I know now has his own blog. James will always be welcome at my table. I do mean dinner table because it would be WAYYYY too intimidating to have him in a game...

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28Nov/060

1st Transatlantic Setting Design Challenge

This post on Story Games I find quite exciting. A month to design a game, using a previously published system? And the additional commitment of having to also be a judge.

As a commenter on that page put it:

"It's the exact same situation as Game Chef or 24 hour RPG -- feel free to draw on old material, but the contest is about writing and presenting new stuff, not dusting off your hoary old setting."

I'd love to do this. But do I have the time?

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24Nov/060

Legendary Vapourware thread…

Not really sure whether I'm pleased or depressed....
But Qabal and The Project Sourcebook didn't make the grade for this list on RPGnet of Legendary Vapourware even though it's 9 pages long!.

Of course, they're too wrapped up in wondering about FRUP (which, in the tradition of the very best vapourware, is back under development.

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21Nov/064

I need a concept artist

I hate the fact that I'm crap at drawing. I can describe stuff but I'm finding more and more that I want to find a concept artist. I want to have some images to post with the content I'm writing.

I'm nto quite at the stage where I'll post something onto RPGnet and I'm not sure how it would work out with that most dreaded of things "payment". I'd like to talk to someone about it and see what we can do....

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Filed under: Art, Commentary 4 Comments
18Nov/060

Zombi Review

Jeff Rients writes about 5 old games he feels were overlooked. While I can agree with the ancient (James Bond, Lords of Creation) and the venerable (SpaceMaster) and perhaps even the weird (SenZar - though I always thought it was an internet joke-meme) I was shocked and surprised to see number 5 on his list was ... ZOMBI. Go read and give appropriate linkage willya. Jeff's blog is one of the blogs I read with my morning cereal and it was very cool to see something I wrote just there. I was interested in the "5 old games" article anyway and BOOM, he surprises me with this nugget!

He also liked the name "SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO" and sometimes I feel fortunate that I never completed the script for SpaceFleet HyperDimensional WarFortress 44 which I think was only mentioned in WildTalents 3 as:

"Taking SNCC to the stars, SF44 brings you the background for the Archon War. The rag- tag remnants of a hundred worlds now follow the banner of Earth to grind the Horde under their Meka-Tek heels. New rules include starship and zero-G combat. New races and new guns!"

Anyway, Thanks Jeff, for the review, the walk down memory lane and the description of LoC, which I'm going to chase in the IntarWebbage.

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