Resolutions: Dealing with Canon and Context

Canon is the past in the play. It establishes facts which have gone before. It doesn’t mean it can’t be retconned afterwards but for the most part it is immutable (or at least it should have immutable facts and mutable descriptors, the latter of which may be changed due to Context.

Context is the present in the play. It represents experiences more than facts and, due to the way we lay down memories, is probably more immediately mutable than Canon though if left, it can be harder to change because it forms part of our experience memory and not just written Canon (which is essentially the basis of ‘show, don’t tell’ – if someone visualises the experience they will have deeper connection to it rather than just having the story related to them).

Accepting is where you acknowledge and agree with the contributions from others to the Context settling it as Canon. This is most easily visualised when you try to reconcile the order of events taking place in a system which does not have a strict action-point (or similar) mechanic. In systems with Action Points or Strike Ranks, everything happens according to the time. To move the story along, it can be necessary to fudge the timings, e.g.

Zakary and Carey are two of the contestants in the Garhound contest and Zakary has caught up with Carey who is descending from the Storm Apple tree with a ripe Storm Apple. Though they are perhaps 4-5 SRs apart, the GM permits Zakary to assault Carey and steal the Storm Apple. Why? Because it will make for further flavour and discussion in the game. Who loses out? An NPC who wasn’t doing well in the race anyway.

In a more narrative game, it can mean just the end of discussing a scene. Not everyone needs to be entirely happy with the outcome, but there has to be a sense of mutual consent so that the game can continue.

Returning – negates the contribution to Context but also provides options which can be considered. This is reserved for when there is disagreement within the group as to the interpretation and outcome of a scene. This is most common when there has been a GM fiat about a character and the player disagrees with it. It behooves the player in this circumstance to not only make his grievance known but also to provide a suitable alternative. This may, dependiing on the detail, be returned to the player again or returned to the group as a whole for a better resolution, e.g.

It would have been entirely appropriate for other players to dispute the conflict between Zakary and Carey because there was an immediate gain for Zakary. Though he had no chance of winning the race, Storm Apples are a potent magical item. What convinced them ultimately was that it would have little effect on their characters and in no small part would give Carey, an annoying NPC, a harder time of it. They had agreement and the option was not returned.

It’s much harder to retcon against a dice roll because the randomising element is a central tenet of roleplaying. We use them to make the decisions for us and if we stop ‘trusting’ their decisions, we may as well switch to a fully narrative process (no bad thing in of itself).

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.

The usual fare

I don’t remember where I got this but it always made me think about the perfect stag do. It’s originally from the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and really proves that, to a degree, roleplayers of the day were ugly virgins.


I listened to an early episode of feartheboot on the way into work this morning (Episode 7 if anyone is interested) and they criticised the use of tables in some circumstances (roll for mental derangements, roll for plot points in a new town, roll for orgasm) while defending them in others (roll for Battlemech enemies, roll for random treasure/loot). I find that dichotomy to be really odd and illustrates a real liking for Monty Haul style campaigns. It doesn’t matter who the baddies are, they’re just random encounters and after we kill them we’ll take their #35 on the random treasure table. I know I’m taking that a little out of context and it was an early episode from about 2 years ago but I’m working through them and sometimes I really want to say “Hey, no, I don’t think that’s right” but, jeez, it’s two years ago so who would care.

Look at the assumptions in the table (getting back to the point). Didn’t this table tell you some things? Firstly, the players were likely to be all male, as were their characters. Secondly, all harlots were female (arguably a pimp or panderer can be either). That’s kind of shocking in of itself with modern sensibilities though unsurprising considering my gaming group consists of 4 blokes and this game was aimed at teenage dorks who weren’t great at sports.

If only I hadn’t watched Fear of Girls on Google Video (and the Wikipedia link) recently.

Makes me cringe.

That said, we may have been adolescents at one point and perhaps some of us fantasised about characters such as “Bathsheba Fullbubs” or “Calime Halfelven” but then that’s why this kind of material was in the books in the first place. We weren’t sexists when we were 12 years old, we were just confused and horny. RPG books catered to what we wanted to see and we didn’t see anything different between tough looking girls in chainmail thongs and the feeble representation of wet-blanket men in Barbie commercials.

I’m glad we can laugh about this.

I bought a book today…

…entirely because it was illustrated and designed exactly the way I want Q to be paid out.

I spent a few minutes leafing through it and in my minds eye transposed the text and art to that which I envision for Q. Looking over my Q notes the other day reminded me of the parts I still needed to write though, to be honest, most of it is down somewhere or other.

Some of the notes I look over were definitely penned by someone else. Sure, it’s my handwriting but it doesn’t read like my writing. I guess some of the text there must be 10 years old or so and I was a different person then – and my understanding of some things has matured and so it needs re-written.

I’m always wary of games systems which report on the cover that they took 10 years to develop. Systems take minutes to develop, maybe hours to refine. Not years. It takes years maybe to write prose of the quality you might want. When I hear of a game that took 10 years to create, I always think that it’s going to be 10 years out of date. I mean, a decade ago we were playing Ars Magica, SLA Industries and Mage. I would hope to some degree the world had moved on a little.

Likewise when someone claims to have developed their game system from watching real fights or, (even less impressive, from years of studying fighting in the SCA,) then I have to work hard to keep the bile down. Does anyone really want to see “realistic” fight sequences? Is there any evidence to suggest that SCA fighting is any more realistic? I’m not convinced – but then there are very few people in Western Europe who have witnessed a real fight using swords and armour. When you’re fighting for your life you’re bound to respond differently to when you’re fighting to try to demonstrate a point about fighting. So – 10 years development and based on “real world data” – load of bollocks.

I did read an article in a RPG magazine which took data from shootouts at the Texas border between immigrant, smugglers and the border guard. It made for interesting reading – seems shooting someone is as effective as throwing a handful of stones at them though if one stone hits, there’s a massive chance of instant death. Anyone know the article? I think it might have been in Pyramid?

Back to the book…

So I bought it (and some word flashcards for my daughter). I’ll no doubt get time to read it tonight and then maybe break out my design apps later this week.

Your rights … under Section 44 of the UK Anti-Terrorism Act

This kind of thing gives me the shivers.

Two disabled blokes were detained by UK police for suspiciously opening a white envelope and looking at police men in public view

It’s been asked about 20 times now when I’m going to London with the job and I’ve been wanting to put it off. Anything to avoid the steely stare of Airport Security.

YOUR RIGHTS UNDER SECTION 44 (Courtesy Liberty ):

  • The police can only give you a pat down, remove outer clothes (eg jacket, hat), search your bags and have you empty your pockets
  • You do not have to give your name and address
  • You do not have to explain why you are there
  • You are not allowed to flee the search, but you are not required to be actively compliant. You are allowed to ‘go limp’ as passive resistance during the search if you wish not to comply
  • There is no permission to collect DNA data during the search
  • You do not have to comply with any attempt to photograph or record you
  • Women cannot be touched by male police during these searches
  • Make notes about the officers searching you – name, number and police force
  • Note the time and the events preceding the search
  • Note the specific wording used by the police to explain their authority to search you
  • Ask the police for the reason that they are searching you. Specifically, are they searching for terrorists or are they simply trying to deter, delay or inconvenience you?

God forbid you should be having a game in the pub and passing round a copy of the Compendium of Modern Firearms or something.

Six Role-playing Annoyances

Here are some annoying habits that players can exhibit in your game. There are some suggestions as to how to deal with these problems, either by encouragement (as another player) or enforcement (as a GM).

  • Playing yourself, but with armour

Problem: the character has the exact same personality as the player, which means that every character that players plays has the same personality. The result is usually very forgettable characters a bland roleplaying experience for everyone else. Unfortunately, this type of player is often a roll-player also (see below). Even the two-word-personality is better than this.

Solution: The GM think about the character as a character, instead of a series of statistics. Write down the major motivations of that character and play them. Even two-dimensional role-playing is better than none.

  • Dick Ramhard, and other stupid character names

Problem: you try to play a serious game and someone comes up with a stupid name for their character. This leaves everyone either snickering or sighing every time the character introduces themselves.

Solution: keep your name appropriate to the game setting. GMs should veto stupid names anyway, so this could well be the result of poor refereeing or player-bullying.

  • Objection! Rules lawyering!

Problem: the flow of the game is constantly broken as the player points out the rules and loopholes that have been used or missed in every situation. This is common in players who are more used to GMing, and in those who prefer less narrative style games.

Solution: this is a tough one. Remind the player that the GM is the final arbiter in all things (stick). Reward the player for good role-play, ideally through creating good story,regardless of the rules (carrot). One way is to give a conditional award – e.g. Everyone gets 3 character points for last week’s session. One (or more) of Bob’s are conditional on him not pointing rules infractions in this week’s session.

  • Kobolds can’t kill us metagamers

Problem: the player knows the system/background really well, and knows what every creature or denizen is capable of doing. Often this results in the character taking unrealistic chances based on knowledge he/she wouldn’t have. Sometimes it’s saying something like “there can’t really be a huge dragon in that cave as we’re all puny characters and the GM wouldn’t do that to us”.

Solution: give standard foes a non-standard name and/or appearance. Give them abilities that they could have but aren’t in the published material. Kill stupid characters who go into the dragon’s cave – it’s harsh, but fair (make sure and give plenty of warning that this is a dangerous thing to do!). Don’t tell the players what they are up against – describe to the characters what they experience.

  • Solo adventuring for five (GM Hogging)

Problem: One player insists on taking up a large percentage of the GM’s time. Sometimes this is because of rules-lawyering (above), other times it’s just because they (the GM and the player) don’t realise what they are doing.

Solution: Whether you’re a GM or a player, the simplest solution is to engage the other players in roleplaying. As a player, you should also try to engage the GM-hog, which will free up the GM and get the game moving again. If you can’t engage him/her, at least the RP with your other team-mates will provide for an interesting session. As a GM, you need to get better at managing your time equally (as much as possible) between players – creating circumstances for inter-player RP is one of the most effective time management techniques.

  • Roll-playing, or role-playing?

Problem: a player insists on making a roll for everything (“It’s a … pleasure to meet you!”), which not only slows down the game, but many times doesn’t make any sense. This can often be frustratingly combined with rules-lawyering and playing oneself and at it’s worst can lead to min/maxing in order to ensure the best rolls.

Solution: as a GM, I’ve taken away a player’s dice and even his character sheet to prevent roll-playing. As a player, I’ve tried to lead by example – I keep my character sheet upside down as a rule, and roll only when the GM tells me to.

Got any more annoyances? I know there are lots I didn’t cover (like Munchkin, Hack and Slash, etc.) mostly because I felt like they were well-established (they have Wikipedia entries!).

Edit: apologies for the typo – I got roll and role mixed up at a key point. D’oh!

Out of Character

A couple of days ago I wrote about and got some very interesting comments about how this is relevant to games.

On the Story Games forum they talk about Improv Theatre and how drama and story is made up of those things which are unusual or out of character as long as there is context and justification.

Meserach writes: “The story in which the otherwise devoted nun kills a baby for no reason at all other than the shock value? Sucks. The story in which the otherwise devoted nun kills a baby, but surrouding material gives us some insight into why? That could be a good story.”

Mark W writes: “In my experience, some people have this notion of character that really doesn’t extend much beyond the “pick two keywords and play them out no matter what” style.”

Like, say, “Lawful Evil” or “CareGiver/Curmudgeon” (because I might as well piss off the D&D folk as well as the White Wolf folk in order to get the most hate mail).

In the WatchTower game there are things happening in the background that I want the players to start moving forward. We’ve just started the creation of the B-Team, named so because they’re the second wave of heroes for WT-NY. After this, the players will make more characters (in a few weeks time), but this time playing the part of the conspirators behind the scenes. It’ll be an interesting roleplaying challenge for some and also an opportunity to add justfication to the actions which have gone before. That will mean giving away some of the plot, but the plot has to be player driven.

I remember back more than a decade to an Ars Magica game I ran in Dragonslayers. At one point we had 11 players and half of them had two characters. And one in particular, played by John D, was given an artifact that when activated would give him the power of a Tenth of Hell. The activation was an old curse which, in order to enact, he had to gather the right hands of thirteen friends. The character did this, betraying thirteen comrades and escaping suspicion due to John’s silver tongue and then decided not to enact the curse after all. Too risky apparently. These were the actions of an ostensibly good but perhaps selfish or power hungry character. His character’s arrogance was that his comrades (grogs, companions, other wizards) were beneath his contempt and he used them. When it came to the ultimate justification of the character, his courage failed. This was a bigger, badder thing than he. And he feared to raise up what he could not put down. It made his evil actions which were out of character all the more tragic when it was made apparent that his primary trait was cowardice. I loved it. It actually made the story. I do feel a bit sorry for the one armed bowman previously known as “the best archer in all of Christendom”. Them’s the breaks.

Status: Refugee – Perspective Selection

One thing that was bugging me about this game was that which we’ve discussed on a number of occasions about different games: scope. If you are playing refugees with only a small number of worlds available to you, the sheer scope for play is mind-boggling. This then probably requires either a lot of work on the part of the GM, or a lot of background information in the form of source books – or more likely both.

Reducing the character roles available (at least in the initial version of the game) would help give this game better focus. It occurred to me that having the players take on the role of police / enforcement would create a lot of interesting roleplaying situations. What happens when a group of refugees on a particular planet start getting angry at their conditions and decide to become militant? What if two large groups of refugees who had rivalries on Earth get transplanted to the same planet? … and so on.

Giving the focus to policing allows me as a game designer to focus on the things that are important to that sort of role. E.g. what are the laws in different alien societies, how many planets are there and how many humans to each, etc. I can more easily create rules of thumb for large numbers of planets, because I’m viewing them from a particular perspective.

For now, as I continue work on this game, I’m going to assume that the players are humans working for this agency. Expect to see some more background information and fictional snippets over the coming weeks.

Heroic imaginations

This is probably more suitable for infurious because it’s riffing off Guy Kawasaki.

Nurturing a heroic imagination takes five actions:

  • Maintain constant vigilance for situations that require heroic action.
  • Learn not to fear conflict because you took a stand.
  • Imagine alternative future scenarios beyond the present moment.
  • Resist the urge to rationalize and justify inaction.
  • Trust that people will appreciate heroic (and frequently unpopular) actions.

Heroism: Not just for people who have a spandex fetish

Action is character

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Action is character.”

A few years ago a friend of mine came up with the theory that we often play our polar opposites in games. The players under scrutiny here were myself and himself and our characters were a honourable charismatic paladin and a sneaky cutthroat backstabbing rogue. I disagreed at the time but missed out on the bit where he was calling me a sneaky backstabbing rat in real life. I’ve never been clever with that sort of thing.

Aidan remarked the other night that he believes more accurately that we play characters we would like to be. This kinda still leaves me as a sneaky rat but at least this time I wish I was a paladin.

On the other hand, listening to F. Scott Fitzgerald, we define our character by our actions. This is kinda obvious but it’s good of old F. to help us with making it into an interesting soundbite.

sometimes you have to wear your work clothes to the doctor

SXSW covers “Confessions of Superhero” which shows the strange and seedy world of superhero lookalikes…

We see Joe McQueen demolished by the heat inside his colossal Hulk costume — on a record 106-degree day, it’s a brutal 130 degrees inside the emerald-tinged mass of foam … Superman chugs milk right from the jug; Wonder Woman roots in her glove box through the open window of her car as valet parking guys check out her ass; Batman takes a smoke break.

Here’s the link at SXSW’s site and a review at WIRED DOT COM.

Lastly, here’s the web site of the film. Wonder Woman is kinda hot!

All the games I’ve played (and GM’d)

I commented to Matt the other day that the last time I actually *played* in a game was when he ran the original WatchTower game in 1998.

This got me to thinking that although I’ve read a lot of games, and I’ve played in a lot of campaigns, I haven’t really played lots of games.  Here’s the total list, from memory:

  • Advanced Heroquest
  • D&D
  • Marvel Super Heroes
  • MERP
  • SLA Industries
  • Torg
  • Traveller
  • Vampire

While I’ve played a much larger range of games, those are the only ones which fulfil the these criteria:

  1. I’ve been a player (as opposed to GM)
  2. I’ve had a character that advanced in some way (levels, experience points spent on skills, etc.)

(This, incidentally, has led me to a discovery about what I like about gaming … more in a future post).
If I look at it from the perspective of games that I’ve GM’d where my players would then fulfil these two criteria, the list would be even shorter:

  • D&D
  • SLA Industries
  • Pendragon

I think this is because I’ve had a tendency to run long campaigns that I’ve really enjoyed (as has the group), and so there’s been little impetus to switch game.  Pendragon is especially good for this as the game is designed for long running campaigns.

I’d be interested to read about other people’s experiences, as players and as GMs.  Write a comment, or post in your blog with a ping/trackback.

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 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.

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.

Differing Methods of Character Generation

Over the last few years I’ve come to appreciate different methods of character generation. I’m not especially keen on point allocation systems due to concerns that they are unrealistic because a) not everyone is equal and b) they’re prone to abuse by min-maxing. (I find the latter to be more evident in games where you have hundreds of points and points give traits which different advantages and yes I am pointing the fingers straight at Champions even more than anything here).

I did however opt for point allocation systems for all of my games so far (with some minor exceptions in the generations, most notable in Testament/Creed and Zombi).

I really don’t like random generation – even though my randomly generated character in kinnygraham’s Delta Green scored lowest in his stat rolls and yet is arguably the most stoic player character (the other two being dead and mad).

An idea which I love is mentioned today on Collective Endeavour. Character generation by interrogation – which fits in well with the “1984” theme of his game.

Which is best? Heck, I don’t know.

What I do know is that in the 20-odd years I’ve been a roleplayer I’ve spent far too much time generating characters (including hours and hours spent making characters for MERP for games that were never played).

We played Zombi at the local TTN meeting because it allowed us to have character generation done within 10 minutes of sitting down.

Amber! Now there’s a game. I never got to play it due to not having any players but I loved READING the character generation system even if, having never read the books, it was a bit beyond me.

My personal favourite was the generation system in HeroWars. I loved the idea of writing a short paragraph about a character and then underlining the bits that could be used as traits.

Rayden Kauppinnen was born in the Northern Reaches of Volyvia. He was apprenticed to Master-Jarl Tuppenijk and on his 19th birthday became a Journeyman in the Lore. During his Challenge of Certainty, he was given a Return Thread as a gratitude from the village of Chernetzy. These days he travels the roads as a Lore Mendicant with only his wits and a piebald pony with a stern temperament for company.

Oh….just writing that makes me want to play it…whatever the game is???

Pickup Games

We’re not talking about games which are designed to get the GM a date with the hot new girl in the gaming club (as mabmorrigan will likely relate happily later) but rather games which can be started quickly, how to pick up a game and get started and the pitfalls of doing so.

Games that can be started quickly

I designed SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO and Zombi to be pickup games. Small size books, really simple character sheets, simple rules, only using d6 dice and strong, easily identifiable genres. Likewise, The 23rd Letter, though more involved for the GM is good for In Media Res gaming and I think that qualifies. Another excellent pickup game in my opinion was the Quick Play Vampire rules from White Wolf. Not only were they free, but the rules were vastly simplified. You can download the Demo rules from White Wolf’s web site. Similar games might include Mikko Kauppinen’s PowerGame or some of the games from the Indie RPG Designers Forum. There are some indie games which are very limited in scope, being more like Adventures with Quick Play Rules added (and The Mountain Witch would be a perfect example of this).

How to pick up a game and get started

Okay, you’ve an idea of where to start and assuming that you’re going to avoid the “Adventure with Rules” type of games, then you’re going to wonder where to get started. We’ve recently had a post telling us that pregenerated characters are bad, mmmkay. So, you’re going to need to make up some characters. Just tell them what you want. You’ve a grain of an idea in there and you need that to get the game started. Ivor and Paul in my TTN game will know this as I just told them “Make up characters who work at a TV station.” Without further prompting from me they made up a roving cameraman and his anchor. They’re good players so despite the fact I only had the bare bones of a plot (it’s Zombi, what else is needed), they threw me a few bones. As the game went on, my imagination started working again and soon I had a plot, an idea, a conspiracy and a game!


The biggest issue for me is longevity. I really enjoy long campaigns and pickup games don’t really provide for that a lot of the time. I’ve told my TTN players to make some more characters in their spare time as mortality is a real danger and it’s easy enough to find ways to introduce them. Without longevity of character (an issue I often have with Call of Cthulhu), I tend to find games a little unfulfilling.


I’m already writing some game design notes for WotW and Viride and I see these as Action games and Culture games (more on that later) and I have a couple of idea for Pickup games. Games that are little more than Adventures with rules….Watch this space.

Roleplaying As Education

I have a list that is rapidly growing of things to post here, but for some reason this is on my mind just now, so…

When I was growing up, roleplaying was that weird thing you did afterschool that no one was entirely sure wasn’t some form of devil-worship.  The stigma seems to have abated some as the years have passed — thank heavens — and I’ve been glad to see more parents allowing or encouraging their children to take up rping.  It’s a good compromise between the old pasttime of books and the modern advent of video games… all the adventure, not so solitary, a bit of risk, and no vegging out in front of the tele.  Yes, good solution.

One thing I’d really like to encourage GM’s to look at is the extraordinary possibilities of using roleplaying as an educational tool.  I’ve done this a number of times with some youth groups in various areas where I’ve lived, and always with astounding results.

Roleplaying is a wonderful vehicle for relaying vital facts and information in way that is anything but boring.  I’ve created roleplaying sessions (using White Wolf’s easy-peasy char-gen modified to hell and back for flexibility’s sake) designed to throw teenagers back into mythological Ireland, bringing them face to face with all the wyrds and wilds of a superstitious world.  All the info I gave them was accurate.  Names of haunts and heroes, and we used a map of Ireland for navigation purposes.  I got compliments from a couple of parents because the kids picked up Irish mythology books at their next round at the library to prepare for the upcoming gaming sessions.  If they could reference me a truth about the time period or a figure from history when something was encountered, I gave them marks for experience.  I had some rather avid little readers on my hands.

I’ve also used rping as a way to help teens prepare for tests on eras in history.  History, unless you just love history, can be a bone-gnawing, sleep-inducing subject.  But if you take that same history, get youth involved in making characters from that time period, it can change their interest level drastically.  When they have to answer questions such as “Where did my character live?”, “What did they wear?”, “How big was my family?”, “What did my dad do?”, and so forth, they’re learning a multi-level approach to history which ensures comprehension.  Roleplaying requires investigation of social, economic, political, artistic, and religious movements.  Anytime you get more than one facet on the jewel of a period in history, you have a better grip on its worth.  You can take rote facts and drop them into “newspaper clippings”.  You can have war casualty figures delivered via courier.  There are endless ways to make history come alive for kids through roleplaying.

I haven’t even touched on the possibilities of using roleplaying situations to help youth confront issues of loyalty, peer pressure, death, jealousy, and more advanced human ethics in a controlled situation.  But it’s all there.  I would really like to see more teens roleplaying.  And more GM’s willing to cater to that age level.  Roleplaying may be immense fun, but it’s also an arena where learning, even for us adults, never ends.

DG update…

As I may have mentioned, I’m in KinnyGraham’s DeltaGreen game. The other night, after losing one agent to the nameless horror and receiving a chewing from our DG contact, my character came to two startling revelations.

  • There is something horrible out there. Something unworldly. Something that wants to kill us. But it’s all separate incidents. There doesn’t seem to be an all-encompassing conspiracy.
  • The government is involved and our erstwhile allies, Delta Green, by telling us that if we get caught we’re on our own, are not on our side.

His reaction, therefore, is to bug out. He’s just had a friend killed, another ally has completely wigged out, he received a chewing from DG and a large proportion of the blame and now there’s some bossy hispanic woman too.

And what’s with the blame? He had the misfortune to be involved with DG (something they engineered). He’s been doing as he is told. And the reason he got the blame for this is because the other two are either a) dead or b) mad as a stick.

Would it be so bad to bug out? To run in a calm, calculated way rather than waiting to join his friends in either the morgue or the asylum? Would Delta Green come after him or would they assume that he just needed a longer leash? Would he find himself living the life of Jason Bourne…except being chased by both Deep Ones and his previous DG allies not to mention the conventional law enforcement officials.

And what would Graham think if I convinced everyone else to bug out? Would he be pissed? Would he want to run with the “DG-Rogue” campaign that I had thrust everyone into? Would he rather confiscate the character, insist I make another and then make it the order of the day that we track down our former comrade (my old character) and terminate with extreme prejudice. I don’t know.

Either way would make an interesting story…

2300AD revival

Am busting out for another game now that kinnygraham has booked Wednesday or Tuesday for a continuation of our much delayed DG campaign. To this end, paulk has nabbed his friends ivorw and jonathanl to join up. I’m intending to introduce them to the world of 2300AD. I’m not 100% sure of the system I’ll use (and finding my rule books was impossible so I bought the PDFs from drivethrurpg).

See how it goes. I need to write a “habilitation” document which will help them get used to things. Things like Stutterwarp, the political situation….and of course the weapons..

Here’s an excerpt from an email:

PaulK wrote:

I’m not into specifics.
I need a big gun that fires lots of big bullets 
very very very quickly. It will be called Mabel. 
Nobody ever messes with anyone called Mabel.

My reply:

I believe standard issue is a 4.5mm Gauss rifle, 
60 round mag, with integral 30mm grenade 
launcher. Single shots are very accurate and it also 
has lower velocity for autofire making it very 
manageable. Optic sights include a low power 
laser range finder.
It's a French model, Fusil Automatique Magnetique-2090.
There's also the Type-81 Storm Gun. A 20 mm 
binary propellant exploding round rifle designed for
light antivehicle anti-bunker fire. Only a 10 round
mag but has surprisingly good area fire cover 
using the standard 20x31mm APHE round. 
Having made your selection, please proceed to the checkout.

He doesn’t care however. Just wants the guns which fire lots.

Holy Crap it’s October

Earlier this year I lost a heap of stuff. About two years worth of unpublished writing and all my original files for my books. Absolutely gutting. Essentially, my backup was destroyed and my “personal life” contributed to the oversight so I didn’t find out until much too late.


Still. I’ve been piecing it all back together from old floppies, old zip disks, emailed copies I’ve sent to people (I have email records in some cases going back to 1996) and other bits and pieces.

I’m not going to dwell too much on it however. I want to get the first system-draft of either Viride or WoTW:Earth out before I do any other work.

I’ve also tried to get another gaming group going. I’m playing in this guys game in Belfast but we’ve had a hiatus for a couple of months and I’m busting for a game.

I’d love to play a superhero game. I’d GM. A game people would talk about the way people talk about my Ars Magica came from the early 90s, or my SLA games from the late 90s or my various superhero games. I love reminiscing with players from these old games. Even now I get a little chuckle when Eamon says ‘Imposing Beard!’ or when Conor reminds me that he was the best archer in Christendom despite having only one hand. Remembering that I made a grown man scream playing SLA in Dublin at Gaelcon. Remembering when the Watchtower players discovered time travel and then discovered paradox and what happens when you change your past…

Good memories of sitting with friends and laughing until my sides hurt.

That’s why I roleplay.