Saturday, 22 April 2017

#200WordRPG: DOGMA

#200WordRPG is one of my favourite yearly traditions, despite how young it still is. This is my second year entering - last year's entry can be found here. If you're not sure what #200WordRPG is, well, it's a challenge to write an entire tabletop roleplaying game in 200 words or less, with no graphics or special formatting. It's all about the words (all 200 or less of them).
This year, I present to you DOGMA!

You and at least two others (there is no maximum) are an entire religion, throughout its timeline - from inception, to corruption and subversion.

Your religion is growing. It will do great things... Before it is twisted, and made rotten. We play to see it fester.

The first player describes a moment of SPIRITUALITY: a fact about the religion at its founding.
//Thou shall not kill.

The second describes a FABLE that explains it: written long after, it obscures the spirituality from morality into rote learning.
//St. Cain didn't kill the sinner, but cut off their hands, feet and tongue so they could never sin again.

The third describes a MISINTERPRETATION: long after the fable is written, how is it subverted and corrupted for personal gain?
//King Auger cut out the tongues of all non-believers, stating they were now, or would become, sinners. He declared their exsanguination was God taking their deaths into Her own hands.

A player who hasn't described a Spirituality begins again. New Spiritualities must reference or retaliate to a previous Myth or Misinterpretation.
//Suffer not the sinner to live.

The religion stagnates when everyone has misinterpreted something.
//Religion fades when spirituality is forgotten.

Record everything.
I also did pretty it up a little, and uploaded it here (and put it on my portfolio here).

If you play it, let me know!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A reply to a reply to a discussion about Losing

Some good stuff happening over at RPG YouTube right now. Matthew Colville began by discussing Losing in an RPG, and +John Harper followed it up with an add-on/challenge to that topic. I've posted both below, but also expanded on John's wisdom, based on how I've seen, run, and played games for the past many years.
Hold on to your characters lightly. When your characters experience adversity, that isn't happening to you as a player. Take the good with the bad, and accept that everything that happens to your character is part of the story. Look for how that can be interesting and dramatic, rather than good or bad, winning or losing.

This isn't to suggest that you shouldn't enjoy winning, but rather to encourage you to also enjoy losing, because even when you lose you can create great story. The Force Awakens would be a worse film were Han not killed (as gut wrenching as that was). Boromir wouldn't be as interesting a character had he not sacrificed himself. A Game of Thrones would not have been as compelling if Ned wasn't decapitated.

However, to cap this all off, I'm still a firm believer in what +Adam Koebel has now popularised: killing a character is the least interesting thing you can do to them. They can lose, and sometimes death is the logical result of a loss, but more often than not you can scar them, or defeat them, and allow them to live (and struggle) another day for a better story down the line.

Finally, regular readers may not that it's been a month since my last This Week - this has been somewhat intentional. I've needed a break, to refuel and to reorganise my thoughts. It's been very needed, and I feel a hell of a lot better after it all. I should be getting back into regular programming soon!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

This Week: Leaders, Scenes, Hags, and Silence

Welcome to This Week, a weekly series where I discuss all the gaming (both video and tabletop) content I've played, made, prepped, run and seen that's cool this week.

Normally these come out late on Sundays, but I moved this one earlier for two reasons: a) I missed last week, as I was unwell, and b) I won't be able to get everything in order night, because I'll be at Port Robinson & Madeon's Shelter Live Tour in Melbourne! Woo!
(Image from Shelter Live Tour.)
So, without further ado, let's jump in with what I've done This Week...

What I've Played

I started playing Terraria again, as it's been many years since last time, and I really enjoyed it then. The game has been updated significantly, and there's now a lot more to do. I don't know if it will keep my attention for very long, but I am enjoying it. I don't have much to say on this topic beyond that it's worth checking out again, if you used to play it!
(Image from Steam.)
I've been diving back into Civilisation VI, trying out the new Poland DLC, and getting ready to try the even-newer Australia DLC. Whilst I'm finding them game is holding me generally less than V did, I am enjoying the faster pace of DLC. I can't remember how I originally bought it, but whatever I did, I've been getting each DLC without paying additionally for it... Maybe I got the deluxe edition, or something? I don't know - I'm pretty confused, to be honest.
(Image from Rock Paper Shotgun.)
Anyway, Poland has been a lot of fun - even if I have every single other world leader angry at me all the time. Which is interesting. I've also been through a nearly 1000 year war with Sumeria, during which time they've sent a total of 2 Bombards and 3 Bazooka troops to my shores. I haven't bothered to retaliate. Yet.
(Image from PC Games N.)
Australia looks interesting, though it's a little distressing to see that there is no mention of our history before European settlement. Which is super weird, given that the civilisation only covers 1-to-2 of the Eras in the game, and just ignores the 50,000+ years of Aboriginal Australian history (and there's some insanely interesting stuff in there). I'm hopeful that we get an additional leader - like Greece - to account for this. But, I doubt it...

What I've Made

I've been working pretty hard on Do or Dice recently, attempting to get the changes brought up during playtesting into the game. I'm having to restrain myself from too quickly and too radically, changing things though - I've been toying around with a new central mechanic, but it would be unwise to jump ship without properly testing out the existing one. I'll be posting up a discussion on which one I settle with, once I have settled!
(Image from William McAusland, used with permission.)
Speaking of discussions, I posted up the first piece of Do or Dice rules on Friday, and it's already worked out well. There has been a reasonable amount of conversation surrounding it, and that conversation has already helped me work through it. It's great to start interacting more with the design community, like this. As +Steve Dee said "scenes are good".

What I've Run

I ran the first actual play session of Ameshirel: A World Reforged, using the Do or Dice ruleset, and it's done exactly what I hoped - poked holes in the game. I've always been a firm believer of test fast and early, but it's always been difficult to execute that belief. Do or Dice is now getting fortnightly playtests, and I am hopeful to increase that rate. If any folks out there are keen to get a playtest copy, please let me know!
(Image from Wizards.)
My Curse of Strahd campaign got another session (which brings the total up to 7, with 5 of them still unposted in the diary, for that I apologise, but unfortunately cannot see changing in any significant way, any time soon...) It was a great session, and I finally got to use Old Bonegrinder. Needless to say, the PCs shouldn't have let the Night Hags escape. They'll never sleep easy again!

What I've Seen

For some strange reason, I started watching the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series on Netflix a few weeks ago, and I'm making a lot of progress through it. I find it's interesting enough to have going on in the background whilst I work, but not cerebral enough to demand my attention always. I'm definitely enjoying it, though I do find some of the themes problematic. The first two seasons glorify war a little too much, but the later seasons seem to deal with the bad sides a lot more (which is awesome). I'm enjoying seeing pieces of the EU fall into place with the new canon (like seeing Saw, etc). Worth checking out, I think.
(Image from Screen Rant.)
On Friday night I went and saw Martin Scorsese's newest film, Silence. It's about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan during a period of religious inquisition, to find their mentor. It's pretty fucked up, to be honest. It's brutal, and it's basically all about torture and resilience. It's also very very long. I'm still unsure if I liked it. It's definitely not a film you can enjoy, but at some point you need to recognise that it was worth seeing or not - and I am yet unsure of that. I think it was worth seeing, but I still need to unpack it a little bit...
(Image from Esquire.)
The visuals and the score were fantastic, though, and if you're a fan of Adam Driver or Andrew Garfield, their performances were amazing, so that may encourage you to see it. I do, however, believe the film will have less impact on you if you haven't gone through some kind of crisis of faith (whether that made you more devout, or as in my case, led you to apostasy). If you do see it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film!
(Image from BBC America.)
Lastly, I started watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency last night, and half an episode in, I was hooked. I've now watched the first two, and I am keen to watch the third! It's a really weird, really curious mix of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It's also unlike any of those things, and much weirder. I can't really explain it, except by saying that I desperately want to play it as a roleplaying game.

That's all for This Week this week. I'll talk to you next week, and tell you of all my adventures again! In the mean time, fill your own week with as much awesome as possible.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

My Advice for Running D&D 5e Monsters?

Run 4e Monsters...

No, seriously.

I, like many, bounced off Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, because I found the rules overly complex for what they were trying to do, and moving ever further away from roleplaying and back into wargaming. Now, there's nothing wrong with wargaming, and there is definitely a place for it (a place that I enjoy as well!) but for me that isn't in my roleplaying.
(Images from Wizards.)
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition reverted a lot of those changes, and brought the game to a point simpler than 3rd Edition, which meant I was once more interested. Whilst I have many (many) gripes remaining about D&D as a whole, I have gotten almost 3 years of mileage out of 5e, and I can see a lot of merits in it.

But, in those 3 years I have noticed one thing: the Monster Manual is flat... It's, honestly, very bland. When you boil each monster down, they are merely sliders on the same variables. This one has more HP, that one has a higher damage die, etc. The descriptions given often work well to tell you where the monster may be found, and generally what it is like, but they fail miserably with the one key note that is vital to D&D (given that it's a game about braving dungeons and fighting dragons).

There are no TACTICS.
(Image from Wizards.)
We know where a monster may lair, and what it looks like. We know who probably made it, and where it comes from. We know, sometimes, how it communicates with its fellows, and which monsters it hates.

But we don't know what it does. When it is cornered, how does it fight? We can see that it might claw an opponent, but when and why? Does it just run at the opponent and claw them until it is dead? Does it claw, then run away, then growl, or something else? It might. We can say that it does. But there is nothing in the book to suggest what it should be doing.

This, ultimately, leads to pretty static fights. Unless the GM does a lot of prep before hand, most fights will likely end the same - with monsters moving in, and the two sides grinding down until one has lost.
(Image from Wizards.)
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition did not have this problem!

4e, when you crack open the Monster Manual, is filled with monsters that are accompanied by tactics. Each entry tells you not only what they can do in a fight, but how, and in what order. For most of them, this is just a small paragraph. This means, when you need a monster, or you don't want to prep much, you can open it up, turn to the monster entry, read very quickly, and have an interesting, game changing, way to run that monster.

Here is a cross example between the two books:

Whilst running Curse of Strahd, I needed to use 8 Gargoyles in an encounter in Castle Ravenloft itself (those of you who have played it will know the bit I mean). I read the entry in the 5e MM, and all I came up with was a straight forward fight. There was nothing particularly interesting there.

Then, I had the idea to read the 4e MM, and that spawned an idea of the Gargoyles flanking the PCs, some engaging in melee, and others grappling them to lift them to the ceiling (which is quite high up in this bit) and dashing them onto the floor to kill them. This utilised their abilities which the PCs couldn't match - flight - as well as adding their cruel natures into the mix. This change in tactics was inspired by their flyby ability. I didn't have to change the 5e entry at all, I just had to think about them differently.
(Image from Wizards.)
Note, even, that this tactic isn't the one in the MM. All that happened was thinking about the tactics, rather than the abilities, got me thinking about encounter design differently.

Now, whenever I need a set-piece combat, I turn to the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual first. I encourage you to, as well.

It has come to my attention that Matthew Colville, a GM who does YouTube videos on how to run Dungeons & Dragons has talked about very similar topics on the following video. His videos tend to be awesome, and this one is no different. He's also a great author, and you should check out his books here and here!

Have you used this method before? Which monsters did you reverse engineer in this way? Which monsters do you think could be improved in 5e?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Do or Dice: Intent vs Action

I just read this article from Gnome Stew about Player Intent, and (apart from it being interesting) is a great excuse for me to discuss some of the design decisions behind Do or Dice.

As Do or Dice is leveraging both the Blades in the Dark and Fate Core systems, there are a list of skills that a player can have their character use to perform tasks. However, in Do or Dice, a roll is never called for - at no point should the GM say "I want you to roll Tinker." Instead, the first step of performing a task is to declare your intent - the player describes what outcome on the situation they wish to have.
(Image from Brainless Tales.)

Players don't say "I want to attack the guard", but instead "I want to kill the guard", or "I want the guard to die". This intent is then matched with a skill, but any skill can arguably be used - so long as the player can justify it. Are they killing the guard by Fighting them? Or are they Tinkering with a device that will kill them?
Once an intent and a skill have been announced, the GM can determine how difficult this would be to achieve, how risky, and how much effect the player would likely have. Everything, easily, flows from the fiction.

This process of intent completely removes the problem of the player's engagement with the mechanics missing the GM's perception of that engagement. The player directly states the cool thing they want, the GM sets opposition and announces what's at stake, the player can re-negotiate (if they want to), and then a roll is performed. Everyone - even other players - are allowed to sit on the edge of their seats during this roll because they know what every possible result could lead to (but not exactly what will happen)...

Whilst Do or Dice is still in testing and development, this mechanic of intent over action is central to the game and, as far as I can tell, isn't going anywhere.

If you enjoyed seeing this little glimpse into Do or Dice, please let me know in the comments and I can write more posts like this. It's fun to discuss what I've been working on for so long now!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

You Should ALWAYS Meet Your Heroes

Or, by its alternate title...

Picking Better Heroes

I often hear the advise that one should never meet their heroes (and, please note, I'm talking about personal and professional heroes, here, not roleplaying game heroes (what?! Ben's not talking about roleplaying games?!))
(Image from DC.)
This is, as I have found to be, infinitely shitty advice. Some of the best connections I've ever made have been with my heroes... But I think this is a pretty rare thing, in the grand scheme of things. Why is that? Well, because people choose crap heroes, of course!

The underlying reason why people tell you to never meet your heroes is because those people will a) shatter the magic for you, because they're normal people, and b) have crappy views, or turn out to be actually awful people.

Therefore, this post is about how to find people who should be your heroes, and how to make sure that by meeting them, you'll be meeting a future friend, ally, mentor, and all-round amazing person (perhaps a few of mine are reading this right now - sup folks!)

Step #1 - Shop Locally

The biggest issue I see with people when they choose heroes, and then have those heroes disappoint them is that they've decided to put all their money behind someone they don't know, and more importantly someone they can't easily get to know. People look to celebrities, far off figures, and industry giants for their aspirations, and this is fundamentally flawed.

For starters, as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs teaches us, we shouldn't look too far from our current standing, lest we get dizzied by the heights. We'll be Homer Simpson comparing ourselves to Edison. Sure, Edison's a great role model to follow if you want to invent heaps of cool stuff, but if you've never invented anything before, you're going to have a very long road ahead of you before you can get even the slightest blip of a win compared to that name.
(Image from Simply Psychology.)
I suggest looking at your local scene or community. Are you wanting to get into activism? Look for someone active in your area who is doing great work. Do you want to make cool games? Look for a local designer. I guarantee you that there will be people near you who are doing awesome things. Find them.

This doesn't necessarily mean you need to find people geographically close to you - the Internet is a hell of a place. But it does mean that you should stick with the communities you're already in, or can slip into easily. Find your local IGDA meet up. Look on Facebook for local protests. Ask around your local Uni, or Uni Facebook pages, etc.

Step #2 - Do Some Research

Next, find out who your potential new hero is. This doesn't mean stalk them. I'm going to say that again in super underlined bolded italicised text:


If it it's on Facebook, read the posts they make publicly. If it's in person, ask them questions before reaching out. What are you looking for? Why, politics, my friend.

Despite what many people think, every action, thought, and spoken word has politics tied to it. Everything a person is is a reflection of their politics (even if that reflection is to stay out of politics). By getting a hint of someone's politics, you can get an idea of what kind of person they are. Is this someone who you find respectful? Is this someone worthy of being looked up to?

This is a big breaking point for a lot of people when they idealise celebrities, only to find out they're misogynists, racists, and so on. People's work doesn't always show their politics well - and generally, the more someone shies away from talking politics, the more you should be wary. People who are loud and proud about their politics tend to be stronger voices, anyway, and are ones who will help challenge you (if you decide to jump behind them).

Step #3 - Engage

The third big things is that many times if you're thinking someone is worthy of being a hero for you, they may think it themselves. There is no worse person to be a hero than a narcissist.

Engage with the person, even lightly. Whilst in no way do they owe you their time (and, honestly, they're probably busy), you will need to get a sense of whether or not that person considers you a worthy person to talk to. If they don't, then, honestly, they're probably not that great a person to begin with (sorry folks). This often ties into their politics, as above.
(Image from Black Industries.) I love this book, and it is very relevant to this discussion for me.
As I said, sometimes people are just busy, so don't jump to the conclusion that they are bad people. But if they're too busy to respond to a little reaching out, then they're going to be too busy to be a meaningful hero for you. That's fine, it just means this is the wrong person to focus on...

If they get back to you, and they're awesome, and amazing, and super nice... Or even if they're just willing to say hello back and treat you like you are a person as well. Well. Good job, Potential Hero!

Step #4 - Cut Them Some Slack

In the same way you want someone who treats you like a person, you need to treat your hero like a person, too. And you know what? People fuck up. Again and again. They just do. Therefore, your hero might fuck up from time to time.

Depending on the scale of the fuck up, you should be willing to forgive your hero. If you've shopped locally, done some research, and engaged with them and heard back, then they should be a good enough person for you to cut them some slack.

So do. Cut them slack. And if they transgress too far, maybe coax them back? Who knows, maybe you'll be as much a mentor to them as they are to you...

The true lesson behind this step is that, in the end, your hero won't (if Step #3 was passed) think that they're a hero. They will certainly have their own heroes. And hey, maybe there are those out there who consider you a hero. You don't need to worry about disappointing your fans, so neither should they. They should just focus on being good people, and so should you. Take them as an example and talk to them to learn how to be better. Or not. Just be challenged!

Post Script

I know this was a weird, kinda-rambling tangent from my usual content... But I felt it needed to be said. We get hung up on the people we idolise (and, I mean, free Step #5 - don't idolise people!) and often that clouds our perceptions and doesn't let us actually learn from them. And that's a shame... Because we can all learn something from the heroes out there.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

This Week: Puppets, Hacks, Romance, and Challenges!

Welcome to This Week, a weekly series where I discuss all the gaming (both video and tabletop) content I've played, made, prepped, run and seen that's cool this week.

Let's jump in with what I've done This Week...

What I've Run

I ran session #6 of my Curse of Strahd campaign, and finally got a chance to roleplay as Pidlwick II (who is, hands down, one of my favourite characters). I changed him quite a bit from how he is portrayed in the book, but after hearing feedback from my players, it was definitely the right choice. Sadly, it'll be some time before I get around to that campaign diary, as I am massively behind, and massively inundated with work at the moment. Nevertheless, it has given me inspiration to keep working on my backlog of diaries, so the next one will come sometime soon!
(Image from Wizards.)

What I've Seen

I've been reading and prepping (though sadly not playing) Blades in the Dark a lot recently, because v8 was recently released, which means I've also been spending a lot of time on the Google+ community of late (hell, I've even bee writing my own Blades content!). Over there, I got wind that Scum & Villainy, the sci-fi Firefly / Star Wars: Rogue One style hack is in Early Access! I'm yet to get my hands on it, but I am very very tempted to pick it up. If anyone else has purchased it already, please let me know how it is!
(Image from Gamerati. Wrong Scum & Villainy, I know, but still relevant!)
Black and Green Games released Romance Trilogy, and I'm pretty excited about it! Whilst it's not currently available in print in Australia, I have it from +Emily Care Boss herself that inroads to Australian stores are being investigated. Honestly, I'm keen to get my hands on it any way that I can, so I'll probably end up buying the PDF first, anyway (which can be found here, if you're as keen as I am.)
(Image from Black and Green Games.)
The #200WordRPG Challenge is back for 2017, spanning between April 15th and April 23rd! I entered last year with MegaCorp, a cyberpunk storygame about being a director of a MegaCorp and trying to strip it of assets. It was fantastic, and I encourage everyone to give it a try, if you have a design bent. I also encourage everyone to have a look at previous years, as some of the most ridiculous and amazing games come out of this challenge!
(Image from David Schirduan.)
That's all for This Week this week. I'll talk to you next week, and tell you of all my adventures again! In the mean time, fill your own week with as much awesome as possible.