Archive for September, 2006

September 19, 2006: 8:40 pm: Miscellaneous

Last week, Ron had a post over on Story Games where he explained his vision of the Forge:

But the Forge isn’t their vision. It’s ours, just Clinton and me. And not only that, Clinton and I (I keep saying both of us because we talk about this stuff, and I’m representing those talks right now) want to keep the Forge’s function right where it started – finding people in the canebrake, struggling with their designs, or having produced an amazing design but not knowing what to do with it. We like it working best and most for the guys with a crappy Geocities website and a neat game idea, who aren’t quite sure how the internet can help them further.

As long as the Forge lasts, it serves those guys first, and that same spirit/attitude of theirs which both Clinton and I individually try to preserve in ourselves. That’s why it is not, and will never be, an imprint of the kind that would force membership or identity of any sort on someone just considering or along-the-way of developing their own game and perhaps company.

It might be the single most lucid version of his ideas that I’ve seen, and he even manages to get through it without once saying something that makes me think he needs a thwap upside the head.

On a somewhat related note, Ron’s started a thread over on the Forge for what he’s calling the Forge retrospective project. The basic idea is that people choose a limited period from the Forge’s history, summarize it as best they can, and then comment on things that they find especially interesting or surprising. Given that one of the problems I’ve always had with the Forge is the volume of material that goes by, I’m hoping that people end up posting about some interesting things I might have missed.

September 11, 2006: 8:54 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Catching up on interesting things from around the RPG blogs, Chris “Bankuei” Chinn suggested a one sentence character concept maker:

A (personality trait) (profession) is (personal goal).

For example:

A forlorn air pirate is seeking the City of Gold.
A vengeful princess is engineering the downfall of the Empire.
A nebbish superhero is trying to get a date.
A compassionate necromancer is experimenting to raise the dead, in the good way.
A remorseful god is hoping to undo the tragedy he has wrought.

It’s something that can work across a variety of systems (as Chris points out), it creates characters who are already “in motion,” and it’d be great for NPCs too.

: 8:38 pm: Game systems

Clinton R. Nixon posted about a few interesting new games he found on the 1km1kt free RPGs page, and my favorite of the bunch is Satanic Mills:

An inhuman power hums in the shuttles and valves of a 19th century English factory town. An alien power that lies congealed in the cloth and steel manufactured there. A hostile power that twists bone, robs children of their youth, and turns neighbors against neighbors. It is more terrifying than any unholy spirit, slithering lifeform or doomsday device because this horror is real, grounded in social relations. It is alienation and it is generated anew each shift as men, women, and children toil at the machines.

That’s right, it’s an RPG based on Karl Marx’s Theory of Alienation!

In a nutshell Marx’s Theory of Alienation is the contention that in modern industrial production under capitalist conditions workers will inevitably lose control of their lives by losing control over their work. Workers thus cease to be autonomous beings in any significant sense. Under pre-capitalist conditions a blacksmith, e.g., or a shoemaker would own his own shop, set his own hours, determine his own working conditions, shape his own product, and have some say in how his product is bartered or sold. His relationships with the people with whom he worked and dealt had a more or less personal character.

Under the conditions of modern factory production, by contrast, the average worker is not much more than a replaceable cog in a gigantic and impersonal production apparatus. Where armies of hired operatives perform highly monotonous and closely supervised tasks, workers have essentially lost control over the process of production, over the products which they produce, and over the relationships they have with each other. As a consequence they have become estranged from their very human nature, which Marx understood to be free and productive activity. Human beings cannot be human under these conditions, and for this reason the implication was obvious for Marx: Capitalism has to be abolished as much as any political oppression if a society’s emancipation is to be complete. Capitalism is just as incompatible with self-determination as absolute monarchy or any other autocratic system. But while an absolute monarchy limits people’s autonomy by controlling them in the sphere of politics, Capitalism does so by controlling their workplaces and their economic life. A society of truly free citizens, according to Marx, must therefor not only be a political, but also an economic and social democracy.

The rules for the game fill up only a two page PDF, which is pretty impressive given the complexity of the subject matter, so I might be tempted to actually run it if I get the opportunity. Whether or not that ends up happening, I’m darned impressed that someone even thought to base an RPG on something like this.

September 6, 2006: 9:00 pm: Game systems

I’ve been thinking about how well some of the most recent crop of indie games might work for Amber roleplaying, and the one that seems to have the most promise is Hero’s Banner, which I previously mentioned in this post. I mean, a game about royal-born characters in a fantasy setting who are making important life choices just seems like it’d be a natural match. Maybe if I buy a copy I’ll plan on running an version set in Amber at the next TBR….

September 3, 2006: 7:59 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

Ben Lehman (creator of Polaris) talks about designing RPGs in terms of social context.

It’s also important to realize that these are, explicitly, design concerns, reaching through creative and technical agendas and operating at all levels of a text. This is not a simple case of going “okay, this game is going to be outreach to non-gamers” and then feeling good about yourself. To function, your social context level goals have to completely suffuse every game design decision you make. And even then it might not work (more about that later.)

It’s interesting stuff, whether you’re designing a game or not.

: 4:23 pm: Game theory (or close enough)

I finally got around to reading the “Big Gencon stakes discussion” thread over on Story Games, which is based on things Ron Edwards had to say at the con about the idea of “stakes.”

As is often the case with things Ron says, it’s the comments and questions from others that really help lead me toward understanding just what he’s talking about, and in this case there are especially illuminating contributions from John Harper, Nathan Paoletta and a few more. I had some definite “Oh, I get it now!” moments while I was reading.

If you’re at all interested in setting “stakes” in RPGs, either as a player or a game designer, it’s well worth the time it’ll take to get through.

ETA: There’re also some good points on the same topic in this Forge thread.