Sunday, July 29, 2012


I love summer. Finally some heat for these old bones, and no more of that cloak of darkness that descends over you in winter.

But, I never get to play any games during summer! Since everyone is away on summer vacation it's even harder than usual to get people together. I hate it.

So, I sigh and read games, not play them. It makes it hard to write anything inspired here, since I lack the input of real play.


How about this idea.

A big starship has crashed, and sits there with the nose buried in the soil, smoking. The imperial marines are sent there, in case the aliens are hostile, since it's clearly a warship. But, something is leaking out, into the soil. It's the aliens reality leaking...

Things are about to get interesting for our brave team.

Maybe I'll type it all up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to not write a game

Last night I had some time to browse a game I have borrowed from a friend, Dresden Files the rpg. This is a game that have been talked about a lot, and most of it very positive. I did find some points of it so grating I had to put the book down. What do you do then? Gripe online!

In Dresden Files, the pages a very "designed". In my view, overly so. For example, some parts of the pages are designed to look like someone took a highlighter pen to some words and sentences. Personally I have never been able to use highlighter pens. For me they are of no use. I don't read like that. Sometimes I have read books bought second hand, and underlining or highlighting drives me up the wall. If anything, I take notes on a separate paper, never in the book I read! Having a thing like that in a printed book, by design, drives me nuts. It makes my eyes stop at intervals which are not natural to my way of reading. Quite jarring.

The other design element is sticky notes. Yes, they have small "sticky notes", with faux hand writing in the sidebars of the text! To me it just makes the text on the page drown in the clutter of notes. Adding insult to injury, the few times I stopped reading and glanced at those notes, almost all of them contained snarky remarks of a very annoying nature. I mean, if you add something to the text, add least make sure it adds information!

Since it's very easy to complain, I'm also going to say how I think it should be done.

The best game book I ever read is the 2nd ed. rules book for Unknown Armies. What's so good about it? It's clear and understandable. There are no witty quotes or snarky sidebars, just a clearly presented text with illustrations not interfering with the text. The text is different from the majority of gaming prose, though. It is not detached. Instead it is personal, and with a very clear author voice. For some that is a killer, and for those I direct you to SPI's DragonQuest, which is as formal as it gets.

But, I'd like to emphasize that in Unknown Armies, the voice never hinders the important function of the text, to get the information across on how to play the game. You can read one sentence after the other and the information flows naturally. The combination of all these factors are sadly quite rare, and one reason why I have sought out Greg Stolze's writing since.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Character personality as crunch

I read a post on The Douchey DM, by Stu from Happy Jacks RPG Podcast. He posts on the topic of whether character personality chould be part of the game mechanics. I have on more than one occasion in both posts and blog comments mentioned how I by far prefer to randomly generate my characters and than designing them through, e.g., point by systems.
For me it works better by far to play the character and in play develop personality traits. When I don't, I find more often than not that I run out of ideas and the character becomes a one trick pony.

Now, what happens when the character personality and psychology is supported by game mechanics?

I think the crunch heavy game, where I get to game (so to speak) the personality, it works better for me. Even if I decide beforehand some character traits, I tend to get more out of them if I can use them as an excuse to roll dice. Maybe it's because most games have some kind of mechanic for those traits to change and develop. It kind of is a way to support my implied way of developing a character with a game system.

Interestingly enough, many new school game, like those from the Forge community, are not only quite crunch heavy but also quite "in your face" when it comes to supporting the psychology and personality of the character and its relationships with game mechanics.

Thus, we have three groups of games.

1. the old school game where there's not much game mechanical support for anything but combat.
2. the 2nd generation game where the designers left the random tables behind and you "can build anything". Premier examples are GURPS and Hero.
3. the new school game with few rules, but they often focus on the character personalities and interpersonal activities.

What I find interesting is how this is also something of a chronological series. Really new games and old ones have interesting similarities for supporting a style of play where you "game the personalities of your character. One game by leaving you to your own devices, and the other by focusing the rules on that thing.

For me this explains why I find some games so fascinating, but still can't make them work for me. This is also why I do things like this, where I try to merge the qualities I like most from games of different eras and generations. The true test of skills would of course be to find a way to hack GURPS to be what I want.
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