Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cover Art?

October 5, 2005

I thought this might make a good cover for a game supplement or something. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the source, so I don’t know whose work it is to even ask if they’d allow it to be used.

The original title for it was corridor.jpg

Design Patterns of Successful RPGs

October 5, 2005

I downloaded it and filed it in my RPG library. I’ll try to print a dead-tree
version I can read at some point.

Scanning through quickly it looks like it might be useful to go through it as a
starting point for identifying mechanics you want to use (or avoid) though I’m
not sure if it will really produce better design.


Quoting Thor Hansen :

> at the top there is a link to the text of a book called *Design Patterns of
> Successful Role Playing Games *It is too many pages to be printed at the
> library but it is a PDF so read it all you want

I like this mechanism

September 23, 2005

from Thor

but i think that the players should get an immediate reward for referencing
other players PLUS a bump to the group total. I like the idea of building up
to a big finally.

Violence PDF

August 24, 2005

Violence rules (PDF)

The Escapist

August 21, 2005

Escapist looks like a good magazine to keep an eye on:

SpyGame: Post Operation Dingleberry

July 20, 2005

Thor suggested running something with multiple characters for next time, more akin to a traditional RPG.

Pete wanted more background and connectedness for the campaign. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with a wiki.

I’m going to blather about the game/setting for the next couple of weeks. Rather than trying to write thoughtful, edited things, I’m going to engage in some logorrhea. I’m going to spout off and run all kinds of thoughts. Not everything will be useful, but it will provide more to comment on and critique (or more to work against, if I blather idiotically).


We’re going to run a Teal/Fuschia Telephone-Style Wiki game to generate some backstory and context. Email entries to all participants. I’ll try to compile them.

Wiki game – write a 100-300 word article about a topic. 8 turns (telephone style). Each turn is maximum 1 week, but once we have entries from everyone, the next turn begins. As soon as you have written an entry, you can dib for the next entry you want to write. Each article must have 1 existing citation, 1 citation to an existing phantom, and 1 citation to a newly created phantom. You can reference other citations, but only those three are listed. Only one new citation per article. Another player can create a phantom of something you mention later on.

Existing phantoms include: Teal; Fuschia; Arrowroot; Buckwheat; Graham; Seltzer; Weetabix; Rykrisp; Zwieback.

Telephone-style – most wiki games run alphabetically. Telephone style uses groups of letters like a telephone keypad (ie ABC DEF GHI JKL MNO PQRS TUV WXYZ). First turn can be an entry starting with A, B or C. Second turn is D, E or F.

If no phantoms are available, a player may create a new entry.

Turn one is a newly created phantom. I’ll post mine soon to use as a template.

Other games in development

June 7, 2005

There have been a couple of discussions at the Forge that we’ve been watching with interest.
Seems to have some elements in common with the Mytholean Club, at least pertaining to appearance of mastery (as opposed to true mastery). Very different
1000 Blank White Cards – which Thor thought might provide an interesting adjunct to the SpyGame (which currently uses cards to track all the various information)
This might bring some ideas to mind for the spy game. A good discussion about gaming a gunfight that is more experiental and less omnisciently tactical (which most games tend to be). Some really good info, but more concentrating on gunfights than I hope the SpyGame turns out to need.

Quoting Thor:

the one idea that I particularly liked was the idea that there was a sense of time passing in a crisis. whether it becomes a combat system or not i like the idea of some things requiring “Bullet Time”.

Agreed on that point.

I also really liked TonyLB’s post about time as a resource in a combat situation, but I really disagree with Neel about the “give ’em five seconds to decide what they are going to do” rule. It gets back to my issues with GM as arbiter of all in the world, and punishing players for the GM’s inability to parse things for the players sufficiently well.

Definitely a conversation to keep on the radar, even if it doesn’t make it into the spy game.

This is more research than conclusion, but it’s interesting to look at.

More Costikyan: Distribution

April 18, 2005

A Greg Costikyan piece titled Doing Something About It which is about “the need for an alternative distribution channel for independent games.”

Some of it pertains more to computer/video games than to RPG pencil-and-paper, but it’s probably somewhat relevant for both.

Redmond Simonsen Obit

March 16, 2005

This news will only be of interest to those of you who are familiar
with the staff of SPI (or who have memorized the credis page in their
copy of DragonQuest). I have just learned that Redmond Simonsen has

For those who don’t recognize the name, he was the co-founder of SPI,
and was responsible for their graphic design and art direction.

New York Times obituary (registration required):

Greg Costikyan’s remembrance:

Greg has some good things to say about Redmond on his blog. He was a
pioneer in the whole industry.

Friends of Tekumel

March 9, 2005

I’m not personally a fan of Empire of the Petal Throne or M.A.R. Barker’s writing, but I note here that a new Tekumel RPG has been published. (also in paperback)

This incarnation is produced by Guardians of Order, and one of the co-authors is my friend Joe Saul.

Joe points out a correction:

There isn’t actually a paperback edition (Amazon pulls these listings out of their butt), but you can download a copy as a watermarked PDF from

A Theory of Fun for Games

March 9, 2005

It’s a multi-posting day. Here’s a really good article about what makes games fun:
found via the ever helpful BoingBoing.

Some interesting quotes to ponder:

Fun is the feedback the brain gives while successfully absorbing a pattern.

Games are the cartoon version of real world sophisticated problems.

Games are distillation of cognitive schemata. That’s. What. They. Are. They are prefab chunks – you can run through and practice without actually having to do it. Games are fundamentally forms of cognitive training.

This is all taken from a keynote speech by Raph Koster at a Game Developers Conference (transcribed and blogged at the link above). The speaker is a developer of online games and author of a book called A Theory of Fun for Game Design. While it may not be directly targeted at role-playing games, I think it maight be useful. I linked to the Slashdot review and discussion about this earlier.

When we meet noise, and fail to make a pattern out of it, we get frustrated and quit. There are patterns everywhere. Static snow on TV. My kids have never seen that, by the way, which is pretty scary. Once we see a pattern, we delight in tracing it, and in seeing it reoccur. That’s meaning, all of a sudden. The brain doesn’t learn something the first time it sees it, it takes a while. You have to practice it. When you’re a kid, learning to put on trousers. It takes a really long time! It’s disturbing! It takes MONTHS! And children are way smarter than we are. I’m serious. As we get older it’s harder and harder for us to build patterns. So when we see a pattern that we get, we do it over and over again. We build neural connections. Now this is what I call fun.

There’s a level of complexity that enters into table-top RPGs that computer games can’t really meet (at least not yet). Human GMs can be infinitely more variable. But I take notice anytime someone starts talking about patterns, and I start thinking about how pattern may apply to traditional RPGs.

Task Resolution Mechanics

March 9, 2005

Neel had a posting on The 20′ By 20′ Room about discovering a mechanic for resolving other conflicts in a Star Wars game:

However, I noticed a very clear jump in the quality and fluidity of the action when we finished the wangle-an-invitation sequence and moved on to the scene depicting Han Solo’s rescue from Jabba’s pleasure barge. This was an action sequence in which the players, all gathered together at the barge kicked off their big rescue plan. This part of the game was a fight, and made full use of the Feng Shui combat system. It played out a good deal better than the previous sequence — the improvisations were more fluid, and it was clearer when the players were successful and when they failed.

I think that this was because the combat had a much more concrete indicator of success or failure than the first part did. In particular, the NPCs had a bunch of wound points, and we all knew that they were dead when they ran out. This sounds like a pretty trivial point, but it became clear to me when I made an off-the-cuff ruling — Lando Calrissian was trying to convince Bella Nyx to heroically convert to the side of good, and after his player rolled, I mentioned that his kiss did 14 points of “indecision damage” to her, and that he would convert her if he did enough damage to “kill” her. The other players went “ah-ha” then, and I realized I had stumbled on a good thing.

Here’s why I think it’s good, and what the previous scene was missing. In Feng Shui, the basic way that the game works is that the GM comes up with a general description of the scene, including a number of cool features that the players can seize upon to use in their stunts. They describe doing something cool, and then they roll.

This is basically assigning “hit points” to concepts or abstractions, rather
than monsters. You’re after a project rather than a critter, and you’re
tracking points on vanquishing it in a different fashion, but it’s not that
much of a stretch, really. Comments to the posting suggest that Neel invented HeroQuest. And Thor has been pushing me to read those rules, as well, so maybe this is nothing new after all.

We’ve been having some discussion about doing things like this in the Attention mechanic. A particular task is assigned a particular number of Task Points, and those are tracked much like hit points on an opponent or a monster.

Can anyone say “Legacy”?

You spit in her decolletage

March 9, 2005

This article was forwarded to me quite a while ago. I don’t know if the original was on a mailing list or on a website or from someone’s blog. A bit of googling didn’t turn it up. If anyone recognizes this and can help, let me know. I’d like to credit the original writer (or link to them if it’s out there somewhere).

That said, this is obviously someone else’s work, and I don’t want to encroach on someone else’s stuff. Therefore, my caveat is that I’ll leave this here as a placeholder for now. If the original author can be found, I’ll link to them instead.

We’ve discussed the mechanic used here, and sort-of tried to implement it in one scenario that was run. It needs some further elaboration, perhaps, but the concept is a good one. And I think it’s worth sharing.


As we left the theatre after watching Brotherhood of the Wolf for the first time, I confided to Ramee that there was this role-playing game I had never given much thought to before, but apparently it was pretty much exactly like all that crazy shit we had just seen on the big screen, all that and moreso. Ramee walked over to the movie poster and pointed at Monica Bellucci and said, “I want to be her. If I can play her, I will play that game. Make me the Pope’s killer whore.”

Thus our ongoing 7th Sea game was born.

Last night we kicked off the first of several sessions that will focus heavily on politics and social intrigue. I’ve never pulled that off before – not successfully, anyway – and I’d been pretty nervous leading up to last night’s game. Our group has often run afoul of the perennial dilemma that surrounds social mechanics: how do you use dice without devaluing player input? how do you roleplay it without reducing the decision-making process to GM fiat?

In a game like 7th Sea, where witty courtiers are supposed to be viable heroes right alongside the flashing swordsmen and daring pirates, I think it’s important that social skills have some sort of objective measure. Everyone in the group can quip in pseudo-medieval Olde Englishe with roughly equal facility, but a high rating in social skills makes your character unique, and provides a niche to fill. On the other hand, abstracting social interaction into a roll of the dice can disempower the player:

PLAYER: “I attempt to impress the Countess with my dazzling social acumen.”

GM: “What’d you roll?”

PLAYER: “I rolled a 1.”

GM: “Tough luck. You say something completely stupid and spit in her

Somehow, that just doesn’t play very well.

The solution I finally hit on was inspired, in part, by Jared Sorenson’s “I-system” and James West’s Pool – which stipulate that the result of a die roll does not determine success or failure, but rather who gets to narrate the result. Now, our group is structured much more traditionally than either of those games, but I was able to incorporate that philosophy into one small part of the mechanics, I think to good effect.

All social intrigue revolves around the basic currency of favors. The NPCs are not merely information banks and clue-dispensers; the object of the game is to get them to do something for you, and to do that you have to do something for them in return. So all the improving and kibbitzing and Olde Englishe quipping eventually leads up to the critical moment where the player puts her cards on the table and says, “Okay, I’m trying to get this guy to do this for me.”

We roll an opposed test of her social skill vs. the NPC’s. Already this changes the “feel” of play from simply making a flat roll against your own skill. We have a tendency to interpret the results of an opposed roll relative to each other, rather than in absolute terms. A crappy roll doesn’t mean your character did something stupid; it just means your opponent did better.

If the player wins the roll, she gets to dictate the terms of the agreement – that is, she decides what the NPC will do for her, and what she will do for the NPC in return. As the GM, I reserve the right to dicker a bit if the player gets ridiculously greedy (“Gimme the keys to the royal treasury, and I’ll buy you a hot dog…”), but for the most part the player takes the reins and determines the outcome of the scene.

If the NPC wins, then I get to dictate the terms of the agreement instead, both how much the NPC is willing to give and how much the player has to pay for it. The kicker here is that either way, the player still achieves her objective, which was to get a favor from the NPC. In no case does the NPC simply brush the player off and refuse to negotiate. A “failed” roll, then, does not signify a dead end; it just means the player now has to do more than she expected. Ideally, the player will have to do just a bit more than she can accomplish on her own, which should drive her to more NPCs looking for more favors, until the web of promises and obligations gets hopelessly entangled and then voilá – instant intrigue.

It worked splendidly. Ramee’s character now has to find a way to convince the Lady Jamais Sices du Sices to spend one night with Prince Donello Falisci – whom the Lady despises – in order to get an important favor from him. Meanwhile, Brian’s character has already slept with Lady Jamais in an attempt to get a favor from her. And the most important NPC of all, Duchess Thérèse Rois et Reines du Roché, is the only person who can get the heroes what they most vitally need – and she hates Lady Jamais with a boundless passion. Lord knows what she’ll ask the players to do.

And all that is from a bunch of failed rolls.

Lots of fun, and a great solution to an old problem. Can’t wait until next week.

Getting Published

February 28, 2005

From Kevin Kelly’s wonderful Cool Tools site

In 8 easy steps, here is how to get your book, CD, or DVD listed on the long tail of Amazon:

Comments on Orphaned Works

February 25, 2005

Here are my comments to the Copyright Office on orphaned works (revised):

I am a moderator for some websites and online discussion groups related to DragonQuest (a role-playing game originally published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1980; a novel by Anne McCaffrey and a series of videogames share the same name but none are related to each other).

There is a small but interested core of fans who still play this game. Print copies are becoming rarities because it has been out of print for so long, and attracting new players is more difficult because the rules are not readily available.

Moreover, a number of these players and fans of the game who would like to develop new rules and additional material for use with this game. However, because of the uncertain legal status of the game. There have been several attempts by fans of the game and interested parties to try to find out about acquiring the rights to the game in order to bring it back to the market. These have never been fully answered because the ownership of the game has changed hands so many times.

SPI was acquired by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR) which was later acquired by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) which was itself acquired by Hasbro. Because TSR did very little with the game once it had acquired the rights, and WotC did nothing with it once they were the owners, it is unlikely that anyone at the parent company now knows anything about this game. For them, unless there is enough money in it, it is simpler (and more economically sensible) to ignore the works than to deal with how the rights to this game have been transferred.

Games that are still in print can continue to grow and attract new players by putting out new materials. As a community, our activity is essentially stifled because of the uncertain legal standing with regard to revising or rewriting the rules to make them more contemporary and up do date.

Because game rules are something that is more prone to revision over time than a work of fiction, this is a much more severe effect on the community of fans and players of this game than if the item in question were a novel or some other work of fiction.

Twenty Scenarios for an Espionage Game

February 24, 2005

Twofold purpose in setting these out. First, is to provide examples of play. If we lay out how we want things to happen, then we can make sure that the mechanics reflect them and are best suited for what is envisioned. Second is to lay out the scope of the game. Twenty is an arbitrary number, but if there are a couple handfuls of different scenarios that lay out the scope of what can be in the game, we’ll have more direction and a richer setting to work from.

I’m purposely keeping everything very generic in this. I don’t know if we want to have the final draft in this form, or if we want to strongly embrace the inter-Iron Curtain dance (and by extension Le Carre et al.) There are advantages either way. For now, I suppose I’m leaning toward the generic, but I can be convinced otherwise.

Differentiating between countries and powers. Differentiating between allies, agencies, departments, subsections, etc. CONTROL is not monolithic at all. Agents may report to more than one CONTROL. Paired agents may report to differing CONTROLS.

Agent X is attempting to get the secret document from the safe in Doctor A’s office.

Agent X is expendable and her own people are trying to kill her.

Agent X is chasing operatives who work for Doctor A.

Agent X is trying to infiltrate into an unfriendly foreign country.

Agent X wants to go after Doctor A, but his superiors, Station Chief Y and Director Z won’t allow it.

Agent X is trying to smuggle another person across a border (checkpoint).

Agent X wants to take over operation of the office run by Station Chief Y.

Agent X needs to make contact with an allied agent while working in a foreign country.

Agent X is being pursued by agents from an allied power who think he is working for an unfriendly power.

Agent X learns that Station Chief Y has been turned and is working as a double agent.

Agent X is set up to fall into unfriendly hands in order to support/discredit information the unfriendly power has obtained.

Agent X must arrange for planted information to get into unfriendly hands.

Agent X wants to set up unfriendly Agent B so that she is arrested as a traitor.

Agent X wants to prove that Station Chief Y was set up by unfriendly power to be discredited, but Chief Y is really innocent.

Agent X is working with an allied agent on an assignment, but superiors have indicated that the allied agent is expendable.

Agent X has to kill Diplomat B.

Agent X has to arrange the killing of Diplomat B without it being attributable to her own agency or allies.

Agent X has to meet a defector who has information (which is a trap), and escape alive and with the information (From Russia with Love).

Agent X has to foil a megalomaniacal scheme (Goldfinger, et al).

Agent X has to get a secret device across the border and out of an unfriendly country.

A Theory of Fun for Game Design

February 4, 2005

Review of A Theory of Fun for Game Design on Slashdot. Being on Slashdot, it’s probably more about video games than paper & pencil ones, but there might be a bit of useful information in here.

Costikyan: Game Development Lexicon Wiki?

January 31, 2005

From Greg Costikyan’s blog

I’m considering launching a wiki to provide a lexicon for game developers.

Backstory: There’s been considerable discussion over the years about the need for a shared vocabulary for game design (see here f’rinstance), and its starting to emerge. UT/Austin has a project to develop such a lexicon, but it uses traditional research principles, which strikes me as extraordinarily retro–a wiki seems like a much better approach. And there is a game design wiki, but it takes a game design patterns approach, which is too narrow–that is, game design patterns are one useful way of approaching game design, but essentially they’re a laundry list of possible game mechanics, rather than a more formal approach to understanding games and game development. As I see it, a proper lexicon should certainly include the vocabulary developed by the game design patterns folks, but that should be only a part of the whole.

January 31, 2005

Posted for Thor:

Day one and I’m not sure how I want things to proceed. I thought when I started this course of events that I knew what I wanted to do to the game and how I would go about it. But in the intervening 24 hours I have questioned those assumptions and added to my wish list. I would like to keep the system light, but give it a little more 3-dimensionality. But there are three areas I have a good idea I want to try to improve.

1. I want character generation to reflect a more 3 dimensional sort of system. The characters in both versions were good at every COO skill as any other; which cuts off one way people like to develop their characters. I want the characters to develop as the game goes on. Stats are the least of my concerns lately I have been writing a lot of games without them but it is possible that there will be some sort of stats they just won’t be STR, COO, KNO these just don’t seem real to me anymore. There are two possible stats that I have been thinking about. They are attention and cool Attention reflects how many balls you can keep in the air at once and Cool reflects how badly you crack when one of those balls hits the ground. In my mind the players are all capable of great things as long as they keep their cool and don’t do more than their attention will cover. The question is what things will affect either.

2. I want the skill system to reflect my current obsession with quality of task resolution. If the character just barely gets the wiring rigged on the alarm system bypassed will there be time to get in and out before the guards notice that the loop that is feeding to the camera is hiccuping every 49 seconds. To this I thing that there is a place for the players to have more control of the outcomes of the situation through some sort of hero point system

3. I want to bring in a system where the experiences of the characters feed back into their abilities. The excellent Comic series Queen and Country has dealt with the battlefield stress of the characters and I would like to reflect something of that sort in the system. It might be that certain things the character experiences bring psychological damage to the character causing a loss of cool or of attention. There are long slow methods of dealing with this that might get you pulled from the field, but there are also “Band-Aids” that can cover the needs like booze or bravo the players can choose what they want to do.

4. While I enjoy team play I think that the rules should be able to accommodate play where the players have different agendas

5. I have always appreciated the political infighting that existed in Queen and Country as well as that in the George Smiley books by John LeCarre. I would like to include rules for playing the politics of the office as well as the fight in the field.

6. There was a post some time ago, on the Forge, about using the game sorcerer to reflect running field agents. This was such a wonderful idea that I want to steal it whole hog if I can fit it into the system and make it play nice with my game.

See that doesn’t look like much to do. I am going to try to stop writing now because my brain hurts and I want to think about the things I have said so far Tomorrow I will try to decide which of these parts I will tackle first.

More free and open games

January 31, 2005

Another posting from BoingBoing about Creative Commons licensed games.

We’re going to need to add a blogroll to this blog soon, and I think Countermoves needs to be on it.