Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Ever since reading Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards I've been a little uneasy about the way Forge theorists throw around "rewards" as the key to game design.

Jim Henley articulated similar concerns a little while ago:

I promised Elliot I'd promote a developing comment-thread drift into the subect of reward systems to a top-level entry, but I don't have time to make it any better than I did in the comments. On one level, all I'm doing is saying "But the play is its own reward!" one more damn time, but I'm also trying to explain how I think that is necessarily the case.

If there's a formal reward system that gives me X, say, experience points, for doing Y, is the idea that I'll do Y so I can accrue my X? Because what is it about X that makes it worth having, necessarily? Chances are the function of X is to make me more effective yet at doing Y, right? (It has to do something.) So if I wouldn't be inclined to do Y in the first place, why would I do it just to get X so I can do Y even more? (Or even better.)

Take "classic" D&D. If I kill things and take their stuff, I get experience points. Which will make me better at killing things and taking their stuff. IF I want to kill things and take their stuff in the first place, I'm good. But if not, not. If I really want to kill things and take their stuff, why start me out bad at that, and only make me good later? This is probably related to why so many actual existing D&D campaigns start characters out at 3rd level or 8th level or whatever - the written reward cycle fails to match up with player desires.
"Reward" to me brings up the idea of "external motivation" -- "you do this and then you get that." "Be a good boy and you get a cookie." "Be a good employee and you might get a nice annual review and a raise."

Henley's post clearly articulates the absurdity of this... and the commenters agree and say that's not what "reward" means in context of Forge discussions. But I'm not sure what it does mean, and I'm not sure I will without reading a whole bunch of threads that I'm not gonna have time to read, about the concept of a "reward cycle."

And Jim didn't even find those threads that helpful:

Hi Mark: You might be right. I did read the "reward cycle" threads. I think it's an interesting term that is currently bound up in some circular definition (the it's what signals the end of an "instance of play" which is "enough play to figure out what the creative agenda is" etc). And the reward cycle threads did in fact seem to focus quite a bit of attention on reward mechanics too - hence the "what's the reward cycle for sim?" question segues into "most of the one's I've seen are actually negative, like punishments for 'bad roleplaying'" turn that one of them took.

So I'd like to learn: what do you think would be a formal, intentional reward cycle that would be distinct from a formal, intentional reward mechanic?
Perhaps the best commentary is from Neel, who brings up the Matrix Game, which has no explicit reward mechanics.... or does it? If you make an argument that seems "strong" to the referee, your stuff happens. That's the reward, right?

I dunno. It is a puzzlement.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Crashspace: Glim

See the immediately previous post for an account of our pilot episode of Crashspace.

I'm changing Glim's Issue. His current Issue is that he was a really cool popular well-liked guy back in space, and he wants to stay that way, but it's challenging on Earth, where he doesn't know the territory.

That wasn't fun for me, because "wanting to be cool" isn't an interesting problem to me at this point in my life. Being cool and the life of the party and well-liked is an interesting power, but wanting to be cool isn't an interesting problem. I would have more fun just having Glim have the magical power to be the life of the party even on Earth than having him trying to be the life of the party and having trouble with it.

So what for an issue? Well, the pilot suggested this: he likes everyone to get along, have fun, and be happy. He's a peacemaker and a diplomat. But there were two times where he abandoned his friends in the face of danger. When is he willing to take a stand, to get into conflict and stand up for something rather than compromising and trying to smooth everything out and get everyone to "be cool"? What will it take for him to take a stand?

THAT is the issue.

Cool is the power. Drawing a line in the sand is the issue.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

[PTA] Crashspace

Last night I started up a new show of Primetime Adventures with my Grand Rapids group. I had been doing DitV with them for a while, but I needed a change, and PTA seemed right.

The premise of the show is this: a group of extraterrestrial college students crash-land on Earth and are staying with a group of Earth college students, all the while trying to stay hidden from the MIBs and attempting to find a way home. We wanted some drama, with a liberal dash of comedy. Some ultra-violence found it's way in too.

There are five players and they divided up the roles, with three playing aliens and two humans.

First off, the humans:

Corwin Dawson, played by Greg is a Comp Sci/Physics major, who is so disaffected with his life that he wants to help the aliens and go back with them.

Owen Cristobal, played by Kub, is a conspiracy theorist/journalist major, who is a major fast-talker. He has found himself on the other side of an alien cover-up, and is not sure how to handle it. He is also fairly fluent in Basque. Wait for it...

Now the aliens:

Jim is playing Benat, a koala like alien. Yep, he's a cute little fuzz-ball. But, he has been trained from birth to command starfleets. See, his race is to be the warriors of the galaxy. But here on Earth, he is considered a cute pet. He is desperate to return to his home and way of life, though he has recently discovered alcohol and is very fond of it. The language he speaks is a lot like Basque, and since his translator was destroyed in the crash, he can only communicate with Owen. Oh, and everyone call him "Mr. Snuggles."

Bob Waters, played by Dave, is a sentient liquid alien. His people are part of a collective that sends parts of itself out to experience life and learn things, then come back and share with them. The problem is, since the crash, he has developed a self, and he does not want to lose it, which would happen if he rejoined the collective. He really does not want to go back. He has learned to maintain a human form, but it can be tiring.

Ed is playing Glim, who can actually pass for human. Back at the alien university he was "someone." A cool dude, the life of the party. He's not sure where he fits in here, but he is sure gonna try and find out. This might change, as Ed told me after we ran the pilot that he was not entirely happy with Glim.

I had so many more clues about PTA than I did when I ran Unseen. The pilot was kinda short -- we didn't start playing until 11:30 p.m. and we were all pretty tired. There were 8 scenes, mostly taking place at a house party that Glim had been invited to, almost all character oriented. I figured it would be nice and low pressure, and give the players a chance to see and use the system. It went well.

There were a lot of highjinx at the party, including a drunken koala-like alien, a voyeuristic water-alien, and the electrocution of a nemesis on the part of Corwin -- he just stunned and humiliated him. Then the MIBs showed up, and captured Owen and Mr. Snug... er, Benat. The drunken, militaristic, koala-like alien opened a can of destruction on them. I'm pretty sure they consider him a major threat and will act accordingly if they find him again.

Our "Next Time On..." seemed to feature a lot of Agent Neon, the gorgeous MIB who is Glim's nemesis. I can't wait.

-- Joe

Friday, December 02, 2005

bye bye theory at forge

You've read about it in all the other indie RPG blogs and fanblogs already, nothing to add here, except that it still baffles me when we end up on lists like this:

Chris Chinn's Deep in the Game
Vincent Baker's anyway.
Ben Lehman's This is My Blog
Matt Wilson's The Dog Blog
Matt Snyder's Heads or Tales
Ed Heil and Joe's Esoteric Murmurs
Shreyas Sampat's Raven Swallows the Sun
Jason Petrasko's Rainfall
Keith Senkowski's One Angry Polack
Joshua Bishop Roy's Game Foo
Most of these people are game designers and deep theory thinkers or fine theory preachers. We just sort of talk about stuff and we like Forge games and every so often I go on an absinthe binge and rant a bit. Joe talks about games he runs and plays and likes. There ain't that much to it. But it's kinda cool. Hi, anyone who followed those links! This is just where we hang out, nothin' special. Follow those other links for cool theory talk. Stay here if you just want to open a cold one and hang a bit.

Course, someday I'll finish Odyssey: Strange Lands and then I'll be one o' them game designers too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

GenCon SoCal Interviews

Lots of cool podcasted interviews with indie game designers and others, at GenCon SoCal, at have games will travel. I haven't listened yet, just blog-bookmarking.

Monday, November 28, 2005

More art

Back from Thanksgiving, I put up some new stuff on including a few older pieces that seemed like they would fit there, from my work on Stranger Things. Sketches.

No gaming lately. I have not been continuing to read Burning Wheel because after a few of us played around with the lifepath character generation a couple Fridays ago, a friend promptly borrowed it. Maybe he'll read it all and run it for me! Best of all possible worlds. Elven Grief, here I come!


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Game Reviewing by Random Sampling

You can sometimes learn a lot about a book by opening it randomly and reading. Bankuei quotes an instance of this from Dev's livejournal:

You know, Kevin and Kell, the anthropomorphic webcomic that is, basically, about family drama and suchlike. Not a bad comic. So I flipped it open, and...

First thing I see: special rules section for "Firing Projectile Weapons Underwater".
Heh. I had the same experience but it was a perfect fit: I opened up the Conan roleplaying game randomly and the first thing my eyes fell upon, I swear, was this item in a price list:

Slave, female, beautiful: 60 gold pieces.
(I may be misquoting the price, forgive me.) Yep, that's a game with focus!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Galactic Art

Couple new pieces of art -- for Matt "Dog Eared" Wilson's "Galactic" -- in the indie rpgs folder on my art site.

I especially like Iona. I drew her face first and everything about the picture just flowed.

UPDATE: Another piece up, and some revampage of the site. Now there's a feed of all new art on the main page! Oh, and some google ads.

UPDATE 2: I got me a domain name. Rock.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Autodidact-at-large is Clinton R. Nixon's new-ish game design weblog. I happened across it by cruising by the live page of The Mighty Atom instead of just relying on my RSS reader. Man, you miss good stuff sometimes if you live in the RSS world.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mmm, That Void's Fruity

PREAMBLE: I wrote this insanely late a couple nights ago, then pulled it offline because I was afraid it was too incoherent. Rereading the draft, it's good enough for gummint work. I'm republishing it.


An offline discussion pointed me at Vincent's post about the Fruitful Void, which I had glossed over the first time because I hadn't read the comments to it and thereby grasped what it was all about. Bad Ed!

Man it is an awesome post. So awesome it makes me forget to use commas and contractions in my sentences.

I think I have written earlier about this distinction between open and closed, between setting the stage and scripting the action, between going in knowing exactly how it's going to go and going in wondering exactly how it's going to go. This is somehow parallel to that.

The most important things in the game, the MOST important things, there are often no rules for. Or the rules are strangely open rather than tight. The comments give the example of the way Sorcerer's Humanity doesn't limit your action, the way there is no Faith stat in Dogs, no Defiance stat in MLWM, no Honor rules in Mountain Witch or Duty rules in Polaris.

I might add, that's also why there is no "Successfully Overcome Dungeon Obstacle" skill or stat in Tunnels & Trolls. (No, the Luck stat doesn't count.)

Hmm... reading on I see that maybe I'm generalizing it a bit too much. It's not just about structures with openness to fill in, it's about the existing structures pushing people towards the openness and demanding they fill it in, without telling them exactly how and without there being a right answer.

I think that's what Umberto Eco called an "Open Work" -- one which does not assume a single interpretation of itself, but which draws the reader/hearer/viewer in and gives them tools to interpret it, and motivates them to interpret it, but does not set out exactly how to do so.

Of course, Eco was not talking about games, but about finished works of art. But the parallel seems strong to me, intuitively, nonetheless.

Man, I'm up way too late reading this darn thread and thinking and writing about it.

It is important to me that creativity comes from a place of mindfulness, and the place of mindfulness is the place where there are unknown lands, where there are no formulas, where things can be questioned and reconstrued. The place of the unknown. Once it is mapped you are not there anymore -- until you come to doubt your map and decide to make a new one.

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The Name that can be named is not the lasting Name.

The Fruitful Void of a well constructed set of rules -- like a well constructed work of art, if the Eco analogy holds -- is a place where the work thrusts you, questioning you, forcing an answer from you, but not dictating the answer.

How does one create such a work? I don't know, but my guess is that one creates it by being mindful oneself about that which is in question. By opening one's own mind to its mysteries.

I don't think you can come up with a ten point plan for creating a Fruitful Void. I don't think it's a coincidence that Vincent introduced this with a diagram and a shout of "what the hell are we talking about?" and that while Ron in a sense diagrammed it for Sorcerer long ago he did it in his *third* published supplement to the original rulebook... Vincent and Timfire explicitly disavow using the concept of the Fruitful Void consciously to design games.

There's a *lot* in this thread (as there often is in anyway threads); I've touched on just a bit here. Well worth reading, though I don't know why I'm pointing this out; the notion that somebody would be reading Murmurs and missing stuff on anyway seems a bit fanciful now that I think about it!

Losing all coherence. Must sleep.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Burning Wheel and Trollbabe

I got my copy of Burning Wheel a few days ago and have been reading through it. Man, there are a lot of rules there. All the rules I've read so far, I've been OK with -- they haven't been more than I feel I can handle. One thing that helped a lot was getting to page 77 of the main rulebook and being told there "OK, stop reading, go make characters and play using the rules you've read so far. Learn the rest only after you've had some play experience." That's cool.

The Character Burner book is of course huge. It's a lifepath system. I haven't done anything with a lifepath system since I messed around with FATE a year or two ago, and that didn't go anywhere. So I just picked a background -- noble -- and went through a few lifepaths with him. Noble Born... Arcane Devotee... Arcane Devotee... switched to the Outcast Setting and found -- Rogue Wizard! Schweet! That's me, Rogue Wizard. (Rogue Wizards in Burning Wheel are rather creepier than the character type of the same name in Talislanta.) Neat stuff! The next day, hanging with Joe, I had him make a character and he had massive fun with it too. Now, neither of us actually finished our characters, for time reasons, but man, it was a lot of fun; it took me back to the kind of fun that making characters was in RPG days gone by.

Didn't get to play it though. Because we were planning to play... Trollbabe!

Joe handed me a Trollbabe character sheet and it was striking to contrast the huge lettering on it with the barely readable text on the BW sheet. I whipped up a trollbabe named Nelda in 5-10 minutes. Didn't know much about her at all. Just started the scenario.

The scenario was fairly simple -- a creepy cult called the Black Hands kidnapped a girl from some travelling merchants; Nelda decided to see if she could get them back. A couple of bad failures (BAD failures -- incapacitated level failures) led to a reprise of the "Naked Helpless Sacrifice Scene" comic, with Nelda starring as Retta and a Lovecraftian horror called She Who Is Not To Be Named starring as the bat-god. Well, it wasn't quite the same, but it did involve Nelda using magic to communicate with the god rather than just being eaten by her. (She ended up with a Relationship to this Elder-God-like entity, which I think rocks the world.) It ended up eating its followers, except for one whom Nelda had a relationship with as well (not a very pleasant relationship). Cool, she's got a relationship with both a cultist and his dark god!

Things went smoothly mostly because Joe had read the rules, like, 3 times in the last week, and had them cold. The conflict resolution system in Trollbabe still feels a little awkward to me, despite that, maybe because I don't have it entirely down. I don't know.

The two games are a huge contrast in the area of character background -- there's all this fun background creation in Burning Wheel, and none whatsoever in Trollbabe; hell, in Trollbabe it's even unclear where Trollbabes came from and what they are, so it'd be difficult to write a background. It's explicitly unspecified. A blank.

Anyway, wish I had had the time to finish the BW characters and play a bit. BW seemms like it'll be way fun. I would not have thought I could deal with all those rules, but all the ones I've *read* seem very simple and usable, so if that stays the same as I read more, well.... that'll be a good game. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Color Crystal Revelations

Joe went nuts with Photoshop and created an entire color version of Mystic Crystal Revelations! Rock.

Monday, October 24, 2005


So apparently Blogspot is becoming kidn of a blogspam ghetto. A fairly large number of the neat blogs by Forge twunts are on blogspot.

It occurs to me that I could probably set up a "free blogs for indie RPG folks" service over at my hosting, if there was an interest. On the other hand, it's not like there's a huge shortage of avenues for blogs on the Inter Nets (e.g. and whatnot), and it's not like all the crap blogs on somehow make the good ones disappear from view. I hadn't even noticed any problem, I've just read about it.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

Friday, October 21, 2005

As God Is My Witness, Someday I Will Be A Credenza

John Harper has already blogged about a great thread with a great Ron post on the Forge. I was struck by this bit:

consider, in all the games you've participated in, how many of the player-characters have essentially been furniture? Scary, eh?

That reminded me of the Dilbert quote which is this post's title.

Well worth reading the whole thread, especially if you've looked at a few Forge-influenced RPGs and wondered where the rules for rock climbing were. Don't miss the Characters' Own Stupidity as a recurring NPC,

Monday, October 17, 2005

For the Record

I found the Donate link for the PDF version of Jihad, and I now remember being at the con and seeing that illustration on the cover of Jihad and being creeped the hell out by it, thank you very much. :)

Luke on Sons of Kryos

Listening to this now. Transcribed a portion of it to send to somebody and thought "I've got this neat bit transcribed, why not blog it?"

Here goes:

[Luke describing in some detail how suicide is a major feature of Serpent Sun]

JUDD: That's dark.

LUKE: It's very dark.

JUDD: If my parents had gotten ahold of that when I was twelve, I don't know if I'd be gaming today.

LUKE: Yeah, yeah, this is one where I'm, like, quite -- quite deliberately pushing the limits. Actually both of them. Both of the setting materials for Burning Wheel that I've released in the past year and a half or whatever, the Jihad stuff and the Serpent Sun stuff, have been designed to tweak people's sensibilities. I got really bored with people looking at, like, Elven Grief and, making fun of it, calling it like, 'The Cure,' and all this shit, you know, and people looking at Orc Hatred and being like, 'ORCS ARE COOL!' You know, I mean, that's fine, Orcs are cool. They're my favorites. But they're also really evil bastards, and they do terrible things, and your game should be about Orcs doing terrible things to each other and to everything and everyone around them. Instead it's just ORCS ARE COOL! So, I was like, all right, let's see what else I can get you to say is cool. So, right, so we have suicide? In Serpent Sun? Like, well, do you think that's cool? I actually think that, uh, most people are like 'no this is not cool man! [laughter]

JUDD: Yeah, that, I played that once with you over at, uh, the Burning Wheel revised release party, and my friend and I just stumbled out of that game at like six in the morning, didn't say a word to each other till we got to the train station, at which point he looked at me and said, 'That... that was really dark.' Like, not, like, in a profound way, but in a 'I... I can't believe we just played that' way. Yeah, it's shocking, it's pretty shocking, how dark that is.
Awesome interview -- if you can stand the 27 meg download, do grab it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I Must Feel the Burning

This post on Bankuei's blog (which spawned a disagreement in the comments that I have no comment on myself) pointed me to this abomination of a thread on, a place I rarely go, and this reminded me why.

Every other post in the thread was by "Evil Dr. Ganymede," to whom a copy of Burning Wheel apparently did unspeakable things when he was a child, because he spends more time and effort on RPG.NET trashing it than I can imagine the average ardent fan spends playing it. Clearly Burning Wheel is a big part of this man's life, and affected him deeply. It is his nemesis. He dreams of it, and wakes up screaming "CURSE YOU BURNING WHEEL, I SHALL NEVER ESCAPE YOUR DARK CLUTCHES BUT I WILL WARN OTHERS AGAINST YOU, AND DENY YOU FURTHER PREY!"

I assume this is the thread Matt was talking about here, with many headshaking comments posted since.

I'd always thought BW probably wasn't for me, tagging it as too "rules-heavy," but getting to talk to Luke about it at the con suggested to me that maybe that wasn't the case, and even if it was, I might find it an interesting game to read... And there was just something about the sheer gamer joy of Luke himself that made me want to own his game. "I must own this man's game, or at least learn who his dealer is for whatever stuff he smokes, sniffs, or ingests to get that way."

There are these strong personalities amongst indie game designers and fans. Many of them strong happy-making personalities. (So as not to embarrass anyone I am erasing a paragraph of examples of strong, positive personalities in the indie scene that I'd started writing. Awesome people don't need me telling them they're awesome. And people who are awesome that I don't quite know well enough to describe their awesomeness as well don't need to see the list and notice they were left off it and wonder why.)

From the very little I got to meet and observe him at the Forge booth, Luke is one of those really strong powerful positive personalities. He loves his game. He loves that people play it. He loves the people that play it. And it's a hardcore gritty bloody toothy shrieking badass game, and that makes the crazily positive energy of Luke all the more striking.

So Burning Wheel was on my list of "get that after I get home and am not so poor" games when I left the Con, and reading the thread with Evil Dr. Ganymede for page after page (I never got though the whole thing) brought it back to my mind...

I thought, "any game that has such power that even someone who hates it cannot break away from his obsession with it must surely be mine," and I ordered it.

Like they say, no such thing as bad publicity.

I await it in eager anticipation.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cat and Caedmon: Breaking the Ice

I popped by Joe's place Saturday night to hit our favorite restaurant and hang for a while, and we test drove Breaking The Ice.

This was the first time I'd actually played through 3 full dates (a proper game), and it was cool.

Our "switch," since we're both male, was preferred creative outlet: he played an artist and I played a musician. He played Catilin, a geek girl and sculptor and jewelery designer obsessed with Lord of the Rings, and I played Caedmon, a pastry chef who was deeply into blues singing and blues harmonica. (In the back of my mind, I had a specific person as the model for Caedmon; to me it's fun to do that in BtI.)

Cat's conflict was a stalking nerd ex-boyfriend named Tom. Caedmon's conflict was that he gets really clumsy around people he's trying to impress. They both worked out OK, but neither was really optimal. The clumsy thing was easy to bring into scenes -- when I needed some extra dice, Caedmon knocked something over at just the wrong moment. Tom was much harder to bring into scenes, and didn't get used that much, but was more interesting.

An awesome moment was when we managed to bring both of them into a scene -- Caedmon whacked Cat with his elbow, giving her a bloody nose, in the middle of a museum expedition (their second date), and very soon after that Tom showed up, and concluded that Caedmon must have (intentionally) hit Cat... and in the between-dates rolls for attraction, on a reroll, where you have to put down a new problematic trait, for Cat, we put down that inbetween dates Tom had been spreading rumors about Cat's new boyfriend to the effect that he was violent with her! Ouch!

But gratuitous clumsiness, while it worked out, just seemed kinda cheap, and the jealous stalking ex was hard to bring into scenes elegantly. Giving myself advice for future games: make sure the conflict is not just external but internal. "Clumsy" is OK, but "knows he gets clumsy and is going to overcompensate or avoid situations where it's going to come up, or is going to be really nervous about it, etc" would be better. "Stalking ex" was OK, but "knows she has an ex stalking her and is going to consciously try to make sure he doesn't find out about the date" would have been better. Make it something the characters have to react to (or "proact" to if you will), and let their reactions be part of the scene.

The three dates were: lunch and a walk in the park in Chicago (I always end up playing BtI games set in Chicago... this is my third... of four BtI games...)... a trip down to Indianapolis to view the Lord of the Rings exhibit at the museum together (allowing Joe and I to bring in our real-world knowledge of Indy from the last GenCon, including the rocking Scottish pub we went to in the real world), and a viewing of the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy at Cat's house, which turned into a snugglefest (we let our characters get they freak on in the third date. They deserved it).

This was the first time I had played an entire series of dates in BtI, and I got to understand the dynamics of the dice a little better.

The thing I don't think I'd grokked before is that a Turn stops when you achieve an attraction level or a Compatibility. That means that the better a chance you have of getting one of those with your Attraction dice and your Bonus dice (due to having a lot of Attraction), the less likely it is you'll have a chance, or a need, to use any Re-Rolls. This means that the screwups that fuel Re-Rolls are going to become less common as Attraction increases.

Cat and Cadmon really piled on the Attraction over the course of those dates, and by about midway through the second date, Re-Rolls were practically a thing of the past.

I think it's the case that a Turn has to stop when you hit an attraction or compatibility level. (I'm not quite sure of that from the way it's phrased in the rules.) If this is the case, if you want to be sure you get compatibility if you possibly can rather than "mere" attraction, you will want to avoid rolling your dice till you've decided, say, whether or not you want to pull a Conflict or Compatibility in. Because if you roll 'em and get three successes, it's too late, turn is over, you can't go further by pulling the Conflict or Compatibility in in the hopes of getting a fourth success.

In any case, it seems pretty clear that you can't, say, get an attraction level, and then keep going for another attraction level with Re-Rolls. At least I hope that's the case, because it drives the "comical screwups are more common earlier in the date series before real attraction is established" dynamic nicely.

I haven't gone back yet and read the rules really closely to make sure that's how it's set up.

Anyway, the whole thing worked out nicely. A lot of plot was generated through it all, and I especially enjoyed seeing how the "between dates" stuff works, because I hadn't had a chance to before. Cool things like Caedmon losing his job and having to decide whether he's willing to leave town to find a new job, and Cat having the rumors started about her by Tom, happened "between dates".

What I'd like to remember in future games is to make characters who are a little more packed with drama because of their Conflicts. Make it a little more personal, a little more to the heart. That'd be cool.

Oh, to the degree that we felt like describing the nookie explicitly in date 3, the system worked fine -- fooling around works like any other part of a date in Breaking the Ice, you get Bonus Dice by having your character do something that would generate attraction, which the other player thinks is true to life or whatever, and you roll and see if you generate more attraction and maybe a Compatibility based on what you just did. The application to physical intimacy at whatever level of description you're comfortable with should be obvious.

So, cool. Fun game, made some characters we really liked, learned how the rules work and came to appreciate more stuff about 'em. Rock.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hite on Indie Games

Ken Hite's Out of the Box this week reviews indie games that he bought at this year's GenCon, including many a familiar face.

This reminded me of several games I didn't get to buy at Con and still want to.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bacchanal Print Page

Woot! Paul's got an order page up for the print edition of Bacchanal. I'm so proud of that cover!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Torturing the Youngest in the Group's PC"

Must-read thread on the Forge. Just cause it's an awesome story.

Who's Dissatisfied

In preparation for the aforementioned Dogs in the Vineyard game, I've been re-reading the game. Actually reading the second edition for the first time. Vincent has said there's not much new, text-wise, but what is added is good stuff. One thing that really struck me, is in the GMing Conflicts section:

As GM, you should always follow your group's lead. A big part of your job in the first couple of sessions is to figure out, mostly by observation, your group's standards for legit Raises and Sees, invoking traits, valid stakes, using ceremony, the supernatural, and so on.

However, the thing to observe in play isn't what the group's doing, but instead who's dissatisfied with what the group's doing. The player who frowns and uses withdrawing body language in response to someone else's Raise, or who's like "that's weak" when someone reaches for dice -- that's the player whose lead to follow. Everyone's Raises etc. should come to meet the most critical player's standards. As the GM, it's your special responsibility to pay attention, figure out what those standards are, and to press the group to live up to them.

Wow. That second part is powerful stuff. I wonder if it is something I'll be able to do? It seems so obvious a thing when you read it...

BTW, Ed, Vincent, AWESOME art!

More Dogs

I'm preparing to run Dogs in the Vineyard for my local gaming group this coming Friday, and getting pretty psyched about it. The gang made characters before Gen Con, with the hopes that we would play the first town there, but the best laid plans...

I'm really excited about the characters. Dogs does a lot of things right, but character creation is always fascinating for me, to see these character come together, come to life. In this game we have:

Brother Absalom (Played by Randy)
Randy came to the table with a concept -- he wanted to play a blind Dog. Fair enough. He'd been a shepherd before becoming a Dog. Sounded good to me. Then he was stuck for some other traits, until the whole shepherd thing gave him some inspiration. Psalms 23. You know "The Lord is my shepherd..." He took the traits "I fear no evil" and "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Hell yeah! He was looking for another trait and I suggested the supernatural, and we came up with this cool Sacred Sight, that allows him to see angels and demons, as well as holy and profane objects.

We did his accomplishment first, so he was the system guinea pig for the rest of the group. I've run accomplishments for my other groups, so I felt pretty solid on it. The accomplishment was "I want to prove that my blindness does not hinder me from being a Dog." I had one of his instructors take him on horseback out of Bridal Falls at night. They rode round and round in the woods, the instructor making sure that Absalom was lost. He told him to get off the horse, and be sure to be back in time for morning prayers, then he rode off. It was a good conflict, lots of good raises and sees. Things were getting down to the wire with Randy almost out of dice, then something clicked -- he used his Sacred Site and "saw" the glow of some of the holy artifacts at the head temple in Bridal Falls, not far away. He used it to guide him back, and he walked in just as morning prayers started. He had succeeded and took the trait "Blindness does not hinder him being a Dog." He took some Fallout and raised his blindness to 2d4. It was a good start.

Sister Carmen (Played by James)
James had a pretty solid character concept too. Sister Carmen is a Mountains Person whose clan was slaughtered by some Faithful when she was a child. She was found by a woman, Sister Emeline and raised by Brother Jebediah, a Steward. Thing is, before she was torn from her old life, she'd been training to be a shaman, and still had a connection to the Earth. In fact, she has the trait "I sing the songs of the earth," and a relationship with the earth. Cool!

I'm kinda hazy on the exact wording of the accomplishment that James came up with. I think it was something like "Does Carmen learn to forgive the Faithful for killing her people." The scene was in a classroom, and one of the students had made some comment about how wicked the Mountain Folk were. This set Carmen into a series of flashbacks and memories. James did his raises of Carmen remembering her people being killed -- bad stuff connected to the Faith. I did mine of all the good stuff, like the love of her adopted father. During this, she remembered for the first time that Sister Emeline, the one who "saved" her was actually a part of the group that killed her people. Damn, that was harsh. She lost the conflict and took the trait "I'm vengeful." Nice. She also had some fallout and lowered her relationship with Sister Emeline.

Sister Serenity (Played by Tammy)
I think the toughest part for Tammy was choosing a background. Once that was decided (complicated community) the rest sort of fell into place. She had this idea that Serenity had been possessed by a demon when she was younger, which she took as a trait. She wanted her to be a healer, and exorcist. Also, she is the only Dog in the group with a gun-oriented trait.

She wanted to overcome her fear of demons. She was awaken in the middle of the night by one of her instructors and taken to a room with a tied up, possessed person and left there, locked in. The demon begins talking to her, and implied that it is the same demon that had possessed her! She snapped and opened a can of ceremony on it's ass. She exorcised it, but not her fear, which we decided had shifted to hatred. Like an irrational hatred.

An interesting group. Both Absalom and Carmen have complicated history for backgrounds, and Serenity complicated community. Ah, tasty complications. Can't wait to see how the first town plays out.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Strange Lands

I started looking at Strange Lands again, aka Odyssey. My bud Andy Rau emailed me and asked me if I'd done any work on it, and I hadn't. But I'd been vaguely thinking of doing so since Joe bugged me about it at GenCon. "You could be pimping a game at the forge booth too, dude!"

So I got it out and looked at it. Started rewriting it in LyX, for ease of PDF creation. I'm not sure about this "writing it as a generic system for a certain kind of game" thing. It might really be better done with a default setting, esp. a grabby one. But we'll see how that goes. Rules first.

I was talking to (namedrop) Paul Czege on IM the other night and I realized -- just as he was about to suggest -- that I might already have too many rules in it. I was thinking that what I needed was to add some really good "conflict resolution" rules, maybe something spiffy like Dogs has, you know. But what if I only need the rules for the stuff that directly matters in the game -- Identity and Qualities and Distance and how they go back and forth, and what the Lands are.

What if I had something with the level of focus, and rules complexity, of something like Breaking the Ice?


Saturday, September 10, 2005


I'm pondering running Sorcerer again. I've had a hard time "getting" Sorcerer in the past, but reading this review of Charnel Gods (I don't remember why I was reading it, but I was) awakened my interest again. I thought it might be interesting to run Charnel Gods, or if not Charnel Gods, Sorcerer and Sword, but if I wanted to play Sorcerer and Sword I wanted to try vanilla Sorcerer first.

So I'm reading through it again. I remember why it was so frustrating to read before -- the important game mechanics are all at the end of the book, but the beginning of the book is written as if you already know them. So it's pretty much impossible to understand on first reading.

The Sorcerer Wiki is a good reference.

The most frustrating part has always been trying to understand what the scope of the powers is supposed to be. They're written in ways that sometimes seem highly specific and sometimes hopelessly open-ended. Bopping around on the Forge and reading other people's questions to Ron and other Sorcerer players is helpful. This thread for example, specifically this post, suggests that the answer to the question "can I make this power do that???" should usually depend on answering the question "is that what the game is about?"

For example, in a necromantic game, it might be appropriate to hijack the Boost Stamina or Vitality powers and declare that they can be used to animate corpses. In a different game that might be completely inappropriate. And the players & GM work together to establish those parameters.

Cool. That actually makes sense to me.

And almost nothing the demons can do in Sorcerer just willy nilly makes the world different. Demons are virtually always tools you can use to get what you want, not wish granters which just make things the way you want. Think of demons as a means, not a shortcut to the end, and there you go.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Free Book of Wonder PDF

Via Uncle Bear, a free PDF of stories by Lord Dunsany from Creative Mountain Games.

Vital inspiration for Polaris games!

Monday, August 29, 2005

With Great Capes Under The Bed

I did not demo or buy Capes at GenCon. I suck. I keep reading about it on the Forge and smacking my forehead.

I did buy With Great Power, which is very cool, and which I had bought the preview edition to so I got a discount and all. I wanna read and play that someday when life gets less hectic.

But I didn't even demo Capes? I suck.

I also barely got into the tail end of an Under the Bed demo, and didn't buy it. Seems like a totally cool game. But I wish I'd done another demo.

Shopping list of stuff I didn't buy at Con but still want:

* Under the Bed
* Capes
* Burning Wheel
* Death's Door
* Sweet Dreams -- maybe. I loved this game but I get the impression that the author, Allan, has a headful of ways to make it cooler so I kind of want to watch and see what happens with it.
* Kayfabe

There may be more.

UPDATE: Oh yeah. Conspiracy of Shadows. I don't know anything about this game but the tone in which other people talk about it makes me way curious. Wish I'd demoed that too.

Tunnels & Trolls, 7th Edition

I totally love Tunnels & Trolls, 7th edition.

T&T was my first roleplaying game ever. I don't know when I started but it was sometime in the late 70s, when I was a prepubescent child. Liz Danforth's illustrations defined fantasy art to me for many years, and Tunnels & Trolls was gaming.

I played solos a lot, which I'm sure gives me a warped perspective on gaming and its social aspects. On the other hand, many of those solos had incredible writing and really imaginative contents. They were a lot of fun.

I haven't played in a long time, but the new edition makes me want to play again. The rules are a bit more complex now, but not more complex than I like them. There is a lot more opportunity to make your character unique and interesting, by giving them special "Talents." Levels are now nothing more than a summary of how high your attributes are, which is a way of acknowledging what was always true in T&T -- "level" is pretty unimportant; attributes are totally important. Now adventure points increase attributes directly instead of mediating through "level."

T&T has abandoned the idea of being world-neutral; it's now explicitly about gaming in Trollworld, the world where the cities of Khazan and Khosht exist on the Dragon Continent, and ships trade with Gull, City of Terrors, on the Isle of Phoron.

Magic has been made more specific -- it is the use of a natural "The Force" type stuff called Kremm (when I played with Ken St. Andre he went off on how the word Kremm is nearly identical, but pronounced a bit differently, in all of Trollworld's major languages, which made me extremely curious how much "conlinguistics" has been done for Trollworld. Oh, the Common Tongue in Trollworld is the language of the empire of Khazan, kalled "Khaz'ni".)

There are some really neat rules, such as that as a player you should be able to buy whatever weapons, or play whatever race of character, you feel like, with GM approval -- the example is given of the GM coming up with stat modifiers for Angels off the cuff because a player wants to play one. That is all kinds of awesome.

This is an old school game. It is a game about descending into tunnel complexes, evading, tricking, or killing the monsters that live there, harvesting their treasure, and coming back to the surface all the richer and wiser.

This being T&T, it's about flexibility and cleverness, not just kicking ass with your +12 HackMaster. The Saving Roll system (and the way Talents play into it) means it's all about thinking on your feet, not walking through preplanned possibilities. And that makes it cool.

I wanna make a dungeon. I've been totally busy with work and a side project and I've been carrying the T&T set around with me and a pad of graph paper wishing I had time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sophomoric Post Warning

After the wild GenCon success of Paul Czege's Bacchanal, and the continuing popularity of "Sex and Sorcery," will other indie games move forward into a realm of mature, thoughtful adult sexuality and eroticism?

Hoped-for titles for GenCon 06:

Dog-eared Design: Pay-Per-View Adventures
Errant Knight Games: Kayfabe 2: Jello Wrestling Edition
Lumpley Games: Doggy Style In The Vineyard

And the one which started me down this train of thought:

Timfire Press: Mountin' the Witch

Further suggestions welcomed in comments.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Pencil sketch of my character Kandelo, mentioned in Joe's writeup of our Stranger Things game. Drawing him was a big part of conceptualizing him for me. I actually had to re-do the eyes before I felt I could play him. Weird eh?

Stranger Things - Indy Game

Over the course of two evenings at Gen Con Indy, I ran a short playtest of Stranger Things with a few of my friends. We didn't play an entire game, just a handful of scenes, mainly because we started late in the evening for both sessions and we were all pretty tired.

Tammy's character was Neko, a Stranger with preternatural feline abilities. She ended up not playing in many scenes, as she was the sleepiest of group and nodded off. James played Nanavenes, who had hands, feet and head of smokey quartz and could "sing" pure tones of any frequency in a crystalline voice. Ed's character was Kandelo, a Stranger with luminous, waxy skin who had a flame arising from his body at all times, often from his head.

My memory of the particulars of the game is hazy, as I was tired as well, but there are several scenes that stuck with me. In one, Ed had Kandelo confront a groups of humans that had been chasing a demon, and had in fact shot the demon twice. The leader of the group claimed the demon had slain his cousin and they were going to take the demon back for justice. The demon claimed innocence, and the woman who was killed had been his love (I lifted this plot idea from Bankuei.) Kandelo used his power over fire to get the group to back down. It was a very cool and intense scene. It reminded me of some of the stuff we've had in our Dogs in the Vineyard game, and I mean that as a compliment.

In another, Nanavenes came across a gondola under attack by a gang of vampires. He jumped onto the gondola and during the course of the conflict, smashed the mouths of a few vampires, leaving their teeth tinkling on the deck of the boat. The woman on the gondola was a very famous courtesan in the district, and the vampires had stolen an amulet given to her by one of her paramours. It was the Seven Stars of Meznal, the Goddess of Shadows, seven black smokey stones set in silver. Nanavenes promised to return the amulet to the courtesan.

Later, Nanavenes and Neko were investigating the mysterious disappearance of several demons in a demon ghetto. They followed the trail to a street full of shops that specialized in magic, to a book binder's shop. While trying to find a way in, dozens of vampires showed up to enact revenge on Nanavenes. Neko was not pleased to be dragged into this vendetta, and her goal was to get away. Nanavenes had the goal of using vampires to smash his way into the binder's shop. In a rather entertaining exchange, both succeeded, with Nanavenes finally getting into the private area of the shop and encountering a dark mage who was displeased to see him. Neko disappeared onto the rooftops of the Murder Mews.

Meanwhile, Kandelo used a magic ritual to enter the spirit world in order to find the ghost of Lina, the woman who had been killed. A few failures had Kandelo being draw into a dark and twisted spirit carnival, where he almost lost himself. He pulled himself away and completed his mission, finding the spirit in the foyer of her family's home where she had been killed. She told him a human suitor that she had rejected killed her. Kandelo told her to move on to the next world, that he would help avenge her, and she would one day be reunited with her demon lover.

Sadly, that is all we got to play, but I hope to finish up with these character. It was a lot of fun, once we all got up to speed on the system. We were a little unsure of how to do narration on re-rolls, but I found a example that clarified things. There was also a question as to whether the Strangers had access to both demonic and human magic, like it is in Trollbabe, or if you were locked into one by your choice in character creation. We assumed it the same as Trollbabe and moved along. I really enjoyed the game and loved the use of the map tiles, even though the characters were only ever on two tiles. We barely touched on Relationships. I think Kandelo took a relationship with the demon he saved, and I think James was planing on his character getting one with the courtesan. If we play some more, I'm sure well get more into that.

Some funny things with Numbers. Tammy chose 9 for her character. Cats have nine lives after all. James gave Nanavenes a number of 7, the hardness number of quartz, which his character's extremities are made of. Ed also did a cool sketch of Kandelo, and one of Nanavenes giving a vampire a mouthful of bloody Chiclets.

things I want to talk about from gencon when I get a chance

In no particular order and with no guarantee whatsoever of completeness...
  • games played/demoed/was especially intrigued by (some even bought)
    • Tunnels & Trolls, 30th anniversary edition
    • Under The Bed
    • Polaris
    • With Great Power
    • Death's Door
    • City of Brass
    • SNAP
    • didn't get to demo TSOY! Ed sad.
    • Kayfabe (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
    • Breaking The Ice (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
    • Sweet Dreams (demo: did not expect it to be as awesome as it was)
  • people met/re-met
    • Ken St. Andre
    • mc chris (and joshua newell)
    • P.D. Breeding-Black
    • Paul Czege & Danielle
    • Vincent Baker (tres briefly)
    • The Matt Trifecta:
      • Matt Wilson
      • Matt Snyder
      • Matt Gwinn
    • Ron Edwards
    • Ben Lehman
    • Michael & Kat Miller
    • Malcolm, didn't catch last name, Scottish dude with cool ultra slickly produced game
    • Allan "May Contain Monkeys" Dotson
    • Luke "Made Me Want Burning Wheel thru Sheer Sincere Enthusiasm" Crane
    • Thor Olavsrud
    • Joshua "Ninja Monkey J"
    • Ralph Mazza
    • Mike Holmes
    • Lisa Padol
    • Tim Kleinert
    • Tony Lower-Basch (in passing)
    • Emily Care Boss
    • Gordon Landis
    • Greg Porter
    • Greg Stolze
    • Clinton R. Nixon
    • Andy Kitkowski
    • Jared Sorenson (briefly)
    • Didn't meet Bankuei! sad.
  • events/moments
    • really kind & thought-provoking words from Ron about my art
    • first playtest of an unpublished Greg Stolze game with a recent law school graduate and a wide eyed Stolze fanboy and two of the Matt Trifecta
    • The Indie RPG Awards (I have some great pictures)
    • art trade with P.D. Breeding-Black
    • chillin late night at the embassy suites bar with Paul Czege, Tim Kleinert, and Gordon Landis, all of whom are top notch cool. Finding out that Gordon's been a T&T man even longer than I have been
  • hangin wit my homeboys
    • eating haggis for the first time at the local Scottish bar
    • holy crap I can't believe I almost forgot about the awesome game of Stranger Things we played Thu/Fri nights... loved that
    • almost getting the Pope Room at Buca di Beppo's till the bachelorette party showed up after all and 0wn3d it from us, but anyway had a really incredible conversation with the Droschas
    • "it's not gay if it's funny"
    • some drama best saved fo yo mama
  • personal stuff
    • Losing my credit card - ack
    • really enjoyed myself because I was really present/mindful/focused/"there" -- in the moment. Took care of myself, with the exception of walking too much and getting blisters early on which hobbled me the rest of the con. did stuff cause I wanted to and enjoyed it rather than because the crowd was doing it or whatever. Opened up in conversations with people and enjoyed what I got to say and hear. was in a place I wanted to be.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

GenCon 2005 - Joe's Report

Well, I made it back safe and sound, and at a reasonable time from GenCon. I have to say that the drive from Lansing, Michigan to Indy is MUCH better than the drive to Milwaukee. About 2 hours shorter.

First off, what did I buy? Here's a list:

The Chronicles of Talislanta
Talislanta Menagerie
Usagi Yojimbo (new version)
Dogs in the Vineyard
Primetime Adventurers
My Life With Master
Mountain Witch
Breaking the Ice

I already have Dogs, but had to buy the new version with the Vincent and Ed art. I'm a tool. I have the old PtA, but the new one is so shiny. Looks great Matt! But you know, I think the best purchase I made is Breaking the Ice. Ed played a demo of the game, I think with Ron Edwards -- I'm sure he'll be posting his report soon. I met up with Ed right afterwards and he was geeked about it. I thumbed through his copy, and ended up buying my own. I LOVE the game. It's brilliant and I can't wait to try it out.

Ed and I got a chance to play in a game of Tunnels and Trolls run by Ken St. Andre, the designer of the game. It was a trip, a fun-as-hell little dungeon crawl. We kicked ass, well, except that Ed's character almost died. One very lucky roll saved his butt. Ken's a really nice guy.

Over the course of a couple of evenings, I ran a little playtesting of John Harper's Stranger Things. That was a lot of fun, and I need to get an Actual Play post together for it.

And haggis! We went to this little Scottish pub, and they had haggis. Ed and I were brave and tried a sample of it, and damn it was good. I ended up going again the next night with some of my suite-mates and had some more. If you are in Indy, I highly suggest McNiven's.

I'm sure that there's more that I'm forgetting, but I'll assume Ed will fill in the gaps. He was the king of the Forge demos. If I wasn't sure where he was, I just went to the Forge booth, and imagine that, there he was playing a demo. Ed, I'll give you the floor.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Who I'm Not Gonna See at GenCon

It seems like there's a big long list of people I wish I was gonna see at GenCon who aren't going to make it.

Off the top of my head --

I'm sure there are more. I keep talking to people online whom I might hope to see there and finding out they won't be there. Bums me the heck out.

There are a lot of people I am looking forward to seeing again or meeting for the first time. But the non-attendees list (which included me last year) is sadly long.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Great Stuff from Clinton

Clinton worries that the Forge has "lost the mission," explaining:

The mission is this:
  • Learn that you can write a game as good as any out there.
  • Write it.
  • Play it.
  • Get others interested and get them to play it.
Where'd the "indie" in "" go? When did we lose sight of the above?
I'm really interested lately in the notion that our culture suffers really badly from fetishizing professionalism and expertise, with the result that we render ourselves creative cripples, not believing in our own power to create what we want if we don't meet some arbitrary standard of expertise (a standard that is always adjustable so no matter how good you are you can always imagine you're not good enough).

People sometimes react against that problem by becoming interested in either creating or appreciating "alternative" or "indie" art -- they're thrilled by the realization that the "big guys" don't have a monopoly on creation. Linux and the like started this way. "Alternative" music did too. Several times. It happens again and again.

The problem is that people take the "indie" stuff and fetishize it the same way they fetishized the old professional stuff. They lose the whole point -- that there don't have to be a few virtuosos and the rest of us in a big audience. Anyone who is inclined to create can create, and by creating learn to create better. They may or may not want to spend a long time carefully learning the lessons someone else has learned, learning to do things the other person's way, because that's the way the experts do it. The ones who do may take the lessons of the "masters" and go further, go their own way; the ones who don't may go their own way and learn completely new things. Both work. Both cool.

Anyway, I sometimes see Forge talk going in the direction of creating a new elite (the Skilled and Lauded Award-Winning Indie Designers) to replace the old elite (the Published and Successful Corporate Game Designers). It annoys me and I fume about it.

And then Clinton comes along and puts it all into perspective, and I'm happy.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

On the Last Supper

I dropped a little blog post in my "non-gaming" main blog, Blog that Goes Ping, about Last Supper, which turned out to be a runner up in the Iron Chef Gaming competition.

I'll copy here. Cut and paste follows...

Ever play Credo, the card game from Chaosium where you play out the Council of Nicea and determine the future path of Christian orthodoxy, assembling a creed in the process?

That's small potatoes compared to The Last Supper, an entry in the Iron Game Chef 2005 competition.

The Last Supper must be played in a single session and incorporates a potluck supper. Each participant should bring one or more dishes, and they are encouraged to coordinate for a satisfying meal. The GM will provide the beverage.

One participant - the GM - takes the role of Christ. The remaining participants - the players - each play one of the twelve Apostles. Of these Apostles, some - the evangelists - will go on to write the Bible. Others - the proselytes - will travel unto the corners of the world and spread Christianity to the masses. And one - the traitor - will betray Christ to the Romans and initiate the crucifixion. Without a traitor, all other efforts will fail.

The story of the “real” Last Supper should be considered simply one example of how the game might turn out, just as our world should be considered an example of how the world might be shaped by Christianity over the millennia which follow this event. There is no guarantee that Judas Iscariot will be the traitor, nor that any other disciple will follow the destiny we see for him in our world. Ultimately, the point of the game is to interpolate the doctrine of the church which will form around Christ, and to simultaneously extrapolate the effects of this doctrine on the world to come.

Credo was really cool. Sounds like this would be too.

("Sputtin," [I'm not sure if the spelling is correct], is an admonitory word older Reformed people of Dutch extraction in West Michigan sometimes use to describe speech that threatens to go over the line, or actually falls over the line, into blasphemy. "Hey, that's sputtin'.")

UPDATE: Hours after I write this I happen to see a post on the author's blog, describing a playtest of the game -- and noting that the final rankings for the game chef contest are out -- and the Last Supper was one of the two runners up! Neat.

There are far more cool ideas and designs on the Iron Game Chef entry list than made it into even the finalists. To enter that contest, and make a serious effort, is in a real sense to win.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Stranger Illustration

In the unlikely event anyone here doesn't also read The Mighty Atom, let me crow about the fact that I'm doing some art for John Harper's new awesome Trollbabe-inspired game Stranger Things.

I gotta make me an illustration web page sometime, like Adam. I got nothin' right now.

BTW, because Harper linked it, I went back and checked out again my art for Mystic Crystal Revelations. I hadn't been doing a lot of art for a long time when I did those. I was really flying by the seat of my pants. When I first did them I was not 100% happy with some of the inconsistency of the art style as I desperately scrambled to put together stuff that worked in my "borrowed" copy of Corel Painter. I did my best but I didn't think my best was all that good. I haven't looked at them for a long time and going back I see some things I really like. It may be a crazy thrown together series but it's got some heart and life and style to it here and there. It ain't so bad. Some bits are awkward, but that happens.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Reading Bout Dexcon, Thinking Bout Gencon

OK, I was fairly excited about GenCon already. But I stumbled onto the DexCon after action report thread, and heard about all the sweet games and demos that happened there, and thinking about how all that kinda stuff is gonna be happening at GenCon, all those people, and I'm freaking STOKED.

Anybody who's reading this who is going to be at GenCon and Joe and I should be sure to find and play at least a demo with, gimme a shout out in the comments!

Something About the Nar/Sim Distinction

UPDATE: I'm not sure anymore 'bout anything I said in this post, after reading this thread.

I was just reading Matt Wilson's blog. I don't know how I missed out on it earlier. Good stuff. The article just linked is Matt's quick take on what GNS is all about, "My GNS." I was reading it and something came out and hit me in the teeth...

Matt writes:

Now it's been said that N play has to allow for a certain amount of player input, but I think there's a bare minimum:
the conflict at hand has to matter to the player. If my guy is all about escaping his dark past, and you as GM set up conflicts about true love, we're missing each other.
in any situation where the choice comes up, the GM can't hold any authority over which choice is the better choice.
That second one is often the deal breaker. I think in most groups getting the meat of the conflicts is no problem, but GMs will sometimes abuse their typically godlike powers in setting up conflicts where the right choice is too obvious. Who can blame 'em? Grab a random RPG book off your shelf and flip to the part where the GM is supposed to plan out the story.

Simulationism is another crap name, and it also seems to end up being a dumping ground for anything that doesn't seem to fit in either N or G play. I think of it as N play where the human choices are generally assumed up front. That means that the human choices aren't the real driver for the game. I mean, they're cool, but you know when we're playing Star Quest that my guy never surrenders, because Star Quest officers never surrender.

The trouble with S and N is that there's kind of a gray area regarding how much of the character traits are assumed up front. You could play Buffy as S, basing the characters' decisions on everything we know about them, or you could play Buffy as N, with the belief that the characters are dynamic, and there may well be a time when Buffy would choose to kill a human being, for example, even though she never does otherwise (I think. If I'm wrong, replace this with a different example).

Something hit me about this, the fact that in an important sense the distinction between Narrativism and Simulationism is whether the story is open or closed at a thematic level, dynamic or static. I know this has been said before, but it never quite hit me that this distinction was absolutely parallel to a distinction that I had been making in other parts of my life, between open and closed situations, between following a map and exploring the territory yourself, between following a recipe and making up a new recipe, between the formulaic and spontaneous, the rehearsed and improvisational. The static and dynamic.

When I formulate it in these terms, I hate to say it, but I cannot be dispassionate about the two. If this is really the distinction between the two, and I think it is at least an important aspect of it, then Narrativism crushes Simulationism like a ripe grape. (As far as I'm concerned, anyway.)

A big thing in my life lately has been abandoning a view of life where one learns the rules, and then follows them, and realizing that all the joy and fun of life is in a view of life where one explores and discovers and creates, making up one's own rules as one goes along and changing them when one feels like it. Ellen Langer calls these "mindless" and "mindful" modes of operation.

I've realized that a lot of my classic understandings of roleplaying games played into my earlier, predominantly mindless, worldview. The assumption that one can isolate the relevant rules and formularize them and follow them and generate something really cool by following the proper procedure, where the procedure is external to oneself and objective. Pre-established.

One of the big components of the mindful path is that it all comes out of the moment. You can't know before it happens how it is going to go. It is improvisational. Even playing a particular, well rehearsed piece of music is only mindful if you are there doing it, not operating on automatic, but involved in the choice of each note as if you were composing the piece at that moment.

So I was wondering if this distinction that I was seeing in Matt's description of GNS -- the dynamic versus the static, the open versus the closed, the improvisational versus the scripted, the in the moment vs the pre-established -- was there back in Ron's essays... and here ya go, in Ron's essay on Story Now --

The Now refers to the people, during actual play, focusing their imagination to create those emotional moments of decision-making and action, and paying attention to one another as they do it. To do that, they relate to "the story" very much as authors do for novels, as playwrights do for plays, and screenwriters do for film at the creative moment or moments. Think of the Now as meaning, "in the moment," or "engaged in doing it," in terms of input and emotional feedback among one another. The Now also means "get to it," in which "it" refers to any Explorative element or combination of elements that increases the enjoyment of that issue I'm talking about.

There cannot be any "the story" during Narrativist play, because to have such a thing (fixed plot or pre-agreed theme) is to remove the whole point: the creative moments of addressing the issue(s). Story Now has a great deal in common with Step On Up, particularly in the social expectation to contribute, but in this case the real people's attention is directed toward one another's insights toward the issue, rather than toward strategy and guts.
Oh dude! That's totally it! Leaving things open enough that you can make decisions in the moment rather than follow pre-established procedures!

I know people have been saying this all along but I hadn't made the connection to the other mindful/mindless concerns in my life, maybe because a lot of them have been individual rather than social.

For example, in drawing, I've been spending a lot less time doing pencil sketchy preliminary work and a lot more time going straight to ink (or paint), on the grounds that creation in the moment, without formulas, pre-planning, or scaffolding, is where all the joy and power is.

That's the same difference that exists between creation on the thematic level in Sim and in Nar.

And of course people don't think they'll like it. People think they want predictability, formula, how-to, rules, experts setting things up for them so they can paint by numbers, "For Dummies" books. People don't trust themselves to create out of themselves, out of the moment. But everyone has that power.

I don't think that this distinction sums up the whole meaning of Narrativism and Simulationism. There are a lot of other aspects of the distinction and the model, and different levels on which things take place. But this is clearly part of it, and an important part. Narrativism is improvisational on a thematic level, and Simulationism is scripted on a thematic level (the improvisation in Sim, where it happens, takes place on other levels).

I'm still not sure how exactly I regard all the Egri-derived details of how the story becomes a "polemic" for one particular answer to a deep human question. But the "open theme" vs "closed theme" thing, that I get.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Moment of Dogs With August, Jude, and Ruth

UPDATE: see also Jim's account of this game here.

Dogs game last night. Third game in the series. My character, Brother Jude, is a pretty messed up kid, now a dog. Despite having Problems With Authority. Last game he managed to avoid being possessed by a demon, and possibly going on a killing spree (he's a crack shot), by coming to an understanding with that demon. He now has a relationship with that demon. So he's a sorcerer, or a potential sorcerer, because that was the only way he could avoid shooting and killing all his friends. Last couple games he's come into some ugly conflict with members of his family, barely restrained from shooting his brother -- now a Steward -- down in the street.

Jude has issues.

Anyway, he's with Sister Ruth, who's grim but pious, and a great ceremonialist and healer, waiting for Brother August Chang to return home. Without getting into the whole story, August is a young man, about the Dogs' age, who, we've just discovered, is involved in apostasy. His family are Chinese converts to the faith, and for various damn good reasons he has despaired of anything fixing the (racist) injustice against his family that the community is engaged in. So he and his Mountain Person friend Red Cloud have turned to ancestor worship -- secret rituals in caves, which to us in the Faith must be demonic.

Now August comes home and Sister Ruth and Brother Jude confront him. It's a two-on-one conflict. He opened with a litany of injustices his family had suffered at the hands of the Faithful of which they were supposedly part. Sister Ruth saw, with a defense of the faith, and Brother Jude Took the Blow, and his heart burned because no words of defense would come to him -- Dog that he was, he could not compare August's outright apostasy with the hypocritical injustice of the Faithful. Jude hates hypocrisy. He hates hypocrisy much more than he hates apostasy. And for him to come out against August here, when August was himself confronting hypocrisy (though by blasphemous and foolhardy means), when Jude himself had, unbeknownst to his companions, engaged in blasphemous contact with a demon in the last episode....

That would itself be hypocrisy.

Jude's Taking the Blow consisted of his grunting in rage and ripping a branch off a nearby tree (taking skin off his hands in the process)... (No, this wasn't escalation, it's just what I imagined happening.)

It was time to Raise. Sister Ruth raised with a completely rational and compassionate appeal to August to let the Faith take care of its own, to let the Dogs take care of the injustice.

Jude had a big pile of dice left. He even had a few extra dice in there because he had brought his Relationship with the demon into play. Between him and Ruth, they could easily wear down August, according to the rules...

But Jude gave. "You walk the path you must, we will walk the path we must," he said, and stalked off into the night, his eyes burning with fire.

As it happened, Ruth was able, with difficulty, to bring him back into the fold. To bring him back from blasphemous demon worship. She never even revealed what he had done to anyone but the Dogs, and she chose not to judge or punish him for this. (She's grim, but she's a healer through and through.)

Ruth's player, Dave, couldn't believe I gave with all those dice on the table. Why the hell?

It's partly all the things above in Jude's character. I couldn't imagine him continuing this conversation. He didn't have it in him at this point in time. He's too full of conflict himself over his role in matters of authority, justice, hypocrisy, and injustice. It was too much for him.

But it was partly me. I had only just then realized that what August was engaged in was not, in his own mind, congress with demons. It was traditional Chinese ancestor worship, as best he remembered it from his youth before his father's conversion, combined with Mountain People ancestor worship.

And I just couldn't, as a player, summon the contempt and fear for that, that a member of the Faith might be expected to feel. I didn't want, as a player, to see August take heat for this. At least not the heat of an angry Jude.

It did make sense in context. Jude's reasons for Giving were there. Hell, last game he had chosen to align himself with (possibly hypocritical) Authority over his better judgment and lived to regret the consequences. It made sense.

But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't me too, not willing to set Jude against the poor guy's return to his family's traditional religion over the Faith.

I have no particular point in all this, I just found that complex confluxion (yeah, I just made that word up) of overdetermined motivation fascinating on further reflection, and I wanted to post about it.

Oh, I also got to shoot the hell out of a couple bad guys in this game, which I hadn't gotten to do in the previous two games (Brother Josiah had kept me from shooting my brother dead in the street, the first game). That hella rocked.

What a fun game.

The Kubasik Maneuver

I just realized I thought I'd added the Mighty Atom to my blog reader and I hadn't. Catching up now. Just read "The Right Tool For The Job." In it Harper complains about people who resent indie RPGs because they like traditional RPGs just fine thank you very much.

Chris Kubasik, in a set of essays which were really influential to me when I read them back in, what, '99? 2000? took this tack towards the problem:

Last issue, I rummaged through the rules of roleplaying games and picked out the rules and ideas that I thought got in the way of broadening the scope of roleplaying stories. Now I'm going to gut some of the assumptions of the stories we usually tell. Let me state again that what I'm discussing is not better than roleplaying, nor an evolutionary advancement. It's just different.

I won't call my subject a roleplaying game. That sidesteps the issue of which company is doing roleplaying games "right" - if anyone is. We'll take a cue from Mike Pondsmith's clever Castle Falkenstein term "Adventure Entertainments" and dub this new social activity "Story Entertainments." The evening's gathering is now focused on story, rather than on the partaking of roles. However, people are still playing characters. Moreover, by removing the term "game" and replacing it with entertainment," we remove concerns about winning - whether as a group or an individual player. The goal is to improvise an entertaining story; to get together and have a good time or, if a powerful sentiment is carefully introduced, be moved. What we don't want to do is sit around a table staring grimly down at character sheets.
You know, that would work. Abandoning the term "roleplaying game" and picking something else, whether or not it is "Story Entertainment," and disavowing all claims to be better than traditional RPGs, or an "evolutionary advancement."

I don't think it's a suggestion that will get much traction, though. For all Harper's protest, most people involved in indie RPGs do in fact think of them as better than traditional RPGs, or at least as better than them at doing some things that traditional RPGs have traditionally claimed to do! Like create good stories. And people do in fact tend to talk in terms of evolutionary advancement.

And of course you'd have to agree on what the new term was, which would never happen, unless maybe it were introduced by fiat by Ron, and I don't think he's doing much fiating these days.

So I guess we're probably going to be fighting about what a "roleplaying game" can and can't be for some time. The Kubasik Maneuver is not a real option.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Creating and Re-Creating

Ginger Stampley's post here directed me to Lumpley on setting and source material, which somehow I'd glossed over when it was first written. I read it and my head started buzzing, and I hadn't even read the comments yet.

It's basically about trusting, enjoying, and exploring one's own power to create vs. subordinating that to the process of recreating another person's creation.

I think it's very healthy for everyone to recognize their own power to create, and to enjoy it, instead of leaving it to the "talented" people or the "experts." I think that the difference between creating "good" art and creating "bad" art is trivial compared to the difference between creating "bad" art and not creating, and therefore if something artistic is worth doing, it's worth doing "badly." (If I didn't believe that I wouldn't be playing the ukulele...)

This is all a new discovery for me, btw. Historically I have tended to shy away from doing anything unless I convinced myself I had attained some kind of competence in it.

This is, of course, paralyzing.

It led me to seek out arenas where there were no standards of competence to enjoy myself creatively. Roleplaying games are one of those areas. Language creation is another, though I killed that for myself by inventing standards of competence for it (involving knowing tons about linguistics) and obsessively trying to achieve them.

I think one reason many people react badly to things like the Forge is that they threaten to eliminate the sanctuary of roleplaying as a place where there are no standards of competence. In a culture unhealthily obsessed with expertise, which segregates people by their skills and denies creative pursuits to people without "talent," relegating them to appreciating creation and not participating in it, zones where those rules do not apply, where people just have fun and don't worry about their skill, are rare and valuable. People see RPG theory as threatening that sanctuary status.

One way we can shield ourselves from the culture's prohibition on original creation by people not designated as "talented" or "experts" is by, well, fanfic. By recreating things which have been produced by the designated experts, and creating variations on them.

I would not go so far as Vincent and say:

Here's me: fanfic is, across the board, inferior to original fiction. Our fetishization of source material is creatively unhealthy.
But I would say that the impulse to turn to fanfic rather than original fiction can be motivated by an unhealthy internalization of the cultural lie that creation is best left to experts. Maybe that's the same thing as "fetishization of source material," maybe not.

The basic idea of building on what has gone before, though, there's nothing creatively unhealthy in that, and it's been going on forever. Ben Lehman talks about it using the term "bricolage."

Vincent quoted Ron in this forge post where he revealed what he learned from Jonathan Tweet about the development of Over The Edge -- that the OTE rulebook as we know it is the results of the original playtesting, which took place in a much looser and less defined world, and created the Al Amarja we know now.

Ron and Vincent are understandably interested in creating games which can give you the kind of experience the original OTE playtesters had, rather than the kind of experience people who buy OTE had.

This reminded me of my one public effort at RPG design, Odyssey (In Terras Incognitas) and its origins. I originally wanted to try to produce a narrativist engine for Talislanta, but when I thought about what was the core story of Talislanta, I decided it was the original adventures of the wizard Tamerlin, discovering the world. That ended up diverting me into trying to create a game about discovering an alien world (whose theme was the degree to which the protagonists allow themselves to become part of the world, or retain their outsider identity). In the process the specifics of Tal got lost, but if I ever finish the game it will be a game about exploring worlds the players and GM co-create.

Talislanta:Odyssey :: Published OTE : playtesting OTE :: Firefly RPG : Prime Time Adventures in a vaguely Fireflyish style

One further thing popped into my mind...

Let's sum up first.

We've got several phenomena:

* Original Creation
* Fetishistic Re-Creation which denies the power of the re-creator do do anything original, and attempts to simulate/elaborate on the original but does not challenge or change it
* Creative Reinvention which takes something old and reinterprets it in terms of the new creator's choice, possibly challenging or changing it

I think the line between the second and the third is blurry. I'm not sure that the second ever *really* happens. I think people can't help creatively reinventing things, making them their own -- but they squelch themselves by not daring to embrace the fact that that is what they are doing, and so you get something like the second that is inevitably the third but is ashamed of it and minimizes itself.

Perhaps the line between the first and the third is blurry too, since what in the world is wholly "original"?

Perhaps creative reinvention is all that really happens; in some instances the reinvention is so great it approaches original creation, and in some cases it is so minimal that it approaches fetishistic re-creation.

Anyway, here's what I'm wondering...

What if theory is itself creative?

What if the "old school" forge posters and game designers were in the position of the original OTE playtest group, creating as they go along, and establishing a lot of "canon" as they did so?

What if Forge theory as it exists now is the equivalent of the OTE rulebook as it was published? The fascinating results of somebody else's creation, presented for people to accept, use, and elaborate on.... fetishistically?

Eh, probably not a perfect analogy.

Now I can finally go back and read Ginger's post. I had to get all that out of my head first.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Last note before a vacation

This is mostly in response to Ben's post, "linguistic drift," and also about Vincent's initial response to my prior post, here.

When I read this phrase in Ben's post -- "seen as some sort of symbol of oppression" -- I'm worried because I am afraid that I haven't communicated very clearly. Oppression? What the hell?

I got the same impression of miscommunication when I first read Vincent's line "I bolstered my courage at the expense of others'!" Huh? I thought. Who brought the "others" into it? Expense of others?

Both of those suggest to me that I have given the impression that I see people like Ben and Vincent as setting up a heirarchy of game designers, and setting themselves above others, such as my poor little oppressed self.

There are a couple of reasons I didn't expect to come across like that and am sorry I did (but I can understand how I did) --

First off, I personally don't identify as a game designer any more than I identify as a musician. I have designed games, and I've recorded music, but those are things I've done for pure recreation -- I don't necessarily consider myself "good" at them any more than I consider myself "good" at eating cheesecake or watching movies or writing blog posts. They're things I do for fun, not to pursue a craft or build a skill. I may incidentally build skill in them because that's what happens when you do something you enjoy, but it's icing on the cake. I'm sorry I even used myself as an example in the previous post, but at that moment I wanted to use an example of someone cluelessly unskilled and I didn't want to tag anyone else besides myself with that label for fear of giving offense, so I used myself.

So if there is a heirarchy of game designers, my own place in it doesn't concern me one way or another, anymore than I am worried about whether my writing skill measures up when I make a random blog post. But I can sure see how my post could have given the impression that I was concerned about it and felt quite stepped on. So I hope if I did give that impression I have expunged it. When it comes to indie RPGs I'm primarily a consumer, not a producer, a fan, not a creator. I am interested in this discussion in terms of what it implies about games I will buy, not games I might write.

And that takes me to the second point -- it's not that I'm worried that I'm gonna be oppressed, I'm worried that y'all are oppressing yourselves! I'm not worried about Forge designers elevating themselves onto a pedestal; both Vincent and Ben have been more than humble about their own place in the big scheme of things. It's just that creation tends to happen when you forget all that shit and work from where you are, whether that place where you are is zero skill or immense skill.

Jay Loomis wrote this awesome bit:

I've been privileged to meet or talk to one or two masters of their trade in my life. People whose work makes your eyes bug out. The thing that strikes me about true masters is that they don't think much about their work.

The true master is so confident in her work that she doesn't have all the hang-ups that would make her insecure, hesitant, or even boastful. She does what she does and is peaceful in that state of being.
That's totally true. And you know what, you don't have to be a master to work that way. That's the way anybody works who is mindfully engaged with their craft and not engaged in self-judgment. That's the way that everyone works at their best. That's the way a four year old draws! Maybe you have to have certain kinds of skills to work that way and make people's eyes bug out. But if you work that way at whatever level of skill you have, your work is going to be better (if you'll excuse me using a word I may seem to have disavowed) than if you don't. And if you are all worried about whether you've produced your "journeyman game" or not, and how many thousand hours you're going to have to put in before you do, then it seems to me you're not likely to enter that state.

That "masterful" state may be the state of someone whom we judge to be at the top of a hierarchy of skill levels, but no matter what your skill you can't be in that state until you stop caring about the hierarchy of skill levels. And you can cease to care like that whatever level you're at. So that master is not thinking of herself as a master when she's acting that way, except inasmuch as "thinking of herself as a master" means not concerning herself with her skill level.

That's mindful creativity.

As a potential buyer of the games that people like Ben and Vincent and others might produce, I worry when I see them engaging in styles of thought which I believe hinder both creativity and development of craftsmanship. I want them to make awesome games so I can buy and play them. So I'm doing my part to sow some possible seeds of doubt as to the whole value of this "put in your time, learn the basics, humbly accept the wisdom of the masters, or maybe you would if there were any masters yet which there aren't" kind of thinking.

Now, Ben and Vincent and everyone else are grownups like myself and get to accept or reject my thoughts on this issue and do what they want to do. That's all good. But I'd like to be understood for what I mean to say, and I fear I have not made myself understood.

Ben, ya ain't oppressin' me. With all due respect, you couldn't, cause at least to my conscious knowledge, I have nothing invested in anybody's assessment of my game design ability, cause I don't consider myself to have any more game design ability than the average Joe gamer off the street who's played a few Forge games and liked them. And Vincent, you are most definitely not bolstering your courage at the expense of me! Seriously, man, not at all. I am not "expensed" at all here. That was never my point, and when you said that it confused the hell out of me.

If this "journeyman" stuff helps you do what you want to do, if this style of thinking helps you, go for it, think that way, do things that way. I just want to buy your games. In my own experience, and in the estimation of some people I respect, it's the opposite of helpful for advancing one's craft or engaging in creative exploration. Hence my wish to give you an reason to reconsider it.

But I'm not you, I don't know how you tick or what works for you, so I don't expect you to listen to this stuff if it's not helpful to you, and I definitely do not want you to heed me out of fear of "oppressing" me. I just hear what sounds like people in danger stifling their own creativity, and I do not want that.

And now I'm gonna be gone for like a week so I won't have a chance to reply to anyone or listen to any further conversation, dammit.

So, like, Ben, before you correct me as you've promised to do, do you think you could repeat back to me in comments, maybe in summary form, what you hear me saying, and see if I recognize it this time? And I'd be happy to do the same for you if you'd like. Cause I really don't want to spend a ton of time clarifying again because I've failed to communicate what I wanted to.

I have a hard time expressing myself clearly on these topics. That's just something I know about myself, so I'm not too surprised at all this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

When I Left You I Was The Learner

Catching up on my Anyway. This post and the comments are all full of stuff about the difference between an "apprentice" game designer and a "journeyman" game designer and a "master" game designer (it's not clear that any of the latter exist yet).

I do not personally find this kind of stratification useful. The reason that the Forge exists is that a bunch of people decided to reject conventional wisdom about the way games do and can work, rather than laboriously learning the received wisdom about their craft from their elders and following in their footsteps, hoping someday to move from apprentice to journeyman to master.

Everyone is an apprentice by some standard of measurement and in some contexts, a journeyman in others, and a master in still others.

These terms come from the guild culture of the Middle Ages. I love the Middle Ages, but good lord, the Middle Ages in general and guild culture in particular were not about innovation. They were about doing things the same way they had always been done.

Historically, the Forge has been a haven for indie creators in general, people who did their own thing for their own reasons. That's the opposite of what this guild stuff was supposed to be all about.

I've only worked on one real indie RPG and I haven't finished it. But I'm not going to get all worried about how I'm barely a mere apprentice and I have another 5,000 hours to slog through before I have a hope of producing anything worthy. Screw that. I love games that aren't "masterful" by Guild "put in your time young one and someday you will be worthy" standards. Give me The Pool and WuShu, man! They are sweet games. And their authors had not "put in their time" and earned their Mastery.

I look at stuff like this from Ben:

I'd like to note that the numbers that we are throwing around (2400 hours, 5000 hours) are

1) Minimums
2) With competent instruction

We don't have competent instruction in game design yet. Any field of it.

I have been designing games all my life. I have been seriously designing RPGs for fourteen years.

I'm still not very good.
...and I just want to bang my head against a wall. Cause everybody's learning all the time, including people who have put in however many thousands of hours you want to arbitrarily call "mastery."

And Paul Kimmel's thing:
An art example: I enjoy American "primitive" paintings. They have a directness and "honesty" that's appealing to me. But the artists who painted them made them look that way because they had no choice. I can love these paintings in spite of their limitations or even because of their limitations, but I can't deny that they have limitations. These artists never learned to overcome their blind spots.
Learning can help you overcome blind spots. It can also create blind spots. Instruction can kill or blunt ability as well as enhancing it. It all depends on the person, and what they're doing, and whether the instruction is what they happened to need at that particular moment.

Those primitivists could not have painted the good things they painted if they were packed off to art school and devoted themselves to slogging through the basics that somebody handed down to them from above, instead of going their own way and doing what they loved and cared about.

That's what "indie" is all about.

Sometimes it results in things you don't like. Sometimes it results in things you like. But if you try to institute a program of rigorous instruction that will eliminate all the shit, you are going to eliminate much of the good stuff too.

Sometimes people do good things despite their lack of instruction at the hands of the Masters. Sometimes they do good things because of their lack of instruction at the hands of the Masters.

That said, I agree with Brand's original point that it is worth while refining as well as innovating, learning how to do a known thing more effectively as well as trekking into the unknown.

Ack! I just found out via email that Vincent was commenting while I was revising this post for yet a third time. I hope I haven't revised it into unrecognizability. I'm gonna post this and let it go.