Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Usagi Yojimbo

About a year ago, I picked up the Usagi Yojimbo RPG, by Gold Rush Games. I had, at the time, gotten pretty into the comic and thought it'd be cool to maybe run a game in the world. It took me a year to finally get around to it...

Last weekend, Ed came over for a short visit, and I suggested we give it a try. He made a character, Miyabe Ikuta, bounty hunter and goat. I took one of the sample adventures, tweaked it a little, and we played. I have to say, it was a lot of fun. They system is pretty basic in that it doesn't really get in the way of the story. What we both really liked was the card based combat.

Basically, the player and the GM have three maneuver cards: Total Attack, Cautious Attack, and Total Defense. Each picks one secretly and they reveal them at the same time. Depending on which they chose, different things might happen. For instance, if they both choose Total Attack, the person who rolls higher with their combat skill will hit, and do double damage. If, on the other hand, one chooses Total Attack and the other Total Defense, nothing happens; the defender holds off the attacker that turn. It's a nice little system. In fact, one scene in the game had Ikuta playing a game of Go with the head priest of a temple and Ed suggested we use the cards for the game. It worked rather nicely.

The game ended with Ikuta saving a blind priest from a group of spirits, and promising to escort the head priest to a Go tournament in a neighboring fief. We both agreed that there must be more of this game.

So over the last few days I've been thinking about the game, and possible adventures. I've been thinking about the Usagi comic, and jidaigeki series, like Zatoichi. There is a simple formula: Hero enters town, finds that there is some sort of trouble, works at sorting the trouble out. Rinse and repeat. Sounds pretty Dogs in the Vineyard to me. Just an observation, I guess.

Ed did a drawing of Ikuta and of a character I made, and will probably never play, Takeyama Isamu. I posted the pics here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

why again?

Ben writes about whether "gamism" or "narrativism" are better ways to reach the coveted "mainstream audience" as opposed to the lame "gamer audience."

Why does one want to do that again?

Maybe we could try to find a way to make "Advocate" and "Out" magazine appeal to straight people, too, or to make "Ebony" appeal to white people, but why?

I know it's been Ron's big hobby horse for years now, how to create the coveted "game for non-gamers," and he's doing it right now with "Spione" and all that. But what's wrong with making roleplaying games for people who like roleplaying games?

I'm feelin' grumpy.

I have a hard time reading this project, this "making gaming for non-gamers," with the implicit assumption that that would be superior to gaming for mere gamers, as anything but self-hatred among gamers ashamed of their marginal, geeky status, maybe displacing that self-hatred onto the munchkins who play less enlightened kinds of games.

Like I said, I'm feelin' grumpy.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Little Game Design 101

Not to be missed, a little game design 101 from Vincent's point of view.

Highlights: that stuff on the so-called character sheet? That's not a character. The character is in your head. That so-called character sheet is to track resources for the player's control over the story. Vincent takes it on and builds it up from a minimal level.

Controversial claim: the game-mechaniccy-stuff does not under any circumstances "represent" the character or other facets of the game world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


For most of my life, I've tended to be a complete theory junkie.

Theory junkie? What's theory addiction?

It's this idea that you have to do things right and to do things right you have to know about the field. You have to learn the theories. You have to humbly educate yourself about what people have already learned, learn the how to's and the how not to's.

If you're lucky there's an elite theory you can learn, that's better and truer than the commonplace theories people muck about with. So finding the right theory is important. You learn the wrong theory and you'll be using ineffective techniques. The right theory is a royal road to success.

I've recently come to believe that's all bullshit. That there isn't a right way of doing things, there are only different ways of doing things, and theories are optional, and that they have drawbacks as well as advantages; theories tend to blind you to ways of doing things that are not foreseen by the theory, and there *is* no real, true theory that correctly describes reality. Not even science.

So with that recent realization.... I come to look at the Forge. And I think that there are different ways of looking at what's cool with the Forge.

You can look at it as cool because they have built a new theory of RPGs. GNS Theory. The Lumpley Principle. Conflict vs Task Resolution. "Addressing Premise." All that stuff. You can say, "ah, finally, we have theory which ACCURATELY represents what gaming is really about. Now we can learn that theory and use it to design far cooler games than we possibly could have before, with our old inadequate incoherent concepts of what gaming was about!"

According to this understanding, it makes a lot of sense the way the Forge has tended to be run in later years, which is that whenever somebody brand new shows up to talk about things, one of two things happens. Either he presents raw data in terms of gaming experiences, which people use to talk about game rules in terms of the theory they all know, or else he tries to talk theory, and he is thrashed about the head until he gets it all "right." His first 50 posts will be met by "yeah, that's great, but we discussed that three years ago. Please read these sixteen tangentially related threads, in which we proposed and abandoned six sets of terminology. Don't you dare get mixed up and use the earlier rather than later terminology. That is so 2002. Once you get up to speed, we may deign to listen to you. But at that point it's not likely you'll remember anything you had to say." Hey, that's cool, if you're all about the theory. It seems brutal but it is necessary! Our theory which we've discovered and built is the important thing. It's truth, the reality about gaming we have discovered. Ignoring it leads you into sheer folly, into Illusionism or Impossible Things Before Breakfast or Icoherence or Abashed Simunarrativism or whatever the holy fuck. We are building a religion, we are building it bigger! We are straightening the corridors and adding more lanes!

Of course you also get people like Lumpley who is totally into GNS theory but also cares a lot about letting other people in on the act, and he makes his own forum and goes to a heck of a lot of trouble to present this to people in terms of real, lived, gaming experience, and to connect with them where they're at, and he's actually open to feedback from mere mortals and listens to what they say without spamming their asses with forge thread homework. And it doesn't hurt that he's an incredibly fine writer. And people do dig that. And that is cool.

But the snarky way I've described parts of this theory-positive reading of the Forge phenomenon makes it obvious that I'm not entirely thrilled with that way of looking at it.

The second way you can look at what's cool with the Forge is not that it came up with the New Right Theory about how games work, but that it broke through old assumptions about how games could work, by gathering together people who were going their own way. GNS theory is a part of that, not because it is right and the old ways are wrong (though there may be some points on which everyone would agree that that is the case), but because it presented a compelling alternative viewpoint which gave people a new perspective, and with a new perspective they started seeing new things. But it wasn't just the theory that did it -- it was the gloriously positive attitude that the Forge has had for creator-owned/indie RPGs of all stripes. (And that is Ron all the way, baby. I may seem down on Ron's theories and the way he communicates on the Forge sometimes but the value of his just generally pro-indie stance, which goes way beyond this theory or that, is hard to overstate.)

After all, the Forge has always been for and about creator-owned RPGs in general, not just creator-owned RPGs that happen to recognize somebody's pet theory. And some of the really cool early Forge games were made by people who weren't bigtime theory mavens. I don't think of Jared Sorenson as a huge theory ween. Nor James West (of whose art I am a total fanboy). I don't know how deeply Mazza and Holmes had drunk of the theory cup, but Universalis doesn't seem to me to be obviously implementing common Forge theory ideas. They were people out there making cool weird games that they liked, in their own way.

Hell, West created what many consider the ultimate minimalist Narrativist engine, the Pool, while thinking he was creating a Gamist game. The Pool is one of my favorite indie games. And Dan Bayn designed Wu Shu (another of my favorites) in blissful ignorance of GNS theory, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, as I said, I'm a sucker for theory, and I used to be all geeked about Forge theory. And I'm just... I dunno. I just am wondering if it's really that important. It's important in the minds and experience of people who have tied it to their real life gaming experiences (and that's one thing that has made Forge theory as good and helpful as it is -- the insistence on "actual play") -- but what if there are important things to learn about play which would be occluded or obscured by the assumptions inherent in Forgie ideas?

Or what if they just don't happen to be very relevant or helpful to the gaming a particular person or group wants to do?

Or what if the way they are presented doesn't happen to be a way that a particular gamer is able to usefully assimilate?

Or what if GNS theory is in its own way as limited and limiting as the vague conceptions of roleplaying that went before it?

I no longer trust theory the way I used to. I value ignorance and naivete in ways I didn't before. I am suspicious of judgments in ways I wasn't before.

I value the games and game designers of the Forge, and its culture and community, for different reasons than I did before. And some things about it that I valued before, I don't value so much anymore.

And yes, I'm probably exaggerated in these ideas. People who have suddenly realized a wrongheaded way they've been thinking for most of their lives tend to oppose it with unnecessary vehemence and enthusiasm. No doubt I'm there.

Man, I've been wanting to write this post for a while.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Unseen -- Episode 2

Man, I really didn't want to do a crazy write up like I've done for previous episodes. I started doing it and it almost destroyed me. Instead, here are the highlights.

Lost in a Forest

Robyn spent much of the episode in a strange dream-forest where she was chased and tormented by Whitney. She discoved that she is to be Odin's sacrifice. Virgil overcame his funk to figure out how Odin kidnapped Robyn out of his car... it was a magical portal. With Lewis's help, Virgil opened the portal and tried to rescue Robyn, who was being held in Whitney's basement, but was unsuccessful, and got cut by Odin for his troubles. Before the portal closed, Lewis tossed in a transmitter. Some ravens tried to cause them some trouble, but Agent Severin, from the shadows, used some heretofore unseen magical powers, from the glyphs that cover his arms. Lewis and Virgil found where the transmitter was... Whit's house. They busted in and interrogated him, only to hear a car racing off. Odin had Robyn. A car chase through Chicago ensued and ended on I-94 with Lewis using the "Banshee" and insane and untested sonic gun, which destroyed the glass in every car within a quarter-mile radius, and made Odin bleed from the ears. Odin jumped off an overpass, and a raven flew away. He had escaped, but Robyn was safe. Elsewhere, Sydney has discovered Lewis's bus and was very very interested. The Colonel was alerted that Agent Severin has taken part in a "breach of protocol." All's well that ends well at Julie's Place.

Next Time on Unseen:

- Fade in. Street sounds. Side of a brick apartment building. Through the window we see Lewis and Susan eating dinner, drinking wine. Sydney is watching them from a fire-escape, with her camera. A close up of her face. Her mouth is covered with a glyph covered hand -- glyphs like Agent Severin had...

- Twilight. A gothic church surround by old brownstones. Near the roof of the church, gargoyles. A shadowy shape moving between them. Glowing yellow, reptilian eyes...

- Afternoon - Robyn, in a baseball cap and sunglasses. At a cemetery, laying flowers on a grave.

- Close-up on a youngish Catholic priest, holding a crucifix before him, shouting something in Latin.

Oh, also it is Virgil's spotlight episode, our first one.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Now I Want Polaris

Ben posts a tiny excerpt and that little excerpt totally hooked me.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Reno 911 Meets D&D

I will call down a mighty reckoning upon you!

Direct link to video.

"Look, I've got about 10 points of I wanna beat you with a stick left."

Friday, May 06, 2005

This Is My Blog: Factual, Real, True

This Is My Blog: Factual, Real, True is a great critique of the notion that "real stories" are necessarily about "real people" in the "real world."

Ben rocks the world with this post. It's a lot of things I wanted to say but couldn't quite articulate when I read "Lasersharking My Ass" and the comments and reactions to it.

UPDATE: As Matt notes in the comments to Ben's blog, he wasn't really saying "fantasy sucks." He was saying "real world stories are cool."

It's really hard to say "X is cool" without being taken to mean "but Y sucks." Especially when there are a lot of other people who really do think Y sucks. Matt left himself open for the misinterpretation, maybe, by invoking the "sharks with lasers" meme. But hey, dude designed Nine Worlds, you gotta cut him slack. :)