Archive for May, 2007

Medium or Hobby?

May 24, 2007

Hey, let’s talk about Judd some more! Over at Knife Fight, he says: “Sometimes it feels like the internet has become a hobby onto itself, rather than a place where I go to discuss hobbies.”

Yes, absolutely.

That’s the same feeling that led to my decision to give up online forums for all of last week. Currently, I’m thinking about doing forums once-a-week, like only on Wednesdays. I do worry about missing some important things because of the speed of internet time, but, y’know, maybe that would be a good thing.

If You Love Something, Set It Free

May 24, 2007

This post is a reflection on my comments in this thread and Judd and Fred’s responses. Hopefully, Judd and I will get a chance to talk about this on the phone soon.

Right now, “indie roleplaying” is still largely synonymous with The Forge, the diaspora that has emerged from it, and various people that have joined the pan-Forge community through diaspora hubs (Story Games, IPR). This means, as much as we talk about creator-owned games or small press games, “indie games” generally refers to games produced by members of the larger Forge community, made available through a specific range of publishing models (PDFs or small print runs or POD or Lulu, IPR or Key20).

Though we all, I think, want the indie movement to continue to grow and diversify, there is a significant amount of status quo that has developed as a byproduct of developing effective ways of doing things. The Forge model of indie publishing has been proven to work great. Many great games have been produced and it has, I think, become the default way for individual game designers to independently publish their games. But I worry about “indie game publishing” becoming synonymous with this type of production model or this community of people.

If the indie roleplaying movement is really a movement and not a a specific fan community, “indie games” needs to mean more than “games produced by people influenced by the Forge.” I really hope the Forge community continues to be a vanguard and exert leadership in indie roleplaying, but I think the Forge community needs to divest itself from its unintentional monopoly of “indie games.”

There are many independently produced roleplaying games out there that have no direct relationship with the Forge community. One school of thought is that they should be welcomed and incorperated into the larger Forge community, so that we can all work together to support indie games. I’ve heard Luke talk on this point in the past, saying that individual indie game publishers are just too miniscule to compete in this industry without uniting together, that we really are all in this together. That is true, but I think it’s dangerous to assume — as I think happens — that all indie publishers have similar goals or desires for their products.

Personally, I’m more of a fan of a diversity of overlapping communities, all of which support the indie games movement independently and in very different ways. This is not so people can posture and say, “Yeah, we’re indie, but we’re not The Forge.” It’s because I suspect pluralism, diversity, and multiple independent organizations will make for a more vibrant, healthy environment for indie games overall. I am a HUGE fan of both the diasporization of the Forge community and the disaporization of the Forge GenCon booth.

Adam Yuet Chau, taking about a different cultural context, argues that dispersal can cause “the disaggregation of coherant traditions that prepare the ground for the recombination of different elements and a freer space for innovation.” That’s what I hope for the indie movement. That we will break into a thousand different pieces and seed ourselves all over the place, causing a whole forest to grow. If the Forge continues to be the central truck of this movement, I worry that will never happen. The apples will continue to fall within arm’s reach of the tree.

So when Fred talked about his idea for the Indie Games Passport, the first thought that came to my mind is: “Are we going to contact the other small-press games publishers that are not part of the larger Forge community (I still remember the story about Ron randomly meeting the creator of Code of Unaris) and ask them if they want to participate?” If not, I think we should carefully consider what that means. We should be careful about projecting the message that booths not present in the Indie Games Passport are not “indie enough” for us.

I worry that Judd and Fred are reading me as saying “indie roleplaying doesn’t owe anything to the Forge.” That’s clearly untrue. Indie roleplaying owes a great deal to the Forge. The point I want to make is that indie roleplaying should be bigger than the Forge. We’re getting there, I think. But we’re not there yet.

Blog Revamp Continues

May 23, 2007

Okay, so here’s my current set up:

One Thousand One is my personal game design/think blog, where I post stuff about projects I’m working on and keep working drafts of games in progress.

Secret Wars is the design battleblog that currently consists of myself and Shreyas. It is a place for us to work on design stuff (almost) every day. Any significant design stuff by me that comes out of Secret Wars should eventually find its way to One Thousand One.

Bleeding Play is a blog that is both the new online home of Push and the progressive design and practice blog that I proposed here. It will be the bomb. I am so excited. RSS that sucker immediately!

Okay, I think that’s enough changes for the next several months at least. But, yeah, cutting down my blogs from five to three is super great.

Afraid Hack Playtest Report

May 17, 2007

Finally played the Afraid hack last night at StoryGames Boston, slasher movie style. It was awesome.

The premise was that we were in a Catholic high school after hours, and it was about to be struck by a massive hurricane-sized storm, which kept us stuck where we were. Later on, we decided that the movie was called Storm Windows, but that emerged from play.

The locations we ended up with were (in order of their creation):

  • Detention, an outlying concrete bunker.
  • The Cafeteria, where study hall took place.
  • The Storm (outdoors).
  • The Stage, which used to be an old chapel, where they were rehersing a musical version of Masque of the Red Death.
  • The Steeple, towering above the stage.

The location rules worked really well, I thought, though we didn’t end up using the items in various locations as much as I hoped. Overall, there were just too many dice already available for them to be necessary.

Some of the ways characters moved between locations was very cool too, since it often involved things besides walking. Two cars were driven into the cafeteria (during separate scenes). One character fell down the inside of the steeple onto the stage, injuring themselves. One character climbed out of the steeple and slid down the roof into the storm (outside). The same two cars eventually ended up being blown, by the storm, into the steeple. The steeple then collapsed onto the stage. The boiler room exploded. Lots of crazy stuff.

Though we did end up naming one of the PCs as the slasher, we had to give him an NPC accomplice in order to make previously established events make sense. I’m still not sure how to ensure that the slasher could potentially be any of the PCs, or even just ensure that the slasher could concievable be ONE of them.

The characters were pretty classic. I was Maryjane Randolph, student council president. Dev was Sasha Ramirez, girl’s rugby player. Eben was Derek Nguyen, stoner. And Richard was J.J. O’Riley, janitor. Richard’s character ended up being the slasher, but his partner was Sasha’s ex-girlfriend, who he had a creepy relationship with.

All in all, it was pretty clear that lots of things worked really well. It was a fun game to play, not just an interesting playtest, and I’d be excited to play it again, though maybe in a different genre (zombies!) or with a radically different premise (trapped on a boat!).

The parts that didn’t work as well, overall, were the things I stole directly from Dogs in the Vineyard by way of Afraid. It’s pretty clear that this game is trying to do something different, and the Dogs stuff, while very inspirational in the beginning, is now holding it back more than it’s helping it along. The group was really helpful at talking through possible ways to strip it down and make it run smoother, which is awesome.

I think stripping some of the Dogs stuff out is going to be my Secret Wars post of the day, so I’ll leave off here, but I wanted to talk about the playtest before I forgot. Yay!

Promise to Myself

May 16, 2007

No reading or posting to internet forums (Story Games, Knife Fight) for one week, starting right now, noon on Wed. The intense negativity about everything is starting to get to me.

Instead I will focus my online attentions in three places: here, working on Avatar, and at Secret Wars.

If it goes well, I may make the sabbatical longer or do it more often.

I Have a Dream Today

May 15, 2007

My dream is that, one day, people will wake up and find that we’ve questioned and successfully circumvented all their expectations about roleplaying while they’ve been busy arguing and posturing on internet forums.

P.S. That “we” includes you.

Counterpoint

May 15, 2007

Just for anyone not reading Secret Wars yet, I just posted that Chris Lehrich…

    …got me thinking about the equivalent of counterpoint in roleplaying, having multiple narrative threads dancing around each other, sometimes juxtaposed in harmony, sometimes juxtaposed in contrast, but interesting and powerful for being simultaneous and providing a more complex experience of play — with your attention constantly shifting between them — than a single narrative thread.

    Which brought me to an improv technique that’s sometimes called “split screen,” where you divide the stage into different sets in your mind and have different events take place in different imaginary “locations” at the same time, all on the same stage. This is actually a theater technique in general, not just something limited to improv, and is used a lot in plays like Equus to do flashbacks or to contrast or compare the distinct experiences of different characters. And I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work in roleplaying, especially in games where players have the power to frame their own scenes and don’t need a GM to do so.

Yeah. Check the post for an example of how this might work. I think it’s damn exciting.

Bleeding Edge Discussion

May 14, 2007

Continued from my post yesterday…

Shreyas: i’m not sure how to do this; when so many people are so quiet about their design

Jonathan: yeah; well, it requires reading what people are posting and publishing and analyzing it ourselves; or maybe you could do it thematically; one week would be “pacing mechanics”; another would be “alternative trait representations”

Shreyas: mhm; that could work; so i could be being crazy; but part of me feels like most of the people we know that DEFINITELY ARE designing are doing so silently; like kevin and nathan; and the other people who are actually designing are unknown to us

Jonathan: clearly, we can’t talk about that; but having a space invites people to talk about it; or we could invite them to post about it

Shreyas: yeah; that’s cool

Keeping Abreast of Design

May 13, 2007

In the process of writing my most recent post on The Good Ship Revenge over at Secret Wars, I realized that part of the way I understand any work, including my own, is in the context of other similar works. I suspect this may be partially the effect of my academic background and day job as a researcher, where I often try to discover “the state of the field” in a given discipline by finding out who the top names in a particular subject are and reading overviews of the most recent trends.

I find myself wishing for a design-and-practice-oriented equivalent of Mendel’s RPG Theory Review, a place where readers could keep up with some of the more interesting recent developments and discussions in roleplaying design and and practice, whether it’s Rebecca Borgstrom throwing down some crazy stuff in her freelance work or Daniel Wood trying some interesting new mechanics in his Game Chef game or a poster on RPGnet talking about some neat thing they’re doing in their D&D campaign.

Looking at what other people are doing in their games, especially when it’s something new and interesting, expands our understanding of what roleplaying can be. Currently, design and practice are rarely considered to be “RPG theory” as such, though I think that’s more or less exactly what they are. New design bits and practices can raise or attempt to answer theoretical questions about roleplaying in a demonstrative way that is significantly different than critical analysis.

Am I volunteering here? Maybe I am. Like I need another blog. What do you think? Is this as much of a need as I suspect it is?

Edit: Wikipedia defines “bleeding edge” as representing either:

  • Lack of consensus — competing ways of doing some new thing exist and no one really knows for certain which way the market [or community, in this case] is going to go.
  • Lack of knowledge — organizations are trying to implement a new technology or product that the trade journals [or larger design community] have not even started talking about yet, either for or against.
  • Industry resistance to change — trade journals and industry leaders have spoken against a new technology or product but some organizations are trying to implement it anyway because they are convinced it is technically superior [this happens in rpg discourses too, I think].

I think that’s basically what I’m talking about, keeping track of where the “bleeding edge” of design is and practice is, new things for which there is not yet a consensus or even significant discussion about.

Secret Wars: Pirate vs. Ninja

May 7, 2007

So it looks like this summer is going to be my chance to finish all those games that I haven’t gotten around to polishing. The emo sex pirates game will be next, thanks to Shreyas’ new idea: Secret Wars.

New Avatar Home & Thoughts on Distribution

May 6, 2007

Avatar has a new home. Instead of doing the thing I did with the Afraid hack and just editing and expanding the blog post constantly, I’ve utilized the AMAZING NEW TECHNOLOGY available with WordPress (to which I am quickly becoming a convert) and posted my working draft on a separate page connected to my new/other blog. I’ll post notes about updates here, but the text will reside over there.

I’ve reworked the text from the beginning up through “Choosing Greater Dharma Paths,” hopefully making it clearer how I expect groups to come together and decide on a premise and primary characters. Greater Dharma Paths still need more explanation, but I’m gonna wait until I explain Dharma Paths in general, I think. Comments and suggestions are welcome, either here or on the page where the draft is housed.

In general, I was just talking to Thomas about how I’m not convinced by PDFs as a way to distribute free indie RPGs anymore. I think they are a great way to distribute content that you intend people to print out, but not great for content you want people to read and respond to. People will read a webpage or blog post or forum post even if it’s several pages long. Most people will not bother downloading and reading a PDF, unless they are really interested. And I suspect that games which actually get read are more likely to be played or at least to influence people’s thinking about games.

So I think I may do the Zak Arntson thing for a while and post all my games primarily as HTML documents (webpages). If the Avatar game and Afraid hacks can see as much play as Shadows has over the years, that would be cool.

Blog Reader Sound Off

May 3, 2007

So I was just telling Shreyas that I have no clue who reads this blog. Sometimes it feels like no one does, though I know that’s not true. But this isn’t a blog on which people consistently post comments (not like Vincent’s), so it’s hard for me to keep track of readership. I go about my day and then, just yesterday, I noticed someone had name-dropped the design work I’ve been doing here on Story Games. Crazy. Because I didn’t know anyone was paying attention.

I’d like your help in getting to know you. If you have a few seconds, post a response or email me (jaywalt at gmail; subject: “Sound Off”), letting me know:

1) Who you are. Mini bio. What games you play. That kind of thing.
2) What brought you here. Some other blog. My Avatar game. Story Games.
3) What you get out of this. Are you patiently waiting until I get back to the Exalted hack? Are you stealing fun design tidbits? Are you stalking me?

If you’re someone I’ve met in person or bummed around with online for years, you can probably skip #2 and 3, but it’d still be nice to know you’re out there. However, if you don’t read my posts regularly, don’t feel guilty and stop by just to sign my yearbook. I’m trying to get a better sense of who my audience is here and, if you’re not really part of it, that’s important to know too. Cool?