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Showing posts from 2005

[Shades] My first 0.3 playtest

I finally got to playtest the 0.3 version of Shades last night. An actual play report can be found on The Forge. In summary: it was great, and very different from other RPGs.

Fun with the Lumpley Principle

Every now and then, the Lumpley Principle comes up in a discussion - and in general, quite magical powers are attributed to it. Also, these powers change from one speaker to the next. I give you, after some Googling, several intriguing claims made about the Lumpley Principle - dozens more are awaiting the treasure seeker.

...the ability to resort to human discretion when the book fails (i.e. the application of the Lumpley Principle when necessary). The Lumpley Principle was presented precisely as a response to the sort of thinking you are attempting to support in your rant, because it is a widespread misconception that mechanics need to model physics, or the physics of the world (and their exceptions), that such is their purpose. They do not, unless that is their purpose -- unless the purpose of the game is Simulationist "what would really happen if." It is not necessary for the mechanics to model physics or reality, as long as they support the goals and ideas of the game.
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[Monsters we Slay] Cool powers

Today, I have fought the first trial combats of my gamist dungeon crawl RPG that currently listens to the name Monsters we slay. I assure you that a dragon slayer and a shadow dancer have no trouble overcoming four goblins, which is exactly what I intended.

A lot of my current work on the game consists of thinking up cool powers for the heroes. In the setting I am currently developing ("Into the pit of fire" - think dungeons deep in the earth; goblins, golems, demons and dragons; elemental magic and exorcisms) there will be six hero types, and each of them needs about 25 or 30 cool powers. Currently, I have created the six first level powers of the dragon slayer, the shadow dancer and the lightning lord. Three observations from this process.

Balancing cool powers is going to be very playtest intesive. It is quite impossible to judge whether it is more useful for the shadow dancer to use her 'dance of daggers' or her 'snake strike' ability - or rather, it is eas…

Journal of RPG theory

Each medium has both advantaged and disadvatages. Blogs seem to be very good for thinking, for informal discussion and for spreading ideas quickly; but they seem to me to be pretty bad for producing polished, well though-out articles and storing such articles in an accessible way. There is little incentive to rewrite your blog posts in the light of discussion. Blog posts tend to disappear from view after a few days, or weeks at most.

Now it seems to me that it would be very useful if RPG theorists, after thinking about a subject and discussing it with each other, would write nicely structured, thorough articles about their conclusions; and if these were stored and made easily accessible at some central place. In fact, this seems to me more important than unifying all these theory blogs at one location.

So maybe we need an online journal of RPG theory? This would be a website that publishes thoughtful articles about RPG theory. It would encourage authors to first discuss the subject on b…

Immersion and imagination

I am not sure that I understand the concept of 'immersion' in the same way that self-styled immersionists do, but there is certainly something I do understand and experience that can be called by this name. It is what I experience when I play Trollbabe, but which I experience much less often and less strong when I play Polaris, and not at all when I play Universalis. It is a sense of character identification, of not just telling a story about a character but of being, in some sense, that character.

But, what sense?

Taking my cue from Walton's book Mimesis as Make-believe again, let's say that a roleplaying game is a game of make-believe. Depending on what is happening around the table, we are to imagine certain things. But is everybody to imagine the same things? It would seem so, at least on the surface. If I, playing my trollbabe Ingirid, state that I run towards the troll shaman and punch him on the nose, then surely everybody is to imagine that Ingirid runs towards …

[Monsters we Slay] Design considerations

The new working title for my `quick tactical gamist' RPG is Monsters we Slay. It is somewhat less stupid than Looting the Labyrinth, isn't it? The core system is coming along nicely, though I can't judge whether it's going to be successful at this stage. Today, I want to talk about some of the decisions I have made.


Appropriate adversity

Several blogs on RPGs have recently contained posts about adversity and GM fiat. Especially relevant is Matt Wilson's post on inappropriate adversity. I quote:

See, and when I'm GM, I want to be able to throw everything I'm allowed to at the players without worrying whether or not I've crossed the line.In a gamist RPG with the classical dungeon crawl challenge - survive as a group and defeat the Big Bad at the end of the dungeon - this is especially important. If the success or the failure of the party is dependent on the Game Master's decisions, the game fails. For this reason, I believe that D&D3E may actually no…

[Shades] Looking for playtesters!

So, I just finished the newest playtest version of Shades. Obviously, I'll go and ask several people to play it with me. But this post is also a call for external playtesters.


Where do I get the game?

Just right-click on the above link, and choose "Save as..." or something like that.

What do I need to do?

Get one or two other players together, and play the game! I estimate that it will take two hours to play one game, a bit longer with three players. (And perhaps an hour longer in 'hell' mode.) If you could play more games with the same person, that would be very, very great.

Where do I publish my experiences?

You can either publish them as a reaction on this post, or email me: victor [at] lilith [dot] gotdns [dot] org. Better yet, start a topic in Actual Play on The Forge, and send me an email or a PM about it.

What do I get in return?

My eternal gratitude? The names of all playtesters will, of course, be put into the final version of the text, with lots of praise surro…

[Looting the Labyrinth] Quick tactical gamist fun

I was thinking about the black potion I described earlier today: you don't know what it is, if you drink it you die instantly. Obviously, this sucks.

And yet, there are situations in which it is very cool if you do not know whether a potion is a healing potion or a poison potion and you are ready to risk everything on it. Suppose there's is a fight, and if you win you'll get loads of XP and treasure and whatnot, and the only way you can go on and maybe win is by drinking that unidentified potion and hoping that it is a healing potion... but it might be poison instead... so what do you do? And suppose, furthermore, that you roll the dice in order to randomly determine which of the two it is (so there's no GM fiat or predefined malice involved) - how cool would that be? Pretty cool, I'd say.

Perhaps potions can only be identified by drinking them; and perhaps you can set the stakes of drinking them yourself. So you can roll to get a potion of minor healing, but if you …

Back to the bad old times?

I've been playing around with Blood Sword, a book that let's you play a classic dungeon crawl alone. Mostly it's stuff like: "If you enter the corridor ahead, go to 314. If you investigate the alcove to the right, go to 24." Sometimes, you have actual fights, complete with maps, dice and hit points. The book was written in 1987 and can be downloaded from the Home of the Underdogs. Read the review there:

Definitely one of the best gamebook series ever released

Of course, this is merely one reviewer's opinion, but if Blood Sword even comes near to what was thought acceptable by the readers of these books, things were seriously amiss. But what makes me shudder with horror is the idea that if people accepted to be treated like this by a game book, they would also accept to be treated like this by a real GameMaster. Perhaps this book even corresponds to the play style of a substantial section of the roleplayers in 1987? That would really explain w…

Silly questions and 'realism'

In his book Mimesis as Make-believe, Kendall Walton speaks about 'silly questions' concerning fictionality. Here are some examples:

In Othello, Othello is not a very literary character and certainly not one of the greatest poets of all time. Yet he speaks in exquisite verse that only a genius could think up on the fly. Should we conclude that, after all, Othello is a brilliant poet?In Leonardo's Last supper, all people sit on the same side of the table. What strange arrangement is this? What reason could Jesus' disciples have for sitting like this? Does it make sense to ask these questions?
In too many WWII movies to even begin mentioning, the german soldiers speak English. Are we to believe that Germans during the war spoke English regularly? These are silly questions, says Walton, because they emphasise something that the author of the work does not want to emphasise. Othello speaks in brilliant verse not because Shakespeare wants to say something about Othello's s…

What is fictional?

I promised hard-core theory, and I hereby deliver on my promise. What I'm going to say is partly inspired by a short discussion I had with Vincent Baker on whether all truths about a character are in the minds of the players; it is partly inspired by and a continuation of a discussion on the anatomy of roleplaying I started a while back on The Forge; and also in no small part inspired by the book Mimesis as Make-Believe by Kendall L. Walton, which I have just started rereading.

There is a set of related issues I want to talk about, but for now I'll concentrate on a very simple question. When we are roleplaying, we are creating a piece of fiction. (Albeit a piece of fiction that is different from normal written fiction in that it is dynamic, constantly changing, instead of static. This makes all the difference in the world.) This piece of fiction comes with a fictional world (a concept which I will also say more about below). In this fictional world, some things are true and oth…

[Shades] Social Agenda trumping Creative Agenda

There is some hardcore theory stuff that I'm going to post about, but I'm not going to do it now. This post is about design. (Truly!)


There is this little game that I have been working on, although it is mainly just lying around. It is called Shades, and you can download a version of it here. The system needs some tweaking, though, and I hope to be able to present a better version soon.

But what I want to talk about is that my main design goal with this game. I used to think about design goals mainly in terms of creative agenda:

The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing.First, you need to find out whether you want to make a Narrativist, a Gamist or a Simulationist game (or some other category like that, I'm not going to talk GNS-theory here); and than the main worry of the game designer is to make sure that all the aspects of his system help him to deliver theme, challenge or the dream.

But I recently realised that it is wrong to t…

Personality types and RPGs

Over in Yudhishtira's Dice, Bradley Robins has written an interesting post on the Myers Briggs personality types and playing RPGs.

I don't put great faith in these classificatory schemes, as it seems to me that people are generally multi-faceted and the dominance of one facet over the others is really dependent on social context and therefore open to change. But perhaps these schemes can give us some broad outlines of a person's personality, and thereby help us to shed some light on a subject which is still covered in darkness: player preferences and how different preferences interact.

What I like most about Bradley's story is that he makes a difference between a person's overall personality type and their type as a roleplayer, taking into account that people may well sit to the table to play in a different frame of mind than they are usually in. Someone who is very Thinking in real life might want to Feel lots of emotions during play; someone who is very Introvert …

Yes, formalise!

I have a love-hate relationship with formalisations. On the one hand, I can very much enjoy the abstract beauty of mathematics and logic, and I feel real sympathy for the clarity that may be won by describing initially vague discourse in a formal way. On the other hand, I abhor intricate formalisations that do not increase our understanding of their subject matter, and I especially abhor formalisations that destroy the subtle and important shades of meanings that lie in ambiguity.

The question should always be: does formalisation of this subject matter actually increase our understanding? And is the increase in understanding worth the effort?

These questions naturally arise upon reading John Kirk's Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games. (See the accompanying Forge thread here.) He introduces intricate schemata to speak about RPG systems, including such wonderous entities as 'conflicted gauges' and 'feedback loops'. Does this increase our understanding of…

Philosophy with the hammer

The Forge has closed its theory forums. The reasoning behind this decision is that the development of roleplaying theory will be more productive when it is done either in the direct context of actual play or actual game design, or on people's private weblogs.

I am skeptical. I am afraid that not having a central place to discuss fundamental theory is going to be detrimental to the development of good and helpful roleplaying theory.

But I want to be wrong about this. In fact, I want to try and make myself be wrong about this - which is why I have decided to start this weblog. May it be a place where theory - both applied and fundamental - is developed and discussed. Somehow, perhaps, this network of RPG theory weblogs will become a more fruitful version of the old forums.

It is also an opportunity for me to make a connection with another interest of mine: interactive fiction. Do you remember the text adventures of yore? We now call them interactive fiction - and they have developed an…