The Coin’s Other Side: On Losing (and Elimination)

This post is going to be quite basic. Basic does not mean that it will be simple, but that it stands at the base. I may not give you answers here, but I’ll present something that any person who designs a game that is competitive, especially one where people win, should think of – the issue of losing, and the related issue of player-elimination.

You see, if your game has victory, there can be several ways in which you reach it, and many of the examples I’d use are from board/card-games. The question is what happens to the losers, and how they lose. This is more of an issue with story-games because of the length of time they may have to sit aside and the expectation of shared creative activity.

One option for winning is you reaching a personal goal, such as reaching level 10 first in Munchkin. Everyone plays till the bitter end, and everyone is more or less as effective in the end as they are in the beginning. This often leads to “King-makers”, players who know they will not win, but can be the ones who decide whether one player wins or another. In some cases, you need to play the other players more than you’re actually playing the cards.

Another option can be seen in Infernal Contraption, and in most competitive CCGs or war-games aimed for two players (Magic: the Gathering and Warhammer being  prime examples), where you don’t win by what you do per se, but you win by being the last player standing. This is not an issue when only two players play, because the game ends for the two players at the same time – one’s win is another’s victory. It is also less of an issue with games slated to run 15-20 minutes, because the loser does not get to sit idle for long.

However, story games and role-playing games have historically been more akin to the game of Diplomacy, where often players are eliminated in the first couple of turns of the game, which can keep going on for a couple more hours. I suspect this is also partially the reason some groups shy away from character-deaths, because it forces the player to stop being involved in the action, or at least they no longer have an active hand in shaping the story. In some groups the player with the dead character uses this time to come up with a new character, especially in mechanically involved games.

These days, it is sometimes less of an issue. Some games are designed to be of a shorter duration, so if one loses their character they are not out of the action for the whole campaign (at least as that character), or even for the duration of a session of a campaign – the game is meant to be played out in whole in one sitting. But still, I think like in board-games that take longer to complete, even an hour a player has to sit idle is less than ideal.

A “game” where this was somewhat solved which came up in my mind when a friend challenged me to design a truly competitive and cut-throat design was Survivor. Yes, the TV show. There the players eliminated after a certain stage get to be the king-makers in the end-game and little less, but it does require attention after they had been ‘eliminated’ from the running. Likewise, I feel that story-games with a competitive bent who decide on elimination should find a way to keep the players so eliminated not only interested, but let them contribute to the story further, and perhaps shape the competition as well ( if the story and the competition are intertwined, it may be so regardless).

Something done by story-games for a number of years now is that players get to affect the direction of the story even when their characters are not present. They get to reward players whose characters do things they enjoy (Primetime Adventures), or perhaps they don’t even have characters that are ‘theirs’, and all they do is guide the story (Universalis), or the designs  where they have characters and affect the creation of the world and shape the story (the “child” design of Mortal Coil, or Shock:).

But then a new question emerges, if you have competition and elimination: What is the measure of “Victory”, and why would you say those who have been ‘eliminated’ have lost? Perhaps they have just lose their chance to claim victory and their “superiority” over the others, but would you also have their effect on the story lessen? This is a Competitive Story Game, remember. I suspect this is one of the things alluded to by people I’ve approached regarding writing of competition and story’s interaction within their games, when they told me the game only has the veneer of competition, because if someone will try to win the game, it’d crack.

You have choices, whether victory is reached when the victor reaches a goal, or through elimination of all other players. Should you pick the former, you should consider how to solve the issue of king-makers, or keeping it in, unrestrained. Should you pick the latter, you should consider how to mitigate the effect of a player not having a hand in the story and game, and perhaps the issue of kingmaking will creep up again. Whatever you do, be mindful of this. Be aware that this is a design choice you are making, and a critical one at that.

This issue is also tied strongly to Social Contract, and to whether a certain group would play your game (at least as written). The issue of a player being left out of the game is something each party should discuss, and your game may not fit what a certain group is willing to accept. You may also consider adding a module in your game, where one can have elimination if one chooses, and play a somewhat different game if they do not wish for there to be such. Choices to be mindful of.

Competitive Games and Handicaps.

The previous post was mentioned on RPG Theory Review. Always warms my heart when it happens. I’ve noticed the blog wasn’t updated recently, and I hope it will soon be updated once more.
Not that I’m in any position to complain, seeing as my last post was back in July 07. I’ll try to write some posts these coming months, even if I’ll take a break afterwards, I have several post ideas written down (and have had for a while, the problem is actually writing them down).

I am looking for people to write articles for this post, especially those who design competitive or seemingly competitive games, which also have story. I am especially interested in writing about the interactions between Story and Competition in the game, and how that interaction had shaped the direction of the rules and game-play.


And now we will get to today’s topic. Today’s post was inspired by this thread on Story-Games, “Hardcore Gamism and Dysfunction Within the Big “G””[1], where Jonathan Walton recounts discussions with Eric Pinnick, and also references an article by David Sirlin.
I did not read that thread fully, and as such, this post is merely inspired by it. Some points I make have already been made on the thread, but the overall conclusion seems to have not been made there.

(Edit: People suggested I add my conclusion up top, to clarify things: I posit that it is better for a group to find a game they can agree to play, as it is, without the need to add handicaps to it. Adding handicaps as opposed to finding a game where the gameplay will be the same, but without the need to add those handicaps, will only trouble those players who are extremely focused on competition, at all costs)

So you have a competitive game, one where you compete with others. There are often more powerful techniques, ones that if you’re not aware of or not familiar enough with, you will have trouble countering and will probably lose to, there are some games where there is nothing you can do to counter, we will discuss those harsher games later.

Two weeks ago I was visiting my cousin, and we were playing Tekken 5. I play the game two or three times a year, always when I visit him, whereas he has the game in his room and has been playing it extensively. There are several characters with a move that takes a long time to charge (meaning you can smack them before they can set it off), but if that strike connects it takes out roughly 3/4ths of your health bar. My cousin used these constantly, and the game stopped being fun for me, so I told him to stop using these moves.

There is a very important question, laying behind the issue of handicaps (I think I may have assumed you’ve read at least Jonathan’s series of original posts on the inspiring thread, forgive me). What do you find fun, and when we move into the realm of Story/Roleplaying games, what does the group find fun; and then, what sort of balance you seek, or at least find acceptable.

If for you, playing the game is fun, things that cut the game short, or stop you from playing, will make the game less fun. Magic: the Gathering combos where the player wins on his first turn, do not let the opponent do anything, and stop them from having fun. When I began playing Magic (back in 1996 or so), I had a deck with 160 cards, I then went down to 120 cards, 80 cards, and eventually to the 60( and rarely 64 card) decks. I’ve played with people who were much better players than me, they had much better decks than me, and I’ve lost. I’ve always said that you learn more from losing in Magic than you do from winning. I’ve played, I’ve lost, I’ve learned, and I’ve had fun.
However, had I constantly played against players who would’ve won before I had the chance to do anything, or anything more than draw a card and play a land, I would not have studied what worked and what didn’t (except the opponent’s combo, that it works), and I would not have had fun.
There’s a reason Wizards of the Coast handicaps certain decks; some are considered “too tough”, and we’ll address the issue later, but some, simply don’t let the other player do anything, it stops being a game of competition between two players; one plays a solo game that the other is all but unable to affect.

 If what I care for is the playing, the adversity, I will be having more fun if I play with someone on my level, or someone that is acting on my level. How much adversity do you get from stepping on a slug? How much adversity do you feel like you’re providing when someone is stepping on you as a slug?
I cannot prove it, but I’ve always felt that while sprinting, both people get the best results if they’re nearly evenly matched. When you’re far ahead of someone you don’t step on the gas fully, and when someone is already 20 meters ahead of you (on up to 100 meter runs), you give up.

But do we not also get a good feeling, simply from winning? I feel good when I win, even if it’s playing Magic against my ten year old cousin. Winning feels good.

And so, most of the above was talking about reasons to employ handicaps, but there is, as always, the other side. I will discuss this other side in more detail shortly, but first I’ll talk about the Social Contract, the reasons and methods that this will work out in a group, specifically one where the games also involve role-playing/story-telling. After discussing the other side, the anti-handicap side, I think I’ll return to the group-play once more.

I am going to make an assumption, but I will make it explicitly, and I believe it is an agreeable one; we play games to have fun. It is our explicit goal. Different people find different things fun, and find them to be fun to a different degree (look at Mo‘s Sockets idea). We can try and maximize the whole group’s fun, by creating a formula where we look for a maximum value on the output, and then decide what values to use based on it. Of course, we don’t actually do it in such a codified manner, and furthermore, each player may require there to be a minimum value to certain variables (combat, story, immersion; Mo’s sockets again provide useful terms), and each player requires themselves to have a minimal fun factor for them to keep playing.
As such, we try to reach the maximized value of collective fun, that we can, and can maintain.

This is especially important with competitive games, where one player’s fun may come at the expanse of another’s. This is even more important in competitive story games (our blog’s focus, we’re getting there!), where this is not considered the norm, and many people consider it to be antithetical to what they are trying to get out of the game. Handicaps as we will shortly see also infringe on the fun of some competitive players, while they may feel required for the non-competitive players; some may require that competition will not harm the ‘value’ of the story, and that things be carried out mainly for reasons driven and benefiting the story, rather than the competition, reasons that revolve around who will ‘win’ or advance the most.

To the highly competitive player though, handicaps are anathema, they diminish from the competitive game. Let us take Eric and myself, as an example (Eric, if I’ve misread you, I apologize): If I play a perfect competitive game (perfect means, “I think it’s perfect”), I’m happier than if I’m playing a perfect non-competitive game. If I play a non-perfect competitive game, I’ll have more fun playing a non-perfect non-competitive game[2]. I am much more invested when playing a competitive game. I am much more invested in the mechanics. I am much more troubled by something which does not let me play out, not to my strengths, but to the full extent of the game’s system.

Handicaps are extraneous, they come from outside and limit you, within the game. Look at Chess, no one considers the fact that you are not allowed to simply remove an opponent’s piece from the board a handicap, but not being able to use a certain move in Tekken, one that the game’s engine, technically, lets you play, because a certain group said so, is a handicap.
And this ties back to the social contract issue. After you’ve selected a game, setting up handicaps in order to maintain the fun of the rest of the group, in order to maintain an overall high level of fun, is too late. The highly competitive player is already suffering, and many of the reasons are explained elsewhere (the opponent is too weak, too unskilled, values “X” over competition which is what matters…).

The solution, if the competitive player is so troubled by handicaps, and the non-competitive player is so troubled by the lack of handicaps in games which he perceives to need them, seems quite simple to me: the choice of adding handicaps or how to resolve the social contract issues after the game is chosen is too late, as I’ve said before, the choice must be made before the game is chosen – the choice is the choice of which game is chosen. The game must fit the desires and needs of the different players as it is now, before any changes, any handicaps, are applied to it.

This is a challenge to the game designers. Though I, and many self-pronounced “Competitive designers” are seeking to create games that are handicap-less, and quite possibly such that non-competitive players will deem are in (dire) need of handicaps, perhaps we also need, for different crowds, and in order to effect the rise of competition in Story Games, games which are without handicaps, but where the extreme parameters are such that other, less competitive people, will not feel the need to limit them (Magic without combos, or without combos that kill before turn 4-5, where many creature decks can win as well).

There need to be games across the spectrum, games with enough competition, but where people, or different people, will not see the need to add handicaps. Once we add handicaps, we’ve already got the competitive players disgruntled, and the non-competitive players? They may have been happier playing non-competitive games to begin with (though there are also spectrum players; I enjoyed Tekken’s competitive nature, once the “killer blows” were removed).
Spectrum. Variety. There must be enough games to choose from, and you need to choose the fitting game, that too, or perhaps that especially, is a critical part of competitive games’ game-play, on the social level.

[1] I will leave my problems with the title alone, as they will not contribute to the actual discussion at hand, and will yield meager returns for the energy this discussion will consume. I do want to note that I dislike the title though.

[2] This is why this blog is here.

Story? Really?!

We’ve talked about inclusive versus exclusive before, and in a way, this post will also be about that. We’re also going to stay about fairly basic stuff, which is also very controversial and very important.

We’ve talked about Story’s role, as the focus or the facilitator, but now we need to get down to the bloody mess of Story itself. What is story? What isn’t?

We might want to begin with a definition, due to it being quite lengthy, I’ll repost the first item and simply link to the rest.

sto·ry1   noun, plural -ries, verb, -ried, -ry·ing. –noun

1. a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

And to that I’ll add a short exchange between Keith Senkowski and myself:

Keith Senkowski: fuck story.  it is a game.  no game creates story.  story is created in the retelling
Guy Shalev: In a way, I agree, and that’s one of my thoughts. People keep talking about stories, about narratives. But our lives, when we live them, are just a random group of shit, they only become a narrative and gain cohesion in hindsight.

Some people say that a series of events, each occuring on its own is not story; furthermore, building on that, they say that a story needs to have a purpose, a theme or a thread going through it. Games with stories (a certain brand of RPGs included) therefore require a topic to be about, a common plot for it to have a story, or at least, “A good story”.

But if we go based on the above, then we can have any series of events, random or otherwise, and have them in totality be a story. This is not to say that any series of events automatically becomes a story, but when we retell it, omit and add, especially as to the cause of events, it does become a story indeed and not only in name.

When we play, we do not create a story, we create a scaffolding, a series of events (fictitious as they may be), later, when we recount the story, even if we only do so in our minds, going back over it from beginning to end, we create the story. The story is not created by the activity,  the game which occurred, the story is created by the Story-Machines, our human brains.

Story; Road or Destination?

 The previous entry was mentioned on RPG Theory Review, twice, once during the weekly review, and once during the monthly review. A first.
Yehuda Berlinger also mentioned the same post on his blog.

(Iron) Game Chef 2007 is on. Give it a shot. I threw my hat in, but due to time constraints, I may not get to finish my entry. So I’m considering doing a micro-entry, 6 pages or so. We’ll see.


We’ll be talking about Story. So we’ve talked quite a bit about Competition, as it seems to be what differentiates CSI Games from RPGs the most, but what about what differentiates us from Board-Games the most, about the other big half of the equation, Story?
So we’ll be discussing that too. And discussion means your input is more than asked for, it is in fact required for us to reach interesting places!
Talking about reaching, and places. Here’s one of the most basic questions for us to answer. And by basic I do not mean simple, obvious, or easy, but rather, that the foundation is based on this question (at least in part).

So we decide to have story in our game, cool, but now what? If our games are to be well-oiled machines, then nothing should be extraneous, moreover, we should know what role each bit has.
So answer me this, for you, is story the goal or the way you get there?
If the story is the goal, then you are interested in telling a moving story, or a good story (what that is should be the topic of a whole new post). You may want the story to be worth telling and re-telling, or you may want a story with a moral. But in this example, it is not the moral that is important, but the story having it that is the core.

If the story is the way, then imagine what was discussed in the last post, but reversed. Suppose what I care about is the social aspect of the game, specifically competing with my friends, my fellow players. The story is the road I take (and the movement along that road too!), in order to move me from one instance of competition to the next.
Imagine many of the computer-games or hack-n-slash games, where there is minimal story, and the game is basically all about the next encounter, and getting there.

Story can be your goal, or it can be your method of getting to the goal. It’s often less prevalent as a designer, and more prominent when you actually play the game. It is thus very important to discuss when setting up a play-group, in order to avoid clashes over this topic. Such clashes can become very heated, because they deal directly with what you actually come to the game for.

This entry is not very… thought-provoking or innovative. But it is basic, and the material discussed here needed to be let out.

Competition as Training Wheels.

Quite recently we held a discussions called “Competition? What for?” on this very blog, and with this post I’m going to give a suggestion on a possible role of competition in games, specifically RPGs.

In most traditional RPGs, there is one person, the Game Master, who weaves the story and the world. Players can act and then the GM has the world and story react to their actions, but in case the group is more reactive, or even passive, the GM can push the story forward, forcing the characters to react and take a stand. The game progresses one way or another, and the GM, a good one, helps ensure that it is so.

A common problem when traditional players are faced with more recent games is that the task of narration is suddenly thrust upon them. It is not uncommon for players to freeze in such an instance. But we’re not going to dwell on that. Many a time these games are based on the assumption that all players will push the game, their characters, the story and/or the world forward. They will introduce complications, go out of their shell and make things happen. Sadly, this often does not happen.

When you have no limitations, you often get nowhere. You are paralyzed by too many options. Once you are limited by some constraint you have an easier time of figuring a direction in which to move and act. Before being thrust into a new game, many a player might do well to have some in-between stage. I posit that competitive games can be that stage (as well as a non-competitive game to which you add a competitive side for this explicit purpose).

You can treat story as a vector along which to enact competition or competition as a vector along which to tell a story. It matters little. Once there’s competition present, there’s a direction. It is clear what the goals are, who you’re competing with and why. Once you have a competition, you may very well not explore other facets of the game or enviroment, but remember, you limit freedom in order to foster creativity and lower paralysis, and once creativity is fostered, you can later remove the competition and have the players use the new knowledge and skills they had gained to explore the game.

Competition has many uses. There are too many games that once you finish reading them you say, “Cool, but now what do I do?” Competition answers that question. You compete, and if the rules make you create a story as you go along, then by the game’s end you should also have a story created and told.

Next month I’m going to focus a bit on the Story component of games. I hope this short entry was useful to you. It was intended as an answer to the previous post more than as a post of its own.

An Editorial: On Identification.

This is an Editorial, this means that I sometimes will get to air game/theory ideas without the need to tie it down to competition. Sadly, this is still my blog, as in all the entries in it are still mine. So I may as well make use of it.
I’ve had some setbacks in that my last two weekends weren’t spent home, so I lost my work-time. But, unlike previous times this is only a setback in the time-tables. Work continues behind the scene. And when I finally shoot, I’ll have multiple bullets in the air.
Over at the Sons of Kryos Episode 32 (MP3, forum discussion) is about Competition Vs. Cooperation, and thus may be of special interests to people who read this blog.

And not to worry, this post will be tied to competition. I can’t undo my mind.


I participated in a discussion on Story-Games that went as follows:

hamsterprophet: im really interested by LARP, but i have interest in actually doing it
which i support makes it difficult to really learn about it
shreyas
: mmm
i’m not interested with how larp basically forces you into an ‘authority over exactly one character’ role and puts you in the company of immersionists
hamsterprophet
: i think its really interesting, actually, how the nature of larp makes it pretty much impossible to break out of one person = one character
shreyas
: mmm
hamsterprophet
: its almost tautological
shreyas
: that’s just a kind of play i’m not really interested in at all
Thunder_God
(me): Nate>It’s just as false as saying that in real life one person = one mask/personality.
shreyas
: if i don’t have some broader authority i don’t feel like i’m participating
Thunder_God
: In fact, I think this is a very interesting point.
hamsterprophet
: cuz even if you take on multiple characters, people associate you with the first one they encounter you in. unless you do extreme makeup, i guess

In LARP the boundary between you and your character, and indeed you and others, is much thinner, in fact, it’s only skin deep. In real life there are multiple personalities we adopt when faced with different situations and people, so why is it that in games we tend to adopt one face?
Because a game is not reality, it’s a simplified model of reality, and usually one which we get something out of modeling. Our faces in games are akin to archetypes.

The more meat we meet, the more effort we need to buy into the fiction. Online you are often what you claim to be. In table-top it’s a bit harder. When you’re a little annoying kid, who can’t be patient about anything, maybe you’re better off not playing the mature Paladin. In a LARP, you and your character are often one. If your character is smart, athletic and female, and you are male, dim and 200 pounds overweight, don’t be surprised if people have a problem reacting to your character fully.
And yes, the smart player/character divide is an issue all of its own.

Why are we capable, or at least willing, to let ourselves be a multitude in real life and unwilling to give others the same benefit during games?
The answer is twofold:
1) We let ourselves be a multitude, not others. When others act in a manner different than that in which we expect (allow?) them to behave, we are surprised, and often offended. We are not honest in our assumptions regarding others. Just as we assume we have free-will but expect others to behave in the manner dictated by their previous behavior.
2) We are different people in different situations, one game, one situation, one mask. Perhaps we can even go further. You know how often some people play the same character in all games? One situation: game, one mask.

It is more than that. It is not only that others can identify us, it is how we identify ourselves. There is no mask as constricting as that of the skin. And that is what role-playing is about eventually, breaking out of the mask, or shapeshifting our skin into a new shape, as if we were shamans.

It is often educational to look at edge-cases. Cases where one portrays many a character (such as most games’ GMs) and games where one does not even play one character. One of the comments about my game, Cranium Rats, and rightfully so, is that people have a hard time seeing what to play in it, because not only do they have a hard time identifying with something or someone, that I actually disturb them. What the players portray is utterly inhuman, and they have a hard time identifying with it/them, and the characters don’t belong to them and are out of their control, and so they have a hard time identifying with them either.

I find that interesting, because how often do you not only find yourself identifying with, but actually imagine yourself in the spot of a character from a book or movie, their stories often complete, with no hooks left for you to immerse yourself in the character. Is it possible that when we come to the role-playing activity we already come expecting to be “let in”, to immerse ourselves in other personalities, to tell stories vicariously. And when denied we feel cheated out of what we came to the table to get?

Anyway, let’s look at competitive games and Identification. I think that people require identification, of sorts, in all of their games, and competitive ones are no different.

  • In most sports games, or games where what is at stake is your own skills and is known (chess), we are the players and we are the ones we identify with. Win or loss, it’s ours. The easiest identification there is, with ourselves.
  • Sometimes a game is of ourselves, or abstract, and yet we tend to latch onto identification. Look at Monopoly, supposedly it’s our skills that let us win or lose, but more often than not it is luck, and Monopoly games are quite long as it is, and actually serve the purpose of teaching kids the value of money. And yet, people often make “Vroom vroom” sounds when they play the car, or portray the dog kicking someone away. Identification is that important.
  • In abstract concept but detailed competitive games, such as Settlers of Cattan, it is obvious we are not the settlers, nor are we actually the rulers. The luck of the die rules much and yet it is not as widely accepted as Chess that winning in Settlers proves one’s intellectual might (more likely their social acumen), and yet we yell and shout when we are winning or wish to stop another party from winning. We clearly fell invested, we feel as if it’s us who are at stake.

In your games, either make the competition so entranching that the players identify with themselves, make the stake personal so they have no option but to identify with themselves or give them tools to latch onto something, to enable identification. The easiest way is obviously to give them a character that is theirs to create and control, a role-playing option. But if you want an external storytelling vantage point, you should consider how to let your players into a mask.

This is what they come to the play with, this is what they pay you money for. Success and failure often hinge on identification, and its strength.

Blinders; Once More with Feeling.

First, the previous entry got mentioned on RPG Theory Review, making this the 3rd mention there of this blog, and the fourth of CSI Games.
Second, this is the second post of December 2006, I’ll do my best to keep at least two entries a month, which leads us to the next point!
Third, if you have any ideas or thoughts regarding CSI Games as a whole, or something that might be relevant, feel free to send me articles via my email and I’ll upload them. I think content from more contributors should be helpful, especially concerning that my writing is not that clear.
Fourth. There’s a good reason all the entries are shown on the front page: They are all open to discussion. Feel free to peruse and comment, and engage in discussion on all entries. It’s not only optionable, but encouraged!

There’s already an entry planned for the upcoming weekend, another for the week after, and yet another (and this one will be most interesting) for when Jessica Hammer completes her part of our “trade” :)


I think this is an apt topic for the last subject of the year. It actually closes a circle with the first post on the topic of Blinders (disregarding the Meta-Chanics post which is only a bridge). The issue came back to my mind because of the thread “Does System Matter?” on The Forge.
I looked at my own game, Cranium Rats, and what happened in its playtesting. I wrote in the manuscript that there should be violence and interwoven storylines. In the playtests the characters were mundane and normal if there ever were mundane characters. As such, violence was low.
But the storylines slowly began to cross with one another, work-place of one is the shelter of the other, one sees the third as he drives to work, etc. But there were no benefits to this behaviour, if the players had the characters and their stories cross-over or not, the effects would be the same. There is nothing changed, nothing gained, nothing lost, in each of the scenarios.

But those of the Indie crowd keep saying “System Does Matter“, and that was when System usually meant “Mechanics”. If I were to write in the game’s manuscript: “Storylines should interweave and cross-over, with the storylines drawing tighter and tighter and towards a conclusion where all the loose-ends are tied together”, and this were to occur in the game, then why do you pay someone to write game-rules and game-text, the mere idea is enough.

We keep saying we’re “beyond” Cops and Robbers, that this is not make-believe, but make-believe shaped by rules which help you govern what occurs.We have different rules for different games. We use rules to help maintain the mood and theme we want to introduce. But that means introducing rules, and not telling people what kind of game they want and how to get there. They can do it themselves by imbibing the source-material.

There’s a simple way to see if a game does what you want it to do, or rather, if the mechanics do what you want them to. Present someone with just the mechanics and see what kind of game emerges. This isn’t the complete game, this does not include all the background and colour, this does not include the interactions between the players. But this is not your goal, this is you checking if your mechanics produce the effect that you desire.

If the mechanics don’t do what you want them to, you have two options:
First, add mechanics that add what you want to the game.
Second, add advice telling people what they need to do to get the desired result. This is also fine, but be aware that this is what you’re doing.


After an hour and a half of chatting with Joshua A.C. Newman and Nathan Paoletta about this post, we discovered what was unclear in the post. I add it in this format because it’s a conclusion and it’s an edit. The article though unclear still has its purpose, which is served better once these are added.

  • I’m not saying advice are bad, I’m saying it’s their job to point at what is already done by the mechanics.
  • If your mechanics do something you don’t want them to, remove said mechanics.
  • If your game doesn’t do something it should, add mechanics.
  • If advice in your game REPLACE the mechanics, then something is wrong, and you should either add mechanics or remove that advice/thing from the game.
  • It doesn’t work the other way around though, if something doesn’t work, or the mechanics don’t do what you need, you do not add advice.

And why say something once if you can twice?
If your gameplay does something, but it’s not included in the rules, but in the advice, either excise the advice or add a rule

Competition? What for?

When I asked Ron Edwards to tell me what he thought about Cranium Rats, he had also said the following, reposted from private discussion with his permission: 

“The real question at the abstract, CA level, is what am I demonstrating by winning. It is not interesting to me to “compete in order to tell my story,” and I’m not sure if that’s what you’re working towards, or whether it’s a trap that you’re skirting.”

 And when I replied talking about competition for its own sake, he replied once more.

“I think that competition always has to showcase something – endurance, skill, what I call “strategy and guts” in my essay, in some form. There really is no such thing as a truly random competition – at the very least, you have to show that you’ve got the guts to stick it out until the end.

So I think you’re dodging my question. I’m not questioning the validity of competition or that it’s not fun. I’m asking what do you show by winning, and indeed by playing Cranium Rats. I’m also not saying there’s nothing there. I’m sure there is, and am asking because I’m not taking the time to figure it out.”

And you know what, I honestly do not know how to answer Ron’s competition. I am not sure if I know what the competition is about presenting, and I’m sure that if I do know then I do not know how to put it into words adequately.

Suppose that you’re playing a sports game, it is clear what you are better at by playing. But then again, if people did not enjoy competition for its own sake, why would they play games where they lose? Take Settlers of Cattan, supposing there are four players playing, three will lose. Why do they play? For the chance of winning, and if they keep on losing, why do they keep playing, or will they quit?

I’m going to use Capes as an example, simply because there’s still not much else out there for me to talk about. As far as I can tell, or as I call it, you win in two different ways: The first, you gain control over the narrative in order to tell the story. The second is to gain the type of resources you need and get rid of the ones you don’t, which feeds into gaining your first objective.
What “winning” Capes proves is actually spelled in the text, it’s knowing what makes your other players tick and putting weight on these levers. Finding stories/elements they want to control and bidding them for it.
It’s about proving you know how to manipulate others, though there’s no defined “Winning Condition” so I may be talking in the air.

So, I believe that based on us playing competitive games, the competition in and of itself gives you some fun. But help me figure it out, use your own games, use my game, talk in abstract. What do you prove by the competition in CSI Games, what happens if you don’t have something proven or one can’t tell it (Possibly the game isn’t fun and falls on its face?), how do you tell what the competition is about?

This is our Project Discussion for the next 3 weeks, to end on the 25th of December. Take one of the games on the CSI Game List and try to answer those questions.

Here is another issue, if two people think the competition is over something different, do both win, do both lose, or things fall apart? For example, one that competes for the mechanical win and one that competes for control of Narration in Cranium Rats? By Wednesday I’ll have a post dedicated to the matter linked here, to aid in this discussion.

Edit: There’s a link posted a line or two back, edited in as promised.

On Flags; a Component.

First, let me say that I am still awaiting replies for this post,  and that you people should be participating. This is a group effort, feel free to reply to posts, no matter how old. You will note that all posts are visible on the front page, this is to note that all posts are still in discussion. If discussion on an old post starts hopping, I promise to link to it.

Second, it seems that it’s becoming standard fare, but I am still in a sort of a personal haze, so I apologise for the lack of updates. I will try to return to a schedule of at least one post a week, and about three posts every two weeks. You should feel free and are even encouraged to email me posts and post-seeds, which will then be displayed on this very blog.

Third, the next entry is expected on early Sunday, and will be about Gnostigmata (Scroll down to the bottom) and Story. I will talk about Gnostigmata, which is currently in Beta version 6.0, which you’ll all do good to read, and use it to talk about different aspects of Story.

Last, Cranium Rats finally got to version beta 3.0, where efforts at improving readability had been the main concern. If you can find the time to peruse it and give me your thoughts, I’d be thankful. If you’d be able to playtest it, I’d be even moreso.


This post is a direct continuation, or perhaps the post leading to the previous post on this blog, the one about ‘Tunnels’. I will explore Flags, or to be more precise, I will explore their usage, particularly in CSI Games.Flags are tools that allow for better communication between the different parties at the game-table, I think they are of special interest in games where the position of creating the game-world or story is held as a distinct right by a limited number of people, as it allows the players to inform these figures(GM is a good example) of what they want explored in the game.If you ask me who is the person to watch if you want to explore and understand Flags better, I’d say Judd Karlman, who goes as Paka on various fora, you would do worse than to go to RPG.Net and read threads started by him.Anyway, I’ve explained in an ultra-brief manner what Flags are/do, so, what is their use in Competitive games?

First, they act as Demarkation. In competitive games and areas you need to know where is the limit, what is being contested, using what tools and how far you may go. One example if Capes, where the other players do not have to engage in competition with you, but you want them to in order to be able to reap the rewards, so finding out what their Flags are is a key skill to the game, showing you where you need to apply force, because that’s what these players care about; in a way, this is the opposite of Flags, as players may not tell you what they want explored, but try to obfuscate it while at the same time following it and you have the job of pinning it down.

Another option is shown in Cranium Rats, which shows us another method of demarkation. You know what the competition is about, because there are set win conditions which you try to achieve. This promises that people will engage you, because they must if they are to win, or to stop you from winning. The competition isn’t defined by Flags, the competition is defined by the end-terms, the Flags in Cranium Rats are of a more mundane sort, they act to funnel the in-game fiction to align with what players want to explore. This will get more space in our next post.

Flags, especially of the Tunnels variety, may also be what you compete over. Whose story element gets advanced and whose remains unexplored. You probably want to change Flags as the game progresses, especially as older ones get resolved or dissolved (look at Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday), if you need to win a competition of sorts in the game to get a new Flag, then it provides a powerful motivation for players. What is the bigger rush than to define the world and the parameters of the story?

This post was rather bare bones and short, but as always, I consider my purpose to get you to think about things, rather than feed you well-chewed thoughts. Comments are as always welcome, especially if you wish to explore more purposes of Flags, in general and in CSI Games.

On Tunnels; A Repost.

The following post is taken from this post on the Forge, originally titled [Cranium Rats] On Flags Alone?, I refer to this post earlier on the blog, but it’s not really a Blinder, but a Constraint. I also need this post in order for our next Component post, the one regarding “Flags”.

There had been some discussion on the Forge post, you may want to head over there and peruse it. If you have any new comments though, please post them here.


So, I’m going to continue talking about what I call Blinders, and when it is discussed in terms of games or game-play is often called Constraints. This topic is about games in general, but I am posting this as a question regarding and using as an example, my own game, Cranium Rats, like the post about Codification of Session Length.So, let’s talk about Flags. Flags are there to attract attention to what the players want to focus on, what they want their characters to do. Flags are all about jumping up and down and pointing to the interesting bits.
But, no one enforces Flags in most cases, there is nothing that forces you to create a story involving them, especially in games where you have an omnipresent GM. Perhaps this is how people like it, but perhaps it is not.

In The Shadow of Yesterday your characters have Keys, the way to get XP is by following the character’s Goals. You also have Flags in the form of the abilities on your character-sheet. If you list Diplomacy or Spear-Fighting, then obviously you want these abilities to play a part in the game-play. There is no onus on the GM to provide scenes where either your abilities or your Keys come into play.
The issue of Keys is a step-up from previous designs, where you merely had Goals with no mechanical effects though, like the Abilities.

In Nine Worlds your characters have Muses, which double up as both your Goals and which provide a bonus when you perform an act which follows them. You have narration rights as a player, so you can be pretty sure that your Muses will come into play, this is already some refining of the Flags issue, as you can bring your own Muses in.

In Cranium Rats, I took this a couple steps forward, and probably a couple of steps backwards as well. I have taken the Flags and more or less turned them into “Tunnels”, where you can only narrate new Scenes relating to your Goals. Your character sheet is also quite empty compared to most games, and thus the Goals act as the only Flags.

Now, the question is, how do you feel about this? Do you think you should have Flags and also non-Flags story(taking into consideration Flags may or may not get addressed at all, depending on game and GM fiat), or do you want a game where Flags happen, but not only do they happen, they’re the only thing story is going to address/spring from?

Discussion Continues; The Cobwebs Attack.

You may have noticed the recent lack of posts. If you have anything to say regarding CSI Games which you can formulate as an article, feel free to send it, now is the time. I will use them to bridge the gaps in my own posts as I recover from my recent bout of severe tiredness. The next month in the army is promising to be extremely tiring and busy, so bare with me, and please, send me entries.

The voting for the CSI Logo are ended, and with 32% of the votes, I present to you the winning logo:

Winning Logo


This is the second Discussion post, and it is tied into the newest Project we’re kicking off, of finding/creating a “Definition” entry for CSI Games. Like the well-known “What is an RPG” entries other games have.

In order to support the effort it’d be asked that games will use such a “Definition”, each one could use their own, naturally, but I think we’ll do good to start creating them here.

Thus; submit your definition of “What is a CSI Game”, anything from 150 words to 400 words(0.5-1 page seems optimal size), and post it as a reply to this post. Other posters should feel free to post suggestions, thoughts, fixes and so on and so forth.
I am doing this before I’m posting my updated “Definition/Review” because I think this will be telling.

So go on people, and write in “Game-book voice”, what is a CSI Game.

Meta-entry.

This is not a real entry. This is not the entry you have been looking for. This is more or less a semi-service announcement post.

First, I’m looking for responses on this thread on the Forge. This is a thread regarding Cranium Rats and removing the kinks regarding hybridization of Story and Competition when it comes to Token economics. I feel this issue has much to do with CSI Games, so I turn to you for help.

Second, I just finished Mechanical Primum Mobile, it’s a small cute game about mechanical angels and the loss of humanity’s free will. A scene which is the basic unit of the game should take 5-15 minutes, the came is written on two pages and uses Blackjack as the basic resolution mechanic. It’s part of the “Technological Horror” Compact RPG challenge, give it a look.

Third, the CSI Game Logo voting ends in two days and it seems we won’t be getting new entries, so go off and vote, what are you waiting for?
Even if you have nothing to do with CSI Games, your vote and artistic taste are appreciated.

Fourth, I have a whole bunch of ideas waiting for me to get off my ass and post them here on this blog, but now that this blog has a basic amount of content, I’m curious what you, dear reader, would like to see written about?

Have fun at GenCon, anyone who’s going!

The GM Element; Considerations, Overview.

First, let me begin by noting that I’ve just found out Britt Daniel, aka Tetsujin78 is dead. What a blow. I have nothing to say really, no way to put it into the right words.

Our usual bunch of service announcements come first, as always, and we seem to have more of them as time passes. Our discussion concerning Immersion and the definition of RP spawned a further discussion on John Kim’s RPG LJ. Both discussions got mentioned on rpgtheoryreview in turn.
Also, I broke down and ponied the cash to get the Wiki Gold membership for a year, we have jumped from 12.5 MBs of storage room to 2,500 MBs, feel free to load files for your games, playtest games, whatever. I want the place to become a one-stop depot for our games.

Also, I am sorry for the sometimes slow nature of updates to this blog, I’ve been suffering from an extreme bout of tiredness over the last couple of weeks, and had been sleeping instead of writing and posting.


So, the Components posts are a direct continuation of the Blinders posts, in fact, the previous post about Blinders is probably a Components post. Whereas in Blinders we talk about external limitations you set upon yourself, Components talks about specific elements, usually mechanically, of games. CSI Games in particular, but I think such discussions would benefit all games.

In his Gamism article, Ron Edwards said:
All of them utilize control over narration as one of the variables of play, thus shifting around the privileges of a traditional GM role, and all of them are explicitly about winning the game much as one wins a traditional card game”.
I sent him a question asking him why he thinks these games share these traits(specifically the GM-role-shifting), but in a nut-shell, this is what this post is about.

What is the role of a GM(“Game Master”) within a game, what are the different options for including or not including him? The answers will be given in specific combinations.

GM as “Storyteller”, when the game is Competitive, this gives you two options.
When the competition is not about setting a story(Cranium Rats), that creates a problem of there being two games played at the table. There is the competitive game, and there is the story-creation game. The real problem is, that the GM doesn’t get to play the Competitive game, which is “The Game”, he agrees to not get to play the CSI Game, but a Story Game.
When the competition IS about setting a story(Capes), then you simply can’t allow for a GM as Storyteller. The whole point of the game is to compete for telling a story, and if you have someone who acts as over-Storyteller, then why bother competing when he can make the shots? That’s what Filip refers to as someone “Moving your rook” while you play Chess.

When the competition is between the GM as “God” and the Group(note, group, not individuals)(Hackmaster), then for me the whole game is problematic. The “competition” only acts between the group and the GM, is often not rooted in rules, and isn’t as all-encompassing as I like. Most of the game is actually Cooperative between the players as a group. This mode of play also gives rise to many bad play experiences, as it often promotes antagonism without a strong Social Contract in place.

When the GM is a referee(Cranium Rats again, or any sports), it creates and solves a host of problems. So long as the GM doesn’t act as part of the competition, all is fine with the competition, but this requires the GM to be impartial, or the Competition(and the game!) will not go as planned. This also creates the same problem with the story-setting GM; the GM agrees to not play the game. He agrees to sit on the sideline and act as audience for the most part. If that is fun for you, cool, but if it’s not, then there won’t be a game!

Games where the GM is rotating(Rune) solve some of these problems, you may not be part of the game now, but you will be later, and then again, everyone shares these duties. You can build further on it, like Capes did, and simply do away with the GM, which is what many Competitive games do. You have the rules/other players(Polaris) act as referees, and the Scene Framing rules are shared by all players(numerous games).

You can always have rare games where the GM as “God” or part of the competition actually enhances the competition. In Orx for example, there is Competition between the players, there are story-setting elements shared by all, and the competition between the GM and the players actually adds a level of Competition. It also created a situation where while you wanted to compete with your fellow players, you sometimes had to help them in order for your competition against the GM to not falter! I find that a great design that is often hard to accomplish, myself.

If you have a Competitive game, the issue of “GM” needs thought. Whether you decide to have a GM or not, it introduces new problems and new solutions. Whatever role you assign to the GM does likewise.
Whatever you choose, this needs to be given thought, and the alternatives considered. I hope this post will prove instrumental in such musings.

Logo, Label and Cliques; “Who’s Deserving?”; Discussion Begins.

I intentionally intended this post to be only about the Discussion, if you want to skip my thoughts, go to the end. However, I keep having ideas put in my head when I’m thinking of posts, and since these are relevant and may further ferment the discussion to follow, I will post these ideas. It’s not like you can stop me.

So, the current Project is about finding a logo for CSI Games, but once we have it, a new question arises. The question will be put to voting in a future Project, which gives us time till then(a month or so) to discuss the issue here, to bring up whatever you want to discuss regarding it.
The issue is, who gets to use the Logo and/or “Label”?

Some people are against the Logo because it puts a Label on their product, Labels are often associated with Cliques, and this is my personal belief on why people have an inherent resistance to the idea. Often because they may already be part of their own clique.
Most people have no need to belong to more than a couple of social circles, because these fit their needs, and once they settle down they are slow to change. Why accept another label, another clique when you have no need for one?

I currently “Pull” people, I actively approach people whose works I think fit the profile about using the Label(and perchance even the Logo). This is done in order to kick-start the idea, rather than an attempt by myself to form a clique. I will not lie that when published/noted game designers’ games fit, it makes me a little happier, but that is not because I try to form my own clique, but because through them I will be able to extend the word into their social circles, of which I may not be part.

Let’s leave aside that for now, and let us hear what you think should be the way(Leave aside the “For what?”, that will be the next Discussion) people who are interested in applying the label/logo to their game could get to do so; Matthijs Holter, maker of The President is Superf****d, may not have used the label had it not been up for him to decide if his game is or isn’t, free for all and free of commitments. Or at least, that’s the impression I have received.
On the other hand, Andrew Cooper(I think), who’s working on Fantasy Game Engine, raised the issue of “Quality Control”, where if you apply the Label, you’re in part identifying with all games with the label, which requires a certain quality control to prevent “bad seeds” from dropping into the barrel.

A method suggested was a committee, on which all those who already have games identified as “CSI Games” sit, and they “pass judgement” if a new candidate applies or not. I think that idea is cumbersome and unwieldy, and also raises financial questions as those people need to read the text(even if provided in .txt format, they may still opt not to buy it based on that, though Clinton R. Nixon‘s Creative Commons products initiative give us hope there), and thus suggested the idea that you’ll have three members, who rotate(perhaps with one permanent member) who review the submission and decide.

You can always decide that it’ll be decided by one sole person, me, though as you may have noticed, I’m slowly setting this project so it could theoretically survive and prosper without me.

Well, this discussion is open for everyone, those who work on CSI Games and those who don’t, feel free to state your opposition to the Label, to the Logo(as a concept), to give us your thoughts on how the Logo/Lable rights should be handed down, the sort.

Role-Play Vs. Playing a Role; The Semantics’ Attack; The Immersionist Trap.

Here we are again, with another semi-service announcement. In a day or two I will post a new post that will gear towards the next Project. That post will require your replies, and without them it’d go nowhere. So please keep your eyes open, and once the post gets here, give me your opinions!

I must give you a piece of my meandering mind, that is, before I continue to do so with the body-text of this post. I have noticed something funny, as I gear up to write a post, that is, think of the post’s topic, I start noticing all sorts of things which support/relate to my topic at hand. Or people only start saying these things when I begin thinking of them? ;) Anyway, take a look at Michael Shermer’s Skeptic column on Scientific American’s July 2006(Volume 295 Number 1) issue, about fighting self-induced bias.

So, someone asked about Role-play in Cranium Rats, and I said it’s not an RPG, it’s a CSI Game. Role-playing is a possible side-effect, but isn’t the goal, or a goal, that I try to accomplish or facilitate. This brings up the horrible question(or debate) of “What is a Role-playing game?”
Add to this the piece of information I came across over the weekend on Ron Edwards’s Gamism article, which in turn is originally from the GM section of Arrowflight (2002, Deep 7, author is Todd Downing):
“The best games are those where everyone is playing a role, striving for a goal and working as a unit (that doesn’t mean that every character must like every other character, but player must at least properly play the role they’ve chosen).”

Now we reach the problem, at least, what I find as a problem. On one hand we have “Role-playing” and on the other we have “playing a role”. It seems like there is no mix-up, these two phrases, but then, let me present you with several cases: In Magic: the Gathering you portray the role of a planeswalker, in Monopoly you play the role of an investor, in Settlers of Cattan you play the role of the expedition/community leader. Do you consider these to be Role-play experiences? You do not, which shows a disparity of terms.

This disparity of terms didn’t come from nowhere. Language shapes thoughts, language shapes ideas. I posit that this is something of an Immersionist Trap, if you want to see some discussion of Immersionism, then Thomas Robertson is having an Immersionism Month on his blog, this very month.

The thought at the base of RPGs and the definition thereof is that Role-play is where you have a chance to immerse yourself. To act your character through and through it(for a short and simplistic meaning of the term). Then we reach games where the seperation through your character and you is distinct, or there is no character per se for you to portray(how does one “Feel” the Colour Red, how does one “Think” Cloud?).

If we do not treat these games as RPGs then our definition is exclusive, and we remain stagnant, with the same kind of games to draw from, whereas if we act in an inclusive manner, these borderline games are pulled under our umbrella, and then a pod is shot to the next-closest kind of game, pulling it under the umbrella as well. So that slowly but surely we expand the definition of RPGs. The Immersionist Trap defies time. We may call new games RPGs, but then the games they were linked to from, which had already been accepted, come under attack again, since they still do not allow for Immersion, or not the degree of which that these players seek.

I think that RPGs should be defined in a manner not dissimilar from Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Seperation. Some games are RPGs because they are “Like D&D”[Insert link with Mike Mearls saying that all RPGs are basically “Like D&D”], and from there we slowly connect the games, until each game that we can connect to with enough points and under a certain amount of steps is now also called an RPG.

Check out this thread where Tony Lower-Basch shares some wisdom from his wife. It’s all RPGs. It’s all worthy of discussion and inclusion. If you’re too cool for school, then go away. And if you don’t want us in your schools, because these “Aren’t RPGs”, then you’re the fool.

“Going Anywhere?”; On Innovation.

First, a couple of service announcements:

First, Kuma(Brian Hollenback(sp?)) is talking about us.Give it a look.
Second, on the Wiki Preoject, I will be at the army next weekend, so I’m adding a day to the Logo entries. You may send entries for the “CSI Game” project logo to my email(tundranocaps(at)gmail(dot)com) till Sunday the 16th on 2000 GMT. You don’t have to be working on such a game in order to send me an entry. We’re short on entries, so all help will be much appreciated.

***

Ok, this time we’ll talk about Innovation, lack of it, what we need it for and all that jazz. This post came to be in large part thanks to the post “Reinventing the Alternator”over at Story-Games, also, continuing on my building-upon-prior-entries habit(reading this blog should be done from the bottom), it also is a continuation of the post where I mention Iconoclasm(though the real point of that post was that games, especially of the CSI Game variety are an outgrowth of their authors’ personalities).

I will begin with a couple of personal experiences. One of my backburner projects is called “Cancer, the RPG”, the more I worked on it the less progress I made. I felt the desire to create a new system, but the more I zoomed out, the more problems I’ve encountered, this resulted in me creating solutions on an even further out level, which yet again, created more errors on the next level.

Enter Cranium Rats, where I just took as a basis a system that was simple and worked, and went on with it(said system was the one used in InSpectres and octaNe by Jared A. Sorensen). I didn’t need anything fancy, since this wasn’t the focus of the game. I just needed something that worked, so I looked around(actively), found something that worked and took it to serve in my own game.

I also had a couple of passive “looking around” and a couple of “Alternator reinvention”, which are also called parallel evolution. There are some portions where the game had things that it needed, some “Holes” and I filled them. After the fact I identified that this is in fact the mechanic from game X(Token economy is influenced by PTA). On other occasions I created my mechanic, and later found out it has some striking semblances to mechanics I didn’t know of while creating the game(Goals and Muses from Nine-Worlds).

So, this time I took care of applicability first and foremost, now it’s time to delve into the theory(with little “t”) behind it.

When we say a game is innovative, do we mean it’s innovative compared to all that is out there or compared to what is accepted and mainstream(let’s not argue this, there is a mainstream RPG section)? For example: Conflict Resolution, Scene Framing, GM-less/GM-full are all common things in many Indie RPGs, these things aren’t innovative in comparison to them. However, when I’ve shown Cranium Rats to some of my friends who are not aware of Indie-rpgs, they really smiled about the Scene Framing issue. This is also the deal with “Fantasy Heartbreakers”, they think they are innovative, but they only are compared to two decades ago, so they’re not even innovative compared to the mainstream.

When we take something and refine it, that is innovation. The concept existed, but not the implementation as is. Consider Flags, each take on Flags is different, from Burning Wheel’s BITs to The Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys to Nine Worlds’ Muses to Cranium Rats’ Goals. Not all innovation must be radical and profound. We may have a concept we like, but no implementation we do, or we take an implementation we like and take it one step further, or polish it up. In fact, refinement is a very important bit of innovation; when you get a new idea it’s all sorts of rough, shiny and exciting. Innovation makes it safe to use.

Parallel evolution is another key-issue, for me at least. Innovation isn’t an act, it’s a mindset. When you are into the innovative mindset, you innovate. The fact you “reinvent the alternator” doesn’t matter. As far as you’re concerned, as far as your mental processes go, you just invented the alternator. Be proud. Be proud also because it shows you that the idea is a valid one, if only because you see its existence elsewhere.
Also, “reinventing the alternator” is crucial in terms of actual RPG Design and refinement! Now, that sure came out of the blue. But consider it, you came up with solution Ai in your game, and someone else came up with solution Aii in his game. When you compare the solutions you can see and learn from the differences, each is a refinement, each has a slightly different way it works, even if it strives toward the same goal. When you look at the differences between things that strive to accomplish the same, you learn, a lot more than you learn when you look at the differences or similarities between things that don’t try to accomplish the same goal, because you have more points of reference.

I believe innovation happens on its own, we tend not to be satisfied with things, so we innovate. Innovation for the sake of innovation is still valid and actually important. It may not be as useful because it doesn’t spring from an actual need(“See a need, feel a need”), but once people find a hole into which to find the solution, or use it as comparison, it works great. Sometimes, you also invent instead of refine because you feel like it. It may work out, and it’ll be great. There is no reason to say that the idea of innovation for its own sake is not valid. It is, and it encourages the right mindset. Innovate, invent, and it’ll end up refined and useful.

You don’t need to innovate, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Expect a follow-up entry in the next two weeks about Innovation and CSI Games. Also expect an entry about “Competition”, but I keep pushing that one back, because the longer I keep it loosely(poorly?) defined, the more interesting discussions about it I have.

CSI Game Wiki; Public Service Announcement.

This blog isn’t really “My blog”, I don’t post about my random RPG Development ideas, these go on my LiveJournal or on Cranium Rats Central, or at least would if I weren’t so lazy. I only post entries here if I feel they have something to do with “CSI Games” or Competitive Games. In fact, you people can send me by way of email(tundranocaps >>at<< gmail >>dot<< com) articles and I’ll publish them here, fully crediting you(given that they fit the subject material).

Given that I believe CSI Games is a community wide project, which I just happen to spearhead, I created the Wiki, on the Wiki there are some rules(/guidelines) and I act as global Editor, because we can’t have disorganized anarchy. But all in all, everyone can post, everyone can add content, everyone can start new pages. You also will and should hopefully be able to use the site as a first-stop on all things CSI Games.

Oh, and it’s gonna rock, hard. Link? Silly me, head over there.

“CSI Games for All!”?; On Promotion

So, Emily Care Boss, author of Breaking the Ice, talks about CSI Games, even though it was prompted by me, asking her if she thinks her newer game(Shooting the Moon) fits, because I think it does. This raises an issue close to my heart, the issue of promotion.

I raised the issue of how Capes is promoted earlier. When I asked Tony about why he promotes the game as a super-hero game instead of putting Conflict in front, his answer(which I can’t find…) was(IIRC) that it didn’t attract as many asses, and when he talked about the playtest he said that focusing on it as super-hero game got him something to compare it with.

I serve in the army, people often ask me about what my game is about, and what RPGs are in general(It’s still the easiest to go from the RPG angle, CCGs and non-family board-games are all but unknown to the public in Israel, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, and if even D&D fails, LotR). When I tell them about the game, I eventually tell them about the Colour, the fluff, the setting, and that is what most people go “Cool!” about. Ron Edwards often says that he cares most about Reward and Colour. Me? I could care less about Colour, I don’t care for Capes’s Superhero aspect, I believe Werewolf: the Apocalypse high politics and Vampire: the Masquerade hack-and-slash are viable choices.

What this shows us is simple, and even obvious. Not all types of promotion benefit all folks. When I came up with Cranium Rats, the Conflict and Competition quickly took center stage, and the Colour, while I love it, isn’t half as important. But if you’d look at ECB’s Shooting the Moon love triangle situation, I think the conflict came from the colour and not vice versa, and selling the game as “A game about Competition” rather than “A Game about a love triangle and romance”(though very much the same) would hurt the game, would hurt the promotion, more crowd would be lost than crowd would be gained. 
I on the other hand talk about Conflict and barely mention Colour, which may not work as well, but I rather do that than “Bait-and-switch”(I think most people who like Capes like it because of the Competitive element, and those who dislike it, dislike it for the same reason, selling it as a superhero game doesn’t inform your audience if they’ll like it or not. I, like Alexander Cherry, am surprised when the game is brought up in Super-hero game threads, I don’t find Super-hero game content in it, though I love it for other stuff it has).

Those of you who do identify your games as “CSI Games”, please mention it in the text, if Competition is what you pride yourself on, do so on the first page, put the “CSI Games; a Definition” post in the front of the text. If your game happens to be a CSI Game, but that is not the focus, but yet you identify your game as such, please put a mention somewhere, even if on the book’s last page or two. This project is all about creating a support-net for other people who work on CSI Games, but once our games get out there, it’ll also help to point people who like the competitive angle to other games who contain that aspect.

JJ Prince, John Kirk, I’m looking at you, this also applies to playtest versions!

Slime Octopi and Coral; I, Boardgamer.

So, much earlier we had on the blog Slime Octopi and Coral’s Power 19, now I’ve finally finished writing the game.

It is very under-polished, it is very rough, but it has some very nifty ideas. I’ve decided against making it a CSI Game and at present time it’s a board-game, with one simple modification needed to turn it into a CSI Game(namely, of adding narration once the Cards are flipped over, ala Agora or Dogs in the Vineyard).

This game is Call of Cthulhu meets Age of Empires. Character Generation has you answering questions and your traits being assigned based on that, like in Ogre Tactics: Knight of Lodis for the GBA. Each Slime Octopus is a Cthulhuoid entity that tries to win over the world, and on another side stands Humanity, played by another player. The game-play is rather simple, based on resource allocation, simultanous, handled by putting a seen amount of resources in unseen categories and flipping them over at once.

The game needs much more polish, a complete re-write, but it needs you people to give it a look first. It also has two pictures.

As always, you can head over to Cranium Rats Central to give it a look!

Specific Blinders; Constraints; Isn’t it Getting Dark in Here?

So, here we are, still with the issue of blinders. Blinders are practical things, they help shape your design and play, and as such we give them still more space.

When you use Blinders in specific games they tend to call them “Constraints”, pointing out what you can do and what you cannot, the limits of the game. People pointed out games like Polaris or even Dogs in the Vineyard are akin to Board-Games compared to other RPGs. In other games you can play any sort of thing, or nearly, whereas in these games session length may be dictated, as well as what you play and how you play. It’s often questioned if they are RPGs at all.

Someone else mentioned the difference between Video and Board games and RPGs(much like Thomas Robertson does here, but it was earlier during the week, but specifically mentioned competitive games). In Video games anything you can do is wired into the game, if it’s not wired(coded) in, then you can’t do it. Board games where strategies that weren’t accounted for exist are considered ‘broken’ or require errata(can someone help me find said post?). RPGs that want to foster such a feel need to have every possibility accounted for or they’ll fail.

And this folks is why CSI Games have such a strong inclination to include Blinders/Constraints; the more options available to the players, and this being hybrid-RPG means the options are numerous, the less you can prepare for all of them, which in turn can lead to the system falling apart and people abusing it. The more Constraints you add the less situations you’ll have to deal with and the better you’ll be able to plan for what you are to deal with.

Over on The Forge I created two specific Blinders posts, using Cranium Rats as an example. Though they may have seemed like they were about CR, they weren’t, that was merely the example and the specific design question that related to them.

In the first post, “Codification of Session Length?”, I talk about the prospect of tying session length down mechanically, much like in Board Games with plays. When a certain parameter is met the game session ends and unless it is met the game continues on. RPGs and their kin fill a certain niche in the social zone, so it may not work just yet.

In the second post, “On Flags Alone?”, I coin the term “Tunnels” as opposed to “Flags”. Flags exist to attract attention to things the players want to cover, but in most games, nothing forces the players to focus on the Flags. So why are they there? I thought “System Matters”. The concept of “Tunnels” says that nothing but the Flags are addressed. As for “Emergant stories”, that can be solved by putting in a way to create new Tunnels during the gameplay.

Last, I’ll raise a new idea here, for you loyal readers, a third Constraint. The issue of “GM or Not?”. It seems that CSI Games are much like Board games in this regard, and that there is either no GM(Gnostigmata, Capes) or the “GM” isn’t really one and he’s a player with different capabilities and responsebilities(Threads and Cranium Rats).

This is an antithesis to some of the games who had Party Vs. GM, they weren’t CSI Games as you didn’t have an option of allying, you were given that you were cooperative within the party, very much a proto-CSI Games issue. In a CSI Game you need the competition to be nigh all-encompassing, and there isn’t room for “We” as much as “He and I, for now”. And so the issue of “GM or Not” takes rise, and the answer for most CSI Games will be “Not”, because if he’s there, he’s a Conflict stiffling and out-of entity.

Blindness without Blinders.

Well, this is the third in a series of posts, that originally was planned to host only two entries. These posts present practical theory(?), they give you concrete considerations when you play, design and especially playtest a game, specifically a CSI Game.

In the first post I pointed out why the system deserves its own playtesting, where you test the system rather than the game. We keep talking about "The system should push the feel/message of the game", but it could be a self-fullfilling prophecy if we do not check it on its own.

In the second post I pointed out that who you play with has much impact on your play experience and playtesting. This is obvious, which is why I pointed out that "Who you play with" in this instance is either "people you know" or "people you don't know". And to answer Dave, these posts are about self-imposed Blinders, so the Either/Or are ok.

In this post I won't talk about Blinders, which are self imposed, but Blindness, an area that is beyond our control; our personalities. The last point was actually an example of this one, in a way. If you didn't understand what that post was about, well, it was that personality counts, especially when one makes a CSI Game.

I feel a bit lazy, so instead of just writing it, I'll repost a discussion I had with Mike Holmes and Thomas Robertson(TheSmerf) on #indierpgs, on 15/06/2006, this also shows you the other side's opinion:

[08:36] LordSmerf: So, Guy…
[08:36] Thunder_God: ::listens to Smerfy::
[08:36] LordSmerf: I find your most recent post to be mostly content-free.
[08:37] LordSmerf: I mean, you talk about the fact that you think Tony should play up the Conflict thing.
[08:37] LordSmerf: And you talk about the Sweet spot in the middle.
[08:37] LordSmerf: And you talk about Lose benefits.
[08:37] Thunder_God: You mean I have no coherent point?
[08:37] LordSmerf: But you just mention them.  I don't see any sort of discussion of why you'd use them or not, or anything like that.
[08:37] LordSmerf: So it seems to me, Guy.
[08:38] Thunder_God: The point of this entry is simple, and a very "D'oh" one.
[08:38] LordSmerf: Well, I missed it :)
[08:38] Thunder_God: It's that the personality of the designer has much effect on his game and design.
[08:39] LordSmerf: Ah…
[08:39] Mike_Holmes: Tony in this case being Tony LB?
[08:39] Thunder_God: Yes.
[08:39] Mike_Holmes: I agree in general, but extra so with Tony LB. :-)
[08:40] Thunder_God: Yes, that's one of the two reasons I picked him ;)
[08:40] Thunder_God: The other is, because Capes and Tony fit my model, IMO.
[08:40] Mike_Holmes: Makes sense
[08:41] Thunder_God: It especially fits Competitive games. I think most Competitive games are an outgrowth of personality, more than non-competitive designs, though that's my claim.
[08:42] Mike_Holmes: Interesting. I could make a case that non-competitive designs are reflective of very specific personalities that regard conflict as potentially damaging to creativity.
[08:43] Thunder_God: Mike, that's a possibility, but let us look at the following: If you follow the "standard philosophy" of your culture, it could be because you agree with it, or merely because you don't wish to confront it, or never thought of confronting it! Whereas the "heretics" have _chosen_ to follow another path, with less A or B, and only B.
[08:44] Mike_Holmes: So…competition is heretical in RPGs?
[08:44] Thunder_God: Smerfy, you'll note how often I mention personalities, I mention "Sweet in the middle" only in order to later mention "Losing Vs winning", which is an outgrowth of personality.
[08:44] Thunder_God: No Mike, it's just less common, not the default.
[08:44] Thunder_God: Thus me using quotation marks.
[08:45] Thunder_God: Those who ascribe to the default could actively agree or could passively not care, those who do not ascribe to default actively disagree.
[08:45] LordSmerf: Guy, you don't make it explicit that they're outgrowths of personality in your post.
[08:45] LordSmerf: I don't disagree with you, but you didn't say it.
[08:45] Mike_Holmes: Interesting…I think you may be right in terms of sheer number of games designed, but in terms of play, most RPG play is competitive, IMO.
[08:45] LordSmerf: Or if you did I missed it.
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: The vast majority of D&D play, for instance.
[08:46] Thunder_God: "However, look at Winning and Losing, which seem to show our personal philosophies, and how Tony may not be as Muy Macho as he claims(desires?) to be."
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: Heh
[08:46] Thunder_God: Mike, when I say Competitive DnD old-skool is only halfway there.
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: I think that Tony's designs are incoherent, yeah.
[08:46] Thunder_God: There's antagonism and competition between GM and players.
[08:46] Thunder_God: But the players work as a group.
[08:47] Thunder_God: I mean competitive like a board/card game, where it's free for all.
[08:47] Mike_Holmes: Players working as a group doesn't mean that they're not competing.
[08:47] Mike_Holmes: I think they very much do. And, yes, this leads to problems.
[08:47] Thunder_God: It also depends on house rules such as "killing blow" and so on.
[08:48] Mike_Holmes: I mentioned that recently, where "I kill him as he sleeps" becomes a very effective winning move.
[08:48] Thunder_God: Hm, well, I'm still talking about design, and set goals. Players play competitively because that's what people do in games, as you said, it leads to problems because the game does not facilitate "human nature".
[08:48] Thunder_God: Heh.
[08:48] Thunder_God: Stevil Van-Hostle kind of win ;) you won't see the Untouchtable Trio+1 pull it though.
[08:54] Thunder_God: I believe Cranium Rats's design, not in details, but overall is a reflection of my personality.
[08:54] Thunder_God: I think of my personality as a battering ram, so I created CR, and used a "gale" to get my goals down, sweeping through whatever I didn't like, ho ho.
[08:55] Mike_Holmes: Guy, I can see that. It's definitely philosophical in it's apparent output.
[08:56] Thunder_God: Mike, that's exactly what I didn't mean :: smiles:: Of course I meant its reflective of my personality, but I'm talking about the design process, where I batterred away anything that I didn't like, forcefully.
[08:57] Thunder_God: And yes, that does sound funny.
[08:58] Mike_Holmes: I see what you're saying, Guy, but it seems to me that it's affected both. Also, your comments about Tony's designs seem to focus on the output, no?

 Just a note, Mike's point about play is certainly a good one, but this point is mostly about design and playtesting. And heck, why do we have CSI Games if not to remedy this lack in design?
So, do I need to explain this further?

Winning and Losing; Tony/Capes “vs.” Guy/Cranium Rats.

So, since I'm mucking about with L-Space these days, this post is actually influenced by the next post, which is yet unwritten, that post, and by proxy this one as well, will deal heavily with personalities and how they affect games. I'm going to mention Tony Lower-Basch quite a lot, he's the 'other' exemplar of CSI Games, he published Capes, a quite well known CSI Game, when the other CSI Game I'm going to make use of in our examples is obviously Cranium Rats, simply because I'm rather intimate with it, more than anyone else at this point. Tony and I also have such personalities that make it fun or at least interesting to bring them up(just look at the Muy Macho thread on Story-Games to see what I mean). I am going to contrast Capes and Cranium Rats, compare and mull over things, I will also speak of Winning and Losing and somewhat of how a Game is a personal outgrowth of its writer. Ready?

The following is a PM reply from Tony to myself, reposted with permission: 

"Quote from: Thunder_God

What elements of competition exist between the Players in Capes?

Well … there's the game, and pretty much every single one of its facets in whole and in part.  So, yeah, quite a bit actually.

Quote from: Thunder_God

What brought on this desire for competitive play?

'cuz I like beatin' on people."

Tony said the following on here on The Forge: "First thought:  What does the losing player get when the conflict resolves?  Do they get some sort of payout for the many tokens that they accumulated on their way to defeat?  That would make me more willing to take a chance:  either I'm close enough to close the gap (in which case I've got a lot of tokens, and the reward if I lose will rock) or I'm so far out of the running that it's a foregone conclusion, and I want my loser-tokens as quickly as possible."

He also said the following on Story-Games: "Or perhaps it's just a question of having a genre that gets a large number of people on the same page. Like, with Capes, I could basically say "superhero stories, like Spiderman and Superman" and people immediately had thoughts about what was important and how to do it. But with Misery Bubblegum the best I can say is "stories of misunderstanding and relationships, like Pride and Prejudice and Nine Princes in Amber" and people reasonably say "What? What do those two things have in common?" It doesn't give them the same confidence that they know what high-points need to be hit, and how to hit them."

 So now we have several quotes by Tony, which show us quite a bit about him, Capes and his Capes, and now we're going to address and contrast with these. Yay for us.

So there we have Tony, talking about how Capes is all about Conflicts, yet the promotional teaser is all about Super-Heroics. When Capes originally came out I didn't buy it because it was just another Super-hero game with the Click-and-Lock Gimmick to me. I didn't need just another superhero game. I recently bought Capes after getting the above PM from Tony, which showed me what the game was actually about was Conflict. See, that's one place where Tony and I differ, he sells his game as a Super-hero game, not espousing the conflict in promotion, where I don't pay much attention to colour in CR and focus almost entirely on the conflict.

I think Tony could benefit from putting a little bit more focus on what his game is made almost entirely of, and I know I should put more focus on colour/setting.

When it comes to mechanics, I advise people to think before putting in "Flavour of the Month" just because it's cool and it works. It should work for you, in your game, and as we will soon see, follow your personal philosophy of how a game should go.

Case in point, I took the "Sweet in the Middle" from Tony, where if you have too much or too little of a resource you're not that well off, but there's some optimal spot to be in. This creates another axis to make decisions on; once you reach the sweet spot, if you do nothing, then what good do you get? Also, if you have some mechanic that keeps pushing you to the edges then the struggle keeps going on. This mechanic is present in Capes in the form of Debt and was inserted into Cranium Rats in regards to Dice in your Die Reservoir.

However, look at Winning and Losing, which seem to show our personal philosophies, and how Tony may not be as Muy Macho as he claims(desires?) to be. Tony believes that if you "Lose" you should get some "Loser Benefit", where in Cranium Rats it's more "All or nothing"(though it's more like "Increment or nothing" with the need for multiple increments for "Much" and various "Much" for "All"). I understand where Tony comes from, but it doesn't strike my fancy. In Cranium Rats, if you lose, you lost an opportunity, resources and/or chances of victory(at least in the near future). In Capes, and it seems that it's his general design goal, you don't "Lose" when you lose a conflict; it depends on your goals. You may have wanted to lose in order to gain or get rid of specific resources, the only real way to "lose" in Capes is not to get the outcome you desired, if you "Lost" while you got your goal, then it's not really losing.

End-game is an issue tied to losing and winning, in the form of "Victory". Capes does not have end-game, whereas Cranium Rats does. Mike Mearls would say CR is not even an RPG based on that.

Maybe he's right. It's an CSI Game.

Finally, if this comes off as harsh and all sorts of baity, then it's because both Tony and I are Muy Macho, though I'm more of the Muy Bastard/Sadistic sub-variety, and because Tony acknowledges this is the way to get someone to get reactions.

Ok, that was crap, I post like this because that's how I write. You may have noticed by now. I posted this notice at the end because I want you getting all worked up while reading it, that gets the neurons rubbing!

…and Double Blinders; The Players Don’t(Stand Alone).

This post is a direct continuation of this post, unlike most posts which build indirectly on what has come before(Yes, reading this blog in order helps greatly). Seems like there'll also be a surprise third post in this series, though I'm unsure if it'll be next or one after, since the next two posts build on one another!

So, when playtesting it's important to test the mechanics on their own, to see how they work, rather than how your interpretation of them makes them work.

So, the players you play with will dictate a lot on how the game goes, you play the game, but so do they. When you play a game for fun you'd rather play a game with people you know, so you can gel as much as possible with them and collaborate to create a fun enviroment.
But what about when you play a competitive game, and especially when playtesting one?

I'll begin with several stories, taken directly from the First Post on this blog:
"..(In M:tG)Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I've created a deck based on "Fear Factor". The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: "You don't attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers". It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the "Strong Pick" and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later…

…Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I've first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as "Strong" and "Weak", "Ally" or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me…"

I believe you should play with people you know, whereas Dave Michael, author of Legends of Lanasia, believes otherwise. Dave, I'm inviting you here to explain in the comments why you believe you should play(test) (competitive?) games with people you don't know.

When you play with people you know who is a danger, you know why they are a danger, you know who will betray you.
I play Worms with my cousin against two computer enemies, we always agree to squish them first and only then turn on one another, but when that "Sweet Hit" calls, and since no one wants to get hit first we turn on one another, but we always know it'd come…

Sure, you don't fully test the system, but the system only builds example conflicts, situations for you to clash. There must be some conflict between the active agents in order for conflict to actually occur. This is often done by human nature, expectation and the need to prove oneself's as winner.

Sure, you know what others plan to do and what are their weak spots, but that doesn't mean you won't fall again, like Charlie Brown and the Football, or me and my cousin. You know the others' weak spots, but so do they know yours.

It is considered "Bad Sports" to bring outside occurances to the game, but let's be frank, much of the conflict inherent to competitive games actually comes from the friction between the players. Why create artificial conflict when there's real conflict to be drawn upon so easily?

You want to test the system, you don't want to create conflict between players. You want to test the game, you do not want to test the situation between players, just use it as a tool.
You have winners and losers, and those feelings add on to the next time you play.

I believe you should play competitive games with people you know.

Questioning Analysis of an Analytical Tool; “Huh?”; Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive

First, an apology. I should write the second part of the “With Blinders..” post but it will have to wait until Sunday instead.

So I’ve asked John Kirk to write his own Meta-Chanics for Cranium Rats before reading my own version which is up right here on this very blog.
He didn’t exactly do what I asked him to; he used the gauge diagrams in his RPG Design Pattern book to analyze the currency flow in Cranium Rats. I meant the Meta-Chanics to not only contain the “What” and “How” but the very important “Why”, like Water gaining Narration to keep that player invested and Advantage Dice put in in order to reward interaction with the in-game world.

So, he did that, and I’m once again reminded of questions I have regarding the usefulness of such a tool, which is used to analyze games such as mine(note that there will be a thread on Cranium Rats regarding this issue on The Forge soon, a link will be edited in at such time it is up).

So, first and foremost, and also the last, because it sums it all up: “Yes, cool, what do I do with it?”

So you have this nice document. If you are creating your games and you’re missing something you can peruse it in search for something to fit in a hole(differing XP, HP and so on systems and what they may be useful for), if your thought processes are arcane enough you can sketch a series of diagrams of “How” you want your game’s currency flow to look like and only later work on such minute details as what the rules actually are(if you can do it then I worry for you, and for all the rest of us too…).

Or you’re in my position, you have a game and you have it looked at through this scientific-looking method, and we’ll use Cranium Rats as an example. So what does it do for you?
Unlike Meta-Chanics as I suggested above it is descriptive, whereas Meta-Chanics are descriptive(to me, from me) but becomes(often against my will, as noted in the previous post and the one regarding Meta-Chanics) prescriptive once it gets into the hands of other players. The system may do X, but once people get it into their heads, often because of “Advice” chapters it does Y, they will claim it really is all about Y. Look at Exalted for a good example.
Well, it lets me see how many stages one needs to go through in order to accomplish something and how many fiddly bits may have to be accounted for. This is helpful if you need a visual help, less helpful otherwise.
You can also see where things are going and if there are “Currency Sink-Holes” or “Geysers” where Currency comes from/evaporates to unexpectedly. But again, this isn’t of much use if you already know what you are doing.

This tool is merely descriptive, it doesn’t lead to much after you already have something, where often it is my opinion that game designers need prescriptive tools to further their work and agenda.

How else can one use this tool?

If you want to see someone else’s thought on Methods(Scientific, Philosophical Vs. Artistic and more) from which one can also take Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive check out Chris Lehrich’s two Livejournal accounts: Account #1 and Account #2. I’m not going to link to specific entries as they are numerous and a short scroll-down will help you find them. Even entries about other topics are actually about this, so read everything.

With Blinders…; The System Stands Alone.

This post relates directly to the previous post. I am not going to tell you why; I'd build you a rifle but not shoot for you, I will build you a fire but I will not cook for you; I will present you this analogy but not explain it to you.

So, building on the last post and also going directly from the Meta-Chanics post, I'm going to start this 1-of-2 post, about testing pure systems.

So, when you're playtesting you need to know what it is you're testing. If you're saying "System" then more likely than not you are deluding yourself, for you are testing the Game as a whole. I believe much can be learnt from testing the system on its own.

So how does one test the system on its own? First, one cuts off all mentions of colour and background. The three Aspects become Three Aspects that cover A, B and C, or even just three Aspects. This is easy, and allows you to see what directions it could go on once the colour is peeled off, which happens with most games after a while anyway.

Then, you take away all mentions of how the game should be played, the "Meta-Chanics", you don't tell players if they should go cooperatively or competitively, you let their own nature take them where it will.

This is the way to see what the System encourages, rather than what you encourage. If you want your design goals and what the system actually encourages, rather than what it encourages once you point it in the "right" direction, then you have to see what the System does.

The System and not the Game.

And you could see it as a way of me agreeing with Troy, Setting does matter. Though I look at it from another angle.

Game Theory and RPGs; Logic Vs. Reality.

People, please share your thoughts regarding my writing, because I can see we have at least a couple of readers.

In games and businesses we have Game Theory, which to some degree dictates the way people operate. You’d think they’d operate by common logic, but they do not.

Note that I know some tidbits of Game Theory, but not too much. I have several books, including University MBA level on the subject, but did not peruse them too deeply, so take what I write with a grain of salt, well, a bigger one than usual.

So some examples:
We have two people who will never meet again, have this opportunity be repeated or met before: One of them gets $100 and can offer the other participant as much of it as he wants, should the other particiant accept, they both take the money, should he decline they both leave empty-handed.
Common sense would decree that even if you’re given $0.01 you’d accept, because it’s better than going away empty-handed.
Yet, this is not the way things go.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma:
So you have two prisoners(A, B) who got caught after committing a crime, and are questioned simultanously in seperate rooms: If both tell on their friend they each serve 2 years, if neither talks they both get 6 months inside. If one talks and the other doesn’t, the one who talked will go free and the silent one will get to spend 10 years in jail.
By logic, both should remain silent, mathematically, each ‘acting agent’ should speak.

So now let’s look at two RPGs with mechanics one can look at from the Game Theory angle, both have a mechanic with the same name: Trust. The games are the Mountain Witch and Conspiracy of Shadows.

In Conspiracy of Shadows there’s a communal pool called Trust. When you do something for the benefit of the group you put a die in it, when you could do something for the group but don’t, remove a die from it. You can take dice from the pool and use them.
So long everyone is acting all cooperatively it’s all cool. Once someone starts pissing in the pool, aka, acting against the interests of the party, I forsee players taking dice out as fast as possible, in order to not let more dice go to waste.

In the Mountain Witch each pair of characters have a Trust score for one another(the game is influenced by Reservoir Dogs), the higher you trust someone, the more he can use your help to get things done, to help everyone get to the top of the Mountain. Once things get a little hairy as people’s secrets and secret goals get exposed though, the Trust you have for someone can be used against you.
So do you give someone high Trust in order to help everyone at a possible of self-risk or don’t Trust and then you may not even finish the quest?

I am not going to tell you what to do with it, just wanted to get something out there for you to think about.

And if you don’t see how this relates to Competitive games, then shame on you.

Cranium Rats – Meta-Chanics.

This is a post which is not re-posted from my LiveJournal, hard as that may be to imagine.

I did not post this on my game, the Meta-Chanics section because I believe in a "Double-Blinders" test of the system, but fuck it, we could have that later. I'll explain this concept later in two posts or so, expect it by the end of the week.

The following is more or less the way Mechanics work in Cranium Rats. Since this blog is about Competitive Games, specifically CSI Games, and Cranium Rats is one such game(and because it's mine the one who will show quite prominently as an example) I thought I'd show it.
Let me note that much could be considered as "Added weight", unlike Capes which to me feels like The Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings – Constructed. The world/game was constructed in advance, and then things were added to it. I go the other way, where you create the world as characters experience it, so much was created by "urge" and "instinct".

Here goes:
First, why this is NOT in the playtest file:
I want to see if the mechanics actually work as intended, IE, whether the meta-chanic goals are reached. If I tell people why things operate as they do and what they should operate as it’d become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which I’m very much against. I even think each game needs playtesting of its mechanics alone – where the playtesters get no background bits at all but just have the system and we see what they reach.

Tokens exist to support the Narrative. In a way they are also a tool for you to “Mark” other players as Tony explains in Capes. What people spend their Tokens on is what they care about, which gives you more information regarding them.
Note that at the first session the Enlightened begins with 8 Tokens, 5 for session and 3 for the three initial Flood Scenes that culminate character generation; this is so he could set the general background and feel of the game during the first round or two, by narrating both the scenes up to conflicts and their results, or by giving people Goals.
Tokens belong to the players, and since each player plays across three characters he needs to choose where to spend his effort, given that those who spread themselves are less likely to win in any location. Players will likely concentrate on their Rat and Dirt since they exert more direct influence there, and will use Tokens for Water as intended, when they want to advance that character’s story, which they are already pretty much in control of.
Tokens are finite, generation of Tokens is not that easy, at least not for players. When players spend Tokens they usually go to the Enlightened, and when he spends them they usually disappear. Using Tokens to exert mechanical influence “Removes” Tokens, using them to exert story influence gives them to someone else, who may end up using them against you. This would make players hoard their tokens, thus the “Use them or lose them” bit, which stops them from sitting on their asses passively, which leads us to our next point:
Game Length is helped along by Tokens and thus fulfills the movie/TV episode feel I want the game play to have! If you have a Medium session it’ll be followed by another Medium one, where people have Tokens, use them, resolve Goals, use Tokens. When you have a Short session it should be followed by a Long session and then another Short session; At the end of a short session players are left with unused Tokens so they will scramble to set them up in the only way they can “keep” them: they will set up new Goals for themselves. The next session should be long, so that players would use up all of their given Tokens, would have to resolve their Goals for more Tokens and then use them as well. The next session should be short as well to let players set new Goals.
The Enlightened “opposes” the Aspects’ selfishness, thus the conditions when he gains new Tokens.

Die Reservoir is there to let the players exert direct control over things. The reason the Die Reservoir limit and where it starts when you go up/down is set is to combat Death Spirals. If the higher you go the less likely you are to be able to exert influence, and that’s crap, I don’t want that.
I used “Sweet in the middle” in order to get people to haul ass and do things. You want to control the character in a scene (You do, you can’t gain Marks, go up and eventually win otherwise), then you need to use dice in Biddings. But in order to gain Dice anew you must participate in Conflicts, and win them.
The “Sweet in the middle” makes you want to use your Dice, because otherwise when you win you give the other players Tokens, which you’d really rather not. If you use them and lose, you are in risk of going down since you lose a die when you lose a Conflict.
Those who participate can use dice from Die Reservoir in conflicts on a 1-for-1 basis, those outside it need to pay 2-for-1, giving more importance to Tokens and showing that if you’re not on it, then you have a harder time exerting influence, propelling you to be “on it”.

On Player interaction:
The Marks work in a “One step forward, two steps back” kind of way. You need to win conflicts to go up, but if you lose, you lose them all. There is no benefit to having Marks less than your Ratio, so on you go, hoping your fellow players won’t screw you.
As shown in the Actual Play example, you can “Force” others to help you, because when a Trait goes to 0 it is the Highest Aspect that goes down, so he has vested interest in helping you not lose.
Aspect Ratios exist to make players form “alliances” or have vested interest. So you’re Rat, you may want Dirt or Water to be higher, depending on your preferred play-style.
There’s a double-helix tension going on here: Someone is getting too high, so the rest of you gang up on him to get him down. You get him down, but now he remembers you screwed him so he’s more like to be combative against you, across all characters.

On Currency flow:
Too many Dice results in others getting Tokens.
Too little Dice means a Flood Scene is going to occur, where the usage of resources is fast and furious, and The Enlightened gets a Token.
The higher you go, the more likely you’ll go over the Die Reservoir Limit, giving others more resources to stop you the higher you go. You may even be tempted to pour Tokens/Dice onto others to gain Tokens back.
The Free Dice in Flood Scenes means it’s most likely someone will have vested interest, seeing how he already has 50% of getting/retaining the dot if no one else bids. Note how when an Aspect Drops you first gain your full Die Reservoir, so you can bid the whole 6 dice; if you win it’s all good, you get your Dot back plus 6 dice. If you lose however, you lost a die and are very close to losing another!
Tokens result in Dice. Dice result in Tokens.
Dice can be used to gain control over story, instead of them being used to gain control over mechanics.
Tokens can be used to exert control over story, giving others the same right or letting them gain control over mechanics.

Advantages exist to help people be more invested.
Water narrates makes the Water player active, even though he plays a more passive role when it comes to the Aspects themselves.
Character win over Aspects is very rare, usually occurs in spite of what the players do, not because of, because it’s at the mercy of dice.

To recap, the mechanics are there to promote conflict, pacts and betrayals. They are there to encourage competition. Don't forget, the mechanics impose a "Win" condition, and once you have that, players will strive towards it.

CSI Game Criteria; On Figuring Out if you Fit.

So on the previous entry we’ve covered what a CSI Game is, now I’ll add the last entry needed in order to complete the CSI Game project scuffolding, after this post, the project could technically stand on its own.

This entry is about figuring out the “CSI Game” Rating of games, and figuring if your game fits into the criteria.
CSI Game Rating is based mostly on your intentions and their executions, with an added final weight given to subjective opinion on the quality of these paremeters and their integration. The rating goes from 0 to 10, with 0 being “Not a CSI Game” and 10 being “A CSI Game through and through”.

If any of the four individual ratings(Competitive, Interactive, Story and Game) get a score of 0, then the game is not a CSI Game, you may still continue to check the other criteria, to get its “Virtual CSI Game” rating.

1) Competitive: This is the Litmus test, most games will not have this criteria, this most distinguishing criteria, and will thus fail to register as a CSI Game.
Does the game create tension between players, does it intend to, does it succeed?
* Does the game push for Competition as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Competition between the players? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of fostering Competition? Add up to 1 point.

2) Interactive: Does the game foster interaction between players? Can you sit on your own and play without the game, or yourself being harmed?
* Does the game push for Interaction as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Interaction between the players? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of fostering Interaction? Add up to 0.5 points.

3) Story: Do you create a story as you play? Is the story part of what you’re actually playing for? Is Story just an after-thought?
* Does the game push for Story Creation/Telling as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Story Generation? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of creating a Story? Add up to 0.5 points.

4) Game: Is this a “Game”? “What is a game” is a hard thing to answer, the short answer is, “You know it when you see it”. Is this played as a fun activity, rather than as an effort whose goals are to tell a meaningful story, explore the concept of…
* Does the game actually act like a Game, with its goal being having fun and such as described above? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game have a finite finishing point? If Yes, add 0.5 points.
* Does the game have a “Winner” once it ends? If Yes, add 0.5 points.

And now you too can channel the spirit of CSI Games folks. Now I want your help to steer me further.
Now, as I’ve asked on The Forge:
1) Do you “get” anything out of the current posts on CSI Games blog?
2) What kind of tools/topics do you wish were covered?

Also, we got mentioned.

CSI Games; A Definition.

First, tried to get a game of Cranium Rats going today, still no luck. Fate is conspiring against your faithful writer, who will keep fighting back, and will eventually win.

So, we keep talking about CSI Games, but we do not yet have a clear definition of what comprises a CSI Game. What we do have right now is what I said in my first post on the topic. To whit:

“..”CSI Games”, CSI being Competitive Story Interaction. These are RPGs(“What is an RPG?” is a question I will leave unanswered for now, hoping you know what I mean) where there is a story being generated, but the social interaction is competitive and even antagonistic in nature, rather than the “Cooperative” mode suggested and propagated throughout our hobby’s history. In a way, this is us going back to Board/War games, from which our hobby draws much of its history. I’d say that we’re growing in the opposite direction, rather than regressing.
What is Chainmail, Dungeon and Dragon’s Proto-form if not a Wargame to which one adds little acting? So CSI Games are in a very real way RPGs to which you add a Wargame mentality!”

So we’ll start with that as an introduction and continue to construct a definition, one that hopefully could be used as is, or as a basis in game-book introductions.

CSI Games.

C is for Competitive/Cooperative.
Most games under the umbrella of “Role-Playing Games”(RPGs) till now had been Cooperative in nature, the social interaction between players, players and Game Master(GM) and that of between player-characters had been Cooperative. This is the origin of or originated from the “party”. We’re all in this together.
This may also be a leading cause into the “You don’t win in RPGs” when explaining what you’re doing to an elder family member.
The other side of the coin is that which I am putting up as the main identifier of CSI Games, the Competitive side. Competition is something inherent to human interaction, inherent to the act of gaming. You find competition in Board, War and Card games, along in most sports(where you have competition between groups and cooperation inside them). I want the players to compete, whether for spotlight, victory, control, in-game resources, whatever. There need be a competitive element somewhere in the game.
It should be reflected in the mechanics as well, but that comes second.

S is for Story.
We’re here to tell a story, to hear a story or experience one’s wake. We’re not here to merely roll the dice or shuffle the cards. Unlike board-games and card-games, we have a story unfolding here. If we don’t, we’re dealing with something else.
Story often goes with Cooperative. The story-building part is a joint effort by all participants.

I is for Interaction/Isolation.
We’re playing a game with other people, you interact with them. You want to help them stop that other guy from winning, you’re talking to them and trying to stop them, that’s also interaction! You do not play in a void, you’re playing with people, interact with them.
Mechanics should have some way to represent and encourage interaction between the players.
Isolation has little place in this scheme, it’s mostly there as the other side of Interaction, where you’re “Snubbed” for game reasons, as others ally against you. Alternately, if you’re snubbed for out-of-game reasons, you’re unlikely to do well in game, or have fun.

Game is self-explanatory.
This is a game, it has winners. This is a game, it has rules. This is a game, it is an activity you do for fun. This is a game, one of the basic human activities, and you know one when you see it.

So we are left with CSI Game, or Competitive(/Cooperative) Story Interaction Games.
Isolation plays little part in this, and is mostly there as something to be avoided.
Competitive is what sets this apart from other games, so we’re paying it more heed. Cooperative is also there, but more as part of the Story or Interaction bits and less as an individual agent.

This is what a CSI Game is, if you disagree with me, or think of a better name or definition, this is the place to argue so.
If you think “CSI” is Geeky, this is where you get to voice your piece.

Regarding Crowd

This is an addendum to the previous post.

So, I got this PM on The Forge from John Kirk who’s working on Gnostigmata(he’s currently looking for playtesters), in response for me trying to get him to playtest Cranium Rats since as you can see from the last post we CSI Game designers are the most suited people to help one another:

“Guy, I’m sorry I’ve got to turn you down. It has taken me many months to convince my group to try out Gnostigmata. And, in fact, it has taken me a couple of years to warm them up to play-testing some new concepts for Legendary Quest. I truly wish they were more amenable to such things, so that I could offer to help other gamers try out their stuff, but it’s just not in the stars.I wish I knew why so many gamers are so reluctant to try out new things. :-/”

My reply to him was as follows:

“One last thing, the thing about CSI Games is that you should test them with card and board-gamers.As Ron said, it’s at all surprising RPers of mainstream are even willing to try narrative games. Need to branch out to non-RPers :)”Role-players tend to stick with what they know, RPGs, when Sorcerer came Ron directed it at those who did not have fun with what they did before, those outside of the “mainstream” of RPGs, it was a surprise to him that some of them(us) even took to it and tried to understand.

Now I think the same is happening with CSI Games, you have a better chance getting it playtested with card/board gamers than with role-players.

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CSI Games: So Why Bother?

I love it when other people do my work for me. So we have a question, “Why do we need someone to push forward the idea of “CSI Games”, a further subdivision of our hobby?”

The answer begins in this post where I outline what CSI Games are to begin with and how they differ from what is out there right now. Expect a more formal answer, one that people could(hopefully) put in their projects’ introduction, soon.

Then along come two people, Paul Czege and Sydney Freedberg and make my point for me:

Paul:
“..but I think the extended development time is more because my goals are outside the development tradition than anything else. I’m designing for Acts of Evil player characters as static antagonists, and NPCs that emerge from play as protagonists. And I’m trying to provoke creative and interesting antagonism from the players via competition amongst them..”

Sydney:
“Paul, that’s fascinating. (Plus it allows me to console myself, as I labor on the playtest-proven brokeness of the third set of core mechanics for apocalypse girl, that the reason this is so much harder than the two RPGs I designed in college and played with my friends is that I’m trying to do something radically new, even if it is essentially second-generation Capes).”

We have the methods for Simulationism, we have the methods for Narrativism(if only for a short while now), we do not yet possess the tools for Gamism, not in this hobby.
We know how to simulate reality, and in the books we pay for the engine. We know how to format a good narrative, and we charge for the experience. We are now working on the tools to construct constrained competition, and we will charge for the Game Experience.

We do not yet have what we need, we cannot simply say “Take Settlers of Cattan and narrate some story event for each turn”. We are starting anew, and we’re alone, or so it seems.
The experience of those who came before can only take us so far, and look at the net, look at The Forge, what are they if not tools/places to have people meet and help one another?

Those who work on CSI Games should playtest one another’s games. Those who work on CSI Games should help others push towards the CSI Game nature and goals from the board-game and Narrative ends.
If we won’t help one another, no one will. We currently have to work inordinately hard to playtest, since we do not have much to compare our work to.
We have to work inordinately hard to find playtesters, because people have a hard time wrapping their head about what we do.
Even if we ourselves won’t benefit from this meeting of minds now, hopefully things will be easier for the next generation.

Well, I guess that is my mission statement for the CSI Project, thoughts, notes, comments?

On another note, Cranium Rats V. 1.2 Beta is now live, and the game will progress no further till substansive contribution(playtesting) is made by outside parties.

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Game Design as a Viral Disease.

First, for those who did not notice(most of you), I’ve begun syndication of game related, especially CSI related information to a new Blog, aptly called, CSI Games.
A question to my LiveJournal readers, do you find these game posts of any interest?

Second, I want to revise Cranium Rats, but first I need your help. I need more answers regarding the questions presented in this thread.

Now that we got that out of the way, onward!
This thread directly ties in to my earlier post regarding memes, on second thought it also ties to this post about Addictions. I believe Game Design (we’ll talk mainly of RPGs and TCGs here) is a disease, a viral disease. That may not be a negative thing, but it is something to be considered.

So there you are, sitting and reading a game book, and “Zing!” goes the light-bulb, when you notice something which needs some changing.
Thus you get House-Rules.
There you are still, playing a game, for example D&D 3ed or Exalted, and you want something that is not there, a new Prestiege Class, a new Martial Arts Style.
Thus you get Fan Material.
There you are, still, and boy doesn’t your butt ache from sitting down for so long? But you sure are persistent, and now you’re mucking about with Magic: the Gathering, and you’re building your deck for an upcoming tournament. Cutting down cards to 60 is hard, it feels like you’re sacrificing your own children.
Thus you get Design Process.

So you sat down and did all that, but you decided you want to do some more. You’ve been infected.
The above is how the disease transmits. It is easy to transmit, it is easy to carry, it is easy to keep alive even if somewhat dormant.
The virus does not stay content forever though, once you had flexed your designer muscles you find it easier to flex them once more. Such is the nature of muscles.
Once you set down the road it is easier to continue upon it.

So you start with Exalted, and you find that it is missing a Martial Arts style you desire, so you add one. Now you find Intimacies don’t do what you want, so you delve deeper into the kernels of the game, changing some basics of the game and much of how the rules apply to this specific case.
Then you are ready to progress to the next step. Exalted is no longer good enough. It just doesn’t do what you want it to, so you make your game, wholly your creation.

So it seems we’ve covered the “Why” you design games; you begin by designing pieces and then you grow in skill enough to design games.
NO.
It is the other way around, that is the “How”. You get the virus in you and so you begin designing(it’s often transmitted by holes and missing appendages in other games that call to you to fill them), once you build your muscles you move to bigger projects. You don’t go on a scale because that’s what you can do and as you go up you get more capable of taking on bigger tasks, you take on smaller tasks in order to prepare yourself for Game Design.

Game Design propagates the virus.
You design games because you can’t stop.

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Slime Octopi and Coral; Power 19

This is posted to show you one of the projects I’m working on and how it relates to my beliefs regarding games and RPGs, aka CSI Games.

The Power 19 are a design process or accessory that helps you formulate your ideas and present them.
Slime Octopi and Coral is a game that meshes Call of Cthulhu with Cranium Rats’ competitive theme and mechanics, and cranks it up even higher.
This will be a joined process with Eric Bennett, who is currently busy studying. This is my Power 19. It’s also posted on Story-Games and The Forge with no replies.

1.) What is your game about?
Elder/Outer Gods who land on Earth before the rise of Humanity, trying to control and manipulate (proto-)humanity and history to their goals.

2.) What do the characters do?
The characters compete amongsts themselves and against Humanity in order to control and shape it, or fend off the Elder Gods in Humanity’s(character) case.
Ultimately, the Gods try to reshape Humanity in their shape, as Servitor Races, whereas Humanity wants to throw off the shackles placed upon them by these External beings.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
The players play the Elder Gods, one of them plays Mr. H. They compete against one another over the limited Resource called Humanity and its future. They work out deals and backstab one another to further their goals, while being careful to not be overthrown by the strengthening(?) Humanity. Mr. H. fills in the GM’s role, and portrays the Gods’ effect on Humanity and Humanity and the world’s reactions.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is initially that of one lone star hurtling through space, with “something” crashing on top of it, simultanously creating life and its rack. As time progresses the setting expands as culture and humanity progress, or do not, based on the Gods’ goals.
Humanity being a finite resource with a defined growth-rate leads to a boardgame mentality, with “wildcard” events acting as randomizers to keep people on edge.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Character generation includes answering questions about what your God is, what it wants, what it wants from Humanity, how these relate to one another and so forth. This is the Function phase. This is done by drawing from a limited number of words to create the answers to these questions. Since the words will be mutually exclusive one can be ensured to have a character that will have a hard time to work with others, if at all.
The characters’ goals may also stand in stark opposition with their methods. Nothing like a ravenous entity that wants to breed lower beings.
Character generation will also have a Form phase, where you pick and choose different physical/spiritual aspects of your character, which give you certain weaknesses to be covered, and powers to exploit others’ weaknesses. Or relate differently to Humanity.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Backstabbing and alliances, being able to plan for the long term while being able to respond to a quickly changing playing field.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Those who cannot form alliances, uphold them, backstab others and protect themselves from being backstabbed will find their strategical position deteriorating as they are picked upon by the other players. Mr. H’s player is more there to portray what happens than form any interaction with the players, their relationship is that of cause and effect.
You need to be able to make and execute long-term plans that will be carried over several rounds of play-time in order to reach your goals and secure victory.
As you are not the only player present and other players as well as random chance are likely to throw monkey-wrenches at your character you will need to be able to think on your feet and redraw plans.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Turns progress with Mr. H. narrating the overall results of the past turn and setting the new scene, or epoch, as each round of play is another notch on the progress of time. What the world does, what humanity does, etc. The players then describe their actions, with Narration being traded based on system and Mr. H.

9.) What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
You can win in this game. Everyone wants to win, or at least everyone participating in this game should want to win. Narration rights can be bought and move around quickly.
You make and break pacts with other players and constantly look out for number one. You.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
The Resolution mechanic of the game is based on that of Cranium Rats, albeit modified. You roll D6 and need to roll under a trait ranging 1-5, based in large on your Form and Function, those who compete in an action roll to see who will control the conflict, with those that rule highest on single dice gaining Narration.
There are Dice and Token as different resources that can be used to bolster rolls, stop others and so on.
How the mechanics will be modified from those of CR is not yet final, but there will certainly be advantages to controlling more of Humanity, having your people more advanced, more loyal, etc. Humans can die, be stolen and they can rebel. Resource management will be inserted and controlled by Mr. H., Humanity will be able to perform on a wider scale, but not as strongly, thus making several small “characters”. As Humanity’s numbers increase it becomes more dominant, harder to control and more likely to rebel. Probably done by having a limited number of pools and inverse relationships.
IE: Number+Loyalty=20. Number=10>Loyalty=10. Number=15>Loyalty=5.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
On the Gods’ front they relate to how each Elder God tries to shape History and make his vision become reality through the narration. On Humanity’s end it’s a resource game that will tend to lead towards Humanity breaking free and an end-game where they fight the Elder Gods for freedom or slavery, forever.
If the Elder Gods try to keep humanity down they will have a much harder time to gain their goals, and it will happen much slower, giving the other Elder Gods more time to thwart their plans.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Humanity advances based on its reactions to Random Events and the machinations of the Elder Gods. It also advances based on its natural progression chart provided it is not messed with.
Elder Gods gain resources in a manner based on their Function, their Form may shift as they gain or lose conflicts. Their Function may change completely when challenged or proven ineffectual to the point of crush.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
There’s a limited pool to draw from, so characters are forced to compete in order to advance.
Humanity is messed with in order for the EG to advance, so it competes against them.
Competition is encouraged and reinforced through advancement. In fact, there is no advancement without reinforcement of the game’s premise!

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
An urge to squelch opposition, to sit down and consider both the tactical and the strategic consequences of their actions, while trying to factor in what others do.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The setting. Well, H.P. has such a cool premise going on, and so many people like it, they and he must be onto something.
Well, to be frank, most of the difference between this and CR is the premise, and the premise is setting based. The rest of the mechanical shift from CR is there merely to support this unique premise, so it must be explored.
I want to explore the cold-lone space, I want to explore the inhuman and inhumane Elder Gods.
This game is about Control, but also about Freedom.
Eventually, it’s about Victory.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The option to have a limited game-play length and how the Resource you’re vying for? That’s basically another player’s character!
Why? Because I feel this game may form a strong bridge between RPGs and Board-games, and could be modified with ease to be more of an RPG or more of a board-game, depending on what the group desires at the time.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
At the other player’s throats.
It lets people play a God. Just like in Black and White, you play a god-sim. You can play that in other games, sure. But not in other RPGs. Yours is the power to take control of humanity, of your people, and shape them according to your vision.
Your very distorted vision.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Publish as PDF, later as Book, joint effort with Mr. Bennett. Will be tied into Cranium Rats from which it had sprung.
Currently undecided if to publish/promote as a short limited-time game ala The Mountain Witch or a more medium limited-time game ala Polaris.

19.) Who is your target audience?
People who like H.P. Lovecraft’s works, people who like board-games. People who like God Simulation computer games.

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Memes and Games

I’ll begin with a quote, this quote is quite large, because it’s all good. This quote is taken from the book Memetic Magic which I’m currently way too poor to buy. If you want to buy it for me I’ll hug you lots. I didn’t read the book, but the excerpt is available at the link provided:

ARTISTIC MEMETIC MAGIC by Kirk Packwood
Opening the Portal to the Astral-Daemonic Planes Artistic Endeavors as Representations of Complex Memetic Structures: Spirit = Symbol = Complex Memetic StructureSymbols embedded within works of art are re-presentations of complex memetic structures which in many cases can be correctly labeled thought viruses. Since all human beings who have had any prolonged contact with society are programmed to some degree, large portions of the human mind (especially the thinking portion of the psyche which utilizes language) are constructed almost entirely of complex memetic structures. The complex memetic structures which form the cognitive linguistic (language using) portions of the human mind possess strong defenses, both passive and active, against contamination by invading thought viruses and memetic structures. A human mind will resist any ideas which do not bind correctly within the existing memetic structures which form the framework of its linguistic consciousness. Programmed minds will only listen to what they want to hear. Therefore, it is seldom possible for an idea to be taught to another person directly. Ideas which do not fit into the binding points within a mind will be resisted and rejected. In many cases an individual will desire to convey a specific idea to other human beings, but finds, when offered in their most diluted form, his ideas will be rejected. Oftentimes the solution to this problem is to create a work of art in which the artist’s message, or root meaning, is embedded. By work of art is meant any artistic endeavor which is traditionally considered to reside within the artistic sphere; be it literature, painting, music, movies, sculpture, etc. The artwork serves to focus the attention of the programmed conscious mind, while the root meaning (thought virus or memetic structure) embedded within slips unnoticed into the subconscious.
There is no inherent goodness in art. The idea to be conveyed in a work of art can have any quality from a startling revelation intended to better the human condition to a blatant deception designed to conceal truth and take power. On many occasions an artist will embed a root meaning into his art which he believes will serve the greater good, but in reality the artist’s concept of the greater good may be nothing more than an unusually complex example of the replication phase of a thought virus of which the artist has been infected without his knowledge. Most artists, like most people, are programmed by the dominant memetic structures, or cultural ideal types. Dominant memetic structures are only concerned with maintaining their dominance by replicating to as many minds as possible, not with the greater good of humanity, except in how the greater good of humanity serves to benefit the replication possibilities of the dominant memetic structure.

All artwork, even the most rudimentary, contains complex memetic structures residing at many different levels within the work of art. An intelligent mind can dilute a work of art much as a chemist can dilute a uniform mixture of diverse chemicals. Recognition of the root meanings inherent in artistic endeavors can lead an individual to a source of great understanding and power.

Artistic Symbolism

Every artistic endeavor contains numerous symbols embedded at many different levels within the work of art. Some of these symbols are imbedded into the art with willed conscious intent while others are the result of subconscious communication. Of the two types of symbols inherent in artwork the subconscious symbols are the most interesting. The consciously created symbols within artwork are complex memetic structures which can be correctly labeled thought viruses or thought contagions, depending on whether the memetic structure attempts to use the mind it has infected for the purpose of further replication.

A Memetic Magician wishing to spread fashioned thought viruses would do well to consider imbedding his creations into a work of art and releasing that work of art to a target population. The artwork serves as an outer guise concealing the true form of the thought viruses contained within. The entertainment or aesthetic value of a work of art engages the attention of the conscious mind of the individual partaking of the work of art, allowing the thought viruses embedded within to penetrate the defenses of the unaware target’s complex mental memetic structure. Once the thought viruses have penetrated, instructions can be disseminated and replication can commence.

The symbols contained within a work of art can assume a variety of different forms depending on the type of art being examined. For the sake of brevity, this chapter will focus primarily on literature and paintings. But the principals contained herein are equally valid in regards to any variety of artistic endeavor.
So we have Memes, and we have games. Games often have a moral that they want to teach us, or at least claim to teach us. But if we’ve learnt anything from the quote above(we probably learnt many a thing, a very long and meaty quote it is!) we’ve learnt that we resist the messages being given, and only hidden memes can bypass our conscious mind and infect us.

So let us begin with an example I’m sure all of you know. Monopoly.
What is Monopoly about(ergo, what is its overt message saying)? I asked my mother, and she gave me the obvious answer, “Monopoly is about buying and selling, it’s about acquiring, it’s about handling money.” That’s a very lofty goal, teaching the kids how to handle money, Market Forces 101. It succeeds in that, but the meme, the meme is what we’re interested in.
To perceive the meme one needs luck, one needs experiencing the right source material or having perceived the meme in its raw form beforehand. Monopoly’s meme is discussed in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I’m not going to tell you much of the book except I think every person needs to read it at least once in their life. I consider this book important.
So what is the secretive viral meme inherent to Monopoly which worms its way into you, and then makes you repeat it after you’ve been infected(or in turn makes you play Monopoly to transmit it further, the Kids, the Kids! Won’t anyone think of the kids?!)?
Building as much as the land could support. Not leaving one tile untilled.
That’s Monopoly’s corrupted meme, to acquire as much land as possible and then use it up. Build as much as the land can support and then some more.

Every RPG could probably be summed in one line, in what it is about. Its message. Its meme would probably take up to three words, if you can find it at all. What attracts people is the message, they don’t notice the meme in the beginning. Surely not in a conscious manner.
I believe I’d put another example in about now:
Dogs in the Vineyard is about moral judgement. That’s what you create the setting for, that is what your characters resolve, that is what you sit down at the table and play. That’s the overt message, that attracts players.
What is the Meme? Conflict and its Results. The game doesn’t really care about judgement, it cares about what you do to others and how the third law of Newton applies then, changing you in return.
People who post modifications, or did till now mostly posted based on societies with certain codes, such as Mafia. That is taking the idea, the hook and twisting it, cool enough.
As time passes by, people will realize they don’t need that. That is the setting which is there to create Conflicts, but the game doesn’t really care about how you get to the conflict, it cares that it happens and then how many changes are wrought by it, and how drastic those changes are.

Games have a Moral. Games have a Meme.
The Moral is easy to find, usually intentional, and it is that Moral which draws people to the game(that and the system).
The Meme is hard to find, often unconsciously put in and hard to modify. Find it and you’ll know what truly makes the game tick, what makes you stay with it.
Memes are hard to put in intentionally, because they don’t work that way.

This also relates to my last post, posted below, here. The question is “Why now?”, why do all these games come up now?
One answer is that the Board-game backdrop had been taking up a larger part in our sub-culture lately. They meet it, they like it, they try to reproduce it in other places of their interest.
The other answer is that those games share a Meme, they’re board-games, and Competition is often a key-word in their Meme pool. Recent RPGs also slowly spread that Meme, even if weakened at first because it was in the form of Factionalism(party Vs. GM). But now it’s out, and it progresses, and Memes tend to snowball.

We live in an interesting time.

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Direction Shift, Refocus; Board/War/Card Games and RPGs, an Observational Treatise.

First, I’d like to note that I was in a sort of a funk regarding LJ lately, which explains the lack of updates. I am now adding a new directional goal for my journal, that of exploring my RPG related thoughts and creations. This will lead to more posts, although they may be of limited interest to those not interested in exploring RPGs or my creations.
Sleeping World Journal is merely postponed, not abandoned, fear not loyal reader.

For those of you who missed it, I am currently working on an RPG that I call “Cranium Rats”, you may view it and other things of mine on Cranium Rats Central.

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The following is a treatise of sorts, regarding my experiences, observations and hypotheses regarding Competitive RPGs and how they relate to Board Games and Card Games. It may be posted later on the Forge in some manner, but remember, you saw it here first!

First, some experiences and observations thereof:
I played multiplayer Magic: the Gathering. Here are some specific cases. When we played in a three-way free for all combat one of us was about to be finished, leaving the other two players to fight amongst themselves. The losing player whined and so we let him live, he created a life-gaining engine which we let him use so he won’t whine and he ended up winning by Decking.
This showed me that unlike most board-games or card games created for the multiplayer format, Magic has a major drawback: Those who lose stay left out till this instance of gameplay is concluded. This is unlike Blackjack where one is only left out for a short while or Poker where it’s one’s own decision when to Fold. In games created for multiplayer format rather than have a “Loser Out” they have “One winner and game-end”, which results in no one being left out while others are still playing.

Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I’ve created a deck based on “Fear Factor”. The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: “You don’t attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers”. It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the “Strong Pick” and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later.

Munchkin, the card-game by SJG. In it you race in order to reach level 10, backstabbing, or rather, fore-stabbing is common and encouraged. You dump monsters and curses on other players, steal their stuff, while trying to muscle your way past your “friends” doing the same to you. I play this game with my family; myself, my two younger siblings and two of our cousins. My sister plays a mean style and tries to take me out, or rather, stop me from winning.
I always win, or did till now. Sister always came in second.
When someone considers doing something to me, I threaten that I will reciprocate the “Favour”, that is usually enough to deter them. My sister says to the other players: “So he’ll do it to you, and then he won’t be able to do anything more to anyone, because he’ll use his resources”, I answer, “Then why don’t you attack me and suffer the brunt of my retaliatory attack?”.
This shows us that while everyone wants to win, also no one wants to lose. Also, by creating dissent amongst your opposition you may go through relatively unscathed, or they will only join in too late. As I will show in the next paragraph!

Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I’ve first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as “Strong” and “Weak”, “Ally” or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me.
Board games and other competitive multiplayer games rely far more than your average game on your relations and knowledge of the other players, as it shows you out-of-game(or out of game instance) reasons to ally and target other players.
You want to win, and more than that, you don’t want to lose.

Enter Worms, the computer game by Team 17, my cousin and I play it together, us and two teams of computer opposition. We always say we’ll kill the computer first and only then turn on one another. We never manage to stay till the end, some targets are just too juicy, and we know we’re both better than the computer. No one wants to give the other First Strike.

Enter RPGs.
Recently I’ve witnessed the nascent snow-ball movement of what I will call “CSI Games”, CSI being Competitive Story Interaction. These are RPGs(“What is an RPG?” is a question I will leave unanswered for now, hoping you know what I mean) where there is a story being generated, but the social interaction is competitive and even antagonistic in nature, rather than the “Cooperative” mode suggested and propagated throughout our hobby’s history. In a way, this is us going back to Board/War games, from which our hobby draws much of its history. I’d say that we’re growing in the opposite direction, rather than regressing.
What is Chainmail, Dungeon and Dragon’s Proto-form if not a Wargame to which one adds little acting? So CSI Games are in a very real way RPGs to which you add a Wargame mentality!

Paranoia is the first game I’m aware of that supports, even suggests, such mentality. The backdrop of the game is little but a tool to foster a “Me or them” mentality, a “We or them” and “Me or we” mentalities combined. The setting is all for you being out to get others, while hiding yourself and covering your ass from being “Had”. The players know that all characters are traitors, and if a character proves another is a traitor, then that character’s iteration(yay clones!) is offed. This encourages you to look out to screw other players, protect yourself from being screwed over AND accomplish whatever the homicidal Computer/GM throws at you, so you won’t ALL be offed.

Rune and DonJon, both take D&D and turn it on its head. Rune has one going for points, technically, everyone is together except when it’s one turn to take on the “GM” mantle and create obstacles for the others, but since one “Scores points”, one is always looking for number one. Here’s a hint, every player’s number one is himself.
DonJon has the players act together against the GM, but the two are on adversarial terms, same as in HackMaster. All conceits of “We’re all here just wanting to play a game together” are thrown aside as drivel, we’re here to play together, but we’re here to win alone, or against one another.
My best friend treats almost all convention games as DonJon, him against the group but mainly against the GM and the GM’s world, seeing how fast he can break it, and how mangled it’ll end up.

Recently(in order) we’ve had Capes, which while I’ve not read seems to foster inter-player competition for resources. One need only glance at what had been brought up over the last two months, and a bit before:
Apocalypse Girl, which to me is very much like the Illuminati card game(non-collectible) by SJG.
Cranium Rats, my own game, which is very much like the Munchkin card game. You play one of three Aspects of one character, these Aspects control what the characters do and try to win them over completely.
The Uchtman Factor, where you bid and vie for definition of the protagonist according to your viewpoint.
Champions of the Gods, which gives a board-game feel where you try to complete a certain amount of quests. It came from Game Chef 2006, and as such also sports a limited time-play, board-game did we say?
Conflict:Eridani, which combines an RPG with a “Zoom out” to the Wargame strategic level, ala the Birthright computer game of the early 90s.

For those who look at the above list and say some of those games, especially mine and The Uchtman Factor deprotagonize the character, I say to you this: The character may be the protagonist of the story, but we’re playing these games also for the competition, for the game. And as such, the character is not the protagonist of the game, the Aspects the players play are. Also, who is a protagonist once you look at the “why” of their actions?

EDIT: Shit, forgot to actually write the text of the point this post was striving for.

So, why this at all, and why now?
Look at the board-game market, it’s blooming, as there is much cross-pollenation between our geekdoms, it is inevitable that many a roleplayer is affected by boardgames he’s been playing. Also, this may very well be a counterweight reaction to the Narrativist CA and the “Emo” movement of the 90s.
Same as against the Simulationist and tactical heaviness of the 80s we had Vampire in the 90s, and against the story-front lightness of the earlier decades the Indie RPG movement of the late 90s and the beginning of the new millenium came a Story-front, now we have a new void being filled. See a need, fill a need.

Board games are fun, dammit, all those that say they take “Less” out of you don’t know what they’re speaking of, competitiveness is involvement heavy. However, they give you back something totally different, a gratification that had been infused into your genetic pool, of proving your worth.
I think the snowball will keep on rolling, first the Meme infects you, then it makes you propagate it.
Next post will be about Memes in games!

Questions, comments, flames!

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