The Limits of Designing for Role-Playing.

I think this may surprise people, but the thing that had actually set me on the “warpath” of the Blinders, so to speak, of people saying their games are about and using advice to get there instead of rules, was RPGs. That is to say, it was games where the goal was to role-play, it was games where not only people role-played, but that was the declared goal.

I remember looking at some discussions, and I realized, Dungeons and Dragons is not an RPG, or at least, it’s not in the design, but “merely” in the play. I say “merely”, because perhaps that’s all there is. I looked at D&D, and I looked at the rules, and I saw nothing there that would make me roleplay. I saw very little there that even rewarded me for roleplaying, and quite surprisingly there wasn’t even much advice geared towards getting the players to roleplay and flesh out their characters’ personalities and history.

Perhaps it’s not very surprising, as aside from the Hero Builder’s Guide (which cost money for very little), most people seem to “know” what D&D is about, and are initiated into it by friends or know what to pick up. So they didn’t need to add it, because they knew that people will be told what they need to know.
Of course, they may have also realized there was very little else they could do, because you can’t do much to design RPGs.

 If I were to discuss the ontology of a “Game”, I’d say a game does not exist when it is not played. A box of Dominion or Settlers of Cattan contains the system and the physical components needed, but it doesn’t contain a “game of ___”, that game only springs into existence when people sit around and engage in the activity.
This I think is also true for roleplaying, but I mean it in a slightly different form: There are no role-playing in the rules, there’s no role-playing procedure (yes, when you are training for your job and such, let’s stay focused), but the role-playing game? It only exists, there is only role-playing when the players engage in that activity, when they play a role.

This seems like a rehash of what was said about games, but there’s a difference. The difference is that there is no game if you don’t play the game, but you can play an “RPG” by playing the game and not role-playing. For there to exist an “RPG” rather than “rpG” (where only one aspect really exists), the players need to make an actual choice, the choice to role-play. This is not something the designer can do, this is not something the designer can even assure. This is up to the players.

Though a “Story” is very much the same, I do not think humans can avoid creating (“telling?” one), so I think most designers should content themselves not with trying to ensure that people would role-play while playing their games, but to allow for games where role-playing is an easy option that is not over-eclipsed by other concerns.

 You can help by having stories that the players can relate to, that they can place themselves in, you can give them entities that have personas, who are theirs to control, and with whom they can identify, or even identify the characters as their medium of affecting the world/story. Basically, provide sockets for the players to plug into. People mention “Immersion”, and immersion is a tool, or rather, a state, where some of this is achieved. But even if people think from the an “actor” point of view (not Forge theory usage), of “I“, that it’s them who react, it’d be enough.

The other side is that you need to avoid making something that has nothing to do with portraying a role as much more interesting and rewarding to the players. If you take an exciting game and add role-playing to it, people might shove the role-playing aside just in order to get to the “good bits”. And if story and role-playing is not entirely dispensable, but is the vehicle to get from one mechanical exchange to another, then it’d be stripped down and zipped right along, because the goal of the mechanical exchange is where the focus lays*.

The reason I think it may work better within LARPs is because it gives you a visceral grounding. Even if you keep feeling uncomfortable because you feel the vast distance between yourself and your character (and perhaps suffer from fear of performance), you can’t help but be the one who is acting, be the one who is acted towards by others. You almost can’t help thinking from a first person (actor?) stance, “What am I going to do?” And of course, people tend to give LARPs looser systems, probably for lack of comfortable mechanical tools to make use of (dice, cards, charts).

I think all of this should be liberating to game designers. Once you make sure that players have ample opportunities to plug into certain sockets in the game, and once you make sure it can be an engaging and interesting activity even within this game, you’re good. You don’t need to make sure that everyone will role-play, you needn’t make sure that role-playing is the natural outcome of playing your game. You can’t, and only the players can. Heck, even when it’s the “Natural Outcome”, how much of it comes because the players pick it up expecting that they’ll role-play there, if because it was marketed as such (and/)or because previous editions of the game were like that? Just like Dungeons and Dragons.

Also, that’s why I focus on “Story-Games”. Basically all role-playing games are Story-Games, but Story-Games can be good, can be emotional, without being RPGs.

* This happens when you take a meaty 500 page book and try to fit it into a 90 minute movie, sometimes. You cover all the plot-points, but that’s all they are, merely points you hop along, rather than a story with impact. But maybe that’s just me.

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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.

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?

“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.

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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 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!

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.

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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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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