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.