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Going Retro with New Deliberateness

September 7, 2007

We’ve been talking a lot about the strength of traditional systems lately, the SI group and I. One of the things that we find they do best is, by supplying details, both in setting and in character, they help a play group converge on the same page about events and persons in the game. They help us lock in on a coherent vision, and provide repair routines for when the vision’s consistency suffers. The result is a form of play where formal procedures often recede into the background, being pulled out only when the group agrees they are required for something. I find it to be a really rewarding kind of play.

I’m trying to take what I’ve learned from the Forge school of indie design and import it into this form.

One of the big things I want to touch on in Earth & Sky is the matter of far-flung and far-different cultures, so I wanted to provide a system tool for evoking these. This tool is the Sky: We all live under the same stars, but in different parts of Heaven, the stars are differently arranged.

Each star represents a location of activity – the place for study, the place for eating, the place for cleansing, the place for combat, the place that is refuge, the place of business, and so on. The constellations of each planet describe the planetary culture’s arrangement of their places, and how their skills lie and interrelate.

I’m not sure how to lay out the constellations for the different cultures yet, or how to name the resulting relationships (since we really only have words for them corresponding to cultures that are quite familiar), but I’ll get there.

Sorry for the long delay in posting, by the way. My family has been visiting and it’s been really hectic at work! It’s been a struggle to find the time and the mental energy.

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While You’re Far Away

August 31, 2007

Despite my attempts to finish up all these other projects, I have a quick bit of design work and playtesting to finish up in the next week. Shreyas’ friend Elizabeth is organizing a zine called Catharsis, which is filled with creative works of an emotionally cleansing or fulfilling sort. She mentioned that she was looking for more submissions, so I threw out the possibility of including While You’re Far Away (a.k.a. “The Game for Josh’s Girlfriend”). She’s interested, which means I have to finish polishing it up and playtest it… in a week.

Luckily, now that Simon’s set up Snail’s Pace (where Dave and Simon are currently playing Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan actually), we’ve got a great place to playtest it. I figure I’ll see if Josh is interested in playtesting it with me, since he was the inspiration for the game, and then move on to other candidates if he passes. Assuming I can find someone who can post multiple times a day, we should be able to give the fairly minimal rules a good working over.

First thought: the text of the game needs to be more sad and beautiful, reflecting the themes of play. Right now it’s just cold and straight-forward, which helps the clarity without building the right mood.

Second, I’m not sure how much more complicated I want the rules to be. The game is intended to be a very general set of outlines for a freeform game, a much looser version of Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan. So I’ll have to think really hard about whether addition rules will necessarily add to the experience of play.

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Story of the Seed Play Kit

August 27, 2007

seed-tiles.jpg I decorated some glass mosaic tiles so we can use them to tell stories of the seed; a gap is opening up in our playtest schedule, so I need supplies for it. The rhinestones turned out, in sunlight, to not really have a lot of fire; I think when I get a chance I will find some better ones at the craft shop and remake these.

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Draft Cover

August 23, 2007

geiger.jpg

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GenCon!

August 13, 2007

I realize we just got back in the gear of things, but my posting on Secret Wars will unfortunately be disrupted by attending GenCon over the next week (Tuesday to Tuesday, approximately). I’m sure I will be buzzing with new info and ideas upon my return, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time or energy to conduct any real design work while I’m there, aside from playtesting Giger Counter and Avatar.

If you are a Secret Wars reader who I’ve not met, please feel free to come find me at GenCon! I will be manning the Games-on-Demand table for much of the time and also will be running Joshua BishopRoby’s Full Light Full Steam as part of Indie Games Explosion. I will also be working to promote the Indie Passport program, since I helped Fred Hicks organize it, and generally hanging with the alt-roleplaying crowd. We are nice and friendly!

In any case, see you on the flipside.

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How to Use Seeds

August 11, 2007

Until now, I haven’t given you anything concrete and procedural you can do with seeds. (See the main document for a brief intro about seeds.) Don’t mistake that as “I haven’t given you anything,” though, because the other stuff is important too. But here’s some thoughts on the purpose of seeds and ways to make them more useful for you.

Seeds are around to serve as a combined brainstorm-in-a-bottle, communication device, record-keeping tool, and setting-bible for your game.

So, a seed record has a number of lines to write things on it. On the big top line, write down the initial concept of the seed. Keep the seed records close at hand, and as you incorporate them, write down the ways in which you used them. A seed doesn’t have to correspond to exactly one thing in the fiction, and the ways you use it don’t have to be completely direct; maybe “a man crowned with lightning” inspires you to include “a knight with armour made of ice”, so then write that down on the seed.

Similarly, when you need to make some element—when you have to add a character to a scene, or set a scene in a new environment, or just embroider an existing element with some more detail, when you create an essence or a picece-of-god—glance over the seeds and see where you can incorporate one or more of them.

If you do this diligently, then your stock of seeds will slowly become a kind of setting bible. Seething bibles are neat!

That doesn’t really explain how seeds are a communication tool, though. So, like, here it is: If someone makes something you think is pretty cool, then you can make it a seed. Maybe you think the ice knight was keen, and so you say, hm, seed that, and later you build it up into a whole brotherhood of ice knights. That’s a specific, ritual message to the creator, “I am intrigued by this particular idea and wish to see it again.”

If you’ve got a seed that’s lain unused for a long time, then you should point it out; after you point it out, if no one starts using it then, you can file it away for a few sessions. Maybe the game’s going in a direction that that seed doesn’t fit in at the moment, or maybe it’s just not very exciting to anyone. Don’t discard it or disbar anyone from using it, but just take stock every so often and see if you can reduce clutter on the table by setting aside the seeds that are less active.

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Expert at Making Bad Movies

August 9, 2007

Finally played zombie survival horror with the latest version of Giger Counter. It went really well, overall. I’m getting a firmer handle on what the mechanical pacing should be like, at least for a group of 5-6 players. However, I’m beginning to worry, because, so far, we’ve only made really BAD movies.

Playtest #1: Storm Windows, a late night tv movie about a high school caught in a major storm while a slasher was on the loose.

Playtest #2: Queen of the Swarm, SciFi channel movie about a government-sponsored group sent to investigate the alien infiltration of a secret research facility.

Playtest #3: Til Undeath Do Us Part, hordes of zombies assault a wedding party trapped on a private island.

I enjoy the occasional bad horror movie as much as the next guy, but I was kinda writing Giger Counter to create GOOD survival horror movies in the vein of Alien(s), Scream, and classic zombie flicks. I’m not sure if it’s the current rules that are keeping that from happening, if the players (who have mostly been new to the system each time) don’t have enough of a handle on things to pull that off the first time, or if we just need to collectively decide we are going to make a really good movie and not play it for cheesy laughs.

One thing that I think would help would be spending more time on the brainstorming that leads up to picking an overall premise. That’s one thing that makes Primetime Adventures work so well and may be the key ingredient missing here.