Monday, December 26, 2005

Moving Day

Ludanta Reto is moving to choicer digs at

WordPress, parenthetically, is knocking my socks off. Among other things, it was able to import my entire blogger database via RSS so all of the posts and comments from this site are now safely ensconced over there. I'll be turning off comments to posts here -- kindly post to the new, 'real' blog at

Peace out, my brothers!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

FLFS: Long vs Short

I have a Google Alert for Full Light, Full Steam that I set up, like, years ago, when there weren't any mentions and I shortly forgot that it even existed. Then it started sending me notifications that my game is being talked about (which is, by the way, really fucking weird), the most recent of which was Qien Es Mas Macho at the 20x20 Room. Generally I don't read 20x20 because (a) it's D&D-centric and I've played exactly one session of D&D in my life, but more puissantly, (b) the discussions are like what I imagine the European Parliament are like -- everybody speaking a slightly different language, and barely communicating with each other. This thread is a prime example, with folks defending at least three different iterations of Forge theory as if they were all the same, and a lot of non-Forgies criticizing what gets put out there as "What the Forge Says".

Anyway, somebody mentioned Full Light, Full Steam pretty tangentially as a short-term game with little replay value. As I really don't want to tangent that discussion any more than it already is, I thought I'd throw up a short post here.

You can totally play Full Light, Full Steam as a short-ass one-shot game, going through one Situation and then playing, I dunno, Mountain Witch on the next Game Nite. The game will work; there are little sidebars that give tips on how to shift a few things around so that the one-shot works better. I hadn't thought of it in such terms, but I suppose this would help out Con games, too.

You can also play FLFS as a medium or long term game, putting your characters through three, ten, twenty different Situations over the course of howeverlong you want to play. Each Situation should play out in a session or two to create rather episodic play, but you can, a la Buffy, play through lots and lots of those situations. The character advancement system is scalable (I stole from Clinton even before I read Shadow of Yesterday, apparently) so your power-creep can be managed. The longer-ranged games are also probably a little more interesting if you enable the Troupe Play rules so that everybody is playing a handful of people, but that's probably my bias showing through.

Now mind, personally I prefer the mid-range in terms of campaign length. I just don't get why you'd want to stick with the same characters and story for years on end. I also have no idea how people are able to arrange such long-standing commitments with their social calendars. I doubt the Next Game will have the same kind of support for long-ass games as FLFS does, because I won't be working off the same "standard assumptions" about how an RPG is supposed to be constituted. For the nonce, however, FLFS should be able to support both.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Preliminary playtest reports say that the Engineering the Situation procedure is on the right track. Rawk!

Thanks so much, Brand!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Vacation Writing

So I went through the Playing the Game half of Full Light, Full Steam and styled it so now it's all consistent and ten thousand times easier for someone who is not me to read and understand. Then I beat the shit out of the old Storymapping chapter, diced it up and cut off all the useful parts, then shuffled them into the order needed for the new Engineering the Situation chapter. Wrote a few transitions, stringing the bits together into some semblance of sense. (Isn't it nice when you realize that you don't actually have to write as much as you thought you might?)

Segments Left to Write:
  • Remainder of Engineering the Situation (~1000 words)

  • Attention, Brave Young Boys! (~1000 words)

  • Organization of a Solar Steamer Crew (~1000 words)

  • Aphrodite and Ishtar, British Venus (~2000 words)

  • Kanykeys, Dutch Venus (~500 words)

  • Deimos, Japanese port (~500 words)

  • Various Lunar Ports (rethinking this section entirely)

  • Sollardam, Dutch Mercury (~1500 words)

  • Vulcan (~2000 words)

  • Asteroid Belt: Overview (~250 words)

  • Mechanical Engineering (although I may skip this one in the final analysis)

Then I do the big copy-paste of the Setting half of the book, apply styles, do a line-by-line copy edit, and holy shit I have a playtest edition!

Goals in Gaming

Nathan's asking the question What Are My Goals over on Hamster Prophecy, and since I'm off on vacation starting today, I figured I'd kill some time in a similar fashion.

1. I am sure as fuck not making a living off this shit.
By this I do not mean "this doesn't pay well enough to feed my kids," I mean there's no way in hell I'm going to hitch my personal finances and the quality of my life to something as thrice-fucked as the gaming market. I'll keep my day job. This is a goal because I want to keep a nice, stable foundation outside the gaming market. To those of you who support yourselves on gaming, I salute your bravery and worry for your future. I'll be over here. Not evicted.

2. Game design is my avocation -- somewhere between hobby and career.
While for reasons I outline in Goal #1 I am not making gaming my career, it's at the same time not on the level of 'mere hobby'. Designing and playing games is what I live for -- it's the activity that I work my day job to support. In a very real way, gaming is more important to me than my career; it's just that my career is not the most important thing in my life (just an utterly necessary one). I'll be all pretentious and compare myself to Robert Herrick, who was a clergyman in England who also wrote poetry. As most of his poetry is about various women's breasts, I think we can all agree on how central to his life his job as a clergyman was. Replace 'clergyman' with 'textbook editor' and 'poetry about boobs' with 'games' and that's where I want to be.

3. I want to write and publish a game that lasts.
As with Herrick, who is remembered for his poetry and not his sermons, I'd prefer that my notable works be games, although somewhat different from Bob, I am interested in my audience and reaching a wider audience. I want to be able to reach out and touch other people through games, to participate in a dialogue of merit through games, and to contribute to the vast noosphere of human culture through games. I don't care if my medium of choice is not something profound like the Great American Novel; in the end, it doesn't matter any more than Dickens was pissing his time away writing serials that would never stand the test of time (let's pray to all that is holy that they won't). I play games, you play games, lots of people play games. Let's connect about that. Let's raise our kids to play games. That would rock.

4. I want to publish a game that is relevant to people's lives and compels them to question.
I was an English major in college, and I know this much about good literature: good literature engages you where you are, and good literature makes you look at where you are in a new way. I know with far more familiarity that that is pretty much the exact mechanism of any worthwhile roleplaying experience. Roleplaying is a natural medium for questioning the self, questioning society, and questioning culture. It puts you in different roles and contexts and goads you to make choices. Gee, you think that might make you consider your real situation in a new light? There's no reason why roleplaying cannot serve the same purpose as good literature, excepting that it can do it better, more accurately, and more precisely.

5. I want to publish a game that doesn't look and read like crap.
This is a purely elitist aesthete goal, but it's nonetheless important to me. As a bookbuilder, the physical composition, layout, and content of a book are irrevocably tied together, and no part can be of excellent quality unless all parts support each other. The book should be as engaging as a physical object as the act of reading it, which should be as engaging as actually playing the game. My standards of what is and is not acceptable have earned me the disdain of quite a few folks who think I'm an elitist ass. I'd be sorry except that I'm not. A good book has a good binding and is printed on good paper through a good process depicting a good layout presenting good text. That's how it fucking works. Unfortunately, that costs money, which brings me to:

6. I want my avocation to pay for itself or at least defray its own costs.
Truthfully, I'm fine spending money on games that I'll never see back. It doesn't bother me, because I see it as turning pretty boring money into an entertaining, engaging, and fulfilling experience. It sure beats spending money on going to the movies recently. But it would be quite nice if my tinkering was subsidized by sales. So while I wouldn't say my goal is sales -- because if your goal is sales, you make your decisions based on those sales -- my plans certainly include sales. Sales are just a culturally-acceptable means of getting your product into other people's hands. A free pdf goes nowhere and doesn't get played. If somebody spends their hard-earned for a book, they're going to at least try to play it. And that is what makes me happy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ENWorld on the Forge

God, I love reading people outside the Forge community talk about the Forge.

Here's a gem:
1. Some Forgites are arrogant jargon-spewers.
2. Some Forgites have worthwhile things to say about gaming.
3. Some Forgites are both.

Oh, even better, when eyebeams encapsulates the foundation of Forge thought in his "Gamers are bad at gaming" and definition of "fun" specifically as something that he, as a "commercial RPG writer," knows and the Forge does not.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

NerdSoCal -- shit.

I didn't go looking at the NerdNYC page for the longest time because I pretty much knew this would happen: I'd want to replicate it here.

NerdSoCal -- would it work? We aren't as concentrated as NYC (I'm thinking LA + OC), we don't have convenient subway access, but we do have lots of nearby colleges, lots of young, well, nerds with time+income+desire to socialize/movie-go/game...

Whereas NerdNYC's Gotham Gaming Guild rents unused studio space to game in, we've got a climate that will let us just use parks, or maybe use community center rooms.

There's a couple Forgies out here on the Left Coast: Jesse Burneko, Jay Silmenume, myself. Ian Noble isn't a Forgie, but he's an RPGnet kiddie, and he's out here. Hell, Wick and Jared are based out of Santa Monica.

So tempting... so potentially time-sucky... so tempting...

Addendum: I would so be using Vanilla instead of phpbb. Drool.

Game A Day

Nathan Paoletta is starting an interesting experiment, a Game A Day Project where he'll post a snippet of gameness every day. He describes the project at his main blog.

Go, Nathan, Go!

Monday, December 12, 2005

We be online, my brothers! is currently a little on the empty and transitional side, but it's up. I'll be installing WordPress and phpbb next week. And then won't we have fun -- css alone nearly killed me!

Games, The Standard, and Spoons

Originally this was going to be a thread called "The Problem with Game Designers" and posted into Indie RPG Design, but most of what I'm saying has already been said in a couple other posts there. I don't want to retread old ground, but I do want to look at it for a moment, if only because those other things weren't put together like I've got them put together in my head. I also get borderline pissy and certainly ranty, and I try to keep that sort of thing off the Forge So.

The problem with game designers is that they don't ask questions about their game designs. This is originally inspired by the posts to Indie RPG Design where people copy-paste a segment of their game from their word processor into the forum, and then append a line something like "Whaddaya think, guys?" Some of them want a round of applause, which is pretty much not at all what the Forge is for, but I don't think it's really that many of these posters.

I think that most of them are looking for validation, yes, but most of them are looking for validation of a very specific kind. They chose this section to make into a forum post; why? There's something about it that bothers them, or (more rarely) they're going out on a limb and want to make sure they're not crazy. But they don't say, "Hey, this bothers me" or "Is this crazy?" They don't ask the question that they really want to ask.

In parallel, there are the guys who post asking what the proper way to do something is. How do I write my setting? How many skills "should" I have? Or the real gems like, How much XP should it take to level? To these posters, there is some inviolate, universal standard of how RPGs are supposed to be designed, and they want to hear the hallowed voices of the Forge compare their efforts with the standard. Certainly, the experienced, published designers of the Forge know the standard better than these new guys do, so they ask.

Of course, there is no standard. The requirements of any piece of art is idiosyncratic to the artwork itself. The experienced, published designers of the Forge at least know that. An RPG does not need levels, skills, XP, or even settings, but it is hard communicating to the poster that the thing that they've been so worried about is, well, not necessary. This applies to the "How many skills?" guys as well as the "Whaddaya think?" guys -- their participation at the Forge is predicated on an assumption about game design that says that there's a right way to make games and there's a wrong way.

Which is, in a word, bupkiss.

The new guys post to the Forge without asking questions because they think the questions are self-evident -- or they hope they're self-evident to the experienced designers who should know these things. The guys posting and asking the "should" questions just go a step further into the confusion by assuming that there is the standard that their design will be stacked up against. They're comparing themselves to something that doesn't exist; I can't think of a surer plan for failure. What both these guys need -- and very occasionally get -- is a "There is no spoon" moment.

We tend to ask the "Big Three" questions: "What's your game about? What do the characters do? What do the players do?" The answers from pre-spoon-moment posters are invariably, "Having fun. Save the world. Have fun." Because when you are laboring under universal standard of RPG quality, the answer to the Big Three is always the same, and large parts of it can go unsaid because they're part and parcel of the standard. We don't need to say "the players each take one character and portray their actions, constrained by the abilities and knowledge that that character has" because that's how roleplaying games work, isn't it?

Again, bupkiss.

Oh wait, you thought I meant the fictional universal standard was bupkiss, there, didn't you? No, I meant the Big Three questions are bupkiss, because they're not doing what they should be doing. They are not providing the No Spoon Moment; they are assuming that these posters have already had it when it's patently obvious that they have not. This is asking someone questions that they do not have the context to answer correctly; it borders on intellectual dishonesty. It is toying with them.

Alternately, a common response to pre-spoon-moment designers is "Go play these games.Go play Sorcerer. Go play Dogs. Go play Universalis." Which would probably work, excepting of course that it isn't going to happen. (It also makes the Forge look like all it does is pimp its own games.) Most of the time, we don't even say, "You are making a lot of assumptions. Go play X." First-posters who have not been reading the Forge for months and years are not going to arrange to get their friends together to play a game just to see the brave new world that nobody is telling them is there to be found. "Go Play X" is just as much bupkiss as asking pre-no-spooners the Big Three questions. It doesn't work.

I'm looking forward to the Intro to Big Model forum/article/whatever, because I'm hoping there will be a thread there specifically designed to provide the No Spoon Moment. If there isn't, I'll start one. I don't know exactly what shape it will or should be; I know that one way would be to list common assumptions ("each player plays one character"), point out its fallacies, and provide examples of alternatives. But even that would be a dull tool to use -- it'd get long, pedantic, not incredibly entertaining to read, and worst of all, it would dilute the single point that needs to get across: "Roleplaying is people collaboratively imagining events. Everything else is optional. No really, everything else. Designing a game is directing that activity towards a specific purpose. You, as the designer, choose that purpose. Everything else that you add needs to serve that purpose." Would that provide a No Spoon Moment? Maybe. Would examples help? Maybe. But it would sure as hell be more likely to work than the Big Three or telling them to go play Sorcerer.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Silly, silly Joshua. The reason why you couldn't figure out how to write that chapter on Britain's rivals is because it shouldn't be a chapter, just a section within the chapter describing Britain. It should describe the rivals, not just as Britain sees them, but as the characters are likely to interact with them. Just move that bit over there, and oh look, everything makes sense, now!

Also, I seem to have misplaced the longhand manuscript of a segment I rather liked. This makes me sad.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bug Stompin'

So I spent the day home sick. Sick enough not to go to work, not quite sick enough that I uselessly lolled about in bed all day. So in addition to some laundry, I went through the Playing the Game half of Full Light, Full Steam. There were little bits and pieces that needed to be written, better transitions to be made, word choices amended to reflect rules changes. There were like fifty of them on my To Do list. I did Forty-nine of them.

With the exception of the Situation-Engineering segment, Playing the Game is done. We have reached, ladies and gentlemen, First Draft.

Now I gotta go stomp on the bugs and holes in the Setting half of the book.

Abstract of the Olympic Solar Steamer Classification

It is my pleasure to present to you, kind sirs of the Navy Committee, the design of the most modern solar steamer yet conceived. The details of this, the Olympic classification, follow in attached documents, but with your permission I should like to briefly summarize its innovations and advantages over prior designs currently in use by the Royal Astronomical Navy.

With a containment of just under seven hundred thousand cubic yards of air, the Olympic will be the largest solar steamer in the skies outside of the Russian fleet. Unlike the ponderous tubs of the Russians, however, the Olympic's two sets of dual Faraday drives, rated at four thousand volts each, will propel the craft at an enviable estimated acceleration of up to fifteen knots per second. While this speed is indeed less than prior classifications such as the Triumph and Puncher, the Olympic's firepower will not rely on past designs' speed.

As the mixed-poundage batteries have seen reduced utility in recent engagements of the Bayleaf and Chiddinfold classifications, the Olympic adopts a main gun philosophy in the form of four turrets, each bearing two hundred-watt etheric snap cannons. These cannons' greater capacity and precise focus allow them a drastically increased range over prior batteries, precluding the need for costly and dangerous pursuits. The ship-versus-ship power of the cannons is supplemented by an array of shock bomb torpedo tubes for use against port and asteroidal targets.

The recommended crew complement for the Olympic is six-hundred and thirty-two able-bodied hands, including forty-eight officers. Quarters are adequately comfortable for our fighting men, with enlistedmen in eight-man quarters outfitted with suspended and secured hammocks, junior officers in paired quarters, and senior officers in single-occupancy quarters suitable for both living arrangements and private interviews. The core of the ship contains a twenty-five thousand cubic yard garden and solarium to refresh ship air, supplement the larders, and process human waste. The primary light shaft runs the length of the solarium, connecting the fore and aft engine rooms and equipped with automatic shutters for full light, full steam operations.

Both fore and aft engine rooms are equipped with their own steam engines to provide redundancy, powering dual Faraday drives mounted in heavy gyroscopes rated to bear thousands of foot-pounds of torque. Spring rooms sit adjacent to each engine room, the spring batteries together capable of storing enough energy for ninety minutes of cannon fire and operations in shadow. An apiary large enough to host the most modern of analytical engines rests a floor above the fore engine room. Above the aft engine room are the fighter bays, presently designed to host two braces of three Rollicker classification fighters and a pair of Roebuck classification escorts. Immediate access to the spring batteries one deck down provides fast and efficient charging of the ships' onboard batteries. The bay doors are wide enough to admit any modern escort design, allowing for the ship's complement to be modified as convenient for fleet command.

Prodigious cargo holds on the order of fifty thousand cubic yards sit forward of the ship bays, with access to the top deck through reinforced bay doors. The cargo may be pressurized or left in vaccum, depending on the needs of the cargo. The cargo is flanked, in turm, by the sail-armature stations, partitioned against catastrophic decompression to afford the most sailors the most protection and ensuring continued performance in battle. The armatures's movement is supplemented by steam pistons, allowing one man to do the work of six, with a cunning mechanism allowing the armature and light sail to be manipulated manually in the case of pressure loss. We will have no incidents as happened to the Scylla befalling the Olympic.

The fore and aft prows hold the optics and collection centers, with undiverted access to both the light funnels and the primary light shaft. The battery of telescopes and mirrors designed to be installed in the optics compartments are the same as presently used in the Blue Rover and Diligence designs, capable of spotting the sunward side of a battleship and resolving its identifying details at a gross range of thirty-five astronomical miles. These images may be forwarded to the apiary for daguerreotyping or directly to the bridge for command decisions.

The bridge's position above the main hull allows for opened portholes to provide natural visual range in the unlikely loss of optics, although normal battle operations will see the bridge crew safely behind heavily armored plating. The bridge affords eight crew stations, including dedicated stations for pilot and copilot, bridge optics, voice transmission, and fire control. Command stands or sits on a configurable raised dias allowing our often idiosyncratic captains to install tables, boards, and chairs as they see fit. Here at the operational center of the Olympic our captains will be in command of the most powerful, durable, and efficient solar steamer ever to defend Britain's interests, able to take all requisite actions to protect and promote the righs and privileges of ever British citizen throughout the solar system.

I, along with the rest of the Empire, await your considered response to these designs.

Augustus Nessington, Shipwright

Minorer Note: TSOY Weapons & Armor

Brilliant and stolen!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Minor Note: Art and Artists

So I'm looking for artists for Full Light, Full Steam. I'm picky. I'm very specifically looking for folks who can handle scenes and portray situations rather than draw a badass chick with a gun. Cause while those splat-pages in every single White Wolf book ever printed are pretty and all, they're pretty useless when it comes to describing actually playing the game. In any case, I am quickly discovering that this distinction separates the sheep and the goats. Lots of folks can draw people. I suspect that an art school emphasis on character studies make these a common topic of illustrations. The artists that can block out a scene and illustrate it without having people tilted at odd angles, without some people's hands obscuring others' faces, and without making gobblygook out of the spatial relations... yeah, not so many of those.

Go Read Victor

Go read What is Fictional on Victor's Gaming Philosopher. Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Community Reformat

There is much talk by such luminaries as Clinton and Vincent and apparently Matt Snyder's blog which I haven't found yet, and the talk revolves around reformating the means of discussion about gaming.

There's repeated dissatisfaction with the pleblian forum software, of answering the same questions over and over, dealing with the same misunderstandings, and people not paying proper respect to things that other people have already agreed on. All this gives rise to suggestions that either limit who can contribute or to assign some sort of vote-based quality standard. I'd just like to chime in briefly to say that the latter sounds great, and the former alternately chills and disgusts me.

I am all about a community-enforced quality standard that rates posters for expertise and credibility. That sort of thing already happens informally: Clinton, Ron, Vincent, Ralph, and a few others say something and people listen; folks like me say something and people give me half and ear and wait for me to publish. That's fine; that's community norms and standards being expressed and enforced and it is, on the whole, a good thing.

Creating a sandbox where the luminaries pontificate at each other and everybody watches as a mute audience or a short-comment peanut gallery, however, does not foster a community, it fosters an elite, and it fosters a fan base. Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs that shit. I'm pretty certain that the luminaries who would make the theoretical cut have strong enough self-images that they do not require the ego-stroke -- these guys are better than that. And us great unwashed masses don't need pedagogues -- we're better than that, too.

Chris Lehrich has proposed something of a middle-of-the-road approach similar to an academic journal, where anyone can submit but there is a strong editorial team that determine what gets in and what doesn't. While I think that'd be nifty, I also think the human time commitment for reviewing, discussing, and approving articles before releasing them for public discussion is a bit unweildy and in the end unnecessary. Quality ratings by user votes could fulfill a similar (though not identical) function for a greatly reduced overhead commitment.

I don't have the technical skills to set such a beast up, but I'd be a very willing participant if it ever did see the light of day.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Plotus -- A Book as Unweildy as its Name

For just $120, your 672-page copy of Monte Cook's Ptolus can be yours. Order soon, and you can get a nice 32-page Player's Handbook -- five copies of it in fact -- so your players will not be killed by this monstrosity of a book.

What the fuck? Who in their right mind would shell out over one hundred bucks for six hundred pages of a setting? Oh, but it's cross-referenced! It's got color illustrations! Yes, and it can kill babies.

But wait, there's more. This book? This tome? This monstrosity of an abomination of game design? It includes no rules. This works with D&D 3.5, folks. It requires the GM and Player's Guides (which are what, $35 a piece or something?). So yes, this complete game can be yours for the low-low price of two hundred dollars. And then you have to read nearly a thousand pages of material in order to play it.

Here's what boggles my mind: if the entire thing can be condensed into a 32-page Player's Handbook, why isn't that the product?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fill in the Blank!

Exercise: find a word that will work when you put it in every blank in the paragraphs below:

_____ is something people do because it's fun. _____ is best with other people, preferably people you know, love, and trust. Because such powerful issues as identity, emotion, and self-worth are involved, _____ can be liberating, terrifying, abusive, and glorious, depending on how you do it. However, if _____ isn't fun, you're probably doing something wrong.

_____ is primarily a creative endeavor, but some people have been doing it the same exact way for their entire lives.

Some people like to do _____ one way, while other people like to do it in other ways. Some sad people think that there is only one way to do _____ and that any other way is wrong. They will defend their version of _____ and attack others' versions for long periods of time.

Similarly, the things that one person likes about _____ may not be the same things that another person likes about _____. It's a good idea to talk about _____ before starting to do it with that person to prevent embarassing and discouraging failures to enjoy yourselves.

Keeping these simple facts in mind will help you make _____ a powerful and worthwhile part of your life!

Thank you, Chris Chinn

Friday, December 02, 2005

I Guess Theory Goes Here, Now.

So the Forge closed down the Theory and GNS forums, as Ron has been gearing up to do for, fuck, over a year, now. So it's not like it's a surprise. It is kind of sad, though. RPG Theory was the board that I posted the most to, where I was the most comfortable, where my interests lay. 226 of my 460 posts have been there. I understand that Ron wants to talk theory in context of Actual Play and Actual Design -- I'm just not in a place right now where I can do much of either, so I doubt I'll be able to participate there as much as I was on the Theory board. A good chunk of the Forge closed down for me today by raising the bar higher than I can go. Which is fine; they are trying to raise the level of discourse, and the level of discourse is something that I've always appreciated there. My voice just won't be as large a part of that discourse any more.

So I suppose I'll shift more of my theory maunderings over here; expect more abstracted conceptions of how games operate in the months to come. I am looking forward to elaborating the interaction model with articles like Focusing the Scope, and then incorporating them back into later versions of the bigger model. I'm very eager to see if this keeps generating insights for me.

And on occasion, when I manage to pry an hour out of my life to write FLFS, I'll throw something up over on the Forge. Maybe I'll even get some actual play in someday, and report on that. And then we can all go skating at Lucifer's Ninth Circle rink. Yay!