Why bother having prep procedures?

Or, “why bother writing an article like my A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX?”.

In response to the article linked above, /u/deejax313 said:

“Alot of work to go through for a game.

Cant DMs just give treasure, get a sense of how fast the players are advancing, and then give more or less treasure based on how fast they like the players to advance?

You may as well just not play with XP and just say characters advance a level every three adventures.

You’re crunching numbers and working backwards to create a system to make a totally subjective choice happen.”

A good question. I have answers.

Continue reading “Why bother having prep procedures?”

How I GM and how to play in my games

People have asked me how I GM. People have asked me how to play in my games. By a kind of ontological fusion, this document answers the questions of both groups. It’s amazing.

There is no “plot”, and we are intense

The heart of my method is improvising — I am making this shit up as we go along. That’s my default position. My default model of “run a game session” is that I have no plan or knowledge of what will happen. The players could do anything and it might seem reasonable for anything to happen. That is where I start from, and any prep work I do to is to support that. This is probably the key to my success.

There is thus no “plot”, ever. You are free. But that comes with responsibility — as a player you must make the game work. Good drama has ongoing themes, good drama goes somewhere. So you need to have direction, to be going somewhere, and to stick with that at least some of the time. You need to try to change the world, or at least try to change your position in it.

Example If you start out looking for your brother, you should keep looking for him until you have good reason to give up.

Side-jaunts are not a problem, just so long as you get back on track eventually. But my runs are usually short — 10–12 sessions is typical — so “eventually” is quite soon.

Continue reading “How I GM and how to play in my games”

Three interesting things I’ve read recently, mid-September 2019

An astute observation from Kyle Maxwell’s review of Dirge of Urazya:

A twenty-four page zine by an independent author will never provide as much detail as an encylopedic tome from a large corporate producer. But I’m not sure the additional detail in those larger books actually gets used in games. … Setting material like [Dirge of Urazya] leans into that idea and gives the players – all of them – both the encouragement and the tools to customize it, rather than present lots of “canon lore” and then a vague statement about feeling free to “change it if you want”.

Patrick Stuart has started a discussion on his blog with the question “What do you think of art in games?”. As you might expect from his circle, the quality of the replies is excellent, with lots of clever, creative people scrabbling around trying to make sense of their heads.

Paul Beakley has advice on how to use clocks in Blades in the Dark and descendants. He starts by talking about the problems he had before he knew how do that:

Every time they rolled anything less than a 6, I’d load ‘em up with consequences. I had no place to put consequences other than the characters or the fiction, and the whole thing ended up looking more like a game of Fiasco than smooth Ocean’s 11 style criming. The reason of course is that you need clocks as a place to put consequences other than the characters and the fiction.

I particularly like how he talks about “places[s] to put consequences” — consequences are, of course, a type of currency, and they need to be accounted for. If you’re generating too many (or too few) for the sinks available, you’re going to have problems. Put another way — I understood after reading this that there are, give-or-take, “consequence points”, and the Blades mechanics only work well if the maths for those points is right.

Optimising your idea machine — getting the possible ideas from your mind into play

The problem — too many ideas, and they scatter to the wind

The basic problem is that I generate lots of ideas and thoughts, for games I’m running and games I’m not. I’m fairly good at writing them down, somehow and somewhere, but I’m not so good at getting them to the point where they are actually used in play. I think I miss a lot of opportunities to put the fruits of my mind into a position where players can experience them.

I had an idea. Now what?

Now, sure, there are some irreducible constraints on this. Play can’t always provide good context to bring in all the ideas you have — you may well generate ideas that require too many entirely different games. And even if everything lines up, you might produce more ideas than can ever be fitted in the playing time you have. Some ideas will fall on stony ground because the world is just like that.

But some losses are accidental. Sometimes, you’ll get an opportunity to use an idea, but miss it. This might be because you forgot it entirely. Or it might because you remember the general idea but you forgot important details (and can’t find them fast enough to not break game flow). Such losses can be minimised if we’re clever about it.

What I want to do is to be as efficient as possible at getting the best ideas from the seething ferment of my mind to the actual world where players can suffer them. I want maximise my ratio of (effort put in) to (amount and quality of ideas that make it to play).

A general model — engineering your idea machine

Continue reading “Optimising your idea machine — getting the possible ideas from your mind into play”

Three interesting things to read, early September 2019

System matters, but it’s easy to not know that

Justin Alexander gives a succinct account of why rules matter but many players don’t get the experiences they need to realise this. Key quotes:

“… most RPG systems don’t actually carry a lot of weight, and are indistinguishable from each other in terms of the type of weight they carry.

In theory, as we’ve discussed, there’s really nothing an RPG system can do for you that you can’t do without it. There’s no reason that we can’t all sit around a table, talk about what our characters do, and, without any mechanics at all, produce the sort of improvised radio drama which any RPG basically boils down to.

The function of any RPG, therefore, is to provide mechanical structures that will support and enhance specific types of play.

… What I’m saying is that system matters. But when it comes to mainstream RPGs, this truth is obfuscated because their systems all matter in exactly the same way.”

There’s a robust simple procedure for running Into the Odd

As an example of the structure Alexander is calling for, have a look at Chris McDowall’s simple procedure for running Into the Odd.

“Diegetic” and “Non-diegetic” are useful terms for game design

Emmy Allen explained two useful terms for talking about rpgs. They weren’t new to all of us, but her explanation is clear and to the point. Next time someone asks, we can point them there.

Sean McCoy on Twitter then showed how those terms make explicit what he was implicitly trying to do while designing Mothership.

This is good theory — it gives us words for what expert practitioners do.

Progress in rpg design

(from an old G+ post I found while looking through my G+ export)

For some people, the idea of progress in RPG design is threatening — they like the games they have, and they don’t want them to change.

For others, the idea of progress in games is associated with assholes using it push the games they like, or the games they are selling (cf Vampire in the 90s, some of the Forge crowd in the 2000s).

For yet others, they see the counter-evidence to any simple story of linear hobby-wide progress. For example, the recent resurgence of OSR play as a reaction to the plotted-epic-story direction D&D took in the 90s and 00s.

I think progress is possible, and is happening (on multiple stylistic fronts, which as S John Ross points out in [his now-unavailable G+ post] it must do). But I’m not surprised when people don’t believe in it, or don’t like the idea.

Transactions and Rawplaying

Paul Beakley has defined two new rpg theory terms which I think will be useful.

The Transaction — “The steps players engage in to settle outcomes in the fiction. … a subset of the much larger conversation in which all the play takes place.”

I don’t think that definition is particularly instructive, but the worked examples he gives in his post (for Scum & Villainy, Burning Wheel, and Apocalypse World) are much more so.

Rawplaying — “Playing an RPG by the rules because we earnestly feel the rules produce the best experience for us.”

The term is useful to me because while it’s not always what I do, it’s very often what I try to do. And there’s a big divide in rpg culture between people who take this seriously and people who don’t.

Structure-preserving transformations

… following Christopher Alexander, positive change is a matter of producing “structure-preserving transformations” – starting with a core, and figuring out how to elaborate on the core in a way that produces wholeness, not mess. These possible transformations are what you’re looking for in problem-solving space: states of affairs that are near the current state of affairs but better, and achievable without destroying the dignity and cohesiveness of the existing state of affairs. Each transformation allows you to begin imagining further transformations from a new starting point. (source)

The Dungeon World core loop

What is the core loop of Dungeon World? How are the high-level events in a game supposed to occur? The RAW is not precise to the specificity demanded by my exacting analytical genius. So I will describe it here.

Firstly, all of the below happens in context of my previous description The highest-level structure of Dungeon World. This loop is inside that. Key quote:

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

The loop

Continue reading “The Dungeon World core loop”

The highest-level structure of Dungeon World

This post describes how I view the highest-level structure of Dungeon World. Most of what I’ll say also applies to Apocalypse World, so I’ll mix discussion of the two with little warning.

The first level — everything is the conversation

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

For example, if the Red Knights haven’t been mentioned for six weeks of game time, they exist in a space of possibilities – they could be here, they could be there, they could be anywhere within six weeks travel of wherever they were last. The conversation can bring them into the current scene (or show their very obvious effects e.g. having burnt down a town and left their flags all over it) as long as that is consistent with the time, the distance, and whether of all of the chaos shrines in all the mountains of the world there is some plausible reason for them to show up in this one.

What the Red Knights don’t do is move around in the background, in some factual sense, even in the GM’s head. The GM may have ideas about this, but they’re merely ideas until the live conversation makes them fact. The GM’s prep is raw material, prompts, aids, but not reality.

I.e. the possibility and plausibility space is “real” beyond the conversation (and each player plus GM will be independently monitoring it to some degree) but the precise facts there are not.

Continue reading “The highest-level structure of Dungeon World”