An Introduction to Going Crazy About RPGs

In my enthusiasm and haste to help a friend take a few more steps into the wild and woolly world of RPGs, I think I've actually compiled something pretty comprehensive. I figured the guy could find Story Games and RPGnet and DC Game Day on his own based on our discussion (he took notes!), but some of this stuff I only mentioned in passing or alluded to it elliptically. Besides! It's been over a year; this old LiveJournal needs a proper send-off, or it at least needs me to do something with it besides delete spam comments. So here's my annotated link-dump of the most fantastic things I can think of in gaming right now, only slightly edited from the message I just sent John Rogers (no, not that one):

Show notes from lunch!

The Diana Jones Awards for Excellence in Gaming: Checking out past winners and nominees is a good (but incomplete) "what to read" list.

Ron Edwards' "System Does Matter" essay. A hoary chestnut, a founding document, and a good litmus test to see if you can stand Ron Edwards' writing style -- at least on theory matters. See also The Big Model on Wikipedia, though there's a big YMMV on anything and everything related to Forgey Theory.

John Kim's RPG site and encyclopedia.

Do: Children of the Flying Temple's Kickstarter page.

A brief discussion of the links I sent to David Murray (@davidSEIBEI) in response to his request for "D&D or pen and paper RPG blogs/websites."

Rob Donoghue is perhaps my favorite of the Evil Hat/Fate/Spirit of the Century/Dresden Files RPG guys.

John Harper created most of my favorite free games like Danger Patrol, Lady Blackbird, and Ghost/Echo, available at OneSeven Design Studio.

I don't really know him, and I don't think he's published anything of his own design, but when he's analyzing games (whether or not he's using Forgey-theory terms) he is ON. Check out Deeper in the Game by Banukei. His same page tool is something special.

Vincent Baker designed Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World (among other things) and will finish designing Storming the Wizard's tower someday. I think I like this diagram better than the Big Model diagram.

Jason Morningstar is so nice, and so bright, and so approachable. Bully Pulpit Games website

Finally, gameplaywright by Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball, the editors/authors of Things We Think About Games and all-around awesome guys.

New Actual Play Recording: Maid RPG!

As I wrote on
Nick Novitski runs Ryo Kamiya's Maid the Role Playing Game for George Austin, Jonathan "Buddha" Davis, Jeff Hosmer, Joe Iglesias, and Nick Marshall on December 17th at The Complete Strategist. We start out talking about playing a Power Rangers game using either Maid or My Life With Master (no joke!), then start rolling on random tables to make our Maid game setting. A tyrannosaurus wanders out of the jungle one hour and six minutes into the recording.

So Maid is the most fun I've had with random tables pretty much ever. Joe played Jordan, the Pure and Cool Maid with glasses and an official government post -- at least before she was enslaved by the master. Buddha played Nemontemi, the Pure patchwork goddess-maid on a work-exchange program. Jeff played Selena, the Boyish and Pure pyromaniac mad-scientist-maid. Nick Marshall played Jenny the Sexy but sickly machine-gun wielding maid paying off her gambling debts. I played Torako, the Boyish and Cool athletic maid who is a tiger that shape-shifts into a person and is somehow also the illegitimate heir to the master or something.

Random tables, ladies and gentlemen.

It's also probably the best-sounding and smallest recording I've posted to since I actually messed with the audio rather than just throwing the raw file from the recorder up on the internet.
Music, Gilbert

Yes, Employers, I Edit for Content, Too!

Following Ari Marmell's lead, I decided to write to some congress-folk. I should have stayed on target, but after midnight, such focus simply is not in my nature. I decided to look around Mark R. Warner's senatorial website and found myself driven to distraction by the misinformation on his "About Virginia" page. Soon, my correction to Warner's "About Virginia" page dwarfed whatever text I'd written on my original concern. My editorial notes are excerpted below:

Also, I must respectfully complain that the "About Virginia" page on your Senatorial website contains several inaccuracies. It states that "Early European settlers landed in Jamestown in 1607 and established the first permanent colony of the New World," but St. Augustine, Florida was founded 42 years before Jamestown, and it isn't even the first permanent colony in the New World, merely the oldest in what is now the United States. I believe the distinction you claim for Jamestown actually belongs to Santo Domingo. Jamestown isn't even the oldest permanent English settlement in the New World: St. John's, on the island of Newfoundland, is. Jamestown is merely the oldest English settlement in what is now the Unites States of America.

I figured that mentioning Veracruz's status as the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement on the continental mainland was superfluous.

Black, White, and Red All Over

Let's face it: good color schemes don't grow on trees. Any subset of black, white and red looks good. The White Stripes are distinctive. Even with a few shades of gray in the mix, the cover to Misspent Youth is nigh iconic. Heck, a Google images search for "black white red" looks designed, not algorithmically generated.  Bands are all over this look: almost any Alkaline Trio album has it, so does Ben Folds Five's The Unauthorized Autobiography of Reinhold Messner... do I have to go through the alphabet?

Some go the extra mile and combine this reduced pallet with hand-made letterforms. The pinnacle and most minimalistic of these covers is The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky: Collapse )
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Now With 50% More Heartbreak™!

Robert Donoghue is a class act and I want to be like him when I grow up. For the Heartbreak, use your google skills and read the ridiculousness* that prompted Mr. Donoghue's public vote of confidence. For the Staggering Fandom, be aware that there are people like Rob Donoghue in the world, and recognize that as a wonderful thing.

Folks who follow me on Twitter know that I'm considering of moving (well... cross-posting) my blog to one of my fallow and dormant domains. They also know that I'm a bit nervous about this: the recent hacking woes of J.D. Roth's other blog, Get Fit Slowly, and Amagi Games' installation and hacking woes give me pause. What you might not know is that I've grown goofily fond of the phrase "Staggering Fandom" and it will replace "Working on it" as my blog's title.

Next time: 45 year old Japanese puns!

*It prompted me to coin (but not use!) the phrase, "Who appointed [insert offending forum user's name here] [insert compound curse word here]-prime of the 'why do I bother with this hobby' committee?"

An interruption followed by Staggering Fandom

Wow. I just blew my own mind a little bit. Of course image macros of the pope and Vatican should be on a website called The LOLy See. It cannot be any other way.

Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Fandom got off to a shaky start, and I'm going to keep things shaky by throwing out some honorable mentions in the music category before posting "fans conquer film."

If you're not familiar with The Minibosses, you should be. As far as I know, they're still the video game cover band par excellent.

The Minibosses do a great Mega Man 2 cover, but what The Adventures of Duane and BrandO did to the game's music must be experienced.

(YouTube is cranky today; this might not work right away)

I still don't know what I think of them. Despite my misgivings, I'm eagerly waiting for their Earthbound project.

Right and Wrong

I wrote a little something on Facebook last night about Frank Zappa fast becoming one of my heroes.

One of the most famous television personalities in America spent almost 20 minutes of air time with a 22-year-old who wanted to play an improvised Concerto For Two Bicycles, Pre-Recorded Tape, & Instrumental Ensemble. Let that sink in.

I was a little put off by some of Steve Allen's jokes. Give him the benefit of the doubt, though. Watch all the clips. Read up on the guy -- the man was hip.

Does anything this delightful and unique happen on broadcast -or any- TV anymore?


Toward Testing Pirates

So I finally shared the thought I've been kicking around about hacking Fate for "righteous criminals exacting their revenge-type stories." These variations on Spirit of the Century's five phases owe a lot to a post by Leonard Balsera, among other things. The following is excerpted from an email I sent to my gaming group's list explaining what I'd like to run if people didn't want to play GHOST/ECHO at one of the tables tonight:

The five phases -The Past, The Means, The Motive, The Opportunity, The Life- are an exercise in world building as well as character building. The default, space-piratey setting has plenty of wiggle-room for player details, but we could go into the game with a totally blank slate, too.

Characters end the phases with five Aspects.

Phase 1: The Past establishes the context for player action; MacGuffins and high-concepts emerge here. In the default setting, some dimensional accident sunders human-settled space into two pocket universes for a few hundred years. When the regions merge back together, the unique technologies of one side are in high demand in the other and vice-versa. There's a war and other details, but that's the gists of the Order the default pirates' activities disrupt.

Your characters' Aspect from this phase usually describes what connections they have - who and what are important to them. Players also come up with a World Aspect that describes the established Authority figures -mentors, parents, employers- they'll soon be working against.

Phase 2: The Means is all about you. What did you have going for you? What did the future hold?

Character Aspects from this phase might be some kind of identifying, descriptive trait. The players also discuss World Aspects that represent potential allies.

Phase 3: The Motive is when it all came crashing down. Why and how were you targeted? What have you lost? How did you get away?

A Character Aspect from phase 3 will probably establish long-term goals for the character. World Aspects describe how the Authority maintains its power or how it's corrupt.

Phase 4: The Opportunity describes getting the group together and the first blow you deal to the Authority. In the default setting, it describes your first heist, stealing a ship.

Character Aspects from this phase are totally up in the air. They might connect you the object of your first heist, and a connection to another player-character or to the player-characters in general is encouraged.

Phase 5: The Life is about how you fit into criminal world and what makes you different from common crooks and from the Authority. The players come up with some kind of code or Principles that sets them apart; some lines they won't cross.

Phase 5 Character Aspects are about the kind of stuff do you see happening to this character most often. If we were playing a longer-term game, you'd also help the GM construct an Adversary, a foil that somehow rejects both the corruption of the Authority and the Principles of the players.

Did I miss any tricks here? Is shoe-horning everyone into the victim camp too artificial, or do you think players will happily subvert that convention and make characters who aren't obviously wronged? Where

I'll post the rest of my departures from Spirit of the Century (polyhedral dice, truncated "skill" list, etc.) tonight or tomorrow, and let you know if we actually give it a spin.

Finally, how have I not known about Josh Roby's blog? He writes good things!

Staggering Fandom, continued

I've never read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but the title's so good that I just had to steal it for my little project. The works I'm interested really aren't heartbreaking - they're heartening.

First up, the Something From (Almost) Nothing category.

This one'll probably end up an honorable mention once I get more reader suggestions. In November of 2005, Jerry Holkins, better known as his nome de plume Tycho Brahe, posted a single PBWiki page based on a three-panel webcomic parodying generic fantasy back-stories. The Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga wiki now consists of an expansive guide to the world and cultures of Battal, lengthy descriptions of each of the (non-existant) thirteen novels of Tycho Brahe's The Elemenstor Saga and the various (non-existant) ELotH games, an episode guide to the (non-existant) 129-episode long エラメン☆ (ElamenSTAR) anime series and its (non-existant) American adaptation, The Wizbits. It's pretty much mind-boggling. References to the series make infrequent appearances in Penny Arcade.

The crowning glory of this category, and one of the things that made me want to pursue this project in the first place, is the venerable gaming amateur press association, Alarums and Excursions. As near as I can tell, it's been published regularly since 1975, and released its 400th issue this January. I can't think of any gaming publications with those kinds of legs. Wikipedia tells me that the pages of A&E are the birthplace of Over the Edge. Before blogs, before messageboards, begore Usenet and BBSes, there were zines, and A&E was, and is, one heck of a zine.

Next time: fans conquer film. Stay tuned!

Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Fandom

The Role-Playing Games hobby didn't just happen. Grognardia does an excellent job of exploring the literary, pulp-fantasy roots of the hobby, but I'm interested in a bigger picture. Conventions for science fiction fans started in the '30s, but -as near as I can tell- "fan culture" started its march to the mainstream at the same time gaming and personal computing were starting to make waves: Avalon Hill was founded in 1958, 3M's Bookshelf game series started in 1962, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary dates the word "zine" to 1965, Dungeons and Dragons came out in 1974, the Blockbuster Era began in 1975 with Jaws, and general purpose microcomputers hit in the mid 1970s, too.

Apparently, people have been saying stuff like "to play is to create" in the context of role-playing games for years, or at the very least equating game-mastering to game design. I actually expected that. "There's nothing new under the sun," and all. I'm much more disappointed to find out that there's an essay I'll probably never read at The Forge about looking at play as ritual behavior (the link's to my work, not The Forge), but I digress.

There's something alluring and fascinating in the DIY ethic. RPG campaigns, low-fi music, "software libre"... they all have love as their primary ingredient*. I want to celebrate the kind of love it takes to do something ridiculous and great just for the sake of doing it. I want to catalog the greatest fan-projects and talented amateurs.

I have a few projects in mind already, but I definitely need help. Tell me what's out there and What's moved you!

*with apologies to Clay Shirky for the paraphrase.