2017-09-01 : Systems in Miniature

In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, my unrivaled favorite book of game thinkery, Anna Anthropy puts forward this thesis*:

Just as we draw pictures to examine, explore, understand, or explain things, and just as we write poems to examine, explore, understand, or explain feelings, so we create games to examine, explore, understand, or explain dynamic systems.

Sketch the line at the RMV and you learn something about what it is; write a poem about the line at the RMV and you learn something about how it feels; design a game about the line at the RMV and you learn something about how it works.

I have kind of a lot to say about some of our games - games that Meg and I have designed, games that our friends have designed. What I want to say, follows from this idea of Anna's, so I'm starting here.

But even more, I think that this idea of Anna's is important and good, and I recommend her book. She says that we should all design games, basically all the time, basically whenever we meet a dynamic system and we want to tell someone else about it or understand it better than we do.

2017-08-28 : Vigil

Over at his Patreon, Ron Edwards has just released the very first playtest/notes document for Vigil [patrons only], a superhero game he's working on. I got to try it out at GenCon, and holy mac am I excited for it.

In full, sober honesty, I've never once actually cared about a superhero before now.

Here's the deal: we sit down and we choose something that we all honestly hate, in real life. In our game, it was debt used as an instrument of violent control. Which seems a little abstract when I write it out, but you should just feel my blood boiling over here.

Then we create our characters. Before we start, as an absolute given, we know two things about them:

First, they have broken the law and will break the law to fight debt as an instrument of violent control. Given.

Second, they're living a double life: a workaday life and a vigilante life. Given.

So here's me, and I'm like, you are TOO GODDAMN RIGHT I've broken the law and will keep breaking the law to fight debt as an instrument of violent control! And I have this rising enraged coil of light inside me, and a few minutes later I have this character I can channel it into. I'm white-knuckled and grinning.

Anyhow, Ron's got a ton of work to put into this game still, and I want him to have the time and space to do it, BADLY, and we all have this grinding erosion of time and space we have to contend with all the time. Back his Patreon if you can!

2017-08-09 : Shays' Rebellion

Here's another quick transplant from Twitter. Meg and I went to Hiftory Camp and...

Friends, I learned such timely and relevant things today about Shays' Rebellion! Here's the shortest possible summary.

1) Revolutionary soldiers were paid in "continentals," paper currency issued for the purpose.

2) Continentals devalued rapidly and almost completely, and speculators bought them for pennies on the pound.

3) One such speculator was James Bowdoin, later to be governor of Massachusetts. He and 2 friends bought up 40% of the continentals in MA.

4) As governor, he enacted legislation to redeem continentals at face value. To pay for them, he raised taxes to six times what they'd been.

5) The farmers who now had to pay 6x their taxes to pay for his continentals? Many of them were the same veterans he'd bought them from!

Isn't that amazing?

The outcome was armed rebellion, and who can wonder. The kickoff action was to shut down the county courthouse in Northampton and free the prisoners from debtors' jail.

Sam Adams wrote of Shays' Rebellion, "in monarchy, the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death." Sam Adams can stuff it up his nose.

2017-08-01 : Apocalypse World is In Print Again

You can buy it in hardcover or paperback at

Even if you have the book, though, go download the landfall marine playbook. It has some cool new stuff in it. It was made possible by my Patreon supporters, so if you dig it, consider signing up!

2017-07-25 : #rpgtheoryJuly: Violence In My Games

Transplanted from #rpgtheoryJuly:

1. At heart, I'm a horror game designer. Violence against fictional characters is a crucial part of almost all of my games.

2. I think that this is fine. "Violence" against game pieces or characters isn't real and shouldn't be taken for it.

3. ...To the point where I don't see how we get from combat systems in games to any consideration of real violence at all.

4. I mean, identifying with our characters (or game pieces) provides a small link, but only a small one...

5. ...As violence against your character MIGHT constitute social violence against the real you, but doesn't automatically.

6. It totally depends on the game. In @PaulCzege's term, on the game's social architecture.

7. Play violence, in other words, doesn't and shouldn't require you to hurt anybody. The opposite!

8. So in my games, I always try to design ways for us, the real people, to have fun with play fighting.

9. Like, collaborating enthusiastically with one another to commit pretend violence on our characters/game pieces.

10. In all of my games, you can let your character suffer violence, without making the real you a chump or a victim.

11. ...In various ways, for various purposes, with various outcomes, game by game.

12. This always includes ways for you as a player to choose how much you're risking or willing to have your character suffer.

13. ...But it doesn't always include an out or a veto. In some games, it's "you risked this, and it came true, so it stands."

14. Because in some games, gambling big and losing is part of the fun!

15. So the design task is, divorce play violence from real-world social violence, aggression, hostility, between the players.

16. Keep the players enthusiastically in the game, collaborating, while their characters try to hurt and kill each other.

17. This isn't like a big challenge, it's just a task, but you can get it wrong. Have a plan! Design on purpose!

18. Oh, I want to add, about emotional violence.

19. If you're designing a game that features emotional violence against characters, even moreso.

20. You shouldn't have to bully me as a player in order for your character to bully mine. Gaslight me to gaslight mine. No!

21. Play fights should be fun for the loser too, even emotional play fights. Gotta divorce that play violence from the real!

22. That's basically it. Characters & game pieces are disposable, friendship & trust aren't. Take care of each other, yeah?

2017-06-24 : Roleplaying is a Conversation?

2017-06-07 : Failure in RPGs (by Paganini)

2016-12-12 : Love, Warmth, Good Will, etc.

2016-11-20 : Butt Trumpets

2016-07-26 : Amazons!

2016-06-07 : Core Tension

2016-05-31 : Fallen London Again

2016-04-26 : A Quick & Dirty Outline

2015-12-21 : AW:Fallen Empires

2015-11-11 : Playing Nature's Year