2005-01-13 : Archive 152

The Skiffy GameSome early, hopefully non-binding thoughts. Presumably, talking about this project will get me out of actually undertaking it! That's what I like.

This is all based on my attraction to and rejection of the ideas of this guy Rob who posts on the Forge as RobMuadib. Here's a place to start if you want to read about his game design in progress.

You'll also see the influence of Universalis and some stuff by Neel Krishniswami. Also I really don't want to compete with Matt Wilson's sf game (in design), so note the striking differences, please!

So: space ship, crew, exploring or running or surviving or something, with a certain technological emphasis in addition to the good meaty characters - more like Farscape than like Firefly, say. For aliens I'm thinking of: human expansion -> far-flung human world-states -> divergent human development to fit local environments. Everywhere you go, there are people but they're strange and sometimes there's no humanity left in 'em. You're strange and inhuman yourselves. But that's up for grabs locally, and must be, as you'll see.

The game isn't co-GMed, but the GM rotates at a brisk clip, formally defined. "This is my planet, I'm the GM until we leave it. That's your space station - you're the GM when we're there." I haven't decided about attaching the GM to locations or to chapters - it's easy when they line up, when every chapter is a visit to a planet and every planet is its own chapter. When they don't line up, who GMs?

Every player plays multiple protagonists. Every protagonist has at least one "off-screen interest": an in-character excuse to be elsewhere just now. When you're the GM, your characters are pursuing their off-screen interests. When one of your characters is at the forefront, the rest of them are.

The game absolutely depends on between-play world creation. You'll create world formally, on paper, with numbers and arrows and stuff; to play, you have to learn the notation the game uses for world creation. Bam! I just lost 30% of my audience forever, bye bye. To make up for it, it'll be extremely easy, plus you only have to create a couple of kinds of things: things you're interested in using when you're the GM, which is upcoming; and things you're interested in having one of your characters deal with, like the ship's workings if you're playing the ship's engineer.

I'll lose the other 70% of my audience too, if the resolution rules don't a) rely on the world creation notation, plus b) rock seriously on toast. They have to be as essential to resolution as Dogs' Traits are, and resolution has to be as good as Dogs'.

But this is going to be too much for my front page! Read the rest here.

1. On 2005-01-13, Meguey said:

I just got through the first bit, about making the Bulragthi and the bit about Traits & Triggers. I'm more interested than I've been before. I guess I'm just visual on this one.


2. On 2005-01-13, Per said:

Vincent? Thanks :)


3. On 2005-01-13, J?rgen Mayer said:

Object Oriented Roleplaying?

*head explodes*

Headless German sez: sounds brilliant, wanna play. Handling time will be high, but it doesn't matter, because world creation will be a blast.


4. On 2005-01-13, Vincent said:

Ah, see, no that's the thing, I don't write high handling time games. If I can't get it quick and dirty, I ditch it!


5. On 2005-01-13, Ninja Hunter J said:

I think this is, like 60% good. I like that everything you make up matters, rather than just making up a component when you need to talk about something. I fear that J?rgen is right, though: that it'll be a lot of potchkying around. On the other hand, that's what I thought Narrativist play would be like, and I was wrongitty wrong.


6. On 2005-01-13, Vincent said:

Fear schmear. Rest assured that it will be no such game. It'll be slick, easy, and hot, or it'll be in the ditch. I'm not gonna now start to make bloated stupid-fests.

What I want is integration of the trait lists with the causal grids, but such that neither become pain. Any brainstormage?

What has resolution got to feel like?


7. On 2005-01-13, Ninja Hunter J said:

I challenge you to make a bloated stupid-fest.

Here's a weird thing, speaking of bloated stupid-fests: GURPS 4th edition came out last summer, and I own it, and I love GURPS stuff, but I don't care about the rules. I'm just waiting and waiting for them to start coming out with the non-basic books again, because if you take out the stupid bloat, shit, they're 90% really fun stuff. Ironically, it's the game that's so much nonfun.

I think causal grids should probably exist in two forms: one is a template to use in-play when you need to come up with fuel for the Kletzenjammer Continuum Defenestrator. The other is prose, where you develop this mondo huge dictionary of cool stuff.

I think resolution has to be ... like ....

J: I'm gonna climb up on the roof so I can take good aim with the dildo launcher, and I'm drawing Ronald Reagan's face on the head so when it hits, there will be an overloading of Yang, and the dry heat will cause the Garfield float to catch fire. [note that there are no clear stakes. I'm doing this because I want to see it happen.]

V: OK, the danger is that the Cathy float will get in the way and its excess of Yin will neutralize your dildo.

[dice hit the table and are immediately read by everyone]V: The dildo hits Cathy! She starts growing a droopy mustache like long, thin baloon fingers, and, with the Yin and Yang balanced, she comes to life! She rears up on her legs, just barely floating now, walking along like Godzilla with fat thighs!*

What happened here is that I was exploring, trying stuff out, and changing the world. I was doing it because I thought I, the player, would like to do it, because it's funny, because it has some magickal idea in it, because I'm saying something about Ronald Reagan, or whatever.

Not because the plot or my character sheet demanded it.

* True story!


8. On 2005-01-14, Charles said:

I'm with Meg on this one too. Sounds fascinating.

Definitely a game that gets better over time (kinda like Farscape!), as more and more things come into being, and more and more of the causal connections start to interlink.

It seems to me that the more end-descendants a particular thingamajig has, the more grief points it takes to knock it down. So if you want to have the Central Regulatory Processor go down, taking down life support, weapons, communications, and jump, then you have to spend 4 grief points. This does a couple of things, 1) now you need to write up a bunch of new material, and 2) the players know that you spent 4 grief points to give them that much grief, but they have no idea if you blew out the CRP, or if you actually knocked out 4 minor unrelated systems. This means they actually have to go through the diagnostics to figure out what went wrong, rather than just looking at the chart and saying, "Hmm, must be the CRP." Maybe it only costs 1/2 the number of things that are end points, so that it is still more likely (cheaper) that all of the problems have 1 cause?

Minus the formal mechanics, I'm suddenly thinking how much having these sorts of causal connection structures would be wonderful for giving our magic more shape and flavor. Right now, our magic looks a lot like [Magic], and these structures would help give a method to fixing that.:)

So once the CRP breaks down, someone creates a secondary CRP as something that starships sometimes have. They get a point for this, as does the creator of starships (or is it the creator of CRPs who gets the other point?). How do the characters go about getting one for their ship? Presumably through role-play?

Speaking of which, doesn't the player who created the Peacekeepers and the player who created Leviathans get an insane number of points over time? Or do points only go one step up the tree?

I can definitely see this being a game that you can jump straight into, though, as long as your players are willing to do a lot of Design in Play development. Also, it seems like a really great game for people who see each other only intermittently, but do most of their communication online. This way, you spend months doing world building and when you get to a game everyone has so much grief built up that the game is totally crazy (but with a huge, rich world to go crazy in).

I think you should be allowed to build on your own stuff, you just get no points for doing so. That way, if you create a Luxon, and nobody does anything with the Luxons, you are allowed to create the Luxons (for no points), and maybe that entices somebody else to write up Luxon battle rage. Otherwise, there is too much potential for something you reference but kinda need never getting touched. I suppose the other way to do it is just to complain that no one has touched your neat reference, but that doesn't seem as valid as being allowed to buff up your reference in the hope of drawing someone else into one of the references off of your reference. Maybe you have to pay a grief point to write up something that descends solely from your own stuff, to discourage people building up too large of stand alone chunks.

Also, if you don't generally end up GMing, is there some other way to use grief points?

Lastly, presumably you can use grief on other people's causalities, right? How does that interact with GM control over things that they created? Also, if I created the Peacekeepers, and you created the Gamic Base off of them, do you GM the Gamic Base, or do I? Maybe whoever owns the smallest category that covers the situation gets it, so Gamic Base wins out over Scorpius's owner (to small) and over Peacekeepers owner (too big), but when we get to the season 3 ender, and we have both Scorpius and whatshername, then the Peacekeeper's owner gets to GM?

Farscape does work very nicely as the example for this, by the way. Lots of interlocking and disparate domains, and a gradual build up of more and more world as the show goes on.


9. On 2005-01-14, Emily Care said:

Way cool! I especially like the backwards-creation thang where if somebody makes up a character somebody else can make up the species and they get to distribute the likelihood of the traits popping up in that species, but they have to include them all.

Handling time. I can see why everybody's giving you the big sad face about it. Well, if all the info there can be about something is limited by the space on a 3-5 card, at least it will be concise. But how many 3-5 cards are we talking about here? (what about a wiki?) For a table top version, how many cards are you going to have to dig through to run a session?


10. On 2005-01-14, Vincent said:

You can absolutely build on your own creations, for no points.

I want to undermine the creator=GM relationship. Let's get everybody used to using everybody else's creations; let's have GMing pass episodically, not based on where the ship happens to be. Let's, in fact, have your turn as GM start with you inflicting your initial grief, then end when that crisis is finally resolved. "Bam! Your CRP blows. I'm the GM until you fix it, replace it, or render it moot. I can keep throwing complications at you until I'm done spending my grief!"

GMing could pass to the person with the most grief saved up - how about, the option to GM next goes to the person with the most grief, who can pass. The person who just GMed goes to the end of the line regardless how much grief she's got. If it gets to her and she passes too, it goes back to the person with the most, who must either GM or call an end to the game.

GM ownership of stuff can be negotiated informally; I don't think anyone will have any problem working that out. A couple of paragraphs about it in the text: if another player says "hey, I got big plans for the Dooahovans, don't mess with 'em," respect it.

Also if as a GM you created Scorpius, and now another GM brings him into play, you can still play him as a non-GM NPC if that's how you want to do it. That should be pretty easy for people too.

J: I'm afraid that you're never going to get that game out of me. Maybe if I hide my character-centrism cunningly enough under enough apparent-world. Don't hold out too much hope!


11. On 2005-01-14, ScottM said:

It does sound very cool. Do you have something else stealing space on your plate, or are you casting about for something to do? This certainly seems like it would be fun.


12. On 2005-01-14, Ninja Hunter J said:

Yeah, I rather figgered that would be the case, V. I'm not even sure how to look at it theoretically. It doesn't really fit the GNS model well, for instance. I mean, under your definition (far as I can see) it's Narrativist, but that's because it's good, and everything good about a good RPG is Narrativist (if I read you right, in a cartoony manner). It's somewhere between co-guided meditation and an RPG. And it's how we used to play. We even had mechanics, but they sucked.

As for the rest of this here game, I was thinking as I was falling asleep about it, and I started to realize that protagonists should get a point in a trait every time it's used (or maybe every time the trait rolls a 10 or whatever). Every point is, say, a +1, so your efficacy is directly tied to staying consistent with the world and character, but you don't have to front-load it; the traits that are most powerful are the ones you use the most, thereby defining your character in play.

Sommat like that.


13. On 2005-01-14, Ninja Hunter J said:

... Character creation could be "I'm going to play a Grobungian Turbo Sloth, as described by Emily". That's all. Then you add traits to "Few" and "Some" as you go, and the more you use them, the bigger they get. Put a checkmark every time you use the trait and add the checks when you roll.

The important part is that you build your character as you go, starting with as much raw material as you like.


14. On 2005-01-14, Emily Care said:

You say you get your budget from making things other people like, or by building on things other folks make. Now you get paid grief points when people build on or use something you made, but how do you get grief for building on someone else's idea?

And are triggers in the air or something? I woke up thinking about my polyamory gone wrong game and "trigger" are a stat in it too. Little different...


15. On 2005-01-14, Charles said:

I like the GM system: the more grief you've got built up, the longer you can GM (if you want to), and the more complicated you can make things.

The one thing I might add would be to allow non-GM characters to donate grief points to the GM at any time. This would allow for the possibility the someone runs fantastic stuff off of other people's material, and we always want their sessions to go on and on, but they don't put in that much work on building stuff.

On the other hand, screw 'em. This is a game about building Worlds, so if someone doesn't like building worlds, they should go run a really cool game somewhere else (or, they can take the material from this game and run a parallel game using a different system, where they get to be GM just by fiat).


16. On 2005-01-14, Vincent said:

Em, grief and budget are the same thing. When you build on others' ideas and when others build on your ideas, you get points; you spend your points when you're the GM to make triggers go. That's the whole economy. I called the points "budget" and "grief" sort of off the top of my head, sorry for the confusion!


17. On 2005-01-14, Vincent said:

Charles, what's going to be worse is the player who makes all kinds of crazy good stuff but is a crap GM. That's the player my rules have to be most there for.


18. On 2005-01-14, Emily Care said:

I get that budget=grief. I just didn't see how you get grief for building on other folks stuff. I might not have seen the other way either, but I'm just wondering how you're thinking of having that work too? Grief to everyone whenever anything is built?


19. On 2005-01-14, Vincent said:

Yep! You've built the Bulragthi, I build a Bulragthi character, we both get a grief.


20. On 2005-01-14, Ninja Hunter J said:

This sounds like 12 funs. Let's figger out Resolution.


21. On 2005-01-15, Piers said:

Vincent wrote:GM ownership of stuff can be negotiated informally; I don't think anyone will have any problem working that out. A couple of paragraphs about it in the text: if another player says "hey, I got big plans for the Dooahovans, don't mess with 'em," respect it.

Me:Or maybe you could allocate grief to stuff in order to show temporary ownership. Whoever has the most grief is running them: I have the most grief on the Dooahovans so right now they are mine. When I introduce them I start spending grief off them to make thinngs happen, and soon enough they are up for grabs if someone else wants them. This way you have a marker of both intent (from the GM) and threat (to the other players). Like screen presence in PTA you sort of see what's coming, but only in outline.


22. On 2005-01-15, Neel Krishnaswami said:

Hey Vincent, this is totally awesome.

Another useful thing in the same vein as my influence diagrams is Geof Skellam's article on Behavior Maps. You should take a look!


23. On 2005-01-15, Vincent said:

Thanks, Neel!

I read the Behavior Maps article back when you posted to the 20x20 room, too. They and your causal grids have both been chewing holes in my brain.


24. On 2005-01-15, Vincent said:

I've been thinking about social mores. I've been thinking about how gleeful and squicked I am whenever Chiana hits on a grotesque alien.

One: Not just in Farscape, all protagonists violate, in large or small, the rules of their societies. To be a protagonist is to transgress or transcend. That needs to be built into character creation.

Two: Not just in Farscape but in Babylon 5 too: to be a good Narn is to be a bad Human. (To be a good Muslim is to be a bad Christian; to be a good American is to be a bad Canadian.) Where a protagonist isn't violating her own society's values, she might very well be violating her shipmates'.


25. On 2005-01-16, Weeks said:

Why is this a SF game?

How do you envision actually using the dependency tables?

It's really obvious how dependencies work in the examples of technobabble devices, but what about other stuff? Are you imagining the same thing for state-mapping psychological or political/economic stuff? The point in Neel's article seems to be making things matter, but I'm not getting how it makes these other things matter.


26. On 2005-01-17, Vincent said:


It's a SF game because I'm going to make one someday and maybe this is it.

I'd like to base resolution altogether on dependencies, which would mean yes using them for psychological and political and economic things too. That's ahead of where I am right now, though.

And check me out, just totally blowing off the question in between. Don't mind me; I'm just cranky because you're asking the right questions.


27. On 2005-01-17, Neel said:

Hi Weeks, the basic idea is that something matters in an rpg if the player has a meaningful choice to make. The article is mostly about unpacking the idea of what a meaningful choice actually is. The gist is that you have a choice when a) you have some options at the player (not character) level, and b) you have some idea of what the consequences of those options are.

I picked technobabble because it's an example of something where you usually don't have that kind of choice. That's the reason people laugh at Star Trek—they make up something in the last five minutes and "save" the day. So I used it as an example, because I wanted to show how you could start from zero and MAKE meaningful choice.

You can do the same thing for any kind of situation where you want the players to have some meaningful room for decision making—I'm (slowly) putting together a rock-and-roll game, and using influence diagrams to figure out how to build some game mechanics for winning over an audience in a concert. The players' choices should be making choices about things like how they open their acts, solos, whether to play covers or original songs, lighting, costuming, and all that kind of stuff.

Now, I don't know very much at all about how musical performances work, but I have a vague idea of what goes into it. Building an influence diagram makes it into something concrete and manipulatable (and something that's clear enough that the players can argue with me!)