2009-01-13 : Storming the Wizard's Tower ... in SPAAACE

I'm so proud. Meg's running a StWT club for a bunch of 6th graders. I gave them all copies of the manuscript back before the holiday break, and already one group of them has hacked it to space marines.

Meg says that they were like this:

Them: This book? It doesn't tell you what to do, it tells you how to do it.
Meg: Right.
Them: We could do it ... like, anywhere. Like it doesn't have to be wizards.
Meg: Right.
Them: Are we allowed to make up new lists of weapons and stuff?
Meg: Sure.
Them: We could do it sci fi!

And so they are.

1. On 2009-01-13, Matt Wilson said:



but still, DAMNIT


2. On 2009-01-14, Jesse Burneko said:

Okay, you have GOT to nip that behavior in the bud!






3. On 2009-01-14, Christopher Kubasik said:

Really, Jesse?

Why?  I both don't understand your comment, and yet got a chill of understanding at the same time.

What are you talking about?

And Vincent, that is cool.


4. On 2009-01-14, Jesse Burneko said:

I swear, CK, sometimes my sense of humor goes right over your head.

It really bugs me when people re-color/re-purpose/hack a game without even trying it unaltered or putting in the effort to fully understand why it is the way it is.  And I've been this way since I WAS in the 6th grade.  It's ALWAYS bugged me when either (a) my fellow kids clearly weren't following the rules of a game or (b) parents were clearly dumbing down or skipping over bits cause we were "kids" or worse were wishy-washy types who thought it was bad to encourage "competition" and didn't want to identify "winners" and "losers."

Like that whole, "Money on Free Parking" thing some families do?  Bogus.  You can't imagine how betrayed I felt when I discovered that was mostly a house rule, at like age 10.

This is clearly more a case of kids just being creative kids.  So I expressed my conflicted feelings in a humorous manner.

If nothing else I was mirroring Matt's Damnit, AWESOME, Damnit sentiment.


5. On 2009-01-14, Christopher Kubasik said:

6. On 2009-01-14, Vincent said:


How'm I going to describe this. Okay, take Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs is color-entangled, right? Changing the color requires you to make some pretty deep changes to the rules. Very few color-hacks of Dogs ever get played, because after the initial "it's a Buffy-esque modern-day monster fighting game! Using Dogs in the Vineyard!", as soon as you start implementing, you find that you're up to your elbows in the game's philosophical underpinnings.


Storming the Wizard's Tower, on the other hand, is not at all color-entangled. Like, I have sitting here on my hard drive my own hack of StWT to a Buffy-esque modern-day monster fighting game, with zero changes to the game's rules. Easy as changing the desktop background image on your computer, and with just as little impact on the underlying system.

I'm pretty sure these kids are simply changing the lists so that they say "magma-blaster 2 red" instead of "broadsword 2 red," which come to think of it (read the home town creation section generously) is already completely within the rules.

Matt may be doing something deeper with it, but I'm pretty sure that these kids aren't.

And if THAT doesn't satisfy you, Jesse, there's this: they've been playing the game for a semester already. Your "without bothering to" clause really doesn't apply.


7. On 2009-01-14, Christopher Kubasik said:

Hi Vincent,

I think your points about Dogs are well taken.  Really well taken.  I sometimes read people posting about potential Dog hacks and all I can think is "Really?  Star Wars using Dogs?  I'm not seeing it.... but good luck!"

But StWT is a who different cup of java.  It's funny when you say "read the home town creation section generously"—because those rules already ARE so generous.  In a very good way.

What you've done in StWt—and what you've done in all your games, I think—is a great job of setting up a procedure for getting play going in a clear and organized fashion.  The procedure involves everyone at some level, sets the baseline color and situation for the game, and gets everyone on the same page.

I think the procedures in Sorcerer got this kind of ball rolling, but you can see it Polaris, Steal Away Jordan, The Mountain Witch and other games.  But you, consistently, pull this trick off.

Now, as you point out, the PLAY of the games vary.  And this is why some hacks, to me at least, with some games, don't click.  But that's just me.

But the reason I'm excited about this is that I see a bunch of kids getting caught up in the procedure of play over issues of color that, in the case of StWT just are not as important.  Both StWT and Mouse Guard are incredibly robust in terms of "what you do in play"—both in set up and in execution.

This, to me, is a very exciting time.  So much of the "guess work" about "How do we play these kinds of games?" is evaporating, leaving us with games that actually, clearly, say how you go about playing them from start to finish.

The other half of that is that both StWT and Mouse Guard, while being robust in this way, also offer a crazy amount of freedom in terms of what can happen, what color to add (even if you stay in the baseline settings) and so on.  Some games are very clear in procedures, but really confine play (at least to my taste.)  These are two examples of games that are very clear about how to play, but are so elastic in what play can be about it's never going to feel like you're playing the "same story" again... which is quite a trick.


8. On 2009-01-14, Vincent said:

Oh! Sorcerer. Of course.

(I swear this isn't pick on Jesse day but) Jesse, I don't imagine you'd have the same negative reaction to "we're going to play Sorcerer, we're setting it up to do a space marines and aliens kind of thing." That'd be a perfectly valid setup for Sorcerer; it's easy to see how you'd do it, and easy to suppose that even if they're doing it differently than you would, theirs will still be valid.

I think it's just the same. Storming the Wizard's Tower comes with an extensive single example setup, which Sorcerer doesn't, but I think that as far as the game's system is concerned that's the most accurate way to understand it: an extensive single example setup.


9. On 2009-01-14, Christopher Kubasik said:


"extensive single example setup"

I haven't been following the development of the game, so I was curious about the game's devotion to the Wizard and his Tower.  Cool.


10. On 2009-01-14, Vincent said:

That's an interesting question. Here's a thumbnail:

Level 1 is called "Fighting Monsters." Level 1 is all I've released so far; I'm still making level 2. Level 2 is "Storming the Wizard's Tower," and throughout level 1 as GM you drop hints about this wizard guy and his tower and what's his deal, how he's increasingly a threat to the town. The transition from level 1 to level 2 is "well, seems like it's time to go take on this wizard guy. We knew it was coming and here it is."

The wizard needn't be a wizard at all. It just has to be a threat at that scale.

For a space marines and aliens thing, I can still easily see that working. All that's required is a threat at that scale.


11. On 2009-01-14, Matt Wilson said:

I just can't decide if it's cool or not that there's a thin creative line between me and some 11 year olds.


12. On 2009-01-14, Meguey said:

11 year olds are so totally creative like crazy, it seems it'd be clear, Matt :)


13. On 2009-01-14, Jesse Burneko said:

I agree a 100% with what has been said.  Today, I can (mostly) see when a game is color deep and when it isn't.  My original comment was largely tapping into what I was like when I was in sixth grade and couldn't tell the difference.  I was not as bold (or perhaps smart) as these kids.

Somehow, at a very young age, I instinctively developed something akin to auteur theory.  I've just always had this kind of weird hyper-developed respect for created things.  Books, games, films, etc.  You just don't change them because that's disrespectful.  The person that made this thing made it this way for a reason and we shouldn't question that.  It's not right.  It's not "pure."

Again, I don't know how I got that way but I was already that way by 6th grade.  If my fellow classmates had wanted to suddenly do space marines with this thing that said it was about wizards I would have freaked out.  They weren't doing it *right*.  It *says* right here in the *book*, it's a wizard.

This entry just made me reflect on that aspect of myself and track how it does or doesn't still affect my world view of games.  For example, I remember when I first read Sorcerer I was extremely confused by the placement and content of Chapter 4.  It starts out by talking about "customization" which is a necessary part of setting up to play but for some reason the first time I read it I saw that as "variation" and got very confused as to why the game was telling me how *change* it before it finished telling me how to play it.


14. On 2009-01-14, valamir said:

I'm right with you Jesse.

The one and only thing that's kept me from watching Battlestar because they changed it.  They didn't just remake it...they completely threw out the central premise of the original and took it somewhere different (not to mention making Boomer an Asian chick, for no apparent reason).  If the show was called Battleship Phoenix, and Olmos was playing Admiral Brick...I'd be all over it.  But I just can't get past my revulsion that they took someone's art and changed it.

Its why I can't stand movies that deviate from books in ways that were totally unnecessary (like most of the 3 musketeer movies, or Starship Troopers) although I have come to terms with "different mediums" reasons.

Its why I don't like song remakes unless the new artist is trying very hard to sound as close to the original artist as possible.

So yeah...whatever that too.


15. On 2009-01-14, Christopher Kubasik said:

Marginalia is disabled, and Vincent if this is wrong place, wrong time, just tell me and I'll make arrangements with Ralph separately...

But I'm always fascinated with what people "get" from different stories (me included), and my brain is buzzing with curiosity.

Ralph, you write, "they completely threw out the central premise of the original and took it somewhere different..."

Could you tell me what the central premise of the original series was?  I ask because I thought the premise of the original was, "The last major Colonial fighter carrier leads a makeshift fleet of human refugees on a desperate search for the legendary planet Earth...." (Which I just pulled from IMDB)  And that seems to be the premise of the new series as well—to ME.

This isn't me saying, "You're wrong!"  It's me being genuinely curious.

After that there's a whole bunch of other questions I have, like Dante re-working the Fall and ancient Greek playwrights stepping on each other's toes about mythic events of the same characters.  But I'm assuming that's just way out of the scope of this here thread.

So, just one quick question about the old and new BSG's: Ralph, what is the central premise of each show for you?


16. On 2009-01-14, Robert Bohl said:

Shakespeare totally fucked up all those plays he ripped off.


17. On 2009-01-15, Brand Robins said:

No one tell JD Corley about this.


18. On 2009-01-15, Matt Wilson said:

How come Ralph doesn't like Asians?


19. On 2009-01-15, valamir said:

Well its really two things. One is that the new show plays to very different fears. OBSG had a very cold war vibe. The new show is very enemy among us, who can you trust, are you one of THEM. That's understandable, different times...but then why not just make a whole new show to portray these new fears. The other one seems smaller by comparison, but to me is much larger. OBSG was a buddy show. Buddy shows were big back in the day, so there's nothing particularly original about it. But the central feature of OBSG was the buddy relationship between starbuck and apollo and how that intersects with other male relationships like superiors (adama, tigh) and secondary buddies (boomer). Much like say...Top was a show about young men being young men (within the bounds of network censorship and studios catering to advertisers, of course). NBSG pretty much threw that whole dynamic out. You can't have the same sort of relationship between starbuck, apollo, and boomer when two of the guys have suddenly become girls. Again...different times...but then why not just make it a different show. Also the whole family angle of Adama, Apollo, and Athena which was central to OBSG is almost absent in NBSG (my understanding is that Athena isn't even a character)


20. On 2009-01-15, Jesse Burneko said:

There's something I've been trying to articulate for a few years ever since I got into a debate with someone about it.

The new Doctor Who started on the BBC around the same time new Battlestar Galactica started here.  I've always felt bad for old-school Battlestar Galactica fans because old-school Doctor Who fans got their show back and old-school Battlestar Galactica fans didn't.  Both shows have stuff in them that are clearly "signs of the time" but Doctor Who managed to do it wholly within the scope of the original.  Battlestar Galactica totally rewrote itself into something that... well isn't Battlestar Galactica.


21. On 2009-01-15, Robert Bohl said:

I've been meaning for a while to write about pro-change and anti-change people. This reminds me of that.


22. On 2009-01-15, Valamir said:

I don't think its a pro/anti change thing.  I've got change out the wazoo at work and it never gives me pause.  Its more of an overwrite the past vs. preserve the past thing...ehh...that's not really exactly what I mean either...but its closer.  For me its all tied into to the same impulse that made me spent dozens of hours researching exactly what a pre roman Celtic village looked like so I could describe it right for a game.  Or how I get bent out of shape watching a John Wayne movie set in 1863 where everyone is using guns that weren't invented until 1873.  Or how my horrified reaction isn't completely joking when Seth tells me he's never seen an episode of Miami Vice or looks at me blankly when I do my Cliff Claven impression.  I don't know...maybe its a disrespect for history thing?  But this is rather far afield of the topic so I shall stop now.


23. On 2009-01-16, Brand Robins said:

Hey Jesse,

Have you ever read Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence?


24. On 2009-01-16, VacuumJockey said:

I must say that StWC looks pretty good - but I have a weakness for nostalgia gaming, or whatever it's called these days. Hell, I even started playing OD&D again, just to see what it was like (It was fun).

I was wondering how you intend to sell it, though. As I understand StWC is actually the second part; Fighting Monsters is the first part, the one actually covered in this playtest document. Is the plan to pack all this goodness into one huge tome, or are you going to release it in seperate books?

Because if so, there's precedence for a trilogy of tomes, i.e...

First book: Fighting Monsters
Second book: Storming the Wizard's Tower
Third book: Shaking the Pillars of Heaven

You know, like the old PHB/MM/DMG set. Yeah.

Anyway, I think your project looks really cool. I look forward to seeing it completed.

VacuumJockey (a) gmail dot com


25. On 2009-01-16, Vincent said:


I expect the rules for levels 2 and 3 to add, oh, 15-30 pages each. So my plan is to sell them all in one book, but it won't be, like, gigantic.


26. On 2009-01-16, Joao said:

Vincent, if this project of yours would have half the success I know I am expecting, and if you go the cards path all the way, would you consider the possibility to sell a boxed set with themed cards included (coloured white, red, blue and green and with pretty pictures for hits and misses)?

I really think you will make the best possible entry game to the hobby with this one.


27. On 2009-01-16, Christopher Kubasik said:

Hi Ralph,

Thanks for replying.

I am about to bend the thread to the breaking point, but I did want to reply.

What I just learned, again, is all the ways people have different temperaments.  (Or Humours.  Or glands.  Or deamons that haunt us.  Or whatever the hell it is that make us each see the world differently!)

Reading your post made me realize I'm really not a Fan of anything.  Or rather, I am a fan of specific executions, but not loyal to any specific character or setting of fiction.  (I never knew this before.)

I have no specific concerns about how Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, or Luke Skywalker are portrayed—except to the degree that I'm either engaged with a particular project or not.

I think the Bob Kane Detective Comics Batman is a thing of cartoon wonder—the lines are clean, the stories fun and goofy.  Batman and Robin seem to be having a grand time.  Seen from a certain perspective, Frank Miller's Dark Knight is a complete fuck up of the characters and their world.  Batman is a miserable freak, Robin becomes a girl, Batman is training a team to do his bidding, and if I remember correctly, manages to get a cop killed with one of his own booby traps—which is SO not Batman.  But... I liked it.  The creator said, "I want to take this Raw Material and handle it this way."  And I liked what he did.  And that's pretty much how I am in every case.  Did I like what someone did with their version or not.

I capped Raw Material, because I want to point out that's how I see all this.  Fictional material to me has no solid form.  It exists only ephemerally—only given form in a specific execution or telling.  To me (and I say this only to explain how I see things, not as a corrective to anyone), there is no Luke Skywalker or Starbuck outside of a specific execution, so there is nothing to protect.  If that horrible Richard Gere Lancelot movie exists, it's all right, because the Malory is still there.  Both T.H. White and Stienbeck tell their own versions of Arthurian legends, and I'm richer for it.  But if there's any comparison to be done, it's because three versions I like refract back and forth on each other because I'm doing the refracting.  In how I see things, the different works have no bearing on each other until I decide to look at how they are similar or different. But that is only after I've experienced them as their unique expression and decided I like this particular work of whatever, or not.  But one never can obliterate or tarnish the other.  The works are what matter, not a fictional echo that exists outside the telling.

So, I am fannish about the specific telling of a tale ("You You must see Dexter I tell people.  But I have no attachment or protective juices about Dexter outside of his character fitting a show that works amazingly well as a whole. If someone, ten years from now, remakes Dexter in an utterly new fashion, well, then, I'll decide if I think the whole is good or not.  And that's that.

I think this matter does touch on gaming matters, however, it it comes closes in the following point:

You state, correctly, that the OBSG was a buddy show.  This is true.  And here's the thing.  That never mattered to me. When I read that in your post I went.  "Wow.  Right.  I never noticed that.  They really did rip that out of the new BSG."

Because here's the thing.  When I saw the OBSG I saw completely different things.  As a kid watching it, the thing that struck me most was this: "Someone betrayed the fucking human race! What the hell is THAT about!"

The one thing that has stayed with me—for years—is that image of Baltar before the thrones of those insect/alien/whatevers (the things that controlled the cylons) with his reward (his 30 pieces of silver, almost literally, if I recall.)  The hollowness in the actor's eyes was amazing—you could just seem him realizing what had seemed like a good idea—wasn't—and there was no going back.

There was, at least to my young eyes, a kind of shuddering darkness in that moment.  And that, to me was what the series was going to be and the series I wanted.

And then we ended up going to Casino Planets.

I gave up after a while.  I couldn't figure out why they were still looking for Earth if there were so many hospitable planets lying around.  I couldn't figure out why the Cylons were still after them—not in any way that seemed as engaging as that moment with Baltar.  So I stopped watching.

So, let me be clear.  I wasn't particularly interested in the execution of the OBSG. But I did like the ideas floating around in there.

When Ron Moore and his team rebuilt the show (again, no different than with what Frank Miller did with Bob Kane's Batman) I was watching the first couple of hours and thought, "He took all the stuff I wanted to see as kid: the thematic content, the stress of the situation, the emotional mess, and made the show about that."

The new BSG is the BSG I'd always wanted.  Because Bob Kane's Batman isn't Batman.  It was a specific telling of comic book panels containing a guy called Batman.  Frank Miller created another set of panels with a guy called Batman.

Each guy executed something specific and unique, and one can reflect upon the other if a reader wants to do that, but not because it has to be done.  That would only have to happen if there was a Batman that had been taffy-pulled between the two versions.  But there isn't.  There is no Batman.  There's just—to me—specific stories about a guy named Batman.

But, all that said, Ralph you've made me understand how my view is alien to lots and lots of folks.  And as a writer, that's a really important thing for me to know.  So thank you.


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