2012-06-11 : Ask a Frequent Question

the end of the Forge edition

You know I love to answer questions.

Anybody have any final ones before I put the period on the Forge phase of my rpg theorizing?

1. On 2012-06-11, Jim D said:

So, it seems like AW (and most of its derivatives) have the ability to generate thoughtful, deep fiction with a minimum of effort.  This, despite the fact that the rules for the conversation we're having are tightly constrained; the framework of moves, both PC and MC, explicitly prevents us from going wherever we want to.  In order to accomplish something, we MUST engage with a move.

Am I wrong in thinking that the reason such fantastic stories come out of the 'World games more often than in just about every other RPG I've seen is that, by providing this structured seed for the conversation, we minimize the effect of Blank Page Syndrome by enforcing a jumping-off point for every piece of the conversation?  That is, enabling better exploration of the "Fruitful Void" by deliberately blocking ourselves off with signposts?


2. On 2012-06-11, Vincent said:

Providing constraints is part of it, definitely.

We could probably easily come up with some similarly constraining structures that stifle interesting fiction instead of inspiring it. The structures that I provide aren't just constraints, they're intentionally provocative. They don't provide oh-just-any jumping-off points, they provide pretty carefully considered and selected ones.

(The same is true of all the hacks I've looked at, too, of course. It's not hard to create provocative jumping-off points if you know what you're looking for.)

Thanks for saying so!


3. On 2012-06-11, John Harper said:

The fact that it's not hard to make good jumping-off points is key to the popularity of AW as a hacking framework.


4. On 2012-06-11, Jim D said:

Cool.  So not "the reason" but "a reason", then.

Now you've got me curious on how you went about this, so if you don't mind a follow up, is there any insight you could provide into your "selection process"?  Like, what makes a good 'World move (and/or a bad one)?


5. On 2012-06-11, Roger said:

What game of yours are you most proud of?


6. On 2012-06-12, Human said:

I feel obligated to ask about something forge related. Ummm...

What qualities of the Forge community do you think would be hard to reproduce in other online communities?

Now something non-forge:

Do you think the AW hacking crazy will reach a point where it's just to much, kind of like the OGL/d20 bloat?

Are you currently developing any games completely detached from the AW framework?

How's Blasters for Hire coming along?


7. On 2012-06-12, adam m said:

what is the "forge phase of [your] RPG theorizing"?


8. On 2012-06-12, Amphiprison said:

What's the phase *after* the 'Forge' phase?  Is it the phase where you write Alan Moore's 'Writing for Comics' but instead Vx's 'Writing for Games'?


9. On 2012-06-12, Lev Lafayette said:

I think the Big Model is generally correct, but comes with some problems because the main author (Ron Edwards) is not overly versed in literary theory.

It is absolutely correct to start the process with the notion of a Social Contract.

The Exploration of Shared Imaginary Space is the correct second level.

I disagree however with the five elements of exploration; (character, setting, color, situation, and system). Apart from the fact that they are indiscrete (what is being called colour and situation, is really a subset of setting etc) these are best expressed through as GNS elements instead.

It is rather like that the core elements of literature (character, setting, theme, plot, style) have been tacked on to a level higher than what is necessary.

I'd appreciate your initial comments on this consideration.

Regards, Lev


10. On 2012-06-12, Alex Fradera said:

The last I remember, the relationship between GNS and the Big Model more broadly was likened to a skewer that passed through all the layers in a particular way. Is there promise to that analogy yet to be delivered? For example, is it possible (and useful) to frame families of games with respect to the GNS by further refining the idea of skewers?


11. On 2012-06-12, Vincent said:

Jim, John: Good topic! Kind of big. Let me make a front pager.

Roger: Oh, Apocalypse World.

Human: "What qualities of the Forge community do you think would be hard to reproduce in other online communities?"


I'm an outlier here, in that I think that the online communities we have are good, functional, and easy to come by. I don't think there's a vacuum.

I do think that a lot of people misjudge what an online community can really do for them. My impression is that the people dissatisfied and looking for a place now that the Forge is gone are largely the same people who were dissatisfied and looking for a place while the Forge was still here.

"Do you think the AW hacking crazy will reach a point where it's just to much, kind of like the OGL/d20 bloat?"

From your mouth to God's ear! Wouldn't that be a marvel.

"Are you currently developing any games completely detached from the AW framework?"


My design project for the summer is an adventure for Lamentations of the Frame Princess. You'll see a lot of connection to the AW framework in it.

"How's Blasters for Hire coming along?"

About where it's been. Sebastian's been busy finishing up his school year.

Thanks for asking!


direct link

This reminds...
VB of front pager

This makes...
VB go "test"*

*click in for more

12. On 2012-06-12, Simon R said:

I would read a game design and theory book written by you. So would thousands of others. Probably a forlorn hope, but worth asking.


13. On 2012-06-12, Vincent said:

Amphiprison, Simon: Allow me to be cagey and just say that it's not out of the question.


14. On 2012-06-12, Vincent said:

Lev: Initial comments, you got it.

Part 1:

That piece of the Big Model says that when we roleplay, what we do is communicate and come to agreement with one another about particular characters and their changing places, positions and relationships in their world.

Are you saying that when we roleplay, we do something else than that?

For instance, I say "Gerard walked to school that morning, so he's wet from the rain. He sits backwards on his desk with his feet on his chair so he can talk to the rest of you." You answer by saying "good morning, Gerard," in the character Olivia's voice. According to this piece of the Big Model, we've just roleplayed.

Are you saying that we haven't roleplayed yet? Are you saying that we've roleplayed, but we've also done something GNS-specific beyond just roleplaying?

Part 2:

At this point, 8 years later, I think that the Big Model has done what it's going to do, and that refining or defending it on its terms isn't going to make any difference anymore.

So I suppose you're right! I don't remember why it mattered that the Big Model had it this way, or even whether it mattered at all. I'm certainly not going to insist on the Big Model's way, if your way gives you a clearer, more useful, more productive picture of what's going on.

What I hope to do going forward is to take the ground that the Big Model cleared - the Big Model was overall a destructive, not constructive, theory, if that makes any sense - and build up from it.

adam m: Does this answer your question too? If it doesn't, maybe ask again?


15. On 2012-06-12, Simon R said:

Put me down for 50 copies.


16. On 2012-06-12, AngeloMachiavelli said:

I don't quite understand what you mean about the Big Model being a destructive theory.

In fact, while I have been reading about the Big Model and GNS theory, and think I have something of a handle on it, I'm not sure I understand what they were intended to be. Were they supposed to be guidelines? Or were they meant to be thought experiments, to broaden how people approach design? Or are they hard rules to abide by (at least for some)?

Lastly, I write for a budding website about tabletop gaming called Play Unplugged, and would love to write a piece on you, your games, and your involvement with the Forge. Would you be interested in that?


17. On 2012-06-12, Vincent said:

adam m: Come to think of it, I do have a bit more to say about Forge-phase and post-Forge-phase theorizing.

Ron used to say all the time, and I'd commiserate, that GNS had exploded and devoured the conversation, when what's interesting is color and currency. If only the GNS conversation would finally run its course and we could move on to the good stuff!

It came to me a couple of years ago that after all the GNS conversation HAD run its course, and I could just drop it and start talking about color and currency whenever I liked. So I did, and I have been, and that's what I'm continuing to talk about now.

(In good Forge tradition, I started by designing a game. There's a lot going on in Apocalypse World, but at its heart it's a study in color and currency, and it's serving well as a framework for the conversation so far.)


18. On 2012-06-12, Vincent said:

AngeloMachiavelli: GNS and the Big Model really tore down the conventional wisdom of the 90s about how RPGs worked and how you had to create them. That's what I mean.

It's hard to remember or credit how bad the conventional wisdom was back then! The conventional wisdom now is way better.

But what GNS and the Big Model don't do is put forward a constructive theory about what to do with roleplaying, now that we see how it works. It shows us the difference between a functioning design and a nonfunctioning one, but it doesn't show us the difference between a good design and one that's functioning but bad.

I can hear people sharpening their knives out there. Hello, knife sharpeners!

"Lastly, I write for a budding website about tabletop gaming called Play Unplugged, and would love to write a piece on you, your games, and your involvement with the Forge. Would you be interested in that?"

Of course. Drop me a line, if you like.


19. On 2012-06-12, Moreno said:

More than "destructive", I think that TBM was a week-killer theory. And gaming "theory" (and practice) was really full of poisonous plants...

I agree about the GNS "hangups" devouring the conversation, but that was solved around 2006, I think: when theory post were allowed only in Actual Play. The problem almost disappeared from the Forge. (even if continued to happen everywhere else)
But people ran away screaming.
I see something of the same phenomenon at GenteCheGioca when some new user arrive and it's told that he can't talk about games if not in concrete terms based on actual play: it seems that very few things scare a lot of gamers more than talk about their own games.

(I am talking about actual play posting in the Forge sense, obviously, "talk about what you did as a real person, too", not the "let me tell you about my character or my awesome story", they are much more common)

All this was a preface to my question:

What do you think can be done about this terror about actual play posting? For what I have seen in practice, most people are perfectly able to talk in actual play terms when they overcame that initial reaction...

The question is tied to the closing of the Forge, because I don't know of any other forum (in English) that enforce a similar focus on actual play.


20. On 2012-06-13, Rafu said:

Maybe it's just that Internet forums are not actually the best places to have constructive actual-play-based conversations?


21. On 2012-06-13, Moreno said:

Ooops! I did want to write "I think that TBM was a weeD-killer theory", and instead I wrote by mistake "I think that TBM was a weeK-killer theory"...


22. On 2012-06-13, J. Walton said:

You once told me that the games you design are nowhere near the bleeding edge of the games that you can imagine. I think I was being crotchety and treating you like The Man holding truly experimental game design back or something, which you always found really hilarious.

So my question is: how far does this rabbit hole go? Is the tent of roleplaying so broad that it can conceivably contain just about any set of human experiences that we can organize? Do we have to keep making baby steps until our perceptions (and those of our potential audiences) come to grips with the ramifications of that?

I used to be extremely impatient with the fact that we have to learn to walk before we can run, but as I get older I see that more as natural and less as a cosmic injustice (i.e. being doomed to live and play games in the present rather than in the future, when ideas about roleplaying have progressed to some more advanced state). Maybe that's maturity finally setting in, which is both gratifying and terrifying.


23. On 2012-06-13, ndp said:

Why is game design so hard?


What is the most difficult thing you've attempted to do with a game design? That you've succeeded at? That you've failed at?


24. On 2012-06-13, Frank T said:

Do you have a part in the announced Forge Wiki?


25. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

Alex: I kind of think the opposite. Every game has its own unique and particular creative agenda, and I don't think there's much value left in cataloging games by them.

GNS mattered when we were desperately trying to scrape creative fulfillment out of the RPG-cultural context of the 90s and early 00s, but we don't have to do that anymore.

Moreno: I know that the Big Model killed off MANY weeks of my life!

I think I agree with Rafu about actual play posting.

But more generally, we closed the Forge because there's no more need* for a forum that works that way. The one thing I can say for certain is that a new forum duplicating the Forge's function won't thrive. If it were going to thrive, it would have been thriving at the Forge already.

We saw this with RPG Crossroad a couple of years ago. The Forge closed its publisher-specific forums because they weren't working. No surprise that they didn't work at RPG Crossroad either.

* That is, there's no more need here, for now. One of the things I really envy about the Italian scene is that it's in a high-energy, groundbreaking, contentious phase. I'm definitely not trying to tell you what you need!


26. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

ndp: Jesse Schell says that game design is hard because of the vast distance between the experiences we're trying to create (high-stakes decision-making, moral peril, danger and excitement) and the materials we have to work with (3x5 cards, dice, miniature figurines, Cheetos).

Ben Lehman says that game design is hard because God doesn't like us stepping on His turf.

I'll have to think about the hardest things I've tried to do.


27. On 2012-06-13, Jay Loomis said:

So, over the years you have started to design and talk about a number (one explicitly, and, I'm guessing one or two others implicitly, though I may be wrong) of games that evoke Lloyd Alexander's Prydain (and similar fantastic tales). Can you talk a little about the challenges that you encountered and what you learned from them?

For example, is there something particularly difficult about getting a game to do what you wanted to fit that particularl bill?


28. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

J Walton: Baby steps, sure. The Overton window, I think it's called?

Eppy and I were talking about this the other day. He pointed out that when we talk about short stories, we mostly don't care how innovative a short story is. Mostly when someone sits down to write a short story, their goal isn't to innovate at all. Their goal is just to do something difficult well, and that's a challenging undertaking all by itself, and when they succeed, we're right to admire them for it.

I think it's right to think about RPG design the same way. Game design is hard all by itself, and designing a good game is an admirable accomplishment, innovation entirely aside.

Frank T: I have an account that lets me edit pages there. I may put my hand in. It's something I feel a bit of obligation to.


29. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

Jay Loomis: They aren't the challenges you'd expect!

A couple of years ago I had a new version of the Dragon Killer ready for a first internal playtest, which was scheduled for that evening. I was optimistic. I was getting it all ready to go, printing the sheets and stuff, planning what I was going to say and do, and I imagined this little conversation in my head:

Me in my head: Okay everybody, make a character.
Julia in my head: Does my character have to be white?
Me in my head: ...Yes. Crap.

So I scrapped it.


30. On 2012-06-13, Alex D. said:

Oh, huh! What about Dragon Killer demanded the characters be white?


31. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

It's set in a fantasy Bronze Age Wales or Ireland or something, like Prydain.


32. On 2012-06-13, Rafu said:

Then it's weird. I mean, it's weird that the characters being "white" is an issue at all. In Bronze Age Wales-or-Ireland-or-something I guess they had racial issues of their own, they just didn't frame those by color. "White" as implied here is a very XVIII-to-XXI Century, North American cultural construct.


33. On 2012-06-13, Vincent said:

XVIII-to-XXI Century North America is where I live. Here and now, I don't want to make a game where your character has to be white, unless I have a really, really good reason for it. "Because ancient Celts were white" isn't a good enough reason for me, when I can just make a different game instead.

Edited to add: "Because ancient Celts weren't really white" isn't a good enough reason either.


34. On 2012-06-14, Jason Pitre said:

What is the most overlooked and underappreciated innovation in indie games, in your personal opinion? I'm thinking of neat mechanics or procedures that people _should_ be stealing but seem to be ignoring.


35. On 2012-06-14, Ziviani said:

Was there ever a time when you were surprised with people's reaction to one of your games? Any time you felt that a number of people missed the point about what the game was really about, only to concentrate the discussion around one small aspect of the narrative or of the rules?


36. On 2012-06-14, Weeks said:

How often do you get kpfs hate mail these days?


37. On 2012-06-15, Alex Fradera said:

Thanks Vincent.

Related q if I may... I really enjoyed Jesse's Play Passionately advocacy ( which I see as something much more specific than G,N, or S but much wider than a single game - a play approach, if you like.

It's not game theory exactly, but it's more coherent and complete than much game advice, something like a middle layer between the two. 'I want X and Y from a game because I know in combination they deliver this, but adding Z dilutes the effect', that sort of thing.

Emily and Matthijs' Play With Intent does something similar, but with respect to a moddable framework, rather than pointing at a swathe of existing games.

And it reminds me a lot of Principles and Agendas which are currently presented as game(s) specific features.

We're still in early days! My question is, are you excited by the notion of articulating game approaches within all these avenues - pan-game, within-framework, within-game - or do you have some hunches about which will prove to be most fruitful?


38. On 2012-06-15, Vincent said:

Jason Pitre: Turn taking!

(Obviously indie rpgs didn't invent turn taking as a thing, but there are some indie rpgs that put it to extremely good use and we ought to all take notice.)

Ziviani: Of course. Poison'd is the big example. It's a horror game about our capacity for violence, but lord. "When you commit a sin you've never committed before, add 1 to your capacity for self-destruction and subtract 1 from your capacity for patience and endurance" became "the game rewards you for raping corpses!"

Weeks: Never. It's sad.


39. On 2012-06-15, Moreno said:

Re: "publisher-specific forums don't work":

Ehm...  "Barf Forth Apocalyptica"?  ;-)

It doesn't have the traffic of a generalist forum but doesn't need that kind of traffic to to work.

The publisher-specific forums at the Forge stopped working because the publishers stopped answering questions. (just look at the unanswered threads in the first pages of a lot of them), the ones where people still answered (yours, Ron's) stayed active until the last months. And this is tied to another observation: The Forge never stopped getting new users: looking at the numbers, thousands of users joined in the last two years. The traffic dropped because a lot of the OLD users stopped talking to new people there, so a lot of post were ignored.

But I have seen some statistic, not very precise but useful to get at least a sense of proportion: until the end the Forge had more page-views than story-games.

I am not saying that this wasn't a natural process of that people "had to" post in the Forge, anyone is free to do what he/she wants. What I am saying is that this process of moving away from the forge was not led by new users preferring another forum, as I often hear. The numbers say another thing. This process was led by old posters moving away, in particular the game publishers.

In some case the only "problem" caused by this for the buyers that had doubts and questions about the games was to post their questions elsewhere (other forums or blog or by email), but in general the effect I have seen is a noticeable drop in "assistance" to buyers, only in part compensated by better teaching texts. (just look at the amount of questions you receive. And yours are surely not the least-understandable texts around. You get a lot of questions because people know you answer them. If there are no questions about a game is not because it's explained well, it's because it's not played or because people don't get answers)

Well, look at that... I wanted to write a couple of lines, but when I get on a soapbox, I can't stop...  but this is a thread for questions, so...

1) what is, in your opinion, the forge "lesson" that is more at risk of being lost in the post-big-bang diaspora?

2) Looking at the indie games published in 2006-2007, there was a lot more emphasis on social relevance, personal expression, and a (maybe misguided) general attempt to what could be called "highbrow games". Now, this didn't disappear, but it's a lot less general, more of a personal vision of some designers that a general tendency. Now, (a) do you agree?, (b) if yes, do you see this simply as a "wave", where you have the interest for some themes waxing and waning during the years, or it was something caused by peer pressure at the Forge and was a one-time phenomenon?

3) This is more easy: do you have some favorite years at the Forge, when you think the forum was most useful to you and in general to people? (Thinking about it, these are two different questions...)


40. On 2012-06-15, Roger said:

What's the biggest mistake you see game makers still making these days?


41. On 2012-06-16, Gregor Vuga said:

"I don't want to make a game where your character has to be white, unless I have a really, really good reason for it."
This is something I struggled with really hard while deciding whether or not I should really take Sagas of the Icelanders forward. Do I want to make a game that has an explicitly sexist, all-white setting? Oh dear, it still haunts me.

But, questions!
1) Can you say anything about what you're doing for LotFP? I'll understand if you're not ready to talk about it.

2) Are there any games you wish you could play but either haven't been made yet or simply don't have the time or people to play with?

3) I've been thinking about setting expectations a lot recently. Do you have any tips or methods of pitching a game to people that makes it clear what the setting/colour/techniques/agenda/blahblah on the table are?


42. On 2012-06-16, Gear said:

Something that really struck me about Dogs In The Vineyard was how the rigid gender and social roles of the Faith were mirrored in the book's treatment of the GM. This is how you do things, here's some advice on doing them well; if you get proud and try to do something else, it's not going to turn out well for anyone involved. How intentional was that and how important would you say it is to have that kind of specific understanding (whatever that understanding may be) of a GM's proper role?

P.S. I read and loved DITV, skimmed and enjoyed Poison'd, and only just recently started reading the articles you've written on colour and currency, so please forgive me if this is a total newb question or isn't particularly coherent.


43. On 2012-06-17, Josh W said:

What was that whole "technical agenda" thing about?

(also I imagine poison'd went up against the "numbers going up=good" intepretive scheme and was found wanting)

Also, what kind of role do you think spoiler/fuse mechanics have in dealing with CA incompatabilities? (I'm thinking of the freeform gear stuff in dogs vs system optimisation, but I was wondering if you had any more thoughts)

Any other big mechanics for shortcutting those kinds of conflicts?


44. On 2012-06-17, Vincent said:

Moreno: You're absolutely right that old users led the move away from the Forge. Anybody who says it was a decline in new users is mistaken.

My take on it is that when an individual publisher moved away from the Forge, the low traffic on their publisher forum wasn't enough to keep them coming back and checking. Questions would sit unanswered for months because that publisher wasn't visiting the Forge at all, not because they were ignoring their own forum in particular.

So, yep. I agree.

Your questions!

1) I don't think there are any important lessons that are in any danger at all. The two important lessons are "you can publish a game, and nobody can tell you otherwise" and "you can make your game work exactly how you want it to work, you don't have to follow convention or tradition." Indie rpgs are part of the landscape now.

2) (a) I agree, yes. I've noticed the same. (b) I don't know! I imagine it's a cycle that every designer goes through many times. I'm not making deeply personal games right now, but I imagine that I will in the future. I suppose that's true of all of us.

3) The early, early years. 2002-2005, let's say. Ron's war stories at the end of 2005 marked a genuine transition.


45. On 2012-06-17, Vincent said:

Roger: I still sometimes meet or hear about people who've printed a conventional print run of a conventionally-designed game with no demonstrated audience and put it on their credit card. That's the biggest mistake you CAN make.

The biggest mistake you can make in indie publishing is a much smaller, far less tragic version of the same: publishing a game when you have tried but failed to build an audience for it beforehand. If your audience isn't biting before you publish, publishing won't magically make them bite.

Oh, here's an interesting mistake I see a lot of: mistaking the things that success makes necessary for precursors to success. The mistake goes like this, for instance: "successful publishers hire a fulfillment house, so to be successful, I should hire a fulfillment house." In fact, you shouldn't hire a fulfillment house until your success swamps your ability to do your own fulfillment.

I imagine that this kind of magical thinking is widespread in small business (and large!) everywhere, not just in game publishing.


46. On 2012-06-18, Christoph said:

Hi Vincent, thanks for opening up this Q&A

Since this is the end of your Forge-era theorizing, I have to place a question about conflict vs. task resolution. This was big news to me when I started playing the Pool back in 2005.

Now you get games like Murderous Ghosts, S/lay w/me, Hot guys making out and I can't wrap my head around what their resolution mechanic are supposed to be: certainly not task, but they're a far shot from classical conflict resolution methods like Sorcerer, The Shadow of Yesterday and even Dogs in the Vineyard. It's as if the whole session-level structure is mixed into the resolution mechanics.

Apocalypse World or Poison'd also look like they went a step back towards task resolution, but of course they didn't really, or nowhere near to what used to get up people's noses.

Also, Bliss Stage doesn't have rules for social conflict resolution, yet it works really smoothly just by acknowledging (verbally and mechanically) that someone let off their steam (for example).

You've been saying that one of the interesting ideas to keep about IIEE is that we need to know what we've got to establish up to the point where the mechanics hit in, and what's up to the mechanics to define after.

Does it all boil down to "A game's rules coordinate what's happening in the real world with what's happening in the game world." and resolution mechanics are just one (non-mandatory in it's conflict/task form) aspect of it or do you have some wicked insights about post-conflict/task resolution?


47. On 2012-06-18, Gregor Vuga said:

I just realized my questions were not about the forge. I'm an ass.


48. On 2012-06-18, Vincent said:

Gregor: Oh not at all. I'm enjoying having this conversation about the Forge too, but I'm delighted to answer anything.

About Sagas of the Icelanders: I believe it! For what it's worth, my gut says that making an all-white fantasy game, like mine would have been, is far more distasteful than making an all-white historical lit game like yours (or like Dogs in the Vineyard often is). Fantasy has so much racism to answer for that it leaves no wiggle room.

1) Nope, I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Soon.

2) Good question. There are some genres that catch my fancy but not my friends', so: Burning Empires, The Regiment. Dunno what else.

I want there to be a game where it matters how long it takes you to reload your musket, but it doesn't exist yet.

3) Not really, no. Around here I'm notoriously opposed to having conversations about games before we start play. To me, in a lot of ways, "play to find out" includes playing to find out what's on the table.


49. On 2012-06-18, Ben Lehman said:


Bliss Stage works by (outside of missions) not having any resolution rules 'tall. It doesn't need them!

(Hot Guys Making Out has one resolution rule, but it's very small. Blink and you'll miss it!)

Generally speaking, I think "mechanics are the thing we use to resolve conflicts" is a inherited habit from past design, not a fundamental design principle. These days, when I write a mechanical interaction at a sub-scene level, it's a conflict _creation_ mechanic or a conflict _escalation_ mechanic, rather than a _resolution_ mechanic. I don't want resolving conflicts to be easy or mechanized! But I do want introducing and escalating them to be easy.

When you think about conflict in that sense, conflict vs. task resolution is no longer an issue. i.e. if in Bliss Stage I say "I hit you in the face" whether I hit or you block is not important. What's important is _why I hit you_ and _how we feel about it_. So that's what's addressed in the game.


P.S. I don't mean to diss systems which resolve with their resolution. (or systems like Apocalypse World which are conflict escalation hiding behind task resolution). If that's your bag, that's cool. This is just my jam right now.


50. On 2012-06-18, Vincent said:

Gear: Huh! That's kind of funny.

Even if it looks like it, I don't actually think that GMing is a moral matter. GMing Dogs in the Vineyard differently than how the book tells you voids the warranty, maybe, but I don't actually think it's a sin.

Unless you catch me on a bad day! On a bad day, I'm one judgmental bastard.

Christoph: I'm with Ben.

Conflict and task resolution could probably use a good solid closing statement here, though. My thinking now is nothing like what it was back in 2005 or whenever. Let me compose one.


51. On 2012-06-18, Moreno said:

Cristoph: if you go to the Forge definition (ok, I mean Ron's definition...), the difference between task resolution and Conflict resolution is only "when you roll": when you have a task, or when you have a conflict?

All the rest, everything else, is crust. People saw the Pool or Primetime Adventures and said "Ohhh, I get it... in conflict resolution you decide the entire conflict in one single roll/draw...", then when they see Dogs in the Vineyard think it's not ConfRes. When they get that DitV is ConfRes too, they are all about "Ohhh..  I get it now, conflict resolution is when you have stakes...". And after that they see another ConfRes game without stakes, and they are more and more confused....

That confusion is caused by the question, not by the answer. When you ask "what ConfRes DO" you are already in confusion. The question is "WHEN you use ConfRes?". Then the answer is clear: "when you have a conflict".

"But..." you could say " useful is that division?". These days, not much, as Ben said a lot of games take "you roll only when you have a conflict" as a given, and change the way you use it, or exactly when during the conflict you "roll" and what is decided by the roll or even change the cause-effect and have the conflict happen from the roll and not the other way around.

The concept of "conflict resolution" is useful when you have people used to roll for every tiny task, rolling when a failure would block everything (so the GM has to fudge the result behind the screen). It's useful for people used to task resolution. So it's useful when the player base of these "new strange rpgs" increase and a lot of people used to traditional rpgs meet them for the first time, and cease to be so useful when the player base is stable (or it's expanding to non-gamers only) and the people who hear it didn't roll for a task for a long time.

Question for Vincent (and Ben, if he wants to chime in): do you think that it could be useful to divide ConfRes rules in subcategories in base of "what they do"? And if you answer yes, how would you do it?

More general question: a lot of these dichotomies (task/conflict resolution, FatE/FitM, actor/author stance, even GNS in some ways) were really hot issues at the beginning at the forge, and these days are taken for granted or forgotten. I don't even remember the last Stance or FitM/FiatE discussion, it must be years from the last one. (It's a USA situation because in Italy talking about FitM outside of GentecheGioca is still enough to create a flamewar...) so I would like to ask you if in your opinion this "peace" is caused by an increase of separation between the people who play one kind of game from the people who play another (so the forum discussions are between people who already agree), or if it's caused by the penetration of a lot of these concepts in "traditional" role-playing, or it's simply caused by people having enough of these discussion and stopping talking about "divisive concepts".

Edit: crosspost with Vincent's comment.  What I was talking about is the 2005 concept of ConfRes, I am very interested in hearing how you views of these concept changed


52. On 2012-06-18, Vincent said:

Josh W: Technical agenda has and continues to play a big role in my thinking.

"In this game, you play teenage Mormon gunslingers traveling from town to town. They come upon the scene or aftermath of a murder and they have to decide what to do about it, who to punish, how (and whether) to help the town survive it.

"There's a GM, whose job it is to create the backstory that led up to the murder. You roll dice to resolve conflicts between the characters, and the dice put a lot of pressure on everybody to escalate."

Both paragraphs taken together describe a creative agenda. (Albeit incompletely.) The second paragraph describes the technical portion of the creative agenda, which Ben and I have called the technical agenda. It's a crucial piece of the game.

Tell me more about "spoiler/fuse mechanics." I have no idea what you're asking!


53. On 2012-06-18, Christoph said:

Thanks Ben, that's exactly the kind of thing I needed to hear. Vincent, I'm looking forward to reading your ideas.

I'm very interested in the notion that one can let go of the conflict resolution mechanics (specially with the idead that conflict is central to a good story). Conflict creation and conflict escalation mechanics... nice.

Moreno, I'm clear on the distinction between task and conflict resolution as presented in the old days, I was just not seeing it as clearly present in the last few games I played, thus my question. Thanks anyway!


54. On 2012-06-18, Vincent said:

Moreno: Let's see if I can explain my view on this "peace" you're talking about. It's a good question.

I think that all of those dichotomies are useful for illustrating a breadth of possibility to someone who has never considered it. DFK says "you don't have to roll dice for things, you can also compare who has the fictional advantage and say that that person wins, even if you've never done that" for instance. FitM/FatE says "the dice don't have to be final, there can be rules where you still have decisions to make after the dice hit the table, even if you've never seen them." GNS says "an rpg can have winners and losers, sure! Just because you've never played one that way doesn't mean it can't happen."

Once a person sees that there's a breadth of possibilities there, the specific categories - DFK, FitM/FatE, GNS - they don't matter anymore. And when you're talking about a specific game, they don't matter anymore either.

It used to be that people would say "okay, but what about this complicated game mechanic. Is it Drama, Fortune or Karma?" The answer was, "who cares? Categorizing it is useless. We can talk about the mechanic itself instead."

I think that the peace is because we don't have to use made-up categories to illustrate the breadth of possibility anymore. Now we can use real games. We don't have to say "rpgs can have winners and losers, they really can," because we can say "hey, you know how in Murderous Ghosts, if you escape the ghosts, you win?"

Nobody but us hardcore Forge monkeys ever understood GNS. GNS hasn't reached a wide audience at all, as a way of thinking about games. I think that what's going on instead is that the undeniable, inarguable fact of our games has rendered GNS obsolete.


55. On 2012-06-18, Rafu said:

@Vincent, Re: #54:

Amen! And thanks for that.

Re #48:
Oh, your reply to Gregor made your point clearer to me! Now that I see the distinction you're drawing between "fantasy" and "historical literary", I feel deeper sympathy with your dilemma. I even agree that "fantasy" in a narrow sense (as a niche literary/pop-culture tradition based on some specific elements drawn from from Tolkien and from pulp-era swords & sorcery fiction) is irredeemably racist. OTOH, I think it's high time we redeem "fantasy" from that narrow connotation...


56. On 2012-06-19, Gear said:

Vincent: Interesting, I'm kind of surprised you hadn't noticed that, it seemed really intentional.

But I guess what I was asking more generally was something like this:
DITV has pretty specific ideas of what a GM is supposed to do and communicates those ideas in very clear terms.
Poison'd also seems to have things it wants from GMs, but for better or worse, does significantly less in the way of hand-holding.
How important do you think it is to have a particular GMing method in mind when designing a game? Also, how much explanation and hand-holding do you think is usually best?


57. On 2012-06-19, Gear said:

Nobody in particular: I for one, am really glad that the GNS/DFK/FitM/FatE/etc. divide isn't nearly as much of a thing as it was. One of the major barriers to entry into the indie RPG community for me was that it seemed like everywhere I turned, there were more people arguing about more theories I'd never heard of, so I'd end up spending more time reading essays about categorizing games and discussions of those essays than discussions about actual games.

The funny thing is that a lot of those discussions were long dead when I got to them, but I read them anyway because I don't always have something better to do.


58. On 2012-06-19, Moreno said:

@Vincent: thanks! Your reply confirm me about something I wrote right in the introduction to the GcG "under the hood" subforum: All you need to know about Forge Theory (attn: It's in Italian)
(Just checked before posting: google translate make a mess on that page, so I will try to summarize it: "you don't need theory to play the games, but you will need to play the games if you want to understand forge theory").

It's funny that the only piece of theory needed to be able to play is still "System matters..." (" play the game as written without golden-ruling it every time, dumbass").

But this lead again to the problem I talked about in comment #19: get people to talk about their games with each other, honestly reflect about what went wrong and what worked very well, without returning to the old "Self-appointed 'Good GMs' strutting around" parade of a lot of RPG forums and communities...

@Christoph: Sorry, I misunderstood what you were asking about.


59. On 2012-06-19, Christoph said:

Don't worry Moreno, your follow-up question and Vincent's answer to it got me out of my "Forge-bereavement". The future is looking really good and meaty!


60. On 2012-06-19, Vincent said:

Gear: Oh, I see what you're asking. Yeah.

I don't think you can design a game at all unless you have a crystal-clear idea of what its GM is supposed to do. You can design at most part of a game without it.

How much explanation is best? It depends. Poison'd could stand to have some more, probably, except that I can't bring myself to add more to that beautiful little booklet. As the author, you have to decide how much audience you're willing to lose, and how much audience complaint you're willing to submit yourself to.

For both Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World, I wanted a wider audience than I wanted for Poison'd and In a Wicked Age, so I wrote a lot more about how to GM them.


61. On 2012-06-19, Marhault said:

Hey Vincent, why did/do you want a smaller audience for Wicked?  I mean, I can understand Poison'd.


62. On 2012-06-20, Frank T said:

Reading Moreno's last comment, I feel compelled to ask, Vincent, would you agree that the whole "play the game as written, dumbass" mantra (a.k.a. "alway add curcuma") also falls into the category of "destructive" theory, so that the time is maybe arrived to move beyond it?


63. On 2012-06-20, Moreno said:

NOTHING is more destructive than golden-ruling every single game every single time to play always the same way (aka "show that you are a Good GM" in rpg-land)

If we say that this isn't still "the way to play a rpg" for almost every GM in the world, we are deluding ourselves.

If we don't explain this when we put some rpg in the hands of some clueless "Good GM", what we will get is Polaris played with a GM, a plot to follow, a GM screen and XPs for monsters killed (I am not joking, it's a documented case. Less than a year ago. It was the first time they played the game and they ended the session saying that "that game didn't work")


64. On 2012-06-20, Josh W said:

About spoilers/fuses, ageees ago, we had a chat about character generation in Dogs, and I had a chat to Marshall Burns about character generation in Rustbelt, and I've no idea if they were the same conversation thread!

Anyway, you know how you just give players stuff in dogs, right at the start, without them having to balance the value of their book against the value of their gun?

That's like a fuse right in character generation, if someone can't handle that, (de-emphasis on raw effectiveness) they know they'll have problems if they continue to play.

Equally, the starting conflict sets up the conflict mechanics, so people know if they're going to have issues with them too.

It feels like for people who'll have a problem, your giving them all the flies in the ointment first off, so they can get to know them.

I can't remember who made that point, but if it was you, any new thoughts on that? And how it could apply to other creative agenda-y things?


65. On 2012-06-20, Gear said:

**Moreno**: Wow. That just... wow. I've honestly always thought "play the game as written or don't play it" was a somewhat redundant mantra, but hearing about that game, I'm now thinking it should be printed in big letters on the cover of every RPG book or PDF that gets released.


66. On 2012-06-21, Frank T said:

Moreno, sure, I get that, my question is: Now that we're done with the golden-ruling "good GM" (we have "destroyed" him), can and should we move beyond the mantra?


67. On 2012-06-21, Gregor Vuga said:

The "golden GM" is still very much alive.

What was "destroyed", fairly efficiently, is the railroading, plot-writing, social-manipulating, illusionist, dishonest, players-are-the-problem GM. They are still around but I think their numbers have dwindled dramatically compared to say, five or six years ago. Or maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.

The "play by the rules as written" is a hot-button issue with the OSR crowd, even if we're total lovebirds otherwise. Their whole community is predicated on hacking, houseruling and _owning_ the game. Their argument is "the designer doesn't know my group" and you know what, they have a point there. But it's not a difference between following the rules in the book and being a good GM or doing it your way and being a bad GM. If you put the AW principles and moves side by side with Jeff Rients' (a prominent OSR blogger for those who don't know him) DM tips, they're almost identical in many aspects. I think it was Clyde Rhoer who articulated it, quite succinctly, that what their "good GMing" is the same thing we do, except in a black box instead on the page...


68. On 2012-06-21, Vincent said:

Frank T: "Vincent, would you agree that the whole "play the game as written, dumbass" mantra (a.k.a. "alway add curcuma") also falls into the category of "destructive" theory, so that the time is maybe arrived to move beyond it?"

I wouldn't, but not just because.

"Play the game as written, dumbass" addresses itself to players, not to designers. It's not the kind of roleplaying theory I've talked about at all. I don't use theory to address myself to players.

But the corresponding "design the game to be played as written, dumbass," IS destructive theory, yes. It lays bare the foundation of roleplaying game design, so that we can build something worthwhile on top of it.

The time has absolutely come to move beyond it. But not just because!

It is, like "roleplaying is a social act," the starting point of design, not the end point of design. And, just like "roleplaying is a social act," drawing attention to it is almost always, and relying upon it IS always, bad design.

Don't presume that anybody will play your game as written. Design your game to win players over. Design your game so that it draws them into playing it as written, and so that it fails gracefully when they don't.

It's not enough to design a playable game. You have to design a game that's more seductive and more forgiving than the players' own laziness.


Don't presume that anybody will limit themselves to playing your game as written. Design your game so that it supplements their play, so that it fits itself into the their preexisting persistent rpg design.

It's not necessary (or possible!) to design a complete, self-contained playable game. You can (and must!) design a game that relies for its completion upon what players already know and already want to do.


69. On 2012-06-21, Vincent said:

Again, this is theory for when you're sitting down to design a game, not for when you're sitting down to play a game. I don't want to hear how this will lead to bad play. It won't! It's how I've been designing my games for years.


70. On 2012-06-21, Vincent said:

Marhault: Ooh, good question.

So when you design a game, write its text, and produce it as a product, you make a million decisions that, in sum, ultimately place it in its place in the grand marketplace of RPGs. Who will find your game? Who will act to own it, and how much time, bandwidth, money, effort will they spend? Who will then read it, play it, write about it, play it again, share it with their friends?

You don't get to make your decisions with foreknowledge, of course. You can make guesses and predictions, take gambles, experiment, judge and misjudge. You also have to make tradeoffs! You can't prioritize everything.

For Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World, reaching my audience was one of my highest priorities. I was willing to sacrifice other things I love, like short books and weirdo production, to give the game its best shot at achieving it.

For In a Wicked Age and Poison'd, I was content to let the audience choose itself, so I could prioritize short books and weirdo production.

Why the difference? It's kind of hard to explain. All I can say is, if I'd set myself the task of writing In a Wicked Age as generously as I wrote Dogs in the Vineyard, I would never have published it (or probably any of my games since - I'd probably still be stuck trying to follow Dogs in the Vineyard). And the thought of Poison'd in the "indie standard" 120-page digest softcover turns my heart to lead.


71. On 2012-06-21, Moreno said:

It's not necessary (or possible!) to design a complete, self-contained playable game. You can (and must!) design a game that relies for its completion upon what players already know and already want to do.

Mmmm... it's obvious that a game can't be "complete" in the sense of having no need to rely on things the players already know (or you will have games that describe, in details, how a dice is made, how it's throw, how to read it, etc.), and that any game will have to be played in the context of the previous experiences of the players, but I am usually very unsatisfied by games that tell players "for this thing, do what your group always do".

Why? Because
1) It takes for granted that the players already played a rpg.
2) It assumes that the players played IN A GROUP (the all-powerful gaming group, the only way to play a rpg, right? After all, it's not possible to play a rpg if you don't play with the same people for years...)
3) It assumes that the players PLAYED IN THE SAME GROUP FOR YEARS (because there are no 2 groups that played in the same way in traditional rpgs)

I don't think that this is new for you, Vincent (hell, a lot of his posts and games are among the things that did teach me that...) but at the same time... I think that sometimes you have relied too much on these three things.

Probably you don't remember when I asked you some years ago about some problems we had playing In a Wicked Age. At a certain point your reply about one thing was "do it as you always do in your gaming group".

But of these three conditions I listed above, the number (3) was not present in my current gaming group.  We were people from different traditional groups with different "way to play a rpg" in their past.

This showed me why we couldn't play IAWA (during the game, when we found ourselves in that "hole", everybody played by HIS OWN rules). I put the game away and have not played it since.

I would be able to play it today, after having played with the same people for some more years? Probably. I am not sure. But the point I am trying to make is that I should have been able to play it without these years of playing in the same exact group.

You can't explain in a game manual how to read a die, or what a deck of cards is, or how to talk in character. But at the same time, if a game manual rely on being read and played by people that not only already know rpgs (a very common problem in a lot of gaming text, and then there are forum threads asking why there are no new players...) but rely on their having played together for years, it relies too much on too many things.

P.S.: crossposted with the last two replies by Vincent. The last one already answer this post, I think.

I am conflicted about that reply. By one hand, I can't assume or pretend that any rpg should be made for me in their target. At the "principles" level, the fact that a indie game creator can write rpgs for whoever he wants without having to conform to a target decided by his publisher, is what has given me my favorite games (nobody would have published DitV, Spione or Kagematsu without that "I write for the people I want to write" attitude).

By the other hand, there is something, about that SPECIFIC target choice (people who played for years in the same group + any other conditions added by the specific game) that rub me the wrong way. Probably it's because is very similar to the target choices of traditional rpgs (and this is probably the reason I am not interested or even like the Old School Renaissance, too), but I think I will have to reflect more on this.


72. On 2012-06-21, Vincent said:


In a Wicked Age's failure - and it was, in your case and many others, an utter failure - is that it didn't draw you into playing it as written and didn't fail gracefully when you didn't.


73. On 2012-06-21, Moreno said:

Reading again the comments above (from the first one) made me think about another question. But I have some difficulties in writing it as a question, even if it is. It's one of these "this is what I think, do you agree?" questions that look a lot like statements masquerading as questions. But keep in mind that I am talking about a situation that I know only by what I read in forum and blog posts, not firsthand, so that question mark at the end is a real doubt. That "do you agree?" is not a "do you agree with my truth?" but is a "you know better than me, am I right or am I wrong about this?"

In some comments above (not yours, Vincent) there is a "we conquered the world" attitude that I don't see as justified by the numbers.

How big is the "storygames market"? Some game creator (Vincent, Ron, Luke and a few others) are selling a few thousand copies of their best-selling games. But these are the ones that were able to build a personal following. As far as I know, most indie game designer sell a lot less copies.  There are very good games that probably sold less than 100 copies.

So, how big is the market? I don't have the real numbers, but my impression is that the market of people who are interested in "storygames" in general, the people who usually try a new game from an unknown author after reading some actual play in the storygames forum, is very tiny. less that 500 persons, probably. And these represents 50-300 copies at most for each game.
Then, there are the people who usually don't try a lot of new games, but are attracted by the buzz around a new "storygame darling of the month". Then there are the people who follow a specific game author, the buyers base that is build in years, game after game (at this time I think only Vincent, Ron, Luke and Jason have a substantial one, but probably I am forgetting a couple of authors here). Then there are the people who don't have any idea who these people are or what is a "indie game" but are attracted by a specific game after hearing people talk about it or after playing it once with someone in the previous group.

Compare this with over a million D&D players in the world. With the people who play thinking that "with their rpg you can do anything" and that "the GM is the god of the game"...

So, the idea that these ideas (system does matter, your game should have an agenda, the GM is a player, etc.) have "won" is at least suspect. I think it's wishful thinking.

What I think, is that the "storygame" market has simply stopped expanding.  Oh, some games, some games author still do. From what Vincent said Apocalypse World still has not reached the sales of DitV, but it's going faster, and will surpass DitV in the near future. So it will be able to increase Vincent's market share. But there is no widespread increase in sales for the entire indie gaming niche, as the one that happened in the 2004-2006 period.

That increase was marked by a lot, really a lot, of polemics.

Oh, not like the ones that happened at first, the 1999-2003 ones, the dismissive ones. These later polemics were caused by the "menace" indie games represented. It was the time of the big "theory wars" on, for example.

When the market share of indie games increase, what happen? If the new indie players are new players (not tied to a traditional gaming group), nothing: someone find a new hobby, more fun and happiness for everyone. But if these new players are already in a gaming group... you have groups breaking, GMs that leave the group because they are tired of having to "provide fun" or players that menace the status quo by proposing strange new rpgs. Groups breaks, friendships crash, and a lot of people shows in gaming forums screaming that these games are a menace, that they should be banned, excluded, fought, etc.

The amount of polemics is a good indicator of the market share increasing, as earthquakes are indicators of the tectonic plaques moving.

So, no polemics? It can give the impression of having "won" to people who maybe played indie games for years and had the last polemics in his own group years ago, but we are talking about less that 1% of the market share. If there are no polemics, it means that there are no group breaking, and that people no longer feel menaced by these "strange games". It means that nobody is going into traditional groups saying "I have discovered this new game that has no GM, let's try it" anymore.

It's not a good sign, it's a bad sign. It doesn't mean that we have "won", it does mean that we have "lost" in terms of market penetration, or at least, that we have reached a standstill. (why? It's another thread, about the way you can't sell a culture of play with a rpg manual, but it's too big to touch here)

You could say "who cares? I am enjoying role-playing games as never before, why I should care for market shares?" and I would agree with you. I am not saying that we should cry and be sorry for the "poor, poor people who still play these old games" (it would be very patronizing, too). I am not saying that. I am saying that we should not mistake our "personal increase in fun and satisfaction" with "world conquest". The fact that I would prefer personal satisfaction to world conquest any day notwithstanding.

And I am saying that I hope to see a lot more polemics returning in the future. It would mean having more players to play with, more games to choose from, more money for people who create these games, to give them encouragement to create more.

Anyway, this is the way I see it, but it's a very long-distance sight. I am not going into American shops, American conventions, I don't have contacts with the American gaming culture if not what I see reflected in forums and other online communities, so maybe I am missing some important element that doesn't show up in these places.

Vincent, what are your thoughts about this?


74. On 2012-06-21, Frank T said:

Vincent wrote: "Don't presume that anybody will limit themselves to playing your game as written. Design your game so that it supplements their play, so that it fits itself into the their preexisting persistent rpg design."

Yeah, I think that's what I was getting at. I do think it also applies to players, to a degree. Players all caught up in evil misconceptions from the 90s (tm) absolutely need to be told to play the game as written, dumbasses. On the other hand, players more aware of what they are actually doing might be trusted to, on occasion, actually know when the time has come, for them, to hack a rule.


75. On 2012-06-21, Vincent said:

Moreno: I see the opposite, in every case! doesn't represent our market. Lord. It's just a web forum. A tiny minority of our market hangs out there, tinier every day.

The expansion you saw in 2004-2006 was because of individual games' individual successes, and individual games' individual successes now are driving an expansion that's dizzying by comparison.

The fights we have now are vicious and high-stakes, and they're just getting worse as our games reach higher and higher levels of success. They aren't as public. The people we're fighting with now can't afford to look like asses to their own audiences, and neither can we.

You do have more people to play with and more games to choose from, and games sell better and make more money, than ever before. In 2005 I owned a copy of every single indie rpg. If you were a fan of a game you could expect to have played it with someone who played it with the creator. Things are way, way too big for that now.

We haven't conquered the world, no. But we've accomplished what we set out to accomplish, we have our feet under us, and we can now take a look around and decide what we want to accomplish next.

I think the mistake is to look at us like there IS a unified market. Expansion past a certain point doesn't work that way. It used to be that Jason's audience overlapped almost perfectly with mine, but that was when they were both tiny. They still overlap a little, and they still grow together a little, but you can't expect them to still cohere when they're this big.

Ah. Back in 2004-2006, it was possible to look at how our audiences were growing and think that there was a fold that we were bringing people into. We weren't! It was always an illusion.


direct link

This reminds...
GH of I agree with this.

This makes...
BL go "This is in keeping with my experience."*
JC go "Holy cats!"*
VB go "About 20 minutes ago."
MR go "Marginalia is back"*

*click in for more

76. On 2012-06-23, esoteric said:

So Vincent, have you had a chance to play Dungeon World yet?


77. On 2012-06-24, Evan said:

Give him time. He's first playing Monsterhearts with me and the gang. Dungeon World will be, like, dessert.


78. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

Josh W, about fuses: It wasn't me!

It's an interesting point. The name lists in Apocalypse World's character playbooks do something like that, sometimes. They both put off players who'll be put off, and give players & GMs who want to negotiate rule changes some low-stakes practice.


Esoteric: Nope! As Evan says. Still on the to do list.


79. On 2012-06-28, Christoph said:

Vincent, how much do non-rpg games influence your rpg writing? Do you strive to make rpgs more accessible to people who don't role-play by making them more similar, in one way or another, to, say, boardgames? (Like Zombie Cinema might be said to do.) If yes, on what level, and how?

Since your attendance at Monster Mania Con, any progress in your thinking about how to present games to non-gamers?


80. On 2012-07-02, Vincent said:

Christoph: 1. Oh sure. If you've seen Murderous Ghosts, you can see the very obvious influence of both Choose Your Own Adventure books and those old book-vs-book combat games (Lightsaber Dueling is the one I have). I think that Trauma Games presents: Can You Save Your Boyfriend From the Cannibals? will be quite board gamey, but we'll see.

2. I dunno, not really. For the time being, at least, I've gone back to designing games for gamers, not for non-gamers.


direct link

This makes...
CB go "Sure, MG, right!"

81. On 2012-07-05, Axiomatic said:

Will you ever revisit 'Red Sky A.M.'?


82. On 2012-07-05, Vincent said:

Axiomatic: It's possible.


83. On 2012-07-08, JMendes said:

Are you still working on Storming the Wizard's Castle?


84. On 2012-07-09, Vincent said:

JMendes: Nope.

But that's probably okay. For instance, here's a list (incomplete) of games that didn't exist when I started working on Storming the Wizard's Tower, that do exist now:
- Adventurer Conqueror King
- City of Fire and Coin (Swords Without Master)
- Dungeon World
- High Quality Roleplaying
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess
- On Mighty Thews
- World of Dungeons

...And the monster creation rules that were the heart of the GM's side of StWT are still available in Fight On! Issue 2.

Hey, that gives me a thought. If anybody's looking for a project, you could contact me and Adam & Sage about adapting those monster creation rules to Dungeon World. I bet that'd be a good time.


85. On 2012-07-09, Alex. D said:

Hey, that sounds keen. I need to pick up that issue and review those rules.


86. On 2012-07-15, C Luke Mula said:

Since StWT has been abandoned, do you have any other major Step On Up games you're working on? Or are you mainly sticking to designing Story Now games?


87. On 2012-07-15, Vincent said:

C Luke: Like I say, I don't think it's still useful to categorize games that way. Those categories are from a time of scarcity, even desperation, that no longer exists.

Murderous Ghosts is a Step-On-Up game. Orphone's Seclusium will be a Step-On-Up addition to a Step-On-Up game. Of the unnamed potential games I fill my notebooks with, half or more are Step-On-Up. But so what? We're surrounded by fun, functional Step-On-Up games. Nobody's heaving a giant sigh of long-denied satisfaction because finally somebody made one.

These days you can choose your games by whether their content and rules, like, speak to you - whether it sounds fun to be murdered by ghosts - not just because at last they offer the hope of basic creative success.

So: yes! Positively yes. But don't expect me to point out which are which, and I don't expect anyone else to notice.


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This makes...
GcL go "It was never useful to categorize games that way"*
VB go "Either way."*
GcL go "Hmm - still seems useful in play . . ."*

*click in for more

88. On 2012-07-15, Moreno said:

Hi Vincent!!

I can't help but notice a little contradiction in that sentiment.

I think that everyone here thinks that a game manual should explain how to play the game. Not saying only things like "a sword do 1d6 damage" but, much more important, explaining what the players should do in the game, how it's played, what's the point, etc.  And I think everybody would agree that you can't do that talking only about the Color of the game ("this is a game set in the Firefly universe". It doesn't tell what the players should do, apart from looking at the pretty pictures)

So, at some point, a good game manual should say something like "you objective, in this game, is to survive the ghost's attacks and flee the factory" or "your objective is not to win, there are no winners in this game, your objective is to tell a good story" (this last formulation is very lame, but I noticed that to express well a story now agenda in practical terms you need to say it in the way you write the entire manual, one paragraphs is not enough)

In practical terms, this isn't a clear declaration of the game's Creative Agenda, only using common language without jargon?

So, you need to tell that to the players. The game manual is written in a language that has to be understood by someone who would not know even what a Creative Agenda is, OK. But when you talk to someone who does know what they are...  isn't using that jargon the most effective way to tell a potential player what's the game is about? (not ONLY that, obviously. In the case of the murderous ghost you need to talk about the ghost, too).

So, in that environment, avoiding that terminology doesn't mean confusing the communication of "what you do in the game"? (look for example the confusion above about what you do in Murderous Ghost, considered a Story Now game).
I am noticing this miscommunication, more and more, under the guise of a desire to "avoid confusing language". Even when doing that it's more confusing that using that language?

(I am not talking about using only the Creative Agenda NAMES: the confusion surrounding what they really mean is enormous and widespread. I am talking about a short description that clearly indicate the game's creative agenda, though.)

And I contend that that information is important to get an idea of what a game is about. It's NOT superfluous information: thinking about Murderous Ghost, with all the color of the game exactly the same, it would be a very different game if there was no step-on-up and the survival (or Death) were to be assured, and the game was about creating the Ghost's past. Such information is important even before buying the game.


89. On 2012-07-15, Vincent said:

Yes, a game should communicate its own, concrete, individual creative agenda. No, the Big Model's named creative agenda families should have no part in it. The idea of creative agenda is and remains crucial; the idea of categorizing games' creative agendas into three families is obsolete.

"In this game, you play teenage Mormon gunslingers traveling from town to town. They come upon the scene or aftermath of a murder and they have to decide what to do about it, who to punish, how (and whether) to help the town survive it.

"There's a GM, whose job it is to create the backstory that led up to the murder. You roll dice to resolve conflicts between the characters, and the dice put a lot of pressure on everybody to escalate."

This is a game's creative agenda.

"Story Now" fails utterly to capture it. Saying that Dogs in the Vineyard is a "Story Now" game is as useless, as true but as empty and misleading, as saying that Rock of Tahamaat's resolution rules are "Drama" resolution, or that Murderous Ghosts' use "Fortune in the Middle."

There's no good reason left for anyone to care which category we old Forge heads would put something in. We should leave them behind too.


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90. On 2012-07-15, Moreno said:

"In this game, you play teenage Mormon gunslingers traveling from town to town. They come upon the scene or aftermath of a murder and they have to decide what to do about it, who to punish, how (and whether) to help the town survive it.

Sorry, but this is Color.

"There's a GM, whose job it is to create the backstory that led up to the murder. You roll dice to resolve conflicts between the characters, and the dice put a lot of pressure on everybody to escalate."

And this say to me that there is a GM, that that GM has authority over the backstory, that he must prepare for the session (but it don't say how much), that the game has conflict resolution and use dice.

It say nothing about the most important thing in the game.

This specific example ring a lot of alarm bells for me, because I have seen, first hand, what happen when you try to explain DitV in that manner (Obviously you explained how to play DitV even more times than me, but from I saw in a lot of articles, blog and forum post even now, you have exactly the same problem with the exact same consequences).

The usual answer, when someone describe DitV (to people used to traditional rpgs) using color, is "I would hate to play a game like that, because I not a religious person, and my dream is not to play a Mormon" or something like that.

What happened, is that they presume some kind of "Right to Dream" play.  They think that playing this game would be a celebration of Mormonism or of religion in general, and they presume that the manual has a big list of "laws" that the PC have to enforce, and that the GM will give XPs only if you follow that law.

Other times, the answer is this:
"I see. So the GM prepare the story. No, thanks, I am fed up with railroading GMs, no story in my game, please"

I think it's clear what they assumed here...

Other times the answer is this:

"No, I don't like mistery games. If we miss a roll and miss a clue, the game stop until we find another way to get it. If I wanted a game set in the old west, I would like a game with a lot of gunfights and dramatic action, not a game where I, as a player, have to put together a lot of clues trying to find the solution to the mistery".

I hope you are seeing as there are all possible interpretation perfectly compatible with the quoted description you wrote above. The difference is that they assumed right to dream, story before (incoherent) or step on up play.

And why should they not make these assumptions? 99.99% of the players of traditional rpgs consider one of these options (or another one that still assume a single one of the three agenda modes) "the way rpgs are played" and they never experienced another one.

I see these wrong assumptions both in the people I try to explain DitV (IF I use only color or the description of some game techniques), and in a lot of people who write american blogs and forum posts. Stopping talking about that did not help at all.

What help really a lot, is starting to talk about that.
"that" what? That difference:
Creating Theme

What it's needed to explain how to play DitV is the concept of thematic play. Maybe not in general or all these words, but some sort of explanation is needed. That explain that you don't celebrate Mormonism in DitV, but you engage directly with the premise as a human being with his own answer. (I personally added something like that in the Italian appendix of the Italian second edition of DitV: a lot of people told me later that that appendix helped them a lot to understand the game. It can't be because of my illuminating prose because most of what I wrote were direct citations of your posts where you talked about thematic play and creative agenda applied to DitV: it's the simple fact of talking about that that is necessary)

And it's sufficient? Yes. I can explain to someone how the dice works during the initiation conflict, or he can read the book by himself after buying it. I can explain the setting and premise in ten seconds. But these, alone, push the people who would enjoy the game to avoid it, and attract the wrong people (the ones that talk in Italian forums about the way they tricked their players with a big mistery and the "big bad" got away, until the final fight of the story they have already prepared).
If I can explain the concept of thematic playing, the player can read the rest in the game manual. But at that time I can see if the idea of playing like that is grabbing them or not.

What it's needed to understand how to play DitV, at the end, isn't the difference between "Story now" and the other creative agenda? Not the difference between "the specific way you play DitV and the specific way to play Polaris", that I get is what you mean at this time when you talk about Creative Agenda (I would use "the game": it's made up by the social contract, all the techniques, all the SIS, etc, after all). I am talking about the difference between playing DitV story now, and playing it right to dream. Not a difference at the table, but in the image the game present of himself to prospective players.

Why I am going on and on about this point? Because the avoidance of talking about that didn't cause a nice new world where everybody lives together in harmony without that naughty GNS, what it did cause is a increase in confusion.  That affect me in two way: it make explaining how to play DitV much, much harder (because it increase the numbers of places that talk out of their asses about the game, saying that you play something like an inquisitor from WH40K, only in the west: I read this one less than a week ago), and make more difficult for "me" understanding how to play new games.

Actual play example: the first time I played misery bubblegum, I was profoundly dissatisfied with the game. It did nothing of what I tried to make it do. Reflecting upon the game and the rules and the cards, i finally got to what the problem was: I was mislead by all the talk about "the way it simulate anime", in a lot of posts and articles that talked about color, color, nothing that color (and some rules) and never talked about creative agenda at all, and I thought that the objective of the game was to create a Anime. And I was distraught seeing how the game encouraged destroying everything that was build in the narrative until that point, and even if that disjointed narrative was made up of pieces typical of anime, at the end it wasn't even a story, but only a sequence of events.

Thinking about that, after the game, I realized that I should have played to win.

The problem is simply that nobody talks about these things anymore. Because they say they aren't "useful"
More confusion is more useful?


91. On 2012-07-15, Vincent said:

It's Misery Bubblegum's job to explain to you how to play it, not RPG theory's. It's Dogs in the Vineyard's job to attract its audience, not RPG theory's.

If you continue to find GNS useful, continue to use it. I'm not trying to stop you.


92. On 2012-07-16, Joe Beason said:

Will any vendors be selling your games at GenCon?  Also, do you know if any of the other AW engine games will be available there?  I want to be able to point people to them at GoD.


93. On 2012-07-16, Vincent said:

There may be some retailers carrying my games at GenCon, but I don't know for sure. I don't know about any of the others, nope. Sorry!

If anybody out there would like to bring my games to GenCon to sell, let me know. I'd offer you retailers' terms, so you'd likely make some good cash.


94. On 2012-07-16, Moreno said:

I write too much, and I end up drowning what I am trying to say in all that verbiage. This time I will try to be as concise as I can.

1) When I have the manual in my hands: I completely agree with you. At that time it's the book's job to tell me everything I need to know to play the game.

2) When I don't have the manual, and I never played the game and I am asking questions: that is the case I am talking about.

All that mass of text I posted in my last comments was in reply to these two phrases you wrote, applied to the situation (2) above:  I don't think it's still useful to categorize games that way [...] don't expect me to point out which are which, and I don't expect anyone else to notice.

My last two comments I posted were about the reasons I have to consider that information not only useful, but essential, and the example I made about DitV was to be applied to the situation (2) above: for people who ask questions without having brought or read the manual, that information was the difference between "correct" and "misleading" representations of the game. (no, it's not nearly useful as actual play experience could be, but getting people's interest is the first step to actual play)

I am not going to repeat all that. I apply that experience to my explanations about the games, yes, so when I explain a game to someone I will talk about its agenda (if I know it, and if I am talking to someone that I think will understand what I am saying), and no, I am not saying that you are trying to stop me doing that.

It's the other case I am worried about: when "I" am the one who doesn't know a game, I ask question around, and nobody tell me the agenda of the game anymore. What can I do then? It's not like I can "use" by myself a knowledge nobody shares with me.

The avoidance of use of GNS agenda is so marked, noticeable and widespread to give a marked impression of being, for a lot of people, less of a "it doesn't matter" reaction, and much more a "please don't make me talk about that again" reaction.  A lot of people are simply fed up with GNS discussions.

I can sympathize with that sentiment (God knows how many times I had that same exact though...), but this still leave me with a problem: I can't buy and read every single game simply to know what they are about...


95. On 2012-07-16, Josh W said:

I don't really agree with that summary of Dogs either, but mainly because the value of saying "every game has its' own creative agenda" is nullified by saying "and it is encompassed by two small paragraphs that deal with the surface features of the game".

Blah blah, multiple levels, emphasised patterns of change, social contract etc.

Keep the quality elements, the positive definition, and the depth of consideration of the game as a social event, habit etc, even if the family categorising is less important.


96. On 2012-07-16, Vincent said:

Guys, rrg. Yes, I know. The full expression of Dogs in the Vineyard's creative agenda is Dogs in the Vineyard, yes, not a 2-paragraph summary. Yes.

You're also under-reading my 2-paragraph summary too, if you don't think it points to thematic play.

But, I mean, right? "Story Now" and "thematic play" are even less information than that. They don't mention teenage Mormon gunslingers, murder, or the pressure to escalate AT ALL. Nobody can possibly understand the game or make decisions about whether to buy or play it without knowing about those three things.


97. On 2012-07-16, Josh W said:

Yeah, I was just browsing by and thought I'd Hold You To Standards. :)


There's something to be said for treating creative agenda as the motivation for various mechanics "yeah, you do stuff, but how's it good". You get these clusters of values floating around the mechanics eg "you fight people and it's balanced in these ways" or "you fight people and it says something in these ways", so there's that extra dimension colouring everything in.

I think it goes weird when it becomes this floating dimension of goodness diverted from specific games, just like "balance" or "realism" (or "versimultude") do.

And despite what I said before, just adding a third paragraph about how those both tie together over time into themes of judgement and empathy might actually sum up the game for me pretty well!

Well that and a smidge about expected session and campaign lengths, and a...


98. On 2012-07-17, Rafu said:


it was easier back in the days when "cartoons" were for kids, always! My dad could glance at a movie poster and see that it was an animated movie and take us kids out to the movie theater, no problem, and know we were going to love it.
Then those pesky Japanese came and muddled the waters! Young-adult oriented anime? Adult oriented anime? What?!
Dads these days don't have it easy! Unable to just glance at a movie poster they may have to ask their friends and acquaintances about a movie and (gasp!) trust their judgment, or even (double-gasp!) trust their kids' own judgment of what they think is entertaining, risking they're not actually entertained and/or having to (triple-gasp!) talk with them thereafter.


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This makes...
R go "Not *actually* my life-story."

99. On 2012-07-17, Moreno said:

Rafu, please, I am the one who showed to a very skeptic you how to play a Forge game (DitV) the first time. Don't talk to me as if I was a clueless outsider who still believe that cartoons (rpgs) are all the same.

I am the one who is asking for technical information and personal judgment about games, and what I am getting for a lot of new games is "well...  it's a western. It's not enough?"

Take the other game I used as an example, Misery Bubblegum. You are practically saying "it's manga, what do you need to know more than that?". Will you buy every single game published about manga because for the modern, hip, post-forgite "theorist" there is no way to talk about anything but color? Maybe you lack the technical language?


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R go "*Also* not actually my life story, sorry."*

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100. On 2012-07-17, Vincent said:

Take it to your own threads, guys. This Q&A isn't the place.


101. On 2012-07-18, Rafu said:

Q: My favorite part of Storming was hometown creation, from your take on the ancient world (the paragraph about distant people being connected through other people is totally sweet!) down to making lists and, especially, character types as a way to express the flavor of a particular place. My second favorite part was the managing of PC stables, and especially that new character types could be introduced as rewards for cleared adventures. Which upcoming Lumpley game(s) should I be excited about?

Q: Do you have any plans for Rock of Tahamaat? Toward One?


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AD go "Oh, yeah, Toward One!"*
JC go "Amen!"*

*click in for more

102. On 2012-07-18, Vincent said:

Q1: I don't know what lumpley games are upcoming, beyond (maybe!) Orphone's Seclusium. If you do, you've got one up on me.

Oh, wait, there's Trauma Games presents: Can You Save Your Boyfriend From the Cannibals. But no, it won't include any of those things.

Q2: My plans for Rock of Tahamaat are pretty idle, but I do have some I suppose. I have no plans for Toward One.


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R go "We'll see what will be of the Rock, then!"*

*click in for more

103. On 2012-07-21, Christoph said:

Hello Vincent

How many hours a month (roughly, on average over the year) do you spend:
- playing games
- designing & writing games (I'd count rough playtests here)
- handling game support (sales/distribution, advertisement, Q&A and convention appearances, outside of pure personal enjoyment)

If the categories I give don't suit you, other break-downs are good too.

From this comment, I'd extrapolate that you spend about 20 hours of design-time per month and 10 hours of support (all games included).


104. On 2012-07-23, Vincent said:

Christoph: This isn't your fault! Don't take this personally.

Whose business is it how much time I spend doing the things I want to do? Why the hell, and to prove what points to whom, should I keep so absurd an accounting of my time?


105. On 2012-07-24, Alex D. said:

Here's one I've been curious about, if you don't mind:

How do you feel now, some time out, about the limited edition playbooks in AW, in terms of idea, execution, and so on? It was a bit different at the time, and I'm curious about your feelings on it. Was the effect what you wanted? Was there even an intended effect at all?

- Alex


106. On 2012-07-24, Christoph said:

Hello Vincent

Not taking it personally! To be clear, I don't think I'm entitled to an answer. Especially here in Switzerland, such questions tend to be nobody's business, but since you give snippets of answers on various topics and publish sales figures, I thought I wouldn't be too out of line asking this.

However, I should have explained better. I'm trying to understand what kind of commitment is realistic when publishing RPGs. I'd also like to ask other designers as time goes on, so as to get a rough idea. It has to do with trying to understand how I could reconcile a job, my hobbies and indie publishing. Really, it all boils down to how much time do I need to put aside to publish a game.

If you think this could raise a shit-storm or whatever, let's just forget this question.


107. On 2012-07-25, Vincent said:

Christoph: Oh good. I don't mind answering that. Occasionally there's a fight about whether indie rpg publishing can be profitable, and it's popular among the "it can't be profitable" crowd to ask me whether, come on Vincent be honest, whether I really honestly pay myself for my time. The answer is that, yes, I do, and these days I'm inclined to throw in a colorful phrase for emphasis.

But that's not what you're asking, so, great! I'm happy to answer.

I have a full-time job, a couple of teenagers and a six year old. I cook dinner most nights, do almost my share of dishes, laundry, and chores, and read most of the bedtime stories. Sometimes I go to parent-teacher meetings and, like, violin recitals and what-all. I also keep up on some TV and who knows how many internet conversations.

Right now, 30 hours a month is a little generous, I think. If I were billing a client for my game time, I couldn't justify 30 hours most months. It's more like 20. When I'm actively working on a game, sure, 30 hours a month, maybe sometimes closer to 40.

I do most of my thinking in the shower, and I always take my notebook with me into the can!

I do have one gigantic advantage, which is that my wife Meg is also a powerfully motivated creator - a quilter, game designer, and writer - so she knows what it's like when the muse drives. She doesn't get mad or hurt when I get up abruptly in the middle of whatever we were doing and go work. I have at least a couple of friends for whom this isn't true, who have to somehow balance their partners' needs with their muses'. I'm lucky!


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CB go "Thanks a million!"*

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