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1. Do you make up a dinner plan for the coming week?

No. Now, with two people in the house, we cook often enough it might be worth planning in advance, but just playing it by ear is working well enough. I used to do less proper cooking, when I didn't think about it at all, I only ever really bought things that kept, and treated each meal separately.

2. Do you make up a shopping list and stick to it when shopping?

There's not really a thing about sticking to it. I've been fortunate not to have to worry deeply about sticking for a budget, but I've also never really excitement to buy unusual things, so I don't usually have a big desire to buy other things (I mean, unless there's like books :)), I just want to get it done, so I don't need to make an effort to stick to a list.

I used to just usually buy the same staples. At some point I started keeping a list on my smartphone which was very convenient. Now we finally found a grocery list app we could both share which had been very convenient.

3. What is one thing that you always buy, but never put down on a list?

Nothing exciting, but things we need to refresh most often, like milk or bread, I usually have an idea if we have enough and just buy it, the list is more for things to buy "in the next few days".

4. Is there anything that you always think you are out of and come home with it to discover you already have a year’s supply on hand?

I can't think of anything specific, but things like flour, vanilla, jam that we only use every so often, I always forget if we have already.

5. Do you get your groceries delivered?

That would probably be more convenient but I keep not getting round to it. I used to not because I was out almost every evening and didn't know when I'd be in to get deliveries. I work right buy large tesco so I usually shop one small batch at a time at lunchtime.
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I've blogged about this ages ago, but apparently I never made myself understood.

Imagine you have a few characters, probably lovable misfits, a tough one, a hacker, a disguise artist, etc. The GM is adjudicating something simple and in theme, say the hacker needs to bypass an electronic keypad and then the tough one needs to spring through the door and take down half a dozen guards.

Traditional resolution mechanics, used commonly in all of simulationist games, tactical games, and lightweight narrative-focused games, go something like:

* Decide how hard each of those are for a typical human
* Each character gets a bonus for how much better than a typical human they are
* Then you resolve it.

It's important that the players and GM all have a similar idea how difficult these things actually are for the players, or they'll get into an argument about the resolution. But in truth... most of them will have watched a LOT of movies about tough ones who take down rooms full of guards, and never ever seen it in real life. So when you get to the "estimate difficulty" part, it's easier to estimate "for the tough one, taking out six surprised and lightly armed guards is of moderate difficulty" than to estimate "for a typical human, is this challenging? extreme? superhuman? something else?"

I'm considering an alternative, something like:

* Look at the obstacle as described by the GM
* Look at the character's ability
* Adjudicate "OK, for your specific character, that's easy/medium/hard/nigh-impossible", and roll a die that says "you succeed on an easy/medium/hard/impossible" challenge.

If you have a simulationist system, the traditional method is almost necessary. It's also a lot more practical if you have lots of different small bonuses, because adding those to the player's achievement is easier than subtracting them from the difficulty. But outside those situations, in theory, that system has some advantages: the GM doesn't need to model the characters abilities, just how hard the situation is; it means players usually get big numbers or lots of dice which is fun. But I'm not sure I actually believe those.

In practice, in creating a fun experience, the GM probably has a better idea of "I want to provide the players with this much of a challenge" than of "I want the situation to be this challenging in the abstract". Especially if there's modifiers being thrown around, it's easy for a "choose a difficulty, and then the players get bonuses" model to end up with "whoops, the player can just always/never succeed at this".

For instance, the players try to bribe a guard. Everyone expects that to happen in heroic fantasy all the time, so the GM gives it a fairly low difficulty. Now the players want to disguise themselves as laundry attendants to escape the castle. The GM does the same thing. But it turns out there's a mechanic for bribing but not disguise, or vice versa, so the players get a whacking great bonus to one of them and not the other, despite both being what you'd expect from the genre. It means the GM and player's instinctive knowledge of what the characters can do can work against them if the mechanics don't perfectly line up.

But with the new system, appropriate difficulties happen automatically if people forget themselves, but you can still calculate them in detail when you feel the need. The GM can always just assume that as long as the hacker does the hacking and the tough one does the bruising, most challenges will be "medium", but they can throw an "easy" or "hard" in there if they want. And if they DO want to make things more objective they can use a rule-of-thumb of "for every notch above typical human you are, you reduce the difficulty by one level" without wiring it into the rules of the universe.

What are the advantages of that system?

One is, as I said, it's easier to adjudicate difficulty on the fly if everyone has a good idea what the characters can do but not what a normal human can do.

Also, if characters want to work outside their specialities it also works better. Maybe "jumping a gap", anyone can try even if only the athlete can be assumed to succeed, but "picking a lock" you can't do at all unless you know. Most systems force you to pick one or the other of those for all possible tasks (or choose two possible levels, as with DnD's "take 10/take 20" system and restrictions on some skills without training). In this system, the GM can adjudicate on the fly what obviously makes sense in the situation at hand, even if it means some tasks which are medium for the hacker are hard for other characters and some are impossible. Whereas with a traditional resolution, if two different players want to try the same thing, it's easy to have the results break everyone's expectation of what the characters can achieve.

And, it implicitly puts the variance under the GM's command, not only the mean. If one character has a special ability that makes routine something that is usually far out of the reach of other characters, the flavour might still suggest that they some of those tasks are easy and some are hard for them. In a traditional resolution mechanic, you *also* need to make sure those difficulties are out of reach of other characters, except for the times they actually should be able to do it with sufficient effort. With the new system, you can simply assign difficulties for the character with the special ability, and worry about the other characters only if they try something like that.

I'm not sure if there's actually any use for this system, but thinking it through helped me think how abilities and difficulties work.

And I'm still confused by the responses I got when I talked about this before, which were mostly, "If you think that, you should try FUDGE" which I mean, sure, a popular widely used system probably is a lot better than one person's random idea, but it seems so irrelevant, since FUDGE uses exactly the same traditional resolution order as DnD, so I wasn't sure what they were trying to say.
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1. What size (twin, full, etc.) is your bed?

They keep changing the terminology, I think it was the size about double, but not the biggest size?

2. How many pillows do you sleep with?

At some point I started needing more pillow, so I typically have one really thick pillow or two pillows.

3. Do you have a weighted blanket? If so, does it help you?

I don't think I've ever wanted a heavier blanket, I feel constrained by beds which are tucked in all the way round. What I would like is a cover with the heavyness of a normal duvet, but only a single top sheet worth of insulation, because I find a thinner cover really annoying, but a duvet can be too insulating when it's hot weather. But I've not got round to seeking such a thing.

4. Do you sleep with any stuffed animals?

No. I've kept a variety, but I've never been inclined to cuddle anything other than partners or bedding.

5. Do you have to have the TV on to go to sleep?

I think having something quiet to occupy my mind in an idle way would help, but almost anything I try ends up drawing my attention too much and I end up either distracted by it or paying full attention to it.
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OK, after running a couple of sessions, my massive role-playing kick is ebbing a bit. Now I've been through enough obsessions to ride the wave a bit rather than just being confused. The important things are, finish off what I was planning and continuing to run sessions, which I will enjoy even if I don't have "absolutely must right this second" obsession, giving myself some space to do chores and passive relaxation like books and tv, and have a next "thing" ready, because if I don't have something I'm anticipating I lose all motivation for anything.

Or another way to look at it is, I've achieved what I never quite managed for embarrassingly long, of sitting down to GM some roleplaying with the confidence that I could advertise a one-shot and have it go well, and not worry that I can't manage to learn a new system and get my GMing up to a non-beginner standard at the same time. And now I can think about what I'm excited to run, stories and systems that I can hopefully build up to (DnD world with a rich history which I've developed, vorkosigan-esque roleplaying).

As it happens my second session running the superheroes was pretty fun, and introduced some people to simple 5e DnD mechanics when they'd roleplaying before, but not played DnD any time recently, and the players had pretty cool characters. But partly because the characters didn't happen to gel as well, and partly because I ran it on short notice, it wasn't quite as memorable as the first session. Oh well, I'm glad it was that way round, and now I'm more confident running variants on the theme.

And I did enjoy bringing one of the last session PCs in briefly as a cameo as a superhero much more experienced with these enemies: the dice were great at delivering deadly ninja effectiveness, but also in-character pratfalls :)
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There are some fairly sensible rules of thumb for "how challenging is this monster". Things like "this amount of hit points and armour class are roughly equivalent to this amount of hit points and armour class" and "if it has good saves, treat the effective hp as this much higher". And the same for attacks, and, how to use monsters with attacks stronger than defences and vice versa, and how not to depart too far from equivalence or you get monsters that are really boring (if they odn't do much damage but take forever to kill) or really swingy (if they do lots of damage but are very fragile).

But it seems like Dungeon Master's Guide always makes a dog's breakfast of explaining these. It presents a bunch of rules as a rigid algorithm and says "you can tweak it", whereas I feel like someone who understands the rules of thumb could have provided a template beginners could use. I may try to write that up, but in practice GMs usually use a lot of intuition to tune monsters and I may not have enough experience with 5e yet.

Read more... )
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GM: OK, so while Vapourwave's reconstituting himself and Rusty's repairing the mech and riding herd on the security system, you two...
Dr Weird: So I can just misty step through the forcefield into the cell with the interdimensional portal?
GM: Oh yes, I'd forgotten you can do that.
Dr Weird: Is there a control to turn the forcefield off?
GM: No...
Ninja: Not on the INSIDE
Ninja: There's a keypad next to it here on the outside, could he just have used that?
GM: Yes, that's what I was expecting.
GM: Although it's not just an on/off, you'd need to make sure you figure it out.
Rusty: But I could make sure he doesn't accidentally turn off all the forcefields at the same time?
GM: Indeed.
Read more... )
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One of the strange things about GMing is that it's a naturally ephemeral hobby. If you get really good at writing, you might write stories people keep reading years later. If you get really good at playing a musical instrument, you might play to larger audiences or at higher-profile occasions.

Whereas, if you get really good at GM'ing, you'll still only ever really do it with four other people, and many of the ideas you have will get recycled into an "ideas" folder because they didn't come in play.

Some people write modules or stream games, but that's not for everyone.

That's not bad, I just personally find it really hard to enjoy moments for themselves without wanting to save them forever.
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Character Creation

Planning characters chatting online and then jumping straight into the session worked well. I've often ended up doing that unofficially, but I think I might make it my default. Planning actually benefits from some time to mull over ideas, mixed with talking to other characters and the GM, and often doesn't need much face to face time. If people are completely new to the system, then yes, you probably want to do that together, in what I think of as a pre-session.

Obviously that's when players are designing characters. For one-shots I'll usually provide a range of pregens to choose from, or maybe a mix-and-match set of character sheets with mechanics, and of fill-in-the-blank backgrounds.

Setting the Scene

I've been refining my skill at describing the setting, and giving the characters a clear motivation straight out of the gate. I still get hung up on it surprisingly often, but resolving to get my players to repeat back what I thought was important meant that I could notice and fix any holes before anyone got lost without a clear goal.

I also did ok at describing the rooms, in terms of scale and general contents. It's still not my best strength, but I was fairly happy.


This is one of these things where if it's done well you don't notice but if it's done badly it can undermine everything else. But compared to many sessions, I did great, we finished almost exactly on schedule, with an appropriate number of fights.

What did I do right? I had a fairly clear idea of what would happen in each third of the adventure, and when that should happen, and took a five minute break to recharge at those points, and hurried things along when I needed to to fit those times. That meant that if I needed to, I'd be cutting short the introductory bit to get to the climaxes, not cutting short the climaxes. That doesn't work if the players actually haven't really succeeded the introductory bit, but if they've basically got the idea but just not worked their way through everything, I can fast-forward and say "you wrap that up without much more problem" rather than playing through more similar fights.

But in fact, I didn't need to do that at all. I was fairly loose with how each fight went on. When I thought it needed it I did encourage players to keep attacking for another round "same attack, roll, damage, ok next" style. But when an enemy was mostly dead or a fight was mostly over, I'd handwave it by letting the last enemy run away or be knocked out a couple of hitpoints soon or whatever.

Notice, there is an art to that. If the fight has juuuuust turned and the players were really looking forward to using their big abilities, it robs them of a lot of fun to say, "ok, you've got this one, we'll assume you win". You need to judge when the *players* are ready to end the fight. But I think I got the balance right.

There was one moment where the Ninja who builds up to a big attack didn't quite get to do it enough, but we handwaved things so he could even though that wasn't perfect.

I'd wondered if I'd have to keep encouraging the players to keep moving and not hang around faffing with one room before moving on, but they were really great at getting sucked into things sometimes but quickly moving towards the main objective whenever things flagged.

Acting and Characterisation

My players almost did me to shame, here, they all made REALLY GREAT characters. Rusty was great as the chief engineer of not-Tony-Stark, pushed into combat he didn't really want to be handling, and playing up the mechanic persona. Vapourwave's glam rock was utterly impeccable. Nova Ninja really brought to life the low-budget well meaning goofball. Dr Weird was a great aloof wizard.

So for a lot of it I just fed them straight lines and let them get on with it.

But I'm pretty happy how I fleshed out a concept to include a few serious moments, some slapstick, and a lot that was a bit silly but also worth actually fighting. And the environments worked well, the storeroom full of magical ingredients and the basement with different experiments behind forcefields made great settings for a variety of wacky shenanigans.

And planning the major characters but bringing them out when it seemed appropriate or the dice called them up worked very well.
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Rusty: I check the computers. Can I access a general layout of the facility?
GM: Sure.
GM: Here's the main rooms, as I planned them.
GM: The basement is marked SECRET
Vapourwave: What's the most direct way there?
Vapourwave: As I'm effectively invulnerable in intangible form, I'll turn into gas and float straight there.
GM: Also *rolls* *rolls*
GM: Previously unbeknownst to you all, a roaming blob monster from the extradimensional plane of custard was lurking on the ceiling and drops on Rusty as he pokes at the computer.[2]
GM: Rusty, fail a dex save.
Rusty: Don't you mean, "make a dex save"?
Rusty: Damn. Never mind.
Read more... )
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The plan

My plan was to design from scratch superhero concepts that were about equivalent to a 5e 3rd level character. I chose 3rd level because it's the level where most classes get their signature abilities, but is still simple enough for a beginner to play, and for me to adjudicate.

I know that transplanting to system to a different world sounds ridiculous, but I thought it made surprisingly much sense. 5e characters feel quite like mid-level superheroes to me. They bounce back from damage easily. They have an array of fantastic powers. The fights feel reasonably like superhero fights to me: a mix of chipping away and decisive blows, ending fairly quickly. In particular, it works if they're mostly specific powers you can use on the spot, whereas if your characters are known for "incredibly strategic plans" (like Vorkosigan Saga), it's harder to model those by rolling dice.

Read more... )
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Preface: As with most of my roleplaying transcripts, it is moderately fictionalised. Many of the cool ideas came from my players, and we really did get ourselves into the sort of binds described here -- but I've played stuff up and changed it around to make it fun to read.

GM: Blah blah superhero city blah blah blah
GM: Your mentors, and all of the other top tier superheroes and supervillains have mysteriously vanished overnight.
GM: No offence for what this implies about the tier of YOUR characters.
Nova Ninja: I have ninja powers, but 'm not so much a superhero, as I play one on TV.
Ninja: I arrive at the TV studio. No-one is there today.
Ninja: I adjust my name higher in the billing.
GM: Superhero dispatch calls you and says there's an urgent situation developing and of all the superheroes available, you're the one best placed to deal with it.
GM: She doesn't sound happy about it.
Ninja: I'm on my way!
GM: You drive off in your low-rent actor-mobile. It is full of discarded coffee cups and anachronistic cigarettes.
Read more... )
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1. What are your feelings about winter?

I covered a lot of this in the one about all the seasons. I used to feel like winter was just a necessary inconvenience to get through. Although I did like snow. Now I know a lot more people who actively like winter and dislike summer, I appreciate it a lot more.

2. What is your go-to drink in the winter? (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)

I mostly drink the same things all year round. Tea or coffee. Beer if I go out, sometimes wine with a meal. Water or squash if I'm feeling I need more hydration. Cocktails, fancy soft drinks, or fancy apple juice sometimes.

But if I feel like something to warm me up in winter, I've always been very fond of mulled wine, cider or apple juice.

3. What are your favorite things about the winter?

Snow. Christmas. Sunny but cold days. Cuddling up to keep warm. Roaring fires (if I'm ever anywhere there are some).

4. How do you deal with the wintry blues?

I don't really think of it like that. I don't usually *like* it being winter, but I don't think my overall mood is low. But I'm not sure I'd notice if it was. Anyone else know if I do that? But anyway, if I notice, that's half the battle, I can concentrate on doing indoor things for a while, which I quite like and know that now I'm 30+, six months passes really quickly.

Nowadays it seems like by the time the cold comes, the light is already returning so there's always something to look forward to.

5. What are your least favorite things about the winter?

Commuting in the dark. Getting up in the dark (very rarely, but if I ever need to). Commuting on slush. OK, it's not winter's fault and I hate capitalism :)
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Most new editions of DnD come with ideas where I think "oh, that's a good idea" at the time, but it's hard to see more clearly whether they actually made things good or not.

5e introduced Advantage and Disadvantage. Basically, if you're attacking or attempting something similar in any advantageous situation, from hiding, or attacking someone impaired, or a long list of other scenarios, you get advantage -- you get to roll two d20 instead of one and choose the better. It also "turns on" some special abilities like the rogue's backstab. Disadvantage is the same but you have to choose the worse.

Read more... )

Balance for what timescale

I struggled to put this into words, but it seems like old editions of DnD were balanced for a campaign. There are all sorts of rules that only make a difference if you expect to play the same character through all the levels, classes that are weaker early on but stronger later or vice versa. More like roguelikes than most modern roleplaying sessions.

Read more... )
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1. Do you remember when you were first addressed as sir or ma'am?

Not at all. I'd expect 'sir' from people like police or airport security, so I've definitely experienced it but it's not a default form of address for me (or I assume, other people in the UK). I don't remember every being ma'am'ed.

I do remember someone saying to her young child, can you let the "gentleman" (or possibly just "man") past, that was an occasion when I was clearly referred to as an adult. But I was over 30, it clearly just didn't come up that much. I'm not sure what the equivalent "being addresses as an adult" would be, though I assume it would have happened in my late teens.

I still have great difficulty *expecting* to be treated as an adult, even though I'm past mid-thirties, I feel like I still expect other people to tell me I'm wrong.

2. Do you remember when you first realized the difference between being childish and childlike?

I don't think I ever thought about it till just now, although I used both terms sometimes. Now I'm not sure. Is it just that "childish" is "like a child in a negative way" and "childlike" is "like a child" neutrally? I can definitely point to specific behaviours I think of both ways, like over-emotional responses to being denied something vs being amazed by things, but I'm not sure what generalisation to draw.

3. Do you remember the first time you realized you were more adult than child?

Oh gosh. I still don't feel very certain of it. Probably the first time I went away without my parents, or went out and about without my parents, felt grown up.

Or later, when I got to know 20-year-olds and realised that some time as an adult had taught me basic life skills, book-keeping, housework, social competence, that even though I didn't feel at all capable of running my life, I was a lot further forward in "if you had to pick someone to be in charge in this situation, would it be you" than I'd realised.

4. Do you remember your first taste of major independence?

See above -- I remember some landmarks, but I was so quiet as a child I was never *eager* to achieve major landmarks the way many people are. I guess times I remember, first time walking literally anywhere without my parents, first time walking home from school by myself[1], first time sleeping away from home, first time living away from home. Oh, and driving and going places by myself, I remember that being quite interesting.

[1] I know everyone knows this already, but my experience was it being some time during primary school, and by secondary school that being what everyone did, and I'm annoyed that society has started trusting children so much less, I think you can have the safety improvements without that.

5. Do you remember what you bought with your first paycheck?

I am really fortunate, but in ways that make this question quite boring: I didn't really know what I wanted, so I fell into habits and rarely let myself really want something, so I had all the basics of food etc, but rarely sought out other things. So I didn't have the drive or necessity to get a teenage job like most people did, and when I did get some jobs[1], the money just stayed in savings and there wasn't anything I was desperate to buy with it. It took me years to learn when it *was* sensible to spend money, even though on necessities I was fortunate enough to just be able to spend the money without worrying if there was enough.

[1] In retrospect, I should think of those as fairly successful experiences. I don't think I achieved anything worthwhile, which made me tend to discount them, but now I think I pretty much had to experience some big projects without decisively successful outcomes as a learning experience, and getting through that was progress, not a mistake.
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I finally read the new novel by Shamus Young (who did the DM of the Rings screencap webcomic).

The previous one was the Witch Watch, a 19th century adventure when the protagonist an introspective unfilfilled soldier is killed in a scuffle and is resurrected by mistake by minions of a necromancer.

This one is a cyberpunk mystery reminiscent of Caves of Steel.

The Good

The setting is great. A fictional tropical city, exploited by colonial-ish powers not by direct conquest per se, but by economic leverage, now a densely populated but not the most technologically advanced world city. Increasing penetration of robots into the workforce, not completely realistically, but from a very 2020 perspective not a 1950 one.

An introspective, meticulous but idiosyncratic crook, specialising in rewarding low-violence crimes sucked into a robot who-dunnit mystery, while being pursued by various mobsters and corrupt police. A very sympathetic robot character with a lot to say about how it feels to be built around a drive to serve humans and to protect humans.

A lot of delving into the philosophy of being a robot, how robots learn, how they have drives, the practicalities of what robots are manufactured, which brains are duplicated, etc, etc.

A lot of goon-banter, a minor genre of scene where the protagonist and the goons chat while waiting for the boss.

The Niggles

Two things niggled at me, both hard to describe. The first is going to be a bit difficult to try to talk about. Shamus Young is probably neurodivergent of some sort: he's talked about not being officially diagnosed, but seeming different to most people. It doesn't come up much, but in his memoir blog posts (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=12687) he talks a lot about how other people just seem weird to him.

It's especially weird for me because a lot of the things he says really resonate with me, but I don't think I'm coming from the same place. My theory is that the "understanding people" bit of my brain is ok, but the "if you failed once you probably learned something and it's worth trying again, not hiding from it forever" bit of my brain was really wonky for some reason, but that's obviously just a metaphor I use somehow, I can't really see what's going on in my head.

The protagonist of Another Kind of Life isn't definitively neurodiverse, but enough things about his experience make me read him as someone who finds people weird but has learned how to interact well with them (possibly as Shamus is, I don't know). But what I'm about to talk about seems to apply to almost all the characters in both books.

But anyway, a few things in both books really jump out into my notice when I don't know if other people would notice them in the same way. Something like, characters having a running narrative in their head of why someone else is reacting a certain way, when I would really, really have expected that to be sufficiently common for soldiers or crooks (or just most people) that the character would be used to it, either just subconsciously interpreting the behaviour, or annoyed that people KEEP doing that even though it makes no sense, but not "oh, he's obviously doing this because he thinks that" when it's something I'd expect to happen all the time. But I don't know if my expectation is more right than his is, maybe people do have mental narratives like that and it just sticks out to me more.

The other thing is also hard to describe, the book had the sort of arc of solving the murder and other professional and personal problems of protagonist that I'd expect, but somehow it didn't feel satisfying and tense the way I felt it should. I can't say what's wrong, but it felt like he just worked through everything and worked it all out, even though he definitely did run into a lot of sticky situations along the way. So I was left with a feeling of "that was nice, but it felt like it was lacking something, but I can't really point to what" which is annoying to try to describe (sorry), despite really liking most of the book.
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We had a lovely Christmas. We cooked Christmas dinner, roast potatoes which turned out exceptionally well, and made at Rachel's inspiration a creamy mushroom pie, which just felt perfectly "right" as a vegetarian centrepiece for a roast dinner.

I got several lovely presents, but the most notable was Scythe, the Polish-designed central-european economy-building territory-control game. The aesthetic is best described as "farmers working in fields while giant mechs stride past in the morning mists", and the mechanics back up the idea that mechs are useful for helping workers, and always threaten to turn to combat, but you don't have to be. Each faction (Russviet, Nordic, Crimean, Saxony and Polish) also has a single character "hero" with an appropriate companion animal, who can fight like mechs and also have adventure "encounters" on certain hexes on the board.

We managed to squeeze a lot of games in here and there! It's the sort of game that's two hours long, but actually two hours with minimal set-up and scoring, and faster in games that end quickly, rather than constantly threatening to run longer.

Then we went to Nice in France for a week for Rachel's birthday which was really good. Photos and write-ups on facebook and twitter. We visited several obvious tourist destinations, including a couple of trips to Monaco seeing the exotic gardens and the vast, vast aquarium. The Nietzsche footpath at Eze, climbing steeply from the water to the higher village, where apparently Nietzsche used to walk and think. The Chagall museum, constructed during his life -- so many goats, so many bold, impressionistic, paintings inspired by streets, by life, and by biblical stories. And we all managed to coexist in a small apartment for a week.

And afterwards, despite possibly difficult things coming up, I do feel more in control of my life and able to spend some effort on the things I want, rather than constantly fighting the most-overdue problems.
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I hosted a game of Microscope (collaborative history-building roleplaying-ish game) at Heffer's board games. I'm hoping to run some more traditional one-shots as well, but I thought this was a good introduction. I ended up with three others who all had great ideas but a spread of experience.

Everyone else was excited by acted scenes, which produced some of the most memorable ideas, but I still prefer microscope when you just don't do that and everything is events and periods.

It took some time to get going, I'd thought we were all on the same page with what the Narnia prompt, but when it came to choose the bookends (which in this case were inevitably the beginning and end of the world), we already got widely divergent ideas which told me we needed more discussion of tone and theme (i.e. what if anything goes into the palette) than I'd expected. Like, someone wanted "world created by gods", someone else suggested "accident in a multiverse laboratory", someone wanted religious allegory but different, someone else wanted no religious allegory, it was hard to reach consensus, even though once we started playing we quickly converged on a fairly consistent vision.

We did negotiate some of the restrictions well: a discussion of what we didn't want eventually ended up as "no post-18th century technology" and "no planned expeditions to other world" because we had an intuition for what was out of place (we didn't want the Narnia equivalent of "we go and change history by importing earth technology" even though I like that story in other settings) but it took some time to agree what counted and what didn't. And that discussion delayed actually getting into positive ideas.

I think we were just unlucky we ended up with a premise that took different people in different directions, I'd hoped that would be a lot simpler to agree the ground rules, because that means all the actual gameplay is put on hold. But I don't think we could have done better, I think if we'd tried to curtail it we'd just have ended up with the same debate later on. I might try to be more specific in future prompts, I deliberately left it somewhat open ended to pique people's interest, but if I'd chosen something more unambiguous, we'd probably have taken our cue from them.

It's hard to describe the history so it sounds interesting to people who aren't playing, a lot of the magic is in the little characterisations about people or characters felt about particular events, but I did write up a summary:

World formed on back of sleeping titan Mythios, and birth of first heraldic beasts.

Mara, from earth, sacrifices herself to create the orb of dreaming in the dreaming depths, in the hopes of keeeping Mythios asleep as long as possible and possibly preserving the people from Mythia after their physical existence ends.

War between the Rider Artolian and the Eagle Simnos. The unicorn temple is nearly destroyed.

Lenora, a girl from earth, is tutored by Karthas, the inheritor of the eagle archetype, and founds an empire, despite accusations of tyranny and opposition from artolians.

Irena, a woman on her deathbed, arrives in Mythia, and is imprisoned by Lenora, but with the aid of the "Plucky Companions" steals the Sceptre of Grandeur and escapes, fulfilling the three prophecies and destroying the myth of Lenora's uniqueness as a destined one.

Irena eventually inherits Lenora's mantle and unifies the empire with the rest of the world in an age of peace.

Artolian's old lieutenant, Lannios the unicorn, chafes under the new peace and launches an expedition to seek the orb in the dreaming depths. Opposed by the two-headed lion Alura who long considered those her own domain, Lamnios' treacherous companion Etios the great frog evades them both to claim it.

Irene stores her soul in a dream orb to allow her to fulfil her prophecied destiny in the closing days of the world.

Additional humans appear, but this causes Mythios to begin stirring, presaging his awakening and the end of the world.

Two destined humans together wake three heraldic beasts into new gods with a shared desire of preventing Mythios' wakening, but otherwise unfortunately divergent goals and intentions. Further gods follow, including Lannios the unicorn.

One of first gods is Etios, the new frog god of dreaming. Lannios cultists, in culmination of long but obscure plans, destroy Etios, returning the orb of dreaming to the physical world.

Lannios struggles with the first three gods, and the struggle awakens Mythios who washes the world away. Anyone's survival is unclear.
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My next board game project is still probably writing up the demon-summoning game into a playable form, but I still keep getting enticed by other ideas. Here's one I had last week, which didn't go anywhere, but I thought was an interesting illustration.

I was trying to think of games that are a natural competition, but a playful, not very cut-throat competition, and suddenly visualised little baby goats playing king of the castle on some bales of hay.

Ideas quite often come to me that way, I think of a concept, often imagining how the box would look, how the game would *feel*. It doesn't normally come to completion like that, but it's an inspiration I work from, or sometimes, after playing with a game for a while, it "clicks" again and I think of an idea I like more based on what I'd already been doing, like when the "cast-away game" became a "planet of monsters" game with greatly evolved mechanics.

It doesn't always work like that, I also often have ideas for mechanics, that I try various flavours on, although I can rarely graft a theme on completely, it's so much nicer when the mechanics reflect the theme, even if the basic gameplay is fixed, then in having cards that represent concepts, not just an arbitrary match-up between "thing you might do with this flavour" and "action you might do with this mechanics" and keep constantly asking "wait, who gives you coins and dice, is it the butler or the vintner?"

I also had an idea for a mechanic, something like, you have a two-sided step pyramid of bales with a goat on each level, and you can do jumping stunts to show off and/or try to reach a higher level. I even had an idea for a mechanic, basically, you have two power bars, one for physical energy, one for prestige, doing any stunt uses up energy, but you only lose prestige if you try and fail, so if you do a jump-off with a goat on a higher level by each playing a stunt card from your hand of a certain difficulty, the idea is to try to arrange it so you usually win on prestige and don't have to actually do the stunt, except occasionally, when you do it awesomely and fill up on prestige. And there's a salt lick on the lowest level to recharge energy.

That's far from a complete mechanic, even in one paragraph there's several contradictory ideas, but it had the general sort of feel I wanted, and I trust my intuition that those were the bits that were notable about it, and in order to make it work like a game, I could probably just fill in fairly standard mechanics that work in other games in the gaps.

But what interested me was that what I wanted was for the game to actually feel like baby goats. That means that players should usually be encouraged and rewarded for playing fairly impulsively, sating themselves on good cards/resources and then spending them freely for impressive results -- you might say, the play should feel "fun", which sounds silly since all games are supposed to be fun, but the point is, it should feel fun and carefree all the way through, as opposed to rewarding strategic depth, or well-judged gambles, as many games do.

That resonates with advice from Mark Rosewater about Magic: The Gathering. Landfall, a mechanic which gives bonuses when you play a land, naturally feels fun to play whether or not it's a good mechanic. That doesn't last, if you play enough, you'll eventually learn when a mechanic works well and when it sets you back and emotionally respond to those situations instead of the out-of-the-box experience. But for quite a while, it just feels fun to play with, because you usually wanted to play a land each turn *anyway*, and landfall gives you an extra bonus for doing so, so it feels like you're going with the flow and everything is easy. You might say the same thing about tribal: there's lots else, but the basic concept of playing "as many goblins as you can" is just nice.

So how to capture that in board game mechanics? One thing is, reduce the pressure, have the moments of greatest emotional resonance reflect dramatic changes that are necessary to proceed, but not necessary significant advances towards winning. That means that everyone gets excited when you do a double back flip and gain a level, and players are more drawn to that, and less drawn to playing conservatively and hoarding resources for a longer-term strategy. Although doing the cool things should usually be the sensible strategy: players get unhappy when what's fun is different to what's effective because they have to choose and resent people who choose differently.

Also, walk a middle path of some strategy but not too much, some randomness but not too much, guide people into planning for the next turn or two, planning something that will usually be successful (so they feel good) but that they're not encouraged to obsess over whether a particular thing is the best for the long game or not (because if they can do that, it will draw attention away from the part of the game I want to be most interesting).

Of course, it's hard to make that happen in practice. Lots of board games have a different feel the first game from the fifth game, and lots you never play that many times at all. But that's the sort of thing I'm thinking of.

I do usually aim for SOME strategic complexity. I always wanted Toy Factory to be more strategic, even though most players enjoyed the "basically think one turn ahead" gameplay.

And in the end, I stopped there with the baby goat game -- I didn't have any more ideas that seemed more interesting than what I'd already thought of elsewhere. I did note it down in the file I return to for inspiration, because who knows when those ideas will come in useful later.
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We all had a holiday in Nice for Rachel's birthday, doing various tourist things. It was very pleasant. There's a mention of most of the activities on my twitter (https://twitter.com/CartesianDaemon) or facebook, along with some comments on our new board game Scythe which we've barely managed to stop playing.

However, I did have one minor injury.

Read more... )
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2. Do you own an ugly Christmas sweater?

No. I vaguely remember there being a stereotype of ugly christmas sweaters, but I don't remember it being a thing that everyone deliberately did! Now it seems that it is. I sort of like the tradition, as it happens, but I never got into the habit of it.

But it comes up at work and similar often enough I think I would like to have something I can wear. Maybe a Christmas jumper with C++ on it, appropriately syntax highlighted red and green. Or a christmas-jumper-style waistcoat. It's on my list to seek out.

It also happens, I hate wearing "more clothes". I never really liked wearing jumpers, even when I had to for temperature reasons, I'd always want to strip them off as soon as I could. Only now am I wondering if that's a mild version of the sort of sensory issue people talk about (even though I'm fine with my "normal" clothes of jeans+t-shirt or trousers+shirt).

3. Do you celebrate the Winter Solstice?

Several friends do, and I like just about everything about the idea, the focus on returning light, the fire in the darkness, the astronomical connection. But I haven't started doing it regularly because it's just not what I've traditionally done.

4. Now that you are ‘in the know,’ what would you leave out for St. Nick on the 24th?

I'm not sure what you mean about being in the know? I think I would leave the same things whether or not I was in the know. Although I don't as I think of it as a custom we only do with children in the house. I think we used to leave a mince pie, a glass of wine (preferably either sherry or Dad's fearsome homemade wine), and sometimes a carrot. I would probably leave out something as close to that as I could.

Although now I think about it, that seems a bit mean. The reindeer do a LOT of the work, surely we can stretch to one carrot *each*? And I bet he's bored of mince pies, maybe some chocolate and fruit, or a big plate of something to load up on, would be a nice change?

5. Tired of the snow and icky weather yet? For those fortunate folks in the other hemisphere, are you tired of the humidity and hot weather?

When winter started I was very ready for it to be over. I really resent the earlier evenings. But by the solstice I'm usually used to it, and just about getting to enjoy being cosy inside while the night is all outside. And having christmas-in-winter-y thoughts. So now we're actually here I don't feel as strongly any more.