Day 30: What is your fondest memory of a game you thought was fun before you knew better?

Here we are, the end of the hashtag. Everyone feeling #indieAF today?

Two things have jumped out as my takeaways of the experience:

1) I’m loving all the love letters to indie gaming. Read the posts – there are nearly two hundred of them now – and the vast, vast majority I’m seeing are enormously positive. Some of my questions were even written specifically in a “let’s start a flame war” voice. Go back through and read. Amazing.

2) I’m disappointed at the critique of the questions by a small circle of folks. I got what I wanted out of the questions, which was endless love letters to indie gaming for a solid month. But obviously, clearly, there’s a population for whom their Indie Identity is serious business and not a laughing matter. I have yet to see their opinions about the answers, only the questions.

Would I do things differently? Yeah, I would. I learned a lot and got a better grasp of the social media terrain that runs under all this. Specifically, I’d absolutely do more before-the-fact outreach to my women and POC and women POC friends to participate. Some of the best comments in my threads, at least, came from (especially) women. That might come in conflict with the tone of the questions I went with this time around.

Would I do the smug indie hipster voice again? Perhaps not again, no. I think the joke is played out. As a smug indie hipster myself, I’m kind of out of material for now (and yes, I confess I wore myself out with 30 solid days of this). But smugness is a wellspring of hilarity and inspiration! And I do love tweaking smugness about games, because ffs none of this is important. Or, at least, as important as we frequently treat it. Hence my deep skepticism of tying identity and community into hobby activities.

But oh lordy, doing them straight is also so boring. I’m sorry, but it just is. That was my beef with #rpgaday , the earnestness that reads as cluelessness. Nobody I give a shit about gives a shit about what your favorite die size is. So, that’s a problem to solve if I do something like this again in the future. I’m currently leaning super-heavily toward the “oh hell no” end of the spectrum (cue mad applause from the haters). But we’ll see.

I’m also concerned, quite concerned actually, with the unsafe environment this thing allowed here and there. The public-ness of my Collection meant that replies were public and following the hashtag was public. If you got harassed or wrongplussing put you on some enemy’s list out there, I am so sorry to hear you got subjected to that. That sucked. I ended up blocking some folks as well. It wasn’t widespread but the cost of public discourse is asymmetrical social warfare. Fight with the tools you’ve got.

The answer to today’s question is “none.” As in, I never really learned better.

Small press design has shown me a huge and varied range of what it is we’re doing, what’s possible within this amazing activity of ours. As my envelope widens, my appreciation for everything within it widens as well. Not to say that I love all gaming equally; I have tastes and preferences as well. But oh god, who cares about my tastes? Or yours?

Play games. Love games. Investigate them if you’ve got the bandwidth. Or don’t if you don’t, and squeeze what you can out of them for as long as you can.

Me? I’m headed to a con today, with a good friend who also loves games, and we’re gonna game the shit out of some games for three days straight. Some of them will involve killing monsters for their stuff. Some might involve delicious feels. All of it will involve some amount of make-believe, and none of it will save the world.

Hope y’all have a great weekend.

“What is your fondest memory of a game you thought was fun before you knew better?”

I’m pre-empting my usual “Wait for Paul so I know what the real question is” habit because I think I get it… this is about elitism, and kind of sums up everything at which this blog challenge was poking fun.

But! I also genuinely believe that the last decade-and-a-half has seen a staggering amount of great discussion about RPG design and the spaces in which they are played, and the lion’s share of that discussion has come from the indie publishing scene — and, yeah, I am going include both the Forge and the OSR here, as they are both fundamentally about:

1) Re-examining our pre-conceived notions about games, primarily by examining actual play and actual texts;
2) Putting power in the hands of independent creators.

Sure, the Forge did it first, but still. 😉

And I think everyone who has felt the heady rush of “enlightenment” when first diving into these scenes has been guilty of wanting to “help the heathens see the light” — look at any RPG fora around 2005 or so, and you’ll see the flamewars that erupted as a result. (The OSR probably has its equivalent after 2008 or so.)

But! Again! There are absolutely games — and/or ways of playing games — that I know are no longer fun for me. And indie brainwashing is absolutely to blame for my leaving gaming groups to which I’d committed years of my life.

So, to answer the question-as-written, let me say: HERO, both the game and the people with whom I played it.

Most of my HERO in the 21st century was GM’ed by one guy, and for the longest time I thought he was a brilliant GM. I mean, he was. He had a great knack for pacing a campaign, portraying NPCs, keeping multiple plot arcs going, running combats, etc — but he also relied on a lot of GM-fiat techniques. For the most part, I think he was improvising, and most NPC stat blocks were “in his head”, and when he wanted something to happen, happen it did. To someone raised on ‘80s RPG design, this was all well and good. It was how you ran games.

But then I learned about “illusionism”. Add to that the Forge emphasis on focused design and mechanics that support premise, and it was all over. Instead of enjoying the illusion, I spent sessions peering behind the curtain, or thinking about how much time I’d spent math-ing my HERO PC into existence and how it didn’t seem to matter much.

I also make the rookie cultist mistake of trying to “convert” that group to indie games. The session of Spirit of the Century I ran went pretty well, though afterwards they wanted to convert it to HERO. Burning Wheel was a flat-out disaster. And when I pitched the idea of The Pool, they got outright hostile.

So, was I not really having fun when I was playing HERO? Yes and no. There were definitely aspects that were nagging me; that I knew felt off but couldn’t quite put my finger on. But there were also great times, and sessions I will remember forever.

The cool thing about “indie” gaming and my experience with the Forge is that they gave me both exposure to new ways of engaging with this hobby and language with which to talk about how I engage — both of which helped me to better understand what I liked and what I didn’t, and thereby be better able to pinpoint what it is I wanted. And this has benefitted my play of all kinds of RPGs, not just the “indie” ones.

FYI, the original list, one last time: https://plus.google.com/+PaulBeakley/posts/SCyvyFEEbsv

Day 29: What indie game tech do you most keenly miss when you play something more mainstream? And then do you denounce the game in person or do you save it for a social media rant?

Obviously I intended this question to start a lengthy and impenetrable turf war discourse on the bright line between indie and mainstream. Obviously.

So we all know what we’re talking about right? Excellent, we can skip over the unpleasantness.

I have actual answers for this one! Minimum navel-gazing today.

Circles from Burning Wheel, or really any player-facing “take a chance on adding stuff to the world” mechanism. Circles, specifically, oh how I missed that. To those not in the know: it’s basically a stat that lets you add an NPC to the world. Might be useful, might be an enemy, doesn’t matter: if you feel like you need to add an NPC to the game, you make the test. If it fails, the best practice is typically that the NPC shows up anyway, but with a complication. That alchemist you really need to brew up a shapeshifting potion is also an informant for the Cardinal’s secret police. The sympathetic captain of the guard will totes let you through the gate but only after you’ve saved her son from the witch in the woods. Whatever. Enmity Clause ftw.

Another: relationship-making Pre-Play Questions. First I saw it so explicitly spelled out was Apocalypse World. It’s great for games with a good dose of intraparty action, especially backed up with some incentives so you keep reincorporating the stuff you said in the beginning. In Mutant: Year Zero, it generates the Ark’s relationship map and situation, and earns you XPs as you help an NPC, hinder another, and protect your PC “buddy.” I really do miss that process when it’s not available. I think Fate (FATE? (F.A.T.E.?)) has a similar pre-game “what did we do together and what aspect is derived from that experience?” thing. It’s neat. Good tech.

I miss PbtA style Moves when I’ve been playing a lot of PbtA/AWE games. It gets into my head and I shift my mode and method. The surest proof that moves are not skills is to try to treat one as the other in back-to-back games. Very different engagement and use and vibe. But the majority volume of my play isn’t PbtA so missing Moves is a temporary condition only.

I know I’m missing a ton but those are the three that jump to mind.

One more day! Anyone else excited?

Day 28: What’s the most interesting period of obscure and unrelatable history you’d like to see a game set in? How would you do it?

Jeez…I don’t know. Jason Morningstar, for whom I wrote this question specifically but not exclusively, already had such an interesting thread about it: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JasonMorningstar/posts/5DxcdEQSB33

It’s a private share but it’s good and interesting.

I’m tempted to do the show-offy thing where I reference some tiny sliver of time and space that literally tens of people might have heard of, and they’re all total history nerds so whatever I pitched would get ‘splained into oblivion in a hundred post thread.

But if I go big, then I plow into the intersection of Pop Culture and Appropriation and nobody walks away from that car crash.

Oh yeah, I’d definitely go with the first option. Obscurity and unrelatability are both good defenses once you’re out in the world. I’m currently totally in love with my “Werewolves in Aquitaine” setting I squandered on a stupid Burning Wheel one-shot, and I want to swing back around to it. Prompting/modeling/shaping a premodern head space to play in is also one of my favorite Major Design Challenges, and I’ll probably spend my entire life trying to figure out how to do it. So I have to leave the second half of my question unanswered for now. It’s sorta-kinda been done! King Arthur Pendragon does some interesting stuff with, at least, cryptohistorical Arthurian values, but I’m not sure it’s directly portable or even the thing I’d want to do.

I had a longer post in mind about the (suit)ability of games to serve a journalistic function, but I just don’t have the energy to get into a long thing about it. Sorry. (The tl;dr answer is “yes, with massive caveats” and maybe I’ll write more about it down the road.)

Two more days! Is everyone feeling #indieAF ?

The post for which I was writing this comment seems to have disappeared, and now I can no longer recall the name of whom I am quoting, but I wanted to save this idea. EDIT: It was Sam Zeitlin who came up with this great idea!

If you want to run a supers game, why not take the premise that you are a new edgy British writer who has been given control of a flagging title with freedom to retcon and revamp to meet his ideas of what’s realistic and interesting, leaving the characters to cope?

I would play this game so hard.

Most of the graphic novels on my shelf are deconstructions or “beloved character seen through the perspective of genre-weary writers”: Watchmen, Top 10, Tom Strong, Astro City, Supreme, etc. I feel like no one has yet attempted this meta-genre in an RPG. I don’t even know if it can be done!

Day 27: What’s the very best playtest-stage game your friends probably haven’t heard of yet? How long ago did you play it and how much better was it than the current version?

Okay, I freely admit this: one of my favorite things about small press gaming culture is the accessibility to the designers. I say this coming from the world of trad publishing, which typically constrains the supply of access so as to juice demand for it. Meet at a convention, maybe find your way onto a playtest list, maybe get to a first-name basis with a line developer, maybe get invited to an afterparty…ridiculous. Fake celebrity exists so writers can be underpaid, full stop.

I totally get that indie access is imperfect. I get that there are still gatekeepers and hoops and social skills and, yes, luck involved. I promise you it’s better than the alternative. It’s better for the fans, it’s better for the creators.

Haven’t really done that much playtesting in/for indieland, tbqh. It’s so very easy to burn out playtesters, and I don’t do it too often. Once or twice a year, maybe? I’ll also confess that it can kind of tire out my players to be relentlessly charitable with an early design just so the thing is playable for longer than 15 minute stretches. It’s work to do it well.

The “earlier edition was better” business is nonsense in my experience, although I’ve gotten whiffs of it here and there and it always strikes me as some annoying insider signaling behavior. The gamer version of “the live acoustic version someone recorded on their phone in a coffee house is so much better.” Games get better with each iteration; I can’t imagine one getting worse. Maybe an interesting but unnecessary subsystem gets cut?

Of the stuff we’ve playtested, the one I’m most excited to see developed further is Jason Morningstar’s STASI AW hack. It was pretty early in his experimenting with AW, but the outline of the game I think could be really terrific. I do love me some paranoid political bureaudrama.

I played some D&D 5e on Sunday with MadJay Brown, Tamora Kimmitt, Julianna Aldredge, Dave Michalak, and Geoff Raye in our continuing, every-few-months “The Isutusian Prophecy” campaign. It was fun! It was mostly one big fight with a gnoll patrol* and a lot of planning, but also much-needed socializing with great people I don’t see nearly enough.

I learned and/or was reminded of two things:

Whenever it’s been too long since I’ve played D&D, I mistakenly assume that — even as a player — I can just wing it.

And I am always wrong.

The gnoll fight tapped my paladin’s spell slots pretty quickly, making me hungry for a long rest despite our having only been adventuring for about ten minutes. Afterwards, we totally changed gears and were way more cautious. Like, scout a few feet at a time and use a ten-foot-pole cautious.

For me, WotC-era D&D is best when everyone is prepared and well-versed in their PC’s rules bits. (Thankfully, Tamora was this well-prepared person, and she helped us figure out how to proceed.) Because, I think, that’s where the fun lay; we pit our rules mastery against the DM’s and see how long we can go before we need to tap out. (And that’s why hand-wavey 3/4/5e is not much fun for me, because once you’re just talking and occasionally rolling a d20, I start to question why we’re not playing something else.)

This is why, back in the day, I was a 3e rules lawyer. I studied that shit hard.

Next, I was reminded that D&D is full of mechanics that, while I’m sure they make design sense, don’t make world-sim sense to me. For example:

Jay used “success with a cost” to hit my and Tamora’s PCs with two levels of exhaustion after a failed check. Mundane healing of exhaustion is one level healed per long rest (i.e., per day). I figured that we’d take one long rest and then I could — obviously — use some healing magic to cure the other levels.

Nope. You need Greater Restoration to heal exhaustion, and that’s at least a 9th-level caster. My 5th-level paladin can heal blindness, but is of no use for people who are pooped. We did a quick Google and apparently it’s easier to kill your character and then cast Revivify on them, which erases all conditions, than it is to cure exhaustion with anything other than time.

Or take the Dash action. Man, I think we have it figured out, but it’s been two sessions of conversation.

Or the Healer’s Kit. You’d think it was one of the kits with which you need a proficiency, but no, it’s actually not — you’re thinking of the Herbalist’s Kit — it’s just a piece of gear that anyone can buy and use.

These things always break my brain a little. Latter-day D&D is an exceptions-based ruleset, and man the exceptions are really, really exceptions. So often when I think I can intuit how something works, 3/4/5e throws me a curve ball.

Contrast this to HERO, in which, at least IME, I can think about how a thing would work in “real life” and my expectations seem to hold up. E.g., instead of drawing lines to see how many sides of a square are crossed, I can just see that an opponent is being ganged up and be all, “Yeah, okay, you’re flanked.”

It’s almost like, with D&D, I feel like I have to reason from the rules first and then see how the fiction looks, but in some other trad-y games I can just picture a situation and then apply rules to it. (I mean, how many times have people had to interpret what hit points reflect in the fiction, or somatic gestures, or Vancian spell memorization, i.e., things we know exist for game resource reasons but now we have to justify in the fiction.)

Or maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, I still had fun! I love, love, love this group of people.

*My kid’s favorite show on NIckelodeon! (Parents will get this.)