chiang 2

"Reign" core rules (Enchiridion)

This post is basically a self-interested ad, but it may also serve your interests if you're curious about Reign but would prefer to get just the system without the setting. If so, and you like hardcopy, have a look at this. $15 gets you a book (assuming the project is funded), and you can get additional copies for $12 each. Each copy comes with a free PDF version. (Prices are a bit higher outside the US--$25 for the first book, still $12 for each additional--but all prices include shipping.)

Full disclosure: I'm not buying. I've got too many books & games taking up space. But here's the self-interest: I do want to buy the PDF, which will be available for $5 separately once the project is funded.

So my conclusion is: Greg Stolze is a smart marketer.

chiang 2

Free speech RPG forum

If anyone's reading this, you might have a look at Settembrini's new English-language forum. Yours truly has been made a mod, though I emphasize, with the most limited of duties--just killing spam.

Read Sett's rationale here.

In a nutshell, Sett felt that there weren't any other Anglophone forums that had an absolute free-speech policy, so he created one. How will it work out? Idunno, but I hope it gathers some interesting folks. Just be aware that anything goes within the limits of the forum's host country's laws.
chiang 2

Quality in RPGs

An example from board games (which are easier to pin down since the rules define play much more completely than do RPGs in general)...Everybody knows Battleship, right? I found a game at a yard sale called Impact Zone which seemed kinda cool based on the components, and the price was minimal. So I got it home and what do I see, a battleship clone with some electronic enhancements. But unlike Battleship, the bits that you're trying to hit occupy exactly one square each; there's zero strategy either in positioning the pieces or calling shots, and no suspense as a player tries to zero in on the orientation of a target. I feel comfortable saying that except for the very, very young, who will enjoy the illusion of interacting with the pretty components, the game is objectively worse than Battleship. It fails the quality test. But Battleship vs. Mouse Trap is IMO a different matter. Not that Mouse Trap has much strategy--though actually as far as I can tell it does very slightly reward dexterity and basic calculation. However Mouse Trap doesn't really pretend to be much more than a race game with an awesome gadget attached and in that respect it succeeds. By contrast, Impact Zone contains elements that really only make sense as strategy-facilitating, that is, it requires the players to make decisions about setting up their boards and calling their shots--but none of those decisions matter at all.

So what I'm saying is, by a metric that would be almost universally accepted as appropriate to the game in question, Impact Zone is a bad game. OTOH, saying you like Mouse Trap more than Battleship, or that you prefer Stratego and hate Tiddlywinks--well, these say more about you than they do about the games themselves.

Oh, yeah, the point: nevertheless I think once you recognize this, you can go ahead and decry, bemoan, rue, regret, and lament the prevalence of one taste over another in the gaming population, especially if (as described here) the people who have that taste are themselves guilty of thinking it's the only thing that counts or that the game they like, because it satisfies their taste, automatically works just as well for any other taste that matters.

(Originally posted here.)
chiang 2

Practical printing tip: two-up manual duplexing with Mac OS

Although iPod/iPhone Apps that let you transfer files from your computer and/or the Internet have finally made it practical for me to carry RPG documents around for casual reading, I still want to print them out from time to time. One blessing of being near-sighted is that I'm comfortable reading fairly small type — and this dovetails nicely with two of my other qualities, namely being a cheapskate and not wanting to waste natural resources.

Where am I going with this? When I print stuff, I like to do it as two-up, double-sided. This is really easy if you have an automatic duplexer on your printer. With Adobe Reader, you can specify the page layout, and then you just tell the printer to use duplex. (On the Mac, and maybe Windows, you can also specify page layout in the generic print dialog box, about which more in a moment.)

But if you don't have a duplexer, manually printing double-sided can be a little confusing. Some printers help out here. For example, the Windows software that came with my Brother laser printer gives me a "manual duplex" option that steps me through the process. Last I checked, though, the Mac driver didn't have this, so I had to figure it out myself.

Admittedly this isn't rocket science, but although the concept is simple, it's easy to get yourself tangled up if you don't start out right. I hope that by providing these steps I can help some people to save a little money and waste less paper.

I'm assuming you're using a laser printer with a manual feed tray that feeds the topmost sheet first. I'm also assuming that when you print, the pages come out face down with the first printed page on the bottom. Finally, these instructions are for documents that are sized for portrait mode on letter size paper.

So here's the procedure:

Open your PDF (or other document) in your program of choice and select Print. Although Adobe Reader has the aforementioned two-up printing option ("multiple pages per sheet", found under the Page Scaling popup menu in the Print dialog box) and can even print booklet-style, I'm going to give steps that will work with any Mac program.

1) If you're using Adobe Reader 9, start by setting the Subset to "All Pages in Range", Page Scaling to "None" or "Fit to Printable Area", make sure you have "Auto Rotate and Center" checked, and that you have the radio button checked to print "All" pages.

If you're using Preview to print a PDF, it's simpler: just go with "Automatically Rotate Each Page" and choose an appropriate scaling option if necessary. Other programs such as Word or Open Office are similar.

2) Now click the main popup menu in the Print dialog box. It might say "copies and pages" or have the same name as the program you're printing from. Within this menu, select "Layout" and then set the Pages per Sheet to "2".

3) Using the same menu, choose "Paper Handling". Set the Pages to Print to "Even Only" and the Page Order to "Reverse". This is the step that's least obvious.

4) Now click print and wait for your print job to complete.

5) When it's done, carefully take the stack of pages from the output and without changing their orientation, put them into the manual feed tray. They should be face down with the lowest-numbered page at the top of the stack.

6) Now go back to your computer, choose the Print command again, and repeat steps 1-4 — but this time in "Paper Handling" select "Odd Only" and "Normal" Page Order.

By the way, don't worry if the number of pages in your document isn't a multiple of four--any "extra" pages will be printed on a final sheet from the main paper tray.

Once the pages come out, they'll be in order, printed back & front.

To make your life even easier, you can use the Presets menu of your Print dialog box to save the two sets of print options. I called them "two-up duplex part one" and "two-up duplex part two".
chiang 2

On the fly chargen and "laying pipe"

(Grabbing a post out of my private drafts and posting it now in response to a request that I update my journal...)

Robin Laws has a column which discusses "on the fly chargen" vs. the need to "lay pipe", that is, establish character elements prior to their use, for the sake of credibility in a story. It might help to read the column before proceeding.

There are interesting dimensions of this. First I think Laws underestimates the value both of having pre-established characteristics and of realism--not for all games, but for some. Second, I notice that some reactions to the article e.g. at theRPGsite talk about how the introduction of unlikely "on the fly traits" can strain credibility or lead to a "pulpy" feel. The first is clearly a negative result, the second a matter of taste. I'd add that, in some situations, the introduction of an unlikely trait, at least in a story, can have a positive, often comical effect. That is, in stories, surprising elements of character aren't necessarily something to be avoided or tolerated--and I think they can be exploited in RPGs as well. For example, in some, not all, games, the mousy librarian who's revealed to be a crack shot, or the television repairman who just happens to know Ugaritic--these could be desired comical elements.

(For that matter, in a more storytelling type of game, they could be used as points of digression into flashbacks--a technique found in movies, for example.)

But the reason I'm jotting things down here is that the discussion, particularly this post, jogged an insight loose. Kyle writes
If I put down lockpick, stealth, and brawling, then I have a certain idea of what the character will be like in play. If during play the character never uses lockpick, then my character's turned out differently to what I expected; likewise if they never use stealth, or never use brawling. The player can - does not always, but may - feel dissatisfied. "I made the guy to do X, but never got to do it!"

This is a variation on the concept of "character traits as Flags"--the idea of creating scenarios to deliberately highlight one or more traits of each character.

But the idea of Flags is problematic. How reliably do traits "signal" what we want to have happen to a character? In my opinion, this may be an effective approach to scenario construction, or to intra-scenario improv: a solution to "blank page syndrome". Polaris, a completely improv-type game, is pretty upfront about encouraging this approach, since each sample trait comes with a list of suggested ways that players can introduce them into play. (The "thematic batteries" of Full Light, Full Speed also come to mind, at least as they've been described to me by the author of the game.)

But as a general purpose approach I don't think that traits can be seen as signaling anything unless the group agrees that they do. In which case, you might as well work it this way:

Player: I want to have X happen at some point.


Player: This is the issue I want my character to grapple with.

In other words, traits-as-flags creates an unnecessary overlap; if you want to have mechanical Flags, then you can (and perhaps should) create a Flag metagame mechanic instead of having traits do double-duty. (What I'm recommending here is parallel, in a way, to my general preference that "hero points" be treated as an add-on/capstone mechanic instead of being integrated into the basic resolution system)

Traits-as-Flags does work IMO if (and only if) the goal of play is to highlight all aspects of character--assuming the aspects can be sussed out mechanically. The problem, though, is that for example both a high Strength and a low Strength can be a Flag. Having a skill and not having skill can be a Flag, particularly when that skill has some sort of special relationship to the genre.

I'm afraid this post is going to end a bit roughly. It is perhaps not a coincidence, though, that two games by Robin Laws basically take the approach that any element of a character can be turned into a mechanical trait: Over the Edge and Heroquest. For some reason I've never really read all the way through either one even though I own them. I do not think, though, that either game implements a way in which negative traits (disadvantages) can also be Flags.
chiang 2

Making D&D combat realistic

This post comes out of thoughts in this thread over on theRPGsite. Basically, the question was which RPGs offer a realistic model of combat, and based on the way the question was phrased, I took this to mean that the model produces results which, when interpreted at the level of abstraction of the system, are commensurate with the inputs.

I wrote,

Well, in combat between humans, without magic [...] if you take the relative experience, armor, and weaponry of combatants into account as inputs, D&D will yield a result that's roughly commensurate given the abstract nature of hit points. In a melee you will end up with one man dead, surrendered, or fled, and the other victorious although possibly weakened somewhat. There are some areas I would call into question: Collapse )
chiang 2

Superdan's great D&D essay

Here's a nice essay, dating back to the 90's, What Made Original D&D Great which covers a number of things which I also touched on in an earlier post here, especially the dungeon that I wrote up and linked off that post.

the design of dungeons (static locations) is important in order to (1) make PCs proactive, making the decision to move and adventure wholly theirs and (2) at the same time make the world manageable for DMs (as it is unreasonable to expect DMs to plan out continuing movements, migrations, and gained experience all the time over a whole world -- setting up static areas at least reduces the DMs work necessary to a finite, if large, amount). To a certain extent, one must be willing to "waste" effort in the sense of designing sufficient areas that PCs will probably not explore them all.

Consider the difference between modules X1 and X4. X1 features a fairly large tropical island, with many set location encounters scattered all over the place: because of this, it is most unlikely that any party will confront all of them. In seeming reaction to this, the author of X4 (David Cook) writes on page 2,

"With the exception of the first few encounters and the last one, none of these encounters are set. Instead, they are organized by the type of terrain in which they occur... The DM controls the timing of all the encounters. He does not have to worry about the characters missing an important encounter by not going in the right direction."

In other words, for this adventure, it doesn't matter where the players go. On the one hand, the designer's job is easier, because every encounter is guaranteed to take place: no excess scenes are written. On the other hand, it makes no difference where the players decide to proceed unless they (possibly sensing this and feeling ornery, as has happened to this DM) decide precisely to turn as far away from the set adventure as possible. Again this designer's motivating idea was to plot out a particular story and needed and expected to be able to manipulate PCs and events so as to facilitate it.

Superdan, the author, also has what looks like a good collection of resources for AD&D.

(Thanks to Grognardia for linking the essay.)
chiang 2

Meta-enjoyment (or Deep Thoughts)

Hopefully briefer than the previous, and more directly influenced by the inevitable reaction to Grey Ranks winning the Indie RPG Awards.

So I will take part in that inevitable reaction, by asking: between the "high mindedness" of the game's theme, and the intricate interlocking rules structures, is this really a game that is played to be played, or a game that's played by jaded designers and critics because they're curious about said mechanics and/or how one might attempt to address a subject like this in game form? What's the difference?

I've never seen the game; I don't know the answer. A friend who participated in playtesting (and will remain anonymous) told me that the game wasn't really fully-baked rules-wise and the designer didn't seem receptive to problem reports--but that was quite a while ago, and whatever problems there were could well have been ironed out before release. I do have a general experience with the supposed clarity of Forge-y games, which forms part of my bias.

Anyway, I feel this must be a subject that's been dealt with in art criticism, but I wouldn't even know where to start. For me, it boils down to this: is there a point, particularly as a creator or critic, that you start to get equal or more enjoyment by analyzing "how" something works, compared to enjoying it for itself?

I have several caveats for those (including myself) who wish to pursue this line of thought:

• Enjoying exploring "how" something works almost requires that it works to begin with--to an extent. E.g., we get more enjoyment tracing the artifice and references in Shakespeare, notwithstanding anecdotes about deconstructing the backs of cereal boxes. On the other hand, this applies only "to an extent" with RPGs because "how" an RPG works always involves the participants; this turns the question from "how it works" (appreciation) to a "how can we make it work?" (interpretive praxis). If you enjoy figuring out how to make a game work, does that take you yet a further step away from enjoying the game itself?

• And even so, if "how can we make it work?" is the level of enjoyment you get, is that any less of a valid criterion for enjoying a game? I.e., isn't being thought-provoking a value in itself? Where does it stand in the hierarchy of enjoyment?

• Finally, how great of a distinction is there, really, between enjoying the thing in itself, and enjoying the process of its creation and interpretation?

I don't think I will be finding conclusive answers to these questions any time soon.

Besides, maybe Grey Ranks is just plain fun and ought to be on the shelf of Toys 'R Us next to Risk and Battleship.