Friday, August 29, 2014

The Gamer Motivation Map

Over on the Roludo forums, Thalaba - AKA +Apochriphal Chris on G+ - came up with a sweet way to look at games, gamers and GMs, called the Gamer Motivation Map. It looks something like this. It describes the kind of games we like to play from the standpoint of what we like most about them. Notice that he has used the word 'forward'. This intended to suggest that these things are not mutually exclusive, but that we tend to prioritize one over the others.

1. Action-Forward gamers are gamers that like to focus on the things our characters can do in the game. They tend to be all about abilities, stunts, feats, and so on. Character advancement involves improving these abilities. D&D, Agon, and basic Savage Worlds are the kind of games that would satisfy an Action-Forward gamer. An action-forward gamer can happily play a character just from the stats and doesn't need to know about deep motivations, personalities, or backgrounds.

2. Character-Forward gamers are gamers that focus on who the chararacter is, rather than on what he or she does. They're all about the 'me'. They like big backgrounds, storylines to be developed and resolved around their character, and pets that they can control. Games like Vampire, Exalted, and Ars Magica appeal to these people. Character-Forward gamers like to have powers - not because of what abilities they grant, but because of how it makes them special.

3. Setting-Forward gamers are people who like to explore alternate worlds and milieus. Like Character-Forward gamers, their characters are all about who they are, but really they're about who they are in the context of the setting. They can happily create a reasonably bland character and then let that character grow into the setting as they learn more about it. They tend to like descriptions of places more. Games with rich settings or with rules that create characters that are very integral to the setting are preferred, like, for example, RuneQuest or Artesia.

4. Story-Forward gamers are most interested in what happens during the game, rather that who their character is or the nuts and bolts of what they can do. They can even feel happy about their character dying, so long as it happens in a dramatic and cool way. They will also happily play multiple characters in a single session. They like games that give them the ability to affect how the story unfolds.

5. Genre-Forward gamers really want games that recreate a specific intellectual property. They don't just want a character - they want a character from that particular show. Character motives and actions are secondary to genre. Settings and stories are tightly controlled by the genre. Examples, I suppose, would be The One Ring and Trail of Cthulhu.

To fully use the map, distribute nine points over the five categories, in a standard RPG point allocation way. The way you apportion your points not only tells folks what is most important to you, but *how* important it is relative to the others. Also, you can map your own preferences as a player, GM, and designer. My map is:


Action-Forward 1
Story-Forward 0
Character-Forward 4
Setting-Forward 3
Genre-Forward 1

So, I'm the kind of player you hate - focused on my character and how the setting relates to my character, and willing to go off on my own for what seems the flimsiest of reasons. This is why I don't play much. I *know* I'm bad!


Action-Forward 1
Story-Forward 1
Character-Forward 1
Setting-Forward 3
Genre-Forward 3

Different story here! As a GM I let the players alone, allowing them to push their characters or not. Setting and Genre are what I push, and I push them hard.


Action-Forward 1
Story-Forward 0
Character-Forward 4
Setting-Forward 2
Genre-Forward 2

 And different here as well! As a game designer, I put a *lot* of emphasis on character generation, little on in-game mechanics, none on story, and split the balance between Genre and Setting on average, though which is dominant depends on the game I'm designing. Tools of Ignorance and High Strung are both Genre dominant, and Volant and Outremer are both Setting dominant, for example.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Band Names in High Strung

Band names typically fell into certain patterns back in those days:

Asia, Boston, Kansas, Chicago, Berlin, Miami Sound Machine
Gerund-Noun Pair
Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Smashing Pumpkins, Burning Spear
Adjective-Noun Pair
Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Spiders from Mars, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Soft Machine, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Dire Straits, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails
(Leader's Name)(Optionally with Band/Group)
Santana, Allman Brothers Band, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Patti Smith Group, Crosby Stills & Nash
Noun Alone
Styx, Journey, Rush, Queen, Television, Renaissance, Traffic, Scorpions, Nirvana
The Something
The Clash, The Jam, The Police, The Cars, The Cult, The Cure, The Go-Gos, The Bangles
Biblical/Literary/Historical Allusion
Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, Aerosmith (play on Arrowsmith), Toto, Judas Priest, Genesis, Jesus and Mary Chain, Dead Kennedys

How This Helps You Choose

Roll once on the Type of Name table, then roll as appropriate on the Filling Bits table. For Leader's Name, use the name of the chosen band Leader.

Type of Name Table

d20 die roll    Type of Name
1-2          Location
3-4          Gerund-Noun Pair
5-8          Adjective-Noun Pair
9-10        Leader's Name
11-15      Noun Alone
16-18      The Something
19-20      Allusion

Filling Bits Table

d20    Noun        Gerund        Adjective    Location    Allusion To   
1    Earwig          Kicking        Rusty           Bristol        Old Testament
2    Kneepants    Rocking        Red             California    New Testament
3    Boots            Blazing         Black          Brazil          Dickens
4    Top Hat        Dancing        Glossy        Africa          Western
5    Tractor         Crashing       Shaky          Iceland        American Presidents
6    Lion             Sparking       Sneaky        Paris            Tudor England
7    Outlet          Churning       Lazy            Buenos Aires    Folk Tales
8    Radio           Jumping        Dynamic     Laredo        Hollywood
9    Porridge      Slashing        Green           Alaska        Disney
10    Youth        Towering       Hard Boiled Sahara        Looney Tunes
11    Teeth         Cracking       Wounded     Arabia         The Enlightenment
12    Habit         Simmering    Forgetful     Casablanca  Conquistadors
13    Rodent       Screaming    Drunken      Bangcock     Austen
14    Bishop       Sinking         Cocky         Antarctica     Art Cinema
15    Rooster     Gleaming      Reckless     Tananareve    Noir Cinema
16    Monster     Stomping      Restless      Noumea        Hemingway
17    Bomber      Hopping      Furious        Kingston       Childrens' Book
18    Goblin        Smoking     Sullen          Dover            Classic TV
19    Pistol         Rumbling    Kinky          Calcutta         Pulp
20    Penguin     Flaming       Mad             Mars             Science Fiction


Location        Bangcock, Sahara, Bristol
Gerund-Noun Pair    Gleaming Youth, Smoking Penguin, Rocking Kneepants
Adjective-Noun Pair    Hard Boiled Rodent, Kinky Bishop, Rusty Top Hat
Noun Alone        Bomber, Monster, Goblin
The Something        The Wounded, The Furious, The Mad
Allusion        Doctor Zeuss, Pickwick, Bizarro Pizzaro

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interesting Bits!

Something I cam up with for High Strung, but which could be used for any modern game with a couple of simple modifications. I call it Interesting  Bits - it's all stuff to build a character around:

Interesting bits!

Roll 1d20 or choose, as you wish!

1. You once had a brief but intense affair with a current bandmate.
2. Your rich parents have totally disowned you.
3. You have a police record.
4. You speak three other languages fluently, and can converse in half a dozen more.
5. Your last band went on to become rich and famous, right after you left.
6. You keep a torrid journal, and you name names. Anyone who reads your journal can make up anything they want to about you, and it's all true!
7. You are in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
 8. You're the illegitimate child of a famous pop idol.
 9. You are a talented mimic.
10. You worked as a prostitute for a short time.
11. You are an illegal immigrant, and your papers are forged.
12. You once did something incredibly stupid and embarassing in public, and you worry someone might recognize or remember you.
13. You are horrible with names, and always have to work around it.
14. Your father is a well known preacher, and somewhere in the back of your brain, you worry that maybe he is right, and you are going to hell.
15. You were once the S.O. of someone famous - before they got famous.
16. You once died on the operating table for a short time, but were brought back.
17. You suffer from amnesia, and can't remember much about anything personal that happened more than two years ago. Some songs on the radio are full of emotional content you don't understand.
18. You stutter when you get emotionally worked up.
19. You were the only one left alive after your father went crazy.
20. You collect something others would probably find disturbing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

High Strung Makeover

I spent yesterday completely reworking High Strung. What had started out as a fairly clean game mechanically had become clunky and over-wrought, as I added bits that *had* to go in, or fixed problems one by one. The last session of High Strung in our  Alpha group had become far too mechanics focused - too much dice rolling, of all different kinds, and not enough roleplaying. Twice I used the wrong procedure - one for a different situation - and got bad results. It was a mess! That we actually still managed to have fun was a testament to my awesome players!

When I looked over the game, I saw patch job after patch job, each one OK in itself, but leading to a point where each and every situation was handled differently. It had become a god-awful chimera. Sometimes you have to do major surgery. I proceeded to anesthetize my patient, and cut it open.

I cut out chunks of system and grafted in a fairly consistent manner of handling things, cloned from the same chunk of mechanics. This is huge! A big help was a suggestion from Klaxon on players who weren't taking a lead. Here's how it works:

In performing the music, there are four aspects or performance - Vocals, Riff, Bottom, and Rhythm. Only one character can take the lead in any one aspect. Since every non-wind instrumentalist - horns and reeds - can sing while paying their instrument, and even the horns and reeds players can sing while they aren't playing - Ian Anderson springs to mind - most bands have more than one person performing in the same aspect. Since only one can have the lead in an aspect, the others can either Help - make a roll and try to add a success to the Lead, enhancing their performance like singing harmonies - or Usurp the lead by attempting to outplay the lead and thereby gaining Hope. If the usurper successfully outplays the nominal lead player, they can gain any Hope points the lead player would normally get.

That mechanic was wonderful! Perfect for a game where players are constantly undercutting each other to snatch a scrap of Hope! It also by itself replaced an awkward, kludge of a mechanic that infected several other fix-it patches, enabling things to stay relatively clean and straightforward.

I have Hope again! :D

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Troupe Play Options

Troupe play is play with each player having more than one character, serving different roles. There are several ways to structure Troupe play - and each is best suited for a different play style.

The Mission Impossible Troupe

The players each have one character in play at any given time, but the group leader selects the particular characters, one from each player, used in this session or story arc from two to three characters offered from each player. The characters should be different types, but roughly equivalent skill level. The name comes from the old Mission Impossible TV show, where the MI leader - Mr. Phelps - would look through the currently available agents and select ones suited to the particular mission at hand. On the TV show, of course, the ones selected were almost always the same, but allowed for selection of particular guest stars. In principle, however, the method enabled the group leader to select an optimal selection of skill sets, and it is this principle that should be followed. it is best used where the PCs are all members of some larger organization, and are all specialists.

The Tri-level Troupe

The players each make three characters ‐ perhaps an older character with lots of skills, a mid‐level character with moderate skills, and a young character with few skills. Another form would be officers, NCOs, and grunts. Groups can be mixed ‐ with varying levels of competence ‐ or matched ‐ with everyone more or less equivalent. This form allows a more hierarchical model, with one or two main characters who lead the others, a couple secondary characters, and the balance as low level cannon fodder, which is great for side-quests, detached parties, and any othe simultaneous play, where two things are happening at the same time.

The Teacher/Trainee Troupe

A player or the GM makes one older, experienced character, the Teacher. The rest
of the troupe are Trainees, just learning their craft, whatever it is. The Teacher leads the groups in learning situations, which can be canned training courses a la the Danger Room, or low risk real life situations. Of course, risks can be deceptive, and a low risk situation can go bad fast. this is a great model for some supers groups - X-Men type supers schools, junior members of a Justice League or Legion of Supers organization, or even sidekicks. It also lends itself to a Harry Potter type wizard school.

The Classic Troupe

This is the form taken by Ars Magica, where PCs played a Wizard and a skilled warrior Companion each, and the relatively unskilled Grogs were played by whoever wanted to play them. The players make two characters each ‐ perhaps a spell‐casting type and a competent warrior type. They also make a group of less combat-skilled types, such as young trainee warriors. Each competent warrior is paired with a spell‐caster played by a different player, and the trainee warriors are miscellaneously played by anyone who wants to as an additional character. This can also be the setup for games where the different groups are different intelligent species, such as riders and dragons, or pilots and intelligent star fighters/mecha. The less-combat skilled types can be attending the dragons, or mechanics for the mecha.

The Battle Troupe

Each player makes a group commander, and the other players each make a character to serve under each leader. This is great for military games, where command is distributed, and small groups are working as parts of a larger whole - such as crews of small military starships, or tank crews, or the officers of a Submarine wolfpack. Each unit functions as a separate whole, yet working together with other units for a single mission or purpose.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Roleplaying Vacation

I went on vacation last week to Dewey Beach, Delaware. It was a family thing, with my mother in law and my nephew who lives with her, as well as my brother in law, his wife, and their three sons. Along with me were my wife, and our son Klaxon. We had a great time, and loved the family time, but I don't post about boring crap like that! I post about boring crap that has to do with gaming!

They had asked me to bring dice and character sheets to run a game for the boys. I brought OHMAS and Outremer, and they brought StarCluster 3, Outremer, and Blood Games II. We decided to play OHMAS, because it needed little setting knowledge, and we could more or less jump right in. Playing were my brother in law's three boys, 11, 16, and 17; my other nephew, 18, and Klax, 27. My wife did not play so she could fend off the other adults, keeping them entertained with gossip, pinochle, and chat.

We launched into building an Association, the group voting for purchasing an abandoned abbey just outside of London, underneath which were extensive caverns, leading to the old Roman sewer system beneath the city. They decided to be Arcane Bounty Hunters, finding and taking malevolent magical creatures and people. The Association consisted of a powerful Fairy Changeling Warlock, who many thought was evil, a Hunter who had served the queen for long on the high seas as a privateer, a brash and dirt poor female Templar, an Immortal whose first death was long in the past, and a Human Changeling, who was taken by Fairies just after the change of the millennium, and raised for eighteen years in the Fairy pocket while centuries passed outside.

They were asked by Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, to find out why the city of York was now suddenly free of rats. They accepted the job for 9 Association build points, and headed immediately for York. There they rented rooms at an inn - at first they tried to refuse service to the Warlock and his associates, but a thinly veiled threat took care of that - and began talking to people about the rats.

Long story short, the rats were all part of a gigantic Rat King - - composed of perhaps a million rats. A nasty Warlock - with the help of a group of nobles - had created it, then summoned the spirit of an ancient pagan god, anchored it in the Rat King, and dispatched it to kill the Earl. The PCs, realizing that attacking the thing with weapons merely killed a few rats, dumped lamp oil over it from a church steeple then lit it on fire, then when the fire went down, the Warlock summoned a powerful water spirit from the river Ouse and drowned what was left.

We had a kick ass time! The kids were great roleplayers, and we all enjoyed the hell out of the game!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Beginner's Luck - 11th Season

The latest season for my Beginner's Luck StarCluster game over IRC started in earnest last Sunday. I have been running a campaign per year starting in 2003, so this is the 11th season. In it, the crew of the Beginner's Luck made a normal, everyday jump from one system to another, and mis-jumped completely out of the Cluster, some 25 LY from the nearest star of the cluster (as measured by triangulating from known pulsars) into a completely different area of the universe.

They were picked up by a crew of very humanoid looking women in a moderate (frigate sized) military vessel, and are being brought to the nearest inhabited planet. There are four marines/soldiers on the Luck, riding with them to make sure they don't deviate.

These people, the Jeshen, are communicating in an evolved German with the lone linguist among the Luck's crew, who is serving as an interpreter, They call this language "Human Language".

What they have discovered:

The Jeshen may be genetically engineered Humans put here long, long ago, or they may be a case of extreme convergent evolution. They are not female, but hermaphroditic, they are pure carnivores with needle-sharp teeth, and the more they get to know them, the less human they seem.

They welcomed humans into their "Jeshen Space" hundreds of years ago, as allies against the Etvar, an alien race who most likely constructed the wormhole jump network uniting the Cluster. Some of the inhabited worlds in this system are Human worlds.

Jeshen do not own slaves - that is, sapient beings are not property. Self-aware robots, constructs, Uplifts, and aliens are free peoples. Humans, on the other hand, argued that they needed slaves when they entered Jeshen Space, and are allowed to keep their slaves on their own worlds. The Jeshen were shocked that the Uplift and bio-construct aboard the Luck as crew were not slaves of the Humans aboard.

There is no record of any previous contact between the Jeshen and people from the Cluster. The Humans seem to be slow-boat refugees from Earth, like the ones who founded the Cluster.

So far, it is going in strange and unpredictable directions, which is loads of fun!

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Playtest of High Strung

After making some adjustments in the Hope mechanic, we tried a second playtest of _High Strung_. This time the players decided to operate out of LA, and play older musicians 'getting the band back together'.

The Band was _Trouble in Paradise_, which had broken up due to creative differences. The band consisted of Jazzy - the female lead singer and keyboard player, Gaz - the male bass player, Cody - the male guitarist, and Maddy - the female drummer. All the members of the group sang to some extent - a feature of its songs were the fine group harmonies. The breakup had occurred between Gaz and Cody. Gaz always spoke in the the third person - "The Gaz doesn't like country music", while Cody despised this habit. Jazzy and Maddy had roped Gaz and Cody into one more shot at the big time, against their better judgement.

Nobody in the band had achieved any success while the band was broken up, so they grudgingly gave in. Nasty cards were used profligately, especially between Cody and Gaz. For example, Cody stole tubes from Gaz's amp, and replaced them with old tubes from his amp; while Gaz introduced Cody to a girl - Gaz's sister - who he thought Cody would hate, but it backfired when she became Cody's S.O.

While the band was broken up, their agent had died - choked to death on someone else's vomit - so they had to find a new agent. They finally settled on one, and she got the band a gig at a metro club. The band practiced and premiered a new song written by Jazzy, "Good Girls Do", to go along with their old songs. The band did well, drawing a fair crowd and putting on a good show, and the song was well received, but not wildly popular.

They ground through another period between gigs, having made enough Hope to get through, though Cody was getting dangerously low. Being older they had a smaller reserve than kids, though their Hope ablated away slower as well. Their next gig, also at a metro club - clubs are ranked as local, metro, regional, and national in order of importance - went very well, and more importantly, their second new song: "Live For The Moment", by Cody, was premiered to great appreciation. This gave an upswell of Hope to the band, and they decided to record it as a demo.

After some unbelievably good rolls in the studio, and a possibly troubling bit in the rules - a small thing, but something I didn't think of, whether PCs could use their promotion skills for demo songs, which may require a small adjustment to the Demo Release Table - the song was released as a demo, made the local playlists on the radio, and garnered the band a one album deal with a local record company, Hollywood records. This bumped up the band from "Struggling" status to "Aspiring", gaining them an extra die when getting gigs.

We left it there, and will revisit the band next week.