Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thinking About 2006

First, a random thought, inspired by this:

I design games that I think will be fun to play with my friends. To the extent that I pay attention to games made by other people, internet forums, RPG theory, etc., it's basically all in the hope of coming up with more and more interesting stuff that'll help me have fun with my friends. While I like seeing other people making and playing games. I'm pretty sure that that falls somewhere between or outside of being either on the bleeding edge or having "sentimental reasons."

I started up this blog in December 2005, not too long after going to GenCon SoCal and discovering indie games. Being the introvert that I am, I can't really comment too coherently on stuff that happened outside of my own direct gaming experience.
  • I started buying Japanese RPGs on occasion, first Beast Bind, then an anthology called TRPG Super Session Daikyouen, and more recently Maid RPG and Yuuyake Koyake. They've given me neat ideas and a fresh perspective on RPGs.
  • Play in a friend's Truth & Justice campaign, and kept an in-character diary (posted here). The game is probably going to, at a minimum, go on hiatus or something.
  • I created the thing called Mascot-tan, which seems to have a small following on
  • I started work on my sentai RPG, Tokyo Heroes, and finished a first draft (which needs to be worked on more whenever I can find the time and inspiration).
  • Worked a bunch on a Fudge-powered Halo adaptation, that I really should sit down and play some time soon.
  • Two game companies I'm a little ambivalent about -- albeit for very different reasons -- had financial troubles. Palladium pulled through, with much discussion on the net about it, while Guardians of Order went under, after many months of abject silence.
  • I did my first (and so far only) 24-hour RPG, Hikikomori RPG.
  • The internet side of the hobby had lots of completely idiotic and nonproductive identity politics arguments, as though the hobby hasn't been big enough to encompass vastly different styles of play from its inception.
  • I made some considerable progress but never quite got around to finishing up the first draft of Thrash 2.0.
  • Wound up chatting online with Guy Shalev now and then.
  • Began regularly visiting the Story Games forum.
  • Purchased:
  • Ordered
    • BESM 3e (via Amazon)
    • Dictionary of Mu
    • Drowning and Falling
    • The Shab-al-hiri Roach
The main thing I'm thinking about, game-wise, for next year is going to GenCon Indy. I've got some crazy stuff I'd like to run, people I've interacted with online that I'd like to meet, and (hopefully) there'll be plenty of awesome new games to check out.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Maximum Extreme Uber

Last night we did my friend's one-shot OVA-powered fantasy game, which (not for the first time) is turning into at least a 2-shot. He and I both own copies of the game, but up until now we've never used it for anything, and while the game session didn't have all that much dice-rolling or anything, I was overall very happy with how it played. Mike's "Breaker" system (a sort of free-wheeling take on Final Fantasy style Limit Breaks) also looks promising, but needs more development. He also brought along one of his coworkers, who as it turned out fit in with our group frighteningly well. And like just about everyone else I know, he absolutely wants to try Maid RPG. Now that I'm well into translating the replay, which has some very questionable content, I think it's safe to say that America is not ready for this game, the only exception being the 4chan type crowd (like most of my friends) who are no longer capable of really being shocked by much of anything, and tend to be amused by content that would make average want to claw their eyes out. ^_^;;;;

Mike bought a copy of John Wick's Play Dirty for the GM of our regular Truth & Justice game (who also happens to be named Mike) , who finished reading it very quickly and then lent it to me. It was an interesting read, to be sure. How can I explain it? The tips and tricks contained in the book are really good stuff; from those I'd call the book "Game Mastering Secrets" (except that title's already been done, though I would push the double entendre in the title just for fun). On the other hand, for the overbearing attitude and rhetorical style ("And with that in mind, let's move on to this month's topic. Twenty bucks says you can't figure it out until we're all done."), I think it could to be called "XTREME ROLEPLAYING!!!1!" I'm being silly and using hyperbole, which I wouldn't do ordinarily, 'cuz that's just not how I roll. There are some rhetorical questions that I found just distracting though. "If roleplaying games are supposed to simulate life, why are so many people obsessed with making them 'fair?'" and I'm sitting there thinking "Who the hell said they're supposed to simulate life? You said they're supposed to simulate literature. I think it depends on the game." when I should be paying attention to the really good GM advice (on character death) that follows.

There's also some stuff that basically could be a major foundation block of a kickass indie game (like the Living City chapter) being presented as advice for mainstream RPGs. Of course, that comes back to the thing that (as someone smarter than me said on an RPGnet thread) a lot of the wacky mechanics in indie games came out of trying to hard-code techniques developed through gameplay. There are also some bits that remind me very much of the kinds of things I read in the oWoD Storyteller's Guides. (As an aside: One of those offered up the idea of each player having a binder/notebook for their character, for the character sheet and notes and whatnot. We now do that for every long-term campaign, and sometimes my artist friends will whip up illustrations and covers for them to boot).

So, in short, I was not planning to pick this book up because the "attitude" it exuded put me off, but it's got some real gems of advice in it, and I'm glad I did read it (albeit a friend's copy, for free). My only caveat, more of a personal taste thing (which I told Mike -- the T&J GM Mike -- the other day) is that at a certain point the balls-to-the-wall in-your-face style of roleplaying will make the game become stressful for me, Ewen, in real life, and thus less fun. Just let me breathe now and then, and we'll be cool.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Neat Stuff About Maid RPG

As a sort of fun side-project to do over the winter break, I’ve decided to do a fan translation of Maid RPG, a 32-page RPG from Japanese publisher Sunset Games. I remember Andy K saying how the game does some interesting things, but I didn’t realize how much so until I was about 2/3 of the way done translating the book. I also didn’t realize just how messed up it was until I got to the play examples with Yugami tormenting her sempai Hizumi. Anyway, right now I’ve finished my rough translation of the character creation and gameplay rules, which leaves only a replay and two scenarios (11 pages) to go. I’m seriously thinking of trying to run this game at the next gaming con I go to, and of course with my usual gaming group.

One of the most important things is the way the game sets up the relationship between the master – the GM’s primary NPC – and the maids, the player characters who serve the master and try to keep him happy. If the play examples used to explain the rules are any indication, the game strongly encourages breaking the fourth wall and metagaming. I haven’t gotten to the replay included just yet (that’s next), but in the examples Kamiya (designer of the game, and in these the master) and his maids Hizumi and Yugami continually talk about the rules (“If only my Luck attribute was a little higher…”). I want to say it reminds me of HackMaster, but I never got around to reading or playing it, so I can’t. I think this kind of thing is usually avoided or at least overlooked, and certainly seldom turned into a strength.

Character creation is almost completely random. Seriously; I’m getting my programmer friend to whip up a random character generator program for this. Normally I don’t go in for random character creation, but this is one of those games where it seems very fitting to deprive the players of choices about their characters.

The game has no mechanic for physical damage at all. What there is, is Stress. Any time you have one character trying to force another to do something, you use the “Combat” rules, and the losing side in the opposed roll will accumulate some Stress Points. When a maid gets more Stress than her Spirit rating, she has a Stress Explosion. When that happens, the player has to act out the thing originally rolled up on the Stress Explosion chart during character creation—stuff like drinking, violence, sleep, gluttony, etc.—for a number of minutes in real time equal to the number of Stress points accumulated, after which all the Stress goes away.

How much each maid is in good graces with the master is measured in points of Favor, which the GM doles out whenever he feels like it, based on how good a job the maids do of pleasing the master. A maid who goes into negative Favor gets dismissed (removed from the campaign), but otherwise Favor mainly works like a combination of Drama Points (for boosting rolls and getting rid of Stress) and XP (for raising attributes). But players can also spend 1D6 Favor to cause a random event to happen. The GM has the player roll on the appropriate Random Event chart, and whatever result comes up is dropped into the story, centering around the maid whose player wanted the Random Event. The main rulebook has three charts (Outer Space, Modern, and Fantasy), and quite a few of the events are the kinds of things that can make the whole game swerve. The section on creating scenarios/adventures says that (1) rolling on the table can be a good way to come up with the basis of a whole session, and (2) it’s a good idea to come up with a table of 6 random events tailored to the particular scenario.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tokyo Heroes: External Playtest

Mendel Schmiedekamp from the Story Games forum was kind enough to run a session of Tokyo Heroes the other day, and today he emailed me with the results. Not surprisingly, this was major food for thought, and it shows that as far as the game has come, it has a long way to go yet. I'm extremely grateful to have gotten this opportunity, since it exposed some stuff about the game that didn't really come up with my group, at least not in the first session. I'm onto something (one of my friends called the game "addictive") but there's still plenty of work to do.

On the plus side, for his group character creation went very well, and became this sort of mashup of evil aliens and Iron Chef. ("the main villain being Apocalyptic Chef Andromedan - who is planning to cook Earth as part of his course for Theme Ingredient: Mortal Souls.")

The major problem is that the combat rules need an overhaul. They don't allow for a whole lot of variety, which makes whittling down the opponent's Stamina a repetitive process, and initiative and attack power are the only things that really matter, and they can seriously overwhelm the opposition unfairly. It ought to reward creativity a bit more,

I really need to sit down and think about this, and try to get something new together for Mendel's group and mine alike to try out, probably some time after winter break. For the moment my creative stuff is kind of hamstrung by finals and freelance work.

Also: we are flat
Just before that, I got a bit further on we are flat, my anthology of three crazy Superflat-inspired games. In particular, I'm finally starting to figure out what to do with Magical Burst, the over-the-top insane-o magical girl game that's basically a reworking of my Magical World campaign setting, with its own set of rules. One of the major things I did was to go hog-wild with random tables, inspired by Maid RPG, and for similar reasons. There's still lots of things I need to figure out, but the crazy random tables angle is definitely

The first draft of Moonsick is done too, but I suspect it desperately needs playtesting, and to at least be eyeballed by some other people. This is where I run into the problem that the way the game is set up, someone who's read it all the way through would make a very poor playtester, and it'd be harder to get the full effect on someone who's played it before. Shades of Paranoia and Cell Gamma (one of the games from the No-Press Anthology), not to mention The Mountain Witch having accidentally become a major inspiration.

For the third one, Black Hole Girls, I've come up with some stuff that seems kinda sorta promising, but I really have to develop and playtest it in order to see if I'm even remotely on the right track.