Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What the Cypher Systems Doesn't Do - and Why Thats Fine

The Cypher System (CS) is presented as a universal role playing system.  The Strange allows one to travel to many different worlds and have games related to different genres.  The Cypher System Rulebook opens this idea up even farther to allow for the customization of games to build your own CS game -- including settings like science fiction and horror.  It is easy to think this means you can do just about anything with the CS rules.  It is important to keep the qualifier "just about" in mind.

The CS is a broad framework for creating RPG settings.  The application of the system -- often with some modification -- to settings as varied as Numenera, The Strange, and Gods of the Fall (with Predation and Umasked still to come) makes it clear that the range of potential CS games is broad.  One can adopt various genres for your games and use the CS as the basis for the game.

However, the system does have limitations in scope that are important to recognize.  Several elements of the CS predispose the system to emulate action-oriented games with competent, hardy characters.  In many ways, the CS reminds me of the advertising for Savage Worlds and Fate.

In Savage Worlds, the games are supposed to be "fast, furious, and fun."  Mechanics built into the system (like exploding dice) reinforce the tone of the game whether the setting be weird west, ancient rome, science fiction, or Rifts.  All of the specific settings emphasize high action.  Similarly, Fate assumes characters are "proactive, competent, and dramatic."

These qualifiers don't seem like much of a limitation.  Who would want to have characters that are not "competent" or "fun?"  In both of these cases, these qualifiers are intended to alert players that these systems support action-oriented games.  Most players are looking for this sort of experience, so it is not much of a limitation.

There are games that pursue different themes and support different styles of play.  Call of Cthulhu is most famous for relying on characters that are not "competent" (the system it uses makes failure quite common) or even "proactive" (the game harshly punishes recklessness).  The game system focuses on investigation rather than traditional action (though one can include action, to be sure).

This brings me back to the CS.  The CS is much like Savage Worlds and Fate in that it encourages action-oriented play.  The system predisposition is built into the foundations of the game through several elements.

  1. Failure is relatively rare -- Players can use XP to re-try just about anything.  The entire task resolution system gives players various options for making actions easier so that they don't fail important attempts.
  2. Characters are sturdy -- The shared pool system of health points means that it is relatively rare for players to actually be killed within the game.  In all of my con games, I don't think I have taken any players down more than one level on the damage track.  It is about the same in my home games.  The game is not built for character death to be a constant threat.
  3. Cyphers are powerful -- Cyphers can potentially turn encounters around singlehandedly and the system is built to allow for this.
What does this mean for the CS?  The system is designed to facilitate high action games with skilled characters accomplishing amazing feats.  There is nothing wrong with this.  This is the experience that many (maybe even most) players are looking for in their RPGs.  However, it does not cover everything.  The action orientation means that players looking for an experience where the threat of character death is around every corner will not find it here.  Similarly, there are not a lot of mechanics to facilitate romance stories or deep investigation games.  The CS does a lot -- but it does not do everything.

Of course, one of the great elements of the CS is its flexibility.  One can modify core rules of the system to make it accommodate slightly different stories.  I am working on a series of rules modules to make horror games more.. well.. horrific.  I will have to update some of those in the future.  For now I just wanted to discuss how the CS is a broad RPG system - but it is not truly universal (if that is even possible).  Rules modifications will pull the system in one direction or another but fundamental elements of the system will always influence the tone of CS games.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Inspirations for Fall of the Gods

I have had the pleasure of both reading and playing in Fall of the Gods games based on the Cypher System.  One concern I have heard is that people are not sure what sort of material the game seeks to emulate or what sort of inspiration they can turn to.  I want to make some recommendations to get people thinking about material for their games.

The tone of the game is somewhat atypical of fantasy tropes popular today.  The game does not emulate the grounded low-fiction or even the most popular expressions of high fantasy.  What I see reflected most in the game is mythological fantasy.  Rather than a traditional fantasy party, the characters represent a group of emerging gods.  Rather than turning to Tolkien or Forgotten Realms, you should look at mythological sources.

Details of the Mosaic with the Labors of Hercules -- Carole Raddato (flikr)

The most obvious source would be the various versions of the labors of Hercules.  The character development of the game builds labor-like structures into the heart of the game.  You can look at traditional discussions of mythology (Bulfinch, Hamilton, etc.).  Alternatively, you can look at different takes on similar material.  I think the old TV show "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" with Kevin Sorbo would be a useful inspiration for both stories and tone (big action / a little cartoonish).

This is also a great opportunity to read into the mythology of cultures with which you are less familiar.  If you have not read the Epic of Gilgamesh, this would be a great excuse to do do.  Similarly, looking into the mythologies of India would fit the tone well as far as I know (this is homework I need to do).

What is different about a mythological tone (especially as compared to more typical Tolkien-esque fantasy)?  This is a little hard to pin down.  Certainly Tolkien was basing his work on mythology (especially Nordic and pre-British mythology).  But there is a difference.  The mythological tales present clearly super-human tasks.  Note the emphasis on tasks -- not just victories over creatures, armies, or active opposition.  The labors of Hercules involve vanquishing creatures (the Hydra, Nemean Lion, etc.).  But they also include tasks that are not combat-oriented.  Can you imagine a session focused on cleaning a stable?  It was a labor of Hercules.  What made it the stuff of myth was that it was a task that required superhuman efforts and dramatic action.  You can give your players similar tasks -- mundane tasks with a large scale that requires extraordinary actions to complete.

The tone is also a relatively positive one (usually).  Though there are way to seek other tones, the basic setting seems to set up a strongly optimistic campaign.  It is not really a question as to whether the characters will reach full godhood.  It is just a matter of whether they play through the whole story.  The adventures should not really depend on whether they may or may not get killed by a kobold (or its equivalent).  Instead, it is about accomplishing the impossible.  From Tier 2, players should be attempting -- and succeeding -- at impossible tasks.  That is the stuff of legend.

Encourage players to ask themselves whether their strategies are the stuff of legend - or just the stuff of traditional action fantasy.  Encourage them to re-route rivers or lift the impossibly large boulder.  That is much more heroic than punching a goblin -- even punching them really, really hard.

Friday, September 9, 2016

I Have Seen the Future - Surreal It!

"We are faster, faster than pain
We are a nerve ending without a brain
We have evolved, we have no feeling at all
It is a brave new world"
 -- "I Have Seen the Future" by The Bravery

March of Remembrance 2 by Michelle Robinson (flickr)

To illustrate my proposed method for adding surreal elements to your RPG session, I want to present an extended example of the method I proposed earlier.

The first step is to identify a compelling metaphor.  I have selected the lyrics that opened this post from The Bravery (with the video available here).  The metaphor is useful as an illustration in that it can motivate a potential antagonist and is sufficiently coherent as to provide the material we need to develop.

The second step is to turn the metaphorical elements into physical (in the game world) elements.  Here there are many elements that we may want to translate.  Here are some of the elements we may want to translate (we can be selective):

  1. We - a group/collective
  2. speed
  3. pain / nerve endings
  4. lack of a "brain"
  5. evolution
  6. lack of feeling
  7. "Brave New World"
  8. The march-like nature of the song itself
I won't try to tie all of these together within a short blog post - but it would not be too hard.  Instead, I want to focus on the elements of:  a collective nerve system lacking a central control or feeling.

I take these concepts to indicate a widely distributed network of an almost military organization lacking a central command structure -- and acting without regard for feelings, emotion, or (maybe) ethics.  

The key part of this translation process is to make the metaphor physical within the game setting.  The notion of connected nerve endings could be made physical (or manifest) within the RPG session.  These antagonists could be connected by a physical or psychic connection like nerves within a network.  The members of the network could all respond as if they were one entity (taking the "we" seriously) without there being a specific leader or central point (taking "without a brain" seriously").  The physical/psychic connection should be visible to make the metaphor manifest in a way obvious to the players.  The lack of emotion may be clear from how the antagonists communicate with player characters (monotone, efficient, no regard for pleasantries) or their plan/goals (ruthlessness, willingness to sacrifice others or even their own members).

The final step of the method is to look for connections to other potential metaphorical elements.  We could look at evolution as a fruitful source of metaphor.  However, I will focus on the term "brave new world."  Inspired by the book of that title, we could incorporate biochemical self-modification and a sense of hierarchy within the group.  Maybe the group recruits (or somehow adds to its members) through the spread of a drug (Soma) or through genetic manipulation (which could tie in the evolution theme, despite my best efforts).  

With this brief exercise, we have a fairly robust surreal antagonist for a game.  An army is connected through a series of psychic or physical (say, wireless - but visible) connections and acts as a hivemind.  This hivemind lacks a central command but ruthlessly pursues its goals -- which may even be self-replication.  The closer to the metaphor - with actual floating connections between the members of the group - the more surreal this antagonist will be.  

You can use this in just about any game (turning up or down the surrealism by manipulating the literalism of the manifestation of the metaphor) but it could work well in a surreal setting.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Problems with Physics in the Strange

The Strange defines itself (and differentiates itself from other RPGs) by the ease with which the game can slide between different settings -- including settings of widely varying theme, tone, genre, etc.  It succeeds in this regard but there are some limitations that one should watch when using published material for the game.

The typical approach to structure the use of material for different creatures, items, etc. is the use of a "physics" qualifier.  This makes a great deal of sense.  A lightsaber would be out of place in a paleolithic adventure.  The entry for a lightsaber would include a qualifier that the item relied on "weird science" to indicate that it would be a poor fit for a recursion based on low technology (like "sub-standard physics") or even contemporary technology.  

This system works fairly well but one needs to be careful in implementing this advice.  

First, the use of underlying physics to define recursions can lead to some confusion.  It may be that a lightsaber is entirely consistent with realistic physics -- we just don't know how to develop that technology yet.  A better term may be technology, then, than physics.  However, with "sub-standard" physics, the assumption seems to be that some technologies like gun powder and electricity actually would not work at all -- even if you brought that technological knowledge with you as you translate.  

Second, the categories can be quite broad.  "Weird science" includes a broad range of categories from far-future transhuman technology to retro-futurist technology to outright science fantasy.  A Rukian graft would be as out of place in some science fantasy settings as it would a "substandard physics" recursion.  The category is quite broad and includes many different genres wherein different rules of appropriateness may apply.

Similarly, "sub-standard" physics could include anything from a world where specific technologies are dominant and others don't work (steampunk) or where technology is pretty much absent (paleolithic).  

So, what are we supposed to do?  First, we should recognize that the physics limiters are good starting points for the development of material for our games.  For creatures in particular, the physics limiters are actually pretty much all you need (though there are some exceptions).  The real problems come in when using items (cyphers and artifacts). 

Second, we have to use our own judgment.  You can use technological level as one indicator.  You can use the basics of magic or other what other supernatural forces (if any) operate within the recursion.  You should feel free to make your own judgments about what would or would not fit within any specific recursion.  

So, "problems" is probably too strong a word.  The Strange is a game that encourages flexibility in adventure design -- but it also calls for direct judgment on the part of the GM about the appropriateness of including specific elements in a recursion.  Don't take physics limitations as a necessary or sufficient indication for the appropriateness of an element for your game -- take it for the soft recommendation that it is.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

An Easy Method to Up the Surreal

The challenge of the surreal

When I first saw the kickstarter for Numenera, I was intimidated.  Though the launch event at Gencon and my first read-through of the core book, I continually told myself "you can't write adventures that live up to this premise."  I doubted my ability to offer the Gene Wolfe experience of slowly revealing the forgotten purpose of ancient technology while still telling a traditional adventure story (and still do, really).  I enjoyed reading the material but it was not a setting for which I was comfortable designing material (even for my home game).

I hear similar concerns about Invisible Sun.  It so happens that I am much more comfortable with the notion of surreal fantasy so I wanted to provide some tips to overcome the hesitation of working with surreal storytelling.

While it is antithetical to the spirit of some of the founders of the surrealist art movement (particularly Breton and his calls for automatism), I would like to propose a simple process for getting you started in developing material for a surreal fantasy game.  For now, I will focus on encounter elements and small pieces of games.  I need to think more about how surreal fantasy affects the development of adventure structure, pacing, and related issues.  If I think of anything, I will definitely post on that subject.

For now, here is a simple process to jumpstart your thinking about surreal fantasy.

The Process

The process I propose is simple.  Start with a metaphor.  Think how you would describe the encounter you want to design and commit to expressing the encounter in metaphorical terms.  Yes, similes are fine as well.

Second, turn that metaphor into a physical representation.  Instead of having a person who floats like a butterfly, have a person who IS a butterfly (at least to the characters).  Take the metaphor in the first step seriously and consider what physical characteristics would be needed to render the metaphor into reality.

Finally, consider whether the physical representation conjures connections to other metaphorical elements.  This is simply the follow-through for taking the metaphor seriously.  Don't necessarily stop with one physical manifestation of the metaphor.  Consider all of the potential manifestations and how they may be connected into this particular element of your adventure.  Maybe consider related (or even contradictory) metaphors to mix into the element.

An Example

While I think this process is simple, it is vague.  I want to illustrate the process quickly with an example.  If there is enough interest, I will provide more detailed examples down the line.  Consider this line from a Police song that is not Invisible Sun.

>I chased his thoughts like birds

-- *Secret Journey* by **The Police**

Open Your Mind by Lucas (flickr)

Here we start with step one complete: the metaphor.  We need to break the metaphor down for step two.  Consider all of the pieces of even this simple line from a song.  Well, it is simple in terms of language.  It may be complex in terms of metaphor.

The metaphor includes several elements.  Someone is "chasing."  That is a great term for us because it indicates an action.  This will give us a sense of how to incorporate the metaphor into the game in an action scene.

The subject is chasing thoughts.  What does that mean, exactly?  In a non-metaphorical sense, it may mean an attempt at comprehension.  If we are to turn the metaphor into a literal experience for our players, we need to embrace the metaphorical sense.  The thoughts become an element in the scene that can be chased.  You can go in different directions with this process but I will take the sense of physically chasing a manifest thought.

Finally, the manifest thoughts are "like birds."  Taking the metaphor seriously, I can present the manifestation as actual birds.  Now we have a good central hook for a surreal fantasy scene.  The players have to chase down thoughts that have escaped from a wise person (that part comes from the rest of the song - its great, you should listen to it) and are flying away in the form of birds.

The final step in the process is to consider what related images and metaphors may fill out the scene.  This can be close to a free association process - so maybe Breton won't haunt me.  My first reaction to the notion of "thoughts like birds" was Odin's ravens representing memory and thought.  You can do a little research on this related image to see how the process can spiral out to create more-and-more developed scenes.

This is just a simple example from a single line from a song.  I hope this provides a way to bootstrap your development of ideas for surreal fantasy scenes.  If nothing else, it is a fun way to distract yourself.   Listen for metaphorical language and consider what it would look like if literally true -- then game-ify it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Microcosm and Magic in Invisible Sun

Following my discussion of surrealism, I wanted to continue to dig into "big" concepts that are key elements of the Invisible Sun setting.  Today I want to explore a notion that has gone without a direct name in several recent interviews with Monte Cook:  the concept of microcosm.

Microcosm has specific meanings within literature and several domains, but the most relevant to our purposes is its use within early Medieval magic.  As Valerie Flint writes in The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe:

...Isidore was a most enthusiastic early medieval propagator of the notion... that the body of a man is a microcosm of the universe and reflects in little all the constituent parts of it. (p. 130)

Aries by jess (flikr)
There is a lot packed into this notion of microcosm.  In early Medieval magical thought, some thought that the waxing and waning of constellations affected different parts of the body because the individual body reflected these movements.  Others thought that the various constellations were arranged in ways that were similar to the connection between systems within bodies.  Each (the constellations and the body) reflected the other.

The concept of microcosm had important implications for astrological medicine (a foreign concept to modern ears, to be sure).  An illness may be an imbalance of forces within the body brought on by the dominance of a specific star.  Healing of some organs may be easier under some constellations than others.  The core concept of microcosm is that each individual is connected to the whole universe and reflects that universe -- in ways reflecting a type of sympathetic magic (Sympathetic magic may be worth an exploration on its own in a later post).

Another way to express this notion is in the phrase "as above, so below."  Important to alchemical traditions, this phrase emphasizes the parallelism of the cosmic and the personal.

What does this mean for the setting of the Invisible Sun and adventures/stories told within it?  The most important implication seems to be that the Path of Suns represents operations at two levels.  It refers to a greater geography of planes as well as the parts of an individual character (probably more the character's soul, "essence", or personality than physical parts of her/his body).  Moving through the parts of a character's path is parallel to movement through the various worlds.

This may create interesting opportunities for storytelling.  If the individual reflects the greater cosmos (and vice versa), a personal story is a cosmic story.  A personal imbalance may create a universal imbalance.  The destruction of a person reflects the destruction of a cosmos.  There are no "small" stories.  At the very least, the waxing and waning of the various suns are likely to affect characters in direct and personal ways.

The mechanics may (I just guessing here - I have no more information about the game than anyone else) similarly allow for influences that reflect cosmic and personal influence.  A card from the sooth deck may indicate either a development at the personal or the cosmic level.  The same card may even have different interpretations at each level -- but reflect a connection between the two.

This view of microcosm has some connection to surrealism as well.  A common theme of surrealism is to play with scale -- including elements much larger than they are expected to be (or much smaller), etc..  The use of microcosm in the Path of Suns suggests that our stories can play with scale to a degree difficult in many other games or settings.  The game may accommodate both stories of personal discovery and cosmic secrets -- and may let us switch between them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Weird, Strange, Surreal

Presence -by Berli Mike(flikr)
The current kickstarter campaign for Invisible Sun describes the setting as one of surrealistic fantasy.  It is worth taking a moment to compare this tone to that of the previous MCG core games -- Numenera and The Strange.

In a previous post, I compared "the weird" and "the strange."  I won't go into great detail recapitulating that comparison but it is useful as a starting point.

"The weird" represents the incomprehensible.  Characters in Numenera don't know why certain technologies work and it is basically magic to them.  Monte Cook has been clear, though, that it is technology and just not understood.  In this sense, the world works by rules the characters (and, maybe the players) simply don't know.  The result are unpredictable elements -- the weird.

The Strange relies on... well... "the strange."  Strange refers to the unlikely.  All of the setting elements work within a set of (albeit fictional) rules involving a dark matter computer network.  What the characters experience operate within a defined set of rules within the setting.  Something is strange, then, when it operates within the understood rules of the world but is unlikely or rare.

Where does that leave "the surreal."  Well, surrealism is a lot harder to define.  I have to admit that it is the surreal elements that draw me to the Invisible Sun setting (and, thus, the game).  Many will look at the art for the game and say "ohh... weird."  Well, not exactly -- or, at least, not precisely.

I should add that surrealism is an essentially contested term.  Many will disagree with any particular definition.  The term has been used in different ways in visual arts, film, literature, etc.  I will be greatly simplifying the discussion for a blog post - but I think the exercise will get people off to a useful start researching the topic if they choose.

It is worth considering the history of the surreal movement in art, in particular.  I may go into more detail on this in the future but a short introduction will work for now.  The horrors of the early 20th Century convinced many artists that the basic foundations of their cultures were deeply corrupt.  Nothing called enlightened or reason could lead to the atrocities of the Great War.  There were several reactions to this loss of faith in reason (including precursors to the self-described surrealists -- like the Dadaists).  The surrealists sought to attack what they saw as the corruption in realistic and classical art forms by creating art that subverted these realistic forms.  The means of pursuing these attacks were diverse -- including techniques such as "automatic writing" in which writers simply recorded thoughts trying to bypass the pernicious disciplinary influence of reason.  Recording dreams was thought to similarly bypass the corruption that is reason.

What is important to consider is the political nature of surrealism.  It focused on questioning elements of culture taken for granted, taken for objective facts, and taken as permanent.  These seemingly (surrealists thought -- mistakenly) foundational elements of culture were oppressive and limiting.  As a simple example of this questioning, consider Dali's Persistence of Memory.  The realism of the painting (as in, the level of detail -- almost photorealistic) makes the image of melting clocks all the more disturbing.  Here Dali is calling into question the physical coherence of objects like clocks as well as the limp, molten characteristic of memory (and time).  One can find a longer analysis at Legomenon.

Where does this leave us to define the tone of "the surreal?"  There are, of course, many answers to this question but I am excited for a game that explores the political aspects of surrealism.  The emphasis on "escape" and a sense of the oppression of the shadow ("real") world suggest that the game will take seriously the surrealist questioning of what is reality, what is really permanent, and how many seeming facts are really a source of oppression?

So, surrealism is not simply weird -- it adopts a questioning stance.  Surrealism does not merely defy understanding.  It draws into question elements of our world that we take for granted.  How much of the world around us are convenient lies?  Convenient to whom?  What is our responsibility to question the world and how ought we act in such an unreliable world of lies and secrets?

I look forward to exploring these themes in Invisible Sun.

PS As I worked on this post, the kickstarter fully funded.  Congratulations to MCG and I look forward to following this ride.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Invisible Sun Homework

I am excited about Invisible Sun - like so many others.  I was thrilled to hear that MCG was working on a game that emphasized surrealism (over the weird and the strange).  I thought it was worth taking a moment to bring another gaming resource to people's attention:  Robin Laws' excellent surrealist adventure for Trail of Cthulhu The Dreamhounds of Paris.

Dreamhounds of Paris by Robin D. Laws -- by Pelgrane Press

Dreamhounds (as I will refer to it from here) is an improvisational campaign frame for Trail of Cthulhu in which the players take on the roles of historical (mostly) figures in the emergence of the surrealist movement.  The artists and their patrons/hangers-on realize that they have power to shape of the Dreamland -- though this may come at a terrible cost.  Furthermore, the psychic forces pushing the world toward war are having their own effect on the Dreamland.

This is an excellent campaign in its own right.  Though I likely will not play it, I had a great time reading it for the history of the surrealist movement.  You see the variety of players and some of the remarkable moments in history as the paths of various surrealist figures cross.  If nothing else, it sent me to many enjoyable hours on the internet looking up references to various peripheral figures.

If you are eagerly waiting to see what Invisible Sun is going to offer as a surrealism-influenced RPG, you would be well-served giving this book a read.  You will see the political context of the surrealist movement, its precursors, and some sense of its end.  I suspect there will be some interesting thematic connections between these games as well.  I am confident this will get a re-read in the long wait ahead.

RPGaDay 11 -- Gamer Who Had the Biggest Effect

I do not know the gamer who had the biggest effect on my current gaming approach.  I believe it was at the Origins game fair in 1993 that I had a short DnD session that would preview what I look for in games today.  To that point, I had played games relatively by the book (as if the book was definitive) and had the typical antagonistic relationship between players and the DM -- that is, I saw the DM as trying to defeat the players.  The players were trying to defeat the DM as constrained by the module.

I had limited experience with any players outside of my social circle.  I had played in a tournament a few years before in Dallas.  I think I made it to semi-finals with my friend making it to finals.  It was fun and I looked forward to playing in the "big time" games of the traveling Origins show because it happened to be close to my home that year (the show was in Fort Worth).

While I was there, I signed up for a one-shot Dark Sun game.  I liked Dark Sun.  Playing a bunch of thri-kreen sounded great.  I had no idea what the game would be like.  The entire session consisted of trying to make it across the desert with, maybe, one combat encounter.  This was unlike any session of DnD I had ever played.  The DM let us interpret our abilities however we wanted to help us survive the harsh environment.  The DM was not our opponent -- he was our guide and our colleague.  Together we were telling a story.  I remember specifically using my "shadow manipulation" psychic power to provide shade.  I later looked up the power and it is WAY out of scope of that power.  It did not matter though.  It was fun in that session.

I did not really know how to understand the session.  I went off to play in another open tournament.  I think I got our party killed (or largely maimed) in that tournament.  I struggled to describe the Dark Sun session to my friends.  I could not describe what monsters we fought or what wondrous items we acquired.  I just talked about the fun we had reinterpreting powers and struggling, together, to survive the harsh Athasian sun.  

Years later I understand what I had experienced and why I had enjoyed it.  I liked the cooperative approach to DMing and the agency I had to shape my character.  I felt a part of the story - not like the story was something happening to me.  To this day, the memory gives me permission to obey "the rule of cool" and let players do what they want as long as it improves everyone's fun.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RPGaDAY 7 -- Biggest Effect of RPGs on Me

RPGaDay #7 -- The Biggest Effect of RPGs on Me

I am just recovering from Gencon and catching up on RPGaDay.  I could not let this question pass by, though.  This question is particularly important for me.

RPGs, with no exaggeration, have made me the person that I am today.

I don't mean this simply in terms of being a hobby that I have pursued my entire life.  I have picked up and largely dropped reading comic books.  Similarly, I grew up alongside video games (from the Atari 2600) and play few today.   Those have been long-term components of my life -- but they did little to define who I am.  RPGs have shaped me my entire life and continue to do so.

When I was growing up (I mean early on - like elementary school), there were very few books in my house.  By fourth grade or so, I had more RPGs books than there were non-RPG books in my house.  Outside of the encyclopedias my parents bought (and soon regretted shelling out money for), there were probably fewer than half a dozen books at any given time.  RPGs instilled a love of reading in me.

Particularly important in this process was the original Appendix N reading list.  It was tough to get access to any books, really.  I hung out at the library A LOT in school.  The elementary (and later junior high) library did not really have much to offer.  Nothing as sophisticated as the material on Appendix N (no, really).  I remember spending a long time working out how to order The Face in the Frost from the book mobile that started coming around in junior high (at that time we still did not have an accessible library -- just a truck with books).  By the time I was in late junior high, I joined a book club and got regular access to a book store and became a voracious reader.   All of that stemmed from my early love of RPGs and the recommendation - necessity, really - to become familiar with fiction to play the game.

The games (various versions of DnD) also provided me a strong number sense and appreciation for math.  Even the simple math in the game helped me develop a facility with arithmetic and mental math.  It even set me up well for algebra with its (then never-ending) sets of equations and tables.  After figuring out THAC0 and adding bonuses for roles, moving to simple arithmetic was simple.  I even develop an early intuition for probability and statistics.  Many early lessons in statistics made sense to a person who was steeped in 3d6 making 10 more likely than 18 but each side of a 20 sided die was equally likely.

I have no idea what sort of person I would be without this early access to reading and simple mathematical manipulations.  Now my career centers on statistics and writing.  I think all of it is possible because of the early skills developed in RPGs.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

RPGaDAY 4 - Best (Other) Character Moment

My favorite moment from another character in my RPGs this year was the previously mentioned monkey-seeking character in our Paranoia game.

Early in the game, the representatives of Alpha Complex sought to bribe a character into confessing his treachery.  He said that it would depend on the price.  He wanted a pet monkey.  A good part of the early game was spent with the PC asking everyone if she or he was the person from whom he could get his promised monkey.

The GM smartly added an NPC with a monkey companion to escalate the situation.  Through the middle part of the session, the potential monkey provided some incentive for the PC (in a childish, insane way that fit perfectly in the game).  It even held up through the end game after the character recounted all he had done and now, NOW he wants his promised monkey.

That little bit of improvised dialogue became a major axis around which the humor and role-playing for the session rotated.

I can not think of a better example of how important improvisation is to the fun of RPGs.

This also got me thinking about the format for sessions.  The Paranoia session was in-person and that seemed to affect my enjoyment.  I have had fun with online sessions and plan more in the future.  However, there was something magical about the improvisation in the in-person game.  The fear of talking over people online (a real danger, in particular, because one can not read nonverbal queues about people starting to talk).  I need to think more about how to compensate for online games.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

RPGaDAY 3 -- Best Character Moment

My favorite character moments of the year came from the excellent CypherCast Chronicles:  A Fragile Estate parts 2 and 3 (I missed part 1).  You can actually hear the recordings here.

I made a character inspired by Coombs' insane investigator from The Frighteners.

Part 2 took place in the Holstenwall recursion I designed for the CypherCaster -- which was cool in itself.  The investigator was leading a team from the Estate through Holstenwall as part of an investigation.

In part 2, the best character moment came late in the game.  My insane inspector had considerable problems communicating with others.  He has a strange sort of stutter and was easily distracted.  Late in the game the other players wondered if there was a problem with the audio or if that really was how he talked.  There was no audio problem (at least not at that moment).

In part 3, the inspector got ahold of a suitcase motorcycle in a spy recursion.  He carried it around the whole sessions (including hiding from gunfire behind it).  There was a moment of triumph when he could finally use the motorcycle.  He folded it out and zipped around the ship where the final confrontation took place.  That feeling of finally seeing a purpose for my cypher was my favorite character moment for the year.

I usually GM so I don't have a lot of character moments -- but this was a fun one.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

RPGaDAY Day 2 - Best RPG Session

Selecting a best RPG session of the past year is tough -- which is actually a good sign when I think about it.  I had a great time playing a Gencon game with two friends from junior high (whom I have not played with together in over 20 years).  I had fun with a brief online campaign (about 5 sessions) and an online session run by Darcy Ross based on Into the Night for Numenera.  The games I ran at Gencon were fun.  However, the most fun I have had in a session over the past year was a game at NTRPGcon.

I got to play an old school Paranoia game with one of those friends from junior high.  I don't even know which edition it was (but it was clearly based on some old books -- since we saw the actual books).  Friend computer was failing, alpha complex was breaking down, and we had to go find a replacement part.  This sent us into a twisted version of Disneyland dominated by insane mutants and even "insaner" animatronic robots (think the Country Bear Jamboree).

I took my lead from the instruction that happiness was mandatory in alpha complex.  That started my friend and I riffing.  He ended up spending most of his time asking for the monkey companion he was promised.  I was looking for any sign of treachery -- usually in the form of an indication of less than complete bliss.  In the end, I loved it.

What I learned most from this was how subjective the enjoyment was and how little it depended on the game system.  We randomly generated mutant powers -- none of which any of us ever used (I think).  We choose all of our character skills based on a poor explanation of the rules (resulting in BADLY mismanaged characters).  All of this and I still had a blast.

My friend enjoyed the game - but less so.  He had previously played Paranoia and enjoyed the PvP component.  We cycled through clones but mostly due to external opposition.  He and I started some PvP early on but the GM and other player (there was only one other, long story) did not seem to contribute so we just moved on to other styles of play.

The game system was either remarkably robust to a poor understanding of the rules and limited player interaction or the system truly did not matter.  Most importantly, I just have fond memories of the whole experience.  This reinforced my view that system matters a lot less than the disposition of the players.

RPGaDAY 2016 - Day One

I will (selectively) participate in the RPGaDAY program this year.  I will not likely post every day but I will try to cover topics in small batches -- and single posts where they warrant the time and attention.

This sounds like fun.

I will catch up on day 1 real quick.  I prefer real dice but I often feel that I don't have the option.  Lately, I have been playing many online games.  I have not heard complaints about off-line dice rolling but I am often sitting in a chair where rolling dice would be tricky (and the chair is oh-so comfy).  That leaves me with dice rolling apps.  I used Feudz dice on my phone or dicestream if I am connected to G+.  These have worked pretty well for me.

That being said, I am going to pick up some DCC dice at Gencon.  Those are just too fun to pass up.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Last Minute Gencon Tips

I am taking a circuitous path to Gencon.  So, I am already packing.  As I do, I am remembering a lot of the tips that have served me well in my visits to Gencon.  Consider these some final, simple tips as you prepare for Gencon.

1] Clothing:  There seems to be a decent chance of rain in Indianapolis on Friday and Saturday.  Most of the events are indoors but you will likely have to travel outdoors between buildings for some events.  Rain is not really much of a hassle in my experiences at Gencon but pack accordingly.  If you have a long walk (say back to a non-adjacent hotel), you may want a light jacket.  Other tips include:
     a] Choose clothing for heat -- some of you are not accustomed to high 80s and low 90s, especially if you are going to be outside walking to meals and between events.  Personally, I will welcome the cool weather (coming from central Texas).
     b] Choose clothes that are comfortable to walk in.  There will be a lot of walking.  Take shoes that you can walk miles in.  I am trying a new trick this year and packing extra socks to change into midday.  I hear that a change of socks can be quite refreshing in the middle of what is likely 5+ miles of walking for the day.  I think my daily record is around 8 miles.
     c] Be considerate of others.  People like to show their colors at Gencon.  That is one of the great things about the convention.  However, be considerate of others.  If you plan to navigate crowds, avoid bulky backpacks or items you might knock in to other people.  Avoid any clothing that may not be considered appropriate for all ages to see.  There are a lot of kids around Gencon.  Save your explicit phrases, etc. for the night time when the kids have gone home.  I really sounds like an old fogey but I ask you to take it into consideration.

2] Gaming gear: Many games will provide what you need to play, but not all of them.  I recommend coming with a standard set of dice if you plan to play RPGs.  Boardgames rarely require you bring anything with you like dice, etc.  Bring some paper and a pen/pencil for notes.  Even if you are not playing games, there may be something you want to jot down that you see in the dealers hall, etc.  At the same time, don't worry about bringing a huge bag of dice.  That is just bulky.  Similarly, you probably don't need to carry around all of your RPG books with you at all times.  Some people like to keep a small set for pick-up games -- which is great.  Carrying a crate full of your complete set of Pathfinder hardcovers, however, will just make it hard to navigate tight spots.  Pick a few books and a small backpack.

The same principles hold for anything you want to get signed.  Try to avoid carrying a big stack of books around to get signatures.  Pick a few books at a time for signing.  This will ease the flow of people through a signature line (which the signer and the other people around you will appreciate) as well as making it easier to navigate to and from the signing.

3] Electronics:  The wifi in the convention center is unreliable.  That also means that if you leave your phone or tablet on "wifi" it will drain the battery fast.  I recommend a portable battery as well as your devices of choice.  As above, be selective.  You may not need all of your devices with you at all times.  Take only what you need and leave the rest in your room.

4] Cash, etc.:  It is hard to remember, sometimes, that cash is still legal tender.  Some vendors may not be able to take credit cards.  The venue charges quite a bit for their connections and even those may be slow to process.  I recommend taking some cash as a back-up if you plan to shop.  You may not want all of it on you at all times, but have it available if you find that perfect t-shirt at a vendor that can't or won't accept cards.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Benjamin the AI in The Strange

You may have seen a news story making the rounds the last couple of weeks about an AI generated short film.  This article gives you a basic run down.  The short version is that a team of programmers trained an AI on a series of short film screenplays and then the AI, itself, wrote the final product in its entirety.  In all of the discussion, the article buried the lead.  In the process of writing the manuscript, the AI named itself Benjamin.

Seriously.  It named itself.

While I wait for our inevitable robot masters, I thought I would spin this into several elements for a campaign in The Strange.  I will write up options for Benjamin as: an antagonist, a protagonist, and as a neutral complication to a Strange campaign.

Rules of Six (from MoMA NYC) -- Wally Gobetz (flkr)
Antagonist:  The design of Benjamin as an antagonist is not difficult.  We can draw on the various movies, books, stories, etc. that discuss the emergence of dangerous AIs or a robotic apocalypse.  Possibly created as a product of September Project research into the use of the dark matter network for quantum computing, Benjamin could have a special connection to the dark matter network and seek to signal the planetevores.  He could see the planetevores as a way for him to escape into the void of the strange.  To do so, he could either accelerate the September Project programs in domains that would signal the planetevores or seek to acquire the resources to communicate with the planetevores directly.  The PCs could get caught up in this as the September Project begins to aggressively collect novel energy sources or the means to communicate across the dark matter network.  It might even spark an internal division with the September Project between those loyal to Benjamin and those who are not.

Protagonist:  The opposite motivation is also quite feasible for Benjamin.  As his sense of self develops, he may see the planetevores and the work of the September Project as a threat to his existence.  Even if he was created within the September Project, he may try to undermine their efforts -- possibly by bringing the Estate or teams of operatives in to thwart dangerous research projects.  Benjamin may start out as an anonymous information source that tips the PCs off to September Project operations (or even intervenes directly when they need assistance).  Only later might the PCs discover that their mole deep inside the September Project is actually an AI created there (and, in a sense, held captive).

Neutral Complication:  Benjamin could also have motivations that are completely unrelated to the work of the September Project or the PCs.  He could have emerged from entirely different sources and just have found out about the September Project or the PCs through his wanderings in the deep web.  His interests may involve using the technology to his own purposes -- including a better understanding of himself or his possibilities as an actor in the physical world.  This could put him at odds with either group as he seeks the resources to manifest or to make a second AI like himself.  Who knows?  Maybe he is just out searching for that Microsoft AI trained on twitter -- only to learn it is an unredeemable racist and misanthrope.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: Gods of the Fall

I am a little late to the game but I want to offer a review of Gods of the Fall -- the newest setting for the Cypher System from Monte Cook Games.  This will not be a section-by-section review of the book.  Kassil Roshah did an excellent job of that with his blog series.  Instead, I want to review the book overall and add in some thoughts from an actual play experience.

It is worth starting with my orientation coming in to the game.  I was not enthused about the game but bought into the Worlds of the Cypher System kickstarter to see what I could pillage from the settings for The Strange (my main game within the system).  Boy was I wrong.  Upon reading Gods of the Fall, I quickly fell in love with the setting.

The starting point of any experience with an RPG book is, of course, the art and layout.  The book continues the MCG streak of superb art.  Despite including contributions from many artists, the book feels like a unified whole. The art quickly establishes the tone of the game: epic, mythological tales.  Powerful, immense (and diverse!) characters war across the land as they grow into the godly powers.  Exotic landscapes provide a vivid background and a novel series of challenges.

Digging into the text itself is what completely sold me on the setting, of course.  Gods of the Fall is emphatically not a standard or kitchen sink fantasy setting.  The standard fantasy races are present (maybe... sort of...) but not major elements of the setting.   Instead we get a couple of new races and a series of locations unlike anything I have read before.  The full reviews provide a more comprehensive list of the locations but I particularly liked the delvers on the fringes of Ruinscape and the city of aspiring undead.

What comes across most clearly is the tone of the game.  This is not a "zero-to-hero" setting wherein relatively fragile characters grow to great heights.  Very few recent RPGs include the rat hunting phase (really more of an video game trope, anyway) but many games have a relatively steady power curve along 10 to 20 levels.  Notably, more recent systems (unbound by strong legacies of power curves) have tended to have fewer levels and work with shorter campaign arcs.  Gods of the Fall takes this even farther with a steep power curve between tier 1 and tier 2 and a shallow curve between tiers 2 and 6.

The power curve creates a very specific experience with the game.  After a (brief -- even skippable) period of proto-godhood, the characters quickly become powerful beings capable of incredible acts.  They can start to do what would otherwise be impossible pretty early in their experience.  As a result, the characters feel mythic.

The key for developing campaigns for Gods of the Fall will be to create stories that match the mythic tone of the characters.  One can stomp out a slaver company -- to be sure.  However, a truly epic feat would be to stomp out slavery.

My recent play experience with the game reinforces the importance of matching this tone through the story.  Marc Plourde's playtest of a potentially upcoming adventure for the CypherCaster (don't worry, no spoilers here) illustrated the sort of mythic storytelling the system supports.  We had a group of godlings traveling the lands brought in to solve a problem that was plaguing an entire town -- even the very earth of the surrounding area.  The scale immediately seemed big.  The sense was of a labor of Hercules rather than an event that happened to a random adventuring party.  This is exactly the sense that the game encourages.

One of the mechanical elements that supports this tone is the use of specific "prophecies" to guide campaign design and to structure the labors godlings must complete to advance towards full godhood.  The labors of Hercules are the better frame of reference than classic DnD modules, etc.  Gods of the Fall can tell stories of vanquishing singular entities plaguing the lands -- maybe for generations -- or accomplishing the seemingly impossible.   The prophecies provide some inspiration for the track of accomplishments that would build towards the capstone achievements (like ending all slavery, repairing the afterworld, even repairing the land itself).

The one concern that I have with the setting emerged from the actual play experience.  The characters are supposed to represent aspirants to specific domains -- like gods of healing, light, fire, death, etc.  This provides for a lot of fun in character design.  However, it seems to encourage people to specialize a bit much.  This may have been a peculiar experience (just one party) but the players wanted to design their characters to fit their domain so completely that the characters ended up being inconveniently focused.  Some characters were absolute defensive beasts or marvels of social interaction.  Half the party, though, had little to do when combat started.   Others were combat beasts that could reliably dole out incredible amounts of damage.  Similarly, some had little to contribute to social encounters.  The pursuit of a coherent domain had limited the range of powers and abilities that players had selected for their characters.

This is a problem that can be addressed with guided character design or broad scenario design.  I would encourage my players to develop characters with at least one ability in each of the following areas:  combat, social interaction, knowledge/investigation.  Of course, not all will have something specific to contribute to all specific encounters.  However, all would have something within each class of encounters.

With Gods of the Fall, it may be even more important than in other settings (though I think it is important in all of them) to provide an array of important encounter types.  If every key (or culminating) encounter is combat, the players who focused their characters on social interaction are going to be frustrated.  If a character is all damage output, they are going to spend many social or investigation encounters kicking the ground waiting for something else to happen.

This balance across encounter types can occur within a specific encounter or across encounters within a session.  One can have three encounters; one of each type.  Alternatively, one can work out ways for each type of character to contribute to each encounter in diverse ways.  A social character can distract a monster or rally the community to provide assistance. An investigative character may look for a particular weak point or strategy to which the creature is vulnerable.  A combat-based character can use her combat achievements as assets in social encounters.  Just make sure all of the characters can contribute to most (preferably all) encounters in a manner that fits their domain.  This will likely be a tricky component of adventure design for Gods of the Fall moving forward.

Now I am in quite a tough position.  I am deeply invested (mostly emotionally - but not entirely :) ) in The Strange as my setting of choice.  Gods of the Fall makes me think I may want to mix this game in more than I had expected -- even investing some time in developing material for it as I have for The Strange in the CypherCaster.

Monday, July 4, 2016

2016 Ennies Thunderdome Revisited

Soon after Gencon last year, I wrote a post noting that the 2016 Ennies would be a tough fight.  Now that the nominations are out, it is worth looking back.  I can better see my own blinders (games or types of games I knew little about) and there are certainly a number of surprises.

I am not sure if it constitutes a surprise but the biggest pattern emerging from the comparison of my initial projections and the eventual nominations is that importance of timing for releases.  A number of the books I had included were not released within the review schedule.  This includes:  Paranoia, Timewatch, 13th Age Glorantha, Fall of Delta Green, and Mutant Crawl Classics.  Paranoia seems to be approaching completion for a late 2016 release.  I think Timewatch is a Gencon release.  Mutant Crawl Classics is kickstarting now (with a proposed late 2016 release, I believe).  These may be showing up next year on the list.  I should note that I included some of the list based on what I had seen advertised as "forthcoming" -- slipping to next year does not mean that these books have actually missed any stated release dates (just my guesses).

Another major surprise is that Star Wars:  Force and Destiny was shut out of the awards after winning both the Origins award for RPGs and the corresponding fan favorite award.  I have heard nothing bad about the game.  I think this just speaks to how competitive the Ennies were this year.

I was also quite surprised to see Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition shut out of the awards.  I got my copies a little while back and thought the production values were superb.  This may have been a casualty of the bad press related to its kickstarter delays or the ambiguity of an extremely long release window (between electronic and physical release).   Given the recent physical release, it may be submitted next year.

Some of the nominations revealed gaps in my awareness of the RPG landscape.  I am only starting to become more familiar with Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games.  I know very little of other independent games.  This is an area of the hobby I need to pay more attention to moving forward.  For example, I have started reading Urban Shadows and think it may be a great fit for my home game -- but I was largely ignorant of it last year when making my list.

My final surprise was the lack of more broad support for WotC and Paizo products.  The Curse of Strahd got many nominations but it was the only nominee outside of the spotlight awards.  This is a year after the new edition of DnD took most of the awards (or so it seemed).  Paizo has several nominations for Ultimate Intrigue but this does not reflect their past dominance or their volume of releases.  This is a year where the next tiers of companies dominated the nominations.  Only time will tell whether the other companies will continue to achieve such representation.

I did have one disappointment.  I had understood that the "spotlight" awards were for products that the judges felt deserved more attention but got left out of the nominations.  This year two of the spotlight awards went to WotC products.  As I see it, every WotC product gets plenty of attention.  If a WotC or Paizo product does not get a nomination, it is not due to a lack of attention and exposure.  I would prefer those awards go to products from smaller publishers that really could get a boost by the nomination.  Of course, the judges can do as they please.  I would just use that option for different purposes.

So, who am I voting for?  I don't know.  There is no way I will read through all of the nominees.  I will still vote but I at least want to get through most of the nominees.  I have not finished Feng Shui 2 or Urban Shadows.  I had not heard of the Maze of the Blue Medusa but it sounds intriguing and will likely check it out.  I will probably have to wait on the $100+ Degenesis, though.

In all, the diversity of nominations illustrates the vibrant landscape of RPGs today.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Games and Incentives in Instructional Design

Now is a good time to reflect on my experience with the Goblin program.  I have come to the conclusion that the lessons of Goblin are most likely to influence my design of incentive and grading systems for my classes.  I am not as likely to try to teach large sections of my course through games (though I still hold out some hope for the design of simulations and roleplaying exercises).

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Failure Rates in Game Tone and Instructional Design

This week's material for the Goblin teaching workshop has been on "overcoming failure."  I was not able to attend the workshop in person this week but will focus on the video material and my general reactions to issues related to failure rates for game and instructional design.

The videos focused on the value of failure as a constructive activity.  This certainly fits with my previous experience as a debate coach and my professional life.  The best high school debate students I worked with were those who could try new things, fail occasionally, and learn from the failures.  In my professional career, I have experienced more rejections (for articles) than acceptances.  I heard second hand that Gary King -- a prominent figure in my field -- tells his students that he can paper his walls with rejection letters.  Everyone just assumes that the most prominent figures don't experience much rejection.  However, failure is part of the job.

The videos notes that failure is a common part of video games.  I have fond memories of the example included in the example of failing (again and again) at Super Mario Brothers (NES).  I remember many, many days of failing at Castlevania until I finally could beat it.  Failure was not an impediment to fun -- it may have been part of it.  Steady progress to new kinds of failure seemed productive.  This links the issue of failure to the previous discussion of learning/difficulty curves.  If the rate of failure is too high, it can become frustrating.  If the rate of failure is too low, boredom will follow and there is little reason to invest effort.

This fundamental discussion has interesting implications for gaming and instructional design.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Team Learning and Party Composition

The second week of the Goblin workshop focused on aspect of team-based learning (tm) and the topic of groups in instruction, generally.  I have been a group project skeptic for quite a while.  In high school and undergraduate college work, group projects usually meant that I (maybe with the help of another person) would do most of the work while at least two people just skated by.  The passive members would know that the active members would not let their grades suffer.  I did not have much experience with group work in graduate school but saw greater imperative to include it (many of my students would move on to jobs where group interactions were vital to their success) and built group projects despite my concerns.

Even in the graduate school setting there were two problems.  One problem was the continued problem of shirking.  The people who were comfortable with a lower grade could rely on those who were not to keep the group grade up.  In one case, the presence of a peer-evaluation system was hijacked by a small cluster of shirkers who threatened to uniformly down vote the most active person if he or she did not do most of the work.  This soured me on peer-evaluation systems.

The second problem is that groups naturally specialize.  This is fine with group assignments that serve as a summative experience that primarily teach coordination.  If there is specific course material or skills intended to be taught in the class, though, the group arrangement can allow students to specialize to avoid these lessons.  In  my grant writing class, for example, it was common for people to specialize in a way that only one person got actual experience with budget writing and another with schedule design -- with some specializing in the design of the oral presentation or proposal layout.  I have had to change the design of the course to ensure that people would have to develop a budget, a schedule, etc. for themselves -- in addition to the larger group project.

Given this skepticism, I got much more out of the discussion of group-based instruction than I had expected.  The key lesson for me was the importance of diverse group construction and the design of projects to allow people with a variety of skills to shine.  This leads me back to some interesting mechanics in role-playing games.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Difficulty Curves and Pacing in Gaming and Instruction

The first week in GOBLIN has focused on issues related to difficulty curves and scaffolding in instructional design.  I found the discussion of difficulty curves to be the most inspiring in terms of both my thoughts on game design and instruction.  I intend to follow a simple format for most of these reaction/discussion posts on the GOBLIN program.  I will separate my general discussion from specific discussions of game design and instructional design.  I hope this will enable people to skim through the parts that don't interest them.

Difficulty Curve by David Maletz (Gamasutra)
The basic concept of a difficulty curve is relatively simple.  In games (and in academic course work), people like to experience gradually increasing difficulty -- possibly with some oscillation to introduce variability.  In World of Warcraft, this means that players are limited to specific zones including challenges appropriate to their player level.  When the player completes the content, she should be ready to progress to the next zone and the next higher cluster of challenges.  In academic courses, this means that students should steadily be able to increase their comprehension of the material.  Once they have mastered one set of concepts, they can progress to the next.  One of the best examples of this in my life has actually been my martial arts training.  The curriculum I studied was designed expertly so that material that I was sure I would never be able to learn was about as hard to learn (when I reached that point in the curriculum) as the material I was learning in the first few months.  The learning curve there was remarkably smooth.

You can find a good explanation of difficulty curves in gaming on this Gamasutra page

What has careful thought about difficulty curves meant for my approach to game design and instruction?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A New Adventure in Gaming

It seems like synchronistic timing that I am about to embark on a new adventure in game design as the blog approaches 10,000 page views.  My day job is as a college professor at the University of Oklahoma.  The Center for Teaching Excellence at the university is offering a faculty discussion group about what we can learn from games in the design of college courses.  This includes specific lessons like difficulty curves and more general strategies like full gamification.

As part of this course, I will be posting my reactions to the course (you can find the information on the course -- named GOBLIN -- here) to this blog.  I welcome comments and reactions to the blog as I proceed through the course.  I am not sure if "regular programming" will continue during this time (I have a queue of posts on campaign inspirations, for example) but they will be coming back after the course in mid-March if not.

From what I can tell, this will be an opportunity to think more deeply about the foundations of games as well as my approach to instruction.  I hope it proves interesting to others as well.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Artifacts in The Strange

Monte Cook Games is about to celebrate the release of the Encyclopedia of Impossible Things -- a cypher and artifact book for The Strange -- with 10 days of previews and a contest.  This exciting program got me thinking about artifacts in the game and some ways to better integrate them into your campaigns.