Inspired by recent game-play.
You are Quiet. Perhaps you speak softly and carry a large sword; or perhaps you don’t have much to say, because you know words only cause trouble. Your quiet may give you gravity, or it may cause others to assume you are not as smart as you actually are. Being Quiet may simply make you hard to hear, and it may make others assume you are being passive-aggressive; or it may cause others to listen attentively when you do speak, and it may make you adept at conveying secrets.
Con of the North decided to move to virtual next year. Which means I can actually attend, for the first time in many years. And that means I should start thinking of games to run. But my well of inspiration feels kinda dry. I could run one of the encounters/scenarios I’ve done with the long-term B&C group. I could playtest 8 Tokens some more. But there’s nothing that really grabs me.
(Why is the well of inspiration dry? I have two regular gaming groups, but we basically always play the same systems. I put a lot of creative effort into my regular B&C game, but that doesn’t necessarily inspire many side ideas. And since I haven’t been able to go to CotN in years, I haven’t had those ideas to bounce off of, either. And I feel kind of generally disconnected from gamerdom these days, so I’m not getting a lot of inspiration there, either. And I usually have several months to decide what I want to run, where this time it’s realistically more like a few weeks.)
Hmm. Will have to see if inspiration hits in the next couple weeks.
A while back, the Weekly Group did what I assume is the first serious playtest of 8 Tokens. (I assume so, anyway, because I haven’t heard any other reports back. If you’ve tried playing it, let me know!) It worked pretty well, considering! I got some very good feedback, and learned some lessons:
- Players didn’t follow the exact “[Really good/good at] [gerund verb] [object] with/without [indirect object]” formulation. Not sure what to do about that. Does the game work if characters are written up as just “Good at killing”, for example?
- Relatedly, it was clear that players weren’t sure what kinds of “good at” qualities were possible. That’s a big part of why I came up with last month’s list.
- Players very rarely use the “choose not to succeed” rule. But then, we weren’t super-low on tokens.
- The game got praise for being fast and light-weight. It worked well as a quick drop-in system for an existing campaign where we wanted a quick switch of systems. One player noted that 8 Tokens would work well for a heist-style game. I can see that. One player thought it would work well as a fast system for conventions; another player thought it would work well as a general introduction to RPGs. I can also see that. It seems like it could work well with kids, for example.
- Skill challenges kind of need to be to the group as a whole (“someone needs to do X”) rather than to each PC (“you all need to do X”). Hmm. Will have to think about that.
- As a player, I got down to 3 tokens by the end of a 2-ish hour session. The GM and another player had 2 tokens. That’s pretty close to what I was hoping for.
- The GM noted that there’s a subtle incentive for the GM to come up with lots of 1-point challenges for the PCs, so the GM can keep their token pool the same size. (If the GM poses a 1-point challenge and at least one PC passes it, the GM gets their 1 token back, and the GM’s pool then stays the same.) That was definitely intentional, but it’s good to hear that it worked.
- The GM has a slightly too large disincentive to pose larger challenges, though. The GM didn’t feel free enough to pose 3- or 4-point challenges. I think maybe the GM should get 2 tokens back for posing 3- or 4-point challenges. Maybe just for 4-point challenges. It’s might also work better for the GM to get a larger number of tokens to start, such as 2 tokens per player. Need to playtest this further.
- All games have an issue of “what skill do I use when none of the game’s skills apply?” Like, if a game only had skills for “Fight”, “Talk”, and “Run”, which skill would apply when you want to notice something? The fewer skills the game has, the more serious this becomes. The extreme granularity of 8 Tokens — each PC consists of only four ‘skills’ — means it can be difficult at times to say whether a character is able to do a thing. For example, does “Hunt things in the wilderness” imply an ability to detect hidden things? Maybe, maybe not. I think that being careful to use the full “[Really good/good at] [gerund verb] [object] with/without [indirect object]” formulation would help cut down on this, by adding much-needed additional context, but it doesn’t eliminate this problem altogether. As another example, we were playing something of a horror scenario, but how often does a player want to have something like “Really good at keeping my wits about me without panicking” be a major character-defining feature? And if a PC doesn’t have anything resembling a ‘sanity’ skill, does that mean they automatically fail any sanity checks the GM throws at them? Does that mean PCs need more than just four things they’re good at? Perhaps one thing they’re super-good at, three things they’re very good at, and four that they’re just good at? What’s the sweet spot here? Again, clearly something to playtest further.
Some good feedback, some good encouragement, some good things to test more.
I got to do a playtest of 8 Tokens. More about that later, but one specific piece of feedback: I needed to come up with more examples of things to be good at. So, here are a few:
- Acting convincingly with an audience
- Baking delicious pastries without any gluten
- Blasting asteroid worms with my beat-up old planet-hopper
- Bringing people together with sympathy
- Casting nature magic with drops of pure water
- Charting courses through the Warp without a stellamat
- Clearing obstacles with my holospanner
- Convincing people with my sugary words
- Copying documents without any noticeable difference
- Creating haute couture outfits without spending much money at all
- Delving into ice caves with my trusty ice axe
- Destroying fascists with my fists
- Dispatching ne’er-do-wells with my sonic lance
- Doing scientific field research with great insight
- Explaining complex concepts without being too wordy
- Expressing what’s in my heart with acrylics
- Facing the infinite void without losing my mind
- Ferreting out the truth with my keen reporting instincts
- Fighting for the oppressed with every fiber of my being
- Going toe-to-toe with Aglarian gladiators
- Hunting wild animals without any tools
- Ingesting large amounts of information without forgetting any of it
- Making friends with my enemies
- Navigating bureaucracy without breaking a sweat
- Performing surgery with appropriate instruments
- Playing boardgames with strategic acumen
- Probing corporate mainframes with my trusty cyberdeck
- Racing the streets of Mirror City with my grav scooter
- Repairing household appliances without breaking code
- Skin-diving for minutes on end without losing consciousness
- Solving crimes with rugged, steely attitude
- Sneaking in the dark without a sound
- Speaking alien languages without a holotranslator
- Staying serene with my Mitrika training
- Swooping elegantly with my arm-flyers
- Walking the lonely roads with my rifle and a heavy heart
Many cons have moved online now. Sadly necessary, but happily accessible. The fact that we can connect via the internet means conventions don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, limited to one country or one timezone. Futurecon is a convention that’s happening right now, as I write this, which is truly global in scope. Panels are happening at all times of day and night, all weekend long. Membership can be as cheap as free (if you already have the wherewithal to connect to the internet). There’s been some really cool discussion on the practicalities and challenges of translation already.
I could quibble with some of their choices: Zoom is a bad platform, for privacy reasons; they are focused almost solely on prose fiction, to the exclusion of all else; and although the overall stance has been anti-imperialist and decolonial, some pro-imperialist and pro-colonial discourse has gone unexamined.
Overall, though, it seems well worth checking out. So, do!
While it’s still in memory, some notes about WisCONline, which happened at the end of May.
I was part of the concomm, doing a bunch of work behind the scenes, so I’m kinda biased. But at the same time, none of my opinions are official or anything like that — I’m speaking for myself here, not the con.
The gaming folks had arranged a huge slate of games, but the way things worked out, I didn’t get to play in any of them. Largely down to what shifts I was on.
However, with our tech setup, I was able to watch some of the games after the fact. (I have a lot of thoughts about people broadcasting games for other people to watch, and parasocial gaming, and similar things, which I may write up here at some point.) All the games I saw were really cool!
- Atop a Lonely Tower is designed specifically to be played in a Discord channel, with the GM as an old being of magic, using leading questions to very gently guide the narrative, and all the players drifting in and out as ravens, acting as the GM’s eyes and ears and taking most of the narrative control. The players all really went with the conceit, and it worked brilliantly!
- Are You There, God? It’s Me, the Quarterly Earnings Report is about a group of angels, all having a business meeting to discuss who’s going to take over the department for the next 1000 years. It’s designed to be played as a videochat/conference call, using the quirks of this technology as innate parts of the game: players can deliberately mute themselves, accidentally drop calls on purpose, etc. If all the players understand that it’s a playfully passive-aggressive game, it works beautifully; and all the players at Wiscon did. It worked gorgeously, with some superb roleplaying on the parts of some players.
- I saw even less of Court of Ferns, but what I saw again seemed brilliant: A game played entirely through a Google Doc spreadsheet, with players as part of a (dysfunctional) bureaucracy.
I assume the other games were equally neat. The gaming folks did a great job of planning and running things. It was also really cool to see how games are expanding into and embracing entirely new kinds of media (a game played through an interactable spreadsheet! omg!).
There was also some cool discussion about gaming and RPGs elsewhere. bankuei from Deeper in the Game pointed out the websites Roll For Your Party and Playing Cards.io, which look very handy for online gaming. And there was a lot of other wonderful geekery — too much to detail here.
Overall, it was really cool to finally see, and help, a con go online. It would of course be nice if we didn’t have to, but it’s very good that we can.
I’ve been toying with the idea of putting together a collection of essays. Some original, certainly; there are fair number of things I’d like to set down but haven’t had the right space for. I’d also include some things that I’ve written here and elsewhere. It would be nice to develop some of the ideas further, perhaps link them together better with some interstitial notions, maybe tie more of them into a cohesive whole. Probably a bit more editing around the edges. I’ve been toying with the central theme of “Geekery without Guilt”. What do you think?
Through my astronomy interests, I found the Youtube channel of Moiya McTier. Moiya’s an astronomer and folklorist (what a great combination of disciplines!). She and a rotating group of subject-matter experts (political scientists, plate tectonics experts, cephalopod specialists, etc.) start with a general exoplanet type: Extreme seasons, tidally locked, no insolation at all, etc. The types they start with are based on the actual science; as we learn more about exoplanets, we realize how much weirder they are than we predicted a few decades ago. Then, Moiya and her guests work to build a nifty world and the beings that inhabit it.
The creations so far are quite delightful: Worlds with turtle-like beings who have pyrite shells, deep sea sentients who communicate via thermal dancing, and much more. Any of the sessions would certainly be great inspiration for an SF campaign. More importantly, though, they’re just wonderful worldbuilding. From what I’ve seen, Moiya and her guests don’t insist that there be a plot; they’re interested in enjoying the worldbuilding, as worldbuilding for its own sake.
It reminds me of the “Build a World” game I’ve played and run several times at conventions. The difference is, Moiya and her guests are much scientifically rigorous — while not losing any of the elegant intricacy or beautiful internal logic that “Build a World” usually has. And, really, their worlds are about as fun as the “Build a World” ones, too. Well worth enjoying.
Everyone and their siblings have already posted about this far and wide, but it’s worth making sure: The Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is a huge bundle of tabletop games, computer games, prose fiction, comics, art assets and more that is being offered to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Community Bail Fund. Donations will help mitigate, in a small way, some of the racist violence that Black people have been subjected to in recent weeks.
The games are well worth checking out. Some of the offerings are kinda junky — buggy computer games, short ditties that don’t really say much, etc. But a lot are really, really cool. Not only are there several massive, slickly-produced RPGs, there are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small, innovative, mind-expanding games. There are so many that I can’t even list them in the detail they deserve. (I might try to review some of them in the future, if time allows.)
Itch.io has a huge amount of innovation going on: Games that expand the limits of what a game can be, games that express viewpoints that are too rarely heard, games that push us to be better human beings. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toes into the Itch.io ocean, this bundle seems like a great place to start, while donating some money to good causes at the same time.
The in-person Wiscon 44 has been canceled, due to the pandemic. I’m sad to miss that; it’s always great to connect with a lot of people in person.
However, Wiscon has moved online! Registration for the con, which will be May 22-25, is now open. The online version will include streamed panels & readings, gaming, an auction, a whole chat system, and lots of chances to interact with fellow geeks. The con is also trying hard to make it all highly accessible; there will be closed captioning, and the membership rates are very reasonable, I think.
I wish fandom in general had started to seriously explore online cons in more depth before now, but I’m very glad it’s finally happening, and especially glad that Wiscon is making such an effort (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m part of). If you’ve been wanting to attend this great feminist SF&F convention but haven’t been able to make it in person, this is your chance to try it out.