8 Tokens: Playtesting

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:
Shiny Trait tokens: A pile of glass beads.

  • 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.

8 Tokens: Character ideas

A pile of glass beads, all quite shiny, in green, deep cobalt blue, clear, and teal.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:

  1. Acting convincingly with an audience
  2. Baking delicious pastries without any gluten
  3. Blasting asteroid worms with my beat-up old planet-hopper
  4. Bringing people together with sympathy
  5. Casting nature magic with drops of pure water
  6. Charting courses through the Warp without a stellamat
  7. Clearing obstacles with my holospanner
  8. Convincing people with my sugary words
  9. Copying documents without any noticeable difference
  10. Creating haute couture outfits without spending much money at all
  11. Delving into ice caves with my trusty ice axe
  12. Destroying fascists with my fists
  13. Dispatching ne’er-do-wells with my sonic lance
  14. Doing scientific field research with great insight
  15. Explaining complex concepts without being too wordy
  16. Expressing what’s in my heart with acrylics
  17. Facing the infinite void without losing my mind
  18. Ferreting out the truth with my keen reporting instincts
  19. Fighting for the oppressed with every fiber of my being
  20. Going toe-to-toe with Aglarian gladiators
  21. Hunting wild animals without any tools
  22. Ingesting large amounts of information without forgetting any of it
  23. Making friends with my enemies
  24. Navigating bureaucracy without breaking a sweat
  25. Performing surgery with appropriate instruments
  26. Playing boardgames with strategic acumen
  27. Probing corporate mainframes with my trusty cyberdeck
  28. Racing the streets of Mirror City with my grav scooter
  29. Repairing household appliances without breaking code
  30. Skin-diving for minutes on end without losing consciousness
  31. Solving crimes with rugged, steely attitude
  32. Sneaking in the dark without a sound
  33. Speaking alien languages without a holotranslator
  34. Staying serene with my Mitrika training
  35. Swooping elegantly with my arm-flyers
  36. Walking the lonely roads with my rifle and a heavy heart

Futurecon, right now

A rainbow, apparently moving between two cloudsMany 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!

WisCONline

While it’s still in memory, some notes about WisCONline, which happened at the end of May.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.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.

Would you buy a book of my essays?

Illustration of a bookI’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?

Exolore: Nifty worldbuilding with academic rigor

A world built by me (academic rigor not guaranteed)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.

Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

A rainbow, apparently moving between two cloudsEveryone 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.

WisCONline, weekend after next

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.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.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.

A reminder: It’s okay to not be ‘productive’

Squeevolution!The measure of a person is not their ‘productivity’. That is always true! And someone with more money is not ‘worth’ more than anyone else. But in a pandemic, of all times, remember that it’s okay to not be at your maximum. Don’t be guilty about it. Don’t measure yourself or your hobbies by how richly you grease the wheels of industry. Just have fun when you can, make things when you can, do what you can when you can, enjoy worldbuilding if you want to, read RPGs if you feel like it, take it “casual” if you feel like, enjoy something slow if it’s what you need — do what it takes to get through this trying time, in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt you or others.

Remote fandom

This is a good time to be thinking about remote gaming. The current pandemic is awful, of course. But we’re lucky in that good internet, videochat, etc. allow us to connect remotely with such ease.

Six abstract figures in a variety of colors arranged to appear like a videochat.Most of my gaming these days is done remotely. I’ve blogged about some before. Videochat systems leave a lot to be desired, but really, they’re quite good.

There isn’t much reason an entire con couldn’t be run online. I mean, by some analysis, web forums, social media communities, etc. already are online cons. But for something closer to in-person cons, with the same depth of personal interaction, the technology is almost there. The videochat systems I’ve tried wouldn’t be great for doing panels, but they’d be serviceable; other methods — streaming like Twitch or some of the virtual meeting systems out there — would probably work better. Some gaming doesn’t work well online. This is especially clear where physical interaction between players is required, such as passing paper, counters, tokens, etc. Other forms of gaming work just as well, or better, though. No reason an online con couldn’t include some mutual MMORPG raids, or something like that. Costume contests, virtual raves, art contests, dealers’ rooms, readings… There’s a lot that should translate quite easily to online formats. I would miss getting to hang out in the consuite together, but a lot of cons don’t practice great hygiene even in the best of times. There really isn’t much we would need to miss in a virtual con. I’ve heard some third-hand reports of full cons done online, but I haven’t seen enough of them to link with any certainty. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

A specific thing to think about: There are lots of issues to overcome with videochat. Folks have to get used to not talking over each other, and sometimes needing to ask for clarification. While videochat boosts accessibility in some ways, it lessens it in other ways: bad audio quality can be very difficult for people who have hearing difficulties, for example. Privacy and trolling are also issues. To make a whole con work, I think there would need to be some way to guarantee that only con ‘attendees’ could access the virtual rooms. I don’t know of a way to prevent attendees from recording things that they shouldn’t. Chat moderators would become extremely important in a virtual con. It seems like a virtual con would necessarily require spending money on a professional virtual meeting service, or setting up a dedicated server for something like Jitsi, and thus still needing to spend the money on bandwidth — either way, it would take money. Though, I suspect, it would cost far less than running an in-person con.

I’m sure there are other things I haven’t thought of. But still, it must be completely possible to make virtual cons happen. If we aren’t already, we should get working on that.