The great exodus

I was barely on G+ to start with, but like a lot of folks, I’m leaving it. Will be trying to stick with networks that don’t center rich/white/hetero/cis men quite so much.

For more thoughtful, longform stuff, I’ll continue to post here (probably with about the same low frequency).

For faster, shorter stuff, I’m on Mastodon at bladeandcrown tabletop.social . Probably won’t post much there, either. But it’s another place you can find me.

How do you build a social contract?

A really important element of an RPG session or group is the social contract: the rules, explicit or not, between the people in the room about how you’re going to play and how you’re going to treat each other. For something so important, though, it can be really hard to find ways to craft a good one. It can be especially hard when you’re in a situation or a culture where explicitly discussing this kind of thing is difficult.

There are a lot of elements to consider when you’re thinking about the social contract:

  • What level of racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. are the people at the table going to tolerate? (And before you say “zero tolerance”, remember all the problems with “zero” tolerance policies.)
  • When something objectionable does come up, how are you going to handle it? This is almost more important than what levels of various objectionable things your group can tolerate, because the fact is, though you may say “Our standard is no X and only a little bit of Y”, different people will have different definitions in different contexts about what constitutes X, Y and “a little bit”. Someone might bring up something they thought was Z, but it turns out is totally someone else’s X. Is it the responsibility of the person who finds something objectionable to bring it up then and there? (But some things are so sensitive that it’s difficult to even discuss them, in the moment.) Are you going to use the ‘draw a curtain’, ‘X card’, or other methods of handling those difficult moments? How will you deal with those kinds of things after the fact?
  • To what extent are the people at the table willing to push boundaries? (Some kinds of games may demand pushing boundaries to work; but not everyone wants their boundaries pushed, and different people have different limits at different times.) What protocols should be in place to check if this kind of thing is okay before it happens, and how do you handle it when it comes up?
  • What styles of game are everyone interested in? How much railroading is okay? How will narrative power be shared (or not)? What do you do when tastes change? What about when new definitions or understandings emerge? What different play styles do you all have? What if someone usually prefers gritty action with a lot of GM prep, but today they want to play a comedic game with equal narrative control? How do you all want to handle it when one player is just rarin’ to kill things and someone else is in a mood for something contemplative?
  • How much time do you want to spend on the game play itself, and how much time is okay to spend on joking around, catching up on each other’s lives outside of the game, and other time spent not actually gaming?
  • How is everyone getting to the game? Can/should anyone help others with transportation?
  • Are snacks okay? What about drinks? Are you going to permit alcohol at the table? Who brings what? Is it any particular person’s responsibility?
  • What is everyone’s time commitment? How do you agree on scheduling? How late is too late? How many sessions do you want to have planned in advance? If someone has to cancel, how should they let everyone else know? What kinds of cancellations are acceptable, and what aren’t? What’s the minimum number of people to still play with, and who makes the call? How often can someone cancel and still be part of the group?
  • What is each person’s tolerance for Monty Python jokes? What about awful puns? What other kinds of jokes are appreciated, disliked, ill-tolerated, etc.? Is it going to be annoying if someone constantly makes up nicknames for the NPCs?
  • Who brings all the supplies needed? Does each player need to bring pens, paper, pencils, dice, beads, minis, etc.? If not, who? Who keeps track of what? Who keeps the character sheets (if any)?
  • Are you going to keep notes? Will some designated player do so? Do they get any compensation (a free share in the carpool gas fund; an extra slice of pizza; double XP)? Who keeps track of the notes? Do they also present the notes to the group, or does someone else do that? Are there other things that members will get incentives for (being GM, bringing food, bringing supplies, keeping track of character sheets, consistent attendance, etc.)?
  • Are there going to be reminders of upcoming sessions sent out by email or text or whatever? Whose responsibility is that? When should they send them out (a day before the game, a week before, immediately after the previous session, etc.)?
  • What forms of communication (text, phone, email, IM, etc.) does everyone prefer for discussing or notifying each other about the game?
  • Where are you going to play? If a particular person is going to host, what is expected of them for doing so? What is their reward for doing so? If you’re playing at an FLGS or other public space, what rules of the space do you need to abide by? If there’s a fee, who pays it and how? Are there pets in the gaming space? What to do about potential allergens? How about accessibility issues?
  • When you’re playing games that require a GM, how much prep should the GM do? Do they get a reward (a ride, a free share of the pizza, etc.) as a result?
  • Is it acceptable to be on your cellphone at the table? Is everyone supposed to stay off electronic devices while gaming? What about people who need to be on call for work?
  • Which of these questions do you care about more than others?
  • How are you going to discover what the answers are to all this? How will the group work through differences of opinion? What happens when the answers change?

Different answers to even one of these questions can lead to radically different experiences around the table.

One of the trickiest parts of hammering out a social contract is the actual work of discussing it. There are a lot of variables to handle; it’s not really practical to just sit down and talk about every single item and expect to reach a clear consensus. At least, not with any group I’ve ever been in.

One thing I don’t like is trusting the mechanics of the game to create the social contract. A lot of games have really good advice for how the game runs best; and a lot have nifty mechanics that encourage great play. But no game can stop players from accidentally getting outside someone’s comfort zone, hogging the cheese-puffs or narrating more than their fair share. The game itself can help a bunch; but the actual forging and enforcement of the social contract is always going to depend on the people at the table.

It feels like there should be some way to turn the creation of a social contract — the process of asking important questions, and finding good answers to them — into a game. I’ve gotten as far as designing cards for a card game, based on many of the questions above, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it an actual game.

There are, of course, tons of questions that don’t have to be answered right away. Not everyone even knows what their tolerance for Monty Python jokes is, right? And a lot of the questions kind of get answered organically, as part of organizing the game. “I’m running a multi-year campaign at my house. I will supply snacks and diet drinks; if you want anything else, please bring some to share. Please leave your pets at home.” “We’ll be meeting at Pizza House on Donnerville Rd., in the back room; we’ll get a pizza first thing, then start gaming once we’re done.” “Game will be on Roll20, starting at +8 UTC Wednesdays; please make sure your AV setup works well before joining.”

Overall, I think it’s good to aim for somewhere in the middle. Don’t try to set down a legalistic contract from the start; that way leads to rules lawyering and annoyance (even to the point of never being able to get a group together). But at the same time, don’t leave huge swaths of important issues unsettled. I’ve been in gaming groups where leaving answers to some of these questions dangling meant the eventual end of the group. Be neither afraid to ask important questions, nor intent on only finding ironclad answers to them. It’s a gaming group, and the rules are supposed to be a way to help everyone have fun.

How to “Build a World”

At WisCon 41 in May, I again ran a session of “Build a World”, the quite fun group-world-building activity. It went pretty well. We ended up with a world where “with great hair comes great power”, powered by some sort of hair singularity at the center of all things. Rather than writing up the world, though, I thought I’d write up how to run one of these sessions.

I give credit for this way of running the game to Ben Rosenbaum, who ran it much this way the first few times I encountered it.

You need an audience, hopefully between about a half-dozen and a couple dozen people, and a moderator. Too few audience members and I think it wouldn’t be as fun; too many, and it gets difficult for folks to have input. One session takes about 1 or 1.5 hours.

You also need some way to write up suggestions and have them be constantly visible to everyone. You could possibly do this with a projector/laptop setup, or an overhead projector, or something of that sort. The best format I’ve found, though, is using giant Post-It easel pad paper (c. 25×30″) and easily visible markers (dark and not running dry). If they’re Post-It-style, then they’ll stick to walls pretty well. As long as you have a nice, big, blank wall space available where the audience can see it, you can stick the sheets up as you get to them, and then leave them up afterward to help everyone immediately see what’s going on and what’s gone before. (This assumes that you have fairly decent handwriting, and that folks in the audience can see easily; if not, you might want to have someone do the writing for you, be in charge of restating what’s gone before as necessary, etc.)

As the moderator, you start by explaining the premise to the audience: We’re going to create a world together. It might end up silly, it might end up serious, it’ll probably be fun regardless.

You can pretty much go into the first topic. I generally recommend calling your first topic “Metaphysics/Themes”, “Atmosphere & Mood”, or something similar; not only does this help you set very high-level aspects of the world, it helps nail down some important questions: Are we going for serious? Silly? Rigorously self-consistent? Realistic? Steampunk? SF? Uplifting?

The way I do it, I put everything that gets suggested (or, well, almost everything — it can be difficult when multiple people talk at once, when one suggestion is only a slight variation on another one, etc.) up as an idea. I try to put things up as affirmative statements or descriptions:

There are talking cats

Afrofuturist eco-utopia

Humor has mass

You get the idea. It’s usually a good idea to include some basic style propositions, even if folks don’t suggest them:

Rigorously self-consistent

Silly is okay

Upbeat

Realistic

Basically, I aim to fill up a single sheet, then vote. That usually means around 10-20 propositions get listed per sheet. How many of those get accepted is up to the voting.

For voting, I basically have everyone do a “thumbs up” (approve), “thumbs down” (disapprove) or “thumbs sideways” (meh/abstain/I wasn’t paying attention). I use this to get a sense of how the audience feels about a given proposal. Generally, if thumbs up outweighs thumbs down, the proposition passes. And I don’t vote myself, and I try to avoid influencing the vote.

It can be important to nail down issues about consistency right away, because otherwise you will very quickly end up with a world that’s a far-future, ancient Egyptian humorous noir where there are no humans but everything occurs the way it really happened in history, and everything needs to be strictly self-consistent and logical. Honestly, the most fun worlds are the ones where strict self-consistency isn’t a major goal. But if consistency is going to be a major goal, that’s something you want to clarify very quickly after starting. (As before, this part of Build a World makes me wonder if shared narrative control automatically tends toward gonzo settings.)

I put a check-mark by things that pass, and (if necessary) strike through things that don’t pass.

If necessary, I will suggest to everyone that things that got on the list later but which were directly contradicted by things earlier, shouldn’t make it. But if we end up with a world where water is a time machine and fur is also a time machine, and self-consistency isn’t necessary, then that’s not really a contradiction — just another interesting detail to work in.

When we finish with one sheet, I like to refresh everyone’s memory of what we voted on: “Okay, so we have a world where light only travels in curved paths, air is denser than water, there is no metal, and magic was once real but isn’t anymore… Wow, how would you know magic was real, when you can never look directly at something? Interesting…”

Then we move on to the next sheet. Generally, I let the room suggest what the next one should be, depending on what topics they most want to explore next. Some ideas:

Physics
Magic
Geology
Sociology
Economics
History
Religion
Technology

If everyone was really taken with the idea that taffeta grants magical abilities, then you might end up with a whole sheet about Fashion or even Taffeta. But make sure there’s room to explore on each sheet. If the group isn’t going to be able to come up with a dozen or so different propositions about that topic, maybe think about folding the topic in with something else. And let the most recent topic suggest the next one — if you were just coming up with a bunch of questions about how the economy functions in a world where the cats are the nobility but are also the main form of currency, then maybe economics should be the next topic.

At some point, someone will say something like, “Well, because the main technology is based on cucumbers and lemon batteries, the sentient lightning storms obviously want to get rid of the batteries, because the batteries are making the storms redundant…”. Once you get to this kind of “well, obviously…” moment, I like to note this to the folks in the room. This, it feels to me, is the point where everyone is invested in the world and is starting to understand it, on its own terms, however silly they may be. It’s always a great moment.

Also worth noting: When discussing religion or similar questions of belief, we’ll usually come up with at least two contradictory ideas:

Wood is the divine element

Wood is a sign of moral depravity

When two such contradictory ideas both get passed, I like to commemorate the moment by saying “Schism!” After all, the hallmark of reality is that it is complex; you know a world is starting to feel fully fleshed out when people have beliefs about the world that are at once logical with their experiences of it and completely contradictory with other people’s ideas.

Many times when I’ve run this, someone in the audience will suggest that next we need to write a story set in this world. I tend to downplay this — the assumption that we have to write a story set in this world or somehow we’ve been ‘wasting’ our time buys into some messed-up assumptions about worldbuilding that I stridently don’t agree with.

The way Build a World tends to go, we finish around a half-dozen sheets in an hour. By the end, we usually end up with a wonderful, silly, fascinating world. Many audience members end up feeling like they’ve taken a visit to a world that is at once utterly bizarre and completely familiar. It can be a lot of fun. If you run it, let me know how it goes!

WisCon: Geekiness and ‘Productivity’

Squeevolution!In May, I again got to go to WisCon, one of my favorite cons. The con was overall great: thought-provoking, energizing, validating, and just generally fun. Plus, I got to see a bunch of people I otherwise don’t get to see.

I got to be on a bunch of different panels. Most were also pretty great. One of my favorites, and apparently also the most popular one, almost requires a write-up.

Geekiness And ‘Productivity’

Capitalism tells us that we are only worthwhile when we produce or when we consume. As a result, many of us end up justifying everything we do, whether for work or pleasure, in terms of “productivity”: “I’m useful to society because I make widgets.” “My crafting/stargazing/gaming/reading/writing make me work better and consume more.” “That person is a better geek than me because they spend more money on their hobbies.” These kinds of framing buy into and reinforce capitalism. Are there ways of framing geeky pursuits that don’t buy into a capitalist framework? Are there ways of justifying our geeky pursuits that don’t commodify them? Are there ways to avoid needing to justify our geeky sides at all?

It turned out to be by turns thought-provoking, entertaining, and helpful.

An audience member did a really nice panel write-up over on Dreamwidth. Go check it out — they documented it quite thoroughly. There was also some good discussion and note-taking over in the Twitter-verse.

One major insight the panel brought me was how often work done by women gets considered insubstantial, and therefore not worth money, and therefore worthless. This includes things like emotional labor, and editing, and the creation of art that is ‘only’ emotive, and much more. So not only is measuring our worth in terms of ‘productivity’ implicitly buying into the capitalist machine, it’s also inherently sexist.

We also tried to give some practical advice. One of my fellow panelists discussed setting work limits for oneself. Not minimums, but maximums. A good idea, I think, for a whole bunch of reasons. I suggested, as I am wont to, that we practice compersion for other people’s interests, rather than feeling like our geekiness is somehow threatened by someone else enjoying the same thing; that we not feel guilty for ‘only’ reading RPGs; that, for those of us who are gamers, we commit to games that take exactly as much time as they should; and that we all demand our geeky fun, of and for itself, without having to justify it in terms of how ‘productive’ it makes us, among other things.

Perhaps the biggest insight for me was something one of my fellow panelists said: that we should practice viewing our hobbies, not in terms of ‘productivity’ (or alpha-geekiness, or wealth-generating possibilities, etc.), but in terms of fulfillment. Do your geeky interests give you a sense of fulfillment? Not “Do they generate income”, “Do they produce sufficient widgets for society”, or “Do you perform a geeky function no one else could possibly do”, but “Do they help you feel fulfilled?” It was a very good angle on the question that I hadn’t thought of in quite that way before.

All in all, a great panel to have been at, and to have been on.

Getting the band back together

Instruments on stageLast month, I got the chance to game with what I still consider my weekly group. Most of the time, I’m approximately 12 time zones away from them while they’re gaming. This makes it very difficult to join in to the weekly gaming sessions. Yet I still consider myself part of the group, and they welcomed me back. Getting this rare chance to game with them again was like a breath of very comfortable air. The same goofy banter, the same great roleplaying, the same joy of knowing you’re gaming with people who are on the same wavelength. It was great, and now that I’m far away from them again, I miss that gaming a lot.

Luckily, my other group, the ongoing Blade & Crown campaign, has continued via videochat. If we couldn’t do that, I would be suffering a real dearth of gaming.

A good gaming group is a precious thing. I’ve often seen the mantra “No gaming is worse than bad gaming”, and I agree with some of the ideas behind it. If people in your group are actually being abusive, that is definitely something to extricate yourself from. But I totally understand the desire to stay with a group, any group, if you’ve been deprived too long. Building a group you can at least marginally tolerate is hard enough; finding a group where you and the other players click, have compatible politics, similar taste in games, workable schedules, can talk through problems as reasonable adults, agree on the right amount of Monty Python references, etc. etc. — that is a truly rare thing. So I well understand the desire to want to preserve gaming groups, come hell or high water. It’s important to not just say “this isn’t working out” the first moment things are less than ideal. If it’s outright bad, that’s a different story; but it’s also important to work through problems when possible, and to try to turn not-so-great gaming into better gaming. And then, when you find — or work together to create — a group of people you really click with, it’s worth working to preserve that.

Faster games are not necessarily better

Squeevolution!There’s this persistent notion that goes around that games that play faster are better. Games that require a long time commitment, the argument seems to go, are wastes of time. If you spend more than a few moments on things like character generation or mechanics, then the game isn’t worth playing. Only games that get you into the action immediately, or generate drama instantly, are worthwhile.

Now, I play a lot of games that try to get players into the action as soon as possible. I continue to have a lot of fun with Microscope, Fiasco, The Quiet Year and other games that are very much about ‘story now, story first’. And of course I consider it something of a rule that games at cons should have players making meaningful decisions as soon as possible.

However, all of that is not my only preference. I also like games that, well, take a bit of a time commitment. I still have very fond memories of all my multi-year campaigns, and I continue to thoroughly enjoy my ongoing Blade & Crown campaign. (Going on half a decade now, I think). Games with all manner of time commitments can be fun, from Spot It (which you can learn and play a complete game of within five minutes), to Chivalry & Sorcery (which I still haven’t gotten the hang of). And dumping on long-form games for taking too long is just as bad as dumping on indie games for being too ‘touchy feely’ or dumping on D&D for being too [whatever we’re dumping on D&D for now]. There should be space in gaming for all kinds of games, with all kinds of time requirements, for all kinds of players and preferences.

I specifically want to analyze some of the threads in the ‘faster=always better’ narrative, because I think it’s a very insidious narrative and one that has a bunch of really problematic assumptions behind it.

First, I think a lot of this criticism is really just people dumping on D&D or Pathfinder without wanting to name names. Those two giants are open to some criticism, it’s sure; I’ve seen way too many tables where the D&D or Pathfinder players were doing nothing but poking through books to find obscure rules. But even there, a) some people like that style of play — more power to ’em! — and b) it’s not fair to paint all traditional games with that broad brush. (Blade & Crown, I will point out, is a traditional, gritty, ‘realistic’ game that manages to not require much rules consultation at all during play, largely because of its highly unified mechanics. And B&C is far from the only game to accomplish this.) If you dislike traditional games because D&D takes too long for you… well, that might be a legit criticism of D&D, but it isn’t necessarily a good criticism of traditional games as a whole.

Also, I think a lot of the ‘play quicker!’ narratives are really just people finding ways to propagate old arguments about the inferiority of games that aren’t ‘narrativist’. (Of course, a game can be simulationist, gamist and narrativist at the same time, and people’s preferences can be all those things or none at different times; but for a lot of people, there’s only one right piece of that triad.) A lot of people seem to argue that a game where it takes longer to resolve an action than to complete that action in real life is insufficiently fast-paced. Well, of course that can be true for a lot of people’s personal aesthetics; but like a lot of arguments in RPG circles, this one too quickly gets put in terms of absolutes. Too quickly, it seems like the argument jumps to “detailed simulation and intricate mechanics are always wastes of time”.

Another huge problem with ‘play quicker!’ arguments is that they feed into about a million interrelated problems inherent in capitalism. For one thing, there’s the way that capitalism (as it is now) forces us to constantly compress our leisure time into smaller and smaller boxes. We must always be finding ways to produce more, and to ‘goof off’ less. If we’re not on call, or preparing for work, or doing unpaid work, or doing a ‘working retirement’ or multitasking or doing overtime or whatever else, we’re not doing our part as cogs in the machine. We therefore have to constantly strive for ways to ‘work harder and play harder’ — that is, get maximum entertainment value out of our ever-diminishing leisure time. It sometimes seems like we’re working toward a future where we get 13 seconds of relaxation a week, and if we haven’t swum to the Moon and back in that time then we haven’t had fun hard enough.

A closely related problem is the way that capitalism forces us to justify everything in terms of ‘productivity’. We need to squeeze our leisure time into smaller timescales because that allows us to ‘produce’ more the rest of the time; and we need to justify the very existence of our leisure time by stating how much more productive it makes us, or by forcing games to become a form of work. One example: Someone creates mods for games in the hope that they’ll get picked up by a AAA publisher, and justifies their modding by the fact that it might eventually get them a job. Another example: When someone justifies playing games as a way to make themselves more creative and therefore a better worker. All as if ‘productivity’ is the most important thing about us — as if we owe our existence to the machine, and not the other way around.

It’s definitely true that not everyone has oodles of time to devote to gaming. But I don’t think that’s a good thing. It would be nice if more of us could stand up for leisure time — not just as a way to make us more productive workers, but because we deserve it as human beings. By pushing so hard for games that produce maximum fun in minimum time (rather than allowing for things like languorous storytelling, depth of development, etc.), it often feels to me like we’re tacitly accepting the constant crushing pressure on our freetime. Instead of doing that, I think it would be nice if we could push back and assert that we want to have time to enjoy ourselves, just because. (The unions brought us the two-day weekend, etc.)

There are other problems with constantly pushing for faster, simpler, more intense gaming experiences, from the arms race/constant push for a bigger high aspect, to the misogynist memes (“math is hard!”) that it sometimes buys into. But this post has already probably wasted enough of your time. I’ll just sum up by saying: Enjoy whatever kinds of games you enjoy, of whatever time commitment, and try to resist oppressive tendencies to mold your enjoyment into consumption/production-acceptable units of time.

Bundle of Holding: Jovian Chronicles

If I ran an SF RPG these days, it’s very likely I would use the Silhouette rules to do it. The rules were pretty influential on Blade & Crown. I really like the “roll multiple D6, keep the highest, get a bonus for each additional 6, all 1s equals a fumble” — the resemblance to B&C is pretty obvious. I was already experimenting with something similar for B&C when I found Jovian Chronicles, and I like D10s better than D6s for this sort of thing — D6s tend to feel too grainy for me, with not enough distance between success and failure — but otherwise, it’s a very nice system.

A blurry photo of Jupiter, by meAnd the main game setting that goes with the rules (preceded them, actually), Jovian Chronicles, is pretty amazing. (I think Jovian Chronicles came before the Silhouette Core rules, actually. Still, I tend to think of the rules before the setting.) Jovian Chronicles is pretty hard SF, set in a future Solar System with no FTL. There are mecha, which makes about as much sense as it ever does; but it’s all very well designed. I can imagine running a game where the PCs are agents of one or another solar system power, or maybe working for an NGO. There are, of course, lots of things I would tweak. I might even need to come up with my own SF setting from scratch. But Jovian Chronicles is very inspiring. It’s a lot of fun to read, and there’s a ton of worldbuilding in there. Also, the amount of detail suggests a wealth of gaming possibilities, well into the “every page of setting gives at least one idea for an adventure, maybe for a whole campaign” range, I’d say.

Interestingly, and I never noticed this before now, Jovian Chronicles is also an alternate future. Its chronology has solar power satellites beginning in the late 90s and fusion power becoming practical in the early 2000s. By the time the game was published, its timeline had already diverged from that of the real world. It’s also a future that sidesteps a lot of the potential future-history singularities we’re facing: corporate artificial intelligence putting all humans out of work; post-scarcity economics; etc. Like a lot of other futures, it’s one crafted to makes sense to people living in the present.

The Bundle of Holding (which Blade & Crown was once featured in) is currently running a Jovian Chronicles bundle where you can get basically the entire game, with all the supplements, for a pretty affordable price. Well worth getting if you can swing that kind of change.

High-powered fighting styles?

Swords stuck into the groundI included Fighting Styles in the rules because it seemed like a neat mechanic, and a nice way to get those kind of “I find that Thibault cancels out Capoferro” and “Aha, I see you studied with Heren of Lestul; Heren was always one of my poorest students”-kinds of moments. But in my experience, players don’t often seem to choose Fighting Styles for characters. This might be lack of me emphasizing their existence at character generation, or it might be insufficient clarity about how Fighting Styles work. It might also be that Fighting Styles don’t have enough mechanical benefit. I’m not sure.

Here’s an idea to make Fighting Styles have more mechanical effect, though: Instead of just giving a single unified positive modifier, make Fighting Styles give a modifier equal to their level. So, in other words, skill 2 would equal a +2 modifier. Skill level 4 would give a +4 modifier.

This could potentially be overpowering, though; who cares what your stance is when you can get a constant +4? And that kind of lacks flavor. So I think that, with these higher-powered Fighting Styles, there should still be some limits on how those modifiers get used. How about set splits between offensive and defensive, per Style? So, say, Sirikanian Sword and Shield might be more defensive, while Rhodian Fencing is more offensive. This could require extensively detailing how the modifiers must be split on a per-skill level basis, but an easier way to do it could be just specifying broad categories:

  • Must be split
  • More offensive
  • More defensive

“More” here means that the modifier has to be split with a greater portion on that side. Thus, if we say that Sirikanian Sword and Shield is more defensive, then someone who knows it to skill level 4 would have to split the modifier either as +3 defense/+1 offense or +4 defense/+0 offense. I think this would also have to indicate that an exactly even split could be allowed, though, or people with skill 2 in Sirikanian Sword and Shield, for example, would always have to go +2 defense/+0 offense because that’s the only way to split the modifier with more on the defensive side. As always, this should be about increasing interesting choices, so split modifiers should still leave the player with meaningful, fun choices to make.

Would this cause fighting styles to become overpowered? How would it mesh with stances? Playtesting may be required.

Goodbye, Ursula

Ursula K. Le Guin recently passed away. Lots of people have mentioned how she touched their lives with her prose fiction, her advice, her politics, and many other things. Like so many others, I’m saddened at her death, but glad that she got to do so much good in her time. And like so many others, I want to share a couple ways she touched me.

A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the biggest influences on my aesthetic preferences for fantasy. I think I read a lot of other fantasy fiction before I encountered it, but when I finally did, something clicked. That stark but flavorful style is pretty much exactly what I like in fantasy, both when I read it and when I create it. “Mysterious, powerful and rare” describes much of the magic systems she created there; and no wonder (cause, or effect?), that’s also how I like magic in RPGs to be. I’ve always wanted to create a name-based magic system for a game, perhaps B&C, but never gotten around to it. That desire comes directly from reading A Wizard of Earthsea. If I’ve been lucky, some of the aesthetics of Earthsea have rubbed off on B&C.

Book cover of Always Coming Home, the edition I readMaybe an even bigger influence on me, though, is Always Coming Home. Not enough people know about this book. It’s always a pleasure when I meet someone who likes it. Always Coming Home is a great, deeply flavorful mix of fiction and fictional nonfiction. Recipes, songs, myths… I think it was the first time I’d ever seen plot and thoroughgoing exposition mixed so evenly, and so well. I’d seen the genre before, but I think it was one of the first examples that reveled in being fictional nonfiction. Always Coming Home gives the worldbuilding-sans-plot equal footing with the plot; really, in some ways, the worldbuilding is the focus, not the plot. That was kind of mind-blowing to experience. And of course the worldbuilding itself is lovely, with a very lived-in feel, yet also great amounts of wonder. Like my other favorite books, Always Coming Home inspired a lot of ideas to percolate.

Goodbye, Ursula. You will definitely be missed.