07 July, 2006
I raised the issue of how Capes is promoted earlier. When I asked Tony about why he promotes the game as a super-hero game instead of putting Conflict in front, his answer(which I can't find...) was(IIRC) that it didn't attract as many asses, and when he talked about the playtest he said that focusing on it as super-hero game got him something to compare it with.
I serve in the army, people often ask me about what my game is about, and what RPGs are in general(It's still the easiest to go from the RPG angle, CCGs and non-family board-games are all but unknown to the public in Israel, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, and if even D&D fails, LotR). When I tell them about the game, I eventually tell them about the Colour, the fluff, the setting, and that is what most people go "Cool!" about. Ron Edwards often says that he cares most about Reward and Colour. Me? I could care less about Colour, I don't care for Capes's Superhero aspect, I believe Werewolf: the Apocalypse high politics and Vampire: the Masquerade hack-and-slash are viable choices.
What this shows us is simple, and even obvious. Not all types of promotion benefit all folks. When I came up with Cranium Rats, the Conflict and Competition quickly took center stage, and the Colour, while I love it, isn't half as important. But if you'd look at ECB's Shooting the Moon love triangle situation, I think the conflict came from the colour and not vice versa, and selling the game as "A game about Competition" rather than "A Game about a love triangle and romance"(though very much the same) would hurt the game, would hurt the promotion, more crowd would be lost than crowd would be gained. <br> I on the other hand talk about Conflict and barely mention Colour, which may not work as well, but I rather do that than "Bait-and-switch"(I think most people who like Capes like it because of the Competitive element, and those who dislike it, dislike it for the same reason, selling it as a superhero game doesn't inform your audience if they'll like it or not. I, like Alexander Cherry, am surprised when the game is brought up in Super-hero game threads, I don't find Super-hero game content in it, though I love it for other stuff it has).
Those of you who do identify your games as "CSI Games", please mention it in the text, if Competition is what you pride yourself on, do so on the first page, put the "CSI Games; a Definition" post in the front of the text. If your game happens to be a CSI Game, but that is not the focus, but yet you identify your game as such, please put a mention somewhere, even if on the book's last page or two. This project is all about creating a support-net for other people who work on CSI Games, but once our games get out there, it'll also help to point people who like the competitive angle to other games who contain that aspect.
JJ Prince, John Kirk, I'm looking at you, this also applies to playtest versions!
Edit: Please change your Feedreaders to the following address: http://feeds.feedburner.com/CsiGames
30 June, 2006
It is very under-polished, it is very rough, but it has some very nifty ideas. I've decided against making it a CSI Game and at present time it's a board-game, with one simple modification needed to turn it into a CSI Game(namely, of adding narration once the Cards are flipped over, ala Agora or Dogs in the Vineyard).
This game is Call of Cthulhu meets Age of Empires. Character Generation has you answering questions and your traits being assigned based on that, like in Ogre Tactics: Knight of Lodis for the GBA. Each Slime Octopus is a Cthulhuoid entity that tries to win over the world, and on another side stands Humanity, played by another player. The game-play is rather simple, based on resource allocation, simultanous, handled by putting a seen amount of resources in unseen categories and flipping them over at once.
The game needs much more polish, a complete re-write, but it needs you people to give it a look first. It also has two pictures.
As always, you can head over to Cranium Rats Central to give it a look!
27 June, 2006
When you use Blinders in specific games they tend to call them "Constraints", pointing out what you can do and what you cannot, the limits of the game. People pointed out games like Polaris or even Dogs in the Vineyard are akin to Board-Games compared to other RPGs. In other games you can play any sort of thing, or nearly, whereas in these games session length may be dictated, as well as what you play and how you play. It's often questioned if they are RPGs at all.
Someone else mentioned the difference between Video and Board games and RPGs(much like Thomas Robertson does here, but it was earlier during the week, but specifically mentioned competitive games). In Video games anything you can do is wired into the game, if it's not wired(coded) in, then you can't do it. Board games where strategies that weren't accounted for exist are considered 'broken' or require errata(can someone help me find said post?). RPGs that want to foster such a feel need to have every possibility accounted for or they'll fail.
And this folks is why CSI Games have such a strong inclination to include Blinders/Constraints; the more options available to the players, and this being hybrid-RPG means the options are numerous, the less you can prepare for all of them, which in turn can lead to the system falling apart and people abusing it. The more Constraints you add the less situations you'll have to deal with and the better you'll be able to plan for what you are to deal with.
Over on The Forge I created two specific Blinders posts, using Cranium Rats as an example. Though they may have seemed like they were about CR, they weren't, that was merely the example and the specific design question that related to them.
In the first post, "Codification of Session Length?", I talk about the prospect of tying session length down mechanically, much like in Board Games with plays. When a certain parameter is met the game session ends and unless it is met the game continues on. RPGs and their kin fill a certain niche in the social zone, so it may not work just yet.
In the second post, "On Flags Alone?", I coin the term "Tunnels" as opposed to "Flags". Flags exist to attract attention to things the players want to cover, but in most games, nothing forces the players to focus on the Flags. So why are they there? I thought "System Matters". The concept of "Tunnels" says that nothing but the Flags are addressed. As for "Emergant stories", that can be solved by putting in a way to create new Tunnels during the gameplay.
Last, I'll raise a new idea here, for you loyal readers, a third Constraint. The issue of "GM or Not?". It seems that CSI Games are much like Board games in this regard, and that there is either no GM(Gnostigmata, Capes) or the "GM" isn't really one and he's a player with different capabilities and responsebilities(Threads and Cranium Rats).
This is an antithesis to some of the games who had Party Vs. GM, they weren't CSI Games as you didn't have an option of allying, you were given that you were cooperative within the party, very much a proto-CSI Games issue. In a CSI Game you need the competition to be nigh all-encompassing, and there isn't room for "We" as much as "He and I, for now". And so the issue of "GM or Not" takes rise, and the answer for most CSI Games will be "Not", because if he's there, he's a Conflict stiffling and out-of entity.
19 June, 2006
In the first post I pointed out why the system deserves its own playtesting, where you test the system rather than the game. We keep talking about "The system should push the feel/message of the game", but it could be a self-fullfilling prophecy if we do not check it on its own.
In the second post I pointed out that who you play with has much impact on your play experience and playtesting. This is obvious, which is why I pointed out that "Who you play with" in this instance is either "people you know" or "people you don't know". And to answer Dave, these posts are about self-imposed Blinders, so the Either/Or are ok.
In this post I won't talk about Blinders, which are self imposed, but Blindness, an area that is beyond our control; our personalities. The last point was actually an example of this one, in a way. If you didn't understand what that post was about, well, it was that personality counts, especially when one makes a CSI Game.
I feel a bit lazy, so instead of just writing it, I'll repost a discussion I had with Mike Holmes and Thomas Robertson(TheSmerf) on #indierpgs, on 15/06/2006, this also shows you the other side's opinion:
[08:36] LordSmerf: So, Guy...
[08:36] Thunder_God: ::listens to Smerfy::
[08:36] LordSmerf: I find your most recent post to be mostly content-free.
[08:37] LordSmerf: I mean, you talk about the fact that you think Tony should play up the Conflict thing.
[08:37] LordSmerf: And you talk about the Sweet spot in the middle.
[08:37] LordSmerf: And you talk about Lose benefits.
[08:37] Thunder_God: You mean I have no coherent point?
[08:37] LordSmerf: But you just mention them. I don't see any sort of discussion of why you'd use them or not, or anything like that.
[08:37] LordSmerf: So it seems to me, Guy.
[08:38] Thunder_God: The point of this entry is simple, and a very "D'oh" one.
[08:38] LordSmerf: Well, I missed it :)
[08:38] Thunder_God: It's that the personality of the designer has much effect on his game and design.
[08:39] LordSmerf: Ah...
[08:39] Mike_Holmes: Tony in this case being Tony LB?
[08:39] Thunder_God: Yes.
[08:39] Mike_Holmes: I agree in general, but extra so with Tony LB. :-)
[08:40] Thunder_God: Yes, that's one of the two reasons I picked him ;)
[08:40] Thunder_God: The other is, because Capes and Tony fit my model, IMO.
[08:40] Mike_Holmes: Makes sense
[08:41] Thunder_God: It especially fits Competitive games. I think most Competitive games are an outgrowth of personality, more than non-competitive designs, though that's my claim.
[08:42] Mike_Holmes: Interesting. I could make a case that non-competitive designs are reflective of very specific personalities that regard conflict as potentially damaging to creativity.
[08:43] Thunder_God: Mike, that's a possibility, but let us look at the following: If you follow the "standard philosophy" of your culture, it could be because you agree with it, or merely because you don't wish to confront it, or never thought of confronting it! Whereas the "heretics" have _chosen_ to follow another path, with less A or B, and only B.
[08:44] Mike_Holmes: So...competition is heretical in RPGs?
[08:44] Thunder_God: Smerfy, you'll note how often I mention personalities, I mention "Sweet in the middle" only in order to later mention "Losing Vs winning", which is an outgrowth of personality.
[08:44] Thunder_God: No Mike, it's just less common, not the default.
[08:44] Thunder_God: Thus me using quotation marks.
[08:45] Thunder_God: Those who ascribe to the default could actively agree or could passively not care, those who do not ascribe to default actively disagree.
[08:45] LordSmerf: Guy, you don't make it explicit that they're outgrowths of personality in your post.
[08:45] LordSmerf: I don't disagree with you, but you didn't say it.
[08:45] Mike_Holmes: Interesting...I think you may be right in terms of sheer number of games designed, but in terms of play, most RPG play is competitive, IMO.
[08:45] LordSmerf: Or if you did I missed it.
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: The vast majority of D&D play, for instance.
[08:46] Thunder_God: "However, look at Winning and Losing, which seem to show our personal philosophies, and how Tony may not be as Muy Macho as he claims(desires?) to be."
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: Heh
[08:46] Thunder_God: Mike, when I say Competitive DnD old-skool is only halfway there.
[08:46] Mike_Holmes: I think that Tony's designs are incoherent, yeah.
[08:46] Thunder_God: There's antagonism and competition between GM and players.
[08:46] Thunder_God: But the players work as a group.
[08:47] Thunder_God: I mean competitive like a board/card game, where it's free for all.
[08:47] Mike_Holmes: Players working as a group doesn't mean that they're not competing.
[08:47] Mike_Holmes: I think they very much do. And, yes, this leads to problems.
[08:47] Thunder_God: It also depends on house rules such as "killing blow" and so on.
[08:48] Mike_Holmes: I mentioned that recently, where "I kill him as he sleeps" becomes a very effective winning move.
[08:48] Thunder_God: Hm, well, I'm still talking about design, and set goals. Players play competitively because that's what people do in games, as you said, it leads to problems because the game does not facilitate "human nature".
[08:48] Thunder_God: Heh.
[08:48] Thunder_God: Stevil Van-Hostle kind of win ;) you won't see the Untouchtable Trio+1 pull it though.
[08:54] Thunder_God: I believe Cranium Rats's design, not in details, but overall is a reflection of my personality.
[08:54] Thunder_God: I think of my personality as a battering ram, so I created CR, and used a "gale" to get my goals down, sweeping through whatever I didn't like, ho ho.
[08:55] Mike_Holmes: Guy, I can see that. It's definitely philosophical in it's apparent output.
[08:56] Thunder_God: Mike, that's exactly what I didn't mean :: smiles:: Of course I meant its reflective of my personality, but I'm talking about the design process, where I batterred away anything that I didn't like, forcefully.
[08:57] Thunder_God: And yes, that does sound funny.
[08:58] Mike_Holmes: I see what you're saying, Guy, but it seems to me that it's affected both. Also, your comments about Tony's designs seem to focus on the output, no?
Just a note, Mike's point about play is certainly a good one, but this point is mostly about design and playtesting. And heck, why do we have CSI Games if not to remedy this lack in design?
So, do I need to explain this further?
12 June, 2006
So, since I'm mucking about with L-Space these days, this post is actually influenced by the next post, which is yet unwritten, that post, and by proxy this one as well, will deal heavily with personalities and how they affect games. I'm going to mention Tony Lower-Basch quite a lot, he's the 'other' exemplar of CSI Games, he published Capes, a quite well known CSI Game, when the other CSI Game I'm going to make use of in our examples is obviously Cranium Rats, simply because I'm rather intimate with it, more than anyone else at this point. Tony and I also have such personalities that make it fun or at least interesting to bring them up(just look at the Muy Macho thread on Story-Games to see what I mean). I am going to contrast Capes and Cranium Rats, compare and mull over things, I will also speak of Winning and Losing and somewhat of how a Game is a personal outgrowth of its writer. Ready?
The following is a PM reply from Tony to myself, reposted with permission:
"Quote from: Thunder_God
What elements of competition exist between the Players in Capes?
Well ... there's the game, and pretty much every single one of its facets in whole and in part. So, yeah, quite a bit actually.
Quote from: Thunder_God
What brought on this desire for competitive play?
'cuz I like beatin' on people."
Tony said the following on here on The Forge: "First thought: What does the losing player get when the conflict resolves? Do they get some sort of payout for the many tokens that they accumulated on their way to defeat? That would make me more willing to take a chance: either I'm close enough to close the gap (in which case I've got a lot of tokens, and the reward if I lose will rock) or I'm so far out of the running that it's a foregone conclusion, and I want my loser-tokens as quickly as possible."
He also said the following on Story-Games: "Or perhaps it's just a question of having a genre that gets a large number of people on the same page. Like, with Capes, I could basically say "superhero stories, like Spiderman and Superman" and people immediately had thoughts about what was important and how to do it. But with Misery Bubblegum the best I can say is "stories of misunderstanding and relationships, like Pride and Prejudice and Nine Princes in Amber" and people reasonably say "What? What do those two things have in common?" It doesn't give them the same confidence that they know what high-points need to be hit, and how to hit them."
So now we have several quotes by Tony, which show us quite a bit about him, Capes and his Capes, and now we're going to address and contrast with these. Yay for us.
So there we have Tony, talking about how Capes is all about Conflicts, yet the promotional teaser is all about Super-Heroics. When Capes originally came out I didn't buy it because it was just another Super-hero game with the Click-and-Lock Gimmick to me. I didn't need just another superhero game. I recently bought Capes after getting the above PM from Tony, which showed me what the game was actually about was Conflict. See, that's one place where Tony and I differ, he sells his game as a Super-hero game, not espousing the conflict in promotion, where I don't pay much attention to colour in CR and focus almost entirely on the conflict.
I think Tony could benefit from putting a little bit more focus on what his game is made almost entirely of, and I know I should put more focus on colour/setting.
When it comes to mechanics, I advise people to think before putting in "Flavour of the Month" just because it's cool and it works. It should work for you, in your game, and as we will soon see, follow your personal philosophy of how a game should go.
Case in point, I took the "Sweet in the Middle" from Tony, where if you have too much or too little of a resource you're not that well off, but there's some optimal spot to be in. This creates another axis to make decisions on; once you reach the sweet spot, if you do nothing, then what good do you get? Also, if you have some mechanic that keeps pushing you to the edges then the struggle keeps going on. This mechanic is present in Capes in the form of Debt and was inserted into Cranium Rats in regards to Dice in your Die Reservoir.
However, look at Winning and Losing, which seem to show our personal philosophies, and how Tony may not be as Muy Macho as he claims(desires?) to be. Tony believes that if you "Lose" you should get some "Loser Benefit", where in Cranium Rats it's more "All or nothing"(though it's more like "Increment or nothing" with the need for multiple increments for "Much" and various "Much" for "All"). I understand where Tony comes from, but it doesn't strike my fancy. In Cranium Rats, if you lose, you lost an opportunity, resources and/or chances of victory(at least in the near future). In Capes, and it seems that it's his general design goal, you don't "Lose" when you lose a conflict; it depends on your goals. You may have wanted to lose in order to gain or get rid of specific resources, the only real way to "lose" in Capes is not to get the outcome you desired, if you "Lost" while you got your goal, then it's not really losing.
End-game is an issue tied to losing and winning, in the form of "Victory". Capes does not have end-game, whereas Cranium Rats does. Mike Mearls would say CR is not even an RPG based on that.
Maybe he's right. It's an CSI Game.
Finally, if this comes off as harsh and all sorts of baity, then it's because both Tony and I are Muy Macho, though I'm more of the Muy Bastard/Sadistic sub-variety, and because Tony acknowledges this is the way to get someone to get reactions.
Ok, that was crap, I post like this because that's how I write. You may have noticed by now. I posted this notice at the end because I want you getting all worked up while reading it, that gets the neurons rubbing!
04 June, 2006
So, when playtesting it's important to test the mechanics on their own, to see how they work, rather than how your interpretation of them makes them work.
So, the players you play with will dictate a lot on how the game goes, you play the game, but so do they. When you play a game for fun you'd rather play a game with people you know, so you can gel as much as possible with them and collaborate to create a fun enviroment.
But what about when you play a competitive game, and especially when playtesting one?
I'll begin with several stories, taken directly from the First Post on this blog:
"..(In M:tG)Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I've created a deck based on "Fear Factor". The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: "You don't attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers". It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the "Strong Pick" and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later...
...Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I've first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as "Strong" and "Weak", "Ally" or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me..."
I believe you should play with people you know, whereas Dave Michael, author of Legends of Lanasia, believes otherwise. Dave, I'm inviting you here to explain in the comments why you believe you should play(test) (competitive?) games with people you don't know.
When you play with people you know who is a danger, you know why they are a danger, you know who will betray you.
I play Worms with my cousin against two computer enemies, we always agree to squish them first and only then turn on one another, but when that "Sweet Hit" calls, and since no one wants to get hit first we turn on one another, but we always know it'd come...
Sure, you don't fully test the system, but the system only builds example conflicts, situations for you to clash. There must be some conflict between the active agents in order for conflict to actually occur. This is often done by human nature, expectation and the need to prove oneself's as winner.
Sure, you know what others plan to do and what are their weak spots, but that doesn't mean you won't fall again, like Charlie Brown and the Football, or me and my cousin. You know the others' weak spots, but so do they know yours.
It is considered "Bad Sports" to bring outside occurances to the game, but let's be frank, much of the conflict inherent to competitive games actually comes from the friction between the players. Why create artificial conflict when there's real conflict to be drawn upon so easily?
You want to test the system, you don't want to create conflict between players. You want to test the game, you do not want to test the situation between players, just use it as a tool.
You have winners and losers, and those feelings add on to the next time you play.
I believe you should play competitive games with people you know.
01 June, 2006
So I've asked John Kirk to write his own Meta-Chanics for Cranium Rats before reading my own version which is up right here on this very blog.
He didn't exactly do what I asked him to; he used the gauge diagrams in his RPG Design Pattern book to analyze the currency flow in Cranium Rats. I meant the Meta-Chanics to not only contain the "What" and "How" but the very important "Why", like Water gaining Narration to keep that player invested and Advantage Dice put in in order to reward interaction with the in-game world.
So, he did that, and I'm once again reminded of questions I have regarding the usefulness of such a tool, which is used to analyze games such as mine(note that there will be a thread on Cranium Rats regarding this issue on The Forge soon, a link will be edited in at such time it is up).
So, first and foremost, and also the last, because it sums it all up: "Yes, cool, what do I do with it?"
So you have this nice document. If you are creating your games and you're missing something you can peruse it in search for something to fit in a hole(differing XP, HP and so on systems and what they may be useful for), if your thought processes are arcane enough you can sketch a series of diagrams of "How" you want your game's currency flow to look like and only later work on such minute details as what the rules actually are(if you can do it then I worry for you, and for all the rest of us too...).
Or you're in my position, you have a game and you have it looked at through this scientific-looking method, and we'll use Cranium Rats as an example. So what does it do for you?
Unlike Meta-Chanics as I suggested above it is descriptive, whereas Meta-Chanics are descriptive(to me, from me) but becomes(often against my will, as noted in the previous post and the one regarding Meta-Chanics) prescriptive once it gets into the hands of other players. The system may do X, but once people get it into their heads, often because of "Advice" chapters it does Y, they will claim it really is all about Y. Look at Exalted for a good example.
Well, it lets me see how many stages one needs to go through in order to accomplish something and how many fiddly bits may have to be accounted for. This is helpful if you need a visual help, less helpful otherwise.
You can also see where things are going and if there are "Currency Sink-Holes" or "Geysers" where Currency comes from/evaporates to unexpectedly. But again, this isn't of much use if you already know what you are doing.
This tool is merely descriptive, it doesn't lead to much after you already have something, where often it is my opinion that game designers need prescriptive tools to further their work and agenda.
How else can one use this tool?
If you want to see someone else's thought on Methods(Scientific, Philosophical Vs. Artistic and more) from which one can also take Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive check out Chris Lehrich's two Livejournal accounts: Account #1 and Account #2. I'm not going to link to specific entries as they are numerous and a short scroll-down will help you find them. Even entries about other topics are actually about this, so read everything.
26 May, 2006
So, building on the last post and also going directly from the Meta-Chanics post, I'm going to start this 1-of-2 post, about testing pure systems.
So, when you're playtesting you need to know what it is you're testing. If you're saying "System" then more likely than not you are deluding yourself, for you are testing the Game as a whole. I believe much can be learnt from testing the system on its own.
So how does one test the system on its own? First, one cuts off all mentions of colour and background. The three Aspects become Three Aspects that cover A, B and C, or even just three Aspects. This is easy, and allows you to see what directions it could go on once the colour is peeled off, which happens with most games after a while anyway.
Then, you take away all mentions of how the game should be played, the "Meta-Chanics", you don't tell players if they should go cooperatively or competitively, you let their own nature take them where it will.
This is the way to see what the System encourages, rather than what you encourage. If you want your design goals and what the system actually encourages, rather than what it encourages once you point it in the "right" direction, then you have to see what the System does.
The System and not the Game.
And you could see it as a way of me agreeing with Troy, Setting does matter. Though I look at it from another angle.
19 May, 2006
People, please share your thoughts regarding my writing, because I can see we have at least a couple of readers.
In games and businesses we have Game Theory, which to some degree dictates the way people operate. You'd think they'd operate by common logic, but they do not.
Note that I know some tidbits of Game Theory, but not too much. I have several books, including University MBA level on the subject, but did not peruse them too deeply, so take what I write with a grain of salt, well, a bigger one than usual.
So some examples:
We have two people who will never meet again, have this opportunity be repeated or met before: One of them gets $100 and can offer the other participant as much of it as he wants, should the other particiant accept, they both take the money, should he decline they both leave empty-handed.
Common sense would decree that even if you're given $0.01 you'd accept, because it's better than going away empty-handed.
Yet, this is not the way things go.
The Prisoner's Dilemma:
So you have two prisoners(A, B) who got caught after committing a crime, and are questioned simultanously in seperate rooms: If both tell on their friend they each serve 2 years, if neither talks they both get 6 months inside. If one talks and the other doesn't, the one who talked will go free and the silent one will get to spend 10 years in jail.
By logic, both should remain silent, mathematically, each 'acting agent' should speak.
So now let's look at two RPGs with mechanics one can look at from the Game Theory angle, both have a mechanic with the same name: Trust. The games are the Mountain Witch and Conspiracy of Shadows.
In Conspiracy of Shadows there's a communal pool called Trust. When you do something for the benefit of the group you put a die in it, when you could do something for the group but don't, remove a die from it. You can take dice from the pool and use them.
So long everyone is acting all cooperatively it's all cool. Once someone starts pissing in the pool, aka, acting against the interests of the party, I forsee players taking dice out as fast as possible, in order to not let more dice go to waste.
In the Mountain Witch each pair of characters have a Trust score for one another(the game is influenced by Reservoir Dogs), the higher you trust someone, the more he can use your help to get things done, to help everyone get to the top of the Mountain. Once things get a little hairy as people's secrets and secret goals get exposed though, the Trust you have for someone can be used against you.
So do you give someone high Trust in order to help everyone at a possible of self-risk or don't Trust and then you may not even finish the quest?
I am not going to tell you what to do with it, just wanted to get something out there for you to think about.
And if you don't see how this relates to Competitive games, then shame on you.
13 May, 2006
I did not post this on my game, the Meta-Chanics section because I believe in a "Double-Blinders" test of the system, but fuck it, we could have that later. I'll explain this concept later in two posts or so, expect it by the end of the week.
The following is more or less the way Mechanics work in Cranium Rats. Since this blog is about Competitive Games, specifically CSI Games, and Cranium Rats is one such game(and because it's mine the one who will show quite prominently as an example) I thought I'd show it.
Let me note that much could be considered as "Added weight", unlike Capes which to me feels like The Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings - Constructed. The world/game was constructed in advance, and then things were added to it. I go the other way, where you create the world as characters experience it, so much was created by "urge" and "instinct".
First, why this is NOT in the playtest file:
I want to see if the mechanics actually work as intended, IE, whether the meta-chanic goals are reached. If I tell people why things operate as they do and what they should operate as it’d become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which I’m very much against. I even think each game needs playtesting of its mechanics alone – where the playtesters get no background bits at all but just have the system and we see what they reach.
Tokens exist to support the Narrative. In a way they are also a tool for you to “Mark” other players as Tony explains in Capes. What people spend their Tokens on is what they care about, which gives you more information regarding them.
Note that at the first session the Enlightened begins with 8 Tokens, 5 for session and 3 for the three initial Flood Scenes that culminate character generation; this is so he could set the general background and feel of the game during the first round or two, by narrating both the scenes up to conflicts and their results, or by giving people Goals.
Tokens belong to the players, and since each player plays across three characters he needs to choose where to spend his effort, given that those who spread themselves are less likely to win in any location. Players will likely concentrate on their Rat and Dirt since they exert more direct influence there, and will use Tokens for Water as intended, when they want to advance that character’s story, which they are already pretty much in control of.
Tokens are finite, generation of Tokens is not that easy, at least not for players. When players spend Tokens they usually go to the Enlightened, and when he spends them they usually disappear. Using Tokens to exert mechanical influence “Removes” Tokens, using them to exert story influence gives them to someone else, who may end up using them against you. This would make players hoard their tokens, thus the “Use them or lose them” bit, which stops them from sitting on their asses passively, which leads us to our next point:
Game Length is helped along by Tokens and thus fulfills the movie/TV episode feel I want the game play to have! If you have a Medium session it’ll be followed by another Medium one, where people have Tokens, use them, resolve Goals, use Tokens. When you have a Short session it should be followed by a Long session and then another Short session; At the end of a short session players are left with unused Tokens so they will scramble to set them up in the only way they can “keep” them: they will set up new Goals for themselves. The next session should be long, so that players would use up all of their given Tokens, would have to resolve their Goals for more Tokens and then use them as well. The next session should be short as well to let players set new Goals.
The Enlightened “opposes” the Aspects’ selfishness, thus the conditions when he gains new Tokens.
Die Reservoir is there to let the players exert direct control over things. The reason the Die Reservoir limit and where it starts when you go up/down is set is to combat Death Spirals. If the higher you go the less likely you are to be able to exert influence, and that’s crap, I don’t want that.
I used “Sweet in the middle” in order to get people to haul ass and do things. You want to control the character in a scene (You do, you can’t gain Marks, go up and eventually win otherwise), then you need to use dice in Biddings. But in order to gain Dice anew you must participate in Conflicts, and win them.
The “Sweet in the middle” makes you want to use your Dice, because otherwise when you win you give the other players Tokens, which you’d really rather not. If you use them and lose, you are in risk of going down since you lose a die when you lose a Conflict.
Those who participate can use dice from Die Reservoir in conflicts on a 1-for-1 basis, those outside it need to pay 2-for-1, giving more importance to Tokens and showing that if you’re not on it, then you have a harder time exerting influence, propelling you to be “on it”.
On Player interaction:
The Marks work in a “One step forward, two steps back” kind of way. You need to win conflicts to go up, but if you lose, you lose them all. There is no benefit to having Marks less than your Ratio, so on you go, hoping your fellow players won’t screw you.
As shown in the Actual Play example, you can “Force” others to help you, because when a Trait goes to 0 it is the Highest Aspect that goes down, so he has vested interest in helping you not lose.
Aspect Ratios exist to make players form “alliances” or have vested interest. So you’re Rat, you may want Dirt or Water to be higher, depending on your preferred play-style.
There’s a double-helix tension going on here: Someone is getting too high, so the rest of you gang up on him to get him down. You get him down, but now he remembers you screwed him so he’s more like to be combative against you, across all characters.
On Currency flow:
Too many Dice results in others getting Tokens.
Too little Dice means a Flood Scene is going to occur, where the usage of resources is fast and furious, and The Enlightened gets a Token.
The higher you go, the more likely you’ll go over the Die Reservoir Limit, giving others more resources to stop you the higher you go. You may even be tempted to pour Tokens/Dice onto others to gain Tokens back.
The Free Dice in Flood Scenes means it’s most likely someone will have vested interest, seeing how he already has 50% of getting/retaining the dot if no one else bids. Note how when an Aspect Drops you first gain your full Die Reservoir, so you can bid the whole 6 dice; if you win it’s all good, you get your Dot back plus 6 dice. If you lose however, you lost a die and are very close to losing another!
Tokens result in Dice. Dice result in Tokens.
Dice can be used to gain control over story, instead of them being used to gain control over mechanics.
Tokens can be used to exert control over story, giving others the same right or letting them gain control over mechanics.
Advantages exist to help people be more invested.
Water narrates makes the Water player active, even though he plays a more passive role when it comes to the Aspects themselves.
Character win over Aspects is very rare, usually occurs in spite of what the players do, not because of, because it’s at the mercy of dice.
To recap, the mechanics are there to promote conflict, pacts and betrayals. They are there to encourage competition. Don't forget, the mechanics impose a "Win" condition, and once you have that, players will strive towards it.
08 May, 2006
So on the previous entry we've covered what a CSI Game is, now I'll add the last entry needed in order to complete the CSI Game project scuffolding, after this post, the project could technically stand on its own.
This entry is about figuring out the "CSI Game" Rating of games, and figuring if your game fits into the criteria.
CSI Game Rating is based mostly on your intentions and their executions, with an added final weight given to subjective opinion on the quality of these paremeters and their integration. The rating goes from 0 to 10, with 0 being "Not a CSI Game" and 10 being "A CSI Game through and through".
If any of the four individual ratings(Competitive, Interactive, Story and Game) get a score of 0, then the game is not a CSI Game, you may still continue to check the other criteria, to get its "Virtual CSI Game" rating.
1) Competitive: This is the Litmus test, most games will not have this criteria, this most distinguishing criteria, and will thus fail to register as a CSI Game.
Does the game create tension between players, does it intend to, does it succeed?
* Does the game push for Competition as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Competition between the players? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of fostering Competition? Add up to 1 point.
2) Interactive: Does the game foster interaction between players? Can you sit on your own and play without the game, or yourself being harmed?
* Does the game push for Interaction as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Interaction between the players? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of fostering Interaction? Add up to 0.5 points.
3) Story: Do you create a story as you play? Is the story part of what you're actually playing for? Is Story just an after-thought?
* Does the game push for Story Creation/Telling as one of its goals? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game use mechanics that create, encourage, reward or in any other way illustrate Story Generation? If Yes, add 1 point.
* How well do you think those mechanics work, on their own, and in order to accomplish the goal of creating a Story? Add up to 0.5 points.
4) Game: Is this a "Game"? "What is a game" is a hard thing to answer, the short answer is, "You know it when you see it". Is this played as a fun activity, rather than as an effort whose goals are to tell a meaningful story, explore the concept of...
* Does the game actually act like a Game, with its goal being having fun and such as described above? If Yes, add 1 point.
* Does the game have a finite finishing point? If Yes, add 0.5 points.
* Does the game have a "Winner" once it ends? If Yes, add 0.5 points.
And now you too can channel the spirit of CSI Games folks. Now I want your help to steer me further.
Now, as I've asked on The Forge:
1) Do you "get" anything out of the current posts on CSI Games blog?
2) What kind of tools/topics do you wish were covered?
Also, we got mentioned.
07 May, 2006
First, tried to get a game of Cranium Rats going today, still no luck. Fate is conspiring against your faithful writer, who will keep fighting back, and will eventually win.
So, we keep talking about CSI Games, but we do not yet have a clear definition of what comprises a CSI Game. What we do have right now is what I said in my first post on the topic. To whit:
".."CSI Games", CSI being Competitive Story Interaction. These are RPGs("What is an RPG?" is a question I will leave unanswered for now, hoping you know what I mean) where there is a story being generated, but the social interaction is competitive and even antagonistic in nature, rather than the "Cooperative" mode suggested and propagated throughout our hobby's history. In a way, this is us going back to Board/War games, from which our hobby draws much of its history. I'd say that we're growing in the opposite direction, rather than regressing.
What is Chainmail, Dungeon and Dragon's Proto-form if not a Wargame to which one adds little acting? So CSI Games are in a very real way RPGs to which you add a Wargame mentality!"
So we'll start with that as an introduction and continue to construct a definition, one that hopefully could be used as is, or as a basis in game-book introductions.
C is for Competitive/Cooperative.
Most games under the umbrella of "Role-Playing Games"(RPGs) till now had been Cooperative in nature, the social interaction between players, players and Game Master(GM) and that of between player-characters had been Cooperative. This is the origin of or originated from the "party". We're all in this together.
This may also be a leading cause into the "You don't win in RPGs" when explaining what you're doing to an elder party member.
The other side of the coin is that which I am putting up as the main identifier of CSI Games, the Competitive side. Competition is something inherent to human interaction, inherent to the act of gaming. You find competition in Board, War and Card games, along in most sports(where you have competition between groups and cooperation inside them). I want the players to compete, whether for spotlight, victory, control, in-game resources, whatever. There need be a competitive element somewhere in the game.
It should be reflected in the mechanics as well, but that comes second.
S is for Story.
We're here to tell a story, to hear a story or experience one's wake. We're not here to merely roll the dice or shuffle the cards. Unlike board-games and card-games, we have a story unfolding here. If we don't, we're dealing with something else.
Story often goes with Cooperative. The story-building part is a joint effort by all participants.
I is for Interaction/Isolation.
We're playing a game with other people, you interact with them. You want to help them stop that other guy from winning, you're talking to them and trying to stop them, that's also interaction! You do not play in a void, you're playing with people, interact with them.
Mechanics should have some way to represent and encourage interaction between the players.
Isolation has little place in this scheme, it's mostly there as the other side of Interaction, where you're "Snubbed" for game reasons, as others ally against you. Alternately, if you're snubbed for out-of-game reasons, you're unlikely to do well in game, or have fun.
Game is self-explanatory.
This is a game, it has winners. This is a game, it has rules. This is a game, it is an activity you do for fun. This is a game, one of the basic human activities, and you know one when you see it.
So we are left with CSI Game, or Competitive(/Cooperative) Story Interaction Games.
Isolation plays little part in this, and is mostly there as something to be avoided.
Competitive is what sets this apart from other games, so we're paying it more heed. Cooperative is also there, but more as part of the Story or Interaction bits and less as an individual agent.
This is what a CSI Game is, if you disagree with me, or think of a better name or definition, this is the place to argue so.
If you think "CSI" is Geeky, this is where you get to voice your piece.
06 May, 2006
This is an addendum to the previous post.
So, I got this PM on The Forge from John Kirk who's working on Gnostigmata(he's currently looking for playtesters), in response for me trying to get him to playtest Cranium Rats since as you can see from the last post we CSI Game designers are the most suited people to help one another:
"Guy, I'm sorry I've got to turn you down. It has taken me many months to convince my group to try out Gnostigmata. And, in fact, it has taken me a couple of years to warm them up to play-testing some new concepts for Legendary Quest. I truly wish they were more amenable to such things, so that I could offer to help other gamers try out their stuff, but it's just not in the stars.
I wish I knew why so many gamers are so reluctant to try out new things. :-/"
My reply to him was as follows:
"One last thing, the thing about CSI Games is that you should test them with card and board-gamers.
As Ron said, it's at all surprising RPers of mainstream are even willing to try narrative games. Need to branch out to non-RPers :)"
Role-players tend to stick with what they know, RPGs, when Sorcerer came Ron directed it at those who did not have fun with what they did before, those outside of the "mainstream" of RPGs, it was a surprise to him that some of them(us) even took to it and tried to understand.
Now I think the same is happening with CSI Games, you have a better chance getting it playtested with card/board gamers than with role-players.
05 May, 2006
I love it when other people do my work for me. So we have a question, "Why do we need someone to push forward the idea of "CSI Games", a further subdivision of our hobby?"
The answer begins in this post where I outline what CSI Games are to begin with and how they differ from what is out there right now. Expect a more formal answer, one that people could(hopefully) put in their projects' introduction, soon.
Then along come two people, Paul Czege and Sydney Freedberg and make my point for me:
"..but I think the extended development time is more because my goals are outside the development tradition than anything else. I'm designing for Acts of Evil player characters as static antagonists, and NPCs that emerge from play as protagonists. And I'm trying to provoke creative and interesting antagonism from the players via competition amongst them.."
"Paul, that's fascinating. (Plus it allows me to console myself, as I labor on the playtest-proven brokeness of the third set of core mechanics for apocalypse girl, that the reason this is so much harder than the two RPGs I designed in college and played with my friends is that I'm trying to do something radically new, even if it is essentially second-generation Capes)."
We have the methods for Simulationism, we have the methods for Narrativism(if only for a short while now), we do not yet possess the tools for Gamism, not in this hobby.
We know how to simulate reality, and in the books we pay for the engine. We know how to format a good narrative, and we charge for the experience. We are now working on the tools to construct constrained competition, and we will charge for the Game Experience.
We do not yet have what we need, we cannot simply say "Take Settlers of Cattan and narrate some story event for each turn". We are starting anew, and we're alone, or so it seems.
The experience of those who came before can only take us so far, and look at the net, look at The Forge, what are they if not tools/places to have people meet and help one another?
Those who work on CSI Games should playtest one another's games. Those who work on CSI Games should help others push towards the CSI Game nature and goals from the board-game and Narrative ends.
If we won't help one another, no one will. We currently have to work inordinately hard to playtest, since we do not have much to compare our work to.
We have to work inordinately hard to find playtesters, because people have a hard time wrapping their head about what we do.
Even if we ourselves won't benefit from this meeting of minds now, hopefully things will be easier for the next generation.
Well, I guess that is my mission statement for the CSI Project, thoughts, notes, comments?
On another note, Cranium Rats V. 1.2 Beta is now live, and the game will progress no further till substansive contribution(playtesting) is made by outside parties.
03 May, 2006
First, for those who did not notice(most of you), I've begun syndication of game related, especially CSI related information to a new Blog, aptly called, CSI Games.
A question to my LiveJournal readers, do you find these game posts of any interest?
Second, I want to revise Cranium Rats, but first I need your help. I need more answers regarding the questions presented in this thread.
Now that we got that out of the way, onward!
This thread directly ties in to my earlier post regarding memes, on second thought it also ties to this post about Addictions. I believe Game Design(we'll talk mainly of RPGs and TCGs here) is a disease, a viral disease. That may not be a negative thing, but it is something to be considered.
So there you are, sitting and reading a game book, and "Zing!" goes the light-bulb, when you notice something which needs some changing.
Thus you get House-Rules.
There you are still, playing a game, for example D&D 3ed or Exalted, and you want something that is not there, a new Prestiege Class, a new Martial Arts Style.
Thus you get Fan Material.
There you are, still, and boy doesn't your butt ache from sitting down for so long? But you sure are persistent, and now you're mucking about with Magic: the Gathering, and you're building your deck for an upcoming tournament. Cutting down cards to 60 is hard, it feels like you're sacrificing your own children.
Thus you get Design Process.
So you sat down and did all that, but you decided you want to do some more. You've been infected.
The above is how the disease transmits. It is easy to transmit, it is easy to carry, it is easy to keep alive even if somewhat dormant.
The virus does not stay content forever though, once you had flexed your designer muscles you find it easier to flex them once more. Such is the nature of muscles.
Once you set down the road it is easier to continue upon it.
So you start with Exalted, and you find that it is missing a Martial Arts style you desire, so you add one. Now you find Intimacies don't do what you want, so you delve deeper into the kernels of the game, changing some basics of the game and much of how the rules apply to this specific case.
Then you are ready to progress to the next step. Exalted is no longer good enough. It just doesn't do what you want it to, so you make your game, wholly your creation.
So it seems we've covered the "Why" you design games; you begin by designing pieces and then you grow in skill enough to design games.
It is the other way around, that is the "How". You get the virus in you and so you begin designing(it's often transmitted by holes and missing appendages in other games that call to you to fill them), once you build your muscles you move to bigger projects. You don't go on a scale because that's what you can do and as you go up you get more capable of taking on bigger tasks, you take on smaller tasks in order to prepare yourself for Game Design.
Game Design propagates the virus.
You design games because you can't stop.
29 April, 2006
This is posted to show you one of the projects I'm working on and how it relates to my beliefs regarding games and RPGs, aka CSI Games.
The Power 19 are a design process or accessory that helps you formulate your ideas and present them.
Slime Octopi and Coral is a game that meshes Call of Cthulhu with Cranium Rats' competitive theme and mechanics, and cranks it up even higher.
This will be a joined process with Eric Bennett, who is currently busy studying. This is my Power 19. It's also posted on Story-Games and The Forge with no replies.
1.) What is your game about?
Elder/Outer Gods who land on Earth before the rise of Humanity, trying to control and manipulate (proto-)humanity and history to their goals.
2.) What do the characters do?
The characters compete amongsts themselves and against Humanity in order to control and shape it, or fend off the Elder Gods in Humanity's(character) case.
Ultimately, the Gods try to reshape Humanity in their shape, as Servitor Races, whereas Humanity wants to throw off the shackles placed upon them by these External beings.
3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
The players play the Elder Gods, one of them plays Mr. H. They compete against one another over the limited Resource called Humanity and its future. They work out deals and backstab one another to further their goals, while being careful to not be overthrown by the strengthening(?) Humanity. Mr. H. fills in the GM's role, and portrays the Gods' effect on Humanity and Humanity and the world's reactions.
4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is initially that of one lone star hurtling through space, with "something" crashing on top of it, simultanously creating life and its rack. As time progresses the setting expands as culture and humanity progress, or do not, based on the Gods' goals.
Humanity being a finite resource with a defined growth-rate leads to a boardgame mentality, with "wildcard" events acting as randomizers to keep people on edge.
5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Character generation includes answering questions about what your God is, what it wants, what it wants from Humanity, how these relate to one another and so forth. This is the Function phase. This is done by drawing from a limited number of words to create the answers to these questions. Since the words will be mutually exclusive one can be ensured to have a character that will have a hard time to work with others, if at all.
The characters' goals may also stand in stark opposition with their methods. Nothing like a ravenous entity that wants to breed lower beings.
Character generation will also have a Form phase, where you pick and choose different physical/spiritual aspects of your character, which give you certain weaknesses to be covered, and powers to exploit others' weaknesses. Or relate differently to Humanity.
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Backstabbing and alliances, being able to plan for the long term while being able to respond to a quickly changing playing field.
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Those who cannot form alliances, uphold them, backstab others and protect themselves from being backstabbed will find their strategical position deteriorating as they are picked upon by the other players. Mr. H's player is more there to portray what happens than form any interaction with the players, their relationship is that of cause and effect.
You need to be able to make and execute long-term plans that will be carried over several rounds of play-time in order to reach your goals and secure victory.
As you are not the only player present and other players as well as random chance are likely to throw monkey-wrenches at your character you will need to be able to think on your feet and redraw plans.
8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Turns progress with Mr. H. narrating the overall results of the past turn and setting the new scene, or epoch, as each round of play is another notch on the progress of time. What the world does, what humanity does, etc. The players then describe their actions, with Narration being traded based on system and Mr. H.
9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
You can win in this game. Everyone wants to win, or at least everyone participating in this game should want to win. Narration rights can be bought and move around quickly.
You make and break pacts with other players and constantly look out for number one. You.
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
The Resolution mechanic of the game is based on that of Cranium Rats, albeit modified. You roll D6 and need to roll under a trait ranging 1-5, based in large on your Form and Function, those who compete in an action roll to see who will control the conflict, with those that rule highest on single dice gaining Narration.
There are Dice and Token as different resources that can be used to bolster rolls, stop others and so on.
How the mechanics will be modified from those of CR is not yet final, but there will certainly be advantages to controlling more of Humanity, having your people more advanced, more loyal, etc. Humans can die, be stolen and they can rebel. Resource management will be inserted and controlled by Mr. H., Humanity will be able to perform on a wider scale, but not as strongly, thus making several small "characters". As Humanity's numbers increase it becomes more dominant, harder to control and more likely to rebel. Probably done by having a limited number of pools and inverse relationships.
IE: Number+Loyalty=20. Number=10>Loyalty=10. Number=15>Loyalty=5.
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
On the Gods' front they relate to how each Elder God tries to shape History and make his vision become reality through the narration. On Humanity's end it's a resource game that will tend to lead towards Humanity breaking free and an end-game where they fight the Elder Gods for freedom or slavery, forever.
If the Elder Gods try to keep humanity down they will have a much harder time to gain their goals, and it will happen much slower, giving the other Elder Gods more time to thwart their plans.
12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Humanity advances based on its reactions to Random Events and the machinations of the Elder Gods. It also advances based on its natural progression chart provided it is not messed with.
Elder Gods gain resources in a manner based on their Function, their Form may shift as they gain or lose conflicts. Their Function may change completely when challenged or proven ineffectual to the point of crush.
13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
There's a limited pool to draw from, so characters are forced to compete in order to advance.
Humanity is messed with in order for the EG to advance, so it competes against them.
Competition is encouraged and reinforced through advancement. In fact, there is no advancement without reinforcement of the game's premise!
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
An urge to squelch opposition, to sit down and consider both the tactical and the strategic consequences of their actions, while trying to factor in what others do.
15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The setting. Well, H.P. has such a cool premise going on, and so many people like it, they and he must be onto something.
Well, to be frank, most of the difference between this and CR is the premise, and the premise is setting based. The rest of the mechanical shift from CR is there merely to support this unique premise, so it must be explored.
I want to explore the cold-lone space, I want to explore the inhuman and inhumane Elder Gods.
This game is about Control, but also about Freedom.
Eventually, it's about Victory.
16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The option to have a limited game-play length and how the Resource you're vying for? That's basically another player's character!
Why? Because I feel this game may form a strong bridge between RPGs and Board-games, and could be modified with ease to be more of an RPG or more of a board-game, depending on what the group desires at the time.
17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
At the other player's throats.
It lets people play a God. Just like in Black and White, you play a god-sim. You can play that in other games, sure. But not in other RPGs. Yours is the power to take control of humanity, of your people, and shape them according to your vision.
Your very distorted vision.
18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Publish as PDF, later as Book, joint effort with Mr. Bennett. Will be tied into Cranium Rats from which it had sprung.
Currently undecided if to publish/promote as a short limited-time game ala The Mountain Witch or a more medium limited-time game ala Polaris.
19.) Who is your target audience?
People who like H.P. Lovecraft's works, people who like board-games. People who like God Simulation computer games.
I'll begin with a quote, this quote is quite large, because it's all good. This quote is taken from the book Memetic Magic which I'm currently way too poor to buy. If you want to buy it for me I'll hug you lots. I didn't read the book, but the excerpt is available at the link provided:
ARTISTIC MEMETIC MAGIC by Kirk Packwood
Opening the Portal to the Astral-Daemonic Planes
Artistic Endeavors as Representations of Complex Memetic Structures: Spirit = Symbol = Complex Memetic Structure
Symbols embedded within works of art are re-presentations of complex memetic structures which in many cases can be correctly labeled thought viruses. Since all human beings who have had any prolonged contact with society are programmed to some degree, large portions of the human mind (especially the thinking portion of the psyche which utilizes language) are constructed almost entirely of complex memetic structures. The complex memetic structures which form the cognitive linguistic (language using) portions of the human mind possess strong defenses, both passive and active, against contamination by invading thought viruses and memetic structures. A human mind will resist any ideas which do not bind correctly within the existing memetic structures which form the framework of its linguistic consciousness. Programmed minds will only listen to what they want to hear. Therefore, it is seldom possible for an idea to be taught to another person directly. Ideas which do not fit into the binding points within a mind will be resisted and rejected. In many cases an individual will desire to convey a specific idea to other human beings, but finds, when offered in their most diluted form, his ideas will be rejected. Oftentimes the solution to this problem is to create a work of art in which the artist’s message, or root meaning, is embedded. By work of art is meant any artistic endeavor which is traditionally considered to reside within the artistic sphere; be it literature, painting, music, movies, sculpture, etc. The artwork serves to focus the attention of the programmed conscious mind, while the root meaning (thought virus or memetic structure) embedded within slips unnoticed into the subconscious.
There is no inherent goodness in art. The idea to be conveyed in a work of art can have any quality from a startling revelation intended to better the human condition to a blatant deception designed to conceal truth and take power. On many occasions an artist will embed a root meaning into his art which he believes will serve the greater good, but in reality the artist’s concept of the greater good may be nothing more than an unusually complex example of the replication phase of a thought virus of which the artist has been infected without his knowledge. Most artists, like most people, are programmed by the dominant memetic structures, or cultural ideal types. Dominant memetic structures are only concerned with maintaining their dominance by replicating to as many minds as possible, not with the greater good of humanity, except in how the greater good of humanity serves to benefit the replication possibilities of the dominant memetic structure.
All artwork, even the most rudimentary, contains complex memetic structures residing at many different levels within the work of art. An intelligent mind can dilute a work of art much as a chemist can dilute a uniform mixture of diverse chemicals. Recognition of the root meanings inherent in artistic endeavors can lead an individual to a source of great understanding and power.
Every artistic endeavor contains numerous symbols embedded at many different levels within the work of art. Some of these symbols are imbedded into the art with willed conscious intent while others are the result of subconscious communication. Of the two types of symbols inherent in artwork the subconscious symbols are the most interesting. The consciously created symbols within artwork are complex memetic structures which can be correctly labeled thought viruses or thought contagions, depending on whether the memetic structure attempts to use the mind it has infected for the purpose of further replication.
A Memetic Magician wishing to spread fashioned thought viruses would do well to consider imbedding his creations into a work of art and releasing that work of art to a target population. The artwork serves as an outer guise concealing the true form of the thought viruses contained within. The entertainment or aesthetic value of a work of art engages the attention of the conscious mind of the individual partaking of the work of art, allowing the thought viruses embedded within to penetrate the defenses of the unaware target’s complex mental memetic structure. Once the thought viruses have penetrated, instructions can be disseminated and replication can commence.
The symbols contained within a work of art can assume a variety of different forms depending on the type of art being examined. For the sake of brevity, this chapter will focus primarily on literature and paintings. But the principals contained herein are equally valid in regards to any variety of artistic endeavor.
So we have Memes, and we have games. Games often have a moral that they want to teach us, or at least claim to teach us. But if we've learnt anything from the quote above(we probably learnt many a thing, a very long and meaty quote it is!) we've learnt that we resist the messages being given, and only hidden memes can bypass our conscious mind and infect us.
So let us begin with an example I'm sure all of you know. Monopoly.
What is Monopoly about(ergo, what is its overt message saying)? I asked my mother, and she gave me the obvious answer, "Monopoly is about buying and selling, it's about acquiring, it's about handling money." That's a very lofty goal, teaching the kids how to handle money, Market Forces 101. It succeeds in that, but the meme, the meme is what we're interested in.
To perceive the meme one needs luck, one needs experiencing the right source material or having perceived the meme in its raw form beforehand. Monopoly's meme is discussed in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I'm not going to tell you much of the book except I think every person needs to read it at least once in their life. I consider this book important.
So what is the secretive viral meme inherent to Monopoly which worms its way into you, and then makes you repeat it after you've been infected(or in turn makes you play Monopoly to transmit it further, the Kids, the Kids! Won't anyone think of the kids?!)?
Building as much as the land could support. Not leaving one tile untilled.
That's Monopoly's corrupted meme, to acquire as much land as possible and then use it up. Build as much as the land can support and then some more.
Every RPG could probably be summed in one line, in what it is about. Its message. Its meme would probably take up to three words, if you can find it at all. What attracts people is the message, they don't notice the meme in the beginning. Surely not in a conscious manner.
I believe I'd put another example in about now:
Dogs in the Vineyard is about moral judgement. That's what you create the setting for, that is what your characters resolve, that is what you sit down at the table and play. That's the overt message, that attracts players.
What is the Meme? Conflict and its Results. The game doesn't really care about judgement, it cares about what you do to others and how the third law of Newton applies then, changing you in return.
People who post modifications, or did till now mostly posted based on societies with certain codes, such as Mafia. That is taking the idea, the hook and twisting it, cool enough.
As time passes by, people will realize they don't need that. That is the setting which is there to create Conflicts, but the game doesn't really care about how you get to the conflict, it cares that it happens and then how many changes are wrought by it, and how drastic those changes are.
Games have a Moral. Games have a Meme.
The Moral is easy to find, usually intentional, and it is that Moral which draws people to the game(that and the system).
The Meme is hard to find, often unconsciously put in and hard to modify. Find it and you'll know what truly makes the game tick, what makes you stay with it.
Memes are hard to put in intentionally, because they don't work that way.
This also relates to my last post, posted below, here. The question is "Why now?", why do all these games come up now?
One answer is that the Board-game backdrop had been taking up a larger part in our sub-culture lately. They meet it, they like it, they try to reproduce it in other places of their interest.
The other answer is that those games share a Meme, they're board-games, and Competition is often a key-word in their Meme pool. Recent RPGs also slowly spread that Meme, even if weakened at first because it was in the form of Factionalism(party Vs. GM). But now it's out, and it progresses, and Memes tend to snowball.
We live in an interesting time.
First, I'd like to note that I was in a sort of a funk regarding LJ lately, which explains the lack of updates. I am now adding a new directional goal for my journal, that of exploring my RPG related thoughts and creations. This will lead to more posts, although they may be of limited interest to those not interested in exploring RPGs or my creations.
Sleeping World Journal is merely postponed, not abandoned, fear not loyal reader.
For those of you who missed it, I am currently working on an RPG that I call "Cranium Rats", you may view it and other things of mine on Cranium Rats Central.
The following is a treatise of sorts, regarding my experiences, observations and hypotheses regarding Competitive RPGs and how they relate to Board Games and Card Games. It may be posted later on the Forge in some manner, but remember, you saw it here first!
First, some experiences and observations thereof:
I played multiplayer Magic: the Gathering. Here are some specific cases. When we played in a three-way free for all combat one of us was about to be finished, leaving the other two players to fight amongst themselves. The losing player whined and so we let him live, he created a life-gaining engine which we let him use so he won't whine and he ended up winning by Decking.
This showed me that unlike most board-games or card games created for the multiplayer format, Magic has a major drawback: Those who lose stay left out till this instance of gameplay is concluded. This is unlike Blackjack where one is only left out for a short while or Poker where it's one's own decision when to Fold. In games created for multiplayer format rather than have a "Loser Out" they have "One winner and game-end", which results in no one being left out while others are still playing.
Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I've created a deck based on "Fear Factor". The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: "You don't attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers". It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the "Strong Pick" and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later.
Munchkin, the card-game by SJG. In it you race in order to reach level 10, backstabbing, or rather, fore-stabbing is common and encouraged. You dump monsters and curses on other players, steal their stuff, while trying to muscle your way past your "friends" doing the same to you. I play this game with my family; myself, my two younger siblings and two of our cousins. My sister plays a mean style and tries to take me out, or rather, stop me from winning.
I always win, or did till now. Sister always came in second.
When someone considers doing something to me, I threaten that I will reciprocate the "Favour", that is usually enough to deter them. My sister says to the other players: "So he'll do it to you, and then he won't be able to do anything more to anyone, because he'll use his resources", I answer, "Then why don't you attack me and suffer the brunt of my retaliatory attack?".
This shows us that while everyone wants to win, also no one wants to lose. Also, by creating dissent amongst your opposition you may go through relatively unscathed, or they will only join in too late. As I will show in the next paragraph!
Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I've first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as "Strong" and "Weak", "Ally" or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me.
Board games and other competitive multiplayer games rely far more than your average game on your relations and knowledge of the other players, as it shows you out-of-game(or out of game instance) reasons to ally and target other players.
You want to win, and more than that, you don't want to lose.
Enter Worms, the computer game by Team 17, my cousin and I play it together, us and two teams of computer opposition. We always say we'll kill the computer first and only then turn on one another. We never manage to stay till the end, some targets are just too juicy, and we know we're both better than the computer. No one wants to give the other First Strike.
Recently I've witnessed the nascent snow-ball movement of what I will call "CSI Games", CSI being Competitive Story Interaction. These are RPGs("What is an RPG?" is a question I will leave unanswered for now, hoping you know what I mean) where there is a story being generated, but the social interaction is competitive and even antagonistic in nature, rather than the "Cooperative" mode suggested and propagated throughout our hobby's history. In a way, this is us going back to Board/War games, from which our hobby draws much of its history. I'd say that we're growing in the opposite direction, rather than regressing.
What is Chainmail, Dungeon and Dragon's Proto-form if not a Wargame to which one adds little acting? So CSI Games are in a very real way RPGs to which you add a Wargame mentality!
Paranoia is the first game I'm aware of that supports, even suggests, such mentality. The backdrop of the game is little but a tool to foster a "Me or them" mentality, a "We or them" and "Me or we" mentalities combined. The setting is all for you being out to get others, while hiding yourself and covering your ass from being "Had". The players know that all characters are traitors, and if a character proves another is a traitor, then that character's iteration(yay clones!) is offed. This encourages you to look out to screw other players, protect yourself from being screwed over AND accomplish whatever the homicidal Computer/GM throws at you, so you won't ALL be offed.
Rune and DonJon, both take D&D and turn it on its head. Rune has one going for points, technically, everyone is together except when it's one turn to take on the "GM" mantle and create obstacles for the others, but since one "Scores points", one is always looking for number one. Here's a hint, every player's number one is himself.
DonJon has the players act together against the GM, but the two are on adversarial terms, same as in HackMaster. All conceits of "We're all here just wanting to play a game together" are thrown aside as drivel, we're here to play together, but we're here to win alone, or against one another.
My best friend treats almost all convention games as DonJon, him against the group but mainly against the GM and the GM's world, seeing how fast he can break it, and how mangled it'll end up.
Recently(in order) we've had Capes, which while I've not read seems to foster inter-player competition for resources. One need only glance at what had been brought up over the last two months, and a bit before:
Apocalypse Girl, which to me is very much like the Illuminati card game(non-collectible) by SJG.
Cranium Rats, my own game, which is very much like the Munchkin card game. You play one of three Aspects of one character, these Aspects control what the characters do and try to win them over completely.
The Uchtman Factor, where you bid and vie for definition of the protagonist according to your viewpoint.
Champions of the Gods, which gives a board-game feel where you try to complete a certain amount of quests. It came from Game Chef 2006, and as such also sports a limited time-play, board-game did we say?
Conflict:Eridani, which combines an RPG with a "Zoom out" to the Wargame strategic level, ala the Birthright computer game of the early 90s.
For those who look at the above list and say some of those games, especially mine and The Uchtman Factor deprotagonize the character, I say to you this: The character may be the protagonist of the story, but we're playing these games also for the competition, for the game. And as such, the character is not the protagonist of the game, the Aspects the players play are. Also, who is a protagonist once you look at the "why" of their actions?
EDIT: Shit, forgot to actually write the text of the point this post was striving for.
So, why this at all, and why now?
Look at the board-game market, it's blooming, as there is much cross-pollenation between our geekdoms, it is inevitable that many a roleplayer is affected by boardgames he's been playing. Also, this may very well be a counterweight reaction to the Narrativist CA and the "Emo" movement of the 90s.
Same as against the Simulationist and tactical heaviness of the 80s we had Vampire in the 90s, and against the story-front lightness of the earlier decades the Indie RPG movement of the late 90s and the beginning of the new millenium came a Story-front, now we have a new void being filled. See a need, fill a need.
Board games are fun, dammit, all those that say they take "Less" out of you don't know what they're speaking of, competitiveness is involvement heavy. However, they give you back something totally different, a gratification that had been infused into your genetic pool, of proving your worth.
I think the snowball will keep on rolling, first the Meme infects you, then it makes you propagate it.
Next post will be about Memes in games!
Questions, comments, flames!