One thousand lightbulbs

Quantified self through little fill-in boxes

Except for a period of about eighteen months in my early twenties, I’ve generally been a bit sceptical of the whole quantified self movement. In theory, sure: it can be useful to know some hard facts about how you make your way through your day, week, or year. But in practice I suspect that most people, if faced with every measurable facet of their lives, would change exactly nothing.

And yet we persist in quantifying our lives. Perhaps it’s part of our obsession with optimisation and squeezing the value out of every minute of the day. Perhaps it’s because numbers, like lists, give us a way to escape our thoughts about death.

Making zines with pdfjam

The past few weeks, I’ve been looking at zines in a new light. I’ve always liked the idea of printing out little books at home, but given we’re all trapped indoors right now, it seems like a great time to do a little craft activity.1

I got interested in a more-then-theoretical way thanks to “writer who draws” Austin Kleon, who posted this post on making an eight-page zine from a single sheet of A4 paper, but then he posted this video from autumnthing on how to make a fourteen-page zine, and it blew me away:

Making a colour palette pseudo-package in R

Late last year, I got sick. Stuck at home, I had nothing to do, and I decided to amuse myself by making a colour palette package in the R programming language. The goal of this package was to make it as easy as possible to use a pre-defined colour palette in data visualisation.

While I tend not to use this in its package form in my day-to-day, a lot of the functions I go into in this article get copied-and-pasted from project to project. One of these days I’ll have enough time to package them up properly and get them into our local library, and then I’ll never have to type a hex code in ever again.

A pear tree

Right outside the study in our house, there’s a pear tree. Technically, it’s our pear tree, although it was here when we bought the property and odds are it’ll be there when we leave, so I find it hard to put any notion of ownership on it, like somehow we’re a superset of it just because we can sign paperwork.

The pear tree is visible from the study window. In fact, when you look out one window it’s virtually impossible to miss. It’s like that window was built specifically to frame the tree - and again, given the relative age of the two, it’s entirely possible that this was the case.

Hacking Dream Askew for custom one-shots

About halfway through my last Society of Dreamers game, we found ourselves derailed: one of our characters (mine, for what it’s worth) was plucked from 19th-century Vienna and stranded in the Land of the Dead, and the rest of the party had to spelunk the world beyond to find her. As a group, we decided that we wanted this hunt to be far greater than just one or two scenes handled within the framework of Society of Dreamers. In fact, this little venture felt far different in tone from the campaign as a whole. So I decided to make a little minigame for the group, using Avery Alder’s Dream Askew as a base.

Stakeholder analysis and Larp faction-building

Stakeholder identification and analysis is a technique you might come across in white-collar work. Its purpose is to help you identify and characterise all the other people who have a stake in your work (in other words, your “stakeholders”), whether they happen to like or hate you, whether they hold power over you, or you hold it over them. It’s the kind of thing you’ll often see in business or government settings where there’s lots of people with vaguely related (but not completely parallel) goals.

Even if you don’t work in the kind of corporate setting, though, this setup – multiple factions all pushing their own agendas and working at vague cross-purposes – may well sound familiar to you from Larp. And while actual stakeholder analysis is an important but boring piece of many peoples’ work lives, that doesn’t stop us from applying it to the trivial (but much more fun) purpose of parlour Larp design.

Build a species

The purpose of Build a species and its companion Build a culture is to kick-start the creative process when it comes to building interesting and original fantasy people.

Since Tolkein, we’ve been inundated elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, goblins, and their analogues. They’re boring, overplayed, and sometimes pretty harmful. Some fantasy worlds have managed to pull themselves out of this rut - I’m thinking China Miéville in Perdido Street Station, or the colourful sixteen-bit inhabitants of Hyper Light Drifter, or even the Star-Wars-esque panoply of characters inside of the comic Saga (which has inspired me in other venues).

Best of the Year

Happy new year!

Our new year’s eve party this year featured a party game called Best of the Year, based on Caramel Column Inc.’s game Fictional Masterpieces which they exhibited at Is This a Game? 2019. I made this game based on the GameHungry post above, and it turned out pretty well. This is a record of the rules, and the results.


Jason Kottke, on regional seasons:

…the four “traditional” seasons of summer, autumn, winter, and spring are not universal and mainly only apply to the mid-latitudes. Other places on Earth observe different patterns. For starters, the polar year is split into light and dark while the tropics typically have a wet and a dry season.

Personal principles for story gaming

Plenty of games will tell you what you need to do as a GM, but one thing Vincent and Meguey Baker’s Apocalypse World does really well, is codify those tasks into your agenda and your principles.

Apocalypse World says this about your agenda:

Everything you say, you should do it to accomplish [your agenda], and no other.

Your agenda is a set of a few (in this case, three) things that direct your play. The agenda in Apocalypse World is:

  • Make Apocalypse World seem real.
  • Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
  • Play to find out what happens.

Under this, you have a set of principles, whose purpose is to direct play at that mid-level. The book says:

Whenever someone turns and looks to you to say something, always say what the principles demand.

Your principles are a set of broad play techniques and patterns that you can use to make the game run a certain way, in pursuit of the agenda. For example, one of your principles is ask provocative questions and build on the answers. Which will obviously make the world seem real, and also is part of that whole playing-to-find-out thing we’re all interested in these days.

Now this is a pretty cool tool: it means you can tell the GM what they should be doing at a high level (the agenda), and then tie that to mid- to low-level actions they should take to ensure that the game flows in that direction (the principles)1. You can see its influence in a lot of modern story-games - see for example Blades in the Dark and its derivatives, which take a lot of that guidance even as they diverge from move-based play.