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.
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.
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.
Paul Beakley, over at the Indie Game Reading Club, posted about a little ‘zine game called Goblinville:
Goblinville is a very clever mash-up of several of my favorite games. There’s a very strong thread of Blades in the Dark in defining position (good/normal/bad), you spread your pool of dice and evaluate them on boxed elements of your task a la Psi-Run, your bedraggled antiheroes shuttle back and forth between dungeons and Goblinville a la Torchbearer, grind through light and food and conditions on an oppressive action schedule (Torchbearer again), hexcrawling a la Forbidden Lands (and other OSR games) to get to the dungeon. It’s a best-of anthology of the best RPG tech of the past several years, sitting innocuously atop a trivial-looking OSR-adjacent dungeon delving game.
The writer Austin Kleon called his blog a refrigerator:
I make something, or I clip out something I like, and I put it on the refrigerator. The next day, I go and find something else to put on the fridge.
I cancelled my D&D game last night, and it’s been a huge relief.
My partner got into roleplaying games when I’d already tired of traditionally-structured games like D&D, World of Darkness, and the like. I’d played plenty of this style of game as a teenager, and by that time I was more interested in exploring narrative structures than rolling for initiative one more time. So I always felt I should run some D&D, if just to show her what she was missing out on.
The less sexy title:
“A couple of ways I like to organise roleplaying games at a tabletop convention, which might also work for you.”
I tend to find that too much choice is bad for me. When faced with the giant wide-open possibility space of unconstrained choice, two things tend to happen:
- I spend considerable time and effort trying to narrow down my options and pick the best choice, resulting in a form of analysis paralysis that I’ve come to think of as candy overload.
- Unless I am explicitly aware of it, and make an effort to avoid it, I’ll end up making a comfortable (and therefore typically boring) choice.
Late in September I played in an excellent twenty-person live action as part of SAGA’s Nanocon. We had a number of colourful characters, a bunch of (spontaneous and set-piece) scenes that involved the entire cast, and a bunch of boisterous fist-fights (and a staking or two) to spice up the evening, but almost all my favourite scenes were small, two-person conversations in the quiet spaces between the big action.
This sense of space can be hard to achieve. Especially in big1 games, GMs and writers can feel the need to weave together multiple complex plot-lines, giving every player so much to do that they’re frantically checking their list of actionables every minute of the game, working out who they have to talk to next. In comparison, my character in September’s LARP had a grand total of two goals. I never felt particularly rushed, and I even got the chance to make my own goals as the night progressed.
Buckets of Dice 2014, Christchurch’s local gaming convention, has just finished, and we’re getting a raft of happy people enthusiastically telling us how much fun they had1. One question that came up in discussion with out-of-towners is how we allocate players to games. There’s a couple of fun algorithms we’ve developed over the last few years to do player allocation, and since it may be of use to others who are helping organise roleplaying conventions (or any other real-time event where you have to repeatedly assign people to things), I figured I’d post it on the internet for everyone to see.
Because there’s no niche too small on the internet.