Tag: gaming

Idle Dreaming

I’ve just finished yet another iteration of my favourite roleplaying game, Society of Dreamers. It’s a prepless, GMless game, which as someone with a one-and-a-half-year-old I can say is a godsend for my recovering gaming hobby.

Like many GMless games that emulate the traditional GMed roleplaying game framework, Society doesn’t as much eliminate the roll of GM as it does spread it out amongst the group. Specifically, the role of GM as scene-framer is instilled into the role of the “instructor”, which rotates between players. This is great, as almost all of the rules in the game provide the instructor with the relevant structure and prompts to do their job of framing their scene, working out who’s there, etc. In other words, the instructor’s job is less about coming up with the next scene whole cloth, and more about taking the constraints, prompts, and so on provided by the game, and working out what the next scene looks like.

ChatGPT for roleplaying - what can it do?

It feels like over the past six months OpenAI’s various products - particularly ChatGPT - have gotten a bunch of press. ChatGPT is a large language model, which (as far as I understand) basically means you feed it a whole honking bunch of text, and it extracts information from that text and is able to then respond to questions by putting words together into something coherent. Basically, it’s faking being a functional human being, but then this is 2023, give it a break, that’s all of us.

You can go read all about its predicted impact on writing, art, school exams, creativity, and every other sphere if you want, I kind of feel 10% of the web now is articles like that. I don’t particularly feel like consolidating a paragraph of media responses to the technology, though - I want to write about things that interest me.

Like roleplaying games. Given ChatGPT can take basically any prompt we give it, and spit back something that sounds vaguely coherent, how can we use it to make roleplaying games better? After all, most roleplaying games are basically a bunch of words, right?


When you reach for the dice in a roleplaying game, it’s normally to answer a question. Normally, that’s a binary question (one that can be answered with “yes” or “no”).

One of the great things about Apocalypse World was the way it employed not just the yes/no axis in task resolution, but the and/but axis1. Each outcome (“yes” or “no”) can be accompanied by either an “and” (making player success more successful, and player failure more complex) or a “but” (moderating the degree of success or failure by introducing a cost or a consolation prize, respectively). In fact, Apocalypse World takes three of these moves: No, and, Yes, but, and Yes, and makes its take resolution system 100% about these (with the ability to get some Yes and in there at the end of your character’s arc).

Birds of a feather

We are pigeons. We are everywhere. The vast majority are as you expect. A few of us have been blessed by the Grey Lady, given the dedication to carry out her work. We seek out the Bag People, take their instruction, and help the dead rejoin the Earth.

Even those of us who have purpose, who can see the souls of the dead, are still pigeons. We are vain, myopic, argumentative, impulsive. But for some souls, we’re all they have.

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.

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.

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.


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.

A small piece of work

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.

On D&D, and preparation

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.

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