Ups and Downs and Ups

Thrilling news for me: A couple of weeks ago I received the green light from Evil Hat Productions to be creative director and primary author for a new Fate Toolkit focusing on espionage, heists, and confidence jobs. For now we’re referring to it as the Fate Infiltration Toolkit, but the name may well change along the way.

Not so thrilling: A week ago I got a terse note from my employer informing me of termination. Later that week I learned that other people had been let go as well, I’m not sure whether the entire office is closing. It was a miserable job for a short-sighted company, but it was a safety net — if a flimsy one. I had already been sending resumes around but I have to step up the job search.

Thrilling again: In the same batch of emails, I received one from Vigilance Press offering me a chance to write the next Tianxia book! It’s going to be a rules compendium that will present the Fate Core rules (based on the SRD) for people who are new to both Fate and Tianxia, along with game-master advice, optional rules, and so forth. We don’t have an official title yet for that one either, so I’ve been referring to it as the Tianxia Rules Companion.

Two books! Wow! I’m so excited about this.

 

Fate of the Mouse Guard: Here you go!

As requested by a fan of Evil Hat Productions, here is some information on running a Mouse Guard game using the Fate system. TL;DR: My thinking process, followed by lots of useful links at the bottom of the post.

When I was in the final stages of writing War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus for Evil Hat Productions, I wanted to test the rules we had grafted onto Fate Accelerated to support the use of miniatures. I wanted to check whether they would play well when used in another setting and handled by a game-master who wasn’t part of the development team. My friend Kit was nice enough to run it for us using the setting from the Mouse Guard RPG (Archaia Studio/Burning Wheel Games) and the episode was a success. I later ran it a few times at conventions and it was great fun.

Recently someone (Tim R.) wrote to Evil Hat to ask how we made these adaptions. I never posted any notes before because in truth, this was not a full-fledged conversion. However, the Fate Accelerated engine is excellent for  conversions-on-the-fly! And I think the miniatures rules we came up with work very well with otther settings, especially fantasy settings.  Continue reading “Fate of the Mouse Guard: Here you go!”

How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3

AaaarghThis is the third of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances. In this section I focus on their ease of use at the game table. I’m not talking about system choices and mechanics, but strictly about how well the book supports game play.

3. Use in Play

At the game table, the reader will be trying to find specific information quickly, particularly rules information.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2

Aw-noThis is the second of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Naturally, a single mistake probably won’t do it unless it’s ginormous and egregious, but a few too many and I’ll move on to the next game on my long wish list.

2. Readability

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances.

  • The leisurely reading you do on the bus when you just received your book from a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The selective reading you do to familiarize yourself with the setting and make a character for next Friday’s meeting with your gaming group.
  • The studious reading your friend is doing to prep for that same game as game-master.
  • The frantic reading in the middle of a game session to locate a particular piece of information or interpret a rule.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to address all these needs; for example, a book may be perfectly well organized to present the setting information in an orderly fashion, but make it a nightmare to retrieve in a hurry at the game table. Today, I want to examine the ease of reading proper, all the kinds of reading we do when we are not actually playing.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1

Scary-BookI’m a gaming junkie, especially where it comes to role-playing games. I’ve been gaming for decades, I have played or run at least 177 RPGs as of this writing, not counting different editions, playtests, or homebrews, and my shelves are overflowing with more I have yet to play. All this to say, I want to love your game. But it’s amazing how many published games still turn me right off because of mistakes that could be avoided with moderate effort, and sometimes even quite easily.

Not that that writing games is that easy, I know! There will be competing objectives, budget and schedule considerations, and so forth. But there are also some elements that can be incorporated in the planning, and hurdles that are make-or-break. In our cottage industry of devoted hobbyists, some mistakes are being made over and over. Even free games can be ruined so thoroughly by some of these mistakes that they lose the chance for a good review, which can’t be why you’re putting them out there!

One big challenge for game publishers is that there are several ways to approach the reader or, if you want, several opportunities to lose a gamer, so let’s look at them separately.

I’ll post the other sections over the the next few days.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1”

Inclusiveness in games (Part 2): Doing our best

—This is Part 2 of a reflection on the efforts made towards inclusiveness in the role-playing game subculture and by extension, in related geek subcultures. You can read Part 1, where I talk about the background of this push for inclusiveness, here. Holy shit, I think I made it way too long but I really tried to make this constructive.

Caucasian AdventuresLet’s move on to what we can do about our own knee-jerk reactions to change in the face of pushes for inclusiveness. I’m addressing a reader who does not want to deliberately exclude anyone from our gaming hobby on the basis of gender, race, religion, orientation, disability, and so forth, but is nonetheless bristling at some of this newfangled stuff.

How far should we go in the name of inclusiveness?

TL;DR: As far as we can.

Continue reading “Inclusiveness in games (Part 2): Doing our best”

Inclusiveness in games (Part 1)

GemmaAll right, today is a long snark-free post (really!) about the efforts made towards inclusiveness in the role-playing game subculture and by extension, in related geek subcultures. Some people may recognize their point of view and even their own words in the examples I will use. If this is you, please understand that I am not mocking you or criticizing you. I am spotlighting attitudes and underlying assumptions in our geeky hobby that too often remain unexamined.

I want to address people who are not already entrenched in an opinion but do feel jostled by new language and new attitudes promoting inclusiveness. I’ll providing some background in this first part, then in the subsequent ones I will discuss some recent examples and use them to illustrate solutions, i.e., how I suggest we, as individual gamers, approach those moments when we feel jostled.

In a society where women get paid three-quarters of what a man makes and where people of colour are at risk of being jailed or even shot just for existing, some game publishers are now releasing books showing not only women and non-white persons in a variety of roles but also characters who are explicitly gay, trans, non-binary, disabled, aged, fat, or from other previously ignored groups. They may use weird pronouns like the singular “they”, “s/he”, “xe”, or “zhe” for certain characters.  In real-space, game event organizers are posting codes of conduct, declaring bathrooms to be non-gendered, adding braille signs, and similar actions intended to signal inclusiveness.

A lot of of this can be shocking if you face it for the first time in your life. As such gestures become more frequent, game books, stores or conventions can look very different from what they were decades ago. The question can be raised: how far should we go toward inclusiveness and representation of groups that appear to be tiny minorities in an already small subculture?

Continue reading “Inclusiveness in games (Part 1)”

The Dystopian Universe RPG!

DURPG-Cover-Mockup-600pxHuzzah, I can finally talk about this project.  I’m project manager for Evil Hat Productions on a new dark science-fiction role-playing game powered by Fate Core. The setting is The Dystopian Universe, licensed from Travis Worthington at Indie Boards & Cards, and you may be familiar with it as the setting for several other games including The Resistance, Coup, Coup: Reformation, Coup: Rebellion G54, One Night Revolution, etc.

The game is written by Anna Meade and Brian Engard, with system development by J.D. Yearsley.  Applications for the first public playtest just opened today and will remain open through November 30.  (Here is a link to the application form.)

Corruption. Betrayal. Intrigue. Just another day in Paris Nouveau.

In a cyberpunk, dystopian future, the citizens of Paris Nouveau are no more than indentured servants. Virtual reality has come at a cost they can never pay, a tradeoff of freedom for technology. But there are freedom fighters who reject the system, unplugging from the illusion and working to make things right once again. They are La Résistance. Rise up and defy the corporations in the Dystopian Universe RPG, set in the same universe as The Resistance, Coup, and One Night Revolution from Indie Boards & Cards.

The Dystopian Universe RPG is a stand-alone game that uses a customized version of the Fate System. Within these pages, you’ll find:

  • Playsheets for nine character archetypes with tie-ins to the cards found in other Dystopian Universe games
  • New aspect rules to help reflect the intrigue of the Dystopian Universe, where no one is exactly what they seem
  • Two new systems to help GMs escalate conflicts based on character actions: blowback and the Vigilance Track
  • New equipment rules using Fate points from a character or from their supporters at La Résistance.
  • A streamlined modular system for creating missions, along with sample missions to get you started

The Dystopian Universe RPG: Vive La Résistance!

Homework: The Missing Chequebook

GreekRestaurant

For the second week’s homework of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” we were given ten minutes of role-playing to do through instant messaging or chat:

You’ll need a partner to do this exercise, which calls for a bit of role-playing. First, both you and your partner should mentally pick two numbers between one and twelve. [Note: Naturally, I rolled 2d12!] Write these down, or remember them, but don’t reveal them to each other. The two of you will be having a written conversation, writing from the viewpoints of two complete strangers.

The context for the dialogue is this: One of you (decide which one before starting the exercise) has found the other’s checkbook and would like to return it. As for what the character you assume will be like, that’s up to you—except for two important traits. On the next two pages are four lists, labeled “A, B, C, and D.” Using the numbers you’ve picked, read what it says next to the first number on list A and the second on list B. Your partner will do the same thing, using lists C and D. Again, do not reveal to your partner the numbers you’ve picked or the traits assigned to those numbers. Simply assume those traits as your own, and begin writing.

The lists each contained twelve traits; lists A and C contained primarily traits relating to race, orientation, ability, age, religion or sex (“ROAARS traits” for short), while lists B and D contains primarily non-ROAARS traits. Here is what my assigned partner and I came up with:

Dialogue

Sandra: “Um…excuse?  Please excuse… I found your folder. No… wallet!”

Sophie:  “Hold on… Yes, I did lose it!”

Sandra: “No, no.  Um…your money papers.  Your cheques.  Yes?”

Sophie:  “Yes!”

Sandra: “So, I will like to give it to you after my classes, yes?”

Sophie:  “When is that? Is there any way we could meet sooner?”

Sandra: “My classes?  No, they are in the afternoon.  I work mornings.”

Sophie:  “Where do you work? Maybe I could go pick it up.”

Sandra: “At the restaurant.  You like to eat?”

Sophie:  “Who doesn’t?” [chuckle]  ☺

Sandra: “Pick up?  Excuse?”

Sophie:  “I could go meet you at the restaurant where you work and get the cheque book back.”

Sandra: “Yes!  The cheques!  At the restaurant?  Sure, yes, we could.”

Sophie:  “Where is the restaurant, and when should I show up?”

Sandra: “At the corner of Martin and Sprague.  With the blue birds.  Under the blue birds.  You will see them. The cheques you get before I leave for classes.”

Sophie:  “Lovely!”  [I look it up on Google Maps. What kind of restaurant do I see?]

Sandra: (Greek)

Sophie:  “OK, I can be there at 11am, is this good for you?”

Sandra: “…11 before lunch?  Yes, that is good. Before the rush. Lots of people come in for lunch.”

Sophie:  “Exactly!  Maybe I can have lunch there.” [I plan to tip you hugely .]

Sandra: “Lunch is good.  I will have something waiting for you.”

Analysis

I played someone who was Buddhist and a technical rock-climber, while Sandra, it turns out, played a non-native-English speaker (she picked Russian) and part-time student.  Sandra’s traits were pretty easy to recognize, especially the non-native speech patterns, of course. On the other hand, Buddhist might have affected the choice of meal later on at the restaurant, but not so much this conversation unless maybe karma or the type of restaurant were invoked. I didn’t see technical rock-climber as likely to show up, but I could have forced it; I had in mind that maybe I was in a hurry because I had a trip planned.

Mostly, Sandra and I agreed afterwards that we were just trying to act like people usually do under the circumstances. I figured I would want to get my chequebook as soon as possible. We did interject a few side observations from an omniscient narrator perspective.

Conclusion: A trait, even a ROAARS trait, isn’t everything about a character; sometimes it doesn’t show up at all. (Unlike much Hollywood writing would have us believe!)
checkbook

Cheques? Really?

The exercise made our Finnish classmate Nina chuckle. She says Europeans are perplexed that Americans are still using cheques (it’s also obsolete back home in Quebec too, by the way.) Nina said, “It’s like being offered three cows in payment!”

Next week’s homework: We re-write scenes from a work-in-progress to change some of our characters’ ROAARS traits; and we analyse the class markers for a book, show or movie of our choice.


Credits: Photo (“Restaurant – Naxos”) Dorli Photography, used under Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).  Clipart from dfunk on OpenClipart, released into the public domain.

 

Homework: Hothouse Descriptions

On the first week of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” the homework consisted of the following instructions:

Below are 7 pictures. Do this exercise once with each of them:

Set a timer for 5 minutes for each picture. Take no more than 20 seconds (time yourself!) to take in the picture and the person in it, then start writing a description of that person. You can describe their physical features, you can make up a personality for them, ascribe emotions to them, whatever comes to you. Go with your first instincts and keep your fingers moving until the timer goes off. Like the other exercises, this is not about producing publishable material; it’s about writing, not thinking.

The exercise is called “hothouse descriptions” because it’s like hothouse “forcing,” coaxing blooms out of season. The pictures were all obtained from the fantastic “Humans of New York” project. (I invite you to browse the HoNY site, it’s so much fun.)

Later on, every participant in the class was invited to look at others’ descriptions and highlight words that attracted their attention for whatever reason. Here are my seven descriptions, and notes on the words that other students highlighted. (I cropped the images to fit here.) I’ll add my reflections on the exercise at the bottom of the page.

He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.
#1 – He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.

Words highlighted: wide (x2), wrinkles (x2), homely (x3), dreamy (x2), plushy, pied-de-poule (x2), craggy, sonorous.

Comments: I used “pied-de-poule”, the French term for this pattern, because of the time constraint when I could not remember what it’s called in English (hound’s tooth.)

 

She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?
#2 – She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?

Words highlighted: broadly (x2), sparkle (x2), hipster, blue, comfort (x3), sharing, rude.

His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly disheveled gray hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?
#3 – His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly dishevelled grey hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?

Words highlighted: sharp, incognito (x3), elegantly, dishevelled (x3), hint, once-famous (x2), star, discerning (x2), flee, disguise.

She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.
#4 – She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.

Words highlighted: lovely, smoothly brushed, well-shaped, walnut, clear, bright, graceful, character (x3), accept.

I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the gray streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.
#5 – I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the grey streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.

Words highlighted: well-travelled (x3), grey streak, inquisitiveness (x2), wariness, emerging (x2).

She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.
#6 – She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.

Words highlighted: scooter-style, beamed, pixie (x3), prank, splashed (x2), bundled, nippy, gasps (x3).

She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woolen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.
#7 – She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woollen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.

Words highlighted: cradled, swing, open, tropical (x2), horn-rimmed, sang (x2), betrayed (x2),

So, final thoughts. After the first two or three, I noticed I was not saying much about possible racial or ethnic markers. I asked myself whether I was avoiding the topic, but I did not feel constrained (except by time) while I was writing, so I decided to just keep doing what came naturally. I was content to suggest rather than state, and I also noticed that my focus was much more on the way people constructed their own look consciously (for example, with sartorial and grooming choices) or unconsciously (for example, with wrinkles from habitual expressions.)

In truth, I often don’t feel confident assigning racial (whatever that means) or ethnic identities; I had no idea for #1, #2 and #7, for example. Sure, I assumed that #2 was Muslim, but that told me nothing about ethnic or racial origin.  On the other hand, #3, #4 and #6 looked like they might be of European descent; in the case of #4, I would have guessed Eastern Europe and recent immigration. And #5, as I said in my description, looked to me like he could have been around the globe before.