How to Give Feedback

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts. 

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts.  This goes for pretty much every kind of feedback you need, from employers, that dinner you just had, that hot fanfic you just wrote, or, because I’m writing it here, RPGs.

Here are some of the things I want to hear when I’m requesting feedback:

  • The BEST thing about the character creation was __
  • The most challenging thing about understanding the rules was __
  • One thing that [your game here] could do differently—especially when it comes to [this part]—is __
  • If [your rules here] could figure out how to ___, it would be tremendously helpful and would make the game more awesome.
  • In the future, I see myself playing your game in [this situation] __ (like a convention, or a long-term campaign)
  • I’m impressed by the way [your game here] handles problems/themes like __
  • To prepare to run the game, a few things I’d recommend that the GM learn / practice / get more experience with would be: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me to describe your game’s personality in three words, I’d say: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me, “What does [your game here] bring to the genre,” I’d say: __
  • This part of [your game here] didn’t make any sense to me: __

This is a lot better than just saying, “What feedback do you have?”  It gives you a place to start, and if someone just asks you that question, think about answering these questions anyway.

 

Illegal Gods version .086 Follow-Up

So, I can at least say I had a good time, and my players seemed to, so while I might have left them confused, at least I left them smiling.

Character Sheets for 086b Version  (BigBadCon 2016)

I always enjoy giving out the designs for the character sheets, especially when I throw new neat things into them. I think it probably reflects a lot on my methodology in how many games I just create new powers for without worrying about a system to back them up… or it just says a lot about my Amber DRPG upbringing.

In this case, the “system” worked in that you rolled some dice and the success or failure was noted, although it was weighted towards success. Having played “Earthdawn: Age of Legend” previous to and J. Aegard’s “Monster Draft” after it, I saw a very familiar methodology in it… but it leads to two options, and I’ve got my dislike of each for different reasons:

  1. The GM determines what happens based on the “failure” or “success” with or without additional benefits, delayed or not.
  2. The Player has to control the narrative long enough to come up with what they think “failure” or “success” indicates.

I’m trying to shake it off, but I think those two options are the impetus for a number of schisms I’ve seen (and don’t care to name.) It comes right against this block in my mind that insinuates elegance only in expectation, like having an option for every response. If I have an option for every roll, I don’t actually need to administrate – a computer could GM. At the same time, we get that whole wargamer vibe – I end up building more of a step-by-step than an adventure or game.

And what’s really wrong with it? I would have said the game was basically a success. Not as a playtest (I didn’t do any kind of post-discussion, or really rules questions) but the play of it worked because once having decided success or failure, we collaboratively agreed on the events that followed (with a little kept in my head.)  I did hear a few concerns about assumptions (including the comment that it was “Assumptions: The Game”) but that comes down to my issues with running – again, I’m more evocative than prescriptive.

It’s the “Cuba rule” with me.  “Sure, it sounds like the story is in the haunted house1)(Although if you’re asking for demons, I might just go ahead and gift you demons.), but if you say, ‘No way,’ I’ve got story in the bend of the river as much as the obvious plant.”  If you think Cuba’s beautiful this time of year, sure, let’s go to Cuba.  It’s not sandbox, it’s more illusion of choice – the story is about the PCs, so of course it’s going to follow them, right?  And yes, I have the whole core of the game in my head, but everything they needed to know was on those sheets… and in the game description.

And my other problem with running games – I’m an intuitive. Seriously – Myers-Brigg being ridiculous, I still score almost pure intuition as my method of examining the world. (This revelation has caused no end of amusement to my family – “She doesn’t actually listen to you, she just presumes she knows what you’re saying,” has some truth to it.) So I build games where characters have the ability to perceive knowledge passively, not always relevant but if you’re a fox spirit who can see spirits, you’re going to see the spirit taking over the child.

One of the things I introduced in the text was the idea of divine presence as “Grace,” a term I assume I borrowed from “Supernatural” (realized belatedly) but makes sense in the context here, too.  It implies a measure of power. (Literally a measure, a measuring tool.) The Monk in-game (although not noted in character sheet) had his portion of His Most Ardent and Glorious Self’s power break the usual rules (open doors no one else could open as there was no power to them) and such. (“It made sense at the time” is one of the problems with the way I run – I don’t feel like I’m inconsistent, but again, it’s intuition-based running, and if you aren’t making the same leaps I am and riding aboard the same trains of thought it might look random.)

Add this to my way of thinking and having to translate to words, and I should just retire from gaming2)(Please imagine my melodramatic stance here, the hand  against the forehead, the other hand waving a fan as if I was faint.). Oh well, I do it for my three fans.  Oh, and someday I really ought to run a horror game.

Ahem.

The game itself went where it would, and everyone except the poor Ambassador reached their goals. The person playing Luscious Lucille (https://twitter.com/alexisspeaking is who I think it was … not 100% sure – maybe I shouldn’t have accidentally thrown away my notes when packing) I think stole the game. It was hard, I loved everyone’s portrayal of their randomly-chosen characters. The recognition that when the Huli Jing smiled something bad was happening, and yet when it was serious something really bad was happening… the Monk scooping up a young girl with a demon prince residing in combination with her soul and just carrying her through the hallways of horrors.  The Ambassador claiming the observatory deck as property of Sleeper IV (with its very rough scraping away of a Darkover serial number) and of course, the way it ends as a comic book, with the slowly eroding sphere of god-vacuum floating on the deck…

So, I can at least say I had a good time, and my players seemed to, so while I might have left them confused, at least I left them smiling.

 

References   [ + ]

1. (Although if you’re asking for demons, I might just go ahead and gift you demons.)
2. (Please imagine my melodramatic stance here, the hand  against the forehead, the other hand waving a fan as if I was faint.)

Illegal Gods version .086

A little Illegal Gods action, current version.

So, it’s been a while since I posted anything about Illegal Gods, and a lot of that has been because Hellsing House has had a lot of my attention on those rare instances I’ve had energy for design. I’m a bit stalled on the House for a few reasons (one of which I just fixed while thinking about it) but it’s partially in order to treat the underlying ideas with respect.

But, in a fit of pique, I decided to run an Illegal Gods game at BigBadCon 2016. The system is really the kicker, and I figured I could talk a little bit (spoiler-free) about how this playtest is being designed.

The scenario is actually one from our original game, and I really should give a lot of props to the LintKing as I’m cribbing from some of his notes as well. I’m not so much worried about planning what happens (I know, shocking isn’t it?) as I am working on the characters.

So, I’m pretty sure “Powered by the Apocalypse” is going to have a resurgence with the release of the new version. I’m a little tepid about it, honestly. The reason I mention it is because I see some similarities in the basic strategies of what I’m doing now with Illegal Gods. I have ideas on how to handle rolls of everything from -2 to 16 with a roll being two different stats.

Three things all characters should be able to do:
1) Petition the Gods
2) Choose “fight or flee,” in whatever ambulatory method they have available
3) Get more information on an object.

So, the statistics are awful. I cannot tell you how awful they are. Okay, I can tell you what they are called and you can groan with me:

Ligeance

Content

Sooth

Pioneer

You’ve kind of seen the word “ligeance” before in “allegiance” Ligeance refers to “the connection between sovereign and subject by which they were mutually bound” or in this case, for Illegal Gods it can refer to the connection between a character and their god, political group, homeworld, or family. That “mutually bound” is part of the number. You may be devoted to His Most Ardent and Glorious Self, but I’ll be honest – He doesn’t even know you exist.  I do like this particular statistic, and might just keep it. 

Content” is hard by itself because it sounds like something that’s included, and I actually mean it more like how mentally at ease you are. It’s hard to move someone who is content, hard to bribe them, but on the other hand, if you’re comfortable you are not actively seeking out new things, you are not hungry for adventure.  I’m less happy with this one.  I want it to include how hard it is for you to be bothered by things, too, from “Unflappable” to “conspiracy-driven.”

Sooth” is the ability to discern things. It could be for lore, or truth, or sensitivity to magic maybe.  The only reason not to put the other side of the coin and make it include how convincing you sound is to provide Cassandra-like characters.  I’ll have to play around with this one.

Finally, “Pioneer” is how able to explore the world(s), develop new opportunities.  Said like that it’s a little bit close to “Content” but this reflects some level of preparedness, such as resources (and the ability to do without.)  Again, we’re workshopping these.

Each character will have a scale from -2 to +2 for the statistics to add to their dice rolls.

What I am doing first is making the characters, writing their background, and writing in the connections between them.  Then I am coming up with thematic abilities.  For example, if I had a sentient pineapple, I might name one, “Piña colada” and have it be something that makes a delicious combination from another person’s abilities.  I want them to have ten to pick from, and I’m thinking they should be able to have six.

I write the adventure second-to-last.

Finally, after the adventure has been written out, I do the pieces. The clues. Partial maps, symbols, puzzles.  Those are the optional pieces that time may mean I have to abandon, but would be nice to have.  For example, the Ambassador to the Dominion Council ought to have some kind of fancy diplomatic paperwork, maybe a passport.  The Pleasure-Bot ought to have a “use and abuse” contract. These are also the bits I design when I have spare time.

 

Howl in the Half-Light – 2 New Scenarios

INCLUDES: Two “urban-based” scenarios, one GM guide, and a scenario sheet so you can Write Your Own!

I had a few people request “urban” scenarios for “Howl in the Half-Light” and included with these is the final “GM Notes” (aka “Things I wanted to put in the notes for the ‘Terror from the North” Campaign but couldn’t because they were more generic…”) bit I’ve done.

HitHL Expanded is the full package, all ten pages!

HitHL – Urban Scenario + GM Notes is just the update pack.

HitHL Scenario Template is if you want to create a scenario of your own on my template – let me know, I’d like to see it!

Venn Interstices Between Polyamory and Gaming

Developing rules for how to handle it, advocating for its social acceptance, and forming suggestions to prevent abuse are things that have been made much easier by the internet.

[with thanks and comprehensive, constructive, and creative input from the bright and beautiful ladies (all of them!) of the G+ Community:A Game Room of Our Own]

Defined via Google as “the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time,” polyamory is not new.  Developing rules for how to handle it, advocating for its social acceptance, and forming suggestions to prevent abuse are things that have been made much easier by the internet.  This article is not about that.

A “Role-Playing Game” is loosely defined as “a game in which players take on the roles of imaginary characters who engage in adventures…” Developing rules for games, advocating for their social acceptance, and forming suggestions to prevent abuse are things that have been made much easier by the internet.  This article is not about that.

Don’t look up “polyamory and gaming” on Google.  No, really.  Some of the options are just… detestable.1)(“Harem Management” anyone?) On the other hand, there are many groups devoted to people who “are poly” and “into gaming.”  You may be able to simply reverse those labels – they “are gamers” and “into polyamory.”

It’s important to note that both subcultures value (if not require) creativity and having an open mind. The poly lifestyle is considered an “alternative” one, and that means guidance and education are hard to find and often one has to set up their own procedures and environment and suffer the consequences when one “player” is unbalanced in the relationship.  Role-playing games may have rules and constructs for coming to some agreements, but often one has to say, “Okay, let’s play it this way and if it’s not working we’ll speak up and make some other rule.” They are both improvisational experiences, and it is impossible to provide blanket consent to all of what might happen because no one really knows what all of their “hot buttons” are, and some are going to hold it against you when they realize that they really didn’t want to kill that dragon…

From outside, both groups seem somewhat caught up in obscure details and specialized vocabulary, along with fast, furious, and enthusiastic debates about how to define pieces of the culture. The similarities are intriguing as they relate to both positives and challenges.  That’s what makes it interesting, and that is what this article is about.

The first and obvious comparison is Scheduling. Time spent together is a currency of value that one rarely gets to bank with someone else.2)…although one can invest. The issues collide in having time for yourself, time to handle your responsibilities, and having time to meet up with those who share your passions. It’s one of the biggest challenges in both poly and gaming.

When can we run our Monsterhearts game? When can we get together for lunch?  When will you spend time with this gaming group and when can you turn around and play with me?  Did you get the laundry done? Why are you always so tired?  Why can you spend until midnight rolling dice but if it’s just us you’re asleep before eleven?3)These examples may not be drawn from real life. 

Maybe more obvious on the poly side is Communication. It is critical and there are issues and challenges for both groups. Some of the corollary issues with this are (but are certainly not limited to) both written interaction rules, from “veto rights” to “gaming contracts.” In both you should always have an utter right to say, “No, we’re not playing this out.” Sometimes it’s the unwritten rules that trip you up, the things one player or partner seem to think all reasonable creatures understand and with which they agree, and you are like, “Really? The Tooth Fairy is real but not the Easter Bunny?” Relationships in polyamory and in gaming are an unmarked minefield and occasionally some accidental step makes everything explode.

Similarly, there are invisible rules and fences determining behavior and expectations, and justifiably emotional reactions when these have been broken.  Of course as is true for many things, and not just polyamory and/or gaming, things don’t get fixed unless you can talk about them.

Robert Sternberg’s components of a loving relationship include Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment.  His definition of Intimacy talks about the “specialness” of the relationship. The connections and closeness of the interactions between PCs and the gamers themselves really make a difference.  You’re spending time, you’re giving attention4)defined by Simone Weil as ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity’ and akin to prayer, you’re listening5)remember the rule: sometimes being listened to is so akin to being loved that many people do not know the difference to the participants, and you’re celebrating (if only by participation) the Passion (the ‘excitement’ and the ‘arousal’) they bring to the table.

Commitment is split by time between short and long term, depending on the short form of being able to become vulnerable, and the long term to commit to maintaining the adjustments of sharing and being willing to go deeper in the relationship.  “I’m willing to try a new game for every other Sunday, maybe a couple months, sure,” and “I’m in a 30 year AD&D game.”

We worry in games that someone else might take over our “niche” in the party and make us superfluous, and that same Fear of Competition often raises its ugly head in polyamory. One method many use to justify their poly leanings is in the problematic thought of it being “okay” because “You get different things from different people.” My primary partner likes women who are creative. Should I feel that my metamour is my rival because she’s creative?  Is it okay only because she’s an amazing artist with pen and brush, and my art uses bead and keyboard?   Is Storm any less of a hero because Thor is around and they’re both using lightning?6)Or, as is more likely, vice versa? Are you limited in being able to love only one person for one trait or play only one type of character?

Children. Those with them know what I mean, those without have their issues, too.  Children are a big deal. Taking care of children while dating, or at the table is the kind of stress that has broken otherwise strong relationships.  There are often conflicts and entanglements between who has the responsibility of being “on-call.”  This is one of the many places where it is important for people in both camps to understand the differences between fantasy and reality.

Too meta for you?  Here’s one you may be able to relate to on either side: you do not get to know (without asking) or control someone else’s feelings (PC or partner) unless you have some kind of superpower.  “You think I’m being hysterical,” and “You feel your hand reaching down to press the red button,” are both phrases of nuclear-level escalation.

Both require the ability to view things from another’s perspective, whether it’s being the dwarf girl who realizes she’s never going to be able to bang the elf, or empathising in that your metamour doesn’t have a place to call her own and thus is on an unstable foundation with your existing couple.

Both can be hard to explain to parents and other concerned people, and both can be pointed to by well-meaning family and friends as “the problem” when you are stressed.

The myths are similar, too. The idea that people with poly are “unsatisfied.”  Would you be considered “unsatisfied” if you played more than one game?  Amber DRPG and I are like… well, we’re separated right now. I’m not currently seeing Amber, and I think we had a dysfunctional relationship.  Just because I’m playing Nightlife does not mean I’m cheating when I play a game of Earthdawn.  Fate’s tempting me.  That’s all I can say about that.

There are of course challenges that can make both involvements miserable.  What makes a good polyamory situation and a good gaming situation include not setting people up to fail.  You might not want the kind of game or relationship where one person (be it GM or primary partner) tells you “what is what.”  Games and relationships are both way better if participants are clear on what they want with themselves and everyone else participating, and how to handle it when you discover something new about yourself, your partner, or your play style. Not deliberately making things hard for yourself or a member of your relationship for no reason except to ‘tweak’ them is essential in building the necessary trust. Understanding each other’s strengths and offering caution and support when one is likely to take bites that are just too big to swallow is a part of making both kinds of group work.

Sometimes people want in both, but don’t understand and/or care about the limits.  “We  meet at a house where there’s cats and children, and you’re violently allergic.”  “I like you. I really like you… but we’re not really open right now – we’re working on meeting the needs of some of our relationships.”

Sometimes someone insists on having all the attention to the extent that others feel their voices aren’t heard.  “`I think we should sneak around ba–’ `I STRIDE RIGHT IN LIKE I OWN THE PLACE’” is congruent with, “`Yeah, I mean, sure, you can go out…I just–’ `I STRIDE TO MY OTHER DATE LIKE I OWN THE PLACE.’”

Sometimes individuals involved in either don’t accept the same reality (or feel the same way) that the others do.  Not everything can be fixed on your own, and not everyone is able to fix it. Not everyone has the training or patience or `spoons.’

There’s the capability of both to become very dark, because sometimes someone is in power who doesn’t appreciate your ability to consent or choose for yourself.

Overall, both have their rewards. Heroism, love, honor, romance, fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, True Love, miracles…  It can be hard to empathise with those who have different experiences.  It’s easy to fall into the social fallacy that what makes you happy would make anybody happy, if they only gave it a chance!   It’s okay to not want to play a game! It’s okay to be happy with monogamy (or even with no one at all)!

It’s okay to have given it a try and had it fail.  That failure helps make it interesting.  Pick yourself up, maybe try again.  That’s life. That’s love. That’s…gaming.

References   [ + ]

1. (“Harem Management” anyone?)
2. …although one can invest.
3. These examples may not be drawn from real life.
4. defined by Simone Weil as ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity’ and akin to prayer
5. remember the rule: sometimes being listened to is so akin to being loved that many people do not know the difference
6. Or, as is more likely, vice versa?

Stinkers (part three)

I don’t like to focus on the negative. I’ll be back to outlining awesome games soon, really.

The third stinker was my first Cyberpunk game. Now, you have to know, my first real exposure to the genre was Jeter’s Dr. Adder with a dose of Karl Hansen’s War Games and Dream Games which probably means that I was going to be disappointed from the lack of deviant sex. [ahem]

The reason it was a stinker was because it was a game that came from a module.

See, I had had modules before – I had actually acquired many through means one might consider spurious or traditional.1)You know, the, “They were left at my house and then we moved and I don’t even remember the kid’s name now,” kind of tradition. I’d read many, and yes, Castle Amber (no, not THAT Amber) was a favourite. I’d looked upon them as awesome inspiration to build into a campaign, but I guess… I guess I really hadn’t been aware that anyone would simply use them as the sole game event.

“Why don’t we just go to Cuba, instead? I hear Cuba’s nice this time of year.”

That quote really helped define a lot of my gaming… because when the PC said it in my campaign, I realized I wanted being able to go to Cuba2)Cuba is not a fun place in my Shadowrun universe, but sure! Go there! [rubs hands together] to be an option. I didn’t want to ever say, “No, the game is here, and you have to stay here…”

I wanted my game to be able to chase them.  If others had taken the Cuba Plan, I would have to had ideas for Cuba.  “You took a contract.  Now you have to pay…” being only the most obvious of the bunch.

So when in the Cyberpunk game three of the PCs decided to do something that wasn’t handled by the module… We didn’t want to fight. Our characters wouldn’t have made it a fight.  I don’t know how it broke the game… and that’s what makes it a stinker.

 

References   [ + ]

1. You know, the, “They were left at my house and then we moved and I don’t even remember the kid’s name now,” kind of tradition.
2. Cuba is not a fun place in my Shadowrun universe, but sure! Go there! [rubs hands together]

Howl in the Half-Light and Indie Mix-Tape 2

It is now being updated for those who have already purchased the Indie Mix-Tape 2 collection, but I offer it as a freebie from the collection for you to enjoy.

Indie Mixtape: Volume 2 is the second mixtape-inspired anthology of short games by a mixture of veteran and up-and-coming indie designers — each inspired by a song that the authors might put on a mixtape to send to a friend going through hard times.

All proceeds from this anthology will be donated to members of the indie games community facing medical problems or other challenges that have put a strain on their resources…

HitHL – Terror from the North campaign

Mr. J. Walton advertised a (truly) open call for designers for the Indie Mixtape series… the third is coming up, and I encourage people to design for it.  I am not feeling any inspiration for the subject, alas, but I offered a game in the first1)Alas, I find it lackluster in retrospect, and part of that is because I felt I was a little muzzled in the design.  I wanted it to be about hard decisions and instead I made a cardgame about a few dates. Ah well.  I have learned., and I am absolutely in love with the game I produced for the second.

That game is called “Howl in the Half-Light” and is inspired by Cathy Davey’s song “Reuben” which is one of those pieces of music that found its way into my collection from unknown provenance.  This is the only song I have from the artist, and, well, like all pieces of art, we have to interpret it ourselves, given the way we feel when we experience it.  I’m just saying that in case someone’s like, “Yeah, it’s all about a sandwich that gave her indigestion,” when for me, it’s about a smooth operating werewolf living la vida lupe2)This is not a phrase that I expect to ever hear, and by the way, I slept through 1st year Spanish. and never calling the girl back despite that being his tagline when he leaves.

Anyway, when the second MixTape call came out, I knew what I wanted to do.  No, it wasn’t the game about demons and hard decisions that still floats somewhere to be lasso’d and written some day, but it was a game about werewolves.  While I had some issues with little punctuation and formatting details, after writing the first adventure I got to playtest it a few times and suddenly inspiration hit me like the proverbial bus (which, by the way, I think might be the Night Bus, but that’s just a theory) and I suddenly had a whole campaign.

My personal editor (okay, the LintKing) checked it for small errors and it is now being updated for those who have already purchased the Indie Mix-Tape 2 collection, but I talked to Mr. Walton and he suggested I could also offer it as a freebie from the collection for you to enjoy.

Please play it, ask me questions, and enjoy it.  If you catch me at a convention with about 35-45 open minutes and a d6, I will be happy to run it for you.

I am also writing two “urban” scenarios and a design document (along with a blank sheet for design) for release later.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Alas, I find it lackluster in retrospect, and part of that is because I felt I was a little muzzled in the design.  I wanted it to be about hard decisions and instead I made a cardgame about a few dates. Ah well.  I have learned.
2. This is not a phrase that I expect to ever hear, and by the way, I slept through 1st year Spanish.

Fiasco – Tangled Twins

“It’s mine,” they shout, once more in synchronization.
“I will kill you,” Danny (the male) says to the other.
“I will destroy you!” Dani (the female) says to the male.
“The gold is mine,” Danny says.
“Fine, keep it!” Dani says. “The mummy, it is mine!”

I’d had this idea to start teaching Fiasco to the kids because it’s a shorter game than our D&D sessions tend to be and thus we can do it maybe a bit more often. I chose the “DragonSlayers” playset because that sounded to me to have the tropes with which the kids would be familiar. With a little burble of rules issues due to my speeding through we had our characters: Kellie and Kelly, Dani and Danny.

You might note a similarity with those names. Well, one relationship was “Simulacrum and Original” and the other was “Golem and Maker” so while the first set thought “Let’s not know who is the real one,” I suggested that there was some kind of magical issue that did this to everyone in the town, related to the shared event of the dungeon collapsing, and maybe the mummy’s mysterious gold ring…

Continue reading “Fiasco – Tangled Twins”

Homerules: Magic in My AD&D Campaigns: Part 1: Magic-Users

There are four things AD&D does immediately to mages that drive me crazy.  They make them expensive, fragile, marginalized, and overall impractical.  Now, I know the rule is, “They’re flimsy to begin with, but they’re powerhouses towards the end.”  Given how hard it is to get “to the end,” I don’t know how much of a truism that can be.  I like wizards.  I think they should be rare and useful both, and some of the things that are done to de-fang them from the start need to go.1)This isn’t to say that the other classes are free of things to limit their effectiveness, deliberate for “game balance” or otherwise.

Continue reading “Homerules: Magic in My AD&D Campaigns: Part 1: Magic-Users”

References   [ + ]

1. This isn’t to say that the other classes are free of things to limit their effectiveness, deliberate for “game balance” or otherwise.