07.22.11: Be Ashamed, Young Prince

•July 23, 2011 • 3 Comments

be ashamed, young prince
When asked why I had supported Be Ashamed, Young Prince on the kickstarter questionnaire , I replied, because I wanted to support the creator of the game.   I have a deep admiration of Nathan Paoletta’s game expertise and his incredible ability to articulate game design by breaking it down into it’s basic core components.  (You can hear him on one of the more recent episodes of New Style).

His immense knowledge has provided an excellent foundation for Be Ashamed.   It’s no surprise, after having read the game, that Paoletta has another well-written game (with evocative artwork done by Sarah Frary) to add to his repertoire.  I had the pleasure of playing BAYP with two of my friends a few weeks ago and here’s my humble take on it.

love
It’s short.
Can a creator make a cohesive game that is understandable to the audience in only a few short pages?  Paoletta answers this question with a defiant, “Yes.”  It’s a fascinating challenge he’s put towards the traditional hundred plus page rules manual.  Contrary to it’s name Witness the Murder of your Father and Be Ashamed, Young Prince, is extremely short.  The actual product is only (six) pages if you cut away the excess.  Yup, you read right.  (Six) pages.

Now, not only is the physical product short but so is the duration of time played.   You must finish the game in one hour. (Check it.  It’s in the rules)  This is actually the main reason I was able to coax my buddies into playing.  How many roleplaying games do you know that only take an hour to play?  So many games take absurd amounts of time to prep: rules prep, player prep, character prep and by the time you’re finished, the character creation process has become a cumbersome session in and of itself.  I was refreshed to learn that the rules compliment the sense of urgency established at the beginning of the game.  Our group finished in roughly (fourty-five) minutes.

The physicality of the game
If you are completely unaware to the things I LOVE in roleplaying games, well Tangibility is my deal.  Having physical objects that represent ideas or rules causes the game to be on a completely different level.  Tangibility forces the characters to behave differently simply from the physical and visual feedback of having a token.

Because this token is considered currency in games, players will begin to act as if they have real money.  Do I invest in this?  Do I hold off and use it at a different juncture?  It’s completely brilliant.

Paoletta has masterfully used this factor to his advantage.  Be Ashamed is the type of game that is heavily based on the visual presentation of receiving and gifting stones.  The stones represent the players physical trust or suspicion/direct challenge toward the storyteller.  The more of a specific type of stone they have (red), the more likely a Prince will become a King, however the story might appear lackluster.  The more of the other stone they have (black), the more interesting the story will become, but the less likely a Prince will become heir.  As the players juggle with this inner conflict (invest or hold off?), their decisions are reinforced with the presence of the stones.

like
The story is concise with a interesting premise.
The King has perished and it’s up to the Princes to decide the new heir.  If an heir isn’t crowned or the wrong heir crowned, the kingdom falls into utter chaos and bloodshed.

The agenda of each prince is intriguing.  Become King.  And if you can’t be King, pray you don’t back the wrong Prince.  One Prince during the setup of the game has the chance to become the Ravensworn.  This character is the betrayer, so to speak, of the kingdom and if he becomes King, he wins and well, everybody else loses.  Big time.

It’s well structured
Through the duration of the game, you are required to do or say certain things at certain points.

Example: Player recites It is now [current time].  This matter must be resolved within the hour.

I have not played many games that are verbally structured as such and to be honest, it was really fun!  This verbal structuring allowed us to understand the mood of the game.   Not only that, but it served as a excellent prompt for the other players.  Once a player was finished telling their side of the story, they would prompt the others verbally and then move to physically showing their support or challenge.

you should know
Storytelling is a must

Though we had a fun time, I want to stress to those of you interested in the game, you need to have a group of friends that enjoy spinning embellished tales of murder and betrayal.

This is definitely not your traditional roleplaying game, ladies.  Instead, go ahead and file this under heavy storytelling.  If you have a difficult time improving or have a bunch of friends who are shy, bashful, or find it difficult to come up with improvised stories, you might have a bit of a time with this one.

critique
Quick References for strong structure
Because the pacing of the game is very structured, I think a printable quick reference sheet might be helpful.  Because I tend to get wrapped up in the storytelling aspect of the game, if there was a question brought up by another player or if it was time to move on to the next part of game, we would have to break character to find the answer.  The feeling of the game is very fluid and having to break that makes the game feel choppy at points.

ultimately
This is an excellent game if you enjoy storygames, the creative process (there’s a short exert about him working with Sarah), or just like supporting creative endeavors.

The PDF is only (two), (TWO) dollars.  While you can order the Magazine from MagCloud for (five).

I really love supporting artists and creators, but it’s even more fulfilling when you receive an excellent product in return.

06.30.11

•June 30, 2011 • 1 Comment

thoughts

We live in a pretty brilliant age now.  Technology has allowed us to communicate and reach an audience we might not have even know existed otherwise.  It’s simply awe-inspiring to see so many projects getting support (financial and love-wise) allowing creators to connect, market and sell their product.  With this ability, I also see an opportunity to motivate and inspire others to be creative and courageous by putting their ideas out there.  Kickstarters seems like such an excellent springboard for those who might not have the fan base, but have the creative drive and determination to get their idea out there.  I think, by simply throwing your creative karma in the pond, you create ripples and those ripples collide with others making all sorts of shit happen.

Now, I acknowledge that your first idea may not be successful.  Hell, it might not even get noticed.  However, I think the most important thing to take away is what you learned.  First, learning your personal creative process (writing, music, art, what have you).  Second accepting the feedback.  By allowing yourself to be creatively vulnerable yet malleable you can learn so fucking much.  I tend to live under the adage:

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.  –Socrates

Once you admit you know nothing, only then can you really start to learn everything.  Creativity is about absorbing everything you can about the world, coming to your own conclusions, and developing a consequence from that decision at a specific point in time.  The consequence could be a song, a game, artwork, whatever.

I’ve heard so many people say, “So and so’s (insert creative activity here) is really lame now.”  or “Oh yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing 10 years ago with that (insert creative activity here).”  Here’s the deal, man.  If you hadn’t done any of those crappy things, you wouldn’t gained the knowledge and experience you have now.  Realize that you were simply limited to the amount of knowledge you had accessible at that point in time.  But never feel ashamed of a creative endeavor.  That outlet allowed you to not only express yourself but forced you to develop the courage to put yourself out there.  That’s a big deal!  I mean that’s a lot more than some of these yahoo putzs running around on the internet.

I think in this day and age, it’s important to be honest.  But the internet comes with two vastly polar opposites: the anonymous internet naysaying dickbags and the smoothering mouth service fanboys.  Nothing that pisses me off more than a bunch of dudes circle jerking a game cause the creator’s a big deal.  I think any creator will respect you more being honest than becoming a personal fluffer.  But more than that though, I have a HUGE fucking problem with some of these creativity destroying motherfuckers trolling the internet saying nothing but vile, spiteful shit.  Just because it isn’t good for you doesn’t mean it’s not good for some other person.  Maybe it’s just not your style, yah?  All I got is this:

Fuck naysayers cause they don’t mean a thing.  Cause this is what style we bring.  -311

Hey, it’s good to be honest, but it’s also important to be humble.  Dick.

06.27.11

•June 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Really think about this quote for a second.

If you don’t have a piece of yourself in what you make, then why did you do it?  Why does anybody care?” –Jared Sorensen on the Walking Eye

06.22.11

•June 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

thoughts
I’ve been making a lot of progress on rem, but there’s still so much more to go.  I’m really looking forward to GenCon.

rem pitch
rem is a psychological horror roleplaying game that utilizes a character wheel to give immediate tangible feedback and create the impression of visible character deterioration.  rem gives players the choice to work together or betray their allies as they face their fears and uncover their fates.  rem characters descend into complete and utter madness all while discovering an island lake resort turned wintery hell.

(HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT?!  All nice an’ neat in a cute little package.  AW SNAP!)

playtest overview (02)
The most important thing that I learned from this playtest is that not all players are created the same.  This playtest was last Saturday.

In this playtest, I had (two) players: Jeff and Lacey.

Player RPing history: Jeff has roleplayed Dungeons and Dragons before (completely different part of the roleplaying spectrum from rem, though) and Lacey had only roleplayed once, a week earlier.  I used a Mouseguard/Rats of NIMH/The Rescuers overlay so Lacey would feel comfortable with playing.  (There’s something about playing mice that just reels the chicks in.)  I also came to the conclusion that one of the core strengths of this system is that not only does it work for horror, but it also works for various other genres.

A little background information on our girl, Lacey.  Lacey, in real life, is a complete pacifist.  Doesn’t like physical violence or verbal conflict.  This includes simulated violence from video games, television, and movies.  These traits make her not only an endearing friend but a valuable roleplayer.  Right off the bat I knew that my conflicts had to be first and foremost, low key.  What I didn’t realize until we actually roleplayed, was that Lacey would actively attempt not to use violence to solve conflicts.  She would either try to talk characters down, help mice folk get away from the situation, or find help elsewhere.  Jeff, an inventor in-game, followed Lacey’s lead.  This was such an excellent opportunity to test out how different skills in the game could affect Threat.

The first conflict was the (two) characters racing to the mouse kingdom from their providential town.  It was dark, raining, and they were traveling in a contraption that Jeff’s character built.  The conflict scenario was that if they didn’t get to the kingdom quickly enough too much time would pass and the town would be destroyed.  So both characters did lots of fun stuff including busting out an umbrella so that the rain would not mess with their visibility.  Lacey’s character even made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so they would not get hungry.  (Awesome!) Not all conflicts have to be man v man.  Sometimes it can be man v nature.  Or man v belly.

The second conflict was the (two) characters walking in on a helpless mouse getting beat up by (two) rats.  This was the true test and Jeff n’ Lacey soared.  Lacey used Prowess to save the helpless mouse and run out of the room while Jeff used Social to intimidate the attackers with the new crossbow he built.  Lacey also used Social during the conflict to talk the attackers down and find help.  During the entirety of the confrontation, neither characters used violence.

FASCINATING!

The last conflict was the character arriving at the town as a cat had started to destroy it.  Lacey’s character ran around helping the other mice in the town to get to safety.  She also Assisted Jeff (making his rolls twice as effective).  At this point Jeff started to use Attack and soon defeated the cat.

problem (01)
At the end of the playtest I asked for criticism of the game and both Jeff and Lacey offered (two) things.

(one) Characters were too good.  (two) Make stronger enemies

The NPC’s were too easily dispatched creating the impression that PC’s were uber powerful.  This was the exact opposite of the problem I had in my previous playtest.

I identified (three) things contributing to this.

The first reason was the lowered amount of Threat of each encounter.  This decision was a direct response from the last playtest.  In my mind, if I lowered the Threat, it wouldn’t make the encounters so difficult.

Second, was lowering the Threat Level of NPC’s after each success.  For instance, if a guard-mouse had started out with (six) Threat, and one of the characters made a success against him, it would be reduced to (five) and so on and so forth.  The NPC would now have to roll at this reduced Threat.  This originally appealed to me because it made the encounter dynamic.  You could see the threats become weaker with more you chipped at it.  I’m still partial to this idea, however, I need to find a solution that makes the NPC’s a challenge while making the confrontation dynamic.

Third, and most important, was resource management of the Energy.  Unfortunately, this is not as cut and dry as the others.  There are several layers to this resource management problem and it was becoming a huge issue that I needed to solve.

Because I nixed the Specialization rule from the previous playtest, I decided to allot as much starting Energy as they had a specific faculty.  (i.e. They have (x) Body they receive (x) Energy) Like I said before, Energy is an auto-success, so one of the characters started off with (four) Energy right off the bat.

Energy can be earned in a couple ways.  First was rolling a certain number on the D10.  This meant with every roll they had a (ten) percent chance of getting an energy.  Second was fulfilling their Talents.  Talents are special traits that motivates a character to do something.  For Lacey it was helping people and for Jeff it was inventing.  When either of them successfully fulfilled their Talent, they were rewarded with an Energy.  Lastly, was during intermissions they would receive (one) energy and (one) Trust.  So once again, I had players with copious amounts of Energy.

They lost energy by fear checks or failing rolls.  When a character failed a roll, they could use an Energy to not only succeed at the roll, but to also flip a disabled facet.

With the combination of lowered Threat of encounters, the dynamic Threat reduction, and incredible amount of Energy they accumulated, it’s not hard to see why it was so easy.  But it’s always easier to identify a problem in retrospect.

resolution (01)
The biggest change will be the amount of Energy a character can start off with in the beginning.  I’ve decided with the next playtest they will start off with (one) Energy.

Also, in the next playtest I’m going to introduce different Threat level monsters and see how easily they are dispatched.  This should give me a good measure of what creatures to throw out at the beginning to the climax and eventual fall of the story.

I also changed failing checks.  When characters fails, it is two fold.  Failing the roll is the first.  Disabling their tile is second.  They must use (one) Energy for each action.

I’m still going to keep the Talents and rolling on a certain number though.  This reinforces rolling the dice as well as makes characters unique.

I should be doing another playtest this week.  So I’ll make sure to update then too.

playtest quotes
We’re waving to the people we pass, so we make more friends!” -Lacey

Am I the first person to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a roleplaying game?” -Lacey

Did that just go down my shorts?” -Jeff

The Excel-o-Cart!” -Jeff

(06.21.11)

•June 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

rem
So what the fuck IS rem? Well, lemme elaborate from my previous blog post.  There are a couple of elements I need to establish so you get a better overview of the type of game it is.

I have been fascinated, nay, obsessed with the idea of making character’s decisions tangible and seeing the result immediately.  Meaning you can see what happens to your character right after you make a decision.  This idea was really pushed conceptually by EoD .  You run into a fight, get blasted, and BAM!, gored.  You see it all with the counters.  These were all great baby steps, but I wanted something more.  I needed to see the character change.  Not just from battles, but also from other decisions made in the game.

So my initial idea was Paralysis, the first iteration of rem.  In this form, there was a character sheet that when you failed rolls, you would cut it up and put in the center of the table.  Other PC’s could pick up the pieces and become really bizarre individuals.  Because of bogged mechanical issues, this eventually evolved to the current character wheel.  So now, when you fail ANY roll you have to flip one of the facets (the numbered panels on the outside of the wheel) making your character that much less effective.  You get to visibly see the deterioration of your character.  SASSY.

rem Character Wheel

I also knew I had to have horror elements.  Ironically, I’ve never been much of a horror film junkie.  However, I really enjoy video games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.  Silent Hill is one of the foremost inspirations of rem.  The whole mythos of psychology and fears affecting reality as well as the redemption of iconic characters such as James Sunderland just tickle my fancy.  Not to mention, my favorite roleplaying games are Call of Cthulhu and The Mountain Witch.  I learned early on in design, you really need to be passionate about your theme and work with a medium you feel comfortable with.  Otherwise you just wouldn’t be invested when it became crunch time.  I knew the theme I wanted was psychological horror.

Third, my game need to show the connection between individuals.  The Mountain Witch is such an excellent game.  Seriously, go pick it up right the fuck now.  It had already established a lot of the mechanics that I wanted in my game.  I always loved the feeling of dread and thinking “Who can you really trust?“.  Having to look over your shoulder because you’re never really sure if you’re going to be stabbed in the back or not.  It pit individuals against each other and in the end became the organic downfall of each character.  Brilliant fucking stuff.

From these elements: tangibility, immediate repercussions from decisions, psychological horror, and Trust, I created the basic foundation of rem.

rem playtest overview (01)
This involved Jayson and our friend Austin.  My first playtest was used to establish if the character dial could be used effectively in a roleplaying game.  I didn’t feel comfortable running a horror game just yet (I haven’t GM’ed a game in who knows how long) so instead I used the Mountain Witch overlay.  Mechanically, the dial worked perfectly.  Failed rolls affected how and what skills they decided to use.  As well as the game focused mainly on storytelling and aiding each other.

problem (01)
The skill set hadn’t been developed completely and wasn’t broad enough to cover everything that the characters could or wanted to do.

resoultion (01)
This was fixed by the second playtest.  I made the terms broader to cover more actions.  Because the theme of the game is a lot more narration-centric, I didn’t want it to be bogged down with having to search for skills and leveling up.  In my mind, this is one of the shortcomings of Call of Cthulhu.  Having to do that in a horror game breaks the immersion factor.

problem (02)
The NPC’s were incredibly difficult.  NPC’s have Threat that has to be diminished by a preset amount of successes.  (e.g. Owl has (five) Threat therefore you must make (five) successes against it to resolve the conflict) The first fight lasted about thirty solid minutes.  There was one major problems.  Attack was the only option allowed.  That was fine for Austin, who had a high Attack, however Jayson, who was more Arcane/Occult centric, could not do much.  He’d attack, fail, and then get frustrated because there were no other options but attack.  Then he’d get his face handed to him from the NPC.  So, not so much fun for him.

resolution (02)
I created (two) different battle skills that were useful for support characters.  This worked in the second playtest VERY well.  So much so, that in the second playtest there were (two) battles and neither character used Attack.  At all.  Seriously.

problem (03)
I created a “Specialization” mechanic that allowed the players to choose a skill (e.g. Attack) and every time they used that skill, they would receive Energy.  Energy allows the player to automatically succeed (i.e. Fate Point from Spirit of the Century; Metal from EoD)  This created a HUGE influx of Energy that would be used to auto-succeed.  The conflicts would be insignificant or meaningless because the player could just immediately succeed using (one) of the (ten) energy they had accumulated.

resolution (03)
I took the mechanic out.  Instead, I used, what I’m tentatively referring to as, Talents.  This allowed the player to have more goal oriented characteristics that the skills helped to support.  When they did said Talent (i.e. help people; invent contraptions) they would receive an Energy.

playtest quotes
“I don’t trust anyone who floats.” -Austin

“That was my favorite beard!” –Jayson

(06.20.11)

•June 20, 2011 • 3 Comments

Holy cow!  It’s be like… forever and a day.

I disappeared off the grid for a very long time. I’m sure many of you are thinking one of three things:
(One)  Where has this lady been?
(Two) When will Empire of Dust be available for print?
(Three) What’s new in the works?

Well, I’m here to answer all those questions.

one
Yup, I’ve been gone for about (two) years now from the tabletop scene. (Time flies!)  I think my last blog entry was sometime in (2009) or so.  So, where the hell have I been?  Easy enough answer.  Living life in all it’s glory.  The good, the bad, and everything in between.  Making difficult life transitions and trying to survive in that big open sandbox called “The Real World”.

Recently, a lot of my energy has been going towards work (Six years at Best Buy in October), school, and my wonderful boyfriend, Jayson (A year in a half in July).  I decided to go back to school for Psychology and finished last semester (With a 4.0!  HOLLA!).  During that time, I worked full time at Best Buy AND full time at school.  Any free time I’d have, I’d use towards homework, school activities, and seeing Jayson.  I had very little time for creative endeavors.

I couldn’t understand why I had this sensation like I was missing something.  It was all until I stumbled upon my “Paralysis” notes and realized… I love tabletop roleplaying.  I love creating fascinating characters.  I love the idea that these characters are all doing important things.  I love all the fucking dice.  It is very much apart of my life and for a long time, I lost that.

two
I notice that a lot of people are still asking about Empire of Dust.  First off, you guys are hard-fucking-core.  There’s something to be said about a bunch of dudes who are so passionate and persistent about getting EoD two years after it had been out of print.

So, right off the bat, I’m just gonna say it’s not available.  It’s just not feasible for me.  EoD takes a LOT of money to produce.  With school, bills, and moving in (one) month, I just can’t financially justify backing such an expensive game.  But this is wondrous times we live in.

I’ve been seeing these Kickstarters that I have been incredibly successful.  Daniel Solis raised (24,383) dollars for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.  Brennan Taylor raised (13,430) dollars for Bulldogs!.  Jeremy Keller has so far raised (17,000) dollars for Technoir.  And Nathan Paoletta has raised almost (1,000) dollars for his game Be Ashamed Young Prince.   You never know.  Sometimes things that die, just can’t stay dead.

three
If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably heard a lot of my ramblings be about (#rem).  rem is the new project I’ve been working on.

I have this insatiable desire to want to see tangibly what happens to characters as they develop and change.  This originally lead me to start work on Paralysis.  You can say that rem is another iteration of Paralysis though, in Paralysis, a player would cut their character sheet.  In rem, it’s slightly different.  I intend on covering the specifics in a later blog post.  We’re still in early playtest phase so I want to stay slightly hush hush.  I’ve been averaging a playtest a week.  You should hear more in about a month or two.

thoughts
I’ll be at GenCon this year.  FUCK YES.  I intend to be at the Diana Jones award ceremony but past that my schedule is pretty open.  We won’t be having the Design Matter booth this year so I’m sad about that, but it will be a good time to see everybody I haven’t seen in a long time.

Catch you, cowboy.

09.16.2009

•September 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Empire of Dust is officially on IPR!

I am officially an IPR publisher: Red Design!  What an honor!  I’m so excited!

Apparently, I got home too late to say go get a copy of EoD because, well… They’re all sold out already!  In the next 2 months or so (hopefully fingers crossed), I should be able to get some more copies on IPR.

Anyways, I got another productive couple of hours in on Paralysis!  Ooh la la!