Black Diamond Love Letters

Hey peoples! I’ve had a couple of requests now to post the love letters that I wrote for Black Diamond back in… session 2? 3? Who remembers, these days. These aren’t the best I’ve ever written, and when we used them in play I found myself regretting the fact that some of the miss conditions only would have happened had someone missed. With more time, I’d rework them to integrate the miss condition stuff a little closer, maybe make them part of partial miss conditions.

Anyway, Here are the letters. Enjoy!

Hi Lennox,

How you doin’ girl? You’ve had a busy three weeks, that’s for sure. After Goldie let you go off with Wedded, you headed out to the city with him, Foster and a small crew. The trip out was cold, but what happened when you got to the city is what’s really important. Tell me the most memorable thing about the city and then roll +Sharp for me.

On a hit, you came back with something that you wanted. Choose (Sharp 10+ choose 2, 7-9 choose 1) then tell me what it is:
• It’s in working condition.
• It’s easy to carry.
• You know how to use it.
Of course, nothing comes that easy. Choose (Same roll 10+ choose 1, 7-9 choose 2) and I’ll tell you the details of what happened:
• You had to take it from the brainers
• Wedded didn’t make it
• You guys got lost coming back
On a miss, oh man. You found something alright, but it’s not helpful to the holding. You just really, REALLY need to have it, like a burning need, so bad you lied to Foster and the rest to make them think it’s good for the holding. Tell us what it is, tell us what the lie is you used to convince the others it was worth taking, I’ll tell you which of above is true.

Anyway, Foster’s going to tell me a little bit more about what went on otherwise on the trip, but I’m glad you got something out of this little field trip. Let’s hope Foster can get you back safe and sound, and never mind the fact that you keep thinking you can see someone following you way back there. I mean, if what you were seeing is true, then they would have to be completely naked, 10 foot tall, have both breasts and a penis and spend every night screaming at the moon. Which no one else seems to have noticed. And that’s just silly.

Hugs and Kisses,

Your MC

Hi Foster,

Look, I know. You didn’t think you were coming out here: you’ve a kid to look after, and Goldie isn’t exactly untouchable right now, and Rolfball seems on the brink. But here’s the thing: When you were tucking Levi in one night, there was a note under his pillow in Tai’s hand, and all it said is “you need to go,” no signature, nothing else.

So you went, and Wedded lead you out to the city. The trip out, nothing bad, you could probably make it out here again. And once you got there, Lennox found something that should help the holding really good, you already heard about that.

But like you know, anything you want doesn’t come easy. Turns out the brainers that have taken up residence in the city have gone a bit weird around the edges. Well… weirder. Well… a shit ton fucking weirder. Like “taking over the brains of the weak-willed and using them as drones” weird. Like “taking those drones and surgically turning them in to bombs/marauders.” Crazy. You had to shoot H and Abondo because they turned on you while you were helping Lennox get his new toy. And then they all knew your name.

But you got away! Roll +Cool and tell me how cleanly (10+choose 1, 7-9 choose 2):
• You lost about half your crew, some of them going over and some of them killed in

the retreat
• You were surprised by some guy who should have been dead, and he sunk his mouth (now with a complementary set of glass-shard teeth, hooray for brainer surgery!) in to your shoulder. You took 2 harm ap, partly shrapnel in your shoulder, partly whatever is now causing the infection that Lennox just can’t seem to get rid of (he needs you in a quiet, safe, warm place).
• You guys ran out of ammo in the fight: Ever since it’s been clubs, knives and axes.

But here’s the thing: Tai was right. You needed to go. Because otherwise you wouldn’t have followed that girl who looked like Gams (it wasn’t, even though at the moment you could have sworn…) and just before everything went to hell you wouldn’t have seen where the children were being taken in to that heavily fortified old skyscraper.

You wouldn’t have realized that you recognized some of them from Black Diamond.

And you wouldn’t have known just how much protecting Levi really needs.

Hugs and Kisses,

Your MC

Hi Goldie,
What’s up chief? Enjoying the position of power? Foster and Lennox have been gone for a while, they shouldn’t be back for another week. In that time, you’ve managed to set up two new raiding leads: Tum-tum has stood up on one side, and there’s Whimsy on the other. Tum tum knows the lay of the land around here better than anybody, and given that he’s methodical, knows his place and is colder than even the goddamned ice, it’s been better. Plus, you’ve got a gun pointed at his head: Costars is in thick with Tum tum, and on your word he’ll put him in the ground. All you have to do is give him Mirth in return.

Whimsy is the other raid leader, a roly-poly little dude who wears dentures and only has half an ear, but he’s someone recommended to you by Forged, and the one raid he lead so far came back with few survivors and a nice load of goods: hand-made blankets, couple of milking-yaks, and 5 wheels of cheese.

….actually, he might have just gone shopping and whoring with his group in Dumptruck. But since you didn’t have to pay for it, what’s so bad about that?

Let’s find out how things have been while they were gone, hrm? Make me a cool roll to show me just how you much you’ve managed to keep it together here, especially in light of the whole Roflball thing. 10+, choose 2, 7-9 choose 1:
• Pamming managed to rework one of the gliders so that it runs on gas. It’s loud when running, but it means you can scout further out and see more of what’s going on in the surrounding areas. More raiding and better defense, all that jazz.
• New group of people came in from the cold, willing to trade service for safety and warmth. Tell me what skill they offer you that you need, and what you’ve got over them.
• Wicker has word of a really juicy target, something bigger and better than anything else. It’s candy from a baby: Tell me what you need, and I’ll tell you what it is.
On a miss, well, wow, on a miss, choose one:
• Mill is dead, her throat ripped out, her eyes pulled from their sockets, and her ribcage left open and dripping in to her favourite plants. Levi, who she was looking after, missing.
• You know how Roflball had been cheating on you all these years? Well, not really. I mean, you thought he was, but it turns out he never actually went through with it: Last minute he always turned back. So he never actually broke faith with you. You found out by talking with Foster about it from Levi, who said he had heard his mom and Rofl. And he just found out about Frost: you slipped up, and he came upon you and frost at it like rabbits in your quarters.
Neither is pretty, but the choice is yours. Best of luck!
Hugs and Kisses,
Your MC

Hi Frost,

That thing with Parcher! Man, that was really awesome. By now you’ve heard about Goldie’s deal, so that’ll tell you a little of your situation. But beyond that, I’ve got something of a deal for you.

I want to get to know you more! I feel like we haven’t really connected, y’know? So here’s the deal: Tell me three people (named or not) you cannot do without in the holding. Choose the reason why from the list below, and tell me a little more:

• You love them
• They know something you have to find out
• You desperately need to protect them
• They’re blood to you
• They know something about you, and the only way to stop it from coming up is to keep them safe
• You saw them in a true dream
• They remind you of someone you can’t let go of
• They are part of why you really came here
• If they go, things will get much much worse.
• They’ve seen your true face
• Sex with them is… unimaginable.
• Because they honestly don’t want anything from you
• Because before they die badly, they need to know exactly why they deserve it.
• Because they love you.

Now that that’s been sorted, here’s my end of the bargain: you get 3 hold. Spend that hold to have someone just dead: call it fate, call it happenstance, call it Parcher getting goddamned jealous and just up and killing them. Whatever it is, right there, right then, you name an NPC and they die, no questions asked.

So what do you say, friend? Do we have a deal?

Hugs and Kisses,

Your MC.

Players as audience, and why we shouldn't forgive

We have learned to be a forgiving audience. This is not necessarily a good thing.

I used to be a huge fan of CSI. None of the spin-offs, just the original Gil Grissom CSI in Las Vegas. They used all sorts of fancy technologies to solve crimes, they provided twists and turns, and they showed a genuine nerdish excitement for technology. Gadgets: for justice! But the show wasn’t real to life: in the end it was a drama, and it took certain liberties: The speed in which evidence could be processed, the expenditure on resources in order to solve cases. These were never things that bothered me so they never really impinged.

Then there’s the movie Hackers. Lot’s of people love that movie: I can’t stand it. ignoring all the rest of my reasons (the ridiculous poserness of it all, the “You should like us because we’re cool and against the man” crap) my real problem comes down to technology: that hacking involves flying around in some weird cityscape? What was all that typing they were doing? if it was inputting commands, then should they be seeing those commands to proofread? if it’s just flying around, what kind of idiot interface demands full speed typing in order to navigate a city block? Couldn’t deal with it, and there wasn’t enough reason for me to want to suspend disbelief.

I didn’t have to forgive CSI: it never bothered me in the first place. I would have to forgive Hackers too much for it to be enjoyable. Let’s look at one more example, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Great show. Incredible fun to watch, sex and violence with complicated character desires and motivations. But a lot to forgive: Stupid over the top posing montage’s, grossly over-the-top gore that really can be pandering to the very same “bread and circus” thing that the show means to portray. I choose to overlook these things, I put up with them so that I can get the things I want out of the show: The politics, the interpersonal drama, Lucy Lawless in flagrante delicto. Totally worth it.

So, the reason I bring all this up: I’m of the opinion that being a forgiving audience in an RPG is a bad idea. Not the CSI variety, but definitely the Hackers variety and probably the Spartacus variety. We are not the once-removed consumer that other media has: The act of creating the story is not removed in time from us taking it in, creation and consumption are not so divided. But as players, we often have this “well, I

don’t want to step on his/her/it’s fun, so I’ll just let that pass.” I know there’s a number of times in my gaming where someone will say a thing, I won’t be convinced that it makes sense, but I’ll let it pass because I don’t want to be a dick. Make no mistake, that is also a possibility, but I think games succeed better if you are willing to step up and demand from the game those things that you want from it.

In “Dogs in the Vineyard” Baker says the following about making up a fallout trait: “All of these many choices you get to make, whatever you choose, you have to justify it out of the events of the conflict. If any of your fellow players can’t see it, you have to explain better, say more, and win that person over.” It’s a variation of a thing that is often said in most games, even if the only person you need to convince is the DM. While I think the relationship with central authority is much more fraught, making that decision the provenance of all the players at the table means that everybody can be as exacting as they want to be. When I watch Spartacus on TV, I take some pretty unappetizing stuff in so that I can get the good stuff. If I play an Agon game based on the same, I don’t need to do that: I can pipe up and say “Your COMPLETELY covered in blood, which then fountains up from his head stump to spatter the nearby crowd? Erm…” If we as players are honestly being open and accepting, are working together to facilitate each others fun, then that shouldn’t be a problem, it should be a meeting point, a negotiation where we find the answer that is palatable to everyone. Unless something is a must-have, me seeking out my own fun shouldn’t be a threat to another player.

I wonder if there is a weird friction here with the immersive play, with the edict to “trust that others will respect your vision of the character.” But I don’t think this is really a problem: I can respect your vision while still not being able to swallow some particular element, as long as I’m doing so because “I don’t buy that happening” is not just code for “That’s not what I would have happen.”

On screwdrivers and nails

Think of it this way: We have a screwdriver. it’s great at getting screws in to wood. Then we realise we also want to put nails in, and as such we use the blunt end to pound in nails whenever we need to. Over time someone comes up with a screwdriver with a larger flat end on the blunt side so that it’s easier to get nails in to wood. it works, but it’s not particularly efficient. Some people learn that you can add a handle on to the modified screwdriver to better work with nails, but the adaptation never goes any further. Now we have screwdrivers produced with handles with a flat end and a culture of people saying “if you want to use nails, here’s how you can build a handle that helps. Oh, and here’s how you can modify the screwdriver bit to be able to pull out nails if they go in the wrong way.” Lot’s of people are perfectly ok, there’s fun being had, but some people say “I really only work with nails, but the best I’ve got is this screwdriver – and- handle extender mechanism, so I guess I’ll make do.”

Someone along the way starts making hammers. All the people who have been using the screwdrivers start protesting “But you can’t get a screw in to the wood with that thing! what the hey?” To which this new person, Bob let’s say, shrugs his shoulders and says “So? I never wanted to deal with screws anyway.” Some people say “Hey, that’s true, I’m not going to do that anymore. And I’ve been having trouble with these nuts and bolts as well, maybe we can make something that helps with that rather than dealing with just a screwdriver and my fingers.”

I can’t really extend this any further, because… well, this is where it got really weird. Lots of people got invested and upset and shouty from all sides, and next thing you know we’re in the middle of a full on cultural cataclysm, and it doesn’t really make a

lot of sense in terms of the metaphor. But what do we think up to that point? Does that sounds somewhat right, sans the emotional upheaval?

Freemarket Ideas

This? This is apropros of nothing really. I just was thinking about Freemarket which made me think of new character ideas, which reminded me of another

email I had sent out to people with these ideas. So, here are some ideas for characters and MRCZ’s from Freemarket.

Yes, I know, you’re not supposed to create a MRCZ before you create the characters. But that doesn’t stop the brain from a’ticking. Plus, they can just as easily be antagonistic MRCZ’s. Plus, most of the MRCZ goals could be personal goals as well. But goals don’t a character make, but more on that later.

CHAR: An immigrant, parent to a dead child, who wishes to make that child again.
CHAR: a 1st gen unable to give up on the dream of the first MRCZ he joined
CHAR: A priest-confessor, an absolver of sin.
MRCZ: Trying to create a real hive-mind in the Donut
MRCZ: Creating a seedbank/gene store for all inhabited planets.
MRCZ: working on the designs for freemarket v2.
CHAR: Solomon the adjudicator.
MRCZ: Creating a defense grid for the station
MRCZ: weaponizing the data feed.
CHAR: Someone who wants to lose themselves completely by being switched, flooded and bled until nothing remains.
MRCZ: Creating a stone-age world. Those that agree offer up one life-cycle to live as a caveman.
CHAR: In the name of Ron Edwards: a purveyor of sexual memories (I’m thinking like the movie strange days), or a person MRCZ: looking to create the “perfect” sexual experience/memory.
MRCZ: Making space pumpkins: the gourds of the void!
CHAR: Learning the killing word: alternatively, the spice is life!

The one that I was just thinking of that caused this: a MRCZ that is about learning. Contract with them, they will go out and have the perfect learning memory that you need to learn a skill, then transfer it to you. This was spawned from me thinking about how would businesses evaluate their employees if training/learned skills weren’t an issue?

Learned Behaviours

When training in any particular martial art, having previous training in another school can be viewed as a problem. A lot of the skill is training your mind and muscle memory to react in a predefined ways, to think and respond to situations in a very particular way. Most styles have different ways to respond. After all, there is no single “right” way to fight. What you need to do is act in a way that is not only suitable/right for you, but also that whatever you do is done in a way that builds upon everything else that’s happened including your prior action.

Chess provides another example of this same phenomenon. A lot of chess is studying sets of moves and gambits, and then using what you’ve learned in a tactical and strategic manner. Learning to play against an opponent is a matter of learning how they play, and what moves do/do not work against them. It’s part of why computers can beat people in chess: They have no defined “style” and simply use whatever they think is the best move in any given situation. It’s impossible to lure them in to traps or prey upon some inherent tendency to act in a particular way. I’m sure I’m overly simplifying the situation, but at least allow me that this is descriptive of a facet of chess.

I think there is a pretty heavy tendency among gamers to similarly self-indoctrinate. Those who have long years of gaming tend to come up with a lot of thinking/acting patterns that constituted the activity of gaming. Through the experience of play we’ve learned to say “this is how I game/this is what good gaming is.” We are heavily trained to act in certain predefined ways in order to get “good game” and as such will instinctively act in those fashions when playing.

Breaking out of those behaviours takes time and effort and is something that has noticeably happened as our group has played Fiasco. The first few times we played we used the playset elements not only to frame the initial situation but to frame the entire story. Where the relationship between two people was partners in crime we invented the crime we were about to commit, and not a crime that had been committed and so set the current situation. When we played the Alaska set with the detail “What happened in the bay” we came up with a scene that took place in the bay and then played that out in the game.

In essence, we were using the mechanics for initial setup as a way to script out our story ahead of time. I think this comes directly from the nature of our indoctrinated gaming behaviour: Look for story, follow it. This is the kind of gamers we are, and it’s how we have learned get our satisfaction. I like knowing that something meaningful and interesting is going on in a game I play; over the years I’ve better enjoyed games where the action is predicated on a meaningful narrative. I was also indoctrinated in the belief that players left to their own devices care less about story and more about being able to do crazy destructive things because they think it’s cool, that the only way to get that narrative is if someone is making sure that it happens.

I don’t think I was alone in these assumptions, or in the behaviours I had built up to address them. When we took on Fiasco my first instinct was to create the story and then play in a way to fulfill it. We played safe in the knowledge that no-one could mess up the story because we had agreed upon it ahead of time, and as such we were guaranteed at least a nominally satisfying story. At best we were playing at “Right to Dream” creative agenda: having an experience where we satisfyingly reinforce and reaffirm the nature of our characters, the world and the story by play. At it’s worst, we railroaded ourselves.

Even though I think those early games were satisfying and fun (the whole point of play) I think it totally missed the point of Fiasco. When you play as defined in the book the most you know is that the initial framing creates a situation that is teetering on the brink of collapse, the Tilt injects more tension, and the aftermath will mostly be about how people are brought low by what has passed. Even in other GMless games that do put more structure on the story arc Hell 4 leather, Grey Ranks, etc) they still tend to leave the actual character of those scenes wide open, instead offering a much larger meta-narrative that frames the specific story that comes from the game. The idea is: if you put characters in to interesting situations they do interesting things. Let them do those interesting things and you’ll end up with stories that you never would have created to begin with.

The more we’ve played Fiasco, the less tenaciously we’ve held on to these prior behaviours. Recent games have flowed to whatever conclusion they come to naturally. We create a fraught situation at setup, and then we play driven and engaging characters without sweating whether it’ll be “a story.” We’re even getting to the point where we frame individual scenes without presupposing what happens in them: Saying “here is what’s going on” without saying “here is what’s going to happen next.” It’s fantastic: By letting go of previous training and playing the game the way it wants to be played we are creating stories rather than just playing them. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Traditional DMing versus "Playing to Find Out What Happens"

The following is a striking example of the difference between “traditional” GMing and something coming out of the indie stables.

The game is Apocalypse World.

The Colonel is the Hardholder, the guy who runs this little bastion of humanity in the mess that the world has become. it’s a big market built out of the remnants of a Walmart called Hatchet City. The market is a running free-for-all, but the single biggest trade is in drugs and alcohol, as people need some sort of escape. That part of the economy is handled by Brimful and his family, who are something of a power unto themselves. Brimful is an older man with a couple sons, who really believes that the best way to avoid trouble is to not seek it. He’s got a gang to back himself up, as well as a couple wives and a bevy of lovers and his kids.

So the scenes sets up something like this: There was a difference opinion among the Colonel’s bodyguards, as Absinthe (the recently appointed head of security, this crazy chick who came out of the wastes convinced that the voices are telling her to kill monsters. For those who know the game, a Battlebabe) was trying to figure out who among her crew was a spy for the encroaching warlord Ambergrease. To do so, she called the entire bodyguard detail away to one location, to deal with them en masse.

But while that was going down the Colonel took off to go talk to Rosette (another PC, the Skinner) with whom he ended up spending the night. So when Absinthe finally decided to go looking for him, he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Rumour got started that he had been murdered in his sleep, that Ambergrease was coming for them all, that there were spies and assassins everywhere, that he had taken off in the middle of the night leaving Hatchet City to fend for itself… you know, the kind of brouhaha that happens when the leader suddenly goes missing. By the time the Colonel is found, the entire hold is in an uproar.

Eventually Absinthe finds the Colonel just as he’s leaving Rosette’s rooms. As things are starting to calm down, Brimful comes storming over to where The Colonel is standing with his bodyguard detail, backed by his own gang, and starts a diatribe about how Hatchet City wouldn’t be in such a state if the Colonel wasn’t inviting chaos with his behaviour, that the Colonel shouldn’t be running around in the middle of the night without his bodyguards, how he’s running a loose ship, and if he can’t keep “his whore” in line (Rosette had slept with one of Brimful’s lovers Tip the day before, which Brimful was not happy about) then he might not be the right man to run the hardhold.

Calling Rosette a whore was probably a bad move as the Colonel proceeded to beat Brimful to death. Literally beat the old man with his knuckles, while Brimful’s entire entourage just stood there in shock and watched (the Colonel’s player rolled Seize by force and hit, choosing to do terrible harm, suffer little harm and Shock and Dismay his enemies).

We ended the game around there, but it was that one act of violence I wanted to highlight. See, in the way that I would usually run a traditional RP I would have invested quite a bit of prep and storyline in Brimful. The likelihood of me allowing him to die in such an abrupt way would be slim to none. I would have manipulated the rules, the dice rolls and the narrative control to make sure that Brimful came out of it alive.

But to GM Apocalypse World one must hold to the three points of the Agenda: Make Apocalypse world seem real, make the characters lives not boring, and play to find out what happens. I do not know ahead of time what is going to happen, and have no real vested interest one way or the other: really, I’m just curious to see what the characters are going to do to handle Brimful. Turns out that the Colonel is going to kill him over an insult.

Did that make his life easier? Hell no. Sure, he made a point about Brimful, But the old man had kids ready to step up and take his place, and a gang that can start making trouble, and a serious amount of clout in the holding itself. So now Brimful’s people have good reason to go running to Ambergrease, or to ally with Dustwich (The Colonel’s former lieutenant who is gunning for his job), or maybe to just take a shot at him themselves. Life just got a little more interesting, and it did it without me forcing the story to turn on my dime: it all follows naturally from what was there before.

To me, this is by far more interesting than whatever I would have come up with myself: interesting not only to the players, but to me, because I simply do not know what will happen until it does.

I am a willing and mindless drone

I give up, I really do. What is it about Vincent Baker’s work that turns me in to a giggling fanboy? In general, I have little patience for fanboyism. To me the term evokes a sort of blind and arbitrary ardour for something. A kind of nerdish religious fundamentalism that brooks no critical analysis or discussion. But it would be hard to describe my relationship with Baker’s games and game theory as anything else. I have a hard time finding fault with anything that he puts out, or the style in which he does it. Even the one major complaint that I have voiced, that the rules can be obscure and dense, I actually secretly think is a good thing: I honestly love his writing style as being an act of poetic terseness! He uses one word exquisitely to say what would otherwise be said with 10! For fucks sake! Any criticism I might muster is inherently weak, because I honestly just believe that this shit is just too good.

At least I can take refuge in the fact that I’m apparently not alone in this. With the advent of his game Apocalypse World Baker has set up a some forums to provide support and give people access to hack the game for their own design. A game that I have always thought of as having a rules set utterly inseperable from the setting, being adapted to other settings? C’est impossible! But then you look at the discussion, and realise that the heart of the game is not the moves as per se, but the principles and agenda of the Master of Ceremonies. The moves, the mechanical actions possible, are really artifacts of the setting. Which means you can have a hack for the rules for most settings. There’s one in planning for Iceland, which is amazingly hot (Viking viking viking! viking!). How about the apocalypse of D&D, Dark sun? No worries! Or, my favourite two so far (both partially or fully the brain child of Baker of course) one for the game of Knife and Candle () and one of Vincent Baker’s own design called Dragon Killer: a fantasy post apocalypse. “When the dragon lived, there was magic everywhere, and ley flowed like water. But when the King of Death broke the dragon’s heart, everything was ruined.”

Seriously, who doesn’t want to play in that world? Who doesn’t want to know what happens next, what does the dragon’s death mean, how does doom come upon us all? I feel like I should be branded, like some sort of cattle. I’ll be the Hefer with the Vx branded on it’s side. I shall attempt to maintain the poise of a critical decision maker, but in the end it’s all just the lowing of steak-in-waiting.

Hello, delicious friend

Via Apocalypse world, I heard tell of a thing called . A sort of online game, played through your browser using a twitter account, of life in subterranean London after it was stolen by giant bats. You start off escaping from prison and try to make your way in this fanciful world.

It’s pretty amazing, so far. easy to play, interesting to get involved in, and there’s no time commitment other than you can when you get a mo’. I invite you to join in, delicious friend. All you need is a twitter account. You can find me under my alter ego, Motipha. I look forward to seeing you,perhaps a bout in the game of Knife and Candle, eh? All is well that never dies, you know.

Here’s a guide that helps explain what’s going on. Here’s a quick guide to the very beginning of the game, to get you started.

An argument for multiple personalities.

On the way to work this morning I heard this story regarding a book about facebook. The author interviewed Mark Zuckerberg (It seems appropriate to link to his facebook account) and mentioned one point that caught me: Apparently Mr. Zuckerberg believes that all people have one identity. My understanding of his position is that all people should have one face they show the world, one unified approach/social persona/whatever for all the people who interact with them. This is apparently part of his drive for facebook, and an argument for why you should use it to link information not only for friends, but coworkers, business partners, and absolutely everyone and anyone you might come in contact with.

While I have not read the book I must say: codswallop. Claptrap, even. I’d go so far as to say bunkum (For those of you wondering, yes, I did look up synonyms for this post. Do you see the research I do for you guys?). Speaking for myself, I have distinctly different personalities dependent not only on whose company I am in, but the situation and environment. While my underlying self does not change, the external demeanour I show the world changes radically in order to suit my needs. In this way I can maintain relationships with deeply divergent groups of people. While there is a core self that does not change, there are other aspects that do. Not everyone needs to interact with me in the strongly pedantic and literal fashion in which I relate to my co-workers about work. My relationship with my parent’s is conducted in a normal speaking voice and with few if any exclamations. I enjoy spending time with people with whom I would never, ever indulge in ad hominem attacks because with them it’s not a necessary part of banter, but a hurtful attack that does nothing but derail and damage our friendship and conversations.

I’m not even going to touch on the need for space between paramours.

I think as gamers we have an interesting perspective on this subject. On the cast we have mentioned that most people tend to play characters that are alike in some ways; you might call it that player’s signature. But beyond such similarities we play many and varying personas, some as outlets of ourselves, some as explorations of who(m?) we are not, as well as other reasons. We revel in multiple identities in our fantasy worlds, because they provide space for us to truly, completely express ourselves. People are far, far more complicated than a single identity could truly give vent to: at times paradoxical (hypocritical, even), often conflicted, mostly expressing ourselves in a way that best suits our situation at that moment. To suggest that we should try to be all these parts of ourselves at once at the same time invites confusion, incomprehensibility and even madness.

While I appreciate Mr Zuckerberg’s apparent desire for understanding and comprehension between people, I think it is deeply mislead. People not only are but need deeply complex and ridiculously plural in natures: to try to boil that down to a single identity is a waste of time and a disservice to humanity. The alternative approach, to encapsulate all the vagaries and variation of a person in one go, would end up with an unintelligible morass of detail that it would take years of study to comprehend. let people be different to each other, and complicated, and hidden. We understand each other better that way, and it takes less work than people trying to pretend they’re always the same person.

Important conflicts, and when to engage the machine

Learning to discern when an in-fiction event is important enough to warrant using the games mechanics is a pretty important skill. Dependent on the game, the ease with which one identifies meaningful decision points (what I think of as conflicts) varies greatly. In Dog’s in the Vineyard those dice come out whenever you disagree (Or as Baker says it in the text “Say yes or roll dice”). My life With Master and Prime Time Adventures both put limits to the actual scene framing, so that there is only ever one conflict in a scene. But all of those games are created in such a way that the rules only express to further story, such that the mechanics make it impossible to not know what is at stake.

In most RPG games that I’ve played actions taken in the game are simulated by some sort of direct dice roll. Climbing walls, Sticking a shiv in someone, write a paper, decipher a manuscript, all of these are done in the context of rules and mechanics around taking these actions. Roll your stat, roll your skill, add in an appropriate aspect, spend some tokens, all the crunch is about what you do and little is about why you do it.

Yet just because such a mechanism exists in the game, and that action happens to be taking place doesn’t mean that you need to bog down in the crunch. Sometimes the action taking place is secondary or unimportant to something else that is happening within or around that scene. In a recent Sorceror game, I was playing a cardshark who was tasked with going out and conning a guy in an illegal game. Mechanically, I ended up rolling a bunch of dice for playing cards, using my demon (a deck of cards that loves it when people get taken for everything they have) to win, and at some point rolling dice to spot the other guys telltale (i.e. that he was a sorceror).

While the setup for the scene was centered around card play, that was actually less important than me noticing his telltale and realising what that means. But with so much time and effort invested in discerning what was happening with the poker game rather than with the point of the scene, it ended up coming out a little garbled. Sure, I came out of it knowing that the guy was a sorceror, ok, but why was so much time spent on poker?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why there was a push towards the card game, and the GM and I spoke about it after the session was over. I can see why the dice were engaged the way they were. I created a guy who was a card shark, my Cover (read as profession for those who have not played sorceror) was as a dealer, my demon a possessed deck of cards. It’s kind of like a guy who in D&D game creates a fighter with all the relevant stats and statistics and then is confused as to why he spends so much time fighting.

But only kind of, because I’m not saying I shouldn’t be seen playing poker, but that it’s not always what’s important in that scene. Sure, sometimes the scene is going to hinge on how well I play my hand, but it just as well might have to do with my relationship with the other card players, or with something else that’s happening, or even with the demon itself. The game being played might be nothing but colour: it puts what I’m actually doing in context, makes it believable that I’d be there at that time, it adds description to the situation. Maybe I’m really there to listen in on a conversation happening at the bar. Or something’s going on with my demon and the poker hands just an expression of that. Figuring that out will inform whether or not it’s worth rolling dice, and what dice to roll.

In Apocalypse World, I ran in to similar problems over and over. When I first picked up the game, my instinct was that whenever someone tried to do something, I would have them roll the relevent move. While this worked, it injected a lot of mecanical rolls for things that just weren’t that important: seeing whether or not the Chopper could stay awake after ingesting some drugs (acting under fire) might be important, but isn’t neccessarily so. Brainers can do a bunch of weird based things, but it’s not always a conflict when they do so. It’s when these things are important that the machine of the game should engage.

Here are some things I think are worth looking for. They are not perscriptive, nor absolute; all of these these things don’t have to be true, nor if any of them are true does it neccessarily mean it’s a meaningful conflict:

  • Does the action represent something that the character(s) care(s) about? If so, what does it represent?
  • Does the action represent something I as a player care about? Sure, it might matter to my character whether I come out on top or on bottom in the card game, but I as a player might not really care one way or another and if I do what I care about might not be immediately obvious from the situation
  • Do success and failure represent different paths for them? i.e. does it actually matter what the outcome is? What might those outcomes be?

Keeping the above in mind can lead us to what the scene is really about, whether it is important, and what parts of the rules apply. Otherwise, you can end up with a stream of constantly engaged mechanics. That does not help in creating a meaningful and fun story but rather bogs play down in endlessly simulating mostly unimportant minutiae. And to me that is missing the point.