I designed a game tonight!
It’s time for Game Chef, which is an annual game design contest of sorts that’s been running for…um…ten years now, I think. A number of published games have come from this contest, including some significant ones like Polaris, The Mountain Witch, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, and A Penny For My Thoughts.
I somehow doubt that Keepers of the Lantern (PDF) will have the same kind of impact. It’s just a short one-shot RPG poem. Mostly disposable, in fact.
But I really wanted to write it.
This year, the Forge is closing down. The site will remain with an archive of threads, but that’s it.
Eleven years ago, I signed on to the Forge forums. (Aside: through a funny convergence of events, I actually have had a user account on the Forge longer than Ron Edwards. Serious! Here’s my profile, and here’s Ron’s.) And, for that eleven years, the Forge has been a major part of my life.
I’ve launched three games through the community at the Forge.
GNS/The Big Model/Whatever we’re calling it now was a major boon for me, as it helped me broaden my enjoyment of games by coming to see that different people are looking for different things from the same experience.
I’ve made friends and colleagues across the country through the Forge. In fact, I connected with Ralph Mazza largely through the Forge, before either of us lived in Peoria.
My thinking on rituals and ritual design was shaped in part by an article by Chris Lehrich that was posted on the Forge.
There were years–years, I say–where reading the Forge and grappling with the ideas being pushed around there was a major component of my intellectual life. In fact, the Forge proved to me that it is possible to have productive discourse on the Internet.
Over the last couple of years, my life hasn’t allowed as much room for interaction at the Forge. For better or worse, the Forge Diaspora moved on most of the people I was really interested in continuing to connect with. And, as my life changed, my ability to devote the time to this place was hampered. I stopped checking the Forge regularly. Then, over time, it fell off my radar.
I’m probably not alone in this. Ron’s right; it’s time for the Forge to move on.
But still, I like that the last hurrah for the Forge is about design. At its heart, the Forge was all about quality design, leading to quality play. And, from where I’m sitting, it succeeded brilliantly.
So, Ron, Clinton, Vincent, I salute the work you’ve done over the years. Thank you for what you built.
Thank you for the Forge.
Rewind to 2001. I’m just getting into the small press roleplaying field. I’m hanging out on places like RPG.net and the Gaming Outpost. And, one night, I find myself in an IRC chat channel related to RPG.net talking to a guy named Jason Blair. Jason Blair is writing a horror RPG starring children called Little Fears. I want to know why. Really. What sicko wants to write a game about children being threatened by monsters?
And he answered me. He told me about how the monsters were metaphors for various forms of child abuse. He tells me that he wants to educate, to bring awareness. He tells me that he wants a game about children fighting back. (At least, this is how I remember the conversation. As I say, it’s been a while.)
What can I say? He sold me.
I encouraged him to include a disclaimer. I wrote an example right there in chat. Jason turned around and used what I wrote in the front of his book.
I was in.
I went on to write the opening fiction for the game and to provide editing services. Jason and I went on to become friends. Little Fears went on to be nominated for the Origins Award. The rest is history.
Yes, I remember the controversy over the game. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who questioned the moral rectitude of someone who would make a game about child abuse. But I was proud of my work on Little Fears. Before Dirty Secrets or A Flower for Mara, Little Fears was a game about issues. And I knew that I wanted more.
It’s been ten years since Little Fears was released. Life has changed a lot for both Jason and I. But, it’s fair to say that we’re both still proud of the work that we did on Little Fears. So, when I heard that Jason was putting out a tenth anniversary edition of Little Fears, I was pretty stoked.
And then, a complimentary copy of Happy Birthday, Little Fears showed up in my inbox. Because Jason is a class act.
So, if you’re interested in a piece of gaming history, check out Happy Birthday, Little Fears. If you’re not afraid of the dark….
Gerald Cameron is looking for editorial work:
I’m looking for (paying) editing work.
For now, I’m only looking for one project and then, depending on how other current work goes and how large the project I pick up ends up being, I may look for more work in a few weeks.
I do developmental/content editing and copyediting and I’m interested in projects where I do either or both.
Currently I have two editing credits, both on roleplaying game products: Dirty Secrets by Dark Omen Games and Worldbreakers: Etherkai by Omnivangelist Media. I am also in the process of editing future Omnivangelist Media products, including future Worldbreakers products. As you can see, my expertise is primarily RPGs, but I’m not limiting myself to them.
As a developmental editor, my philosophy leans strongly towards a belief in quality work with a strong bias towards useability/user-centred focus. To that end, I give a lot of attention to organization, clarity and making the implicit explicit. Also, examples are a good thing.
If you are interested in my services, please contact me via e-mail or private message. Anyone making a proposal in comments will automatically be rejected, even if it means I do not pick up any work. I’ll be choosing a project based on personal interest and ability to fit it into my schedule (and the ability to negotiate a fair rate for my work).
Thanks for your interest.
In addition to the games mentioned, Gerald edited A Flower for Mara but wasn’t credited due to an oversight on my part. Bad Seth! No biscuit!
As I said on the Google+ post, Gerald has been professional and prompt, even under the ridiculous deadlines that I’ve asked of him. I plan on working with Gerald again when I’m ready to get Showdown up and running, and I recommend him to anyone seeking a quality editor. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, so I’m throwing in an entry to the RPG Solitaire Challenge. I’ve hacked together a game called Sleepers, which is intended to be an ever-expanding Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game. Sadly, the game needs to be set up on a wiki, and I don’t have the time to do that in this stage of development. However, if you’re willing, I’d love if you’d take a few minutes to read over the rules and tell me what you think. Here’s a link to the PDF. Thanks!
The nice thing about playing “Happy Birthday, Robot!” is that the actual play posts write themselves.
We played “Happy Birthday, Robot!” at Go Play Peoria today. The group consisted of Brian, Arianna, Toby, Elsie, and myself. Of particular note, only Brian and I have reached our majority. The others are between 10 and 12.
Toby laid his hands on the story early, and the rest of us ended up working with it, despite our initial valiant efforts to oppose the darkness. So, this is a little…uh…darker than our previous run.
I have to say, I still enjoyed playing this game. This one looks to get more play around these parts.
Happy Birthday, Robot!
Happy birthday, Robot!
Robot and his dog hate cake and fun but love laser guns.
Robot shot his factor worker and the factory worker got a band-aid and cake.
Robot was not very sorry at all but his dog was.
The dog, whose name was Dave, told Robot off; Robot ran away and cried.
Robot thought about his life and he remembered the story of Pinocchio.
Robot felt horrible and he decided to become a terrorist.
Robot decided to kill the evil president of the robot factory of Mars.
Meanwhile, Dave was following his friend Robot with a big bazooka to help Robot.
But then robot ninjas got in the way and opened fire, but Dave just laughed.
Robot said, “Dave, what is going on!?” and the robot ninjas fell down.
Robot gaped and Dave said, “Do you want to know what happened?”; Robot did.
The Evil President jumped out and shot Robot, but Dave jumped in a dumpster to hide.
The Evil President gloated while Robot was bleeding oil from his gaping wound, and Dave used his bazooka to open fire.
The Evil President was killed; rejoicing spread throughout the factor, and Robot blacked out forever…or so they thought.
Robot retreated into his mind while Dave performed surgery which worked.
When Robot woke up, he looked at his hand and it was a human hand.
Dave said to Robot, “We had to use spare parts when we fixed you.”
“Am I a real person?” said Robot.
Dave said, “We made you a cyborg, Robot.”
“Happy birthday, Robot!” said Dave.
Tim Koppang (of TCK Roleplaying) asked me for an update on Showdown. I figured that there were probably others who were wondering, and I have a languishing blog…. So, here we are.
Right now, the primary thing preventing me from releasing Showdown is time. Right now, other parts of my life have been demanding more and more of my attention. This isn’t really a bad thing, but it does mean that Dark Omen Games hasn’t really been getting my attention. But I really don’t want Showdown to languish in the state of “almost finished”.
This means that I need to start making a plan to ship Showdown.
Therefore, I have just a couple of tweaks that I want to make to the design, and then I’ll declare it to be complete. (I had another idea for Stances that I’m filing away for an expansion, if I ever feel like doing something like that.) I’m thinking that one or two more playtests would be sufficient to make this happen.
After that, I need to write the thing. I also want to play around with some component design. There are aspects of the game that might be served by having a few custom cards and the like. Right now, I’m considering releasing the game as a PDF and POD book, which would include print-and-play cards, and then selling POD cards as an optional add-on through The Game Crafter. I suppose this step could even come separately, if I wanted.
It’s almost there, really. I just need to push it across the finish line. So, now, I guess I should go off and plan out how I can do that.
There’s been some discussion about game design and play on Twitter recently, and my name was briefly invoked. So, as a public service to all, I figured I’d write up this blog post to discuss my views. Also, I’ve not really written here much of late, and it’s nice to have something to say.
So, I’m going to talk about design. Not game design per se, but general principles of design. Or, rather, general principles about the relationship between the designer and the user, as mediated by the thing that the designer has made.
Here’s a simple example. A designer creates a broom to fulfill the purpose “enable the user to sweep the floor”. He selects a shape for the broom, chooses the materials, and lays out how to assemble the materials into the broom. I buy the broom and use it to sweep my floor. Voila! I’m using the broom in a way that matches the intentions of the designer of enabling the user (me!) to sweep the floor.
But then (to pick a totally hypothetical example) something falls behind the stove. Because of the way that it’s wedged into the counter, I can’t really pull out the stove. So I grab a couple of brooms and use their handles like giant chopsticks to retrieve the item that is behind the stove. In this case, I’m still using the broom, but it’s safe to say that I’m not exactly in accord with the intentions of the designer.
What happened in the second example? It’s simple, really. While designing the broom, the designer gave it certain attributes (such as “a long handle”) with the intent that these attributes would allow the broom to fulfill the purpose for the broom (“enable the user to sweep the floor”). However, many of those attributes can also be applied to other purposes (like the “enable the user to retrieve a stuffed animal from behind the stove” purpose).
This isn’t controversial. Repurposing is something that we do all the time. If you’ve ever pried open a can of paint with a screw driver, scratched your back on the edge of a wall, used a newspaper to kill a fly, or stood on a chair to reach a high shelf, then you’ve repurposed a designed item.
In fact, this sort of repurposing is simply an act of design. Usually it’s improvisational, but that doesn’t make it any less an act of design.
So, where does the original designer fit into all this?
This is where my concept of a “voided warranty” comes into play. When I repurpose something, I am moving away from the design work done by the original designer. That’s all well and good. However, it is unfair to then hold the original designer responsible for my design work. After all, he was designing with a different purpose in mind. By tinkering with his design, I’ve “voided the warranty” of the design. The responsibility for making it work now rests with me.
For example, I really struggled to use the two broom handles to retrieve the stuffed animal from behind the stove. But it never occurred to me to blame the original designer of the two brooms I was using. When I repurposed the brooms, they temporarily ceased to be instances of broom design and became an instance of man-sized chopstick design by myself. At that point, any blame for the poor quality of the tool rested squarely on myself. After all, it was my design that was being used at this point, not our distant industrial designer.
And this is how I approach game design. There is nothing holy in the received rules of a game. If you want to tinker, go ahead! The rules of a game are ultimately whatever the group agrees to. Consider all the house rules for Monopoly (and despair). Or, for that matter, all the potential optional rules for Dungeons & Dragons. There’s plenty of room for individual acts of design within a given gaming group.
However, once you begin to tinker, the game that you are playing is now your design, not the original designer’s. As such, you are responsible for making it work. And, if that makes you happy, then far be it from me to stop you. Enjoy your designing career!
 In fact, being the postmodern kinda guy that I am, I’ll note that the act of making the broom in the first place is itself an example of repurposing. After all, isn’t the designer selecting materials that have pre-existing attributes and then utilizing those attributes in new ways?
 As an aside, I’m pretty sure that I picked up on this phrasing from someone else, but I don’t remember who.
 There’s a related debate in RPG circles on “playing the game as written” versus “making the game your own”. I see these as two different design philosophies, similar to the portrayed philosophies of Apple vs. Linux. The design aesthetic of Apple is that “everything just works”. The user is sheltered from as many of the details as possible, in order to allow for an elegant experience. In contrast, the design aesthetic of Linux seems to be “make everything open” to allow for maximum hackage. Is either correct? Can’t they both be correct?
Over the last year or so, I’ve heard rumblings about Happy Birthday, Robot! by Daniel Solis. The game proper was getting a lot of buzz. A storytelling game, designed to be played with children…. I was intrigued. The method which Daniel used to fund the project (collecting pledges through Kickstarter.com) was generating discussion as well. And then, when Fred Hicks announced that Evil Hat was going to fund a larger print run, I really started to pay attention. I had missed the sponsorship period on Kickstarter.com, and now I’d have a chance to buy it! 
But, really, should I? I’ve been conscious of the fact that my roleplaying time has been constrained of late. Did I really need to add another book to the gaming shelf that I might never play? And so, reluctantly, I let the game sit.
One moral of this story is that it pays to follow Fred Hicks on Twitter (@fredhicks). A couple of months ago, he put out a call for reviewers for Happy Birthday, Robot! who would be able to play with children and review from that perspective.
I write about games. I have children. I wanted a comp copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! It seemed like a perfect match to me. So I put my name forward.
Fred agreed, and early last week, I received my copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! in the mail. For free!
In other words, yes, this is a comped review.
However, as I hope I’ve made clear, I was interested in this game long before Fred put out a call for reviewers. Also, receiving this game for free will not sway my judgment of the game. 
It doesn’t have to. This is a great game that stands on its own merits.
How the game is played
Happy Birthday, Robot! is a collaborative storytelling game. By following the rules of the game, the players write a little story about a robot named Robot.
Because the game is collaborative, no one wins or loses. In fact, as you’ll see in a moment, the game actively encourages cooperation between the players.
When it’s my turn, I’m the Storyteller. The players to my right and left are my Neighbors. Together, we will write the next sentence in Robot’s story.
The first thing that I do as the Storyteller is roll up to three dice. Some of these I keep and some I give to my Neighbors, depending on what I roll. I can keep doing this until one of my Neighbors has four dice or more.
At this point, I get to start writing the sentence. Each die that I have gives me one word for the sentence. Plus, I can use Robot’s name for free (like “Robot” or “Robot’s”). Then the Neighbor to my right gets to add words to the sentence equal to the number of dice that he has. He also gets a free word: “and”. Finally, the Neighbor to my left gets to add words to the sentence based on the number of dice that he got. His free word is “but”.
I’m going to cheat and steal an example from the book. Let’s say that I got three dice. I could write this as my sentence:
See? I used three words plus my free word “Robot”.
Then, the “And” Neighbor goes. Let’s say he has two dice. So he changes the sentence like so:
Robot sees a flower and a starship.
Two words added, plus his free word.
Finally, the “But” Neighbor goes. If he had three dice, he might adjust the sentence like so:
Robot sees a flower and a starship that is crashing.
Three more words, and he chose not to use his free word.
Then, I would get a coin for each die that I got (in this case, three), and then it’s the next player’s turn.
Pretty simple, huh?
Those coins are pretty clever, too. They don’t actually help the person who earned them. Instead, the player who earned them can give them to a different player, who then gets one extra word for each coin that he was given.
You keep playing until someone ends up with ten coins. At the end of that round, you do a special Epilogue round to end the story. Then you’re done!
A little about the book
First, you just have to check out the art for Happy Birthday, Robot!. Probably the simplest way to do this is to check out this trailer for the game on Youtube. Isn’t it adorable?
And that’s what the book looks like. Bright and cheerful, with lots of happy colors, cute animals, happy children and, of course, adorable robots.
Moreover, the book is made to look very similar to a children’s storybook. It would look more comfortable on a shelf next to Dr. Seuss than next to Grey Ranks or Hero’s Banner. (Yes, that’s where it lives on my gaming shelf. Alphabetization does funny things sometimes.)
I will admit that I chuckled a bit to see the toothy maw of the Evil Hat on the back amidst all the cuteness, but that doesn’t affect the aesthetics in the slightest. Happy Birthday, Robot! could easily take up residence in a children’s library or a homeschooling bookshelf and be perfectly at home.
I mention libraries and schooling for a reason. The book is filled with tips and hints addressed to teachers using the game as part of schooling. Many of these thoughts are written by Cassie Krause, a fourth-grade teacher who playtested the game with her class.
Also, the book is full of pictures and diagrams, showing exactly how the game is to be played. In fact, the rules summary for the game fits onto one page, but an entire chapter is dedicated to an extended example of play, which does a fine job of showing how to apply the rules in various circumstances. By the time I was finished reading the game, I felt confident that I could easily teach the game to my children.
And so I did.
A little discussion of our actual play
Quotable: “We don’t have enough words for [Roger] to die.”–Isaac, age 10
On Sunday, I sat down to play Happy Birthday, Robot! with my children and my sister Gabrielle. Originally I was going to play with the three older children, but Noah and Justice ended up being a part of the action. Noah played on Gabrielle’s team, and Justice helped me roll my dice.
I started by showing the book to the children and waving the pictures at them. My hope was that the artistic style would rub off and influence the game play. I wasn’t opposed to death-dealing robots of doom, but I wanted the kids to understand that this was primarily a cute game about children’s stories. I think that it worked fairly well.
The game assumes that you will be making special Robot dice, with two BLANK sides, two AND sides, and two BUT sides. This is one area where the small press nature of the game shows itself. I’d love to have custom dice for this game, but I know that there’s no way that Daniel Solis or Evil Hat would be able to pull that off. And, at least right now, I couldn’t be bothered to print little stickers and put them on my dice.
To his credit, Daniel includes simple instructions on how to play with regular six-sided dice. Basically, ones and twos count as BLANKS, threes and fours count as AND, and fives and sixes count as BUT. It works, but it wasn’t quite as intuitive as I would have liked. Oh well. Fudge dice would probably work as Robot dice, too.
I also decided that I didn’t want to use actual pennies for the coins. The game says to keep them on heads until you give them away, at which point you flip them to tails. My children are infamous for fiddling with game bits, and I figured that they would likely flip some of them over and then not remember if they were on heads or tails. Instead, I dug into my game design closet and got out some red and green glass beads. When you earned coins, you took red glass beads. Then, to give someone else a coin, you spent a red bead to give the other player a green bead. This worked out quite well.
Teaching the game was a snap. The kids grasped the rules quickly and were quickly caught up in the joy of rolling dice and earning words. The first hurdle arrived when one of the children didn’t have enough words to complete the full thought that he was wanting to express. Suddenly, the idea of “creative constraints” became apparent to the children. On the whole, though, I thought that they did quite well with the experience. In fact, I think that it was good for them. Constraints breed creativity, and the children rose to the occasion.
Over the next hour, we worked together to tell the story of Robot’s birthday. For your amusement, here’s the story we created.
Our Happy Birthday, Robot! story
by Seth, Gabrielle, Arianna, Isaac, and Samuel
with assistance from Noah and Justice
Happy birthday, Robot!
Robosapien was happy it was Robot’s birthday, and so was Emily, but Roger was angry and jealous.
Roger left the treehouse, but more robots came for cake, and so did Emily.
But there was no cake, because Roger had smashed the cake into pieces.
Robot cried, and Robosapien offered to help.
Emily had a good idea–”Get more cake!”–but Roger destroyed the treehouse.
Robosapien got mad, and so did Emily, but Roger just laughed at them.
Robot punched Roger in the head, and Robosapien shot him with lasers, but Roger had a mech.
Roger destroyed the cake store with missiles and set Emily on fire.
Robot angrily kicked the mech, and it blew up, but Emily was badly hurt.
Robot knew that the only way to save Emily was cake, but there was no cake.
Robot got Emily chocolate cake from China, and Roger fixed the treehouse.
Roger said he was sorry, and they forgave him.
They all ate cake.
Robot was very happy.
And so was Emily.
Everyone was engaged from start to finish, and I think that they would all happily play again. I know I would.
Thoughts on the game design
While this game is designed to be played with children, I think that it definitely benefits from an adult player or facilitator. I almost want to say that an adult is necessary, but I don’t know your children. I do know that competition comes easily to people, but collaboration can be hard. Having someone at the table with the social “juice” to insist that the players work together and to set a positive example of how to do that is important.
At the same time, the game provides numerous opportunities for these lessons of cooperation and collaboration to be taught. The coins provide hard mechanical opportunity to help out the other players. Beyond that, there’s the give-and-take of ideas at the table. Gabrielle talked about the game requiring a “generosity of creative space”, where players need to be willing to offer their suggestions while remembering that there needs to be room for everyone’s ideas. This is a good skill for life, not just games, and few people learn it. So, in this way, I think playing Happy Birthday, Robot! is good for its players.
I do think that it’s important to note that Happy Birthday, Robot! isn’t a roleplaying game as such. The players do not adopt any alternate personas or engage with the developing fiction as a participant. The game is very much about a shared authoring experience, making it more of a storytelling game. Additionally, the game is focused almost exclusively on process, unlike most roleplaying games, which are usually more fluid in nature. In this way, Happy Birthday, Robot! joins games like 1001 Nights, A Penny for my Thoughts, and maybe even my own Showdown, where the processes of play are focused more on the authorial experience than the immersive experience of a character.
I have to admit: I’m really digging these sorts of games. Unlike most roleplaying games, which tend to require extensive setup and pre-game prep, these sorts of games are closer to being boardgames or parlor games. You can pull one off the shelf without any previous preparation, play for an hour or two, and then be done without any further commitment.
This style of game is definitely a better choice for children. I’ve tried playing roleplaying games with my children, and, as a rule, they do not yet have the attention span or desire to play in a continuous game over multiple sessions. On the other hand, Happy Birthday, Robot! was simple, engaging, and then, it was over. This is a big deal, particularly to my children, who want to know what we’re going to play next.
At the same time, I think that children who have spent time playing Happy Birthday, Robot! will be better roleplayers. The skills required to play this game well are easily transferred to a full-blown roleplaying experience, and this can only be a good thing.
I should offer a word of caution. The game says that it is for players ages 10 and up. I’d say that’s about right. Players do need to have a basic grasp of sentence structure and the like. So, while Noah (age 6) enjoyed being involved in the game, I don’t think that he’s quite ready to be on his own yet.
I hope it’s clear that I really enjoyed this game. It’s the kind of game that I can play with my children, and I could even see getting it out to play with non-gamers some evening over drinks. I might even incorporate it into our homeschooling. I know that there are a lot of games out there demanding attention, but this one is definitely worth a second look.
I’ll put it like this: if you are a gamer with children, you should buy this game to play with them. If you are a gamer without children, I still think that you will enjoy this game. It’s light, frivolous, and highly entertaining.
You can buy Happy Birthday, Robot! at the Evil Hat webstore or Indie Press Revolution.
 I’ve noticed that footnotes are totally the “in” thing these days, so I’m going to use some. HT: Rob Donoghue.
 On the other hand, it does cement my opinion that Fred Hicks is a pretty cool guy.
 Yes, I know that “tree house” is actually two words. Well, I know now, since spellcheck informed me of that fact. Oops.
 Look, I know that the whole issue of defining what is and isn’t a roleplaying game is somewhat complex. I also know that this analysis is somewhat incomplete, fairly broad, and full of holes and exceptions. Nonetheless, I think my general point stands. The fact that Happy Birthday, Robot! calls itself a storytelling game supports my point. Also, of the game I named, I’m aware that 1001 Nights is something of an edge case, since you’re roleplaying characters who are telling stories.
 This point applies to improv theater or other form of collaborative expression.
So, on the trip home from Erie, I found myself thinking about a game to play at my upcoming birthday party. Something similar to Mafia, but with a little more time to play and a little more than just simple social cues to work with.
This is what I came up with. I’d be interested in thoughts and feedback.
At some point, I might write some flavor text here. But right now, I can’t be bothered.
You randomly and secretly distribute roles to the players.
One player is Spy One, the super-spy. He has a special passphrase that he must give to his handler.
One player is the Handler, who is trying to contact Spy One and get the passphrase from him.
One player is the Counter-Intelligence Agent. He is trying to trick Spy One into telling him the passphrase.
Everyone else is divided between Loyalist Citizens and Dissident Citizens. The Loyalist Citizens are on the Counter-Intelligence Agent’s team, and the Dissident Citizens are on the Spy team.
Once roles are distributed and Spy One has his passphrase, the game begins. Ideally, you play this game superimposed over another event, like a birthday party or something, where people have reasons to duck off into corners and have conversations.
For the Spy team (Spy One, the Handler, and the Dissidents) to win, the Handler must declare himself and state the passphrase correctly.
For the Counter-Intelligence team (the Counter-Intelligence Agent and the Loyalists) to win, either the event must end without a Spy team victory or the Counter-Intelligence Agent must declare himself and state the passphrase correctly.
Stating the passphrase incorrectly costs your team the game.
No, you’re not allowed to show the card with your role on it.
And that’s it!
One adjustment I’ve been contemplating is adding a role called the Bartender. He gets to know the role assignments for everyone. Each player can ask him the role assignment of one other player, and he has to answer truthfully. Additionally, each player can find out from him who asked about his role, and he has to answer truthfully.
I’m torn on the Bartender. It’s really more of a game moderator role, truth be told, and not everyone wants to be in that position. (On the other hand, some people like being above the fray.) On the other hand, it does provide a starting point for the players to try to make contact with other players, and it’s very much in theme to have a quiet conversation with the bartender before sitting down at a shadowy table in the corner….
Recently, I made the comment that I might be going through a midlife crisis. I am judging this purely on my recent reattachment to the world of Warhammer 40,000. I used to play games set in this universe a lot when I was younger. In fact, my Internet handle (Great Wolf) is drawn from the background of this universe. Of late, there seems to have been a revival in games set in the 40k universe. Or maybe I’ve just been noticing more. And so, today, I’d like to talk for a moment about the new edition of Horus Heresy from Fantasy Flight Games.
And, for those of you who aren’t gamers, there’s still a bit of classic “Dark and Quiet Room” introspection at the end of this article. Stick with it!
First, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Horus Heresy, for those of you who don’t know.
Once, the Emperor of Man walked among his people, having created the twenty Primarchs and their Space Marine Legions from his own geneseed. They had embarked on a Great Crusade to conquer the galaxy for the good of mankind. And the Imperium spread, and all was good.
But trouble came. The Warmaster Horus, the greatest of the Primarchs and beloved of the Emperor, fell to the corrupting influence of Chaos and turned against the Imperium. Fully half of the Space Marine Legions rallied to his banner, and the Imperium was split by civil war.
Horus knew that the ultimate success of his rebellion required the death of the Emperor. So, he diverted a number of the loyalist Space Marine Legions and then, in a bold gambit, struck with the bulk of his forces directly at Terra, the capital of the Imperium.
Initially, the traitor forces swept aside the loyalist defenders, who were also betrayed by Chaos sympathizers within their own ranks. The Imperial Palace itself was breached, and bitter house-to-house fighting filled the compound with bodies. Massive armies collided, and the dead were everywhere. Time and again, the traitor Marines hurled themselves at the defenders, and each time they were repulsed. And yet, slowly but surely, the loyalists were pushed back. They were running out of time.
Interestingly, so was Horus. Word reached him that the other loyalist Marines had defeated the troops he had sent to pin them, and now an armada was en route to Terra. If he could not kill the Emperor in time, he would be overwhelmed by reinforcements. So, he dropped the void shields on his flagship, hoping that the Emperor would beam aboard.
The fate of Terra was sealed in single combat between the Emperor and the Warmaster. In the end, the Emperor was victorious, killing Horus while suffering a mortal wound himself. And so the Emperor ascended to the Golden Throne, where he is kept in perpetual life support so that his powerful psychic mind can continue to protect his people.
The siege of Terra is the single most important event in the history of the 40k universe, and it is the setting for the wargame Horus Heresy. One side plays the loyalist defenders, and the other side plays the attacking traitors. Like other wargames, part of the joy of the game is seeing if you can outperform the historical (or, in this case, “historical”) outcome. Can you actually succeed where Horus failed? Or can you preserve the Imperium with fewer losses than the Emperor?
Yeah, this sort of thing totally works for me. Some have noted that the universe of Warhammer 40K is a fascist one, and I’m hard-pressed to argue with them. However, that’s not the appeal of the setting for me. Instead, it’s the overwrought heavy metal opera-ness of it all. You know, massive heroes in massive armor doing massive battle with each other. (For a sense of this, check out the intros to the Warhammer 40K computer games Dawn of War and Dawn of War II.)
And the siege of Terra particularly works for me, because it’s such an epic battle. You know, not just treachery, but vile treachery!!!. Not just heroism, but desperate heroism!!!. Not just combat, but grim combat!!!. And yeah, those exclamation points are definitely appropriate. But there’s more.
Horus Heresy does a fine job of depicting the siege of Terra as it’s described in all the stories: a grim, grinding, desperate battle. Combat isn’t about slashing maneuvers as much as it’s about feeding troops into the meat grinder and hoping they survive just a little longer than the enemy. The scale is so vast that the armies feel more like lumbering behemoths crashing into each other. And both sides feel the hot breath of bitter defeat on their necks.
As the loyalist defender, you are constantly surrounded by forces that seem more mobile and responsive than yours. The besieging ships barrage the ground from orbit, killing your few defending troops. Drop pods land everywhere, disgorging traitor Marines at your weakest points. You are betrayed by your own units who join the enemy, rather than standing strong by your side.
But the traitor player is no better. There never seems to be enough forces in place or enough maneuverability to get the job done. The defenders have vast adamantium fortresses which shelter them from your onslaught. Loyalist Marines slaughter your troops as soon as they land, scattering the survivors to the four winds. And time is not on your side. The game has a built-in timing mechanism and all the Imperium has to do is hold on long enough for relief to arrive. Wait too long to muster your forces, and you may not have enough time to use them.
And so, both generals feel the pressure, the sinking feeling that it’s all about to come apart, that defeat will claim you. I’ve found that it’s a common occurrence for both players to feel like they are losing at the same time.
And this led to a conversation I had with my wife. I was commenting on this aspect of the game, and she said that she actually didn’t like that part of the game. Well, kinda. Because then she launched into a passionate description of the desperate last stand. You know, the kind of story where the defenders are outmanned, outgunned, and surrounded. The kind of story that ends either with a hard-won victory for the defenders, earned at great cost, or their finally being overrun and slain. And we agreed that the important part of these stories is that the defender doesn’t let go. The point isn’t that they won or lost. The point is that they refused to give up. That, whether victorious or defeated, their will was not broken, and they stood tall against the onslaught.
Even if they died. All of them.
We respect that kind of story. Those are the virtues that we celebrate, which just goes to show that we were made for each other. I’m not as interested in a conquering hero as much as a desperate man, surrounded on all sides, who refuses to yield because his cause is righteous and just. Victory is irrelevant, because, really, he has already won. He fought the battle against his fear, and he emerged victorious.
That’s why the siege of Terra and Horus Heresy speak to me.
But, if these are the sorts of stories that I celebrate, what does this say about me? I often find that I discover qualities in myself through gameplay that I can then apply to life. What can I be learning about myself from this?
Could it be that God made me to fight this sort of fight? Not a grand and glorious push to achieve some noble goal, but something darker? A grim resistance, perhaps, surrounded on all sides but refusing to yield, having already won the battle against myself because I know that the cause is righteous and just.
And, if that is the case, should I be surprised if I sometimes feel tired and surrounded and alone? After all, for some bizarre reason, I consider that to be a position of honor. Maybe I need to see it as such and learn to shoulder that burden. Maybe…just maybe…God is actually seeking to honor me in this way. So maybe…just maybe…I need to learn how to honor Him in those times. Incomplete thoughts, I know, but there you are.
So, a big thanks to Jeff Tidball for designing Horus Heresy. I enjoy the game, and I’m looking forward to playing it more.
I don’t have a lot of time, so this will be somewhat impressionistic.
Yay! Sweet Agatha came in the mail!
Hmm. Yeah, okay.
But it’s so pretty! I don’t want to cut that up. But, what new images will appear when I do?
Wow. That’s emotionally heavy.
This is so totally my kind of game.
Um, that looks like the beginnings of the key to that code. Maybe I’ll be able to figure out that cipher!
Uh oh. I think I’m hooked. And I haven’t even started playing yet.
Or have I? Hmm….
(Note: I’m writing this on my Blackberry. Hopefully, this won’t impact the quality of my writing….)
Last night, Crystal and I went on a PretendDate. This is the second time we’ve done this, and it was a fun time. But, what is a PretendDate? I’m glad you asked.
It all started one evening when Crystal and I were out and about. We were driving randomly and ended up near the home of some friends of ours. Crystal really wanted to ring their doorbell and run away slowly to pretend to prank them. She was quite pregnant at the time, and she thought this would be funny. We dithered about it for a bit and decided that we could just pretend that we did it and then tweet that we had done it. Then, maybe our friends would see it and we’d all laugh. So, that’s what we did.
Things got a little out of hand after that. We drove around the city to different places. Then we’d decide what we were going to pretend to do there. Then we’d tweet it (with the #pretenddate hashtag) and move on. So, all we actually did was drive around the city to different places. But, in our minds, we did all kinds of things.
So, last night, we really did get egg rolls…from Egg Roll Express on Sterling and Gale. Then we ate them in the parking lot of Westlake Plaza near a security guard in a car that looked a lot like a cop car. Then we poked around one of the Halloween stores that was there. Then we headed towards Spotted Cow, took a wrong turn, discovered that Spotted Cow was closed, then headed to Dairy Queen. Once there, we bought onion rings and ice cream sundaes. We ate them, drove a little longer, then headed home. Along the way, though, we tweeted our PretendDate adventures, because it’s fun.
(After we got home, I beat Crystal at Dominion and then we watched an episode of The Wire, but that wasn’t part of the PretendDate.)
So, while this PretendDate cost money, it didn’t have to. All you really need is the time to be away and the willingness to pretend together. It’s something between a roleplaying game and an alternate reality game. And, tweeting about it let’s others play along.
So, that’s a PretendDate. Please do steal the concept, if you like it. If you do, be sure to tweet about it with the #pretenddate hashtag. That way we can all play along.
Last night, Hope wasn’t settling. So Crystal and I fired up Season 1 of The Wire. I hadn’t realized exactly how much I was looking forward to watching this show again.
So, once again, through the dirty streets of a broken city. And this time, I’m taking notes for Major Crimes.
Mike Miller (not to be confused with Michael S. Miller) interviewed me for his new interview blog 3 (or so) questions. My answers were long, so they are going up in installments. The first one is here.
Crystal came to me the other day and asked me to make a math game for my kids to help them learn their math problems. Here’s what I came up with:
Untitled Math Game
Make two decks of cards. One of them (the “student deck”) is made up on the different math problems to be learned. (e.g. “5+2″, “4+1″, and the like). The other deck of cards (the “teacher deck”) is made up of cards with the answers for the problems in the student deck (e.g. “7″, “5″, and so on). In addition, the teacher deck has an “I Win!” card that is put at the bottom of the deck.
The student starts by drawing 7 cards from his deck. When he is ready, he tells the teacher to start. The teacher will then flop cards from his deck onto the table. This should be at a regular pace (every 3-5 seconds). The student then attempts to match the cards in his hand with the cards that the teacher is flopping onto the table. Each matched pair is pulled off the table. The student may draw more cards from his deck whenever he desires.
The teacher wins if he flops his “I Win!” card or if he has more cards on the table than the student has cards in hand.
The student wins if he manages to get rid of his cards before the teacher flops the “I Win!” card.
The student’s score is equal to the number of matches he has made. So, even if the student loses, he can still measure his progress.
This has not yet been playtested; I’ll report back when I know more. But, in the meantime, any thoughts?