Saturday, April 30, 2005

Great White Games

In the course of hanging out of the Forge (pardon me for not hyperlinking that, but I do it all the damn time, and its on the linkbar, anyway), I see a heck of a lot of game designs. And, particularly, I'm seeing a lot of two types of game designs, both of which you might expect to see a lot of on such a site. The first are games that the poor designer has been developing alone, generally scorned by their play-group, for a decade or more. The second are games developed by people who come in, see all the cool theory and activity and interesting games being done on the Forge, and go "wow, cool, I'm going to design a game, too, and it's going to involve every bit of theory I can find."

Neither of these games ever get finished. Ever. And for this reason I call them "Great White Games," after the famous Melville novel.

Why is this?

I think it is mainly that the people designing them lack the craft to bring them to completion. Completing a long creative work -- not to mention one that involves a lot of serious analysis, like a game design -- is a humongous endeavor. It is something that requires training and, most especially, practice. These designers have never written a game before, but they are invariably attempting to do something like "a generic engine for all mythology" or "a realistic system for modelling any world, but most especially my home fantasy world" or "a complicated political manifesto about nested social structures."

Half of these games are simply doomed. Their authors are trying things which are simply impossible to do in the course of a game. These folks can be likened to a rainbow chaser or a dog chasing its tail -- we might feel sorry as we watch them go round and round, accomplishing nothing, but there is really nothing that can be done.

The other half of the games, though? Lack of craft. Fundamentally, these are complicated and difficult projects, that require rules finesse, theoretical insight, and years of research. And the people trying to design them, don't have it. So they just keep moving around, writing draft after draft, trying to figure out how to make it work.

Here's a dirty little secret: We all have Great White Games. Everyone has, in their heart, the game that they want to make that will be perfect and revolutionize the world. I know I do -- two of them, one of each type -- and they are named Chorus and Tactics. Chorus is a fantasy setting like Polaris, but 800 pages long, runs under 5 systems at once, and has a cosmology that includes eight or more detailed universes. Not planes, like D&D, but universes. With different physical laws. Tactics is simply the realization of all theoretical and technique development in the context of a multi-lateral Gamist campaign-play game.

Sound awesome, don't they?

But they never will happen. At least, I don't think so. I have a theory.

What is the secret to finishing your Great White Game? Let it go. Stop working on it. Do something else

The hardest thing to do as an artist is admit that something is beyond your reach. I literally cried when I dropped Tactics development in favor of Polaris. Polaris was smaller in scope, smaller in size, smaller in rules and much less revolutionary. Polaris was just smaller: less glamorous and less perfect. And I hated it for that.

Let's think about this for a second: Tactics was beyond my reach. And I loved it for that. Polaris was in my reach. And I hated it for that. I loved the project that I couldn't do, I hated the project because I could finish it.

I want you all to take a moment to reflect on how stupid that is.

Groucho Marx was talking about anti-semetism when he said "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member," but it has much wider-ranging meaning. Things that are doable by mortals seem just smaller and less important than things that are doable by the gods that haunt our minds.

I want to borrow, for the community of game designers, some ideas that traditional craftsman have used. Most importantly is the idea of a journeyman work -- the one piece of work that proves you are capable as a professional. It is not your masterwork -- that proves you a master of the craft. And it is certainly not a life's work -- that is the greatest thing you create in your life. Rather, it is a technical piece to show your competence, training, craft and skill. And teach you a lesson about finishing something good.

Every game designer should print and sell a journeyman work before they start their masterwork. Every game designer. That means you.

At the very worst, you'll have a good game on your hands afterwards.

(The only exception to this rule that I can think of is Ron motherfucking Edwards. Again.)

Friday, April 29, 2005

[Bliss Stage] First Playtester?

Mostly for my own reference

(oops... forgot link.)

For the curious, here is my general plan for game production. Subject to change at any moment:

Polaris, All Men Are Brothers Edition -- soon
Bliss Stage, Zero Stage Edition
Polaris, Supernumery Edition (if I sell out AMAB too quickly)
Polaris, Red Chamber Edition (aka Pretty Polaris)
Bliss Stage, Initial Stage Edition
A Polaris Companion
Chorus, or Tactics, or some other really big project

Whew...

Just sent off the first Polaris PDF. A rush job most especially for Judd, who is playtesting tomorrow.

What a giant, fuck-off relief that is.

To everyone else who volunteered to help -- you'll get word on assignments and PDFs tomorrow, after I've had time to do some nips and tucks.

I have so many volunteers I'm considering founding an elite Polaris promotional corps.

More content later. Now -- dentistry!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Polaris Needs You!

As I just posted on the Forge, Polaris is nearing completion, and now I need help from other people.

In short, I need -- playtesters, layout guy, ad swap, serious readers.

In long, see this post

Contact by commenting here, or whatever.

Thanks to those that can help!

A thought about game design

I'm recalling a conversation I had with Vincent about our own games, and the games that our friends are working on, and what has gone wrong, and some conversations with friends recently about their game designs, and I have come to this conclusion:

Your ability to design a good game is totally reliant on your ability to understand, overcome, and express your personal failures.

This is also true for other kinds of art, I imagine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Chorus Teaser #1

One of my major projects, which does not see a lot of internet time but nonetheless occupies a lot of my thoughts, is called simply "My Fantasy World" or sometimes "The World From Chorus." If you go far enough north in that world, you will reach the ruined fragments of the people of Polaris.

But the north was not the first thing I gamed about.

This is the world of a magic and secrets, a world of blood and murder, a world of prices and things best left unspoken, a world of simple people, trying their best to be good, and the evil that they do unto each other.

There is God in this world, but there are also things called gods. We might also call them ideas, philosophies, secret lores hidden from the eye, manifestos, monsters, or demons. Each of them has as many names as they have worshippers. Some of them are:

  • Boy-in-the-Night
    • He comes for your gold and your daughters.

  • Bright Daughter
    • Will she love you?

  • Conquerer
    • The red eyes that know nothing but rape, pillage, and fire.

  • Dark Daughter
    • The dead are her people and the dark her country.

  • Eaten Queen
    • Her sort of sacrifice cannot be made by will alone.

  • Just King
    • The wounds of his justice have never healed.

  • Lady in Chains
    • Who is the Master here?

  • Lord of Light
    • Blessed are you, King of the Universe.

  • Mother / Wife
    • Everything you loved and hated about her.

  • Silent Wanderer
    • Home is a dry taste of dust, and words are the bitter taste of lies.

  • Singing Wolf
    • It's all fun and games until...

  • The Liberator
    • The price of freedom is paid in the blood of patriots.

  • The Eye
    • It watches.

  • The Sage
    • The man who knows whatever cannot be told.

  • The Unborn
    • What will he become?

  • Thing-in-the-Night
    • It stalks.

  • Thing-in-the-Sea
    • It hungers.

  • Wise King
    • The price of wisdom is too great.


And there they are.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Polaris Teaser #5: On The Mistake

While many stories about the Mistake, no one among the people knows the truth. The histories, if there ever were histories, have been lost and, although the libraries list books on the subject, they are filled only with ashes and not with words.

While no one knows the truth, everyone knows that before the Mistake, their city was perfect, their sky was dark, and the people had no fear, and that, afterwards, their city was left a smoking crater, their sky was lit by the brilliant sun and haunted by a ghostly moon, and the people had learned horror, terror, and ten thousand other ravages of time.

Such knowledge cannot be born without some excuse, some meaning, some explanation. And so it is that the people have made their own stories of how it came to pass.

Why the Forge rocks

The Mountain Witch
Capes
Dogs in the Vineyard
Three Short Games About the Human Heart
Primetime Adventures
Nine Worlds
The Shadow of Yesterday
Polaris
Universalis

All of these games were conceived, designed, and published (or soon to be published) directly from the community of the Forge itself. They all meet their creator's creative visions. They are all games with excellent rules. They are all eminently playable.

This is what the Forge has given us, and continues to give us. A space to make. A way to make. And something worth making.

Why the Forge sucks

It's probably no secret to anyone reading this that I spend a lot of time discussing games over at The Forge, a website devoted to the discussion of role-playing games and the creation of role-playing texts.

One part of the Forge's focus is the Ron Edward's Big Model theory, which lays out the basic structure of the role-playing game, at least as regards play. Part of this model, and its oldest part, is the GNS model, which classifies the play of role-playing games into three types: Gamist, which focuses play on challenge, strategy, and tactics; Narrativist, which focuses play on dramatic human issues and hard choices; and Simulationist, which focuses play on the act of creation itself.

A lot of people are not happy with these classifications, or this model. I'm not going to go into the reasons people aren't happy with them, because they are complicated and I don't mean to trivialize or dismiss people's problems. Many of these people are opposed to the very idea of having an RPG theory at all.

A lot of other people come to the model, read it quickly, misunderstand it or don't, and pick it up as their new gospel. Everything is about "The Model" and how it works. People who don't follow it, don't understand it, or even want to explore and change it are classified as the enemy, and promptly roasted.

Side note: Often, people of the first type are people who are drawn to "Simulationist" as a self-image label, rather than a play style. Often, people of the second type are drawn to "Narrativist" as a self-image label, rather than a play style. No bets on whether their play is actually Narrativist or Simulationist, mind you. These are people who just want to identify with the tag.

And, like most identity politics, there are great and nasty battles between them, which occupy a great deal of time on the otherwise productive bulletin boards at the Forge. And this sucks. But it sucks extra for an extra reason.

Enter me. I am someone who thinks that the Big Model theory is a great theory, and the closest anyone has come to seriously talking about what is actually going on during the play of an RPG game. However, I do have some caveats about how I see things, and how they are slightly different than portrayed in the model.

In one way, the political way, this is good. I can speak to both sides of the fence. In general, I am a fan of the model. This makes me okay by the pro-Model folks. But, yet, I have reservations about it, and can say that I don't think it is wholly accurate. This makes me okay by the anti-model, anti-theory folks. So, politically, I'm in an ideal situation.

Too bad I'm not in this business to play politics.

I want to talk about RPG theory. I want to talk about the subtle changes, or subtle definitions, I want to see in the big model. I want to talk about the possibility of a Humorous creative agenda, or about how Gamism is universally protagonizing, or about how all the explorative elements fundamentally interconnect into what the lumpley Principle defines as "system."

But I can't. Or, at least, I won't.

Because of the hostile environment in the forums, any new topic is seen as either ammunition pro- or anti- the Big Model. So, if I post something about how things might be different, that is an insult to the Model faithful, and the anti-Model league will come in and say "Yes, I agree, it is all wrong and should be burned" which is not what I'm saying at all. Wrestling people to the point where the serious theorists (who are usually not on either side of this argument) can talk about the issues just takes me too much effort, too much sweat, and too much time.

Which is, I guess, why I have this blog.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Up until this point, I have done a lot of game design and game theory writing over at my Livejournal. I thought I'd provide a summary of links over here, for the curious.

Game Theory:


Design Work:


Gaming at Large:


Also, do please note that the GNS Open House is still open, should you care to post to it.

This is My Blog

I'm thinking about adopting this as a forum for my role-playing game related posts, both theory and actual play, and relegating my LiveJournal to just my personal life.

Name is This is my Blog, showing a clear relation to my company, These are our Games. The games are for everyone to participate. This, I think, is for me to talk about my own experiences.

We'll see how it goes, I guess.