A List of Things I Like, Arrayed Before My Eyes for 128 Minutes

Here are some things I love, in no particular order:
  • David Bowie
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Illusion
  • Late 19th – early 20th Century stage magicians and escape artists.
  • Really twisty stories about people who get themselves in over their heads.
Here are some things that I like, also in no particular order;
  • Hugh Jackman
  • Christian Bale
  • Scarlett Johannson
  • Andy Sirkis
So Carrie and I went to see The Prestige. I really enjoyed it. It’s a really good time watching characters screw themselves over because they can screw someone else over in the process. They’re not bad people, but they do bad things, and the goodness of their souls is like a flashlight in the harsh and burning sunlight of their deeds. They wind up at the very edge of reality by the end, where still they are trying to extract from each other what none have to give, and if they’d only stop and breathe and have some compassion, they could have all they needed. And they don’t.
It would be fun to play something like this in Sorcerer, and indeed I may propose such a thing at the end of our current arc.

Under the Pyramid

There's something in my all seeing eye.

Steve Jackson’s (of GURPS, Munchkin, and Car Wars fame) Pyramid Magazine has posted a review of Under the Bed by Matthew Pook. It’s a very factual review and tells it like it is, warts and all. Pook is ambivalent about the amount of constant player input the game requires, which is totally understandable — I often think about that aspect of the game, as well — and he properly sees that it’s a serious challenge, but also a strength of the game.

Ben Lehman loves the game and he’s totally the target market for the game, so I’m satisfied with it. Pook is less forgiving but in all the right places. He correctly perceives that the game is hard to play but rewarding when it works out.

I do wish that I’d written more examples, but the manual was an experiment in purely procedural writing. That lesson’s already been applied elsewhere, though.
Shock: applies a lot of what I learned from Under the Bed in new ways: authority is very strictly assigned and subdivided into many types (Minutiæ, Protagonist, Antagonist, Shocks, and Issues) to guide the players in ways that Under the Bed doesn’t. It also reinforces its thematic direction more strongly than UtB. I happen to know that Pook owns a copy of Shock: so I’m hoping to see a review of that, too.

shock: the rocket boots compendium volumes 1 and 2


Well, the interview went great. I embarrassed myself to a bare minimum despite difficulties hearing each other. The Gamestas are great fun and you should listen to their podcasts.

They tell me that it’ll be episode 14, up in a couple of weeks. I hope they edit the shit out of it.

I Need to Know Quick: Does Saying “Fart” Count as Wit?

For reasons unclear to me, the rockin’ podcast The Gamestas wants to interview me. Last week, they had Keith Senkowski, so I’m kinda hoping he’s still around to throw the fucking totem at.
They’ve had Jared Sorensen, Luke Crane, and Ron Edwards on. I don’t know how I got on this guest list, but I’ll take it!
The show’s recording tomorrow eve. I don’t know when it’ll hit the streets, but I’ll let you know. My guess is, you won’t want to. It’ll just be 25 minutes of me making armpit fart noises*.

* Actually, I can’t make armpit fart noises.

A Tribute to My Readers

Monkeys Fucking

Every so often, I go check my web user logs. It tells me when someone’s written an article about one of my games, or when someone’s asking around RPGnet or the Forge with rules questions, “Sell Me” threads, or whatever.

It also tells me what Google searches people are doing. I get a lot for “glyphpress joshua” and “under the bed glyphpress” and “science fiction game joshua”. These are obviously people looking for my games.

But then, then there are the other searches. The accidental hits. And you’d think they’d be all over the place. But they’re not. They fall into two categories.

The first category is simple enough: people looking for a variety of things that contain the word “monkey”. Fair enough. Lots of “Monkey See, Monkey Do”. The occasional “Monkey Wedding”.

The second category — really, a subcategory — is Monkey Fucking. I don’t even see where I’m linked on that page. But every day someone clicks through from MSN doing a search for Monkey Fucking. Sometimes, several people. And they’re different people. Ohio, South Africa, Germany…

Now, what’s not strange to me is that people are looking for pictures of monkey fucking. It is, by virtue of its “perfect storm” of elements, the funniest possible thing to see.

What boggles me is that they click through. They set off in search of pictures of copulating tailed primates and wind up here at this humble weblog. It’s a marvel.

We truly live in the future.

This is not funny.

Constitution, revised

When I was in school, there were two things that I was told made America the best country in the world: we’d never waged a war on anyone aggressively (which was already easily debatable at the time, but still actually debatable and not a transparent lie) and you couldn’t be imprisoned without the due process of arrest, accusation, speedy trial, and conviction.

We were told that this is because the Constitution of the United States is a flexible but inviolable document subject to representative review and judicial interpretation that stemmed from that due process.

So, let’s take count:

  • Unjust, unprovoked, and morally bankrupt war? You betcha.
  • Lack of due process? Holy shit.

So, this is designed to get terrorists, right? And does it define what a terrorist is, and how we can make sure that we’ve got one when we do?

Well, we’re not allowed to know.

Be Boba Fett. Don’t Be Dengar.

Boba Fett Pwning Dengar

You know how cool Boba Fett is? And while we’re at it, Bossk? And, well, maybe IG-88 and Zuckuss? And you know how not cool Dengar and Greedo are?

Well, in the interest of my fans being the awesomest (and not the shot-in-the-cantinaest), I’m offering a bounty. Some, like Thor and Eric, have already turned in some heads and will be suitably rewarded.

Here’s what you can do.

Find me errors in Shock: that no one’s found before. You can track the found errors in the Shock: Errata thread on Xenoglyph and over on the glyphpress forum on The Forge. You have to own the book to gain your bounty hunter certification.

If I use your error report in the next version of Shock: you will be sent a copy of the next version of the game signed with thanks for the valuable service you have provided.

Errors that are valid for hunting and execution:

  • Typos (good lord, I don’t think there are any)
  • Rules inconsistencies and artifacts from early drafts
  • Inclarity
  • Incorrect references

These are all subject to my judgement, particularly the “rules inconsistencies” bit. But you’ll get gold for your head if it’s what I’m after.

No disintegrations.

Guess Who’s Coming to Donner?

Arctic Adventurers

I had a little discussion with my friend Kevin a while back on Livejournal about the place that “challenge” has in role-playing games, story games, and the like. It’s a discussion that comes up a fair amount, and Nathan took a good stab at it. I’d like to make some parallel coments.

This article grew out of that discussion. In it, he said that he was rummaging around the D&D 3.5 books to see if they still even talk about “roleplaying”. They do, a little. I challenged him that roleplaying (defined by another friend on his Lj as “giving your character a personality”) was contrary to the rules of D&D, and that you don’t need two big, hardbound books to tell you to use GM fiat for that stuff. But there are games that concentrate on that stuff, like Dogs and PTA.

He said,

But with Dogs in the Vineyard, I felt the same squishiness [as I felt in PTA]. Arbitrary amount of equipment + dice for all of it = bring in a truckload of equipment, then concoct hare-brained uses for it in-game. Better dice for big things = everything big. Add two together = my character’s Big 2d6 Hair. It still felt like the only thing holding back my character was me.

This is the perfect example of this kind of thing. See, it’s hard to find equipment that works in social situations in Dogs, plus guns automatically give you an extra die. But! Those things Kevin mentioned aren’t solutions… they’re bait! You’ve got a little girl who won’t take you to see her brother, who you know is doing grievous wrong and he’s gonna kill someone if you don’t find him. You gonna shoot her?

Let’s make some hypothetical games!
Now, let’s consider the picture at the top of this post. This is a bunch of people who traveled to the North Pole. Now, imagine a couple of ways of making a game about that situation.

1: Will they survive? In this game, we’ve got a couple of different things in opposition to us. There’s the cold, there are polar bears, and there’s a diminishing storage of supplies. These are inputs into the challenge of survival. Maybe we’ve got a list of things that can go wrong and it’s one player’s job to make life really hard, but we guarantee that the explorers can get to the North Pole and back to tell the tale. The game is played by husbanding supplies, taking risks, and planning properly.

When the supplies run out, all members of the expedition who haven’t already died, die. If they survive the experience, they get rewards. Let’s say those turn back around, so next time they’re more likely to succeed. So they have a reason to call it quits, count their blessings on their seven remaining fingers, and try again next year (which is, to say, next week on Game Night).

In summary, our goal here is to properly manage our supplies so that we can deal with the unexpected in the form of challenges made up by another player, likely a GM figure.

2: What will they do to survive? This is a different game, though the situation is the same:a bunch of explorers are going to the North Pole, but our resources, rather than representing your sleeping bags and Power Bars, are the psychological characteristics of the protagonists. In this game, you don’t win by surviving. You win by accomplishing goals you’ve set out for your character: “I want Julie to fall in love with me.” or “I want to kill Bill, that motherfucker, for Julie loving him.”

Perhaps we can even posit that we know that the party will not survive. This will end in snow blindness, murder, and cannibalism.

Furthermore, when your character dies, you don’t lose your ability to affect the story: the more you’ve affected other characters, the more say you have in what they do. Maybe you put this idea in their heads about eating Dave because he’s weak and fatty and holding us back, and they killed you for it… but you can have these dice to roll if you eat my corpse. And if you ate mine, what’s the objection to eating Dave?

In summary, our goal here is to follow up on stuff we care about as people. Moral stuff, emotional stuff.

Let’s compare.

The fictional events of these two games might wind up being exactly the same. That’s entirely possible. What’s different is the intention the players have when sitting down and whether they can use the rules of these games to get what they want. A lot of people might enjoy playing both games. I would. But here’s the thing: you can’t do both at once. If I’m playing to survive, get experience, and try again next time, and your character’s going apeshit and fucking my girlfriend and hitting me on the head with a rock while I’m sleeping and trying to eat my buddy, I’m gonna be annoyed. It’s going to be, why… it’ll be like we’re playing different games!

Likewise, if I’m thinking about our relationship, and putting dice into “You don’t deserve Julie” and you’re not giving me the opposition I need, I’ll be similarly peeved. Cuz you’re thinking, “I’m already carrying 78 pounds of gear (and suffering a -3 to all rolls because of it), and Joshua’s character has to carry the tent and 2 pounds of food, so I’m not gonna engage with his crazy shit.”

At the Forge, we call these Creative Agendas and there are three of them. These two that I’ve mentioned are called Gamism and Narrativism. The third is called Simulationism and has to do with replicating Buffy or Star Wars or My Big Binder of Fantasy Stuff in play. The reason these have been identified is because these are the things that someone wants out of play in a given game. They are not identities: I love playing Agon (which supports Gamist play) and I love playing Shock: (which supports Narrativist play). These are things I like, but they are not things that I am.

So when I sit down to play a game, I don’t want any mystery about what Agenda is being supported. D&D, GURPS, Cyberpunk, Agon, and even Fudge, don’t support a Narrativist agenda, so I don’t want to address theme while I’m playing those games. I want clear rules where the clever application of them is rewarded. Likewise, I don’t look to Dogs in the Vineyard, Prime Time Adventures, Shock:, or Breaking the Ice to prove to myself and my friends how awesome I am strategically and tactically. There may be shared elements, to be sure: a sympathetic character in a game of Agon, or figuring out how to get as many dice as I can on the table in Dogs. But these are techniques used to make play move on a moment-to-moment basis. They don’t address my Agenda at the time.

What does this mean for this week’s game?

Talk with your players and figure out what they want. Do you want character drama? That means the players are working with a Narrativist agenda this week. Does one guy want to explore a hero’s youth and what made him become a hero, but everyone else wants to slay dragons, already? It looks like you’ve got two separate potential agendas here. Maybe this week we’re playing Agon and next week we’re playing Hero’s Banner. But don’t make that guy try to tell his story by using combat rules, and don’t make everyone else play out a teenage drama when they want to be one-upping each other in bloody asskickedness. For Jebus’ sake, play different games. Don’t shoehorn one into the other. Here, I’ll say it again in its own paragraph:

Don’t use a system that doesn’t support the creative agenda of the players. Those players are flexible people; they like lots of different things. Discuss it, agree on something (and probably agree to play something else next), and play the game that does what you want to do tonight.

Getting What You Want

1937 Stamp

Hooray! I’ve finally gotten to the bottom of my Shock: shipments! That means that you should have your game in the next couple of days at the longest if you live in the US, or in a week or so if you live in Europe. If you live in rural Scandinavia or Australia, it may take a bit longer.

Enjoy your games, everyone. I look forward to feedback.

Oh, and please check the Errata before playing. There’s a really important rule that I can’t find in the book for the life of me.

The Road Up


After getting Burt Rutan to finally get his spacecraft flying after dropping hints for a decade, the X-Prize organization is turning its all-enabling gaze to the Space Elevator. What’s interesting about this is not just the ambient interest in the Space Elevator and its nature as a bridge to the rest of the universe; this is citizen space exploration. “Space is a place, not a program,” as they say.

Imagine a world where these things are all over the place. Where taking an elevator to space is like a cruise, where manufacturing is done in orbit and you can just go up there and check out the facilities, where the Moon is a matter of time, not billions of dollars, away.

This is the universe next door.