27 February 2009

The Ninja and the Cabin Boy

To paraphrase a business studies aphorism there are no bad players, merely bad GMs. This is a perspective that many people on the inside of a poor GMing situation are blind to. It doesn't help that most games are not constructed to support an inexperienced GM. This makes it very easy to blame the game. It is true that the game is almost always partially at fault; GMs are supported in some tasks but not others and unless the GM has a natural ability they may not even realise this is the case. Players instinctively recognise how much work a GM will put into even the most tedious campaign in the world. What's perhaps less palatable is when a GM realises their failure in a game that's going well.

The campaign playtest of Marauders is under way now and I'm really enjoying it. So are all of the players most of the time. As is usual in such situations, or rather not unusual, there is some character tension as the characters have only just met. One of the characters, a ninja, has even threatened another of the characters, a cabin boy, that he may kill the cabin boy during his sleep.

The player portraying the cabin boy is, rightly, worried about the threat that has been made. The joy and curse of Role Play as a form of entertainment is that, in theory, if the ninja wants to kill the cabin boy then he is at liberty to try. After a lengthy discussion with the player who has carefully crafted this cabin boy character it comes to me that concerns for the life of the cabin boy are not because of another character's hostility towards him but rather because of my continuing failure to Host properly.

The fact is that players entering the role playing game have to feel a certain kind of safety. The safety one feels when watching a horror movie or other movie with extreme content might be comparable. One may feel unsettled or disturbed by an effective horror movie but in the end dedicated horror fans are fully of the understanding that it is just a movie. Similarly you might feel a cold creep at a particular game's atmosphere but you, personally, should not feel attacked.

Unlike watching a movie or playing a computer game against the computer an attack on your character by another character could be seen as a personal attack on you. After all computer bots and movie characters are unthinking, whereas another player is an actual person. In computer games allowing such attacks has a term - PvP - and areas where PvP are allowed are seen as distinct from those where such things are not allowed to occur. The fact that having your virtual avatar in a computer game harmed or killed has a pejorative term associated with it - to be pwn3d - just indicates how much of an attack it is.

The concept of being pwn3d in a computer game is an accepted part of the digital gamer's community. There are several factors that mitigate the pwnage. It's quite an involved process to get into a PvP game. You must boot up the machine, log in to the server, activate your character and choose to participate in a PvP match. There is a reassurance that all player avatars are roughly the same, or at least playing by the same rules. If you are pwn3d you have no one but yourself to blame. You volunteered. Besides the pwn3r is probably miles away, a faceless opponent known only by a community handle, they are a ghost, they can be made to fade away to nothing in the memory.

A fellow role player is in the same room with you, it's the nature of the hobby. If someone you know is putting threats of killing into the mouth of a character and the player is sat a few feet away from you that could be interpreted as a personal attack even if it is only meant as "authentic" role play. I can sympathise with both players on either side of such a difficult situation (giving benefit of the doubt that the threatener is only trying to be authentic).

So how does one deal with such a scenario?

Having a non PvP rule may work, if everyone agrees to it. Such a rule is mostly presumed in most RP situations anyway. The problem with making such a rule explicit is that if a player does want to be "authentic" threats their character may make toward another character start to ring hollow. Everyone in the room knows that should the threatener attempt to enact threats of vengeance they will have broken an important role play rule.

Even so I think the idea has merit. People should make plain whether they wish to be involved in a PvP situation or not before the game begins. This will allow latitude for aggressive authenticity between players who have opted into it.

There is, even there, one final objection from the player who wishes to play a moody aggressive sociopath: "But my character just wouldn't back down like that".

In my time acting there were actors who reported difficulty with lines because their interpretation of the character made the lines in question ring hollow or sound funny. Basically the script contained utterances that the actor did not consider to be "in character". The advice for such actors is the same as the advice to players who want carte blanche to be nasty to other players in the name of verisimilitude. If your interpretation of your character breaks the story then your interpretation is wrong and needs to be modified.

Being a good Host is about making sure everyone in the game is comfortable and happy. Being a good player means respecting other player's wishes not to be involved in inter-player aggro. There is always a spin you can put on a circumstance that will allow your character to remain wholly intact whilst still, essentially, being the character you wanted to play. Surely the price of having to do a little work is worth paying to ensure that you are gaming in a safe and comfortable environment.

24 February 2009

Website At Last...

So the domain kicked into life round about 11:30 AM. I know that of late visiting my journal has been like a game of internet orienteering but I'm really just sending you on to an actual website now, the journal continues to be here.

It would be really cool if you would go and have a look around. If you live within reach of Nottingham and you would like to attend one of the preview sessions for No Dice that would be even cooler. Directions on the site.

So without further ado the wonderful website may be found at *drum roll*


The Doodler and myself have worked really hard on getting it looking nice, Mrs Monkey will be wanting some queries to deal with so we're all working super hard to get some traffic in at the moment.

So come on in and have a look around.

19 February 2009

Time For The Morpheus Act

So I was online today listening to the various RPG podcasts I enjoy and more specifically the stream at Warpig Radio and I was lead hence to Talisman Studios where I picked up a PDF of the basic rules for their Suzerain RPG for the grand price of nothing.

What attracted me to have a look at the site in the first place was the fact that the systems advertised therein use playing cards like a certain other RPG that is coming out in June *ahem*.

It never hurts to check out the competition.

And looking through this PDF it came to me that in many ways people have already seen the potential of the playing card. Hell, I now know of three RPGs that are entirely based around using playing cards as randomisers. As a whole section of the Core Book will explain cards are monumentally better at randomising than dice ever have been or ever will be. Cards rule.

Talisman haven't pushed this. Their site is not plastered with hyperbole about the effectiveness of cards as randomisers. The other systems I've seen didn't make much fuss about it either. It's almost like they're trying to shrug off their rejection of dice. They certainly don't describe themselves as "diceless" and yet they are, dice are not mentioned.

I even like the essential Suzerain mechanic.

But is Suzerain No Dice?

No way.

Which leads to the Morpheus bit.

If No Dice is not playing cards what is it? What is No Dice?

It occurred to me that the No Dice core book is like The Prince, or Hagakure or The Art of War. It's a treatise on dead ends that role-playing has ended up in, and how to get out of them. It's a plea for the hobby to broaden, deepen, to become something more, something new.

That's, in essence, why we're giving the Core Book away as a PDF. How the hell are we going to sell another product if we can't tell people how we feel about the way these games should be played?

The Suzerain rule book had some gorgeous art and a super keen playing card system, which rather shamefacedly takes up a single page of double column print, as if it's ashamed to be accessible. Furthermore the rest of the book is filled with skill charts and vague instructions on building characters with skills to take part in something, something I guess one would learn about in the other Suzerain books.

Suzerain is not No Dice.

No Dice would not do this. And by "this" I mean turn casual drive by readers off by having one neat idea surrounded by a bunch of dry and obscure ones. I also mean hint at some glorious campaign setting through teaser artwork and odd quasi-phlosophical mumblings and then not solidify any of it.

No Dice is more than the sum of its parts, to be sure. Because when I see parts of it in what has gone before I don't recognise any of what I'm so excited about in those places.

That's reassurance of a very real sort.

So what is No Dice?

No Dice cannot be explained, one has to experience it for oneself.

And the Morpheus act ends.

16 February 2009

Prologue Time

Well, it's games weekend week. So I currently feel like I'm already living through a prologue to the real business of the week. Leave aside the fact that the weekend brought an absolute avalanche of tasks into view for Mrs Monkey, the Doodler and myself to contend with. We started looking through the Nottingham What's On, moved on to the UK Roleplayers event calendar and ended up with a calendar packed chock full of stuff for us to do.

If half of the plans we're trying to put into operation are going to come off we're going to be heinously busy this year but that's what comes of starting a business with no money. You have to put in some kind of expense and all we've got to spend is time and energy.

The good news is that the website is up and searchable, I'm not handing out the domain name as yet because we haven't got all our tubes connected properly. Believe me once we have full web diversion and all that jazz I'll be ramming it all down your throat. I would tell you the site was searchable, but it's not because I just tried to search Google for it and it's not there.

Not that there's much point in worrying about all this until after the Games Weekend anyway. We won't even be available for comment sequestered in a huge old chapel building in Derbyshire.

Mrs, The Doodler and myself are all putting a lot of eggs and, ha ha, No Dice into this basket. We're hoping it all pays off.

11 February 2009

Looking Ahead To Zero Hour

Work to be done on the actual core "No Dice" book is all about the spit and polish now. I'm chewing my way through putting up our first lines of "No Dice" gear in the shop. The Doodler is frantically creating the illustrations for the book. I have to turn my attention to the website.

We're looking at a publishing date for the No Dice Core Book of 1st June 2009. First time in my life I have ever been nervous-excited about publishing a book.

Let's get one thing straight herrs and frauleins, this isn't just a book. I designed a game. And not just a game. An evolution. A revolution. A new type of social experience. I am expecting big things.

So, will I be hugely disappointed if it doesn't fly? I don't think the concept of disappointment does this justice. I will be shocked, surprised, gobsmacked, awestruck.

You see, I'm a writer ghost writing a product that is more the product of every good time I've enjoyed with every close friend I've ever had than it is of my brain in glorious isolation.

I'll be sticking some bells and whistles on it using my own talents, just as the Doodler will draw up associated images to make these words pop. In the end though No Dice is about helping people who never really had much time for ardent dice rolling during a storytelling experience get out those all important creases.

The whole thing is about helping a Host to Host and about turning the intensity dial up on the player's experience. If I'll say one thing for people who've been role playing hitherto it's that they have incredible powers of imagination.

That's the thing. Role Playing, as it stands, is hard. You have to be so in to what you're doing to make it fly sometimes, and when it's good it's great. Still, it would help if everyone had a chance to enjoy the peculiar specialness of the role playing experience.

No Dice is designed to reduce some of the brainwork that is currently de rigeur for GMs and Players. Playing No Dice should allow the hobby to become more accessible.

Yup, No Dice is a heady brew, to be sure.

The last closed Beta of the various systems is starting a week on Friday when the long-adored Games Weekend is due to commence. I have all manner of escapades planned for that event from the crunchiest to the lightest. We shall see how they all go over.

The current archetypes that need to be written, illustrated and then added to the catalogue are the aforementioned Martial Arts game, a cop game and a fairy tale game. I'm also rolling out something experimental to see how it plays.

Following that, it comes to me that the only thing that should really be done to fill the intervening time is to open the Betas up for a sort of "Final Run" leading up to the big launch. Actually now I come to think about it a launch *event* might even be appropriate... Hmmm.

Changing gears between creating and marketing, even when that means a bunch of RP events, is kind of bizarre. What I'm keen to avoid is huge costs in printing etc. when we've got no money coming in. Anything I spend now has to be recouped by donations and so on later. To date I've spent precisely no money on getting this ready to go. I was hoping to continue in that trend.

As that's probably not going to be possible (and I realise a few quid on ink and paper for character sheets and other stationery hardly breaks the bank) I guess it's time to draw attention to the "donate" link over on the right there. 'Nuff said.

Expect to see the website spring to some kind of life in fairly short order. I'll restrict specific discussion of any participatory events people may or may not be interested in news of to that forum.

9 February 2009

New Readers

So my analytics is telling me that we've got some new traffic coming in to the blog now. I just thought I'd leave a note to say "hi". Pull up a chair, enjoy the role play discussion and watch the developments unfold.