[RR] Shameless Conjecture

One of the big consumers of my writer’s juice has been a project I’ve been working on the for the past few months that is finally moving towards the light. I’ve been creating a line of tabletop RPG supplements mainly aimed at solo players or GM’s that need a bit more guidance.

The first release is UNE – The Universal NPC Emulator – which aims to create, color, and guide the use of NPC’s, non-player characters, in RPG’s. I released it back in 2007 on a whim, but now I’m trying to do things a tad more professionally. UNE has been cleaned up, and is now  heavily supported on the other thing that has been sapping my time.

ConjectureGames.com - this puppy has tons of examples, tutorials, and even previews for upcoming products. For example, it shows how to use UNE to create an adventure or create a villain with weaknesses.

Anyway, all the Conjecture Games products will be pay-what-you-want, and I am perfectly happy with the payment of $0.00. I just hope that they are useful to somebody in this niche hobby. BOLD is the next product, and is hopefully slated for September. It is the Book of Legend and Deeds and aims to create player histories, define downtime events, and even create a dramatic skeleton-frame for adventures.

–Ravious

Writer’s Juice

There’s some bit of finite energy required by blogging. Unfortunately, it is the same juice used to write elsewhere, whether it be at work or in other arenas. I find that if I am active in say a G+ community or a forum, I write less elsewhere. If I write up a solo RPG session, I write less elsewhere. Note that this is not a function of time. It’s more like a function of will.

There’s so much to write about too. The Guild Wars 2 community seems frustrated with ArenaNet’s communication, but then my mid-season view of the Living World story is aces. Windborne got a small update. Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine just got released in beautiful PDF form. I roleplay with my young daughters every other weekend or so as well, which has opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Then, I also live less than half-hour’s drive from Ferguson. So, I got that going for me.

As always, Zubon and other blogger around the ‘sphere are doing fantastic work. I just felt like I needed to write a note that was like “I’m still here in some form.” I am hoping now that school is started, and things are getting regularly scheduled, I too will find time to manage my juice.

–Ravious

[TT] Tile Placement

I saw Monster Factory at Gen Con and was immediately reminded of Starbase Jeff from Cheapass Games. Both are tile placement games with two types of “fittings” where you try to complete stations/monsters to bank points. There are some differences in the details, but the mechanics are 90% the same. Carcassonne is broadly similar.

How much of gaming is that? Same core mechanic, same basic flow of play, but we are trying to find the perfect variation on the details that makes it pop, or maybe the same game with a different theme that we favor. And, you know? Sometimes that little difference does make a big difference. I love the mechanics of LOL but will never play DOTA or Newerth because they include a creep denial mechanic, and I find it fundamentally absurd to have a game encourage you to kill your own troops so that the enemy cannot.

So maybe those little differences in how you select or score tiles means a lot. We have generated an entire genre of deck building games in the last decade, and how many of them start with something very like 7 copper and 3 VP?

: Zubon

Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it not work. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Taking Joy

Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. … Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.
John Green

This has been my first con season, and I must say the best part is seeing so many people having so much fun. Gen Con has about it an aura of enthusiasm. Card games? Here is a tournament with hundreds of tables going at once, and that is not the only one, and over there is the entire hall devoted to them. Next to it are areas devoted to board games, from championships to “learn to play” sessions. The dueling successors to Dungeons and Dragons are there, with a large area for the launch of D&D 5th Edition and most of a floor for Pathfinder; just walking by the Pathfinder gaming area was an experience, with themed rooms, groups forming and shouting that they need one more, and generally an air that these people really are going to slay an army of dragons and save the world.

I have really enjoyed the costumes, but I think “outfits” make me happier. That is, there are many costumed characters, but even more people are dressed up without being a particular character. There are more hats and corsets than I see the rest of the year. There are Victorian and steampunk bits, from formal dresses to someone who just felt like wearing goggles. There are more utility kilts than I expected even given that these are gamers. Hair colors stretch far beyond the normal human range, and that was before I ventured into the anime area. People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

: Zubon

[TT] Gen Con Open Thread

I went to my first Origins Game Fair earlier this year, and I’m going to my first Gen Con later this week. It’s a big year for diving into conventions for me.

Rat-slaying readers, this is your comments thread for finding each other at the event, recommending (for or against) things, and generally talking Gen Con.

: Zubon

Tinker Gearcoins

I don’t think we mentioned that our dear friend Tesh has a Kickstarter winding down: Tinker Gearcoins. These are a bit like the Tinker Gearchips he did at the start of the year, but with more art, different sizes, and a design that lets you use them as cogs if you want to get extra steampunk. It is past 700% of its goal and about to hit its last stretch goal (adding an extra gearcoin to the rewards), there are multiple options for shiny finishes, and all the previous campaigns’ items are available as add-ons. I gave a friend a Tinker Deck, because who doesn’t need a deck of cards with Ada Lovelace as a queen, so I need to replace that.

Hmm, too many links there. Let me point out the current campaign: Tinker Gearcoins.

It’s more money than you probably need to spend on fun, decorative coins, but less than you’ve probably spent on a night at the bar, and afterwards you’ll have fun, decorative coins rather than a hangover.

: Zubon

Smullyan on Enjoying

He does indeed sift and sort, but he does not know that he is “sifting and sorting.” He is much like a dog who is offered a dish containing a mixture of good foods and bad foods. He spits out the bad foods and eats up the good foods. The doggie does not complain nor criticize the bad foods; he is far too busy enjoying himself hunting out the good foods. And so after the meal is over, if someone asked him how he enjoyed his dinner, the doggie would say, “Delicious! I found so many good foods!” (By contrast, [the grinder] would say, “Horrible! Most of the food was bad! I had a hell of a time finding enough good food to make a meal”)
— Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title

Comment Spotlight: Meaningful Decisions

There’s a lot of writing about game design in both theory and practice, but what most of it boils down to is that the opportunity to make meaningful decisions on a regular basis is fun.
- Alexander Williams

That puts a lot in a nutshell. Why is too much randomness a problem? Your decisions have no meaning if they do not affect the outcome. When the outcome is known at the start due to radically uneven opponents, again your decisions have no effect on the outcome. If the outcome is mutable, how meaningful was that decision when it is wiped away with the next tide? And of course grinding is when you have stopped making decisions and are just carrying out a known algorithm 1000 times until you level, get that rare drop, etc.

The extreme case is “no decisions,” like Progress Quest or Candyland, but the less that it matters what decision you make, the closer you get. If randomness or the starting state determines the outcome far more than your decision does, you could just as easily make the opposite decision and get the same outcome. If the outcome is mutable, and 30 seconds after you’re done the result is wiped away, you could just as easily make no decision or just not show up and it makes no difference. The game plays itself, with the player just cranking the wheel to make it go through the motions.

In some sense, part of the point of games is to have low impact, mutable decisions. You get to fight dragons, blow things up, and conquer the world without any risk to yourself or others. No matter how important your decisions are within the game, once the game is over, you declare a winner and are done. But your decisions need to matter within the game or else your participation in the game does not matter even within the game, at which point it is recursively pointless.

: Zubon

Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it unenjoyable. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon