Story Gaming

Worst GM

I’ve played countless games on scores of different tabletop systems, and even in the least cohesive group, we always managed to do something fun or epic. There’s always engagement, creativity, and emotion poured into the game. And when there isn’t there’s bloodshed, glory, and a story to go with the scars.

Then there’s D&D.

Now 5th edition does have quite a few tools to allow the story teller to come out form people, but it lacks any firm facility to (more…)


Sunk Cost Fallacy Fallacy

The problem with common sense is that it’s definitely not common. In fact, the more commonly expressed that a given piece of advice is, the less likely that it’s useful for the given situation that it is given. I choose to believe that this is because these sayings are spread by Hollywood thinking, which is when unrealistic situations are presented in which a single piece of advice magically solves a dilemma. However, it’s most likely that the common phrase simply doesn’t apply when it is suggested, it’s only suggested because it’s fresh on someone’s mind.

One such example is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The short explanation is that if a company has been working on Process A for 6 months and expect it to take another 6 months, and Process B could be started and completed in 4 months, then the 6 months spent on Process A should have no bearing on moving to Process B. The company can’t get that time (or money) back. If there’s an emotional attachment to Process A, the time spent on it can seem like it still has a lot of value. The typical example is a company spending money on tools for producing a new product, and realizing it’s not profitable. They shouldn’t produce the product just because they bought the tools, if they know that continued activity will lose more money. The problem, though, is that there is not good example.

Where it goes wrong? There are very few things in a person’s personal life in which emotions are worthless. In order to apply the concept of a Sunk Cost in economics, there cannot be qualitative results that are incompatible with the measurement being used. I could very easily tell someone that their 25 years of going to the movie theater (more…)

Three Types of Resolutions

In role playing dice are used to resolve actions. Sure there are diceless RPGs but resolving success or failure is a basic tenant of all RPGs. Considering that resolution as a roll for success there are two ways to accomplish this that Role players are familiar with. First, the player rolls and then the GM narrates the results. Second, the player narrates the results and then rolls to see if it succeeded.

These two types of resolutions can be used to categorize RPGs, but there is a third. This is where the players roll and then narrate.

A player’s first experience is usually the first type type where the GM narrates. It represents the “GM is god” stereotype. Players take actions by describing a simple request and then a roll to verify if it worked. Why things succeed or fail are up to the GM who is responsible for keeping things withing the bounds of the game world and expectations of the group.

The second type in which players narrate then roll constitutes most of (more…)

Playing against your strengths

RPGs are almost entirely united on a single concept. Player should play to their strengths. This means that a player with a particular skill should not just be good at a particular skill, but should want to use it as much as possible.

A very simple example is in dungeon world. A player with a high constitution score will defy danger by powering through the assault. It’s supposed to help the intended character’s story shine by nudging events towards the best way that that character would handle it.

Overall it’s a great idea. Fighters quest for the best +1 sword and wizards look for powerful magical enchantments to compliment them. Players use the incentive of being better in these areas to play in character.

There are also downsides to this. As much as I love Risus and SFX (more…)

Great Games Have Personality

It’s no secret. I am a role playing gamer. I traditionally shy away from board games, and focus on the blood, guts, and story to be found around the role playing table. Recently I’ve given into my “gamery” side and started playing more board games. It’s a great community of people, and so it’s been an interesting side track.

At this point I’ve played a wide variety of games. From down right awesome (King of Tokyo) to so bad that no single group of players has ever played the game to completion without giving up since its release (Battle Star Galactica the Board Boring Game). Now that I’ve cut my teeth on the hobby, I can definitively point to the aspect of game design that makes the difference between player fun and player spite.

That element is personality! Players who have an opportunity to (more…)

Mechanics Forcing A Type Of Play

I’ve complained in the past about games that use mechanics to force a specific type of gameplay. While this certainly holds true when talking about the core of a game, there’s a lot of power to the idea. In fact it is actually a good thing, especially for themed games. Giving vampires an advantage to biting vs using a machine gun makes the players happy. If machine guns are always better, then everyone will just grab BARs and the parts of the game that focus on vampires will get drowned out.

That’s one of the big challenges for story games. They are free form story telling platforms. Think of it like having a group of friends tell a story one sentence at a time. You’re bound to have space aliens show up with rather uncomfortable probes when you get to a goofball in the group. Free form story games are a lot like this; and because there is nothing pulling players back to the genre, players will not always be motivated to work within the given world. It’s only by adding special rules for the genre that players are reminded to stay on task.

I find that it’s not general rules that accomplish this. It’s the specific actions that remind players keep the genre in mind. A Dragon Ball Z game is not DBZ because you told everyone they have to have yellow hair when they get angry. It’s a DBZ game because people launch Kamehameha’s at each other (By that I mean the energy ball. Although having a Hawaiian king launched at you would be pretty scary too). Maybe it’s a platitude, but it’s the little things that make the genre work in my experience.

I think the real reason (more…)

Open Ended Skills

One topic that often comes to mind is wondering how new readers receive the skills in Timeless. That’s because Timeless has a very short skill ladder, but traditional pen and paper RPGs, as well as computer RPGs, have long skill ladders. In these games players expect to start at the bottom of a skill ladder and grind their way to the top through experience. It takes a long time, and that’s become the expectation.

Video game designers have put a lot of research into this concept. Gamasutra has described this type of slow rewarding of players as Contingencies and Schedules. The idea being that people enjoy repetition within a set of rules in order to earn something much more than having it handed to them. This applies on many levels. From a bird’s eye view, if we were just told that the story resolved itself then there wouldn’t be a game to play. We have more fun this way. But the bigger application is that slow grinding through skill levels is all about carefully dolling out rewards slow enough to be fun but fast enough to keep our (more…)