The Corral: Gold and Fiat Currencies

Money is a consensual myth. We currently have fiat money – money that is ultimately imaginary and only worth something because a government says it is, and people believe it and choose to treat it as if the money were real. And people work this out and think it’s ridiculous (it is). And that because it can print more money the government can devalue your savings (if your savings are in a sock under the bed it can; a house remains a house and a company a company regardless).

They then jump from there to one of a number of solutions – normally the Gold Standard, but there are other functionally indistinguishable ones including the Silver Standard, a price-fix based on a basket of commodities, and Bitcoin. And they all have the same flaws as fiat currency – you can’t eat them or take shelter under them and are only worth what people think they are. But rather than having a potential for the government printing more and thus reducing savings, they all suffer from the same thing. The Scrooge McDuck tax on everyone’s work.
Scrooge McDuck jumping into a pile of money

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Lonely Starbucks Lovers

For the last few years I’ve been using Taylor Swift to irritate hipsters; using her either as an example of authenticity in modern music or a singer/songwriter/musician of the sort some claim have died out.  But not actually listening to her for most of it (and most of her music, and particularly her early music, is not written for me).  And certainly since Kanye West invaded the stage at the VMA awards people have been looking for excuses to take potshots at her. Me, I find the whole thing interesting.  Taylor at least as much as her music.  She’s an outlier – someone who invented her own market (teenage Country music).

And before the fold I’m going to mention her current row with Spotify.  She claims they don’t pay enough when 60% of their revenue goes to the labels.  The problem here is a step deeper.  Spotify gives consumers a level of access that people who’ve bought the albums have, but charge as if they were radio.  The record labels make their money out of back catalogue – but it doesn’t help new artists (or even minor labels like hers).

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Weaving worlds: Yes but games should produce stories

In my penultimate post in this series I mentioned Ron Edwards and the Forge.  The Forge closed down in 2005, having done its job (and Ron Edwards ensuring that he was controversial  by talking about bad games giving people brain damage) – and most of the community there moved to Story-Games.  And they’ve been producing interesting enough games that they are worth the final post in this series.  Story Games tend to have seven aspects; three which are common in the Forge-ist narrative RPGs of my previous article and almost ubiquitous in the Story-Games wave, and four that are almost distinguishing features of what are often referred to as Story Games.

The three that are common in the Forge-ist RPGs are:

  • Challenge Based Resolution
  • Fail Forward
  • Everyone designing the universe

And the four that are almost distinguishing marks of this wave are:

  • “Yes-but” resolution
  • Intentional, rules-mediated inter-PC drama
  • Less, or even no role for the GM
  • Actions matter more than potential

I’m also going to mention four games in this category (or three and one hybrid toolkit game) and why they are awesome to illustrate this wave of games:

  • Leverage
  • Monsterhearts
  • Fiasco
  • WFRP 3e

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Forging Motivation: Game Design Is Mind Control

(Game Design is Mind Control was the title of a talk given by Luke Crane; one of the best things on the internet about game design this side of Mark Rosewater’s blog on Magic the Gathering).

Where I left things last time was with D&D and White Wolf largely dominating the market.  There were good games being produced – but the market was being dominated by the two major game systems.  And people were noticing that the so-called Storyteller system didn’t really bring anything to help you tell stories or make them more intense, or even help you really get into character – which wasn’t a good thing for something that was supposedly a roleplaying game.  Something needed fixing.  And (arguably) something was.

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But we’re gonna smash that bastard, make him want to change his name…

Like a number of my blog essays, this is a response to a Forward Thinking prompt – this one on the subject of cruelty.  I also might entirely be heading off in the wrong direction here.  (The blog title comes from the opening to the musical Chess).

I started out thinking of the topic of cruelty by doing the obvious – a websearch to see what people had said.  Although the Psychology Today column was interesting nothing I turned up whether vanilla or kinky had much to say on why people are cruel.  And searching for cruelty’s very close cousin, teasing, produced even less useful results (and a lot more kink).  But I don’t think you can get to grips with cruelty without understanding teasing.  I think I have an answer – but this is only what I can come up with.

Cruelty and teasing are both about security. Continue reading

Storyteller tell me a Story: Major RPG Business models of the 90s and 00s

Where we left my history of the trends in RPGs last time we were in the 1980s and looking at toolbox games such as GURPS that were (in theory) able to handle anything.  In theory.  In practice the running joke is that it doesn’t matter which setting you’re playing GURPS in, it feels like GURPS.

The 1990s were a completely different decade as far as roleplaying games go, and dominated almost entirely by two companies.  TSR, makers of D&D, and the new kids on the block, White Wolf Publishing, makers of Vampire the Masquerade and other related games.  By the end of the 1990s, TSR lay dead from a self-inflicted wound, and White Wolf were taken over a handful of years later despite at one point (with very favourable circumstances) outselling TSR.  In both cases these grievous wounds were, in my opinion, a consequence of their publishing model – and Wizards of the Coast, who bought the bankrupt TSR (and I’ll deal with D&D 3e in this post), would echo  White Wolf’s self-inflicted wound with D&D 4e.

There were good games, improvements on what came before or innovations being published in the 1990s; Over the Edge, Everway, Feng Shui (what better name for an action movie RPG than the art of furniture arrangement?), and FUDGE (we’ll come back to a game based on it next time) to name the first few that spring to mind.  There were also dozens of Fantasy Heartbreakers; D&D derivatives that made one or two major innovations but were basically houseruled D&D.

But really the story of 90s and early 00s roleplaying is dominated by D&D (both TSR and Wizards of the Coast), White Wolf, and their business models and how they all ultimately lead to major self-inflicted wounds on the parent company.

  • TSR and AD&D 2e

  • White Wolf, Vampire: the Masquerade, and the rest of the World of Darkness

  • Wizards of the Coast and D&D 3e

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Tabletop Roleplaying: Traveller to a Common Language

Where I left the development of tabletop roleplaying last we were back in the mid 1970s, and the only game in town was D&D.  This is a slight exaggeration – there were other games back then such as Chivalry and Sorcery (house rules for D&D turned into a game), Tunnels and Trolls (as far as I know the only version of D&D in this period designed to be simpler than the original), Bunnies and Burrows (a send up of D&D – I’m not making this up), Gamma World (using the D&D rules for a gonzo post-apocalyptic future), and Arduin (high powered rules for D&D that were given a cease and desist order for referencing D&D page numbers).  I think that selection is a fair representation of what was around at the time. Continue reading