A backdrop for the girls and boys who just don’t know or just don’t care

Auto Tune and lip synching.  The scourge of modern music.  It wouldn’t have happened back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, right?  People believe music back then was authentic.  And great acts like Queen would never mime.  Right?

Some of the most blatant miming ever – and still a command performance by Freddie Mercury.

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All in all it’s just another brick in the wall

The Ferguson Riots are not just about the shooting of Mike Brown by Darren Wilson.  Yes, that particular tragedy is the trigger.  But it’s not the whole cause.  There are two immediate causes; the first being the shooting of an unarmed black man by a cop,  The second being the second.  Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is not exactly a new thing.  The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was making darkly funny jokes about it in the early 1990s.  (At the time I, as a middle class WASP living in a country where we seldom armed our cops despite an ongoing terrorism campaign thought the joke was entirely on the overreaction to the presence of the cop; I wish that I’d been right rather than not yet even a teenager and growing up in a family where I’ve heard someone unironically claim “British Police are the best in the world“)


But the cause of the protests and riots were the Grand Jury, after being given all the evidence, proclaiming that there wasn’t a case against Darren Wilson.  Something which sounds reasonable, after all, they were a Grand Jury and they were asked to look at all the evidence.
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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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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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Communication and Audiences

Communication matters – and if you take text out of context all you have left is a pretext.  Who is speaking to whom and why matters – and there are many words and phrases that mean things other than their literal meaning.  Words have also changed their meaning over the course of history, and a lot of confusion can be created when different cultures meet and use the same words for different contexts.  A good example here of what happens when you take away context would be the apparent anti semitism in the Gospel of John; the author was writing as a Jew mostly to fellow Jews saying “Look what we did.”  Take away that  context and reading it encourages people to write vile documents like Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies.

As an aside, this is one reason I write the way I do – I know that I will never meet the whole audience for this blog and likely not visit all the countries I’ve already had readers from – so I attempt to build a narrative that as many people as possible can read.  It may make my writing discursive and prone to rambling so I hope you’ll all bear with me.
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