Playing the New Protocol Series

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Gaming

There are 15 more protocols coming, if you’ve been paying attention to my facebook feed.

About six of them are done.

Last night we played two of the new ones: Dead Things in the Walls and the Doom King (a favorite of mine).

43 dead thingsFirst was “Dead Things in the Walls” a game reminiscent of Hellraiser and the Grudge. We were a team of psychic investigators full of our own self-delusional bullshit. Jamie was the believer and tech. He was 60+ years old. Diana played his wife, who was ‘touched’ by visions of the supernatural. And I was a priest from a Louisiana Snake cult. I’d been bitten more than a few times over the years and drank venom mixed with wine in order to bless myself.

The house in question was in Virginia and over 150 years old. It hadn’t been lived in in a while and it was rumored to be haunted by ‘the Others’. A few years ago, a serial killer left a body in the house in a gruesome manner. It had been long enough empty and we were brought in to determine the problem.

Also note. Some of the world building questions indicated that I could not leave, the house fed on wrath, and it made sure we felt comfortable in certain rooms.

The game opened with the caretaker letting us into the haunted house, handing Jamie the keys and Jamie getting a flash of the future or possible horror inside the house. We had a few short scenes and then two long ensembles where everyone was making up nonsense about where they felt the energies, how the shadows formed, and that the house felt lonely.

Diana was cranky at the beginning of the night, so her character wanted out of the house almost immediately. Jamie was playing the understanding and loving husband who wanted to understand, but also placate his wife. And I was possessed by more than one calling, including a weird fascination with Diana, which Jamie never seemed to notice.

A noise upstairs brought Jamie and Diana to investigate a room reminiscent of Hellraiser. Empty. Broken floor. A strange smell. Then some visions of Jamie’s head being split open and the lights going out, drove everyone outside. We found grave markers in the backyard. Lots of people dying in the same year. Lots of children.

Anyone with a brain would have left now, but we proceeded to have a conversation about blessing ourselves, and having a seance in the living room.

At this point, I’m reminded of this SNL sketch.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/705074#i1,p6,d1

Once inside, we’d reached the half-way point of the story. Dead Things in the Walls has a special rule about the half-way point, where an ensemble about questions arises. Diana had herself doubting everyone, with a short interrogation inside her head, followed by the group having an argument about leaving. Jamie tried to collect his equipment and I grabbed a box and threw it down. Then I began speaking in tongues and all the lights went out.

More arguments ensued and eventually I knocked Jamie unconscious, broke his leg (so he couldn’t run), and dragged Diana upstairs.

At this point it got weird. The card draw kept us in interludes and vignettes for a while. So Diana and Jamie found themselves in a room with a staircase from Jamie’s dreams (pre-game prep information). When they got to the top, something from the darkness came at them. After that, there was a scene of me eating raw meat in the foyer.

The final scene of the regular game was us entering the house again… for the first time, aware of what the future would hold. And yet, unable to stop it. Jamie now walked with an inexplicable limp.

The epilogue involved us trying to get away, but the house haunting us and trying to bring us back.. The game ended with me in a motel staring at a TV screen filled with static.

Game two was the Doom King.

26 doomkingWe’d played this before, with mixed results, mostly because of a strange ending.

This game had a lot of adult themes in it, simply because of how we interpreted the results. We all know each other well, so there was no worry about offending anyone. The King was dying, suffering from catatonia (which he was in and out of) and a number of delusions, including sexual perversions. I won’t go into details.

The Queen, played by Diana, was barely holding things together, thanks to me (the Seneschal). Jamie was the bishop, completely devoid of morality. An important NPC that made an appearance in the story was Elderman Yohann, who supported the Queen becoming regent in the King’s stead, in exchange for some land and a title.

A special rule of the Doom King is that players must determine their relationship to the King once everything is established. The Queen’s relationship was perfunctory, the bishop was his cousin, and I had a romantic relationship with the king, who I was very loyal to. But I also had to manage the affairs of the kingdom and I couldn’t let my feelings sway me from my duty. Also, watching the king waste away was not easy.

The game grew dark and grim quickly. The doctor has been arrested for causing the King’s illness to worsen. But the Queen blamed me for the King’s debauchery. There was a scene where we were both blaming each other (in private of course) and the bishop just sat and watched. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I agreed to release the doctor, under the proviso that the queen admonish me publicly for the act. Otherwise my actions would be judged by the aldermen, who wanted the doctor there in the first place.

A few scenes later, we were trying to convince the bishop to approve the Queen as figurehead ruler or at least as regent. Without the bishop, the kingdom would suffer, so long as the king was ill. This was among the longest scenes in the game, with a lot of arguing and principled debate about the word of god. My character did not appreciate the hypocrisy of bishop and called him on it. Half-way through the scene, a messenger told us of a riot outside the walls. The people were burning an effigy of the king, and while it would be easy enough for soldiers to squash there was a better way.

I ran to the balcony and made an impassioned (and high-pitched) cry to the people to desist before the queen stepped out and told the people that she was taking over.

A ballsy move.

But it wouldn’t last. While the aldermen jockeyed for power with the new queen, the debauched antics of the bishop caught up with him. Gossip filled the castle and it was clear the bishop’s status and soul were stained. He would have to be removed. Or worse, publicly executed for his crimes/sins.

The Queen’s inaction would prove her undoing. Rebels seized the castle a few scenes later and made the queen a puppet figure. The rebel captain (Havard) granted himself a new title and had the queen honor all the king’s favors, all of which weakened the kingdom. The bishop was either thrown from the castle top or he committed suicide. It is unclear.

Before it all ended, I made sure Johann received useless marshland from the kingdom, to go with his misspelled title.

The King was beheaded, I was flayed publicly, and the queen was allowed to stay on because the people liked her.

This game had a lot of nuanced scenes that are hard to translate to an online post, but it was a great session nonetheless. The amazing part was how different it was the second time around. Merely selecting new roles and answering different questions makes all the difference. I can see playing this about two or three more times, easily.

Not bad for a $4 game.

Cultures in Gaming (as it stands…)

Posted: October 28, 2014 in Gaming

This is not a discussion of gaming culture, but cultures IN the games we play. Some real world cultures are mentioned to provide context.

Roleplaying games are generally bad at dealing with culture. Sure, Elves are arrogant, Dwarves are stoic, and so on. But these are generalizations about behavior, but never about culture. And culture is the heart of all civilization. Without it, we are rats fighting for cheese and building monuments by chance.

This ‘essay’ will attempt to dissect what culture is, is not, and how cultural schisms in gaming are nothing like real world ones. And why that’s stupid.

Without getting too political, if you watch (or read) the news, you know that a lot of places on the planet aren’t getting along. Wars have grown more violent and ancient cultural hatreds are developing again. But cultural wars aren’t only happening in Asia, but in America as well.

In fact, we’re living in a huge cultural war at the moment. Maybe as big as pre-Civil War America.

Since gaming does not exist in a vacuum, many of the events of our fantasy and science fiction worlds stem from our own life experiences. Devoid of life experiences, lazy writers turn to clichés, stereotypes, and unrealistic characterizations of people. Big ideas are reduced to small sentences.

Russians are grim people, having to survive the harsh realities of winter and not enough food.

This is so dumb, it’s almost wrong. And it’s not even an unrealistic sentence to read in a gaming book. If the lens we view the world through is narrow, our gaming worlds and expectations will be narrow as well. Dwarves are grim. Halflings are troublemakers. Orcs hate everything. If this was an article for salon.com, there would be now 1000 posts below of trolls shouting at each other about kids needing less/more spankings.

9781402783609_a142We cannot explore the lack of cultural expression in gaming material if we don’t understand the term. Most people think of culture as that thing that makes other people different. But culture is more complicated than that. Shorthand: Culture is the shared values of a society that ensure that two people born from different families might still understand one another’s needs. Without a shared cultural experience, you have people living within a nation/region/provinciality devoid of cohesiveness.

Hence, cultural wars.

But not all gaming is surrounded by cultural wars. In fact, modern roleplaying games (cf. games set in the modern world) avoid this topic altogether. Pulp games are about shooting two guns at once. Espionage games are about state secrets and shooting two guns at once. Horror games are about shooting Cthulhu with two guns at once.

Ironically, Cyberpunk is about a specific kind of culture war — class warfare. But it shares so much with modern gaming that few elements of culture make their way into the game. It’s all about blowing up buildings, stealing data, and shooting two guns at once.

Science Fiction and fantasy are unique genres, however. Their focus on culture and rights provides ample opportunity to discuss how different we are. But they never really do. They avoid the topic of culture and focus on the stereotypes of behavior… a side effect of culture. Elves are arrogant. But why? When does a roleplaying game ever show us the full width of elven culture to explain where their arrogance comes from?

A lot of this has to do with the confusion of nationalism and culture. The 20th century saw a rise in nationalism, globally, that impacts us all, on all levels. We cannot calculate its impact, because we’ve always lived in it. Like someone raised on cellphones and MP3s. Who knows what a rotary phone or album is? How can we understand a world where people do not identify themselves as “American!”

But this is a first world problem. In the West, we have the luxury of discussing ideologies, as we sip lattes, and pretend that it didn’t take 10,000 years of struggle and oppression to get us here. We rarely pay homage to the past, so the notes of culture get lost on us. While people in the East are still living under that oppression. They don’t have the time or wealth to sit and talk about ideals that don’t affect their lives. They essentially have eternal cultural values that have kept them alive for centuries. To break away from them would be to risk an end to their security.

My biggest complaint about how culture is depicted in gaming is that people who use the term culture generally don’t know what it means. Culture is so complex and it gets reduced down to food and clothing and a few rites of passage.

Culture is not behavior. Behavior encompasses many things. It is your general character. It how one conducts themselves, regardless of cultural cues or rewards. Those who are role models are said to have good behavior, for instance.

Culture is not manners. Manners is the face you wear to appear as thought you honor the code of conduct of a society. You don’t jump ahead in line. You don’t take more than your fair share. You tip for good service. Poor manners is sometimes a reflection of poor character, but not always.

Culture is the glue of a system. In some societies a culture may look down on braggadocio more than other cultures. Some cultures may hide their women from strangers because of centuries of learned behavior… see… it all comes back together. Culture is the system of all good behaviors for a society to operate. This does not mean that all people honor a culture. In fact, one could argue that culture is a tool for keeping poor people in check.

This is a little theory of mine. I probably need to think on it a little more to explain it better.

But culture is always some tool for creating divisions in roleplaying game environments, instead of a way to measure an environment on its own merits. The divisions will appear on their own. For instance, if we have a nation of elves and dwarves living next to each other, what happens? Who are the elves, who are the dwarves? Can we just say the elves are immortal and like wine? Dwarves are grumpy and smith hammers?

Can cultural divisions can be measured with so little context? In the real world, Koreans think Japanese are liars for maintaining a stoic face during negotiations, while the Japanese might look down on Koreans for being so ‘emotional.’ In a fantasy setting, this correlates to dwarves seeing elves as aloof and elves seeing dwarves as grim. But why? Culture is not the surface judgements we make. It is the deep-rooted causation that leads to our surface judgements and these judgements exist because of fear of cultural erosion.

What is cultural erosion? So glad you asked. It takes on many forms, but it is the culmination of cultural fears. How will a culture fade? Be replaced? Etc.

Cultural abrasion is the resulting friction between that two contrasting cultural values. Elves and dwarves only need to worry about one another when they come in contact with one another. The fear of cultural erosion stems from their interaction. Elves have no opinion of dwarves on the other side of the world. And unless the elf is a bigot, he’s not going to have an opinion of the first dwarf he meets until he’s spent some time with him.

(Btw. I coined the term cultural abrasion while working on my anthro degree, before finding out it already existed.)

Cultural deflation happens when one culture influences another. Deflation is the idea that the less important elements of a society’s culture may go away and be replaced by a neighboring nation’s values. Elves do not worry that their weak and impractical wedding practices will be replaced by the complicated rites and rituals of the dwarves. They don’t worship the same god(s).

Elves and dwarves do not have to worry about this kind of cultural erosion, either. Unless the two nations started having immigration issues or they shared national borders, the idea that elves would start getting beard implants to look more like their neighbors will never happen. But fears do not need logic to prevail.

Cultural deposition occurs when foreign beliefs and practices cross-acculturate. This is a real fear for uneducated societies or those experiencing high rates of immigration. Japan is going through this right now with China. Elves who suddenly see their borders filled with Dwarven immigrants fear that the culture of painting pictures and discussing philosophy will be replaced with mead-drinking contests.

Cultural saltation occurs when fears of cultural erosion change social practices. Elves who speak out against the dwarves in fear-laden diatribes reflect change in the way elves communicate. No longer do they sit around drinking wine and dreaming of the boredom of immortality. Now their culture is threatened and saltation affects their daily lives with fear-mongering speeches and debates.

Another form of cultural change that is not erosion is cultural assimilation. Though the culture changes, assimilation is considered a progressive, rather than regressive or erosion act. Assimilation is when the Elves learn to speak Dwarven and start drinking their ale.

(More than you wanted to know, right?)

How much of this have you measured when making your own game worlds? How much of this is measured in Greyhawk? The Realms? And if you’re just killing orcs, does any of this matter?

I can’t tell you if you’re gaming right or wrong. All I can do is make more tools and hope you use some of them.

I’m working on a number of games for 2015 that I hope can address the concretion of these concepts in more than just a preachy essay style. My eventual hope is that we might see roleplaying games address culture as more than just, “My elf likes blue wine and hates dwarves for wearing black socks with work boots.”

Design vs. Development: My Bane

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Gaming

In the last two years, I have completed 91 products for Post World Games, not to mention two for souljar (plus work on two more), six for Pinnacle, one for Floating Vagabond, and some graphic design projects here in there. And while it sounds like I’m bragging, I assure you I am not.

Everyone has a designer niche. At least, anyone whose made more than three things has a designer niche. Reiner Knizia is very good at puzzles with one dynamic quirk that turns it all into a game. Robin Laws is a genius at taking simple concepts and making them noteworthy. John Harper continually astounds me with his world ideas, though I wish he’d step away from AW for a moment.

If I have a niche, it’s the speed at which I write and design. But that didn’t happen overnight.

(Actually, it did. My first book in the gaming industry, I once did 10,000 words in a day.)

But that doesn’t mean all those words were good and I’ve certainly learned to write more concisely now. The Protocol Series is proof of that.

Of late, I’ve been inventing more and more ideas for myself. I have 20 different projects in development.

20.

Plus 11 Toolcard decks.

And that’s not a good thing. I’m the bottleneck of a system I’ve created where the design AND development have to go through me. Ask anyone in gaming, no one should develop their own work. But Post World Games isn’t profitable enough to hire someone and I’m not slowing down on what I design, so I’m reaching a point where I will eventually just curl into a ball and never come out again.

Hyperbole aside, the role of the designer and developer are very different. I’ll give you an example.

I wrote a game called The Last 12 Hours.

10714449_688124054617296_5137604910603755750_o

The concept works. The subculture of films it draws from is narrow (so it’s hard to market the concept). And after three playtests, it is clear that the mechanics are solid.

BUT.

Because of the nature of this game, it needs A LOT of advice, navigating people through the exact kind of game it is. Which is fine, I have no problem making some games anemic (the furnace is 1 page), while making some other games fatter (this is already 40 pages and needs about 20 more pages of advice).

But all of that takes time to do.

I’ve already spent 20 hours writing and another 15 hours playing and developing it. I suspect more graphics, writing and editing, will be another 20 hours of work.

And this is just one game of about 10 I expect to have out in the next three to four months!

All of this back end work is development time, not design time. Which brings me to my point: Designing games is easy. I think I’ve proved that with over 100 products in the last two years, but development is the tough skill. Development means taking a design idea, cutting out the fat, exposing the weaknesses, adding the soft edges and graphics that make the game easier to use, and polishing it all up so it doesn’t look like someone’s dog chewed on it.

I can come up with a new dice mechanic for an RPG in about 10-15 minutes. But it would take two hours to write it up effectively and then a week for a developer to make it useable. The developer’s skill set cannot be underscored enough.

And because I’m just one guy, it slows me down a lot.

In the past two years, I’ve had over a dozen people approach me to be interns, helpers, designers, or to just be involved in game design in some capacity. And I always do the same thing. I had them an unfinished game document (of late, the same one), and I ask them to finish it. Not to edit it. To finish it. Show me what you would do with this product. Don’t change the rules, fix the presentation, organization, and flow. Show me what YOU would do with this game.

You want to be a writer? Learn to be an editor first.

You want to be a designer? Learn to a developer first.

The world doesn’t need anymore proofreaders.

If you don’t understand how your work affects the project, you’ll never be effective as a designer, writer, artist, graphic designer, and so on. The best lesson I can teach anyone is how to effectively deconstruct something and build it back again. That’s what a good developer does.

To date, none of the people who tried out as ‘interns’ for me, succeeded at fixing the document. No one was able to turn a concept into a finished product. Presently, that document is in yet another pair of hands and has been for almost a month. We’ll see what comes of it.

In the meantime, I have games to write and people to disappoint.

Protocol Gets Reviewed on Geek Mash

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Gaming

Here’s some art by Felipe Gaona

14moonmen

Here’s the link

http://geeksmash.com/games/3-terrific-tabletop-rpgs-that-arent-dd739

Here’s where to buy it

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/browse.php?keywords=protocol+post+world+games&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto=

Interview on Farsight Blogger

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Gaming

Look at me, getting the interview.

http://farsightblogger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/interview-jim-pinto-of-post-world-games.html

Protocol Character Sheet, Improvement

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Gaming

Print

Tinkering with a new design for the 2nd Edition of Protocol. Feel free to use this in the meantime.

The Carcass: Some Thoughts

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Gaming

carcass_cipher

For whatever reason, I am extremely proud of the Carcass. Maybe it’s the fast turn around to make the game. The mean spirit of play. The fact that it’s not a copy of other post-apoc games. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it could not have happened without a lot of angst for passive aggressive behavior. Reading book after book from indie designers, I see a lot of passive language. Stricture instead of structure.

Maybe. Should. Try. Will. Soft, indirect language meant to guide and hand-hold through the process of avoiding a true experience.

What exactly do you want me to do with this?

The Carcass is a byproduct of my love of gaming AND my our philosophies about culture. Not just modern America, but thousands of years of history.

This game is not safe. It is not soft. It is not careful with the language.

The Carcass is something I’m extremely proud of. It doesn’t treat you like a child. It doesn’t talk down to you. And it doesn’t tell you when to take a break.

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/132578/The-Carcass-GMZero-RPG-4

 

Orc Hospital Kickstarter is Live…

Posted: September 4, 2014 in Gaming

orchospitalrules

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/218255739/orc-hospital

And. Here are the rules. They are still in editing, but pretty close to finished. Enjoy.

orchospitalrules

the furnace

Posted: August 20, 2014 in Gaming

furnace6x6the furnace is a story roleplaying game about WWI soldiers fighting in the trenches. There is no gamemaster. Players take turn framing scenes. All the rules you need are right here (you also need a deck of cards and two six-sided dice). Each character is a soldier on the Western Front, with someone waiting for them at home. Players take turns directing one of three scene types: vignettes, interludes, and ensembles.

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/134227/the-furnace-Powered-by-Protocol

jp06 Darkdarkfantasy jp06 Darkdarkfantasy