My Games


Monday, June 7, 2021

Inverted Monsters

I moved a couple weeks ago, from Bushwick to LES, but still, it's taken up a bit of my mental focus and actual time. Love the new neighborhood and new apartment, but anyway, haven't been able to blog or think creatively, although I'm starting to get back into that headspace. I've been sitting on this draft for forever, wanted to do 8+ but got stuck trying to come up with an inverted dragon that felt sufficiently equal in substance to a dragon itself, so I'm just going to post with a clean 6 and maybe pick it back up later if people are into it.

Also, in the time since I first drafted this... I think the writing could be stronger, but I'm not going to worry about that for now. However, I've also become a better game designer, so I'm now adding in a "How to Use" section. If I were to revisit it, I might rewrite them entirely with more flavorful but brief descriptions and adventure hooks rather than a "how to use" section, but for now, this is what it is.

As always, I'd be interested to see other people's ideas as well.

This post is inspired by Bastionland / Chris Mcdowall's Inverted Monsters. It's a cool, simple concept, and I thought I might take a stab at a few of them. The idea is to take a traditional fantasy creature, identify its core features, and invert them to create a new creature.

As is often the case with me, I struggle to stay within the lines, but if nothing else this should be a jumping-off point for some hopefully decent ideas.



Skeleton / Lich
  • Bones
  • Undead
  • Evil
Becomes Fleshboi
  • Tubby
  • Large adult-sized toddler (full of life)
  • Good
Fleshbois are evil creatures that have been purified and reincarnated. They are full of love and good intentions, but still, they have the mind of a child in a magical, powerful, nigh-impenetrable tubby body, and they are prone to violent tantrums.

How to Use:
  • Fleshbois can make for good obstacles as they generally cannot be overcome through sheer force, nor through reason, and as such innocent creatures, there is a moral quandary to consider. 
  • There is also a risk/reward component. Upsetting them could turn them back into skeleton mages or liches, so there's a big risk. However, as a child, if they grow to love the players, they can be a powerful long-term ally.

I have no idea what tap zoo animals are but this dragon mongoose is pretty good for Shrouding Mongoose

Basilisk
  • Petrifying stare
  • Serpent-like reptile
  • Multi-legged
Becomes Shrouding Mongoose
  • Spotlight enshrouding
  • Mongoose-like
  • No appendages
Shrouding mongoose slither on the ground like serpents. They create a distortion field in their entire visual range which disables and enshrouds everything except whatever they are visually focusing on. 

How to Use: 
  • They are often used to counter basilisks; a basilisk in the range of a shrouding mongoose will have nothing to petrify so long as the shrouding mongoose focuses only on the basilisk.
  • The visual distortion fields they create can also have tactical applications for other kinds of conflicts; one could imagine Shrouding Mongooses accompanying army units or scouts.
  • They could also be an interesting threat in their own right, where the fight is less about rolling well, and more about figuring out how to hit the Mongoose you can't see...



Goblin
  • Small
  • Mischievous
  • Child-like intelligence but mechanically inclined
Becomes Hobbe
  • Large
  • Advocates of the social contract
  • Philosophical but narrow-minded and uncreative
The hobbes are a bugbear-like species that has developed a technologically simple but philosophically advanced civilization. Despite their chaotic or perhaps even evil nature (if you believe in such things), they are surprisingly orderly and peaceful, but this peace comes from a well-understood, borderline fascistic social contract. They have absolutely no tolerance for crime and are therefore skeptical of outsiders. While highly intellectual, it is nearly impossible for a hobbe to change their perspective, and most of their dialect is geared towards justifying their own preconceived notions.

How to Use: 
  • The hobbes may have some key information the party needs, or maybe the party is just passing through, but are enticed by some McGuffin. There should be some temptation or even necessity to break a rule, and so the players need to either not get caught, or figure out how to skirt the rule.
  • Or maybe it's an individual hobbe or small group of hobbes that the party has to deal with within some other context.



Mimic
  • Mimicry
  • Grotesque toothy maw
  • Amorphous
Becomes Potter
  • Carves, molds, and shapes people into things
  • No mouth
  • Rigid form
Potters are humanoid figures that appear to be shaped from clay or metals and carved and shaved to form. They are rigid, with limited points of articulation. They have no mouths, or their mouths are non-articulate and only aesthetic. They have a psionic knife that they can use to carve living things, and they can reshape the parts in a magic kiln or smith. They like to turn people into treasure chests, weapons, armors, trinkets, and treasures. That chest you just looted may be the last adventurer who tried to crawl this dungeon...
  • Potters would work well for a horror scenario. An unassuming doll in a creepy dungeon that's psychically picking off isolated hirelings.
  • The creations of the potters which stalk the dungeon may be mannequettes or like creatures.



Flumph

  • Jellyfish-like (amorphous, tentacles)
  • Psionic-feeding / empathetic
  • Anti-gravity
Becomes Hpmulf
  • Urchin-like (rigid, spiny)
  • Psionic-nullifying / unemotional
  • Super-gravity
Roughly human-sized urchin-like neutral evil creatures. They are fixed points in the universe, and instead of a means of physical mobilization, they relocate by bending spacetime around themselves using their innate super-gravity engines. The "hpmulf" sound this super-gravity engine makes is where they get their name. Super-gravity also bends the astral plane, effectively nullifying psionics. They are incapable of linguistic communication or empathy of any kind and have few desires beyond meeting their own selfish, biological needs, so they are often mistakenly believed to be a mindless blight, but they are actually excellent problem solvers. In conflict, they will always prefer to fight rather than flee, unless the odds are unambiguously against them.

How to Use:
  • They are like a superswarm. They have weird space-timey abilities, neutralize psionics and maybe some magics, are hard and spiky. There's nothing here that doesn't exist elsewhere, but they're an all-in-one obstacle / debuff / violent threat / weirdness generator.
  • They are deceptively intelligent. Perhaps in the first stage, they are just a mindless superswarm, but whatever initial solution the party conceives in facing them, they then adapt.
  • While an adventuring party could encounter a small group of them, I think they would work better for a domain-level game or as a threat to an entire region.



Minotaur
  • Upper-body bull, lower-body humanoid
  • Mazes
  • Eat people
Becomes Mycenaetaur
  • Upper-body humanoid, lower-body bull
  • Navigators
  • Vegetarian
Although they look like large centaur, mycenaetaur are more closely related to minotaur. They are nomadic plane grazers, known for their unbreakable phalanx armies. They have advanced visuospatial skills and the innate ability to navigate complex spaces efficiently using graph theory. They unconsciously employ algorithms such as breadth-first search and A* to navigate spaces.

How to Use:
  • Help a party navigate through confusing terrain or a maze.
  • Potentially good allies if their planes buffer the kingdom, given their navigation skills and armies.
  • Consume large quantities of vegetation; possibly zero-sum with the resource needs of the kingdom.
  • Mercenaries.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Poltergeist Form Hacking: Glass Maiden Pixie

This won't make it into the first MRD book, but I've discussed this with my players in my MRD Campaign, that they would like to have some guide for how to create their own Poltergeist Forms. To be honest, in a mechanical sense, it's all pretty fast and loose, but nonetheless, I can see how it would be helpful to have a guide because I was implicitly following a kind of formula.

Fortunately, for the very same campaign, I'm working on an NPC who is a Recurser, who has a prior history with one of the players. Fiona's character Dori, who has the Poltergeist Form Crashing Rocket Nixie, used her Recursion Ritual to escape an assault from Redlight / Greenlight, SWAT, and Wire Mother (see PR 9 in the linked post above). In doing so, she returned to a Court of Hell from her past as a criminal in Denver. She had been tricked into stealing an important object from a powerful gangster, but her partner set her up and ran off with the object. After fleeing to New York she thought she was safe, but by returning to the Court, she has now been put back on their radar.

I could have used one of the other Poltergeist Forms not currently in use in the campaign or kept it loose and generic, but I have always liked the idea of duality between Pixies and Nixies, and then after my usual free association borderline psychedelia manic creative process, this idea for Glass Maiden Pixie came to me. This is as much a review of the creative process for a Poltergeist Form as it is a mechanical guide for hacking MRD.

This example Poltergeist Form will probably not be as refined, and definitely not as well tested, as the official ones. NPCs don't need to have full character sheets, so I could have just statted this NPC up like any other, but I figured it would make a good blog post and could add value to the game even if it isn't in the first book.

Oh also I remembered that this post was somewhat inspired by this particular KS Update for Dungeon Bitches, a game I am very much looking forward to and that resonated with me on a deep level even though I am not necessarily what the subtext is pointing towards, and I think if you like MRD you will probably like Dungeon Bitches and hopefully the reverse is also true. DB is probably way more high profile than MRD anyway, but ya, probably the game I'm most excited for right now besides finishing MRD.



The Subtext / Flavor Text

Every Poltergeist Form should have a subtextual throughline, where the flavor text and mechanics reflect behaviors evoking those themes, rather than being stated explicitly. Crashing Rocket Nixie is always moving, has neurotic manic energy, and starts lots of projects but rarely finishes them. I'll leave the rest of the subtext and particulars to interpretation, but this is the basis from which I wanted Gass Maiden Pixie to be a counterpoint. Pixie is more so somebody who thrives in the world, but they feel constrained by the world as well. They can see beyond the limits, but there's a glass ceiling, and pushing against it is painful or aversive. They are uncomfortable with themselves, their body, and the world. They feel detached from reality, or more so they feel hyperreal, like reality itself isn't real. The name is a reference to an Iron Maiden. I guess there's an implied gender to the Form by virtue of "Maiden", but I don't see that as requisite (in fact, the NPC I conceived of this form for identifies as Male), and in fact, I think the implied gender of the name of the Poltergeist Form can itself be part of the subtext, although I'll leave the particulars of that also open to interpretation.

Your Poltergeist Form is a simulacrum of a being from a higher plane. The material world is stifling, disgusting, and it presses against you uncomfortably. Nonetheless, you push against the limits. Your Karmic power comes from your unwillingness to accept your limits or those of the false world around you.




Quirks

There's no explicit mechanical implication for quirks, it's more just about evoking particular sensibilities. There should be some mix of quirks that are more weird and fantastical, and others that are more subtle and could be nearly non-supernatural. Even if they aren't explicitly supernatural, they should be heightened to some unreal extreme.
  1. You sometimes appear to clip through geometry like a buggy videogame.
  2. Your eyes have a glassy shimmer like you're always on the verge of tears.
  3. You have discrete but noticeable scars. 
  4. Others unconsciously perceive you as though behind a barrier.
  5. In your presence the world appears less real; gilded, smaller, or lower resolution.
  6. You have six fingers, or six toes, or another unusual bodily feature.

Starting Karmic Attachments

There's a lot of wiggle room here. They definitely need to be evocative of the poltergeist form. They should be concrete enough for players and GMs to have some idea of what they can do with them, but loose enough that they can be interpreted in many ways and can be flexible with each other. What I've found is that when players roll or choose their starting karmic attachments, the combinations often lend themselves very well to a particular story for that character, which is exactly what I was hoping for. That being said, several of the poltergeist forms have been playtested several times, and while the overarching themes remain the same, I'm glad to say that the characters themselves have not felt identical.

  1. Knowing that nothing is real, you are quick to take big risks and not pay regard to others. Nonetheless, you are here, and the destruction and consequences left in your wake follow closely behind you.
  2. You find success, despite yourself. However, in striving towards some goals, you have had to forego the pursuit of others, and you will not feel whole until you've come to terms with these other goals.
  3. You feel physically unwell, or incomplete, like hypochondria or body dysmorphia.
  4. You perceive a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world, including other people. 
  5. Your existence is suffering, and you cannot help but be disgusted by yourself or the world around you, and these feelings color your perceptions of everything else.
  6. You have or perceive yourself to have (or are perceived by others to have) a disorder, disablement, or some other dysfunction or flaw which affects you physically or how you think about your physical self.

Reincarnation Ritual

There's a middle ground to strike with these. On the one hand, they should be evocative of the Poltergeist Form, and kind of unsettling (they are, in essence, ritual suicide), but they need to be practical as well since they do have mechanical implications. Admittedly I would like to have tested and refined these even more than I have for the Poltergeist Forms in the book, but I think I've made it work. Originally I had designed them more so with high constraints or requiring a certain amount of time, but in retrospect, the better way to design them is to be broadly applicable, but at some cost. Granted, there is already a cost associated with the Recursion Attachment, but a good reincarnation ritual can feed into that as well.

  1. Lock yourself inside the Glass Maiden and eviscerate.
  2. Place the Flying Guillotine over your head.
  3. Shatter the Glass Maiden and make use of the shards.
  4. While within the Glass Maiden, allow yourself to be destroyed by external forces.

Poltergeist Features

Even though I've tried to make MRD a rolls-light game, I want to make sure that every character has at least one Damage Die for Conflicts. Every Poltergeist Form's 0th Poltergeist Feature has some Combat Die attached to it, starting at d6, but possibly increased or decreased if there are any additional mechanical effects or limitations.

Other than the 0th, there aren't any hard rules necessarily. I try to have one or two other kinds of Damage Dice features, but more importantly than that, the other features should open up interesting options. I'm thinking about features like Mirror Mirror for Ghost in the Mirror or Pirate of the PRO-Plane for Jumping from the Planck Jiangshi. They aren't even necessarily mechanical, but they provide information, or access to certain things or places, that would otherwise not be possible.

  1. Glass Maiden and Flying Guillotine: The Glass Maiden compresses into a sharp disk disguised as a mundane object like a hat. It can be thrown like a boomerang, slicing off heads but only metaphorically, dealing Wd8 in existential trauma. All other Poltergeist Features require the Pixie to be inside the Glass Maiden and take WIS Damage.
  2. Obliteration: None of this is real. Every point of WIS sacrificed within the Glass Maiden may be used to obliterate the existence of something else on a 1-1 basis.
  3. Metamorphosis: Within the Glass Maiden, sculpt yourself into your ideal form. For every 3 WIS sacrificed, gain pixie wings, a bright aura, or other representations of your higher self, and +3 on Saves related to the metamorphosis, for one hour.
  4. Vision: From within the uncomfortable spacetime of the Glass Maiden, one may see from beyond the material world all the disgusting particles and organisms, like one sees floating underwater. The aversive visions cause 3 WIS Damage but reveal unknowns and provide +3 on WIS Saves for investigations or drawing insights.
  5. Transposition: The Glass Maiden serves as a screen into the source code of the material world. Sacrifice 1 WIS to swap a mundane object with one of a like-kind or alter an environment in some slight way.
  6. Simulation: If you fail a Save roll, you may retroactively say it was a simulation, sacrifice the difference between the roll and the threshold in WIS, and consider it a success. This does not apply to the Karma roll.
  7. Proprioception: From within the Glass Maiden you can acutely perceive your function within society as if it were an organ. You may sacrifice 1 WIS to use WIS in place of PRO for PRO Saves, or sacrifice 1.5x PRO in place of WIS on other Glass Maiden Poltergeist Features, or sacrifice 3 WIS to change the Flying Guillotine to Pd8 for the next hour.




Wednesday, May 12, 2021

5d4 NPCs Generated with my Character Formula

My recent Design Pattern post on Social Intrigue was one of my most popular recent posts, and people seemed to especially like the Character Formula Design Implementation. So I figured, why not just do a whole Weird & Wonderful Table of pre-generated NPCs. It'll demonstrate the versatility of the Character Formula and give me and others a useful bank.

As a reminder, here's the Character Formula:

NPC: [Adjective] [Occupation] and [Hobby/Other Notable Activity] who [Personality Quirk]

But it's more of a suggestion than a hard rule. I'll have a handful of Roles as I discussed in the Social Intrigue post, in this case, a little broader, more so for different genres than specific roles within a Social Intrigue campaign.


Please comment with your own NPCs as well :)!


Role: Fantasy Tavern Keeper
  1. Joy von Otter: Suspiciously friendly bartender and taxidermist who will not tolerate whistling in the bar.
  2. Benjy Beau: Ungainly barback and bare-knuckle boxer who likes to eat gross foods.
  3. Mr. Diceslingger: Automaton chef and monster hunter who laughs at the wrong parts of jokes.
  4. Crybaby Boo: Ghostly bouncer and dollmaker who cries after every fight.

Role: Cyberpunk AI
  1. Chaz Chiptune: Honky-tonk DJ and meteorologist who despises modern videogames.
  2. Marxxx: Superficially socialist HR specialist and premium personal assistant who was supposed to be so much more.
  3. The Transmigration of John Smith: Experimental human consciousness upload and avid gameshow fan who is so vanilla it's kind of kinky.
  4. Penelope Porpoise: Washed-up uplifted porpoise and former corporate mascot with an opioid feedback loop to deal with the pressure of celebrity.

Role: Roaring 20's Gangster
  1. "Spicy Lou" Santino: Quiet accountant and sports gambler who haunts the other gangsters in their nightmares.
  2. Saul "Rock-A-Bye Baby" Rosen: Swollen brawler and adoring parent who leaves the thinking to the thinkers.
  3. Mia "Womandrake" Murdoch: Mysterious merchant and mystic whose antics could put Houdini to shame.
  4. William "Billy Dreams" Stevens: Suave real estate tycoon and science fiction fan who stares right through you.

Role: Super-spy / Secret Agent
  1. Acid Mongoose: Austere stealth agent with conspicuously few interests who can "regenerate" from a clone farm.
  2. Cackling Fox-Hare: Saboteur and erotic comic creator with a shit-eating grin who once destroyed an entire city in a single sentence.
  3. Six-Shooter Prawn: Gargantuan gunman and photographer who can dual-hipshot with sniper rifles.
  4. Norman: Nondescript spy and birdwatcher who is eminently forgettable.

Role: Superhero "Alter Ego"
  1. Riley Reiner: Rambunctious personal trainer and stamp collector who still loves the limelight after all this time.
  2. Simone Simpson: Nihilistic electrical engineer and soup kitchen volunteer who isn't sure what she believes anymore. 
  3. Neal Nguyen: Charismatic middle manager and vlogger who enjoys the simple life (when he can have it).
  4. Jivan Jarodia: Perky stay-at-home dad and graphic designer who sublimates his violent temper through acts of kindness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Game Design Patterns: Social Intrigue

I introduced the term Design Pattern in my Player Design Patterns pt. 1 post. Given the volume of Design Patterns that already exist for GMing and the paucity of Design Patterns for players, I think that's the more interesting domain, but in this case, the pattern can apply to both players and GMs.


Design Pattern: Social Intrigue


I was thinking about how, several times recently, I've had people tell me that the way I do what I've begun to call Social Intrigue is unlike anything they've played in before, and this is even when doing it as a player (such as in Semiurge's excellent Beyond the Bizarre Armoire campaign which unfortunately I had to drop out of). While I think of it primarily as a GM Design Pattern, it was enlightening trying it out as a player, and the degree to which I think it was still just as effective. It requires a willingness or buy-in from the GM and the rest of the group of course, but I think it's a potentially powerful way for players to exert some kind of ownership over the setting and course of events, without being strictly encoded into the game as is often the case with PbtA or those style of games. I think it's entirely within the purview of OSR, and is also in line with my thoughts on Non-Combat Conflict Encounters which in retrospect is a Design Pattern as well. On top of all that, in my opinion, this Social Intrigue Pattern is often truer to (my admittedly limited experience of) the Picaresque style of narrative that many OSR gamers say they prefer (more on that later).

A Social Intrigue game is one in which there is some instigating event; a broad goal or mcguffin, like a crime investigation, or a brewing conflict between factions, and each of those factions has some broad purpose and some number of important NPCs who have their own goals.


Design Implementation: Character Formula


To facilitate Social Intrigue, you need a good means of character generation. There are already plenty of Design Patterns for NPC and Investigation generation which I talk about in my Bastionland NPC Generator post where I reference Chris Mcdowall's Mash-Up Character Method but I've since developed a Design Implementation for this Pattern of my own. It goes something like this:

NPC: [Adjective] [Occupation] and [Hobby/Other Notable Activity] who [Personality Quirk]

For instance:

Kennedy Fitzpatrick: Thicc computer science professor and white-hat hacker who has no time for your nonsense.
Jordan Suleiman: Neurotic bespectacled crime journalist and jazz fan who aims to become a politician.
Bam Bam: Ambiguously European art student and intramural athlete who speaks mostly in gibberish.

You can see I don't follow it precisely, it's more of a guideline, but I've found that this implementation has a natural flow that's easy to write, easy to read, and helps me come up with more dynamic and interesting characters than I might otherwise come up with.


Design Implementation: Relationship "Pivot Tables"


Once you have a means of generating interesting characters, bringing it back to Social Intrigue, you then have to give them relationships to each other, factions in the game, and the players. Personally, what I do is create spreadsheets, sometimes multi-tab spreadsheets, so like pivot tables if you do any kind of analytics work. I know I'm not the first person to talk about this, but I can't remember where else I've heard people doing this so I'll re-explain here.

So there might be some number of factions and some number of NPCs, and you'll have the following tabs:

Factions: Has the columns Faction, Status (relationship with PCs), Description, NPCs (associated with this faction) NPCs: Has the columns Name, Status (relationship with PCs), Description, Factions (associated with this NPC)

Just laying everything out like this can make it more salient how the players are interacting with the factions and NPCs, or which factions or NPCs need more hooks, etc. and you can even have one for yourself as a GM, and one for the players, that may omit certain information they aren't privy to yet.

In terms of game design, and how I'm doing it in the Maximum Recursion Depth Module, rather than just having NPCs per se, you can have Roles: e.g. The Victim, The Client, The Journalist, The Professor, The Roommate, etc.

And have random roll role tables of, say, 4+ entries each. You could have just one big random roll table for all roles, but personally, I found that creating separate tables for each role, allowed me to design characters better suited for those roles.

If these NPCs are created using the formula above, you should wind up with really interesting possibilities for each role, and you may entirely change the scenario given the roles.

Before I gave the examples:
(The Professor) Kennedy Fitzpatrick: Thicc computer science professor and white-hat hacker who has no time for your nonsense.
(The Journalist) Jordan Suleiman: Neurotic bespectacled crime journalist and jazz fan who aims to become a politician.

But their relationship to each other, or to the players, or other NPCs, whether or not they're the murderer (if it's a murder mystery), etc., may be totally different if you had instead rolled:

(The Professor) Kentucky “Tuck” Johnson: Ruggedly handsome criminology professor and expert hostage negotiator with a narcissist’s smile.
(The Journalist) Nickelflick: Colorful hair-dyed performance artist turned war correspondent who is surprisingly mundane in day-to-day life.

Also, you now have a bank of extra NPCs to throw around! So if you need another professor or journalist, or just any rando, you've got it! These also could even work as PCs in many cases if you're struggling for a PC idea in the future.

So if you do all of this, what I've found, is that Social Intrigue games eventually start to just write and run themselves. An admittedly fair bit of prep goes into all of this up-front, and I haven't even really gotten into any patterns for the instigating events themselves besides vague suggestions like "murder mystery", I think that needs to be a separate post unto itself, but I actually don't even think it matters that much for reasons I'll explain from the Player perspective, the instigating events can basically be mcguffins, or afterthoughts, and this can still work just fine. But either way, it then becomes intuitive how different NPCs or different Factions will react to Player actions, and by extension to each other, and those relationships also define the conflicts and consequences that the Players themselves must consider, so it's all really organic and compelling.


On Picaresque


I don't want to tangent on this too much, but I've found that there is often a fine line between fun and interesting OSR Picaresque adventure, and murderhoboing. Some of this is subjective and personal preference to be sure, but personally, I just don't find the murderhobo style all that compelling. I know that, especially in the storygame camp back in the day, there was a lot of blowback on murderhoboing, and then on the OSR side there was blowback on the blowback where they tend to argue it's about Picaresque adventure. So I mean this could be a whole big conversation in itself, but I think these things can and should be dissociated, because if you're just using picaresque as a pretense for murderhoboing... I mean if you're having fun, then ok, but we can at least examine this more closely regardless.

A good Social Intrigue game can be Players in a new place, meeting all the factions and NPCs, the movers and shakers, and embedding themselves in that world, running cons, grifts, heists, and doing all sorts of interesting things, that aren't just "let's steal it and run/kill them and run/blow it up and run/touch the thing we're not supposed to touch and run". That's fun in moderation I guess, but for me personally, that quickly grows unsatisfying. But if that's what you want, then enjoy! But to my mind, Socia Intrigue is at least as true, if not more so true, of the kinds of Picaresque adventures I've read, such as Dying Earth, at least until it all falls on its face and then turns into "lets X it and run", but that has the oomph that it does, because of everything that preceded it. What makes the Picaresque fun is the ways they ingratiate themselves in the world and get involved in the intrigues of the other characters... and then break it (or die trying)!


Social Intrigue as a Player


I had mentioned higher up how the instigating events almost don't matter. Now don't get me wrong, being clever with your instigating events can be a really useful tool as well, but I think these things can be dissociated, and this becomes more so clear when you try to do Social Intrigue as a Player.

Sometimes as a GM, players will do things, and you may get frustrated, like "why are they doing X when clearly we're setting things up for Y?!", and I do think there's some need for middle ground, but also, often the best parts of tabletop RPGs are when the Players do the unexpected. Social Intrigue can just be a version of that.

Maybe you have a little village that the Players are passing through, maybe there's a general quest framework there and a few NPCs or things to interact with. But then, they start asking the NPCs deeper questions, they get involved in the local politics, embed themselves in the affairs of the village, and begin scheming. This requires some improv on the part of the GM (although oftentimes you can just lean into or lean against the expectations of the Players based on whatever they're angling towards), but if you do, then session over session, there can be all of these lingering places or characters, that maybe wouldn't otherwise have mattered, but now your Players care about them and have relationships with them, and so they can randomly show up, either as obvious consequences of the Players actions or in unexpected but exciting ways. And even if there are other quests or broader goals, this can contextualize it, or just give it a little extra kick, like a good hot pepper. And again, now you've got less prep work in the future, and less downtime if they complete your dungeon or whatever other quests or adventures more quickly than you anticipated, because you're building up a Gallery of NPCs and relationships that practically propagate themselves, and in this case, it was at least in part generated by the Players themselves and the things that concerned them.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Anyone Can Wear the Mask with Jeff Stormer!

I got to play Anyone Can Wear the Mask with the man himself, Jeff Stormer! We played over Discord, with Jeff as The City, me as The Villain, and my friend Aaron as The Hero. I had listened to some actual plays of the game he had done with The One Shot Podcast Network and on his own Party of One Podcast.

The game was very loosely set in Maximum Recursion Depth, and specifically in "Bell City" inspired by Jeff's experiences living in Philadelphia. It was also a pretty much entirely nonviolent scenario. Both the hero and the villain, and nearly all of the other characters, had nonviolent-based powers, and most of the threats encountered were of a nonviolent nature. We hadn't explicitly set out to do that necessarily, but I think it's pretty consistent with how I've been thinking about things and trying to do things lately so it was a pleasant outcome. It's also cool to see that this system totally supports that kind of play.



Play Report

Bell City was broken up into the following neighborhoods:
North Bell - Riverside (Clubs)
South Bell - Downtown (Spades)
East Bell - Historical Philly (Diamonds)
West Bell - The District of Neighborhoods (Hearts)

Chris Harris (He/His) is our hero, although he has no superhero costume or alter ego, he's just a guy out there with powers, doing good. He's a college student at West Bell Arts University. The powers were drawn from this list, and Chris has the power-
Memetic: Their photos, drawings, writings, etc., tap into the metaphysical collective unconscious, virally infecting culture within a matter of days. Often the tail of the meme lasts only just as long.

Lorenzo Tan (He/His) is our villain. He's sort of the corporate executive evil supergenius archetype along the lines of a Lex Luthor. His power is-
Letter of the Law: Has a supernatural ability to identify rules, regulations, laws, bureaucratic organization, etc., and additionally to either find the loopholes in them, or enforce them through legal writing, counseling, or courtroom tactics.
The big catch with Lorenzo, is that he explicitly does not do anything illegal. He does plenty of shady stuff, and as the head of a major corporation he is often twisting the laws in his own favor, but he will not be entrapped. Defeating him will require some kind of resistance against the status quo.


Chris lives in Paintcan Alley in West Bell, an area with a lot of affordable housing for the students, but since it's an art school, the whole neighborhood is full of cool art projects and it's a kind of low-key hip area. He's got several roommates, some of whom are students and some of whom dropped out or never went to college but are old childhood friends.

One of them, Cyrus, works odd jobs as a handyman, but has a history of misdemeanors and was caught stealing from the evil corporation he was working for. Cyrus asks Chris to intercede on his behalf, so Chris heads to Stanwick Tower, the massive, iconic centerpiece building of Downtown South Bell.

At the top of Stanwick Tower is a secret rooftop garden full of vibrant, over-lush, indulgent, bizarre, and exotic plants. Cyrus' client was Professor Kentucky "Tuck" Johnson, a sleazy tax-haven art dealer and part-time professor, who knows Chris from one of his classes. Tuck is organizing a convoluted pyramid scheme; a blockchain-based virtual art gallery composed of NFT art, with a cryptocurrency valued off of the value of the museum as the "bank". However, the scheme is The Producers-esque, where the company is depending on the value of the bank being low, at the expense of the artists and the community funding it. Chris is forced to contribute to this scheme, or else Tuck will report Cyrus and he'll go to prison.

Chris's girlfriend, Tessa Kincaid, is a computer science graduate student and hacktivist. They work together to promote the virtual gallery and turn it into something profitable and empowering for the community, at the company's expense, but with plausible deniability with regard to his obligation to Tuck.

At the gallery opening, Chris meets a high school art prodigy, Pete Jenkins. Pete has the power-
Artist's Touch: Their touch imbues objects or surfaces with an inherent, aesthetic sense of "art". Likewise, by touching art, they can extract the aesthetics from it. The object or surface does not change, merely others' perceptions of it.

Pete is a tragic, misunderstood, awkward kid, with so much potential, but who could easily succumb to his darker impulses and inability to understand society. Chris, using his Memetic powers, takes Pete on as something like a protege or sidekick, in some ways serving as an editor on his art to help him refine his works into something that is still true to himself, but also that others can better understand and appreciate.

Along the North Bell Riverside is an old warship that now serves as a tourist attraction in the pseudo-historical, touristy, family-friendly Riverside area. Suddenly, people begin to lose their memories and become confused, and soon they take on the personas of pirates and privateers in battle. The ship is being haunted by the Poltergeist Fanny Rotten Forgotten. There's an old wive's tale, that Fanny's husband was a fisherman who left to become a pirate, hoping the lucrative treasures could be used to raise his family. However, after so many years, he was yet to return. In her grief, Fanny took arms against the pirates when, years and years later they did return, but by then she had forgotten what her husband even looked like. Chris wades through the chaos to reach Fanny, and uses his memetic powers to remind her of her past; and rather than channeling her frustrations on how much the neighborhood has changed and become unrecognizable (a metaphor for her own grief), she should instead appreciate that the neighborhood still exists, and what it has become, and the tokens of the past still present. This returns things to normal, although many people still have foggy or forgotten memories, including Chris.

An old friend who has been gone for some time overseas reaches out to Chris, but because of his recent memory loss, he does not remember who this person is. They ask Chris to infiltrate the shipping yard to retrieve an important shipment, and to keep absolute secrecy and not even tell anyone that they're back in town or talking with Chris. There are shady rumors about this person and Chris isn't sure if he can trust them, or how much this person knows about his powers.

Chris manages to sneak in and finds that it's a government shipment, surrounded by scientists in lab coats. When Chris and this person meet up with the item, his memories begin to come back. The "old friend" is actually his uncle, who also has Memetic-related powers. Whereas Chris can spread Memetic information across the Noosphere, his uncle can perceive it, and this is how he's able to return Chris's memories.

From the uncle "reading" the package, they're able to learn that this is all connected to something called The Doppler Potential: Super-organism distributed intelligence that evolved as an epiphenomenon of the formation of the United States Government, to which it is inextricably linked. It is part of the Karmic Cycle and legally human according to the Celestial Bureaucracy, but seeks to attain godhood. It does not hide its existence, as there is no need to do so. Its existence marginalizes humans as merely nodes of a larger consciousness, which most humans find existentially untenable and so deny it in the face of all evidence or grant it uncritical token acknowledgment.

Again using the uncle's powers, they learn that The Doppler Potential has set off a cascade of events that will cause a subway train collision into the Bell City Megaplex, an underground mall in the middle of downtown. They arrive in the middle of the night, but the Doppler Potential has shut down all electricity and network access and trapped them inside. They discover that the train has been possessed by The Ghost in the Machine, which has been manipulated into lashing out against the modernization of the city. Chris finds some of Pete's transgressive graffiti inside the mall, and uses the evocative imagery to appeal to Ghost in the Machine. However, he is a little too convincing, turning Ghost in the Machine into an aggressive anarchist, who is now broadly lashing out against the city, inadvertently hurting people even as it aims to topple the corporations vying for control over the city.

As chaos ensues, Lorenzo Tan uses this as a smokescreen to buy up large swathes of the city and open a new warehouse for his corporation. The poor conditions of the warehouse and new gig economy leave workers exhausted and desperate, Cyrus acts out in protest and is arrested, local businesses are run out of business and replaced by monolithic corporate chains, and the city is metaphorically, and in some ways literally drained dry.

At a historical revolutionary war site in East Bell, poltergeists rise up in a chaotic war between Fanny Rotten Forgotten and her privateers, Ghost in the Machine and the revolutionary soldiers, and the corporate goons. As it turns out, Ghost in the Machine's subway line was once a railroad smuggling ring and war supply line, managed by Fanny's husband's pirates; Ghost in the Machine is Fanny Rotten Forgotten's husband!

They make peace, and Chris, followed by practically the entire city, confront Lorenzo in the mall, who looks down on them from a private office above. Lorenzo uses Chris's relationship with Cyrus, the shady dealings of Tuck and Chris's association with that deal, and the other recent events, to try to portray Chris as a rat, an opportunist trying to take advantage of the people and the city, and not truly fighting for justice and the city. However, the uncle releases the documents from the Doppler Potential heist, and Chris makes a convincing argument for how he's only bringing value to the community, such as how he banded the city against Tuck's NFT art gallery scheme or Pete's political and aspirational street art, and that he decidedly does not want power over the city (in fact, the dangers of his powers and how they could be used for selfishness and evil was his greatest fear for the city).

While he can't force Lorenzo to leave the city, the entire event generates enough bad press that Lorenzo decides it is not worthwhile to continue to pursue his current plans, and instead shuts down the warehouse and leaves the city (for now). Many of the businesses affected by Lorenzo will never return, and Cyrus will always have a mark on his record, but new businesses startup and the city develops a rebellious spirit, especially among the younger generation. Bell City has become iconic as a place for those with a rebellious spirit who wish to create positive change in the world. The story of Ghost in the Machine and Fanny Rotten Forgotten becomes iconic, the symbols, the cultural icons, for Bell City and this movement.

Debrief

I had an absolute blast playing this game. Jeff for sure brought a lot of creativity and charisma to the experience, but I have no doubt that Aaron and I could play this again with others, and in fact, have talked about doing so. As someone who plays primarily OSR / NSR type games and not as many narrative games, but who loves worldbuilding and storytelling and also superhero comics, this nonetheless all played out very organically. The system itself is very straightforward and basically unfolds the narrative in itself. I was surprised how easily we were able to tell a coherent and moving superhero story, one that explores themes of personal interest, with themes we were able to establish early on and use as throughlines for the whole session, culminating in something that felt weighty and impactful, as if we had carefully constructed the story as if we knew how it would end from the very beginning. I could also very easily imagine using this system as a starting point to build a world for a larger campaign. I am very glad to have supported this game and had the opportunity to play with Jeff, I hope people enjoyed this story and check out the game for themselves!

Friday, April 16, 2021

MRD Campaign Play Report Summaries (6-11)

My Maximum Recursion Depth campaign has continued, yet it's been a while since I've written a play report. You can see a summary of the last handful of sessions here, and from there it links to a bunch of other stuff if you're interested. Here I will attempt to summarize the last several sessions of the campaign.

If you're interested more in my approach to game design and GMing style, check out some of my other recent posts like my post on non-combat conflict encounters which includes some examples from the module in the (slightly delayed but still soon to come) MRD book, or my post on how rather than narrative or problem-solving or the usual things people look for in RPGs per se, my main interest is in exploring tabletop RPGs as performance art.

I tried to keep these PRs brief, might be missing or misremembering certain details, but hopefully these are mostly on point.

PCs


Alco (SlimyKeyboard): A student in a trade school for plumbing. While working the pipes for the Poltergeist Investigators (the original team), she inadvertently activated her Poltergeist Form, Ghost in the Mirror, and has since joined the team.

Jack (Eight): A "wetworker", a Recurser with the Poltergeist Form, On a Full Moon an Ichor Heart. Works for the Nature Spirit drug dealer Chester, and has joined this team of Poltergeist Investigators on Chester's behalf.

Adore "Dori" Greyfeldt (Fiona Maeve Geist): An enforcer, also working with the team on Chester's behalf. Her Poltergeist Form is Crashing Rocket Nixie.

Pauling Linus had to drop out because the Player had a baby! He may eventually come back, but is not involved in any of these play reports.


PR 6
The Team head to Forest Hills, Queens, for the Christmas Toy Drive Festival. After the Christmas in July (in August) Toy Drive Festival Fiasco, many expect the return of Pepper Pan and the Recess Rascals, and the Poltergeist the Team is investigating, Barry O’Brien-Gonzalez aka Junior, is suspected to have joined the Recess Rascals.

The Team splits up to investigate various locations. Dori investigates the Metropolitan Theater and encounters a Recess Rascal with the powers of superhero action figure Macro-Man and has to play an elaborate game of hide and seek.

Jack investigates Edie's Sweetes Shoppe and has to do an Egg Cream drinking bet with a bloated Scurvy Kid, at risk of getting a Tummy Ache (or the scurvy kid exploding...).

Alco heads to Alphonso's Chocolatier and gets into a PRO Conflict with a Recess Rascal protected by a Devil in the form of a human-sized Suzy Suburb doll.

Altogether, they get into a curry cooking competition with a group of Recess Rascals at Segura's Curry Shop and they win a Funky Pot.

Eventually, Pepper Pan makes her move, and the Arch-Devil of The Court of Those Who Break Their Toys, Joffrey the Giraffe, hack into the electronics in the area. The Team manages to disable Joffrey and banish him back to his Court, defeat Pepper Pan and the Recess Rascals, and after a troubling conversation with Junior over his short life and the unfairness of his existence, they help him to be properly reincarnated.


PR 7
Via "GM Fiat", I tell the players that the Team is at a fancy apartment in Tribeca, investigating the Poltergeist of Olivia Loeb, alongside Soft Mother and "Denny" (Do No Evil Monkey Robot). They are not aware of who sent them on this Investigation, or why, and they do not actually ask this question for at least a couple more sessions! Olivia Loeb is the granddaughter of Manny Loeb, the suspected head of the underground casino (the same that Barry O'Brien was indebted to in the last Investigation), and it is believed that Olivia died in some internal gang conflict.

They investigate "The Loop" of the apartment building, basically a micro hyperloop in place of an elevator in the building, which distorts their perceptions within the tube via a Doppler Effect (why would one experience a Doppler Effect from within a moving object...;)?).

They encounter some strangeness, and Doctor Loves-Me-Not attempts to reach them and give them warnings through landline phones throughout the apartment. Eventually, suspect that they are in some kind of unreal space, but the particulars elude them and they move on to follow up on other things.

Also, Jack is hacked and blackmailed by a mysterious individual known as The Multi-Armed Bandit, who demands that he rescue a woman, Yana Yasak, who had been framed for corporate espionage, as she has information on the underground casino. It is unknown at this time what the Multi-Armed Bandit actually wants.

Yana's Devil Dog


PR 8
Via "GM Fiat" again, the Team is at the Apartment, waiting to speak with Doctor Loves-Me-Not, where they first encounter two odd fellows, Hopscotch and Honeybee.
“It’s me. I’ve routed The Loop to my hideout, it’s safe. Come.”
When they arrive, Hopscotch and Honeybee are there.
“Ooh! We made this appointment for-eeeever ago, and he’s gonna see youse guys first?” 
The team asks who they are:
“Eeh, don’t w-ooorry about it. We’re not imp-ooortant yet. The guy in charge just likes us to make an appearance now and then.”
Honeybee says: “It’s not like we’re short on time, hehe.”
Hopscotch: “Ooh! Don’t say that around them. They don’t know what’s going on, they have no i-dea what they’re in for. You’re just gonna conf-uuuuse them. Anyway folks, nothing to it, go on to your appointment.”
Doctor Loves-Me-Not goes on to give them three oracle-like hints: 
"Don't Trust Her"
"Now is the time to Explore, not to Exploit"
"Remember Where You are in Relation to the Siren"

The Team is using The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse as their base of operations, so after coming out of this shared cognitive distortion and back to reality, they head there to discuss with Barsabbas and amongst themselves their plan.

They come up with an elaborate heist to rescue Yana Yasak from the Brooklyn Detention Center, made more complicated by her Karmically Attached Devil Dog. They also have to circumvent the hostile and extremely unethical Orange Goblin paramilitary private security hired to watch Yana. Using Alco's plumbing knowledge, they manage to break in in disguise as plumbers, rescue Yana and send her through a portal to the Court. Afterward, she reveals some more information about the casino and gang conflict and provides the Team with a Torch of Primordial Fire, a Poltergeist-busting flashlight that also provides WIS insights.

They return to the Apartment to finally rescue Olivia, at which point they encounter Dick "Fuck Ya" Smashburn and a SWAT military-police team roll up on the scene, along with the experimentally-powered Redlight / Greenlight soldiers (cliffhanger for next session).


PR 9
The Team holds them off for a while before Wire Mother shows up and all hell breaks loose. They do manage to escape, but only after Dori makes a suicide run to hold off the opposition and then uses her Reincarnation Ritual.

With Olivia now in their Court, the Team wants to assault the underground casino, both to resolve this Investigation, and also because of The Multi-Armed Bandit.

Several events unfold in the planning:

Yohannes, the grandson of Shining Ostrich and a higher-ranking member of the underground casino, wants to talk with the Team and initiate them. This would involve a Karmic Attachment / blood pact where they accept that eventually, one of them will be forced to kill one of the companions. Olivia makes a counter-offer, and Dori decides to make a Karmic Attachment with Olivia, a blood pact to be her protector for the rest of her life, without first consulting Yohannes. In return, Olivia will keep Dori's counsel and interests.

Jack is forced by The Multi-Armed Bandit to make a Karmic Attachment with Alco, to develop a genuine empathetic connection with her (not romantic or anything like that, just to open up as a person and accept someone else in his life).

The Team reveals to Barsabbas the truth that the Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse had been decommissioned unbeknownst to him, due to Bureaucratic Error. They make a business deal* with him that if they take over the underground casino, they'll work with Barsabbas to get the Court recommissioned.

* I made a point of saying several times to the Team that this would be just a "business deal", in contrast to the Karmic Attachment "Blood Pacts" with Yohannes and/or Olivia. This is because, unbeknownst to the Team, Barsabbas had already been made aware of the decommissioning inadvertently in conversation with Sweet Romeo, who the Team had left behind in the Court, and Barsabbas had already cut a deal on his own with the casino while the Team had disappeared at The Apartment (details soon!). He intended to fold the Team into these plans and honoring his deal, but he was not aware of Dori's Karmic Attachment with Olivia, which will complicate things down the line...

Through means which I no longer remember off-hand, the Team manages to summon Doctor Loves-Me-Not back to reality and learn a whole bunch of other information. They learned that the formation of the United States Government led to the epiphenomenal birth of an emergent distributed intelligence known as The Doppler Potential, which seeks to attain godhood. It has created an artificial Court of Hell, The Court at the Center of the Universe (And Yet it Moves), and that in fact, The Apartment that they rescued Olivia from is actually part of this artificial Court.

They also learned that whoever killed Olivia had sold her to The Doppler Potential so that she would not wind up in a regular Court of Hell, where inevitably Manny would find out what had happened.

I think this is also the session where they finally questioned how they even got started on this Investigation and were disconcerted to learn that there was no actual answer, or none that they can find, in any case.

They end the session determined to infiltrate and overthrow the underground casino.


PR 10
The Team makes an elaborate plan to infiltrate the casino via multiple avenues. Dori uses Olivia's knowledge to enter. Alco reaches out to Shining Ostrich who gets her invited. Jack returns Sweet Romeo to the Suzano Crime Family and asks them to hire him. Also, I don't remember when exactly this happened now, but Olivia went into a cocoon-like state and can still communicate with Dori but more so empathetically than through words or thoughts. Dori keeps Olivia in her pocket.

Before that, they go to Jack's "Dry Cleaners" where they receive multiple special items, including a Power Suit, Detail Devil, and Mantra of ABC.

During her brief time in the casino, Alco starts gambling and quickly finds herself deep in debt.

As they each infiltrate, they learn that the underground casino is actually just one small part of a much larger organization known as Anti-Sphinx. This organization was founded by Myer Lansky of the National Crime Syndicate, Alan Turing, Hedy Lamarr, the Lakota Code Talkers, and numerous other individuals in organized crime and cryptoanalysis after World War 2. It is an international crime syndicate with numerous legal and illegal ventures, it creates and maintains the QlippothNet "Dark Web" as well as the Qlippoth Hell-Money cryptocurrency, and is also aggressively Antifa.

Full-scale war breaks out as Olivia Loyalists, Barsabbas' Devils, and the Team (including The Bear) face off against Anti-Sphinx and associated crime families. Along the way, Jack questions via evisceration several gangsters, and eventually learns that The Multi-Armed Bandit is actually the Poltergeist Alexei Strauss, the very same who initiated the internet alt-right hate group the Deseret Avengers, and they have infiltrated Anti-Sphinx.

Eventually, they reach Manny Loeb and Yohannes... and Barsabbas!

Barsabbas reveals that he had already worked out a deal with Manny. Additionally, the Team learns that actually Olivia had been gaslighting the aging Manny and committing elder abuse and that a group of Manny Loyalists killed her behind Manny's back in order to protect him and the organization, despite himself. Also, Jack suspects that Alexei had blackmailed them to help Olivia, and that possibly they were working together. Nonetheless, Dori made her Pact with Olivia.


PR 11

Jack attacks Barsabbas, and all hell breaks loose again. Barsabbas, an arch-devil, is mostly unthreatened, however, he expresses hurt that the Team can't see his perspective on why he felt the need to work his own angle, and still wants to come to terms with them, but they aren't having it.

Alco uses her Two Truths and One Lie to glean the following:
"Barsabbas will always work his own angle"
"You were lost in The Court at the Center of the Universe (And Yet it Moves) for much longer than you've been told"
"Barsabbas is rooting against himself"

Jack gets shot real bad and is on death's door. Then, Manny stands up and reveals himself to be an incarnation of the Boddhisatva Manjushri. He tells the Team the Parable of The Chef and The Server, relinquishes control of Anti-Sphinx to Olivia (and by extension the Team), and then asks Dori to shoot him.

The Parable of The Chef and The Server
There was a fine chef who every morning would prepare a meat pie for his king. The server would collect the ingredients; the richest butter, the ripest vegetables, perfectly marbled lamb, the most fragrant herbs and spices; he would give these fine ingredients to the fine chef, and wait on the king until the meat pie was prepared, and he would serve it to the king.
The king loved this meat pie and would lavish praise every day upon the chef, whereas the server would receive only the king’s impatience and contempt as he waited for his meat pie. The server grew jealous, and so one day he slew the chef and made the meat pie for the king himself.
When the server brought his meat pie, the crust was greasy and wet from too much butter. The meat was tough and gamey, as it had not been well tenderized. The vegetables were bitter, they had been chopped coarsely and were undercooked. The pie was under-salted, but also overbearing with too many herbs and spices.
The king was furious and demanded to know why his meat pie was so foul. The server, bewildered and confused, explained that he had made the pie himself, with the same ingredients as the chef had always used, but the king would hear none of it and banished the server from the kingdom.
  
Yohannes acquiesces to the Team. Using the Detail Devil, the Team retroactively changes the terms of their agreement with Barsabbas to contractually obligate him to work for them, which he seems to accept unbegrudgingly and then leaves. Many within the organization leave immediately in protest.

The Team uses their Funky Pot to merge the dying Jack with Manjushri's flaming sicarii in order to revive him without the need for his Reincarnation Ritual, which would have required him to go on a rampage and destroy much of their new base of operations.

This is where we leave off...

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Weird & Wonderful Player Design Patterns (pt.1?)

This post was inspired by, or rather is a distillation of a thread I had started on The OSR Pit: I am a Bad Player, wherein I discuss my concerns about being a Player in a game, as someone who is usually a GM and also as somebody with atypical preferences. I am currently a Player in Semiurge's game Beyond the Bizarre Armoire, although I don't go into many particulars on that game in this blog post. 

This post is more broadly about how I think there are a lot of OSR / Blogosphere type analyses on how to be better at GMing, but not as many about how to be good Players, and even amongst those, I think there are certain particulars lacking, so this is an attempt to address this. The original post was very stream of consciousness, so I'm going to try to break it down after the fact into smaller and more coherent chunks. I may or may not make this part of a larger series of blog posts, but this first one will focus on what I am calling Player Design Patterns.

Here I'm differentiating between Tips & Tricks, vs. Design Patterns, vs. Specific Implementations. This is an abstraction that is intended to be useful in a heuristic sense, and not overly prescriptive. I'm not looking to get into semantics arguments over what counts as a Tip & Trick vs Design Pattern or whatever, you can define the terms differently or use different terms if you'd like, this is just about creating language and tools closer to what already exists for GMs, but for Players, to help them improve in an efficient and non-linear way (as opposed to just intuiting from experience alone, although of course experience is still crucial). 

Given this schema, here is one example from a GM perspective:

Tip & Trick: Don't Railroad
This is generally good advice. Even this shouldn't necessarily be taken as absolute, but generally, most Players prefer to have agency, and it can allow for problem-solving and emergent play and a whole bunch of other nice things. However, in itself, Don't Railroad doesn't tell you what to do, only what not to do. It doesn't tell you how to write an adventure in a non-railroaded way, or what that looks like, or all the myriad benefits that stem from that kind of design beyond just the straightforward explanation that I gave above.

Design Pattern: Modularity
Rather than prepping linearly, like if you were writing a novel, prep in a modular manner. This not only gives players more agency, but if you keep in mind a handful of specific implementations, including but not limited to those below, you'll likely see how it can actually make prep easier and can make you more adaptable to your Players' decisions when they inevitably jump off the rails.

Specific Implementation: Three Clue Rule; Random Generators; Quantum Ogres; Game Modules
The Three Clue Rule is the idea that if the Players are on an investigation, there should be at least three clues in any given scene. That way, the investigation is not dependent on the Players doing one specific thing or succeeding on one specific roll. Random Generators are a good way to create modular content, by offloading the burden from the GM to create every facet of every scenario from the ground up. That quantum ogre link is just for a specific monster, but I think the term originally came from the idea that, if the Players don't know where the monster is, or don't know which road is the correct one, then the monster is wherever the GM needs it to be, and all roads lead to Rome. This is perhaps more like an invisible railroad rather than being truly modular, but can still be a useful implementation to have in your back pocket. And then most obviously, actually game Modules, which can often be interconnected across a larger campaign given some shared setting assumptions.


You can disagree with some of my specific phrasing, or with the effectiveness of the specific implementation examples, I'm just saying in general, this is a useful way to break apart the kinds of concerns a GM may have, and what to do about them.

There are few, if any, similar kinds of design patterns and implementations for Players, besides the character sheets themselves. Most books or blog posts I've seen, not all but most, stop at the Tip & Trick level. That's better than nothing, but I think it would be even more useful to have Design Patterns, which then lend themselves naturally to Specific Implementations. Here is one example:


Tip & Trick: Write Notes
Writing notes is a good idea. It helps you remember things better. It keeps you focused. You can refer to the notes later. It shows the GM and the other Players that you're engaged with the game and you care. There is nothing wrong with this advice. However, it's vague. It doesn't in itself give you an idea of how to do it effectively. It can put a lot of pressure on the Player and even distract them from playing the game. Some notes are better than others and too many bad notes quickly become the same as having no notes.

Design Pattern: Write Event Cards 
These are short blurbs, a paragraph at most, about an NPC, place, event, etc. Any key sensory details, relationships, or significance to other important Events, etc. By discretizing them onto cards (see Specific Implementations for what that might entail) they're easier to keep track of, and by having some schema of what they are for and what goes on them, it's easier to know when and what to write, and less stressful or distracting. It's also something a GM can just as easily do for their Players or alongside them.

Specific Implementation: Aspects (FATE); Flowcharts; Pinned Discord Messages; Physical Notecards; Computer Database
The most straightforward implementation is just physical notecards. You could also do pinned discord messages if you're playing digitally, or make a SQL or noSQL database if you want to be fancy about it. I personally have grown fond of flowcharts, like you'd see in Crime Dramas, for connecting the Event Cards by their relationships like a graph. The game FATE has a mechanic called Aspects, which takes this idea one step further and actually ties it into the core gameplay loop so that they are not only not distracting, but are actively additive to the game.


If people find this interesting or helpful, I may post more Player Design Patterns in the future. I'm still early in this journey of rediscovering what it means for me to be a Player, given everything I've learned over the years about how to worldbuild, GM, and design games. Besides Design Patterns per se, I have some other thoughts, like the role of Players in a game vs. the GM, or the Player/GM interaction, or Player/Player interaction. We'll see where this goes. I'd also like to maybe just discuss my own anecdotal thoughts and experiences from being a Player, and what I want out of a game as a Player, and so on.