My Games

Saturday, December 25, 2021

"Gacha" Mecha Generator

This is a Mecha generator for Get into the Machine, Shinji! although much of it could be treated as a system-free Mecha generator. The schtick in this case (not that you have to play it this way), is that these Mecha are created by a corporation that sells their Mecha as "Gacha" capsules, like the old Japanese toy dispensers, or many modern videogames. If you wanted to do a more OSR-style Mecha game, this could be a cool framing device for that, where players start off with randomly generated Mecha, that even within the setting itself were Gacha. At the GM's discretion, you can give the players new Mecha or upgrades using a mish-mash of this generator or other ideas, I'm just thinking this would be potentially a flexible and fun starting point for a Mecha game.

I plan to eventually create a more robust version of this, I guess this is the proof of concept, so please let me know what you think.

I googled "Gacha Mecha" and found this.

And then players could create their own Pilot Abilities in addition to whatever normal character generation stuff for the pilots, or alternatively, you can have generators for that stuff too but this post is just doing the Gacha Mecha.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


Reminder check out the MRD Game Jam- one entrant will have art and layout commissioned for their Poltergeist Form!

Weird & Wonderful Table of Kaiju. In typical fashion I tried to keep these Weird. Was aiming for 10, but the last one is always the hardest, so we have just nine instead.

  1. Mars en Venus: Massive ironwood tree rooted within the corpse of a titan. Flowers sprouting from its eye sockets, horn of braided branches punctured through the forehead. Shambles in jerky motions, roots and branches replacing necrotic muscles, veins, and arteries, and reinforcing the bones.

  2. Mother at the Gate: An indescribably massive creature at the other end of Yog-Sothoth. From tears in reality formed from burst bubbles of The Gate, she can be seen pressed against the edge of reality. A vaguely humanoid figure with jaundiced skin, ill-defined fat, musculature, and bone structure- more like the abstract concept of the humanoid form. No hair, genitalia, nails, ears, or any facial features. Three glassy, two-dimensional planes project in front of her face, two displaying eyes and one a mouth, all oversized. The planes engage in repetitive actions such as saccadic eye movements, blinks, and lip movements. Produces no sound except for when crying and vomiting liquid starfire, from which skyscraper-sized "children" fall. Most of her appearance is inferred from these "children"- at the edge of the gate little more than her plane-eyes or mouth can be seen. A vague sense of maternalism or Munchausen by proxy aside, her behavior is in no way comprehensible to mortals.

  3. Eerie White Light: Pillar of white light streaking with smoky tendrils as it elegantly glides across the city. Vaguely, an attractive androgynous ambiguous figure can be seen dancing or strutting seductively within the pillar. Those bathed in its light experience momentary overstimulating pleasure-pain as their lives wash away, leaving behind empty, smiling corpses.

  4. Doctor Hand: Disembodied inhuman white hand. Too lithe, too many tight, roping muscles, too many veins and arteries, too many fingers. High-frequency nails emit surgically precise laser beams, cutting purposefully complex patterns towards unknown ends.

  5. Encrypta Yaga: Living idea that hijacks screens, reflective surfaces, and other signals. It hides in broad daylight, subliminally influencing consumers. It has been on display in Shibuya Crossing and Times Square for some time, nobody is sure exactly how long. It's witches have invaded virtual realities, zoom meetings, and videogames. An unusual patch of blinking lights across the world, believed to be a message from Encrypta Yaga, are being recorded and analyzed from satellites in orbit. The message is yet to be fully decoded, and the satellites have begun to exhibit... unusual behaviors.

  6. Dying Breath Banshee: Eldritch kaiju satyr in a translucent tube. Her chest is torn open and instruments pump air and fluids in the heart and lungs which pulse against the surface of the tube as if trying in vain to escape. The exposed head, not quite human nor goat, chokes and breathes in eerie, dissonant whistles like the violin strings of a horror movie score, and not quite human nor goat blood-curdling shrieks.

  7. Macroversa: High-dimensional hyper-sphere magnifier. Inside the stadium-sized floating aquarium exist microscopic creatures across known and unknown spacetimes at macroscopic scale; tardigrades, human gut bacteria, long extinct proto-organisms, inconceivable aliens, cancerous cells, and extra-dimensional creatures.

  8. Celestial Predator: A constellation of distant stars in the shape of a feral smiling face like an aggressive animal baring its teeth. Never seen in the same place twice. For thousands of years it has watched over us keenly, just out of sight, waiting until the perfect moment to strike and devour our world whole. As it looms closer, finally yet ephemerally in view, we each feel a single bead of cold sweat run down our necks, and smell the adrenaline of our collective fear in the air. Listen to that feeling- the danger is real.

  9. King Kevorkian: Like a biblical angel by way of Jack Kirby and the Radiation Symbol. According to Psyr Psimon Stilton, it is the third god which the Monkey King could not defeat. It waits in Squaretime, fumigating Time Worms, serving either as the beacon of the <danger message>, or the executioner of its will, or both.

    Saturday, December 11, 2021

    MRD Ectoplasmic Game Jam (with a prize!)

    EDIT: I rarely edit posts after publishing unless it's a minor cleanup thing, but actually, I realized after the fact that rather than just reiterating the exact details from the game jam page, it might be better to first share Klintron's (Sewer Mutant, Kid Minotaur) excellent description:

    Max Cantor is running a game jam for his Maximum Recursion Depth game, specifically for "Poltergeists" which are essentially the game's equivalent of classes/background. The winner of the jam will get their Poltergeist professionally illustrated and laid out. Submissions open December 16th 2021 to January 30th 2022.

    If you're not familiar, MRD is a little hard to explain. The lazy way to describe it is Persona 5 powered by the Into the Odd system. Influences range from Doom Patrol and Invisibles to Bojack Horseman. I think I see a little Neil Gaiman in there too but maybe that's just me. The more esoteric explanation is to cite the game's full title: Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing: The Karmapunk RPG.

    With the release of Maximum Recursion Depth (available on drivethrurpg and, I'm running the MRD Ectoplasmic Jam! It's an game jam to create your own Poltergeist Form, but with this game jam, there's a special prize. For one of the entries, I will work with the creator, an illustration artist, and a layout artist, to create a two-page spread of the Poltergeist Form comparable to those in the book! The winner will still be allowed to sell the Poltergeist Form independently and keep all profits, they just need to state that it's fan/3rd-party/community content and reference the main game (there's probably a proper copyright way to do that but in lieu of knowing how to do it offhand...).

    The winner will be chosen by a panel including myself, Fiona Maeve GeistSemiurge, and Jones Smith. There are no specific scoring criteria, we'll just talk it over amongst ourselves and decide which we would most like to see made into a full product.

    Given the nature of the contest, I'll ask that the entries include no art, and minimal layout- only as much as will facilitate readability. Since the art and layout are all going to be redone anyway, I want to start things out on an even playing field. That being said, I would encourage entrants to add art and layout after the fact even if they don't win, it would be really cool to see what directions people take with it!

    I'm assuming there will not be an absurd number of entries, but if I end up being incorrect on that front, I reserve the right to adapt the rules and conditions accordingly; if there are a hundred entries it might be too much to ask from my panelists! Along those lines, please only one entry per person! (unless I end up with the opposite problem and there aren't enough entries, in which case go wild...).

    While I would appreciate it if you bought the book, it is not entirely necessary, although if I get too many entries, I reserve the right to retroactively make proof of purchase a requirement.

    While the overall quality and quantity of the content in the Pay What You Want Ashcan Edition is significantly worse than the main book in practically every way (much of the writing has been rewritten and all of it edited, the game mechanics themselves haven't radically changed but many of the Poltergeist Features and Special Items have been rewritten after playtesting, the Module itself was completely overhauled, etc.), that is one alternative to buying the full game.

    Another would be to use the Poltergeist Form Hacking blog post and other MRD blog posts as a point of reference.

    Finally, you can ask questions on the #mrd channel of the NSR Discord Server or on the #ttrpg channel of the Weird Places and Liminal Spaces Discord Server.

    I realize there are a million TTRPG game jams and blogs and published games. I feel a little guilty leveraging my personal resources to provide a prize that might incentivize someone to choose my game jam over any number of other equally deserving game jams or to buy my book or read my content over many other equally qualified games because of this extrinsic incentive. At the same time, the winner of this game jam may be someone who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to have their work professionally produced. If you have feelings about this approach one way or another, please let me know.

    Sunday, December 5, 2021

    Was It Likely: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

    Max: I remember you talking about game design on your blog in a way that felt very FKR, way before the modern version of FKR was a thing. That's not a question, but I don't think you get enough credit for that. But anyway, is this still how you feel about game design? Am I misrepresenting your thoughts?

    Jones: Well first of all thanks, it's been honestly pretty gratifying to see FKR catch on like it has (so like, in an extremely limited and niche way), though I'm not at all sure if any of its major proponents have even heard of my blog. But to the point, I would say that I probably prefer more procedure than the average FKR player, though I enjoy the hell out of a fully FKR campaign. I think that it's often the case that game mechanics, more than anything else, offer a way to keep track of information that might otherwise be forgotten, and can push for a type of play that might not necessarily occur intuitively to the players. 

    Max: Can you elaborate on what you mean by procedure?

    Jones: Sure, I guess another way to frame it would be "game mechanics or the relationships between game mechanics"

    Max: I'm sure you have some thoughts on the "does system matter" debate then? (jk :p!)

    Jones: God, apparently so judging from the absolutely rabid responses I've gotten on my thoughts around that. I think of TTRPGs as mainly an extension of playing make believe with toys; you can definitely use a toy dinosaur in the way the maker intended, but you might also decide it's a pretty good hammer if you're tired of playing dinosaurs and want to play construction instead. Furthermore, the toy isn't even necessary in order to play dinosaurs or any other game; it's just a useful prop, a nice locus for everyone's imagination to latch onto. Things that I think can often take the place of rules include like: a good playlist, pictures, poetry, selections from novels, movies, etc. Anything that's going to help everyone develop a shared imaginary space with minimal "hey wait I wasn't imagining this like that at all!"

    Max: That latter point is very FKR haha. The former though, the dinosaur analogy, I find that one especially interesting. It suggests a type of abstract thinking that is fairly rare. It's like this problem solving task I remember, where one of the items is a box of screws or nails or something, and anyway, the optimal solution involves dumping the screws and just using the box, but most people don't realize that until after it's demonstrated. One could say they failed to think outside the box. Problem solving is often thought of as a core tenet of OSR-style play, but I think sometimes people are very myopic about  what counts as problem solving, or what kinds of problems they're trying to solve.

    Max: Are there any kinds of problems in particular you're interested in exploring in games? Do you agree with this notion in the first place?

    Jones: In a funny way, the questions I want to explore in games are all very selfish: most of my mechanics start out as a way for me exert the minimum amount of effort necessary to achieve an effect I want. How to consistently generate good ideas without inspiration, how to make the setting feel deep without creating a world bible. Hence my obsession with generators, tarot, divination, etc. With regards to "OSR Problem Solving" some would question whether I have any right whatsoever to weigh in on this, bc the games I run at this point could only be considered OSR in the same way a baby born with gill marks could be considered a fish. But I agree that essentially, tackling open ended problems is one of the things that TTRPGs do best; problem solving requires engagement with the fiction, creative thinking, and all that good stuff.

    Max: There's certainly something to be said for efficiency. I was reluctant to use generators for a long time, because worldbuilding and the meticulousness it can sometimes involve is a major part of what I enjoy about tabletop RPGs, but I can also appreciate the ways that generators and other forms of randomness can spur creativity as well.

    Max: What do you think makes for a good generator?

    Jones: Word choice above all else. If you don't use evocative language, you're sunk, it doesn't matter how complex the generator is, it'll feel completely inert. I had a lengthier answer here, but I kept on thinking out counterexamples to my own points, so I think that's what I'm left with. I guess to add one further dimension I'd say "not overly prescriptive, not overly vague" which is another way of saying "well written" but you see examples of both all the time; giving me a pile of common nouns doesn't stir any imagination, but neither does a fully realized paragraph; at that point you're just writing table entries.

    Max: I do think there's a bit of a distinction there, and both are good points. The latter is more of a practicality, whereas the former is about using language evocatively. I mean, there is still a logistical level to it too, in that evocative language is, in effect, encoding a lot of information, and in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and memorable, all of which is good for a generator.

    Jones: Yeah, that's definitely the case. I think that honestly the best thing anyone who likes writing generators and wants to improve can do is just read a bunch of poetry. Even if you don't have a literary background, you'll pick up on methods of weighting language with meaning and aesthetic appeal. I think the ttrpg scene has really criminally undersold how important good writing is to making good games/game tools.

    Max: It's funny you mention poetry, I've recently developed an interest in it myself. And specifically, it was when I realized how much structure there is in poetry. That absolutely makes sense to me, although I hadn't considered this! There are at least a handful of indie/OSR/etc. creators I can think of who do prioritize writing, but I agree that it's undervalued. It's also really hard to do, and also hard to do on top of everything else that goes into a game. But even so, the value of it probably outweighs the effort more so than most people recognize.

    Jones: Oh, I'd go further; I think it's probably the number one thing that's gonna make or break a game, particularly when it comes to landing new players. 100% (and I say this without exaggeration) of the players at my table went from being skeptical about ttrpgs to fully enthused based solely on the quality of the writing in the books and games I showed/ran for them

    Max: There's something to be said for that, it's certainly something I've thought a lot about with my own works. I look back on some of my earlier blog posts, and there were some good ideas, and occasionally bits of decent writing, but some of it is pretty rough.

    Max: What does good writing in TTRPGs look like to you? I don't necessarily mean to name specific books, but what kinds of styles or sensibilities? Maybe that's too abstract of a question...

    Jones: I think that the old OSR adage of "evocative and brief" has some merit, but maximalist long form writing can definitely be equally effective (think Luka Rejec, or the Grand Commodore blog) Whatever you're doing, you're going to want to prioritize atmosphere, style, and clarity, in roughly that order. Reason being that in a work designed primarily to inspire play, the work had better be inspirational, and if the GM can read something, not necessarily be clear on the details, but capture enough of an atmosphere/sensibility/vibe to improvise their own, then that's a successful bit of writing. Clarity of course is relevant when it comes to things that it's crucial that all parties be on the same page about, but that's often the easiest part of the job to be honest. I think a lot of OSR creators in particular tend to go straight for "clarity by way of brevity" which both neglects atmosphere and style and often doesn't even achieve a useful clarity, because the kind of clarity offered by "6 by 6 room, barrel in the corner" is not a kind of clarity that informs the players about what it's like to be in that room, and that sense of the game space having real weight is in turn necessary to facilitate the kind of play that most OSR/Fiction First fans claim to prefer 

    Max: This is a very interesting perspective, because ya, most OSR sensibilities I think would put clarity first, and are very much about minimalism. One critique I might place with this though, particularly as someone who tries very hard to create novel worlds that don't lean on genre or preconceived notions, is that the more so one does that, the more importance must be placed on clarity; or at least that's what I've generally thought, but you may very well be correct that sufficiently evocative language would supersede this, or rather, sufficiently evocative language is by definition sufficiently clear.

    Jones: "sufficiently evocative language is by definition sufficiently clear" is a really nice succinct way of putting it, yeah. I think it's also a case of people emphasizing the wrong kinds of clarity; creating clarity about what a place feels like is going to be of the utmost importance in an activity wholly contained in the minds of you and your friends, but it doesn't get a lot of attention as a rule.

    Max: "but it doesn't get a lot of attention as a rule." Do you mean that literally, as in it often is not represented in game rules, or did you mean that more so figuratively? I would be inclined to agree either way, but what do you do about that?

    Jones: Both, I suppose. And I think it's mainly a matter of really bearing down on the actual writing of a given game (are these words the best possible words? Is this the best possible place to put them?), as well as acknowledging gamefeel, (a term I think coined by Jay Dragon?) which is essentially just the aesthetic experience offered by a particular mechanic: rolling a dice pool has different gamefeel than rolling a d20, etc.

    Max: Well the latter example also changes the probabilities, which is a very different thing. I don't mean that pedantically, it's an important distinction, since what you're talking about is much more so qualitative than quantitative, or at least harder to operationalize quantitatively.

    Jones: Hm, I see what you're saying but I actually disagree, not with the fact that the probabilities are altered of course, but that there's a way to neatly separate the aesthetic experience of a game from its mechanical experience. Going back to poetry, I'd say the actual mechanics of a game are akin to the formal elements of a poem, while the writing of a game is analogous to, well, the writing of the poem. In other words; they alter how you consume the writing, the order in which you consume it, the context in which you place it, etc. I also think that this is honestly just not something a lot of people are conscious of in their own games. A lot of people would benefit from sitting down and thinking about what aesthetic experience they are trying to capture at the table, rather than how best to express the physical rules of their imaginary world

    Max: Good points on both counts, and I definitely agree about the focus on rules vs. expression. It seems like, at least in my circles, most people are really focused on either the meta/theory-level of tabletop RPGs, or on PbtA- or storygame-style mechanics-as-expression mentality. And as you eloquently put, rules and writing are interactive. Even so, I see few people prioritizing worldbuilding or writing per se in discussion or design of TTRPGs nowadays.

    Jones: I agree, and it's really a shame, especially when most of what comes of the "mechanics as expression" discussion is "we came up with another way to do ptba moves"

    Max: I agree, but to be clear, I'm not trying to hate on PbtA or anything, in fact one of my favorite recent game releases was a PbtA game. But still, as I know you are aware, this is something I'm also passionate about and trying to bring back in some capacity; a place for worldbuilding and written expression.

    Jones: Oh me neither; I have no particular love for PbtA, but I think it's a really good collection of good common sense practices for many games. I think part of the issue is that it's really rare that you see people truly innovating mechanically (and it's always obvious when they do, because it's always entirely out of left field), but that a lot of people insist on foregrounding their rules even when their rules are like, yet another way to make hitpoints more realistic or something. And ironically, the games with some of the most  innovative rules structures I've ever read are the ones that place primary emphasis on tone and atmosphere. I've been rereading Polaris, and its structured argument resolution system been blowing my mind, but that's like, the last thing the book cares about you paying attention to. 

    Max: I tried to be conscientious of exactly these kinds of things when I was designing MRD- I understand how one can so easily lose sight of this, but I agree that at this point, I really don't care about mechanical "innovation" unless what I'm seeing actually has some degree of intentionality. As you're saying, it's the mechanics or game innovations that are most rooted in expressing some unique or well executed tone or atmosphere that I am most likely to find compelling.

    Max: We're running up on time but I really enjoyed this conversation. In addition to any final thoughts on this topic, is there anything else you want to talk about before we wrap up?

    Jones: I've enjoyed this conversation a lot too! It's a nice way to sort out and make explicit some of my own beliefs that just ambiently inform my design. And I guess I'd just ask if you think this emphasis on "good writing" in games is potentially exclusionary/elitist? I've been criticized for that before, though for my money I think it's largely an empty critique: the ideas that a well written poem is better than a poorly written one, and that asking someone to purchase a poorly written poem is a bit of a fools errand, aren't particularly controversial, but we seem to violently drop our standards for written games and modules. Either way though, I'd be curious to hear where you stand.

    Max: There is an extent to which what counts as "good writing" is subjective or may be elitist, and I think that's an inherent complication in things that can't be quantified and measured (that's not to say that quantitative fields don't have bias lol, but those same methods are how one would systematically identify bias- it's about methods, not institutions, but this is all a very long aside). That being said, in both game design and poetry, there is some degree of structure, and certain principles work better than others, and one who understands and leverages them will systematically outperform someone who does not, regardless even if they consciously understand what they're doing, although being educated per se (independent of being certified per se- as in having a degree of some sort) presumably helps. So that's maybe a longwinded way of saying I agree with you- not that there isn't room for debate or a need for further operationalization, but principally I agree. But anyway, this was a lot of fun, thanks for your time!

    Jones: Back atcha, always a good time talkin shop with you.