Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Falling Damage

GM: You look down, you must be over 200 feet in the air.

Player: Falling damage caps out at 10d6, I have over 100 HP… I jump out the window.


This is one of the most famous movie stunts of all time. The stuntman fell over 200 feet, using a new device he had created. Later, Burt Reynolds directed the same stuntman (Dar Robinson, the albino hitman) in the highest freefall ever.

There is a reason this is impressive.

But, if a player at your table responds as above, do you have a right to be pissed?


Nor do you have a right to change the rules.

Gaming is a social contract, that the rules will not be broken. If you arbitrarily decide that this is impossible and then tell the player they yes only take 10d6 damage, but are paralyzed, you have broken the rules.

How does one get around this?

Play a different game.


Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Role to Hit

As a GM, you build up a villain.

Does conflict with the villain simply end up as:

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If your system is designed around combat, this is likely the best you can hope for.

If, as a GM you have to spend hours coming up with tactical strategies to counter what the PCs are doing, you’re playing a tactical, competitive game.

If you want drama, play a different game.

Play a game that encourages a different form of conflict resolution.



Game the Game: Roll vs Role: To Boldly Go

There is a new Star Trek game out there. A friend played it at GenCon. He is a big fan of shiny new things, so now he wants to run it (as well as Starfinder).

I make no claims to being a Trek fan. I like it well enough, but am certainly not versed enough to quote it, at all.

I would like to play a game that felt like Trek though. Different specializations, command structure, cool stuff to do aboard the bridge.

It is my opinion that where Trek games fail is where many games fail: combat. Trek will no doubt have combat rules, and no doubt has Phaser rules. It is not that I am adberse to Phasers being set to stun, and them stunning opponents, rather, I am adverse to this not being a big deal, I am adverse to the fact that if you hand a man a Phaser, he will want to stun.

I stumbled across this:

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While part of me appreciates this, another part of me is calling game design BS.

I ran a 4e game, and I had a player who would get cheesed when I did not reveal my rolls, thus making it impossible for him to tell if is +4 reactionary boost to AC would help or not.

If players know the consequences of their actions before rolling, this negates any drama, and leads to tons of metagame garbage.

If players are boldly going…. they should do so without knowing what is ahead, without being aware of what might happen if they fail, or if they succeed. This goes for any roll, combat, social interaction, fixing a capacitor, etc.

This is why games can be fun.

Games should force us to be bold, To Boldly Go….

I am going to attempt to….

And, it’s cool I don’t know what will happen.

That is where the drama comes from.

Playing a mathematical game of averages is boring.




Game the Game: PbtA and Stolen Cars

Games that are Powered by the Apocalypse are a big thing. Such a big thing, that in my personal Rushmore of game designers, D. Vincent Baker might have a spot alongside Gary Gygax and Mark Rein-Hagen. I was speaking with a friend about PbtA from a design standpoint, and explained that I really liked a well-executed PbtA game, one that has really compelling traits and dice rolls, one that focuses on all the Traits evenly, not allowing for dump stats and the like, but also that I struggled with some of the inherent decisions of PbtA games, primarily that challenges are all the same. facing off against a vampiric minion or Dracula are likely the same. It is a player-facing game, players make the choices and the dice rolls, which is very cool, but, in-practice, the non-scalability of challenges does not allow for a variety of storytelling challenges.

For some genres this is totally appropriate, but for others, the degree of challenge should vary.

I played in a game of MASKS at GenCon this year and had a fun time, but the combat did not feel as satisfying as it might have. Additionally, the distribution and use of Traits did not feel balanced. I had enjoyed reading through the game, and wanted to see it in action, and will likely run and/ or play it again.

Gone_in_sixty_secondsNPCs are stolen cars, treat them as such, is an idea I can get behind, but, some stolen cars are more significant than others. Just ask Nic Cage.

As a designer, I did a variation of PbtA, “Inspired by the Apocalypse” and utilized adding and subtracting benefit and detriment dice to the number of dice rolled.

Spirit of ’77 resolves this in a similar way, but is most definitely PbtA, but some rolls might get an extra die keep the best 2d6, or an extra die and keep the worst 2d6.

What I have also found is that when I run PbtA games, I enjoy having more than the recommended number of players, often way more. I ran a game for a group of con-organizers at a con I went to, it was a late night game, it was my way of saying thanks to the con, and it was a ton of fun, but we probably had 12 players, maybe more. I ran another game at a con that had 15 or so, with about 5 just watching.

The real drama can come from the interpersonal stuff, if you make the game, both mechanically, and setting/ adventure-wise, about this. Does this work for every genre? No. Teen supers could spend all day squabbling, but the genre is also designed to be about stopping bad guys.

Back to the discussion I was having with my friend, he acknowledged what I said and thought about it, having not thought about it before.

Keep pushing designers. d20 produced some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. Innovate.

Will I ever do a PbtA game? It is one of the ideas I have bubbling on my stove of game ideas.



Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Backstory

How many games are about your character’s past? In my experience, games are about the now, action, consequences, not necessarily about reflecting about the past. Especially, if that past happened prior to session #1.

There is a time and place for backstory, but I think more energy should be put into focusing on the now. Engaging with your character. leave them more of a blank slate, allow the backstory details to be filled in through play, when possible.

Backstory is the past. focus on the present. Focus on what your character is doing. Right. Now.

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Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Method Characters

When you take on the mantle of player, as opposed to GM, and the GM declares the type of game and asks you to make a character, what do you think of? The story of your character, or the in-game effects playing a specific type of character might benefit from.

We all want our characters to be in-game avatars of what we imagine, often we have to interpret the rules and craft our characters to be what we want them to be. If I am playing a bad-ass swordsman, I should be able to craft that.

But, when you think about the character, do you think of the game setting or the rules first?

Does your desire to play an elf have to do with your love of elven culture, or the bonuses they get?

Do you want to play Batman because he is the best at everything, or because you dig his backstory.

If someone said you could play any established character in one of the Big Two superheroic universes, who would you pick and why. I know who I would pick, and I have an idea what they should be able to within the structure of the game mechanics, but my reasons for playing them have little to do with their incredible abilities.

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Game the Game: Inclusivity

At GenCon this year, there seemed to be a lot of drama. It didn’t really affect me, aside from watching some of it play out in my social media field.

But, it made me think about running and playing games at GenCon, and what message we all send.

I was fortunate enough to get in on a game I really wanted to play, and both the GM, her assistant, and the players a lot of fun. The game was organized by ConTessa. More than anything, what was wonderful was being around a group of people and an organization that were there to promote fun and a welcoming presence.

Gaming should be fun.

People have an ability to thrive on drama. It is easy to focus on the dark, why not try and be the light.

Go out and run games that are welcoming. Play in games that are welcoming.

Be the light.

This seems to be the easiest and most enjoyable way for all of us to come together.


Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Shall We Play A Game

“Hey friends, I want to run a fantasy game…”

Player A wants to play an elf.

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What the GM means by elf might not be what the player thinks an elf is. And, are they playing an elf for the “right reasons?”

Let’s try again…

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they are all Batman.

The first part of this tasty morsel of wisdom is the following: are the GM and players all on the same page? Do they all want to be playing the same game? Tone, power-level, etc, it is all part of the equation.


Game the Game: Playetest Report

1780397-1742961_are_you_beer_super_superMy long-term gaming group and I have been playtesting my design for Powers High. We have played 3 times, and each time has been a lot of fun. I am very lucky because I have good players. Things had gotten very dark in our game, and we wanted a break from the all the heavy stuff.

We have had a fun time every session. The players are invested in their characters and the world. But, what has been most fun, is the dice, when they are rolled,, why they are rolled, and the results.

In many games, and game theory, rolling dice brings with it uncertainty. But, does it really? Often, it brings with it binary results. Failure indicates one thing, and success another. Hit, and then roll damage, or miss.

In our most recent session however, there was a dice roll that ended with a result I didn’t see coming.

One of the conceits of the game is that the 5 specific traits/ tropes determine how well characters fail or succeed at extended actions involving those tropes. The sportsball playoffs, roll Athlete. Final exams, roll Brain. Play video games, roll Outcast.

This particular action was a Halloween party, one that involved students sneaking out to drink, etc.

There was a drinking game, with involved 5 rolls by the players, and produced fun results, but not necessarily unexpected.

One character, who has a high Criminal trait (which was the trait needed to sneak out to the party), but who is basically a social wallflower, and not at all a “bad boy” got a perfect score.

I had to think for a moment what would happen.

How could I remain true to the character, true to the fiction, and true to the dice roll?

I paused for a moment, and explained that he stood at the party, awkward and relatively quiet, perhaps even uncomfortable. But, the other kids, the ones who wanted to party, drink beer, etc, basically just wanted to be in his aura. By doing nothing, he did everything.

He was cool by not trying at all to be cool.

He didn’t drink.

But, man, all the other kids wanted to be in his presence.

Strong and silent type? Yes. But, this was not at all how I might have predicted what could have happened.

The perfect score meant I needed it to be something great, wonderful, and special.

I am liking this system other new component we experienced was Rumors. Rumors are a real thing, as they should be. Some might be true, some false, some in the middle.

I handed all the characters three rumors. They chose to share them.

They laughed.

But, they also understood the gravity of the situation.

And next session, there will be more Rumors.

The first session had a very unexpected Homecoming King and Queen, the third session had an awesome drinking game.

What is happening in your games?



So Much Killing

Whatever happened to peace, love, and understanding? Isn’t that a quote?

My tastes in games have changed, as I, as a person, have changed.

Many RPGs claim to be about many things, social interaction, exploration, but their rules revolve primarily around combat.

This means the games are about fighting.

And, more to the point, they are about killing.

Games are escapism, but I want to believe that we as people should be better than being killers.

So, when I think about and design games, I try and design games that emphasize not-killing.

But, this also means thinking outside the commonly accepted genre-box most games exist in.

So, it is a challenge. But, a challenge I enjoy.

More, I want to design games that can be about mature subject matter, but not about killing. I love Cartoon Action Hour, I helped with the design of it. It does what it does very well. And, there is no killing. But, it is not, by default, “mature.”

A game like Monsterhearts can be not about killing but very mature.

This is my challenge to myself, inspired by someone taking their own life in prison. Many cheered, because, by all accounts, he was not a good dude in any way shape or form.

But, it takes a lot to do what he did. And there are people that were filled with grief, and I believe he was filled with grief.

I want to make games that can be about bringing something other than death to others.