Tuesday, November 14, 2017


[Hyades Head Slam, by Kurt Komoda]

Dennis Detwiller & Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing came up with the idea of pitting Cthulhu vs. Hastur in a cosmic cage fight. They came up with dozens of funny card names and Kurt Komoda supplied wonderful illustrations. But the rules they started with didn’t live up to the concept and the art. Dennis & Shane decided they didn’t really have a viable game. And that’s when I got involved, meeting Dennis at a convention, hearing that they had a fully-illustrated game with no mechanics, and jumping at the chance to join the team.

I designed a couple systems that had interesting pieces but weren’t fun. Then I hit on the idea of presenting the fight as a battle between great slow-moving cosmic entities who launch attacks that unfold over time and space, arriving after the enemy has had a chance to see them coming and figure out what they might do in response. If it’s not actually a unique game mechanic, I don’t know other games that used the idea first. I’m sure I’ll hear whether the mechanics have unknown ancestors during this next piece of the process, a wide open-playtest.

If you’d like to be part of the playtest, you can sign up at Wrestlenomicon.com. This first (and perhaps only) playtest is going to run for something like five weeks. Assuming it goes well, the game’s developer, Sean McCarthy, and I will process the playtest feedback and get the game ready to roll. At some point thereafter, when they’ve recovered from other Kickstarter heroics, Arc Dream will run a KS for Wrestlenomicon . . . . since there’s definitely more that can be accomplished in this cosmic ring!
[[Fistful of Cultists, also by Kurt Komoda]]

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dream-Quest, Dreamlands cards

Here’s why I love Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe:
a)     Kij Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and the fact that I haven’t read all her books yet is a symptom of deliberately rationing her work over time—next up: Fudoki.
b)     The Dreamlands are my favorite part of Lovecraft’s mythos.
c)      Vellit Boe’s dreamquest works as mythos journey, perspective-shift social commentary, and a trip into the lives of real people in a surreal world.
d)    Brutal mid-paragraph shifts from normality to deadly violence. They remind me of the non-transitions in the movie version of No Country for Old Men. This is how violence slams into real life, not with musical cues.

Here’s why I love Heather Hudson’s Dreamlands Christmas Cards that are on Kickstarter for the next couple days, and can be found here:
a)     Hilarious use of the mythos' brightest corners.
b)    Cards that translate both in and out of fandom.
c)     Homage to Calvin & Hobbes. 
d)     At least one card that requires a scenario: (Santa Claus vs.) The Black Galley!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Design notes from Operation Dauntless

I love design notes in games. When I’m working full-time on my own games, I admit there are times that I end up reading the designer’s notes in new games in more detail than their rules, particularly with wargames that I’m not likely to play in the next few months.

The design notes I’ve enjoyed most recently appeared as a 48-page booklet in the GMT game Operation Dauntless, designed by Mark Mokszycki. It’s a grand-tactical simulation of battles in June 1944, during the British offensives in Normandy. Not the same cup of tea (or even the same meal!) as the roleplaying games and card games I’m usually involved with as a designer, but this is work I appreciate as both stellar design and as a thoughtfully-described process.

The game’s mechanics are deceptively simple. Let’s call them elegant! They’re adapted from an earlier game by Mokszycki about the Finnish/Soviet war, Red Winter. In fact, Mokszycki’s design notes mention that he originally expected Operation Dauntless to be a simple conversion of mechanics from the earlier game. Eight years of design and development work later, that was patently not true, but it was too late to turn back the tanks, he was committed to this labor of love.

I’m sure that’s part of why I enjoy these notes so much. Hearing about multiple detailed and heavily playtested approaches to a close assault system, over a period of years, certainly reminds me of game mechanics conundrums we faced during 13th Age in Glorantha, when a system we thought would easily flow into a different world had to be revised to do the new world justice. 

But the appeal of these notes goes beyond my own process-identification and my fondness for WW2 grognardia. If you’re any type of wargamer, or a game designer, there’s a lot to learn from Mokszycki’s detailed discussions of iterative attempts to simulate specific elements of historical battles. What makes these process notes pay off in the end are elegant and approximately-correct abstractions that both solve his historical-simulation problems and help create a gameable experience.

I may end up playing Red Winter before I play Operation Dauntless, especially since a member of my gaming group has married into the Finnish way of life! If there’s more to say about how the game mechanics match the design goals, I’ll speak up after rolling the dice.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Red Base Yellow Base

Walking our dog Roo early this morning in the fog, outside the Rainier Arts Center, I found myself standing on what felt like an art project, or perhaps a section of a game board, one base red, one base yellow.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Crazy Boss Monster

A couple years ago there was a pivotal moment when a close friend of ours had started a job that immediately looked like it was going to be a disaster. My wife Lisa helped save us all, saying “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the energy to spend the rest of the year being surprised by how crazy your boss is. You need to quit. There’s no mystery here, it’s just going to happen again and again.”

That’s how I feel about mass shootings in America. We can’t be surprised. The pieces are all set up and the shooting will begin. As the Gun Violence Archive indicates, nine days out of ten, it’s only a question of who and where.

Our friend quit her crazy job. Then she chose a path that was four times more sane. Judging by American political history and our current president and Congress, I don’t have hopes for a similarly rapid shift to a sane approach to gun ownership. But first steps are important. A gun lobby that fights against background checks for gun owners, restrictions against mass-murder-certified assault weapons, and against keeping silencers more-illegal-than-not is no one’s friend. It’s a crazy boss monster, and it’s time it was opposed by our elected officials, even the ones whose campaigns were bankrolled by gun money.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fire & Faith & a Fallen Lammasu

I just finished developing and editing Cal Moore’s Fire & Faith: Battle Scenes for Four Icons, the third of his battle scenes books for 13th Age. The glorious bits that you won’t forget include a hellhole invasion (Crusader), bloody encounters with a demonic circus (Diabolist), a quest through a dragon’s dreams (Great Gold Wyrm), and overworld combat-mathematics in the Cathedral (Priestess). Along the way there’s an ogre mage knight riding a fallen lammasu (art by Rich Longmore above), a drow sorcerer riding a silver dragon, and demonic gladiators that are my game-mechanics gift to GMs who enjoy upsetting the players’ concept of how fight scenes should play out.

Like the other battle scenes books, Fire & Faith will be published in black and white with dozens of illustrations by Rich Longmore. It will also have a full color map folio, including labeled and unlabeled versions so that the maps can be easily repurposed.

If you combine these adventures with Cal’s earlier High Magic & Low Cunning and The Crown Commands, you could play a by-the-book ten level 13th Age campaign using only battle scenes adventures!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Top Level Security

The Frame: I heard the story I’m about to relate as it was happening, from people inside the building speaking off-the-record to an outsider. I wasn’t in a position to find out more at the time, and I liked the Story-Of-It-All so much that I haven’t tried to follow up and find out what, if anything, people eventually learned about how this happened! Maybe by posting this I’ll discover the Truth, but I admit I’m pretty happy with the mystery . . . .

The Story: A couple years ago, the Redmond Microsoft campus had an unprecedented security problem. I say unprecedented, but technically that may not be true if you watched Seinfeld.
As part of the deal that brought Skype to these shores, Skype employees were provided with breakfast on the Microsoft campus. It was part of the contract. Many people took advantage of the perk.

And then the Skype-breakfast muffin tops started disappearing. Not every day, but often, the tops of the muffins were gone. Eaten? Disappeared, in any case. No one came forward to take the credit. The muffin-topping continued. Take that, Skype!

So people started taking steps, including setting up cameras. That didn’t work. Which started seeming weird. I’m not sure how seriously anyone was worried about it, but there were impromptu patrols by semi-concerned employees.

The last I heard, a patrol thought they had found a woman acting suspiciously in one of the kitchens, but when she realized they were fairly crap vigilantes, she just walked away and no one figured out who she was.