I’m actually really tired. All the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter rewards are in the mail, so it feels like it’s done. It won’t actually be done until everyone gets their rewards, but given our postal system, I can’t even guess when that will be. I know some backers have already received their books, so that makes me happy. Now I just feel like I want to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. Day-job has been ass-kickingly brutal, so that hasn’t helped.

On or around 19 Oct – depending on how well I can get the various storefronts and distributors to play nice with my attempts – Nefertiti Overdrive will be available for sale. I will, of course, be posting an announcement here.

And once I am up to it, I’ll have an announcement about what I’ll be doing next. I hope it’ll be welcome and possibly even exciting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall go collapse.

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This Week’s Normal

Is me signing books, making what I hope are amusing comments in books, and then putting said books in envelopes and addressing those envelopes.

So maybe you won’t be seeing as much of me around here at SEP this week. The good news is that once these are all in the mail, I can turn to other projects.

And for those who didn’t back Nefertiti Overdrive when it was on Kickstarter, it should be hitting Amazon and One Book Shelf (RPG Now and Drive Thru RPG) in the week of 19 Oct.



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Immersed in Packaging

The printed volumes of Nefertiti Overdrive have arrived, and I have about 30 copies to sign and ship and a handful of other books to send to reviewers and other lucky recipients. That’s not a lot, but it takes up most of the limited free time I have, and I want to get this done so I can put a pin in Nefertiti Overdrive.

Then on to the next challenge.

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Capital Gaming Expo – Nefertiti Overdrive

If you are going to be in the Ottawa area on 3-4 Oct 2015, you can get in on a game of Nefertiti Overdrive. I’ll be running it twice – Sat and Sun both at 1030 to 1430. Also, if you backed the Kickstarter and will be at CGX, I can hand deliver the book and shake your hand while thanking you. That would be kind of awesome for me, because I am seriously, seriously appreciative of all the people who backed it.

You’ll notice in the RPG schedule that you can also get in on a game of Screenplay, the engine that runs the amazing High Plains Samurai. If you bring a lunch and have a really good bladder, you could actually do a cool game marathon with Nefertiti Overdrive and then Screenplay. Or, perhaps a wiser move, you could play one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

You can find out more about Capital Gaming Expo here.

The RPG schedule is here.

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Abstractions – When is a Bullet Like a Baby?

I was talking about damage and stress in the last post, and I wanted to continue to talk about the problem of abstraction and “damage” in a role-playing game.

I design games with pretty abstract mechanics. These mechanics generally model all type of conflict the same, whether one is hacking at another with a sword, trying to explain complex mathematics, or interrogating a prisoner, the mechanics are the same. And with a streamlined mechanic for “damage” – which I’m going to call Stress, the mechanic I am using in Dream Riggers – it doesn’t matter whether it is the sword, the mathematics, or the questioning, you top off Stress and you are removed from the scene – in D&D you would be dead, but I don’t kill off PCs in my game.

We all understand that a bullet can kill anyone, no matter how well-trained they are, so generally, people are okay with a system that accepts one-shot kills. What I think is difficult is accepting a melded Stress mechanic that allows a character to be removed from a scene due to mental or emotional fatigue as easily as that same character could be removed by a bullet.

How many people here have been frustrated to distraction by trying to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture or a new BBQ? Those of us with children, do you remember trying to get the kid to sleep or stop a baby from crying? I’m not saying it always affects you the same, but these do affect you. The crux is that without very good cause-and-effect modelling, it’s hard to say exactly HOW such failures will affect a character. Sometimes we can breeze through such situations, laughing off failures, sometimes you have to put the instructions down or leave the baby in the crib and just walk away for a bit – essentially, being removed from a scene.

And for those two challenges (Ikea furniture and baby) the actual level of the obstacle is minimal but can still inflict levels of Stress that can remove an average adult from a Scene (in game terms).

So how do we model this? The problem is that we are okay with a kid with a 9mm getting lucky and putting a bullet in the throat of a Navy SEAL but we are not okay with visualizing a crying baby defeating that same Navy SEAL unless it is in a situation in which lives are at stake or there is some other exceptional pressure.

I would argue that Navy SEALs and particle physicists, and super geniuses . . . genii . . . are sometimes defeated by their crying children or their new Ikea furniture. All the time? No. Sometimes? Absolutely. Further, I would strongly argue that after failing to get the baby to stop crying, if that Navy SEAL went to the gun range, the preceding failure would impact on the individual’s performance.

This is what the abstractions in my games model – not true cause-and-effect but the possibility of a catastrophic failure in even a simple task. What it asks in return is the ability to then narratively model the outcome.

I’ve seen really smart and capable people brought low by simple tasks at which they fail. There were almost certainly reasons for that failure, but I am not interested in perfectly modelling cause-and-effect inputs in my mechanics. Honestly, no matter how complex a system, you will fail to adequately model actual cause-and-effect in the real world, which has innumerable inputs into its system.

I’m pretty sure most RPGers could narrate a good scene in which you character is removed from a scene due to emotional or mental Stress. This is all that is really necessary. If you can conceive of how it might happen, than the resistance should subside. I think resistance may be because most people still equate removal from the scene with being physically beaten. The abstraction causes a disconnect – being shot by a 9mm and having to put a baby down in the crib and walk out of the room doesn’t equate in people’s minds. It’s a matter of wrapping one’s head around the abstraction and playing with it, just like many of the other mechanics we use to simplify replicating life with dice.

The difficulties of abstractions.

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Damage and Stress – Blowing Up Your Mind

My group and I have had a lot of discussions recently about the abstraction used for Stress/Damage in my new game, Dream Riggers. It’s led to a few long emails to explain my intention and thoughts, and it’s something I’ve never really done before – I’ve never really tried to explain my take on abstraction and its use in RPGs. Specifically, the abstraction used for damage.

This was mostly initiated because a character received a ton of Stress – used as a measure of negative outcomes that can lead to a character being removed from a scene – after failing to hotwire a car while fearing the police would soon arrive. In Dream Riggers, physical, emotional, and mental stress are all put together into Stress, and enough Stress can remove a character from a scene (the game – like Nefertiti Overdrive – does not have PC death)

Let’s start with conflict resolution. If you’ve seen any of my games, you know that I reserve conflict resolution – when the dice hit the table to figure out the outcome of a task, called a Test in Dream Riggers – for significant actions. One does not undertake a Test to take out the trash. Tests are only for actions that have interesting consequences. Hot wiring a car in an alley when no one is around? No need to roll, unless that car is something special (a police car maybe, or a gang leader’s bullet-proof SUV). Trying to do the same after a major battle while the sound of police sirens approach? In that situation, it definitely needs a Test.

In the game, the character failed. The Stress inflicted by failure is determined randomly, and the character received a lot of Stress, enough that one more failure would likely remove him from the Scene. Recovery of Stress during the game is difficult and requires the use of Fortune Points, a scarce resource. The players wondered about the severe impact of a failed Test, especially when it was psychological rather than physical.

To me, it made sense. Think of giving a speech in front of a crowded auditorium. Will your head blow up? No. But if you flub it, you are generally stressed to the point where you have problems doing even simple tasks – your hands shake, you have difficulty focusing, your thoughts are all scattered. Depending on myriad other factors – lack of sleep, the person before you totally aced the presentation, you have a sick relative in the hospital about whom you are worried – the stress can be greater or lesser.

This is why I term it Stress rather than damage. Failure at a mental task, like trying to debug software or figure out a mathematical equation – can also have severe impacts, sometimes debilitating depending on the situation.

I am consciously trying to keep the system simple. Very simple. Because it is a simple system, it can’t factor in every possible modifier and influence, so it has a very random determination of the amount of Stress failure causes.

This places a separate and significant demand on the players: it is up to them – and the GM – to explain why the failure inflicted the amount of Stress it did. In a fight, that’s easy – low Stress equals a mere scratch while max Stress means a bullet in the chest or throat. It can be harder when it is mental or emotional. However, I believe with some thought and an understanding of one’s character, a good explanation is never that far away.

For the particular situation – the failure to hotwire a car while the police are approaching – and the outcome – a huge amount of Stress – made sense in the context of the character. The player had presented to the character as arrogant and the character’s power (these are superhumans) was that he was a super-genius. In failing at such a mundane task, I could see the character having a bit of a meltdown, unable to grasp how he could possibly have failed. “I’m the fucking smartest man in the world, you stupid piece of shit!”

I like having the threat of removal from a scene implicit to any Test, so to me, this worked out perfect. Of course, your mileage may vary.

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Edge of Inspiration: Bronze Age Trade

You know I kind of dig ancient history as a setting. Nefertiti Overdrive – set in 25th Dynasty Ancient Egypt – is on its way to backers and should be in stores by November and I had previously dabbled with Immortals of Bronze. Listening to the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt over at the Great Courses has, as usual, hit on more than one points of inspiration.

Ruins of Byblos from “gordontour” used under Creative Commons

In the last lecture I discussed for the Listen Through, Dr. Brier talked about Old Kingdom Egypt’s trade missions, and specifically to the Sinai for turquoise and Lebanon for cedar. That definitely hit the right buttons. Immortals of Bronze was all about trade missions as the connectors of cultures, and a books like 1177: The Year Civilization Collapsed does a great job of showing how trade created the kind of intricate, interwoven networks we believe happened only with “globalization.”

To me, the city of Byblos is key. This was likely the destination of the Egyptian mission to acquire cedars, and from the very cursory research I did, it sounds like a relatively cosmopolitan place. I’m thinking the group could similarly be cosmopolitan – my first thoughts are of an Egyptian emissary and his (or, if we want to have some fun with it, her) bodyguard, a Phoenician captain (yes, the Phoenicians were an artificial division of cultures used by the Greeks, but we’re gaming, so shorthand is acceptable), maybe an astrologer (wizard?) from Mesopotamia and a barbarian or two for “fish out of water” moments (maybe one from Central Asia/Turkey and one from Sub-Saharan Africa, just to stir things up).

Yes, the trade mission would get them to Byblos, but they would be facing political negotiations as well as economic ones as the city is rife with factions. There would be favours needed to achieve for the rulers, and that could lead to unexpected discoveries, possible of “monsters” now thought mythological. The Snerferu mission described in the lecture would have been around 2600 BCE, so before even the Mycenean civilization in Greece, but easily encompassing the height of Mesopotamia. Adventures in and around “the Great Green” could be awesome, and this is a period with little actual primary evidence, so your version of history can be just as valid as any others.

You can find Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt here.

The Listen Through for lecture two “Sneferu” is here.

A discussion of my attempt at Bronze Age gaming here.

My review of 1177: The Year Civilization Collapsed here and you can learn more about the book here.

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