Player Narration

The Energy System allows the players to narrate or better yet interpret, what the results of their rolls are. Some players have a bit of trouble with that and understandably so, since in most games they are passive when it comes to narration.

Because of this, I’d like to give the players some simple processes that would help them think through narration (or interpretation).

GMs do narration all the time, they’re used to it. Fill a table with players that have been GMs and I think there would be no problem. Some players think they could never GM. It seems magical to them how this person comes up with all this stuff.

To make the choices simpler I thought about introducing a list of ideas to develop the players narration but it ended up being either too vague to be useful or way too long and overwhelming.

So I need a different strategy. It needs to be concrete as possible for the players to easily absorb the advice.

I actually have a goal for player narration in the Energy System and that is for the narration to explain the dice roll as much as possible. That, I think, is key to this effort.

Of primary importance are dice depletions in this system and so I think that should be the focus of the players “interpreting” their rolls. Encouraging the players to say how each die depletes and why would be a great step forward.

In their early stages, with a player struggling to develop their narration skills, the GM can readily help out at this point. I’m thinking of something akin to Archipelago’s ritual phrases are in order. They don’t have to be as robust, they just have to be functional for the prompting we want to do. If there are phrases that are standardized, they’re less surprising when said, they are much more likely to be supportive than unintentionally demeaning and are probably easier for the GM to recall and use. This also conditions the players to expect GM intervention in their narration which is occasionally needed if the player is narrating something that contradicts known facts (even if it’s only the GM that knows them at the moment).

As the player gets more fluid in their narration, they will need less and less prompting. I can imagine a rules lawyer player using their narration as a weapon to suss out secrets from the GM, but that’s a problem for a different day.

Here are some prompts to help the players interpret the events connected to their rolls.

What made it go that way? – Prompting the player to start off a description.

What mistakes were made? – When the player hasn’t described a depletion.

Keep going – When you want the player to add more narration either because they’re doing well or they’ve stopped before fully explaining the roll.

Think of other ways  – When the player uses the same description again.

That can’t be – When the player contradicts facts that they may or may not be aware of.

I’m not sure if these are the best phrases to use, I’ll try using them in our next session and see how it goes.

Glyph becomes World Door

I’ve been working on a novel that I’ve been calling Glyph. Originally I thought I’d have to tell two separate stories about the world. I resolved the issues I had with telling it in one. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the title.

It would be more appropriate to call the story World Door.

I’ll be changing the titles to match this.

Relationships in the Energy System

I realized today that relationships in the ES should be their own agent. This gives a relationship actual mechanical power in the game. It could be rolled against by any person in the relationship and like any other agent, it can be depleted.

This makes things really interesting because you can use the relationship to influence the people in the relationship, but using it too much (abusing it) can make it fall apart.

It could also be used to explain what happens if an NPC has their energy depleted via social attacks. They would essentially be “reborn” as a relationship to the player character.

The GM could bestow a relationship agent to a character if they think the situation warrants, the players could also use an advancement phase to build their own.

There’s a bunch of different types of relationships that would be interesting. Love interests could be used to fight aggressive actions. If you had a Hate relationship, it could help with tests of endurance when going after your enemy.

You could even model a Mentor relationship with this because the mentor can help with training rolls but when the relationship depletes the Mentor has taught all they can, or all they’re willing to teach.

I’m debating if I should formalize this in Jump Temp. On the one hand, it really should be a function in any game, but I’m not really sure if it fits in the Jump Temp story.

World Door Chapter 5 – Error

Error

We packed slowly in the morning and started on the trail. We hadn’t gotten far when we spotted the sisters heading towards us. They actually looked worried.

“Ho, sisters.” Thain called.

“Ho.” Janna called back.

They approached us quickly. Something had to be wrong for them to show themselves to us. I thought to run ahead, but my blistered feet would not allow it.

As they got closer Janna stopped and raised her hand in front of her. Ashlyn started to circle.

“Behind you!” Janna said.

I we turned but saw nothing coming up the trail. We all looked back for clarification.

“The tigerwolf!” She yelled.

I tried to laugh but nothing came out. “That’s Melsa!” I called back.

Continue reading “World Door Chapter 5 – Error”

World Door Chapter 4 – Lien

Lien

I walked back to where I had left the hunters. As I went I wondered what the sisters would want with this world door and why they needed me. Did they want me to transfer Melsa to this creature they were afraid of? Were they there when my brother died? My Father never mentioned them being there. Were they watching from the shadows?

Melsa flew from tree to tree as I trudged through the woods. I couldn’t figure out how Ashlyn was able to walk without stepping on a twig or kicking a root. I made so much noise as I walked, the hunting party knew I was coming long before I arrived. Not only that she moved faster than I could.

“Ho, Mr. Hill!” Hane called.

I waved and continued my approach. Lien met me as I got closer, he had used my delay to set traps.

“Mechal,” He began “This is bad business, the sisters. I don’t even know what you talked about, but I know they’re baiting you. And this business with the bird is at the heart of it.”

Continue reading “World Door Chapter 4 – Lien”

A Jump Temp Song

“Born Under A Wandering Star” Lyrics
Lee Marvin

https://youtu.be/NTymtAbaG08

Now for a more Jump Temp version

I was born under a wandrin’ star
I was born under a wandrin’ star
Drives are made for boiling, holds are made to pack
I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back
I was born under a wandrin’ star

Grav can make you prisoner and the flares can bake you dry
Stars can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry
Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to
Which with any luck will never come true
I was born under a wandrin’ star
I was born under a wandrin’ star

Do I know where hell is, hell is in hello
Heaven is goodbye forever, its time for me to go
I was born under a wandrin’ star
A wandrin’ wandrin’ star

(Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry)
(Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry)
(Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to)
(Which with any luck will never come true)
(I was born under a wandrin’ star)
(I was born under a wandrin’ star)

When I get to heaven, tie me to a tree
For I’ll begin to roam and soon you’ll know where I will be
I was born under a wandrin’ star
A wandrin’ wandrin’ star

I left the chorus in the original lyrics because I like the contrast.

Actually, I always think of Jump Temp when I hear the album “Shatter Me” by Lindsey Stirling and especially “Take Flight

Jump Temp Book

I got my first hard copy of Jump Temp! Woooo!

Getting a hard copy always helps with figuring out what the finished product should look like. For example, some of my image placements need to be moved to the other side of the page so they’re not in the crease of the book. At least one picture needs to be moved to another page.

Another thing that becomes obvious is that since a color print is needed for the star maps and most of the art is black and white, there needs to be a lot more color on the pages from layout elements.

So far I haven’t run into typos yet, but it would be a rare thing to have caught them all by this stage.

Playtesting Jump Temp

Jump Temp is nearing completion. It’s illustrated and has a cover. Now I’m cleaning up typos and trying to clarify text. I originally thought to keep Jump Temp and Protector together but there’s been a lot more interest in Jump Temp from elevator pitches and the book is getting big all on it’s own (80 pages). The thing that pushed it forward while Protector languished is I found a style that I liked for the book. I haven’t figured that out for Protector yet. The art is kinda mis-mashed.

I’m putting the book out for playtesting and we’ll see what comes of it.

World Door Chapter 3 – Janna and Ashlyn

Chapter 3

Janna and Ashlyn

We packed up and got moving. Melsa would fly from tree to tree as we traveled. Lien set up snares as we went.

The sisters had gotten impatient waiting for us and doubled back. By midday they approached us from behind, Thain was the first to spot them approaching.

“Ho there!” He called.

We came to a halt and allowed them to approach. They moved silently through the trees like they were part of the woods.

“Where is Jash?” Janna demanded.

“Jash is dead.” I answered.

Janna stopped in her tracks. Ashlyn turned and started to circle around us.

“How?” Janna asked.

“My father killed him.” I said.

“Tow killed him? Why?” She asked.

Continue reading “World Door Chapter 3 – Janna and Ashlyn”

OSR?

I’ve been following around the OSR (Old School Renaissance or Revival depending on who you ask) community for a little bit now. At first, the movement in the RPG community seems like a rejection of anything modern and it is to some extent. It’s easy to be against things, what’s more interesting to me is what the OSR works toward. That’s why I liked Matt Finch’s booklet “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming” it summarizes some reasons why people enjoy an OSR title in what he calls Four Zen Moments. He then explains four Taos for the Game Master.

Some of these Zen moments I like some I don’t, some I think are better achieved through different means. I’d like to approach them here and attempt to discuss them objectively from a design perspective.

Zen Moment 1: Rulings not Rules

I’m not going to rehash the whole text that Mr. Finch wrote, the booklet is free. Briefly though, the idea here is that the referee (or GM) uses the rules and the players use descriptions to interact with the referee. The referee is like a judge that must rule based only on a constitution and the arguments that are presented and possibly a few tests (that’s how it sounded to me anyway).

Observations
  • Players are totally at the mercy of the ref. A good ref can run an enjoyable game, a poor ref is maddening.
  • The mental load on the ref is shifted from memorization to making spot judgements. This is good if your ref is very imaginative and has a poor memory.
  • The mental load on the players is moved from memorization to imagining the environment they’re in. This benefits people with good spacial memory but hurts those who have trouble imagining a three dimensional space.
  • This approach is highly dependent on good communication skills in both directions. I think we’ll all agree that it’s always nice to have a good communicator but we don’t always get one.
  • When philosophies clash, the player will lose.
  • Players have no “legal” legs to stand on. When there is a rule, a player can point to it and show why they should be allowed to do something a ref says no to.[1]
  • I have personally seen a ref follow the example that Mr. Finch gives for the “Ninja Jump” in a modern game so he’s not wrong.

Zen Moment 2: Player Skill, not Character Abilities

This one seems a little less focused to me but I understand the grouping. The main idea is that you are your character’s mind. You’re able to do whatever you could with common knowledge in that situation. Usually that doesn’t include knowledge that would be situationally inappropriate like how to build an airplane in a medieval fantasy. However, if the player is clever with their use of knowledge, it’s ok for them to do things that would seem inappropriate for their character, like a big dumb barbarian that keeps coming up with brilliant plans.

It also includes the idea that the game doesn’t revolve around the PC’s stats. There are monsters that the players just can’t take on and it’s their job to be able to tell that.

This Zen moment is the most revealing that OSR is a specific flavor of RPG. Mr. Finch explains that OSR games are about taking an average person and building them into a hero.

Observations
  • Players that are good at something will always be good at that in game.
  • Players that are bad at something cannot effectively play characters that should be good at it.[2]
  • This type of play is better looked at through the lens that the character is inexperienced at first and as the player learns how the world works, the character is also. A game that uses more character abilities assumes the character has knowledge that they are bringing to the situation.[3]
  • Inexperience can be deadly.[4]
  • Clues that should be obvious and relevant might be missed because the ref didn’t offer and players didn’t ask for it.

Zen Moment 3: Heroic, not Superhero

I’m not sure where the Zen moment is here. This point is just framing the scope of the game. Players start out as average people and you try and build them into heroes. They never become untouchable or immortal, it’s just not in the scope of the game. Maybe the Zen is that this can be enjoyable?

Again, this is pointing to the OSR being a specific flavor of RPG. If you like that scale of progression, then you might like an OSR game. If you’re looking for something different, OSR might let you down.

Observations
  • Obviously superhero games might not fit well with OSR concepts but it could be done for low level superpowers.[5]
  • Spy games don’t really jibe with this moment.
  • One kind of experience (zero to hero) might not be what players want.[6]

Zen Moment 4: Forget Game Balance

This was partly covered in moment 2 but is elaborated on. The game doesn’t care what the character’s level or stats are, it’s the player’s job to figure out what they can and can’t fight through.

Mr. Finch also emphasizes moment 1 here, that the players have no right to depend on a rule book[1]. It may have been better to call this moment “You don’t have the right” because that’s what is repeated. It’s brought out that a ref never has the right to tell a player what their character does. More accurately, the ref can never make a choice for the player. In earlier examples given, the ref is repeatedly telling the players what their character does as a result of their choice and rolls.

Observations
  • Inexperience is deadly.[4]
  • Taken too far, the ref could build an adventure that is simply impossible for the PCs. This has to be tempered with the ref working to make an enjoyable game. The general difficulty of the game still needs to be controlled.[7]

Tao 1: The Way of the Ming Vase

Basically, find ways to have secondary effects happen in the game. Be imaginative with the player’s choices having consequences. Critical successes and critical failures are intrinsic to these consequences.

Observations
  • This is probably good advice for any RPG, although the mechanism for unintended consequences and secondary effects isn’t always explicitly stated.[8]
  • This is going to be difficult for a starting ref to always have novel unintended consequences. I’ve been GMing for twenty five years and it’d be hard to do this perfectly.

Tao 2: The Way of the Moose Head

This is a way of handling exploration that relies on the characters asking the right questions and knowing what to do with the answers.[9]

Observations
  • This is a matter of preference more than solid gaming advice.
  • Tired players are going to have a hard time asking the right questions.
  • Players are going  to miss out on a lot of details that you’ve prepared.[4]

Tao 3: Your Abstract Combat-Fu Must be Strong

This is the idea that it’s the GM’s job to fill in the results of combat creatively or quickly.

Observations
  • This Tao’s description relies heavily on critical successes and failures for permission to be creative.
  • This really should be part of any RPG, I know it’s not always but that’s just people getting lazy.
  • This is putting all the load of creativity load on the GM.
  • This could be a source of contention with the players since the GM is dictating what their character does as a result of their choice.[8]

Tao 4: Way of the Donner Party

This Tao is about resource management. The most useful part of this advice is that the GM should keep a tight grip on how much time has passed in order to handle depleting resources. The big takeaway is that OSR games are heavy in resource management[4] take a step back and own that and you’ll get the results the designers intended.

Observations
  • I’ll say it again, lose track of time and you lose track of resource use when doing it this way.
  • A lot of players actively try and game resource and time management (cheat), this puts a heavier load on the GM.
  • There are some tools that handle resource management without having to mentally track all the elements that could cause a party to be in trouble.
  • This is good practice in a lot of RPGs, not a lot of people do it though or even want to which says something.
  • Time management might get squishy when the characters are wandering around poking 10 ft poles at things. No rules no structure.[8]

In the end, OSR games are a type or RPG, they’re not my thing judging from the descriptions given. “Modern” games are often designed to avoid problems that players of old school games had at their tables. I don’t think playing an OSR game would result in table flipping in my current group but it would have when I was a teen.

I was hoping to find some essential core truths about RPGs or why the OSR has such a strong following. I don’t think I see a lot of universal tools here other than “be creative and tell a story” which is mostly the Story Games crowd’s thing. Certainly the OSR group gets there differently. I’ve always played without worrying about game balance. Story Games would have a hard time inducing that kind of experience so there’s lessons to be learned for sure. Neither group have a monopoly on RPG insights.

If anything, seeing that large numbers of people like this kind of experience confuses me. Either there are a lot of really good GMs out there, people are masochistic or they prefer GM control because it’s easer for them. RPGs largely rejected all controlling GMs in the 80’s and keep moving away from them. Then the OSR shows up and goes right back to it. Is the OSR made possible by the older, wiser, more experienced GMs out there? Is it possibly driven by them, their desire to play games like they did when they were young? Is it simple nostalgia? I know all the OSR adherents are screaming at your computers right now.

Games have to talk to your experience in life for them to be really enjoyed. In some ways I’ve experienced the ideas described and in others I’ve experienced the opposite making them difficult to try and enjoy. GM control can simplify play fun can turn into a game of Mother May I. It strongly depends on the GM, their experience level and even their mood. Thats why a lot here is mercurial. It can be good or it can get really bad.

There are some good concepts to be explored here though. I think they have their upsides and downsides. A lot of the ideas put a heavy load on the GM which could lead to burn out if a GM isn’t careful. Each trade off may be better or worse for specific players. Some will find the methods here liberating. Others will find them frustrating and limiting.

Continue reading “OSR?”