Talking to Humans

This one’s a little different than what I’ve done here before. I wrote a non-fiction book. What’s even stranger is that it’s a kind of self help book for those of us that have difficulty relating to others. It walks through different goals for interaction, identifying effective strategies and warning of pitfalls. It’s a big mass of concepts that I’ve collected and tested.

It runs just over 200 pages on a novel size paperback with generously sized print. If I keep editing and expanding ideas it may end up more.

It also features an off kilter narrator that may or may not really understand humans. They may not even be human themselves.

Right now it’s in the editing phase. It needs polish to make the information clearly understandable. It’s kind of a herky jerky rollercoaster ride right now, but I almost like it better that way. I’ve had some readers with positive feedback so far, but of course I could always use more.

Let’s see where this takes us.

Hi tech memory

I had a strange thought this morning for a feature of a high tech world. What if materials in a high tech setting had a way of remembering things? What kind of things? That’s where this gets interesting.

The initial thought was a material that knows who owns it and who owned it in the past. Basically a blockchain stamp that records a trail of ownership. The idea being that there are molecular arrangements that act as a watermark. Some device would be used to brand the memory into the material. The information is read externally, possibly via x-ray. This is what I’m going to call Memory 1 material.

Memory 2 material can form it’s own memories but it’s not intelligent. This means that the material only “remembers” what it’s told to remember. Some kind of nanotech material that can be written to is dispersed in the material and can re-write itself. There’s a pathway to communicating with the material so that information can be encoded. That pathway could be any number of things like a laser or radio waves or something more exotic if you don’t want people to alter it’s memory.

Memory 3 material has external senses and can remember events that happen to it. These senses may be very limited to strain, temperature and possibly chemical detection. Each time there’s a change, the material remembers it.

Memory 4 is when a material can communicate with other local objects to gather data about what’s going on with it. The paint talks to the metal it’s on and they share events.

Memory 5 materials are intelligent and can make choices about what is important or unusual. Instead of simply collecting events, these materials look for outliers and significant patterns to record from the materials and devices around them.

Memory 6 starts to display sentience. It is aware of itself, the things around it and the people (possibly chemical signatures) around it. It gathers data from materials and can actively communicate with devices designed to talk to it.

Memory 7 displays a distinct personality. It has preferences of it’s own and has a concept of how it wants to be used and manipulated.

Station Keepers Update

I ran a little tiny kickstarter to make a game in a month. The kickstarter funded and the game Station Keepers was made. It’s a dungeon crawl on a freaky space station.

It has an odd mechanic to it in that you pay to succeed in passing through elements of the station. Only it’s way to specific in some ways on how that happens and not specific enough in others. I got kind good at running it even but it left a machine oil taste in my mouth.

I was trying really hard to keep the moving parts of the machine to an absolute minimum. What that ended up doing was severely limiting what the players could actually do. That’s what really needs to be fixed and I have a vague idea of what needs to happen to open up player choice.

I need to find some way to let the player’s exploration effect the game. The trick is that the station is spontaneously generated so it’s not like a GM is sitting there, trying to figure out how all this works. It’s possible that I could do a series of random tables and prompts for secrets in each room but there’s already a lot of tables to go through. There’s also an element of backstabbing the other characters and I have the idea that a player could offer a “bounty” by describing a secret in the room that their character discovers and that exempts them from some of the difficulty but locks in the difficulty for the other characters. Something like a -5 to the difficulty for your character when you describe a danger and you explain how you avoid it but you don’t share that detail with the others.

The other thing that needed to get fixed was what the consequence of failure means. You bid to try and overcome challenges, paying for your bid with bad things that happen to you. and after a few tries, if you don’t bid high enough, you fail. Only failure was kind of meh.

So my new thought is to ask three times what the player will give and then, if they don’t succeed, the GM gets to tell them what is taken from them. There should be rules for how much can be taken and I have the idea should be things that will actually impact the character and the player. Things like a worsening plague that’s infecting them, losing the ability to speak, losing a limb, losing a sense. Major effects. I think a list to roll or choose from would fit with the existing game well.

It’s been a while since I worked on this project and maybe it’s overdue for a revamp.


I had a thought this morning. What if your highest stats were your flaws?

What if, when you made a mistake, it was because you over relied on your strength? For example, someone who’s smart but thinks they’re a genius. Or someone that is determined but sticks too long to a plan that isn’t working.

The idea is to paint the character in a way that could range from cartoonish to deeply dysfunctional. The goal is to explain failure with a theme that builds who the character is or maybe wants to be.

I think the Energy System could be used to do that. I wonder if it would resonate with players? If built right, it could deliver a lot of laughs.

Always Starting

The last few years have been rough. They’ve taken a lot out of me and I often wonder if I’ll get back to where I was before them. I don’t even feel like I’m the same core person I was before and that’s deeply disturbing because for most of my life I’ve had a concept of myself that I aspired to. It’s not that I couldn’t aspire to that person anymore, it’s just that I don’t know if I can remember him.

That’s the context. What I want to write about is the stress that has hurt my ability to work on projects. I definitely don’t want to give up on them but I’m struggling. The side effect of that struggling is I keep coming up with new projects to start and not finishing anything.

The reason is it’s easier to conceptualize an idea than to pick one back up. Why? because I have to essentially load the current state of a project into memory, to manipulate it and move forward. If I’m uninterrupted, this feels like a flow state and it’s pleasurable. Unfortunately that takes time and effort. I have time. That’s not the issue. I spend my time watching youtube videos on science, making and literature. I’m not sad that I’ve learned a lot of interesting things but it isn’t my goal.

What I don’t have is the emotional energy to discipline myself and focus. I worry that this might be a permanent state. I don’t think it has to be. If I were to force myself to work on a project and finish it, I think I could get my focus back. So why haven’t I?

Finishing games or stories takes a good deal of concentration. Being able to do that concentrative meditative work, I feel, makes me sharper. It also takes effort and big chunk of my effort, my mental energy has been going into averting disasters. My creative pursuits have rightly taken a back seat.

I’m in a relatively calmer place right now but I’m not sure when the next crisis will pop up. Actually I’m in the middle of one right now. I’ve sold my house and the house we were going to move to was snatched out from under us by another buyer with better connections and probably more money. Even with that going on, things have improved for the moment.

The problem is I’m not sure if the other fires are fully out. They could come roaring back and that has me hopping back and fourth between thoughts. I’m not sure I should take my eye off them right now. Staying in that fight or flight mode trains me to be vigilant but prevents me from thinking deeply and that bothers me greatly. I want to be able to think deeply.

So here’s to hoping things keep calming down and the fires are out. I hope I’m able to settle down and rebuild the habits that get me to finish projects. That’s not an empty hope, I am still motivated to get them done, I’m just hedging my bets at the moment. The longer I stay in this mode, the more it’s going to take to get back to where I was, so I’m eager to find a way.

Narrative Lego

Ken Levine gives an interesting talk about building video games with modular narrative. There are a number of games made by Ambrosia software that already did what he’s talking about (see the Escape Velocity series) but possibly in a less chaotic way. What I do find interesting is some of the terms that he uses because language is one way to build structure.

Since I mainly use the table top format for games, a lot of what is talked about here is both too complex and not sophisticated enough for those needs. What I do find useful is his structure of “Stars” and “Passions”.

Game Masters have been putting Stars in their games for a long time. These are NPCs that can have a material effect on the players. Specifically, they’re ones the players can form one to one relationships with. None of that is functionally new. Giving the process a name is useful though, because now I can tell a new GM “Put a few Stars in each setting.”

There are tons of RPGs that effectively have “Stars” in them and they build relationship trees for them etc. The simple term with a definition is enough to make this useful.

Passions, by itself are also nothing new. Again, it’s the definition of what a passion is that is interesting. Passions are motivations the Star has that is tied to what the player will do. Motivation is old hat for RPGs so it’s not that big a deal but the narrowing of what motivations are relevant that makes the term interesting. I don’t really like the term “Passions” but it serves a purpose well enough.

I think one way to use this in a tabletop setting is, instead of status bars and winning points on those bars, the players get labeled different things by performing distinct actions that relate to the Passions. Labels like “trustworthy” or “helpful” can be written below the Star’s stat sheet and tracked.

That’s all for now, I just thought there were some useful distinctions made.


I’d like to make things that help friends communicate with each other who they truly are. There are plenty of barriers to authentic communication. Trying to break down those barriers so you can earn trust is hard work. I believe those barriers can be circumvented when we “play” and that’s what I want to use to help people express themselves to their friends.

Of The People

This is a Risk hack. You need a Risk board game that has armies broken up into single armies, five armies and ten army units. Some retro sets only have single army units (and maybe five I couldn’t tell from the box).

Of The People changes the strategy to include a civilian population and your civilians have ideas about how your wars should be waged. You can appease them or ignore them at the risk of revolt.

The addition of elite armies changes the dynamics of the battlefield and cuts down on territories that are bloated with units. Battles can go much quicker as elite armies remove five regular armies per battle won.

You’ll need the new rules and a set of will cards. With continued playtesting I hope to have a set of will cards available through a POD service.

Play What You Know

Rules mastery is great but the concept makes games intimidating to new players. When I started playing RPGs, we didn’t know a lot but we played anyway. We got a lot wrong but we still had fun. I’m considering including something like the following in my games.

So if you can have fun not using the rules, do you need them? Rules can help you tell a story, they’re a partner in the creative process that makes for a level playing field. Ignoring rules can make things too easy, too hard or maybe make things that should be possible impossible. They change the story being told.

But if you leave them out, as long as you have a way of handling conflicts between players you can form a narrative together. The most common conflict to resolve is establishing a cost for success. Usually that cost is some kind of skill check.

Aim for play that follows the rules as you understand them. There will be times when you realize you don’t know how something is supposed to work. Usually this results in the facilitator frantically reading through the book trying to find a relevant rule. That may be necessary if the condition is likely to come up frequently.

If It’s something that’s only going to come up once a session, consider ruling in favor of the players this time and make a note to study the problem later in between sessions. Automatically favoring the players can serve as a signal that no rule is being used and the players should not always expect that result. There is a problem with establishing the precedence of a house rule. It will stick in the players minds and it will be hard for them to remember it was a stop gap.

There is a long history of house rules in RPGs. They became an important part of play because rules were often poorly written and players were left to fill in the gaps.

Today there’s more page count being dedicated to better descriptions and a greater knowledge of what works for players. House rules are best when a rule gives the players an experience they don’t want or they don’t cover a subject the players are interested in exploring.

As you learn, update your play to match the rules as written. This way you’ll get the experience that was intended.