Freelancing, Triggers, and Diversity

I do a lot of freelance writing, and sometimes people want to hire me to write for a game they’re working on. This is great! I love getting more work, and I love getting to work on new and exciting projects! That said, if you’re planning on hiring me, there are some things you need to know about my views on triggers and diversity.

1. Triggers are a real thing, and they can be very painful. Slavery, rape, misogyny, violence toward children, anti-Semitism, racism, and so forth are all trigger-laden topics that are bound up within the settings of many games. To the extent that they are included at all, they should be included tactfully, with restraint and sensitivity, and with ample warning that they are coming. They should also come with explicit permission to dial back their presence in individual players’ games, and with advice on how to discuss such sensitive subjects.

 2. I have a number of gamer friends who are women, transgendered, homosexual, of various different ethnicities, Jewish, Muslim, and/or disabled. These people want to be represented in the games they play; moreover, they deserve it. That’s an agenda I’m comfortable pushing, because I see it as the right thing to do. A lot of this representation is the kind of thing that comes through in art rather than text, but it’s important in both media. Moreover, they deserve to be represented within games they play in the roles they want to play. That is, if a particular group is represented in the game as slaves or villains, that’s simply not good enough.

3. Historical accuracy is, for me, a non-argument against these first two points. Given the choice between representing history accurately and providing a game that is fun for the largest number of people and not harmful to people, I will always choose the latter option. Ultimately people are buying a game, not a history lesson.



My Storium Games

I like Storium. You may or may not know that. Chances are, if you read this blog, you like my writing. That being the case, here’s a rundown of all the Storium games I’m currently writing in, along with links. If you’re already on Storium and want to read any of them, just click the links and follow the games.

I’m Narrating…

Snark and Sorcery. Have you read Rat Queens? It’s a little like that. Snark and Sorcery is a comedic fantasy game about an all-woman adventuring party getting into all sorts of shenanigans.

The Bureau. This one’s a big ensemble game, sort of a procedural cop show about a supernatural investigation team. It’s based on BPRD.

Orlesian Dusk. Another big ensemble game, this one’s a Dragon Age story set in Orlais during the Ferelden Blight. It revolves around a revolution that’s brewing in that kingdom.

Wild Blue. Based on my Fate setting of the same name, it’s a weird west supers fantasy story about nefarious things happening in the small town of Tom’s Crossing.

Gargantuan. Kaiju and demonic pacts in a fantasy setting. This one’s going to eventually be an official Storium world.

Carriers. It’s a zombie apocalypse story in what’s left of a cyberpunk world. Lots of cyberpunk trappings still there, but a virulent nanoplague has turned most people into zeds. Based on a setting I wrote for Jason Pitre’s Spark.

Venture City Stories. Another game based on a setting I wrote for FateVCS is a superpunk story about three unlikely allies dealing with the machinations of corporate oligarchs.

Dauntless Reloaded. A buddy cop comedy set in the far future aboard a spaceship, Dauntless follows the exploits of hapless but charming ship captain Nightingale and his killer robot best friend Cordite.

Games I’m Playing In…

The Irregular Reunion: Game 2A story about Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars getting pulled back together for a new job from the Man Himself. I play Harry Quick, rogue, street baron, and all-around ne’er-do-well.

Dark Strangers. A weird west superpowered teen drama in which I play Clara Mason, a young woman from a good family in Loredo, TX who has recently discovered love with another young woman from Nuevo Loredo.

A Mark on the Empire. A grim fantasy game set in the Warhammer universe, I play Violet Hargrave, a boisterous, ass-kicking woman caught up in a sedition scheme.

…The Spoils. In this Diablo-based dark fantasy game, I play the demon hunter Edvard, whose powers come at a steep cost.

A Land of Ice and Peril. Ryan Macklin’s Mythender setting, taken down to a more mortal power level. I play Bjalfi, a boy with jotun blood who is just learning to control his powers.

Noir World 1: Dinner Parties and Dames. It’s classic film noir style detective drama, in which I play Hank Meechum, a thug with a keen eye for detail and a tendency to piss people off.

I’m playing in two other games, but they’re both private so I can’t link to them here.

Explaining Storium

Storium is like the Matrix: nobody can be told what it is, you have to see it for yourself. If you’re aware of the Kickstarter but on the fence about backing because you have no worldly idea what it is, I’d like to help you.

What follows are a series of screen grabs that comprise the first scene of my Venture City Stories Storium game. I used screen grabs because I want you to be able to see Storium; the UI, the way it presents information, and so forth.

First, these are the characters in my game:

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A Storium scene starts with a move from the narrator. In that move, the narrator can play obstacles, goals, assets, people, or places in any combination. Here’s the first move:

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Those cards under Challenges are obstacle cards. The little pips are challenge points; each challenge (obstacle or person) has a number of challenge points assigned by the narrator.

Once the scene has started, the players can start posting their own moves to respond to the narrator and to each other.

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In this move, you’ll see that Ghalib has played three cards: two strengths and a subplot. Each card a player plays to a challenge marks off one of that challenges points; when all the points are marked off, the challenge is considered resolved. Which cards you play matter though. Strengths push a challenge toward a strong outcome, while weaknesses point a challenge toward a weak outcome. Other cards mark off points, but don’t push the challenge in either direction; they maintain the current status quo in that challenge.

Players are limited in the number of cards they can play in a scene: three per scene. You can still make moves without playing cards, but you won’t be affecting the direction of the fiction in any mechanical way. So, on Ghalib’s first move, he played all three cards on that challenge, winning control of it with a strong outcome. That means he gets to narrate what happens, given the constraints of the challenge. These were the constraints of that challenge:

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And here are the next several moves in this scene:

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Here you can see players going back and forth, playing cards and shifting the direction in which the challenge is headed. You can also see that, as the narrator, you can continue to make moves. You don’t have to play challenges to make a move. Also, you can play other cards like assets or goals, or you can give them directly to individual players.

Here’s the rest of the scene:

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One more thing: there’s a commentary channel where you can have out-of-character chatter. Here’s what that looks like:

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And them’s the basics! If you like what you saw, if you think it sounds like your cup of tea, go back the Kickstarter!

Crits and Flubs

This is an idea that’s bouncing around my head, free of the context of any particular game. The idea is thus.

Any time you get to roll the dice, you can choose to flub. When you flub, you fail in such a way that you complicate your life in an unexpected and interesting manner. You get to describe how you flub, and the GM (if there is one) probably gets some input. The important thing is that you do not get what you wanted from the roll. If you were trying to hit a guy with a sword, you do not hit the guy with the sword and you place yourself at his mercy. If you were trying to jump from one precarious ledge to another safely, you are not safe and have cut off that means of navigating your environment.

You always choose to flub; nobody can ever force it upon you, and it never happens because of a die roll. In fact, when you flub, you don’t even roll the dice. When you flub, you also get a crit token.

Any time you get to roll the dice, you can spend a crit token to crit. When you crit, you succeed in a spectacular and surprising fashion. You get what you wanted from the roll, and probably something more. If you were trying to hit a guy with the sword, you do so and you also knock him from his feet, and the whole thing looks very impressive. If you were trying to jump from one precarious ledge to another safely, you do so, it looks stylish and effortless, and maybe you spot a safer way that your allies can cross the gap.

As with flubs, critting is always a choice, and never involves a dice roll. It also always costs a crit token.

Tell Me a Story: A Game Idea

So a game idea hit me in the brain yesterday, and I noodled on it throughout the night. It’s not yet complete, but this is how Becoming started, so I have a feeling I’ll see it through. The name I’m using for this proto-game in my conversations with myself is Tell Me a Story, and the idea is thus:

  • You’ve got two players: the Storyteller and the Interloper. I’m not happy with either of these names, but they’re convenient monikers for now.
  • The job of both players is to tell a collaborative story in about two hours, using a deck of cards containing elements of the story.
  • The Storyteller makes statements about what happens in the story, and plays the cards to the story.
  • The Interloper asks questions about the story, changing things and moving the cards around on the table.
  • The story is divided into three acts, and I’m thinking that the position or pattern of the cards on the table acts as an oracle for how and when each act ends. Not sure about the specifics yet.

Anyway, that’s what I’m noodling on.

Subplot Aspects

This is another idea that had, and this idea might actually make it into a published product that I shall not name but which may or may not have something to do with Kurt Russell. This idea also shamelessly lifts some ideas from Storium, because Storium is the hotness.

Each player character has a subplot aspect; it’s one of the five aspects that they come up with when they make their characters. A subplot aspect is an aspect that isn’t directly related to the main conflict of the game (though it can be tangentially related), and serves to humanize the character and mechanize part of that character’s backstory. Examples might include Prove to Dad I’m Worth It, Last Scion of a Dead Empire, or Frenemies With Benefits.

You can invoke a subplot aspect like you can any other aspect, and you better believe the GM is going to compel that thing from time to time. But here’s what makes a subplot aspect different: check boxes. That’s right, check boxes. Each subplot aspect has five check boxes next to it. You can check a box off once per scene in order to invoke your subplot aspect for free; when you do so, your subplot has to factor into the scene in a significant way, and move toward resolution.

When you check off the last check box next to your subplot, you’re indicating that you’re resolving your subplot. The issue it represents might still exist, but it’s no longer a key part of the game’s story. At the end of the session, erase your subplot aspect, come up with a new one, and clear out those check boxes.

Ability Score Aspects

So, here’s a thing that just popped into my head five minutes ago while I was looking at a character sheet someone had created for Fate Freeport. Something about the layout triggered this in my brain, and I figured I’d put it here. I have these kinds of ideas somewhat frequently; I may start using this blog as a place to keep them and put them up for commentary. Anyway:

In Fate Freeport, you’ve got six skill/approach things, based on the six D&D ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Each is rated with a numerical value, typically between +0 and +3. You use these to do accomplish what you would normally accomplish with skills or approaches in other versions of Fate.

This is where the aspects come in. In lieu of the standard array of aspects you have for a Fate character, you have a space next to each ability score. Write an aspect next to each ability score to explain how you use that ability score, how you became good/not good at it, or generally what your attitude or relationship is with it.

Take this guy, Ragnar McFighterson, as an example.

Strength +3
Dexterity +2
Constitution +2
Intelligence +1
Wisdom +1
Charisma +0

Pretty standard, right? But what if you write these aspects next to each ability score?

Strength: Might Masks My Shame
Dexterity: He Who Acts First Survives
Constitution: Old Injuries Linger
Intelligence: Methodical, Studious, Diligent
Wisdom: Never Let Your Guard Down
Charisma: Quietly In Love With Hamish

I’m not sure that this is necessarily better than High Concept/Trouble/Three Others (and there’s an extra aspect in there, so there’s that), but I find it interesting.

The Payoff

Days of Knights in Newark, DE was my first game store. I spend the majority of my money and time during my middle school and high school years on and with books and boards bought at that store, and I credit Days of Knights with kindling, at least in part, the passion for games that I have today. It was a haven, a place where I could be as nerdy as I wanted to be during a time when judgment and insecurity were constant companions.

I’ve wanted to design games for as long as I can remember. Since I picked up my first game book (a copy of the 2nd Ed AD&D Player’s Handbook, by the way) I’ve wanted to make them. During my high school and college years, I often fantasized about the moment that I walked into a game store (it was Days of Knights in my head, always) and saw a book on the shelf with my name on it. That dream followed me for a long time.

After college, when I was working my way through a series of unsatisfying jobs, that dream started to die. Bit by bit I lost it, lost the hope that it would ever happen, began to give up on it. When Bulldogs! happened, I started to hope again. Maybe it would happen. I was published now, right?

A week and a half ago it happened. I walked into Days of Knights with the intent of talking to the owner about Becoming, and I saw Fate Core, The Fate System Toolkit, and both Fate Worlds books on the shelf. Four books. Four books with my name on the cover, on the shelf at Days of Knights. The world stopped.

I talked with the owner and the staff and they explained that those books had been flying off the shelves, those were there last copies. I told them about Becoming. They were very interested, they said it sounded great, said they wanted it. They bought three copies from me on the spot, had me sign them.

There’s a phenomenon that exists where a dream doesn’t feel real when you’re living it, even when proof exerts itself time and again. Well, it feels real now.

Becoming Added to the Bundle of Holding!

If you’ve already bought the Bundle of Holding before 11am Eastern on Thursday, congratulations! You now own Becoming!. If not, you can now own Becoming by paying more than the average for the current Bundle, and let me tell you this bundle is totally worth it. I mean, just look at those games.

Many of you know what Becoming is. For those who don’t (welcome!), it’s a game about what it takes, what it costs, to be a hero. In Becoming, one player takes on the role of the Hero while the others take on the roles of Fates. The Hero has a Quest she must complete, and it’s the Fates’ job to put her through the wringer as she does so. She may very well complete the Quest, but she won’t be the same when she’s done; she won’t be able to go home again.

It took me about a year to create Becoming, and the better part of another year to Kickstart it and release it into the wild as a PDF. Right now I’m in the final stages of making it into a physical product, but the Bundle of Holding, in my mind, offers the game a sense of legitimacy, of belonging to a community of games. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Bundle, and I can’t wait for you to experience this thing that I made (and all of the fantastic things that other people made and put in this Bundle!)