Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Character Actions, becoming Character Limits.

I read Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto and it dawned on me how Dungeon World really helped with the Character Options List called Basic Moves.  I didnt realize how important it was till I had some work related problems where people don't know what they're options are.

In real life we get frustrated when we don't know our options. In work people will feel disempowered if they dont know their options and while some game options are common sense its carry-over from a life of gaming. 

So I proceeded to Make a list of Character Options. It a appeared to be a Problem Solving Procedure. 

It begins with Gathering Information. It started out with Observe and Inquire, but then proceeded to get detailed like Examine, Measure, Document/Take Note, Research, and on the Player's part planning what to decide on and how best to use their Time. 

There are a lot of other actions after that that I can draw from my work and productivity studies, and not just Gaming. Its just that ALL of this, all actions exists in a world of scarcity and limits. I was afraid options would create Analysis Paralysis And Modeling these limits are mostly ad hoc in game systems. Not many game systems go into Time and Motion, or specifically the linked entries to Efficiency in the Operations Encyclopedia. 

But the thing is We can have a Good Mental Model of the Limitations of the Characters. We have a powerful Intuition engine for guessing scarcity and limits of our resources. People in work need to monitor scarcity everyday and this judgement needs to be done faster and faster till it becomes an afterthought.  So why can't we make an interesting, empowering, and helpful mental model of Character Limits. 

Character Resources
Limits characters have to work with along with their Options. 

Social Resources. A lot of Games model social resources poorly. It appears people dont seem to have the consequences of being Total Assholes to other people. 

Credibility. Our reputation, credibility, and trustworthiness is a valuable resource we can't  normally assign value but is definitely valuable.  This pretty much tracks our ability to keep promises and give our word. 

Network and Relationships. Relationships are seperate from Credibility and is basically modeled like a very narrow version of Credibility, specifically to groups and individuals. 

Wealth. Material Resources needs to be aspected because it can be very very difficult to track and detailed. Some people are manpower rich, commodity rich, capital rich, future income rich, etc... 

Physical Effort. The effort we can give in a day is always finite. Our attitudes and behaviors even change depending on our physical conditions. Its usually poorly tracked and modeled and there has been a lot of progress in making a better mental model of this for game and in life.  

Mental Reserve. As with physical limit the amount of stress and distractions we can take are only so much. Many of us live in states of constant distraction and stress, and have felt the power and agency we miss out in these states in games and in flow states. GTD and Deepwork are various strategies in approaching it and there are many more that can be drawn from to create a mental model of reserve in our growing Behavior Science understanding. 

Health. Other than effort our bodies do have its limits. While effort tracks the Physical Weather, health tracks the Climate. You can have Effort day to day and Health week to week. 

Experimental Mechanics
There are a lot of Check Based Resource Systems out there. One I'm experimenting with is with a 2d6 resolution. 

Roll On or Below the TN. The TN is the Score and Modifier. Roll 2d6 on or Below to succeed. 
Conditional Success. Rolling over the TN is a conditional success. The difference squared is the Time and Cost multiplier to succeed (typically applied to Time and Materials). If the Resource is kept as a Score below is the Cost Mechanic.  

A Cost Mechanic (to model scarcity and limits). 
Conditional success...
... < 1/2 Score (not TN) is a scene lasting -1. 
... < Score is a -1 5 days to recovery (if recoverable, this can be accelerated by treatment). 
... < Score x2 is a -2 25 days to diminish it by a -1 (for a total of 50 days). 
... < Score x3 is a -3 125 days to diminish it by -1 (for a total of 375 days). 
... every Score greater than x3 Score is a permanent score reduction of -1

there are other implications of this system I've not yet fully tested out. But it can be adopted to other systems. 

Take Away.
  • Have a list of Character Options. 
  • Have a list of Limits and how to track them.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Feedback Loops in TRPGs

Asking for constructive critique, taking notes, watching or listening to your game played back, talking to others with other styles, perspectives, systems, and experiences, trying out other systems and techniques.

Back when I began in the late 90s my most clear feedbackloop was my younger brother . Then there were the guys in AEGIS, the SJgames forums (all forums can be a bit difficult), and for a while there was the blog (but it was a very poor feedback loop since it started at around 2003 and 2008 with this blog). Hangouts was the most effective, especially when I could hangout with other gamers with a 12-14 hour time difference and all over the place. Making friends and talking to people who have much to share opened a lot of gates. Then there was the small community of gamers here with Gamers and GMs events and Tagsessions which had connected me to more accessible gamers in my area.

Feedback loops are important, basic, but something thats constantly challenging. We never have enough, have it timely enough, and there is so much to digest, document, think about, and experiment. The blogging community I'm part off is a kinda feedback loop, people shouting ideas into the void and hoping the readers would give feedback. Feedback in blogs focus on readership instead of more inspiration. When I think about the quality of Feedback loop I think in Kal Newports Deepwork and how parts of the Hobby should encourage some opportunities for deliberate practice.

I guess thats why it move to a Forum type or a G+ community. In social media the feedback is more convenient but can be distracting. Distraction and Low Quality Feedback can an obstacle for gaming improvement. Also finding the right audience or conversation becomes the challenge, other time the challenge or real life getting in the way.

What I'm getting with this post I guess is collecting our Feedback loops, Filtering for optimal feedback, and being able to discuss more challenging or relevant topics that get us growing and learning. Also that I grew fastest when I had good feedback, and an opportunity to exercise, experiment, and practice.

After feedback, there is that 5S, Lean work philosophy, or Zen  type element in skills and abilities where we try to achieve more with less. That we boil down to more essential skills: framing, pacing, storytelling, etc... and we refine the feedback loops for us to better monitor and improve on the core skills. That with the least amount of tools we can achieve a lot of what we need to make for a great TRPG experience.

I realized this was discussed in Deepwork, it was on the chapter on Tools. The Pareto principle behind the tools that returns most of the rewards. In this case: the skills that gives the greatest returns and what deliberate practice we can setup to have a virtuous feedback loop to improve this.

Here is my TRPG Skills List  updated with some new entries based on my business studies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Finished The Long War: Killer of men, Marathon, and, Poseidon's Spear

These books makes me want to run a GURPS game set in that era (early 5C BCE). Although I would recommend getting the Authors Bibliography, GURPS Low Tech, Greece, etc to run such a game. It would be a terribly small audience for such game sadly.

Its a great series, and similar to the The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. I was not much of a fan of the era, but these series made me a fan. I've always been curious about the Ancient Eras after finishing the lectures on Origin of Civilization, Ancient Empires before Alexander, and my own Chinese History studies that deal in the eras of the Shang and Zhou Dynasty.

I love how the author gets into the detail about training, conditioning, and discipline. It reinforces my own training and my own aspirations. When he does so it brings up is the amount of work it takes to be as good as the characters. Stuff I wish was an element in a game that people would enjoy like I do: enjoy choosing the best habits, routines, and training habits of my PC and managing his psyche. If I could afford a 40lb kit (which I cant) the stories in the book reinvigorate me enough to pursue crossfit weighted vest training as well as getting back into kali.  

I love it when characters love training and making themselves better. They dont kill stuff to make themselves better, they train and the world turns. I like stories like that and which biases me to this book.

What I love about historical fiction is how it uses techniques in Non-fiction writing to amp up the emotional score of an event and action. It gives a lot of perspective and comparisons. Its fiction but the writer has some limitations with the material he has to draw from. Working with those limitations show techniques I can take up for my own storytelling.

The books are great and I bought them in Google Play store, because Amazon won't let me convert them to epub so I can use my Text To Speech app (@Voice Read Aloud) to listen to them as I have 2 hour commutes. The books are so well written It can convey its emotions even through the App.

Check out the Hippeis bibliography for setting research if you are going to try to get into it. Like in my basic understanding of Medieval Agriculture and Demographics it puts a TON of things in perspective and it enriches the immerision in the setting. The way the agricultural studies was important in the book, as the Author notes, Its my key challenge in my Chinese history studies.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Deliberate Practice in TRPGs

Finding and setting up Deliberate Practice in anything one does is a mindset I've recently adopted. So far I've identified opportunities for deliberate practice in the GM's domain. These are:

Player Scenes.
When I break down games, I break them down to scenes. As scenes its easier to limit the variables to create opportunities for deliberate practice.
1) Time to communicate,
2) effectiveness of communication (the player's feedback or watching recordings of such sessions),
3) How quickly one plans all the Scenes needed to achieve an X effect or push the story in a particular direction. this is a time metric along with a results or output metric.
4) breaking down and Identifying key elements a scene should have based on the circumstance. Being able to quickly identify the key element that moves the player and pushes the story. Metric is rating the Scene by how well it pushes the story forward. A simple QA rating of X/5 and trying to get better and better.
1) In player feedback,
2) watching rehersals, mirrors,
3) Discipline or Will or Dedication to go back to notes or recorded sessions to look and critique.

Ideating Player Options.
This exercise is basically thinking up the hardest options a player may give to the GM. This is a slow and deliberate skill which takes a lot of documentation, rehersal,  a solid set of problem solving abilities and process or logistical skills.
1) How many and quickly can the GM think up about his key Story thesis.
2) How quickly he can identify and track all the times players have stumped him. The measurable element is how quickly the GM will capture and document hard choices he has to make for review.
3) How many can he correctly predict player choices. Simple measure of how often the GM gets it right. But it can also measure in bounds (how many steps ahead can the GM predict based on how strongly he knows his players)
1) How the game progresses, this is a prediction and how often it is correct becomes a form of feedback.

Preparation is Deepwork.
Writing out the Game, the plan, the characters, and the NPCs is one of the first elements we can always track and is the most basic.
1) Elements Created. How many locations, NPCs, scenarios, scenes, plot hooks, and motivations can be made in a sessions of concentration in 4 hours straight.
2) Algorithms Created. More sophisticated than Elements are formulas to make improvised elements that can serve to push the story and the players forward.
3) How we budget our time in each elements. Measuring how we use our time to make fluff, elements, contingencies, study the players and their characters etc... How systematic one approaches this is measured in datapoints,  and the checklists and guides one creates, as well as the revisions one makes (and documentations). As well as the experimentation we make.
1) How much of the stuff is used vs how much is unused.
2) Rating how useful what was prepared.
3) Post Prep Feedback, our own estimation, vs How the player feedback. Always get player feedback or someone else's feedback. The more we delay it or avoid it, the more we undermine our commitment to be better and learn. I know we can take only so much humbling criticism, but growing ability to take feedback is always a useful trait.

If you know of any I've missed or some suggestions I'm open.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Deepwork in Games

From deepwork https://g.co/kgs/muQ3Bi I realized adventure making would be more than a 15min activity. I had previous goals of keeping it at 15 but after deepwork if the adventure creation doesn't go deep its value as personal improvement, a way to be in the zone or have flow, etc is vastly diminished. I would have just eliminated the opportunity of personal growth.

Deep work has also given me an idea of using the first 15 mins letting the players immersed and set the rhythm of the turns and how to push for flow. It also points out diminishing returns for the hard mental activity as well as how changing gears helps the pacing and the brain from burnout.

If you use GTD for gaming and life , thinking fast and slow for mental stretching and problem solving challenges, Grit for character development guide, then deepwork would be a good book that applies to life and games. Game prep and the session fall under deep work (one is collaborative deep work).

If you happen to take general productivity tips, techniques, and inspiration and apply it to life and games I'm always up for finding more.

Monday, August 8, 2016


Obviously I'm in hiatus from the lack of posts. So that you have a better idea of how long I'm down to set expectations there is a chance I'll be back up on Feb 2017.

  • Physical Rehabilitation. My back rehabilitation is taking a lot of toll. it means having about 20-30mins more time per exercise in order to do the Sciatica lower back pain management stretching, and it means doing more stretching per day. Time I would use to bang at the keyboard for a bit. 
  • Baby due in November, from the months leading to Nov and the months after November a new baby means a large chunk of my time gone. Every child is a chunk of time per day (and per week gone) Typically drawn from personal time like writing, surfing, gaming, and research. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What Augmented Reality means to TRPG players: LARP Tools

With Pokemon GO all the rage its become clear that Augmented Reality Games will be the trend to look forward to. For Us TRPGers that means the possibility of more play opportunities with Virtual LARPS.

  • LARP Tools: 
    • All the Props are Virtual
    • Coordination and Communicating will be easier: 
      • Simple Coordination between large groups to set up a LARP type event
      • Send Scripts to NPCs through their Device
      • Discover Volunteers and their Availability through the Device
      • APIs that organize all the information, participants, and activities. 
      • Execute Template Events and Activities through the APPs. 
      • Using QR code or GPS for locations or ITEM based discoveries. 
        • Hidden Items with QR codes for special treasures

    • Facilitation of Character Abilities through the APPs.
      • Skill Checks through the APPS
      • Inventory through the Apps.
      • Information Access through the APPs
        • Characters with certain skills have information about something or someone based on their Observation or Special Skills. 
      • Combat through the Apps: 
      • Kinesthetic Activation of Attacks (no Touching) and Defenses. 
    • Props for the Devices - 
      • to add functionalities (like the TAP wearable keyboard)
        • Looking forward for Devices that allow for Martial Arts capture
        • Glasses HUD as the phone will not be accessible in play.
      • Packages that customize user interface and GUI for certain kind of play.
      • to add capabilities or range (Like batteries)
      • to make them in theme or discrete,
      • Make Traps, or Location or QR code Triggers. 
    • Virtual Locations, Creatures, and Avatars. 
      • No budget for all the props, just get props to make a place look good virtually. Make a Dungeon, Castle, Cave, Market, Town, etc. 
      • Monster Encounters or PVP 
      • Retrieve Item X with a QR code adventures. Or collect these Items and receive a reward when turning them in. 
      • Avatar Markets. As you flip through IP Lenses you see different worlds and different Avatars and Virtual Props based on the IP you are looking at. You may see Star Wars Props, D&D, Final Fantasy etc... Make a location something in the Virtual World (like in Ingress). 
  • Larger Scale LARPS, coordination with larger amount of people. 
  • More Opportunistic LARPS. Like Pokemon GO, LARP or adventures that can be squeezed in 5-15 minutes. 

Lolz. In 5 Years my brother's organizational ability of Running LARPS would be a highly valued skill for BIG IPs like DnD, Final Fantasy, Star Wars who will want him to run their Augmented Reality LARPS for him. They should get LARPS to get their best practices early and incorporate and enhance them via the tech. Serious Larp organizers have the background and skill in facilitating these events. 

In 5 years 4GB ram would be the low end and 8GB would be the mid end for most Devices.