Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hiatus and Projects

I have several great Ideas (well they sound great until I realize how much work they take) for articles and this blog is just talking about them because they tend to require more drafts and research to complete. So right now I’m doing projects where work and studies happen to give me material to finish the articles.

FYI we have a baby due this November and I'm sure you know all the time it takes to get the nest ready for the new baby and the mother. So RESEARCH and writing is opportunistic and irregular. 

Most recent:
Mass Combat Made Easy.
Mass Combat is a very interesting topic because after careful study its presents a lot of challenges that are new and a radical paradigm shift.
Mass Combat has Logistics: Manpower losses, supplies, shifts, recruitment, training, and managment of morale. It presents a world where you need Forces to win certain battles, or a paradigmn where characters (Pcs and NPCs) cannot win on their own.
If we go more realistic we exploit the Stereotyping bias to muddy the decision making and test what coping mechanism the Pcs have to overcome such biases.
The article was designed to look at how you game and work on trading off or changing what we normally do to suit more Mass Combat. It seeks to basically break down a certain kind of game and trade off the basic party centric game with that focuses on Groups. Of course that means I’d have to clearly tackle How We Game.

How we Game.
This is an interesting topic because I can only draw from observation and personal experience. I do have the advantage of having recorded sessions and listening to recorded sessions from Podcast games out there.
Basically I’ve gone to create my own definitions of basic categories:
Roleplaying. The immersion, visualization, and getting into character and interacting with the game setting. The definition goes to define a broad range of Player and GM Activities that seeks to Get Into the Character and Setting as well as creating a Personal or World Narrative.
Action. Well its not just Combat I’d like to say anything with a faster paced feedback loop. The characters perform an action and immediately they see feedback and consequences. They are also under threat, undertake risks, and continously feedback rewards, losses, costs, uncertainty, and clarifying focus on scope. It goes long to basically explain and define the two basic things that we do in a game and how much time do we spend doing it OR how much time we make for each activity.
Preparation. Game related preparation is also something I wanted to define and tackle. Particularly breaking it up to chunks that is directly useful in the game, contingencies we may need, or reflections and process improvements we do: like writing, reflecting, and planning how we will do things differently.
Camaraderie. I wanted to bundle up Aftercare and getting to know and getting along with one’s players or other players. Knowing the GM and what he has planned and how we can match expectations with all the risks, uncertainties, and missteps of socialization. We may be to forward in our suggestions, listening vs taking on a suggestion, negotiating expectations, etc...
These all require their own posts if I were to keep a budget of time and wordcount to write and the ton of time to prep, rewrite, outline, and self-edit.

How we play is a great context to dealing with more complex topics and other topics. Particularly since I’m approaching the Game with how we spend time and each category has a broad and detailed set of activities that may be applicable.
In hindsight I should have a Published Google docs of the How we game and maybe a way guide of self analysis. More tools means more time and forethought to make them, so I’m vasilating between getting things done and meeting expanding scope of work that maximizes User Experience.

Open Projects. Ideally, but unlikely, some of my writing will spur discussion and forking. If thats the case I can make them into a Gdoc and open it up for permission to edit and fork.

Other Projects.
Open Character Action and Resources. While I did tackle it briefly in a previous post what I want to do is make an Open List of Action and Limits. Allow for continuous improvement process of how best to model resources, limits, and actions.
This has a lot of work related inspiration since I need to time and motion a lot of activities and improve the U-Ex or user experience doing various tasks in work. Like boiling down basic activities with documentation and note taking, and reports that are pretty much auto-generated from the dashboard the department maintains.

Base Rate of Failure. Previously it was Traveller: Case Study or Traveller Hard Adventures. It was a writing project about high difficulty and how to cultivate a strong sense of agency in players desite challenging odds. It goes into a lot of details and may hit close to home as it challenges the Mindset of the players

Session Scene and Acts Checklist. Basically a few checklists on Roleplaying, Action, and Camaraderie. It includes a template of what information should be noted when tracking player session experience (not the experience reward but how the player really experiences the session). It also gives a template on how to make a checklist for an Act. It tries to help the GM pick up if the emotion and circumstance meets a certain criteria to move into the next act.
We are multi-tasking creating a checklist helps in disfluency aka slowing down to process the observable information the players are exhibiting.

Occasion to Roll. A very basic element and I have a simple and new technique to make this interesting: make the Margin of Failure the Cost of Conditional Success. This means if Johnny fails by 5 this is the additional cost he needs to make the success.
This means the Feedback loop of the roll does not end with the information of Success or Failure but t leaves it up to the player if they choose to spend more time and resources for it to succeed and at what cost they are willing to pay.
But if thats not a clear enough picture and you want alternate strategies in managing expectations, thresholds , tension etc... then you will have to wait for the article because it has to tackle all the natural questions that will arise when we can succeed at extrodinary cost and how scarcity affects the adventure.

Clarity and Filtering. I wanted to talk about how strongly we communicate key ideas to players as we run the game. How clearly we can emphasize on some clues or elements of the story, AND how the GM pick up on some. Both the GM and Player can both benefit in a prearranged signalling system of what they feel is important for their character or narrative.

Character Development. Expanding on how we play I look at time and motion of various Role Playing Activities and how I examine them by mysel with a mirror and recorder as feedback.
How we talk to Players and ask them how they want to develop their characters and how we can watch for Agency Affirming time spend in the game. (and how they learn to share that and listen to create Psychological Safety).

Relationship Checks. This was an article with scarcity of Promises, Time spend with people, and Credibility in mind. It boils down relationships, credibility, and behavioral reputation as a scarce resource that requires upkeep.

Cost of Living. An introduction to small Gdoc I maintain as I study cost of living here in the Philippines (its partially done with). I will make a chapter on Low Tech Cost of Living in the document. I plan to make it open (with permission) for others to fork or contribute.

Zones Part 2. I have a second part for zones getting into the details of assembling a portable gaming bag that weighs about 4lbs at the most. Design for a table of 0.5sqm and cramped space but still able to record.
It goes into plans of how to manage space effectively and in a budget.

Life Period Events Mechanics. Based on the Traveller Events Life Path mechanics I made a life event mechanics but it leverages not just the Sum of the Dice but two ways of interpreting the same roll (by asking the player to predetermine which of the two dice as a seperate variable). It has a lot of math and template and category creation so it has a lot of back end work for me to finish it.

Problem Solving Style Games. Aka Case Study game style. Basically how to have an action Feel with non-combat elements and how to make these feel more exciting and agency enhancing.

My review of the “The Grand Stragegy of the Byzantine Empire by Eward Luttwak”. A Gamers Guide to the Book and what are the useful chunks and how they are useful for your game and your learning of other history. Having useful stuff to Take Away is a key theme of reading all these books lolz.

Making Logistics Fun. A guide to making logistics fun and how much work or certain characteristics are needed to empower the player, make it easy, and make it feel real and make sense. I may have to write this before Problem Solving Style Games because its a key part in such games. I'll go into the Encyclopedia of Operations for this, use the RPG Design Pattern terminology, and give an example a simple dice mechanic.  

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.