Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When Will My Daughter Receive Her First Rape Or Death Threat?

My wife says before she's a teen, I fear she's right. Even if I keep her off social media, someone might find a way to threaten her because of something I've said. There's enough of that going on.

And while the catalyst for my thoughts is GamersGate, this isn't about the primary first causes of debacle, per se.

Instead, it is about the ugly side, the trolling, doxxing (posting personal information, such as address/location), death and rape threats that seem to be present any time a woman posts anything that is remotely controversial.

In the past, I've passively supported some horrible people who have done some horrible things by not speaking out clearly enough. By not calling them on their shit. And that is done, I regret, on some level, it took looking at my daughter to motivate to change my stance, but so be it. So if you are a troll, whether for the lulz or great justice, I'm done with you in my social circles.

If you support the people who do these sorts of things, expect me to call you out, I'll do it privately because no one reacts well to being publicly called out.

If you associate with various forums online that generally promote/generate/originate these behaviors, I'm going to be wary of you.

The only way to eliminate activities is to make it socially unacceptable to engage in them.

That is my goal - to make this behavior online as socially unacceptable as casual racism - I don't believe I can stamp it out, but I can eliminate it from my social circles. And that will have to be enough.

I need to apologize for my part in assisting in that culture - and it is thanks to a post by Kathy Sierra who was apparently a target of Weev's tender ministrations. Yes, that Weev. Internet folk hero for his time in jail, and general internet asshole. I knew him before he was an internet darling, he went to the same college I once attended, and we were at the same gatherings. I socialized with him, not closely, but enough I knew what he was like online.

"Eh, he's just an asshole online," I used that to shrug off comments, plus I wasn't close to him.

And that enabled him to some degree. No, there's nothing I could have done to restrict him or stop him. My friends speak admirably of him in someways, but always with the caveats "well he is an asshole and a troll online." And you know what? While I am content that justice was done in case, in my opinion, but I'm done lauding him in whatever small fashion I did. No more posting articles where he shows up. No more commenting on other people doing the same. This may be a bit of closing the barn door after all the animals have fled, but it is what I can do at this time.

If someone is an asshole and troll online? They are an asshole and jerk. The extra caveats aren't needed. We spend enough of our time interacting online that there should be no difference in our expectations of our behaviors online and on the street.

Some of this is fighting rape culture. Some of this is fighting the culture of online anonymity. No, this won't come easily, it won't come quickly. But it can be done. It will take a lot of effort. It will take community action.

So this is my start. Keep me honest.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Zeppelin Attack! Review

I actually had a Kickstarter arrive on time, so I got to play Zeppelin Attack! over the weekend

We had a lot of fun, and aren't sure whether the few snags we hit were intentional or whether we just had poor strategies. Reactions around the table went from "When can we buy this?" to "I probably won't ask to play it, but I will happily play it again." So I will call this a win for my need to pick up more games that are lighter in mental load than what I generally enjoy playing.

My wife and I played with another couple, and all of us are regular board gamers, and we get together regularly to play games - everything from Firefly to a bunch of smaller games. Being the new game in the house, I explained the rules (as best I understood) and we were off.

The first few rounds were frustrating - none of us could reliably attack (Snag #1), and the mercenaries for purchase were relatively expensive - I think the cheapest was a 7 or 8 (Snag #2). This meant that we had several rounds of desperately trying to find the two Fate Point cards that would allow us to buy stuff (Snag #3).

As noted, there were a few snags, and whether these are issues baked into the design or just us playing the game for the first time, I'm unsure - we'll be playing again, so I'm sure we'll figure it out.

Snag #1: None of us could reliably attack. I went into the game expecting to land hits reliably, and discovered that it was going to be rare for me to do so. It seemed like unless we ganged up on one player, there were enough spread defense to ensure that attacks just didn't land often. Or we just had bad luck in picking who to attack.

Snag #2 and 3: Probably could be the same snag - we start off with one 3-point and one 4-point Fate card, the currency that allows us to buy cards. Unfortunately, unless you manage to pull them both together, you'll have one sitting in your hand taking up space while you wait for another card - and the two operative cards that allow you to generate more cards were relatively slow to fill.

I think this is where our inexperience with the system bit us - even if you want to play a more aggressive deck, you need to buy a fair number of operative cards to generate sufficient Fate points to purchase - and being as the Fate cards range 2-5 points, and the cards generally run 4 (rare) to 6-8 (normal) to as much as 9 or 10 (rare). So you need to have a good engine for obtaining those cards.

Like you do in any deck building game - it is just that the variance obtaining the points is a bit higher in Zeppelin Attack!

My only other critique of the game is the rule book - it is generally fine; however, the back page is an ad, while the "Summary of turns" is inside the front cover - this meant that at the table I had to constantly open the book to reference the book. Big deal in the end? Nope. Annoying? Yup. I'll probably be printing out, or modifying the summary page from the online book for this purpose.

While the game ran long, everyone had fun. My wife wasn't having as much fun, and then she had a single turn where her massive 4-zeppelin armada wrecked destruction across the table and her sounds of delight could only be heard by bats and other small animals.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reactions to Firefly the RPG

I ran Firefly today for the first time and had a blast - I just ran a one shot from the Echoes of War series (Bucking The Tiger) - and despite none of us knowing the rules, and me being the only one who had read the rules, everything went smoothly. We modified some of the archetypes (we had a Law Dog, Former Companion, Natural Reader, Dishonored Politician, and a mechanic/doctor "parts is parts, fluids are fluids,") and played through the adventure is about four and a half hours.

Mechanically, the system did everything I wanted the system to do. Generating the dice pools went fairly smoothly; though using the distinctions was a bit rough for the first hour or two, and didn't smooth down right away - the various abilities that the distinctions gave were used frequently, remembering that those distinctions also could give you a d8/d4 to your pool didn't go so well.

Complications flowed like water on both sides of the "screen", and in time I think we'd all become far more comfortable creating and using them. I probably thought of something interesting to do for 75% of them, and we still had them flowing back and forth.

Asset creation wasn't really touched - not sure if it wasn't understood as well, or if with how the players were rolling, they were just rolling hot. The doctor definitely kept trying to create advantages with stimulants and sedatives that I needed a better grasp of the rules to take advantage of.

When I think about what I loved so much about the game, I keep coming back to the flow of the game, there were points that things did stutter - basically anything that had to roll against the group, I want to take a look at the rules and see if I "should" have done a single base roll and then let everyone roll against it; or whether just going around in order was what I needed to do; but I have yet to see a game that handles that perfectly.

And everyone at the table had their share of failures, but even with those failures no one got discouraged - the complication mechanic - receiving a reward when your dice hate you took the sting out of "I wanted to do this action, but I failed miserably," as it became, "I wanted to do this action, I failed miserably, but I got a plot point for it AND this nifty complication."

The system favors short quick engagements, whether it was a knife fight or a game of cards - I think I at most had two or three rounds of going around the table and getting actions; otherwise, everything moved smoothly and quickly getting back to the players making more interesting choices and causing more problems.

Having sung the praises of the system, the adventure itself was amazingly well written. Being a one shot, I skipped how to integrate into the original series as well as any need to tie the triggering NPC's history too closely with the players - they were good sports and rolled with "yes you know her and she was a nice person." Each of the five acts were well written and for me, sufficient information to run the scene, and while not requiring a certain outcome, the adventure covered all the traditional bases of solution sets, so that even if my players pulled something out of left field, I felt I had enough structure to know how things would work given those actions.

There was at no point I felt like the plot had to ramrodded down the players' throats, each step felt fairly natural from the step before, and I did keep it fairly linear in nature because it was a one-shot, we did have a time limit, and I didn't have a lot of external hooks to tie things to; whereas I could see a game definitely spacing it out to where the adventure plots would have taken 2 sessions to complete from just all the subplots abounding.

In conclusion, I'm thrilled with my purchase. I always thought that I would enjoy how the Cortex Plus system would play, and this game said "Yes, this was the game I want to run." Now to just fold time and space to create the necessary time in my schedule so I can do it all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I Game Versus Doing Anything Else

So Kjatar on Twitter asked "Why DO you guys game? What is it you look for that makes a game memorable?" And I realized that there are three primary reasons why I game: Iconic moments, wish/power fulfillment fantasies, and hard choices.

Iconic Moments

Iconic moments are those moments in the game that just stand out months or years later. They are the ones that we tells stories about. Frequently, they are when things went wrong for the PCs and yet they pulled out a victory, and other times they are just high drama. But these moments are what I crave, I'm not huge on slice of life gaming, I want to be out interacting actively in the world.

My favorite moment is from my Exalted game, where one of the players set up a long game over several months, and until the last moment I wasn't sure whether his character was going to betray the party for his former incarnation's now-undead lover plans of world domination. He sold it so well, because apparently the player didn't know whether he was going to betray the party or not until his character couldn't convince the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Gal) to give up her vengeance and run away together.

And it was just beautifully sold, with the dramatic stabbing through the back in front of the rest of the party who had arrived to confront them, in what would probably have been a doomed attempt. The collective silence was amazing to behold.

There were a few moments like that as well in my Adventure! game, generally involving the same player, which probably means I should invite him more often.

Iconic moments can't be created intentionally, but I believe the circumstances can be set-up so that they are more often, the players have to have agency, they have to be allowed to try things. Limiting their options, limits their sense of agency and how badass and dramatic they are feeling. Yes, there's something to be said for accomplishing over adversity, but if every victory feels by the skin of their teeth, you get a different game where seeing the sun rise is the victory.

Power & Wish Fulfillment

I've said it before, I'm a systems guy. I like playing with the toys within a gaming system, and generally those "toys" are the cool gadgets and gewgaws that the game gives the players. I want to feel powerful and competent, not goofy and barely functional in the world.

And some of this is shallow. Plots plots that leave me stripped of my abilities, or don't give me shiny new toys, well, eventually leave me with a  "grass is greener". I occasionally wonder if this is a result of playing something close to "Zero to Hero" even in point buy games, I'd love to play a thought experiment of "Create the character you want to play" with no real guidelines on "balancing". No clue how that would affect my play style because so far I've generally only seen a single game that really allows for it, and that was Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I occasionally get tired of not playing the character that I want to play, but the character that might grow into the character I want to play.

Perhaps a touch shallow and not proper form for someone who loves telling the story, perhaps, but hey, I didn't ever say I was all about the story.

Hard Choices

I love the idea of having decisions to make - whether or not it is between two good things or two bad things. I love exploring what these ideas say about the characters we are playing at the table. I see that there are 3 general choices:
  1. Good vs. Good - Good vs. Good is all about opportunity costs. You can't have both good things, so which one does your character (and you in that role) feel is the best good. A great way to cause drama and decisions that don't leave the table hating the GM.
  2. Good vs. Bad - This set is generally harder to make interesting. Generally, it has to take the flavor of "Good For Others and Bad For Me" vs. "Bad for Others and Good for Me"; otherwise, the decision isn't hard to make. And even then, most players will optimize for the "Good for others", because I feel choosing the latter will get them unduly punished for selfishness.
  3. Bad vs. Bad - The classic "Do you rescue your girlfriend or the school bus full of children?" And this choice is the easiest to create in the game, but over done it creates the greatest irritation because it is such an obvious heartstring ploy.

Secondary Reasons

In the same conversation, a friend raised two more points - being with friends, and having a good time.

For me, being with friends is secondary only because there are so many other ways that I can have fun and be with friends. Gaming with friends is definitely an enhancement for my gaming, and can generally make up for the some of the major reasons why I game not happening. However, ultimately, gaming is an easily substituted activity for being with friends - I can have dinner, gatherings, board gaming, play cards, bowl, shared chores/work, and have a great time with them.

As far as having a good time, this is a catch-all - that sort of falls into the other categories. There are so many different ways that I can have a good time, and that hitting my big three are why I have a good time with gaming.