Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Entries in gaming (32)


Things I Think I Think About LARP

After playing in five LARPs this weekend — three of which were not games in which I had a pre-existing character — I got to thinking about what makes certain games or scenarios work for me. What “handles” on the character or situation am I looking for that help me have fun? I came up with a short, almost assuredly incomplete, list.

  1. Connections: LARPs are social games, an order of magnitude more so than tabletop RPGs are. A LARP should first and foremost connect me to other players. Coming in the door, who do I have my first interactions with? Where do I go when I need help? Where is the friction going to be? I want to have at least one group I feel a part of, one person I can trust, and one person who I am at odds with.
  2. Goals: My character is here, now, for a reason. Why do I care about what’s happening, and how does it affect me? What it is important that I accomplish right now? And why do other characters care about that?
  3. Reasons to Change: Those things that I came here to accomplish? What would cause me to not just give up on them, but to pursue their opposite? Those secrets that I need to keep? What would make me reveal them? (I think this is a highly-overlooked aspect of pre-gen character design.)
  4. Knowledge/Power/Secrets to Reveal: It’s important that what’s going on matters to me. It’s just as important that I matter to what’s going on. What do I know about the current situation? What do I have that makes other characters care about me? What does my presence make easier or harder?
  5. High Concept/Schtick: When my character talks to someone, within the first three sentences they should know that it’s not Paul they’re talking to. How do I get a picture of who this person is so can I drop into character in two minutes or less?

That’s in roughly descending order of importance to me. I’ve played in games where I had unachievable goals, no built-in connections to other characters, and no real connection to plot — and still enjoyed myself because I invented connections to players I knew and played my schtick hard. But I’m happiest when the system and the scenario give me those — or the tools to create them — from the starting gate.


Playing Sports

Over on his blog, Rob Donoghue posted about what he calls the RPG Sports Paradox:

The only way to make an RPG about a sport is to make an RPG that’s not about that sport.

What does this mean? To understand it, take a minute to imagine a sports RPG. It doesn’t matter much what the sport is, but the expectation would be that you would need rules for playing that sport. Seems obvious, but that’s the trick - sports stories are not really about playing any particular game, they’re about a destination. There are a couple of possible types of destinations, but they’re mostly some variant of needing to win “The Big Game”. The exact form of the Big Game is less important than the fact that it provides meaning to all the games along the way - they’re the road to the destination.

And that’s where the problem arises. Such a game will fall apart if the players lose a game. Oh, sure, there are some tricks you can pull to smooth over things (“The Maplewood team got food poisoning! We’re in the finals!”) but they have the clear stink of Deus Ex Machina about them. So you’re left with two choices: You can either allow the players to lose their games (and hope they won’t) or you can guarantee that they won’t.

I asked, of course, “What about Bull Durham?” To which Rob replied, “Are baseball movies ever about baseball?”

I started to reply over there, but I realized I had too much to say in a comment. So here it is:

Baseball movies are always about baseball. To say that Bull Durham isn’t about baseball is to not understand what baseball is.

To make a larger point, if you look at sports films in general, they aren’t as attached to the concept of “Winning The Big Game” as it might first appear. Look at Raging Bull, Rocky, Eight Men Out, The Wrestler, Brian’s Song, Hoop Dreams, Tin Cup, or Rudy. Sure there’s films like Hoosiers, A League of Their Own, Breaking Away, Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans, or Major League where winning it all is what the story is about, but that’s not anywhere near the entirety of sports movies, or sports storytelling in other media.1 Even When Our Heroes win it all, the story is never about the mechanics of the sport. Sports stories aren’t always about the destination. Like most stories, they’re more often about the journey.

Which is mostly to say that if I wanted to play a sports RPG, I’d play Primetime Adventures.

1 Intriguing, most of the examples I cited in the “winning it all” category are either (a) retelling historical events or (b) comedies. How many of these kinds of movies have you seen where you didn’t know going in that they were going to win in the end?


Coming Into My Own

I’m back from another fantastic weekend of Dying Kingdoms, and as usual I’m exhausted. This game was unusual, however, in that I played a different role than I’d become used to.

In 2010, I played in two DK games, both of them as supporting cast for court games. I had a blast, which led me to decide to play a regular, recurring character. I started doing that in February, and with the one event that I missed this year, it meant that this weekend was my fifth game playing Marcus, my seventh overall. Over the course of the last event and this one, we had a about a dozen new players join, either coming in brand new or after having done what I did and transitioning from playing supporting cast. This weekend, there were also a significant number of longer-term players who weren’t able to make it. The combination of the two meant I suddenly had half-a-dozen characters either asking mine for advice or looking to me for leadership. And to my surprise, I was able to give it to them.

I think I’m finally getting my bearings with the character and with the game. And that’s where the real fun begins.


Who Am I Again?

It’s important for me to keep track of which fictional person I am at any given time.

I’m now playing in two on-going LARP campaigns. In Houses of the Blooded, I’m playing Xander Yvarai, a distinguished composer of opera and renowned duelist who is recently married and is trying to put his rakish past behind him. In Dying Kingdoms, I’m playing Marcus of Albeira, a street-raised orphan who pulled himself out of the dire circumstances of his birth through service (as a quartermaster) in the legions of the Illumin Empire and is trying to use his newly-acquired position and powers to improve the lot of the people who are in the same circumstance he was in. When these games have events on back-to-back weekends, I occasionally get confused while I’m doing my preparations about which character I’m planning for.

That my friend Laura is playing both Xander’s wife and Marcus’s sister doesn’t help.


Fitness: Ran 9 miles

Camping, Gaming, and Ideas

I’m back from the eighth Nerdly Beach Party, held (usually) twice-a-year near Cambria, California. As always, it was a fantastic time with friends who I get to see far too infrequently. I ended up playing in two games, both of which were great fun and have me thinking about doing something based on them.

On Friday night, Jesse, Ryan, and I played a Sorcerer and Sword game that was an homage to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (with plenty of other references thrown in as well). I realized during my run on Saturday that the world could well have been the far future of the one in the novel I’m working on, which provoked a number of ideas. It also made me aware of how much I love what Rob Donoghue has called the “Two Guys with Swords” genre and how I may need to write some of that fiction.

On Saturday afternoon, I played in a Star Wars game set during the Knights of the Old Republic period using the mechanics from the Smallville RPG. I continue to be impressed by how well that ruleset handles relationship dramas regardless of setting. (The last game I played with it was in a William Gibson-inspired cyberpunk milieu.) I’m now tempted to run something with it, perhaps at the Endgame Minicon next month. Perhaps — if I get it figured out — in the world of Crimson Skies.

It’s always easy to get inspired at events like. The trick is to do the work to turn that inspiration into reality.


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 251 words, 326 seven-day average, 282 average, 50544 total, 44 past the goal for the week; 1-day streak