GenCon2014

Slices of Gen Con

What a week. So much happened. The best way to even start to cover it is in rapid-fire bullets.

  • Announced Pugmire.
  • A game I contributed to, Hillfolk, won this year’s Diana Jones Award.
  • Ken Hite formed “Eddy Webb & Associates” with me, and we interviewed Rich Thomas for the position of Junior Couch Surfer.
  • Swapped stories over drinks with fellow Onyx Path freelancers at Matt McFarland’s birthday party.
  • Met a potential client for freelance work, who turned out to be a fan.
  • Got a migraine on Saturday, but quick timing and a very brief nap solved that.
  • Ended up with a fair bit of swag, even though I didn’t buy anything.
  • Discovered a company that makes fantasy dog miniatures.
  • Picked on some people a lot. More than I should have, perhaps. I need to think about how I express affection.
  • Got a Sherlock Holmes card game as a late birthday present, and then played it the next night with David Brookshaw and his friends.
  • Lots of early morning conversations with Richard Thomas, covering everything from the business to Pugmire to yoga to very personal topics. And lots of old war stories.
  • Made a game out of cardboard at the show and tried to sell it to people.
  • Accidentally kicked said game into someone’s face.
  • Saw so many of my friends and had more time with them, but still not enough time.
  • Met a lot of people excited to work with me on future projects.
  • The shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s.
  • Got Scott Holden’s pants.
  • Waited for hours for our pallets.
  • Had so many people ask for autographs, ask for pictures, or just shake my hand.
  • Heard stories of how my work and my friends’ work has shaped and improved the lives of others.
  • Put faces to names and online personas.
  • Muted my hearing aids to deal with construction noise.
  • Walked dozens of miles throughout the week.
  • Met new people.
  • Made new friends.
  • Remembered why I love this industry.

Pugmire tabletop RPG to be released!

At Gen Con today, I announced a partnership with Onyx Path Publishing to create and produce the Pugmire tabletop RPG. Pugmire is a fantasy game, where dogs (along with cats and other animals) have inherited the world from Man and try to understand and explore the land they’re a part of. The kingdom of Pugmire follows the Code of Man, and the various dog breeds all work together (and sometimes against each other) to rebuild civilization.

Pugmire will be owned by me, but Onyx Path will work with me on the creation and development of the RPG. We’ve also discussed other expansions of the world, such as fiction. The world will still be owned by me/Pugsteady, and the products will be co-branded as such. We’re hoping to have some kind of Pugmire-related release at Gen Con next year. This is my first step into developing a fully owner-created property, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. I have the utmost faith that Onyx Path will be a great partner in this endeavor.

More information as I work out details and can share them in some intelligent form!

Gen Con

I’ll Be At Gen Con!

After a surprising number of twists and turns, in the end I will be at Gen Con this year, thanks to Rich Thomas and Onyx Path Publishing. I’ll be around the OPP booth most of the convention, but there are a few other places you can find me during the show:

THURSDAY

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

FRIDAY

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

SATURDAY

10a-11a What’s Up With the New World of Darkness and Q&A (Grand Central D, Crowne Plaza)

2p-3p Book Signings (Onyx Path Booth #1103)

3p-4p What’s Up With the Trinity Continuum, Exalted, Scion, Scarred Lands & More! (Hay Market A, Crowne Plaza)

4p-5p What’s Up With the Classic World of Darkness and Q&A (Hay Market A, Crowne Plaza)

Murray Looks Nervous

Pugsteady: A New Phase In My Career

As many of you know, I was laid off from CCP in April. From April to June, I looked for full-time work, but I did some freelance writing on the side — partly to get at least some money in, and partly to keep my skills sharp. In July, I realized that my freelance work was taking up more and more of my time, so I took some steps to be more organized and serious about it. A few other things fell into place, and I realized that working as a freelance writer and designer could actually be my job. So I did some research, talked to some very smart people, and a couple of weeks ago, I filed to form a company. I am now the owner and sole proprietor of Pugsteady, LLC.

What does this mean? At a high level, not a lot changes. I’ve done work-for-hire for companies for 12 years now, and that’s not likely to change. However, I realize that there will be down times between contracts, and I’d like to start working on my own projects. Having a company that I can attach those projects to gives me and them a little more protection, and gives me access to a few good things (such as easier tax filing and a separate bank account, so I keep my assets distinct).

While “company” sounds exciting and interesting, I’m still working for me, and I’m still making a fraction of what I was beforehand. It’s not likely that I’ll be cranking out new tabletop RPGs or video games anytime soon. Further, I’m also still looking at other opportunities that make sense for my career and my life. But it also means that even if I do work at another company, I still have my company. I can still produce my work, and know that it’s stable. My work won’t get gobbled up by someone else unless they make me an offer that I like. It’s also something I can fall back on if I do leave such a company. And maybe I can make a new tabletop RPG or video game at some point.

So over the next several months and years, you may hear “Pugsteady” from time to time. That’s me, doing what you love, and what I love doing. This site isn’t going away anytime soon. But it is the next logical step in my life now, and I’m excited and terrified and what happens next.

By TC Chan (released under CC-NC-ND 3.0)

Player Skill vs. Character Skill

Recently I’ve read various games I own that fall into the vague class of “Old School Renaissance.” OSR-style play exalts the skill and intelligence of the player over that of the character. And it’s got me thinking about player skill vs. character skill. What do they mean? What’s the difference between the two?

“Player skill” refers to the player’s own abilities, not translated through a game mechanic. In a tabletop RPG, this is the player asking questions and trying to discern things. In a LARP, this is the ability of a player to sway a room purely through the portrayal of his character. In a video game, this is the player moving his troops based on his own strategy, or shooting someone with by testing their own reflexes.

On the other hand, “character skill” refers to the character’s abilities inside the game, which has little to no connection to the player.  In a tabletop RPG, this is rolling a die to see if your character asks the right question or discerns things. In a LARP, this is playing rock-paper-scissors to see if your character sways a room. In a video game, this is activating your character to see what strategy he enacts, or relying on random chance to see if a character shoots someone.

Arguments can (and have) been made for and against both kinds of skill. However, what interests me is that both sides frame the discussion as if the two kinds of skill are mutually exclusive. And yet, in my own experiences with a variety of games, I’ve found that every game requires some player and some character skill. In your tabletop game, some things are abstracted through dice, and some things come from player discussion. In a LARP, some things require mechanical resolution or arbitration, and some things are purely based on player personality. In a video game, some things are handled by computer code, and some things are handled by player input.

In fact, I would argue that any game that is purely player skill or character skill ceases being a game. Too much player skill, and the game becomes nothing more than a puzzle — there is no outside factor that changes the player’s input, and it is either solved or unsolved. Too much character skill, and it becomes a movie — the player simply watches, having no agency as the game plays itself to its conclusion.

Certain games can (and should) emphasize player skill over character skill, or vice versa. It’s good to know going into a game or going into your design what you want to emphasize, where, and why. But you can’t have one without the other.

The Sugar House

Peer Review: “The Sugar House” by Rose Bailey

I’m usually pretty biased when I write these peer reviews, but this one I’m really not biased on. Rose has been my friend for close to seven years, and I’ve seen this particular project of hers evolve over that time. I not only got a copy to review, but I also saw several early drafts. Plus, I really like the same kinds of pulp fantasy that she does.

But all that aside, The Sugar House: The Adventures of Sasha Witchblood is a wonderful collection. All four stories feature the titular Sasha Witchblood, a “wild woman” adventuring across the lands of a pulp fantasy world that is as much inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales and Russian myth as Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Sasha is a gruff, no-nonsense woman that likes the comforts and riches of civilization, but can’t actually stand the people within it. This tension constantly pulls her into strange and dangerous situations. These four stories reference and connect to each other, but they don’t necessarily comprise a complete story — rather, they read like a travelogue, a collection of tales about Sasha’s life that eludes and mentioned previous stories. It’s also contains a number of very inclusive characters, which is always a refreshing change in fantasy.

The book is very short (just over 71 pages), but it’s a great read. I hope that this book does well, because I would love to encourage Rose to write more Sasha stories. If you like your fantasy with a high dose of strangeness, I think you’ll really like The Sugar House

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Dopamine and Zeigarnik: Game Loops

One of the best insights I’ve ever had into game design came from a lunchtime conversation with a marketer who had quit drinking.

Said marketer had done some research into addiction, and got really interested in dopamine. We got to talking about it one day, and what really struck him was how our brain seems to like getting addicted to anything it can. Particularly, he noted how his own propensity to obsessively check email and text messages seemed to stem from dopamine. And it turns out he’s right — further, the shorter the stimulus, the better. One of the reasons why Twitter is so addictive to many people is because it’s a very quick fix, so you can trick yourself into thinking it’s not much.

Which got me thinking about video game design. That moment-to-moment gameplay can be compelling if it’s short and Pavlovian. Hell, most of the early wave of Facebook games were designed around this principle. While everyone has their own preferences, I suspect many people playing Farmville were doing so because it was compelling and not because they actually liked it. But you can see this in more traditional designs — the random JRPG battle or MMO battle, particularly. If it’s unpredictable, short, and can produce a reward, it’s likely to compel the player to keep playing that snatch of gameplay again and again. Let’s call this the “short game loop.”

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