Two Types of Conversations

Today I want to talk about types of conversations. Specifically, I want to talk about the difference between external and internal conversations.

External conversations are conversations that you’re comfortable with anyone jumping in on. Shooting the breeze at the office. Talking with strangers at a party. External conversations typically don’t have a lot of emotional investment to them; they’re not likely to drain you (if that’s a thing for you, which is it for many).

Internal conversations are ones that are meant for a more intimate group. A group with shared experiences, or with shared beliefs, or with a high degree of trust among its members. That discussion about systemic racism that you as a PoC have with other PoC. That theological conversation you have with other Christians about Arminianism versus Calvinism.

So, you’re probably thinking, yeah, I have external conversations and internal conversations all the time. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that social media makes knowing the difference difficult. One way of looking at a social media conversation—one that I’ve used myself—is that of a person’s front porch. When I tweet or post a status to FB or G+, I’m standing on my front porch talking. This makes it difficult to tell sometimes if I’m desiring an external conversation or an internal one. I know I’ve made the mistake of wading into internal conversations before, and I’m sure I’ll continue to.

Knowing when it’s okay to jump into a conversation is a skill, though. One that can be cultivated. To take one of my examples above, if you identify as white, take a minute and think about whether the people you’re seeing discuss racism are having an internal discussion or not.

If they are? Maybe just listen to what they’re saying without chiming in. The same goes for issues of gender identity, sexual orientation, theology (of any religion or non-religion), dietary choices, etc. If it’s a topic that you know people have strong opposing opinions on, or that require a lot of background information to have a meaningful discussion about, think about whether to add your voice to the conversation or not.

It’ll be hard sometimes, but hey, you want to be a responsible internet citizen, right?

Don’t Waste Your Afterlife

A long, long time ago, I pitched an idea to Evil Hat’s Don’t Hack This Game. It was my first professional game design work, but the project languished for a long time before ultimately being cancelled. I took the last draft (which thankfully had been through several editing passes) and cleaned it up. Here it is in all its glory.

Don’t Waste Your Afterlife (PDF)



For background, read this post first:

That article went up yesterday, and it’s prompted some discussions online. Some positive, some less so. It provoked some thoughts for me, and I decided to blog about it. The question of whether game designers should be thinking about gamers with disabilities is an easy one for me. Yes, they (we) should.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about identity. Ms. Henry has been disabled all her life. It is a part of her identity that people without a disability may have a hard time understanding. For many people, gender and attraction are part of their identity in a way that many of us don’t understand (for societal reasons, because we don’t think—or have to think—about it, etc.).

I’ll use an example that I’ve used before (I think) but is germane to the discussion.

I’m an engineer. I don’t mean my profession is that of an engineer (although that’s true). I don’t mean that I’m a licensed engineer (taken the P.E.). I mean engineer is part of my identity. It’s the way I think; it’s the way I approach situations. It’s the way I solve problems. You can’t pare that out of me without me ceasing to be me.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. I consider this thing that you may not understand part of my identity. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s NOT the same as someone’s disability, gender, or attraction. It’s just an example that I hope is useful. Assuming you get that, it shouldn’t be hard to see that some people might not want to “fix” something that’s fundamentally not broken.

Another thing that you should keep in mind: a group of people with a thing in common are not always identical in their thoughts on a topic. We see this all the time for any number of communities or groups: not all Christians agree on a thing, not all feminists agree on a thing, not all women agree on a thing, not all people of color agree on a thing, not all atheists agree on a thing. Do I need to go on?

One final point. Be very careful when ascribing motives to a person. Don’t assume that you know why they feel a certain way. Don’t assume that you know everything that they consider part of their identity. When they say that something is a part of their identity, listen to what they say, even if you don’t understand it.

Try and keep this in mind as you interact with people on a daily basis. Be kind to each other. If you’ve got questions, you know where to find me.


Out of Spoons

Last post, I tossed out a half-formed idea. This is a continuation of that. It’s shaping up into a microgame I’m going to call Out of Spoons.

[Edited post to include attribution for Spoon Theory in the text itself. Thanks to Elsa for the gentle reminder! -Forgetful Editor]

Out of Spoons*

Out of Spoons is a game about managing the reserves of energy each of us has each day. It’s about understanding that not everyone has limits; some are just lower than others. There’s no GM here, you’re all players. Each of us is responsible for your character’s actions and reactions.

You’ll define a relationship with two other players. Make sure that no one is left out in the cold. You’re all here to play the game. Relationships need not be two-sided, either. Just because someone is your friend, it doesn’t mean you consider them a friend.

Each of you has three resources: physical, mental, and emotional. The game represents a week, with one or more scenes each day. At the start of each day, roll one six-sided die for each resource; these are your starting pools.

Whoever is youngest starts play each in-game day. Choose one of the other players and decide on a scene. The scene should be something that involves an interpersonal conflict or dilemma that is likely to drain one or more of your resources. For example, you might declare that the scene is a breakfast with family during the holiday season, able to drain you mentally and emotionally.

Decide how difficult this scene is going to be for your character in terms of each resource. The other player involved in the scene should do the same. Note that the difficulties need not be the same for each character.

  • Easy: 1
  • Moderate: 2
  • Difficult: 3

Once the stakes are set, you may decide to avoid the situation. In this case, choose one of the resources and narrate how that helps you avoid (for physical, you literally get up and walk out of the room). Decrement that pool by the difficulty and end the scene. Play moves to the right.

When you run out of any of the resources, you’re done for the day. Narrate how your character spends what energy they have left (doesn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day, goes to bed and sleeps, etc.).

* The name comes from Spoon Theory, created by Christine Miserandino, and you can read about it at the following link:

I’d love to hear any feedback, especially if you get the itch to try out a session of it.


Random Game Design Thought: PME

Here’s something that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a little bit. It’s not fully formed, but I need to get it down on paper, so it’s not an open loop.

Imagine you’ve got three resources: physical, mental, and emotional. You’ve got only a certain amount of each of them, and running out is BAD. You can be physically tired, mentally exhausted, or emotionally drained.

I’m pondering what else to do with this. You start each day with a certain amount (possibly determined randomly), and each thing you need to do that day costs you. It seems like the way Five Fires does resolution is a natural fit here. You roll 3 dice and decide which resource you’d like that die to apply to. The GM / another player (I haven’t given much thought to that yet) rolls 3 dice, and we compare results.

I’d probably want to allow a bit of borrowing from the next day’s resources (a la spoon theory), but I’d want to limit it.

So that’s what I’ve got so far. It’s obviously unpolished, but I think it’s got potential. What do you think? (Note: this is me asking for feedback, Tim.

The Quick and the Dead FAE, Part 2

First off, huge thanks to Quinn Murphy for giving me the next round of changes to my FAE hack for the Quick and the Dead. His input directly led to what you see here. It should play pretty quickly, assuming a small number of players and rounds. Let me know what you think, especially if you’re a brave soul that likes to alpha-test stuff.

The Quick and the Dead FAE (v2)


Quick and Dirty: The Quick and the Dead FAE

Quinn Murphy’s been doing a take on Sleepy Hollow FAE, and it inspired me to do this. It’s quick, it’s dirty, and it’s not something I’ve put a lot of thought into.

One of the movies that I really like that I don’t think gets much respect is the Quick and the Dead. It’s a fun movie that I’ve watched several times now. After playtesting The Dark Road at Metatopia, I wanted to watch it again.

I thought it might be fun to stat up the main characters using FAE. I decided not to alter the approaches, but I did add a drive/motivation. Each of the characters in the movie has a drive, and I wanted to highlight that. Let me know what you think.

FAE The Quick and the Dead

Metatopia 2014 Recap

I have so many thoughts about Metatopia. I went last year as a player and this year as a designer. I was a bit anxious, but this year convinced me that Metatopia is a second home for me. I feel comfortable enough there to help others get over their nervousness (or least I hope I was able to do so).

Friday was mostly panels and my playtests. Saturday was playtesting other people’s games. Sunday was winding down and saying goodbye to all of the wonderful examples of humanity I met and met again.


Thanks to Shane Harsch, Clark Valentine, and Tim Rodriguez for a panel about how we represent hacking in games. It was informative and fun. Spoiler: Real hacking is boring, methodical, and takes more time than we usually represent. There’s ways to make it interesting, though.

Thanks to Mark Diaz Truman, Marissa Kelly, Jason Pitre, and Brie Sheldon for the Meet the IGDN panel. I recently joined, and I wanted to get more information. I’m looking forward to interacting even more with them and talking design and publishing stuff.

The next was the first panel I’ve ever sat on. It was an editing panel with John Adamus and Amanda Valentine, and I hope I was a good panelmate. It was a lot of fun, and we talked about all kinds of things. There was even a rant or two.

Next up I had my playtests for Memories of Metal and Bone. Imagine if the battle for Midgaard between the Dwarves and the Vikings continued into space. Raganarok didn’t happen, and you’re playing the crew of the living ship Stormbeard on the run and trying to find out why.

My first group of playtesters were terrific. Thanks to Maksim Mukhammedov, Shervyn Von Hoerl, Rich Flynn, Joshua Kronengold, Brennan Taylor, and Michael Capron. Highlights include overloading its engines while also constricting it and snapping it in half. Also a dwarf hostage.

The second group of playtesters were also terrific. Thanks to Neal Tanner, Paul Stefko, Jamie Stefko, Joshua Yearsley, Jim Cummings, and Jim Crocker. Highlights from this game are overloading the internal systems of the Dwarven Destroyer and ramming Stormbeard into it while also throwing flaming diamonds at its hull.


Saturday was NoirWorld, designed and run by my dear, dear friend John Adamus. Have I told you about NoirWorld? It’s amazing, and I’m no noir fanatic. I played the Fatale planning to have a starlet kidnapped to make room for me and a drunken, homeless former playboy. It ended with a three-way shoot-out, but I can’t remember if my PC died or was just seriously wounded.

Next up was Ars Magicka GUMSHOE with Cam Banks. This one was a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to see what develops. I played a member of a magical house without actual magic of their own and had a blast. This was also my first opportunity to meet Josh Drobina, who I got to play with in another game.

Headspace, an Apocalypse World hack for cyberpunk (actual cyberpunk, fighting against evil corporations), was next on my list. This one was another one I’d been hearing about for a while, as I know its designer Mark Richardson pretty well. It was over-the-top action, and great fun was had by great fun was had by Kira Magrann, Justin Jacobson, Will Hindmarch, and Ken Hite.

The Dark Road, Mark Diaz Truman’s western gunslinger using rules from Project Dark, was amazing, if short. I wanted to play this ever since I got to see a glimpse of the mechanics on G+ a while back. I got to play a Priest that went toe-to-toe with the head of the town, leading him to give up the gunslinger he’d been protecting. The other two players were just as amazing, although I can’t remember their names.

Last on my list for the day was a Timewatch game, this one courtesy of Kevin Kulp, but using Dave Chalker’s parallel realities (think Sliders) rules. Best scene was my character betraying the other PCs and deciding to work with my evil duplicate in the parallel reality. So much fun! Thanks for playing with me, Elsa, Ruth, Josh, and others!


In Closing

Metatopia is home for me now. I can say that with certainty. Despite the anxiety of playtesting my first design publicly, it was comfortable there. Everyone I met was amazing, and if I missed meeting you there, I’m sorry. Next year!

There are far too many of you to thank, but I need to thank a few in a special way.

Thanks to Matt Will Jackson: we’ll always have Headless Action Figure. Thanks to John Adamus for opening his home to me (again) and being one of the best friends I could ask for. Thanks to John Stravropolous for calling me a cool guy. Thanks to Ericka Skirpan, Cheyenne Rae Grimes, Lindsay McCollough, and Mark Richardson for being there and hanging out throughout the weekend. Thanks to Vinny Salzillo and Avonelle Wing for putting on the best convention I can imagine. Thanks to Stephen Hood for being willing to play my game even though we couldn’t make the schedule work out. Thanks to Sarah Richardson, just because she’s tons of fun to game with, and it was great to meet in person.

Argh! There’s so many awesome people to thank that I don’t think I can name them all!

My Metatopia 2014 Schedule

I’m putting this here on the blog so I can refer back to it later. Last year, I went as a playtester (even though I used the convention to get my name out there as an editor, with several projects resulting from it). This year I’m going as an industry professional (remember: this just means I’ve been paid to do a thing and that I paid a higher price to be able to schedule playtests of my design work).

I’ve got one panel I’m sitting on (What Can an Editor Do For You?) and two playtests of my LB / A/N/N hack inspired by Iron Edda. Oh, I’m also now a member of the IGDN (Surprise!), so I’ve definitely got to be there for the meet and greet.

Okay, enough preamble.

[D002] “Computer Hacking In Games”

Presented by Shane Harsch

An actual professional in information security discusses the actual process/stages of intrusion (what we call the “Kill Chain”) and then facilitates a discussion about the challenges of turning that real-world process into an actionable and fun gaming experience.

Friday 9:00AM-10:00AM
One Session
All Ages

[D008] “Meet The IGDN!”

Presented by Marissa Kelly, Jason Pitre, Brie Sheldon, and Mark Diaz Truman

Over the past three years, the Indie Game Developer Network has grown from a small group of hopeful publishers to a trade organization with nearly fifty dues-paying members. Come learn more about this organization, how we’re organized, what our goals are for 2015, and what the future holds for the IGDN!

Friday 11:00AM-12:00PM
One Session
All Ages

[D010] “Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Analysis”

Presented by Rob Donoghue & Jason Pitre

So, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons is out. Now it’s time to dig into the design and talk about the rules, procedures and advice that the game brings to the RPG design field. Let’s look at the crunchy bits!

Friday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM
Serious, All Ages

[D021] “What Can An Editor Do For You?”

Presented by John Adamus, Jeremy Morgan, and Amanda Valentine.

Cleaning up your tortured syntax and fixing your punctuation is only the beginning. A good editor can help you improve the presentation of your game on many levels.

Friday 3:00PM-4:00PM
One Session
All Ages

[R176] Iron Edda; “Memories of Metal and Bone”

By Stormin’ Da Castle
Presented by Jeremy Morgan

Memories of Metal and Bone is based on Iron Edda, using mechanics from Lady Blackbird and Always/Never/Now. Midgaard lies in ruin, and we’ve gone into space aboard our Jotunn living ships, but the damned Dwarves also found a way to develop spacecraft, and they’re up here too. We’re the crew of the Stormbeard, and we search for why Ragnarok didn’t happen.

Friday, 4:00PM – 6:00PM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY

[R228] Iron Edda; “Memories of Metal and Bone”

By Stormin’ Da Castle
Presented by Jeremy Morgan

Memories of Metal and Bone is based on Iron Edda, using mechanics from Lady Blackbird and Always/Never/Now. Midgaard lies in ruin, and we’ve gone into space aboard our Jotunn living ships, but the damned Dwarves also found a way to develop spacecraft, and they’re up here too. We’re the crew of the Stormbeard, and we search for why Ragnarok didn’t happen.

Friday, 4:00PM – 6:00PM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY

[D035] “Designing For Disability Access”

Presented by Elsa S. Henry

Elsa is a multiply disabled game designer and player. Her game reviews – Blind Lady Versus – have enabled her to begin spotting general issues which game designers can avoid. Games can be accessible for everyone, from tabletop to LARP, from blindness to mobility issues. Games are for everyone.

Saturday 9:00AM-10:00AM
One Session
All Ages

[R303] “Noir World”

By The Writer Next Door
Presented by John Adamus

Noir World is a collaborative-GM Apocalypse Word hack focusing on a noir world of both classic and neo film tropes. Players take on the roles of detectives, femme fatales, mooks, war vets and more in tragic tales of crime, suffering and corruption as they not only direct play but shape the story they’re telling. This game’s influences run a gamut from The Maltese Falcon. Double Indemnity and Out of the Past to neo-noirs like Pulp Fiction, Sin City and Brick.

Saturday, 11:00AM – 1:00PM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY

[R335] “Ars Magica GUMSHOE RPG”

By Atlas Games
Presented by Cam Banks

The Quaesitors of House Guernicus are the executors of Mythic Europe’s magical traditions, seeking out the rot that festers in the heart of the Order of Hermes. Using hermetic magic and the assistance of their trusty companions & grogs, Quaesitors must solve mysteries impossible to solve with 13th century methods. Join designer Cam Banks in testing this marriage of gaming’s premier investigative rules with the award-winning world of Ars Magica.

Saturday, 2:00PM – 4:00PM
Fun, 18 & Over ONLY

[R360] “Headspace”

By Green Hat Designs
Presented by Mark Richardson

Headspace is a cyberpunk game where the players are operatives fighting against evil corporations. You’ll need to make use not only of your own hyper-competence but that of your teammates by use of shared mental and emotional consciousness, the Headspace. There’s a catch though: Everyone’s got baggage and digging too deeply into the Space can quickly turn a simple Op into a battle for your very mind and spirit. Headspace, powered by the Apocalypse, explores the boundaries between cinematic fiction and cinematic feelings.

Saturday, 4:00PM – 6:00PM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY

[R385] “The Dark Road”

By Magpie Games
Presented by Mark Diaz Truman

The gunslinger, the priest, and the mother come to the town of Charcas, searching for signs of the El Hombre Muerto. Their journey has already carried them away from the sea of dreams to this forsaken place. What will they find here? Will they survive this town? Will they honor the Law and return to the Road?

Saturday, 7:00PM – 8:00PM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY

[R417] “TimeWatch Parallel Realities”

By Pelgrane Press
Presented by Kevin W. Kulp

There are infinite realities out there, and there are corporations mining them for their resources. Instead of time traveling, you slide between parallel universes as company troubleshooters. But there are rats in the system, and it’s up to you to track them down… TimeWatch Parallel Realities is a sci-fi setting for the newly Kickstarted GUMSHOE game of time travel, investigation and chronal mayhem.

Saturday, 8:00PM – 12:00AM
Serious, 18 & Over ONLY


People You Should Be Paying Attention To

Today, I want to point out some people you should know if you don’t. If there’s a good response to this, I may make this a regular feature of the blog, so be sure to let me know with a comment here.

Quinn Murphy

Quinn’s the mastermind behind Thoughtcrime Games, and he’s working on something a lot of people have tried to do before: create a hip-hop RPG. It’s called Five Fires, and it’s amazing. I’ve gotten the opportunity to play it several times and it’s been a blast each time. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also an all-around nice guy and deep game thinker. If you’re into fighting games or how to put realistic cultures into your games, Quinn’s your guy.

Here’s his Patreon link.

Avery McDaldno

Avery is the talented designer responsible for MonsterHearts, The Quiet Year, and Dream Askew. Buried Without Ceremony is where they call home. Avery’s designs are amazing, and their willingness to be transparent and discuss things is commendable, especially since it is so rare. I appreciate Avery so much, even though I don’t know them that well.

Here’s their Patreon link.