When I was lost and cried out for blorb and couldn't find blorb

edited June 2019 in Story Games

Story of my two wasted decades!

I started with some very crappy and bad roleplaying games. Some 90s games.

I had never seen a module, a location-based module. I had no idea that such a thing could exist.

I had seen railroad- or funnel- type adventure books. These absolutely sucked because the players zagged off them within three seconds.

Sometimes books mentioned prepping a game world and I was like “Prepping every grain of sand on the entire planet, that’s not reasonable, no, no, no!” (Similar to how some people reacted in my other thread recently). Because I hadn’t seen the tools that the OSR community cooked up (some of these weren’t new).

I was like “Wait, do they really mean that you can just cheat and railroad and force and do all kinds of shit back here behind this screen? Why don’t you just improvise everything then? Why do you need all of these heavy rules and all these heavy traditional techniques?” (Also in the 90s, games were super complicated & cumbersome. Everything was like “oh this is a Mental Hard Skill it costs 12 character points to buy to the level of your attribute +2” and I was like uh… I’m just a li’l kid and also math is hard.) First three or four years wasted on just being confused!!! Everyone was like “Sandra, don’t even look at D&D, it sucks, what is AC anyway, you dodge better in plate are you serious? What’s a class and level, you graduate fighter school in the middle of the dungeon?”)

And then I found Everway and Fudge/SLUG to be like “hey girl relax you can play these kindsa game more easily”. Some ten years of pretty happy & working gaming! Dropping the dice&cards after a while. Some really memorable sessions that I’ll treasure always. But… I had one player who was really into this type of gaming but everyone else dropped out and was Not Into It. I had a really hard time keeping players around and I didn’t know why and maybe they didn’t know either but…

I believe now why they didn’t like it is that the agency was super low. I made pregens, I “improvised” the stories, the outcomes of their actions… the one player that it grooved with was skilled at switching stances on a moment’s notice. For example, he made a character that could switch minds and memories with other characters, so when he stole the memories of the NPC, I could be like “And now, it’s time for you to reveal your big secret plan!” and he, as the NPC, would reveal a perfectly grand secret plan that that NPC could’ve created. Stance hopping. I trusted him with this and when I didn’t extend that same trust to other players, they dropped out. When I did extend the same trust to other players, they froze in the headlights & dropped out.

Then , at a party, someone told me about an anecdote from a game. Something about a stolen helicopter and a one in two hundred chance that the PCs could fly it correctly with no skill and them flying it for a while—longer than anyone expected—until crashing it and dying. I was like “Wait, that could never happen in my happy rule-less/dice-less game. [They would’ve just said “nuh-uh, we don’t die” and/or I would’ve been too invested in their success to put them in real harms way] I need to bring back rules!”

Then followed seven years or so (roughly) of absolutely miserable and awful gaming! Flailing around needing blorb but not having any idea about blorb or that anything like blorb could exist! Remember, I had never seen a location-based module. I read like 200 core books, the occasional railroady adventure book or campaign book, being like… “but these games are half games, there are rules for the PCs but where are the rules for the GM/Storyteller/Keeper?”

There are posts on S-G from me from that period where I’m applying this to Lady Blackbird and Cthulhu Dark (the latter though isn’t “half a game” because it does have the “Use these rules to play modules” clause. It’s just that I hadn’t seen any of these modules—the CoC / ToC adventures that I had stumbled over where railroady).

There’s a thread on The Big Purple where I’m arguing with a GURPS fan and I’m being so stupid (from the POV of someone who knows that prep and blorb are things). I’m discussing the jumping rules which are… kinda complicated… you can jump (lowest of [(2 × [BM + yards ran before jump]) - 3 feet], (2 × [(2 × [BM]) - 3 feet])), where “BM” is floor([(HT+DX)/4] + [increments of five character points spent during creation]). (You can see why I kinda bounced off it as a kid. And why it lead me to having to learn a bunch of math and stuff later in life. Which is boring af.) And I’m like OK, cool, cool, where are the rules for how wide chasms the GM can put in there? I couldn’t find them? And the guy, the GURPS fan is like “the GM can just decide freely the chasm widths” and I’m like whiskey tango actual foxtrot? Because I didn’t understand how prep could work. I had never seen a location based module. I was all character points and “fairness” and… and…

Here is why “No Paper After Seeing Rock” principle starts to make sense, too, right? Placing chasms after character creation does feel a bit…

At this point I’m also doing Fiasco (which works great—like the good games with the stance-switching-skilled guy except more people are being able to grok it because the game explains itself way better than I ever did, and, more importantly, we’re less tied to my conception of how the story should unfold) and Fate (which works not so great because I have no diegetic coherence and also the game is imbalanced af, sometimes they breeze through an army of death robots and sometimes they lose horribly to a tiny li’l werewolf) and then bam. First few months of 2013, I think it was. [So way late to the party compared to Grognardia and the OSR community which, at that point, had grown a large presence even in my own city.] “Mirror story” happens. I’m like whaaaat. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life!

It’s even possible that I had played in some fully blorby games [with rando passing-through GMs] before that, I remember a WoD game that was awesome or a CoC game that was unusally tense. But I didn’t know they were blorby. I was like “What are those rules the DM is using to create this stuff? All of this could just as easily be improvised, right? Is it?” Playing in The Lost City not knowing that it was blorby or what blorb was “but an unsually cool session”, reading the module [seeing how much "there" there was], and then shortly thereafter playing in the “mirror story” game… just finally getting it.


  • That was also my reaction when I read the “no myth” thread on Forge… “You mean like I’ve been playing for the last ten years already?”

    I want to teach and explain blorb & gloracle, especially to new DMs, because I know for a fact that some people do not know that it exists, because I was one.

    Now, a lot of GMs saw success in the seventies and eighties by compromising blorb a little bit, here and there. Fudging, improvising, incorporating player ideas. It is completely understandable how this happened, why they saw early success, and how that lead to… the 90s… :anguished:

    (From this perspective of gaming history the word “renaissance” is really appropriate.)

    You’re in a 90s muck and system stops mattering and it’s all… and then people were like “this ain’t working. The hobby is shrinking af and it’s just…” so in comes… on the one hand, the forge dorks. “Hey system needs to start mattering again, how can we make it more coherent, how can we find rules for the entire procedure of play, not just for the ‘players’” and on the other hand, the OSR dorks, saying… pretty much the exact same thing. (Mixed in with some other cargo cult artifacts that got bricolaged in there such as “rulings not rules”, “classic pulp tropes”, “the more gonzo the better” etc.)

    (I’ve said before that obv “rulings not rules” and games like Searchers of the Unknown was a reaction to the lopsidedness of some 90s games like GURPS [I know it was published in 1985]. Maybe an overreaction; the problem wasn’t that there were rules for jumping (which Searchers of the Unknown doesn’t have at all), the problem was the quantum play culture.)

  • It’s also understandable how I, from the railroady adventure books, couldn’t deduce the existence of blorb.

    These books are a collection of events. “First the players go here and do this, then they go here and do this, and then they go here and do this. If they don’t go here and don’t do this, you can improv a bit until you’re back on track.” It’s either obvious that the “events” are suggestions [in which case they teach nothing about tangibility/solidity/blorb], or you take them rigidly in which case you’re gonna come down hard on agency.

    I only gave these types of adventures a handful of tries, generally sticking to complete improvisation instead. [In my non-agential, crappy improvisation b/c stance issues didn’t lead me to incorporate player ideas in a consistent way. It’s not that I couldn’t improvise and (content warning: extreme gore, horror) do what the guy is doing in this video, I can, easily. It’s that I didn’t do it in a way that was agential.

    It’s all still just hat-pullery and “maybe this happens, maybe that happens, idk” and “it’s true because I say so, that’s why it’s true”. You can see how something like the “mirror story” would be mind blowing to me in that context. How, comparatively, “real” it felt.

  • Nice summary! There are some really great insights in there.
  • edited June 2019
    I was like the two kids in this chess story but for roleplaying games.

    I had a similar way of thinking as le Joueur did when he came up with the "no myth" philosophy.

    When the mirror story happened, that was a… can you imagine? Can you imagine the two chess kids in that story going on for twenty years and then one day stumbling over a chess board? Wait, what, there is a board? I was utterly and thoroughly shocked at the experience!

    And… I was not alone in being unaware of, or not believing in, the board. I go on forums and try to teach this stuff or explain this stuff and they're like "stfu you timecube kook, go back to the streets with your "end is nigh" sign, just leave us alone with your crazy theories". And that is wearing me down.
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