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Posted By: Paul CzegeHow about the text of my "invitation" from the Acts of Evil ashcan:
Here's me reaching out to the right ones in the Invitation that opens the Acts of Evil ashcan:
This book is an unfinished game of occult horror. You will grasp reality and bend it to a mythology of your own chthonic godhood.
I know it's playable and fun, and disturbing, because I've had fun, and I've been disturbed, playing and running it. But the game isn't quite delivering on some design goals that are important to me, and so I don't consider it fully baked yet.
You've noticed the splatter-painted cover and copy-shop aesthetic. Well, I'm a big fan of homemade indie comics, and so I've borrowed those same aesthetics as a way of clearly saying the game isn't store ready, and of getting productively out of the producer/consumer paradigm.
There was a time when the landscape of gaming was less divided into consumers and producers. And still today, playing hobby games requires you to think like a designer, make rule decisions during play, and solve design problems.
So this "ashcan" edition of Acts of Evil is inspired by my desire to connect with you, not as producer to consumer, but as designer to designer. If the idea of a game about the competitive pursuit of chthonic godhood is appealing, or if my deranged, splatter-painted iconography suggested the book could be a garage edition of an occult Bible, then consider that you're probably the game's eventual target audience, moved backward in time by my magic, so your insights and play feedback might move the game forward.
The text is written with single-minded focus toward that end. When I know from playtesting that a rule isn't delivering on my purpose for it, or needs validation or refinement, or if it's a new rule that aims to solve a design issue, I've flagged it with questions. When I'm unsure if my text is clear enough to effectively create the intended play dynamic, I've included design notes. The game is a more complex snarl of interconnected resource pools than My Life with Master, and so very much needs the feedback of general playtesting, but there's also a playtest scenario that aims to focus attention on an intended emergent property of play that has been elusive in prior playtests.
Personally, playtesting and providing feedback on games is probably my favorite thing in the whole hobby. Buying an ashcan doesn't make you a consumer, it makes roleplaying a hobby of design.
Entry 1An Ashcan is an unfinished game, published cheaply for the purpose of garnering feedback for a later, fuller release. Ashcans are published because the designer feels the design is as of yet complete, or is problematic, and feels that only further play will help the design process.
Entry 2An unfinished game, deliberately labeled as unfinished, placed before the public in order to solicit feedback, either for free or for sale.
Entry 3The general definition I think of and use: A mostly completed game sold in abbreviated form at a low price, sometimes with the promise of a 'full' version in return for feedback and/or playtesting.
On a personal level: I feel like they can be a little deceptive if the buyer doesn't really understand what they're getting. In my extremely limited experience I also think they can be a last ditch attempt to sell a game that just wasn't ready for a Con, and so I approach them with the initial skepticism that "This is rushed / more unfinished than stated." However, it seems like a useful gimmick to gain playtesting feedback and a little bit of exposure. Considering how difficult it can be to get both things, I wouldn't hold it against anyone who made use of ashcans.
Entry 4It's that thing people invented to be able to sell their half-baked games on GenCon without being accused of selling half-baked games on GenCon. Cuz, you know, technically it's not selling games, but selling a dialog with the designer or somesuch. (At least until the next GenCon, when accusations of selling half-baked ashcans start.)
Also, it's the thing people tell me I'll have to write for my own game at some point, despite not really planning to sell it. Cuz, you know, a game is not complete these days if it didn't went through a proper ashcan stage and some other fancy stages nobody cared about back in 2001. I just hope nobody invents an additional stage just before I'm done with it.
Also, it's some other things. If you say it's an ashcan I'll believe you and call it an ashcan. Nobody said words can't mean multiple things.