[Dreamation 08] Indie Round Table

edited January 2008 in Story Games
I just want to thank everyone who risked the enthusiasm cannon and spoke up about their game at the Indie Round Table. It continues to be the best part of a fantastic convention for me, and the energy in the room was absolutely rocking.

If people have thoughts, comments, suggestions or anything else to add about the roundtable, I for one would love to hear them.

-Rob D.

Comments

  • I want to know what went down. I was in Delaware at the time. Curse you Delaware!
  • edited January 2008
    Ok, by Memory we went through:
    Jeff Himmelman's Kingdom of Nothing
    Shoshana's (Sp?) idea for a sci-fi + Magic space game
    Russel's Contract Work
    Mendel's game Coming of Age (Thank you Judd!)
    Michael O'Sullivan's Criminal Element
    Ryan Macklin's confessional game of demons and addiction (Just remembered: Damned Anonymous)
    Mark, the odd man out from Dexcon's literary game
    Rob's Misspent Youth

    I _think_ that was it, but now I need to think about each one.

    We did not get to Giants or First Quest which was a shame.

    -Rob D.
  • Posted By: Rob DonoghueMagic space game
    Russel'sContract Work
    Mendel's game that I forget the title of
    Coming of Age
  • Kingdom of Nothing

    This was a status check which we had a lot of interest in since this came up in another roundtable. The premise (Neverwhere-ish homeless folks who have lost everything, with secrets known to the other players, but not to themselves) is great, and it seems that playtests at the con went very well. Jeff Himmelman, the writer, also did the art, and I admit to an envy deep in my heart as copies were passed around. It sounded like one of the big mechanical changes to the game is to move the success counting to a cup of change (as is appropriate for hobos), You dump it out, count only heads, and are trying to get a cash value (say, 35 cents). I'll be curious how it works out in practice, but that struck me as evocative as hell.

    -Rob D.
  • Shoshana's game

    So, right off, I have no last name and may be horribly misspelling her name, so apologies for that. I also want to give her props - we went to Jeff first because KoN was pretty far along, so it was a nice warmup, but she was the first one to really step out with something completely new, which was probably scary as hell given that audience.

    The game was much more about the premise than any kind of rules. Earth has been destroyed, and the creatures of magic have fled to the stars along with humanity. After some Luke Crane kung fu, it turned out that the heart of the game is really about defining humanity now that the context has been removed, but it's also about faeries in space, so take that as you will.

    I think she got a lot of good feedback, but I think she also got a little bombarded. Because here idea was so open, a lot of the responses were more about the responder's interests than her needs, but it was never with anything but the best of intentions. What practically did come out is that she has a very LARP take on the game, and was planning for both tabletop and LARP. A lot of people spoke up to encourage her to separate the two, and make two great games rather than one compromise. I think that was pretty good advice.

    I spoke with her a little bit afterwards, and added a few comments, and found out that the LARP element really is large in her perspective (her design experience is more LARP-leaning), and I think that's probably a very good thing. Personally, I hope she decided the tabletop is secondary, but she comes back. I want to see a LARP come out of the roundtable, by god.

    -Rob D.
  • Contract Work

    This one's another roundtable alum, and poor Russell. He has busted his _ass_ on that game, and has aggressively taken it through many revisions, and i think we did him a bit of a disservice. He had some specific concerns, but the discussion went very broad and in doing so, treaded over a lot of territory that i think he's already been over. I hope he got some useful feedback out of it, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    -Rob D.
  • Coming of Age

    Ok, this was strange and awesome. Mendel's game is done, and he's really very happy with it, but he brought it up to the roundtable with a very unique concern, that people didn't want to play it until they had played it. Basically, the game was fine, but his _pitch_ didn't work.

    And it really didn't. The problem was that, as Mendel explained, the game could do anything. The conversation that followed was basically a roomful of people taking hammers to that idea until they beat out the shape of what was actually distinctive about the game (That it's funny and it plays in 3 hours). Now, I don't know if those things are true, but they represented a pitch that was enough to make me grab a copy to find out, and I was not the only one. Mendel seemed pleased with how it went, and I think that may have been the big win of the roundtable.

    -Rob D.
  • Criminal Element

    This is Michael O'Sullivan's Heist game, and he came in with a very specific question of pacing. His game was rocking once play started, but it took too long to get the ball rolling. He was looking for ways to address that, and I think the room was happy to provide them. I think the big notable idea was to make the initial heist _into_ character generation, since the bulk of play is the things that go wrong after the heist. This was another clear win for the roundtable, to my mind.

    -Rob D.
  • Damned Anonymous

    So, this is Ryan Macklin's game and it's got a really visceral hook. Players have something bad inside them (a demon or whatnot) that drives them to do bad things, in a clear metaphor for addiction. Play happens through therapy, and through all the terrible things the character has done. I'm afraid I put him on the spot and demanded that we see some reality come of this, but I'm pretty confident Ryan can pull it off.

    Like Shoshana, this was a pretty open idea, so the conversation was all over the place, and in parts was much more about people's ideas of therapy than the game. I really have no idea if it generated any useful stuff for Ryan, but it put a flag in the idea, which is not a bad thing.

    -Rob D.
  • Mark

    So, Mark was a guy who has run D&D since the 70's and who showed up at Dexcon with an open mind and some interesting ideas, and I think we kind of blew the top of his head off (in a nice way). I was really happy to see him at the roundtable because I had heard that after Dexcon he went to the rpgsite to talk about how good his experience was, and was met with exactly the response you might expect. I was worried that would have soured him on things.

    Anyway, Mark's in a weird position since I think he's more interested in pursuing his own ideas than actually publishing, but he provides a great counterpoint to the _need_ to publish. His ideas are still good, but what was most telling to me was that in the course of 6 months, he seemed to have taken much more _ownership_ of them, and that was just fan-freaking-tastic to see.

    -Rob D.
  • Misspent Youth

    Rob went last, and was the most illustrative, though not in the ways one might expect. MY is pretty well polished at this point, and Rob had a very specific probability question, to which he received the appropriate answer ("Ask Mendel") almost immediately. The problem is that because we were doing 15 minute blocks, that meant that the conversation went all over the place. It's no sleight to Rob's game, but it illustrated that not every game needs the full 15 minutes. Just something to remember for next year.

    -Rob D.
  • In Summary

    Things ran better when we watched the clock. Early on, Fred ended one discussion with a "lightning round" 90 seconds for brief comments and questions that were not to be answered, and that worked so well that it saw use for the rest of the roundtable. I discussed more structured discussion with some folks afterwards, but I'm not convinced we need to do anything that drastic. The one thing I would change is to go in with the understanding that some games, especially those well into playtest, just need 5 or 10 minutes to tell us how they're doing, or to ask a specific question.

    Also, don't depend on my summaries. This thing was recorded to hell and gone, so someone (Probably Kryos) will hopefully have it all up online sooner or later, so you can judge what worked and what didn't for yourself.

    -Rob D.
  • I'll post a link here once Jeff get's it up.
  • Mark was taking a bit of flak for describing his game mechanic in a vague way, but as soon as he mentioned the phrase "scene template card" the eyes of everybody in the room widened considerably.
  • That was a lot of fun. I hope I didn't come off too "I know what I need, shut up," I just didn't want to waste people's time with stuff I was already pretty comfortable with.

    As it turns out, in speaking to Mendel, the YOs may win conflicts only about 8% of the time. That's bad. Mendel's going to check his math again and I'm going to give him a few possible alternates.
  • Well, I have to agree with Rob's comments. I actually think CW has grown too crunchy to be discussed in 15 minutes. With my brief introduction I left out a lot of detail that I had to fill in for people as they asked questions and offered suggestions. At the same time, I'd hate to be a jerk and just respond "Yeah, I got that already. Moving on!" I should have prepared real questions for the room, but my notes were already confused scribbles.

    I'm revamping A LOT of the game now anyway, including a return to many of the early concepts that I think grew apart from my intended theme. You can expect those to appear here soon. I think online is a better place to discuss this stuff because I can better frame my questions.

    I was very displeased to note the elements of similarity between Contract Work and Criminal Element because much of what I was hoping for with my latest revisions was to make CW less of a heist game. Criminal Element already has that genre locked down with great panache. The notes I took from that will be useful becasue they will delineate what elements I need to separate from my game.
  • Posted By: Robert BohlAs it turns out, in speaking to Mendel, the YOs may win conflicts only about 8% of the time. That's bad. Mendel's going to check his math again and I'm going to give him a few possible alternates.
    Sitting at my desk, stealing time from the job I hate, one cube away from the woman who went to college to work in radio and two away from the guy who's been in 20+ bands since high school waiting for his big break, I still see a feature rather than a bug.
  • Posted By: Rob DonoghueCriminal Element

    This is Michael O'Sullivan's Heist game, and he came in with a very specific question of pacing. His game was rocking once play started, but it took too long to get the ball rolling. He was looking for ways to address that, and I think the room was happy to provide them. I think the big notable idea was to make the initial heist _into_ character generation, since the bulk of play is the things that go wrong after the heist. This was another clear win for the roundtable, to my mind.

    -Rob D.
    Excellent. I'd definitely like to take a stab at playtesting this, but now I'd like to see some of these changes incorporated first. Having the Score be chargen (like the Master in MLwM, for example) makes a lot of sense to me.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Posted By: Rob DonoghueDamned Anonymous

    So, this is Ryan Macklin's game and it's got a really visceral hook. Players have something bad inside them (a demon or whatnot) that drives them to do bad things, in a clear metaphor for addiction. Play happens through therapy, and through all the terrible things the character has done. I'm afraid I put him on the spot and demanded that we see some reality come of this, but I'm pretty confident Ryan can pull it off.

    Like Shoshana, this was a pretty open idea, so the conversation was all over the place, and in parts was much more about people's ideas of therapy than the game. I really have no idea if it generated any useful stuff for Ryan, but it put a flag in the idea, which is not a bad thing.
    I did end up writing down a couple ideas after ducking out to catch my flight -- the games Tobias mentioned, the idea of predestination (which, honestly, I had been fighting against for some time before the panel, which I recognize as my own story gamer damage now), Judd's idea of everyone putting events they've dealt with into a hat.

    If I had one, eh, criticism of the experience, it's that I wanted to unpack ideas about the support group dynamic more, as that's what I'm struggling with. But I don't think I really got to say that, being bombarded with questions and comments. That said, there was some good stuff said about how support groups could work in a game that'll make for a decent starting point.
  • edited January 2008
    First, Rob, thanks for posting all of the notes. I threatened in another thread to post about the Roundtable when I got home tonight and I was dreading having to write all of that stuff down. You took that bullet, as well as many others. Thanks!

    Second, thank you to every one who contributed to the roundtable. It was an incredible experience, sitting around the table with people who immediately made me feel like a peer rather than a student. Even through the great gaming that was to be had at the convention, this event was easily the highlight of my weekend. I must have said 'thank you' a million times at the end of the roundtable, and I'll keep saying it.

    On to the specifics. Like Rob said, I went into the roundtable with a very specific concern for Criminal Element (or Judd's new name for it, "Criminal Fucking Element"). I'd had a couple of blind beta playtests run of my game that all came back with no problems beyond a couple of writing issues. I'd been thinking that I had a game that was pretty much ready for the prime time. Yet I'd been haunted by the idea of pacing in my game.

    You see, whenever I run the game I always seem to spend an hour and a half setting things up, when ideally I'd like it to take about half as long. Once game play gets rolling the mechanics generate an incredible amount of forward velocity that is quite satisfying, but first you have to slog through the setup. And that's something that just irks me.

    I threw this concern out in front of everyone and got some great ideas from the table, from using an egg timer to simulate the pressure of prepping the heist to actually doing character creation as the heist. I loved each of these ideas and walked away from the table all a-simmer with creative juices.

    But... and here's the 'but'... when I first threw the question out there, Luke Crane in his inimitable way said simply "Fucking run it faster." Then he smiled and said he was joking. But there was a part of him, I think, that wasn't. And there was a part of me that completely agreed with him.

    I sat on the suggestions of the round table for the past couple of days and I kept coming back to what Luke said. I talked to Judd about it a little bit and he backed up Luke's simple statement. He'd gotten the game to work exactly how I wanted it to, and ran it with no changes from the text I presented him with. So, maybe I actually did need to run it faster.

    You see, the weird thing about these considerations is that CE works. As is, it works. Playing the game generates exactly the kind of stories that I want it to, a story in which the heist and its fallout are equally important.

    Like the old saying goes, if it ain't broke...

    So I'm going to streamline some things here and there. Take out some elements of game setup that are ancillary or redundant. Then I'm going to playtest this puppy and learn how to be a faster GM.

    If this doesn't work then it's back to the drawing board for another pass. But knowing that I've got the support of my fellow creators makes that a much less scary thing that it would be otherwise.
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Russell CollinsI was very displeased to note the elements of similarity between Contract Work and Criminal Element because much of what I was hoping for with my latest revisions was to make CW less of a heist game. Criminal Element already has that genre locked down with great panache. The notes I took from that will be useful becasue they will delineate what elements I need to separate from my game.
    Russel, I haven't had the chance to play your game yet, but I'd really love to compare notes with you. There's a little bit of common ground between our games, though there is definitely also a very singular vision that each of us is bringing to the table. Hell, it isn't like we don't live near each other or anything. Email me at mposullivan1978 at gmail dot com.
    Posted By: Great Wolf

    Excellent. I'd definitely like to take a stab at playtesting this, but now I'd like to see some of these changes incorporated first. Having the Score be chargen (like the Master in MLwM, for example) makes a lot of sense to me.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf

    I'm working on a new, stripped down playtest draft that I should hopefully have done in about two weeks time. I'll be sure to post up here about it when it's all ready. I'd be absolutely thrilled to have you playtest the game.
  • Posted By: MPOSullivanThen I'm going to playtest this puppy and learn how to be a faster GM.
    And then codify what you have learned as rules or Director advice, which you will then add to your playtest draft.

    An important part of in-house playtesting that I fully realized during development of Dirty Secrets is discovering the techniques that your group is using to make the game functional and communicating those techniques to the end user. Much of the Handbook chapter of Dirty Secrets (as well as some of the rules themselves) came simply from observing our own play.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • I love Russel's Contract Work and Rob's Misspent Youth. One highlight of Dreamation was telling Rob that what he thinks is broken in his game is something I think is a feature and awesome!

    Jeff Himmelman's Kingdom of Nothing looked hot. The character sheet alone sold me.

    I don't really know much about Coming of Age but Mendel seems like a very interesting person that I want to game with!
  • Where can I find out more about Kingdom of Nothing?
  • Posted By: MarhaultWhere can I find out more about Kingdom of Nothing?
    At Master Mines.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: Rob DonoghueMark

    So, Mark was a guy who has run D&D since the 70's and who showed up at Dexcon with an open mind and some interesting ideas, and I think we kind of blew the top of his head off (in a nice way). I was really happy to see him at the roundtable because I had heard that after Dexcon he went to the rpgsite to talk about how good his experience was, and was met with exactly the response you might expect. I was worried that would have soured him on things.

    Anyway, Mark's in a weird position since I think he's more interested in pursuing his own ideas than actually publishing, but he provides a great counterpoint to the _need_ to publish. His ideas are still good, but what was most telling to me was that in the course of 6 months, he seemed to have taken much more _ownership_ of them, and that was just fan-freaking-tastic to see.

    -Rob D.
    Hey Rob,

    It's me, Mark. That is Mark Abrams, for those who might want to know. My game is named Elthos RPG.

    Just want to say that it was really great to see you guys at the Round Table. As I said on theRPGSite, and got summarily executed for saying it, you guys have great energy, enthusiasm and ideas, so you're really tremendously fun to be around. And I really appreciate the hard-hitting advice! I'm very psyched to have met you all. Thanks!

    Yup yup, I suspect your quite right about the weirdness of my position in relation to publishing. While I do *want* to publish, as you'll see if you check the thread on Story Games titled "Elthos RPG", I'm making good progress, but what I'm working is ... er ... complex. And as I listen to you guys, and think about my ideas, they are ... er ... evolving. So ... it's taking a damn wicked long time for me to produce. Just to quickly recap for anyone interested: I started GMing in 1978. In 1994 I started programming my rules system which is a homebrew variant of D&D, and by 2000 created a pretty awesome client side application that runs my entire game, including mapping, combat, magic, skills, etc. Then in 2006 I started the Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester with Jarod (our web presence can be found on Yahoo Groups "LRPGSW"). For the LRPGSW I wanted a super lightweight system we could play *unobtrusively* at the pub where we were meeting at nights, without all the papers and books and whatever. So I created the One Die System, which distills my larger set of game rules into a teeny tiny set. So the rules for the ODS are about 10 pages, plus some help sheets. That's a PDF which I haven't posted yet because I haven't play tested it sufficiently. (I'm looking for playtesters, btw). Anyway, since 2006 I created a website application that runs the ODS rules, but not the main system rules (that's a client application). The difference is that the Website is Story Focused in that it lets the GM create worlds, with places and adventures in text and store them online. It's pretty ambitious idea and I have no clue if anyone will be interested, but it rolls characters and handles skills, and magic selection and items... but it doesn't in this incarnation run combat, though it does do combat calcs between adventrue gruops to print out color enhanced combat matrixes. I hope to get this piece online .. er ... soon. Sigh... As you can see, it's complicated. But, nevertheless, I'm forging ahead, albeit slowly.

    Oh, and none of this is to mention the Setting of Elthos, which itself is a huge literary astro-tarot Jungian extravaganza related to The Hero's Journey and the Quests of Sovereignty, with roots in Norse, Greek, Celtic (Irish) mythology, and an internal thread related to Aikido and Chinese Wutang Boxing (Bagua, Hsing-Yi, and Tai Chi). Right. I know what your thinking ... oh my freaking word! But in all honesty, I'm working on a Astro-Tarot card system in conjunction with a Mythic Template card system to help me tie ll these elements together into a nice rainbow of mythological terrain. Hah. So as you can see... Rob was dead on right... only I do plan to actually publish... first the ODS, then the Primary game, and then the Setting. If all goes well you may hear from me again.

    Next step: PlayTesters for the ODS rules. Anyone interested please let me know. Thanks.

    Anyway, upshot: super to meet you folks! Thanks for the enthusiastic encouragement! Its great to be able to sit around with you other Game Designer types and ... just be there! Awesome. Much much much appreciated! And no, I didn't let the bizzar accusations of "Spy Spy Infiltrator Evil!!" at theRPGSite get me down. In fact later on they kinda accepted my presence, and I got a few words in edgewise on a few posts. However, I think they mostly think I'm a spy from ... Story Games. LOL. Hrmmm... anyway, thanks again! See you next go around!

    Mark
  • Ah! It's you! Hi, Mark!

  • (Mark bows).

    Yes, tis me. Interesting forum, btw. So, as long as I have your attention - I'm looking for playtesters in the Westchester NY area... any suggestions on how to drum up playtesters (impartial) would be awesome. That's basically my current mission in coming to Story Games... and any good advice would be very helpful. Thanks!

    - Mark
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