I was talking to Jeff Kalles, who you might remember as Jeff No-Magic from Acquisitions Incorporated, about it yesterday. The man is a Project Manager just, like, in his blood, and to hear him tell it managing the kind of seismic success a game like Fortnite is experiencing is an incredibly sophisticated challenge. There’s always gonna be the “Good problem to have,” wink-nudge contingent, and certainly it can be effectively argued that wealth is superior to destitution. No doubt a tasteful chart would help drive this point home: the bars could be made up of, like, dollar bills or something. The one for Destitution could be very small, only a few pixels in height.
But the manic pace of the updates was always going to result in an algae bloom type scenario. Personally, I like this mad energy. As somebody who makes things I want to know that people who share this drive are able to transform this opportunity into a canvas where this desperate energy - and I mean that in the best possible way - has a venue of expression. But that doesn’t mean that every idea is good for the game. Hearing that the guided missile was on time-out made me happy because it indicated that it’s not simply raw inertia over there, even in this heady context, somebody’s still driving even if it means curating out a feature that has delivered untold viral reach.
But yes, success as disease. Compared to their initial contemporaries, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds was ridiculously responsive - and then they were alone, functionally without equal, on a high roost atop a spur of volcanic rock. PUBG’s own explosive success created the preconditions for what looked like lethargy externally, particularly in the face of a ravenous young competitor. Their response was a fair bit of time coming, but it’s begun to reflect a new dynamism from philosophical shifts in the collapsing circle to entirely new modes with respawns. There’s enough room for both of these games and they’re making each other better every day.
My Xbox Live account and at least one of my Uplay accounts are all tied to an ancient Hotmail, which I think is now just some inward lump of Outlook, slowly shriveling like a parasitic twin. It has a folder called Junk Mail, and this folder currently “haz” forty-five mails in it, but even a cursory glance at the “mail” folder will tell you that every mail in there for the last several years is spam. Something like a game reserve, where spam might run free.
(I used to use an Outlook plugin called “SpamBayes” back in the day that was the most effective tool I’d ever seen for managing Spam, but aside from its incredible efficacy it also called non-spam email “ham,” a designation I’m more pleased with than is probably warranted.)
I took a different plane home than everybody else from hashtag PAX East, meeting the fam and Brenna’s parents in Hawaii. I’m not very good at Paradise; my idea of a good time is doing what I’m doing now - writing in the dark. This is why creating people without your hangups is kind of handy. Sometimes you do something else, something you might not have otherwise, and you bring those things with you back into the dark room.
I did briefly experience a savory new condition that was like a mixed plate of agoraphobia and claustrophobia which was so ridiculous I was eventually able to think my way out of it. It’s like, what is this horseshit? No, mind. You only get one.
When I arrived, Brenna had already purchased a ukulele for Ronia. I spent the next, like, four days playing it. Songs just fall out of these things. There is a hole right in the front where songs condense and then precipitate. The only challenge, really, is deciding which of the songs you’re gonna finish. But this is a rad problem and I’m not mad.
The main takeaway is that I finally figured out the linguistic role of the word “one” in Pidgin. It wasn’t very hard and I don’t know why it took me so long. In another ten years, hopefully I’ll be able to systematize the word “kine,” which is so versatile it’s less a word and something like a grammatical mortar.
If I’m going to commit to a Wargame, it has to present itself to me as a place where stories happen.
It’s not purely a function of lore, or “fluff,” the story doesn’t have to be a literal story but so many Wargames have so much great fiction underneath them that I can’t be the only one who really wants to buy in to something like this. What I mean is that the systems that apportion time, define units, and regulate interactions have to render these abstractions in a way that feels narrative.
Infinity is a game that’s especially good at both. The shit they’ve got going on with the Nomads, a rootless starfaring faction whose ships are defined by their unique cultures, is just incredibly well thought out. But the game itself manufactures little portents everywhere. Reacting to your opponent with actions on their turn is an assumption, in addition to a dice system that is engineered to extract the most drama possible - one that lets the scrubbiest kind of motherfucking scrub murder kings, if the stars allow. It all works to bring that galactic scale down a few desperate models.
There’s a couple things in Star Wars: Legion that I think might lend themselves to interesting moments from my look over the manual. I might be butchering this a little, but I’m new:
Every one of your units - a fleet of speederbikes, a Sith Lord, a squad of Snowtroopers - have a token associated with the class of unit they are. You start the Round by drawing a card, and these cards allow you to issue orders to the number of units indicated on the card along with any other function asserted by the text. That’s not super crazy. Here’s where it gets novel: when you issue an order, you place that unit’s token near to it. You can choose to activate that unit when you want to. The rest of the tokens? For everybody else you control? Those get placed face down and when you go to activate one of those units, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get what you wanted. Call it Fog Of War, call it Plans Not Surviving Contact With The Enemy, but that fragility of the command structure when forces meet is modeled in there. You can plan, but not completely. I find that interesting. There’s more, too; but man. I think I’m done reading. I think I’m ready to roll some dice.
If you’re kind of a nerd, and given what site you’re currently reading it’s not a completely ridiculous assumption, you might be the sort of person who reads rulebooks for fun. Well, they’re all up on the site if you wanna be that motherfucker.
Almost exactly 10 years ago someone literally had to pay me to play Dungeons & Dragons. Whatever impression I had of the game before that, it was the wrong one. Within a week of playing Jim Darkmagic for the first time I was on the phone with Jerry asking what books I needed to buy in order to be a dungeon master.
I started my own home game shortly after and running that game every Monday for my friends was the most fun I’ve ever had playing games. I discovered pretty quick that while I loved D&D, what I really loved was messing with D&D. Specifically pulling themes and mechanics from video games and trying to fit them into a tabletop experience. One of my early games used Dungeon Tiles, tiny mirrors and a laser pointer to recreate a classic light puzzle from every adventure game you have ever played.
In another game I used a slideshow full of cards to simulate random drops from every enemy the group killed. With each death I progressed to the next random slide. It could be trash:
Or it could be something cool.
This particular game gave me a lot of the ideas I used for my game at PAX East this year.
Later in the campaign I wanted to try and simulate a massive open world game. I took a month and built out a huge map of a place I called the Estwild and populated it with encounters and adventures of all kinds. I then gave the party a blank hex map and let them go wherever they wanted.
This was another of my early games that inspired some of the mechanics in my Battle Royale adventure.
One of the last games we played took place on the Elemental Plane.
I designed a bunch of mechanics that let the party hop from orb to orb as they tumbled through the chaos.
Eventually all of this culminated in me wanting to design my own game from scratch for them to play. Rather than build on D&D I set out to make something entirely unique and that started out as a game called Card Warriorz and four years later became Thornwatch.
When Tycho let me DM the C Team I could not help but revert back to my old habits. Wizard Kart was so much fun and honestly I’ve got ideas for a Super Wizard Kart that I hope will see the light of day at some point.
When I learned that I had the opportunity to run the AI game at East this year I knew right away that I had to try and do something that would capture the spirit of the current Battle Royale craze in gaming. I ended up enlisting the help of some incredibly talented folks at PA and together I think we managed to pull off something pretty special. If you have not seen “Wizard Unknowns Battle Royale” yet you can watch the entire thing right here on Witch.
I’ll be working with the folks who helped me make this happen to put together another post in the future that lays out the entire process. Lots of people have asked for the materials and rules to try and run something like this for their own game. I plan on doing exactly that once I figure out the best way to do it. You’d be surprised how light my notes are even for something like this and if other people are gonna play it, I’d like to tighten them up a bit.
I know there are a lot of Dungeon Masters out there who are sticklers for the rules. I’ve played with people who want to consult the DMG for every question that arises at a table. I do not believe there is anything wrong with playing a game by its rules, indeed that’s how they are intended to be played. I think Dungeons and Dragons is a special case though. In my opinion it is a testament to the pure genius of the rules, that a crazy person like me can stretch them like taffy and still maintain the spirit of the game. You can look at D&D as a finished game, or you can look at it as an incredible foundation for your own.