The Five Mechanic Game

There’s a wide world of games out there, but the ones that get played and talked about the most are more similar than you may think. In the realm of traditional games, most games have their rules structured the same way, at the same level of detail, to accomplish roughly the same goal. It means many of us that grew up among the bursting libraries of games in the 80s and 90s thought we were well-read, only to be waylaid by some markedly different ideas when the games of the Forge era like Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World started becoming popular.

Last week, I talked a bit about the idea of complexity, and grounded it to the idea of how many mechanics a game has interacting at once. This makes a game like Blades in the Dark, with many overlapping systems, more complex, while a game like Dread, where there is only one mechanic and it’s essentially ‘Jenga Or Die’, is less complex. What’s more interesting, though, is what it says about the middle. Basically every traditional game, from the real bloats like Exalted all the way down to little digest editions like Savage Worlds, have roughly the same type and number of mechanics. That number is five: character creation, task resolution, combat, game mastering, and at least one subsystem of note.

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Warpland: Anathematic Science and Dawning Magick

The chaos that followed the War has never been properly described by any poet or scribe. There are vague accounts of mountains falling and the ground opening up like a mouth to swallow entire cities. We support our reason on the natural order of things, and this order was disrupted when the very fabric of reality was torn apart. Neither side would ever claim victory. From all this suffering and devastation, the Void grew like a blister until it burst, infecting reality like a disease, stretching its tendrils of darkness across the ruined northern territories, corrupting it all with its nothingness.

As the bewildered Demiurge contemplated how his once proud work crumbled, a solemn silence fell, and then—rising in a crescendo from beyond the limits of possibility—a boundless, terrible wail was felt by all things living and not, shaking the very pillars of creation; and just before retreating forever to unknown sidereal regions, His cosmic finger signaled the broken realm.

Once again, Man was allowed to be. Welcome to Warpland.

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On Complexity

Games are complex systems, and as such gamers have incredibly eclectic relationships with complexity. This is true across the ecosystem; tabletop RPGs might have Honey Heist and GURPS while digital gamers have Candy Crush and Dwarf Fortress. Gaming has always had room for one-pagers to sit alongside clockwork behemoths and all coexist. Unfortunately, as is wont to occur, someone mistakes a preference for a judgment, and then we just have Twitter, where GURPS is the butt of a joke but somehow all indie games are just make-believe story circles.

The problem with trying to have a real discussion about preferences for complexity in games as well as rules density in games is twofold. First, complexity and rules density aren’t related. Second, and perhaps equally important, is that a game’s tendency towards having either physical rules or narrative rules is also not related to either complexity or rules density. Because the world likes making things difficult, though, there are confounding factors that do make these elements correlate. This muddies the waters because many associate a complex game with a game that has a lot of rules, and many also associate indie, narrative games with low complexity. These assumptions are both wrong, or at least flawed.

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Crowdfunding Carnival: March, 2022

Step right up, step right up! The Crowdfunding Carnival is continuing for March, and we’ve got a doozy of a month to look at. In the wake of Zine Month, where are all those dollars going? And how was Zine Month, anyway? Seamus hit the games but I’ll be hitting the numbers, comparing Zine Month with ZineQuests of years past and seeing if we can’t draw a few conclusions.

Like last month, the quantitative part of the Crowdfunding Carnival comes from a start-of-month snapshot done the Monday before the article goes live. While this can’t capture every campaign that goes down over the timeframe, it at least gives us an idea of where the funding needles are pointing for Kickstarter, Gamefound, and Indiegogo. And for March, the needles are pointing up. There is about $400,000 more funding in play at the start of March than there was at the start of February, and over twice as many projects. And while this snapshot doesn’t give us a whole story, both Zine Month and some general pickup coming out of the post-holiday slump can share the credit for this uplift.

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Zine Month Round Up #5

Practicing a new (and literally newer than most) language via a roleplaying game.  The exchange between the distance between two people and the people themselves. A doomed mech pilot trying to help the survivors of their people reach safety. Delving in the darkness, maybe never to return. Saving the Jewish people by masquerading as Queens. We’ve done it once, twice, thrice, and four times before, let’s check out one last batch of Zine Month games and make it five, then have a serious talk about itchfunding!

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When The Game Blows Up

You have a great idea for a new campaign. You explain it to your group, and everyone’s on board. Session Zero goes great, it seems like everyone has made interesting characters and is totally bought in to the premise. Then you start playing. For whatever reason, things just aren’t hitting the same way that everyone thought. Then comes the big inciting action. This will drive everyone to really dive in, right? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe everyone’s looking across the table awkwardly. Maybe someone gets upset, maybe not. Whatever happened, the game blew up, and now it’s time to pick up the pieces.

When most of the hobby assumes that you’ll pick one game and play it forever, there’s not a lot said about the risks of trying something new. Even among those inveterate RPG collectors with four dozen different systems in their bookshelf, there were never that many games that were really *out there* until recently…and even now, the vast majority of games sold hew to a common template. So, when the range of experiences and expectations is fairly narrow, you have to be prepared for what happens when you step outside of those experiences and expectations and something unpleasant happens.

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