Tag Archives: Games

Murder, chocolate pudding, and ponies

I was playing a game this week in which you play a little rabbit creature with magic powers. The unstated goal was to murder everything in sight, for which you were rewarded with experience that made you stronger in interesting and fun ways. At one point my little serial killer came upon a creature she had been chasing, who was now stuck under some rubble. The protagonist rescued it and the narrator of the game informed me that she had reminded this creature that there is still kindness and mercy in the forest. After accepting the stolen artifact for her inspiring love, the protagonist blew up an owl with two magic missiles and used its soul to empower her to do so again in the future using only one magic missile.

 

dark chocolate orange pudding recipe

On Friday, I made orange dark chocolate pudding for a party. I’m not sure it was the right snack for that venue. I didn’t put as much effort into the presentation as the above picture. People liked the dish for not being excessively sweet, and even though only three people out of eight (including me) ate any, one person may have had three bowls of it. I still have an awful lot left over, so I’ll take some to my co-workers who expressed interest on Friday when I mentioned I was going to make it.

But the crowning story of this week, if we include the prior weekend, is that Alice got to go visit the wild ponies of Virginia.

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Enraged, a wild pony viciously attacks Alice’s hip.

It is illegal to pet these ponies. Please witness in this picture, Alice is not petting the pony. To my knowledge, there are no laws in the state of Virginia against being eaten by ponies.

Asymmetric Information in D&D

The key element of a Dungeons and Dragons game is the party. Seldom does a dungeon master run an entire campaign for just one person. A cooperative group of players is central to the game since its founding, and is so entrenched that when a player doesn’t want to cooperate, things can go very badly even outside the game itself.

But that can make for a dull story. Imagine if the Lord of the Rings had no Boromir, a friend turned foe by the evil power of the One Ring only to be later redeemed. NPCs can serve this purpose handily, but it’s harder to get player characters to change alliances and fight with one another.

One issue is well-defined moral dichotomy, which to some extent I have already discussed. Another part of the matter is that information is necessarily shared between all players. If the dungeon master tells a player what his or her character is seeing, all players hear. When crowded around a small game table, inconspicuously getting around this may be easier said than done.

It’s not impossible, though. If you pass a note to a player, other players will see that you’ve passed a note, but not the contents. If you write a text message, they will hear the ‘ping,’ but won’t know what has been communicated. These are only good for simple messages, as few players are willing to wait while their DM types out a page of details on his or her phone.

For more in-depth privileged communication, I recommend what I refer to as a “Special Session.” A special session is a session of a campaign devoted entirely to one member of a party. Generally this can happen while the other party members are asleep or after another excuse to split one player off. I have run special sessions in person and on Google Docs, exchanging DM descriptions and player actions in text rather than through speech. In the latter case it can even take place over a number of days, although it must end before the regular party comes together again, or the story might not be able to accommodate the separated player participating with the rest of the group.

I have tried a few of these methods with exciting results. For one example, I have a druid in my party who can understand spider talk, so I send him texts of everything the spiders around his druid are saying. Colleen elected to tell none of her friends what her arachnid friends were telling her, much to the rest of the party’s chagrin. Another character had a midnight meeting with an NPC who begged permission to kill another NPC party member, a zombie, whose very existence she felt was against her God Pelor. This led to a dramatic, improvised sequence in which the party debated whether to kill the ostensibly friendly zombie, and eventually Tom the Monk succeeded in converting the zombie to himself be a follower of Pelor. This substantially changed the plot going forward onto a track that I had not previously considered. A third pious character received a message from his god during prayer (an email from me) and spoke in elaborate fantasy detail of his experience of the message to the other party members. Other private communications are still playing out. Some of my players read this blog, so I won’t go into detail.

To be fair, I should note that some dungeon masters would prefer to avoid rather than encourage party infighting. for some groups it will ruin the evening. In my case so far people are enjoying the special attention that they receive as part of getting privileged knowledge. I am enjoying seeing what they do with it. I cannot recommend strongly enough to any DMs looking to add more spice to a D&D game that they should try and add some information asymmetry. It’s well worth the effort.

Constitutional Democrazy

The other day I played a game called “Democrazy” in which players propose and vote on new rules as the game progresses. The full rules can be found here.

As I played this game I was disappointed by the limiting nature of the fact that no rules could be proposed that were not already written on the cards provided by the game. This is partially ameliorated by the presence of blank cards and a “carte blanche” game variant that allow crafting of custom rules. This variant is described in the ruleset linked to above. The blank cards may only be used for immediate rules, not for ones that stay in play, and they only occur occasionally in the deck.

With a couple friends I started thinking about a more ambitious version in which almost all rules are developed on the spot and are modified over the course of debate. This variant we call “Constitutional Democrazy” because it attempts to, with a simple “constitution” that is defined outside the game and immutable within it, codify what is and is not appropriate to include in each new rule.

In this article we first describe how one proposes new rules to vote on in the variant and then we will move on to discuss the theoretical potential for abuse posed by such open-ended rules and the first draft of a constitution developed to prescribe what could and could not be entailed in a rule.

In Constitutional Democrazy, all cards in the deck may be played either as themselves or as blank cards. Before proposing (putting up for a vote) a blank card, a player must state the rule to be proposed and receive a promised vote from at least one other player (a cosponsor). The rule may be changed (amended) an unlimited number of times to garner support from the other players prior to going to a vote. As a rule may become complicated, it is advised to keep it written on a sheet of paper in pencil as it is amended. Once the rule is proposed with a cosponsor it goes to a vote as usual, with wild cards acting as normal. There is still the same limit of six rules in play at a time, and if one rule or part of a rule contradicts another, the more recent rule takes precedent.

One concern about this variant is that it could open the door to becoming something of a “Bureaucratic Truth or Dare” wherein players could be forced into all manner of compromising or unpleasant positions. In order to protect the rights of the minority, so to speak, we propose a constitution that will define appropriate conduct in the creation of rules.

The Constitution of Democrazy

  • If any part of a rule in play is found to contradict the constitution, the entire rule is discarded immediately.
  • No rule in the constitution may be changed during a game under any circumstances.
  • No rule may contradict itself. If a rule is found to contradict itself, each of the two or more contradictory elements is considered void and has no effect.
  • No custom rule may have an effect outside the current game. Premade rules such as “No Smoking” do not fall under this restriction.
  • Only one player may win each game of Democrazy. In the case of a tie, the winner is chosen randomly via a preferred method. This method may be defined by other rules
  • Rules must be followable within a reasonable amount of time. If a rule is deemed to be causing a turn to take too long it must go immediately up for a vote

This constitution is a first draft and may receive some modifications after a few rounds of playtesting. Please do offer other theoretical bad situations that might merit additional amendments to the constitution. Also, there is an open question of the best way to resolve issues of contradictions or too-slow turns given players are likely to have a vested interest in the outcome. I know most of my readers are not local, but if you’re interested in trying this variant sometime, let me know!

CraZmates & Quelf

My father is colloquially known as “The Game Man.” He has garnered such a reputation as a collector of games that now he no longer ever needs to collect them himself. New games just fall into his lap from benevolent donors, whether they found them and wanted to buy them more than keep them, just had them laying around, or for whatever reason. These donors are right to share these games with my father because he plays them.

This weekend, my family played CraZmates and Quelf. The former is apparently designed for helping children learn about what is and is not appropriate in a dating partner, the latter may be a torture device of some sort.

CraZmates

CraZmates is a game designed to help young people learn how to manage relationships. The idea is that from the trait cards and the situation cards, one can stimulate a conversation in a mixed-gender group and give the players a safe space to explore what to expect in a dating partner.

Granted, we’re not remotely the target audience, but here’s how it played out in practice. Right from the start, my father eschewed the deck and selected a picture of my mother from our photo album to be his dating partner.  The effect was lessened when he landed on a “makeover” square and pulled out a card named “Selena,” whose portrait he put over my mother’s face. Then he wondered aloud why she was dating this “Jerome” character instead of him.

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My partner was someone’s name I don’t remember. I kept landing on “makeover” spaces and changing her appearance until I realized I, too, could take a photo out of the photo album. My father insisted that people’s names didn’t change when you give them what the game calls a “makeover,” so I said I would just use Alice as a nickname for whats-her-name.

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That’s Alice on the left. According to the cards, we share religious values and excellent kisses, and we can talk about anything, even sports! With three positive traits, I just have to make it to the end of the board!IMG_20170218_185846979.jpg

We eventually won after my mom and Jerome repeatedly landed on the “taking a time out” square.IMG_20170218_190053246_TOP.jpg

Even though the gameplay is silly, I think the trait and situation cards serve their purpose.  When I pick up a card saying my new girlfriend wants to get pregnant as soon as possible I imagine being a teenager playing this game and seeing the looks on my fellow players’ faces. These situation cards ask me to say how I will respond to these scenarios. That’s good preparation for an actual relationship.

For the most part, the binary cards (one side is for boys to read, the other side for girls) are just different wordings of the same thing. However, occasionally a guy will see his woman has a trait “shares my religious values” while the girl side of the card says “he isn’t religious, but he lives according to a set of values.” Mismatches like these seem bizarre to say the least.

It might be fun to play this with some of my little cousins (the older ones) sometime, although I’m not sure if they’d want to play it with me.

Quelf

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This game is about doing silly and embarrassing things over and over again. Based on the luck of the draw, players are asked to do anything from write poems, air drum whenever it’s not their turn, wear coat hangers around their necks, and say “Exqueeze me, I feel a question coming on” before making any inquiry. Out of respect for the parties involved, I have elected not to share the details of what happened during this game.

I recommend if you’re looking to feel acutely uncomfortable, or if you’re looking for an excuse to write a poem and share it with your friends, this might give you that opportunity. I might note for players who may have been forced into this game that you can voluntarily go to start to get rid of all rules attached to you (these are the worst offenders in terms of making this game unpleasant as they occur over and over again until they’re replaced). You can also just take the penalties for each card instead of doing the stuff on it. You won’t win, but if you didn’t want to play in the first place, that’s probably fine by you.

Antepenultimas

That’s the twenty-ninth of December in layman’s terms. The day before the next to last day of the year. Ok, not really. In fact, it’s the plural of “antepenultima” which is a term in poetry referring to the syllable before the next to last syllable of a word. Let me explain the reason I would offer such a silly fake definition of an obscure word…

‘Twas the night before Antepenultimas. Dad, Alice, and I were discussing Christmas. Alice noted that Christmas is short for “Christ’s Mass.” There were many such masses dedicated to saints, Dad explained to us, holidays such as Michaelmas. I wondered what other ancient Christian holidays ended in “mas,” and so I looked it up. The result was utterly uninformative, but did lead to me making up a holiday for December 29th wherein ancient Christians celebrated St. Antepenulti, the patron saint of the day before the next to last day of the year. In addition, this led to a wonderful game one can play in the car or at home.

Allow me to demonstrate:

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of movie theaters?”

Answer: Cinemas (be sure to pronounce the “mas” as in Christmas)

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of bedclothes?”

Answer: Pajamas

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of mid-sentence punctuation?”

Answer: Commas 

“What is the ancient Christian holiday that in modern day has become known as ‘Mother’s day?'”

Answer: Mamas

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of large, curly-haired animals?”

Answer: Llamas

I played this with Alice and Dad. The mas list requires a little searching to find recognizable words among all the obscure medical terms, but was such a hit that Alice insisted we play it again with her mother Carol and brother Geoffrey. Let me say right here, Alice’s mother Carol is astounding at the mas game. Once she understood the rules, I don’t think she missed a single word.

For your convenience, here is a list of generally recognizable words that you can use for the mas game.

  • mamas
  • limas
  • pumas
  • comas
  • llamas
  • aromas
  • kormas (I didn’t know this one. Geoffrey asked it of Carol and she got it, though)
  • enemas
  • dogmas
  • commas
  • magmas
  • dramas
  • karmas
  • pajamas
  • stigmas
  • plasmas
  • schemas
  • enigmas
  • athsmas
  • panamas
  • cinemas
  • miasmas
  • traumas
  • diplomas
  • grandmas
  • dilemmas
  • dioramas
  • melanomas
  • charismas
  • panoramas
  • anathemas
  • penultimas
  • docudramas
  • emphysemas
  • melodramas
  • antepenultimas

Cthulhu Fruit and Musical Farmsteads

My mother encouraged me to indulge in impulse buys when I went shopping for the Christmas holiday, and so I came home with the following:

buddha-hand

This is known as a “Buddha’s hand,” and it is mostly rind. Fortunately,  my mother is ever the improvisateur. She was making mulled wine, and decided that she would take advantage of the buddha hand’s best feature, its outrageous shape, and use it as a garnish as our contribution to a friend’s Christmas Eve party.  It didn’t emit light when cooked, despite what the photograph may suggest.buddha-hand-in-mulled-wine

That evening, my cousin Eddie contacted me with a list of games that he wanted to try during the Munk Christmas party, and I was eager to encourage him. We had two of the games on his list: Pandemic, a game about saving the world from various diseases, and Agricola, a game about running a farm.

The next day was a typical Christmas in North Carolina, green, blue, brown, everything but white. The weather that in the evening calls for a light jacket. My father’s first action upon arrival was to set up an Agricola game. Eddie, Dad, Eliza, Raymond on a team with KeShaun, and I each started a farm.

agricola
(From left) Eddie, Eliza, Tom, Carson and Raymond play Agricola

This was no ordinary game of Agricola, though. In order to manage a game demanding such commitment with so many distractions, Dad employed his trademarked technique: shared farmsteads that can pass between owners on the fly. First, he invited my sister Rachel to help run my farm, but she decided that was not likely to end well, so she left to socialize. KeShaun got bored and left, then came back. My uncle Don came with not one but two sports tournaments and repeatedly demanded that people join until he managed to pull his son Raymond away, at which point Dad had to take over their farmstead. Fortunately we’d gotten Carson involved by this time, so he ran Dad’s old farmstead. To his credit, Eddie repeatedly rebuffed and fought with his father Don rather than leave the game he had asked us to bring. Eliza vanished for a while and we recruited Eddie’s friend Drew to briefly run her farm before she returned again. Notice how even with all this chaos, we made it through a whole game. That in and of itself was an achievement.

Mom never did manage to get a tree smaller than ours. Her enormous tree still dominates our living room at the time of writing

Playing fast and loose with D&D

As a new dungeon master, one who has already complained about the tabletop role playing game’s restrictive mythology and overwhelmingly combat-oriented gameplay, I like to take an open-ended approach. Here are some examples of what I have already done and how my players have reacted.

Giant spiders in a dungeon are not part of the dungeon’s evil plan, but mere inhabitants.  In fact, in my dungeon they were serving a useful purpose – eating the massive supply of zombies that the dungeon was producing.  They were so pleased with the preponderance of food that they set up their egg sack in the dungeon, which fortunately they were able to move out before the adventurers caused the dungeon to sink back into the earth from which it came.

What made this especially fun with my party was that we had a druid. Being sometimes a spider herself, she is able to understand the clicks and hisses of the giant spiders.  At first I whispered in her player’s ear what the spiders were saying to her and to each other, but then I switched to text messages. Colleen, for reasons of her own, decided not to communicate the spiders’ messages to her party.  I may get all of my players’ phone numbers so that I can give player-specific information when necessary.

Also, rather than being helpless victims of monsters and passive spectators of heroic glory, townsfolk will often take action against the dungeons that plague them.  Thus far, the townsfolk have noted the predictable pattern in which the zombie invasion occurred and set up a bonfire to burn them up before they can get into town.

Not to say I didn’t have any challenges.

One thing that surprised me when I was trying to make my own scenario was how well-versed some of the players were in D&D mythology. They gave me a lot of trouble for having a non-metallic dragon be the supposedly benevolent ruler of a small country, as it is well known that dragons of solid colors are evil and hate humanoids.  I was not surprised that they were curious, but even so they were good at getting information out of me. One of my non-player characters ended up being much more knowledgeable than he probably should’ve been, given his apparent disinterest in anything to do with the main quest.  One of the players was intent on laying bare the nonsense at the heart of what I was asking them to do, pointing out that if they were helping a pair of colossal dragons it was difficult to imagine what task they could solve that the dragons could not. At first my retired, cynical wizard character, who had actually been encouraging the party not to get involved just shrugged. Unfortunately, I then lost my cool and he suddenly launched into a pep talk about how overwhelming the odds seemed when he and his party saved the multiverse from the great necromancer thirty years ago. Not in character. Bad dungeon mastering.

When my characters were following the road to the main city, they found the bridge was out.  I had some spiders follow the river north to another crossing, and even had one of the friendly NPCs suggest north was the way to go, but my party is delightfully stubborn.  They felled a tree and we role played all the skill checks that each of them would need to make their way across.  Almost all of them fell in the water, but they had concocted a clever rope system that would prevent them from being washed away.  This is the kind of thing that I love to do in any game – find easy solutions to ostensibly tough problems. They are skipping a significant chunk of the content in that forest, but not the plot-important stuff, so it’s fine.

Cover image from: http://sandara.deviantart.com/art/White-Dragon-391820143