Monthly Archives: November 2011

On Objects

Ah, Thanksgiving weekend. We had some turkey. It was pretty great.

But we’re not here to talk about turkey, Turkey, or turn-keys. We want to chat about The Object, currently for sale over at DriveThruRPG. It’s an RPG of sorts that we’re actually asking money for, on the grounds that, well, money is delicious. What’s it about?

First of all, let it be noted that The Object isn’t a game, not properly speaking. We prefer to think of it as a Role Playing Thought Experiment, because all it is, is a codification of a game we’ve played many times before, and you may well have played as well: “Let’s pretend I’ve never seen this thing before and had to guess what it is.” Really, that’s it; to the extent that there is a mechanic that drives the action in The Object, the mechanic is this shared understanding that everyone at the table is looking at something they’ve never seen before.

Game or not, this is a great thought experiment to take part in. Quick, grab an object from your desk, the thing nearest your left hand! We grabbed a small jar of coins. Cool. Now we’re pretending that we’ve never seen anything like this before… this entails mentally shifting into a universe where coinage never existed, but that’s okay. Paper currency and bartering, that’s the world we live in. Join us in this universe as we pour our the jar and wonder what the heck these little metal disks are supposed to be:



“It’s ammunition. Obviously, this is some sort of… ah… it’s an ammo supply. Look I, uh, I can fling this one clear across the room.”

“These are for flinging at people?”

“What? No, think, man. If I put a little spin on them, they fly like gangbusters. Now put them in a proper, friggin’, a proper flechette launcher sort of thing, which puts even more spin on them, and they’ll fly ages.”

“I don’t buy it.”

“What’s not to buy? Watch!”

“… ow. And, I don’t think it’s ammunition. For one thing, why are there five different sizes?”

“Calibers, man. This one’s for short ranges, and, uh, those are for distance, and theses guys are the heavies.”

“All mixed together? Who ever heard of loose-packed ammo. Besides, look at the designs, it’s clearly some sort of writing…”

[Inherent in not knowing what this object is, of course, is not being able to read what’s on it. Carry on.]

“… and why would there be writing and designs on what are basically bullets? And the sidedness… why do they all have some sort of face on one side? No, not for bullets.”

“Well, ah, if not ammo, then what?”

“Are you familiar with the I Ching? It’s a form of divination, traditionally using yarrow stalks to obtain a pseudo-random binary output.”

“… oh?”

“Yes! But these, these would be equally effective, but ever-so much more convenient. Which, I think, would be necessary, given how many there are. I wonder… I wonder if the different sizes are another axis of information in this divination… perhaps these little brown ones represent particularly important bigrams?”

… and so on in this fashion, so long as we don’t accidentally stumble across the true meaning of the coins (a set of gauges to determine finger-thickness). You could do the same thing with whatever you grabbed, and it would be just as interesting. So much of society, of civilization, is determined by familiarity and contextual awareness, that spending a few minutes purposefully eschewing is liberating. And neat.

That’s all The Object is, really. That and some window dressing… an explaination of the mystery of the object and the call to action, to figure out what to do with it, and three decks of cards which will create roles for you to play (generating some conflict and suggesting some attitudes), help you describe the discovery of the object (giving you all a little shared background to draw from) and a repercussions of your choice (giving the whole affair an interesting outro). There’s a lovely PDF preview that gives it all to you. No, really, the entire document is there for the perusal, the only thing you gain by purchasing is the ability to print things out and not have the words “Sample File” cluttering up every page.

Well, that and our gratitude, of course.


Drive Thru RPG

In important “getting-things-settled” news, we’ve got a page up at Drive Thru RPG, fine purveyors of role-playing games and accouterments! And to mark the occasion, we even have a game there!

The Object, which is about as hyper-indie as we’re planning on getting, is a very freeform exercise in role-playing as a bunch of folks sitting around a table (which makes it, technically, a LARP), discussing a mysterious object of potentially massive significance. It’s also our first for-money game… one dollar, American, gets you twelve-pages of document, suitable for printing.

We may talk some more about it in the next few days, but at the moment it is, among other things, the day before Thanksgiving, so this is being posted on the quick, so we can better get back to seeking out turkey.

Filming the Slenderman

Well, we’ve recently updated Filming the Slenderman, and posted the new copy with our other one-pagers, so now’s as good a time as any to talk about it in a little more depth.

(For those interested, the original PDF can be found right here; it lacks the “clue” token conceit, and is organized slightly differently, but is largely the same).

Filming the Slenderman, in its original form, was written on October 29th, 2011, over the course of about eight hours from dusk till dawn, and while it’s been altered a fair amount since then, it wears its halloween roots on its sleeve; this is TCGs first attempt at a horror game, and while it was inspired by the Internet myth of the Slenderman (and most especially, the video project based on the Slenderman, called Marble Hornets), it was inspired just as much by a post by Ryan Macklin (of Evil Hat Productions and other gaming superheroics).

He asked: What systems work for you for keeping tension? Which is to say, what, mechanically, makes a horror game effective? This was part of a horror week, which went on play with this question from several angles. Uncertainty. Mechanics which re-enforce emotional beats. The ever-present specter of doom.

And letting the GM cheat a bit, of course, to keep things interesting. But that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, we thought for a while. And we said to ourselves: “Can we think of a mechanic which satisfies these requirements? Something that marries the uncertainty of the immediate with the certainty of the inevitable and, at the same time, is mechanically tense or at least neutral enough to not interfere with the non-mechanical tension?”

… well, yes. That is what we hope that we did, here. However, we only did it through categorically ignoring one of the cardinal rules of RPGs, one of the Great Unwritten Axioms, that what your character’s odds of success or failure depend on his or her skills, rather than his or her actions.

To be brief (because the rules are, after all, only a page), you determine success or failure by pulling a colored bead from an opaque cup. White is a success, black is a failure, and red or green are, essentially, critical failures. When you draw a bead, the result is essentially a die roll, though there is that damning guarantee that, eventually, you will hit one of the red or green beads, and things will get worse for you. Furthermore, while you may be aware of the starting contents of the cup you’re drawing from, the GM is continually adding beads to it, with or without your knowledge… if you draw the red you know is in there, can you be certain that it is now free of reds? Insert evil laughter here. And of course, the players are supposed to wait half a second before revealing the bead, even to themselves, because they might get an offer from the GM. Enforced tension, with, if the bead gets dropped, instant payoff.

The caveat? The contents of your cup don’t reflect your skills. They reflect your actions… if you research, you get more success beads, if you take dangerous actions, you get more failures. If you are on a streak of successes, you know you’re more likely to fail, and vice versa. Rather than this cup being a mechanical track of your character, it’s a track of your character’s ACTIONS. Which works, perhaps, with horror, because the genre is so focused on the actions of characters and how they are reflected in their ultimate survival… imagine Scream, if you will, and the “rules of horror” if presents… having sex or doing drugs don’t kill the characters in horror movies, but they do ensure that they will die when the time comes. Actions beget consequences, even if they do not lead to consequences.

… which suggests to us that this might be a mechanic we could use for a more slasher-oriented horror game, which suggests to us that maybe we should look into that.

One Pagers

As our inaugural act, we’ve got three great one-page games for you! Sailors of Steam and Storm, Lifestyles of the Lich and Famous, and Filming the Slenderman!

In the days to come, we’re going to post a bit more information about each of these, but honestly, at a page long, how much more do we need to say? They’re right there, on the sidebar, under “One-Pagers”! Click and download! You have nothing to lose, unless you print it off, in which case you have one sheet of paper to loose.

Roll 3d6, six times. In order. No re-rolls.

If there is anything so exciting as the potential behind that first moment of character generation, we don’t know it. Before the dice get rolled, or the dots assigned… before we know our clan or pick our spells or even, really, our system… before we conceive of a character at all. It’s a moment of absolute potential, where the totality of the universe is spread before us, to collapse (as waveforms so often do) into a singularity: a sneaky gnomish ranger, or devout techpriest, or reluctant urban werewolf, or some sort of crazy robot, or whatever.

Us, we’ve decided to roll up an RPG production studio. We know, we know… it’s a completely broken class, barely playable, even if we minmax out Intelligence and Creativity to 18, we get a minimal Wealth Factor and take a hit to both Spare Time and Max Energy. And this, without getting a single healing spell or trained weapon. On the other hand, it’s got an inherent +2 buff to Have Fun, which is a character concept we can get behind. So, here we are.