RPG Sigmata + Politics Your Way

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG and part 2.

At the time of writing there are just 12 hours to go till the Sigmata Kickstarter ends. It has reached an impressive level of backing, having now gone over $35,000. The stretch goals include several different settings for the game, a soundtrack and now a companion book, has been unlocked.

Whilst initially I had planned on doing an interview with Chad about his game and inspirations, he has provided lots of great answers in several interviews, well as a Reddit AMA. There are quite some diverse Q&A and I’d recommend checking them out.

Instead of more questions I decided that the focus of this blog would be about politics and choice in regards to RPGs. Part of my reasoning is that I’d read several comments querying the focus of the game, a few debates about political terms, ethics, history, plus even an accusation of cartoon evil. Given the nature of Sigmata’s focus: “ethical insurgency against a fascist regime”, it is no wonder that trying to condense such important debates in to a summary of a game, one that also needs to serve as a sales pitch, is difficult. I can appreciate why different people are focusing on particular points, and why given the serious nature of politics someone would have the audacity to gamify the subject.

Whilst I have spent many hours reading and writing about RPG theory, I appreciate that not every player has, nor wants to, as well as why some players think it is all irrelevant nonsense. Sigmata is being designed with mechanics to emphasis the game goals, which is great, but it is worth remembering that players that dismiss RPG theory do have a point, that players can still play however they want, with whatever emphasis they want. This is especially true for a group of friends who regularly play together. After all role-playing is very much what we make it, and my summary regarding this topic is:

Systems matter, I think players & implementation matter more.

I previously had a brief chat with Chad about how in any game players will play how they want, it is of course something he is well aware of. Much like with his Cryptomancer game, Chad is providing players with mechanics and a setting to help explore things in the best way possible: a game. The importance of play is something that gained a lot of credibility in science, whilst this was obvious to so many, unsurprisingly other people dismiss play as childish and an actually waste of time. Also the idea that adults cannot explore ideas to keep learning, or that play has no value, is strange to me; at least it seems that general consensus on play has shifted. So I am all for Chad’s approach to RPGs and gamification.

One thing that has stood out to me is Chad presenting a few game examples with different ways to handle things. Additionally Chad’s Cryptomancer game similarly had choice, but with an emphasis on caution/care, since considering repercussions in a game inspired by cybersecurity was paramount in helping players to think about real life security. I bring this up in regards to RPG choice, since although many role-players are all about choice, other players prefer to play the same narrowly focused violent style games, so it should be no surprise that some people have focused on the violent aspects of Sigmata’s game. Like most games I’ve played with many groups, all with varying degrees of focus, resulting in a plethora of differences, I am all for players playing how they want, as I wrote about in Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine. If you want to play in a game world with a cartoon evil government and hyper violent PCs then go right ahead, plus who knows where it could lead.

Another area of concern for some is Sigmata’s examples of player character factions. If this is an issue for you then feel free to change things, maybe take the the middle ground and make strange bedfellows more of an exception in your games. I appreciate that different words generate strong rationale and/or emotions in each of us. In a highly polarised world it can be easy to forget, or not even appreciate, that most people are not as different or divided as some say we are. I don’t wish to come across as naive, note I wrote ‘some’, I do appreciate that some people are invested in, and profit from, dividing people. Nor that it is just a matter of education, genuine psychopaths exist, people can develop mental disorders, temporary stress is usually a factor in peoples’ responses, etc. Back to role-playing, party conflict can be a great source for storytelling, think of the list of examples as a powerful source of inspiration and conflict.

If someone reads Sigmata’s overview and is worried about players arguing then I recommend they discuss ideas with their group before playing; I find problems can be minimised, or even avoided. For groups that don’t normally have a session 0, or email list to discuss things, then I’d recommend doing so in regards to Sigmata if only due to the divisive subject matter, particularly in comparison the vast majority of other RPGs.

I think Sigmata promises to offer something to all gamers, but particularly to anyone that has an interest in history, military tactics, psychology, or similar subjects. I recommend backing this game and giving it a try, if only to expand your RPG mental tool kit/belt.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2089483951/sigmata-this-signal-kills-fascists

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Kickstarter Sigmata RPG

At the time of writing there is a week to go for the Sigmata RPG Kickstarter. The main designer is Chad Walker, and this alone is reason for me to be interested; I’d like to persuade you as to why this should spike your interest. It’s worth noting that I’ve written about Chad’s Cryptomancer game previously; a great game idea plus it adds something original to the role-playing community.

I am a big fan in reading practically anything to expand my RPG mental tool kit/belt; I need to work out some comedy picture ideas to demonstrate this point 😉 Since Cryptomancer added important real life concepts like Cyber security to RPGs, and Chad is a big believer in life gamification, I am quite optimistic regarding what he plans to add to the RPG community with Sigmata.

From the Kickstarter overview:

“SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists” is a cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980’s America.

Players assume the role of Receivers, the superheroic vanguard of the Resistance, who possess incredible powers when in range of FM radio towers emitting a mysterious number sequence called “The Signal.” When the Signal is up, Receivers lead the charge against battalions of Regime infantry and armor or serve as the People’s Shield, protecting mass demonstrations from the brutality of a militarized police force and neo-Nazi hooligans. When the Signal is down, however, Receivers are mere mortals, desperately fleeing from a powerful state that senses their weakness.

It’s called the Sigmata, a Signal-induced stigmata, because it is a both a blessing and a curse. At least when you’re marked by the state, you can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.

Just based upon the full Sigmata title it should be clear that Chad takes the concept of life gamification seriously, just from daring to mention the word fascist. Politics is always a complicated subject and now it seems to be even more complicated. Personally I’d say political actions/events always matter, but cycles vary and some actions/events matter even more. I think it is reasonable to state that the current cycle matters in particular, so it’s no surprise to read comments questioning Chad’s reasoning for attempting such a project; especially since some view RPG as politically neutral, but I’ll write about that tricky subject another time.

I love the fact Chad is tackling such a tricky subject. Even though I have played a lot of political heavy RPG games, I am sure this forthcoming specialist game will present a more sophisticated game world to explore than the typical RPG. The mechanical explanations Chad has given reassure me that the rules will support the narrative/game goals. I am sure Sigmata will be adding a powerful mental tool to my RPG mental tool kit/belt.

There is a lot to unpack with Sigmata, and I plan to do so over the next few blogs. Meanwhile I hope I’ve convinced you to check out the Kickstarter page for more information. Join in and #RepeatTheSignal.

Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo

As my health has improved this year, I have made substantial progress with several of my projects. Like so many creative types, sticking to a single project is a struggle, so it was a mixed blessing when I heard The Bestseller Experiment interview in September announcing the Gingerbread competition: One in Four. The deadline is the 4th of December, and I’ve spent the majority of this November’s NaNoWriMo focused on that project. It’s been quite an emotionally demanding endeavour, reflecting upon distant memories, as well as talking to several people about their single-parent experience. Based upon these conversations, and my own reflections, I made a list of keywords to highlight commonalities.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I had been working on a character in my fantasy setting who is a single-parent. I debated whether to make this character in to the protagonist, and since any genre is allowed for the competition, it would make sense to keep writing within the same fictional universe. Whilst some fantasy has mass appeal, it is rare, so in the end I decided to write a story set in modern day.

Given all the work I’d done, it was still a surprise to discover that I had problems working out a single story. After abandoning several outlines, as well as several pages that I just started writing without an outline, I decided to start writing about my own experience; I could always change details once the work was done.

By the time November started, and thus the start of NaNoWriMo, I had a collection of impressive waffle. At least this approach had provided me with several scenes and some dialogue that I did like; one cannot rewrite nothing. Despite my health declining again this month I was still able to persevere through the pain and stress. I successfully outlined a fictional story inspired by the experiences of myself and friends that I actually liked, being more than just a mix of our lives. I have since written a lot, but only tweaked the outline in small ways, a good sign that this story will stay on track and be completed. I still have a few more days with which to tweak what I plan on submitting, as well as receiving feedback from friends. Surprisingly, given how self-critical I am of my writing (like many people), I am quite optimistic about my chances with this competition.

GollanczFest 2017 part 4

This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.

The second panel was called: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, New Advances in Science (Fiction). The panel was moderated by Richard Edwards (SFX Magazine), and featured: Gavin G Smith, Al Robertson, Tricia Sullivan, Christopher Priest and Justina Robson. A quirky panel title, and with Gavin Smith in particular in the line-up I was hoping for lots of discussion about near future ideas, #CyberpunkNeverDied; I still owe Gavin a blog about my thoughts on this, too much to write 😉

The panel discussed the issue of science in Sci Fi and how to handle it, whether an author needs scientific understanding, plus the issue of prediction. After a slightly slow start the panel developed in to a good back and forth addressing the difficultly of writing about science. After all nothing dates like science. This is an area I have plenty of experience in from my days at KJC Games, when I helped run the long running space opera: Beyond the Stellar Empire (now called Phoenix). Before I started working there I was told to read up a lot more about science and in particular geology, since as a games master I would be interacting with players who were professional scientists, to players who were light Sci Fi readers at best. Once writing game events I had to be careful about how much science was written into the blurbs for a player’s turn. Basically keeping the science out as much as possible and focusing on descriptions. To remember when writing fiction it is not a science paper.

I forgot who said these following comments: “Science fiction is not science it’s a way of running experiments about the world. It’s a form of scientific method.” “Sci Fi is exploratory in nature.” Gavin highlighted that trying to predict the future is a waste of time. Tricia added a lovely summary: the future is not really the future, it’s a possibility space. This is evidenced by so many Sci Fi books, and the panel briefly discussed the old Tomorrow’s World TV show and its appalling prediction record.

Al Robertson added a wonderfully simplistic thing to think about: “There are two things we’re certain of, we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to be in the future.” Christopher highlighted that the real changes in technology are impossible to predict. Tricia brought up the great example about how society has dramatically changed in regards to women and the pill.

I don’t recall the scientists I first heard mention that overall Sci Fi has been terrible at predicting social changes, but Sci Fi has helped inspire so much. The panel continued discussing the issues of writing about the day-to-day realities of technology. Justina added that society could get worse in the future, even though we should be getting better. There was discussion of the current political hot topics, and then The Handmaid’s Tale was brought up. Al said that Sci Fi is not supposed to be a user’s guide, but a warning! Gavin brought a helpful consideration, what the people of Rome must have thought when Caligula took over.

The conversation took a turn when the importance of optimism was brought up. The hypothesis that the rise of GrimDark is likely partly to do with how comfortable many of us have things these days. Al brought up we need Arbour Park, which got my brain racing, and maybe optimism is the new technology we need now.

Christopher linked the abstract conversation of optimism and predicting things to the reality of day-to-day life with this comment: “The emotional spirit about writing about the future is trying to figure out the world our children will one day run.” Maybe having children, literally creating our own replacements, is a form of hope.

After some conversation about optimistic Sci Fi, and of course reference to the Culture series, Gavin asked: “Who wants to read positive upbeat optimistic scifi? Show of hands.” Just about every hand went up. There was a brief chat about how utopian fiction isn’t commercial, highlighting that the Culture series was about the Culture’s dealing with other societies, not about the Culture itself.

Personally, whilst I agree that writing Utopian literature is not easy, I think part of the problem when discussing utopia is how people summarise the concept and keep implying that conflicts won’t occur within a utopia. What do we each mean by utopia? Is it achievable in a group or only individualistic? I think our species inclination to talk about things in simple and absolutist terms is a key part of the problem when trying to understand the concept of utopia. The idea that a large number of people could all share perfect harmony of opinions is not realistic, even identical twins are not actually identical, but I don’t think that negates the idea of group utopia. Fascinating thought experiments about peaks and valleys of happiness leave a lot of room for conflict. Instead of waffling, I clearly should write a utopian story, whilst making sure that is both good and commercially viable – okay, I’ll add that tiny endeavour to my TODO list. The BBC made a series about Utopian ideas called Utopia: In Search of the Dream. I quite enjoyed the series, and I’d recommend checking it out.

There was some fun banter at the end about the radical impacts that teleportation would likely have on society, in particular the housing market. I’m not a fan of teleportation as a concept, too much data to reassemble, but I do love the idea of portals, of using a Correspondence point like in Mage: The Ascension. I could make a prediction, but this panel did highlight not to waste time on such things.

Overall this panel was very interesting, lots of little thought nuggets were mined, plus some rich topic veins revealed. In retrospect having the authors come out all wearing shades would have added an extra level of style, but I am always happy when substance is prioritized.

I made some big progress in my NaNoWriMo writing the last few days, although sadly still a low word count compared to what I would like. The Gingerbread deadline for the 4th December is looming ever closer!

Next time I’ll summarise the panel: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I wish I’d thought about blogging this event previously, and maybe I’d have taken better pictures 😉

Positivity & Quality, the Mikey Neumann Way

For me this week has been marvellous, two projects that I’ve been anticipating for a while were released, and both delivered. The first was by Max Landis which I wrote about in The Passion of Landis, the second is Mikey Neumann’s video on John Wick 2. I appreciate this somewhat abandons my normal anti-hype stance, but there are both in that rare category of constantly delivering.

After I watched Mikey’s video on John Wick 2, I know I wanted to write something about Mikey and why I think his work and positivity is of such a high quality. I was introduced to the amazing Movies with Mikey via this statement:

 “Mikey is a wonderful human being, so it kind of adds up that he would make one of the most celebratory film review shows on the Internet.”

Extra Credits. 22 Dec 2016.

After such a good recommendation I checked out Movies with Mikey, which is on the Chainsawsuit Original channel, and I was not disappointed. I believe that Mikey Neumann wonderfully highlights the many things that can make a film great, even if the film has some substantial flaws.

For example: the film Sunshine received a lot of criticism, and Mikey doesn’t ignore how the second half was a problem for some viewers. Crucially Mikey also talks about the film’s incredible music (it truly is!), the cinematography, the gravitas of the plot, the human drama. Even though I have seen the film and thought it was a good but flawed, after watching Mikey’s video I now have a much better appreciation for Sunshine.

When I discover a new YouTube channel that impresses me I prefer to go to the channel’s beginning and watch everything. I appreciate that normally earlier videos tend to lack the production quality, but even his old videos like Ninja Turtles have the quality and voice of his later work.

One of the fun things that Mikey does with his videos is quirky segues. Granted there is nothing too unusual with that …

But Did You Know? Previously Mikey Neumann was an actor and writer for the games Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.

Mikey’s video on The Force Awakens is a great example of digging into a film that many people have intense opinions about. I loved the Star Wars setting as a kid, as well as the numerous games (computer, tabletop role-playing, etc.) I still like the setting now, but I am somewhat guilty of being sick of the hype Star Wars gets, in particular by those that claim it is on the only thing; these days I restrain myself at least. Personally I thought the film was okay, there are bits in it that I found annoying and things that I enjoyed, nothing special there. After watching Mikey’s video I found myself reassessing the film, and I came away from the summary with some extra appreciation for The Force Awakens.

I had a similar experience with Mikey’s overview of Interstellar, a film which I had really enjoyed, albeit with a few niggles. Mikey presented a wonderful rationale about the power of love and how it relates to events in the plot, which cut through my complaints. Whilst I consider myself open to persuasion, like most people it takes a lot to persuade me, and that’s a power that Mikey has.

Now when I see a film, I have the added pleasure of looking forward to the hope that Mikey Neumann will make an overview of it. I am intrigued as to what Mikey will say about it, what redeeming things will he highlight?

I adored the film Arrival, and Mikey’s analysis was a second helping of film love. Mikey’s overview of John Wick helped me overcome a creative barrier with a role-playing game that I have been working on; I will blog about this after playtesting the ideas some more. Thus I was heavily invested in Mikey’s analysis of John Wick 2.

It’s Going Down For Real!

And here’s the thing, I think appropriate positivity is important, as is being fair, but these concepts are so vague that we all have different opinions about them. So I think it’s valuable highlighting that some of the fun and quirky things he puts in his videos might be off-putting to a few, and like all good art there are differences of opinion. Give one of his videos a full viewing, I think for the majority of people that time will be well spent. Mikey’s introduction to John Wick 2 is a case in point, I wasn’t a fan, yet I was pretty much smiling the entire time. Oddly I was in no rush to get to the detailed analysis that I had been looking forward to for months, I simply enjoyed the moment, his creativity and fun. I later decided to look at the comments section, and I was amused by a few people being negative about Mikey’s rapping. Certainly any regular viewers should appreciate his style, and stay positive themselves. I found the rest of the video to be amazing, with some very interesting points made.

But did u knnnooow?

Mikey has Multiple sclerosis (MS), and his ongoing battle with health is quite the tale. This is part of the reason I felt compelled to write about someone I only know through their art. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Wallowing in Positivity, and given my own ongoing health problems I can somewhat appreciate Mikey’s much more severe condition. Managing any work whilst ill is impressive, never mind high quality work; this is not about implying perfection, I am sure Mikey has many varying emotional responses to things. I originally wrote a lot about how being ill typically makes everything not just physically by psychologically more difficult, partly because I’ve met people who dismiss this as untrue. My point is better served by stating that I think it’s inspiring that Mikey is able to radiate such positivity; to read more about Mikey’s health check out “The Road to Here…”

Like most people I have a bunch of things that I criticise, and whilst I always strive to be constructive, I can often feel like I’ve been too negative when discussing something. My own bed rest provided me a lot of thinking time, this led me to re-examine how sometimes it is more constructive to be positive, to focus on the good, instead of starting from a negative point. In a world filled with critics offering typically negative heavy analysis, it is great to have people like Mikey offering something different. Discovering Mikey’s work has brought great joy to my life, and emphasised a life style approach that I aspire to embrace more myself. Check out more of his work at http://chainsawsuit.com/

My Reflections on #RPGaDay

Despite how much time I ended up spending on RPGaDay, I don’t regret taking part, it was fun and interesting. If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. The full list of my answers for each day can be found in my menu’s RPG section.

Before the event had started I had been unsure about participating. I always have too many projects, and due to the time factor I’ve avoided getting too involved with Twitter. The alternate questions were what sealed my participation, although it’s quirky that I didn’t use any of them in the end; I plan on answering them over the weeks to come.

Whilst I knew I would typically spend too much time over-thinking my answers, a task I thoroughly love/hate, I’d be saved by having a daily deadline. Since a few friends knew I was taking part, I had a nice amount of self-inflicted peer pressure to keep me on target.

For me RPGaDay proved to be an overall interesting experience. I’ve cut some negative points out, to keep things within the spirit of the event. I learned about some new games, and interestingly that Kickstarter is even more important to help with RPG advertising than I’d thought. It was also great to get so many different answers to the same question; I was quite intrigued by this, since it is a rare occurrence.

Due to equipment, time, and health reasons I didn’t record any video answers for the event. I may still record my answers, even though the event has passed and I’d be lucky to get one viewer. I agree with the premise that videos and blogs should be made with viewers/readers in mind, but also with the acceptance that maybe only the maker views them.

For me the RPGaDay event proved to be a great reminder of the different experience levels, and preferences, that the RPG hobby contains. An easy or dull answer for one participant could be hard or exciting for another, some of the answers draw attention to these differences, and the positive spirit of the event helped remind everyone to not be too judgemental. I had been planning on writing about psychology, RPG history and the transient nature of the hobby, but I have lots to write already and Runeslinger’s post does a great job of summarising things, so read that instead. 😉

Dave Chapman and Anthony Boyd (Runeslinger) have made this great video:

#RPGaDay 24

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 24th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 24, #RPG I have not read any PWYW, why is that? I’d have paid for fan made #Aberrant.

The moment I saw this question I struggled to think of reading a single ‘pay what you want’ (PWYW) RPG product. I was tempted to answer an alternate question, and I do love some of the alternate questions, but I considered the following: There seems to be a theme to the RPGaDay, also, upon closer inspection even some of the seemingly simple questions can be answered in great detail. So why haven’t I read any PWYW? I then pondered whether any PWYW have become ‘big’? I guess big would be anything that more than a few hundred people: like, use and ideally recommend to others.

I have downloaded a few PWYW. Each time I have planned to get around to reading them. Like most gamers I have an ever expanding backlog of RPG supplements, as well as blog/vlogs on my TODO list. The result being, the few PWYW products I have, have mostly been forgotten about.

I don’t believe I am biased against any of the PWYW products on some idea regarding quality. Despite the large amount of low quality professional RPG products I have seen over the years, I have seen plenty of brilliant fan-made free products. Aberrant was my first thought, since not only did I enjoy reading a whole lot of fan-made ideas, but the following fan free books became important parts of how I ran Aberrant, and then later the Trinity Verse:

  • Forceful Personalities
  • The New Flesh
  • A Breed Apart
  • Aberrant Nexus
  • India Underground: Psi Order Chitra Bhanu & Bharati Commonwealth Sourcebook
  • Trinity Field Report: Noetic Science
  • Trinity: Awaiting Inspiration

I would have happily paid money for those books. So I don’t have any issue with PWYW products, due to thinking that they are amateur products; I would also assume that some are quite high quality.

There are so many books for Dungeons & Dragons that it is easy to find just about everything. This includes adapting old things in new ones. For me the same applies with the old World of Darkness (oWoD). For a while I didn’t buy any of the Chronicles of Darkness, since I owned all of oWoD. Other factors came in to play: I had so many games on the go, I’d spent a fortune already, and I was running out of storage space so I stopped buying things until I planned on using them. This of course changed once buying PDFs become an option 😉

For years I’ve mostly ignored adventure modules. It’s not that I am against running modules; I don’t think I’d have the skillset I have today without having already read and ran so many modules. I guess this is the same for other gaming veterans. Add in how many full systems and settings have been released over the decades, and there is just too much out there.

d6

I came to the conclusion that a big part of today’s RPGaDay question is likely the point of passing around recommendations. Firstly to the RPG community itself, it is so easy to find opinions on the big games, but some of the people answering today will be highlighting why a PWYW product is worth checking out. Secondly, a chance for some authors to reconsider the value of their PWYW products, or maybe their next release.

There is a whole list of interesting psychological aspects to do with value, pricing, and time. I am avoiding turning this post in to a big breakdown of my opinions on psychology, so just a quick clarification of what I mean. When a product is free, many people will be inclined to think it is a lower quality, and thus more likely to ignore it; limited time is always a factor. After some people have paid nothing for a product, and eventually they read it, how many people will decide that they should make the effort to then give money to the creator(s)? Some people certainly do so, and technology has made this even easier, but people are busy, and it takes effort. We also have so many choices, and so many recommendations, we simply cannot look at everything.

Getting back to RPGs, I think today’s question is highlighting a complicated area of role-playing and the modern market: the value of RPG products.