Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

On the Move!

Well, I've finally taken the plunge. I've been spreading myself far too thinly for a long time, so I'm bringing all my points of access into one location.

If you want to read the kinda blogs you read here, then you'll have to turn your RSS feeds and bookmarks to:

If you want it all, aim at

You will find all parts of my efforts combined into a big mixed blog. The categories will separate it into the old familiar content streams, so take your pick.

This is one of my first php-based web design efforts, so expect a little rough on the edges. I've integrated a blog, a forum and a wiki (as well as I could) to allow a better place for feedback rather than comments and a place where explanations can grow and evolve as my understandings of the world do.

I hope you like it and humbly invite you to join in the fun!

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

An Idea I've Been Toying With.

To me all role-playing games are a matter of exploring the self. This removes one major layer involved in enjoying narratives. There is no interpretation. In the common linear narrative, you must identify with some character in order to decode or interpret the message of the thing; what happens to them informs how you look at yourself.

In role-playing games, features of the play address you directly on a visceral level. These are your decisions, your actions and your results. Instant feedback on the matter of your character, in both senses of the word.

To conflate this with, or aspire this to, familiar narrative forms is to miss some of the essence of the practice. It is quite true that one can consciously work role-playing gaming into the olde fashioned forms and really make it click. (This has been spearheaded and perfected by the highly esteemed Forge and groups. <= Not sarcasm.) There are still many unexplored ways that role-playing gaming can be engaged.

Play has often been likened to practice for life experiences. I don't see this being what actually happens in formal role-playing games. In my experience, the pleasure of gaming is becoming more aware and familiar with yourself.

Since this occurs primarily in the positive sense, doesn't it seem like another form of ego-stroking? Whereas fiction can demonstrate your convictions as being valid and true, it can't impress it. So gaming is at once more personal and less specific.

Themes and messages bound into the core of any game are much more intangible, less distinct. One of the major themes of a game like Shadowrun is that the establishment doesn't have all the answers; it's always a story of self-reliance, of self acceptance. When well-written, you can't exactly read the text of a game and glean the message. Most often, you must delve into it, become a character and play within the boundaries of the milieu. Finding your own answer to the conflicts presented then offers the wisdom or message contained within the text. Some games can even contain some surprises.

How does this translate into the realm of theory? It describes how I approach the structure and creation of games. First and foremost, I see them as a ritualized extension of social structures in culture and society. A way of 'playing', not as practice, but as a way of learning the wisdom you already possess. I present text as guides that lead to conflicts, not coded into the texts, that reveal the true character of the person playing the game.

With the safety zone that it's all 'just play'.

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

A Fresh Start? Naw....

While I've been struggling with Scattershot presents: Universe 6 (SpU6), thinks¹ have been roiling around in my mind.

So let's get a group of guys² together, friends already if you will. Now they pick up this 'game' and are going to try it. One, fairly motivated guy is going to teach it to them as they play. Beyond that, it's just an average get together to 'hang out'.

This is your basic social situation and the game could be anything.

But let's say it's a role-playing 'game'. The motivated guy will be the gamemaster for the first few attempts. They go through a process of assimilation of the 'game' and how each will interact with it.³ Meanwhile, the become superficially familiar with what they can expect from the game and more importantly, as a group, determine how their group will view those expectations. Then they are playing.

As they play, they habituate this ritual of play. I would argue that no two social groups are identical in the habits around these rituals. This is a very important point! Imagine one player playing in two groups using the same 'game'. Even though the texts upon which group expectations are formed are identical, the rituals can be very different.

Understanding this leads to very complicated problems for the writer and/or publisher position as theorist. This comes from the degree which the creator of a game can actually affect the final ritual structures employed by any group. As the finished 'game' is the practical limitation of the reach of its creator, it's excusable if they theorize primarily from a 'system' point of view. What has to be said is that it is an almost cripplingly incomplete theoretical center.

It should be clear that how the group assimilates the product or 'system' into their ritual of play is the real crux of any theory. The end supplied by the creator is very important but in no way dwarfs the affect of the social situation as the ritual is formed. I could argue that the social aspect is the larger, but leave that for another time.

It could be possible to co-opt these rituals into the concept of 'system', but that makes it almost impossible to speak effectively on any such structures on the terms which the creator can affect. In other words, combining these rituals into the meaning of 'system' makes the word 'system' mostly meaningless as a theoretical entity.

As an example of the difference, I would suggest the reader consider how similar their experiences of the rituals of play are in the same group using different 'games'. I have only heard of a handful of individuals who find these more different than they are similar. However, this is purely anecdotal and therefore restricted to being only a feature of my own opinion.

Or so I would like you to understand.


¹ Intentional mispeeling

² Unfortunately true, hopefully for not much longer

³ Sometimes known as Chara generation

p.s. I am going to be starting a 'gamemaster advice' only relatively soon. Look here to be the first to know!
Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g


Just dropping a note to let you know.  I'm taking some time off to focus on a huge project.

I finally solved (finished designing) Scattershot!

I plan to begin drafting yesterday (actually I did).  If you want to keep up with this development, you can start by heading over to it's development blog.

Look for big things soon!


p.s. The simplest way I could nearly describe it is, "The campaign is rolled up and played just like the other player chara."
Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

Why Can’t Gamemasters Play the Rules?

Ever notice?

Ever notice that in most typical role-playing games there simply are no rules that the gamemaster must follow. In fact, there is a sad lack of rules for them at all.

Why is that?

I’m thinking it is because the mentality where the game system stands in for physics when it comes to the preternatural. It would follow that, as the figure of god in the game, the gamemaster is not bound by them. What they get instead are any number of vague, self-contradictory and explicitly reversible suggestions. Guideline quality in typical or popular gaming has always suffered from a certain amount of ambiguity.

What happens then?

This I think leads to the unspoken understanding that role-play gaming is something you must learn from people who do it. Surely this retards any growth happening in the hobby, right? I remember starting the whole gaming community in my home town; I must have been talented because it never seemed that hard (until somebody else tried it).

What’s the alternative?

Make some gamemaster rules. Now I’m not talking about broader rules for players and gamemasters alike; I doubt you could subvert the difference between them to generate such rules.

Here’s some of the thinking I’ve been putting into Scattershot. The die mechanic has already been altered such that over any period of measure, you will fail noticeably more than you succeed. In order to move towards your chara goals, you simply must spend experience dice. In short supply, you need to go out of your way to do things that garner experience dice. What is their primary use then?

To improve rolls....

So, as far as I’ve gotten, I need to work out the rules for which a gamemaster must roll his dice (and require his own experience dice). I’ve only a few ideas here. And they aren’t that good (yet).
  1. A mirror of the ‘hunted’ disadvantage; a GM must roll to use a recurring chara
  2. In conflict with a player’s goals; much like in a conflicted resolution
  3. ...I’m stumped and tired; let’s hear some of you suggestions!
Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

Typically Speaking

Okay to put this back together and see what we get out of it.... In order to have a common starting point, I'll talk strictly about typical play happening almost everywhere since the late '70s.

Let me reach way back to my first RPG theory; gaming is about sharing. Since it is about sharing 'new stuff', it takes a certain amount of preparation. Typically, everyone did a little, but the gamemaster did much more. It follows that he has the most to share. The players are pretty up-front about their 'new stuff' allowing each other see it right away. The gamemaster keeps his close to the vest, creating a sense of anticipation using the 'unknown'.

In typical gaming, the social circumstance determines the expectation of linearity; that is following a plot, a predetermined series of events, a cycle of escalation, and the like. Misunderstandings from the extremes of this always cause problems. Generally speaking, things move from one event to another in verisimilar order.

Spotlight time has always been handled on the social level in typical games. I mean, sure some games talk about chara abilities as the manner of commandeering the spotlight, but by and large, they are treated as more a veto power over unstructured play. Spotlight control is then mostly left to the gamemaster. Many typical games feature discussions about administering it fairly and appropriately.

Ultimately this includes other social responsibilities such as pacing control, maintaining a sense of fairness, establishing a 'tone' for the game as well as many others. Instructions have been scant on how to handle these things, but there has been a swell fairly recently.

Next time, let's tackle what people want out of their gaming.

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

Complicated Spotlighting

Some designers use the idea of 'adversity' in setting up games. Typical gamemasters are supposed to craft and throw adversity at their players. That'd be interesting, except these games also instruct to adjust this adversity to what the players can handle. So how is it adverse? If it's too much, it shuts down the players (and likely their fun as well). If it's too little, players may become bored or complacent, but not joyous.

Subconsciously, I have to know that it's being adjusted to my performance or rather the expectation of my performance. It's so patronizing. When I 'lose', I have to think, "Am I being herded into another clash?" When I win, I wind up feeling, "What was the point in that?" If the gamemaster adjusts incorrectly, something usually 'magically appears' allowing chara progress.

All in all, that's too conflict, win-or-lose, for me. It's like the old chasm problem. There you are, being pursued. You reach the chasm that looks wide, but maybe not too wide. You make your jump roll.... Do you succeed or do you fail? Failure stops the game, breaks the 'chase' suspense and brings everything back to the table and mechanically determining the results. Success either ends the chase arbitrarily or it becomes less than passing scenery.

That's why I prefer complications. I always know (roughly speaking) where a typical game is going to go. In one fashion or another, the gamemaster will demonstrate something cool he has in store, be it item, situation, location, et cetera. The patronizing feeling is inescapable; I'm always aware that we are just wasting time before the 'show'. If I wanted that, I'd play CRPGs to get to see the cut scenes.

Complications on the other had, may inform the upcoming. They can set the stage, prime the pump and cock the crossbow. Each one can be tailored to create a need, foreshadow an event or carry a theme. Ultimately, we still get to the 'cool' stuff, but the complications don't wind up feeling so arbitrary; they seem more like an enhancement. The best part is when thought of as complications, rather than adversity, they can obviously play out on more and different levels, rather than just violence. Typical gamemasters might have a hard time seeing a romance adverse to the direction of a game, but everyone knows what a romantic complication is.

So here's the spotlight-driven idea: how about complications that don't offer failure? I know that sounds weird, but I've had it work quite well. Let's say a chara wants into a locked building. He attempts to pick the lock; does it end like the chasm? No, a bad roll calls for more complication, not failure. So he doesn't pick the lock, but does notice an open second-story window. You still get to do what you want, it just takes longer.

...Hence the advantage of spotlight time here. If you 'fail', you aren't stymied like at the chasm, you wind up getting more spotlight time. It becomes a tradeoff. Either you succeed or you get more spotlight time. Who complains? There is no failure.

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

Spotlighting II

In the early days, typical games were set up so the gamemaster (GM) shared his milieu with the players. The typical basis was one of discovery and that required the unknown. Typically, the unknown was permitted knowledge only for the GM (even when some of its origin was with the player or players).

I have, myself, experimented with concepts involved with moving some of the unknown into the hands of the players. While I haven't reached a satisfactory solution yet, as far back as this, I have toyed with this idea.

When viewed by the recently popular 'allocating credibility' perspective, it follows that ultimately the typical game revolves around a conflict between player and GM, who gets 'the say' about what happens. This is because GM has what players want and they receive it only at his discretion. Arguably this means that only the GM's word had the final 'credibility'.

If you look at typical gaming in more of a 'spotlight manipulation perspective', the 'power' shifts back to the players' hands. Employing features offered in chara generation and play, players are able to take the spotlight when and where they wish, even though the unknown remains the purview of the GM. I've heard of this being called things like 'getting to be the bad-ass'. Either way, in typical gaming, interest in the game generally rises out of novelty and curiosity about the milieu.

My interest lie in exploring the effects of a 'spotlight' based perspective rather than the 'credibility' model, largely because it doesn't require any more 'sharing' of GM responsibilities than typical gaming did¹. The whole process of sharing the GMing destroys very much of the novelty. In the past, I was frequently guilty of forcing the unknown on unsuspecting GMs through things like amnesia or unexpected enemies. So I'm just like that.


¹ Maybe I should talk about 'stealth GMing' used players in typical games to this day.
Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

How About a Change?

The ground covered by the Lumpley Principle is well trod. But what if it isn't the center of your game theory? What if the whole idea of apportioning 'credibility' and the conflict over whose 'turn' it is, doesn't fit your ideal at all?

I've been playing around with these consequences for some time, but a great blog tipped it over for me. In his essay Burning Spotlight, Ben Robbins suggests that spotlight time is the coin of the realm (thus not 'credibility' say I). An interesting idea!

So here's a thought about it. What if you cast your gaze at a set of game texts looking at how it apportions spotlight time instead of the finer points of how it apportions 'credibility'? In many games, I can see a lot more problems than the essence of the 'credibility' structure suggests.

Most typical role-playing games are so absent the idea of spotlight time that anyone with a 'strong' personality can pretty much dominate a game. That would be the social 'system' overriding the game's texts. In my experience, that's why I spend so much time tinkering with my chara designs; not that I want to game the system, but that I want to ensure that at the times that I have chosen, I can dominate the spotlight.

Likewise, I used to consider 'niche protection' pretty important to chara design as a part of role-playing game design, but now it looks more like spotlight guarantee. So often in class-based systems, gamemasters are instructed to make sure that the adventure include things that require all available players' chara. Id est; make sure they all get spotlight time.

I think I was beginning to work in this direction back in Fundamental Particles of Character Class. The idea was that the parts you assemble into a chara are both you statement of 'what I want to play' and 'I will take the spotlight at these times.' And that was how I looked at it, but I never had the words.

This is yet another thing I have to mix into the Scattershot reconstitution.

Fang Langford Scattershot role-playing g

Mode Clash: the Root of the In Character (IC) / Out of Character (OoC) 'Problem?'

I'm sorry about how picky this sounds, but I thought I might open this up for consideration. I got the idea from a blog about user interfaces.

You've probably heard it before; I've heard it everywhere. Sometimes you even see it in the rulebook. Some kind of rules or suggestion that all talk at the table is IC. Or to limit OoC talk. Or advice to put a lot of character into you voice when talking IC. The point is, there is a problem here.

Role-playing game mode clash is something like putting A SHOUTED WORD in all capitals and then forgetting the 'caps lock.' Without knowing, everything from there on IS SHOUTING IN CHAT. Are we asking inexperienced gamers to subconsciously know whether someone else is speaking IC or not?

Experienced gamers (or people very familiar with the people they play with) will not have a problem here. Knowing how the group (or the familiar person) speaks when in or out of character makes the process seem effortless. So much so, I'm not sure I've seen much written about it. From games I've read, there are a lot of unformed ideas on how to handle this.

One solution (a rather awkward one) would be like only using the 'shift' key. (My wife has permanently removed her 'caps lock,' by the way.) Let's say you have everyone speaking OoC, raise their hand. Everyone knows it's OoC without even thinking. I've even seen one game that gave hand signals for use in place of all OoC communication.

I haven't really got any fresh or newsworthy ideas what can be done, but just for a moment, consider this a problem of mode clash. I know some people who play in ways they describe as 'immersive' (I make no claim to understand the term; I'm quoting) have a huge problem with mode clash. I've heard it said that it would be like having a bucket of cold water dumped on you in your sleep. Since this is the way they have fun, it is really very unfortunate.

But even typical gamers suffer from this problem. Have you ever seen someone complain that they were 'thinking out loud' and not designating what their chara was about to do? Mode clash.

Now there are still other typical modes I haven't even mentioned (or know about; that's why I like talking to you). For example, a mode where everyone is quiet while the gamemaster sets the scene or when the gamemaster communicates secret information to one player (ever see someone 'taken aside?') or note passing? These are all modes that are rarely even mentioned, yet remain a part of gaming culture.

Hopefully looking into this may lead to more humane role-playing game rules (rituals). I would very much appreciate your sharing any other modes you can think of. Likewise, let's hear ways I haven't mentioned for dealing with modes and mode switching. You guys never fail to come through, I can't wait to hear your thoughts.