Assorted Articles (Jan 2016)


RPG Rant/Observation–
When designing or running an RPG, I think four basic questions are probably more important than any others:
1) Does X (what’s about to happen/not happen, or in the case of design – what might happen/not happen) benefit from uncertainty and/or from being a choice? If no real opportunities will result from introducing uncertainty/choice, narrate or let someone else narrate with authority.
(Unless powerlessness is a theme or the players aren’t comfortable/confident enough yet, or the like…).
2) If uncertainty/choice indeed improves upon the situation, then should the choice/conflict be resolved narratively or tactically? With what level of rigor? (e.g. how long does that combat need to go on for?)
3) Is it a good story? If not, revise the way you’re answering the first two questions.
Maybe the players are making bad choices, but maybe you are not offering them the right opportunities.
4) Is everyone having fun? If not, revise the way you’re answering the first three questions. Fun is more important than a good story – though ideally the two will not be at odds if everyone in your gaming group is a good fit for each other and for the game/story.

BONUS: Thoughts about themes in games…

In terms of bringing out the themes of a story, I think you need to think about where in the rules “story” happens.

In DnD, is it with a skill check? Is it a narrative plot point? Is it the outcome of a combat encounter?
What rolls matter and why do they matter? What choices matter and how do they contribute to the growth of a character, the group dynamic, and/or to external elements of the game world?
Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll have a firmer grasp of where and how your theme should be a part of play/rules/mechanics.

It makes sense to create a new stat or mechanic to call attention to Suspicion or Hope or Vice or whatever, if that’s an important aspect of the story you’re telling in your game- but otherwise more rules almost never equals more fun.
Rules slow story down- and while the “game” is an important element of the RPG, it needs to be present and fulfilling WITHOUT getting in the way of the creative experience. Otherwise, why not just play a minis game or better still a CRPG which does all the math in the background for you?

“But aren’t RPGs the legacy of tactical games with story just as fancy dressing?”
Yes, but anyone can add story/character to a game if the priority is the game itself. You can describe conflict cinematically in games like Chess or Pandemic or Risk (especially if you’ve got that one unit that somehow beat the odds), and that will likely scratch your itch- but if you are setting out to tell a story, you need to respect rules and implement them creatively, without letting them monopolize your attention.



New life goal: maintain the drive that makes philosophical thought actionable (or maybe action-oriented) without overstepping into presumption/arrogance, nor slipping lazily back into “personal development” and interesting conversation pieces (while helpful to some, that is an insufficient end goal).

Also, understand there is some measure of arrogance in presuming to make change- own that, don’t let it hold you back. Arrogance is only a problem when it means you’ve stopped listening/paying attention. Inaction and complacence are the real devils here.


Dear anxiety-prone nerds (and others who generally feel like outsiders),



All communities should have a site like this and promote the shit out of it: That won’t compel people to contribute but it will help focus the efforts of those who seek to do so and that’s enough of a victory.


Assorted Articles (Feb-Apr 2016)



Oops this ended up being a gaming blog post about inclusiveness and having fun. Oh well. TL;DR – your game is more fun when your players feel like their contributions are valued, and that doesn’t have to compromise anyone else’s ability to have fun.

A tabletop RPG (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) of any kind amounts to collaborative storytelling.
Story-telling = you are creating media (even if the audience is limited to the authors)
Collaborative = what you’re doing is built by a team/community and the activity itself reinforces a sense of community/belonging

As such: representation, participation in “authorship” of the game world and how it works, and sensitivity to topics/situations your players may not be comfortable with are important considerations for all DMs who want to engage in collaborative story-telling. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating players, which is almost literally the opposite of how ‘having fun’ works. “You didn’t intend to make [that potential new player] feel unwelcome, just the opposite – but things fall apart because we insist other people live on our terms.” (see video below for more of this)

Once you remind yourself and your players it’s a made-up world and you (collectively) can make ‘what it is/includes and how it works’ however you want (even if you’re in a “canon” setting), players will feel empowered to contribute their ideas about “what it’s like” and how things work in this world, and will go nuts with their new-found sense of author-ity, resulting in a really unique and cool game world they are excited to play in, because it really is theirs.

Three challenges you might encounter, and how to overcome them:
1) what one player thinks is cool, another player thinks is stupid or doesn’t make sense with the rest of the world. Figure out if it’s within the scope of your game’s tone (for instance: a Narnia-esque game about kids exploring a magical world filled with wonder probably shouldn’t explore more mature themes, unless you’re putting a dark twist on that genre in your game and all your players are cool with that). If the idea is not going to change the fundamental story you’re trying to tell, and it’s a cool detail one of your players is excited about for story reasons, try to accommodate it. If you can’t accommodate it, make a sincere effort to work with the player to come up with something that does fit in your game and satisfies whatever underlying point that player was getting at with his/her idea. Otherwise, you’re basically telling that player their contributions are unwelcome.
2) what one player thinks is cool, epic, badass, etc. makes another player uncomfortable. Figure out why each player feels that way. Oftentimes, it’s not the details that matter to the player who thinks it’s cool, only the implication behind them or the consequence resulting from the cool idea, and they can probably achieve their desired result without dragging the story through territory that makes others at the table uncomfortable. For the player(s) who is/are uncomfortable, without being pushy about it get a sense for what about the situation makes them want to disengage, so you can make sure to steer clear of that topic/situation later on in the story as well.
3) your players have drastically different ideas about what the game’s tone should be and/or what scenes are relevant to the game/story. Set aside time to have a discussion in which you re-establish ground rules about what story you have come together to tell (is it gritty, campy, what? are certain scenes better explained through a narrated sentence from the DM rather than forcing your group to play through them?). This applies just as much to how you handle combat as it does to how you handle love scenes/stories as it does to how you handle the terrible things your totally evil bad guys do.

2) Ms. Marvel has some interesting takes on heroism. I’m on board:
“Why are kids like me always being drafted into wars we didn’t start? It’s like adults are too wrapped up in their own worlds to notice the really big stuff. Weird alien mist, runaway kids being kidnapped by a crazy bird man clone — This is the kind of thing you’d think people would notice. But you know what I’ve found out? A problem has to get pretty gigantic before anybody notices anything at all. That’s half of heroing. Noticing things.”


3) “You see, Captain America is the ultimate hero – he’s patriotic, strong, the uniform has the red, white and blue. He’d been created to fight actual bad guys in the Second World War,” he says.
“Today I want to show that he’s coming back – this time to fight hate crime.”


Ms. Gupta said that in some cities, hefty fines served as a sort of bureaucratic cover charge for the right to seek justice. People cannot even start the process of defending themselves until they have settled their debts.

“This unconstitutional practice is often framed as a routine administrative matter,” Ms. Gupta wrote. “For example, a motorist who is arrested for driving with a suspended license may be told that the penalty for the citation is $300 and that a court date will be scheduled only upon the completion of a $300 payment.”


“Feldman developed what has since become widely accepted as the definitive measurement of authoritarianism: four simple questions that appear to ask about parenting but are in fact designed to reveal how highly the respondent values hierarchy, order, and conformity over other values.

Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?” (



This is going to sound dumb, but stay with me. I think a fundamental issue in politics is who you’re willing to partner with in order to advance your agenda. You have a vision of what you want your community (or country) to be like, but you can’t make it happen on your own. But the more help you invite, the greater the number of visions that diverge from your own you’ve introduced into the apparatus of effective power/authority- and once you let them in, it’s hard (not to mention ethically questionable) to remove them.
In the specific context of the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, I think supporters of either candidate are perhaps failing to recognize that “the other side” simply has chosen different sources of support. Opposition doesn’t seem to be a matter of virtue so much as it seems to be a matter of doing a poor job picking political allies.


So last night I had a dream that I was at a house party (?) visited by the Dalai Lama (who looked much younger than he actually is and was dressed business casual with like a turquoise button-up shirt, and had a hype man?). He asked what nostalgia is/why some enjoy it.
I said because we are short-lived creatures and so nostalgia is our way of assigning meaning despite the ultimate meaninglessness of our fleeting lives.
The only other answer I remember was the correct one: nostalgia represents an alternate way the present could be playing out, a way more desireable to us than the active moment we’re living in. Obviously, this is a missed opportunity – as the active moment continues to pass you by while you wish it were otherwise, rather than strive to understand the present and accept it as it is.
Post-dream: I think is a useful sentiment (esp in the context of nostalgia, esp in regards to people who may be different from how you remember them), but more broadly speaking I think this is a problematic form of acceptance. You need to want more in order to want to change the situation- and sometimes it is courage rather than acceptance that is required.