Category Archives: Bits

Can We Talk About Firefly?

I know that today is V for Vendetta day or something like that… and I shan’t wish to be hoisted by my own petard, but… let’s discuss another revolution/rebellion for a moment.

Another of those, “Bring Back Firefly” chants passed through my social media feed the other day and it brought back my complicated feelings about the “Firefly Phenomenon.” First, I should say that Firefly, seen in its entirety and in the proper episode order, is one of the best examples of TV Sci-Fi we’ve ever had as geeks. Second, it is one of my favorite shows* of all time. Finally, I’ll say that Malcolm Reynolds is probably my favorite sci-fi character. I’m a huge, unabashed Captain Mal fan. I also live in Virginia, in the heart of Civil War country. I am a comfortable day trip (or less, really) from about 10 Civil War battlefields and my home city has a Confederate graveyard.

Also, a few hours from my home, there is a yearly event called the Browncoat Ball.

I have complicated feelings about Firefly. Here’s a little part of why…

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Character Class as Goal Setting

I’ve been writing long posts recently and I thought I’d take a breather and explore a small idea I had today.

Character classes are a strange thing. Some people absolutely hate class-based systems, some people love them. I fall into a bit of a middle ground. I find class-based characters to be interesting but I also enjoy the ability to make a completely freeform character.

At the heart of a lot of complaints about class-based systems (at least that I hear) seems to be the unnatural manner of “leveling up” which involves just spontaneously having new abilities when you hit the appropriate level and the oddity of being locked into a class progression for a whole game/campaign/whatever.

When I was playing Adventurer Conqueror King a while ago, I was really enamored of the classes and as I’ve been thinking a lot about domains for my current campaign (I’m back to messing with Birthright again) I find that there is another small angle that old school puts on character class which I’d never considered before.

What would happen if we viewed character class selection through the lens of goal-setting?

That is to say; what if we looked at a player’s choice of class as a series of goals which are accomplished as the character levels?

Suppose, for example, that I choose to play a fighter in ACKS. I’m saying something immediately with this choice. I want to be tough, fight on the front lines. strength is probably my best stat and I intend to use it.

But I’m saying more. I’m also saying that I want to develop certain abilities across my career. I’m saying that my gold is going to get saved up to buy a certain kind of stronghold and that I might have dreams of conquest. I’m saying that I want to grow my character into one of the best warriors in the world.

These things happen as a natural part of leveling. I get better with weapons, I gain certain abilities, and eventually, I attract the followers I need to staff my stronghold. But instead of seeing these things as part of a rigid progression which forces my character down this path, what happens if I start down this path with the thought that the end is actually where I want to be? It’s a very small perspective shift really. I imagine that some players always make their characters this way.

Try it out the next time you are considering what class to play and see if it changes your thinking about your character. Let me know if it does.

Thanks for reading.

Randomness, Niche Protection, and a little frustration

I have a friend who hates using the d20. He pretty much hates any version of the d20 system. His primary gripe – although there are many other well-founded ones – is rooted in the randomness of rolling a single d20 to determine outcomes. Basically, no matter how good he is, bad rolling can ruin that at any time.

My own gripes with the d20 system(s) trend toward a different direction but ultimately, the randomness of these activities really grates on me as well, sometimes doing a disservice to another convenient part of many d20 related games – Niche Protection.

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Time and Expectation in RPGs

This is a post about expectations and the interaction of reality and fantasy at the table. I don’t want to bog myself down thinking too much about the extremes of reality in games where people can throw fireballs and routinely get attacked by undead creatures. Overall, that dichotomy doesn’t bother me too much, I genuinely enjoy fantasy. But I’ve noticed that certain expectations are dictated as much mechanically as they are narratively, and the interactions are sometimes jarring for me.

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A Personal Day

This one is a little personal. If you aren’t interested – that’s okay. There’s a little gaming in here but it’s mostly reflective. Fair warning. This one’s about work, lack of work, and a desire to do things a certain way… it’s about management and leadership.

I haven’t been posting a lot for a while now. This isn’t an apology post – I either post or I don’t – but my goal is to get back on a regular schedule starting with this post today.

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Reflections and Resolutions

I’ve been taking a little break here at the Rhetorical Gamer. Just needed some time off to work on other projects and deal with work stress. That said, one of the nice things about working for a university is that I get a little time off around the winter holidays. Even as a student I always found this time valuable to “get right” again and I’ve found myself missing the act of blogging again lately. I suppose it had started to feel like a chore instead of something I was enjoying…

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Some Reflections on ACKS

So I’ve been running Adventurer Conqueror King System for a few weeks now and spending all my game time reading and familiarizing myself with the system. And you know, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of this game. It’s a great old school game but also very well written and full of clever extra stuff.

I’ve discovered a few things though as I’ve really been working on my game that surprised or confused me. Here are a few of my discoveries as I’ve worked my way into ACKS.

1. Elves and Dwarves don’t have infravision. It was funny, I took the idea of dwarves and elves having infravision so for granted that my brain completely just filled it in and glossed over the fact that it wasn’t written anywhere. Now, I’m actually really happy with them not having infravision. I just filled that in on my own and one of my players had to point it out to me. So – some closer reading was in order…

2. Sticking with Elves… One of the more interesting additions to the game with the Player’s Companion is the class creation system. But as I began to tinker with this I realized that one of the quirks of this system is that there is no explanation about the whole “elves can cast spells while wearing armor.” At this point, I can’t really tell how that is handled or where it originates in the game system. This may seem like a small point – but it really is a big deal when it comes to customizing classes. It’s also no help to compare the created classes because the language is not carried through all of the elven classes. This is one I’d like a clear answer to (because there are also other examples – such as Zaharans).

3. The domain and kingdom rules are also really difficult. As much as I love the rules built to handle markets and the clarity they bring to certain things – the actual work to build a domain during campaign planning was awful – and not terribly clear. Some of the language is confusing to the point that I just chucked parts of the rules and just faked it – something I was striving not to do and which worries me when my players start to reach the stage where they begin to consider domains. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that since the domain rules shape everything else in terms of the game’s economy it is very difficult to separate these pieces and see them in isolation. I haven’t given up yet on planning and that I might have a breakthrough that makes it all come together but… it doesn’t really seem likely.

Again, I have a few difficulties and confusions but I still love this game and I’m really enjoying running it for my players.

Thanks for reading.


I still haven’t figured out why I can get a jellybean that tastes exactly like freshly cut summer grass, buttered popcorn, or vomit (ew) but I can’t find an artificial sweetener that doesn’t make my coffee or tea taste weird and off-putting… That probably doesn’t seem all that relevant to gaming (it isn’t) but I tend to think of things in parallels and as my wife has gotten more into cooking lately I’ve been thinking about how things come together. Cooking is science, it’s alchemy, it’s taking bits and making a cohesive, enjoyable whole. And there are a thousand recipes for just about any dish you can think of – but they all claim to be making the same dish. There are low-fat, high-fat, gluten-free, dairy-free, lots of butter, you name it you can make it versions of just about everything.

And that makes me think about my quest for a game lately. I’ve been without a group for about six months now… roughly corresponding to my taking a pseudo-break from writing here. It’s given me a lot of time to read and plan.

I’ve been in an OSR kind of place for a while now. I’ve been thinking about old school play, missing old school play… And with Wizards of the Coast releasing their back catalog of D&D adventures (hurry up and get the Thunder Rift stuff up!) and Goodman Games making spectacular adventures for DCC, I’ve really been craving some old school. I dug out my Dungeon Magazines from the 80’s, my B/X D&D sets, my Rules Compendium, The Arcanum. I downloaded Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, Legends of the Flame Princess, and Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), and Castles and Crusades. I even bought Dungeon World and reread Old School Hack. And I realized along the way that there are a lot of Old School games. There are even New School/Old School games. It’s weird.

There are 31 Flavors of Old School gaming and that’s a good thing… Hell, Talislanta is free now. Seriously.

And they all do it a little bit different. They all do it just a little bit “their own way.”

I ran a short game of Castles and Crusades and I really liked it… but much like Goldilocks in the three bears’ house, it was just not quite right. I was really close to announcing a game using The Arcanum rules… I’ve always had a soft spot for those rules and I feel like they are an underappreciated piece of gaming history. That book is a gold mine of gaming goodness. And that too was just not quite right (partly because of the work invovlved in translating old school D&D adventures for Arcanum play). Recently though, Autarch put out the Players’ Companion for ACKS and I picked it up, knowing I’d enjoyed reading the core book and looking forward to more of the same. And as I read I had the urge to go back and read the core book again. This is what I’ve been looking for. I missed it the first time but really, this is a great game.

So I’m starting an Adventurer Conqueror King System game – that is – provided I actually get any players. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I am not a Game Designer

The beginning of the academic year always is a pretty brutal time at my job… I point this out because I find myself reading more than writing these days, and only reading when I’m waiting for an elevator in the library…

But recently, I read an old piece that was posted by a Facebook friend – and it was a quality piece by Chuck Wending about how Aspiring Writers need to stop Aspiring. And I don’t disagree with his message. You wanna be a writer? You gotta write. It really is that simple.

Here’s where I pull up short though. Just because you write does not make you a writer. Feel free to disagree. Maybe I don’t like myself enough. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too practical-minded and I’m too aware of the academic editorial model…

But I gotta say, I’ve published story I got paid for, published a few I didn’t, have proposals out there right now that I’m waiting to hear back from, gotten rejection letters, and I write all the time. But I don’t call myself a writer. My take is this – If I’m only writing for myself – I’m not a writer. If I don’t have a clear audience that is actually wanting my stories – I’m not a writer. If I can’t pass the bar of editorial review to get published – I’m not a writer. I’m just someone who writes for fun. I am – in fact – an Aspiring Writer. I’m doing the work, I’m writing and trying to find outlets for that work but I am not a writer.

It’s the same thing with game design. I respect the hell out of game designers, just like I do writers. Mr. Wendig’s magic bullet of envy that he mentions is certainly always lurking, though I’ve mostly gotten over that through the years and I can be genuinely envious in a good way of the work of game designers. There are a lot of pretty cool games out right now. Without meaning to I’ve started to morph into a fan of Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars game – Edge of Empire. I loved reading Numenera and think it is almost perfect (still not a fan of the difficulty system). And there are so many great small press games I read this summer – like Dungeon World for example.

Don’t get me wrong – I love this stuff and read way too many games to be good for me. I also create. I’ve written two games – they live on my downloads page. Both are playable, serviceable games that I’ve enjoyed the heck out of even as I know in my heart that they are far from perfect. But I will never call myself a game designer. I read on another blog a while back – not even sure who it was now, this part just stuck with me – that the writer there was designing and churning out simple games as a way of building a resume. For me that would have been a face palm moment if we’d been talking in person. Don’t get me wrong – the guy can do whatever he wants, but just writing a game does not make you a game designer.

Review, play, enjoyment, and the validation of creating something that sticks are (to me) vital measurements of whether or not you’ve earned the right to call yourself a game designer. You can call yourself an aspiring game designer if you feel it, you can call yourself a hobbyist or an amateur if it makes you happy. Heck – forget it – call yourself a game designer if you like. But I won’t.

I got involved in this discussion at a con a while back and I run into this conversation all the time with artists, gamers, etc. What “qualifies” you to be an Author or a Musician? Is self-publishing really publishing? (I’m not making a judgment call on that one – just saying it comes up). Do only the guys working for WoTC, or Green Ronin, or Catalyst get to call themselves game designers? And if so, why?

I don’t personally “get” his stuff, but I certainly think someone like James Raggi gets to call himself a game designer, for example.

But despite 30 years in the hobby, despite writing and “publishing” two games, despite a lifetime of tinkering and creating new bits… don’t call me a game designer. I’m happy to continue apsiring.

How about you? Am I crazy? Am I wrong? Do I spend too much time around academics? You tell me.

Thanks for reading.

Technical Issues

Not a fan of the… “sorry I haven’t posted” type of post – but I wanted to share my pain. Right in the middle of three projects and my computer…

…my computer has created a black hole of awful that we are still recovering from.

So just a quick post today.

Saw some comments about my BoL/Shadowrun project – still plugging away at that and will start putting stuff up as soon as I’m live again.

Also straightened out the PDF of my old game, Legends of Ryllia – which I hope to have up early next week… that was a trip down memory lane. I’m actually a little excited about sharing it with the world. It’s raw, but like I said, lots of memories.

Finally caught up on the Harry Dresden novels – fantastic. I still don’t get how The Dresden Files can be so good and the Codex Alera was so awful…

But, stay tuned – I’ll get the computer up and live again soon and then – early next week I’ll be back with some gaming goodness (well, I guess all of you will be the judge of that).