Tuesday, November 29, 2016

World Building is a Skill

It was only recently I realized World building as a Skill. As a skill it has many components with the goal making an immersive setting. Immersive settings have many traits that make it so: ideals, mechanics (it has laws that can be acceptable or makes sense), and engages us in many levels.

To some gamers, like myself, Science and the understanding the world we live in all contributes to my World building. When I read about current events, cultures, people, economics, psychology, history, politics, etc... all contribute to my World Building because I work these all in the narrative and details of the worlds I make.

Other gamers find Literature, Stories, Characters, ironies, tragedies, sufferings, Ideologies, human virtues, etc... are more the focus of their World building. We all have very different values and focus or clarity in an aspect of the world we live in that make it engaging to us and we reflect that back into our World Building.

Understanding the Fantasy

below are a couple of key information I try to look for that is absent in most RPGs. While most RPGs deal with Characters and Peoples, i like looking at demography and economics. With these two very broad elements the world becomes more real for me.

Currently my studies are about the Axial Age in 5-4C BCE China and Hellio Centric World (from the Balkans to India) and their economies and demography. I'm butchering Middle Ages data to create my made up data for this era. A mixed blessing that I'm too busy to play but I can do some research into some worthwhile answers to these questions. 


Demography helps in painting a picture of the population and the kind of life the people lived. It gets the world builder quickly into what matters and the mortality of the population. 
  1. Child mortality, ex. ~33% before reaching the age of 5 in pre modern times and in poor undeveloped states and regions. 
  2. Maternal Death ex. 20%. It makes one think of the role and value of women and mothers in society. their challenges and risks. 
  3. Median average life expectancy. Ex. mid-40s. this limits the ages of the characters and gets the players thinking of what maturity means. 
  4. Median Population Age, Family starting age, 
  5. Family Size 
Useful sources
  1. Dorsey Armstrong The Medieval World (i forgot her sources)
  2. Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages (quick search on the web)

Basic Economics

At the most basic level, economics deals with the reality of having to prioritize where the next meals is going to come from and what it is going to taste like. Tackling the most basic elements of the economy: food production and the patterns and exchanges make deviations to the norm all the more special. It also allows the world builders to frame the risk, rewards, transactions, value, and
  1. What is the most common crop and why?
  2. What is the output of land to weight of crop produced, in its basic usable form?
  3. What is the amount of man days it takes to Prepare and Harvest the land?
  4. What is the supplementary diet of the people?
  5. What is the sizes of the household?
  6. What is the cost of living? What are their buying and spending habits, what do people spend on which they shouldn't, and what are their key economic virtues and practices?
  7. What are the Patrons, the Elite, Indentured Servants, Servants, Slaves, and Clients like?
  8. What is their technology like?

Useful Sources

Friday, November 25, 2016

Table-top Role Playing Game Knowledge Bits or Skills

I was supposed to write about making Mass Combat or Warfare easier but I realized I needed to tackle elements of TRPGs. I can’t make warfare easier if we cannot define and limit the scope of what such a game can be about. Identifying what makes games different in how we play is one thing, the next is breaking down the little skills that make up playing TRPGs.


  1. We can categorize and enumerate the skills, techniques, mechanics, and means in playing and running TRPGs. I'll be using the term mechanics since it seems adequately broad to describe both the rules, opportunities, conditions, and options players and the GM tend to learn.  
  2. We have a scarce capacity in the things we can do in preparing and learning to play TRPGs.


  1. That we can plan how better to spend our time, in what TRPG elements we are pursuing..


So to make this less overwhelming and easier to do, here is an example of a breakdown and tools to measure. Another example of a knowledge, technique, or skill breakdown is this GMing skill list I've been working on for a year.  I didn't do everything in one go, all of it (if you can check the document history) is a little at a time. What makes it look like a lot of work is that I have one bucket and I just dump and dump everything I learned: from stupid, basic, incomplete, and esoteric into it.

In case you dont check out the links and the details I worked on, you can still build you won list of stuff relating to TRPGs and plan out what is the best use of your time. I didnt put it in this post because it would be too much of a deep dive and the post serves better to just make you consider all the things you'd want to learn, understand, identify and master when running games. If you have a problem of having too much game in the brain then this more organized approach will help optimize your time and effort. So you can more easily pick up and put down the hobby when real life gets in the way, like the family gamers who have a little too much to juggle.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How we game

Finding out how we game as objectively and precisely as possible would mean a lot of self reflection, note-taking, and feedback from your players or Gms.

This is my notes on how I have observed others, myself (recording through hanouts on air, video, and exporting it to audio and listening to it), and experimentation on determining how we game.

I can say that there are two primary activities in running a TRPG and that is: Role-playing and Gaming. Roleplaying is the activities that are made up of Immersion, storytelling, visualization, drama, etc... Gaming is the simpler and faster paced feedback cycle that happens between players and GM.

These two elements blend together to make a game, and are rarely are they so extreme as to be divorced from the other. There is interplay with the most extreme of Role-playing and Storytelling, and there is a story and immersion in the most gaming focused activities in a session.

How are they measured:

We measure Roleplaying by measuring the amount of time we take getting into character, playing off each other’s character, “role-playing”, storytelling, and pursuing scenes to push one of the many story streams in the game forward (either the game’s over-arcing narrative, each player’s personal narrative, the narrative of the world, their adversary etc...).

We measure the Gaming by the amount of Feedback and Adaptation we do in the game and its circumstances. We normally measure it in the amount of combat we have in the session, but it can also mix with the other high action events where the Players feedback quickly between the circumstance or adversary or each other.

How the two are used:

Usinig these two conventions, we can use them to do the following:
  1. How we spend our time playing. to look at the amount of time we, the players, or the gm, spend their time in each one.
  2. Preferences. It helps track preferences and tailor the game more for all those participating.
  3. Focus. It helps focus on geting the most enjoyment when we transition or vasilate between the two.
  4. Description. It helps describe and work on a variety of blends of the two.


  1. Immersion. Lettiing the Players (and even the GM) get into character and the setting.
  2. Storytelling. When one of the many story streams in the game gets focus, relevance, moved forward, influences other stories, and becomes the one of the causes of the circumstance, happenings and events.
  3. Spotlight. Giving the Player or part of the story some focus. Particularly pushing the story forward. It clarifies and expresses the story, giving it the chance to get deeper in the immersion, and make events and action have more impact.
  4. Emotion and Empathy. Role-playing is an opportunity to display, express, and to feel a particular emotional tone for the scene and story. It takes time for certain emotions to be felt and expressed, and Role-playing builds to that opportunity.


  1. Interaction. Gaming is notable when the Players, Setting or World, NPCs, etc... adapt to each other. Their actions feed back and change the situation.
  2. Tension and Conflict. When events get complicated, setting up risks and threats, and incentives and penalties.
  3. Uncertainty. Uncertainty is one of the sources of conflict which muddies the situation and makes threats, penalties, pain, and peril disproportionately worse. Ambiguity also does this, leaving the quantity and quality of any threat or danger unknown and left to the sensitivities of bias and emotion.
  4. Small Wins. When the feedback gives small wins or gains. Small wins can also be some mental closure on other matters.
  5. Clarity and Simplification. Like the benefit of mental closure, there is the simplification of some issues, information that removes ambiguity, sharpening of focus on priorities or action. New information or events may give clarity, simplification, or focus.

What this post does not answer or help with:

  1. Defining how one really plays and how flexible their prefences are. These are arbitrary tools and conventions, and it does not apply to all or many not apply to most. Its hypothetical. Tools by which to self examine and improve are found in other books – particularly in self improvement books that work with practical activity instead of motivation and emotion.
  2. Defining the various mixes of the two. The mixed versions of them would be:
  3. Mass Combat or Warfare Focused Games. The story and roleplaying with large groups, the scale that goes with such groups (conquering more and more people, places, treasures, and affecting more of the world).
  4. Intrigue and Social Games. Games that have a very particular blend of Gaming and Role-playing when Emotion, Expression, and Relationships are to tools of conflict and conquest.
  5. Logistics and how it can be given the elements of both Game and Role-playing (Story).


Feedback is the limit by which we can know ourselves and surroundings. If I dont express and know how it tests against reality then I would never know what would be better or best. Feel free to give some feed back, ask, or comment.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Conditional Success, Significant Actions

Conditional Success is basically replacing failure with an Extreme cost for Success. The Margin of Failure determined how much it would have cost to succeed and if the Player or Party are willing to pay that cost.
System Agnostic. You can apply this to any game system (better with bell curve dice systems). I recommend Squaring the margin of Failure as the Cost of Success on bell curve dice system or square then half when using a d20.
How this is resolved is basically the Player rolls to attempt to perform the Task, Action or Activity but on a failure realizes there is more work and cost to making it work given his circumstances. It can be multiple attempts built in, much more work and resources needed because of the variables of the circumstance, timing, particularities of the scope of work, etc...

Usefulness. The main reason behind the mechanic are the following:
1) Pacing - the feedback loop of the Roll does not end with the player knowing if they Failed, it now becomes a much harder and ambiguous question:
          i) can I pay the cost of success.
          ii) is it worth it? is success at this point worth it?
          iii) what are my opportunity costs?
          iv) the player has more agency since they can make more of a call instead of having to ask the GM what can he do about it.
2) Heightened Tension. Because of how it leaves an ambiguous answer that requires more thought on the Player it affects the tension. Uncertainty and Ambiguity ramps up tensions (and frustration of players) used skillfully it adjusts level of tension for the players.

This mechanic requires the GM to recallibrate how the System deterines what is a Significant Action.

Significant Actions

the 2 min rule  of David Allen's getting shit done, Kal Newports Deepwork on 4-6 hours concentration blocks, the definition of Shallow Work (Kal Newport) and my own experience in Operation man hour metrics got me thinking about Significant Action. In a Day one of the most productive things we can make maybe progress in a difficult task OR juggling many small "shallow" tasks. So I proceeded to define A ROLL or a Significant Action to be at default 1 Workload or 4-6 manhour task. From this anchor I proceeded to make the following Definition:

The GM doesnt bother with insignificant tasks. He looks at the Gross Cost or Final Cost of the Action in Time and Resources.

You'll notice that the Definition give you a better anchor when researching what can be done with a Roll or a Skill use, because in real life no matter how capable or skilled, and what industry one works in, people still have to break down tasks in these small do-able chunks.

Few people can block of Months or Weeks for a tasks without Personal Life getting in the way, few businesses allow people to concentrate uninterrupted in their work without throwing a LOT of distracted firefighting and shallow work. Even the best people in their fields have to make time for distractions from personal, the world, or their superiors to get their core tasks done

  • Task or Activity. 
  • Insignificant: 1-5 mins. The GM doesnt bother with such tasks and they serve purely for immersion, visualization, and RP.  
  • Minor Task. 45mins to 15mins (maybe margin of success lessens the number of mins)
  • Partial. 3 to 1 man-hours (defaults at 3 unless specfied)
  • Workload: 4-6 man-hours, we use 5 to simplify
  • Standard: 1 workload (standard difficulty). 
  • Man-Day is 2 Workloads
  • Complex Task: 4-6 Man Days, we use 5 to simplify. 
  • Concentrated Work Rule. Basically doing things broken up when it can be done in one block of time results to excesss time. Breaking up an Activity multiplies the activity by x1.5 more time. This can get worse as failure adds more and more sub activities.  
  • other rules not discussed: Equipment (Capital and Infra requirement) and Consumables (materials spent in the activity). 

* the System may make can make the tasks that take less time have a bonus to success or fall under the easier task difficulties.
Beyond Complex Task level is a level of uncertainty thats best RPed and played out. If its being used to measure Downtime tasks and activities half the level of efficiency and assume there are a ton of distractions. Reserve the level of focus and clarity to period of "Adventure" or the Campaign.
Beyond this level the GM and the Player works on a Bill of Resources and various Operations Technical Estimates and Planning metrics.


  • Now the occasion to roll tends to be something that eats up a work load and a failure may cost the character up to 4x to 9x or WAY more work, resources, or time.
    • The GM or Player can better identify critical tasks and duties.
    • The player delegates and plans how to tackle the problem.  
  • The Player has to sort Significant Rolls from less important tasks. a level of frustration and tension from the disfluency of having to arrange tasks by priority and consequence. The players really have to prioritize and adapt. When a Petty Tasks 
  • The GM can calibrate tasks appropriately since he looks at the Workload vs Distracting Busy work of the Job or Role. It becomes a world building tool. 
  • Skills being benchmarked against a Partial or Standard Task. Some skills tend to be mostly shallow tasks (see Deepwork) while others require Deepwork or requires the full standard task and more. In a scifi setting AI aided deepwork will be the kind of work humans will have left. 

Quick Take Away.
  • Magin of Failure is now the Inflated cost of Conditional Success
  • Recallibrate what is a Significant Action