Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

Betrayal at the shadows over whatever!

I can’t believe it took me this long to realize this: in Outside Men, instead of having players choose their membership in either the ALIVE or DEAD team, it should be determined for them by the mechanics! And not immediately, but over the course of a campaign. (This may require some prohibitions, a la Dirty Secrets, on what you can narrate conclusively about your character.)

I credit Jason Morningstar with inspiring me here again, with his recent posts about a design in progress (I might link that when is running less slowly) that is almost more Shadows Over Camelot and Betrayal at House on the Hill than it is an RPG. I think I like the Betrayal at House on the Hill method better for the Outside Men context – rather than a player knowing from the beginning that his or her character is a turncoat, the rules will reveal it at some point in the middle of the game. Whether I will go for Betrayal’s thing of making the change public, I don’t know.

Also I need to write some more of the story into the rules. Infiltration should be the name of the game, and all of the interpersonal effects that come with it – loss of your social network when you go into deep cover, increasing loss of your clarity of self and of identity. Spione does a bit of this, but it is not so explicitly about the PCs having multiple identities… just multiple lives of a certain kind.

Can anyone else think of game mechanics about double agentry and/or secret traitors? I’m not looking specifically for mechanics that would fit the tone and story of Outside Men just yet… just looking for ideas.


April 10, 2008 Posted by | Games in Development, Outside Men, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Back to the outside

Let’s leave game aside for a bit and, inspired by all y’all’s recent talk about the importance of setting, dig into some story.

Here’s all of the extant background material for Outside Men. (Be not afraid; it ought to fit in your browser window without scrolling.) This is the game I came into Master Mines with, and I’ve switched projects like eighty dozen hundred times, but it’s okay; we’re doing light duty today.

What I want to know from you is: what kind of stories come to mind when you think of the Outside Men setting? Lovecraftian ones, I hope, but which ones? (My grounding in the actual literature is woefully thin.) Maybe The Road by Cormac McCarthy? Been meaning to look at that. The Thing, probably? What else should I put on my reading/consuming list? (Please do not say a whole lot of technothrillers okthxbye)

And, for extra credit: based on the sketch on the Outside Men page, how do you think playing the game might feel, in terms of interactions between people? I’m looking for wild blue-ocean speculation here.

March 18, 2008 Posted by | Games in Development, Outside Men | 3 Comments

Staying home to brood about British schoolboys

Just some status updates:

1) not going to Gen Con after all. Apologies to anyone who was hoping to see me there and do master-miney things. I’m going to try to make Dreamation in February.

2) I am officially changing projects, from Outside Men over to Bloody Subjects, my previously discussed game that really did, incidentally, come to me in the form of a game board I scrawled in a dream. Outside Men feels really resoundingly stuck, and I think it’s because I don’t feel very passionate about it right now. It gives me really good movies in my head, but that’s not the same thing as compelling play. In fact it might be the opposite.

3) Staying Dormant for another week or so though.

4) Apropos of my new project, the new Harry Potter movie is excellent. I am hoping brown corduroy jackets become a fashion craze as a result of this film, seeing as how I own one.

July 15, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | 2 Comments

To sleep, perchance etc.

So, I really don’t know what the next step is for OM, and I keep having ideas for new games (and even a complete draft cooked up in a couple hours at Go Play NW after playing Sea Dracula, the most awesome game ever cooked up in a couple hours). To me, this says that it’s time to lie fallow and let things germinate for a bit. I’m gonna take a few weeks off, maybe work on some music. I am still reading and commenting.

Speaking of digging around in Vincent’s old stuff, I found this thing on journeyman games. I thought of it this weekend when I flashed on a game idea so huge and terrifying that I am not even going to think about mechanics for a good long while. I’m just going to pick up some books, do some research, and plant that stake in the ground somewhere out in the future, a game I’m going to do when I’m ready.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | 5 Comments

Concepts are people too… wait, I may have that backwards

So, that thing of Vincent’s I read yesterday, which somehow got me to realize what should have been obvious: that every time you build a game mechanic, you should be thinking solely about the people at the table and how they’re going to interact as a result. I’m thinking about that a lot, and at the same time, I’m trying to write the next bit of my next draft of Outside Men. And I’m stuck.

I had this idea for what I jokingly referred to before as “character advancement:” what I was calling Goals. The idea was inspired by the Dharma Paths in Jonathan Walton’s Avatar game, and it went along vaguely (and I mean vaaaaaaguely) similar lines. The idea is you’d have two things on two different index cards, one of them a goal that the Alive side of you would want to achieve and the other a goal for your Dead side. Mind you, the game’s fiction doesn’t really allow for people being partly Dead and partly Alive; the idea was that which side you’re really on would remain a Schrodinger’s-cat deal, “secret” (really just open to future determination) until revealed. Which Goals you went for was supposed to be dependent entirely on story, except that whether you had achieved more Alive goals or Dead ones affected how well you’d do when rolling on Alive or Dead difficulties. (Elements were going to have two different difficulty tracks to bid up, yes. I am killing the hell out of that idea, don’t worry.)

I feel like I’m talking a lot and not saying much, here. Which is fine, because this is what it comes down to: I want the players of Outside Men to take strong actions that are ambiguous. I want them to conceal their intentions, have conflicted (and conflicting) allegiances with the other players, to switch sides and fight with themselves and maybe be unaware of themselves, but finally to show their true colors in gloriously horrible moments of self-sacrifice or mere self-destruction.

But I don’t know how to make the game make people want that. You know?

Rewards, baby. Hard stuff. I feel like there’s some simplest-thing-that-could-possibly-work hanging right in front of my face but I can’t see it right now. I certainly don’t think the Goals mechanic I envisioned is going to serve.

June 21, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | Leave a comment

Excuse me while I whip this out

Just a couple of things I wanna get off my chest and out of my system. I know that over at Secret Wars they feel okay about hopping back and forth between different systems, because there are only two people there and if everyone’s working on three games it’s still at least manageable. Well, there are five of us and I don’t know about y’all but I am already feeling the hurt. So! Just throwing this out there so I can get back to OM.

First: nine months ago I had a dream. In this dream I was talking to a couple of friends and I was inventing a game for them. I drew a box in ballpoint pen, scrabbling lines one on top of the other for maximum weight, on a sheet ripped out of a spiral-bound notebook. In the first box I wrote “Main Hall,” and added a crude cartoon crown. I drew a line connecting it to another box, labeled “Hall of Students.” Connected to another box, “The Garden,” and another, “Meat-Cutting Department.” All connecting back to the Main Hall.

Well, then I woke up, but it must have been a weekend because I lazed around, half-dreaming for a bit, and before long I knew what the game was about. Within a couple days, I wrote this:

All player characters are boys at the Boys’ School. It’s in England, and it’s sometime in the past, or maybe just feels that way. You are part of a secret club which has met at midnight in the Main Hall to see who is the new King. The King will be crowned before dawn.

In addition to your character’s Innocence and Shame, write down which of your Meat Cutting Dept.-issued knives you have brought with you to this meeting. Also your boy’s name.

Normally I get the titles for things almost before I get the things themselves, but this time it took me a few days to get a name I was happy with: Bloody Subjects. I did do a rules draft, but it isn’t very good. Never been tested, of course.

Then today I’m rooting around in Vincent Baker’s archives at, just looking through ’em, oldest posts first. And as I’m rooting I find this truffle right here. It’s a long thread that goes off the rails then back on, but the gist: never think about modeling the fiction to make your mechanics – always think instead of the players and what they’ll be feeling, how they’ll be interacting.

It got me thinking about Bloody Subjects again… if only because Outside Men has always been going after a fairly detached and ironic perspective on the players’ part. (Its original conflict mechanic was supposed to model a TV show like Lost, where things are constantly overturning and intrigue is always building and getting weirder, but everyone knows it’s not going anywhere purposefully.) BS, though, that’s a little more nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw, more pretty-boy anime and fan-fiction. Hell, I actually had the thought while on the bus that to get the players going after each other right, I was going to have to make the characters collect each other’s blood and/or other fluids.

So, I guess my point is just that. Also, go rummaging around in Vincent’s attic because there’s all kinds of good shit back there. (Like also this.)

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | 7 Comments

The Freeform Feedback Framework (F3)

I feel a little like I’m becoming what I despise: someone who thinks you should just use one system for everything and ignore all the ways different stories demand different structures. But here I am, turning to a system, or a half-system anyway, I derived from a game of essentially Battlestar Galactica, and trying to apply it to a game of inter-player intrigue influenced by Lost. What’s the matter with me?

Well, the system’s pretty abstract. Like, very abstract. It amounts to “put a token on a thing that you think is becoming important in the scene, and when something has enough tokens on it, resolve the scene with a die roll determining whether the characters got what they wanted out of that thing.” So yeah, adaptable to lots of different subject matter. Besides which, it has huge tracts of vagueness and places that are just plain undetermined. And I have some fairly specific ideas for how I’m going to modify it for Outside Men, but that’s not what I want to talk about now.

Here is the latest version of what I posted in that Descriptive Systems thread I linked to, the almost-a-system that was once called Fudgiversalis, then the Freeballin’ Fudge Framework, and now has a name that’s almost respectable. I have a couple of sections in the text right now where I ask myself questions out loud, and we can talk about those, plus I have some more questions I’d love to hear from y’all about.

First: anything at all that’s unclear, please say so. (A couple of things that Ryan asked: yes, it’s a GMless game, and yes, I need to write some examples.)

Second: the biggest areas of vagueness right now are what happens after a roll, and what happens when you have to decide exactly who is rolling for exactly what. The former is deliberately vague, and I do have some very specific things in mind that will happen here in Outside Men; the latter is kind of a problem, and I take a few stabs at possible solutions in the text but I would be psyched to hear more.

My overall question is really this: can this system work at all for anything but genre sim – that is, for stories that aren’t of a type and setting that’s already well understood by everyone at the table?

June 14, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | 12 Comments

Man, I am biffing it hard

I come up with this whole deal and these rules and crap, and then I can’t make my first proper post because I am always too damned busy.

I’m working on Outside Men, a game about undead software engineers in Alaska. It was born for the design challenge of more or less that name, put forth by Jason Morningstar in December of 2006. I’ll post what little currently survives of a design document sometime tomorrow. I had a playtest at GameStorm, a small con here in Portland in March, and realized that what actually went on at the table had defied all my assumptions again – in many of the same ways they did a mere two months prior to Jason’s challenge. In response to that earlier game, I designed what is very nearly a whole system.

I’ll have that up soon too. The challenge I face now is bringing that system together with the themes of Outside Men, and extracting whatever else I can from what happened at that table – oh, and seeing if any of this crap is really going to work at all.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | Outside Men | 3 Comments