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SWSheets - A New Hope

Monday, January 6th, 2020
Posted in roleplaying
and a hero was found

After years of operating swsheets.com, I finally found someone with the ability and enthusiasm to add new features. As of today, I’ve handed over all assets and ownership of the servers and domain. I posted a full announcement over on the FFG Forums and the SWRPG subreddit. I just wanted to capture some more personal thoughts here on my blog.

I started swsheets.com at a time when I had both enthusiasm for FFG’s Star Wars RPG system as well as a fair amount of free time on my hands. Both waned over the years, and by the time I joined Reverb in 2017 I had lost both my enthusiasm for the game and much of my free time.

I kept paying the bills but the site languished. Annoyingly, FFG has a habit of making small rules changes in supplements with no fanfare. While I deliberately avoided some parts of the rules (the site does not track XP spending, for instance), I always made sure that any rules I implemented were correct. Watching these changes happen was as frustrating to me as it was the site users who couldn’t build their characters correctly.

Despite that frustration and despite the fact that I’ve found a fantastic person to carry the project forward, it’s still hard to pass the site onwards. 7,800 people have signed up for swsheets.com accounts. Even the password reset feature is more widely used than any of my other side projects have ever been. People like a thing I made - letting go of that is hard.

But then the internet happens. The first response to my announcement on the FFG Forums is someone telling me why they don’t use swsheets.com, that they find the idea of it “exhausting.”

That’s hilarious, maddening, and kind of what I need to read right now.

To the site’s users and to anyone who ever provided honest feedback on it - a sincere thank you. I had a real blast and I wish I didn’t have to make hard choices about the increasingly few hours of free time I get.

To Nick, the person who is taking on ownership of the site, I’m incredibly grateful for your work and I cannot wait to see where you take it.

I hope I get the free time to make another “exhausting” roleplaying tool someday. This one was a lot of fun.


Lest I be totally unfair to the internet, the responses over on the Reddit post have all been heartwarming. I rarely received thanks for swsheets.com over the years so those small kindnesses mean a great deal.


Sam

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019

This past May, we bade farewell to our beloved dog Samwise, aka Sam. I have been putting off this post for, well, a very long time now. But it is time to memorialize this sweet creature. These are some of my favorite Sam moments.

I truly think she felt responsible for the safety of everyone in our house. Here she is on the day we moved in, already on alert.


When she was taking a rare break from guard duty, she was a pro at snuggling into blankets. This grey blanket was amongst her favorites.


That dog was serious about her comfort. I swear there’s a dog in this photo.


My wife developed a bizarre game with Sam where she would lay on her back, wait for you to touch her paws, and then gently growl at you. Strange but true.


Her favorite game though was tug-of-war, but in all our time together I never managed one decent photo of it. Chewing on bones was a close runner-up.


She was inseparable from her brother Frodo when he was with us. They were together since birth and were a package deal from Midwest Boston Terrier Rescue.


However, it was clear that Sam was the more dominant of the pair.


My favorite video of the two. You can see Sam’s independence at work here – while she was immensely fond of us, “come” was never very high on her list of priorities (unlike her brother)


I would have loved more time with her, but our eight years with Sam were a gift. So many more moments than I can capture here. I miss you so much, Sammo. I’m glad life brought us together.


“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” -Will Rogers


Emotional Decision Making

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019
Posted in leadership

I’ve been reading THINKING FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman. There is a real risk this blog temporarily becomes flooded by small bits from this fascinating work.

It includes this really interesting tangent on the possible role of emotion in making good decisions. From the author:

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio proposed that people’s emotional evaluations of outcomes, and the bodily states and the approach and avoidance tendancies associated with them, all play a central role in guiding decision making. Damasio and his colleagues have observed that people who do not display the appropriate emotions before they decide, sometimes because of brain damage, also have an impaired ability to make good decisions. An inability to be guided by a “healthy fear” of bad consequences is a disastrous flaw.

(emphasis mine)

I really need to dig into this further. This correlates with a number of software engineers I’ve worked with who often try to discount or deny the role of emotion in their work. As a result they make sub-optimal decisions, often because they can’t rationalize how that decision will impact the humans who intersect with these decisions.

When coaching leaders on big decisions, I often say something like “If you’re not scared, you’re crazy.” Usually this is meant to reassure and build confidence. Perhaps there is a deeper truth here though.


Dungeon Fate

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018
Posted in roleplaying

It’s a GenCon tradition in our group that we play a pretty half-baked, ill-prepared roleplaying game. This was the origin of such classic adventures as “Journey Through The Mud Mines” and “Take a Train to Go Turn Off a Radio.” This past GenCon was no exception, but we used a different system that I wanted to share.

Inspired by Rob Donoghue’s Blades of Fate writeup, I hacked together a mashup of Dungeon World and Fate Accelerated. This is mostly Rob’s writeup with a few tweaks. Here’s how it works.

This probably won’t make any sense if you’re not already familiar with Fate Accelerated. If you aren’t, good news – it’s a great $5 RPG that you should check out.

Goals

I love the core conceit of Dungeon World - failure is frequent and interesting. However, I wanted to graft that onto Fate’s narratively impactful aspects and a system that didn’t assume any particular setting. Dungeon World’s magic is in how well it evokes classic fantasy roleplaying. By contrast, we knew nothing about our setting until we sat down to talk about our characters and start playing.

Dice Rolling

I used the following ladder and corresponding numbers of dice:

  • Terrible - 2df, take worst
  • Poor - 1df
  • Okay - 2df
  • Great - 3df
  • Superb - 4df

This is slightly condensed from Rob’s version. Just like he’s struggled with articulating the difference between “Average” and “Mediocre,” I struggle with the difference between “Mediocre” and “Fair.” Thus, one tighter scale.

When you roll, you toss the corresponding number of Fudge dice and take the best result. That’s why the scale is so abbreviated - there’s no point when you are higher than Superb or worse than Terrible since the result is a foregone conclusion.

Die results are basically Dungeon World’s Defy Danger (that is, what Rob outlined in his article too).

  • + - Success. You succeed
  • (blank) - The GM offers a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice
  • - You fail. Things are about to get interesting.

Approaches & Characters

I kept the six Approaches from Fate Accelerated as-is. The players were mostly new roleplayers and the six Approaches are a fantastic way to help new players not worry too much about the rules and instead narrate their intents.

With a condensed ladder I had to rethink what skills characters get at what levels. I kept the same rough distribution of skills from Fate Accelerated but mapped them to this adjusted ladder (1 at Great, 3 at Okay, 2 at Poor).

Aspects & Fate Points

In this world, invoking an aspect moves you one step up or down the scale as desired. For positive invokes, this is relatively easy since you can add another die to the roll before or after without too much difficulty. However, this means that negative invokes only happen pre-roll. I like to run Fate with mostly pre-roll invokes anyway, but this runs against Fate orthodoxy.

Characters started with two fate points apiece. Since we were a pretty sizeable group, that was a plenty sizeable pool.

Everything Else

Otherwise it was mostly rules-as-written Fate Accelerated. We ditched stunts entirely but I’ve done that in basic FAE before without incident. We experimented briefly with stealing Dungeon World’s “only players roll” ethos but abandoned that midway through when we found the challenge lacking.

For dice rolls, we didn’t use the explicit system that Rob grafted in from Blades in the Dark. The spirit of those was still intact and is a useful way to counteract one of Fate Accelerated’s biggest problems, letting players lean too hard on a single approach. For example, we tried to make it clear that a Forceful solution was not going to be equally effective in all situations or equally safe either.

Thoughts

This played out pretty close to how I hoped, so I’m pretty happy with this hack. For players this was a incredibly fast system to learn. Spending aspect points just adds dice to a pool, and more dice is obviously better. Taking away the option to add +2, reroll, etc from FAE really helped.1

GMing this system is also a breeze - everything has the same fixed difficulty and if you don’t like that, you spend some fate points to make it harder for narratively interesting reasons. This was an end run around one of my only problems with Dungeon World’s fixed difficulties - new characters are too challenged by everything, experienced characters breeze through everything.

That said, I need to spend some time playing with AnyDice probabilities before I return this to the table. It was a little too easy most of the time - I saw fewer failures and blanks than I wanted to. Classic Dungeon World leans hard on the middle “7 to 9” results to generate narrative and we felt the absence of those complications in our game. It was mostly a story of things going to plan with the exception of our terribly unlucky warrior princess.

I may also take a look at adding some simple stunts back if I can figure out a way to do it that doesn’t require players to spend a bunch of time brainstorming how they mechanically work. That’s always been my challenge with stunts in Fate but that’s a topic for another time.

SP

  1. This has an interesting unintended consequence - adding new dice to a roll isn’t guaranteed to make it better. If you failed, you have a 66% chance of improving it somehow. If you got mixed results, you have only a 33% chance of turning that into a success. It adds a little uncertainty into spending a Fate point. However, if you spend enough to go beyond Superb, you still just succeed regardless of roll. This allows players who really want to pass a particular check to creatively do so. 


GenCon 2018 Mini-Reviews

Monday, August 13th, 2018
Oink Games games really are teensy.

Recently I returned from the Best Four Days in Gaming, GenCon. In between roleplaying games of demon battling, cyberhacking, and union negotiating, I managed to fit in a fair number of board games. In no particular order, here’s some micro-reviews.

Before you get too excited about the prospect of hot takes on the latest GenCon releases, you should know that these are mostly games that I happened to play for the first time at this GenCon rather than new hotness. In other words, do not set expectations to Stun.

FIVE MINUTE DUNGEON

Fast-paced cooperative game that has players leveraging five unique decks to clear a dungeon in five minutes or less. Easy to learn and fast to play, great game to kick an evening off with. A lack of depth means it is not something I’d return to over and over, but then I feel that way about most cooperative board games.

DECRYPTO

A team game of providing clues to your teammates that help them guess words without providing so much information that your rivals can also guess them. This game rewards clever left brain thinking and I quite enjoyed it. However, it only shines if you play it with the perfect group of friends - a single bad cluegiver can ruin the game. As a result, I’m more likely to stick with Codenames instead of playing this.

REEF

A mostly solitaire game of building coral reefs by trying to make patterns. I only needed to look at another player’s board twice despite a few mechanics which try to promote interaction. That leaves me with just the puzzle in front of me, but it isn’t a terribly satisfying or difficult one. As a result, Reef is a completely unobjectionable but equally unmemorable game.

SMILE

A lightweight, mostly themeless auction game for 3-5 players. Over ten rounds, you bid on cards with a color and a point value between -5 and 5. If you collect two cards of the same color, you lose both. This makes card values unpredictable for better and for worse. Not bad, but there are better auction games (see below).

DEEP SEA ADVENTURE

A fun push-your-luck game for 3-6 players about divers with a shared air supply who are diving for sunken treasure. The air runs out faster as divers carry more and more treasure, so you have to constantly watch your other players to make sure they don’t ruin your plans. Which they will anyway. A fast game you can fit in your pocket. It’s a great choice when I have too few people for Diamant or want a more thoughtful approach.

A FAKE ARTIST GOES TO NEW YORK

Fascinating game about drawing a shared picture with one catch – one person has no idea what they are drawing. Real artists try to guess who the fake is while the fake artist tries to not get caught or guess what they are drawing. It creates an interesting tension for all players since real artists can’t be too obvious in their work. This is the game that Spyfall wants to be and feels like it would be equally good for all player counts. Bonus points for being another ultra-tiny game you can put in your pocket.

THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY CARD GAME

A fine deckbuilder about raising dragons so that others can drink magic tea that can pass along your memories (read the book - it makes more sense). This is a pleasant game with an interesting push-your-luck model of spending cards that I haven’t seen in other deckbuilders. Aside from that and the adorable art, the remainder of this game is very generic. If you’re a fan of the source material then this is a very fine licensed game, but otherwise pass on this.

LOST CITIES: RIVALS

It’s Lost Cities as an auction game. On your turn you either draw a card and add it to a shared auction pile or begin an auction for that pile. This plays like a streamlined version of classic auction game Ra with an added twist of getting new cash reserves at several checkpoints in the game. This twist makes sure that you have interesting choices even when you’re cash poor. You’ll often have to decide between triggering small auctions (hoping to win them) and forcing larger pots (hoping to get your cash back sooner). Probably not my favorite auction game ever, but almost certainly my favorite one for under $20.

FIREFLY ADVENTURES

The core idea is admirable. Firefly Adventures tries to incorporate a variety of non-combat options into a traditional combat-centric miniatures game. The rules for this are simultaneously convoluted but also too simple. Non-combat characters will spend a lot of time thinking about their character’s “mode” or the specifics of initiative order so that they can finally… open a door. More action-oriented characters have to struggle against these added mechanics as well to play a fairly traditional combat game. Even Whedon fans should avoid.


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