W.R.I.T.E. GM Moves

As a GM I often run a game on the fly by the seat of my pants with very little reference material in front of me, and I really appreciate games that let me do this. One of the things I struggle with, for a lot of PBTA games is long lists of GM moves. I often forget to have a list in front of me and I don’t want to go digging for them every five minutes. I know GMs who have a more measured pace for whom patiently consulting a list of GM moves works for but my style is too hectic for that. This tool is intended to be a helpful fallback for when you don’t have the game’s actual list of moves in front of you. It’s not intended as an outright replacement for the GM moves of the actual game you’re playing. The tool is this simple acronym: WRITE Warn them Rob them Injure them Twist the outcome Escalate   Warn Them Introduce new things to worry about or make distant worries more present. Reveal unwelcome truths. Let them know what’s about to happen, or what’s happening in the nearby or far away. This move is one of the most important because it’s the one you use to create narrative flow and make sure players don’t feel cheated. When they later get completely obliterated by dracula’s moon laser, it’s ok because you warned them. “In the distance you hear the rumbling sound of many feet and warcries. A warband headed this way, to be sure.” “A bullet ricochets off the wall inches from your head, wherever it came from, the second one probably won’t miss.” “A smirk fills the councilman’s eyes. He’s not afraid of you anymore.” Rob Them Take away or destroy the things their characters care about. Equipment gets broken, dropped, used up, or left behind. Hurt, kill, or kidnap their companions. This move is valuable for making risks and consequences that feel real and grounded without always falling back on the threat of potential injury and death. It’s what powers resource management based games and it reminds the players that even superheroes need to eat. “The kobold deftly disarms you and your sword clatters into the chasm below.” “The torch gutters out and someone’s belly grumbles in the cold dark, though it could have been anyone’s.” “The others squeeze through the gap without trouble but there’s no way your plate mail is making it through.”   Injure Them Bruise them, bleed them, break their bones. Take their lives or whatever made their lives worth living. This is the simplest move, the classic. Use it to make a point. This is a thing that can kill you. When hitpoints drop players sit up and take notice. “The ogre reaches through your hail of arrows, grabs your arm, and rips it off.” “The sweltering sun beats down on you as you travel without respite. Your skin burns and your blood boils in your head.” “You’re only barely still standing with the poison seeping through your veins and so you don’t notice the kobold trip wire at the top of the stairs. The tumble is all it takes to rob you of that last inch of life.” Twist The Outcome Give them what they want but with a cost or twist. Show their actions affecting much more or much less than they had intended. Turn their move back on them. Have success look different to what was assumed. This move is super useful for adjusting the pacing of things as well as making players think about possible fictional outcomes of their actions. “The fireball explodes on the mummy and fills the entire chamber with flames. The sacred scrolls nearby start to smoulder as embers pock their pages.” “You break down the door before hearing the groaning of the stones above as they tumble down with the wall collapsing into a giant pile of rubble.” “The necromancer recognises your holy symbol and is struck silent. As his minions flee he drops to his knees, begging for his life.” Escalate Make the situation worse. Separate the party. Put someone in a tricky spot. Bring in backup. Turn the floor into lava. This move is incredibly versatile, especially in tandem with Twist The Outcome, and drives a lot of narrative. Use it to ramp things up, move things forward, and never look back. “As you stop to catch your breath over the corpse of the man you used to trust, the entire house shakes and then lurches as it’s lifted into the sky by nazi helicopters.” “One of the bandits reaches out and grabs your companion, pulling them close with a knife at their neck. They start to retreat with their hostage.” “Bullets slice through the air around your jeep as the mercenaries fire from their bikes. One gets lucky and gas starts spraying from the engine bay and it’s only a second before the hood is blazing.”
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Antiquarian Adventures

Antiquarian Adventures Antiquarian Adventures is a pulpy tomb raiding and treasure hunting Blades In The Dark hack in the style of Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and The Mummy. It is currently in early access. You can purchase it on Itch.io: https://machinespirit.itch.io/antiquarian-adventures Or you can access the full text of the game for free: https://docstyle.machinespirit.net/index.php?id=11wJ2HIV-2GkPV8jjieT6vxV_uPT6ncv3AFPCTID5blU
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Roll20 Sheet Import Field

So I’ve wanted to be able to have something like the roll20 compendium for In Which We Live And Breathe but one that would be community expandable, creating a growing world of corps, gear, and contacts. As a result I’ve ended up developing some data import functionality that should be able to be plugged into just about any roll20 sheet to allow JSON users to paste JSON formatted data into their character sheet directly. Video Demo Code: <label>IMPORT:<textarea name="attr_import"></textarea></label> <script type="text/worker"> on("change:import", function() { getAttrs(["import"], function(values) { var text = values.import.replace(/(?:\r\n|\r|\n)/g, ''); var vals = JSON.parse(text); var truevals = {}; for (var property in vals) { if (vals.hasOwnProperty(property)) { if(typeof vals[property] === "string" || typeof vals[property] === "number"){ truevals[property] = vals[property]; } if(vals[property] instanceof Array){ for (i = 0; i < vals[property].length; ++i) { var currentRow = vals[property][i]; var currentRowId = generateRowID(); for (valProp in currentRow) { if (currentRow.hasOwnProperty(valProp)) { truevals["repeating_"+property+"_"+currentRowId+"_"+valProp] = currentRow[valProp]; } } } } } } setAttrs(truevals); setAttrs({import:""}); }); }); </script>
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Oracle

Oracle Oracle is a card based tabletop roleplaying game told in future tense. A group of adventurers meet with an oracle to tell them what the future holds as they set out on a quest. The game is played by revealing and playing cards in shuffled hands.
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Early Access

I make games. But I’m also messy and anxious. I believe my work is good and that I should be paid for it. But I also want people to have my games without it stressing my finances. So here’s the plan: I am going to continue making games, both solo and with friends. I am going to share the very earliest versions of those games with my Patreon patrons. When a game feels like it’s at a point I’m ready to share it to the larger world, I will release it as “Early Access”. Early access from me means that you can purchase an early access copy of the game that entitles you to all future digital versions of the game. Early access from me means that it is released for free on the internet for those who can’t or aren’t ready to back it financially yet. Early access from me means that I haven’t finished with the game yet and I will likely release updates, but who knows when. Early access from me means the work is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. When the game is done, there will likely be publishing and such, at which point it will stop being Early Access and those who purchased it get a digital copy of the finished game. I hope that sits chill with all of you.
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Narrative Belief

I talk about myself online a lot. I write a journal and I tweet aplenty and one of the things that is an important part of my life, which people have asked about, is Narrative Belief. I was raised in the Uniting Church and then left in my late teen years, evolving into an angry atheist by the time I was in university. Since then I’ve grown in a lot of ways, including coming back to seeing the value of the religion I had, even if I cannot convince myself to believe in its dogma. These days I try to use the ideas, practices, and tools available to me to not only make my own life more meaningful but also to help those around me engage in their own lives in ways that are meaningful to them. Narrative Belief is a key element of that, especially considering the primarily secular nature of the communities I engage with. So I thought I would put together a little primer on Narrative Belief for those who are interested. Narrative Belief is a belief or form of belief that you engage with intentionally for the purposes of enhancing your own life with narrative despite knowing and understanding that it is not factually/logically/empirically true. While my wife and I know that Santa Claus does not exist, we act as if he does at Christmas. While I see no reason to think that a higher power actually exists, I still pray to one in times of distress or times of comfort. My wife does not think that tarot cards can predict the future but she still draws one every morning to prepare her for her day. This is specifically distinct from faith, which is continuing to believe that something IS true in the face of evidence against it or a lack of evidence for it. Narrative Belief is also distinct from Nominal Belief; belief held for the purposes of identity, which a person might not consider to be literally true if pressed but of which the person considers themselves a believer regardless. Because they are primarily held for the purposes of identity or community membership nominal beliefs don’t need to be deeply questioned by the holder. In this way the function of the belief, and the understanding that the belief is not true, are implicit in Nominal Belief whereas they are explicit in Narrative Belief. Unfortunately the implicit nature of Nominal Belief also leaves it open to manipulation either intentionally or unintentionally by members of the belief community. The explicit statement of recognising the functional purpose and the lack of truth within Narrative Belief is what makes it both useful and safe. By choosing to say, “I know this isn’t true but I’m going to treat it as if it is for now,” we open ourselves up to the benefits that those beliefs might convey to us without compromising the ways in which our rational mind is capable of protecting us and preventing us from harming others unintentionally. We already rely on the rationality of our minds to protect us in these sorts of ways almost constantly. We use it to try to make sense of the world as it truly is, because to be unaware of threats or to assume safety where there is none often leads to harm. To this end we have shaped the rationality of our minds into tools like mathematics and the scientific method which allow us to make ever more precise judgements about the world; what is boon and what is bane. But to assume that our minds are purely rational is to fail to examine ourselves critically. Rationality itself is just one of the evolutionary products of a brain that is structured to find and match patterns. There are plenty of other irrational modes of thinking that we employ all the time in our day to day lives as well. We employ them because they take less energy than the high level processing of rationality. We personify and attribute minds to all sorts of complex systems such as the weather or technology. We see faces in random patterns of light and dark. We create stories of victory, defeat, solemnity, and celebration around yearly seasonal cycles. Our brains are shaped in ways that recognise certain kinds of patterns much more easily than others. Over millennia the thousands of distinct cultures across the globe have worked out innumerable ways of thinking about the different parts of their lives and held on to the ones that were either useful or made their lives richer. Many of these are purely or partly rational. We don’t tend to attribute to gremlins that which we can see is the result of gravity. We don’t say it is our lack of faith that causes us to fall to the ground when we lose our footing from high up. However, the complex physical interactions that caused us to lose our footing in the first place might be opaque enough that we place blame for that onto our old buddy Lucifer. While it’s tempting to dismiss these non-rational beliefs or parts of beliefs as being inferior,​ we should actually look at why these ideas survive in the memetic pools of culture. Some are simply defensive; they survive by attacking other ideas and defending themselves from retribution. Those tend to be the least valuable to the Narrative Believer. However, many other irrational beliefs serve those who hold them well. They might be a helpful simple model for a complex system that doesn’t need to be fully understood. They might make the lives of those who believe them fuller, more exciting, or more pleasant. They might provide support for some of the psychological needs of the people who believe them who cannot find that support elsewhere. They may provide a powerful placebo effect that is actually effective in changing the believers for the better in some way, such as the removal of pain or anxiety. Just because these beliefs aren’t necessarily based on empirical evidence does not mean they are of no value to secular people at all, in fact, the opposite is true. Learning to recognise the value of certain beliefs regardless of their rationality and to be able to engage with them opens up a world of possibilities for those who choose to do so. The childish joy of receiving gifts “from Father Christmas” without having to engage in the usual politics around festive gift giving, the separating of troubles and blessings into those within and outside our own control through prayer, the mental preparation and framing of the day that comes with drawing a tarot card are all tangible benefits that I see around me from engaging in irrational beliefs within the safety of a mental sandbox. The point is that I can engage in these beliefs and reap those benefits while still consciously knowing that I can nope out if they push me in a direction that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not going to take any actions that assume that a higher being will hear and respond to my prayer, my wife isn’t going to go out and hurt someone because she thinks that’s what a tarot card says she should do, and no one is going to make stock market investment decisions based on artificial flooding of the toy market by a jolly old arctic hermit. This has come naturally to me as a person with a long history with roleplaying games and might do too for actors or writers or anyone else who already engages with the process of thinking through someone else’s eyes. For others it may take some practice, but we are powerful empathy machines. The same mechanisms that allow us to benefit from these sorts of stories allow us to learn other stories from those around us if we’re willing to listen and try on their shoes. We don’t have to walk a mile in them, but we can take a few steps and see what it feels like. The practice of Narrative Belief doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however. One of the important restrictions I place on myself in my practice is to respect the beliefs of the people who do understand them to be true inasmuch as they are not bringing harm to others. When I attend a church service there are certain parts of the proceedings that I do not engage with. Elements of the Christian faith and its practice are specifically centered on the importance of the integrity of the belief and membership in the community of faith. In my practice I would consider taking part in those elements to be disrespectful to those who genuinely hold these beliefs, especially those who I know and care about in that faith community. Additionally, as a Scottish Australian woman I specifically make a point to only borrow directly from cultures that are within the broad European mixing pot of which my heritage is a part. I avoid borrowing directly from parts of other cultures because I usually don’t know enough to understand which parts of those traditions should be off limits when practising this form of belief. The times when I do engage with traditions, rituals, or beliefs from other cultures are when I am invited by members of that culture and I do so with an open intent to genuinely learn enough to understand where those lines are drawn. Similarly, it is important to make sure you’re not misrepresenting your narrative belief as genuine belief. Lying about what you understand the truth of a belief to be is is not only disrespectful to the people who do hold those beliefs genuinely but it’s also pretty obviously stepping into the realm of charlatans and hucksters. I think it’s important to talk about these limits and boundaries on how we practice Narrative Belief because the whole idea is one of moderation. The entire point of the exercise of Narrative Belief for me is to enjoy enhancing my life with the spices of superstition, religion, spirituality, and tradition without allowing them to hurt me or those I engage with. I love my narrative beliefs and I’m thankful to have a way to engage with them safely and I really hope that this way of approaching things might help you to safely enrich your own life with the full depth of thousands of years of human culture. In fact, I pray that it does.
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GX Australia – Building Better Gamers

At GX Australia I had the incredible privilege of hosting a panel called “Building Better Gamers” which discussed the question of whether or not it is possible to use game design to affect players’ perceptions and behavior for the better. This was a really fascinating discussion and I’m incredibly grateful to the all-star lineup for their contributions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwMfy4nEaNE
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