Thursday, August 31, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 31

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

The continued integration and acceptance of women and people of colour and other under-represented voices in the hobby. Watching people who are silenced become strong and vital voices in the community is very exciting and interesting to me, and I'd love to see more of that in the next year (and beyond!). In addition, I'm really excited to see the "professional-ization" of this industry from "dudes printing shit in their basement" to "professionally written and edited properly constructed product distributed on a reasonable timeline where all the people involved get paid a living wage". I know we're not there yet. And so, so many people have been driven out of the RPG industry/community because of toxicity and unprofessional behaviour and the inevitable gatekeeping and racism and sexism and grossness. But I can't help but think that maybe, in the coming year, things will get better. I've been working hard to support creators and artists (though it's harder now that I'm unemployed), and I pledge to continue buying and supporting games by queer folk and women and people of colour. I want my tables and my games to be like my feminism: intersectional.

So that's what I anticipate most for 2018: intersectionality.

And now I'll solicit it here: what's a game by someone who isn't a cis-het-white-dude that you'd like to see spread to more people? Add it in the comments!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 30

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

I'm not sure there's a genre mashup that hasn't already been done, either via the setting-specific games (like RIFTS or Shadowrun) or by settings for the more general systems (think basically every GURPS setting book, or the Fate Worlds books). The only thing I think that's really missing a good treatment is humour. Other than maybe Ghostbusters and Toon, I'm not sure there's any RPG books or settings that explicitly deal with humour or humourous play available. I'd love to see a game that took on something like Scooby Doo or Danger and Eggs or that sort of thing, where being funny is part and parcel of the experience itself.

The other one I'd love to see is some sort of squad or cell-based game, something based on XCOM or some sort of intelligence-asset-management game. I'd love to see some sort of game based on the idea of Mech Commander; that would be brilliant; where instead of players running a single character, they're coordinating squads of folks, with different resources and strengths.

I'm not a game designer, so I have no idea how to make any of these ideas work. But it'd be pretty brilliant to play.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 29

What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Fate, hands down. Followed quite closely by Apocalypse World 2nd Edition. While I've backed other games that I have enjoyed as much, and I've gotten more swag from, and I've gotten good deals around, these two were definitely the best-run. They delivered the product with no surprises exactly as expected and as close to on-time as possible. Evil Hat and Lumpley Games are both straight-up professionally-run outfits, and you can trust them with their future endeavours.

Monday, August 28, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 28

What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

I will admit, my table may be somewhat atypical, in being almost entirely queer and almost evenly split between men and women.

Of course, we're also playing a game that is explicitly designed to be a Social Justice game, where the characters are actively working to make the world a better place by lifting up the disadvantaged.

I'd love it if my table wasn't actually that atypical. Perhaps others will take my example to heart?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 27

What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Trust, consistency, and consent. If the people at the table trust you, and you trust the people at your table, then the stories you tell and the directions you can take your stories are going to be many and varied and extremely interesting in all sorts of ways. If you are consistent in how you resolve things, then your table will trust you and know that you are keeping their wellbeing in mind (and yes, wellbeing is an important part of 'fun', which is why we all do this RPG thing anyway). And if you have the consent of your players, and they know that you won't do something they don't want to do without asking, then they know your consistent message is one of trust and common good. With those three things, you can tell any story, in any setting, and have a good time doing it.

Oh, wait, did you mean stuff like dice and shit? Oh. Well, I have some poker chips I use as x-cards, and 3x5 index cards for basically anything that needs or wants to be written down, and some mechanical pencils to do the writing. That's about it. Anything else is window dresssing -- I like my iPad as a GM screen / lookup tool, and sometimes I'll use my laptop -- because anything outside of the people you're playing is just there to act as props, really.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 26

Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

I'm not sure there are any better general-case resources that are RPG-specific (as opposed to history books or the like) than GURPS books. GURPS has an entire line of books that are nothing but general-case resources for various backgrounds, settings, histories, and the like. There are some books that are specific to GURPS particularly, but even when ignoring those portions, I'm not sure there are any books that are better written or better sourced than the GURPS back catalog.

I mean seriously: look at this.

Friday, August 25, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 25

What is the best way to thank your GM?

My personal take on this: find out what they want to play, and then run it for them. Most GMs like GMing or they wouldn't do it, but there are those of us who would appreciate the chance to play now and again. Plus, it's a great way to try it out, if you've never GM'd before. You have an audience that is invested in your success and a clear goal to press towards, as well as a ready resource if you have questions about how to do something or what to do next.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 24

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

So, mostly I don't mess around with PWYW, because I mostly think that artists who value their work charge for it, and as a patron who values art made by artists I pay for the art I buy (let's save the argument about the definition of art for some other day, OK?). So PWYW isn't a model I'm a huge fan of, because mostly I find that if you say "you can have this for free" then the majority of the RPG community will just take it for free, because the majority of the RPG community needs a real smack upside the head sometimes.

So instead of PWYW, I'd like to encourage you to take some time and find a creator, preferably a woman or a Person of Colour or both, and give them some money for their work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 23

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Oh, see, this one is easy. Eclipse Phase. In my experience, the EP books were the first game books ever to really take advantage of the PDF format, and the idea that these books would likely be looked at on tablets/phones/mobile devices. Not only is the story and the ruleset well laid-out and well-integrated, but the books themselves are carefully and copiously hyperlinked, so that any particular term can be touched/clicked on to take you to that page/definition/example, and then back again to continue on your way.

EP is brilliantly future-minded, especially for a game so immersed in the technofuture of the setting itself. It's immersive just by existing as a fully-indexed and fully-interactive set of documents. I imagine it was a gigantic pain in the ass to build (and rebuild) these books, but to me it's totally worthwhile and I've never appreciated the structure and care of a PDF more than when I peruse the EP books. Posthuman Studios does amazing work. You should check them out!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

DevOps as a critical investigation of our fucked up business culture

I was having dinner with a friend the other night, and we were talking about a bunch of things, including the state of the current culture of the Technology Industry, which is where we all work... me, my friend, my spouse, most of my social circle, etc. And we were talking about definitions and the corporate tendency to take interesting philosophies and turn them into undifferentiated pablum designed to keep labour fighting amongst themselves. Take, for instance, "Agile". It started, I understand, as a philosophy to help developers work together better as teams instead of a mass of individuals, as the modern codebase has for the most part moved beyond the idea of the artisanal coder, carefully banging away at his (almost always his) codeforge to craft the perfect piece of individual bespoke software for the discerning, carefully chosen consumer-slash-patron. As software development turned into a team sport, and the experience of coding became an assembly line function, the question was "how do we convince rabid individualists to work better together at a fundamentally creative process?" So the idea was to use this concept of Agile: light, nimble, heavily-communicated, careful processes that encouraged folks to work as teams and keep each other in the loop about what was working, what wasn't, and what they could do about it to get stuff out the door. There are a ton of tools that can be used to facilitate Agile methodologies, but the actual tools aren't nearly as important as everyone understanding the philosophy.

Of course, as is usual, the people who make the money and the people that have MBAs and the people who run the companies as a profit center for shareholders often don't understand (or can't be bothered to understand) this philosophy; it doesn't have anything to do with them (they think) and also their bottom line is "what shipped, when, and how much can we charge for it", not "are the people who do the work cooperating with each other to be creative in a way that minimizes difficulties and maximizes creative opportunities". Which often leads to the teams that are utilizing Agile methodologies to try and sum up the concepts in a 5 minute recap as part of a 30 minute meeting, and one-sheet recap emails, and "executive summaries" and then we end up with people who use "Agile" as a verb, and now Agile doesn't actually mean anything, it's just another buzzword to be tossed around during sales pitches and recruiting calls. And there are lots of people making moderate amounts of money by writing books and giving seminars and doing corporate training gigs on "how do to Agile" which is fine, I guess, if you can't be bothered to take it to heart and build the tools that help your team work best, because the philosophy and methodology is more important than the specific tools. "Agile: where the stories are made up and the points don't matter" isn't just a funny line; it's both a disappointment AND a core tenet of the methodology (and yes, both can be true, because the point of view on that core tenet is what matters). Context matters.

And that brings us to the Next Big Thing in labor cost reduction productivity: DevOps. This is a great one, because it sounds sexy and it's a portmanteau (and IT loves portmanteaus) and from the corporate perspective it means whatever they want it to mean, especially if it means "we don't have to hire those pesky Ops people because they're expensive and annoying and notoriously difficult when it comes to releasing the Big Feature Rollout". You are already paying for the developer's time, and a hefty amount too, so now you can just add them to the pager rotation and have them do support functionality, because labor costs are fixed and work hours are infinite. The thing is, that's not what DevOps is about.

My understanding (having worked in IT for a couple of decades) is that DevOps, like Agile, is a philosophy, rather than a concrete item. DevOps doesn't mean that all your coders should be sysadmins and all your sysadmins should be coders, and if you think that you're going to be perpetually disappointed in both. DevOps means that everyone in your organization has an understanding: that software must be developed in a way that is easy to support and maintain (especially in a degraded or failed state), and that deployment of software is a key step in the lifecycle of the success of a company. DevOps means a breakdown of the mythical wall between departments, and an understanding that that wall was always imaginary anyway -- that the teams working together are stronger and better off than the teams working against each other. It's not actually a new concept; the operational and development team being colocated in the same physical space (and sometimes the same physical body) goes back to the invention of mechanical computing and the work that Admiral Hopper did with the original thinking machines. The "tiger team" concept at NASA in the 60s was a definitive example of the DevOps concept. Not everyone has to know the same things or work the same way, but they do have to work together and they must have an understanding of the concepts and capabilities of the team as a whole.

Any organization's first principle after instantiation by default becomes 'secure the continued existence of this organization', or the organization itself fails. And so, sixty years later, we have the cultural mythos of the 10x software engineer deftly whipping up the perfect solutions to any given software problem and then dumping those brilliant lines of code onto the surly, recalcitrant systems administrator who either refuses to make the change, or does the change and somehow fucks it up. (And note, please, that the "creative" work is done by an 'engineer' while the "maintenance" work is done by an 'administrator', and let's not talk about salaries and job titles right now or this will turn into an even longer screed and I'll get distracted by the whole "full stack" thing and we'll be here all night.) But that's almost never how it works, on either end; it's a myth from soup to nuts. In my entire career, I may have known exactly one engineer who would be considered "10x", and he was always, always cognizant of the difficulties of deployment in a live environment. Conversely, I've only ever known one surly sysadmin, and he was so disruptive to the team morale that he didn't make it to his 90-day review.

DevOps, like Agile, is a philosophy. It's not something you can enter on a spreadsheet or write a purchase order for, no matter what the C-level executives would like to believe. It's an understanding that your managers have with their team members and your team has with each other and with the organization as a whole. It's not something that goes on an audit list and gets checked off during the rundown. And the failure of organizations to understand that is both costly and pointless in the long run.