NerdNYC had its annual Thanksnerding event:

  1. Our team – me, Lisa, Chris, Javi and Tavis (along with two non-Red Boxers, David and Cindy) won the Nerd Trivia Match.  Pedants will note that, technically, three other teams had higher scores than we did, and claimed prizes when we did not.  But that was a trick. Prizes are vulgar, and only the numerate care about points.  Instead, we were the only ones in the crowd who got what was, in the eyes of the Quizmasters, the hardest question of the night: “Who was the last of the Petty Dwarves?”  Honestly, this is what they consider hard.  The Quizmasters gave us little pins to commemorate our hard-won undergraduate virginity-spent-reading-The-Silmarilion.  (For Chris, who is 15, this is a prospective award, like the Nobel Peace Prize.)
  2. (We did flub the question about the cover of the very first Monster Manual.  Don’t tell anybody.  I blame Tavis and Javi, who had to disappear in our moment of crisis.)
  3. People like our lasagna.  Seriously.  I suspect it helps most of the other food people brought was vegan.
  4. We saw Doug’s band Cosmonaut.  Doug, if you are looking for new song titles, I think “I’m a Cleric, Not a Fighter” fits with your yearning but steadfast lyrics, and “I Stole the Wizard’s Baby” could work as sort of a Primus-meets-Flaming-Lips style instrumental.
  5. Lots of games!  Mike ran some early-edition Call of Cthulhu when someone had to cancel at the last minute.  I ran two sessions of Mouse Guard, without having read all the rules.

So, while I will hopefully blog about Mouse Guard in more detail later, there are two things about the game which generalize to RPG’s more broadly.

First, Mouse Guard is a brilliantly designed game, but it reads like ass.  Perhaps sensitive to complaints that his other brilliantly designed game, Burning Wheel, is too dense and opaque, Luke Crane decided to make Mouse Guard hyper-accessible and over-explained, to the point that I can’t read more than three pages at a time before I get so bored I put the book down.

It is insufficiently appreciated that role-playing game books are teaching texts (and reference books).  There has been a lot of academic and corporate study of how to write teaching texts well.  There are a lot of people who work very hard as technical writers, skilled at presenting complicated information to general audiences.  Role-playing publishers should learn from these people.

Theory: Frank Mentzer’s edit of the D&D Basic Rules is the best version of Dungeons & Dragons ever, because it was written well.  A child could understand the game.  (Gary Gygax was an unforgettable but terrible writer.)

Second thing about Mouse Guard:

In our session of Mouse Guard, Godzilla destroyed the city and ate half the mice therein.  Players were lucky to escape with their lives.  The shelters the players built for the evacuees got destroyed when the team leader got drunk rather than discipline his apprentice, who had embezzled money from the treasury. So the players knitted together some crappy blankets for the refugees and said, “Here are some blankets.  We’re sorry we destroyed your town with Godzilla and all, but this way you won’t catch pneumonia and die immediately.  We’d love to accept blame and help you rebuild, but, y’know, we’re player-characters…  Buh-bye!”  It was a good time!

The reason why this generalizes is that in certain quarters there’s this idea that all new-fangled games are about player entitlement, and “nobody ever loses” etc. etc.   (Just going to show that even if everyone wins, there will still be people who complain.)  But in my experience this is simply not so.  People playing new-fangled games, just like people playing old-fangled games, love it when their characters fail and get stomped and the situation goes from being dangerous to outright disastrous.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2009

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