Feb 10 2011

Places we shoot ourselves

I am having a hell of a time laying out Hollowpoint.

Not in a good way. Here’s the issue: I am committed to using a 6″ x 9″ format for only one really good reason and one reason that’s pretty weak. Every other argument regarding this format is against it. The problem is, the two reasons for using it are both reasons that relate to the consumer. The arguments against it are all arguments that relate to the designer (me).

Here are the two pro reasons: it’s a very convenient format for a game. It travels well, it doesn’t take up a ton of table space, and it’s pretty. The other reason to use it is that I already did it once and it tickles me to make books that sit nicely together. The reasons we used it for Diaspora are basically the same: I like to use it and it sits beside my copy of Spirit of the Century nicely. These are reasons enough to use this format, as far as I am concerned.

It is, however, hell to lay out for.

The page is too wide for a single block of text in a reasonable typeface at a reasonable size. It results in long lines that are hard to read or in text that is too big and looks like a pre-school text. It’s crap for one column.

If you shrink that column to make some space for a sidebar, you discover that there isn’t enough. Sidebars are crowded affairs needing substantial massaging to work in the short line length remaining available. They do not work well here.

But you can’t go to two columns, which is what you would do in letter format, where you have far too much space for one column but plenty for two. Because there isn’t enough space for two columns here unless your type is extremely small.

So, basically, there as at once too much and too little space for the text. This is incredibly frustrating. It’s also a secret joy, of course, because trying to work inside a difficult constraint is puzzle-solving. I love this kind of work. But it is also crazy frustrating.

You can decorate your margins and suck in your column width. This is a pretty good solution if you have access to printing that can reliably get bleeds right. I probably can’t count on that — at least my experience is that I won’t be able to — and so I can’t afford to butt artwork up against the page edge unless I think really hard about the effect if the page trim is wrong and some white paper is revealed. So heavy and thoughtless decoration is out.

The other possibility is austerity. Stick to a narrow and legible single column and place it in a big empty space. This is actually very appealing to me and opens up some new possibilities.

Take for example contextual cues. In Diaspora we used italics and inset (from both sides) blocks to set fiction. When you see a narrow column of italic text, it’s always fiction. You are warned or cued depending on your interest. It doesn’t need to be explained. So by making the body text part of an austere and open margin design, we open up more opportunities for context because we have the space to expand into, or to set right or left of the body text. The text can acquire some dynamism not by being surrounded by art but by moving within the page space. The defect of the format becomes an opportunity.

It’s not clear that this is appropriate for the text in Hollowpoint. It might be, though — can the rythm of text position be made to imply the punctuality of the game’s pace? Can we fire paragraphs like gunshots?

Probably not. The audience for games is surprisingly conservative and isn’t likely to respond well to anything too clever. The taste is generally for conventional (within the context of games) layout: lots of art, border decoration, sidebars, and so on. Crowd the page and get as much stuff on it as possible. Invent page textures that make it hard to read, colour the page, blotch it, line it…make the reader feel like she got her money’s work at least in ink weight.

I worry that if I do that and subsequently run into Tufte, he’ll strangle me. Or drown me in my excess ink. I don’t want that to happen. So there’s likely to be a little avant garde design in Hollowpoint, though the garde it will be avant is the accepted forms for game text layout — certainly it won’t be avant the rest of the design world. This worked out okay for, say, Nobilis, though it had a lofty, airy context that aligned nicely with the layout. How can I get near that? Can I invent a context for Hollowpoint in which the space makes sense?

I don’t have answers yet. Which is why I am still laying out Hollowpoint. Endlessly.


Nov 15 2010

Empire building

There once was a time when I had a 286 computer running DOS. Around this time, I ran my first empire-building game. It was a big hit. We spent tons of time with it and never even got close to using it as intended. We mostly made maps (by hand, because there was no way the computing power was up to it — actually the software) and designed spaceships (with the Traveller:2300 Star Cruiser rules, if I recall). At some point one of our motley crew built custom software to facilitate the game, complete with a rotatable 3d star map and travelling-salesman solver to find optimum jump paths. That was awesome.

The idea of the empire building game is simple. There is a universe full of worlds and you don’t know much about it. You make space ships and zoom around discovering worlds. You exploit them, increasing your resources and your ability to make space ships. Eventually you run into other people and fight it out for domination of the galaxy. The joy of it is that you can play the empire part by email and use it as an excuse to occasionally wargame the space fights.

That’s the idea. I’ve done this a few times and I don’t think we ever once got to a fight. The thing is, a lot of the fun is in building space ships and exploring the universe. This may be related to the fact that my table like character generation a lot, so we’re in the “prep is play” camp, and a lot of this empire building game is basically prep. You make things, you organize them, you submit them for approval, and you get new data to integrate into your file. You sort of have to love data management. With occasional fighting.

So this time we’re using the rules I wrote for the last time, Starfight, which were originally written for use with a different space fighting game. This time I figured I’d use Diaspora because its ship construction is interesting but simple and we already know and love the space combat system. And it’s designed to stand alone. It seems like a match to me!

Also this time around we have Tim’s sons in the mix, and they are only a little younger than we were when we first tried this. Holy crap, that brings it all home.

Anyway, I did a lot of thinking in my head before starting this because the best time we ever had with this was the first time, and I want to recapture what was fun about that. Part of what was fun was that we had no tools but pencils and blank paper at the time and had to figure out how to manage our data. I didn’t think that was the fun part before. I am certain now that I was wrong. When I think about how cool that first game was, I think about coloured maps drawn with rulers, Lotus spread-sheets, and custom software. But how do you recapture that?

Well, the first thing I think is to realize that folks probably won’t actually use pencils and rulers. But that wasn’t the essence of that success. The essence of it was figuring out what to do with limited data. Figuring out a way to represent it for yourself. So this time around the coloured pencils might actually be some mighty sophisticated software, but under the covers the principle is still this: it’s your problem. So my solution (or rather my experiment) is to provide very limited data to the end user, but it’s the essential data. That is, rather than keep a database of all the details and spit out custom awesome maps, I am just handing out the data. And because there’s nor sophisticated database, it’s not complex data.

For the first turn, players get their homeworld data, which looks like this:

Vagkim (Tim’s home world)

-1-> Faran
-2-> Cozan, Meschist
-3-> Nisqit, Nolaquin

All this means is that Tim’s home planet is called Vagkim and that there is a system called Faran one jump away. And Cozan and Meschist are two jumps away. Nisqit and Nolaquin are three jumps away. Now you can draw a map.  It’s mostly a conceptual map because you only have distances and not bearings, but the fact is no one cares about bearings in this situation. I mean, if you wanted to reconstruct what the sky looks like from your homeworld then sure, you need to know what direction things are in, but if you just need to know how close something is to something else, then all you need are distances.

The other data stored are the resources. These are three numbers: Industrial, Raw, and Social. To start only your homeworld has any. Once a world becomes friendly to you, you can exploit its resources. What you get depends partially on its available resources and partially on your method of exploitation. You can strip mine it, install a corporate presence, or try to run the government.

Oops, drifting afield here. Anyway, managing this data is not very onerous and you can do it all graphically which i fun. Fuck those databases, frankly. Give me a pretty network graph.

And the other thing you do a lot of is make ships with the ship construction system and there is no way that’s not fun. You need to keep track of your ships and that’s your problem and that’s part of your fun. Fortunately Diaspora ships are pretty easy to make and do not take up much space to describe. They are also trivial to verify unlike Traveller:2300 ships which I pretty much just had to take as given, errors and all, because I wasn’t really keep on checking the volume calculations to the third decimal place. One might find oneself encouraged to draw space ships, even.

And then all this takes place on a little mailing list so there is also an implicit invitation to share, and that is part of the program as well. Part of what was really cool in the first iteration was sharing with each other just how we had decided to organize the data. Showing off our cool maps, for example, or our ship drawings. Or the software we wrote. The combination of a problem to solve and an eager audience was really what drove the fun.

I hope. If I’m right then we will recapture some of what was cool in 1986. If not, well, maybe we’ll at least have an excuse to fight space ships. Make guys and then make them fight is the cardinal rule.


Aug 26 2010

Maps, graphs, and other visualizations

So last night I grabbed a mind mapping app for my iPad because I don’t like mind maps.

A mind map is basically just a hierarchical outline that has been painted graphically, so all your leaves are pretty bubbles and the hierarchy is described by arcs connecting these nodes. It’s pretty. But it’s fundamentally flawed because it’s not a way to map your data. It’s a way to organize data in a very specific way (hierarchical) and this very specific way is not always all that useful. Forcing it into that map can be destructive, even. The only way, for example, to imply a connection between two nodes that are not strict parent/children is with an artificial “link” that exists outside the core model of the data.

Why does this bug me? It bugs me because the hierarchy should be an emergent property of the data and not a starting constraint. We should start mapping the data and find out that it’s hierarchical rather than force it into this structure. That is, the mind map severely limits your ability to explore your data set. Instead it becomes just a way to write it down which is, frankly, not interesting.

So anyway I grabbed this app and started playing with it. It’s pretty nifty. It’s very pretty. After a couple of hours enthralled by it I had a huge beautiful map of what this evening’s Soft Horizon game will contain and how they relate. Hierarchically, to be sure, but relate nonetheless. Wow, it is useful. I just had it upside down.

What the mind map does is not organize your data. It discovers your data. What you are exploring is not the data but your brain. You are being invited to invent, decompose, and otherwise investigate the raw stuff of creativity and consequently create something that has structure.

The hierarchical form invite elaboration, for example. I have a node called “Ragged Mere”. It’s a place. I want to know more about it so I start adding nodes (hey are these Aspects?!) like “Peaceful” and “Full of sorcerors” and “Gunpowder”. Cool. I add a couple of NPC nodes — just names, mind you — for people that are somehow attached to these places. Hmm, each also seems to demand elaboration. They get some attached sub-nodes, which also smell suspiciously like Aspects. Pretty soon I have this huge tree of hierarchical data that went all over places I had no idea I was going to investigate. Amazing!

So, okay, I get it. I mean, it’s still a crappy way to represent pre-existing data for all the reasons I ever thought of. But as a creative tool for trying to figure out how to turn a nebulous concept into a structure you can actually use for something, it does indeed work. Because of the way my mind is wired, I have to wonder how much of its power derives from simply being fun and pretty, of course, and that will shake out over time. If it’s useful, I’ll keep using it. If it’s nifty it will gather dust and eventually wind up on my “dead app page”. That’s one step before the trash on my iPad.

The fact that its structure is trivially represented by (and indeed, for many of these apps this is the actual storage format) an outline structure, it’s easy to see how to move from this to a nice linear document, if that’s a path you intend to tread. That’s looking pretty handy too, now.

Damn, I love being wrong almost as much as being right.


Jul 20 2010

The New Media

I’ve talked — okay really I’ve gone on and on — about  the way that publishing is changing and also about how gaming is in a position to take the vanguard in these changes, at least in part because we have limited ties to traditional methods in the first place. Sure there are still the “big boys” out there who do things the usual way, and sure there are still a lot of very small publishers still entrenched in the print-run-investment model, but gamers seem to be fast to explore new media. Now that has implicit risk, too, because sometimes experiments result in answers like, “no”, which means that while the bleeding edge explorers tend to have an open mind about trying new things, they (we) also go through new things like toilet paper, leaving a lot of guesses swirling down the can.

The VSCA has adopted a very low-risk model for its business, which happens to align nicely with new technology. Now, just this morning I was reading about another new technology and then remembering an old conversation, and I ot a little synergistic flash in my head that thrilled me because it implied that I might be able to dick around with fun stuff even more than I already do. This is a good sign, because I am more likely to do something if it’s fun.

So here’s what I’m thinking. What if the VSCA made available on a reasonably fast schedule (monthly say) its current design state for all projects, as well as a few blue collar space articles, and some other stuff, hopefully containing a complete (small) game every time? By small game I mean like a subsystem for something in development, but repackaged as a small stand-alone idea. And what if it was in colour and available digitally or print on demand? I’m thinking somewhere between 24 and 96 pages, delivered regularly, purcased either per-unit or by subscription.

I’m not really approaching this idea as something I think anyone wants, yet (which is why I phrase all this as a giant question) but rather as something that sounds fun to do and has been enabled by recent changes in technology and position — I’m thinking specifically here about Magcloud‘s recent announcement that they have an iPad app pending and that they will be giving stuff away for a while.

So we’re talking here about leveraging (actually I see our methods at VSCA as more parasitical, but “leverage” leverages Leverage, which is hot right now, even though I haven’t seen it yet) someone elses work (Magcloud making an iPad app to deliver colourful content with option to print, with them managing all the customer interaction and just sending us a cheque) so that I can do only the fun parts. And this, as I’ve said before, is how technology and capitalism work together to empower pocket socialists like me, turning my leisure into Scotch.

This would enable us to produce Diaspora supplements, for example, by putting them in a concise format that still has a profitable delivery mechanism, and that is super appealing to me. I’ve avoided supplements so far mostly because the document needs to be above a certain size to make sense turning into product, but if it’s part of (even the largest part of) a magazine format, then that’s solved. It can be as large or as small as the idea is. And I’m keen on Diaspora supplements.

What do you think? Could this be a new way to make games? See, I could see Diaspora broken up into distinct stand-alone pieces that together make an awesome game. If you got those pieces one at a time, would you be happy? If you came to the complete game having played the platoon-scale game for a few weeks and a couple of social fights already, would your experience be better or worse? Now naturally this doesn’t preclude more traditional (if you can call our parasitic method traditional) publication, but rather would augment it. Maybe customers on the subscription list get a discount. Or maybe I figure if you spent $50 on magazines then you already bought a game and I mail it to you. I dunno yet and I’m not promising anything.

But I am thinking real hard, and grinning.


Mar 7 2010

Another conspiratorial cluster

Okay so one of the things I think I am trying to accomplish by using some kind of cluster system for Hollowpoint is to create an easy-to-operate machine that creates conspiratorial situations fast. A referee should be able to turn the crank on this twenty minutes before play and make a situation that demands the attention of Hollowpoint agents somehow. So to this end I decided that an interesting trio of conspiracy-driving stats might be Legitimacy (how legitimate is the organization — this might tell us when we’re talking about a government institution, for example), Vice (are they seeking or supplying some bad thing that lots of people want), and Force (do they seek or supply violence). The “seek or supply” language is essential I think, because we will interpret the cluster in terms of economic relationships — just maybe not the economics of money. So links will show us the supply and demand of these three stats as well as the state of each organization.

Here’s what I got in my first test. The text is my interpretation of the results after about 10 minutes of thought.

It was easy to find the story in here — we had obvious government entities, one probably criminal one, and some that look like civilian or otherwise Force-starved legitimate authorities. The illegal organization wields force over everyone except one remote node that it doesn’t know about — and this is a potential huge supplier for its Vice.

So I can see agents employed by Beltway to find out what the city of Detroit’s big secret is, but that’s no fun because no one has any Force except Beltway. So obviously the agents are up against Beltway.

Interpreting this requires an idea about the nature of the Agency itself — you kind of have to know what its motivations are (though little more) and I didn’t start with that. If I had, it would have informed the interpretation and led to a natural mission objective. I didn’t do that though, so in this particular exercise I kind of have to invent an Agency but that’s cool too — because that’s another way to do the prep, especially for a one-shot. So, I think that the Agency is a secret arm of the federal government that has been ordered to protect Biome LLC from what looks like a very dangerous situation. They have carte blanche — Beltway is getting close to having sufficient force both overseas and at home that they threaten the government itself, especially when the collusion between them and a government entity — Archonics Inc. — comes to light.

Now this needs something to bring it to life. A couple of NPCs. A couple of personalities that will drive things and make for someone to hate or love or respect or fear. I wonder if they can be a different kind of node?


Feb 23 2010

Bloody Diaspora clusters are everywhere

I’ve been resisting this. Really.

However, I started playing around with something for Hollowpoint (tired of the acronym) based on some feedback from friendly and interested folks on Buzz and Twitter and Etc. Turns out they are smart too. Because Hollowpoint is basically about agents of some agency handling some more complex relationship diagram, it is a natural to build that relationship diagram and the cluster system from Diaspora has already demonstrated functionality. Okay I give.

The first idea was to define the agency itself, but I don’t want the agency to become a character. The opposition, however, is a character, so that’s what we’re defining. I establish three attributes, use the same rules for linking as in Diaspora, and then add some rules for interpreting the results. Some of the rule outputs need re-wording but I think the idea is clear. So the attributes are:

Honour. How honourable the entity is.

Cash. How much cash the entity has.

Manpower. How much force the entity can bring to bear.

Now because we’re using six-siders for Hollowpoint, this must also, so we use the d6-d6 method: roll two differently coloured dice and subtract one from the other using a pre-determined rule (subtract black from red, say). This gives a shallow curve from -5 to 5, peaking at 0. So we roll that for each stat and then for each node roll it again for connections. A negative result connects to the neighbouring node only, a zero result adds a connection to the next available node after, and a positive result adds a a third connection to the next neighbour open after that. An open neighbour is one not already connected.

And then we interpret based on these rules:

A connection between nodes that both have positive or both have negative values for an attribute indicates that the nodes are allied on this attribute. Honour implies friendliness, cash implies a mutual reliance, and manpower indicates a pact or truce.

A connection between nodes where one or another has a zero attribute is ignored.

A connection between nodes where one is negative and the other is positive indicates an imbalance that is a potential source of friction (mission driver!) So for honour this is a debt of honour: the negative seeks revenge on the positive. For cash this is a simple debt: the negative owes money to the positive. For manpower this is weakness and strength: the negative is weak to (and therefore defers to) the positive. Here’s an example:

Well I have to say that that invites some missions. We have some debts, some weaknesses, an interest in revenge and an interestingly cash-poor overall operation where everyone is interdependent. Clearly there are too many families in this syndicate! We also see the hub — that second node that everyone is weak to and everyone is connected to. And their sole realy strength is manpower — violence.

There’s something deeper in the cluster creation system than it looked at first. And though we touched on what it might be right there in the book, I don’t think it was clear until now just how rich it is in the abstract. It’s nice that it’s also an icon for VSCA, so if I use it in everything I ever produce I guess that’ll be okay. Or at least explicable.


Jan 8 2010

Sieving the audience

Any game (or any other text, but games here) that someone (let’s call her the publisher now, though things get muddy if we talk about specific cases) produces, has some objective. I’m going to discuss a small set of possible objectives, so let’s be clear right at the start here: I am talking about game texts (not games in the abstract — the set of rules shared by the tables’ hive mind that are executed in play) whose objective is to be played.

There are other objectives and the difference can be subtle. It’s possible to have an over-arching objective of making money and still wind up with an objective of play en route: getting played is part of the marketing strategy, for example. Some game texts do not have this marketing strategy and so may not have play as part of their list of objectives. These publishers should ignore the rest of this essay. Play as an objective can also be arrived at as a simple matter of artistic integrity (and I’ll have nothing to do with cynics who scoff at artistic integrity) — it’s not unreasonable for someone who loves designing games to hold the goal of seeing that game played higher aloft than the goal of turning a buck.

So, some publishers have as a critical goal maximising the amount that their game gets played. That’s what I’m talking about here now. If you aren’t interested in how you get games played, move on.

Getting a game played is a sieving process. There are several obstacles that have to be navigated by a prospective player (actually there are two quite separate sieve stacks but I only care about one right now), and each is equally important (mathematically — each reduces your audience by a percentage and multiplication just works that way). All are not equally easy to achieve. Here are your layers, roughly:

Awareness: this is not actually part of this sieve because awareness of the game is the objective of a marketing strategy. It’s super important, but we will take it as read here that we are talking about people who are already aware of and have some desire for the game. We’re talking about obstacles to play now.

Distribution. The percentage of people who might play who can actually get the game. If you can’t get it you can’t play it (not strictly true, but that’s in the other stack — people who play someone elses game, taught by that someone else — and that one is much easier to get large numbers through, but the source may be dependent on the output of this stack).

Readership. Of all the people who got the book, only some of them will read it through. Some will never open it. Some will try to read it and shelve it before getting far. In order to get the owner to play, they have to read it. You care about people reading it.

Comprehension. A subset of the people that read the whole book will understand it. Now this one is tricky — some play can happen with partial understanding. Sometimes a game is even improved by partial understanding1. But if it’s incomprehensible, it doesn’t get played.

Enthusiasm. The readers who understood the game now need to sell it to their table. The reader can’t2 play by herself. So the text needs to deliver enthusiasm that can be delivered to others.

Teachability. That’s a crap word. But even if the table is enthusiastic, the reader still needs to deliver the rules in such a way that the enthusiasm is sustained, otherwise the evening’s play will fall flat. So some percentage of games that get this far will halt before play gets a grip. Now a big factor in teachability is in the capabilities of the teacher, so the control the text has over this is limited. But not zero. The text can provide ways to teach.

Fun. Finally, that session has to have been fun in order to get more play. This is different than insisting that the game itself must be fun. The session in which everyone was learning the game, the very first session, has to be fun enough to create enthusiasm for more play. After that it’s largely out of the hands of the game text.

Okay, so given this sieve and given my personal interests, I want to talk about one layer that gets short shrift by publishers who ostensibly have the goal that this sieve stack implies: play. That sieve is readership.

There are several factors that limit the likelihood that someone will read a text through. Some are more important than others and some can be mitigated by others, so I’ll talk about the roles that are at the end of the process. So I’m not talking about whether the writing is fun to read, though that’s a factor, because there’s a gateway after the author that’s supposed to force the text back for revision if it’s not happening: the editor. The other major role is the guy that delivers the editor’s output to the page: the layout artist. These two roles are you last chance to retain readers.

Obviously I have a specific axe that’s making all these sparks. I just read a book I won’t name (because I don’t think personalising this criticism is valuable) that I did not read because both of these roles failed. I suspect this is a hugely fun game, but I will not get to play it unless I can get down the other sieve stack, where someone I know and love does read it and decide to teach it. It’s full of cool ideas, but they are not delivered to me.

First, the word count is about twice what it needs to be. The text itself is turgid and full of itself and goes on forever. I have some sympathy for this, because I write like that too. But the editor should have demanded that the text be cut and cut and cut again. A lower word count reduces the overall size of the book, reduces the cost of layout, and increases the options available to the layout artist.

Now you can’t just cut anything — I mean, if it takes two hundred thousand words to deliver the concept, then that’s what it takes. But a good editor can cut a lot from the best writer. This is why director’s cuts suck so hard — even great (possibly especially great) directors desperately need an editor who can smack them down. For a game to get read through, the editor needs to cut and preserve voice. Bored readers stop reading.

Second, the layout is just plain aggravating to read. Now there are a couple of common problems with layout, especially in independent titles. The first is layout that just plain sucks — the layout artists doesn’t know anything about design and has as a priority getting words on paper. This problem is not really an interesting one because there’s no sense of disappointment for me — bad layout is just bad layout. It’s obvious.

The more insidious kind of layout problem is where the artist has crafted a beautiful page that is aggravating to read. This is seriously disappointing and makes me drop a book just about instantly. A book with beautiful fonts that are too small ore stuffed into lines that are too long or that impinge on the edge of the page too closely is just about the saddest thing I can try and fail to read. Viewed from enough distance, each page is a work of art, but in the process of reading it (and again, reading it is what it’s for — a priority goal) it fails. It’s a special kind of ugliness, like a pretty diagram that fails to deliver its information.

Okay so there you go. For a book to get played it needs to get read. For it to get read it needs and editor with authority and nerve, and it needs a layout artist who cares foremost about delivering text3.

I look forward to revised editions of several games I have not played.


  1. Yes I am thinking of at least one game in particular.
  2. Sorry, Jackson, obviously not strictly true, but The Smoke Dream is a special case.
  3. On layout and graphic presentation of data in general, I can’t recommend highly enough The Visual Display of Information by Edward R. Tufte and The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. No layout artist should begin a new project without first re-reading both. I don’t have similar recommendations for being a great editor, but perhaps an editor could speak up on the topic.

Dec 17 2009

Organization pays

Last night we had a little design session for Soft Horizon. We didn’t have enough people to play through and we had some outstanding issues that needed to be hammered flat, so we set up the recorder and talked through some ideas. Toph found a nice little piece of organization in our seven stats, and it echos (faintly) things like the Kabbalah, so that’s pretty cool. Basically we have seven stats and when you line them up like this:

History      Piety

Warfare      Courtesy

Violence      Sorcery


You get some cool stuff. First, the left-hand column is full of direct actions. These are skills that you use to effect results directly. Violence is for smacking guys. Warfare is for winning strategic battles for objectives. History is for knowing (and, from the player’s stance, creating) the worlds and their facts. On the right hand side are indirect skills: Sorcery is for summoning and enslaving things to do your bidding. Courtesy is for manipulating people (powerful people!) to get your objectives met. Piety is for influencing gods.

On the vertical axis is a change in scale. At the top we have world and inter-world scales. Next we have large groups. Then strictly interpersonal. And at the bottom, we have the skill that is only about you: how much can you take?

So by arranging them like this we also wind up with a character sheet.

And that turns out to be pretty cool. Plugging in the character stats for a character I already created, Kar Zetf, we get a nice representation of his skills in a well organized fashion. We cross out Piety because that’s his REFUSAL. We circle Violence because that’s his IDENTITY. And we underline Sorcery and Tenacity because those are his EXPERTISE. The remainder are his COMPETENCES, the skills he has as a side effect of his real choices. That works, it looks cool, and it’s easy to read and to write. No numbers, no math, and precious little writing even. And its easy to see the relationship between choices.

Happily, it does what any good graphic does: it tells me something new. I note that Kar has only interpersonal and individual skills as selections. He’s about himself and his immediate surroundings and not about others and large scale events. And, happily, this gives me his duty: clearly his duty is Harlequin, the Harbinger of Wild. His objective is to make worlds more about freedom and individuals and less about order and organization. I didn’t know that until I drew the character sheet and saw something new on that map.

That’s cool.

Soft Horizon character no shield