7:32 PM +SJohnRoss: Hi there! I’m S. John and I’ve been making RPGs as a hobbyist since around 1985 and professionally since 1991 when I sold my first piece. I did approximately one decade in the regular industry, then peeled off to do Cumberland Games & Diversions on my own. I’m never sure what people know me for; it’s sometimes my GURPS work, sometimes Risus: The
7:32 PM +SJohnRoss: Anything RPG, sometimes Uresia, sometimes Star Trek or something random from the edges.
7:32 PM +SJohnRoss: (done)
7:33 PM ~Dan: Thanks, SJohnRoss! The floor is open to questions!
7:33 PM ~Dan: So what’s the story with Risus Raw?
7:33 PM +SJohnRoss: It’s a pandemic story, like many these days, but with more dice than some.
7:34 PM +SJohnRoss: The idea is to dash out some enjoyable free titles for the times of lockdown, and in doing so, abandon my usual procedures for making them.
7:34 PM +SJohnRoss: So, exchanging one stress for another, but hopefully to a worthwhile end.
7:35 PM +SJohnRoss: (done)
7:35 PM ~Dan: Is the system the same as “regular” Risus?
7:36 PM +SJohnRoss: Sure, it’s Risus or whatever the GM is using. The first two releases are both Risus, and set in Uresia, but they’re both adaptable. The third release, simmering up from the back, will be similar though possibly in another setting, depending on how it tests.
7:36 PM ~Dan: Actually, perhaps you should explain what Risus is for those unfamiliar.
7:39 PM +SJohnRoss: Sure, although in some ways I’m only qualified to describe one corner of what Risus is these days! It’s a rules-light free RP system, first published in 1993, when it was the second free RPG online that I know of, and in those days “online” included Bulletin-Board Systems and echonets as well as the young World Wide Web. It’s 4 pages long,
7:39 PM +SJohnRoss: illustrated in stick figures, and is constructed around character-created Character Classes called cliches. (Sorry, the window won’t let me paste in the accented e) (done).
7:39 PM &Silverlion: Risus is a glorious little RPG, the anything RPG (almost always) uses D6es set into a small group of player chosen cliches.
7:40 PM +SJohnRoss: Always d6 in the vanilla game in 2nd Edition, though of course, there are galaxies of house-rules, and there’s no wrong way to play.
7:40 PM ~Dan: As I recall, it bears some similarities to Over the Edge?
7:41 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah, Over the Edge, at the system level anyway, is one of its ancestors. The proud papa is Ghostbusters 1st Edition married to a core idea in DC Heroes, but then influenced by many other games, including OtE in the positive and Tales From the Floating Vagabond in the strange-cousin.
7:42 PM * ~Dan pours one out for Lee Garvin 😦
7:43 PM ~Dan: Speaking of which, you did some work on Tales back in the day, didn’t you?
7:43 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah. Ironically, we lived only about a half-hour distant when he passed. He was out in Greeley and I was in Fort Collins. Our times together on Vagabond (including the fabled Weekend Writing Retreat) were hugely formative to me, and without Lee Garvin there’d be no Risus.
7:44 PM +SJohnRoss: Yes, Risus began as a playtest engine for Tales.
7:44 PM ~Dan: Really? I had no idea! Wow…
7:45 PM ~Dan: What did you write for Tales? I know of at least one adventure, but the name escapes me at the moment… Was it Cosmic Paternity Suit?
7:45 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah, it’s a weird origin story for the little thing. I was designing campaign-length modules for TFFV and my players refused to playtest using the regular Vagabond rules. One of those campaign modules was published by Avalon Hillm, and the other eventually returned to me and became A Kringle in Time.
7:46 PM +SJohnRoss: Cosmic wasn’t me. I did Weirder Tales: A Space Opera, plus some smaller side-material that was never published, and Kringle, which was thrown out by Eric Dott for being deeply offensive to fans of Charles Dickens, and that’s not a joke. The parts about cannibalism and mocking the Nativity didn’t bother Eric Dott at all, but mocking Dickens crossed
7:46 PM +SJohnRoss: a line.
7:47 PM ~Dan: Heh. 🙂
7:47 PM +SJohnRoss: (done, and I guess strike “Cosmic wasn’t me” since the prompt vanished) =)
7:47 PM ~Dan: Was Weirder Tales the one with the henpecked aliens?
7:47 PM +SJohnRoss: (done and no it didn’t vanish I just lost sight of it)
7:48 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah, the Bug-Eyed Monsters, imprisoned in legitimate suburban matrimony by the fearsome 1950s Housewives, called the Domestics.
7:48 PM ~Dan: Were you the one who revealed that every solar system in the multiverse has a planet with a name that sounds like “Uranus”?
7:49 PM +SJohnRoss: The BEMs were basically goofy amalgamations of everything idiotic about American middle-class men, childlike beings of tentacles and beer.
7:49 PM +SJohnRoss: No.
7:49 PM ~Dan: Ah. Darn. That always cracked me up. I wonder what Tales module that was… Ah, well.
7:49 PM +SJohnRoss: Weirder Tales has a Risus edition on the horizon, also.
7:50 PM +SJohnRoss: It was the playtest for Weirder Tales where my players drew the line on using the Vagabond rules, and that created the need for Risus to fill.
7:50 PM &Silverlion: Neat! 😀
7:50 PM +SJohnRoss: The rest, as thay say, is footnote.
7:51 PM ~Dan: Actually, that brings up a point a game author friend of mine (and of Lee’s) recently asked me… Do you happen to know who’s in charge of Lee’s estate? My friend wants to take up the reins of Tales 2nd edition, I think.
7:52 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s a tangled question. He and I hadn’t discussed legalities since around 1999, when he sold me Weirder Tales from the heap. At that time, it had all been Hasbro property and Lee didn’t actually purchase it from them, but rather acquired a letter of no-contest from their legal department, and he extended no-contest to me. So if Hasbro ever
7:52 PM +SJohnRoss: decides they want it all back, they could take it, in theory.
7:53 PM +SJohnRoss: Beyond that, I suppose it’s just in his family’s hands.
7:53 PM ~Dan: Hmm. Sounds like it would be quite a mess to untangle…
7:53 PM ~Dan: Anyway! Sorry about the sidetrack there…
7:53 PM +SJohnRoss: But I’m decades out of that loop, so who knows. Yes, quite a mess.
7:53 PM +SJohnRoss: If it’s about Vagabond and Risus, it’s less sidetrack than history.
7:54 PM ~Dan: Ah. Cool, then.
7:54 PM +SJohnRoss: Cumberland Games was founded in large part because of that arrangement.
7:54 PM +SJohnRoss: And Risus exists because of Vagabond.
7:54 PM +SJohnRoss: And it’s based largely on Ghostbusters, one of the most infamous legal tangles in RPG history, so it’s all family.
7:54 PM * ~Dan nods
7:55 PM +SJohnRoss: For those interested in the Risus family tree, the game itself lays it out in (very) brief, in the indicia on page 4.
7:55 PM ~Dan: So I think you mentioned this, but will all of the Risus Raw adventures share the same setting?
7:56 PM +SJohnRoss: (correct to: ‘above the indicia’ rather than ‘in the indicia’)
7:57 PM +SJohnRoss: The first Risus Raw module, Slimes in Blossom Grove, is set in Uresia, in west Rinden. The second module (in final production now) takes place in Shadow River, also in Uresia. Depending on how long lockdown lasts, the third or theoretical later adventures may also, but might also be set in Second Century, my house space-opera setting and
7:57 PM +SJohnRoss: mega-setting (the one that includes both Uresia and Encounter Critical, plus Points in Space, etc).
7:58 PM +SJohnRoss: Or I might go touched in the head and do a historical.
7:58 PM +SJohnRoss: (done)
7:58 PM ~Dan: Uresia exists in the context of a sci-fi universe? Interesting.
7:58 PM ~Dan: Or is it more of a trans-dimensional thingy?
7:59 PM &Silverlion: Nice. 😀
8:00 PM +SJohnRoss: Uresia is space opera in a fantaasy anime cosplay. It combines my favorite elements of Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars originally (going back to the 1st BESM edition), and then over the years has absorbed Firefly and some BSG as well. It exists physically in the Medieval Rim of the Second Century galaxy. There are crossover references in the
8:00 PM +SJohnRoss: text connecting the worlds, like Clan Gunwar in Uresia and “Gunwar, the Rune-Carved Peg-Leg Dwarf” talking about his pappy being “from the Galaxy” in Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom.
8:00 PM +SJohnRoss: Caravel, one of the Uresia minisupplements, features a star-crashed robot and so on.
8:01 PM +SJohnRoss: One of the fun bits about the first Risus Raw module is that Slimes, which are normally the Astromech Droids of heaven’s grave, get to take a turn being the Tribbles of heaven’s grave, too.
8:01 PM ~Dan: Ah, I see… For the readers, can you give an overview of what Uresia is about?
8:02 PM +SJohnRoss: I could never choke down the Lord of the Rings, for example, so my approach to fantasy has always been space-opera in Renfaire costume. That, and Zork and Groo and gaming tropes.
8:03 PM +SJohnRoss: Uresia is, at first blush, a very traditional fantasy RPG setting of the elfy, dwarfy, you-meet-in-a-tavern variety. But … then things get funky when you peer closer. The gods died and broke everything, civilization regrew on the wreckage of the broken land, “dungeons” are the smashed fallen cities of the gods, and it’s not unusual for a PC to
8:03 PM +SJohnRoss: carry an item of consumer electronics like a handheld videogame or an instant camera.
8:03 PM +SJohnRoss: PC races include things like the Slimes, and Snowmen, and just about anything you can talk the GM into, really.
8:04 PM +SJohnRoss: But it’s designed so that if you want to Just Play a Human Fighter, you’re cool.
8:04 PM +SJohnRoss: (done)
8:04 PM ~Dan: Pretty tongue-in-cheek, I take it?
8:04 PM +SJohnRoss: Some see it that way, which suits me fine.
8:04 PM ~Dan: (One of your fans is inbound, btw.)
8:05 PM +SJohnRoss: To me it’s a pretty sincere space opera of the very humanistic sort, so it’s ethically very Star Trek and Doctor Who, but with a Star Wars Cantina vibe and variety.
8:05 PM ~Dan: (Howdy, Lee!)
8:05 PM ~Dan: (Lee, meet “The Risus Guy”, as you so eloquently put it. 😀 )
8:06 PM +Lee: Hello, sir! I’ve enjoyed your work for many many years!
8:06 PM +SJohnRoss: Hi Lee! Have we virtual-met? Or actual-met? And thank you for saying so!
8:06 PM ~Dan: Is magic “real” in the setting, or is it psionics, sufficiently advanced tech, or something else?
8:06 PM +SJohnRoss: All of the above, and also a premium item available in breakfast cereals.
8:07 PM +SJohnRoss: I mean, the fireball burns real enough.
8:07 PM +Lee: Virtual-met, but it’s been a few years!
8:07 PM +SJohnRoss: Well happy to re-meet!
8:07 PM +SJohnRoss: Uresia was kind of the summation of everything I learned about setting design, so it’s a lot of things in one tidy kitchen sink.
8:07 PM +SJohnRoss: I lie about the tidy.
8:08 PM * ~Dan chuckles
8:08 PM ~Dan: What are Encounter Critical and Points in Space about?
8:08 PM ~Dan: Both sound familiar…
8:09 PM +SJohnRoss: And Slimes, while not the first Uresia module (that would be Toast of the Town), is the first where I let Uresia really be it’s loopier side in a module. The Smoketop War, the second module, leans more toward tragedy at times, or a least humanistic stuff, via hardboiled mystery.
8:10 PM &Silverlion: That one was a bit tough.
8:10 PM ~Dan: On the one hand, it’s odd that you get “loopy” and “tragic” in the same setting… On the other, sometimes “tragic” is all the more tragic in the wake of loopiness.
8:10 PM +SJohnRoss: Encounter Critical is _about_ what awesomeness comes from in RPGs (spoiler: it’s love) and is a mythical origin story for high-trust traditional roleplaying (my form). On the surface it’s a fictional RPG of low production expense from 1979, designed by best friends from high school, and also a computer game, and soon a campaign module.
8:11 PM +SJohnRoss: Well, and in times of tragedy people find the fun because they must. A lot of the comedy in Uresia is the kind that comes from suffering and the kind that comes from folly, but Uresia is humanistic, so it’s about hugging people for their flaws, not punishing or judging.
8:12 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s why Uresia modules don’t have “fight scenes” or other presumptive setups. Just problems that need a good solving.
8:12 PM +SJohnRoss: Points in Space is essentially a Space Opera answer to things like the Citybook series from Flying Buffalo, which I also had the great pleasure to work on, at the end of the line (volume 7).
8:13 PM ~Dan: So is Encounter Critical kind of a “meta-game”? An RPG about an RPG? Or am I misunderstanding?
8:13 PM ~Dan: (Howdy, Dawntracker! Meet SJohnRoss!)
8:13 PM +SJohnRoss: It’s a bunch of locations on a starport, or starports, with an emphasis on the unexpected hiding behind a veneer.
8:13 PM +Dawntracker: I’m late! Sorry about that.
8:13 PM ~Dan: (No worries, Dawntracker!)
8:13 PM +SJohnRoss: No more or less than Uresia is a meta-game about RPGs, or for that matter Tales From the Floating Vagabond was a meta-game about the hobby.
8:14 PM &Silverlion: One of the things I like about Uresia
8:14 PM +SJohnRoss: Me too! Thank you Tim.
8:14 PM +SJohnRoss: If “things masquerading as other things” feels like a theme, boy HOWDY.
8:15 PM ~Dan: Hmm… So is it an actual RPG with a fictional backstory?
8:15 PM ~Dan: (Sorry if I’m being dense. Long day at work.)
8:16 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s about right. A real RPG, with a fictional backstory, and something of an ongoing fictional side-show as well, culminating in INTRUDER MOON, a campaign module that’s both a campaign module and the moment when the group made the breakthrough to roleplaying becoming the core of their gameplay.
8:16 PM +danhunsaker: I’ll pop in later with something more substantive, but it’s good to see Uresia still getting mileage.
8:16 PM +SJohnRoss: With the computer game, Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, being the kind of inciting incident that evolved the game, and kind of broke the group up.
8:17 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah, it keeps on truckin’! Even if mostly I just yap about that hyperdetailed Shadow River map I’m always working on.
8:17 PM +Dawntracker: Roleplay is what’s really lacking in the new games. It seems gamers have forgetten how to roleplay.
8:18 PM ~Dan: In a roundabout way, that reminds me of the “singing cowboy” setting in Fistful of Zombies, in which the PCs exist in a singing cowboy TV series that’s fallen on hard times.
8:18 PM +SJohnRoss: Well, they’ve remembered the surface part: doing the voices and so on. But certainly, the idea of roleplay being core gameplay has fallen away to a great extent. My form, the High-Trust Traditional RPG, is moribund at best, dead realistically.
8:18 PM ~Dan: (The writer is throwing in zombies to “spice things up”.)
8:19 PM ~Dan: I know what you mean, SJohnRoss. Just this past Saturday, I played RuneQuest with an old group of mine for the first time in around 25 years. Seemed like I was the only one trying to roleplay.
8:20 PM &Silverlion: Sighs
8:20 PM +Dawntracker: I love zombies but they can sure mess up a story-line.
8:20 PM ~Dan: Heh. 🙂
8:20 PM +SJohnRoss: Well now I want to really sincerely dig in to roleplaying a zombie.
8:20 PM +danhunsaker: You know what messes up a storyline better than zombies?
8:21 PM +danhunsaker: Players.
8:21 PM +danhunsaker: But I digress.
8:21 PM +SJohnRoss: Anyone want to run a Warm Bodies campaign for me?
8:21 PM +SJohnRoss: Well, that’s a core Low-Trust belief, and it’s how we get ants. I mean how we get modern games.
8:21 PM ~Dan: SJohnRoss: If you’re interested, I highly recommend Enter the Zombie. Martial arts zombies, including zombies that can use their own intestines as a whip.
8:22 PM +SJohnRoss: I’ll mentally bookmark that.
8:22 PM ~Dan: Or their ribs into a buzz saw.
8:22 PM +SJohnRoss: But nothing that I design is very Low-Trust, which is why Uresia modules are the way they are.
8:22 PM +SJohnRoss: Which would bring us to how Tim Kirk got roped into this.
8:23 PM ~Dan: Zombie Smackdown, the zombie wrestling game, is also good, if for no other reason that the fact that the weapon list includes “mysterious green mist” and the kitchen sink.
8:23 PM &Silverlion: I love Warm bodies.
8:23 PM ~Dan: But I digress again, sorry.
8:23 PM +Dawntracker: players…
8:23 PM &Silverlion: But not the book–yet. It’s on my list.
8:23 PM +SJohnRoss: One of the ways I’ve been coping with lockdown is running open-invitation workshops on High-Trust adventure design, worldbuilding, and GMing.
8:24 PM &Silverlion: Which have been great for me–learning to think differently.
8:24 PM +Dawntracker: How go the GM workshops?
8:24 PM +SJohnRoss: Tim was the first to take me up on it, at a time when I was stewing over Risus Raw and deciding if I was willing to abandon the Cumberland promise of “I promise not to rush.”
8:25 PM +SJohnRoss: Our first workshop together included the adventure outline that became Slimes in Blossom Grove, as a method for walking Tim (well, torturously shoving Tim) through the principles of High-Trust design.
8:25 PM +SJohnRoss: Tim took to it with excellence, I must say.
8:25 PM ~Dan: Very cool! Tim is a very fine fellow. 🙂
8:25 PM +danhunsaker: There are reasons we keep him around.
8:25 PM +SJohnRoss: I’m an extraordinary meany in the workshops; it’s basically an interrogation.
8:26 PM ~Dan: He was in my Buffy the Vampire Slayer game for… 12 years, I think?
8:26 PM +Dawntracker: Wow!
8:26 PM +SJohnRoss: I find his Texas drawl deeply soothing.
8:26 PM * ~Dan chuckles
8:26 PM +Dawntracker: I never had a steady group for twelve years.
8:26 PM ~Dan: Can you give us an example of High-Trust design?
8:26 PM ~Dan: Dawntracker: This was an online game, too.
8:27 PM ~Dan: (Howdy, luc!)
8:27 PM +SJohnRoss: Slimes in Blossom Grove, Toast of the Town, and Uresia itself are all examples of high-trust design. Encounter Critical is a mythical origin story for how Low-Trust becomes High-Trust.
8:27 PM +Dawntracker: I’ve been a digital hermit. As well as a hermit. Nethack and I was out.
8:28 PM +SJohnRoss: Most of my industry work is kind of Medium-Trust Leaning As High As They’d Let Me Get Away With.
8:28 PM +SJohnRoss: But at Cumberland, I give myself a lot more permission, let’s say.
8:28 PM ~Dan: SJohnRoss: Sorry, let me rephrase… Can you give us an example of HIgh-Trust design in action?
8:29 PM +SJohnRoss: You mean GMing a moment for you? I could do that.
8:29 PM ~Dan: Hmm. Sure, that might work well.
8:29 PM +Dawntracker: sweet!
8:29 PM * +danhunsaker retreats to a safe distance
8:29 PM +SJohnRoss: What sort of character would you like to be for a moment, Dan?
8:30 PM ~Dan: Well, I was always a fan of the rhino men in Tales… How about one of them?
8:30 PM ~Dan: (There WERE rhino men in Tales, weren’t there? Or am I misremembering?)
8:30 PM +SJohnRoss: I confess I can’t recall anything about them.
8:31 PM +SJohnRoss: I think there were some in the artwork. There are Rhinomen in Uresia, too, and in that Robin Hood movie back in the day.
8:31 PM ~Dan: Well, let’s make it easy then. A dwarf.
8:31 PM +SJohnRoss: Okay, so now I’ll need to drill down a little more. You’re a Dwarf, but the question remains unanswered. What sort of character are you?
8:32 PM ~Dan: Ah. I’m a nature-loving Dwarf who plays a pan flute.
8:32 PM +SJohnRoss: There’s no trick, by the way. High-Trust is just one way of playing traditional RPG. Standard stuff. There’s as GM. Everyone has a Player Character.
8:33 PM +SJohnRoss: Awesome. Do you make a living with the pan-flute?
8:33 PM ~Dan: No. I bake pies.
8:34 PM +SJohnRoss: Family practice, or were you a pioneer, or something else? Just work of opportunity? A friend dragged you in? Just like eating them and nobody else makes them well enough for you?
8:34 PM ~Dan: I come from a long line of piesmiths.
8:34 PM +SJohnRoss: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
8:35 PM +SJohnRoss: [I’m going to be cribbing from the forthcoming 2nd Edition Risus Companion, by the way, just as a warning]
8:35 PM ~Dan: I put a grasshopper in the mayor’s pie for him being mean.
8:35 PM +Dawntracker: Ooh. That’s nice.
8:36 PM +SJohnRoss: Oh man. Did he notice and react? Mindlessly wolf it down? Something else?
8:36 PM ~Dan: He mindlessly wolfed it down. I’m a really good piesmith.
8:36 PM +SJohnRoss: You forge mighty pies.
8:36 PM ~Dan: Indeed.
8:36 PM +SJohnRoss: You consider yourself a decent member of your community overall?
8:37 PM ~Dan: Yes and no. I don’t cause any trouble, but people think I’m odd for frolicking about in the woods. Sometimes I hear them mutter “Elf” behind my back.
8:38 PM +SJohnRoss: Do you see yourself that way, as having Elf tendencies and Elf curiosities? Or do you just happen to enjoy woods and pan-fluting in a very Dwarfy way?
8:38 PM ~Dan: I never really gave it much thought, so I’d say the latter.
8:39 PM +SJohnRoss: What are you really good at that involves neither bakery nor flutery?
8:39 PM +Dawntracker: You know its a set up but you’ve gotta keep answering.
8:39 PM +SJohnRoss: Everything I do is an interrogation. I’m horrible.
8:39 PM ~Dan: Oddly, I’m a natural with a warhammer. No idea why.
8:39 PM +SJohnRoss: [steeples fingers, smiles Grinchy smile]
8:39 PM +Dawntracker: That’s how you get answers.
8:40 PM ~Dan: (This is fun. 😀 )
8:40 PM +SJohnRoss: How do you feel about your proficiency with a weapon of war? Is it something you want to pursue?
8:41 PM ~Dan: I don’t want to pursue it. I just found learning how to use one nearly effortless during mandatory militia training.
8:41 PM ~Dan: It’s really not my thing.
8:41 PM +SJohnRoss: Tell me about a time when you helped someone (or someones).
8:42 PM ~Dan: A Human widow-woman in the nearby village was in danger of losing her home. I opened up a pie stand to earn her enough money to keep her cottage.
8:43 PM +SJohnRoss: Does she keep in touch?
8:43 PM ~Dan: Yes. She has a fine apple tree and always gives me first pick.
8:44 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s fantastic. I can’t keep calling you Dwarf and we’re just about done with character design. What’s your name?
8:44 PM ~Dan: Bimble Thornbottom.
8:45 PM &Silverlion: Nice 🙂
8:45 PM &Silverlion: There is a reason I like this stuff
8:45 PM +Dawntracker: yeah.
8:45 PM +Dawntracker: brb
8:46 PM +SJohnRoss: Spot on, Bimble. Now it’s my turn with a little worldbuilding for you. You dwell in a hill-town build on a ruined old foundation. The only thing left of the ancient ruin (obviously Dwarf, from the stonework), is a squat tower about 40 feet tall in the middle of the small market, and four pools surrounding it, shallow, with old geometries worked
8:46 PM +SJohnRoss: into their design. The elder say it’s something to do with spiritual conflict within the ghosts of the bones of the earth.
8:47 PM +SJohnRoss: Human visitors ponder stuff about “four elements,” but no, the locals patiently explain. Those are all about stone, earth, metal, mud.
8:47 PM +SJohnRoss: And now we’ll play our moment, since we have our tiny world and our Player Character.
8:48 PM +SJohnRoss: This is Trad, which means you, Bimble Thornbottom, will be faced with some kind of adventurous problem to solve, and you approach it in character.
8:48 PM +SJohnRoss: And because it’s high-trust, I’m trusting you to engage the adventure, in character, with sincerity.
8:48 PM ~Dan: (Howdy, Kiltedfiend! Meet SJohnRoss, who’s doing a bit of demo GMing at the momet to illustrate High-Trust game design.)
8:49 PM +Kiltedfiend: (cool)
8:49 PM +SJohnRoss: And because it’s high-trust, you’re trusting me to provide you with an adventure that will be worth engaging with, and not to be mean or screw you over or anything.
8:49 PM +SJohnRoss: High-Trust is about embracing Tactical Infinity – the idea that the PCs can attempt anything and expect a fair shake, and about embracing roleplaying – the idea that you play as your character, not as yourself.
8:50 PM ~Dan: Huh. That’s pretty much how I always play.
8:50 PM ~Dan: I never really thought about it being a “thing”.
8:50 PM +SJohnRoss: To embrace those things means we pick up and use the system now and then if we need it, but since the character, not the player, is making the crucial tactical moves and creating solutions, the gameplay must be comprehensible to the character. It can’t be about what the rules can do. It’s about what the character understands.
8:50 PM +Kiltedfiend: ditto
8:51 PM +SJohnRoss: There’s no specific need to think about it, as a player, or even as a GM.
8:51 PM +SJohnRoss: There is absolute need to think about it as a designer. But we’ll get there.
8:51 PM +SJohnRoss: Anyway, are we agreed? Are you ready for the very brief momentary call to adventure?
8:52 PM ~Dan: I am!
8:52 PM +Kiltedfiend: Sort of like what a lot of the Nordic LARPs do….
8:52 PM +Kiltedfiend: I’m game
8:53 PM +SJohnRoss: Okay. So the Mayor himself has been busy about the neighborhood, doing good work on helping prepare for winter and also being kind of a jerk to the Dwarf kiddies and needlessly cruel to an elderly Dwarf who recently lost his wife.
8:54 PM +SJohnRoss: And he stopped by your place of work to buy a pie and throw in a casual backhanded compliment about how they’re the best pies on this street (you sell the only fresh pies in this part of the town).
8:54 PM ~Dan: (Heh.)
8:54 PM +SJohnRoss: But that was about a half hour ago.
8:56 PM +SJohnRoss: Now, the Mayor is on top of the old squat tower. He’s teetering on the edge and looking kind of stupefied. You never saw him climb up there at all (people revere the tower but don’t go into it often). One of your neigbors, gulping down a bite of pie, says “Oh my Gods I didn’t think he meant it! Oh my Gods Thornbottom I think he means to destroy
8:56 PM +SJohnRoss: himself! He was mumbling about intending to jump off the tower but I thought it was some kind of jerk joke.”
8:56 PM +SJohnRoss: What do you do?
8:56 PM * ~Dan rushes out of his shop to the tower.
8:56 PM +SJohnRoss: The neighbor is Alwan Ironshins. He’s a leatherworker and loves your pie more than life, but limits himself to one a week.
8:57 PM * ~Dan begins playing a soothing tune, like he’s heard the Dryads play in the woods.
8:57 PM +SJohnRoss: Alwan gulps his pie down and nearly chokes. Some of the other Dwarfs are raising sounds of alarm but it’s obvious they don’t know what Alwan told you. The Mayor can be heard, distantly. “Yes. I should jump. The pools will catch me.”
8:57 PM +SJohnRoss: The water in the pools is about two inches deep over hard stone.
8:58 PM +SJohnRoss: One of the town guards, a Dwarf named Orlof, waddles up huffing with difficulty as he carries a ceremonial pole axe. He’s enjoyed a lot of pie.
8:59 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor notices the tune. He turns his head.
8:59 PM +SJohnRoss: He doesn’t step back from the ledge. His foot almost slips in an absentminded way, but he listens still to the tune.
8:59 PM +SJohnRoss: “Yes,” he says, but you can’t make out what the rest of it is. He’s too far up and your music, while it has his attention, makes him harder to hear.
9:00 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof asks “What’s he doing???” Alwan yells “He’s going to jump! He’ll die!” The crowd behind you makes scared crowd-noises in response.
9:00 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom ends the tune with a bit of a merry jig (by Dwarf standards) and ends with a flourish.
9:01 PM +SJohnRoss: One Dwarf in the back, failing to read the room, bursts into happy applause.
9:01 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Don’t jump, sir! There is too much to live for! Like music! And pies!”
9:01 PM +SJohnRoss: “Yes, I’ve been very cruel. Time for me to die I suppose?” it doesn’t sound like his normal manner of speech at all.
9:02 PM +SJohnRoss: He circles the edge of the tower roof, as if selecting his pool.
9:02 PM +SJohnRoss: He mumbles “Pies. Pies?”
9:02 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Mr. Mayor, if you have been cruel, the answer is not to do yourself harm! It is to be kind!”
9:03 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “And think of how cruel it would be to end yourself in front of these poor townsfolk!”
9:03 PM +SJohnRoss: He looks directly at you, and obviously just now notices the gathering crowd.
9:03 PM +SJohnRoss: “Pies. Music.”
9:04 PM +SJohnRoss: He doesn’t seem like he’s really doing well with words at all.
9:04 PM +SJohnRoss: And he doesn’t sound like he ever has before.
9:05 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “That’s right. Pies, and music. And laughter, and dancing! And a million other things besides!”
9:05 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof asks you “Should I run up there and grab him?” Another Dwarf, one you don’t know, starts shouting to find a net or a tarp or something. Others scream.
9:05 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom turns to Orlof.
9:05 PM +SJohnRoss: The Mayor seems distracted by the screams and the din and the confused signals coming from the ground. One Drunken Dwarf in the back tries to start a chant of “Jump! Jump!”
9:06 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “I fear that would only drive him to jump. But you must silence that drunkard!”
9:06 PM +SJohnRoss: The Mayor joins the chant. “Jump. Jump … into the metal pool.”
9:06 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof nods. “Yessir!” and he runs over to the Drunk and smacks him hard on the face. “Shut up you fool.”
9:07 PM +SJohnRoss: The Drunk apologizes “I thought it was funny.”
9:07 PM +SJohnRoss: “Jump. Jump” says the Mayor.
9:07 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: (I’m assuming I know which pool is the metal one?)
9:07 PM +SJohnRoss: You do.
9:08 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom steels himself and wades out into the metal pool.
9:08 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “I’m sorry, sir, but if you jump, well, I’m afraid I’ll have to break your fall.”
9:08 PM +SJohnRoss: Splish. Splish. It’s shallow but clear. The weather has been very cold.
9:08 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor looks at you. “Pie man.”
9:08 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom nods
9:08 PM +SJohnRoss: He begins crying.
9:08 PM +SJohnRoss: He’s getting his beard really wet.
9:09 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof is near again, looking at you questioningly.
9:09 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom nods to Orlof.
9:09 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Let me try something.”
9:09 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Mr. Mayor, can I come up? Will you let me? Will you promise not to harm yourself?”
9:09 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor sways as if he’s less likely to jump, now, than fall. “Music man?” Orlof looks like he’s ready to spring into the tower at your command, or do whatever else you ask, to the limits of his slow body.
9:10 PM +SJohnRoss: The Mayor sits down on the edge. “Join the mayor,” he says, which is an odd way to put it.
9:10 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom mutters to Orlof: “While I do this, I suggest you follow the suggestion to fetch a tarp or the like.”
9:10 PM +SJohnRoss: The drunk tries to helpfully begin a “Don’t jump” chant, but other Dwarves shush him.
9:11 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom clasps his pan flute in his teeth and begins to climb.
9:11 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof nods and begins coordinating a tarp circle. Someone had grabbed one but wasn’t sure what to do. Orloft directs them and it’ll take him a minute but he seems to have the right idea.
9:12 PM +SJohnRoss: Nothing stops you on the way. Nothing seems amiss within the tower. You reach the roof. The Mayor is sitting at the edge in a very dangerous way, and at this moment he’s scarcely aware of you. He’s looking down, watching.
9:13 PM +SJohnRoss: You feel a kind of tickling in the back of your mind, like fingers touching your thoughts.
9:13 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom cautiously moves to the Mayor’s side and sits on the edge… hopefully in a less dangerous way.
9:13 PM +SJohnRoss: The Mayor says, flatly. “They’ve gathered to hold that rug.”
9:14 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom nods
9:14 PM +SJohnRoss: Below, eight Dwarves and a tarp over the pool.
9:14 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “They are concerned for your welfare, as am I.”
9:14 PM +SJohnRoss: “Most of them hate me.”
9:15 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “You have been mean to them at times, ’tis true enough. But when it comes down to it, you’re still one of us.”
9:15 PM +SJohnRoss: The fingers at the back of your mind feel like claws, now.
9:15 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “And, if I may, I suspect this place is an unhealthy place to be, for several reasons.”
9:15 PM +SJohnRoss: “Mayor’s easier. Mayor’s mean. Mean is easy,” says the mayor.
9:16 PM +SJohnRoss: The Mayor stands up. “You’re difficult.”
9:16 PM +SJohnRoss: “Maybe I’m heavy enough to ruin a good rug.”
9:16 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom stands as well.
9:16 PM +SJohnRoss: He looks down. “I like your music.”
9:16 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Would you like me to play another tune for you?”
9:17 PM +SJohnRoss: He looks like he’s considering the tarp. “Your pies are so good they make me cry.”
9:17 PM +SJohnRoss: “Not when i’m around you. But at home.”
9:17 PM +SJohnRoss: “I don’t want to jump but I’m so tired of not jumping.”
9:17 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “And… to whomever else is here with us, meddling with our minds, would you like to hear a tune as well?
9:17 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: ”
9:18 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor’s voice goes flat and dull. “When this body breaks that’ll be music, and my door back into the world.”
9:18 PM +SJohnRoss: “He’s so stubborn and selfish, but mean. Mean makes it inevitable. I win.”
9:18 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor leans forward a bit.
9:19 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “Ah, but what if I were to fall in trying to stop him? Would an act of kindness help you win?”
9:19 PM +SJohnRoss: The fingers are gone from your mind entirely.
9:19 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor steps off the edge.
9:19 PM * ~Bimble_Thornbottom grabs for the mayor
9:20 PM +SJohnRoss: At this point we’d let the system intrude for a moment to see how well the grab goes. Let’s imagine it went well enough.
9:20 PM +SJohnRoss: The mayor is tired from fighting himself and you can easily bring him back away from the edge.
9:20 PM +SJohnRoss: You feel a rush in your brain and the mayor says, flatly. “I’m disappointed in everything,” but then he falls unconscious.
9:21 PM +SJohnRoss: Down below, the drunk begins a chant about free beer.
9:21 PM +SJohnRoss: Orlof shouts up “What’s happening?”
9:21 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: “He’s fainted dead away. I believe we need a few stout Dwarves up here with rope to lower him down.”
9:22 PM +SJohnRoss: As the Dwarves get to work bringing the Mayor down safely, you notice in the distance that the Drunk dwarf has fallen silent, and smiles, and begins walking quietly away …
9:22 PM +SJohnRoss: And the adventure would continue.
9:22 PM ~Bimble_Thornbottom: Very nice!
9:22 PM +SJohnRoss: So, to examine what makes this little moment a work of high trust design.
9:23 PM +SJohnRoss: 1) I begin knowing what’s wrong with the Mayor in detail. You, as Thornbottom, do not.
9:24 PM +SJohnRoss: 2) There are a dozen or more ways to save the mayor’s life. There are potentially dozens more I haven’t thought of. I don’t, as the GM, favor or force any of them. Some attempts could fail, and the mayor could die, but it’s all based on fair judgement of the conditions present, all of which can be learned.
9:24 PM +SJohnRoss: 3) You act only in character, and your character is all yours, except your senses. As the GM I have to play those, but things like your actions and feelings are all down to you.
9:25 PM +SJohnRoss: 4) The system is present when we need it but the conditions of the problem are gameplay. The strategies and tactics are all things the PC understands and implements to the degree that the character CAN understand and implement.
9:25 PM * ~Dan nods
9:25 PM +danhunsaker: Normally this would be a 15 minute warning, but I didn’t want to interrupt the microcampaign, so now it’s 5. 😀 Time for final questions! Here’s mine: What is your LEAST favorite thing about Risus Raw?
9:25 PM +SJohnRoss: And this can happen, this scene, in ANY trad RPG.
9:25 PM +SJohnRoss: I need to finish this bit.
9:26 PM +SJohnRoss: This can happen in any trad RPG, but high-trust design is focused on these kinds of challenges. Problems which the PCs are set to solve in ways they create.
9:26 PM +SJohnRoss: The way this deviated was that we didn’t have a group.
9:26 PM +SJohnRoss: But beyond that, High-Trust design is about designing about this kind of play, making worlds specifically for this, adventures for this.
9:27 PM +SJohnRoss: For creative, in-character problem solving, as (normally) a group of PCs.
9:27 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s all there is to high-trust, but once upon a time we had games largely devoted to it, and that died out about 20 years ago.
9:27 PM +SJohnRoss: Though, it was always nichel.
9:27 PM +SJohnRoss: niche.
9:27 PM +SJohnRoss: Medium-Trust was the dominant form of the 80s and 90s.
9:28 PM +SJohnRoss: High-Trust rode its back like a bird on a buffalo.
9:28 PM +SJohnRoss: But with the near-loss of medium, there came a total loss of high, so I’m doing what I can to preserve it with my last releases, and that includes Risus Raw, where the modules present problems but don’t presume solutions.
9:28 PM ~Dan: Is that latter bit the key?
9:28 PM +SJohnRoss: But that’s not what makes it Raw. It’s Raw because I’m only playtesting each adventure twice, with no blindtest.
9:29 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s a big part of the key, yeah.
9:29 PM * ~Dan nods
9:29 PM +SJohnRoss: High-Trust embraces roleplay, and tactical infinity, as the core gameplay rather than a Special Occasion.
9:30 PM +SJohnRoss: There is no system mastery because the system is just one tool on the GM’s toolbelt, and because the PCs don’t know the rules of the game, they know their world, and the adventure, so the game design focuses there, too.
9:30 PM +SJohnRoss: For example, one of the great high-trust RPGs was Paranoia in its first two editions.
9:30 PM +SJohnRoss: A world with many deadly and curious rules, all of which the PCs could learn, often the hard way, but which gameplay could be built around.
9:31 PM +SJohnRoss: Instead of, say, using the skills or the stats for the grenades. Those could matter, but PC treachery and cleverness and insight mattered most.
9:31 PM +SJohnRoss: At the rules level, it means rules designed to back the eff off.
9:32 PM +SJohnRoss: Okay we’ve run over a bit but I’m fine with questions. I think that’s it for that part (done).
9:32 PM ~Dan: Do you have time to answer danhunsaker’s question?
9:32 PM +SJohnRoss: I’m good for time. I need to scroll up and read it =)
9:33 PM +SJohnRoss: Oh that’s an easy one. It hurts me, like it physically hurts me, to set aside Cumberland’s normal quality standards.
9:33 PM +SJohnRoss: And Risus Raw is all about setting those standards aside to produce fun things rapidly in the pandemic time.
9:33 PM ~Dan: A fair point.
9:33 PM +SJohnRoss: To put out some bits of entertainment to contribute what little I can.
9:33 PM +SJohnRoss: And selfishly: it gives me a focus, helps the anxiety stay at bay. Some days.
9:33 PM ~Dan: It’s definitely a fine idea.
9:34 PM ~Dan: If you don’t mind me asking, do you suffer from clinical anxiety, or is it purely situational?
9:34 PM +Kiltedfiend: its true storytelling
9:34 PM +SJohnRoss: Well I hope it isn’t storytelling, but some do see it that way.
9:34 PM +SJohnRoss: I don’t have a diagnosis. But I’m pretty sure this anxiety lately is more deadly than a virus so it may be a race =)
9:35 PM +SJohnRoss: Like I get physically sick from it.
9:35 PM +SJohnRoss: I’m not sure why that was italic.
9:35 PM ~Dan: I hear you. I’ve had a long battle with anxiety myself. I mostly have it under control these days, but its buddy depression is popping up again.
9:35 PM +SJohnRoss: Yeah it affects so many of us!
9:36 PM * ~Dan nods
9:36 PM ~Dan: Yup!
9:36 PM +SJohnRoss: And I’m pretty helpless to help with that, so I provide what diversions I can.
9:36 PM ~Dan: Good man.
9:36 PM +SJohnRoss: I think Slimes in Blossom Grove is a frothy read even if you don’t play it, and I think it’s just fun pondering the pregens and such.
9:36 PM +SJohnRoss: And the nice Cribsheet! If I do say so. And it’s free of course.
9:36 PM ~Dan: Well, tell you what: I’m going to wrap up here, if you don’t mind, just to log the chat, but please feel free to hang out and answer questions as long as you like. 🙂
9:36 PM +SJohnRoss: And the next one will be free and any others that follow, if they do.
9:37 PM +Lee: Did you say earlier that there’s a Risus Companion 2nd Edition on the way?
9:37 PM +SJohnRoss: That’s right.
9:37 PM +SJohnRoss: Part of it’s already out, in a sneaky way. Toast of the Town is designed, specifically, to serve as a running example throughout RC2.
9:37 PM ~Dan: Oh, and usual reminder: If you’ve enjoyed this Q&A and would like to treat me to a coffee or two, you can do so at (Link: https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe)https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe . Anything’s appreciated! 🙂
9:37 PM +Lee: I’m very pleased to hear that!
9:37 PM +SJohnRoss: One of the reasons Toast is so meaty is that it has these extra jobs to carry on its shoulders.
9:37 PM +Lee: 🙂
9:38 PM ~Dan: One monent, and I’ll get that log and link you, SJohnRoss!