Monthly Archives: April 2006

Shadow of My Playtest

So yesterday I had Ori, Itamar, Boaz and David over to try and play my game. Well, David actually wanted to play Munchkin, but we overruled him. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was the right choice…

It was strange having guests. David remarked that the apartment has a strong feeling of someone’s presence (as if it’s haunted?) I just think it’s the rat trap for old people to die in ambience…

We spent about 2 hours on character creation, mostly on coming up with Objects of Desire. Then David left, and we played a bit (well, first I unloaded the big complicated explanation of the Adversity rules I had written the night before; it would have really helped if I’d let people read the rules instead of trying to guess how these worked). In the scene we ran, Boaz’s character, a sort of Amberite Fonz (an eternal high school king), traveled to a pseudo Victorian London to “milk” a legendary extinct “Blue Burmese Deer”, which was supposed to produce a magical salve that would cure acne; in the London Zoo he ran into Itamar’s character (a weird scientist, himself a failed experiment of the eccentric Biomancer Momir Vig), and they both discovered the “deer” was actually a Peryton. It took me way too long to realize that my/our subconcious was totally dominated by the Stag’s head hanging over our heads (the most prominent thing in my living room, aside from the shelves of dusty comics).

In the cold light of the morning-after, the problems I had with the game – which start with the character creation process, but spill on to why this makes play very different from what I hoped for – were very clear to me. In fact, so clear that I regret wasting people’s time. I could probably have solicited people to create characters on the internet to discover these basic problems.


A central idea to Shadow of My Desire is that characters are defined by what they want. So I wanted to start the game by having each player come up with an Object of Desire for his character, even before describing the character. The problem is that because of how I set this up, people went about creating powerful magic artifacts. Boaz started by choosing “My Cool Muscle Car” as his first object of desire, and gave it 3 qualities that were more like stats then what I had in mind. I should have thought about this, of course: anything numeric is going to be treated as something mechanical. This then escalated, with Ori creating a world-spanning spy network as his “Object of Desire”, David creating a magic ring which granted his character 3 psychic powers of magic knowledge (with plans to mix astral projection and mental domination in there) and Itamar creating research papers that contained information on everything. In round two, Boaz created a leather jacket of holy-relic magnitude, with dimensional pockets, cheat notes, and bulletproof protection; Ori created a Zen garden that was very much an Amberish private (mini) shadow, David created a “Flying Space Harley” (and tried to make “flying motorcycle” just the description, so he could add 3 extra powers as the actual qualities), and Itamar created “The Weird and Wonderful Failed Experiments of Dr. Momir Vig”, a horde of bizzare and otherworldly creatures that appear out of nowhere in an awe-inspiring stampede just when needed.

The actual characters – Bo’s Fonz of Amber, Ori’s spymaster, Itamar’s failed experiment and David’s somewhat-incoherent traitorous ex-advisor of Caine (yes, the Vampire: The Masquerade Caine; he knew VTM, but not Amber) – were somewhat flat (Ori put this down to the initial focus on artifact-creation). In the post-game post-mortem, Itamar and Ori mentioned that the lack of a defined setting was a problem; that I needed something to tie the characters together better, and give them more of an interest to interact. Also, if Objects of Desire were so important, this needs to be built into the game more strongly. Perhaps stealing essence from other People’s Objects of Desire is possible, or even tempting. Ori said I needed some social structure, like the strict codes of the Camarilla (or the anarchy of the Sabat) to make play more social.

Now, since I’m the only person who knows what I was looking for, it’s clearer to me what the problem was: Objects of Desire weren’t working the way I wanted. When I thought of “test cases” for this, I was thinking of players inventing silly Objects of Desire and abusing them for the Essence gain, but in play, no one used any Essence: instead of using Objects of Desire to gain Essence so they could use cool powers, they just built the cool powers into the objects of desire for free and used them.

So, what I think needs to be done is to flesh out completely the section on Powers in the game text; a lot of things that the Objects created in this game did should be powers, fueled by Essence. Knowledge artifacts? That’s Scrying. Pockets that work like Merlin’s Logrus tendrils, letting you pull any object out of them? That’s some variant on Shadow walking, and should be priced accordingly. The actual abilities of Objects of Desire will be scaled down, and at least some loopholes need to be closed.

One option is that when an Object becomes “real”, it can be upgraded to be more similar to the Objects created in this session. Just like a person becomes PC-material when the spark within them awakens, so objects can become artifacts, like the leather jacket and the magic ring, and places become abodes (suggestions for a better term most appreciated), which are more like personal shadows with special powers.

I also need to find rules for dealing with defining a large group as an “Object of Desire”, for example the spy network or the horde of failed experiments. I’m inclined to deny such multiple Objects of Desire as either too abstract or open to abuse. In the specific case of these two examples, I would have allowed them in as background elements, perhaps. Or maybe I need to have a system that lets you purchase allies for your character, like advantages, merits, etc.
I don’t have a good solution for this just yet.


One thing that is pretty clear to me: if Boaz is comfortable in this game, it isn’t working as planned… ;-)

A Shadow of My Desire

Like I wrote, this is the game I want to play this weekend:

All worlds are shadows of the one real world; all people, place and things are reflections, shadows cast by the light of your desire. Although everything exists, nothing is real. Only you and your brothers are real. You, and the things you desire. Your desire, your attention, makes a thing real, elevating it from base shadow, infusing it with substance.

And on its substance, you feed.

Here’s my current draft (PDF), which expands on that a bit.

Come play with me

I want to do something which involves people this weekend. Preferably, people I don’t meet regularly.
My plan is to run a game at my place (Tel Aviv, address here) on Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening. Consider this an open invitation, and let me know if, what and when you might be interested in. Three options present themselves, rated by my preference. I’m open to other suggestions:

  1. A while back I had a bathroom-inspiration idea for a roleplaying game that mixed Amber with Vampire, and had an “indie” twist to it. Since then I’ve been lusting to run it, for over a month now: whenever I thought of roleplaying (which was often), I wasn’t thinking of my Bigor games or my campaign or whatever, I was thinking of this. The only obvious problem with the idea is that it might be too “Ho!” to be Bo-compatible.
    This is background text I wrote to try and get the idea down:

    All worlds are shadows of the one real world; all people, place and things are reflections, shadows cast by the light of your desire. Although everything exists, nothing is real. Only you and your brothers are real. You, and the things you desire. Your desire, your attention, makes a thing real, elevating it from base shadow, infusing it with substance.

    And on its substance, you feed.

  2. If I can get 3 more people, we could play test Cranium Rats.
  3. I bought the Hebrew translated version of Munchkin, with the intent of playing it with my nephews. Since I’ve only played it once (with ), I could use some practice.

Daisy Daisy

Why does HAL sing “Daisy, Daisy” in 2001: A Space Odyssey? (kottke.org)

In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke was touring Bell Labs when he heard a demonstration of a song sung by an IBM 704 computer programmed by physicist John L. Kelly. The song, the first ever performed by a computer, was called “Daisy Bell”, more commonly known as “Bicycle Built for Two” or “Daisy, Daisy”. When Clarke collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, they had HAL sing it while Dave powered him down.

He links to a page with the relevant recording.