Helping Other Gamers With Consideration for the Visually Impaired

As one of the regular hosts at Games on Demand at GenCon, it was my duty to match games, facilitators (i.e. GMs), and players. Three exchanges of players looking for games stuck out.

One exchange was someone saying “I’m glad I have money so I don’t have to volunteer to get my badge for GenCon.” This left a bitter taste in my mouth, but underneath that derision was a valid point: He wanted to play games. And I happily paired him with a game run by a passionate GM – I think he ended up playing Monsterhearts, which I know was out of his comfort zone; I think he enjoyed it.

Another exchange was with a couple and I assume their teenage child. They were waiting for games and got to the front of the line only to find that they weren’t interested in any of the available games. And they really didn’t want to leave the front of the line. They wouldn’t accept my promise that of all the remaining games, each of the GMs were passionate about running their game. Eventually they left disgruntled without taking a risk.

The third exchange was with a middle aged woman whom had obvious low vision issues – the white cain was my visual clue. I had seen her walking around the entry way, and at one point another host guided her to a place where she could sit and not worry about getting jostled around. And there she sat patiently.

During this particular slot, I was fortunate to have a second person helping with hosting. And as things were brought under control, I approached the woman who was so patiently waiting.

As I sat down with her, I asked about her vision issues, so I could understand how I could pair her up with someone. It turned out that she had something similar to Macular Degeneration – her central vision was gone. I explained that my mom had Retinitis Pigmentosis – my mom has no peripheral vision and only a pinprick of central vision – and was herself nearly blind.

In helping this woman, I thought of my mom, and how she struggles to play games with even the most simple of components.

Clearly any game with a heavy reliance on maps and tactical movement was out of the question. So she was in the right place as most of the offerings were Indie games, in which maps are eschewed; Or more appropriately used as a visual augmentation.

While she was waiting, she had been carefully listening to the tables discussing their games. And she quickly began asking questions.

“Can you tell me about that game over there? It sounds interesting, but I’m afraid I’m not into petty conflict and teenage angst.”  – I explained Monsterhearts, and she said “No thank you.”

“And that one sounds like there is just too many dice for me to manage,” she said in reference to what I assume was Mythender.

We went through a few more, and for one reason or another they weren’t good fits.

I asked her if she had heard of Fiasco, and she said no. Here was a game that required very little in the way of visual information. I then went on to quickly explain it, but it became evident that she wasn’t looking to play a bad person, nor did she want the other characters to be bad.

That greatly narrowed the field; There is something about tragedy tourism that Indie games aspire to. We worked our way through the offerings, and it was clear that she knew what she didn’t want to play.

I had an “A ha!” moment, and went to talk with Marissa of Magpie Games. She was prepping to run a game of Our Last Best Hope. And I asked her for the quick run down of the game and paired that with the woman’s request.

Sure enough, this would work out. The woman was very much interested in playing a character trying to save the earth from a catastrophe – bad things could happen to her character so long as they weren’t inflicted by other non-GM players.

Afterwards, I talked with Marissa and it sounded as if the woman enjoyed the game. And while there are some visual aspects to the game there were others helping, and the game went off rather well.

This exchange left me wondering what other games would work for people with visual impairments.

Other Games For The Visually Impaired

Our Last Best Hope – there are some writing elements, but really this can be handled by other people helping out.

Fiasco – while the setup may be a bit challenging, once the game is rolling, it should be relatively easy for someone to play.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple – yes you are asked to record your story in one sentence, which may be challenging to write, but why not have another person be the scribe.

InSpectres – While the character sheets are very busy, they can be distilled into something quite compact.

Cthulhu Dark – Each character has two concerns; What is my insanity score and what is my profession. Simple characters. Simple rules.

School Daze – Characters are a simple collection of information; Should be easy to mentally juggle. Not a lot of text to wrestle with.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it may prove helpful for those of you looking for a game to play with someone you know who has vision impairments.

Rules Lite Games and the Open Game License

This is in response to my Hollowpoint Reveiw from 2011; I’m presently playing clean-up on some draft blog posts.

FiascoHollowpointDo: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple are each rules-lite games that could  be summarized in about 2 full pages; Hollowpoint is by far the most rules intensive of these three.

Disclaimer: I am not a game publisher nor designer, so I don’t have any skin in the RPG business.

Pros to Releasing the Rules

Distill the fluff from the crunch: What are the core rules and what is the product’s identity. I know I prefer to have the lovingly crafted book, with a well thought out layout vs. a webpage with presentation as an all to often after thought.

Easy for third party adaption: If someone wants to expand on the game, providing a clear path makes it easier; Yes they could just ask the publisher for permission.

Product Preview: By giving access to the rules, crunch-minded people can “test drive before buying.”  If you have a highly stylized presentation, providing just the rules might be detrimental to your game (I’m looking at you my most gorgeous Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple).

Cons to Releasing the Rules

The skeleton of your game is now free to the public.  Will it hurt the sales?

What other consequences are there?

What license do you release under? OGL? Creative Commons 3? GPL? MIT? Apache?

Reality of Releasing the Rules

I am not a lawyer, but I’ve done a bit of research regarding the OGL and copyright.

According to US copyright laws, the language used to describe a rule is copyrightable, but the underlying concept of the rule is not.  So if you can, in your own words, describe a rule, then you are likely not infringing on the copyright holder.  Patents, on the other hand, are a completely different beast.

If I had the inclination, I could rewrite the rules of a game and release them.  It would then be a matter of whether the copyright holder of my source material decided to pursue a copyright infringement case or not.

This reinterpretation would be rather dick-ish and is in direct violation of Wheaton’s law.  Besides, would I rather copy someone else’s work, or would I rather work out my own creation.

Licenses for Rules Release

Acceptable Weight of Conflict Resolution

Role-playing games inevitably contain some form of conflict resolution mechanism.  Even the rules-lite Fiasco has the mechanism of either the player frames the scene or determines how the scene ends.

System Survey

Dungeons and Dragons has hit points as the primary currency for use during conflict resolution.  If you run out of them, you are out of the fight or dead, depending on your version.

Diaspora and other Fate-based cousins, have stress tracks (health, composure, and wealth) along with consequences.  So long as you only take stress, you are fine; But once you have a consequence, the bad times are just beginning.

Burning Wheel has body of argument dice or injury dice, depending on your flavor of conflict.  If you run ouf of body of argument dice, you lose your Duel of Wits; Accumulate too many injury dice and you may be incapacitated or more likely begging for mercy.

Short-Circuiting the Standard Method

In Dungeons and Dragons, there are plenty of methods that short circuit hit points.  The dreaded level drain, in which a month or more of hard work is undone via a specters could embrace;  The annoying stat drain, in which you get a little weaker and have to recalculate your bonuses.  In older editions of D&D this wasn’t so bad, but ability damage in 3E was an actuarial pain in the ass); The save vs. death, throw the dice and pray you live.

In Diaspora, I could hand out consequences, but that goes against the design; I can do stress damage, but the decision of taking a consequence is up to the player.

In Burning Wheel, as part of a failed test, I’ve handed out Light wounds; I haven’t gone so far as giving out a Midi, as I’m a bit skittish about delivery that kind of injury via GM fiat.  Maybe, as my understanding of Burning Wheel develops, I’ll hand out the Midi — after all, that -2D can be a boon when you are attempting to advance a skill.

Providing Enough Player Agency

Dungeons and Dragons, at its core, is merciless.  If you get hit by save vs. death, you’d better hope you’re a high level cleric and a lucky one at that.  Otherwise, bam, you are eaten by a grue.  You can’t get help from your team, nor do you have a luck pool to draw on.  You are dead, and your companions are already looting your body.

Diaspora and Fate in general, provide ample opportunities for a player to fudge a conflict in their direction; One roll of the dice can be modified by free-tagging aspects, spending fate points to tag aspects, or re-roll a horrific dice roll.

Burning Wheel provides numerous ways of improving your odds; First you can solicit help both from others and by FoRKing in your own skills.  Then, you can opt to spend your Artha both before and after the roll.

Resolving a Big Deal with One Roll

For me, both Diaspora and Burning Wheel provide enough touch points in a dice roll for me to say “I’m satisfied with how this conflict was resolved.”  I may not like that my character picked up a moderate consequence, but I had the opportunity to spend Fate points to avoid the consequence.

Contrast this with D&D where I have little recourse against Ability Drain; Either the specter hits me or it doesn’t.

This also highlights the fact that I’m okay with Diaspora and Burning Wheel using a single dice roll to adjudicate a much larger deal than Dungeons and Dragons.  If I, the player, have ample opportunities to influence the test (even if it’s likely to fail), I am much more willing to accept the outcome.

And in Fiasco, I simply want to see everything go up in flames!

Contemplating Scene Economy with Seven Players

I am embarking on a grand journey.  Running a D&D 1E campaign using Burning Wheel with 7 players.  I’d imagine this will cause me some sanity loss.  Recognizing this, I want to make sure I go into the game with a plan.  In particular, I want to make sure everyone has a bit of the spotlight.

The Lead Up

I’ve already wrote about Burning Empires in greater detail, but it was the first RPG that I read that had an explicitly defined scene economy.  In brief, a session is comprised of Conflict, Building, Color, and Interstitial scenes.  Each side can have one Conflict scene per session (though they can have  another one). Major characters have other scenes as well, though those are also strictly rationed.

Another one of Luke Crane’s masterful creations, Mouse Guard introduces the concept of the GMs turn and the Players turn.  The GM frames the first half of the session (i.e. deliver this package, wrestle with the snake).   The players take the reigns in the second half (i.e. resupply, look for a healer).  Here is a review that sums up the session framing.

And then I played Fiasco, a game with a very structured scene economy; Each player will the spotlight for 4 scenes per session.  When it’s a player’s turn for their scene, they can choose to either frame the scene or say how it resolves.

Proposed Solution

Today at lunch I got to thinking about how I’m going to make sure that everyone gets moments to shine; I don’t want to leave anyone behind, and I want some structure to the game itself.

The plan is at the beginning of the session, I’m going to hand out two tokens to each player;  One will be an “Initiate a Scene” token, another will be a “Jump into another Scene” token.

If we are in a lull (i.e. a scene is just wrapped up and “two weeks pass”) then a player may spend their “Initiate a Scene” token.  When initiating the scene, the player can choose to include other characters in the scene as well so long as those characters are available and not off negotiating a treaty or some such nonsense.  (In some cases, I imagine that I might have the brought along character spend their “Initiate a Scene” token.)

Likewise, there are times when a player wants his/her character to jump into a scene.  Spend the “Jump into another Scene” token, and you are there.  You may need to make some kind of test to see how you arrive (i.e. Orienteering or Stealth come to mind).

Once all of the players have spent all of their “Initiate a Scene” tokens, then everyone refreshes their “Initiate a Scene” and “Jump into another Scene.”  The idea is that I want everyone to have their moment.

If a player needs a follow-up scene, but doesn’t have an appropriate token, they can petition the table to have another scene.  This system isn’t intended to be a straight jacket, but instead be a set of focused constraints to ensure everyone is participating.

When spending the “Initiate a Scene” token, the player should state the intent of the scene, instead of just saying “I wanna go into the inn.”

Role Playing Games I Want to Play at GenCon

While I’m at GenCon I want to play the following role-playing games:

Without a plan, this is going to be a problem.  So enter the plan: Offer to run games for people and in doing so see what doors open up.


I’m assuming Fiasco will be the easiest to organize a game with people.  It is “is a GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation.”  The plan for this is I’m going to need to create a button or badge saying “Interested in playing Fiasco?  Ask me.”  Maybe I’d also want something for A Taste for Murder by Graham Walmsley, as it too is a GM-less game.

Lady Blackbird

I’m thinking that instead of playing this one, I’d like to offer to run this game for people at GenCon.  For this game, the characters and situation are already pre-generated, so it is a matter of playing the scenario. The plan for this one is a bit more complicated than Fiasco.  First, I’d probably want to run this once with friends before going to GenCon and running it for strangers.  So I’m going to need to set aside some time for this. Second, much like Fiasco, I’ll likely need to advertise that I’m willing to run this game.  So I’ll probably need a button or badge that says: “Want to play a game of Lady Blackbird?  Let’s find a group, and I’ll run it.”

Apocalypse World

This one is a bit more of a stretch than the previous two.  First of all, I haven’t run it.  So like Lady Blackbird, I’ll need to run a game of it first with friends so I’m ready to run something with strangers.  Second, the game is apparently at it’s best 5 or so sessions into the campaign.  So I can do one the following:

  • Run Blind-Blue and Hatchet City, a one-shot session that begins en media res and according to the author is set in what would be about the 5th session of a standard campaign.
  • Start a game out from the beginning and play to see what happens with the group.

Frankly, running Apocalypse World kind of scares me, as I’m not well versed in apocalyptic imagery/culture.  But I might be able to fake it.  For now, I think I’m going to place this game on the “Maybe I’ll run it” pile.

Dungeon World

Dungeon World is a Dungeons and Dragons inspired Apocalypse World system hack.  It provides the very straight forward moves of Apocalypse World and tight constraints on character creation/definition.  Like Apocalypse World, I haven’t run this game; However, unlike Apocalypse World, I have run Dungeon World’s genre before.  So, if time permits, or if inspiration strikes, I’ll run a Dungeon World game.  Obviously, if I’m ready to do this, I’ll need to advertise my willingness to run a game.

Mouse Guard

I don’t have any plans for running Luke Crane‘s Mouse Guard at GenCon, instead I’d like to play in the game.  I’ve run a handful of Burning Wheel sessions, and played in one Burning Wheel session, so I’d like to see how Mouse Guard plays out.  As an added perk, I believe Mouse Guard’s shiny new box set will be available at Gen Con, so there might be some interest in running it. (Jenny, I have no plans on purchasing it).

Trail of Cthulhu

I have never played a Cthulhu mythos game, and there are plenty of them (below is a few that I’m aware of, there are more):

I’m most intrigued by Trail of Cthulhu as it uses the Gumshoe system which, according to the homepage “revolutionize[s] investigative scenarios, by ensuring that players are never deprived of the clues they need to move the story forward.


I’ve read the rules to Pendragon 5.1 (and was a bit confused).  I’ve read a good chunk of the Great Pendragon Campaign (a multi-generational epic campaign).  I’ve been following Luke Crane’s twitter feed and seen an uptick in Pendragon references.  And more importantly, I’ve heard that the Pendragon game simply gets the feel of the legend of King Arthur right. So given the high regard of the game, and my present confusion of the rules, I think a quick session would be awesome (of course the system shines when it is part of a long running campaign).