Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Announcing Three New Designers

Ginger Goat is pleased to announce that we have hired three new freelance designers to help us with our current projects. Dymphna Coy, Ruth Tillman, and Avonelle Wing each bring amazing storytelling ability and game design skill to our little company, and we're honored to work with them.

Dymphna is co-designing a game with Josh T. Jordan that we haven't announced yet. We can say that it is a one-shot game about a funeral set in a Conan-esque world.

Ruth and Avonelle are teaming up to help me design supplements for Dangers Untold. I'm behind on fulfilling some of the perks for Kickstarter backers of DU, and these talented designers are currently in the process of saving my bacon. The supplements they design will be available to backers first, but will eventually be available for sale to all fans of Shoshana Kessock's beginner-friendly larp.

These three designers each did an outstanding job during our recent open call, and I (Josh) am personally thrilled to be able to work with each of them. I know that they will help us help you to tell the honest, sweet, heartbreaking, funny, diverse stories that we all love so much.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Inspiration for Plot Driven Games

If you're looking for inspiration for designing an original story game, I suggest this book, 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them. It's designed as a handbook for fiction writers, and it includes descriptions and writer's checklists for 20 different plots, like romance, exploration, and "wretched excess."
Most rpgs follow the exploration plotline or one or two of the others. If you are the sort of story game designer who can write rules at the plot level rather than the character level, you could use one of the other 18 plots as the basis of your game.
That's not to say I dislike character driven, actor-stance games. Just to say that I think there's room on the market for more plot driven, writer-stance and director-stance games.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Seeking New Game Designer

This morning I mentioned on Google Plus and Twitter that Ginger Goat is looking for a new designer to work on two paid projects.
Here is some additional information about the projects and how to apply.

The first project involves around two to three hours of work and pays on completion. I will pay $40 or one third the commission I receive on the finished game, whichever is more.

The second project requires roughly ten hours of work and I will pay $140.

To apply, write to gingergoatpress@gmail.com with your answer to the following two questions:
1. You are writing a romance game set in a Conan-esque low, dark fantasy. Briefly describe an odd love triangle you would design for the pregenerated characters.

2. What is one theme or element you would like to sneak into all the games you design?

Here is the original Google Plus post in case you missed it.

Ginger Goat is actively seeking one or two young or new game designers to help with a couple story game projects.

You like story games and/or freeform
You are unpublished or have published less than three games.
You are willing to be paid.

Both projects involve designing descriptions for PC background and relationships. These are sort of like oracles or relationship maps.
Both projects will be paid and you will receive credit for your work.
One is a one-shot sword and sorcery game.
The other involves Dangers Untold.

I hope it goes without saying that Ginger Goat encourages people from a diversity of backgrounds to apply.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Making Instructions Memorable

Game designers all know that you should edit until you have a game that works as you intend and until the instructions are clear. But most game designers stop there. I suggest you also edit until your rules are easy to remember. 
I would argue that for most games, your players should not have to look at the game text after the first five minutes of the game. You should write rules so that players don't need to constantly look through the book. 
Sure, there are games that are exceptions to this. Some players revel in referencing 500-page tomes during play. But since most of my audience are story gamers and free form players, I challenge you to structure your rules so they are memorable enough that your book is rarely needed in play.
How can we do that? It turns out that there has been a lot of research in the field of education on how to teach people in a way they can remember. Here are six tips for making your content more memorable:


People remember the text at the beginning of a section better than anywhere else. The most important rules should be placed here. The things that players need to use the most often should also be here.


When you have strong feelings about a subject, your memory about that subject also tends to be stronger. One way to use this is to include examples of play where players are having fun playing your game or who are frustrated that they are confused. Give the reader someone to empathize with, and they will be able to remember the rules better.


Your brain tends to notice anything that is new or strange. If you have an important rule buried in the middle of less important stuff, figure out a new or strange way to highlight it visually. You need to give the reader clues about any new information that you want them to focus on.


If the connection between sections makes sense, or if the sections relate to things that the reader already know, the memory is stronger. The easier it is for the reader to see connections, the deeper the memory tends to be. Make sure the sections of your game text are arranged in a way that makes sense to the reader.


Facts out of context are difficult to remember, but if the reader has a reason to care about a subject, it is much easier to remember. In other words, if we know why we should remember something and we agree that it is important, it is much easier to remember. Whenever you have given your reader a complicated rule or a long section of text, make sure you include an explanation as to why this text is important. Why have you included ten pages of grappling rules? Why should the reader care?


People remember the text at the very end of a section almost as well as they remember the beginning. The second-most important information should go here.

Bonus Tip: Break It Up!

Because people remember beginnings and endings so well, you can sometimes trick people into remembering more by breaking up large sections into smaller sub-sections. Breaking things up creates more beginnings and endings. This doesn't sound like it would work, but it does.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Surreal Heroine

Here is a setting hack for Heroine or Dangers Untold, in case you want to tell a more surreal story.


The easiest way for a Narrator to add a sense of surrealism to the story is by Challenging the Heroine and Companions in ways that match thematically with the story you're trying to tell.  In Heroine, Themes are inspirational tools for the Narrator. Whenever you are trying to figure out what sort of problems to throw at the other players, choose one of the themes and build a Challenge that reflects it. To make a surreal story, full of surreal Challenges replace some or all of the default Themes, Fear, Confusion, and Selfishness with the following:
Fluidity – places, people, and objects around you move and change shape. They may also change size. There is not always a clear path between two places, even if they are next to each other.
Perplexity – Some events around you are frustratingly hard to understand. If you continue to try to figure out certain things, you will become more and more frustrated.
Causality – your choices, and the choices of other thinking beings have serious, lasting consequences. When someone acts, things happen. These things can help or harm you.

Be Successful

The easiest way for the Heroine to add some surreal elements to the story is by describing her successes in a more thematic way. In a surreal game, when you use the move Be Successful in to overcome a Challenge, describe your success using one of the following:
Step through the Wall - You move to a new location, even if there was no obvious door
Meet the Dragon - Someone new and strange appears. This new creature draws everyone's attention for a moment
Juggle the Walls - Something bizarre happens, and it benefits you or makes you look awesome. You may briefly describe what happens.

Don't Be Human

Companion players have the most flexible role in the game. You do not really need any special rules in order to fit in well with a surreal story. Just take your cues from the Heroine's introduction scene and, if you want, wait to see what locations the Narrator uses for the first chapter or two. You can use these locations as further inspiration for a surreal Companion.
For the sake of symmetry, here is one new rule for Companions in a surreal game.
Don't Be Human - You may not choose to play a human being as a Companion in a surreal game.

Photo courtesy of 
carriecha on Flickr

Speeding Home

Speeding home.
A hungry look,
Riding in her car.
Her eyes are inhumanly green,
She chose me for my heart,
Invited me to a special family dinner.
We met at camp, left yesterday.
Excited to meet her family.
The mansion is dark.
She’s so beautiful.
Who’s that?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Phenom: Tabletop Improv

Phenom: Tabletop Improv

A game for two groups of two.

Beta Draft

With your partner, think of three interesting places to set a story. Then, find at least two kinds of story that you both like. Finally, think of think of five names for potential characters.

Now trade your list with the other pair. With your partner, choose one place, one kind of story, and three names from the list in front of you. Circle your choices on the list. Cross out the options on the list that you did not choose. 

Now add to this list by writing down a list of three kinds of character that are common in the kind of story you’ve chosen. Add to that list three kinds of character that are common in the place you’ve chosen. Finally, write at least two examples of the kind of conflict or problem that characters face in the kind of story you’ve chosen.

When both pairs are finished adding to the list in front of them, trade back. Look at what sort of story the other pair has chosen for you to tell them. Now use their character list and examples of conflict to plan a brief story with your partner. Spend no more than five minutes planning. You do not need to use all of the other pair’s suggestions,  and you may modify them however you wish. Be ready to tell a story that meets the following formula:
·      Introduce the characters in the story
·      Show a problem that the characters are facing.
·      Show the problem getting worse.
·      Show one of the characters making an important, transformative choice in order to resolve the problem.
·      Briefly show the results of that choice.

Spend more time planning the first two parts of the story. You will make up most of the details for the last three parts as you go. When you and your partner have a very rough outline, stop talking and wait politely for the other group to finish.

When both pairs are ready, the pair with the oldest player goes first. Begin to act out your story. As soon as the other group feels the characters have been introduced, they should give you a brief hand of applause. When they applaud, immediately move on to acting out the problem your characters are facing. When they understand the problem, they will applaud again. As soon as this happens, stop talking. After a momentary break, it is their turn to begin their story. When you believe the characters have been introduced, applaud. They should then move on to showing the problem.  Once you understand the problem the characters are facing, applaud again. They should then immediately stop.
Now, put seven minutes on the clock, or in some way give yourself an alarm for seven minutes. You and your partner should act out the remaining three steps of your story (problem getting worse, character making a choice, the results of the choice) before that timer runs out. The other pair then does the same, but they only have five minutes.

How do I act out the story?

You and your partner should act as the characters in the story.  Talk to each other, argue, play, cry, and do whatever else your characters would do. If you need to narrate something that happens in the story, look at the other pair. Only look at them when you are narrating. Otherwise, look at your partner or somewhere else.

Say whatever comes to mind. Do whatever seems obvious to you. Don’t worry about whether your boring or whether you look silly. Neither of these matter during this game.

Keep in mind that anything your partner narrates, happens. Anything you narrate, happens. Build on each other. Go a bit crazy. Don’t feel like you have to stick to your rough outline.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hear me interview Shoshana Kessock

Shoshana Kessock, the writer of Dangers Untold, is Kickstarting a Dickensian-steampunk-magic roleplaying game called Smoke and Glass. Hear me interview her about the game and her other current projects. Then go check out her Kickstarter!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Diversity in Games: A Checklist

This checklist is designed to help game designers and other game facilitators to effectively identify and respond to diversity in your game. It focuses on various aspects of your game environment, including materials, teaching strategies and facilitator/player behaviors.

Game Materials

  • Are contributions and perspectives of women and cultures other than Euro-Americans integrated into game books and other game aides? 
  • Are women, ethnic minorities and people of diverse socioeconomic classes and religions portrayed in a non-stereotypical manner?
  • Do the setting materials include appropriate information about religion when religion is integral to the context of the subject?
  • Do game books or game aides focus on “famous people,” usually those of privileged class status; or are the accomplishments and hard work of poor and working-class people given equal focus and respect?
  • Do the setting materials include cultures represented by families in your school and community?
  • Are there setting materials available for limited-English-proficient players in their native languages?
  • Are teaching materials selected that allow all players to participate and feel challenged and successful?

Facilitators as Role Model—Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Am I knowledgeable about the religious, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds of my players and people in my community?
  • In my own life, do I model respect for, and inclusion of, people who are different (religion, race, language, abilities, socioeconomic class)?
  • Do players perceive me as sincerely interested in, and respectful of, contributions made by women and the ethnic, religious, racial and socioeconomic groups that make up the country?
  • Do I know where to find resources regarding:

Š  multicultural studies?
Š  disabled/players/specific handicaps?
Š  religion?
Š  other languages?
Š  gender bias?
  •  Do I respectfully accommodate differently abled players in my game?
  •  Do I recognize and acknowledge the value of languages other than standard English?
  •  Can I recognize and constructively address value conflicts based on race, religion or socioeconomic class?

Facilitator/Player Interactions

  • Am I careful not to prejudge a player’s performance based on cultural differences, socioeconomic status or gender?
  • Do I promote high self-esteem for everyone in my game?  Do I help each participant to feel good about who he/she is?
  • Do I encourage players to understand and respect the feelings of others who are different from them?
  • Do my players see me as actively confronting instances of stereotyping, bias and discrimination when they occur?
  • Given what I ask players to talk and write about, do I avoid placing value on having money, spending money or major consumer products?
  • Do I put myself in the place of the limited-English-proficient player and ask, “How would I feel in this game?Do I make an effort to learn some words in the home languages that my limited-English proficient players speak?
  • Am I conscious of the degree and type of attention I am giving to members of each gender in game interactions? Do I have an equitable system for calling on players?
  • Do I use gender-neutral language?
  • Do I write and speak about religion, rather than teaching religion or ignoring religion altogether?
  • When writing about religion, do I

Š      place religion within historical and cultural context?
Š      Give players opportunities to include religion?
Š      avoid making qualitative comparisons among religions?
Š      avoid demanding information about the religious affiliations or beliefs of my players?

Encourage People To Be Proactive

  •  Do I encourage people to identify instances of prejudice and discrimination?
  •  Do I help my players develop proper responses to instances of prejudice and discrimination?

General Strategies

  • Do I involve other community members to help players develop greater understanding of the benefits and challenges of living in a culturally diverse society?
  • Do I inform readers of my multicultural, anti-bias design?
  • Do I support and encourage the hiring of minority facilitators and designers?
  • Do I build a secure and supportive atmosphere by creating a noncompetitive game environment?
  • Do I use opportunities such as current events to discuss different cultures and religions?
  • Do I provide players with opportunities to problem-solve issues of inclusiveness?
  • Do I use activities that demonstrate how the privilege of groups of higher economic status is directly connected to the lack of privilege of lower socioeconomic status people?
  • Do I have players examine and analyze the representation of class, race, gender, ability and language differences in media and their community?
  • Do I recognize that tracking reinforces “classism” and is counterproductive to player learning at all ability levels?
  • Do I utilize  literature to help players understand and empathize with individuals who have experienced prejudice and discrimination and to discuss important social issues?

Based on:

Matsumoto-Grah, Karen. Diversity in the Classroom:  A Checklist. U.S. Department of Education, Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, December 6, 2002 

Photo by Viewminder. Used by permission.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unplayed Games

You have a bunch of old roleplaying games collecting dust on your shelf. You have more hiding in the attic or under your bed. You love these old games. Filled with clever worlds and pretty pictures, these games probably won't make it to your gaming table any time soon, but you can't force yourself to throw them away.
What can you do with them? Could you steal character concepts, pictures, even whole worlds and insert them in your next game, using whatever system you currently want to actually play?
If you still play these original games, good for you! More power to you. But if you doubt that you'll ever play them again, despite still loving parts of them, then join me. Let's take what we want out of those old games to make something awesome and new.
I want to start repurposing concepts and art from old games for my current home games.* Even if I simply pull out my old copies of Rifter magazine in order to find character portraits, I need to stop ignoring my old books as a gaming resource. Just because I don't want to roll with punch/fall or keep track of 0th level spells, that doesn't make these books worthless. They are filled with ideas that past-me has paid big money for. There are probably character concepts in them that I never got to play, but that I could somehow port over into my current games.
So what do you want to adapt from an old book? Are your Call of Cthulhu books just begging to be turned into a Primetime Adventures season? Do you have Heroes Unlimited characters waiting to be plugged into a FAE campaign? Can you translate your old Elven Swordsinger into an Apocalypse character?
Let me know what you come up with. My Toon character looks forward to meeting your Dogboy.

*Don't post someone else's art online without permission. Don't claim credit for someone's work. Don't steal. Seriously. Or I will send my robots of justice after you.
Image by Michael Heilemann. Used by permission.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hacking the Fiction

Have you ever considered hacking the fiction of a game and leaving the rules as written? For example, what if you kept the combat mechanics of a game, but used them to refer to something inside your story besides damage and death?
Let's take your favorite dungeon crawl game as an example. Rather than telling a story about adventurers in a dungeon, we're going to tell a story about a group of politicians on the campaign trail. We'll call this game Demi-Humans & Democracy. Imagine that the rules work exactly the same, but that we may rename certain terms so that they describe different events in the fiction.
Rather than hit points, our game has support points. If you reduce a target to 0 support points, you don't kill it, you turn it into a contributor to your campaign. The treasure that you would normally receive from killing a monster instead represents money they donate to you.
Rather than ranged and melee attacks, our game has speeches and conversations. Speeches take place over a distance, and conversations happen within about 5 feet. NPCs respond with objections (ranged) and complaints (melee) that function just like speeches and conversations. Use whichever term makes more sense in the fiction.
Rather than bows and swords, you use megaphones and wristwatches. Depending upon the dungeon crawl game you use as your base, you may end up with a +1 Mighty megaphone or a dragonbane wristwatch. Likewise, you don't use armor, but there a variety of business suits that are statistically identical.
Do you get where I'm going with this? There are some other things we would have to rename, like stats, saving throws, and some spells. But we could probably leave skills nearly unchanged, assuming your political game happens in a fantasy Mideival setting.
You may initially think that there would be some problems separating Charisma skills and combat rules, but as long as you are clear that charisma gives you volunteers and speeches and conversations give you financial contributions to your campaign, I don't really think there will be a problem with the fictional balance of the game.
So what do you think? Do you like this sample of hacking the fiction but leaving rules as written? What better example would you like to try? Let me know. You can find me on Google+ or on Twitter as @joshtjordan.

Image by vintagedept. Used by permission.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet Me at GenCon

My wife and I will both be at GenCon in Indianapolis this year. Whether or not I've met you in person before, please don't be shy. My wife and I love meeting new people! (And I'll probably have copies of all my games to sell, though you can also find them at the Indie Press Revolution booth.)

If you see either of these two goofy people at GenCon, come on up and say hi. Or reach out to me on Google+ or on Twitter, so we can try to find a time to meet.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Good News plus My Mistake

Good News! Dangers Untold is now available as a pdf at DriveThruRPG. It will be available in print very soon from Indie Press Revolution. I'm proud to be able to publish this book. Shoshana Kessock has a beautiful gem of a game here.
Now, my mistake...
I made a mistake on the credits page of Dangers Untold, and I feel terrible. I forgot to list Lillian Cohen-Moore as copy editor. We hired Ms. Cohen-Moore late in the project, and she made serious contributions to the clarity of the final text, especially in the examples of play.
We are fixing my mistake as soon as possible, so that future copies of the game will list her as copy editor. In the meanwhile, I'm asking you to do two things.
First, if you own a physical copy of Dangers Untold, please take out a pen, turn to the credits page and write in "Copy Editor Lillian Cohen-Moore"
Second, if you see Lillian (or Shoshana or JR or anyone else involved in this book) in person, thank them for me for creating such a lovely girl-positive, beginner-friendly game. I truly believe that the world needs more games like this and that the people who create them deserve some time in the spotlight.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

10 Ways to Get into Character

I believe that different kinds of storytellers have a lot to learn from each other. Novelists can help preachers. Comedians can help songwriters. And I think we should all be willing to ask each other for advice.
My sister Jo Jordan is an experienced stage actress and occasional gamer. I've asked her for advice about getting into character. She sent me a top ten list that I believe tabletop and live-action roleplayers should adapt to their games. [Comments in brackets below are my editorial.]

10 Ways to Get Into Character

By Jo Jordan

1.      Read the whole play. Twice.

This is the most important advice I can give. A successful show is one where the actors completely live in the world they create during the rehearsal process. Whether you’re the lead or an extra, your scenes are not the only important scenes or lines in the show. Every person involved in the show needs to know the whole shape of the show. Otherwise it can be a square peg round/round hole situation. No matter how well you know your lines or understand your scene, it will stick out like a sore thumb if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the show. [We may not have a script, but we have a game book and the other players' character sheets.]

2.      Write down every single fact mentioned about your character

This is the baseline of your character. Everything you have to know should be written within the pages of the script. It’s a little like solving a mystery. You have to find all the clues to your character and then put them together as a whole. [Do you know how your character and her background fit into the fiction of the game?]

3.      Write down facts implied about your character. Read between the lines

While everything you have to know about your character is written in the script, everything you want to know is written in-between the lines. Sometimes this can be the way another character reacts to yours. Other times it can be how your character reacts to someone else. Another way to extrapolate is to make decisions about the written facts. For example, is your character eating eggs and bacon this morning? Okay, now take it further. Does your character eat eggs and bacon every morning? Or is it a special breakfast? Does your character hate eggs and bacon and that’s what put her in a bad mood for the scene? All of these are plausible, acceptable inferences to make. The coolest thing is that you get to make those little decisions, even if they’re never addressed during the course of the show. [What has happened with other players during character creation or previous game sessions? What does that tell you about your character's normal, daily life?]

4.      Make choices about the subtext of your character's actions

This is another way of reading between the lines. This is one of your best tools. Your line might be, “No, thank you.” However, your subtext might be, “In what world could you possibly think that I would ever want to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Tuesday?!” Subtext is a way to say what you want within the constraint of your lines. A single line can have the meaning and power of a monologue if you take the time to discover and explore all the subtext of your lines.

5.     Recognize similarities between you and your character

One great way to get into character is to make a list of all the ways you and your character are alike. Similarities can become the subconscious of your character because once you figure them out you don’t have to focus on them so much. For example, if you are right-handed, and so is your character, you can accept and disregard it. It isn’t a facet of your character that you have to learn; it is just something you know.

6.      Recognize differences, too

On the opposite side, differences can help you get into character, too. These are the conscious side of your character. Especially if your character has a limp or a stutter and you don’t. Becoming you character can take a considerable amount of work until you master that limp or stutter, but it can also be the most important characteristic to portray.

7.      Your character is always right

Villain or hero, your character always believes in themselves and believes what they are doing is justified. Take Loki in the Avengers. He absolutely believes his actions are justified. If you were to play him in such a way that shows you personally disagree with his actions, the character wouldn’t come across as honest or could come across as weak. Believe in your character more than your character believes in himself.

8.      Behave honestly under unreal circumstances

Let’s face it; the world of acting is not particularly real. That’s why it is called a play! But to truly get into character, it is extremely important to accept the unreal circumstances as reality and behave as honestly as possible within those conditions. This includes being madly in love with that gross boy from your history class or acting like a murderous drug dealer when nothing could be further from the truth. While the world of the play may not be the truth of reality, it is the truth of reality to your character.

9.      Anger is the weakest choice

Characters are emotional beings. You typically get to decide what emotions are brewing. A common directive is (she says angrily). In my opinion, this is a terrible directive. However, it can give you some leeway. Anger is a cover for a lot of emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, hurt, shame…the list goes on. My favorite choice for an angry directive is to choose two or three other emotions that could be driving the anger and play those instead. It still comes across as anger, but it is nuanced and subtle and much more honest.

10. Take your character for a spin in the real world

Once you’ve become comfortable with your character, take her out in the real world for a spin. Try your accent on a barista. Use your limp at the grocery store. See how a complete stranger treats you when they don’t know it’s a character. This can be extremely informative to you. All of those real life experiences can inform and shape how you play your character within the context of the play, adding depth and breadth to her.