The 2008 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming has been given to Grey Ranks (a role-playing game by Jason Morningstar, published by Bully Pulpit Games) and to Wolfgang Baur and his Open Design business model.
GREY RANKS by Jason Morningstar
Jason Morningstar’s roleplaying game of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Grey Ranks, commands attention for many reasons: its fidelity to and evocation of historical detail, its unique and harrowing subject matter, its elegant mechanics of play, its unflinching assessment of war and heroism. But it deserves highest marks for two factors.
First, it is a game of inexorable tragedy, sacrifice, coming-of-age, mortality, and self-destruction. Against a backdrop of doomed heroism in the face of implacable evil, the game builds characters with emotional depth and powerful connections to a world being destroyed around them. Over the course of ten sessions, these characters battle not only fascist invasion but their own inevitable end along with everything they hold dear. These truly mature literary themes are almost unexplored in gaming of any sort, and virtually unseen in roleplaying. If gaming is to approach the other arts in depth and richness, it will be games like Grey Ranks that make such an approach possible.
Second, the game’s emotional grid mechanic anchors a solid, powerful rules design that drives such themes home in play. With no GM to intermediate between the characters and the abyss, every player must assume personal responsibility for his character’s fate. The rules force choices between personal goals and the greater good, and the emotional grid precisely limits the moral damage the character suffers as a consequence of those choices.
This is state-of-the-art narrativist game design, married to a topic worthy of such. Jason Morningstar has not created a game that lazily appropriates the historical horror at its heart, he has created rules that reveal that horror, rules that recreate that horror in the players’ hearts and minds. Aristotle said that all true tragedy must end in terror and pity. It’s hard to believe that Aristotle never played Grey Ranks.
OPEN DESIGN/Wolfgang Baur
Wolfgang Baur began his career in gaming as the assistant editor at Dragon Magazine, working under the auspices of Roger Moore and Barbara Young. He moved up through the ranks until he took the helm of Dragon. Eventually he left that position to work as an editor at Wizards of the Coast. After writing countless game supplements and articles, he then left Wizards in 2006 and plunged into freelancing full time.
In trying to find an innovative way to fund the kind of game design Baur wanted to pursue, he went back hundreds of years to dig up the concept of patronage, add a few modern twists to it, and apply it to the problem. In Open Design—as he calls his system—Baur posts a number of ideas for potential projects and publicizes them along with a monetary threshold for each. As the sponsors chip in, they vote on which project Baur should pursue. When the funding for the chosen project reaches its threshold, he starts work in earnest.
Baur supplements his exemplary work by letting his patrons suggest various directions for each project and then allowing them to look over this shoulder as he chips away at developing it. Those who pay more have deeper access to his thoughts and notes and can comment on the manuscript more as it develops. In this way, each project becomes a master-level class on roleplaying game adventure or supplement design for those privileged to be a part of it. In the end, Baur’s patrons also wind up with an exclusive, patron-owned-only professionally designed product they can truly say they helped bring to life.
In addition to this, at a time when print magazines seemed doomed, Baur has brought many of the most popular writers and designers back for an all-new magazine called Kobold Quarterly. After a single year in print, the magazine is growing strong, showing Baur’s dedication to both his roots and the roots of adventure gaming, as well as to breathing new life into them in new and interesting ways.
4th July 2008, London: After much debate the shortlist for the eighth annual Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming, covering the year 2007, has been announced.
The Diana Jones Award is given to whatever the Diana Jones Committee believes has best demonstrated ‘excellence in gaming’ in the previous year. This year the committee has shortlisted six potential winners. In alphabetical order, they are:
by Rich Rogers, Chris Perrin, and Chris Norwood
Canon Puncture (canonpuncture.blogspot.com) is a podcast by Rich Rogers, Chris Perrin, and Chris Norwood. Across 27 episodes in 2007 they nailed uncommonly good interviews with game designers from Jared Sorensen to Red 5 Studios to Kevin Siembieda, skillfully working some of the wider history of the hobby and conveying a sense of its true porousness and possibilities. Their “round table” conversations about the industry are tempered with honest concerns, but still express “heart on the sleeve” enthusiasm spanning more than twenty years of engagement with the hobby. And their conversations about actual play, successes as well as failures and frustrations, reveal uncanny insight into the social workings of play.
Child’s Play (www.childsplaycharity.org) is a charity appeal to gamers, benefiting children’s hospitals in (so far) six nations. It was founded in 2003 by the creators of the Penny Arcade game review comic. Its objective is to give gamers a chance to show the world, by helping children, that they are caring people, not ultra-violent zombies controlled by evil video games. Although the charity accepts cash donations and holds special events to raise money, most donations are made by clicking, through the Child’s Play site, onto a hospital’s Amazon.com wish list. The wish lists include not only handheld videogame devices, but also DVDs, books, and toys of many kinds. The donor selects what he wants to give, and Amazon.com does the rest. Thus, the administrative overhead of Child’s Play is a very small percentage of total donations—and those donations were over $1,300,000 last year. The Penny Arcade creators, Jerry “Tycho” Holkins and Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, have very intelligently leveraged their huge audience in the service of Good.
COME OUT AND PLAY
The festival Come Out and Play (www.comeoutandplay.org) is the primary showcase for the new movement of pervasive games (a.k.a. street games). Held in New York in 2006, Amsterdam in 2007, and back in New York in 2008, it mixes up urban spaces with technology and new media to turn cities into playgrounds, game boards, and giant arcades. Whether the game is PacManhattan (a live-action version of the classic video game using cellphones to track player positions), Journey to the End of Night (which takes a traditional schoolyard game and stretches it out over several hours and miles of a darkened city), or any of a hundred more, anyone who takes part in Come Out and Play will never feel the same about the urban environment again.
by Jason Morningstar
Published by Bully Pulpit Games
Jason Morningstar’s roleplaying game of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Grey Ranks, commands attention for many reasons—its fidelity to and evocation of historical detail, its unique and harrowing subject matter, its elegant mechanics of play, and its unflinching assessment of war and heroism—but it deserves highest marks for two factors. First, it is a game of inexorable tragedy, sacrifice, coming-of-age, mortality, and self-destruction. These truly mature literary themes are almost unexplored in gaming of any sort, and virtually unseen in roleplaying. If gaming is to approach the other arts in depth and richness, it will be games like Grey Ranks that make such an approach possible. Second, its emotional grid mechanic anchors a solid, powerful rules design that drives such themes home in play. Jason Morningstar has not created a game that lazily appropriates the historical horror at its heart, he has created rules that reveal that horror, rules that re-create that horror in its players’ hearts and minds. Aristotle said that all true tragedy must end in terror and pity. It’s hard to believe that Aristotle never played Grey Ranks.
OPEN DESIGN/WOLFGANG BAUR
Open Design began as an experiment in funding the development of roleplaying game supplements. Wolfgang Baur—a highly respected, long-time Dungeons & Dragons editor and designer for TSR and then Wizards of the Coast—went back hundreds of years to dig up the concept of patronage, add a few modern twists to it, and apply it to the problem. He posts a project and publicizes it along with a monetary threshold. When the funding his patrons chip in reaches that threshold, he starts on the project in earnest. Baur supplements his exemplary work by letting his patrons suggest various directions for each project and then allowing them to look over this shoulder as he works. Each project becomes a master-level class on adventure design for those privileged to be a part of it.
SECOND PERSON: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media
Edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin
Published by MIT Press
The fact that MIT Press is publishing serious work about roleplaying games and other “playable media” is a signpost for how far games of all sorts have come over the past 40 years. The essays herein tackle everything from Dungeons & Dragons and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories to World of Warcraft and The Howard Dean for Iowa Game. The book also contains three full-fledged roleplaying games—Puppetland, Bestial Acts, and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen—making them the first to be published by an academic press. In such a young field as games, it’s essential that we develop a serious discussion about their meaning and how they work, and Second Person delivers that necessary, seminal volume to kickstart such a movement.
The winner was announced at a private ceremony packed with games industry professionals, from designers to publishers and distributors. This was held in Indianapolis at 9 PM Wednesday, August 13, the day before the opening of the Gen Con game convention. By the committee’s estimate, more people attended this year’s event than ever before.
As one of the few publicly known members of the Diana Jones Award committee, Matt Forbeck revealed this year’s winners before the packed house. Both Jason Morningstar and Wolfgang Baur were in attendance, and each made a short acceptance speech to the crowd’s delight.
Afterward, the celebration continued into the night.
Many thanks to the sponsors of this year’s ceremony: Adam Jury and Posthuman Studios, Adept Press, CCP, Matt Forbeck, GAMA, Gen Con, Hidden City Games, Phil Lacefield, Rogue Games, Janice Sellers, Stonehouse Miniatures, and Paul Tevis.