Coming up on the Black Armada Patreon…

Hey everyone!

We’re still on a pause here while we unstick our creative muscles, but we are working on stuff and we expect to get things going again soon. This is to give you a preview of what we’re thinking about and working on.

Before we do though, we just wanted to say thank you to everyone here for supporting us. We were just updating the Black Armada Hall Of Fame, where we record the names of everyone who has ever supported us here. There’s now been 130 people who have given their support at some point. Whether you jumped on for a month and gave us a few bucks, or have been here for the long haul, we truly appreciate it.

Josh’s main design project right now is Untitled Space Investigation Game. This is a far future game at the border between SF and fantasy. You’re state agents investigating threats to sapient life and freedom such as: demons, rogue AIs, cults, sorcerers, ancient technology, and so forth. You might play an ancient war machine, a space necromancer, a technarchologist, or a super spy. UTSIG is playing in the space of emergent mystery mechanics such as those seen in Brindlewood Bay and Apocalypse Keys, but Josh is iterating it and folding in DNA from Lovecraftesque, to try and being more of a procedural investigation feel. He’s also grabbing a bunch of ideas from Forged In The Dark. Currently playtesting version 1!

Becky has been working on Untitled Post-Apocalyptic Circus Game, based on the same system Josh has developed for Untitled Space Investigation Game. You play the members of a traveling circus bringing joy to the struggling settlements littering the post-apocalypse. Life on the road binds you together as a tight-knit, found family. But something darker binds you still deeper. Each show you perform is a magical act and an act of magic. Your circus is responsible for maintaining the magical prison preventing the demon Belphagor from finishing what he started and destroying the world. His agents are everywhere and you are just a band of scrappy circusfolk trying to make it amongst the devastation. Roll up, roll up, and enjoy the show!

Meanwhile we’re cooking up a bunch of smaller games, such as:

  • Grimbark, where you play power armoured doggos defending their owner the immortal emperor from threats such as cars, postal workers and cats.

  • Chekov’s angels, in which you play super-spies working for Chekov, a man you’ve never actually met. Create a deck of unlikely items you have to use to foil the plots of dastardly villains and their highly trained bodyguards.

  • Sunrise, a solarpunk game that uses the same system as our previous releases Biome and Polis. Optimistic post-apocalypse where you build and develop a community.

  • Side quests, a little book full of inter-connected tables for generating interesting NPCs with fun problems that your characters might like to help with.

  • VIIIIth, in which you are members of the ancient order that prevented the rise of the old god Henry VIII through the use of ritual marriage; 500 years later, you must stop his successor.

  • The Working Dead, in which the dead have risen and been found fit to work by the Department of Work and Pensions. What awful jobs must you do to earn a crust?

While we’re here, I’d like to mention that it’s awards season! We’re putting Wreck This Deck forward for the big awards, and if Josh finds time he’ll put forward our other stuff too. Amongst others, The Crit Awards is open – we’d love it if you nominated us. The deadline is 31 May (ignore the dates at the top of the form, those are for when the product has to have been released, not your nomination). There’s a list of our eligible stuff below if you need your memory jogging.

Thanks again and we’re looking forward to sharing new games with you very soon!

Josh and Becky

List of crit award-eligible stuff

Our games released in the eligible period:

  • Solo RPGs: Wreck This Deck, Not Your Witch, Advent Of Abomination, Monsterball, Gelatinous, and Familiar Friends.

  • Multiplayer RPGs are: Imposters and Polis.

And for our Black Armada Tales AP podcast:

  • Best one shot – Lovecraftesque or Gladiators 2050

  • Best series – Last Fleet

  • Best NPC – any you like, but we particularly loved the hapless Captain Winther, the commanding officer of the Tychon

  • Best Villain – any you like, but we think Dr Roy (despite being a PC) would be a great nomination

  • Best Utilization of Accessibility Features and Safety Tools – any you like

  • Best game master (indie) – Josh Fox

  • Best player (indie) – Becky Annison, Eadwin Tomlinson, Josh Fox, Nick Bate, Sue Elliott

Rules do not elide

A rule can be a statement of what you can do, what you must do, or what you must not do, and it may also describe *how* you must do a thing. Rules have all kind of uses. In tabletop roleplaying games, one of those uses is to simplify arguments about how things ought to play out in the fictional situations we imagine and describe at the table. This has led to the claim that “rules elide”, and from what I can glean from the froth and din of internet discourse, some people think this is a very important claim*. But I am going to argue this is, at best, a partial representation of what rules do.

Why might we say that rules elide? Well, if you haven’t already, you can go and read the article where this idea was first publicly described (though it has now been deleted and is only available on backup, so don’t harangue the author** about it – which, come to think of it, don’t do that anyway). From reading that article, I take the essence of the “rules elide” claim to be this:

  • Without any rules, we describe the fiction in intricate detail, carefully characterising each little bit of what is happening. For example, we might describe each step, slip, swing and cut of a sword fight.
  • Rules enable us to shortcut that by instead rolling a die and saying “I win”, skipping out all the detail in between.
  • Therefore, rules elide the details of the fiction. Not necessarily all the details – and indeed, by eliding some parts, they effectively highlight what is left – but nevertheless, this is their role. Rules elide.

Whenever one describes another person’s argument there’s a risk that this leads to simplification or misrepresentation but I think the above is a fair summary of the “rules elide” argument.

The problem is that the first bullet isn’t true.

Without any rules, we might indeed describe the fiction in intricate detail. But we might not! In the linked article, an imagined player group describe the picking of a lock by working through the movements of pins and tumblers and whatnot. But that is certainly not how I would handle the picking of a lock. Here are a few ways I would think about doing it:

  • I might make a quick decision either way and describe what happens. “Nope, you can’t pick it, and your lockpick snaps.” “Cool, it opens.”
  • I might describe the lock and ask the player picking the lock what happens. “This is a top quality valyrian steel lock. How good a lockpicker are you, do you think you can open it?”
  • I might present a “yes, and” or “no, but” sort of approach. “Sure, you can open it, but it is going to take a while and you can hear the footsteps of the guards approaching, what do you do?”

You could of course argue that somewhere in there I’m using rules. My ability to “make a quick decision” rests on some rule, whether explicitly stated or implied, that I have a right to make a decision (probably because I’m the GM). But in reality if we started trying to roleplay together without discussing any rules at all, it is very very likely that at some point someone would skip over most of the fictional detail and make such a decision. Indeed, the decision to say “you find a locked door” is such a moment. The casual elision of details is actually a fundamental part of storytelling and imaginative play, regardless of whether you think there are rules involved.

So it’s not the case that roleplaying without rules is inherently very detailed.

But more than that: rules can actually supply detail where none would otherwise exist.

Consider the classic case of a game of cops and robbers. “Bang bang! You’re dead.” “No I’m not!” In this game, we skip over enormous amounts of detail. I point my two fingers at you and say bang bang, you fall over or you don’t. At no point do we consider what kind of gun or ammunition we’re using, what armour we might be wearing, how good my aim is, the potential elements affecting my aim such as distractions or (at longer ranges) wind. We are eliding the heck out of that gun fight.

I defy anyone to look at the crunchier roleplaying game manuals and tell me that these games elide compared to this simple roleplaying activity. Looking at my old copy of Shadowrun 4th edition, I see 2 and a bit pages of rules for adjudicating initiative, 6 and a bit pages of rules for different types of ranged fighting, plus 9 pages of details about different types of ranged weapons (with pictures!) This is not eliding *anything* relative to how I would normally conduct a firefight in a roleplaying game; in fact if I take it seriously as a set of rules, it enormously expands the level of detail and precision I would use in narrating such a fight.

So at the very least, I think we have to say that rules don’t always elide. Perhaps they are always eliding compared to some perfect simulation of reality, but that is certainly not the default or most commonly observed state of imaginative play when unmediated by rules.

What, then, will we say about rules? Rules are a way of guiding the conversation. We can drill into the details we find interesting, as Shadowrun players presumably find weaponry. We can skip over the details we don’t find interesting, as many other games do with the details of the same weaponry. We can remove arguments over who went bang bang first and who is now dead. We can specify how decisions should be made, and who gets to narrate the outcome of those decisions, as when Forged In The Dark tells us who gets to decide what dice to roll and who gets to decide the level of risk and effect. We can quantify things that would otherwise remain vague, as with hit points in D&D or sanity in Call Of Cthulhu. We can introduce details that don’t exist in the real world, like the characteristics of a monofilament whip. We can force the conversation at the table down particular lines, as when in Ten Candles, if the last candle goes out, the characters die regardless of what they may have had planned. We can force a player to describe something they hadn’t even thought about until a moment ago, as when in Apocalypse World a character is suddenly asked to tell us their secret pains.

Rules can sometimes elide. But more often, rules specify. Rules focus. Rule describe. Rules intrude.

Rules are a magical way to shape our conversation at the table, to direct play and to bring imagined worlds to life. Used unwisely they can be blunt instruments that get in the way of good storytelling. But the best rules help us tell stories we almost certainly wouldn’t have told otherwise. They mostly don’t do it by eliding.

If you enjoyed this blog article, please encourage me to make more by supporting the Black Armada Patreon.

*Side note: I am far from the most up-to-date person on internet discourse. I think this claim may be fairly old, at least by the frenetic standards of discussion on X and other such places. I’m sorry if I sound like an old man shouting at clouds.

**Which, to be clear, I have no idea how important the author thinks “rules elide” is as a statement or how sweepingly they intended to make that statement. Perhaps this entire article is a statement of the bleeding obvious – ironically I kind of think so. Still, discourse eh?