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Fiddly Bits: Game University

Another Change

Larry D. Hols and team
February 28, 2002  

First, I must apologize. I'm already reformatting the column, when it was only a few installments ago I embarked on a new approach to it. I've found that I don't have as much time available for Fiddly as I would like, though, and would rather change the approach rather than discontinue it entirely.

In light of that, the second order of business is to introduce the new approach to Fiddly:

Welcome to Fiddly University!

Fiddly now has a full staff of instructors prepared to enlighten one and all about all manner of games material. FiddlyU staff will work to provide the best information possible, and some staff members will delight in pointing out where they think I'm simply full of ... um, hot air.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to concentrate more on digging material out of older games to fiddle with it, as opposed to the effort to fiddle with new constructs for new games. As Head of the Department of Game Archaeology, I like to play with dead things, things old and musty and interesting.

The Staff of Fiddly University

I am, of course, the Headmaster of the school. For those of you unfamiliar with me, my name is Larry D. Hols. I've worked here and there in the industry really don't care to bore anybody with anything more detailed. I have an e-publishing company and will be releasing products for your enjoyment soon.

The rest of the staff, in no certain order, and in their own words:

Laurel Stuart:

I'm Laurel Stuart, specializing in Archetypal Theory and other fun amalgamations of pop psychology and gaming. I'm a 33 year old female gaming geek living in Seattle. Currently, I work with Skotos Tech as an external developer and maintain an independent monthly column on White Wolf games at Suite101.com. I've been active in pen & pencil RPGs since 1979, and an enthusiastic participant/Admin in several big online RPG communities since 1996.

(Laurel, to this point, has shown herself to be much nicer than the Headmaster. She doesn't throw chalk at unruly students or anything similar that would bring joy to the hearts of grumpy old men. It's a shame.)

Torben AE Mogensen:

My name is Torben Mogensen, and my main interest in games is rules mechanics, in particular how to design mechanics that achieve a specific purpose without being unduly complex -- you could say that my focus is on the engineering aspect of designing rules. An important part of engineering is to understand the consequences of design decisions, so mistakes can be avoided. I realize that RPG rules are not bridges, so no loss of life is likely if rules are broken (and most gamers are adept at ignoring rules when they don't work). Nevertheless, a game designer should not ignore these issues.

As for my background, I have been an active player for more than 20 years and I have tried dozens of different rules systems and made some my own. I haven't published any games, nor any articles in major RPG magazines. I have, however, been active in game design discussions on the web. My main qualification for being here is that I do have a background in science and apply that to games.

(I hired Torben on so that we could meet accreditation standards. He's also an old fogey gamer--been at it for more than twenty years--which means I have someone with whom I can commiserate about the kids these days.)

Travis Casey:

I'm Fiddly U's unofficial game archaeologist. Most of my game design work has been "for funsies", but I have been published in the short-lived gaming magazine Cryptych, worked on WotC's Primal Order: Pawns and Envoy, and currently write the column "Building Stories, Telling Games" for Skotos.net.

In gaming style, I'm all over the map, enjoying games ranging in style from D&D, through Paranoia, all the way out to Theatrix. When designing games, I tend to focus a lot on the mechanics and having things be accurate, but I tend to actually run them much more fast-and-loose, making things up as needed.

(Anybody who uses the word "funsies" in adult conversation is an obvious addition to the staff of such a prestigious organization!)


I am woodelf, and I will be your Professor of Philosophical Game Studies. While all of Fiddly U is focused on the nitty-gritty of game mechanics, I'll try to take a step back and look at why a game mechanic is the way it is, not just what it is or where it came from. In addition to pointing out the fallacies in our Headmaster's understanding (he does tend to live in the past, having been instated when you could expect the class to read more than 4 texts in a semester), I will ask you to consider what underlying assumptions you are failing to consider when designing an RPG -- unconstrained by mundane considerations of playability or marketability.

For those concerned with my C.V., I've been around on the fringes of the gaming industry for years, mostly doing my own work, but with a smidgeon of professional experience. I've been playing with mechanics at least since my first days of roleplaying (for some strange reason i thought it'd be easier to invent my own game than actually read the rules when i mistakenly bought the D&D Basic Set instead of Dungeon!, lo those many years ago), and have most recently been focusing on consciously trying to invent roleplaying games that make people question if they are roleplaying games. I'm one of the cofounders of The Impossible Dream, a start-up un-company to serve as an outlet for those ideas.

(We have a mutual salvation society. He tries to save me from fogey gaming and I try to save him from the heresies of modern gaming. If only he didn't insist on a barrage of spit wads when I'm lecturing.)

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What do you think?

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All Fiddly Bits columns by Larry D. Hols

  • FID 223: Analysis of die-roll methods by Torben Mogensen, 18jun02
  • Another Change February 28, 2002
  • Fiddly 101: 101 Character Classes November 28, 2001
  • Fiddly 101: Character Classes, Part Two: The Nuts and Bolts September 20, 2001
  • Fiddly 101: Character Classes August 23, 2001
  • In the Beginning... June 21, 2001
  • New Directions May 18, 2001
  • In Defense of Heroism April 25, 2000
  • A Philosophy of Realism December 30, 1999
  • A Philosophy of Fightin' Words November 9, 1999
  • The Philosophical Question May 18, 1999
  • Whittlin' Fiddly February 23, 1999
  • Fiddly to the Rescue, Part Two January 19, 1999
  • Fiddly to the Rescue December 15, 1998
  • Old-Fashioned Fiddly November 17, 1998
  • You Don't Know Fiddly September 22, 1998

    Other columns at RPGnet

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