"The best approach from our
perspective is to make sure that you've got a full-featured platform
that people want to play on, where their friends are, where the
"That's a battle that we have a chance
in. If you start talking about DRM and different technologies to try to
manage it, it's really a losing battle for us, because the community is
always so much larger, and the number of people out there that want to
try to counteract that technology, whether it's because they want to
pirate the game or just because it's a curiosity for them, is much
larger than our development teams.
"We need our development teams focused
on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology."
This statement makes perfect sense.
First, the only people DRM actually hurts
are legitimate customers. The pirates, after all, strip the DRM off the
games and no longer have to deal with any of its hassles.
Second, even if a foolproof system of DRM
were to be created (and Ubisoft may be coming close by treating single
player games as if they were multiplayer games), the nature of DRM is
deeply inimical to the rights of common citizens. You have a right to the fair
use of copyrighted material you buy, and DRM strips you of those rights.
Thrid, Pearce's assessment is correct: The
best way to encourage people to be legitimate customers instead of
pirates is to (a) make them want
to be your customer and (b) offer a superior product. DRM gets in the
way of both
So Frank Pearce is absolutely right: DRM is
a losing battle.
From the same article:
II, due out on July 27, reequires a one-off activation and a registered
what DRM is.
In fact, it's exactly the sort of onerous
DRM system which is inherently unethical.
It suffers from the same problem as all
activation-based DRM: If Blizzard goes out of business or decides to
shut down their activation servers, the installation DVD becomes a
My current car is a Saturn Ion. GM recently
shut down their Saturn divison. Imagine if my car needed to call up the
(now defunct) Saturn Activation Servers every time I put the key in the
ignition. Would any sane person tolerate that?
Ah, but Blizzard's system is so much more
reasonable, right? My Ion only needs to contact the Saturn Activation
Server once and it'll work forever... until my battery dies (or, in the
cast of Starcraft 2,
I need to reinstall the software). I replace the battery only to
discover that the activation servers are gone and -- ta-da! -- my car
And here we see the long con of
One of the first big efforts to push out
activation-based DRM was the DIVX
disc format: Buy a DIVX disc for cold hard cash. Then,
whenever you want to watch it, pay another $4. And the disc would only
play if your DIVX player was plugged into a phone line and connected
with the DIVX activation servers.
Fortunately, people weren't stupid: They
flocked to the DVD format. Even though the discs were more expensive,
people were willing to pay more in order to be able to control their
own access to and use of their privately owned movie libraries. Even
after DIVX abandoned its re-activation fees (while still offering
cheaper discs), people stuck with the DRM-free DVD standard. And
everyone who was
stupid enough to buy DIVX was punished (as all supporters of DRM
formats are inevitably punished): The DIVX servers were shut down in
2001 and all of those movies people had bought turned into coasters.
But now DRM is beginning to see wider and
wider acceptance, particularly in the gaming market. And one of the
reasons can be seen in Frank Pearce's bald-faced lie: The game
publishers have been pushing ever more onerous versions of DRM. They're
trying to see just how far they can go before public becomes completely
outraged, and then they'll pull back.
But they don't actually pull back all the
way: They just pull back a bit. And everyone cheers because Blizzard
says DRM is a waste of time and they won't have any DRM on Starcraft II...
despite the fact they still have DRM on Starcraft II.
That's the long con.
The game publishers are treating us all like
lobsters and they're trying to boil us alive by slowly raising the
temperature of the pot.
And make no mistake. If you're sucker enough
to fall for it, you will boil alive. Because even if the corporations
stick around, they aren't going to keep the servers active: Everyone
who bought DRM-laden songs from MSN Music got screwed in 2008 when
Microsoft shut down the servers.
I own a vast library of media: Thousands of
books, CDs, movies, and computer games line the walls of my home. And
the majority of them were published by companies that no longer exist.
Which means that if those products required an activation server for me
to use them, they would be useless to me. (Not to mention all the other
books, albums, movies, and games which were produced by companies who
would no longer be supporting the activation servers for them.)
So as much as I'd like to play Starcraft II, I
won't be. And I encourage you to do the same. Because if you're willing
to support the publishing companies in taking away your own rights,
you'll have no one to blame but yourself when you get screwed.
The PCs are playing agents in the Las Vegas
branch of CTU. This mini-scenario begins when they receive an
inter-agency intelligence report that a monitoring program established
on a known terrorist operation’s bank account information has recorded
payments being made on a storage unit in Las Vegas. The PCs have been
authorized to execute a search warrant on the storage unit.
The scenario starts at the North Las Vegas Self-Storage on Lake Mead
Boulevard (the BLUE NODE).
The storage space itself is stacked high
with empty cardboard boxes. Anyone walking past the storage space when
the door was open would see a bunch of boxes labeled “LIVING ROOM”,
“DISHES”, and the like – but it’s all just for a show. However, there
is a large gap towards the back where several boxes have recently been
removed: Something was being stored here and now it’s gone.
Checking the rental records reveals that Yassif Mansoor signed the
lease on the storage space. The address given on the lease agreement is
a fake, but a routine database search turns up a Yassif Mansoor living
in the Broadstone Indigo apartment complex on Azure Avenue (NODE A).
The storage space contains a bellboy uniform belonging to the Bellagio
hotel and casino (NODE B).
There is also a disposable cell phone in the storage space. Checking
the call log reveals several calls being placed to a number that can be
traced to Office Frank Nasser (NODE C).
CLUE: Two detonation caps can be found behind the metal
track of the storage space door. (They rolled back there and were lost.)
NODE A: YASSIF
Yassif Mansoor isn’t at his apartment, but
there are eight terrorists hanging out. Four of them play cards in the
living room; two are watching TV in one of the bedrooms; and two more
are on the balcony smoking.
1: A large metal trash can in the storage closet off the
balcony contains the charcoaled remnants of a massive amount of
documentary evidence (Mansoor was covering his tracks). Sifting through
the ashes reveals a few partially preserved scraps of paper, including
part of a Radio Shack shipping manifest including an order number.
Tracking the order reveals several pieces of electronic equipment that
could be useful in building bombs. More importantly, it also gives them
a credit card number and one of the fake names Mansoor was using. If
they track recent activity on the credit card, they’ll find that it was
used to rent a room at the Bellagio (NODE B).
If the PCs can get one of the terrorists to crack under questioning,
they can tell them that Yassif Mansoor was at the apartment yesterday
with a cop named Nasser (NODE C).
CLUE: There are six suicide-bomb vests stored in the
walk-in closet. After the big bomb went off at the Bellagio, these
suicide bombers were going to deliver a second wave of terror
throughout Vegas. (These bombers, however, do not know the actual
target of the big bomb. That information was sequestered.)
NODE B: THE BELLAGIO
If the PCs tracked Mansoor’s credit card
activity, then they know exactly which suite he’s rented at the
Bellagio. If they only know that something might be happening at the
Bellagio then the room can be tracked down in a number of ways:
Bomb-sniffing dogs; questioning the staff; surveillance; room-by-room
canvassing; reviewing security tapes; and so forth.
Mansoor and six nervous, heavily armed
terrorists are waiting in the suite with the Big Bomb (which they snuck
into the room on luggage trolleys using bellboy uniforms).
Yassif Mansoor probably won’t break under questioning, but merely
identifying him should allow the PCs to track down his home address
Sewn into the lining of Mansoor’s jacket is a small packet of
microfilm. These contain records indicating that Frank Nasser of the
Las Vegas police department is guilty of embezzling from a fund used
for undercover drug buys. Mansoor was using these records to blackmail
Nasser. (NODE C)
NODE C: FRANK NASSER
Having been blackmailed by Mansoor, Nasser
has been helping the terrorist in a number of different ways. (The C4
for the suicide bombers, for example, was taken from a police lock-up
Nasser was responsible for. And Nasser intimidated a beat cop into
dropping a speeding ticket issued on one of Mansoor’s men.)
Nasser is more likely to crack under questioning than Mansoor
(particularly if the PCs reveal that they have hard evidence of any of
his wrong-doing). But he’s also aware of the consequences: If he can,
he’ll try to cut a deal before answering their questions.
Nasser can also be placed under surveillance. He will check in at both
the Bellagio and Mansoor’s apartment before the bombings occur.
As I noted before, the plotted approach gives control to the designer
of the scenario by taking that control away from the players.
For example, if we were to re-design our Las Vegas CTU scenario using
the plotted approach, we could carefully control the flow of events:
Evidence at the self-storage facility (BLUE NODE) leads the PCs to
Yassif Mansoor’s apartment (NODE A) where they have a frenzied
gun-fight with the suicide bombers. But Mansoor is missing and there’s
evidence of an even bigger bomb somewhere in Vegas! Their only hope is
to track down the corrupt cop Frank Nasser (NODE C) and force him to
break under questioning. But will they reach the Bellagio in time (NODE
This is obviously an effective way for the scenario to play out:
Everything builds naturally up to a satisfying confrontation with the
Bad Guy and his Big Bomb. The argument can certainly be made that you
to enforce this linearity to make sure that the PCs don’t take out
Mansoor and the Big Bomb half-way through the scenario and end up with
a massive anti-climax.
But in making that argument, I think we’re overlooking some equally
For example: Following evidence at the self-storage facility the PCs
head to the Bellagio. There they capture the internationally infamous
terrorist Yassif Mansoor and disarm the Big Bomb. It looks like they’ve
wrapped everything up, but then they discover the truth: There are more
bombs! The Bellagio bombing was only the tip of the iceberg, and even
from behind bars Mansoor is about to turn the Las Vegas Strip into a
Boulevard of Terror!
(And in a more reactive scenario, you might even introduce the
possibility of the undiscoveredNasser somehow freeing Mansoor from his
My point here is that when you create individually interesting nodes,
you’ll generally find that those nodes can be shuffled into virtually
any order and still end up with an interesting result. The PCs might
even decide to split up and pursue two leads at the same time (in true
As a GM I find these types of scenarios more interesting to run because
I’m also being shocked
and surprised at how the events play out at the gaming table.
And as a player I find them more interesting because I’m being allowed
to make meaningful choices.
Of course, the argument can be made that there’s no “meaningful choice”
here because there are three nodes in the scenario and the PCs are
going to visit all three nodes no matter what they do. In the big
picture, the exact order in which they visit those nodes isn’t
Or is it?
Even in this small, simple scenario, the choices the PCs make can have
a significant impact on how events play out. If they go to the Bellagio
after they’ve identified exactly which room Yassif Mansoor is in, for
example, they’ll have a much easier time of confronting the terrorists
without tipping them off. If they have to perform a major search
operation on the hotel, on the other hand, the terrorists may have laid
a trap for them; Mansoor might have a chance to escape; or there might
have been time to make a phone call and warn the terrorists back at the
And in more complex scenarios, of course, there will be more meaningful
contexts for choices to be made within. For example, something as
simple as adding a timeline to our sample scenario can make a big
difference: If CIA communication intercepts indicate a high threat of a
terrorist attack in Vegas timed for 6:00 pm, then PCs standing in the
storage facility with multiple leads to pursue suddenly have a tough
choice to make. Do they go to the Bellagio because it’s a high-profile
target despite the fact they aren’t sure exactly what they should be
looking for there? Do they go to Mansoor’s apartment in the hope that
they can find out more information about the Bellagio attack? Do they
split up and pursue both leads in tandem? Do they call in the Vegas
police to evacuate the Bellagio while they pursue the apartment lead?
(Is that even a safe option if they have evidence pointing to a mole
inside the department?)
Furthermore, when an individual scenario is placed within the context
of a larger campaign it allows the choices made within that scenario to
have a wider impact. For example, if they tip off Mansoor and allow him
to escape by rushing their investigation, it means that he can return
as a future antagonist. Similarly, if they don’t find or follow the
leads to Nasser, the continued presence of a terrorist-compromised mole
in the Las Vegas police force can create ongoing problems for their
(And if the Bellagio gets blown up there will obviously be a
long-lasting impact on the campaign.)
On a more basic level, in my opinion, the fact that the players are
being offered the driver’s seat is meaningful in its own right. Even if
the choice doesn’t have any lasting impact on the final conclusion of
“good guys win, bad guys lose”, the fact that the players were the
ones who decided how
the good guys were going to win is important. If for no other reason
than that, in my experience, it’s more fun for everybody involved. And
I've updated the Creations index
page. It was getting a bit messy in there, but hopefully this re-org
will make it a bit easier to find stuff. Or just browse for interesting
While you're poking around in there, you may
want to take a peek at my remix of The Tomb of
Horrors and my supplementary material for Rappan Athuk.
This early material from the website tends to get overlooked, but I
think there's some pretty nifty stuff in there. (If I do say so myself.)
On the other hand, there is something to be
said for the Big Conclusion. There are plenty of scenarios that don’t
lend themselves to a shuffling between nodes of equal importance:
Sometimes Dr. No’s laboratory is intrinsically more important than
Strangeways’ library. And the Architect’s inner sanctum requires the
So let’s talk about some alternative node
In this design, each node in the second
layer contains a third clue that points to the concluding node D. The
function should be fairly self-explanatory: The PCs can chart their own
course through nodes A, B, and C while being gently funneled towards
the big conclusion located at node D.
(Note: They aren’t being railroaded to D.
Rather, D is the place they want to be and the other nodes allow them
to figure out how to get there.)
One potential “problem” with this structure
is that it allows the PCs to potentially bypass content: They could
easily go to node A, find the clue for node D, and finish the adventure
without ever visiting nodes B or C.
Although this reintroduces the possibility
for creating unused content, I put the word “problem” in quotes here
because in many ways this is actually desireable: When the PCs make
to avoid something (either because they don't want to face it or
because they don't want to invest the resources) and figure out a way
to bypass it or make do without it, that's almost always the fodder for
an interesting moment at the gaming table in my experience. Nor is that
content "wasted" -- it is still serving a purpose (although its role in
the game may now be out of proportion with the amount of work you spent
Therefore, it can also be valuable to
incentivize the funneling nodes in order to encourage the PCs to
explore them. In designing these incentives you can use a mixture of
carrots and sticks: For example, the clue in node A might be a map of
node D (useful for planning tactical assaults). The clue in node B
might be a snitch who can tell them about a secret entrance that
doesn’t appear on the map (another carrot). And node C might include a
squad of goons who will reinforce node D if they aren’t mopped up ahead
of time (a stick).
(That last example also shows how you can
create multi-purpose content. It now becomes a question of how you use the
goon squad content you prepped rather than whether you’ll use it.)
The basic structuring principles of the
conclusion can be expanded into the general purpose utility of
Each layer in this design (A, B, C and E, F,
G) constitutes a free-form environment for investigation or exploration
which gradually leads towards the funnel point (D or H) which contains
the seeds leading them to the next free-form environment.
I generally find this structure useful for
campaigns where an escalation of stakes or opposition is desirable. For
example, the PCs might start out investigating local drug dealers (A,
B, C) in an effort to find out who’s supplying drugs to the
neighborhood. When they identify the local distributor (D), his
contacts lead them into a wider investigation of city-wide gangs (E, F,
G). Investigating the gangs takes them to the Tyrell crime family (H),
and mopping up the crime family gets them tapped for a national Mafia
task force (another layer of free-form investigation), culminating in
the discovery that the Mafia are actually being secretly run by the
Illuminati (another funnel point).
(The Illuminati, of course, are being run by
alien reptoids. The reptoids by Celestials. And the Celestials by the
sentient network of blackholes at the center of our galaxy. The
blackhole consciousness, meanwhile, has suffered a schizord bifurcation
due to an incursion by the Andromedan Alliance…. wait, where was I?)
In particular, I find this structure
well-suited for D&D campaigns. You don’t want 1st-level
characters suddenly “skipping ahead” to the mind flayers, so you can
use the “chokepoints” or “gateways” of the funnel structure to move
them from one power level to the next. And if they hit a gateway that’s
too tough for them right now, that’s OK: They’ll simply be forced to
back off, gather their resources (level up), and come back when they’re
Another advantage of the funnel structure is
that, in terms of prep, it gives you manageable chunks to work on:
Since the PCs can’t proceed to the next layer until they reach the
funnel point, you only need to prep the current “layer” of the campaign.
A layer cake design achieves the
same general sense of progression that a funnel design gives you, but
allows you to use a lighter and looser touch in structuring the
The most basic structure of the layer cake
is that each node in a particular “layer” gives you clues that lead to
other nodes on the same layer, but also gives you one clue pointing to
a node on the second layer. Although a full exploration of the first
layer won’t give the PCs three clues to any single node on the second
layer, they will have access to three clues pointing to a node on the
second level. Therefore, the Inverted Three Clue Rule means that the
players will probably get to at least one node on the
second layer. And from there they can begin collecting additional
second layer clues.
Whereas PCs in a funnel design are unlikely
to backup past the last funnel point (once they reach node E they
generally won’t go back to node C since it has nothing to offer them),
in a layer cake design such inter-layer movement is common.
Layer cakes have a slightly larger design
profile than funnels, but allow the GM to clearly curtail the scope of
their prep work (you only need to prep through the next layer) while
allowing the PCs to move through a more realistic environment. You’ll
often find the underlying structure of the layer cake arising naturally
out of the game world.
When this topic comes up, people often
mention Valve's Steam as a counter-example of how to "do it right".
half right. Steam has taken the onerous nature of DRM and turned it
into a feature by allowing you to access your Steam account and play
your games from any computer in the world. The system also, obviously,
allows you to buy games online and have them instantly delivered.
other words, people don't (generally) complain about Steam because the
platform gives you the ability to do something that you otherwise
wouldn't be able to do. I can understand (and share) the appreciation
of that added value.
On the other hand, all of these features
could be offered without
DRM which requires the copy I currently have downloaded to my computer
to be periodically re-validated. (DrivethruRPG
does it.) And any game that you buy in a box at your local store and
then need to validate through Steam's servers before playing is every
bit as bad as every other online activation schema in terms of its
long-term impact on consumer rights.
Make no mistake: The Half-Life 2
box I have on the shelf contains nothing but a worthless coaster on the
day that Valve goes out of business or migrates to Steam 2.0. And the Orange Box
I purchased through Steam directly will become nothing more than wasted
hard drive space only a few days later.
features Steam offers to the consumer are the reason I'm willing to
occasionally buy games through the service. But the unethical DRM that
they've made part of their service is the reason that I rarely do so.
And if there is any other method of purchase available, I'll avail
myself of it.
Unfortunately, the PC gaming industry's
increasing reliance on draconian DRM is the reason that all my game
purchases in the past 3 years have either been indie games or
In case it hasn’t been clear, I’ve been
using three-node layers in these examples because it’s a convenient
number for showing structure. But there’s nothing magical about the
number. Each “layer” in the previous examples constitutes an
interlinked environment (either literal or metaphorical) for
exploration or investigation, and you can make these environments as
large as you’d like.
As long as each node has a minimum of three
clues in it and a minimum of three clues pointing to it, the Three Clue
Rule and its inversion will be naturally satisfied and guarantee you a
sufficiently robust flow through the layer. But as you increase the
number of nodes, you also open the possibility for varying clue
density: Particularly dense clue locations could have six or ten clues
all pointing in different directions.
Obviously, however, the larger each layer
is, the more prep work it requires.
Dead ends in a plotted mystery structure are
generally disasters. They mean that the PCs have taken a wrong-turn or
failed to draw the right conclusions and now the train is going to
crash into a wall: There should be a clue here for them to follow, but
they’re not seeing it, so there’s nowhere to go, and the whole
adventure is going to fall apart.
But handled properly in a node-based
structure, dead ends aren’t a problem: This lead may not have panned
out, but the PCs will still have other clues to follow.
In this example, node E is a dead end. Clues
at nodes B and C suggest that it should be checked out, but there’s
nothing to be found there. Maybe the clues were just wrong; or the bad
guys have already cleared out; or it looked like a good idea but it
didn’t pan out into usable information; or it’s a trap deliberately
laid to catch the PCs off-guard. The possibilities are pretty much
The trick to implementing a dead end is to
think of clues pointing to the dead end as “bonus clues”. They don’t
count towards the maxim that each node needs to include three different
clues. (Otherwise you risk creating paths through the scenario that
could result in the PCs being left with less than three clues. Which
may not be disastrous, but, according to the Inverse Three Clue Rule,
On the other hand, as you can see, you also
don’t need to include three clues leading to a dead end: It’s a dead
end, so if the PCs don’t see it there’s nothing to worry about.
Of course, if you include less than three
clues pointing to the dead end then you’re increasing the chances that
you’re prepping content that will never be seen. But this also means
that the discovery of the dead end might constitute a special reward:
Extra treasure or lost lore or a special weapon attuned to their enemy.
Which leads to a broader point: Dead ends
may be logistical blind alleys, but that doesn’t mean they should be
boring or meaningless. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In the same vein as dead ends, you can also
use “clue light” locations. (In other words, locations with less than
three clues in them.) Structurally such locations generally work like
dead ends, by which I mean that clues pointing to clue light locations
need to be “bonus clues” to make sure that the structure remains robust.
The exception to this guideline is that you
can generally have a number of two-clue locations equal to the number
of clues accessible in a starting node. (For example, in the layer cake
structure diagram you have three nodes in the bottom layer with only
two clues each because the starting node contains three clues. If there
wasn’t a starting node with three clues in it, the same structure would
have potential problems.)
In this simple loop structure all four nodes
contain three clues pointing to the other three nodes. The advantage of
this simple structure is that the PCs can enter the scenario at any
point and navigate it completely.
Obviously, this is only useful if the PCs
have multiple ways to engage the material. In a published product this
might be a matter of giving the GM several adventure hooks which can be
used (each giving a unique approach to the adventure). In a personal
campaign, clues for nodes A, B, C, and D might be scattered around a
hexcrawl: Whatever clues the PCs find or pursue first will still lead
them into this chunk of content and allow them to explore it completely.
took about forty years before Frank Miller rationalized Batman wearing
a huge target on his chest. (He can't armor his head.) But as I was
watching the first episode of Naruto
today, I was struck by how quickly they demonstrated the silliness of
ninjas wearing big, round bullseyes in the centers of their
(Particularly in a universe where shurikens
are apparently the size of small Japanese cars.)
when I stopped to think about it, I realized (in my own little
Milleresque fashion), that it might not be a mistake after all: These
are members of a fierce, warrior-centric culture. They're supposed to
stand bravely in the face of danger. And what's the quickest way to
make sure your soldiers never turn and run?
Put a huge target on their back.
What? You were expecting something profound?
(1) When creating a fictional world, what
can you include that seems deliberately odd
by our modern and cultural understanding of the world? The oddity will
draw the attention of your players/readers/viewers, allowing you to
reveal some deeper truth about the setting. And once it has been
explained, the oddity will (by its very nature) stick in the memory
(along with its associated truth).
I may be underestimating Masashi Kishimoto, but I'm guessing he didn't
give any more thought to the placement of that logo/bullseye than "that
looks cool". But that doesn't mean that there isn't value to be found
in my explanation of it. Attempting to rationalize the incoherent can
give rise to fresh and creative ideas.
When I'm using published
I am almost always forced to adapt them to the cosmology of my own
campaign world. For example, in my primary D&D campaign setting
there is only one pantheon of gods. Trying to adapt adventures designed
for the typical multi-pantheism of D&D can pose some unique
challenges. But I welcome the challenge because the effort of
rationalizing the incoherency between world and adventure results in a
richer and deeper understanding of the world. It's given rise to saint
cults, lineages of holy artifacts, regional factionalism, heresy
rituals, and more -- and rather than defracting or detracting from the
world, all of these elements instead become refined and concentrated.
(And this can flow both ways: For example,
conflict between the Imperial Church and the Reformist Churches in my
campaign world frequently allow me to re-purpose church-vs-church
material from published scenarios. But this will also frequently enrich
individual adventures by introducing avenues of friction and tension
which would otherwise be atypical.)
real world is made up of diverse and often contradictory viewpoints,
cultural traditions, and personal opinions. By injecting and adapting
material created by others, some degree of that balance between the
coherent and the incoherent which can be found in the real world is
brought into the game world.