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Paul Tevis and Ryan Macklin make it hard for me to work. They keep raising the bar on game analysis and discussion, so I have to jump that harder to write or design things that I think will impress them. They keep brightening the lights, leaving me fewer shadows in which to hide.

This is especially evident in the excellent newest episode of Macklin’s already-excellent podcast, Master Plan: Episode #50, in which Macklin and Tevis discuss Tevis’s new storytelling game, A Penny For My Thoughts. In this episode, they discuss everything from Hite’s Law (roughly, a game should have rules for the things it claims to be about) to the use of the second-person voice in the book. (This is coming back into vogue — see D&D — though I was warned off it for years out of fear that some damn fool would mistake himself for a bugbear or a werewolf through the magical might of the misunderstood “you.”) They also talk a bit about something that I’ve been meaning to write about just as soon as I can actually play Agon: UI in table-top RPGs.

A Penny For My Thoughts sports a really lovely book design by Fred Hicks, which helps to convey how the game is played by linking how the book and the character sheet look to the actual play experience. Any character sheet with check boxes does this to some extent, but games like Agon and A Penny For My Thoughts do it especially well. A character sheet shouldn’t be merely a record of information — it’s an interface, changing not just as the character changes but as you, the player, make your choices. A great character sheet isn’t afraid to change frequently during play. It should be as lovely and reactive as a great HUD or UI in a video game.

Anyway, Tevis is raising the bar for me, in particular, because I’m in the try-or-quit final leg of design of my RPG, Tomorrow War, which also involves memory loss and reacquisition, like Tevis’s game. My game is profoundly different from Tevis’s, but close enough to be lost in the bright light his seems to give off. And now Tevis and Macklin are there, talking on the Internet about quality and choice and design, in what sounds like both a lesson and a dare. Do listen.