29 June, 2016

An RPG about social intrigue or obscure lore

In Familiar, I've got four attributes... combat, knowledge, influence, and magic. The game is all about mystical familiars, so it's natural that magic gets far more detail than the other three attributes. But when I woke up this morning, the realisation hit me that it could be just as easy to focus on any of the other three attributes. A game expanding the options for the combat attribute would be par for the course with most mainstream RPGs. But I think it would actually be more interesting to develop separate games that really delve into the worlds of the influence attribute (through social intrigue, political manuevering, mass media, and cultural etiquette) or the knowledge attribute (through investigation, hidden lore, arcane science, and theoretical knowledge.

Such games would be complimentary, but since Familiars are creatures of magic, the other attributes don't really form the focus of their adventures. The all-rounders would probably be regular people who can gain a little bit of benefit in each attribute category rather than unlimited potential within a single attribute.

Just a thought as I woke up...one that I didn't want to get away.

26 June, 2016

A Game or a Toolkit?

I've come to the conclusion that my "Familiar" game is actually more of a toolkit for facilitating play. I'm using it to provide a set of tools that can be modified theough the course of play to produce a range of play experiences that are customised by the GM and players to best suit the stories they are trying to tell.

From this perspective, a game would be a fully packaged and prewritten set of rules with a specific setting designed to tell a specific type of story regardless of what the players want.

Some players love the idea of tightly focused sets of rules that each tell distinctly different types of stories. Such players really try to get into the designer's head to understand the types of stories that the designer is attempting to relate. Other players look at a set of tight rules and if it tells a story they're uncomfortable with, don't like, or simply can't comprehend...they either butcher the game completely or ignore it. Tight games are deliberately limited in their scope, they produce a specific type of story, where the players are bounded by conventions, rules, or other features of the game, the creativity comes from working within those tight boundaries to produce something special but inherently linked to the core premise of the game. These sorts of tight games were all the rage in indie circles a decade ago.

While I appreciate some tight games, I find that they often don't quite live up to their claims. This might be due to the designer not fully explaining their intentions, or maybe I'm just not getting it... or it could just be bad design. Either way, there's a communication breakdown. Of course there's always the idea of games that don't claim to produce a specific experience, where different groups claim to get different things from the game, and each claims the others are "playing it wrong".

Wide games on the other hand aren't as tightly focused, by their very nature, and this saw them looked down upon by the Forge community and a lot of indie groups a decade ago. They meander between concepts, they often sacrifice doing one thing really well in exchange for getting a few things to work in a mediocre manner. If you don't know where you want things to go, or what atmosphere you want the game to have, a wider game might be more appropriate, because a deviating from the path on a narrow game leads to a complete shambles, while deviating from the path in a wide game allows for a play experience still within the set boundaries of the game.

A toolkit provides a more meta experience, allowing players and GM to define their own tight game within a wider context. I'm kind of happy with this as a framework for "Familiar". It's a game about defining reality through magical creatures who use awakened mages to their advantage, so it completely makes sense that the players in the game would define the rules of play as they proceed through the game. This doesn't make it a game for everyone, but I really don't care. I've been producing some play aids that help participants get into the action quicker (through a series of pre-defined spells and other actions that characters might take), but the aim of producing a game that moulds itself to the play style of the participants is more important to me than creating a specifically defined narrow game that actively prevents certain types of story emerging.

25 June, 2016

Supporting some fine English folks

I'm an Australian of strong Scottish heritage, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the fine work of some great English game designers and manufacturers of miniatures. No, I'm not talking about Games Workshop... I'm talking about the independent guys, who are going to probably face a tough couple of years in the near future with the whole status of the UK with regard to the EU kerfuffle.

I'm not going to get into the politics of it here. I generally save my rants about politics and religion for Facebook. What I know of a lot of them, I think I know how they probably voted.

My only thoughts with this post are to let thewider community know about them, and maybe point a few sales in their direction to help them out as uncertainty looms (also helping the rest of us out while the British Pound is the weakest it's been for quite some time). 

First up, I'm thinking of Mark Bednall from Grey Matter Figures who produces one of my favourite pieces of resin ever. 

Fairies wear Boots, Mark Bednall - Grey Matter Figures

Next I'd link to Rob Lang, along with his ICAR game system, and other endeavours... but ICAR is free anyway (and in irregular ongoing development). Ah, hell, just go over and have a look at it anyway. It's not often you see a game system developed by a real life Doctor of Robotics. If you really want to pay him money, download the game from DrivethruRPG as a Pay-what-you-want product, to help feed his addictions for drones and Lego. 

So back to another manufacturer of miniatures who has taken too much of my money over the years, and that would be Hasslefree Miniatures. So many figurines, most of good quality, and some outstanding, virtually all of them reasonably priced even when the British Pound was worth a bit more.

Next, I was told to take a look at the work of Andy Foster at Heresy Miniatures. I'm glad I did, and some of the work from that team will definitely be added to my shopping list. 

It's not only the English who are affected by all this mess. Also think of the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish. I'm pretty sure Contested Ground Studios count among the Scots, I could be wrong but I do know they hale from somewhere in the UK. I've mentioned their games Cold City and Hot War a few times over the years, and they remain influential parts of my design process.

These are just the first few producers of gaming products who came to mind when I started writing. The folks I chat with at least semi-regularly, or whose products I've purchased that bring back fond recollections. I'm sure there are plenty more, let me know if I've missed someone in the comments below.

24 June, 2016

Too many moving parts are confusing

One of the annoying things about big rulebooks is the way numerous intricate parts of the rules are meant to connect together in one seamless device of elegant complexity...it's annoying because I've invariably found that one or two rules are ignored, forgotten about, or simply put aside (due to their lack of obvious significance to the overall structure), and then other parts of the system don't quite work the way they should and the whole game degenerates into a session of ad-libs and half remembered rulings. Certainly not what the designer intended, I'm sure.

I try not to add too many fiddly bits into my game designs, but regular readers will know that this is something I struggle with. I always want to add in an extra little bit here and there to reflect something that I think is cool at the time. Then the extra bit grows, then another one...and eventually I have to prune the system back to basics. Sometimes the refined system is back at square one, sometimes it looks "different".

One of the things I've been playing with for years is a decent method of replicating the way social interaction works in the mechanisms of a game. Where new and vague connections between people see them testing the waters before significant progress is made, and where stronger relationships push for more immediate dramatic outcomes. Added to this are shared history and context between individuals, mutual vs conflicting goals, and even the moods of the social participants. But every time I feel like I've got the angles covered, it just feels overly complicated from the perspective of game mechanisms.

For the Familiar game, I need two things to really work well, and I'd be happier still if those two elements worked well together. I need a magic system that integrates with the wider world (rather than simply a list of spells), and I need a relationship system to govern the interactions between the Familiars and each other, the Familiars and their mages, and the familiars and the wider world.

The core system remains fundamentally as it has. Character attribute versus a difficulty chosen by the player...high difficulty means more benefit achieved through a successful action. I've been looking at the idea of introducing character advantages and disadvantages to the system, but every way I've tried so far just feels clunky or messy. Auto fails/successes feel too big, modifying die size feels too small, rerolls just add a different type of mechanism into play that hasn't occurred elsewhere...nothing feels right yet.

Maybe it's time to let this one rest a while, and I'll go back to one of the old game projects on the backburner.

23 June, 2016

New Mapping Tutorials

I haven't posted much this week because I've been violently ill. That means there hasn't been an influx of people looking at my recent posts, but a more general view of what people who don't know me look at. Or at least, it's shown which parts of this blog are most linked by the world outside.

People seem to come to me for the mapping tutorials.

So, I'll push my Patreon in that direction. Maybe producing a mothly tutorial booklet on a given theme... 8 pages, of mixed text and images. First offered in an 8 page hi-res 600dpi A4 through the Patreon, then released in a reduced resolution form (100 dpi?) A4 at a single page, twice per week.

With that in mind, here's some preliminary map work I've been developing for the "Familiar" game. 

This is basically using the 3D software Bryce to block in some buildings for a city section. These blocks will be traced and detailed by hand as I put together the core setting for the game... a neglected section of a city that could basically be anywhere in the world. You could use any other area for your games, but this map is designed with a range of prompts for storytelling. I'll go into a lot more detail for this process as a part of the Patreon.

18 June, 2016


One of the common threads in many narratives is the notion that things start small and gradually accumulate momentum until they become dramatic (and in the case of many roleplaying sessions push into gonzo territory).

There seem to be a few methods aiming toward that kind of narrative arc at the moment. Different games call them different things, but generally a common theme among new "innovations" is the concept of a clock, where elements of the story cause the clock to "tick" toward a conclusion or climax. sometimes there might be some kind of associated mechanism that causes the clock to "tick backwards" and reduce the tension, but more often than not in the examples I've seen the clock ticks in one direction only toward a story conclusion.

It's one of those things that we'e been doing in many roleplaying sessions for decades, but now we seem to be seeing more formalized ways of doing it. Or perhaps it's just that these methods are being brought to attention by the "in-crowd" of game designers, and therefore people are fawning over the concept.

I've been thinking about other ways to do this.

In FUBAR several years ago, I saw this as an inherent manifestation of the game. Characters would accumulate new merits and flaws, and those new traits would have repercussions in the system. In this way, we'd gradually see the characters build strength over the course of a session until they were ready to face the big bad. I even write about this in the "Director's Cut" of the game as something to exploit for storytelling potential. Over theyears it's been something I've had in the ack of my mind as something that needed to be refined and improved, but every time I find some way that seems to do this, it has had a side effect that I haven't liked for one reason or another.

My most recent thoughts on this for the Familiar game seem to do the job, but only from a specific narrative perspective. It basically fits what I want it to do, but there are things about it that just feel clunky.

If you've been following these posts, you'll know that the Familiar game uses a concept where the player chooses their own difficulty for the tasks they are attempting. The familiars have 4 attributes designated d6, d8, d10, and d12, and they may choose a difficulty from d4 to d12 for their action. The higher the difficulty they impose on themselves, the more spectacular the effect will be if they succeed. If their attribute die has a result a least equal to the difficulty die, a success occurs (where the level of success is purely based on that difficulty die chosen.

Since the title characters of the game, the Familiars, are otherworldly entities, it makes sense that they'd have trouble working within our world.

For this reason, I'm thinking that when a familiar first enters play and attempts a task with a specific attribute, they will need to choose a d4 difficulty. They simply don't know how to do it better and can't even attempt it. Once they succeed this type of task at this difficulty level, they may then attempt something at d6 level. One by one as they succeed in tasks associated with an attribute, they may push their potential difficulties further. A success at d6 level allows d8 actions, a success at d8 allows d10 actions, then finally d12.

This would probably only be something that comes into play during the first session of a campaign, basically the "origin story" for the characters, but it might be a nice way of allowing things to amp up as the characters find their place in the world.  

More to think about.

16 June, 2016

Lycanthropic Inspiration

One of my first live roleplaying experiences was portraying a naive young werewolf. I wouldn't say that my character was led astray by +Klaus Teufel but things certainly became a lot more interesting after our two stories became entwined.

Lycanthrope stories have always inteested me. Whether the werewolves and Loup Garou of european folklore, the Kitsune of Japanese tales, the shapeshifting coyote trickers found in the legends of many Native American groups, African Spider shifters (Ananasi), the many anthropomorphed animals of Native Australian folklore, and many others found across the Pacific and various other parts of the world.

The scope for playing these variant animal types from around the world was one of the things I loved about Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and one of the things that I really thought was missing when White Wolf shifted to Werewolf: the Forsaken. They might have been added in later books for the game, but the first few books that I looked at just seemed to abandon that possibility of diversity.

I've been toying with animal games quite a bit recently, whether mutant animals or familiars, and it probably all links back into my love of the lycanthrope genre. Trawling through the internet for inspiration images, and finding pictures like this, really makes me want to finish work on at least one of those games.