30 November, 2018

Do we really need attributes?

I look at games like Risus, or like the work I've just done with The Fen, or even looking back at earlier work I've tinkered with (Catacomb Quest comes to mind). There are plenty of other games that also don't use attributes at all, so it seems a bit odd to simply be including attributes because it's tradition to do so.

I've been looking over the work for The Fen, and one of the first things that came to mind was applying a system of races, cultures and occupations to it. Then I thought I should apply an attribute system... and that's when it hit me. Do we really need atttributes?

The ideas that led to this were an attempt to tie the basic system to the Other Strangeness project that I abandoned a while ago.

I initially thought that I needed the stereotypical races... human, elf, dwarf... because these make an easy point of entry for players who are used to the standard fantasy paradigm, but humans tend to be the vanilla, which gets flavoured more strongly by the occupations available. Then I thought, how about no humans... or make the characters closest to human simply be those who are mixed races of the other identified groups. Which then led to "Screw it! I did a bit of work on that Other Strangeness project a while back... why not just plug things from here into there??"

Under this theory, I'll apply a bunch of traits that different animal characters can pick. But not give the different animal-types attribute modifiers... because there won't be any attributes. In a few cases there might be traits like "strong", "fast", or "cunning", but these are more simplistic and chunky in their effects... either a character has got them or they don't.

It's not so nuanced, but in this particular case it doesn't need to be. Characterisation and character development comes from other sources.

We'll see where this goes, I foresee a new pocketmod coming.

NaGaDeMon failure

I guess it's not really a failure, I definitely spent a bit of time doing game design work during this month, but I've had so many other things happening that I really haven't managed to complete any of my intended game design projects.

The Quartermasters Files which functions as the basic equipment guide for The Law saw a bit of progress, so did the Most Wanted NPC guide.

The Fen went from a vague nebulous concept to an almost workable game that won't take too much effort to reach a playtestable state.

There was also a decent amount of drawing done for various projects. 

29 November, 2018

10 Influential Games

Today's thing seems to be writing a list of 10 roleplaying games that have been influential in a person's interactions with the hobby. I've seen a few people writing the list with no further comments, I've seen others adding notations to their lists. There have been lists in order of most to least influential, there have been others written in chronological order of exposure or of publications.

I like the idea of doing it in order of exposure, and adding a bit of notation to explain why it's influential to me, so I'm going to write my list that way. There are probably other games that have had a significant impact on me, and there will be a list of honourable mentions at the end.

1. Dragon Warriors
This was the first RPG I owned copies of. I never played many games with it, but it's what started the whole journey.

2. Middle Earth Role Playing
This was one of the few RPGs that my parents allowed me to own, because it wasn't D&D and it wasn't "satanic"... instead it was more obviously based on the works of Tolkien (and my dad was a huge Tolkien fan at the time). This game acted as a bit of a gateway drug into Rolemaster for our group of friends at high school, and this showed how baroque and complex a system could be. I ended up being inspired by it mostly as a system benchmark to avoid in it's level of complexity. 

3. Cyberpunk 2020
My copies of Cyberpunk 2020 were saved from a friend's parents as many of his other roleplaying materials were consigned to an incinerator. Besides the social and historical significance that these books have to my life, I'm also strongly influenced by the lifepath generation system which is something I've strived to replicate a number of times in my own designs. Even though the game setting has aged with some curious parallels to our reality, and a number of divergences, I still love going through the lists of equipment, and considering what could have been. It has aged gracefully into a curious form of cyber retro futurism.

4. The World of Darkness (notably Werewolf the Apocalypse and Mage the Ascension)
The idea of a game where players could use their own understanding of the real world to support their stories was a clever idea that I hadn't really seen previously. So too was the idea that you could run and entire game system based on a narrow subset of monsters. I remember people saying that they couldn't handle the concept of Werewolf because they might have wanted to play something that wasn't necessarily a lycanthrope. Then came Mage, and that just blew us all apart with it paradigm shattering ideas that literally anything was possible. That's the lightning in a bottle that I've been trying to recapture for 25+ years.

5. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying
Such a beautiful and rich setting, but dark, dreary, it feels more like a dark ages game that anything else I've played. It was an awakening to see a game where you didn't play heroes, but instead played the lowest rungs of society, just trying to make ends meet, and maybe rise about the detritus of the grimy old empire rather than being slain horribly by things that no-one will talk about. I've revisited the system a few times over the years, and the career progression system is such a beautifully constructed thing.

6. Planescape
I can't really say all of AD&D here, but there are a number of settings that gave a distinct feel to the standard D&D set up. Dark Sun was the first of those settings to draw my interest, but I could never get anyone else interested in it at the time... it was only with the release of Planescape that I had friends who were willing to explore politics in a fantasy game. The way that this setting added so much depth and nuance to the metagame was incredible, the artwork by DiTerlizzi was also evocative, and something different to everything else on the market at the time.

7. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
This is probably an odd one to be throwing onto the list, but it was specifically written as a one-on-one interpretation of the Tri-Stat/BESM engine. The idea of a game specifically written for one player and one GM was an intriguing concept, and while I've never found the one player who'd want to play it for me (or run it for me), it's filled with ideas that I've tried to port into my other projects over the years. The fact that I love the movie probably helps too.

8. 3:16
A game with 2 stats and an array of weapons. This was one of the first sets of rules where it really clicked for me how a simple rule set could really reflect a specific genre of play. It did one thing, but it did that one thing phenomenally well. The fact that it had a few subversive twists hidden within it's rules just boosted the influence it's had on my as a player, GM, and designer.

9. A Penny for My Thoughts

This is one of those games that I didn't think much of until I played it. It is written in the form of an in-world artefact, and the game play is very ritualised, but like 3:16 it does one thing and it does that one thing really well. I've adapted this game so many times over the last few years, using it as a character generation system to develop backstories, and using it to weave communal narratives that help to establish a world. 

10. Ghost/Echo

Another micro game, Ghost/Echo was a huge influence on my own game FUBAR, which has in turn been the basis of much of my design work over the past few years. This is a hint of a game, it provides the basics but expects a lot more to be brought to the table by it's players. It's one of those games that opened my awareness to a new style of collaborative play.

Honourable mentions
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness.
Chill 2nd Ed
Legend of the Five Rings

28 November, 2018

Pulling Apart and Recombining

One of the things about my design cycle is that I'm always shooting off on tangents, then I try to pull those tangents back into other projects.

This recent Fen project has had an idea that I've pulled from certain LARPs. It relates to the way weapon and armour works.

In those LARPs, there are simp,y some types of armour that are too protective for lesser weapons to penetrate. Instead of giving extra hit points or adding toughness, these armours simply say that if you aren't using a high enough level of weapon, you don't do a thing. So heroic knights wade through throngs of poorly equipped peasants and cut bloody paths of destruction through the masses... it's the wet dream of many libertarians and supremacists (as long as they're the ones in the armour).

The version in The Fen is slightly more nuanced.

Basically, you get certain thresholds of power level.

Let's say 'unarmed fists' counts as offence level zero and 'bare skin' counts as defence level zero.

A basic weapon (for example a 'dagger', 'club', or 'staff') or basic armour ('padded' or 'leather') adds a level to the relevant score.

A decent weapon ('shortsword', 'axe', 'spear') or decent armour ('mail') adds two levels.

A good weapon ('longsword', 'polearm', 'trident') or good armour ('plate') adds three levels.

Enchanted items might add a level to their relevant scores. Being strong might increase offence level by one. Being tough might increase defence level by one.

Everyone gets 5 health levels (1 = healthy, 2 = bruised, 3 = battered, 4 = bloodied, 5 = broken... then dead.)

You're always rolling a d6. If you confront someone using an offence level equal to their defence level, a roll of 4-5 does a level of injury to them, and a roll of 6 does two levels of injury. This means a maximum of 4 hits knocks someone to 'broken' and takes them out of action, and any roll of a 6 knocks them down quicker. 

If your offence is one point higher than their defence, then every hit does as extra injury... 2 injuries on a 4-5, 3 injuries on a 6. That means 2 hits takes them down.

If your offence is two points higher, then every hit does two extra injuries... that's 3 injuries on a 4-5, and 4 injuries on a 6. Suddenly the chance of single shot takedowns become a possibility.

If your offence is three points higher, then we're looking at three extra injuries... so that's 4 injuries on a 4-5 (instant takedown), or 5 injuries on a 6 (instant death).

Things get wonky the other way.

If your offence is one point lower than their defence, you do one less injury with each successful strike... that means no injuries on a 4-5, and only a single injury on a 6. This means on average it'll take 24 hits (needing four successes at 1 in 6 chance) to take down someone who is only one point higher.

If your offence is two or more points less than their defence, you'll do nothing at all to them... ever.

I've been considering options for addressing this.

Perhaps rolling a 6 allows a character the extra damage, or an insight into their opponent, which lowers the effective defensive score by 1 for the remainder of the conflict. If they aren't going to cause damage anyway, a lower powered assailant might as well claim that bonus once or twice.

There's already the scope in The Fen for more skilled opponents, who roll extra dice and keep the higher die roll. Thus a better chance of getting that 6. I could follow the Blades in the Dark route where extra 6s gain extra benefits on the one roll. The other twist here might be an option for characters specialising in a certain weapon to deal two extra injuries on a 6 rather than one extra injury.

I've also got a basic initiative system in play. Basically different weapons have different attack speeds, simply resolve conflict in descending order of initiative values. Heavy weapons might inflict more injuries, but those wielding them act more slowly. Faster weapons go earlier, but tend to deal less damage. Perhaps a rule could be instituted where a character deliberately lowers their initiative score, acting slower while waiting for the opportunity to strike and potentially deal more damage.   

Maybe all of these options, maybe other options I haven't thought of.

Thinking about all of these ideas has got me thinking that there might be something here to add into The Law for players after a crunchier combat system. That's where tne recombining comes in.

26 November, 2018

Another Step of the Journey has been Taken

I started retraining in 2012, when I began a college course in Fine Arts. From 2013 to 2015, I did a bachelors degree in Sociology and Linguistics [with minors toward teaching], because they offered the course that I thought I wanted, and I already had studies in Engineering and Industrial Design under my belt. From 2016 to mid 2018, I did a Master of Teaching degree, and began the process for formal accreditation as a teacher of Industrial and Visual Arts. After struggling with bureaucracy for eleven and a half months [during which I've done an additional college course in Photography], I've finally been approved to teach.

Now to start looking for teaching jobs...about three weeks before the school year ends. Hopefully this means I'll start teaching at the beginning of next year's school year. 

24 November, 2018

More Fen Images [NaGaDeMon 2018]

I'm certainly not going to get this project finished this month, but it's going in the right direction. 

I still haven't completely decided what a lot of the monstrous creatures in the Fen actually look like, so I'll focus on a few more of these reference images.

I also haven't particularly determined what the survivor characters actually are. The original concept was to simply have them as humans, and this is certainly the easiest option, but it crossed my mind that the swamp-bound survivors could be goblins or kobolds, or something else entirely. I also considered the idea that the survivors could be left deliberately vague, something for players to decide.  

23 November, 2018

Illustrating The Fen

I mentioned in a previous post that this project was going to be done white on black, to accentuate the darkness of the Fen. That means the illustrations will also follow the white on black theme.

I'm not necessarily going to run with anything too realistic for this project, instead opting to draw the illustration in my "comic" style. The whole rules for the project will also be written in the font that I generated out of my handwriting a few months back.