28 May, 2015

Powers in a Game of Heroes

Superhero games rarely manage to capture the real feeling of the comics or movies they claim to emulate.

+Ron Edwards wrote an awesome post about this a few weeks ago, it's been sitting in the back of my mind ever since then. My thoughts have related to two projects I've been hoping to complete this year, the first is my "Other Strangeness" mutant animal RPG, and the second is a variant set of rules for FUBAR *(work in progress title...Four Colour FUBAR). I'd link to Ron's post if I could find it, but it basically promoted an idea where the power is less important than it's effect on the story, and the way the power is reflected in the narrative. The ability to throw a fireball is less interesting if it is defined by a damage of "4d6" (or something similar for the game), more interesting if it is defined by things you can do with it, and even more interesting if it gives you an outer range of potential and lets you play within those boundaries. Instead of a fireball effect, maybe you could apply a "Batman's Utility Belt" effect, where there seem to be all sorts of gadgets contained within it, but they only really become important when they achieve narrative significance.

After reading through the Mage 20th Anniversary rules, this crystallised a few ideas in my mind, and really reminded me why I like the game. I just want to strip away the storyteller system, keep the general sphere magic system, maybe offer specific rote effects as super powers that can be designed by the players as constant effects that their characters know, then create a skill/ability that allows characters to deviate from those rote powers within the boundaries established by their spheres. I can keep the coincidental and vulgar effects (where vulgar magic might require the expenditure of energy rather than the accumulation of paradox). It will require a bit of work, but there is so much potential here.

Now I'm just trying to work out the best way to attach a system like this to the "FUBAR" or "System 4" mechanisms.

In each case, I'm thinking that a magic effect might simply add to dice, or roll an extra die...but come with some kind of drawback (either power cost, collateral fallout, or other story complications). The more over-the-top the potential effect, the more detrimental the drawback. Some powers might start with incredible potency, and as a character gradually masters it they don't learn how to make it more powerful, instead they learn to refine it and minimize the collateral damage.

These thoughts have particularly been clarified after reading through the Pathfinder rules, especially when one of the new players decided to play a Wizard. Hundreds of pages of very narrowly categorised spells and specific effects, almost as any pages of magical items requiring specific spells to know before they can be created. Magic is very regimented, and might not be all that useful to the grander ongoing story. It's a very different style of play, I haven't decided which is better for new players to wrap their heads around. but I know that I prefer the more fluid system.

Just where my head's at for the moment.

27 May, 2015


A half orc barbarian with massive intelligence but no formal training in how to apply it (think of him like a pseudo-medieval/fantasy mythbuster who likes to pull things apart and blow things up).

A human monk with a penchant for hanging out in bars after recently leaving his order.

An elven wizard who focusing on herbalism and alchemy, who has decided to become the core of the region's drug empire (hoping to absorb other existing drug cartels into his ring, or annihilate them)

A gnome rogue who can diplomatically persuade and charm almost anyone, after spending almost an entire human lifetime on the high seas as a specialist in the piratical art of the "parlay"...and who rides a combat training giant gecko.

That's where we started. Character generation started at 7pm, and used a single copy of the Pathfinder rulebooks between four people (two of whom had never played a tabletop RPG, only computer RPGs...and a first time GM). By the time we had an understanding of who our characters were and vaguely how they fitted together, it was almost 11pm. But everyone was still enthusiastic and wanted to see how these characters might start working together as a team. It was 1am by the time we realised the time, and called it quits.

I can see why some people enjoy this type of gaming, it's not quite old school, it's very mechanical, it allows a lot of quirky options. For people who've come across from computer RPGs, it offers a lot of familiarity. The dice mechanisms are pretty simple, roll a d20, add a bonus, compare it to a target number. We didn't really see much combat... well, half the table (the elven wizard and gnome rogue) didn't, while the other two just beat up on one another to see who was the better warrior. We did get to see how most of the basic die rolls worked, I explained them from the perspective of a veteran D&D 3.0/3.5 player (which meant I got most of them right, but didn't pick up on a lot of the nuanced variations in Pathfinder).

I don't know how long we'll last with this game, but the group seems to have gelled pretty well, and character generation is such a long process that most of the players aren't going to want to go through it again in a hurry...and the new GM just laid out a hefty sum on buying the assorted rulebooks, so he's not going to want to switch over to some other system in a hurry. I'd love to show these guys something new and quirky, but we'll just settle into a groove with this first.

Besides, my character (the gnome rogue) was designated defacto leader of the group due to real world RPG experience, and in character Charisma of 20. I usually try to play the mysterious warrior or sorceror supreme, so trying the spotlight role should be fun. It becomes more fun when most of the new players just ran with "male" as their default gender while my"leader" had their gender randomly determined. Male Barbarian, Male Monk, Male Wizard...led by a Female Rogue.

Let's see where that takes us.

25 May, 2015

Critique of an Online Controversy

I've made some comments over the past few days indicating that I was writing a research paper into the #GamerGate controversy as a part of my university coursework. This drew a bit of attention from a few different directions. For those who were interested, here's a link to my current paper.

Character Assassins and Social Justice Warriors

I'm fully aware that there is a bias in the title, most articles and papers do have a bias like this in the attempt to show how things have been read. I'm also aware of the scope of the data set used to draw my conclusions, I hope this has been adequately conveyed in the paper. I just hope it's a reasonable discussion on the matter based on the analysis I've conducted, and there are no major leaps of faith needed for a reader to reach the conclusions I did.

Back to our regularly scheduled posts shortly.

24 May, 2015

A Grand Annual Game

This was going to be a quick post about Eurovision and the way there seems to be an underlying game element to the voting system. But I realise a lot of people haven't seen it, still intend to watch it, and this post would be full of spoilers for them.

The post is still coming, but it might appear tomorrow.

23 May, 2015

Mage 20th Anniversary Edition

My favourite all time mindbending chaos journey is back. I've had the chance to look at certain bits of it, and it's the same game I know and love, but with everything turned up to 11. It's full colour, and that's great for a game that's about exploring the limits of the imagination, most of the artwork I've seen is great, but there are a few pieces that are a bit ordinary.

I love the idea that the game doesn't define anything, it's basically a toolkit to define your world with, just like the magical powers that the characters play with, and manipulate through their will. I like that the traditions now have a choice of magickal spheres to focus on, and the concept of the internet as we now know it has been integrated into the game (while it was thought to take a very different form back in the early 90s when the game was first written).

It's interesting (in this version that i'm reading through), that certain editorial issues have slipped through the cracks. On one page the Sons of Ether have taken on the name "Society of Ether" to reflect the embrace of women into their ranks, but on the Tradition's description pages they are still referred to as the "Sons". Same for the Akashic Brotherhood, Euthanatos, Dreamspeakers, Cult of Ecstasy, and Virtual Adepts. I'm not sure if the old names were kept in the tradition write ups to maintain consistency, or if they should have been swapped over.

I do like that the Technocracy and Crafts have been integrated into the core book.

On the whole, flicking through this book has been like catching up with an old friend, there are a few changes, developments and an added maturity, but most of it is familiar and exactly as I'd expect it to be.

Damn it, now I want to play a game.

22 May, 2015


Not much time for typing now, just taking a quick break from data analysis for a university course.

The data I'm analysing is the cesspool known as Gamergate. I'm analysing it from a linguistic/pragmatic perspective to determine where insults occur, how those insults work and if we can really determine whether it's about misogyny or about ethics in games journalism. Individually, certain elements of data look innocuous, but certain patterns are definitely forming.

I don't want to talk about this too much.

I think I'll need to shower,and maybe disinfect myself by the time I've waded through all the vitriol.

Then I'll be able to go back to discussing more pleasant topics, like hideous space mutants, psychic fungal toxins, and ways to inflict slow, bleeding, lingering death on player characters.

21 May, 2015

Randomness in NPCs

Something I was really thinking about when in the early stages of designing the Hold Em NPC Generator was the fact that I wanted the NPCs to be "balanced", whatever the hell that means.

The way the first three cards of the flop work out, it reminds me a bit of the old Shadowrun character generation system where you get a bunch of categories and you get to prioritise them. One can be at the best level, one at the second best, moving down through the ranks. Everyone has the same levels to play with, but they may prioritise them in different ways.

The problem with the Hold Em method (if you see it as a problem), is that you get dealt three random cards from a deck, and you might end up with a J,Q,K or you might end up with a 2,3,4. You still get to allocate these cards in different ways, but both of these characters will be very different, and if the card ranks say anything about power levels at all then the first character made with face cards will be far more powerful.

I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter. Most of the players I've gamed with over the years expect a degree of balance between their player characters, but they expect NPCs to come at a range of levels. Sometimes a powerful NPC won't make a lot of impact on the story as they'll be avoided after the first couple of appearances, and sometimes a weak NPC will become a favourite part of the narrative because they ground the characters in the mundane world. The reverse can also be true, it really depends on the way the story unfolds and the way these characters are portrayed.

That was really liberating, the NPCs can be of random ability type, as well as random ability level. I was worried that the three scales for card application in the flop, one having a distinct mechanism in place to ensure the lower levels of the scale are more commonly available than the higher levels, two having increased power when higher cards are applied to them, and one category that really has no mechanical benefit/modification. For NPCs this is fine, some are more powerful than others, some are just quirky side characters.

I've thought the same things about player characters as well, but it's often harder to justify against players who say that it's just unfair.

I had thought about changing the core structure of the generator at a few times during it's development, but I think that I'll just leave it as is for the moment. I'll probably change things up as I produce different generators, the Medieval generator will have different ways of producing characters in small towns/villages versus large towns/cities (and the system of influence will be quite different), the Post Apocalyptic generator will derive characters in a more gritty way that (and influence might be swapped out with quirky goods the characters possess).

There's still lots of potential to be explored here.