18 August, 2008

Hooray!!

I've been checking lulu.com every day or two, to see how my first baby is going.

My first copy of the Eighth Sea has been sold.

Here's hoping it's the first of many.

15 August, 2008

Design Dilemma

I'm working on a new game concept.

Well that's not entirely true.

I'm resuming work on a game concept that got me stuck a few months back.

I keep trying to develop this game concept but my mind keeps shooting off into new directions that expand beyond the original concept in ways that complicate the simple premise.

It was this exact phenomenon that caused me to break my train of thought by developing the Eighth Sea to it's finished status. Now that I'm returning to my earlier concept, I'm finding the same problems developing.

Some would call this "development hell". In fact there are many who say that these festering ideas can evolve into truly revolutionary concepts as they grow in the back of one's mind.

I'm just finding the ideas to be a nuisance.

I think I've been hanging around the forge for too long.

When I started to develop a roleplaying game, I just thought I needed a good game mechanic and an evocative setting. I had given cursory thought to the concepts of character goals and player agendas, these always seemed to be a natural part of play. I hadn't considered the three types of player and how they interacted with the gaming phenomenon, and I certainly hadn't thought of ways that these player agendas could be manipulated through the careful wording of rules. Now I keep getting caught up on how a game experience should be fine-tuned into the system...I keep wondering how a certain new mechanic might influence the types of stories being told. And my preconcieved paradigm of role-playing now seems to be so far beyond my original notions that the game I have resumed working on seems to be a poor reflection of what I could now achieve.

The problem is that I liked the original game for it's elegance and simplicity. Every time I try to apply a creative agenda into the base rules, they just complicate and get messy...which then starts a chain reaction where I start looking to other systems that might better fit the new ideas...which then leads me to abandoning the simple game I'm trying to finish...which then leads me back to the question of whether the original game was better or if the new mutant strain is better.

...and does the mutant strain deserve it's own new place in my mind, while the original concept still stands on it's own as an unfinished masterpiece?

I think the problem lies with the original game's modular concept, where I decided a simple system could be applied in any way through addition of one or more modular components. The simple system is nice on it's own, and the components seem nice on their own, but the fitting of the two is where the problem lies.

It's frustrating.

10 August, 2008

People are idiots...part 1

I'm calling this Part 1, because I know that I'm going to observe a lot more things that prove this point.

It was 2am, I've slept since then so I'm not sure whether to say it was this morning or last night...anyway, that's not the point of the post. I'd had some alcohol a few hours early, but it had been a while before I got in the car...I was pretty sure that I was safe to drive, but Iwas taking things carefully just to make sure.

I was heading toward a set of traffic lights where I know there is an automatic red-light camera.

A car is ahead of me by a hundred metres or so. I see the light turn red and it is solidly red for a good second or so as the car ahead rushes through the intersection. As I start slowing down, red and blue flashing lights start up behind me and a police car shoots around me to catch the traffic offender.

There aren't many cars on the road at 2am, but as I'm stopped at the lights for half a minute or so another vehicle comes through the intersection from my right. They had done exactly the same thing and as they sped through the red light, two white flashes of light indicated that the red-light camera had been activated.

2 cars in a row had gone through red lights at the intersection, both had been caught for traffic offenses by completely different means...

It might not be very interesting for someone who wasn't there, but it was fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile I began the rest of my journey home, possibly over the legal drinking limit...I was just glad that two bigger idiots than myself had been caught for not being careful.

It's just a reminder that no matter how stupid you may be, there are always bigger idiots out there.

Such is life.

07 August, 2008

Game Mechanics 1.2

I'm taking a slight detour in my blogs about game mechanics, I had intended to be detailing aspects of what I think make a good combat system (and how I followed those ideas to generate the system used in Tales).

...instead I'll look a bit deeper at aspects of character generation.

I've already mentioned a strong favour toward perceived mid-points. Two of the scales I've heavily considered are...

Systems with lots of random value generation versus systems that place the focus of thought back into the hands of the players.

and

Systems where the the characters are incredibly detailed with skills, combat abilities and special powers defined to the nth degree versus systems that are almost freeform with arbitrary principles based on vague notions of common sense.

I've always felt that a good game can be judged by it's character generation system, and for an instinctive gut reaction, the generation system can be seen through the character sheet and the sheer size of it in a book. If you're playing a heavy game with lots of detail, you'd be best to avoid a system where the character generation can be defined in less than a half dozen pages. If you want something light then this would be more appropriate. This extends through the whole system. The more a player invests into character generation, the more protective they are going to be when it comes to their character.

In a throw-away game where players can easily risk losing a character or two each session, those player's really don't want to be spending an hour generating each new game-world persona. In a complex game of political intrigue, where subtleties in a character's past can have dramatic effects on the course of the narrative, then an hour may not be enough time to generate a viable persona.

Where you draw the line between these two extremes really depends on the style of play that is the objective of the playing group. This can be one of the critical things that makes or breaks a session of game play.

For Tales, I worked with what I considered to be a reasonable mid-point, but have allowed scope to push the character generation toward a more rapid deployment system, or a more complex version depending on the needs of the story to be told.

The whole thing uses a point assignment system using simple numbers of 10,20,30. People like round numbers, they're easy to remember.

Attributes (10)

How many attributes are enough? How many are too many?

I remember in the late 1980's there were roleplaying games that assigned anything up to a dozen attributes to their characters. I also remember games from the 1990's that rebelled against this concept and reduced the number of attributes to 2 or 3. The godfather of all games, D&D uses 6 attributes, and this seems to be a common number across many systems.

Having played many games, it seems that the sweet-spot for atytribute variety is 5 to 6. But I've been playing with a number of card based systems over the years and 4 suits have stuck with 4 types of task in my mind.

Physical, Social, Mental, Spiritual.
(A lot of games don't touch on the Spiritual aspect, but this is important to me for a number of reasons...instead they may divide the three others into two-or-three different attribute types. Physical could become Strength and Endurance, Mental could become Intelligence and Wisdom, etc.)

4 also works fairly well when a player has 10 points to allocate between them. A player could choose to allocate in the distribution of 4,3,2,1. Giving them a clear area of advantage and a clear area of weakness. It also means that a plauyer can't start with a purely even starting character, the most level method to distribute their attributes will be 3,3,2,2.

When we assume that the average attribute value is +3, we can simply say that players begin slightly less powerful than others who have been performing similar roles for a while. This gives characters something to aspire toward, and that type of motivation is something that helps push the game forward.

Skills (20)

How many skills are enough?

The various areas of knowledge are far more diverse than the basic innate potentials of a person. I've seen games with no skill lists, where a player simply chooses a role to explain the types of skills they'd be likely to have. Conversely there are games with hundreds of finely tuned skills that cover dozens of specific areas.

I like the concept that anyone should be able to attempt anything (within reason). You don't need a skill in computers to turn one on (but it certainly helps). You don't need to be an athlete to jump across a pit (but again it really helps if you have practiced such things).

For starting characters I've decided to allow up to three points to be spent in a skill (this works with the 3 points as a typical high point for an attribute). 1 point shows a passing interest, 2 points shows that this is a regular hobby, 3 points shows that they spend a decent amount of the spare time honing this skill. Yes, skills can go above 3, but more about this will be detailed shortly.

(I had toyed with the notion of making each skill linked to a specific attribute and capping the skills at a level equivalent to the attribute, but even though it seemed an elegant solution this proved to confusing to a number of test groups).

I've divided each attribute into 10 key areas that seem appropriate to the genre, but have allowed room for players to introduce their own skill ideas if they specifically want to develop their characters in ways that aren't defined by the existing rules. 10 skills each across 4 attributes = 40 total skills, meaning that even if a starting character spreads themselves incredibly thin across the range of potential abilities, then they'll have a passing knowledge in half of the skills available.

This is another aspect that I consider pretty important, because I believe that no-one can understand everything, and it is these differences in knowledge that help to define our individuality.

Background Details (30)

Here's where characters really become unique.

I've decided that all characters have access to a range of templates, along with merits and flaws that make them individuals.

Templates cost 5, 10 or 15 points. They may be bought as occupations or as cultures.

Occupational templates reflect how the character earns a living, cultural templates reflect how they fit into their society.

A 5 point occupational template is a hobby, a 10 point occupational template is a part time job, a 15 point occupationaal template is a full time job.

A 5 point cultural template is a connection to a group, a 10 point occupational template is a membership in a group, a 15 point occupational template is a leading role within that group.

A character with a full time job and a role of leadership within a group simply doesn't have time to develop in other ways. Sacrifices have to be made somewhere.

Occupation templates provide bonuses to skills, as well as a few advantages and disadvantages typically associated with this type of job (any skill bonus allow starting characters to begin with skills modifiers above +3). They basically provide benefits to a character in exchange for that character meeting certain responsibilities within society. Occupations have a time commitment associated with them to show that the character's freedom is restricted by the things they are expected to do in exchange for gaining the benefits of that job.

Cultural templates provide backgrounds and give the character a grounding within a specific society or sub-culture. These templates reflect the type of people the character regularly associates with, either in their public daily life or in secret shadowy meetings. Cultural templates often provide specific groups of allies and enemies, and belonging more strongly to a certain culture will have the effect of impacting the character's very beliefs and ideals.

I've allowed a player to purchase as many templates as they like for their character, of any types they might wish. This concept also allows players to pick up a pair of part time jobs, or to mix and match aspects of jobs to create unique employment opportunities...2 parts warrior, 1 part diplomat...2 parts mystic, 2 parts scholar. In this way a dozen defined occupations (each with hobby, part-time and full-time levels) can be combined to give hundreds of viable character options.

If the characters have any points left over after template purchase, these may be used to purchase additional skills, attributes or other advantages.

There's another thing that I've tried to incorporate into the design of the game at this level. This is the belief that walking the established path is easier than forging a new path. This is reflected by bonus points provided through the templates. A player can purchase the same things in a template as they can purchase with their left-0ver points, but there are tutors and mentors who are willing to teach the templates as a package. The advantage provided here isn't big, but it should be enough to make players seriously consider the difference between designing a truly unique character and designing someone who simply fits into the world around them.

A 5 point template basically provides 6 points worth of benefits. A 10 point template provides 12 points of benefits. And to follow the logical progression, a 15 point template provides 18 points worth of benefits. But on the down side, each template has a standard group of disadvantages associated with it, so a player knows that if they are facing up against a standard rank-and-file template enemy there will be certain tactics that can be used against them.

A player can choose to spend all of their background points on templates to generate a character fairly quickly, or they can be far more picky with their character choices and really develop a unique character.

Beyond templates, I like the concept of Advantages and Disadvantages. Little effects that give characters bonuses or penalties in specific situations. It here that I think roleplaying really comes to the fore in most mechanical systems. I've also seen through play that most players will play up their advantages and play down or avoid their disadvantages. So to counter this I've made the disadvantages more severe than advantages of the same value. A 1 point advantage may give +1 to a die roll in a certain situation, while the corresponding 1 point disadvantage gives -2 to a die roll.

There's a few aspects of the whole system that I've had to seriously reconsider over the past few months (through the development of the Eighth Sea), but I'll get to them in later parts of this mechanics discussion.

...hopefully the detour is now concluded, I'll aim back toward combat mechanics for my next post.

Eighth Sea Now Available.

For any who may have been following the progress of my games, The Eighth Sea is now available for purchase.


Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

05 August, 2008

Game Mechanic 1.1

There are a few schools of thought about characters in roleplaying games. Some believe that characters should be fully detailed in what they can do and where there limitations might lie. Others believe that a general notion of the character will suffice, and common sense should be allowed to fill in the blanks.

Both concepts are valid under different styles of play.

Spread across this split, you have people who believe characters should be primarily defined by what they were born with, versus what they've learned...that whole "nature vs nurture" debate.

Here's where attributes and skills come in.

While these two concepts have been a staple in most roleplayinggames for years, many independent games are moving away from the notion of attributes and skills. These recent games return to a simpler concept of simply assigning a character roles, then follow by allowing certain roles to complete certain tasks with ease. A combatant can physically fight but they may be no good at a verbal debate...a doctor may be able to heal but can they fire a gun??

Attributes and skills allow for more customisation of the character, but at the expense of a longer character generation process.

I've decided with this system to go with the idea that nature and nurture play equal parts in character's potential to achieve a goal...and that characters can learn things beyond the scope of their daily life activities. But how do you make this quick for new players, or for those who simply want to get into the action ASAP??

Since we're using a d6, the maximum power we want a character to have is +12. Half of which comes from the attribute, and half from a skill. So I'm giving each a scale of 1 to 6. Where 1 is the minimum for basic activities and 6 is the highest humanly possible. This means that someone has to have a 6 in both their skill and their attribute to get the best possible result, it also means that everyone is adding at least 1 to their die rolls.

If we say that the average person has an attribute score of 2 to 3 and most people reasonably proficient in an area of skill have the same 2 to 3 points of bonus here, then standard deviation places most people at around the +4 to +6 mark...which is pretty close to what we need.

But what about those times when there's a difference of 6 or more?

To cover this, I've decided to include a fate related pool of points. It replenishes as players progress toward the story goals or toward their own agendas, and it can be expended by them to improve their chances at certain effects.

Through this pool, any time a 6 is rolled, a point may be spent to turn it into an automatic success. If two players roll 6s then the character expending the point gains a success, unless both spend the point and then it comes back to a comparison of modified die rolls.

I've also decided that if one side rolls a 6 and the other rolls a 1, then it automatically goes to the side with the 6 without the need to spend a point from the pool. After all this basically reflects in the game that one character has done the best they possibly can, while the other side has botched. It only makes sense that the character with the 6 would succeed in this case. Besides, there's only a 1 in 36 chance of this happening.

Next I'll explain my rationale for the combat system...

04 August, 2008

Game Mechanic 1.0

I've decided to document some of the game mechanics that I come up with periodically.

I've developed systems based on dice rolls, cards, counters and hand gestures, and each of these has applications to different styles of game. The problem with these conceptual ideas is that I can never decide on the type of game best suited to the mechanic. A poker based mechanic may lend itself well to a wild west game, a tarot mechanic may be good for a game about occultism or mysticism, but where do you place a complex die mechanic?

I've looked at plenty of games over the years and have seen many that have focused on a gimmicky mechanic.

Roll 3 dice, ignore the highest and lowest results and keep the middle die. Then compare this to a difficulty value that's generated by rolling a second die and cross referencing this to a table.

[The result of the die might produce a nice bell-curve, and the cross referencing effect might ground it well in the reality of the game world, but the combined effort is fiddly and time consuming and may slows down the play of the game...especially in combat sequences where numerous people are making die rolls at once and interacting with one another in comnplex ways].

I've seen plenty of these systems, some of which address their settings, while others just seem to be complicated for the sake of complication.

So my aim over the next couple of months is to intersperse a couple of game mechanic ideas that could be applied to a number of situations, and maybe develop a bit of discussion about what sorts of games these systems might be most appropriate for.

On to the first system...

Tales [d6]

This is the system I'm using for my generic game engine, Tales. It's not designed to reflect any specific themes, the concept is more of a chassis that other mechanics can be added to.

The core concept of the system is that everything is resisted, and no-one knows the full extent of that resistance until they've made an attempt at something.

The player rolls a standard die, and adds a number equivalent to the forces favouring the change. Their opponent also rolls d6 and adds a number equivalent to the forces hindering the change. If a character is affecting the general world, then the player's opponent is the GM. If the character is targeting another character, then the player's opponent is the player of the target character.

Simple, and there are a few games that have used this core.

If the opposing forces of stasis and change are balanced, then there is an even chance of the effect occuring (or not). If the opposing forces are not balanced, then the changes of success or failure vary accordingly.

The average number added to a die should be equivalent to the number of sides on the die being used. In this way, if 10 sided dice were used, then the typical modifier to each side should be about +10. A weak force should apply a bonus equal to half the die sides, a strong force should be about one-and-a-half times the number of sides. The weakest forces provide no bonus, the strongest forces typically encountered provide a bonus equal to twice the number of sides.

Using these figures, the numbers don't get too huge, and you don't have to play with negatives.










Die Sides No ForceWeak ForceAverage ForceStrong ForcePowerful Force
4 +0+2+4+6+8
6 +0+3+6+9+12
8 +0+4+8+12+16
10 +0+5+10+15+20
12 +0+6+12+18+24
20 +0+10+20+30+40




Looking at the values, a d4 based system doesn't leave a lot of scope for variablity in the values, and a d12 based system can rapidly get into numbers that are large. Most people like their sums to use small numbers with single digits. So the d6 and d8 versions are probably easiest to use. d6s are far more common, so it becomes a more approachable game to use these.

In any contest, two equally ranked forces have an even chance of succeeding. A force that is one step lower than the opposing force has a 25% chance of succeeding. A force that is two steps lower than the opposing force cannot succeed.

For example: d6+3 results in a value from 4 to 9, while d6+9 results in a value from 10 to 15.

This becomes something to seriously consider in the game.

Do you want a mechanic where there is no chance for someone to succeed when the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against them, or do you still want there to be some kind of success chance?

This is where a numer of systems have deviated. Some systems apply an automatic failure result if the face on the die shows a 1. This basically means that no matter what the difference in skill level between two opponents, then there is always a "1 in X" chance of the little guy winning (where X equals the number of sides on the die being used). Similarly, rolling the highest possible result on a die could count as an auto success (such as using critical hits on a natural 20, in many games).

Other games allow a die roll to "explode" if the high number is rolled. If a 6 shows on the six sided die, then it may be rolled again and the new value added to the 6. This basically equates to a "1 in X" chance of a better result, but not necessarily a guaranteed success. Most systems using this concept expand it further by allowing multiple "explosions".

Neither system is more "realistic", both have their advantages in different styles of play.

For Tales, I didn't want to keep adding numbers together or keep rolling dice. The aim is simply to get a fast game mechanic, a single roll to get a result but a chance for anything to succeed. So I combined the 1 is an "auto fail" option and 6 is an "auto success", but since the game is all about telling stories I added a difference.

More to come shortly...

03 August, 2008

Genre Advancement System

I've just offered a concept for a challenge at the Forge.

I've done this for a simple reason. I'd like to find out what constitutes genre in different people's minds. I could have simply posed a question, but I probably wouldn't have had anything useful come out of it, and would have had a dozen partial concepts.

I figure that offering a contest in this manner will generate a couple of well-considered and fully rounded ideas that I can then use as the basis for genre advancement within the Eighth Sea, or within some of the other game concepts I'm working on.

At the moment I'm finding a lot of products on the market to be very generic and flavourless. This seems to be with the intention of allowing different groups to inject their own style into a setting, but my question is how that style really becomes a part of the setting.

What makes "film noir"? What makes "horror"? How do you convey these concepts in a game mechanic?

It will be interesting to see what results might develop.

01 August, 2008

Eighth Sea Complete??

After months of work setting up a first draft, a fortnight of hasty revisions and editing, I've reached the final stages of getting the Eighth Sea ready for production...

...only to find one more issue.

The PDF files I'm compiling for the internal pages have images on them that look like rubbish.

They're meant to be 300dpi or better, but when I look at them, they look more like 100dpi (barely better than screen resolution and certainly not good enough for a professional looking product).

I guess I'm going to be spending the next few days recompiling images.

Just when I thought I was done...

...oh well.