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Showing posts from 2009

Putting together an index

It's the end of the year, my Game mechanism of the week project is winding down and I'm putting together an index for the assorted entries.

Looking back through them all, I see that I've repeated myself a couple of times with some mechanisms that are very similar (for example, my entry on Flow is very similar to my final entry, my karma resolution entry mentions GM fiat, even though that has it's own entry). At least these duplications tend to be more than 6 months apart, possibly allowing for a bit of evolution in my thought patterns.

It's also interesting to see which of the entries has developed the most number of comments. Ro-Sham-Bo drew far more attention than I had been expecting.

It's also somewhat depressing to look at entries where I've had ideas for Quincunx over the past year, and I've even playtested it multiple times (including at Gencon Oz), but it seems no closer to completion than it did at the start of the year.

Hopefully the index will be…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #52: No Mechanisms

The Senryaku, the Art of War, has 36 stratagems for mastering the ability to fight.

Stratagem 36...

Run Away.

Know when your battles are stacked against you and don't waste your resources in these foolhardy pursuits.

So I present that the last mechanism a gamer should have in their repertoire is no mechanism at all.

In my experience, some of the best moments in roleplaying occur when players and GM put aside the rules and let the intimacy of the moment take them. This could be allowing the story to take it's course, truly immersing in a situation and forgetting it's a game at all, or really becoming one with the character.

A good set of mechanisms facilitates this type of moment, a good GM recognises it and allows it to flourish, a good player allows others to have their moment in the spotlight without stealing their thunder and calling for a judgment according to page XX.

It's a lot harder to do than might be first thought, it's almost zen-like in it's attainment. Th…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #51: Changing the Mechanisms to Suit

As I wind down my game mechanisms for the year, I've had a few preconceived ways to finish off the series. I'll be using two of these, both of which are really meta-mechanisms.
The penultimate mechanism is the notion of changing a game's mechanisms to account for what is happening in the fiction. Changing the way characters are able to interact with the world depending on how they have done so in the fiction so far.
At a long term perspective, this can be accounted for through experience points, especially in games where these points are used to purchase character upgrades rather than simply advance through levels. It gives the players some way to inform the group as to how they'd like a story to progress.
John buys a whole heap more stealth for his character, so it's obvious he'd like a bunch of situations where hiding is important. Charlie buys up his character's piloting skill, so it's obvious he wants more chances to get some vehicle action happening.

A New Gaming Theory and Lexicon

I've been a member of The Forge for a few years now. One of the things that took me a while to adjust to in that gropup was the usage of specific terms that describe elements of gaming theory. The problem is that many of these existing terms have a different usage in common language, or they are used to describe something in a way that just doesn't quite give a good mesh between the actual word and the element being described.

Story Games is always quick to shoot down someone when they mention Gamism, Narritivism or Simulationism...and whether the motives are honourable or not, I think it's good that they do this, because the words in themselves are poorly defined (or hold different definitions to different people). Confucius began one of his books by saying that much conflict in the world derived simply from a lack of shared definitions, that a common language would prevent many of the world's wars.

I've hinted that I'm working on a new theorum of game design. N…

Game Mechanism of the Week #50: GM Fiat

You could call it Deus Ex Machina, the hand of god, or if you are really against the concept you might even call it "railroading". I've wondered many times over the course of the past year whether it even constitutes a mechanism.

If you're not familiar with the concept of GM fiat it works pretty simply like this.

The GM simply decides whether your idea will work, the motivation between this choice is usually based on where the action will take the game or story. It can be done well, but it often gets a bad rap because the concept is usually associated with GMs who do it poorly.

In traditional rolplaying games, a group of players gathers to play through a story. There is a subtle difference; they don't gather to communally tell a story, they gather to put a group of characters through a series of set pieces pre-defined by the GM. When a GM uses GM fiat as one of the mechanisms for their game, they simply allow characters to take the actions that will logically lead t…

Game Mechanism of the Week #49: Saving Throws

The bane of a high speed gamer.

This bugbear of gaming appeared early. I pull out my tattered old D&D Red Box...Save vs Rods or Breath, Save vs Poison or Death Ray, Save vs Staves or Spells.

We move through several generations of games..

I move on to a generic product from the Palladium lineage, Heroes Unlimited...Save vs Coma/Death, Save vs Magic...my favourite nonsensical saving throw...Pull/Roll with Punch/Fall/Impact, and dozens of others to cover resisting any type of effect that could possibly hinder a character.

Lets move onward to advanced games where storytelling is more important than mechanics (or so was the claim)...I'll pull out the more socially oriented of White Wolfs original World of Darkness, Vampire the Masquerade (I could have pulled out the more combat focused Werewolf, but we expect more detail in its combat resolution mechanisms)...even in this combat is divided into a roll for attack, a roll for damage, then a roll to soak (and hopefully avoid a chunk of th…

Game Mechanism of the Week #48: Tables

I'm surprised I haven't really delved into the topic of tables earlier. I know I've thought of the idea a couple of times over the past year, but usually in context with some other mechanism.

Love them or hate them, tables are a part of many games.

The random monster and treasure tables in many early RPGs.

The devilishly elaborate tables that refer you to other tables when engaging the combat sequence in Rolemaster.

Tables designed for rapid generation of cities, regions and worlds in a variety of Game Master guides.

The curious tables scattered through the sourcebooks of RIFTS and GURPS.

Even the "modern" indie games fascination with oracles, due in no small part to the game "In a Wicked Age", are really just a new form of random data table accessed through the draw of cards rather than the rolling of dice.

I used to love tables, because you could introduce all sorts of elements into a game at random times, or when specific triggers were met. My early games (…

Game Mechanism of the Week #47: Outsiders

I hate it when I'm at work and I can write a bunch of notes on a scrap of paper, each of those notes forming the trigger for a great blog entry about game mechanisms...only to lose those scraps of paper when I sit down at the computer. It's happened quite a few times over the course of the past year.

...and it's happened again now.

Since a new idea has come to mind, I'll consider it as something worthy to write about.

Player characters are all outsiders. This is a part of the quintessential hero myth, if the hero was like everyone else, they wouldn't be interesting to tell stories about. If a group of player characters were doing the same stuff that everyone else is doing, then it probably wouldn't be worthy for us to dedicate our imaginative efforts toward them.

A lot of early games played of this specifically. You are an adventurer who travels from town to town, ridding the local dungeons of their unsavoury inhabitants, and trading unearthed treasures for tools t…

Game Mechanism of the Week #46: Factionalism

How do you drive story in a game? How do you inject a bit of conflict between characters who would otherwise co-operate? How do you bring a bit of co-operation between characters who might otherwise be constantly at one another's throats?

A simple answer to all of these questions comes in the form of factions, and many games have made use of this idea.

From the clans of Vampire the Masquerade or Legend of the Five Rings, the orders of Magi in Ars Magica, the corporations in assorted cyberpunk games or even the chapters of Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000.

Factions add instant ties between characters, whether those ties come in the form of communion or conflict.

Of course, factions don't always make a game better, in the same way that conflict doesn't always make a story better. Many kung fu movies are great because they bring creative conflict to the screen, but few kung fu movies are considered masterpieces of storytelling.

Like all mechanisms, you need to consider what you w…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #45: Character Peaks

I've had a few ideas over the past couple of weeks, but I keep forgetting to write them down. When I forget to take a note of the fleeting ephemera, I have a hard time trying to capture it in words when I sit down to start writing my blog...it's frustrating and it means that I haven't written a lot of game mechanisms lately.

Working on other projects hasn't really helped in that regard either...but anyway, time for number 45.

In many roleplaying games, a character gradually accumulates experience and becomes more powerful over the course of a story. They learn new things, they discover new tools that make them more effective and they face ever more dangerous foes.

This typically applies within the context of a single story, but often also applies over the course of a series of narratives. Characters simply escalate until they ascend to rival the gods themselves.

Fun (in some situations), but certainly not realistic.

There are a few games over the years that have offered an …

Game Mechanism of the Week #44: Modular Characters

Here's a concept I've played with a couple of times.

It can be applied in a couple of different ways; some of which I've tried, some of which I'd like to try.

The concept is pretty simple, and you could even look at stalwarts of the roleplaying world in this light.

The basic idea is that a character is made up of modular templates.

A bunch of race templates...a bunch of occupation templates. Add one to the other and voila, a character is instantly playable.

Let's try it a different way.

Here's a design I produced for a contest a couple of years back.

This design ended up becoming a part of the foundation for The Eighth Sea, but I'd really like to go back to it at some stage. The idea of a quickly producible character, with everything right there for a player to use in a couple of minutes.

Not sure what else to write on this one.

Of anyone's got comments, please fire away.

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #43: Fluency Play

There seems to be something interesting happening in game design at the moment.

I've noticed it in a few games, and it's something I've been aspiring towards in some of my own games.

Jason Godesky has made a post about it and has referenced the phenomenon as Fluency Play.

It's an amazing concept and something that many boardgames have done effortlessly for years.

I can't write the concept more succinctly than those who have written about it previously, so here's a bunch of links...

Pedagogy of Play
Story Games Thread

I'd love to do this in Quincunx, and Brigaki Djili has this concept directly in mind.

It;s a method to introduce instant immersion, because the players don't feel like they are "playing a game", instead they are sharing an experience.

The first game I've played to implement this in an elegant fashion is "Penny", but I've raved enough about that one. Apparently Jason has implemented a similar concept in his Fifth World gam…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #42: Escalation

I've just read through Elizabeth Shoemaker's Mist Robed Gate.

You've got to love a game where over a third of the text is a filmography of great martial arts movies, recipes for Asian cuisine to eat during play, and a quick guide to tea.

But those aren't mechanisms.

The game has at it's core, a sequence referred to as "the knife ritual". It's dramatic, evocative and a little dangerous...It uses a real knife.

The knife can be in a range of states, it begins sheathed and covered by a cloth when the tension is low. It becomes uncovered when things get a little tense. It becomes unsheathed when things are drawing to a head. It is stabbed into someone's character sheet when the edge of danger has been crossed and something nasty occurs. Character successes can increase or decrease the escalation of the knife, depending on their actions in game.

It's symbolic, but that symbolism is pretty clear and obvious.

I tried to do the same with Quincunx, using a se…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #41: Making Player's Decisions Matter

At Gencon Oz, I was reminded why I have a dislike of many traditional roleplaying games. I have to admit here that it's probably not the game that's at fault, it's probably badly written adventures or modules, and bad GMs.

I really enjoy the L5R setting. I've got a thing for Japanese culture after studying martial arts for a few years and over-indulging in manga/anime and other forms of Japanese culture. Last year (2008) we played in a game called Heroes of Rokugan twice, once as a tabletop and once as a freeform. Leah and I didn't get much of a say in how the adventures went, we were just two lowly ranked characters amongst a group who were all willing to take things as they came. We came to the table with no preconcieved notions, and were willing to take a back seat to enjoy the narrative developed by the group.

During a couple of occasions we knew that our characters had abilities that might have been useful to push the narrative in the direction that it wanted to…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #40: Wide Games

Again, not really a mechanism, but more a style of game that has some distinct differences to tabletop roleplaying.

Wide games are fairly simple and most kids instinctively play this style of game..."Hide and Seek" is an example, as is "Cops and Robbers". But wide games tend to apply a type of ruling mechanism into the game, rather than just having them degenerate into arguments. The game of "Murder" commonly played on university campuses is another form of wide game.

There are some distinct similarities between wide gaming and live roleplaying, and I understand a bit of historical precedent between the two. But I think that the field of roleplaying can probably learn a bit more from this distinct evolutionary gaming path.

If you're still not sure what I mean by wide gaming... here's an excerpt from a website.

'Wide Games' include any game requiring or making use of any large area of land. Provided you stick to a few simple rules they are ver…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #39: Card Suits

One of the quickest and easiest methods I've encountered for integrating a mechanism with a setting is through the use of card suits.
I've encountered this a couple of times over the last week, so it struck me as a good idea for this week's mechanism.
I'll illustrate the mechanism through a number of examples...
First, I used the mechanism myself when I wrote The Eighth Sea. In this case I paired the suits to different types of actions that can be taken by the characters. If a character manages to draw a card with a suit matching the action type, they gain an advantage when performing that type of action. It's a pirate oriented game so I gave the actions piratey names: Thumpin', Talkin', Thinkin' and Feelin'.
A few players have instantly gotten the right vibe from the game just by seeing these terms on the character sheet.
Second, I saw the mechanism used in the seminar/panel feedback that I posted in my last blog entry. The game discussed focuses on the…

Game Design Panels

One of my regrets about Gencon Oz 2009, was the fact that I didn't get to participate in any of the seminars or panels...that was actually one of the things I enjoyed about Gencon Oz 2008.

Still it's good to see that there are panels and seminars dedicated to game design running at conventions elsewhere in the world.

V-Con Design Panel

Now I'm just waiting to see (or hear) some of the information from those Gencon Oz panels that I missed.

Hint. Hint. (for those who might be reading...)

The heady days of the Mid 1990s, Ukiyo Zoshi and a rant

I think the mid 1990s will always be my golden age.

I had just left high school and was starting to truly forge an identity of my own.

I had gotten a job and was earning my own keep for the first time.

The cold war was ending and the feeling of hope in the world was echoing my own feeling of freedom and the chance for a better life.

Nirvana was showing the world that you didn't need make-up and big hair to play good rock music. And you didn't need to spend far too much money on film clips to get into the top 40.

White Wolf's Storyteller system was showing the roleplaying community that games could focus on story rather than a quirky set of skills and abilities (but it still included these anyway).

I had a good core group of friends, and it felt like we'd all stay friends forever...

I could go on...but that's not the point of my post.

Around this time, a friend and I developed a game called Ukiyo Zoshi (translated from Japanese it roughly means "Tales of the Floating W…

What would I be doing if I didn't roleplay? (Pt 1)

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Brigaki Djili: The Big Three (or six or more)...

I've commented on the Power 19.
I'm deliberately not going to generate one for Brigaki Djili at this stage.
But I will look at the Big Three...three questions that help to focus a game design. The problem is, that I've encountered at least two different versions of "The Big Three".
What is your game about?How does your game do this?How does your game encourage / reward this?I'm told that respected game designer John Wick likes to add.. How does you game make this fun?Another version of "The Big Three" uses the first three questions of the Power 19, and often implies that these are the most valuable responses for the 19 questions. What is your game about?What do the characters do?What does the GM do (if there is one)?So that makes six different questions for "The Big Three", each of them reflects something distinctly different about the game without delving to deep into specifics. Probably a good series of points to start. It's also useful t…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #38: Roll and Keep

Legend of the Five Rings has an interesting mechanism for resolving actions.
You basically roll a bunch of dice, keep some of them and sum up the face values of the dice you've kept.
In that specific game, the pool of dice rolled is equal to a total of attribute and skill, while you keep a number of dice equal to your attribute. In this way, attributes are more important because they both provide dice for the pool and provide the number of dice kept...skills are less significant because they only add dice to the pool.
In L5R, there is an added mechanism that natural 10's are rerolled, with the new value added to the previous result.
As an example, 7k4 (Roll 7 dice keep 4). [5],[7],[3],[6],[2],[8],[10+8]...keep the best 4 [18],[8],[7],[6]...for a total of 39.
During Gencon Oz we saw another version of this, flipping around the last game mechanism presented. Instead of rolling under but aiming for the highest score, we saw duels of precision which saw players trying to beat a targe…

Racism in Gaming

One of the inspiration words in the Stockade's game design challenge is "Gypsy".
I haven't really done a gypsy inspired game, but I've considered it a couple of times. I love the unusual cultures of the world and like the chance to do some good research in a field that I haven't explored too thoroughly.
Over the years I've had a couple of ideas for unusual mechanisms that might be used in a game and I thought I'd really like to tie the gypsy concept to the token bag.
I started with my usual method of opening up a word processor document and starting to type away with a stream of consciousness style of writing that often gives some great insight as I start digging through the words later.
Brigaki Djili is a romani/gypsy term meaning "Sorrow Songs".

I'm using it as a name for a new project in which players take on the role of Gypsy seers who reveal the past through communal storytelling.

Each player takes on the role of one of these gypsy seers,…

Brigaki Djili: The Elevator Pitch

The light of truth is revealed in the shadows of gypsy firelight.There are tales that have changed our society; while the repercussions have been felt far and wide, the details of these stories have been deliberately hidden. Those outside our society have a unique perspective of our history; gypsies, vagabonds, nomads. Their insight and communion with arcane forces allows them to penetrate the fa├žade and reveal the truth. The elders of the kampanya, gather after a feast; a solitary visitor has asked them to reveal a hidden story of the past.Thus Brigaki Djili begins…

Brigaki Djili (Sorrow Songs)

To maintain a tradition of unpronounceable game names, I'll be working on a project called "Brigaki Djili" for my entry into the Stockade's game design contest.
Brigaki Djili is actually a term from a Romani dialect, which is fitting for a game about gypsies. It's direct translation is "sorrow songs", so the game will be about revealing the past. Sort of like gypsy fortune tellers who reveal the hidden past instead of looking into the future.
At this stage, the very raw basics of the game follow the notion of a group who commune with one another through dance, ritual and sacred herbs. Each tapping into an all knowing communal conscious to reveal the actions of a single individual in the context of a forgotten story. The role of the GM is that of a lone traveller who has asked the group to reveal a story lost to the mists of time (or deliberately hidden by the "powers that be".) The group weave together their narrative, and the GM asks occasional…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #37: Intercharacter Connections

I've seen this used in a few games previously, I've touched on it in a few of my Game Mechani(sm) posts, and I've toyed with it in a few ways within the games I've been designing.
The ways characters relate to one another is a fundamental part of the roleplaying experience in my mind, at least as important as a character's relation to the world around them.
But there are a few schools of thought about character's relations to one another. Should you apply specific formulae to the dynamic of players interacting with one another through their characters? Should you let players evolve the dynamic for themselves?
It's like a lot of things, different groups will work better with different answers to the question.
At one end of the spectrum there is the tradition of Australian Freeforming, purely about intercharacter connections. At the other end of the spectrum you get traditional tabletop play, where characters are defined by what they can do to the world around th…

Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games

One of the people I respect in the field of independent roleplaying is John Kirk, who has written a great textbook on games and the mechanisms contained therein.
It can be found at the following link...

Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games
It was actually a source of inspiration for my current series of Game Mechani(sm)s, but I've made a distinct effort not to reference it in my blog so far, for fear of simply copying what has been written previously. Despite this I'm sure I've probably echoed a lot of what John has written, but with my own bias heavily applied to the subject matter. But then against, what blog exists without personal bias.
I look forward to reading through this updated version of the text.

Relational charts of Roleplaying Systems

[EDIT: Here's an old pair of links that I had intended to add to the blog, but never got around to. I had hoped to write something useful at the time, but now I've just decided to simply share the links. EDITED 14th NOV 2009]

Indie Game Design Relational Chart

Relational Chart Main Hubs

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #36: Roll High but Under.

Back to the grindstone of writing about Game Mechani(sm)s.
I've found another one that I like, not so much for any specific effect it produces within play, but for it's versatility.
3:16 is a pretty simple game on the surface, it uses a basic mechanism where you roll a 10 sided die and aim to roll under your designated skill level. The higher your skill level, the better your chance to roll under it.
But the instant advantage that a system like this provides is that it allows a method of comparing two opponents without resorting to additions, subtractions or other modifiers. As long as both participants succeed in their roll, simply compare the numbers. Higher value wins.
It's elegant because it combines two effects into a single die roll.
I'd like to find a good use for this in a game, but at the moment I've got too many other ideas circulting in my mind.

The Stockade

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Just thought that I'd share with everyone that I've joined a community of Australian game designers called "The Stockade". There are already a few talented and respectable designers who have gathered in this group, so hopefully I won't be letting the team down.
The first official project of the Stockade is a 12 month contest, launched at Gencon Oz 2009 with the aim to produce a playtested and fully playable game by Gencon Oz 2010.
As a contest junkie and a forum junkie, its hardly surprising that I've already thrown my hat into the ring on this one.
I'm thinking of combining aspects of "A Penny for my Thoughts", "Baron Munchausen" and parts of my existing design concepts to create an immersive experience using the "tokens in a bag" mechanism and elaborately folded character sheets. I think it will involve Gypsies.

Gencon Oz

Haven't been posting much lately because I've been preparing for Gencon Oz.

Writing games, writing characters, preparing to GM sessions while wearing batman armour...it's a lot of work.

I'll try to start something more regular shortly.

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #35: THAC0

Let's look at a traditional game mechanism.
THAC0, as found in D&D, AD&D, AD&D 2nd edition and thankfully gotten ridden of in later editions of the rules.
Why do I say that? Did I hate it that much?
It's not just that THAC0 is confusing (well maybe it's a bit confusing, especially for new players), it's just not that you need to reference a bunch of character class specific tables to calculate it's values, nor is it just the fact that THAC0 involves addition and subtraction to derive, it's all that and more.
I don't think I get many readers from the old school rennaisance of gaming, most of the people I relate with online belong to the indie camp of game design so it's probably safe to criticise one of the holy symbols of early gaming (there's probably not a lot of difference between the two groups, but I'll get into that later).
Don't get me wrong, I know where the concept came from, but I've been hearing a lot of people lately w…

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #34: Narrative Sharing

The GM sets the scene and tells the story, the players simply enact the actions of their characters within that story.
That's the way traditional gaming is played out.
You go to a convention, and you pay money for a GM to weave a story for you. It's almost like paying to gpo and see a movie, axcept that you can manipulate the story toward one of a few defined conclusions that the GM has prepared.
You play around a table with friends, one takes on the responsibility of setting up the stories, while everyone else creates caharacters to take part in those stories. Sometimes the group has an adversarial relationship with their GM, working to subvert the stories; other times it's cooperative.
But games need not always be like this.
I've alluded to cooperative storytelling in quite a few of my posts, but checking back through the weekly game mechani(sm)s I don't think I've actually brought up the notion as a specific topic. It's something that has really helped to def…