30 March, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #13: Scales of Morality

I'm taking someone else's game mechanism this week.

Scales of Morality

It's OK, as you can see in the thread, I told him I was going to steal it.

I actually think that this is a good basis for a morality system, a system that makes sense for a specific character. There are a number of scales that a character can use to gauge their outlook on the world, and if I were going to use it as a character development tool, I'd have players choose two or three of these scales to show what their character values most about themselves, or what they fear they could become.


The simple options offered have a virtue in the middle, while characters who tend toward the extremes of the scale veer toward the traditional sins. It's simple, and it sets a specific in game theme about moderation being a virtue. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, I guess that all depends on the type of theme a game is trying to portray.

The more complex options I find more interesting.

Peace-Justice-Violenceamount of force used to solve problems
Death-Humanity-Lifeone's value and view of life
Naivety-Mercy-Vengeancehow evil is dealt with
Fear-Courage-Recklessnesshow one regards personal safety
Blasphemy-Piety-Fanaticismhow one feels toward religion
Selfishness-Duty-Myrmidonloyalty and obedience of authority
Deception-Honor-Arroganceone's code of conduct
Manipulation-Honesty-Legalisticthe importance placed on words
Passion-Discipline-Coldnessone's measure of self control and emotion
Malice-Charity-Pityhow one deals with the less fortunate
Poverty-Contentment-Greedone's value of the material
Abnegation-Chastity-Indulgenceone's value of worldly pleasures

I find this far more interesting because the central term is "safe", while the outer terms could easily be considered virtuous by one person but abominable by someone else...and it's this interplay of morality within a person, and between people that makes the system far more interesting.

The combined axes of Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil of Dungeons and Dragons don't really do this, because they're applied to everyone and it's really used as a metagame mechanism to justify certain character actions rather than being used as a way to really define the characters interactions with the society around them in a truly meaningful way.

One character is lawaful, one character is chaotic. What to they each do when encountered by a poor person? What would they each do if given $1,000,000?

I guess that this sort of moral dilemma was never meant to be faced in a game about hacking monsters in dungeons. But it's certainly the type of thing I'd prefer to explore in a session of roleplaying.

There's more to it, than that of course. But I definitely think this concept deserves more exploration.

Blog Surfing (Part 1)

Occasionally I do searches on the net for illustration ideas, or images that might provide some inspiration. Many of these searches end up producing a couple of potential ideas, some don't. Every now and then I find something that really strikes me as odd, either resonating with something that I've previously thought, or simply making me re-assess thoughts that I've had.

I'm always open to new perspectives, but it's human nature to get a bit of an ego boost when someone agrees with your previous thoughts. So either option is valuable.

One of the blogs I found tonight revolves around conspiracy theories...or at least it seems to, I haven't delved too deeply into it. I was busy searching for images of rocks and clouds.

What I found interesting is here.

It's an interesting view on psychopaths within society, and I can really empathise with a number of the authors ideas. Especially after my time working within a national level office of a major retail chain. Perhaps something that the whole world is starting to realise with the global financial melt-down underway.

26 March, 2009

Little Game Chef Part 2

I've completed my Little Game Chef Entry.

The Gambit of Erzulie Ga-Rouge.

It uses chess as a pacing and scene development tool, and hopefully draws players into the experience of the setting through layers of intrigue within the game play as well as levels of intrigue within the metagaming.

Trying to get this down to two pages hasn't been easy.

It would have been much nicer in 4 pages, with a bit more room for some decent explanations and some better ideas to jump start stories...perhaps even a couple of illustrations to help further set the tone for the game.

I had considered the idea of really immersing potential players in the tropes of the game by writing it in Haitian Creole, or at least scattering a few words very liberally throughout the text, but I've come to he conclusion that this would just make he game too confusing and would require even more explanation. Taking the current 3 to 4 page optimal layout up to 5 or 6. The judges have already indicated that they'll stop reading a game once it bores them.

I'd love to play the game I've designed, it looks like it could have some fun developments. I don't know if playing the game could ever be feasible though, especially since it requires 4 chessboards, a full set of chess pieces, a full set of checkers and dozens of dice to play.

I guess that once you've invested in this much to play a single game, it sort of encourages the immersion. Potential players get to the point where they decide for themselves that if they're going to play it, they'll have to go all the way. No point setting up all that preparation for a half-arsed game.

22 March, 2009

Little Game Chef

This time last year I entered the Annual Game Chef contest with some artwork and a game of my own.

In the time since then, one of the games developed from my artwork has started to progress more formally as a finished product. That game was "Sexy Deadly", but the design progression has only happened through the original author passing the ideas on to a new crew.

I had originally offered free illustrations and page layout to anyone designing a game based on my work. But the new group don't want to take up these services...oh well.

My own game from last year, based on fragmented dreams trying to survive in a world where the only options seem to be a decay into nightmare, or being forgotten...

But time has come full circle and the contest is on again, albeit in a smaller form.

Little Game Chef has two requirements this year. First a theme, "immersion". Second a list of four ingredients of which 3 must be used in the game designed, "Sea", "Burn", "Horse", "Midnight".

You get bonus points for a secondary design goal if you manage to fit the game onto a single A4 page. I've done this with a previous project, so I know it's possible.

First glances through people's posts have indicated quite a few "Seahorses", I don't know if this will be indicative of the final designs, but I've decided to steer away from this. I'm actually going to avoid most of the immediate connotations and go with my gut instinct.


In Voodoo the person currently channelling the spirits is called a "Horse", the act of this tends to "burn" them out physically and spiritually, and if "midnight" isn't a good time for a voodoo ceremony then I don't know what is...

This concept links into the idea of immersion from two perspectives; it allows the players to immerse themselves in a mysterious culture of the real world, and it allows the characters as spirits to immerse themselves in a host body.

I've got a bunch of tools at my disposal in the form of these game mechanisms, let's see if I can combine some of them into a working game.

19 March, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #12: "SNAP!"

For a while I've been tying to think of mechanisms that can be used to bring a certain emotional response into a role-playing game.

I've heard a few stories about a game called Dread, where the mechanism uses a tower of Jenga blocks to build the tension. I haven't actually seen it in play, so I'm not 100% about the mechanisms specifics, but it seems to be the case that every time you want to accomplish something within the story, you pull out one of the Jenga blocks and add it back to the top of the tower. The first couple of times this is easy, but as the game progresses it gets harder and the tension mounts. I'm sure that something appropriately dramatic occurs when the tower crashes to the ground.

It seems to give a sense of immediacy to a situation, and a visceral sense of defeat when the tower collapses after a false move. The feeling of dread builds as players realise that their next action may force them to confront an ever more unstable tower.

Over the past few months I've been looking for something similar in a few styles of gameplay. Perhaps something subtle that builds as the game draws to a climax or maybe a mechanism that gets the adrenaline pumping for scenes of combat or pursuit.

The card game of Snap recently came to mind and I think it bears some exploration.

The game play is deceptively simple.

Each player throws down a card in turn. If any two cards of the same face value are played, then it becomes a race to throw one's hand down on the pile and scream "Snap!". Variants of the game have the successful player claiming the cards (in which case the objective is to claim the entire deck), or passing the cards to their opponent (in which case the objective is to dispose of your entire deck).

It's an easy game that most people in the western world seem to know in some form or another and it includes numbers and other values that could easily be used for game mechanism purposes. It relies on a combination of perceptive awareness and physical reflexes, and gives the players a chance to really focus on something.

Other traditional card games like "Old Maid" (or here) could be used for other types of event resolution, but these would require something a bit more strategic. Snap is quick and precise...you either get the snap or you don't, all in one hit.

That made me think that it could be suitable for a combat resolution system.

Two combatants dodging and weaving in a firefight, or two pugilists looking for the right moment to punch their opponent when there appears a slight break in the defences.

Each play of cards could represent a second of game time, with a simple unmatched exchange of cards indicating that no-one has seen a good chance to make a strike.

I've had a day or two to think about this mechanism and while a few things instantly came to mind, some deeper ideas have started to develop.

Instantly I thought of the numbers that are being matched. If a player calls "Snap" on a pair of 2s, how is this different to calling "Snap" on a pair of Kings? It would be natural to assume that the pair of kings would be a better hit. But then I had a follow up thought regarding this...

Should easy hits be more likely to occur than nasty hits? Most games echo this notion, especially where better successes require more skill (or luck).

The second notion would be to link suits to special effects in the game. A player with a basic level of skill would just be looking for the matches of face value. A player with a skill benefit might gain an additional degree of success if the last card played had a particular suit. A player with exceptional skill might gain this additional degree of success if either card in the pair belongs to that suit.

Suddenly the game of Snap reflects the abilities of the characters within the world rather than just rewarding the reflexes and perception of the players. It this becomes more viable as a game mechanism.

Other concerns can also be addressed through the snapping of cards, and players can also be forced into ethical dilemmas of whether to "snap" or not. A hitman is running out of bullets, he's got two left in his clip...he's hoping that a pair of jacks or better will occur so that he can take out his rival, a pair of fives to tens will seriously impair his enemy, so he's willing to take that risk because the last bullet should be able to finish the job...he sees a pair of threes come up, does he waste the bullet to shoot his enemy, or does he wait for a better shot to come up later? After a split second of hesitation he feels a sharp pain shooting through his leg, the enemy took the chance.

As I've thought about the concept in depth, I've also considered how it could be used with the previous idea on hit locations. Once a double has been snapped, simply draw the next card (low card out of the snapped double and the new draw is used for hit location, high card is used for base damage).

I'm sure that further thought will develop new ways that the mechanism can be used.

10 March, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #11: Sharing the Spotlight

This mechanism ensures that no single player dominates all of the action.

Players are given tokens that may be used to purchase scenes; the more tokens a player chooses to spend on a scene, the more focus is placed on their character. Some players may choose to save up their tokens for dramatic scenes at the end of a game, others could evenly distribute their tokens throughout the game, and other players might choose to have a dramatic impact at the beginning of the game. There is no right way to spend these tokens; they are merely used as a device to balance the focus of the story over the course of the session.

Spending a single token might allow the character to perform some kind of cursory action, or engage in a support role for another character.

Spending two tokens might allow a bit more of the spotlight to shine on the character, highlighting one of their special bonuses or weaknesses, or maybe exploring their personality a bit deeper.

Spending three tokens might give a character a significant chance to affect a storyline through a series of skills and an intricate scene that utilizes the character’s potential in depth.

Spending four tokens might really focus in on a character, it is the type of scene where a character’s life or livelihood is put on the line; the chance to really shine (or crash and burn).

Some players might like to assert their character’s presence with big point expenditure early, but most games will see a player saving up the points to make as much impact as possible as the climax draws near.

There are two ways that this could be presented,

The first method is to gradually hand out tokens over the course of the game. Initially hand out four tokens, enough for all players to make a dramatic impact at the start of the game (if that’s what they so choose). At the conclusion of each act, each player could be given two tokens. In this way, a player can gradually stockpile tokens by performing in minor scenes as the climax is a long distance off, then spend a rush of tokens at the end. Or they can consistently spend tokens over the course of the game. The only method of play this doesn’t allow is a rush of intensive scenes for a single character at the start of play.

The second method of token distribution would be to hand out all tokens to the players at the start of the session. For example, you know that the session is going to last long enough for all players to get 10 scenes (a complete set of scenes one per player will be called an act for the rest of this discussion). Averaging the costs of the scene types you get 2.5; so this is multiplied by the number of acts (in the example provided, 25 tokens). If a player chooses to perform 6 scenes with the maximum dramatic impact (6 x 4pts), they’d only have a single point to spread over the remaining four acts. They’d probably have to perform as a sidekick in a certain scene, and they’d have to completely sit out on three acts. Another player could choose to do some subtle actions initially, or might not even perform at all in the first couple of acts, only to make a dramatic impact at the end of the game (a GM could even use this technique to describe the actions of a significant plot character).

But what would happen to the leftover tokens?

If you decide that leftover tokens are simply ignored at the end of game, then players will think according to a certain set of strategic parameters. But what happens to the player who sat out on the first couple of scenes in the hope of making a big impact at the end of the game, only to find that they miscalculated and have a couple of tokens to spare while everyone else had had a bigger impact in the story?

To combat this idea, you could allow tokens remaining at the climax to be used for re-contesting critical tasks. This could be justified by saying that the character has been saving up their energy for one huge action at the end. Which then leads to a completely different type of player appearing, the one who lets everyone do the dirty work leading up to the climax, while they take the fame and glory when the victory occurs. This could be a deliberate part of the game and tied in with the theme.

These ideas can also arise if the tokens are distributed over the course of the acts, but I’d consider them less of a potential issue in that structure. My reasoning behind this is that tokens are gradually built up each turn and players are more aware of their token count at the end of each act when they are distributed over the course of the story. Most people prefer to count small numbers, rather than sifting through a large pile.

05 March, 2009

I've gotta stop websurfing

I found this really inspirational idea for a game.


It's starting to give me ideas.

Multimedia Aspirations

Now this is the kind of stuff I'd love to be able to do.

I just don't have the time (with all the other stuff I'm trying to get done), or the patience.

If the embedded version isn't working for you, here's the link.


03 March, 2009

Finally, another actual Observation...

This blog started out with me commenting on various things I saw around me.

Some of those things were related to roleplaying, others were related to theology, philosophy, or just my general perceptions on how the world at large works.

It's tended back to the roleplaying as a staple, but finally I've seen something that I just have to make an observation about.

While doing some research on immortality I found a blog entry from someone else.

A few paragraphs in to it I read something that just shocked me.

"I suppose life would get boring if it went on forever," she added. Now we were getting somewhere: In 25 years of talking to people about these issues, I had never heard that response before. Eternal life would be boring.

Is this guy serious?

He claims to be a game designer and he's never heard this response!!

That's one of the key themes of many pieces of vampire fiction. The need to continually find something meaning to do with your eternity, the desire to stay relevant in the world. White Wolf used the notion heaps of times in Vampire the Masquerade, and their Mummy line of books used this as the main morality factor driving the characters. Without a desire to find new things, they just get bored and eventually drive themselves insane through that boredom.

I had thought this guy might have some useful ideas to explore since his comment seems to be a part of something entitled 'Game Design Sketchbook', but I have to seriously wonder...

Newcastle Trip

I'll be taking the journey north to Newcastle this weekend to run a session or two of The Eighth Sea for a new roleplaying club.

Should be interesting to expose some new people to the chaos and carnage of time travelling swashbucklers on the high seas.

After this, I think the Eighth Sea can take a bit of a back seat. It's a finished project and I'd like to see it run it's own course for a while. I'd love to see someone pick it up and run it without me (giving me feedback so that I can improve and clarify the system a bit more), but I think that my time trying to refine it by myself as come to a temporary conclusion. I'll definitely be returning to it at some stage, but I've got some more pressing concepts to deal with.

01 March, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #10: Hit Locations

To depart from the Quincunx work that I'm currently pursuing, here's a completely different game mechanism.

I've found that a lot of people enjoy the concept of combat in games, but different people view the essence of physical conflict in different ways.

Some prefer an abstract series of die rolls, some like tactically placing their hits on their target's vulnerable areas; some want the die rolling to be fast, while others love an exceptional level of detail.

Without plugging the numbers into a computer program and letting it do rapid calculations, there is no real way to get good crunchy detail while also having the game progress at an action packed pace.

Either you get the adrenaline pumping with quick descriptions and abstract detail, or you really get into the minutiae of injuries and slow the combat down to "matrix-style" bullet-time.

Plenty of games try to find a balance between the extremes, some more successfully than others. I know of a few games that somehow manage to slow things right down to a crawl, but still give you little more than abstract detail as a result (Yes, White Wolf, I'm looking at you).

Like a lot of things simulated in RPGs, combat can be viewed in a manner that is either task based or resolution based.

Do you want to know specifically how something is done? (This tends to be the slow method)

Do you want to know the outcome once it's done? (This tends to be the fast method)

If you've ever been in a fight, you'll know that someone will try to hit you if you leave an opening, and you'll try to hit them if they leave an opening. Most boxing matches follow this pattern...as does fencing...and so do most other forms of fighting for that matter. You could set up for a strategic strike at a particular area, but if you're target realises that this is your aim, they'll just focus their defences on this area. Since they don't need to worry about defending other areas, that leaves them more able to expend their other energies in hitting you.

Sure there are people who'd argue against this analysis of combat, and they are free to generate their own systems of RPG physical conflict resolution. This combat mechanism reflects the notions I've described above.

Another thing that strikes me as odd about many combat systems in roleplaying games in the idea that you have a roll to hit someone followed by a second roll to see how much damage you do. One person could easily hit their opponent, only to do a minimum amount of damage; while another person could just manage to scrape against their opponent while doing huge damage. It doesn't make sense to me, and it slows things down. I like my combat rolls to cover both the hit and the damage in a single throw of the dice.

A single throw that shows how well the target has been hit and where the target left their opening. Beyond this point, the mechanisms for damage and prevention can follow a few paths that I'll offer.

Different games use different dice so I'll offer three options (d6, d10 and d20).

The d6 option is where I've picked up this mechanism, specifically from earlier versions of the miniatures battlegame Confrontation.

In this game, a hit roll consists of rolling 2 six sided dice. The high one determines damage, the low one determines hit location. You want both dice to roll well, because scoring a better hit locations factors into the final damage done to the victim. The distribution is basically as follows; 1 = Legs, 2 = Arms, 3 = Abdomen, 4 = Torso 5-6 = Head. Even though the head is hit on a 5 or 6, there is a remote chance of hitting it, because the low die has to roll this high (therefore meaning that both dice have to roll this high for a head hit to occur).

Final damage to a victim is calculated by taking the weapons strength, subtracting any armour value of the victim, then adding the high die result. This is compared to a chart to determine whether the victim has taken a light, medium or critical wound, or if they have been killed outright.

The die rolling is quick, and the system gives a nice outcome. Critical hit to the arm, light wound to the leg, medium wound to the abdomen...you get the idea. It gives a much better impression of the conflict than just saying "Lose 5 hit points". Sure it's not as detailed as the hundreds of tables in Rolemaster, but it doesn't take five minutes worth of die rolling and table lookups to perform a thre second swing.

Adapting the system to other dice sizes gives a better granularity of scale, without sacrificing the speed.

A d10 option could look like this; 1 = Lower Legs, 2 = Upper Legs, 3 = Weapon Arm, 4 = Defensive Arm, 5-6 = Abdomen, 7-8 = Torso, 9-10 = Head.

A d20 option could get really specific; 1 = Right Lower Leg, 2 = Left Lower Leg, 3 = Right Thigh, 4 = Left Thigh, 5 = Groin, 6 = Right Hand, 7 = Left Hand, 8 = Right Lower Arm, 9 = Left Lower Arm, 10 = Right Upper Arm/Shoulder, 11 = Left Upper Arm/Shoulder 12/13 = Belly, 14/15 = Torso, 16 = Neck, 17-18 = Head, 19-20 = Eyes specifically.

This level of detail allows for character to be protected by armour on specific parts of the body. Modifying the amount of damage that might be received from an attacker.

Different combat styles could also change the way numbers are assigned to the die. Certain combat styles might be more adept at hitting the central ass of the body, while others focus on disabling limbs.

Advanced combatants might be able to modify the low die up or down by a value of one or two, indicating that the combatant is more adept at placing their hits in vulnerable locations.

But the whole idea is that the strike takes only a single roll of dice to determine it's effects, and a single table reference to see what is actually done to the victim.

I've seen it work well in miniatures games, but so far haven't seen it work as well in a roleplaying game.

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #9.5: Addendum to Matrixed Experience

After posting concepts last week about a theory where a character advances two steps in one direction but sacrifices a step in another part of their development to do so, some new ideas have arisen.

Some of these have been prompted by some helpful posters over at the Forge, others have developed in those sleepless hours between 1am and 4am, or when I've been taking my customary meandering strolls through various parts of the city seeking inspiration.

The following concepts are very "stream of consciousness" stuff; they may not make a whole lot of sense, but they are a starting point for the concepts I'm currently trying to develop.

Hopefully some revisions will develop shortly. Revisions that help to clarify what I'm trying to get at.

For the purposes of these notes, a machination is a series of events happening in the background. Not so much a story, but a sequence of events that someone is trying to put into motion. A machination becomes a story (or becomes a part of the story) when the characters actually interact with it at some level.

GM calls for a machination from everyone. Machinations could be linked to specific characters, specific factions or they could be independent. All machinations have someone behind them (called the controller), this could be an individual or a faction.

Characters can be asked to work for or against a machination.

Engaging in an action against a machination instantly earns a point of enmity with the machination’s controller. If the character manages to damage the machination, they earn a second point of enmity (and any characters with them earn a point); on the positive side, if the active character has engaged the machination as a favour to someone else, they gain a favour point to that person.

Engaging in an action to assist a machination instantly earns a point of favour with the machination’s controller. If the character manages to improve the machination, they earn a second point of favour (and any characters with them earn a point); on the negative side, if the active character has assisted the machination in spite of someone else, they gain a point of enmity to that person.

Characters may bank points of favour or enmity to gain permanent effects. Permanent favour banked to an individual earns an ally, while permanent favour banked to a faction earns prestige within that faction. Permanent enmity banked to an individual earns an enemy, while permanent favour banked to a faction gains an adversary.

Temporary favour may be spent to recall favours, or to cancel out temporary enmity. The GM may spend temporary enmity to increase the difficulty on actions (typically during a climax scene).

Any expenditure of favour requires a scene.

It needs work, but the basic idea is that every time someone starts gaining decent levels of positive influence with someone, they'll gain negative influence with someone else. The aim here is to keep the character's development with the world around them functioning in the same manner as their development within themselves.