21 May, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #21: Otherkind Dice

I've run into this concept a few times over the past couple of months so I thought that I should make some kind of reference to the idea in my weekly mechanism blog.

Otherkind Dice

The basic gist is that you choose a bunch of objectives, then roll a bunch of dice. Upon seeing the result of the dice, the player chooses to allocate them across their objectives, allowing the effects they really want to have a better chance of occurring, while allowing less important aspects can fail.

The example given uses 3 objectives for an event, and then rolls three six sided dice. For the three objectives you pick two or three degrees of outcome (Bad[1-3]/Good[4-6] or Bad[1-2]/Neutral[3-4]/Good[5-6]), and once you roll the dice you allocate them across the 3 objectives.

The degree of the good effect should be roughly proportional to the degree of the bad effect. Good, my opponent is humiliated; versus Bad, I am humiliated. Good, I win the race; Neutral, an unrelated competitor wins the race; Bad, my nemesis wins the race.

You basically pick a bunch of mutually exclusive outcomes that can be derived from the action.

I haven't quite defined the concept in the same way that the original author did,but I'm trying to show another way of looking at the notion.

The original concept has a primary objective and two relevant outcomes. The primary objective is divided into "No Success" [1-2], "Partial Success" [3-4], "Full Success" [5-6]; while the relevant outcomes are related to typically bad events "Does Not Happen" [1-3], "Happens" [4-6].

You roll the three dice, if one gets high, do you use it to complete the task and allow the other dice to apply a pair of penalties to you, or do you sacrifice completing the task in order to prevent the worst from happening to you?

If you roll two dice high, and the third low, do you use the good results to prevent anything bad from happening and accept the failure, or do you push for the success in exchange for a backlash from somewhere?

It's the kind of system that really gets a player thinking about their priorities with respect to their character and the game world.

I've actually played with similar concepts before, and the notion is even similar to the hit location mechanism I proposed a while back (where the lowest of two dice applies one effect (like hit location), while the other die determines something else (like base weapon damage).

One of the interesting comments noted about this mechanism is that it seems to favour the main event occuring, because most players will automatically tend to place their highest die in the event outcome slot, unless the event stakes are REALLY bad.

Task: Climbing Fence...relevant outcome 1: die from getting impaled on the fence...relevant outcome 2: a dog starts barking as you climb the fence, alerting security guards.

Suddenly you want at least one decent result, and that will immediately be used to prevent the death. The second good result (of it's there), will go on prevent the dog barking. Climbing the fence is a bit less important.

You need to make sure the negative events are suitably weighted against the activity being accomplished.

The mechanism can be easily expanded with a few simple additions. A simple skill system can be used to modify the die applied to the primary task (+1 to the task for basic skill expertise, +2 to the task for higher skill expertise).

The flipside is a modification to the die applied to the other outcomes, modifiers that might kick in under certain circumstances...a berserker has a modifer that makes it more likely they will lose their composure if this becomes a risk factor, a cursed mystic has a better chance of incurring the wrath of angry spirits.

Another way to expand the mechanism would be to prevent certain dice from being allocated under certain circumstances. A reckless character might be banned from placing their highest die in a secondary issue, therefore increasing the tendency of something bad going wrong, but also increasing the chance of success. An overly cautious character might have the exact opposite problem, they may not place their highest die in their primary task, but this tends to mean that they'll have a good die to avoid at least one of the secondary issues.

Still, the system has a simple elegance to it, and I wouldn't want to mess with it too much.

20 May, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #20: Injuries vs Hit Points

I've read a few comments about the notion of "Hit Points" versus "Injuries" in roleplaying games. Some of these comments have been on forums, some have been on other people's blogs, some have been in archived articles.

What is the difference I hear you ask?

Both a "Hit Point" model and an "Injury" model simulate the effects felt by a wounded character in a roleplaying game.

Hit points tend to measure the characters distance between two points of fully healthy and unconsciousness (or dead).

Injury models tend to measure how far a character has been pushed away from an optimal condition by tracking a series of specific effects on the character.

As far as most commentators are concerned, Hit Points are derived from the mechanisms of wargames. Early wargames began with players moving units of troops around a battlefield, gradually reducing the number of effective troops in a unit as conflict developed and damage was sustained. Once these games were reduced to a single player on each side, there needed to be a degree of granularity in the wounds inflicted...large games could easily reduce a soldier to an active or inactive status, but doing the same for a single character virtually meant that every strike was life or death. There was a desire to simulate small wounds, grievous wounds, mortal wounds. Thus a simple track was developed, in the form of hit points. The more hit points you had from your total pool, the healthier you were. The closer you were to zero, the more risk you faced.

There are dozens of hit-point systems. Some offer a fixed number of points for all characters (where tougher characters prevent damage before it reaches the hit point pool), some have a variable number of points (where tougher characters simply have a larger pool of points to play with). Some have only a single point pool to represent all types of damage (whether combative, poisonous, magical, exhaustive or otherwise), others have individual pools of points for each type of damage that can be sustained by a character.

Some "realistic" systems even have rules for blood loss, or system shock when too many hit points are lost in a specific period.

Injury systems are a more recent development in roleplaying, and they are probably more akin to the theatrical origins of live roleplaying than the skirmishes of miniature battlegames. Such systems apply a penalty to the character as they suffer more injuries, with more and more injuries applied until it simply isn't feasible for the character to perform actions any more (or until the character passes a certain threshold of injuries, then simply passes out or dies).

My personal preference at the moment tends toward injury systems, probably because they are newer, but also because I believe they have a better chance of reflecting a specific tone or mood of game.

Trying to track a range of injury types on a single hit point track can get very contrived in many circumstances. It works well for simplistic games, and it worked well within the original context, but the development of roleplaying has expanded beyond the original context. I'll have to track down some sources, but some of the original authors of Dungeons and Dragons have described their justification for using of a variable number of hit points (growing as characters improved in their experience levels). The justification states that originally hit points were a measure of how well a character avoided damage in conflict. More hit points didn't mean a healthier character, they just meant that the character was able to better minimise the impact of potentially deadly incoming blows. The hit point pool was never meant to be used as a resilience pool for poisons, psychic damage or magical resistance. These factors were added to it later.

It can be argued whether this was efficiency or laziness on the part of later designers. And in fact, this very topic has been argued a few times in my presence.

Some designs have specifically incorporated multiple tracks of hit points to reflect different types of wounds...physical damage and psychological damage tends to be a common one, but it could easily be argued that the health levels and blood points found in Vampire:the Masquerade provide a similar functionality.

As I get to this point of the post, I find myself starting to wonder about the systems which actually use injuries as character modifiers...many of them actually seem to have spun off from hit point systems to reflect incidents that a single track doesn't cover too well. Especially when combat brings in aspects such as called shots or hit locations, a broken arm might have the same chance of killing someone as a broken leg, but each of these wounds applies different types of penalties to the victim...A poked out eye does something different again.

There is no hard and fast rule indicating that a single system must be used in opposition of the other, and quite a few games try to take a bit from here, mixing it with a bit from there to get a system that hopefully meets the designers needs (there were lot's of these games in the 1980's and early 90's).

But as I indicated earlier, I'm tending more toward the pure injury systems now. Why does it matter how many hit points you have left, when the injuries are already telling you exactly how much harder it is to perform specific types of task.

I'd like to find a few more injury specific system to start exploiting exploring.

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #19: Fate Points

This one's a pretty simple mechanism that has been incorporated into a few games over the years.

The basic idea is that characters should be given some kind of currency to put a bit of extra effort into a task. This means that players get the opportunity to show the things that their character really cares about, and really wants to succeed (even if their skills wouldn't normally allow such a success).

In the Storytell(er/ing) System from White Wolf, this is reflected through Willpower points. Everyone gets 1 to 10 of these (typically averaging around 5 - 6, while most regular humans have 2 - 3). The system works off multiple degrees of success, and if a character really wants something to succeed, they spend a willpower point to improve their degree of success by 1. Each character and each NPC has their own pool of willpower points that may be used in this manner to adjust the storyline to their advantage.

In the d20 modern system, players and GM are assigned action dice. These may be rolled and added to existing die rolls in the hope to push a task over a difficulty threshold value. Players start with a fixed number of dice, and the GM has a fixed initial number of dice calculated by the number of players and other factors. The players are encouraged to use these dice, and the GM is encouraged to use his; dice are distributed back to the players and GM after appropriately dramatic points in the game.

The system used in the Serenity Roleplaying Game, offer plot points. These are accrued for relevant deeds in the game, such as "role playing, good ideas, and succeeding in goals" (a direct quote from the book). Once earned, they may be spent to increase the types of dice used in an action before the die is rolled, or allow additional dice to be rolled. That system got pretty complicated with who rolls what? how many dice get rolled? When do you add dice or straight modifiers? Which dice got modified...but anyway, that's getting off topic. Plot points could also be converted to XP at the end of a session (in fact any plot points above 6 were automatically forced to become XP).

It's been a long time, but I vaguely remember the Karma point system of Shadowrun having a similar idea behind it. A player could spend a point from their current karma pool to gain an immediate benefit when performing a task, or they could save these points up for permanent purchases to improve their character.

The whole idea seems to have been an early attempt to put a bit more narrative control back into the hands of the players. This could have been simple illusionism or it could have been used to truly allow a stories destiny to move according to communal whim, it all really depended on the GM.

Still, it's a useful idea that has seen a lot more use in many recent games. Perhaps a good GM would take note of when their players are choosing to spend these points to improve their chances of success. If the expenditure tends to happen during social scenes, then it becomes obvious that the players view the social scenes as more important to the game.

Does this mean that they want more social scenes? Does it mean that the GM is placing too much emphasis on social scenes, and the combat oriented characters feel that the only way to survive such a scene is buy spending their valuable fate points?

Food for thought...

12 May, 2009

Chronica Feudalis

Just thought I'd note an interesting game that has just come up on Story Games.

It's called Chronica Feudalis.

I don't know how the game will play out yet, but I like its premise.

A bunch of monks in the middle ages developed a roleplaying system to reflect the world around them. The current "author" is actually translating the text from ancient manuscripts in middle-english into modern English for a new generation of gamers.

Reminds me of the book "The Princess Bride", and a few other great pieces of literature which are presented in the form of a researcher's translations and interpretations of original source material.

From what little I've seen so far, it seems to use a similar system to John Harper's Agon, where you roll one or more dice as appropriate to the situation then simply keep the highest rolling die value as your result. It simplifies things by forgetting about modifiers, you just seem to roll more or less dice and aim for one of them to get high.

I also like the concept I'm seeing about developing characters through choosing a group of mentors who have shaped the character's life so far.

It looks like it's got some good ideas in it and it's definitely piqued my interest. I'll investigate it further and give a better report shortly.

09 May, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #18: Life Path

Let's grab something I loved from an old game...

Something that hasn't really been seen in many of the more recent games that I've been looking at (whether independently produced or mainstream).

(Yes, I'm doing this because I've noticed that my blog is running behind on it's weekly game mechanisms and some of my own ideas just haven't seemed adequate as I've started numerous times to write this post)

I love the concept of the life path in Cyberpunk 2020, I adapted some of it's ideas when I wrote the Eighth Sea. I know that the concept has also been thoroughly explored in games like Traveller and HoL (with both of these games offering options that can kill a character before they even enter play).

I like the idea of rolling a bunch of dice to fill put the backstory of a character instantly gives characters a time and place in the setting where they will be developing their stories. It helps to set the tone of the game, gets into players minds that this is a game and that random chance will play a part in the development of the stories. This said, a good system to develop a life path should use a similar type of mechanism to that which is used in the game.

If your game uses percentile dice, then develop a life path system that uses percentile dice. If your game uses cards in a manner similar to poker, then have a life path system that uses the card values, combinations and other tropes of poker.

Life path systems also give players an idea that their character's backgrounds will play a part in the narrative to follow. A friend made during the life path rolls could be jeopardised during the course of play, a family member lost during the pre-game rolls could be found during the course of the story.

These are the types of things that really help to give depth to characters more than just the numbers on the page. They help to construct an imaginative environment, and help to connect players to that environment through their characters. A good life path system isn't an excuse to avoid coming up with a solid character concept, but it should help inform the reasons for how that character concept has developed.

Based on some of the things that I've been reading lately, there are probably a few members of the roleplaying avant-garde who would claim that life path systems are a crutch for a poor imagination. But I thinks that's a load of phooey.

(I'm surprised that the spell checker has allowed "phooey" as a legitimate word.)

One of the things that I've really noticed with the core members of the roleplaying avant-garde is that many of them have become like art critics...not really caring what the public cares about with respect to art, and becoming so caught up in their theorising and hubris that they fail to understand why the rest of the world doesn't catch on.

There's probably quite a few old mechanism gems in the pages of forgotten games (or at least games which have ceased being fashionable). I'll have to start searching through some more of them.

Game Mechani(sm) of the week #17: Virtues and Vices

This is an idea I've been developing for playing with the things that maintain some type of hold over a character's actions through the course of play.

I call them...

Virtue/Vice/Time Commitment Thresholds

The concept is pretty simple, it requires the game to be divided into scenes of indeterminate length that are relevant to the unfolding fiction. A number of these scenes being added together to create a session of play (typically a session of play will reveal a complete and distinct storyline). It uses traditional six-sided dice.

For every Virtue, Vice or Time Commitment possessed by the character, a single die is rolled at the beginning of the session. The number on this die represents the tension threshold of this character aspect; the higher the threshold, the more likely that the event will play a part in an upcoming scene.

All Virtues/Vices and Time commitments have a rating of 7, 5 or 3. If the tension threshold is equal to or greater than the rating, then this trait comes into play.

Thresholds (7 Negligible/5 Minor/3 Major).

At the beginning of every scene, roll a die for each of the relevant aspects. If the die roll is equal to or greater than the current tension threshold, increase the threshold by 1 then compare the value to the aspect’s rating. If the die rating is lower, then no change occurs.

Players may deliberately reduce the tension threshold by choosing to engage in a scene relating to their aspect. Only one aspect at a time may be addressed in this manner. Simply engaging this character aspect automatically drops the tension threshold by a point, but during a scene in which the aspect is addressed, successes gained by the character may be spent to further reduce the relevant tension threshold by 1 point each.

If a tension threshold reaches the character’s aspect rating, then a confronting scene automatically comes into play. The tension threshold does not automatically drop in such a situation, but a character may still spend any successes to reduce it.

If a virtue is brought into play through this mechanism, then the character will be forced into some type of situation where they have to make a moral decision regarding their virtue. A virtue of "truth" might invoke a scene where the character would gain some kind of an advantage if they lied, or they might be asked to reveal a secret that could damage them. If they uphold their virtue, they gain some kind of long term spiritual reward (perhaps experience points or a replenishment to their willpower...this all depends on the game where this mechanism is introduced). If they fail to uphold their virtue they gain a temporary but immediate benefit (+1 to a die roll, or something similar).

If a vice is brought into play through this mechanism, then the character will be forced into a situation where they are forced to do something wrong in exchange for immediate gain. A vice of "shoplifting" might invoke a scene where the character sees something that could prove useful to their current agenda. If they succumb to their vice, they gain the immediate benefit, while abstaining would give a chance to buy off the vice or provide some other long term benefit.

If a time commitment is brought into play, then the character must give up their current course of action and do something relating to the time commitment. Perhaps they have to pray at certain times of day, or maybe the have a day job or lectures that they have to attend. If they fulfil the time commitment then everything continues in the next scene as normal with some kind of minor reward (they get paid, their faith is restored), but if they fail to meet the time commitment there might be later repercussions that need to be faced.

If a character has more than one virtue, vice or time commitment, it is quite possible that two or more factors may come into play at one time. In situations such as these, characters may distribute their successes between each of the complications that have arisen in the current scene.

It's just one of many ideas I've had for integrating characters more carefully into the worlds in which they live.

06 May, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #16: Balanced Story Threat Introductions

One of the elements I used in the Eighth Sea was a system where players could introduce aspects into a story. I did this at a fairly simplistic level with each player being given a limited number of tokens which could be expended to introduce anything into the events at hand (within reason). The context of the Eighth Sea is a time travelling swashbuckling epic.

If a player wanted to introduce something into the game that was suitable for the setting it would only costs a single token, eg. A paratrooper is introduced into a scene occuring during a scene in western France during WW2.

If a player wanted to introduce something that was a locational or temporal displacement, then they'd have to spend an extra token, eg. A kamikaze pilot or a Gaulish warrior in Western France during WW2.

If a temporal and locational displacement occured then a third token would require expenditure, eg. A samurai in Western France during WW2.

Such introductions to the storyline were simply surreal diversions which could then be used by the GM to weave new plots into the game.

If the player introducing the element spent an additional token beyond what was necessary to make the object appear, then the element stops being window dressing for the scene and it becomes an immediate threat to the story.

It worked for the Eighth Sea because the game was a very tongue-in-cheek setting. Anything was possible, and it was through the combined efforts of all the players that the story developed.

I've thought about this notion a bit more, especially as it relates to communal storytelling games.

I raised some ideas over on the Forge with regard to this (here).

I mentioned the notion of granularity in my post on the Forge, but I hadn't really formulated my ideas too clearly as I was writing the post. Now I've had some more time to think about it, and now that I've riffed a bit further off Jason Godesky's ideas, I present a more coherent notion for a currency of storyline element introduction.

Players would gain a fixed number of points at the start of play, maybe a dozen.

When introducing something, they need to account for three factors. The first is the potential risk to the group, the second is the difficulty to overcome the element, and the third is the duration of the event (how many scenes it takes to resolve).

A quick event takes only a single scene to resolve, a more complicated event takes a few scenes to overcome. For every scene of storyline impact, a player needs to spend points on the threat level and the difficulty level.

Potential threat
1 = Inconvenience
3 = Minor Injury
5 = Temporary Removal from the Story
7 = Permanent Removal from the Story

Difficulty to Overcome
1 = Easy to overcome (50% chance of success for most players, 75% chance of success for players specialised in this type of threat)
2 = Tricky to overcome (30% chance of success for most players, 60% chance of success for players specialised in this type of threat)
3 = Difficult to overcome (10% chance of success for most players, 30% chance of success for players specialised in this type of threat)
4 = Nearly impossible (5% chance of success for most players, 20% chance of success for players specialised in this type of threat)

Three different players might introduce seven point storyline effects into the game.

The first player introduces a threat that has a chance of producing minor injury (3pts), but is nearly impossible to avoid (4pts).

The second player introduces a threat that lasts for two scenes. In the first scene the characters are inconvenienced (1pt), but this is pretty easy to overcome (1pt). This sets the events in motion for a second scene where the characters have a chance of suffering a minor injury (3pts), in a way that is tricky to overcome (2pts).

The third player introduces something that has a chance of completely removing it's victims from the storyline for a short time (5pts), in a way that is tricky to overcome (2pts).

The numbers would require a bit of tweaking based on the game being played, but I'm sure you get the idea.

All players get to spend a fixed number of points to introduce these elements at the start of play, perhaps writing their plot elements onto index cards to be drawn randomly during the course of the game. One player could distribute their points across a few elements, while another player could consolidate their points in one huge whammy and a secondary minor element.

The GM would add their own variety of elements into the mix as well.

Experience could then be based on the total point value of the element encountered, but that would also require some modification based on the system into which the elements are placed.

Quincunx: Power 19

When I first came across the concept of the Power 19, I thought it was a great diagnostic tool for a game designer. It's a series of questions that have been developed to really give someone an idea of where they are at with their games core structure and how it fulfills the intended goals.

Based on a quick google search, the origins of the Power 19 seem to come from the Socratic Design Blog (actually, if you're interested in game design, have a check through this blog...it hasn't been updated in a while, but it's a veritable treasure trove of useful design tools and ideas), an example of a power 19 in use can be found here.

It's a great idea, but it's something that I've just completely neglected to do for Quincunx.

Here goes...

The game is designed to be played on a few levels, so I'll answer these questions twice.
The first response is a superficial look at the game.
The second response is a deeper metaphysical accounting of the game.

1.) What is your game about?**

A reality TV show focuses on hunters of the supernatural, in a similar vein to the world-wide cult TV show "Cops". The regular people of the world argue over whether the show is real or not in much the same way that they do about the world championship wrestling. The hunters are imbued with minor supernatural powers of their own to level the playing field against the paranormal criminals they hunt.

It is a game about those who reveal it, and those who conceal it.
It is also about those who seek to define it, and those who are defined by it.
What is the truth? What is subjectivity? Can you believe the hype? Can you afford not to when your existence has become defined by that hype?

2.) What do the characters do?**

The characters are operatives for a global corporation/publicity machine named Quincunx. They exist as supernatural bounty hunters, claiming rewards from unknown sources in exchange for tracking down and neutralising entities which simple should not be. On one side, they encounter mythical beings, urban legends, religious figures and other strange creatures. On the other side, they acquire the funds necessary to continue these tasks by seeking sponsorships and making public appearances for their fans. Each character is defined by their feats of daring and their fame in the public eye. Yet they must also keep their heads level in the face of this chaos, they must maintain their connections to the mundane world around them lest they need to be removed from society themselves.

Every character is caught in a web of relationships that they must uphold. To gain power or knowledge they must use these relationships to their advantage, but the stronger a relationship gets, the more intrinsically they become tied to it. The more a character is tied to a relationship, the easier it is for enemies to use it against the character. It is a game of balance and risk. How much do the characters want to expose themselves for the chance at gaining a bit more power?

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?**

There is a traditional player GM split, but more of the narrative responsibility falls into the hands of the players than in many games. The players control a single operative and an array of company support staff. The GM controls the remainder of the world, providing colour and background stories for the players to interact with through their characters. Players takes turns with the spotlight focused on their operative, and while one player is being focused apon, the other players may choose to assist using their own operatives or by using company support staff. In this way, the players choose which leads to follow and set the direction of the game, interacting with the storylines that have been set in place by other players or by the GM.

Through their characters, the players are forced to confront issues of morality, drama and paradigm. The game aspires to raise questions about systems of belief and to delve into the collective subconscious through the narrative of play. Players may introduce storylines that pose questions for themselves to answer, they may raise issues for other players within the context of the game, or they may pose dilemmas that the group can work through as a whole.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

Characters are defined by a series of traits. These traits derive from their racial heritage, their religious beliefs, their membership in certain subcultures, their occupations, their personal outlook on the world. All of these traits have layers to them, and characters may ascend their ranks in the traits by delving deeper into the groups or belief patterns associated with the trait. Very little is what it appears on the surface, and the whole setting is about revealing the truth concealed beneath the hype and the spin.

Everything in the game is about relationships and beliefs. The stronger a characters beliefs in a particular area, the more they will associate with that pattern and the stronger their influence will be in this area. Characters associating too much with the supernatural will start to resonate with the energies of the paranormal, and this is reflected by picking up the relevant traits. Conversely characters who focus too much on their fame will follow a different path of destiny. Other characters could focus on paths such as their families, their beliefs, or mundane occupations. Everyone is a combination of all these factors.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

Characters are defined by two things; firstly a matrix that defines their internal desires, drives and talents, and secondly their connections to the world around them. The matrix is divided into rows marked as aspects, and columns marked as elements. The crossing point of a row and column is referred to as a node. Players choose a dominant aspect and a dominant element at character creation (marking a box in each row and column's relevant node, and gaining two marked boxes where these intersect). This matrix defines areas where the character has innate talents and doesn't need to call on their allies or connections.

Beyond the matrix, all characters have a number of points to spend on their allies, connection, beliefs and mystical talents. All of these require the character to draw from beyond themselves to accomplish feats that would be impossible for a mortal to pursue on their own. All of these external forces bring traits to the character, and these traits may be used in various ways as advantages or disadvantages depending on the situation.

No character is invulnerable on their own. No man is an island. The character generation system is designed to really integrate a character into the world of play. All characters will have a connection to the Quincunx Corporation, but beyond that, virtually anything is possible. Characters could be reformed werewolves or vampires tracking down criminals to their own people, they could be fire-and-brimstone preachers with a strong religious belief and a hatred of the paranormal, or they could simply be people with some useful skills who happen to have been in the right place and the right time (or the wrong place and the wrong time depending on how the character views their circumstances). The aim of the game is to create fully realised characters with motives and agendas tied into the world around them.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

Every time a character pursues one agenda, they find that another starts to weaken. The character matrix is defined by pairs of opposing elements, and when a character performs a lot of actions associated with one element they find their value in this element start to rise, but the opposing element starts to fall. For every two points of gain somewhere, a point is lost somewhere else. So characters who focus too extensively on one tactic find that they become exposed to other tactics. Similarly, characters need to keep tabs on their connections to the communities around them. Every trait restricts the actions of a character in some way, either preventing them from performing one specific task, or requiring them to perform another task. The more connections a character has to the outside world, the more they will be expected to act in certain ways (or risk losing the bonuses associated with being a member of that group).

Players with strong ideas of their character will probably gain advantage from the system while those who "cast themselves adrift on a sea of opportunity" will flounder. The game is about dynamic individuals who help to shape reality through their fame and their actions, it's not a game about slackers who expect everything to be done for them. The game seeks to provide the opportunity to define a character in light of the obstacles they face, it seeks to force players into making the choices that will define their characters in this manner.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

Characters who follow the actions of their traits gradually become more closely associated with these traits. A goth who chooses to only wear black doesn't necessarily fit in with the community, but once they start regularly listening to the music associated with the subculture, visiting the right nightclubs and reading the current books circulating among the crowd, then they start to know how to talk the talk and eventually walk the walk. Not everything is appearances, but once a person takes on the appearance of a group, starts acting like the group, and starts understanding the mindset of the group; are they really all that different from the group they've been trying to infiltrate?

If that character has forsaken all of their contacts with other communities and now only associates with goths, then they might as well be a goth. They'll have to start all over again with another group if they want to forge a relationship with another group (or if they want to re-establish contact with their old friends). On the other hand a character who maintains contact with their old friends has a dual set of actions to uphold (things are harder for them to balance, but they gain the advantages of both groups).

On top of this, characters are beset by fame. If they take actions against the status quo of their trait, then it is quite likely that everyone will find out about it and the repercussions will be fierce.

Characters are expected to make a stand. They should hold a truth as sacred to themselves and defend it at all costs. This may put them into conflict with other characters, and it will definitely put them into conflict with many of the groups that exist in the shadows of the game world. This is neither good nor bad, it is merely a way to generate new stories and conflicts that will further help to define the character in the context of the world around them.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

On the whole, the GM maintains the continuity of narration and credibility through the course of the game, but this is by no means his sole domain.

The game is divided into scenes and in each of these, the narrative is a three way struggle between the player of the current focal character (referred to as the active player), the GM and the supporting characters. The player of the focal character defines their intended task for the scene, the GM sets the scene, and during every scene there is a chance that the focal character will face an issue relating to one of their traits. This will be incorporated into the scene by the player seated to the left of the active player (or the next player around if this player has chosen to be active in the scene as a supporting character).

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

Everything in Quincunx has ramifications. Whether an action is eliminating a supernatural menace, dealing with fans, or simply trying to have some private time alone with the family. Everything affects a characters connections to the world around them and a player has to seriously consider not only what best for their character, but what the character would be willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the world around them? Even if this ends up with the decision that the character wouldn't sacrifice anything for those they connect with...

The nature of scenes in Quincunx means that only a single character is focused upon at any time, and his would seem to diminish the importance of other players while the active role is not in their hands. While this is true to an extent, all players have support roles that they may introduce into any scene, and all players have the chance to introduce elements associated with the focal characters traits. Characters learn that through their differences they have the strength to face a variety of tasks, yet these differences also provide tension within the group. Through unity the group remains cohesive, but it starts to lack the diversity needed to confront the diversity of foes around them. The balance chosen by any group helps to define their characters in one way or another.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

All characters roll 3d6 for every scene, and this is opposed by 3d6. Any die rolling a 4 or higher counts as a success, and every success allows a player to narrate an action into their scene. The character matrix provides a number of automatic successes to characters if they perform actions that they have shown an affinity for in the past (typically 1 to 3 successes). Possessing specific traits may grant modifiers to die rolls, additional dice or additional successes. But this is just what a character is able to do on their own.

By interacting with the world around them, characters may draw upon extra dice in their scenes. There are stories at work in the game, and if a character successfully confronts these stories, they may strip dice from the story to use for their own purposes. The more they engage the stories around them, the more chance they have to gain these dice. If a character chooses not to engage these stories, then it is only a matter of time before these stories come to engage them.

Once a character uses any of their additional dice in a scene, the dice become exhausted. A rest interval needs to be called to replenish these dice, but once a rest interval is called, all of the stories at work in a game also replenish their exhausted dice (or gather more dice of their own).

Beyond this simple mechanic, there is the element of fame. An intrinsic part of Quincunx, at the start of every scene, a pair of dice are secretly rolled to determine if the characters actions are viewed by the public on television. If they are viewed they get fame, if they are viewed and are successful in their task they get even more fame. If they are viewed and they have done something wrong, they suffer a moral backlash and new complications enter the story. Once gained, fame may be used to reinforce sponsorships, or make it easier to replenish exhausted dice (after all more people want to help you when you're famous even if that help is offered just to gain a bit of fame for themselves).

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

Characters can only do so much on their own. Those who draw on the world around them can do a lot more, whether they draw on friends, tools, or mystic powers. The extra dice they gain from these connections to the outside world help to identify the way the character interacts with the world and help to define them in context.

Everything about the game relates to a characters context within their setting. How do they handles their connections to the people around them? How do they look after their tools? How do they hone their talents? What helps them and what hinders them? What changes to their life paths are made after a moment of crisis?

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

As described earlier, characters change their matrix over the course of a game. They simply mark the number of times they use each element and each aspect. They may place a new check-mark in a node belonging to their highest element, and another in a node belonging to their highest aspect (these may not go in the same node). The node combining lowest element and aspect combination loses a check-mark (of this is already at zero, then choose another node of the lowest element or aspect). This occurs at the end of every session, providing a 2-steps-forward-1-step-back progression that defines where the characters current priorities lie.

In addition to this gradual development, characters gain improvement points within their traits every time they face an issue associated with their trait. A Jewish character is faced with a plate of hors d'oerves with ham in them, and knows it would be considered incredibly rude to turn down the food while in the presence of the local mafia leader. Does the character choose to sacrifice their faith (and possibly be seen on TV doing so?) or do they risk the wrath of the mafia?

Any time the characters beliefs are called into question and they are forced to make a moral decision, they gain points that prove their resolve (and gain points toward improving the bonuses associated with that trait).

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

See Above.

See Above.

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

I want the game to produce three dimensional characters, rather than stereotypes. The more a character interacts with the world around them, the more they will be defined. And conversely, the more that characters views the world, the more the players will learn about the communal setting they are developing.

The game is designed to encourage a sense of community, within the context of an individual, the context of the playing group, and hopefully a community between the various groups that are playing around the world. The Quincunx website I'm developing is another step in that direction.

The game should raise questions, ethical dilemmas, moral quandaries, paradigm descriptions. At the superficial level it's about confronting supernatural beings, but what are these supernatural beings? In most cases the supernatural beings interacting with the characters are outsiders with belief patterns that exist beyond the scope of mortal reason and science, but that doesn't necessarily make them wrong (especially given that they've got supernatural powers to back up their arguments). Many of the prey that the characters have been charged with tracking down are outcastes from their paranormal communities, but why are they being hunted? What does this mean to the characters? Are they just following orders and getting a bit of fame and wealth on the side?

Players should remember that things are rarely what they seem, and moral dilemmas abound. But sometimes an apple is just an apple.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

At the surface, the supernatural beings receive the most colour. This entails describing the creatures, their cultures, their beliefs and their place in society (both their own society and the greater society of humanity). This is to show that the characters are carefully linked to the world around them, but so are the paranormal criminals they hunt. For every action, there is a repercussion waiting to occur, and a carefully interwoven story should cause ramifications to develop from the most unexpected locations.

Secondly, the Quincunx Corporation needs to be described in as much detail as possible, because this is the one clear part of the system that is different from our world.

The whole setting is designed to be a similar to our own world as possible, so much so that the website I've dedicated to it makes numerous links to Wikipedia and other real world entities. The setting is designed to be close enough to our reality that the moral questions invoked actually mean something to the players involved. The players can't simply step away from the game without really thinking twice about how the world really works.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

The things that really fired me up about this game was the interaction of reality TV and the supernatural. Like a clash of cultures between the old world of myth and the new world of hype. The clash of cultures oncept is something I've been toying with for a long time, but it was the injection of the reality TV angle that really spark the creative juices.

I've long looked for something that would emulate the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", I know that the early versions of Mage:the Ascension from White Wolf were based pretty heavily on that book and it's sequel, but there was something missing. The characters often seemed at a disconnect with the world around them, and that was really frustrating. I wanted characters in that context, but characters that really cared about the world they fought for.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

Marvel-style superheroes, where the emphasis is actually on the characters beliefs and links to the world around them rather than emphasising the cool powers.

I’ve seen a few games attempt the connections to the in-game world, but haven’t really seen many that have pulled it off successfully…and certainly nothing with the community spirit I’m hoping to achieve.

I’m trying to create levels of connection that I haven’t see in other games.
Connection between characters.
Connection between characters and the game world.
Connection between players and their characters.
Connection between players across the world in telling a communal story.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?

A game. A website. A comic. A global interactive fiction.

I’m currently working on a comic book which will be the major source of in game colour for the game. It’s a story about the original five operatives of the Quincunx Corporation and how they deal with fame and notoriety while they struggle against supernatural criminals continually trying to take over (or destroy) the world. The game will be a free (or very cheap) product designed to help others get into the world I’m creating for communal storytelling.

Hopefully a few more people will get onto the bandwagon and start generating fan-fic or relating their in-game adventures on the forums associated with the website in development.

19.) Who is your target audience?

Those who are looking for something more.

I’d love for this to be a crossover product to get comic book readers into roleplaying, because that is a huge market with the right general demographic. Most of them are aware of D&D but I’d like to really get them into independent gaming, and hopefully use my own game as a doorway to other great indie games.