05 October, 2011

Format changes

I've just looked at the blog and have seen that on the last few posts it has been adding a horrible white background to the text, and has changed the font on me...

...time to do some fiddling.

28 September, 2011

Injury, Dishonour, Panic and Scourge

As a part of the miniatures/live action game based in my goblin world, I've got four ways of inflicting penalties on a target:

Injury (Based on Bones) - A physical form of penalty
Dishonour (Based on Bugs) - A social form of penalty
Scourge (Based on Cogs) - A spiritual/psychic form of penalty
Panic (Based on Tools) - A mental form of penalty

If a goblin suffers a point of penalty, all actions within that spehere suffer a minor impairment.

If a goblin suffers a second point in the same form of penalty, all actions within that sphere suffer a major impairment.

If a goblin suffers a third point in the same form of penalty, they are removed from play for the remainder of the turn.

At the end of the turn there is a chance that a goblin will reduce their current penalties, but the more penalzed they become, the harder it is for them to shake off the issues that afflict them.

The whole point here is that a goblin can drive off their foes by doing various types of harm, whether physically injuring them, scaring them off or using psychologcal warfare and simply bamboozling them.

The game is meant to be quick; no complicated formulas, no table references, in much the same way that combat between opponents is quick in Magic the Gathering (or most other collectible card games). A quick comparison of numbers determines the winner and inflicts penalties on the loser.

The issue I'm facing here is that the ability to cause "Injury" can easily be modified to accomodate for an attacker's bonuses due to weapons, or a defenders bonuses due to armour.

What would modify the ability to cause "dishonour" or "panic" in a similar fashion?

It's something I'll be thinking about more once the Goblin Tarot project has run it's course. After all, the goblin tarot deck (www.indiegogo.com/the-goblin-tarot) will be the core driving mechanism for the game....but more about that later.

15 September, 2011

Goblin Numbering

I don't like it when an author or artist simply uses a different font to represent another culture's language. To make the goblins distinct, I've been working on a numbering system and a complete language from scratch.

The language won't be ready for a few more months (maybe even a year or two), so it won't be a part of the tarot release, but the numbers are ready and will be used to mark the cards.

For more information on this project, see http://www.indiegogo.com/the-goblin-tarot

14 September, 2011

Goblin Tarot Companion Sample

After a few weeks of work, here is the sneak preview of the Goblin Tarot Companion.


I'd still love to get a few more sponsors to make sure the project is kicked off properly, but at this stage it seems to have stagnated.

10 September, 2011

The Goblin Tarot

For those of you who are unaware, I've started an IndieGoGo project to fund the first part of my Goblin game.

This project is called the Goblin Tarot and begins by providing a tarot deck derived from the mythology of my goblin world. Those who contribute a little more will receive a booklet containing some games to play with the card deck, some further insight into the goblin world and some goblinesque methods of divination.

For information about this project, visit the IndieGoGo site.

(P.S. If you've got any available funds and you'd love a fun present for this years festive season, I'd appreciate a few new backers)

17 August, 2011

PC Upgrade

There could be a break in transmission as I transfer files from an old laptop to a new one.
Especially when it comes to transferring those frequently used programs such as the Office Suite, Photoshop, and the various other programs I use for 3D rendering and game design.
Hopefully this should take no longer than a day or two.

One small step for goblins, one enormous leap for a game about them.

Goblins are a race of huge genetic diversity; there are big ones, small ones, scaly, furry, green skinned, brown.
Trying to catalogue them all would be a nigh impossible task.
Trying to create a roleplaying game or a miniatures game capable of capturing the diversity is surely a fool's errand.
But that's the task I've set for myself.
So how do I do it?
At this stage I'm treating goblin desriptions fairly simply, with two modular parts. Firstly a racial heritage that defines a series of baselines, then a series of occupations that boost those baselines.
It seems to be fairly ordinary stuff, many games have a similar structure.
But I get the feeling that a genetically diverse and decadent race that has evolved into hundreds of niches requires a carefully structured society to avoid devolving into complete anarchy. Goblins are traditionally treated as anarchists, so this might be their tendency when far from the central authorites of their race. The "powers that be" would take on a tyrannical view to keep their masses in check. Human history has seen groups do this through religion, military, nobility, commerce, and other means. Goblins add magic into the mix.
This is complicated further by a goblin's short lifespan, weeks rather than years.
Goblins don't have long to make a mark for themselves, and they find themselves oppressed by a cultural society that will certainly outlast them. Goblins may choose to rebel against their situation, subvert the society around them, or use it to their advantage in the hope of gaining access to a means of extending their lifespan and thus gaining more chance at notoriety, fame or wealth.
I'm trying to delve into a very alien mindset here, but there needs to be something familiar for outsiders to latch onto. It needs to make sense.
I'm starting to ramble here...in the attempt to explain my thought processes,,,but I'll just provide the next part of character description.
Occupations come in three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. These are clustered into groups within a tree structure.
As an example for a warrior's occupation tree.
The basic level might be a footsoldier.
This branches to two types of intermediate warrior: infantry and cavalry.
Then each intermediate offers the choice of two advanced warrior occupations.
Each occupation takes a week or so to progress through. As a result, characters could pick two or three basic occupations from separate trees, but they'll probably die before getting very far in them.
Gaining access to an occupation requires performing some kind of feat in goblin society; these feats get harder as higher levels are being accessed. Once access is gained, each occupation offers bonuses, but it also offers obligations.
If you become the high courtier, you'll be expected to fulfil obligations associated with running court proceedings.
I'll be writing more to clarify these ideas shortly.

06 August, 2011

Goblin Labyrinth Blues

A bit more information regarding my thought processes on the Goblin Labyrinth.

First a few key design points for the project.

  • The game uses a combination of live play and miniatures.
  • The game needs to be scalable for a variety of play group sizes. Ideally, anything from 2 players to 200. But it's more likely we'll be looking at the 6 to 30 range.
  • All players need to be connected to at least 3 other players through some kind of relationship (whether that comes in the form of an alliance or a rivalry).
  • The game needs to be fairly self-sufficient in terms of ecosystem and economy within the game world and narrative potential. (Any GMs need only be present to help resolve rule disputes between players, a small game between experienced players shouldn't need GMs at all).
  • The game needs to generate story through meaningful player decisions.
  • The game needs to be fun and easy to learn.

It's a tough set of criteria, but I'm gradually finding my way towards a rule set that fulfils each of these objectives (in my mind anyway).

Point by point:

  • The game uses a combination of live play and miniatures. If you've read my Raven's Nest posts, you'll know that this is possible. If you know the origins of roleplaying games as a hobby, you'll understand that this is basically just the ultimate old-school revival...the first braunstein games basically fulfilled this criteria and most other forms of roleplaying have been divergences from this tradition.
  • The game needs to be scalable for a variety of play group sizes. Ideally, anything from 2 players to 200. But it's more likely we'll be looking at the 6 to 30 range. I'm envisioning the game to run more as a board game with smaller numbers of players, perhaps more akin to a standard miniatures game, but with story driven elements required to achieve success rather than simply beating down an opponent. This is easily driven through mission objectives acquired at the start of play. A mission from a shadowy cabal of benefactors, a mission related to a current occupation, a mission for family...This becomes inherently scalable as larger groups of players will have more conflicting missions, but larger groups of players will also find groups sharing the same mission.
  • All players need to be connected to at least 3 other players through some kind of relationship (whether that comes in the form of an alliance or a rivalry). The application of missions immediately links players through rivalries and alliances, so this one's covered. To advance the concept here, I'm working on an idea of sharing favours with one another, or making public declarations of ill-will.
  • The game needs to be fairly self-sufficient in terms of ecosystem and economy within the game world and narrative potential. (Any GMs need only be present to help resolve rule disputes between players, a small game between experienced players shouldn't need GMs at all). A standard miniatures game needs no GM because the rules are procedural and can be looked up if necessary. A large freeform game only requires GMs to help resolve conflicts that extend beyond the scope understood by the players. Hopefully, by tying players and characters to specific goals within a specific framework of activities, the use for GMs can be reduced if not eliminated. This is the tricky one.
  • The game needs to generate story through meaningful player decisions. The goals assigned to characters will be conflicting, players will have to choose what is more important to them. This will become even more dramatic when characters require other to help them complete their goals, because you can never be certain whether the person you are asking for help will end up being a hindrance. An action will often lead to new actions, and the first quests completed in a game will change the dynamic of the scenario for the others involved. Thus the story will work toward a climax, but you can never be sure what climax will be generated. In many cases I'm foreseeing the ability for players to generate their own goals on the fly, thus creating a truly interactive experience driven by the economies of the setting.
  • The game needs to be fun and easy to learn. The actual miniature rules needs to be intuitive, they need to help drive the action in subtle ways, but not complicate the setting. The rules should make sense on the first turn, and with every action performed. The same general system should be used for all activities.
That's my basic design goals for the project. More details to come.

04 August, 2011

Mob Rules Update

For the last couple of nights I've been crossing and meandering between two projects.

Number 1: Finishing off "The Great Bard", my game chef entry which seems to have drawn a bit of interest (Thanks for the review Steve).

Number 2: Getting the goblin mob combat rules to sit right in my head.

I've revised and refined the concept a bit.

We now follow a standard pattern for all different types of actions, whether combative, mystical or otherwise.

It works off a few simple notions.

a) Goblin characters are surrounded by mobs of lackeys, the mob can be any size as long as you've got the money to keep paying them. Lackeys are expendible and work like a combination of special abilities and hit points...once you lose a particular lackey, you lose access to the ability provided by that lackey and your mob size gets smaller.
b) When a goblin engages a task or enters conflict with another mob, they select a team from their mob. This team size is based on the leadership of the goblin, it may be higher if the goblin character leads them into battle, or it may cause morale loss if the goblin character sends his lackeys in to fight while he hides in the mob.
c) All team members get a single active action each turn, but they may defend themselves as many times as necessary.

With this in mind, the 3-minute turn sequence basically works as follows...

Minute 1:
  • Choose your active team
  • Draw an active hand of cards (1 plus the size of the active team)
  • Allocate a single card to each member of the active team

Minute 2:
  • Player with the larger active team goes first, they choose a member of their team to act, this goblin is the assailant.
  • Acting goblin targets a member of the opposing active team or a random member of the mob. The target of the action is the victim.
  • Play a random card on the assailant and the victim. Each player may choose to expose and use their allocated card if it is higher. Higher card adds 1 to their attack (or defence if the higher card is gained by the victim).
  • Compare scores, if assailant is higher, an effect is applied to the victim.
  • Move to next goblin's action (alternate turns between players).
Minute 3:
  • Chance of goblin recovery after the round has ended.
  • Any other end of turn effects manifest.
  • Begin new round.

It seems quick and simple at this stage, but will probably see further refinement as special abilities are devised.

More Goblins

I've added a few more goblin tarot images to my deviantart page.

I figure I'm about 3/4 of the way through the collection now.

I'm happy that these images are getting a good viewing by people who haven't previously seen my work. I'm starting to get a few more regular watchers out of this series.

If you'd like to have a look, a link to the gallery is here.

28 July, 2011

Freebooter's Fate

As an avid miniatures painter, and a fan of small press and indie games, I'm always interested in the new products available from the smaller miniatures manufacturers.

Those who appreciate fine figures will probably be familiar with the work of Freebooter miniatures already, with beautifully sculpted and delicate miniatures that are a joy to paint.

But in the last few months, Freebooter has released their own game system, Freebooter's Fate.

It's a card based system, rather than dice (so that gets my seal of approval). But the use of cards is really clever. So much so, that I'm thinking of using a similar system in a game of my own.

Characters have attack scores and defence scores, they also have areas of the body where they can be hit. The areas of the body are identified by cards (Head, Torso, Abdomen, Right Arm, Left Arm, Legs), and an attacking character plays a number of these cards equal to their attack score, while a defender plays a number of these cards equal to their defence score. The cards are revealed and if the attacker has played a card that the defender hasn't, a hit is scored on that party of the body. It's elegant, it makes sense.

If an attacker hits two or more areas that the defender hasn't blocked, they choose which area to hit and they score a critical hit.

Then you do other stuff to calculate the amount of damage based on weapon strength, armour toughness and a random card...but the essence of the hit mechanism is so simple and beautiful that I wonder why someone hadn't thought of it earlier...maybe they have and I just haven't seen it.

I haven't actually played a game yet, I like to paint my figures before they hit the table. I'll post a play report once I've actually had a chance to indulge my pirate ways.

27 July, 2011

Back to the Goblins

Game Chef is over.

I'm not too happy with my result.

Lots of potential in it, but I just wasn't able to realise that potential in time.

So it's back to my pet project of the Goblin Labyrinth.

The Goblin City (Status Report)
I've sculpted up the first two of my blank hex templates for the labyrinthine Goblin city, these blanks are made from plaster and I'll be carving them and adding to them until I get the desired result. I'll probably be sculpting a few dozen more of these blank templates before I'm done. If I get the chance I'll update the vulpinoid studios website with a few works in progress.

Goblin Tarot (Status Report)
I've started generating a few more images for the minor arcana. Just assorted goblins displaying a wide range of cultural heritage, and posed in a variety of comical, macabre or slightly odd manners. I'll be compositing these images into cards shortly for uploading onto deviantart.

The Miniatures Game (Status Report)
Last night I started compiling my notes again for this part of the project. I think I've found a new streamlined way to handle conflict between packs of chaotic greenskins, something that adds tactics and drama. When I'm happy with this incarnation of the rules, I'll be sending them out to my usual forum haunts to see if I can elicit any feedback.

Games for Goblins (Status Report)
I'd still love to develop this side of the project, but I think I've got enough on my plate at the moment.

25 July, 2011

The Great Bard [Game Chef 2011]

I've finished my Game Chef Entry, it's not as good as I'd hoped, there are a few issues with it.

I've just uploaded it onto 1km1kt, it's called "The Great Bard".

Have a look, I'll be critiquing my own work shortly.

Knights of Badassdom

I don't know how many people are already aware of this movie, but as a LARPer myself it instantly grabbed my attention. The fact that it has Summer Glau, Ryan Kwanten and Peter Dinklage in it is just an added bonus.

21 July, 2011

Game Chef 2011 (Progress Report)

I've come to the conclusion that what I'm trying to write for this contest is basically "Primetime Adventures" for an Elizabethan/Jacobean play instead of a TV show.

It's mostly all about relationships between characters, and fitting that into a 5 act structure.

...the problem is that I keep trying to add "Realism" into the mix. I want characters to have relations to one another, but I also want them to have relationships to areas ("This is my home ground", "This is somewhere I'm not liked"), and I want these relationships to evolve in play. In fact, that's one of the important parts to this game and to the plays of the era. Characters grow, relationships change.

But I don't want the final product to become a convoluted mess of systems and subsystems.

Maybe I need to sleep on it again.

20 July, 2011

Paintrix Miniatures

At the moment I'm painting up a series of figures from the Malifaux and Freebooter's Fate ranges.

Some of these are absolutely beautiful miniatures, and they deserve to be painted with the utmost care and attention. Otherwise the paintwork just doesn't do justice to the raw metal.

So I decided to do some research, and looked into a few websites focused on miniature painters.

Cool Mini or Not came up, and there is always some great work on that site, but a lot of that is hidden amongst the mediocre...I was looking for something with a bit more information.

A bit more looking and I found the Paintrix.

19 July, 2011

Finally, a licensed game to get excited about.

I just found out that Adamant Entertainment is releasing a roleplaying game based on the classic cult sci-fi masterpiece...


Now back to working on Game Chef.

17 July, 2011

Shakespearean Game Board

I've been working on a game board for my Game Chef rpg contest entry.

The Shadowy Cabal

The point that prompted this post was over on one of my regular haunts, 1km1kt...

So the question is, how can we be proactive about this situation. Could we implement a 1km1kt rating system based on either reader votes of a shadowy cabal like the MPAA? If we haven't already, a "your top five free games" might help to ensure a person's first contact with free is something good and not yet another attempt to re-write D&D.

...so the question is whether this would be feasible, who would be involved and how would we ensure that the feedback is meaningful.

Perhaps there is already something that could be used as a basic model for the concept, a site like Cool Mini or Not), or maybe I could generate up a computer database system allowing people to assign a value from 1-10 for specific categories (innovation of rules, readability, layout, etc.), then applying weighting component to someone's votes based on the number of products they've voted on, reviews they may have written...all of this takes effort and you'd need some kind of incentive program to make it worthwhile.

I still think it's an idea that could be worth pursuing.

Chain World

Chain World

An amazing story of a game as art and religion.

I'm not going to write any more on this except to say that a similar type of thing was attempted within the indie rpg design community last year with a set of components passed from one designer to the next in a chain of creativity.

Read the article, tell me what you think.

16 July, 2011

Law and Order: SVU (Shakespearean Victims Unit)

I've had a few ideas for Game Chef this year. But I'm not sure which one to run with.

I've also had a few ideas for mechanisms.

The soft 3000 word limit is the killer for me. That's about 3-4 pages of text. Far less than I'd normally write. But that's all part of the challenge I guess.

14 July, 2011

Game Chef 2011: First Thoughts

The theme this year is "William Shakespeare".

I've just watched "Gnomeo and Juliet" a few days ago.

I love "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", and I've long toyed with the idea of writing a novel in this vein, where the plot of my narrative intertwines with the narrative of a classic, key points in both crossing over at twists and junctions.

I can even justify some of these ideas within the context of my vector theory of RPG design.

The players choose minor characters from a Shakespearean play, characters who don't die in the traditional text (or if they do, maybe it only seems that way...and they'll have to make deliberate efforts to avoid appearing in future crossover scenes). If such characters die in the new story, perhaps someone can masquerade as their role when the next crossover occurs.

Spontaneous thought: In the last run of David Tennant as the Doctor (in Dr Who), there is a notion that some events in spacetime are fixed, while other are mutable. I'm imagining that crossover points between the Shakespearean play and the game are those fixed points. But how much diversity of story can you achieve between those points.

It's a bit railroady, but when a game focuses on relationships outside the context of the core story I can see some interesting drama unfolding.

It's a hell of a concept, we'll have to see what the ingredients are for this years contest...hopefully, they'll refine the game ideas for me.

...but how do I incorporate the gnomes without it getting silly???

Game Chef 2011 (and other contests)

It's Game Chef time of Year again.

One Theme, Four Secret Ingredients (from which you must choose two), then 10 days to produce a fine-tuned gaming hot rod to compete among the dozens of of entrants.

I've done Game Chef a few times, I usually just make up the numbers. Maybe my games a bit too pedestrian in some respects, maybe they're just a bit too long winded (my entries are usually twice the page count of the average entry). Or it could be that I'm still not a "recognized" name in the independent gaming crowd.

In an attempt to remedy this, I've submitted FUBAR into the mix for the 2010 Indie RPG awards.

03 July, 2011

Spicing Up Your Game #5: Props

I love props.

In fact, at many conventions I've been known as the "GM with the props".
  • Oversized water pistols given to commando characters and space marines.
  • Elaborate little trinkets to evoke a specific feeling for a character.
  • Diaries filled with hastily scrawled diagrams and barely legible handwriting.
  • Show jewellery.
  • First aid kits to designate the party's medic.
  • Bottles of wine to depict an alcohol (or wine connoisseur).
  • Toy coins to depict the use of actual currency in a game.
I've used all of these and many more.

It's not that I don't trust the imaginations of the other players involved in a session, it's more that I find people's tactile response engages at a quicker pace and a more instinctive level. If you don't have to imagine the boring bits, you can focus on the drama and the action.

This might also stem from my background in Live Action roleplaying; costume and props certainly play a more prominent role in games of this type. But I've found that bringing props to the table adds a degree of immediacy to the events at hand, they allow new roleplayers something to focus on and opens up their creative potential, they allow veteran roleplayers a new tool for their arsenal.

Some games include a props within their coded mechanisms, the first instance to come to my mind is the dagger used in the game Mist Robed Gate (here or here), but there are a few others.

But you can explore the use of props on so many levels within the context of roleplaying. They are a great way to keep track of who possesses which important items in the game.

As an example...

The most impressive prop I ever used in a game was at a convention held on the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales, it was the mid to late 1990s. We had an unused 12 story building at our disposal, with working elevators. So we made the elevators into a system of portals and defined each level of the building as a different alternate reality. The majority of the game occurred on the ground floor (with 20 odd players), while certain groups would be sent up and down the building when they went off to explore other parts of the setting. It became easy to determine who was where in the game because different players would physically be on different floors of the building. Of course a prop of this magnitude requires a few GMs to handle properly.

I'd love to hear about props other people have used in interesting ways.

02 July, 2011


I've been thinking about a Doctor Who RPG for a while, one that stays true to the spirit of the series, rather than a piece of generic rubbish with a Doctor Who veneer glossed over the surface.

So, when I found this link I was interested.

I don't know if it's the first Doctor Who RPG, or if it's just an early one, but the fact that it's now freely downloadable for personal use makes it a great starting point for exploring systems and settings within the universe of our favourite Gallefreyan.

I haven't thoroughly delved into it yet (or the free expansion), but I plan to shortly.

Perhaps there will be a time travelling FUBAR expansion on its way.

28 June, 2011

Unexploited Resource #5: Music

Looking through my old posts, I see a few ideas that really need re-addressing.

One of those is the "Unexploited Resource" series.

So to resume the concept, here's an idea I've been thinking about for a while. Music in games.

I remember a few years ago, actually it was the mid to late 1990s. It was the traditional "end of convention" trip to the pub...a common occurrence that still happens at Australian RPG conventions. A friend of mine was sharing an idea over a drink. He had recently placed a computer game in a regular CD player on a whim,and he found that the background tracks and theme music for the game were readable as music files on the CD player.

This game him a few key music loops that might have proven useful as introductory fanfares for specific NPCs, but more interestingly, the game included a heartbeat.

In the computer game, the heartbeat soundtrack sped up as the character became nervous, excited or stressed, and it slowed down when the character achieved a more peaceful state of mind.

The friend was discussing the idea of having this track on constant single-loop throughout a game, when player characters became more agitated in the game he'd ascend to the next track and loop through this, gradually getting faster with each track progression, or moving back through the looped tracks when things were calming down.

I don't know what game it was (I vaguely think it was something in the "Battletech" game line), I can't remember who suggested the idea, and I don't even know if the idea was put into practice.

What I do remember thinking was that the concept sounded awesome to me at the time. Especially if used in conjunction with other soundscaping ideas.

I did run in one convention game where a GM used music to great effect.

Vietnam War setting, so he used the movie soundtracks to "Apocalypse Now", "Good Morning Vietnam" and a few other great period songs to set the tone for the game.

In this way, music isn't really a way to mechanically change things up, instead it's a tool for characterisation and mood.

I ran an infamous Sabbat Game for White Wolf's Camarilla around 2002 (where I spent a bit too much hiring a pair of high-class strippers for the gamers...the strippers were more freaked outthan the gamers...but that's another story). In this game I went through my MP3 collection and picked as many death related songs as I could, gradually building up the intensity over the course of 3 hours. Then finishing off with the classic disco song "I Will Survive" for the ritual climax at the game's end.

A few people remarked on the song choices, most didn't even notice them, but it was a great way to add a bit more texture to the game, beyond the specific events occurring physically around the players.

I've been wanting to use music more in my games, and It's certainly something I've haven't seen used enough in a roleplaying context.

18 June, 2011

New Job

I've been posting away at this blog for a while now (since early 2008) and have had a variety of jobs. The blog actually started off early with a string of posts about my dissatisfaction regarding the corporate world.

In the time since I've been writing this blog, I've been an IT specialist, a printer, a bookseller, a freelance game writer, a layout artist, a student and a web designer...Most of those roles I've been paid for.

For the last few months I've been struggling to make roleplaying books my primary source of income. It's not been easy, especially when other issues keep cropping up. I'm probably earning enough money through RPGNow that I can adequately sustain myself on packet noodles and a few cheap cans of food...certainly not comfortable, and not even enough to pay the rent, but it's a start.

So that's meant I've had to look for more substantial work (the job-hunting has cut into my game design time immeasurably).

On the positive side, I have now found a job that I can really sink my teeth into.

I now design companies, corporate identities and retail environments. It's like designing insidious factions for a cyberpunk game, but it's real, and people are paying me to do it. AWESOME!!!

13 June, 2011

Taking it back for my people

According to a number of people within the Facebook group Wenman Family Reunion, it appears that I could be related to gypsies.

I find this hugely ironic, when a number of people told me not to pursue my ideas for the game Brigaki Djili. My most vocal opponents decried my work as an act of "cultural appropriation", but now it seems I can counter their arguments by saying that I am actually exploring my ancestry and cultural roots through my work on this game.

I realise that if anyone traces their family tree far enough, they can justify almost anything, but this gypsy/traveller connection only stretches back a couple of generations, and it seems that there are still a high proportion of travellers who bear the Wenman name.

In fact, one of the origins of the surname "Wenman" is said to be "Wain-man" or "Wagon-man".

Maybe it's time to start working on that project again.

08 June, 2011

New Goblin Tarot Images

Just to show that I'm still ploughing away on the Goblin Tarot Deck, here are a few more images to entice and enthral.

At this rate I should have the full deck knocked out in a few weeks.

Have a look at my Deviant Art profile for more updates on this project.

26 May, 2011

Spicing Up Your Game #4: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Another one of those common topics of discussion on independent gaming forums involves the concept of shared imagination space, or shared imagined space, or simply SIS. I’ve heard a dozen interpretation of what this actually is, but the concept I like the best is like a communal daydream where everyone adds something into it, and everyone else reacts to the addition. Three types of contributors add to the communal daydream, the GM who sets the stage, the players who act through their players within the setting and the game mechanisms which often impose a level of coherency or apply genre specific physics to the situation.

All of these forces are pulling at the SIS, the GM is often trying to pull the story toward a predetermined goal, the players are typically pulling the SIS in a way to highlight the advantages and strengths of their characters, the system often works to stop players or GM from gaining absolute control over events, thus turning the story into a game experience.

With these forces pulling in different ways, the SIS is pulled tight like the mat on a trampoline. It has a certain degree of give, but if things get too tense it becomes a fragile thing that can easily be broken. If you’ve been roleplaying long enough, you’ve probably seen this. One player pulls in a direction opposing another player, it starts with each believing a different version of a specific event, and as they are unwilling to back down, they continue to interpret new events in ways that reinforce their belief about the storyline…until eventually the two stories become incompatible and the SIS literally tears apart, destroying the game in the process.

In another situation, the players engage in an action that isn’t quite covered by the game’s rules, so a new rule is devised ad hoc (perhaps by the GM, perhaps by consensus of the group). With another situation and another ad hoc change of the rules the story drifts away from the rules as they are written in the book. Some players might realise this and simply think that this is just the GMs play style, perhaps they give it a name like “drift” because they are gradually drifting away from the rules as written and are developing their own evolution of the game more suited to their style of play. Eventually the players realise that they are actually playing a brand new game completely separate from the book where everything started.

Anything can cause a degree of tension that rends the SIS; at first it might be unnoticed, but eventually it becomes obvious and destroys a game. Not all games end this way, some games might walk a fine line, where nothing gains enough strength to cause this damage to the SIS, or maybe the storyline resolves and the game ends before things get too out of hand.

If you’re planning to run a long term game, it makes sense to give the SIS a bit more strength. Make it a bit more resistant to those pulling effects. If all the players and the GM are sharing the same ideas about where the story is going, what has happened and how the environment around them works, then there is a lower likelihood that they’ll pull in mutually incompatible directions. (Don’t get me wrong, there will still be friction between characters, that’s all a part of roleplaying, but now the players should be aware of what they are doing to the story rather than simply pulling at it without understanding the results of their actions.)

There are some easy ways to reinforce the SIS, but most involve a bit of preparation and some homework on the part of the players.

Find a movie that’s similar to the setting you’re trying to portray, or a TV series. If it’s something that most members of the group are already familiar with then you don’t need to sit and watch it again.

If your game idea sits somewhere between two or three movies, get everyone to sit and watch them all…taking notes along the way. Or even take the opportunity for everyone to pick a movie within a specific genre…action movies, sci-fi movies, road movies, post apocalypse…once everyone has picked a movie, everyone should write notes, picking half a dozen aspects from each movie, then discussing their choices during the credits, or before the next movie starts. Once all the movies have been watched, consider which elements are common to them. For example, if you’re going sci-fi and one person picks “Blade Runner” while someone else picks “Alien”, then there is a common thread of very human looking androids, and another common thread of crude space travel with an exodus from the earth. Choose a few of these common elements, and define them as immutable truths about the game setting. Choose a few of the characters as archetypes for NPCs. Limit the weaponry in the game to items that are specifically seen in the films. If you see an action occur in a few of the movies, then it should be pretty easy to accomplish in the game; conversely if you deviate beyond what you see in any of the movies then things would get more difficult.

In this way, everyone gets on the same page about what can be done easily, what should become harder in the game, and what just shouldn’t be possible at all.

You could do the same with books, but this would be a bit harder. It takes a lot longer and a bit more effort to read a book than watch a movie.

Once everyone has the same starting point for a game, and they understand where the boundaries of the imagined world exist, then they can explore the space within those boundaries instead of trying to test the edges and pull the game apart.

That’s the theory anyway.

Real Time Mob Warfare

(I apologize to the people who've been following the development of this game, those helpful people who've provided insight and encouragement as I've been plugging away at this project...but I've provided a deeper background for those people who aren't up to speed, or who just want to see where my current thoughts lie in context)

I’m stuck.

I’m trying to write a skirmish level wargame that plays out in real time.

Each player takes on the role of a goblin in an ancient civilization that long ago conquered its entire world, laying a grand labyrinth across entire continents before opening chasms in time-space and spreading their labyrinth to new worlds. The goblins have such a huge empire that they have fractured as a people, fighting among themselves more often than they fight outsiders, they have mutated into dozens of subraces. The subraces commonly fight each other through political intrigue and occasionally by brawling in the streets. The great goblin empire has little control over its vast lands, local imperial barons wage war against guerrilla warlords and powerful crafting guilds. They fight with a teeming horde of youngsters ever eager to prove themselves in battle, with clockwork robots, with alchemical beasts and with trained animals. Occasionally one side might enslave or recruit outsiders who have been swept up in the eternal goblin struggle; humans lost in the labyrinth, giant trolls, or other strange beasts.

Typically, goblins have very short lifespans and a breeding cycle that would drive their numbers exponentially out of control if they weren’t always fighting. A goblin is hatched, becomes sexually active at the end of a month, reaches optimum maturity after a second month, retires by the time the third month has passed, and has died of old age by the end of the fourth month. But there are special potions, artefacts and places in the world that slow down a goblin’s rate of aging, turning weeks into years or even decades. Gaining control over these goblin treasures are the main source of conflict across the empire.

That’s where the wargame comes in.

The game is a massive skirmish level free-for-all. Each player controls a goblin hero, someone who has transcended the goblin masses and has obtained a method for enhancing their lifespan. As a hero, they have gathered an assortment of lesser goblins, sidekicks, pets and war machines to their side. So at this stage we’re looking at a hero with an assortment of skills and special abilities, and a half dozen or so lesser goblins and other fighting assistants each with an ability or two of their own.

…and this needs to play out in real time with more than twenty players playing at once, in a few factions with four or so hero members in each.

It’s a tough ask, but if it can be pulled off, it should be utterly spectacular.

I’m toying with two core ideas at this time.

The first employs the goblin tarot deck I’m working on.

The second employs rolling heaps of dice.

The goblin tarot deck idea is more mystical, the dice rolling idea is more chaotic…but both are quite potentially goblinesque.

Idea 1: Goblin Tarot Combat

There are a range of major arcana, each describing a battle tactic. Different characters will have access to different tactics.

Members of a squad (the hero and their companions) are represented by cards. At the start of a round, a player sorts these cards into an activation order. When they come into conflict with one another squad, they reveal the top card of their deck with the squad they are fighting against. Minor arcana are drawn, the face value of these arcana are added to relevant skills on the squad cards before comparing to opponents. Players may activate a single ability for each squad member as they activate, they might be able to activate a second ability or gain some kind of bonus if the minor arcana has the right suit. In this way an exchange should only take a couple of seconds, and once one exchange is dealt, a second exchange begins. This continues until all troops have activated once (some may have the ability to be re-added back into the activation pile). Once a new round begins, surviving squad members are sorted into a new activation pile; with the next round, follow up actions are made.

Using this type of system all of the members of a squad can be provided with different abilities that might prove useful (or might be completely ineffective if certain opponents are flipped not.

The system can also be used for resource gathering (which will also be an important part of the game), scavenging for scrap in junk heaps to build contraptions to wage more war, or trade to wanna-be warlords. Perhaps different troops types are more effective at gathering different types of resources in different areas.

The whole idea still needs work, but that’s the basic system. The reason I’m liking this system is that it’s hard to cheat when you’re drawing cards from a deck, and a goblin game of this magnitude will keep the GMs on their toes as it is; the game needs a system that is easy enough to regulate between payers so that the GMs can be . .

Idea 2: Handfuls of Dice

The goblin tarot idea activates a single character at a time, handfuls of dice are a free for all.

Under this concept, all roll one or more dice…one die for basic inexperienced goblins, two dice for veterans (a month or two old), and three for the hero. All the dice are rolled at once, then allocated to squad members as they activate.

If a 1 is allocated to a goblin, the opponent gets a free attack on them.

If a 2-3 is allocated, the goblin is distracted and doesn’t act except to defend themselves.

If a 4-5 is allocated, the goblin acts normally.

If a 6 is allocated to a goblin, they get the chance to activate a special ability.

Experienced goblins and heroes with multiple dice may combine their successful dice for spectacular actions against individuals, or may split their successes against multiple enemies.

It would still work off the idea of activating squad members, but I’m not sure how a fast activation mechanism would work under a dice related system.

This type of system matches more of the existing wargames, so it might be easier to pick up. But I think I’m tending toward the first idea at this stage.

I’m open to ideas.

Spicing Up Your Game #3: Making Player Decisions Matter

I’m one of those GMs who runs a reactionary game. I ask every player to devise some kind of goal before trying to determine a story outline. I’ll develop a game plan for a session once the first scene has played out and I’ve got an idea of where the group would like to take things.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to organise things. I’ll prepare a setting, with an assortment of locations ready action, a rogues gallery of NPCs ready to throw into scenes and a few potential treasures or maguffins. In some circles, I think my GMing style is called “playing unsafe” but I prefer to think of it as allowing players to actually make decisions for their characters, providing the opportunity to explore the setting and explore the characters within that setting.

As a player, I’ve participated in sessions run by similar GMs and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve also played in sessions run by GMs who prefer to simply run things according to a set scenario with no allowance for player decisions to really affect the story flow. Sure, the players can stop, go, speed up or slow down the course of action; but with no chance of taking side routes or simply dismissing anything not related to the GMs story at hand, it’s all just railroading. I’ve delved into a bit of this with my various posts on Vector Theory.

So, there’s nothing really special about this particular method of spicing up your game. If you’re a GM, just allow your players to make decisions, don’t be afraid to follow where those decisions might lead the story. If they lead to new and interesting places, keep notes. If they peter out, go back to the planned story you had, and incorporate some of the exploration that the players took you on while they were leading things.

Spicing Up Your Game #2: Danger Dice

In the independent game design crowd, there are plenty of discussions and arguments about what makes a next generation roleplaying game and how this compares to the old generation of games (and their legacy). One of the common things brought up is the ability for players to take more control into their own hands. Taking risks for added chances to achieve important goals, being able to accept responsibility for your actions by deliberately imposing complications to your own character. Instead of accepting the railroading or deprotagonising effects from the GM, you step up and become a true protagonist again. Destiny is back in the hands of the players and the story becomes a collaborative effort once again.

It sounds a bit over the top. A lot of us got into roleplaying because that’s the kind of thing that our game books promised us, quite a few people never experience this and they either become jaded and leave the hobby, or they change their expectations of the hobby and become content to let a GM tell the story while they just follow aong for the ride through their characters.

This idea is pretty simple, but it pulls the players back into the storytelling process without pushing the intimidating step of “full GMing” on them.

At the start of every campaign, a character should have three or four things that might be useful, depending on your game system, these might be piece of equipment in the inventory, they might be specific traits, relatives, merits, or they might be simple keywords if your game system doesn’t normally keep track of things like equipment. At the start of each new session, a character might gain a single new item, or maybe they’ get refreshed back up to the starting number…

During the course of play, every time a skill check is made, roll an extra die of the type appropriate for your system.

If you are rolling d20s, roll an extra d20; if you’re rolling percentiles, roll an extra pair of d10s.

If you are rolling 2d6 and adding the results together, roll an extra d6.

If you are paying a game with a step die mechanism, roll another die equal to your highest die type (or your lowest die type...whatever you choose, be consistent through the whole game).

Before a skill check is made, the player should describe one of the objects/items/keywords important to their character. This important thing needs to be related to the events at hand, something that can be risked to improve chances of success. If the character doesn’t have something suitable, they still roll the extra die but risk something nasty happening to themselves (perhaps they’ll risk taking some damage in the skill attempt, or some kind of other penalty or flaw).

When the skill check is made, one die is allocated to the actual skill attempt, while the other die is applied to the risk.

The risk die has three levels of effect:

If it rolls really badly (like a natural 1 on a d6, or a 1-2 on a d10) the risked item is lost for good.

If it rolls fairly badly (less than half of its maximum value; eg. up to 3 on a d6, up to 5 on a d10), the risked item is lost temporarily. Perhaps it is gone until the next period of rest, or until the end of the session.

If it rolls relatively well (more than half of its maximum value; eg. 4 or more on a d6, 6 or more on a d10), the item survives unscathed.

As an example…John is playing one of the newer editions of D&D, he is playing a ranger and has chosen a family heirloom and a few pets as his key bonuses. Skills in this version of D&D use a d20, where a die roll plus a skill level must meet a target number in order for the skill attempt to succeed. Normally, if the Dungeon Master wants something to happen, they’ll offer a low target number before getting the player to roll…if they don’t want it to happen, they’ll offer a high target number.

This time, since the Dungeon Master has decided to turn the focus back onto the players. John attempts to get some information and he chooses to risk one of his pet ferrets. The Dungeon Master declares a target number of 20. John’s Ranger has +8 on his rolls when attempting to find information in this way. John rolls 2 dice, 7 and 14. If he allocates the 7 to the skill attempt, he won’t find the needed information (7+8=15), but the ferret will survive intact. If he allocates the 14 to the skill attempt he will prove successful (14+8=22), but something nasty might happen to the ferret until the end of the session. John has to make a choice that is important to him, the story or the ferret.

A similar effect could be applied to almost any game, this is basically adding the concept of “Otherkind Dice” onto the system.

23 May, 2011

Spicing Up Your Game #1: "...as played by..."

I've had an idea for a series of posts about ways to spice up your roleplaying games.

Just some simple things that can be applied to just about any system or genre.

A lot of these things are probably ideas that you already incorporate into your games (especially if you are a story-gamer or a "non-traditional" gamer), but I know that there are quite a few groups who will find these ideas new.

The first idea was something that I picked up in a forum a few weeks ago, I don't remember which forum it was in, or what game it was suggested for, but I was really tempted to throw it into my rewrite of FUBAR. I didn't, and instead I'll be incorporating it into one of the genre expansions for the game (maybe one focused around action movies)...

...anyway, enough with the background for this post...on to the meat...

A few of the old games I remember playing had a distinct problem with characters, it might have been something to do with the players (we were teenagers with few social outlets other than our gaming), but then again it might have been something to do with the fact that none of our games provided explicit instructions on how to "play" a character.

I think it was when I engaged in live roleplaying that I really picked up the idea of personifying a character by indulging in stereotypes, or really playing up certain character aspects. Before that, the games were all about numbers on a page, rolling dice and determining who'd end up with the biggest share of XP or treasure.

Going back to tabletop play, I saw a lot of players who still thought in this mind set, but who thought they were missing out on something.

This idea doesn't really push a traditional gamer into exotic territory like "shared narrative" or "GM-less play", it's more like an expansion of the concept of alignment.

When a player devises their character, they should add a single extra step into the process...simply identify which actor you could see playing the character you have in mind. Then play the character with the mannerisms and stereotypes common to that actor...

How would this character be played by Arnold Swarzenegger? John Cusack? Edward Norton? Keanu Reeves? Jack Black? What about applying the exact same set of attributes and skils to a character being portrayed by Angelina Jolie? Judy Dench?

It's just an interesting idea for getting into a mind-set.

It's worked for me in live games, and I've brought it to the table successfully on many occasions.

18 May, 2011

The Goblin Tarot

Here is one of those many backburner projects that I've been working on for quite some time.

I've just been waiting for the right moment of inspiration to hit, and over the last few days it has.

Over the course of two days, I've drawn up a dozen or so images for a deck of cards based on Goblins; the kind of goblins you see in the movie "Labyrinth", also known as Froud Goblins. But these goblins are my own variation on them.

The suits for the deck are "Bugs", "Bones", "Cogs" and "Tools". I'm not sure if these preliminary suit images will act as the background for the numbered cards or if they will simply end up as atmospheric pieces to inspire creativity for the deck.

I have also generated the "Ladies" for each deck (roughly equivalent to the Queens in a standard deck of playing cards).

More details and images to come.

12 May, 2011

FUBAR Director's Cut Now Available

FUBAR has been doing pretty well.

Over 1000 downloads from the various sites where it is available, and most of the feedback I've had from it has been pretty positive.

The game has appeared on a Russian game related database, as well as appearing on a few English speaking databases (where I wasn't the one to add the game)...it seems that people are taking notice of it, and I've got to be happy about that.

With this in mind, I've taken on board some of the feedback I've received and have expanded the game from 30 pages to 50...thus making the FUBAR Director's Cut.

To make this version of the game even more open, I've specifically released it under a Creative Commons license. I'd love to see a few people pick up the mechanisms, and run with them in entirely new directions

The new version is currently only on the Vulpinoid Studios RPGNow store.

10 May, 2011

Kickstarter and Other Options

Daniel Solis is releasing Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple via Kickstarter.

And the success of this project has basically gone viral for the purposes of indie games. It even got a shout out on Wired.

It looks like it's going to be a great game, and Kickstarter looks like an awesome way to fund a project.

...but it can't be used to fund projects outside the USA.

I've been looking for similar funding forums that do work outside the US. My searches probably haven't been as thorough as they could have been, since I've always come away with a generally negative response.

But now I've found IndieGoGo, and I might be able to put together a project of my own.

I'm thinking about putting together a physical copy of FUBAR, now that I've written up a second edition of the game...maybe putting out a proper version of Walkabout...or something new.

I haven't decided, but they'll probably all get a run at some stage.

07 May, 2011

Background Work

For the past 12 months I've been working on a number of projects, some of which I've publicised, others of which I've kept very quiet about.

There have been stints in hospital, moving of house, looking for work...but on the more creative side, I've probably been generating more artwork than I have in over a decade. Some of this can be found on my deviantart profile, a great deal more is found on scraps of paper, cardboard and scattered computer files.

A lot of this work has been an attempt to get my head straight about future projects, I've built up a catalogue of inspiration images, atmospheric photography, sketches and diagrams.

...which means I've basically put the Game Mechanism of the week project on sabbatical. At this stage I'd have fifteen weeks or so to catch up on, and I'd rather be designing than theorising about design.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to reveal some of the design ideas I've been working on, to see if there is any interest. I'll also be looking at a redesign of the Vulpinoid Studios website, but no more on that for the moment...I don't want to release too many spoilers.

03 May, 2011

Font For Sale

With some interest being generated in my online store over at RPGNow, I've just put up my first font for sale.

If this generates a few sales, I might consider adding a few more.

28 April, 2011

New Internet...hopefully.

After six months as an internet nomad, I think I now have a stable connection again.

Stable enough to start being accessible again anyway.

Time to start catching up on those freelance projects and my web store over at RPGNow...

...and time to get back on top of my blog posting.

12 April, 2011

Arguably the best gaming supplement ever!!!

I wish I'd seen this at the beginning of the month when it was first released.

I know so many people who'd want to buy a copy.

Have a look at the official page...(Yes, I do know the significance of the day when it was released).

19 March, 2011

Spider's Dance

Surprisingly, I just uploaded my new game "Spider's Dance" to RPGNow.

In just over a week it's sold almost 20 copies. My highest selling opening week so far.

Almost time to start loading up my first FUBAR supplement.

Then I promise to upload all those blog post entries for the last few weeks.

03 February, 2011

Quincunx Issue 1 Completed

I'm so relieved, after years of working on it, my graphic novel is finally coming together.

I've now completed a beta draft of the first issue...and here are the first few pages.

If you're interested in reading it (before I send it off for submission to various pubishers), I'll try to send across a pdf of the first issue.

Anyway, here's the first few pages...

21 January, 2011

QR Code

I just thought I'd share this cool site that encodes those new QR Code squares that we are starting to see all over the place.

Here's the Vulpinoid Studios website address as QR code.


19 January, 2011


My internet situation still hasn't improved much...still living the life of a Wi-Fi nomad. As a result of that, I'll still be writing the series of Game Mechanisms of the Week, but they'll probably be uploaded sporadically in bursts...a few weeks at a time after they've been written (or even a couple of weeks in advance if I get the chance).

Hopefully this won't put you off from reading them and offering some kind of feedback.

I've still got the spam filter activated on the blog, so if you are making comments and you don't see them for a few days (or even weeks), don't send them through multiple times...it probably just means I haven't had the chance to authorise them yet.

I'd ike to think the internet issue will be resolved soon, but it's really not a high priority at the moment....finishing up the writing of my comic and a few other personal projects are actually getting completed without the distraction of the web.

Thanks for the perseverance.

Game Mechanism of the Week 2011: 2 – Legend of the Five Rings 2nd Edition Core Mechanism “Roll and Keep”

The version of L5R that I’m most familiar with is 2nd Edition. I’ve played a bit of 3rd Edition, so I know that a lot of the fundamentals are very similar….as for other versions I’m not as sure.

The basic system for the core mechanism is fairly similar to the structure I described for the percentile system, but there are enough differences to make it worthwhile examining…especially the fact that it allows players to take a bit more control for themselves when the GM is using the system correctly. It should also be noted that a GM can use the system incorrectly, and when they do this it is barely any different to the basic percentile system. I’ll describe this later.

The basic system follows 4 steps:

1. Scene is set for the action. Target number is determined, along with a pool of dice to roll based on the attribute and skill to be used in the task.

2. You may choose to raise the difficulty to gain an added effect from the action.

3. Dice are rolled, the best are kept (the number kept depends on the skill of the character) and totalled, the total is then compared to the target number.

4. One of two results occurs

a. You beat the target number and you either gain an advantage or avoid a penalty (if you applied any raises, you get the benefit of these as well).

b. You fail to beat the target number and you either suffer a penalty or don’t gain the advantage.

It the addition of that new second step that makes this system more interesting; it integrates the idea of player choice into the action and allows characters to be more dramatic in their actions. Any time a player decides to introduce a raise for their character, they make a conscious choice regarding the events at hand. Such a choice is grounded in the events at hand; with certain options provided by the skill being used, others becoming available through certain character advantages, and some possibly being made available by the GM to reflect the specific circumstances of the scene.

A raise invokes the possibility of a new event node. It might create an additive filter to provide extra advantage to the character at a later time, it might alter the velocity of the story (giving the characters extra time to prepare, or reducing the time for a nemesis to ready themselves), it might open a diverging lens to take the story in an unexpected direction, or it might allow players to avoid an upcoming mirror. Each of these options is a wild card, and an open GM will often be able to run with the choices provided, while a closed GM will simply say something along the lines of “No, you can’t make that kind of raise in this situation” or they’ll simply ignore the effects of the raise. I’ve ranted about this type of “GM shut-down” in L5R games before. Without the subtly of the raise, you might as well just be playing with a percentile system (or a “beat the target number” system).

A basic diagram of the system shows how this added step provides a new degree of complexity into proceedings.

(I could draw up a half-dozen permutations of this flowchart, some where the player introduces different types of raises, others where raises are not added in, then I could vary whether the specific actions has positive filters resulting from successful actions, or negative filters resulting from failed actions, but by this stage you should get the general idea. If an action has a potentially beneficial effect, then the positive filters apply; and conversely if the characters are caught in a potentially bad situation then the negative filters apply.)

The important thing to note about these charts compared to previous charts is the outlined diverging lens. This is where a deliberate choice is made by a player. In L5R this inclusion in the mechanism has a reflection within the setting. The players portray heroes (and villains) of the setting; they are the active agents who make the change within the world. Without them, the masses of peasants and honour bound nobles would become locked in stasis. If a character doesn’t make a conscious decision to go beyond the call of duty, they will not make their mark on history and they will be forgotten. Anyone can take the safe route, engaging the standard target number and accepting the standard conditions of victory or failure. Once you step up and start pushing for your own thing, things might get harder, but the success is all that sweeter.

Another interesting thing to note about the basic system is the lack of additional penalties when the raises are invoked. In some systems, the offset for a more spectacular success is a potentially more spectacular failure; but in this system, the offset for a more spectacular success is simply a higher difficulty. If there is no penalty for failure when undertaking a given action, it’s often in your best interest to throw down a couple of raises.

It’s this synergy between mechanisms and setting that make games more interesting, and that’s the sort of thing I’m trying to focus on in this series.

Game Mechanism of the Week 2011: 1 – A typical percentile skill system

I’m going to start this analysis with one of the old chestnuts of roleplaying, the percentile skill system. This is found in earlier versions of D&D, as well as the range of Palladium roleplaying games, Call of Cthulhu, and plenty of the Old-School Renaissance games. It’s a simple game mechanism following three basic steps.

1. You have a target number; the target number is typically based on your character’s skill level plus or minus a difficulty factor. The reason for the difficulty factor is typically described in the fiction.

2. You roll a percentile die and compare it to the target number.

3. One of two results occurs

a. You beat the target number and you either gain an advantage or avoid a penalty.

b. You fail to beat the target number and you either suffer a penalty or don’t gain the advantage.

This mechanism can be applied in a few ways in a game.

In many “railroaded” linear games, the percentile roll is simply used to determine whether advantages are gained while on the inevitable path to the confrontation at the end of the story.

Some percentile rolls have a chance of providing bonuses.

Other percentile rolls have a chance of inflicting penalties.

Some novice GMs think it’s clever to create scenes where there is a chance of both bonuses or penalties. There is nothing overly revolutionary about this and when analysed, it follows the same basic event structure.

When moving to “non-railroaded” storylines, the simple percentile roll still only offers two possible outcomes. Either you are successful and you follow one story path, or you are unsuccessful and you follow another story path. Depending on the specific scene, one character might make the roll for the entire group, or multiple players might get the opportunity to try their luck.

At a more complex level, some systems may allow players to introduce advantages to maximise their chances of success (such advantages might be equipment that provides a +X% bonus, or special benefits that decrease a difficulty number in certain situations). Some systems do the same with penalties (perhaps injuries cause a general negative to all skill rolls). In a computer roleplaying game, these advantages and disadvantages are often calculated automatically before randomised outcomes are generated; in a table-top game players and GM need to remember which effects modify the target number at which times. On the whole though, a percentile system such as this doesn’t offer a lot of player agency. Instead, it’s binary; either you do it (you follow one set of results), or you don’t (you follow the other set of results). Any chances of maximising a character’s potential are resolved before the scene begins (during the character generation phase), the rest is basically a crap shoot. To properly protagonise the characters, you need to incorporate other game mechanisms….but then again, some players don’t like being forced to make decisions for themselves, they just like to build their characters then sit back and enjoy the ride.

Vector Theory 2011 - Lexicon

Converging Story – A story with a fixed end point. The GM has a specific idea of where they would like the story to go, and even though the path may be twisted and erratic, the story will end up there regardless of the actions undertaken along the way.

Real Play Example: A story has a tyrannical despot as the core antagonist, he is gradually gaining power and there is no way out of the land except to face him. Regardless of what the characters do the despot will gain power and eventually he will have to be confronted (either on his terms or the character’s terms).

Diverging Story – A story with a fixed starting point. The GM specifically sets the opening scene to put events into motion. The events that occur later within the story are commonly derived from this particular opening moment, or from a fixed series of events that lead to that moment.

Real Play Example: A story begins with the characters stranded somewhere, they don’t know why, they don’t know how. Events leading up to the stranding are fixed (but they might be explored in flashbacks, and these might give new perspective to later events); events after the stranding are purely left in the hands of the players and their characters. The story could go anywhere.

Event Node – The point at which a Narraton changes due to events imposed on it, such events could be choices provided within the story, reactions to outside forces, results of specific game mechanisms, real-world time constraints or anything else that might affect the way the story is being told. An event node can change Story Vectors (Heading or Velocity of the Narraton) by adding or resolving Tensions. An event node can change a Narraton’s Intensity by applying bonuses or penalties to the characters or the situations around them. An event node can change a Narraton’s Wavelength by playing with the Narraton’s specific tendencies within the story.

Real Play Example: Any time the players roll the dice or make some kind of choice that affects the ongoing story or their effectiveness in it, that’s an event node.

Field – A field is a wide ranging effect that might gradually change the velocity, heading, intensity or wavelength spectrum of all Narratons that encounter it. Unlike a mirror, lens, filter or other event node, it doesn’t make a sudden change to the Narraton, instead it gradually subverts the Narraton over a period of time.

Real Play Example: An example of a field effect might be the social dynamic in a bandit town. Everyone distrusts the characters, and it takes specific actions to gain their trust. But over the course of time, if you don’t keep up those actions to maintain that trust, they level of distrust gradually builds back up again. Another example of a field effect might be the concept of “natural healing” where characters simply improve their state of being over time (gradually restoring their wavelength spectrum to its optimum state).

Filter – Filters change things that pass through them; polarising filters align the oscillations of light along a certain axis, coloured filters prevent certain wavelengths of light from passing through them and thus they change the colour of the filtered light. We don’t use an analogue for the polarisation of Narratons (there’s enough complexity in the theory as it currently stands), so Filters in Vector Theory merely manipulate the wavelength of a Narraton. In the real world, filters only remove (remove the randomness of oscillations, remove parts of the spectrum passing through them); in Vector theory, filters may also add to the Narratons passing through them

Real Play Example: . Any event that reduces the effectiveness of a Narraton is considered a subtractive filter, where examples include characters taking injuries, a loss of status, suffering from a curse or developing a bad reputation. Any event that increases the effectiveness of a Narraton is considered an additive filter, where examples include finding a magical sword, acquiring useful information, gaining status, finding a new ally or being bestowed with a beneficial enchantment. Some filters neither add nor subtract, they merely change effectiveness; examples include trading in a favour for a specific material possession or paying money for the services of a henchman.

Heading – A Narraton’s Heading is a general overview of where the story seems to be going if things continue on their current course and the players make no changes to their actions. Heading may be altered in two ways, blatant and subtle. A blatant heading change is a specific event node described to the characters and prompting a response. An example might be a damsel in distress (change heading to follow the story into a series of scenes about rescuing the damsel, or continue straight ahead and avoid the diversion). Another example might be the death of a loved one (many choices: mourn the passing, fall into depression, avenge the death, avoid the topic and gradually become jaded/cynical, every choice has consequences and the chance to lead to new story opportunities).

Real Play Example: A GM might have a general idea about how consequences of certain actions will lead to different changes in the environment. If the players indulge in violent actions, the people around them will react more violently; conversely if they take a low key conversational approach, intrigue might become the order of the day. These two extremes could be plotted on one axis (let’s say the vertical). A second axis might simply measure degree of success within the story (in this case the horizontal; left = failure, right = success). If players are progressing through violence, their heading is up and to the right. If their violence is leading to problems that are preventing them from proceeding, they are heading up and to the left. If they are succeeding through political intrigue, they are heading down and to the right…etc. The GM could set up certain trigger scenes to occur when the Narraton’s heading takes it to a specific part of the chart. For example, in the lower left of the chart, there might be a scene with a political figure who gives them a boost in the right direction. If the players have been too violent, their heading won’t lead them to him. If the players are too successful, they won’t need his help so there’s no point introducing him. Entire campaigns could be plotted out in this way, perhaps using three or more axes for multi-dimensional charts.

Intensity – A Narraton’s Intensity is a measure of player agency, the ability of the player controlling that Narraton to alter the events around them, make choices for themselves, or overcome the obstacles in their path. A Narraton with low intensity is subject to the whims of the event nodes they encounter, in some games they might have a severely reduced ability to introduce event nodes of their own into the story. A Narraton with high intensity is more able to confront event nodes on their own terms, in game where players may introduce their own twists into the story, a high intensity Narraton may indicate an ability to impact the story’s flow (trading some of that intensity for a shift in heading or a change in velocity).

Real Play Example: In a traditional game like D&D, intensity could be easily identified by a character’s “level”, the higher the level the more effectively the character will be able to overcome adversity. In games without levels, intensity becomes harder to gauge as it requires combining all the relevant data and individual abilities. In certain situations, Mr Blue might be more powerful than Mr Grey, but when you average out their chances in a wide variety of circumstances they might have an even chance of beating one another.

Lens – Lenses are capable of converging beams of light into points or spreading them into diffusions. Similarly, the event nodes referred to as Lenses in Vector Theory are points capable of converging the paths of Narratons into single stories, or diverge a single Narraton’s path into a range of possible options. Convergent lenses don’t offer new choices, instead they simplify the possibilities, collapsing waveforms into predetermined states. Divergent lenses open a world of possibilities. The use of these two types of event node are often used to determine whether a GM is considered to be “railroading” a story to a predetermined outcome, or allowing the story to evolve naturally from player decisions. This is especially true if players are allowed to introduce their own lenses into a play session.

Real Play Example: Pre-written modules often have decision paths that will lead players along a different series of scenes depending on the choices they make. At the most abstract extreme, consider a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book; any time a page offers you a choice of “Do you perform action A? If so, go to page X. Do you perform action B? If so, go to page Y.”…that’s a diverging lens. It gives you options. Converging lenses sometimes exist in these books too, but they are harder to pick up. If two different pages both direct the reader to a single page further in the story, the twin storylines merge and a converging lens has occurred.

Mirror – In a perfect world, a mirror deflects a beam without changing its speed, wavelength or intensity; in the real world, a beam of light becomes a little dimmer as parts of its wavelength are absorbed by the mirror while the remainder are deflected. By this same logic, in Vector Theory a mirror is an event node that deflects the path of a Narraton in a new direction.

Real Play Example: The players have been fighting their way through armed guards on their way into the halls of the corrupt sorcerer. Near the inner sanctum they find a note written by one of the sorcerer’s henchmen; the note describes a plan to use na├»ve outsiders to kill off the last of the loyalist guards, thus allowing the sorcerer’s revolution to occur with minimal resistance. The story suddenly changes from a sequence of fights into something a bit more sinister and political; the actions of the characters are seen in a new light and the story shifts direction.

Mixed Event Node – Many event nodes seem to have multiple functions, they might deviate the narraton’s path along variable vectors while changing the Narratons wavelength. In virtually all cases, these mixed event nodes can be broken down into specific Event Nodes with small Story Vectors between them; combining their incremental effects into the mixed overall effect. But for the purposes of brevity it is often easier to simply combine the smaller Event Nodes into a gestalt entity.

Real Play Example – A discussion with a local priest is a mixed event node, if things go well the characters will be blessed (resulting in an improvement to a certain part of the Narraton’s wavelength) and will gain access to a few key story scenes (directing the story in a specific heading)…if things go badly, the characters might be cursed (resulting in a deterioration to a certain part of the Narraton’s wavelength) and will require facing a different set of story scenes (directing the story along a different heading).

For simplicity, when mapping out the story, a single decision point might be used.

When analysing it more deeply, there might be a few decision points.

You’ll note that in each case, the story still alternates between simple event nodes (in grey) and short story vectors (described in the blue boxes). The entire sequence of event nodes defines the procedure of this particular scene within the story.

Narraton – An imagined particle of roleplaying experience. A Narraton can change its heading according to the direction in which the story is proceeding. A Narraton can change its velocity depending on the pacing requirements of the story. A Narraton can change its intensity depending on the degree of player agency within the story. A Narraton can change its wavelength depending on the tactical options available to it.

Real Play Example: This one is hard to give a real play example for. The manifestation of the Narraton is the instance of play, where things are heading, how they are getting there, and why. The Narraton might be perceived by different participants in different ways. One player might be looking at the specific journey of their character through the events of the session, another player might be looking at the movement of a Narraton cluster as the overall journey is chronicled. The path and the effects of the Narraton are far easier to analyse than the Narraton itself.

Story Vector – The heading of a Narraton between Event Nodes. A Story Vector has no changes in heading, velocity, intensity or wavelength without encountering an Event Node, it simply proceeds in a straight line infinitely until it encounters a new node or loses relevance. As an example, a “Happily Ever After” Vector might lead away from a story in a generally positive direction but it doesn’t prompt new story events. Another example might be a “Conversation” Vector, where an event node might prompt the conversation to start, while the conversation itself will lead to a new event node where the players must either make a new decision or react to a new change in circumstances.

Real Play Example: If you know the general tropes of Kung Fu movies, you’ll know that many sessions of roleplaying games follow the same principles (and virtually all computer roleplaying games also). A fight scene occurs, jam-packed with all sorts of action, stunts, manifestation of powers learnt along the way…then once the fight scene is over the fallout of that scene is described, often leading to a new scene of revenge (by the protagonists or the antagonists), or a movement to a new location where a new menace can be faced in a fight scene. The fight scenes are clusters of event nodes, the atmospheric scenes and dialogue in this genre are the story vectors (no choices in themselves, they just lead to new fights or critical moments).

Tension – Tensions are motivations pulling on a character, aiming to draw the character’s narraton into certain types of stories or pull them toward specific end goals. Caricature characters and stereotypes might only have a single tension pulling on them, while complex characters might have dozens of tensions pulling at them for different reasons. Tensions may be integrated into the rules, but often they exist as personal concepts written on notepads separate to the character sheet, or as vague ideas within the head of a player. The magnitude of a tension will often change due to the circumstances of a story; sometimes new tensions will manifest during the course of a story while others will vanish completely if they lose relevance.

Real Play Example: A tension might be static, simply pulling them in a single direction regardless of the events in the story; this might be the case when a character has a simple goal like “Accumulate Wealth” or “Defend the Church”. It might pull in different direction but always toward a certain point; such a tension might be to maintain the balance between different factions depending on who has the balance of power the character will be forced to confront different people using different tactics, but they are always trying to pull everything back to a central balance point regardless of where their story may have taken them. In many more interesting stories, a tension will be dynamic, transforming as the events around them change; such a tension might link a character’s story to that of another character, or it might pull them in a cycle doomed to be repeated until some specific event occurs.

Velocity – A Narraton’s Velocity determines how quickly proceedings are undertaken. When a Narraton moves slowly, elaborate and copious details are provided, there may be numerous twists and turns between major event nodes with players getting the opportunity to meander and explore the setting though minor event nodes that have little impact on the overall story. When a Narraton moves quickly, only the most significant facts are divulged and in many cases the Narraton simply skips over time (and minor event nodes) until the next major event node is encountered.

Real Play Example: In many games, a Narraton’s velocity speeds up during rest periods (where many hours might be skipped over in a minute or two) while it slows right down during combat sequences (where a matter of seconds might be described over the course of minutes or even hours).

Wavelength – A Narraton’s Wavelength is a complex thing that links specifically to the game mechanisms of the system being used. In a traditional game with attributes, skills and saving throws, the various parts of the wavelength represent which attributes are stronger than others, which skills have better capability and which saving throws have the best chance of avoiding outside influences. In a game where everything is measured by traits, each trait might be a specific point of energy along the wavelength. In general, Wavelength is probably better described as colour (but this has some slightly different predefined connotations in Forge Theory so I’m leaving it as Wavelength), it can be viewed as a spectrum with various degrees of energy radiating from different areas.

Real Play Example: If you’ve played with any image manipulation software, you’ll know that a monitor uses Red, Green and Blue in varying degrees to create the full range of colours displayed. As an example; Red might be equated with “Combat Prowess”, Green with “Social Influence” and Blue with “Mystic Insight”; a warrior’s wavelength in this simple scheme might be “75% Red, 20% Green, 5% Blue”, while a priest’s might be “5% Red, 40% Green, 55% Blue”. The average capacity of the character to influence the world around them is dictated by their Narraton’s Intensity, but their specific chance of gaining positive result depends of which part of their wavelength they choose to exert on a specific situation. This is probably one of the more complex parts of Vector Theory.