24 June, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: Fifteen – Building the Play Experience with Practice Games

After being inspired by the web-show “Tabletop”, I’ve been looking at a few types of game rules to ensure Hell on Eight Wheels is as user friendly as possible.

With this in mind, I’ve tracked down a copy of Wyrd Miniature’s Puppet Wars. This game uses a stripped down and modified version of the Malifaux miniatures rules; so it bears some similarities to what I have in mind for Hell on Eight Wheels…things like hands of cards being played to activate figures on the board, simple movement, attacks, etc.

The teaching process of the game is interesting, and might be something useful to incorporate into my own game.  It basically leads the players through a sequence of five games, the first using the absolute basic fundamentals of gameplay, while each further iteration adds a step of added complexity until the full version of the rules are utilised.

Magic the Gathering did something similar with two player quickstart decks, where two basic decks with a specific card order were used by the novice players, and specific instructions were given for the first few rounds…this introduced players one by one to the concepts of playing a single land each turn, tapping a land for mana, summoning creatures, using creatures to attack, and casting other spells, before allowing players to choose their own actions.

It seems to be a good way to teach a complex game to new players; and while I’m trying to keep the game simple, I have to admit that it’s going to be a lot more complicated than something like monopoly, connect four or snakes/chutes-and-ladders.

So how do I cut down on the complexity of the game to offer new players the Ho8W experience, before adding in the full rules?

I’m thinking of three versions:
Stage 1: In which we use three basic skater profiles (blocker, pivot, jammer), where both players have the same teams consisting of 5 members. During this stage we play through a single jam, with skaters simply trying to get around the track and some basic blocking rules. We don’t worry about skater substitutions, injuries or skater fatigue.
Stage 2: In which we still use the basic skater profiles, but now we incorporate full conflict rules including injuries and fatigue. A single Jam is played out.
Stage 3: In which the players are allowed to pick their own teams and a full version of a single jam is played out.

There might be a few more increments to develop the rules, but this seems like a good start.

22 June, 2012

Mechanisms for Board Games

I've been watching Wil Wheaton's  Tabletop.

One of the more recent episodes showed a few quick pick-up games; Tsuro, Get Bit and Zombie Dice. Simple games with simple mechanisms, but all sorts of fun.

The latter two games have inspired me to develop some fun mechanisms of my own that might be used to good effect by someone.

Perhaps a bit like the "Otherkind Dice" hat Vincent Baker designed many years go without a good project to install them into...but which are seeing all sorts of applications in the current indie game scene.

Does anyone else have ideas that are fragments?

Ideas without a home that they might like to share?

21 June, 2012

Change of Gears

Finished study for the term, I really want to spend the next few weeks getting Hell on Eight Wheels into a playable state, and maybe run a playtest of the current rules for Walkabout.

We'll see how that goes.

Hopefully there will be a couple of updates on these projects shortly.

09 June, 2012

Getting away from Dice

Roleplaying games and Dice.

They just seem to go together.

Sure there are plenty of games that don't use dice, but they always seem to be on the outer fringes.

The first games I encountered without dice were Castle Falkenstein (which used cards), and Amber (which was purely diceless). In both of these games, I enjoyed the notion of game play that didn't revolve around numbers...well sort of.

Numbers weren't used to describe characters in Castle Falkenstein, instead you had a series of abilities levels, poor, average, good, excellent, etc. These helped describe you character. If you didn't have the ability noted as an aspect of your character, you defaulted to "average". It didn't even have "attributes" as default numbers to fall back on. Simple enough.

Amer did use umber but it used them in a new way. You simply angled yourself in the narrative so that you'd be using your best numbers (or using the values that you thought were you opponent's weakest), then compared the numbers...and the highest score simply won. No randomisation at all.

Very different methods of play.

A Penny for My Thoughts uses a different innovative mechanic again, but that's a very different style of game altogether.

I discussed in my last post the issues that a lot of game designers don't even realise exist in the field of RPG design...areas where unwary writers simply fail to address the events inherent in a roleplaying game, just hoping that a good GM will be able to wing it.

At the moment I'm really trying to wrap my head around the token drawing concept. I'm trying to make sure it's complex enough to handle most situations, robust enough that it won't break, and intuitive enough that it makes sense to a new player.

It almost makes me want to rebuild the game from scratch as a hack of someone else's game.

08 June, 2012

The Interface between Story and Game Mechanism

I’ve been thinking about the connections between story development and game mechanisms quite a bit.

My Vector Theory of Game design was an attempt to address this issue in a more rational manner than that engaged by the “Big Model” of roleplaying game theory. But it seems to have come up a bit more lately.

For example, I just found this thread over on Story Games…

Some interesting notions are raised in the initial post and some more come up through the course of the thread.

The whole idea is something that has been convoluting and confounding my design process for Walkabout. Especially because I'm going with a token driven system rather than a traditional dice or card based effect.

How do I create a system that links the player into the fiction, helping to immerse them into the post apocalyptic scavenging of the setting, while keeping the game fast paced enough to allow a few action sequences and deep enough to ensure decision and relationships matter. I guess it's one of those balancing acts that amateur designers stumble their way through obliviously...often taking pre-designed dice mechanisms and game formats, and simply hacking them to get a new balance for their game (This is often used by professional designers among the big companies as well). Those who take risks in this regard might end up with games that truly break the mould and expand a players awareness for what can be achieved in a game, but they're just as likely to crash and burn.

A look at last year's over-hyped Freemarket shows how an innovative game can seem great but simply lose the interests of the early innovators in the indie crowd while not making it into the gaming mainstream.

I like the way that people are thinking about the disconnect between many rule systems and the narrative experiences they hope to achieve.

There's the traditional system of...roll a die against a difficulty..determine pass or failure...then the GM narrates the outcome. It seems to have a continual feedback loop in it...GM narrates -> player acts -> dice determine outcome -> GM narrates. But there are a few disconnects.

How does the player know to act after the GM narration? How does the player know what their character can do?

How well do the actions of the character translate into die rolls? Are there general mechanisms that can be used to cover a wide variety of situations? How generalised are these and do they hold up in specific situations? Are there specific mechanisms that really engage a specific type of action well? Are there enough of these specific mechanisms to cover everything you might want to do in a game? If there are a few mechanisms in effect, how similar are they? How balanced are they against one another? Does a player need to learn a few completely different sub-games in order to play the larger game?

Once the outcome is generated, does it provide an output into the narrative? Is this output so generalised (pass/fail) that a GM needs to work hard in order to reincorporate the effects back into the story? Is the output so focused that it might not fit a specific scene in which it has occurred ("you kill them even though you were only trying to haggle over the cost of a pear")?

I've seen games fall in all of these areas. In fact, almost every games I've seen has problems answering at least one of these questions.

I think I've come up with an elegant solution for my game, I don't think it's perfect but only playtesting will reveal the truth.

If anyone's interested, I'll post up the working draft of the system soon.

03 June, 2012

A sad week, or the dawn of a new era.

I don't know.

A lot of gamers don't know about the Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/), and a lot of those gamers who do know about the Forge have a love/hate relationship with it.

Some call it the forum that launched a new industry of independent game design...some call it the graveyard where a thousand fledgling designers brought their ideas, only to be shot down in flames by calls for "actual play" when all they wanted to discuss was their new ideas.

Founded by Ron Edwards, with some strong assistance from other folks who've become independent RPG design heavyweights, the Forge had been greatly influential over the last few years, focusing game design in ways that nothing had done previously. It founded terminology that has spread through the gaming world like an infectious disease, sometimes confusingly (like the term "simulationism" which doesn't necessarily mean simulating reality), and sometimes counter-intuitively (like "narrativism" which has little to do with following a story in the traditional sense), and the definition of these terms has launched a thousand arguments across the other RPG forums and the blogosphere. Some have argued with the core tenets of the site, the notion of the "Big Model" of game dynamics, the "holy trinity" of GNS...but none can argue that these ideas have informed the current generation of games, whether old-school renaissance, modern indie, or even the mainstream games being produced at the moment.

The Forge was designed as a place for like minded individuals to push game design in a new direction, and now that game design is moving in a new direction it has served its purpose.

The Forge prompted me to develop my "Vector Theory" of game design; a theory that informed the design for my game FUBAR. It really got me thinking about how we design games, why we design games and what process could be used to design better games.

The biggest problem I always had with the Forge was the feeling that I got there too late. I think I first joined up with the forum in 2006, by which time there was already a blanket veto on all discussion that might further the development of the game design theory driving the site. The Forge was the nexus for a paradigm shift from one school of gaming thought to the next...but it felt like it deliberately didn't want to be a part of another paradigm shift should that occur.

"We represent the change from thinking 'A' to thinking 'B'. If you want to think 'C', go somewhere else"

But there never was anywhere else.

Story-Games likes to think of itself as the next evolutionary step (well, certain members do anyway...), but their too busy playing status games, hacking other peoples stuff or idolising Vincent Baker toreally be a driving force of innovative thought the way The Forge was during it's heyday.

Maybe I'm just deluding myself, maybe The Forge was never like this and I'm just attaching a sense of false second-hand nostalgia, like the romantic notions some people have about the nobility of the Napoleonic era or the dynamism of the birth of rock-n-roll.

Still, it a shame to see the passing of such an influential institution within our hobby. It's not like the sudden axing of a TV series, or the petering out of a game that has jumped it's shark and doesn't have any where else to escalate. It's more like a well planned finale, where you don't quite know how it's going to end but you hope it will be good, and you hope that an appropriate sense of closure will be achieved before something beautiful and new blossoms.

I guess this is a note to say good luck to Ron in all his future ventures.

Exactitudes - A tool, an artform, a social comment

While digging through some other things on the net, I found a website called Exactitudes.

It is one artists pictorial representation of societal cross sections. Each work is 12 people who (in their own way), fit a general stereotype for a social group. It shows that stereotypes are a powerful thing, and I instantly thought that it might be a great tool for gaming.

The first option would be as a random character portrait generator in a modern day game. Do you have a general stereotype that your character fits? Chose that stereotype and roll a d12 to get an image of your character.

The second idea to come to mind might be to limit character to specific people within that stereotype. What stories do we tell within that social group? How do the characters identify themselves as individuals within a common subculture?

I'm sure there are plenty more ways that this artists work can be used within the context of role playing, since "role" is such a vital part of his work. This were just my first inspirations, and I thought I'd share them