30 August, 2012

A Gaming equivalent of the Bechdel Test.

There has been a bit of talk lately about ethnicity and gender in roleplaying games.

On one side you get the die hard "cultural appropriation" fanatics who think that any time a non-white culture is included in a game, it is an attempt to rape the cultural heritage of the people depicted (either explicitly or implicitly).

On the other side you get the people who are desperate to break gaming across the global spectrum of societies, these people decry the presence of exclusively white-male strong figures depicted throughout the illustrations and examples.

But gaming isn't the only aspect of "nerd-culture" where issues like this are playing out. Comics have long suffered from the same issues, with the vast majority of super heroes being male and/or caucasian. This has been highlighted in recent situation when there was a huge uproar about turning Spiderman into a half negro/hispanic kid, and the ongoing rants about there being few if any females on staff at DC comics (I haven't been keeping up to date onthis one, but I know it was a big issue discussed around ComicCon last year when a female audience member kept asking the hard questions at several panels).

Movies are the same, but in this case there is a group of individuals who apply the Bechdel Test to see if gender issues have been addressed. All sorts of movies fail the Bechdel Test, including action movies, thrillers, even romantic comedies.

The basic rules of the Bechdel Test are:

 It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Movies are already mainstream fare, so they are expected to cater to audiences of all different types. Sure there are some genres of movie that tailor their market to specific demographics, but on the whole the category of "movies" usually has something to offer virtually anyone. Studio executives go out of their way to market their movies to maximise the potential revenues (successfully or otherwise).

Comics have suffered from being stigmatised as "teenage white male" fare. This isn't entirely true, but it what the comic book company executives seem to eternally think. I like some of the indie stuff like "Strangers in Paradise", which would regularly pass the comic book equivalent of the Bechdel Test, there are plenty of great female characters each strong in their own ways.

But is there any roleplaying game that passes the Bechdel Test (or some equivalent)?

A game where there are illustrations of two or more female figures, and no male figures in sight. A game where two or more females engage scenes that don't revolve around a man. Kagematsu comes close, most of the characters ae female...but those females are plotting against one another to win the affections of a man.

Can the same apply to race? Pictures of two non-pale-skinned characters enaged in some kind of activity other than looking menacing toward the reader (or toward some pale skinned hero).

If you can hink of any examples, let me know.

What is it with "Apocalypse World"?

The game Apocalypse World has been an indie darling for a while now...months, years...I don't know. The one thing I do know is that every time I look at it I just think to myself, "Yeah, it's got a couple of interesting ideas, but is it really deserving of all the attention it's taking away from other game concepts in the indie sphere?"

Here's what I'm seeing.

Basic Mechanism.

A player rolls 2d6 for their character (they modify this by an attribute relevant to the task). On a 10+, a full success is earned (the character gets what they are after and they don't have to give anything up in the process). On a 7-9, a partial success is earned (the character gets some of what they are after, but they probably have to make some kind of sacrifice to achieve this). On a 6 or less, the action fails (and something bad probably happens).


Everyone gets a range of "Basic Moves"; these are things that everyone in the setting can do. Each move specifies a specific attribute to be added to a roll, as well as the results achieved through the various rolls. Characters are made up of their attributes and a range of bonus moves available only to their character type (you start with a few of these moves and experience allows you to either increase your attributes or buy extra moves that improve your versatility).

My Thoughts

I've looked through the various characters types in Apocalypse World and read through their moves. I bought a copy of Monsterhearts when it was recently released. And I keep thinking that there's something I just don't get about it.

It seems that no matter who you deal with, the social challenges against an backward yokel are just as likely to succeed as those against a seasoned dilettante, the combat challenges against a wheelchair bound invalid are just as likely to succeed as those against a trained martial artist. There is no modifier for action difficulty, it's all just hand-waved as "This is a story game, it's not meant to be realistic".

On top of this, the game system seems to be a gestalt of various subsystems. Every move follows a certain template, but every move is different in its effects and potential outcomes. In this it seems to echo the earliest RPGs, where there was one system (or move) for combat, a different system (or move) for physical actions, another one for social interactions, another for magic. You need to learn a dozen subsystems to play the game.

Sure, in this case the subsystems are fairly simple; they can be reduced to cards (as an example, check the Monsterhearts cards here). But it has taken other people to develop these play aids. The original game "Apocalypse World" and the lovechild "Monsterhearts" obviously left something out if other people need to fill in the gaps...I think that the thing they left out was the instant playability.

There are plenty of other deserving systems out there, but few seem to be getting the hype that this one does. The games I've run so far using Monsterhearts have been reasonable...nothing revolutionary, nothing to get fervently fanatical about, but not bad either. I don't see why it's getting such a cult following, or why it's ancestor "Apocalypse World" is considered such a darling of the indie game community (beyond the cult of personality surrounding it's author). I'm not one to completely judge a system without playing it in a variety of situations, so I'll be running Monsterhearts at a convention in just over a month. I'll be interested to see how it responds to a variety of player types.

29 August, 2012

Walkabout Mood/Scene Generator

I recently posted the idea of using Fudge dice to develop room moods devised by Fred Hicks

A great and simple system for developing a wide variety of social settings using four dice capable of producing results of positive (+), neutral (O) or negative (-).

I've been trying to develop something similar for walkabout that can be used to develop random scenes on the fly.

This would use the basic mechanisms found throughout the rest of the game, in a new and innovative way.

With this in mind, the basic system is to draw three tokens and allocate them to three categories. One category describing the basic upside of the situation, one describing the basic down side of the situation, and one providing story input to the situation.

The second side of the basic system lies in the colours of the tokens; Black tokens [+] being good, White tokens [-] bad, Red tokens [R] destructive, Green constructive [G] and Blue transformative [B].

The basic idea of defining a scene on the fly would incorporate the three tokens together and the way the tokens are distributed between the three categories.

The three tokens together have 125 possible options:
[+][+][+]: Everything is good.
[+][+][R]: Everything generally seems good. There is a feeling that something will be lost by someone by the end of the scene.
[+][+][G]: Everything generally seems good. There is a feeling that something will be gained by someone by the end of the scene.
[+][+][B]: Everything generally seems good. There is a feeling that something will be changed by the end of the scene.
[+][R][R]: Everything vaguely positive. There is a strong chance that things will go downhill very quickly for someone in the scene.
[+][R][G]: Everything vaguely positive. There is a feeling that someone will lose something and someone else will gain something due to the events of the scene.
[+][R][B]: Everything vaguely positive. There is a feeling that someone will lose something in the scene and someone else will find things changed as a result of this.

...but I don't really like the idea of referencing tables too much during play. Especially not for this game where the focus is meant to be on free flowing story in a world where the rules have broken down and a new order is resolving itself through the characters.

The simpler option is just applying the effects of the distributed tokens, since this is the system we're already using in the rest of the game.

Upside (Success):
[+]: If this scene goes well, the protagonists will get closer to the final goal in a direct way.
[R]: If this scene goes well, an antagonist will suffer greatly (in the short term or long term).
[G]: If this scene goes well, the protagonists will gain a benefit (which may help them now or later).
[B]: If this scene goes well, the situation will change in such a way that things become easier for the protagonists.
[-]: The best the protagonists can hope from this scene is not getting into more trouble.
Downside (Sacrifice):
[+]: The worst the protagonists might get from this scene is not getting into more trouble. 
[R]: If this scene goes badly, the protagonists will suffer greatly (in the short term or long term).
[G]: If this scene goes badly, the antagonists will gain a benefit (which may help them now or later).
[B]: If this scene goes well, the situation will change in such a way that things become easier for the antagonists.
[-]: If this scene goes badly, the protagonists will end up facing a new complication, a new adversary or will simply find that the path to their true goal gets even more confusing.
Situation (Story):

[+]: The scene seems to play to the protagonist's strengths or the antagonist's weaknesses.
[R]: The scene will probably get violent, it seems set to cause devastation and damage to those involved.
[G]: The scene will probably reveal something new, it seems set to create advantages to those involved.
[B]: The scene will probably get political, changing the way relationships link between those involved.
[-]: The scene seems to play to the protagonist's weaknesses or the antagonist's strengths.

Once everything has been allocated, the GM might get the opportunity to draw one more token. This throws a twist into the scene that might be revealed once a few actions have been resolved (for the positive or negative. Then we can also apply some special scene effects if this token matches on of the other tokens allocated (a double), two of the other tokens allocated (a triple), or all three (a quad).

Singles. Things certainly didn't look this way earlier but...

[+]: A twist moves in the protagonists favour.
[R]: Something raises the potential for violence in the situation.
[G]: Something reveals a possible advantage that could be gained in the situation
[B]: Something subtle has twisted the tables and revealed new depths to the events underway.
[-]: A twist either moves in the antagonists favour, or causes major problems for the protagonists.

Doubles. Regardless of how things looked at first...

[+]: The protagonists now gain the edge.
[R]: Someone else in the situation now find themselves in danger.
[G]: Someone in the situation finds themselves with an unexpected benefit.
[B]: Someone in the scene switches sides.
[-]: The protagonists now find themselves on the back foot.

Triples. Events were heading in a certain direction, and now they...

[+]: Accelerate toward the protagonists favour.
[R]: Become volatile and dangerous for everyone.
[G]: Provide benefits for everyone in the scene.
[B]: Create changes that dramatically alter the politics of the situation. 
[-]:  Accelerate against the protagonists. 

Quads. Things probably looked this way at first anyway, but now...
[+]: A final twist in the scene clinches things for the protagonists.
[R]: Violence definitely breaks out.
[G]: A plan comes to fruition.
[B]: A shock event turns the tables.
[-]: A final twist in the scene clinches things for the antagonists.

It's still probably a bit complicated, but these could be added to a "GM Screen".

27 August, 2012

A Non "White Male-Centric" Game

Over on Story Games, in the The White Male-centric Thread, there have been some interesting comments. I was going to add some more over there, but decided to break off into a new thread.

Over the past year, I've asked for gamers to provide images of themselves to be inserted into the game as post-apocalyptic survivors. I did this as an exercise to avoid the stereotypical muscle-bound white heroic warrior, but over half of the players who provided images for me were white males...about one in five were females (typically white), and about the same number were of distinctly darker skin tone. Plenty of the players submitting their imagery were Italians, Russians, and other players who did not have English as a first language, but the white male stereotype held.

To break this up a bit, I deliberately overloaded on stock imagery depicting non-caucasian males, and females of all ethnicities...and one of the core signature characters used in many of the examples will be based on photographs of a half-aboriginal young lady I work with.

But I'm intrigued by the notion that...

Once Sue and I started Malhavoc Press, we tried very hard to have a diversity in both ethnicity and gender in our art. We already knew that unless you specified non-white, non-male, that's what you would get from most artists. In other words, if I asked for a drawing of a warrior, I'd get a white guy unless I specifically asked for something else. And I'm not trying to be harsh toward any artists--it's just the stereotypes of the genre that we need to loosen.....


I've recently considered the option of hiring some outside artists to inject a bit more variety into the project. One of these artists specifically asked for a style guide to provide a framework for the illustrations they might be providing. I was going to include the steampunk and post apocalyptic angles, but I'd only given a cursory consideration to the notion that every artist might produce a "white male" as their central character. Especially when Australia is a fairly multi-cultural society (and Australia is the basis of the game setting).

At this stage, I'm predominantly asking for artists to provide imagery based on two criteria; it needs to tell a story and/or show a relationship within the setting. Perhaps now I also need to add that an artist supplying two or more artworks should ensure to include someone that is non-white and/or non-male as the focal figure of the image.

After all, this is a game about cultural conflict and survival against the odds, more than just white males will survive the apocalypse...

...and if we're going to be stereotypical, then arguably "nerdy white computer gamers" will have less chance of surviving the apocalypse than other ethnic groups who have continued to live under hard times or closer to their traditional ways.

Room Moods

I found this great little tool that uses Fudge dice to assess how well a situation fits with a character's agenda.


It's very close to somethng I've been working on for Walkabout, and helps clarify a few ideas.

Thanks Fred.

24 August, 2012

Hell on 8 Wheels...coming soon.

For those who've been watching the development of the Roller Derby board game "Hell on 8 Wheels"...

...the design work is underway. Prototypes will be available soon.

I'll be looking for playtesters, and anyone who offers good playtest advice will go in the draw for a limited edition version of the final game (as well as having their name included among the playtesting credits).

Between this and the buzz generating about "Walkabout", interesting times are coming.

21 August, 2012

The Essence of Walkabout

I just posted this on G+, and as I said over there...

It's a bit glib, it doesn't quite go into the full depth I'm after, and he's neither riding a motorcycle, carrying a shotgun nor wielding a steampunk apparatus...but this comes pretty close to what I'm going for in the game "Walkabout". 

20 August, 2012

New Website

Apparently, the Vulpinoid Studios website went down a few weeks ago.

So one of my side projects has been a rebuild and redesign of the site.

At the moment we just have a front page, but this should be indicative of the layout for the remainder of the website.

Go over there, have a look. Tell me what you think.

Numbers or no numbers

One of the points of Walkabout, is to be a game without numbers.

I like the idea of a game where the narrative is driven purely by traits; where every bonus is pulled back to a physical piece of paper that describes something within the fictional world. I don't like the idea of a game where a single action falls back on an arbitrary value that may not be relevant to the situation at hand, or a table of predetermined outcomes that might not make sense in context.

I think the idea of a combat mechanism where two players weave their intentions back and forth until someone starts getting a clear advantage. It seems that the current system does this.

But I'm worried about the notion of too many traits getting thrown into a situation...and how many is too many?

The way the current combat system stands, two evenly matched combatants will have a tendency to face off against one another in a stalemate. The draw of the tokens might favour one side or the other, and the strategic choices of one character might tip the balance toward them...but all in all, the narrative of the story will leave two offensive characters racking up the wounds on one another at an even pace, while two defensive characters will simply dance around one another like boxers in a ring. An equally matched defensive character facing off against an offensive character will see hit after hit applied and deflected, and then.the more enduring of the two characters might wear down their opponent by not losing their edge.

If each combatant only has a small number of traits to bear on a situation, their action sequences will be short before they have to re-engage the set up procedure. If each combatant has a huge number of traits to interact with, then they might narrate a dozen or more actions in their sequence. Almost like some computer game where the mashing of certain button combinations is capable of unleashing devastation on a foe.

It's a fairly different style of play compared to most games I've encountered.

One of the problems lies in multi-character combats, more than just one on one. This is where things can get really deadly and possibly out of control in a hurry.

If we assume that six successes eliminate someone completely (1 = minor penalty/situational, 2 = major penalty/situational, 3 = major penalty/short term, 4 = major penalty/long term, 5 = major penalty/permanent, 6 = out-of-play/permanent), and we assume that a typical trait has a 50/50 chance of providing some kind of benefit to it's user, then on average if one side of a conflict has 12 traits more in their favour than the other, then we can pretty much guarantee that the side with the higher number of traits will completely obliterate the side with the lower number in a single action sequence. This knocks out a single named foe. If one side has an advantage of half a dozen traits or more, they're likely to win the conflict in two action sequences...and things will be harder in that second exchange because the weaker party will have probably racked up a few more penalties during the first exchange. If one side has an advantage of four traits, they're likely to win the exchange in three exchanges...they'll probably accumulate a few penalties of their own from a savvy opponent, but the chance of a win is still pretty high.

If a combat occurs with two combatants against one, each of those two combatants can basically add together their beneficial traits when working out who has the advantage and how many action sequences the conflict should last. It becomes even more favourable to the larger group because both of those combatants are dealing their successes as damage to a single enemy, and they might also gain the advantage of a teamwork bonus due to their relationships to one another. If two combatants have a total advantage of eight traits over their opponent, they might finish him off in a single round by virtue of the fact that they are tag-teaming...the enemy has to split his successes against two sets of incoming actions, while they get to focus on a single foe.

If a combat occurs with two-on-two, it could easily be scaled back to two one-on-one conflicts. If a combat occurs between sides with two and three respective combatants, it could be scaled back to a one-on-one and a one-on-two conflict. The miniatures game "Confrontation" actually did this with melee actions and it worked pretty well to simplify and streamline combat, but I thinks it's a bit unwieldy and a bit too restrictive for an RPG.

Something to think about.

Another thing that has been raised by a few people is the notion that once a player is drawing eighteen tokens from their bag, they're automatically going to be emptying the entire bag. They can't draw any more and they'll automatically know what their full hand of tokens will consist of. This is where my dilemma about numbers comes in. If a player can apply three core traits to a situation through relevant keywords, they are automatically drawing six tokens. If they have twelve traits that can provide a benefit to the situation, they're emptying their entire bag.

I'm toying with the notion of limiting the number of tokens that can be applied to a situation (let's use "six" as an arbitrary figure). But do I limit the total number of traits? Do I limit the number of positive traits that can be applied to a situation (but leave the possible negative traits open)? Do I limit the differential (positive traits minus negative traits can never exceed value "six")? Do I force players to cancel out positives and negatives until only one type applies to the situation (or until there are no more than "six" traits in effect)? Do double traits count as two points toward the maximum number of traits involved (I have two single advantage traits and two double advantage traits, that's a total of "six" trait levels in my favour)? Or not (I have three single advantage traits and three double advantage traits, that only counts as "six" traits, but i gives me a total bonus of nine trait levels)?

Do I make experienced characters more powerful by increasing the number of traits they may apply to a situation.

Something else to think about, and I'm thinking that this could be something that makes or breaks the game.

19 August, 2012

Application of Cascade Effects

Let’s look at the sample combat sequence with cascade effects in play.

The shaman still goes first.
Shaman – (Narrates his “Bloodthirsty” à “Dangerous” cascade) The shaman utters mumbled words in a monotone voice, sending his shadowy spirit companion across the junkyard. It descends on Claire, ripping away at her exposed flesh.
Claire – (Narrates her “Pistol” à “Blessed Ammo” à “Weapon” cascade) Before it can do too much damage to her, Claire fires wildly into the air in the general direction of the spirit. The gunshots cause it to become confused momentarily, allowing Claire the opportunity to find a way out.

Claire is out of there, she still has a short term “injury”, but things are nowhere near as bad as they could have been.

I don’t know if this is better. It’s certainly quicker, but there is a whole lot of depth that simply gets lost. Carol should still face Claire’s white token on her “Disturbed” trait, because this could be a pivotal feature of the encounter…something that really tells us more about the character.

Thinking more about it, the cascade effects are a cool idea but I think they clutter the mechanisms already in play, while detracting from the story potential inherent in the basic system.

I think I’ll stick with the current set up.

Realism versus Narrative

I've noticed a problem.

It's not so much a case of Story vs. Game, because neither story nor game really approach the dilemma I've recently been seeing with the rule mechanisms I've been developing for Walkabout.

The last combat example really highlighted it.

The example showed the first sequence of a combat (a sequence two combatants engaged in about ten combat actions each). It showed some of the good sides of the system and some of the bad sides.

Let's say roughly half of the actions were "attacks" and half were "other actions". In a traditional RPG, this exchange would take a minimum of about 30 die rolls. Each "attack" would consist of a die roll for each attempt to hit, followed by a die roll for damage...there might be a chance to dodge a blow, absorb the worst of the injury (armour or saving throws, or both). Each "other action" would consist of another die roll, probably against some static difficulty to see if it passed or failed, or maybe in a contested roll against the opponent.

This can be really slow and tedious in some games. Especially in those games where there is a high chance to miss your opponent in combat.

The Walkabout example shows that each sequence of combat takes a little bit more effort to set up; but once the tokens have been drawn and allocated, it allows for a quick and free flowing narrative as the effect of the traits are alternately described by the players involved. The core setup of the exchange might take three times longer, but each action in the exchange takes a third of the time ("attack roll + defense roll + damage roll + description" reduced to "look at token + description"). It only takes about four actions in the conflict (two per combatant) before it starts becoming a quicker system that is more carefully integrated into the characters abilities and the situation at hand.

I also like the interplay that develops as each player narrates back and forth throughout the conflict. One player might narrate taking the upper hand, while the other plays dirty and gets in a quick hit. Every action has a chance to be countered, but if you counter the last action then you miss out on the opportunity to take the offensive. Do you choose to play it safe and avoid injury, or do you choose to forego the consequences for a bit of extra damage on your opponent?

We also see in the example that a better prepared combatant is far more likely to end up on top after a combat sequence (I tried to show a fairly balanced drawing of tokens for each combatant). It's still possible for a experienced and prepare combatant to draw all white tokens and be beaten by a less worthy opponent who draws all black tokens; but this kind of scenario is unlikely.

As a system to replicate scenes of dramatic swordplay and derring do, this also works well...step left, step right, see an opening, thrust, parry, step left again...at the end of the exchange, the combatant with more tokens gets to narrate how their final action decimates their opponent with a flurry of uncountered blows, or perhaps the combatant combines their successes for a single vicious strikes that runs their opponent through.

Guns and dramatic mid-conflict attacks.

Guns don't play a big role in Walkabout, but the game is post apocalyptic. Guns appear frequently in this type of setting so they need to be modeled more effectively in the rules. We also need a system where a dramatic swing with a heavy sword can literally tear a villain in half.

This is taken into consideration with a few of the FUBAR rules that will be ported across to Walkabout. Lesser NPCs only require a single success to be removed from the story (this includes the average person on the street, the typical bodyguard...anyone who is added into the scene for colour rather than for dramatic story development).

It's in the big fights with named antagonists that something just doesn't seem right.

I think we need cascade effects.

By this, I mean that one trait is activated by another in a rapid succession before the opponent gets a chance to respond. This means that players get the chance to inflict massive damage when their firearms attack is followed up immediately by the bonus from their gun's "Lethal" trait, and then followed by their "Weapon" relationship. A single strike can inflict a triple degree of penalty, removing someone from the scene immediately (unless they can respond with a defensive or protective trait on their next action, which might trigger a cascade effect of it's own to eliminate more of the damage). With enough interlinked traits, a good cascade effect might remove a character from play permanently with a single strike.

Of course the problem with this is that named antagonists should also gain access to cascade effects. If the odds are in a protagonist's favour, and they are capable of demolishing an opponent with a dramatic cascade of devastation...then there needs to be the same risk in reverse when the odds are in an antagonist's favour.

One of the things I like about the notion of cascade effects is that it brings more prominent traits into the story more quickly. It doesn't have to be restricted to combat situations. One character might initiate a cascade effect which starts by uncovering a minor situational clue about the mystery at hand, and this leads through a cascade that unravels to a minor short term clue, a minor long term clue and then a major long term clue.

It speeds up the mechanisms at work, allowing them to drop out of the picture so players can focus back on the story.

I think cascade effects need to be reigned in at some level, and I haven't worked out the best way to do this. More thought required.

18 August, 2012

Further examples of the Walkabout Core Mechanism

Negotiating with a trader
Claire is negotiating with a local trader in the attempt to acquire some of the chemical fertilizer that seems to be a part of the problems in the region. A typical NPC has no stats; as far as the narrative is concerned, they are either an aide toward story progression or an obstacle toward its completion. During the course o play, the GM can choose to assign a pre-generated character from their limited pile of story antagonists, or they can spend a few story tokens to increase the difficulty of the situation by applying traits to the scene. In this case, the GM will save the named character and spend three points to make the scene challenging for Claire.

Step 1
1a – Since it is later in the story, Claire has a few items she’s picked up over the course of play, and she decides they’ll make good trade items to acquire the fertiliser for the story. Thus, Claire is trying to transform useless trinkets into useful items, a Blue action.
1b – Claire has “Intimidation” from her Firearm, but doesn’t want this to get violent, so she ignores this core trait. She hopes her “Awareness” will let her know if she’s getting a good deal.
1c – Claire has two items: “Trade Goods” and “Trinkets”. She’ll be sacrificing these items for automatic successes. She also has the “Useful Information” gained in the previous scene.
1d – Since the GM is spending tokens to make the resolution three traits more difficult, these are weighed up against the two positive traits gained from the “Useful Information”. Carol decides to cancel out positives and negatives, leaving one difficulty trait against her.
1e – Bill asks the GM if Claire’s “Arcology” relationship will be a hindrance in the current situation, because a lot of people in the bush don’t like the citizens of the glass-and-steel towers. The GM agrees that this could cause issues and uses Claire’s relationship in a negative light for this action. Claire gains a gold token for this.
Step 2
2a – Carol draws four tokens from the bag (three, plus one from the keyword): a white, a black, a blue and a red.
2b – Carol allocates the Black to “success” to maximise the results from this trade. She allocates the Blue to “sacrifice”, avoiding any immediate sacrifices from the activity. The Red is placed in “story”, allowing Carol to share narration effects with the GM. The White is allocated to the “Awareness” keyword (and thus removed from play).
2c – The surplus of tokens was in the negative, so a single token is drawn and applied as a negative trait; a Blue token is drawn.
2d – Since the “Arcology” relationship counts as a negative trait, an automatic White token is added to the non-core pool.
Step 3
3a – A red token was allocated to story, so the allocation of non-core tokens is split. The GM allocates the first non-core token, and applies the Blue to the relationship. This leaves Carol with only one option; she applies the White token to the GM’s difficulty trait (anything could happen).
3b – A Black “success” result means that Claire basically gets what she wants out of the trade (some fertiliser). A Blue “sacrifice” result means that nothing particularly bad happens as a result of the trade. The Red “story” result has seen the non-core tokens allocated in such a way that Claire’s “Arcology” upbringing hasn’t caused major problems, but something bad is going to go down. The GM considers a few options for this; perhaps a farmer was in the market, and he wanted to buy the fertiliser (thus making a temporary enemy for Claire), maybe the trader swindles Claire (using this penalty to buy off one of the successes), or Claire might develop a temporary negative reputation as “Suspicious” (“Didn’t they use fertiliser in explosives in the old days?”). The two sacrificed items (“Trade Goods” and “Trinkets”) convert straight across to additional units of “Fertilizer”.    
3c – Once they return to town, Claire walks into a store advertising farm supplies in its front window. She has a quick chat with the storekeeper; while he doesn’t seem to like her all that much, he is willing to make a trade with Claire for the fertiliser she’s after. In exchange for the trade goods she has, Claire acquires most of the trader’s stock of fertiliser (3 item traits), much to the annoyance of a farmer who had just come into the store.

One-on-One Combat
Claire and Bruce have reached a point where they understand some of the issues causing problems in town, and have identified the main cause of the trouble. They need to neutralise a local rust shaman who has been summoning spirits to attack supply convoys. While investigating further, Claire is attacked by the shaman and a pair of unintelligent drone spirits who act as his bodyguards.

The Rust Shaman is “Ronnie Dark”, a resentful anarchist who hates the attempts to rebuild society. He is a “Prophet” from the “City Scavenger” people (keywords: Investigation, Occult), his basic edge comes from an “Inner Gift” as an “Occultist” (keywords: Connection*, Ritual*), and he also has a “Reputation” as being “Cunning” (keywords: Larceny, Leadership). He is not a wayfarer. The shaman has the standard equipment (Well-Worn Clothes, Jury-Rigged Battery Pack (+: Powerful, -: Large or Erratic), Tools, Hand Weapon (+: Armed, -: Obvious), Ritual Components, Focus Crystal). The Rust Shaman has three relationships; a loose relationship to his inner gift (dealing with spirits), a close relationship to his reputation, and a loose relationship to a particular spirit that the characters haven’t met yet. The Rust Shaman’s token bag contains 6 white, 6 black, 2 blue, 2 red and 2 green.

In this case, each of the two spirits counts as a collection of bonus non-core traits for the rust shaman. The first spirit provides the traits “protective”, “armoured” and “aware”. The second spirit provides the traits “vicious”, “bloodthirsty” and “dangerous”. The GM has spent 6 tokens to provide the shaman with these spirits. Since things are ramping up toward a conclusion, the shaman is also given the bonus trait “Home ground advantage” and a loose relationship to the area (at a cost of two more tokens).

Our scene occurs later in the story, Claire has picked up the non-core traits “Vigilant” (+ short term), “Disturbed” (- short term), “Blessed Ammo” (+ long term), and 3 traits of “Fertilizer” (Item).

Sequence 1:
Step 1
1a (Claire) – Claire’s intention in this conflict is to avoid the worst, and get out of there until she can rendezvous with Bruce to confirm their theories about the shaman. Since she just wants to get out of there rather than cause damage this is a blue action.
1a (Rust Shaman) – The shaman’s intention in this conflict is to eliminate Claire before she spoils the good thing he’s got going. This is blatantly confrontational and counts as a red action.
1b (Claire) – Claire’s “Awareness” should help in this situation, and she isn’t afraid to use her “Firearms”.
1b (Rust Shaman) – The shaman has nothing specific that would help him in a fight, that’s why he summoned the spirits.
1c (Claire) – It makes sense that Claire’s “Vigilant” and “Blessed Ammo” traits would come into play here, she’ll also risk her “Pistol” (which provides the additional bonus of the “Lethal” trait). Carol hopes that Bill won’t mention the “Disturbed” trait, but he does; Bill gains a token for this.
1c (Shaman) – The shaman instantly gains non-core traits based on his spirits “protective”, “armoured”, “aware”, “vicious”, “bloodthirsty” and “dangerous”. His “Home Ground advantage” will also help.
1d (Claire and Shaman) – Neither combatant cancels out any of their non-core traits.
1e (Claire) – The only relationship Claire can really use to her benefit in this situation is the loose one to her weapon. Bill calls on Claire’s Arcology relationship which gives her a penalty when dealing with spirits (and Carol gains another gold token).
1e (Shaman) – The shaman has a pair of useful relationship to this situation; the link to his “inner gift” and the link to the immediate area (his “home ground”).
Step 2
2a (Claire) – Carol draws five tokens from her bag (three, plus two from the keywords); two Whites, a Black, a Blue, and a Red.
2a (Shaman) – The GM draws three tokens from his bag; a Black, a Green, a Red.
2b (Claire) – Carol starts by getting rid of the two white tokens, allocating them to the keywords. Next she allocates the Black to “sacrifice” to avoid the worst. The blue goes to “success” and the red to “story”.
2b (Shaman) – The GM has few options, he places the Black in “success”, the Red in “sacrifice” and the Green in “story”.
2c (Claire) – Carol draws five more tokens due to the non-core traits linked to Claire in the current situation; 2 Blacks, a White, a Blue and a Green.
2c (Shaman) – The GM draws seven more tokens due to the non-core traits linked to the Shaman in the current situation; 3 Blacks, 2 Whites, a Blue and a Green.
2d (Claire) – Carol places a black token into her non-core pool for the relationship to her weapon, and a white token for the relationship to her people.
2d (Shaman) – The GM places two black tokens into the shaman’s non-core pool; one for the relationship to his “Inner Gift” and one for the home territory.
Step 3
3a (Claire) – Carol allocated a Red token to “story” so she’ll allocate non-core tokens alternately with the GM.
GM – White token to Claire’s “Disturbed” trait x
Carol – Black token to “Pistol” item x
GM – Blue token to “Arcology” relationship x
Carol – Black token to “Blessed Ammo” x
GM – White token to “Lethal” trait
Carol – Green token to “Vigilant” trait x
GM – Black token to “Weapon” relationship
3a (Shaman) – The GM allocated a Green token to “story”, so he’ll also alternate the token allocations. (Opponent goes first, so this time it is Carol’s first go)
Carol – Black token to “Home Territory” trait x
GM – Black token to “Dangerous” trait x
Carol – Black token to “Aware” trait x
GM – Black token to “Bloodthirsty” trait x
Carol – Black token to “Protective” trait x
GM – Green token to “Vicious” trait x
Carol – White token to “Armoured” trait x
GM – Blue token to “Inner Gift” relationship x
Carol – White token to “Home Ground” relationship x
3b and c (Alternating) – Carol drew a total of 3 black tokens, while the GM drew 5; the shaman acts first.

Shaman – (Narrates his “Bloodthirsty” trait) From the shadows, a shadowy spirit swirls toward Claire, ripping away at her flesh. [Claire gains a situational “injured” trait]
Claire – (Narrates her “Pistol” trait) Claire tries to escape, laying some covering fire as she hides behind an overturned dumpster. [Claire gains a “cover” trait]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Inner Gift” relationship, playing on Claire’s “disturbed” trait) The howling of the spirit echoes through Claire’s mind, bringing glimpsesof horror. [No real effect]
Claire – (Narrates her “Blessed Ammo” trait, to take out one of the shaman’s spirit traits) Claire takes a shot from behind the dumpster hitting something, but she’s not sure what. [The shaman’s “Protective” trait is eliminated]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Armoured” trait) The shot is absorbed by the guardian spirit, but the blessing on the shell poisons the spirit, causing it to scream in agony. [“Armoured” trait is exhausted for future sequences in this scene]
Claire – (Narrates her “Vigilant” trait, making her first move to escape) Hearing the scream, Claire duck further under cover and sees a passage between the car wrecks, a possible escape route. [Claire’s “cover” trait goes from single to double status]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Home Territory” trait) The shaman knows the area well and hears Claire manoeuvring to the left, he does likewise.[Claire’s “cover” trait goes from double to single status]
Claire – (Narrates her “Arcology” relationship) “This is nothing like the city” thinks Claire. [no real effect]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Aware” trait) The shaman listens closely, trying to get a sense of where his prey is. [Shaman gains a “Vigilant” trait]
Claire – (Narrates her “Disturbed” trait) Something about the howling spirit reminds Claire of her youth and demons who almost destroyed her home. [Claire’s “disturbed” trait goes from single to double status]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Dangerous” trait) The spirit descends on Claire once again, tearing and burning her flesh. [Claire’s “injured” trait goes from situational to short term status]
Claire – (Narrates her “Lethal” trait) Claire fires off a few more shots trying to keep the spirits at bay. [No effect]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Vicious” trait) The spirit comes close again, but feels the danger of the situation and backs off. [No effect]
Claire – (Narrates her “Weapon” relationship) Another shot from Claire, this time it strikes closer to the intended target. [Shaman gains a situational “injury” trait]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Protective” trait) As the protective spirit loses coherence in the physical plane, it sacrifices more energy for its master. [Shaman loses the situational “injury” trait]
Claire – (Narrates her “core success” trait) Before looking to make her escape, Claire looks over her injuries, they aren’t as bad as she first thought. [Claire’s “injured” trait drops from double to single status]
Shaman – (Narrates his “Home Ground” relationship) The shaman considers his options and the junkyard terrain around him. [No Effect]
Shaman – (Narrates his core success) He knows this terrain far better than his prey…time to hunt. [Shaman gains the “Upper Hand” situational trait]

This certainly isn’t over; Claire is severely injured and hasn’t gotten away. The Rust Shaman has had one of his spirits injured and is mad, he just wants to finish things off.

Combat sequence 2 begins...

14 August, 2012

Rebuilding the site

The Vulpinoid Studios website went down a few weeks ago, and among other projects I've been working to rebuild it.

As a preview, here is the new title page (work in progress).

Index Page

Any feedback would be appreciated.

11 August, 2012

Correcting an Oversight

It's at this point that I realise that I haven't provided details about character generation. I can hardly expect to gain insight or criticism regarding something if I don't reveal it.

The current incarnation of Walkabout develops characters using three core traits (each with a range of activation keywords), and a range of relationship and equipment choices based on those traits.

It's designed to be a pretty quick system for getting into the action, with characters starting out as general stereotypes who develop personality as they interact with the outside world and with each other.

In that regard, it's pretty similar to FUBAR; but unlike FUBAR, Walkabout is less random and more focused. FUBAR self regulates, players create character that might be played by the others on the table, or might end up as antagonists. FUBAR self regulates, players create character that might be played by the others on the table, or might end up as antagonists. Players don't throw their characters into a pool at the centre of the table, nor do they create the antagonists for the story. Since the random element is taken out, there is more potential for a player to abuse the system to create a specific type of character.

Since a mix and match system of three stereotypical traits is in effect, there is a regulating mehanism. While this game setting is has some influence from other science-fantasy games (such as Shadowrun), and post apocalyptic games (such as RIFTS), the aim is not for it to become over-the-top or gonzo in the way that these games can. Walkabout is a subtle and menacing setting, it is a game of style and storytelling more than it is about competition and abusing rules to gain maximum power.

With this in mind, the game is designed to promote certain types of characters being played.

The first verson of the game (entered in the Game Chef contest in 2010 and emerging as a finalist) simply allowed any mix of traits...resulting in things like "mutant cyborg poledancers" as viable character types (certainly more of a RIFTS vibe than what I'm aiming for). So the new version starts with players being given 6 points with which to buy their character. Each trait has a point cost associated with it (based on it's commonality within the setting more than it's respective power level), and if a character has left-over points they may spend these to gain additional pieces of equipment or relationships. This is specifically designed to prevent the type of issue I also commonly saw in live action roleplaying, where everyone wanted to play the obscure character types.

Formally, the character creation system is:

You are given 6 character points to play with.

Choose a type of "people" to whom you belong (with a cost from 1 to 3 character points), then choose a "caste" within that "people" (at an extra cost from 0 to 3 character points). Assign any Wayfarer status from the "caste", and apply relevant "people" tags to the notes secton of your character sheet. Each type of "people" has three keywords, and each "caste" has three keywords, from this total of six words, choose any two to represent the things you have learnt from your upbringing. You start with a loose relationship to this people.

Choose an "edge" (each with costs from 0 to 2 character points), then choose a specific "subtype" for the edge (at an extra cost of 0 to 2 character points). As long as you have the points to spend on an edge, any edge is available (there are no restrictions), but some edges are favoured by certain communities. If an edge subtype mentions a specific type of "people", it costs 1 point less for them. Assign any Wayfarer status from the "edge subtype", and apply "edge" tags to the notes secton of the character sheet. Each type of "edge" has three keywords, and each subtype has three keywords, from this total of six words, choose any two to represent the ways in which your edge gives you an advantage. You start with a loose relationship to this edge.

Choose a "style" (each with costs from 0 to 2 character points), then choose a specific "dance" (at an extra cost of 0 to 1 character points). Once again, as long as you have the points to spend on a dance, any dance is available (there are no restrictions), but some dances are favoured by certain communities. If a dance subtype mentions a specific type of "people", it costs 1 point less for them. Assign any Wayfarer status from the "dance subtype", and apply "dance" tags to the notes secton of the character sheet. Each type of "style" has three keywords, and each "dance" has three keywords, from this total of six words, choose any two to represent the ways in which your dance permeates your life and your mind. You start with a loose relationship to this dance.
Gain the new people "Wayfarers" at no cost, you also choose a wayfarer caste at no cost. This describes your new life, and your new role within a wayfarer circle. Like the people from whom you descend, the wayfarer people have three common keywords and each caste has three keywords; choose two from this pool of six keywords. Gain a single wayfarer Tattoo at no cost. You start with a loose relationship to a single other member of the wayfarer circle.

With any leftover points, you may:
  • Spend 2 points to acquire an additional tattoo (such a tattoo must be linked to one or more of your tags).
  • Spend a point to buy (or improve) a single relationship.
  • Spend a point to gain an extra edge (any other costs associated with the edge must be paid in addition to this point).
  • Spend a point to buy (or improve) a single piece of equipment.
The most common types of "people" in the setting are farmers trying to eke out an exstence in the wilderness, nomads who roam the highways in convoys of trucks and motorcycles, and scavengers who try to reclaim the technologies of the past in an attempt to rebuild their lost society. Uncommon types of "people" are neo-tribal groups trying to relearn the ways of ancient societies and mutants who have become deformed due to the darkness infesting the world. The rarest type of "people" are those who live hidden away in arcology cities barricaded from the horrors of the world outside, and the skyfarers who live on cloud ships, rarely descending except to trade and restock their supplies.

The most common types of "edge" in the setting are weapon skills, gadgetry, specialist training or pet animals. Uncommon "edges" include methods of augmentation (cybernetics, mutations, experimentation, etc.). Rare edges include psychic powers, or bearing powers of the spirits themselves.

I'm still working through the common types of dance.

Spirits, Creatures and other Strangeness

One of the key aspects of the Walkabout system is the nature of relationships. Player characters have relationships to the people they come from, the spheres of influence relating to their powers, and most importantly relationships to each other.

The spirits and other creatures they encounter are built up with the same relationships.

This is a part of the game that has been simmering in my head for a long time, it's a core aspect of the premise and it need to be addressed correctly. Not all encounters will focus around creatures, and it is definitely possible to have a game in which no creatures or spirits appear, but they are so integral to the setting that they need to be done right. These beings need to be a natural part of the world and need to be integrated into the most fundamental aspects of the system; rather than supernatural beings that feel like they belong somewhere else.

No that's not really right...I think I men to say that spirits in this setting exist as a part of a wider natural order. If you don't understand the spirits you don't really understand nature; and if you don't understand nature, you can't really understand your place in it.

So at this stage I'm working with a system that create spirits and other creatures with the same building blocks that develop characters.

Characters have the core traits:

  1. a "people"; which defines who they group up with and who they identify as family. 
  2. an "edge"; which defines what benefits they rely upon in order to survive the post apocalyptic world.
  3. a "dance"; which defines the way they move, their attitudes and how they act within the world.

Since the characters are charged with the duty of bringing balance to the spiritual post apocalypse, it makes sense to use three reflections of these concepts to define the spirits:

  1. a "manifestation"; (people) this defines the general type of creature/spirit. It is a spectral form, a parasitic possession, a natural totem, a traditional supernatural creature, a fragmented essence of a god, a magical anomaly, an alien presence.
  2. an "affinity"; (edge) this defines the metaphysical connections of the creature to the greater universe. Is it bear elemental powers of a specific type, does it commune with animals (or plants), is it linked to darkness and shadows, light, illusions, the dead??? There would be quite a range of possible affinities and many creatures would possess more than one of these.  
  3. an "agenda"; (dance) this defines the spirits imbalance in the world. What has caused the spirit to be out-of-sync with the cycles of nature, are they trying to restore themselves but something is getting in the way...have they found that the imbalance has granted them new powers and they don't want to go back to the cycle. 

Each trait has a relationship with positive and negative aspects.

As an example, a traditional "vampire" might be written up as a parasitic possession (positive: manifest demonic form[fangs]/ negative: unstable hunger[blood]), with an affinity for darkness (positive: power at night / negative: harmed by sunlight) and an agenda of gaining more power in the physical realm (positive: natural appearance / negative: power hungry). Certain subspecies of vampire might have additional affinities or variant agendas.

This part of the system is very much a work in progress. But the descriptions provided here are basically settling into place.

The mid design slog

My two design projects for this year have gotten to that point where things are locking into place...that has its advantages and disadvantages.

Both games ("Hell on Eight Wheels" and "Walkabout") have a good solid framework, they both have some innovative systems (or at least retool existing systems in innovative ways), they work well in my mind, and have gone through a decent number playtest examples and simulations.

But now I've reached that point where I just have to focus and get them finished. I really like these two games, I think they've both got some great potential for an entertaining evening (or afternoon...or morning). Its that point where I just have to focus on them and get them right.

Both games need to be written up formally in a way that makes sense to someone reading them for the first time. In this regard, Hell on Eight Wheels needs a good series of procedural play instructions (and some solid explanations for play), it has a few of these but I'm worried that they might be a bit too complex for a board game. Walkabout needs revision and clarification to the core character generation rules. Both games need to be playtested.

I don't want them to languish in development hell, like so many of my other game projects.

09 August, 2012

Stories coming full circle.

After rabidly avoiding spoilers for the past month, last night I went to see "The Dark Knight Rises".

No overwhelming spoilers here, but will say that I did enjoy the movie.

One of the things that I really apprecated was he idea of a story coming full circle. There were a lot of references in this last movie that linked back to the first. Stories that seemed to have headed in one direction to be resolved were twisted back in one themselves.

It's very much the story of the heroes journey. Each film bears this as an aspect, but the arc of the three films together really pulls this idea together...certainly far better than the Matrix films, or in my opinion even Star Wars (which was always inteded to be an interpretation of the Campbell-esque "Heroes Journey").

It's the kind of thing I love to set up in games. A story seems resolved after the first session...we all know that there are enough resolutions to attain a sense of closure, but there are always a few loose ends that can be picked up in later tales to allow continuity. By the time a sequel game has concluded, a few more of those loose ends are tied up, but then there are a whole heap of new loose ends.

The final act in the trilogy uses these disparate elements to weave a complex narrative. You never know how they are going to tie together, but you hope the writers won't introduce too many elements of deus ex machina to glue together uncooperative strands...and you hope they won't be bringing in too many more storylines.

It's a delicate balance...trying to determine how many stories need to be resolved in a particular act of the story...how many more need to be introduced to keep the audience interested...how many are too many, and will the audience simply get confused??

Personally, I like my storylines divided into thirds. When devising a game in advance, I'll generate three storylines for the group, and three per player. More often than not, the player storylines will coincide with the group storylines, and with each other. The total numberof storylines is roughly equal to twice the number of players. In the set of threes, one goal/story will be short term (hopefully achieved duing this session), one will be medium term (hopefully achieved within a couple of sessions), and the last will be long term (the uest that defines the character's journey). Characters may choose to engage their own goals, or the group goals; and every time a player resolves one of their goals, it's time for them to eitherencounter a situation where  new goal becomes relevant, or maybe they get caught up in someone else's journey for a while.

I rarely achieve this...but that's the goal, and I often come close.

For me, The Dark Knight Trilogy closed with enough well rounded story endings that it felt satisfying...but tantalisingly left a few great loose ends for new stories to begin. 

Walkabout core mechanism play examples

With the modified core mechanism for Walkabout, here are some in play examples:

We’ll follow a single character through a range of actions to demonstrate how the same basic core mechanism is versatile enough to handle a wide variety of situations.

Bill is playing Bruce, a helpful young man who does jobs for the local community. He is a “Jackaroo” from the “Cultivator” people (keywords: Endurance, Riding), his basic edge comes from “Training” as a “Survivalist” (keywords: Academics, Survival), but he also has a “Reputation” as being “Curious” (keywords: Awareness, Stealth). He is not a wayfarer. Bruce has the standard equipment (Sturdy Clothes (+: Rugged, -: Dirty), Horse, Hat, Canteen, Survival Knife), and has three relationships; a loose relationship to his people, a loose relationship to his reputation, and a close relationship to Claire (a girl he met on the road). Bill’s token bag contains 6 white, 6 black, 3 green, 2 blue and 1 red.

Let’s look at some activities that Bruce might get involved in…

Fording a shallow stream
Step 1
1a – Bruce isn’t trying to get a strategic advantage from moving, nor trying to hamper an enemy; he’s just moving from one side of the stream to another. This counts as a Blue action.
1b – Bruce has a horse, so he can justify using his “Riding” keyword.
1c – Bill doesn’t want to injure Bruce’s horse so he’s playing it safe and not calling on the horse as a beneficial non-core trait.
1d – Since there are no non-core traits, there is nothing to do here.
1e – None of Bruce’s relationships really apply in this situation.
Step 2
2a – Bill draws four tokens from the bag (three, plus one from the keyword): two Whites, a Black and a Green.
2b – Bill allocates the Black to “sacrifice” to avoid anything going wrong. He allocates the Green to “success”, meaning that he gains no benefit from his action. One of the Whites is applied to story, and the other is allocated to back to the riding keyword (and thus removed from play).
2c and d – There are no non-core traits or relationships in play, so move to the next step.
Step 3
3a – A White token was allocated to “story”, but since there are no non-core tokens to be allocated, there is nothing to do here.
3b – A Green “success” result means that Bruce is unable to ford the stream. A Black “sacrifice” result means that he doesn’t suffer any problems in his attempt to get across. A White “story” result has no further effect because there are no non-core traits in play.
3c – Bruce encounters a swiftly moving stream but thinks he has found a place where he can cross it safely. He descends into the stream on his horse, but finds the footing unstable. He backs out and has to find somewhere else.

Fording a shallow stream (second attempt)
Step 1
1a – Bruce isn’t trying to get a strategic advantage from moving, nor trying to hamper an enemy; he’s just moving from one side of the stream to another. This counts as a Blue action.
1b – Bruce has a horse, so he can justify using his “Riding” keyword.
1c – Bill is willing to take a few extra risks this time so he calls on the horse as a beneficial non-core trait.
1d – Since there is only a single non-core trait, there is nothing to do here.
1e – None of Bruce’s relationships really apply in this situation.
Step 2
2a – Bill draws four tokens from the bag (three, plus one from the keyword): a White, a Black, a Red and a Green.
2b –Bill allocates the Black to “success” to ensure he gets across this time. He allocates the Green to “sacrifice”, meaning that something will become more difficult in the situation. The Red is applied to the “story”. The White is allocated to back to the riding keyword (and thus removed from play).
2c – Bruce’s horse is being risked (providing one bonus non-core trait), so an extra token is drawn (Blue).
2d – There are no relationships in play, so move to the next step.
Step 3
3a – A Red token was allocated to story, but the Gm has only one token to allocate and one trait to place it on. The GM allocates the non-core token (Blue) to the “Horse”.
3b – A Black “success” result means that Bruce fords the stream. A Green “sacrifice” result means that the opposition (the stream) gets stronger, the GM describes this by saying that the river bed starts breaking up as Bruce crosses the stream. The Red “story” result has already been applied in the tokens. The Blue “story” result allows another transformation in the scene, so Bill asks if Bruce’s friend Claire can also cross the stream before the bed breaks up. The GM thinks that’s a reasonable request.  
3c – Bruce moves up the stream and finds another place that looks reasonably safe to cross. He descends into the stream on his horse, the footing is a bit unstable but he risks the crossing. Claire follows quickly behind, and her passage adds to the instability of the riverbed. As they emerge, rocks wash through the water and the safe passage is gone. Anyone attempting to cross the stream in future will have a harder job, and will need to find somewhere else to cross safely.

Gathering Food
Step 1
1a – Gathering food is a positive action, it could be used to overcome a “Hunger” penalty, or gain a beneficial trait like “Well Fed” or a beneficial item like “Rations”. This marks it as a Green action.
1b – The keywords of “Survival” (from the Survivalist Training Edge) and “Awareness” (from the Curious Reputation) are both applicable here.
1c – Bruce has a “Survival Knife”, and Bill thinks that this might make a useful tool for Bruce. To gain a benefit, he needs to risk damaging it.
1d – As a cultivator with a loose relationship to his people, Bruce automatically gains a bonus when gathering food. He’s doing the action alone and his reputation won’t help.
1e – Since there is only one only beneficial non-core trait, this is not applicable at this time.
Step 2
2a – Bill draws five tokens from his bag (three, plus two from the keywords); two Whites, a Black, a Green and a Red.
2b – Bill allocates the Black to “success”, the Green to “sacrifice” and the red to “story”. The two whites are linked back to the relevant keywords (and thus removed from play).
2c – One piece of equipment is being risked (providing one bonus non-core trait), so an extra token is drawn (Green).
2d – Since Bruce has a loose relationship to his people, and he is performing an action commonly associated with his people, Bill takes an extra Black token and adds it to his non-core pool.
Step 3
3a – A Red token was allocated to story so the GM allocates the first non-core token (Black) to the “Survival Knife”. Bill applies the remaining non-core token (Green) to the “Cultivator” relationship.
3b – A Black “success” result indicates that a benefit is gained. Bill gives Bruce a “Rations” piece of equipment (this should help cancel out any potential hunger effects if they encounter harsher terrain in the future). A Green “sacrifice” result avoids anything bad from happening. The Black result on the “survival knife” provides an extra success result. The Green token applied to the “Cultivator” relationship means it doesn’t do much (only black and white tokens have effects on relationships).
3c – Bruce finds a tree snake, and using his survival training he catches it, and whips it to the ground, painlessly cracking its skull and breaking its neck. He skins it and prepares the meat.
The sharp blade slices the flesh effortlessly, leaving enough meat to feed a second person, he hands the meat to Claire.

Finding a document in an abandoned library with Claire’s help

Since Claire is a bit more active in this action, let’s describe her a bit.

Carol is playing Claire, a city girl who is out of her element. She is a “Scholar” from the “Arcology” people (keywords: Academics, Investigation), her basic edge comes from “Augmentation” in the form of “Cybernetics” (keywords: Awareness, Focus), but she also has a “Weapon” which is a “Firearm” (keywords: Firearms, Intimidation). She is not a wayfarer. Claire has the standard equipment (Fashionable Clothes (+: Fashionable, -: Fragile), Battery Pack, Sunglasses, Tablet Computer (+: Informative, -: Limited Use), Pistol). Claire has three relationships; a loose relationship to her people, a loose relationship to her weapon, and a close relationship to Bruce (a man she met on the road). Carol’s token bag contains 6 white, 6 black, 3 blue, 2 red and 1 green.

It is later in the story, and Bruce has acquired a “clue” regarding the situation that is causing problems in town (this is a positive trait but the characters don’t know how to use it). The GM decides that this information will be fairly important to the story, he tells Bill and Carol that they will need to overcome two successes before they’ll gain any advantages from the situation.

Step 1
1a (Bruce and Claire) – Both characters are trying to turn their “clue” into another positive trait that will be more useful in their current job. This counts as a Blue action.
1b (Bruce) – Bruce has abilities in “Academics” (from his training) and “Awareness” (from his reputation).
1b (Claire) – Claire has abilities in “Investigation” (from her people) and “Awareness” (from her augmentation).
1c (Bruce) – Bill has the “Clue” and he uses this as a positive trait that will help in the search.
1c (Claire) – Claire is willing to risk the “Tablet Computer” in the investigation. It could get damaged, but more likely it simply run out of power (luckily she has a battery pack).
1d (Bruce and Claire) – With only one beneficial trait each, there is nothing to do here.
1e (Bruce) – Bruce’s reputation of being curious might allow him to bring up something useful in his investigation, so he calls on this as a beneficial relationship.
1e (Claire) – Claire’s association with the “Arcology” people gives her a benefit when using high technology (such as her “Tablet Computer”), she calls on this as a beneficial relationship.
Step 2
2a (Bruce) – Bill draws five tokens from his bag (three, plus two from the keywords); two Blacks, a White, a Blue and a Red.
2a (Claire) – Carol draws five tokens from her bag (three, plus two from the keywords); two Whites, two Blues, and a Green.
2b (Bruce) – Bill allocates a Black to “success”, a Black to “sacrifice” and the Blue to “story”. The whites and red are linked back to the relevant keywords (and thus removed from play).
2b (Claire) – Carol allocates a Blue to “success”, a Blue to “sacrifice” and the green to “story”. The two whites are linked back to the relevant keywords (and thus removed from play).
2c (Bruce) – Bill is risking the “clue” (providing one bonus non-core trait), so an extra token is drawn (Green).
2c (Claire) – Carol is risking the “Tablet Computer” (providing one bonus non-core trait), so an extra token is drawn (Red).
2d (Bruce) – Since Bruce has a loose relationship to his reputation, and he is performing an action typically associated with that reputation, Bill takes an extra Black token and adds it to his non-core pool.
2d (Claire) – Since Claire has a loose relationship to her people, and she is performing an action commonly associated with her people, Carol takes an extra Black token and adds it to her non-core pool.
Step 3
3a (Bruce) – Bill allocated a Blue token to “story”, so he gets to allocate the non-core tokens. He allocates the Black non-core token to the “clue”, and the Green token to his “Reputation”.
3a (Claire) – Claire allocated a Green token to “story”, so she takes turns allocating non-core tokens with the GM. The GM first allocates her Black non-core trait to the “Tablet Computer” trait. This leaves Claire to place the red token in her “Arcology” relationship.
3b and c (Alternating) – Bill drew a total of 3 black tokens, while Carol drew only 1; Bruce acts first.
Bruce – (Narrates his core success, eliminating one of the obstacles toward success) Bruce finds a book that relates to the clue, it doesn’t make much sense yet.
Claire – (Narrates her core success, eliminating one of the obstacles toward success) Claire scans a few relevant pages of the book into her computer.
Bruce – (Narrates his core sacrifice) Bruce gets further engrossed in the texts.
Claire – (Narrates her “Arcology” relationship) Claire gets a bit confused by the old writing in these books.
Bruce – (Narrates his “Reputation” relationship) Bruce gets distracted by some pages relating to plants.
Claire – (Narrates her core sacrifice) Claire manages to refocus her thoughts on the pages.
Bruce – (Narrates his “clue” trait, gaining the first real success now that the obstacles have been eliminated, he converts the “clue” into “useful information”) Finally discovers the piece of information that makes the clue useful, an old elaborate symbol from the forgotten world before.
Claire – (Narrates her “Tablet Computer” trait, since this is a black success she not only changes something, but may also add to it. The “useful information” is now upgraded to a double trait.) Claire decodes the symbol; it is an old sign for a chemical fertilizer which in common in town.

08 August, 2012

A revised core mechanism (take 2)

OK…a slightly amended and clarified version of the core mechanism.

First, some context.

All player characters are described by three types of core trait; their people (the family who raised them), their edge (the advantage they possess) and their dance (the way they move). Each of these traits has a series of keywords associated with them, such traits may be skills or advantages associated with the keyword (different characters may have the same trait, but different keywords). Player characters gain advantage by calling on these (one of each, potentially gaining access top three keywords if they have really focused their talents in one field). Non player characters typically don’t have a dance, but significant NPCs might gain two edges (such character can still only use one edge at a time, but this improves their versatility within the story). Characters also have a range of basic non-core traits, this includes physical items (equipment, trade goods, clues, cursed items), companions (pets, henchmen, prisoners, enemies, wards), modifications (injuries, blessings, curses, exhaustion, disease) or ephemera (strategic advantages, strategic disadvantages, status, hatred, emotions), etc. Most characters will have at least half a dozen of these; they are gained and lost through play.

Basic steps:
1. Work out the traits relevant to the task.
2. Draw tokens, and allocate them.
3. Narrate the outcome based on the allocation of tokens.
4. Does the scene end, or do more actions occur?

Step 1 – Assessing the trait pool
Step 1a – Describe the specific action(s) you are taken to resolve a situation, and the colour of this action (Green = Creative, Blue = Transformative, Red = Destructive).
Step 1b – Determine which core trait keywords apply to a situation (up to 3; one each from culture, dance and edge)
Step 1c – Determine which non-core traits apply to a situation. You choose which positive traits apply to your situation, while the other players determine which negative traits apply. When a player chooses a negative for you, they gain a single gold token (regardless of whether they choose a single or double trait).The GM may apply additional negative non-core traits to a situation, to make things more difficult for a character (the GM has a limited pool of tokens they spend in order to do this during the course of the story).
Step 1d – Determine whether to keep all the positive and negative non-core traits, or play it safe and cancel out positives and negatives on a one-to-one basis. Note that double traits basically count as two traits of the same type, if a double trait is cancelled out once it becomes a single trait, and if it is cancelled out twice it is eliminated completely.
Step 1e – Determine which relationships apply to a situation (and whether they are beneficial or harmful). Any play may call out a relationship applicable to the situation; if the relationship is negative that player gains a gold token.

Step 2 – Drawing and allocating the core tokens
Step 2a – Draw a number of tokens. The total number of tokens drawn is equal to three, plus the number of relevant core trait keywords. If you have a gold token, you may spend this to discard one of your tokens and redraw a replacement from the bag (this may be done any number of times).
Step 2b – Allocate three of the tokens between the categories of success, sacrifice and story (where black = positive, coloured matching the action type = positive, other coloured = neutral, white = negative). If core trait keywords were used, a single token to each of these (these are throwaway tokens with no effect on the action's outcome).
Step 2c – Draw a number of tokens equal to the non-core traits involved (both positive and negative), don’t allocate tokens to these yet, hold them in reserve to be revealed as the effects of the action are applied back into the story. If you have a gold token, you may spend this to discard one of your tokens and redraw a replacement from the bag (this may be done any number of times).
Step 2d – If you have a loose relationship that could be beneficial to the situation, claim an extra black token to be allocated during step 3 (a tight relationship adds two more black tokens in this way). If you have a loose relationship that could be detrimental to the situation any player may call this out; if this occurs, you must take an extra white token to be allocated during step 3 (a tight relationship adds two more white tokens in this way).

Step 3 – Applying the results back into the story
Single Character Resolution
Step 3a – If the player allocated a positive to “story”, they may allocate the remaining tokens amongst the non-core traits used in the resolution. If the player allocated a negative token to “story”, the GM allocates the remaining tokens amongst the non-core traits. If the player allocated a neutral token to “story”, the GM and player take turns allocating tokens to the non-core traits (the GM allocates the first token in this manner).
Step 3b – Determine core result
Success Category
Sacrifice Category
Story Category
Black (+)
Take any step toward resolving the task (regardless of the normal associated colour), or remove an obstacle token from the situation.
No Effect
Player allocates non-core tokens as the resolution is narrated.
Coloured (+)
Perform a successful action related to the colour.
GREEN –Apply a benefit to target, or remove one of their penalties.
BLUE – Transform one of the target’s benefits or penalties to another of the same type.
RED – Apply a penalty to target, or remove one of their benefits.
No Effect
Player allocates non-core tokens as the resolution is narrated.
Coloured (0)
No Effect
Sacrifice determined by the colour.
GREEN – Opposition gains a benefit.
BLUE – A benefit or penalty changes in a way that provides the opposition with an advantage.
RED – Active agent gains a penalty.
GM and player take turns allocating the non-core tokens as the resolution is narrated.
White (-)
No Effect
Sacrifice of a type determined by the GM and the situation, or the objective becomes a step harder to achieve.
GM allocates non-core tokens as the resolution is narrated.

Step 3c (Quick Resolution) – To determine additional successes and sacrifices, the
 non-core tokens are applied to the non-core traits. The Player may do this, the GM may do this, or they may take turns. Each token may increase the beneficial result of the action, increase the sacrifice involved, or do nothing at all. If a relationship has been applied to the situation, it may count as either a positive or a negative trait and tokens are applied to it from the pool.
Positive Trait
Negative Trait
Black (+)
Explain how the positive trait has made the situation a step closer to resolution. (Counts as a Black success)
Exhaust the Trait
If the relationship was beneficial and a black token is applied to it, gain the benefit described.
Coloured (+)
If the token matches the colour of the action, gain a suitable bonus (counts as a Coloured success); otherwise no effect.
No Effect
A relationship allocated a coloured token has no effect.
Coloured (0)
No Effect
If the token matches the colour of the action, gain a suitable bonus (counts as a Coloured sacrifice); otherwise no effect.
A relationship allocated a coloured token has no effect.
White (-)
Exhaust the Trait.
Explain how the penalty has caused the objective to become a step harder to achieve. (Counts as a White sacrifice)
If the relationship was detrimental and a white token is applied to it, gain the penalty described.
Once all tokens have been allocated, give a quick description about the achievements gained through the action (total successes) and the problems encountered along the way (total sacrifices). A sentence for each should suffice.
Step 3c (Dramatic Resolution) – Dramatic resolution works the same as quick resolution except that every time a token is allocated, a sentence of description is provided. This type of resolution should be reserved for moments of tension in the story.

Multiple Character Resolution
While most aspect of event resolution remain unchanged, it often becomes necessary to determine who is acting first when multiple characters are acting (regardless of whether they are opposing or co-operating with one another). To accommodate this, the player with the highest number of white tokens may act first or choose to hold their action (ties are resolved with the player holding the most tokens choosing to act first, if this still results in a tie, resolve randomly).

Steps 3a and 3b remain unchanged.

When step 3c occurs, the unfolding of multiple character resolution is always done in the dramatic style. Each player takes turns describing the specific actions of their character. Each action consists of a single sentence describing a single token as it relates to either the allocated success, sacrifice or non-core trait tokens. These sentences also reveal the benefits and penalties applied throughout the scene as a result of these actions, future sentences within the same scene need to take these benefits and penalties into account. This may change the intended course of action for a character.

Once a player has narrated their character’s action, the next player takes their turn. Once all players have described their action, the cycle begins anew.

If a player runs out of tokens to narrate, their character is left to the mercy of the descriptions provided by other players with tokens remaining.    

Step 4 – End or Continuation?
If no players with characters active in the current scene want to press matters, the scene ends. As long as a single player with an active character wants to perform additional tasks, the scene continues with the action sequence beginning anew.
So the basic mechanism of the game works with active characters interacting with their environment to gain advantages and disadvantages; then using those advantages to aid their allies or hinder/injure their enemies, and trying to avoid the disadvantages from causing too many complications.

When character earn new non-core traits (whether beneficial trait through successful actions, or detrimental traits through sacrifices) players must consider the nature of the trait.

Traits like injuries or enchantments that fade over time start as situational traits (ending at the end of the scene), beneficial traits upgrade with additional successes (increasing to short term, then long term and finally permanent) or degrade with sacrifices; detrimental non-core traits upgrade with sacrifices or degrade with successes.

Traits like equipment do not fade over time, instead they start as single use items (equivalent to a double negative penalty), then upgrade to “limited use” (equivalent to a single negative penalty) and “regular use” (equivalent to no penalty). When an item is brought into the story through a successful action, its status is typically fixed; as an example, one success might find a single stick of dynamite (a single use item), two successes might find a few sticks of dynamite (limited use), three successes might find a box of dynamite (regular use).

The idea of scenes, acts and stories still works in basically the same way that it always did. Different traits have different degrees of permanence within the narrative.

A few in-play examples should help to clarify how the whole thing works.