30 July, 2012

Mecha in the Real World


Got a spare 1.35 million dollars? Want to buy a prototype mecha?

It may soon be possible.

There still seems to be  lot of work to go on this mechanical war machine, but it's loaded with a deadly arsenal and looks like it will only get more complex and closer to the machines we've seen in manga and anime.

I guess this means that it won't be a far stretch to fit mecha into my cyberpunk and post apocalyptic projects.

For more info..visit these links.

http://www.theverge.com/2012/7/30/3201328/kuratas-suidobashi-mech-robot-japan


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2180628/Dial-carefully-Meet-Kuratas-million-dollar-robot-weighs-tons-shoots-smile-controlled-iPhone.html#ixzz222famAPV

28 July, 2012

The Joys of LARP


I used to LARP quite a bit. 

The culture of Live Action Role Playing used to be pretty big in Australia, but I haven't seen much of it in recent years. A few freeform games at conventions,a couple of groups clinging on to the heyday of White Wolf's "World of Darkness", a couple of weapon re-enactment groups...bit nothing that really made e want to get thoroughly into the immersive world of live action play like I used to. 

Leah (my wife) and I met during a LARP, and recently we've spoken about starting up something new. We've enticed the entire class at college with our stories of drama, action and dressing up. We've found a few table top gamers who are a bit intimidated by the idea of live play (but who are willing to check it out to see what it's all about). I've even spoken to cosplayers at comic and pop-culture conventions who would be willing to push their costuming antics to a new level.

Thanks to Joel Shempert, I've been alerted to an article about LARPing in Denmark and Scandinavia. It's a great read.


Once I finish a few more of my current projects, I might get back into designing a good rule set for LARPing. If you get the chance to participate in one, I thoroughly recommend it as an eye opening experience.

27 July, 2012

Further Discussion on Equipment

There has been some great feedback regarding equipment in RPGs, thanks everyone.

It makes me think that I've been generally on the right track for equipment in Walkabout.

Walkabout is an evolutionary descendent of FUBAR, and FUBAR has never really had an organised equipment system because it's all about freeform chaos, loosely reigned by the choices of the players, the GM and the random draw of objective/location/conspiracy cards. My attempts to apply equipment into the FUBAR system have tempered the chaos, but that's not what FUBAR is about...so every attempt to quantify things has felt wrong. FUBAR has a propensity for gonzo...I want Walkabout to be a bit more low key.

But back to equipment...

A few key ideas spring to mind from my thoughts about roleplaying Vector Theory, these have been informed by various comments in response to my last post.

Equipment as Standard Possessions - This was always going to be the default position for the game; after all, it's the default position of FUBAR. If a character has a "firearms" skill, they have access to a gun. If a character has an "investigation" skill, they have the scientific accoutrements, occult paraphernalia or notebooks necessary to piece together the clues before them. We don't need to worry too much about encumbrance or cost of the items, because this game doesn't aim to simulate a realistic world...it's all about telling the heroic stories of a wandering group aiming to restore the balance in a world struggling back from spiritual chaos.

Since the possession of equipment is the standard state of affairs, the change comes in two ways. Benefits come from the possession of improved equipment or higher quality tools; penalties come in the form of damaged or missing equipment. From a Vector Theory perspective, an improved set of equipment provides a better chance of a beneficial outcome once a decision point is reached, while a diminished set of equipment  provides a better chance of a detrimental outcome once a decision point is reached...or it prompts a player to think of a new way to approach a decision point, a way that involves a different skill set and different equipment requirements.  

Equipment as Binary Enablers - You need silver to kill a werewolf, otherwise she just regenerates. It's just a fact within the genre. You need an oscilloscope to perform a wave-form analysis, no other tool will do it. You need to have The Ring before you can throw it into the volcanic caldera of Mt Doom.

From a vector theory perspective, there might be certain blockages to the passage of a story. Such blockages simply prevent further passage unless specific items are possessed or specific new paths are found. This leads back to the traditionalist styles of game play, where a specific scenario is written, specific pieces of equipment are found along the way, and each of these unlock a new part of the scenario until the final goal is reached. It's also the way most computer RPGs work...do you have it? Yes, proceed. No, go back and do the level again.

Don't get me wrong, I think that binary enablers are a great feature of story, if used correctly and not over-used. The possession of a binary enabler often allows a character to bypass the mundane ("I have access to a Stargate, so I don't need to travel for years to get from world to world...I can just step there"), this allows us to get into the meat of the story. They also provide situations where players simply can't do things that might derail the game because they don't possess world shattering items.

If we don't want invisible characters, we don't provide them with invisibility suits...they can try to be a stealthy as they want, but true invisibility is out of the question...and that's where a lot of games go haywire.
    
Equipment as a resource - In games where there is a huge equipment list, many of the items available have little benefit as tools. Some are simply more valuable than others because they are rarer, not because they are better. Most versions of D&D capitalise on this by including "treasures" in the form of artworks and antiquities, you can't do anything with them, but there are people back home who will pay good money for something pretty. In a post apocalyptic setting, this is less of an issue because items tend to be valued more for their ability to overcome issues in the world rather than their simple aesthetics or degree of exoticness...but it still plays a minor factor because the possession of something unusual might provide a benefit in the form of prestige. ("I have an Italian porcelain statue that is four hundred years old...no it doesn't do anything, and it's very fragile, but that just shows how much power I have...I can protect something as delicate and beautiful as this"). 

If a piece of equipment is worthy of being written onto a character sheet or an index card, it should have a quantifiable impact on the story and the game. Vincent Baker's "Clouds and Boxes" could be linked here, with the theory that if something is in the story it should be reflected in the game mechanisms, and if something has an impact on the game mechanisms then it should have narrative implications in the story. How you value an item depends on how much it impacts on the story (Does it provide a skill bonus? Does it open up a new part of the story? Can it be used to trade for favours or other advantages?).

Equipment within the Walkabout Rules - With this in mind, Walkabout will assume certain possessions within it's game mechanisms. Characters will start with a basic list of flavour items, such as the type of clothes they wear, and the equipment common to their people (some of these items might have a bonus or penalty associated with them). Most of the characters will be limited to carrying the possessions that actually help them in their journey, superfluous items will need to have value as trade goods otherwise they simply aren't worth carrying around. No matter the item, it will have value.

Using the genre conventions of the post apocalypse, it also makes sense that pieces of equipment are frequently in need of repair...and those items used most often are typically the most patched up and jury rigged items a character will posses. You can keep an item pristine, or you can try to gain advantage from it in exchange for risking damage to it. You could always sacrifice the item completely to gain an even better advantage.

I'll apply this to some specific situations.

A sword - A character with a melee skill might automatically possess one of these, a character without the melee skill might pick one up (they won't be proficient in it's use but it still provides a bit of an advantage).

The character without the melee skill can gain an advantage from the sword, but they risk damaging the sword because they don't know how to use it properly (+1 but risk of damaging sword).


The character with the melee skill can justify using their melee skill simply by virtue of possessing the sword, no advantage is gained or lost and no risk is taken with the sword (+1 from flat melee skill).

The character with the melee skill can push their luck by combining the benefits of their skill with the benefits of their sword. This combines the bonus, but risks the sword (+2, but risk of damaging the sword).

Once the sword is damaged, it gains a negative "damaged" trait. This doesn't offset the sword's inherent bonus, but the next time the sword is "damaged" it becomes irreparably broken if used before it is adequately repaired (the damage trait is bought off with a successful "repair" action).

The flip side of damaged items comes in the form of those which are well maintained (or of good quality). A sword might have a bonus trait associated with it (+Sharp, +Dangerous, +Poisoned), where this bonus might be applicable to a situation and a character can justify their proficiency in using the item, an additional bonus is applied. The trained user might get a double bonus (+1 from the melee skill, +1 from the bonus trait attached to the sword, and a possible +1 if the are willing to risk damaging the item). The untrained user still only gains the single level of bonus if they are willing to risk the item (The simply don't have the knowledge to activate the attached bonus traits).


A trained character can sacrifice the bonus traits associated with an item, or may deliberately add a damaged status to an item, in exchange for a guaranteed additional level of success...not a bonus which might increase success chances, but a definitive success. A "+Poisoned" sword might translate to an automatic additional degree of damage if the bonus trait is sacrificed, or it might be used carefully as a series of ongoing bonuses that don't permanently sacrifice the trait (but which risk the trait every time it is used).


This makes a character's skills more important to them, but items become a catalyst to push characters to far more powerful levels.  

Clothes - Most clothes provide no specific benefit or penalty, they simply are. Some clothes might have specific benefits associated with them, they might be "+Fashionable", "+Armoured" or "+ Camouflaged". These traits may justify the use of specific skills during the curse of play, or they may be used to provide bonuses at the risk of losing such traits. Clothes may have negative traits associated with them as well, such as "-Fragile" or "-Dirty", these traits won't necessarily apply to all situations but the could come into play. A "-Fragile" set of clothes would be instantly destroyed rather than dropping to a "Damaged" state, while a "-Dirty" set of clothes wouldn't provide much benefit when trying to impress someone with the Deportment skill.

I think this has a nice balance between storytelling through the items, mechanisms for gameplay, and simulation of the post apocalyptic genre. It's not the perfect set up for every game or every story, but the systems are starting to crystallise in a pattern...things seem to be falling into place.

26 July, 2012

Equipment in Game Systems

Technology is one of the biggest advantages that humanity has had in its conquest of the world. It's a real thing...it does't require religious faith to work, it can't be argued that a tool is simply a morale boosting exercise...it is quantifiably an advantage. It isn't magic that requires ritual, arcane times and places or obscure componentry. Anyone can pick up a screwdriver and they become far more proficient at turning screws into their appropriately threaded holes, it might take a little instruction but you don't need psychic manifestation, noble birthright or wads of cash to make it happen.

But something seems to go awry when we translate items and equipment into roleplaying games.

The advantages provided by magic, religion, psychic powers and social status have been integrated into gaming mechanisms in many different ways across many different systems. In D&D, and many OSR products, magic gets a list of spells completely different in function and feel to the rest of the game. Religion revolves around obscure and unknowable gods, but the very mechanisms of faith within a game make a quantifiable difference.

D&D 3 (and 3.5), gave you an advantage to skills if you used a masterwork version of equipment...but what did normal equipment do for you. What about a found item like a simple stick?

If you had a stick for leverage, were there game mechanisms in effect that increased your strength for the task at hand?...not that I remember. It's the kind of common sense thing that was left to GM fiat. "Oh, you've got a stick, Ill reduce the difficulty to move that rock by 5...but it you roll under a 10, you'll break the stick and if you roll a one you'll injure yourself in the process. Nothing in the rules, but you could make it up as you go.

I'm also thinking of a recent Mythbusters episode in which they mimicked being stranded on a desert Island with only a pallet of duct-tape for survival. In this episode, Jamie and Adam went through a variety of challenges to prove that duct-tape would make the survival not only possible but plausible.

How would a good game system handle the diversity of benefits possible from a simple roll of duct-tape?
Does skill with a specific piece of equipment play an advantage? (Knowing how to use the duct tape most effectively).

In some games, equipment has a flat mechanical game cost based on it's ability to improve a character.

Small benefit in a narrow field of uses = low cost.
High benefit in a narrow field of uses, or small benefit in a wide field of uses = moderate cost.
High benefit in a wide field of uses = high cost.

But a roll of duct tape or a multi-use survival knife (high benefit in a wide field of uses) is cheaper than an oscilloscope (small benefit in a narrow field). How do we quantify this in a game?

These are the things I'm currently thinking through for Walkabout.

25 July, 2012

Secure, Contain and Protect

Sometimes you encounter something that just blows your mind on a metaphysical level...a thing that hints at a strange world lying just beyond our own...perhaps a work of creative genius...perhaps a doorway to strangeness that should never have been opened.

I remember back in the mid 1990s when the schwa corporation became an underground phenomenon.


I bought the manual, I saw the stickers and symbols all over the place and could feel that there was something at work in the world that most people couldn't see. It was like a conspiracy crossed with an in-joke.

But the whole thing vanished...as mysteriously as it came.

(See Here for some more information on the Schwa)

It existed when we were discovering the Technocracy through White Wolf's Mage: the Ascension, and the shadowy conspiracies of SLA Industries. It was grounded in our world, but existing beyond it...a dark twisted reflection of what we saw around us. If you can track down anything about the Schwa these days, it's a miracle...but worth it...a real 90's zeitgeist thing. We'll probably see more about them in the 2020s if my "30 year cycle belief" is anything to go by.

Now, I've been alerted to something just as mind blowing.

The SCP Foundation

I don't know how long it's been going, but obviously for a while and by a dedicated group of talented individuals.

The only other thing I can say at this stage is that I dare you to explore the site and read through some of the objects described, and I dare you not to be inspired by the story potential in at least a few of them.

Walkabout (A Poll)

This has been posted to Google Plus and the Australian Game Designers group on Facebook, but I thought I'd throw it out anyone who reads this blog. 

I've been playing with some logotypes for my game titles...anyone have any preferences among these??



For those who aren't aware, Walkabout is my post apocalyptic science-fantasy shamanpunk game where players take on the role of spiritual troubleshooters seeking to restore the balance in a spiritually wasted world.

17 July, 2012

Vulpinoid Studios is down


I just decided to do some work to update the Vulpinoid Studios website...only to find that it isn't there.

I don't know how long this has been an issue, but I might be holding off on game design work for a while until I get the new and improved website up and running (with new a Vulpinoid Studios web store where Goblin Tarot decks, physical books and downloadable pdfs will be available).

16 July, 2012

What's happening in the rest of the gaming world?

My last post on the ENnies highlights the fact hat there is a lot happening in the roleplaying world beyond the products pushed by the big companies.

I've been independently producing games for years, some for free, others as paid products. I've been active on forums where people are doing likewise.


Most of the forums I frequent have a lot of participants from North America, the UK and Scandinavia...so I know that there is some great design innovation happening in these parts of the world, but every now and then I hear inklings of game development in other corners of the world. 


Things like this... 

...but I'd love to find out what else is happening in the world of game development.

My analytics indicate a decent number of readers in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, so there's obviously some interest in games and game development in these parts of the world.

If you're from these parts of the world, let me know some of the stuff that you're doing. Let me know what some of your friends are doing.

How can we improve the hobby by sharing our ideas around the world?

When is a free game not a free game.

Simple answer, when it's nominated for the ENnies.

It's been pointed out by Rob over on 1km1kt that there are no truly free products nominated for the ENnies this year. Everything nominated in the category is simply a stripped back version of a rule-set being used as an advertisement for a paid system.

As someone who produces free games, I naturally think this is disgusting. There are dozens of truly free games produced every year, and some of them have some great production values. An award ceremony shouldn't have to resort to advertisements by major publishers to fill out their "FREE" category.

I could rant for pages on this, but I'll leave it here.

14 July, 2012

Fiasco on Tabletop

I haven't had the chance to see it, but the first part of Tabletop's Fiasco run has hit the web.

You can see it here.



I like what Tabletop is doing, by exposing some great games that deserve some more exposure. If you get the chance, look through some of the episodes.

Despite not yet seeing the episode (my internet is really slow tonight), I'm fascinated by some of the reactions I've seen so far.

Over on Story Games, the usual fawning over a game that already considered a darling of the community. As a forum, this was one of the first pages to load up for me with news about the web broadcast.

Then my G+ opens up (slower because there's more graphics), and I see a wider spread of opinions with some game designers saying..."oh,that was nice. Now I know that I don't need to bother with Fiasco, it's not the game for me."

I'll add my 2 cents once I've actually watched the episode (probably Monday), but the show has certainly generated more talk, and if you work on the assumption that any publicity is good publicity then I guess that can only be seen as a good thing.

12 July, 2012

Stories and Investigation

There is something that drives all stories, whether the dramatic tension of a inter-character relationships, the adrenaline pumping of an action adventure or the shrouded enigma of a mystery.

In every story, there is something that stands in the way of one party achieving their goals...if the goals had no obstacles, they wouldn't be goals...and if they were easily achieved, then there wouldn't be much of a story.

Every type of story has obstacles, the genre of the story simply defines the type of obstacles expected.

For decades roleplaying has done action-adventure, where the obstacles are monsters, traps and magical curses.

For years, recent games have started to master the notion of interpersonal drama, where the obstacles are rivalries, love triangles, and situational triggers that prompt a characters primal drives in a given direction.

But recently, I've been hearing questions about ways to run a good investigation or mystery. These have been popping up in a few forums and social media outlets.


I had thought that investigation was just as well covered in the various products filling the roleplaying market...but obviously this isn't the case. Perhaps the 4th edition D&D notion of pulling everything back to combat has tainted the current generation of novice gamers. I even think back to one of my worst roleplaying experiences at Gencon Oz a few years back. D&D 4th had only just come out, but here was a GM who really couldn't handle the concept of making a satisfying investigation story.

So, how would I run this sort of thing?

The way I do it is very similar to the way a session was run at Eyecon this year. We were playing Castle Falkenstein and there was basically a sandbox of potential leads. Players could use a variety of skills to justify their information gathering techniques, then plug together the clues to form a hypothesis about the deeper issues at work.

An investigation works purely on the notion that the players need information to reach the climax of the story.  They don't start with the information, and some clues might only become viable paths for investigation once other clues have been revealed.

Consider this in the terms of vector game design theory I was working through a couple of months ago (years ago). The basic premise of gaming vector theory is that a roleplaying game works in two modes; "Story Mode" where a narrative path heads in a straight line and "Game Mode" where a path has the option to deviate along different courses due to player decisions, dice rolls or other forms of intervention.

A traditional mystery twists and turns, it doesn't follow straight lines for long before a protagonist discovers something new and turns things on their head. A good mystery does this and revisits previous clues in a new light with the information gained later in the story. It's like foreshadowing, and while a clumsy GM might make it look like railroading, an adept GM creates something like a beautifully multifaceted diamond that dazzles as more light is shone on it.

Try to develop a mystery to suit the characters involved, provide some potential paths of inquiry that suit the strengths of the characters, and others that are simply beyond their means. Use everything, from conversations, to clues that can be revealed through sheer brute force, obscure knowledge or the traditional Sherlock Holmes style of intuitive deduction and logical reasoning.

Mysteries really aren't that tricky to run.

...and remember "Occam's Razor".

Campaign Play for FUBAR


Those who read this blog probably know about my game FUBAR. If not, go and download yourself a copy (it's free).

It has proven itself to be a robust system for one-shots. It facilitates quick understanding of the rules, and mechanisms that blend into the background to focus on storytelling.I've had a few reports of other groups playing the game without me, and it seems to work on it's own.

The one thing I haven't had the chance to play with it is a sequence of multiple stories, with characters developing over the course of a series.

This will be remedied when I run my first FUBAR mini-campaign over the next couple of weeks. I'm thinking something vaguely steampunk at this stage, probably using the gunslinging rules I developed for "High Plains FUBAR", maybe starting with the protagonists as resurrected anti-heroes here to complete one last series of missions in a hope of redemption before hell claims their souls (a la "Dead and FUBARd").

With it's tendency toward dramatic and escalated stories, it's going to be fun to keep the tone of the game regulated during the first couple of sessions, thus allowing the drama at the end to be truly meaningful.

I'm tempted to develop a few more twists for the rules, but since none of the members of this roleplaying group are familiar with the system I think it's better to keep things simple at the start of play.


Whether or not the protagonists start play as resurrected corpses, I will definitely be including the rule mechanisms for character relationships that I developed for "Dead and FUBARd". These have proven to add some great dramatic tension to the stories told, and they pull disparate characters together in fun and interesting ways.


I'm thinking that I'll pace out the revelation of the random play cards, perhaps pulling on two from each category (locations, conspiracies and items) at the start of play, while introducing one from each category in each subsequent story until everything has been brought into play and tied together.


I'll report a bit more over the course of play...and if this works it might prompt me to finally release a few more of the supplements I've held on the back burner for the last couple of months.
  

11 July, 2012

The state of RPGs and Survival Games

Due to a lack of participants last night, the new "regular" game I've joined didn't run.

Instead I got to know the guys a bit better, and we had a good long chat about the state of roleplaying and computer games and general popular culture.

My wife and I about 10 years older than the other guys in the group; we've done a lot of roleplaying, both tabletop and LARP. As a result we've had heaps of exposure to plenty of different games, while the other players haven't really explored beyond their two standard games "Warhammer" and "Deadlands". The Warhammer GM mostly knows 3rd Edition (while I grew up on 1st/2nd Editions many years ago), and he's never played a game of D&D...he even commented that he doesn't understand how a d20 game would work. It didn't take long to remedy this, giving a quick explanation of the D&D rules. But it struck me as odd that there were gamers who had never played "the 800 pound gorilla" that indie game designers claim is stopping their products for becoming well known.

I discussed a variety of indie games that these players had never heard of...One of the guys knew of Monsterhearts due to it's appearances on various gaming podcasts lately (but he had no idea what it was about), neither had heard of the recent indie darlings 3:16, Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, Fiasco or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I'm guessing that Fiasco will be better known once it appears on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.

It was also interesting to hear that neither of them knew of old contenders to the D&D crown such as Rolemaster.

I was odd to realise how much esoteric knowledge regarding roleplaying that I actually have. But these are guys who have turned from computer RPGs to tabletop because they have become frustrated at the lack of actual choice made available to players within a computer program. It's really interesting to see this evidence in light of the tirades that have been made about computer RPGs destroying the industry...I know that I've made comments about this in the past and have agreed with other commentators, but it's fascinating to see that this isn't always the case.

Another fascinating point came up, a point which none of us were able to answer, so I put the question out to anyone who might be reading.

Our "Warhammer" GM is a self confessed novice when it comes to running games. He knows how to put together a "Monster of the Week", a simple dungeon bash, or a linear storyline, but he's only now experimenting with the sandbox style of play. Something else he wants to experiment with is a survival game; not a dramatic action packed game with antagonistic NPCs and monsters, but a game where the major antagonist is the gradual menace of surviving in an alien environment...Man vs Wild stuff.

I suggested making the antagonism for the story focused on the relationships between the characters, and throwing things at them to drive enemies together or thrust a wedge between allies...constantly forcing us to learn more about the various aspects of the characters when they are confronted by stress, tiredness, fatigue and confusion, rather than physical injury.

I tried to think of as many games as I could that might be capable of replicating this style of play, but couldn't come up with a good fit.

Does anyone have any good ideas?

10 July, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: Eighteen - New Board Layout


I've modified the game board to match more closely with the official track layout under the WFTDA. I'm thinking of adding some quick rule tips around the outside (or in the middle), such as the turn sequence for play, the movement details and the blocking sequence.

Just enough to make play a bit easier without cluttering up the design too much.

Hell on Eight Wheels: Seventeen - Advanced Rookie Rules


Stage 1.5: Advanced Rookie Rules

Additions to the 1.0 rules:
-          Skater stress when a skater plays a card higher than their relevant attribute.
-          Designation of the Lead Jammer and what this entails.
-          Refined Blocking Rules
-          Track Markings and the effects these have on movement

Play Requirements
1 x Track Board
10 x Skater Markers (5 per player)
20 x Speed Tokens (10 per player)
1 x Activation Marker
10 x Stress Markers
10 x Practice Skater Profile Cards (5 per player)
A Standard Deck of Cards

Practice Skater Profiles
1. 1 x Jammer
Soul: 8, Speed: 8, Strategy: 6, Strength: 6
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)
2. 3 x Blocker
Soul: 6, Speed: 6, Strategy: 8, Strength: 8
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)

3. 1 x Pivot
Soul: 8, Speed: 6, Strategy: 8, Strength: 6
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)

Set Up:
Team and Board Set Up: As per Basic Rookie Rules.

Action Sequence:
Activation: Any skaters highlighted by the activation marker activate. Any players with an active skater flip the skater’s face down card and play a card from their hand; using these two cards, one is allocated to speed and one to strategy. If more than one skater has activated, the one with the highest allocated speed card moves first (resolve ties using the allocated strategy card).

Movement: When a skater is activated, you may add a speed token, remove a speed token or leave the number of speed tokens unchanged (during the first turn it is recommended that you add a speed token to each skater as they activate, otherwise they will be unable to move). They may move a number of grid units forward equal to their respective card or their speed attribute (whichever is lower) multiplied by their number of speed tokens. While moving forward around the track, a skater may move laterally a number of times equal to the card allocated to their strategy or their strategy attribute (whichever is lower).

If a player has played a card with a value higher than the skater’s attribute (for either speed or strategy) they may use the card value, but they suffer fatigue for pushing themselves beyond their normal means. If a player pushes their skater in this fashion, the skater gains a fatigue token. If a player pushes their skater again, while they still possess a fatigue token, they gain a second fatigue token and their fatigue lasts for the remainder of the jam. A third token gained in this fashion causes the duration of the fatigue to last for the remainder of the bout. A fourth token removes the skater from the bout; they’ve pushed themselves too far and are just too tired to continue.

Any time a skater moves onto a track segment marked with a white arrow, they automatically move forward an additional segment at no movement cost. Track markings like this tend to be found more commonly on the inside edge of the tracks rounded corners, they reflect the way that a skater moves faster around the track when they hug the inside edge. Any time a skater moves onto a track segment marked with a yellow arrow (whether through a deliberate move or being pushed automatically with a white arrow), their next move automatically shifts outward in the direction of the arrow unless a lateral movement is spent to maintain position on the track.

Blocking: A skater may block an active skater if that active skater moves into their threat zone. In this simplified version of the rules, either a block works (and knocks a rival skater to the ground), or it doesn’t work (and the rival skater passes unhindered).

Any time an active skater moves into a passive skater’s inner threat zone (the track segments adjacent to them), the player controlling the passive skater may choose to initiate a block. When a block is initiated, the player of the passive skater compares their skater’s strategy score with that of the active skater (any modifiers due to fatigue or injury are included when comparing the strategy scores).

Respective Strategy Scores
Cards
Active Passer has a strategy at least 3 pts higher than Passive Blocker
Passer 3 Cards
Blocker 1 Card
Active Passer has a strategy higher than Passive Blocker
Passer 2 Cards
Blocker 1 Card
Passive Blocker has a strategy higher than Active Passer
Passer 1 Cards
Blocker 1 Card
Passive Blocker has a strategy at least 3 higher than Active Passer
Passer 1 Card
Blocker 2 Cards

Cards may be drawn randomly from the deck, or may be played from the player’s hand.
Only cards lower than the skater’s strength count as valid block results. If the active passer has a valid card matching the suit played by the passive blocker, the blocker’s card is discarded. Once any matched cards have been discarded, if the blocker has no cards left, the active passer continues their path forward without hindrance. If the passive blocker has any cards still in play, the active passer has been blocked.

If a block is successful (the blocker still has cards in play), choose one of these cards as the impact card. The block has an impact score equal to either the impact card’s rank or the passive blocker’s strength score (whichever is lower). If the impact score is lower than the active passer’s strength, the passer is hampered (lose a single speed token). If the impact score is higher than the active passer’s strength, the passer is knocked on their butt (lose all speed tokens). If a skater is knocked down, all other skaters in an adjacent segment must draw a card and compare the result to their strength, if the result is higher than their strength attribute they also fall; if any of these skaters falls, they risk further falls among adjacent skaters (It is possible for an entire team to fall down in this manner).

If the active passer loses all of their speed tokens in this way, their movement and activation ends.

Scoring:
The aim of a roller derby bout is to run rings around the opposing team. This is the job of the Jammers. Only Jammers may score points, and they may only do so once they have completely lapped the pack.

Once a jammer has completely lapped the pack, they are able to earn a point by passing an opposing skater. Each skater passed in this way earns a point, and if a skater completely passes the opposing team, they may attempt to lap the pack again for another round of point scoring. 

The Lead Jammer:
Once either jammer has passed through the pack, the jammer currently ahead is designated the “Lead Jammer”.

End of the Jam:
A jammed is timed as the activation marker makes its way around the track. Each time a complete sweep of the track is made by the activation marker (allowing every skater to activate at least once), a period of 15 seconds of game time is considered to pass. A regular jam lasts a maximum of 2 minutes; eight complete circuits of the activation marker.

While the jam would normally last a total of eight passes for the activation marker, the player controlling the Lead Jammer may call off the jam early. A player will typically do this when their jammer has scored points by passing the pack a second time, while their opposing jammer is still caught in the thick of the pack. Calling off the jam early is a strong strategic advantage. It can also ensure that a game remains fast paced and action packed rather than dragging.

[EXAMPLE OF AN ADVANCED ROOKIE JAM TO BE WRITTEN]

03 July, 2012

Zero Sum and Closed Environments


For a long time I’ve been toying with zero sum concepts in games. By this, I mean a limited pool of resources shared among the players, perhaps even extending the concept to a limited pool of resources shared between players and antagonists.

There are a few ways you can play with a zero sum environment. Some of which I’ve touched on with “The Eighth Sea”, others with “FUBAR”, some have been scattered through my unfinished works, and a few ideas I’ve kept in mind for future projects. Many “euro” style board games incorporate the design methodology, and I’ve been looking at them as a source of inspiration lately.

A zero sum environment may be a known quantifiable figure at the beginning of play, or it may be an unknown ecosystem. It may manifest through play in a number of ways.

Consider a deck of cards used as a central mechanism for play. If those cards are not shuffled during the course of play, then there are a distinctly finite number of cards that can be played. Once a card is played it is discarded from the mix and the pool of potential cards becomes a step less mysterious…when there are only a few cards remaining, the final end game can be predicted (“all the kings have been played and so have three queens, whoever has the last queen in their hand has an action where they cannot be beaten”).

Allowing the deck to be shuffled and redrawn after every action opens the play environment back up again.

We can look at options where the cards are fully dealt out to the players, perhaps even including mechanisms where players are able to trade their cards. This brings an element of economy into the game, where everyone might be after specific types of cards of certain rank or certain suit. Trick taking games come to mind. Similar games where cards aren’t fully dealt out at the start of play are also possible, and games like “Settlers of Catan” are possible (even though this latter game begins with most of the cards undealt).

Perhaps none of the finite resource pool begins distributed among the players…consider the finite number of properties in monopoly (each depicted by a card in a deck, each having varying degrees of value associated with them, and each capable of becoming more powerful when taken in a specific combination).

In the Eighth Sea, I play with “zero sum” in a few ways. The first is through the deck not being shuffled until a joker reveals itself. Play escalates until a black or red joke appears; a red joker always providing a positive twist of fate for the time travelling swashbucklers in the story, a black joker providing a complication or negative twist of fate. These set beats for the story; irregular and awkward beats but beats none the less.

Separate to the core deck and the recurring jokers, the Eighth Sea uses a zero sum mechanism called the winds. Each player is given four cards; two black and two red (in actual play this has drifted to each player gaining four poker chips; two positive and two negative). Players may affect one another’s actions by applying their winds to an action…apply a positive/red to someone and their difficulty is reduced, apply a negative/black to them and their difficulty is increased. Once you apply your wind, you get a random wind back (positive/red or negative/black). Those who keep applying red/positives to their allies have a higher likelihood of ending up with a personal pool filled with black/negatives…and vice versa. As an added twist to the mechanism, a player must face their own cards at the climax of the story.

The final way that the Eighth Sea plays with zero sum lies in its application of difficulty to tasks performed by the characters. When characters succeed, their future base difficulties are slightly raised (but they get closer to their goal). Conversely when characters fail, their future difficulties get slightly lower (but they stay stagnant with respect to their goal). This is hand-waved by saying that an enemy mounts stronger resistance against those people seen as a threat while easing off against those who are less threatening.

FUBAR works as a bit of a divergent evolution of the concept; with a single finite pool of tokens reflecting both the character’s progress in the story and the remaining obstacles standing in their way.  

Knowing that there is a zero sum mechanism at work within a game creates a new level of play, a meta-game separate to the obvious, but which becomes clearer as it restrains choices throughout the course of events.

I wanted to write a game for the “Little Spaces” RPG challenge over on 1km1kt, and I kept wanting to incorporate something along the lines of zero sum to reflect the limited space and limited resources available to the characters. Every time I created something, it ended up not leading in the direction I’d hoped and I abandoned it.

My first idea (tentatively titled “Lagrange”) involved exploration of a 1 mile radius rotating space station. This station locked in a static orbit at of the lagrange points where the gravity of a planet and it’s moon cancel out. The basic premise involves two decks of cards and a pool of resources. A deck of cards is distributed with four cards each across twelve outer ring sectors of the station and the final four at a central hub. These four cards define the type of scene encountered, the base difficulty ad any complications. The second deck is drawn from as the players encounter these scenes and try to work out what went wrong on the station. Do the players use their high cards early to build momentum against the climax? Or do they hold on to their high cards and risk failure at the beginning for a better chance of success if they do reach the climax? To make things a bit more interesting, I was going to divide players up into certain roles (scientist, security, engineer, etc.) giving them each bonuses in specific situations or against specific suits of cards.

I still think the idea has some great legs to it, but I couldn’t just if submitting it to a 24hr contest when I spent a couple of hours each day over the course of a week on it. I’d like to spend a solid few more days getting it right rather than throwing it out to the public as a half-finished notion.

My second idea (tentatively titled “the Bodhisattva’s smile”) involved a group of holy Buddhist mystics living in a cave and granting audience to pilgrims who sought to reach enlightenment. The whole concept of a Bodhisattva in Buddhism is an ascetic to has almost transcended, but has instead chosen to stay in the physical world to help others on their journey to enlightenment. Players would take turns as the pilgrim and the bodhisattva, using a quirky system I developed. They would offer their advice and have two types of outcomes: the Pilgrim’s outcome might be a success (enlightenment) or a failure (hubris), and the Bodhisattva’s outcome might push them to transcendence, might earn them respect as a spiritual leader or might lead them into their own hubris and away from enlightenment.

This is the kind of game where I want to do justice to the concept rather than rush it through. I had a dozen zero sum ideas for this one as well.

Anyway…enough blogging, back to the design work.

01 July, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: Sixteen - Basic Rookie Rules


Stage 1.0: Basic Rookie Rules

Play Requirements
1 x Track Board
10 x Skater Markers (5 per player)
20 x Speed Tokens (10 per player)
1 x Activation Marker
10 x Practice Skater Profile Cards (5 per player)
A Standard Deck of Cards

Practice Skater Profiles
1. 1 x Jammer
Soul: 8, Speed: 8, Strategy: 6, Strength: 6
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)
2. 3 x Blocker
Soul: 6, Speed: 6, Strategy: 8, Strength: 8
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)

3. 1 x Pivot
Soul: 8, Speed: 6, Strategy: 8, Strength: 6
(Ignore Abilities and Traits)

Set Up:
Team Set Up: Place the five rookie team cards on the team board. Shuffle the card deck, and deal ten cards to each player, then deal a face down card to each team member.  Once all cards have been dealt out, thirty will be on the table or in player’s hands, with twenty-four remaining in the deck.

Board Set Up: Each player places their skaters on the designated starting grid markers. A team’s three blockers and pivot may be placed interchangeably on any of the forward markers behind the first starting line, the jammer must be placed behind the second starting line. Place the board activation marker to highlight the grid line behind the first starting line.  

Action Sequence:
Activation: Any skaters highlighted by the activation marker activate. Any players with an active skater flip the skater’s face down card and play a card from their hand; using these two cards, one is allocated to speed and one to strategy. If more than one skater has activated, the one with the highest allocated speed card moves first (resolve ties using the allocated strategy card).

Movement: When a skater is activated, you may add a speed token, remove a speed token or leave the number of speed tokens unchanged (during the first turn it is recommended that you add a speed token to each skater as they activate, otherwise they will be unable to move). A skater may have up to 2 speed tokens. They may move a number of grid units forward equal to their respective card or their speed attribute (whichever is lower) multiplied by their number of speed tokens. While moving forward around the track, a skater may move laterally a number of times equal to the card allocated to their strategy or their strategy attribute (whichever is lower).  

Ignore track markings at this stage (we’ll look at them as further rules are introduced).

Blocking: A skater may block an active skater if that active skater moves into their threat zone. In this simplified version of the rules, either a block works (and knocks a rival skater to the ground), or it doesn’t work (and the rival skater passes unhindered).

Any time an active skater moves into a passive skater’s inner threat zone, the player controlling the passive skater may choose to initiate a block. When a block is initiated, the player of the passive skater may draw a card or play a card from their hand. The player of the active skater may do likewise. If the active and passive skater’s cards match suits, the block has failed and the active skater passes unhindered. If the cards have different suits, each skater has an impact equal to either their card rank or their strength score (whichever is lower). The skater with the lower impact loses a speed token. If the active skater loses all of their speed tokens in this way, their movement and activation ends.

Scoring:
The aim of a roller derby bout is to run rings around the opposing team. This is the job of the Jammers. Only Jammers may score points, and they may only do so once they have completely lapped the pack.

Once a jammer has completely lapped the pack, they are able to earn a point by passing an opposing skater. Each skater passed in this way earns a point, and if a skater completely passes the opposing team, they may attempt to lap the pack again for another round of point scoring.  

End of the Jam:
A jammed is timed as the activation marker makes its way around the track. Each time a complete sweep of the track is made by the activation marker (allowing every skater to activate at least once), a period of 15 seconds of game time is considered to pass. A regular jam lasts a maximum of 2 minutes; eight complete circuits of the activation marker.

[EXAMPLE OF A BASIC ROOKIE JAM TO BE WRITTEN]

Females in a game campaign

I guess this is sort of a follow on from my last post...not exactly, but it shares a few themes.

I roleplay because I like imagining situations that I could never get into in real life whether due to legal ramifications (letting out my aggression beating up on people/stuff or killing things), moral implications (screwing over other people remorselessly), physical reality (casting spells) or just generally getting into situations that make me think in different ways.

Roleplaying to me is not about the experience, and the rules of the game combine with the interactions of the people involved to create that experience.

With that in mind, Leah and I have joined a new group of players to start an old school Warhammer Fantasy campaign. This is a group that has been playing together for years, so we're the new couple. They haven't had a female gamer in their midst, and to looks like they haven't been sure how to take a female player. Apparently one of the players has played female characters in the past, but without an actual female on the table I get the feeling that his "female" would have been played more for comedic and parody values rather than a truly female perspective.

For our new campaign, most of the existing group of players played males, I think they were a bit scared of playing a female in front of a real one. Leah played a female.



I went into the game with an open mind and a blank slate. Completely random characters...so in my mind, that meant randomly rolling everything, including a 50/50 chance on gender. I even found some tables to randomly determine sexuality and other attitudes to help define my perspective of the character.

I got a female...I've played them before. It's part of the escapism that I enjoy about roleplaying.

That leaves us with five players: 4 male, 1 female...and five characters: 3 male, 2 female.

I think that the female character being played by Leah has taken the rest of the group by surprise. It's nice to see some stereotypes broken.

Anyway, here's the group of characters and what we know about them so far.


Leah's character is Ruslana, a Kislevite outrider who loves her horse. En route to the southern border princedoms where the campaign will occur.
What was the first thing the GM did?? Have us attacked by pirates and had the horse taken by them.
What was the first thing Ruslana did?? Went beserk, successfully grappled the pirate captain and slit his throat (which under the Warhammer Fantasy 2nd Ed rules is quite an achievement), claiming control of the pirate ship, then killed our ship's captain for having the audacity to give away her horse. Then she claimed rights over our ship as well...that was tense.


Joona is another Kislevite, he's just as impetuous as Ruslana, just as violent. His player is usually the one who sets things into motion and this means he is often the character who either gets everyone killed or gets killed before everyone else as a sacrificial lamb to avoid things getting further out of hand. The player has resigned himself to this type of role, but is surprised to see a girl play his game even more extremely than he does.

Nikoli is the third Kislevite. A muleskinner with three mules, two of these were taken by the pirates, but while he was annoyed, we wasn't willing to die for a couple of mules. He seems a bit of a pragmatist, someone who just gets on with things while there is chaos going on all around. I'd like to see his reactions in a few more interesting situations. 
Vincenzo is a Tilean actor. With the first game being predominantly a combat session, he didn't get much chance to shine. The player of this character is one of the regular GMs for the group, so I'm hoping he'll be willing to help push the sandbox campaign fun directions.  

Eliska is my character, a city born news-sheet seller. Out of her depth, and on the run from a mysterious past (which has been rolled, written up and doll-housed). I spent most of the game trying to rally troops, and command the ships crew in a fight against the pirates. More failures than successes (as is often the way with this edition of Warhammer Fantasy), but I generally made a few good rolls at a couple of potential turning points and we fought off the pirates successfully, ending up with two ships to our name. My aim for this character is to play a political game, hopefully heading toward a shadowy guild-mistress or noble. I've done this with male characters before, but it'll be fun to see how a female's story goes along these lines.

...or if it will make any difference when the GM hasn't really run many stories for female characters and certainly hasn't had female players in the group.

It will be interesting to see where this campaign leads...hopefully Leah and I can blow away some stereotypes while having some fun.

On Women...

The topic of women in "geek culture" has been rattling around in my brain for a couple of weeks...whether gaming, cinema, comics, toys, or anything else.

I'll offer a few specific examples across a variety of elements from "geek culture".

- The "Wonder Woman" TV pilot episode which never made it past the producers, because it basically turned the Wonder Woman story into every other genre-formula adolescent drama story...and the sheer number of times we've heard about a Wonder Woman movie in the works, only to hear that it has suffered some kind of set back.  
- The outrage that many fans had about the reboot of the DC universe...with female characters reduced to sex objects (Catwoman) or having their costumes stripped back to skimpy strips of fabric (just about everyone else). This could be attributed to the general lack of female within the staff of DC, but that's probably just another symptom of the deeper problem.

- Recent outrage about a certain gamer and his negative writings/comments about females. 
- A general look at the mid year toy sales catalogues. All the boys get toys with cool movie tie ins, while the girls get...Barbie accessories, junior make-up kits and jewellery.


I guess it was this last bit that crystallised a lot of the thoughts in my mind.

I look at the LEGO pages in the catalogue. LEGO is traditionally a boys toy, and now it has construction sets with movie tie ins such as the Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and others. The recent foray for LEGO into a female market gave us "LEGO Friends", which is just another dollhouse. Its almost as if boys toys lure toward action and adventure, while girls toys reinforce notions of just looking pretty and playing social games.

I'm of the age where I could easily be a "geek dad", like several of the other game designers I know (such as Nathan Russell). While there are heaps of "boy's toys" I'd love to buy for a son, I don't think there are any "girl's toys" I'd be content to buy for a daughter.

Where are the action adventure toys for girls based on the movie Hunger Games?

If that was such a genre breaking movie that brought girls into the action rather than having them languish in a love triangle, where are the boardgames and toys focused on it.

We get dozens of toys tying into "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises", but for action movies with a female lead such as "Hunger Games" or "Prometheus" I haven't seen much of anything.

Hell, the very act of getting female centred action movies seems an incredibly uphill battle. Two of my favourite comic books were "Shi" and "Kabuki", both of which have long had rumours about movies in development, or complications preventing them from getting further. Robert Rodriguez claimed to be in development with a "Red Sonja" movie, but that too has gone into development hell. The idea of a Wonder Woman movie has become a joke in some circles.

Conspiracy theorists might say that there is a counter feminism tactic at work here. I think it's just corporate types playing conservative, unwilling to take risks and more happy to blame the world around them for falling sales rather than doing something positive to grow their industries.

I've been seeing a lot of the same things in roleplaying. With companies looking for good female focused games to expand their markets, without realising that simply good games probably have a better capacity to draw those same females into the hobby.

It looks like this idea has been resonating with a few other people lately (see Sending the MESSAGE).  

I've got a lot more thoughts about this, but now that I'm writing them down I think I'm starting to just waffle. I don't want to get my ideas misconstrued, I'd rather get them out more clearly.

Still, if anyone else has ideas about this subject, I'd love to hear them. Especially if you happen to be a female reading this blog post.

Am I on the mark? Or way off?