31 March, 2013

Town Guard game price calculations

I calculated out what I need to produce the Town Guard boardgame (the name is still subject to change).

To be eligible for The Game Crafter's contest, the total costing of the game has to come in at under $30 and it has to contain 12 figures.


$7.08 = 12 figures x $0.59 [Warrior][Rogue][Sorceress][Skeleton][Goblin][Knight][Dwarf Axeman][Orc][Elf][Adventurer][Zombie][Dwarf Crossbowman]

$9.36 = 6 x $1.56 [108 cards (6 x 18 cards)]
$0.44 = [1 rule document]
$3.39 = [70 Circular Shards]
$6.49 = [12 Large Hex Tiles]
$2.99 = [Large Game Box (Top Wrap)]

$29.75 Total

I went through the figures during the week when I was fine-tuning ideas for the game. I was sure that all of the figures I wanted were 59 cents...but now when I look through them, I see that only the elf, dwarf and goblin figures are that price. Most of the human figures are 79 cents or even 99 cents.

Since I'm cutting the budget pretty tight, I could exchange one or two figures for a human or a skeleton, but basically everything will be elves, dwarves and goblins. This turn of events has basically led me to believe that a non-human fantasy game might have to be an option. I've specifically decided not to call the games races "human", "elf" or anything mundane like that...so it's not really an issue. 

I'd also like to make sure there are a few female characters in the mix, but these tend to push the price up as well.

Perhaps a future incarnation of the game might allow for these features, or perhaps some expansion sets.

Still lot's of thoughts resolve before this project is fully ready.

29 March, 2013

Creative Work

What will this be?

Town Guard Characters

This is an example of how a character will be constructed in the "Town Guard" game. A left half gives a character trait descriptor, while the right half gives a character race.

Each trait half distributes four points between the four attributes (1 at 2 pts, 2 at 1 pt each, 1 with no pts). Each racial half distributes ten points across the attributes (2 at 4 pts, 1 at 2 pts, 1 at no pts...the image is wrong, but it's give an idea.). Each half gives an ability, which might be an action that can be taken at certain times, or a modifier that applies in certain circumstances. I don't know if we need anything more for the game at this time.

A character compares their total attribute to a difficulty threshold when the confront a mission; easy missions have a difficulty of 3, moderate missions are 6, hard missions are 9. Each mission has a specific attribute that is used to confront it.

The example character above would have no trouble contesting easy missions using combat, knowledge or skill. They'd need 1 point of bonus to confront a moderate mission using their skill attribute (this could automatic if the mission occurs near a "natural" location, it could be gained from equipment, or from specific situation cards played during the game).

Players can modify their own missions to make things easier, or modify other players missions to make things harder (or make it easier in exchange for a favour later in the game).

Now the trick is writing up the rules in a way so that they make sense.  

28 March, 2013

Town Guard

The idea is a cross between Munchkin and Small World.

Each player gets a character made up of a trait and a race...eg. "Studious"/"Elf", "Beserker"/"Halfling". The assorted characters are the members of a town guard, they will be paid bonuses for completing assignments and keeping the town in order. But they each want the bonus, and they aren't afraid to sabotage their fellow guardsmen.

The characters move across a town map and complete missions that will keep the peace. Undertaking those mission requires meeting a certain difficulty/target number, you need to play cards to boost your skill up to the target number, and you can play cards to boost the target number facing your fellow guardsmen.

Characters who complete missions earn gold, allies, equipment and other rewards that make future missions easier to achieve.  

It's for the Game Crafter's Miniature Based Game Contest.

Anyone interested?

21 March, 2013

A Brief Goblin Revisit

A few people may know that I generated up a Goblin Tarot Deck in late 2011. I ran a crowd funded project to get it up and running, and while it made the necessary money to get funded, I didn't consider how much it would cost to get the decks sent out to people.

I didn't want to let down those people who'd given me their money, so I've slowly been processing the orders and the project has almost reached it's conclusion...one more package to go.

As a part of these final deliveries I've been putting together some special images, taking extra care on the cold-cast resin boxes, and trying to give people value for their money (even if I've been bad with the timing).

Here are some of the sketches that have been sent to the those awesome people who've been patient and have offered so much to me for this project.

I just thought I'd share.

Sectional view of decayed void disc

Not much text for this one, I think the image should be pretty self explanatory.

20 March, 2013

A Game with Miniatures

The Game Crafter is running a contest to design a game that uses miniatures. I've meant to enter previous contests run by them, but things have just gotten in the way. This time I have plenty of ideas again, but which one do I use...

Voidstone chronicles could be a good candidate, so could a few others. I've until mid June to work something out.

Go over and have a look...Miniatures Challenge

18 March, 2013

Test post

In case the total isn't obvious, this is a test post to see if the new mobile blogging platform works. I'm adding a work in progress picture, a map for Voidstone Chronicles that I'm working on.

13 March, 2013

Admitting Defeat

I wanted to write Voidstone Chronicles in the Pocketmod format; 8 pages of concise game rules. But it just isn't working for me.

So, I'm amending my plans. I'm now tossing up whether to use a full book, or a series of pocketmods to cover various aspects of the system (one for character generation, one for adventuring, one for combat, one for magic, etc).

It probably doesn't help that I've also produced 20 pages of illustrations for the setting so far.

12 March, 2013

Game Mechanism of the Week [Neo-Redux] 8: Renown and Prestige

To make it clear, this is an idea separate from experience. Experience systems in roleplaying games tend to be a way that the character learns from the events they participate in, they may gain knowledge from overcoming a monster or they may improve their skills by repetitive use. Experience is a measure of how a character develops within themselves, renown and prestige systems are ways in which the character is perceived by the community around them.

In many games, the two are intrinsically interlinked. An adventurer in old-school D&D gradually fights enough monsters and overcomes enough encounters, through this time they become known in the local community and when they develop enough power there comes a time when followers flock to them and eventually they might even build a castle or stronghold of their own.

But the paradigm starts to crumble with characters like assassins who try to remain as secretive as possible, or rangers and barbarians who live far from the eyes of the civilised world.

There have been a few games that have deliberately kept the two ideas separate. One system measures the growth within the individual, and another system measures their standing within the community.

From my experience, the most elegant system for separately tracking renown and experience can be found in White Wolf’s Werewolf the Apocalypse. In this game every characters has a defined role within their pack, and every pack has a defined role within the greater society of their local community. Different characters are expected to do different things to keep things running smoothly. The warriors are expected to fight, the mystics are expected to deal with the spirits, the peacekeepers are expected to resolve disputes. Beyond these specific ideals, the wider community are expected to uphold the laws of their people, they are expected never to become corrupted by the dark forces destroying the world, and they are expected to give their all in the face of overwhelming odds.

Experience in Werewolf is pretty linear. If you survive a session you gain a point, if you do well for purposes of story or overcoming dramatic odds you gain a point, you might gain a point for other reasons determined by the GM. Accumulate enough of these points over a number of sessions and you can buy increases to your attributes and abilities, or you might be able to buy special supernatural gifts (more about gifts later).

Renown is in a state of flux, and it is divided into three types: Glory, Honour and Wisdom. Vanquishing monsters and raging against the horrors of the world are glorious actions. Working together and doing things according to tradition are honourable actions. Using the tricks at your disposal or communing with the spirits are wise actions. Different actions are worth different amounts. This means that there are actions of lesser glory and actions of greater glory. The more extravagant your actions the more renown you gain.

But renown can also be lost. Running from battle may result in lost glory, betraying someone may cause a loss of honour, and acting in a foolhardy manner may incur a loss of wisdom.

With this in mind, a single action may increase one form of renown while reducing another. Sacrificing a holy relic to vanquish a foe for the greater good may incur a gain of glory, and a loss of wisdom or honour.

In this game, the more renown you accumulate the more known you are for your deeds. If a warrior earns enough glory they may increase ranks (they also need to have some honour and wisdom to do this, but their focus is to be glorious in battle). There is nothing to stop a warrior from being sneaky, playing the role of the peacemaker, or even dealing with spirits…but as a warrior they are expected to fight, this is their place in society. A warrior who earns ranks through their prestige gains access to better gifts. The spirits respect those who know their place in the order of things.

The Hengeyokai books for Werewolf describe an Asian court of assorted shapeshifting animals, and they expand the notion of renown even further. In this variant setting, characters can pursue the renown that is important to their own animal type, or the renown that is respected by the court. Either path of renown gives specific benefits; and there is also the complication that choosing one side over the other gives a clear indication of your character’s political leanings. I’d love to play a more in-depth campaign for this setting, but I just haven’t had the chance.

There can be an interesting reflection of real life in this system. I’ve seen it played out in the tabletop version of the game, and the many years I was involved in a live action campaign (starting as a lowly cub and gradually working my way up to the role of Sydney’s alpha). The concepts of privilege and caste can be deconstructed with it.

A character who comes from good stock may have connections willing speak of his deeds, exaggerating his virtues and downplaying his vices. Such a character may rapidly gain renown while earning experience at the typical rate. Another character may come from the wrong side of the tracks, she might earn experience just as quickly but might find it hard to get her actions recognised among the community. In this example, he might quickly rise to a place of prominence despite not having the experience or power to really make wise decisions for the community, she might hate the system for putting her down (or she might choose to stir rebellion, or simply act as a lowly figure of power away from the community spotlight).

Characters can play to stereotypes in this system. A warrior can be a fierce fighter who rushes honourably into the fray. Doing so will earn them renown according to the will of the community and the spirits. Such a character will find it easy to gain the ranks necessary to become a true hero.  But they can just as easily play against stereotypes. A peacemaker might prefer to deal with the spirits, annoyed by the social position bestowed by the timing of their birth. These characters may find it harder to quickly ascend the ranks; but when they finally do arrive, they become a more rounded and potentially more dangerous individual.

A system of renown also allows for some tricks that heighten the tension in storytelling.
The character who once had a great deal of renown, but who has lost his ranks due to a serious mistake (he still has the powers granted by his previous rank, but is no longer spoken about openly).
 The character who has spent time in the wilderness away from the politics of rank and renown, no one knows what she has learned, and formally she is of low rank…but she could have anything up her sleeve.
The character who wants to die, he rushes into battle against terrible opponents only to survive, gain renown and become more powerful in the eyes of his community. Yet still he just wants to die in glorious battle.

You don’t need to get as complex as these ideas, but by applying a simple renown system over the existing experience system found in most RPGs, the storytelling potential increases exponentially.

One of the biggest disadvantages of a renown system is the added book-keeping involved. No longer are you merely tracking the linear growth according the accomplished deeds, now you are tracking the influence these deeds have on the community, and the notoriety gained by the individuals who performed them. Reducing the renown system to a single type, such as “fame”, might solve some of the book-keeping issues. But reducing it in this way cuts away some of the interesting richness and complexity derived from achieving different sorts of prestige for different types of action.

The other disadvantage comes in the knowledge of what gains renown, and what causes its loss. In the various editions of Werewolf, renown has gone from a small table of ideas (with other renown accruing deeds defined by the GM), to a huge table covering several pages. While this may add richness to a setting, it also brings those annoying moments when people go running to the book and start rummaging through the tables to start cross referencing mechanisms…which generally slows down the game. And while this may be just one of my pet peeves, I’ve seen it cause issues in all sorts of gaming groups.

There are lots of ways that you could integrate a renown system into a game. Perhaps allowing those characters with higher renown to gain some kind of advantage depending on the type of renown they had earned. You don’t need to make the more renowned characters able to access more powerful supernatural effects, you could easily apply it to more mundane situations.

A character known for dealing fairly might get a better price in the markets.
A character known for being more mystical might draw a stronger response (positive or negative) from the local clergy.
A more fearsome character might be able to scare away opponents in battle (simply by virtue of their reputation).

These ideas can really be used to drive the themes of a game. The risk is throwing in too many options and diluting those themes. Keep the renown linked to the ideas you want the story to tell, frame the renown accruing actions toward events that you’d like to see in play, and make the renown losing actions important as decisions the characters might have to face.

In theory, a good system of renown could be an interesting counterpart to a morality system. But instead of something focused inward to the characters beliefs, it is something focused outward between the characters actions and the outside world.

11 March, 2013

The Voidstone Adventurers

For those who haven't seen the types of characters who will be running around, and having adventures in the world of Voidstone Chronicles...here is the kind of thing you can expect. This particular young lady could be a warrior or rogue from the Air clans to the east of the world.

This illustration was done by me, but I have a range of other artists who have off their services to the project and I hope to share some more of their work soon.

10 March, 2013

Voidstone Chronicles Battle Map

I've been working on some ideas for battle maps to be used in Voidstone chronicles. At this stage I'm not sure whether to follow this concept of CGI terrain, or whether to draw hem up manually with a more anime vibe.

06 March, 2013

Degree of success on the Combat Wheel

The core system of Voidstone Chronicles is based on the core system of Tooth and Claw.

The combat system is a complication on that basic die rolling mechanism, with the hope to give more of a video game style of vibe. The combat wheel is the main modification here, but I'm still toying with ways to make things run smoothly while adding some more strategic elements into play.

One of the things that I've recently been considering is the notion of variable predefined successes based on the actions chosen. For example, combat with a sword might be split into thrusts or slashes...if you get extra degrees of success on a thrust it might do more damage, while if you earn more successes with a slash it might take less time to accomplish this action. The mechanism can be found in the Cadwallon RPG from Rackham, and it seems to be a nice way to differentiate weaponry without getting into lots of nuanced technicality that really slows down a game.

A couple of the ideas I've had include:

Weapons that slash - extra successes cause the action to take less time (if in air stance)
Weapons that thrust - extra successes cause more damage (if in fire stance)
Weapons that crush - extra successes cause lingering damage effects (if in earth stance)
Chain weapons - extra success entangles opponent or their weapon (if in water stance)
Unwieldy weapons - not getting an extra success takes more time
Crude weapons - not getting an extra success risks weapon breakage

Light Armour - extra success means a block/dodge takes less time
Heavy Armour - extra success means that a block absorbs more damage

I'm not sure if this is a good direction for the game to take, it's feeling right, but some playtesting should show whether this works.

EDIT: Even though this combat cycle could be seen as an indirect progression of elements from the roller derby boardgame (and therefore I've been playing with these concepts for years)...as a follow up it's interesting to note that other people seem to be working on similar concepts.Like this one.

02 March, 2013

Moves on the Combat Wheel

This notion of a twelve step combat track seems to be generating a bit of interest, which is great.

So it's time to move forward on the concept...time to really get into the minutiae of how the system works and how to keep it running smoothly in a variety of situations.

Characters in this system are chosen avatars of spiritual forces, perhaps demigods. They are a distinct class separate from the citizens of the world, they will be constructed by combining a heroic path (an occupation)  with their culture (the people they grew up with). Each of these will be defined by a single pocketmod booklet, and the character will be written up in their own pocketmod. In addition to the character's pocketmod, there will be a series of quick reference cards indicating weapons/armour/equipment and special powers/spells available (Much like the way you open up side menus and submenus when you are playing a computer game). There will also be combat manoeuvres written on cards so they can be quickly referenced.

Every aspect of the character is simple. Like most of the game designs I aim toward, it's only in the interplay of aspects that the complexity of the system develops.

Hits and Damage
First we'll work off the assumption that there are six basic combat actions available to all characters.
Quick Attack (3 Timing "Ticks")
Slow Attack (5 Timing "Ticks")
Block (1 Timing "Tick")
Dodge (2 Timing "Ticks")
Move (1 Timing "Tick")
Non-Combat Action (3 Timing "Ticks")

Beyond this, there are a range of additional combat actions that are opened up in different circumstances.
Parry (1 Timing "Tick") - Available when certain mastered weapons are wielded
Follow-Up Strike (3 Timing "Ticks") - Available to certain warriors
Counterattack (3 Timing "Ticks") - Available to certain warriors
Rapid Spell (4 Timing "Ticks") - Available to certain mages
Intense Spell (6 Timing "Ticks") - Available to certain mages
Quickdraw (1 Timing "Tick")
Backstab (3 Timing "Ticks")
Battlecry (2 Timing "Ticks")
Taunt (4 Timing "Ticks")

Each of these additional actions is bought with experience points.

But before we get into the mechanisms for these alternate actions, we need the basics. And we need these basics to be fast and intuitive.

This isn't the type of game where called shots are important. In most computer games you just mash the buttons (or elaborately work through the button combo) and if the opponent has an opening, that's where you hit. So the same sort of thing applies here.

The sequence currently flows like this:
1. Declare your card
2. Roll equal or under your attribute for a success, a single successful die earns a hit (additional successes may open up action bonuses [extra damage, reduced action time, damage opponents weapon/armour, etc.]).
3. If opponent has declared some kind of blocking action, they need to roll under their attribute for a success.
4. Highest successful die wins. Both dice are eliminated.
5a. If the attacker had extra dice capable of dealing damage, they may be resisted by any additional dice possessed by the defender, otherwise the attack simply goes through accumulating toward the final damage result.
5b. If the attacker had extra dice with some other effect, they might be resisted in some way if the defender has a suitable ability to do so, otherwise their effects occur unchallenged (such other effects might include pushing the defender in some direction, demoralising them, poison strikes, activating weapon abilities, etc.)
6. For combat actions, roll an extra die on the successful strike to determine where the hit occurs and how savage it is. Compare this die and the original successful die. The higher of the two dice determines the "Strike" (and this is added to any other successful dice), the lower of the two dice determines the location [some advanced characters may have an alternate method to determine hit location].
7. Add the "Strike" to the attacker's Weapon Strength and subtract the victim's Armour Strength (in the struck location).
8. Each increment of 5 points strips away a spirit/health level from the victim (where most people have 3 health levels: "Healthy", "Battered (attributes at -2)", "Broken (attributes at -4)", before ending up risking death).
9. If a victim has reached the point where they are risking death, they must roll an extra die (of a different colour) during every action. This counts whether attacking, defending or anything else.

  • On a 1-2, they pass out before the action is complete, they die.
  • On a 3-4, this will be their last action after it is performed they will die.
  • On a 5-6, this action will push them past their limit, they will pass out and be at the mercy of those surrounding them (they lose a permanent point in the attribute associated with this action). 
  • On a 7-8, this action causes them immense pain and thy lose a permanent point in the attribute associated with this action).
  • On a 9-10, they suffer no further ill effects (for the moment).

10. Next action

This action cycle is very much a work in progress and the last bits of it are still having trouble gelling in my mind. Steps 7 and 8 are basically ported from the Confrontation miniatures game, so I know that they work relatively quickly, but they move away from some of the concepts I originally envisioned. Step 9 is the big one that I'm working through at the moment. It's got the right kind of feel to it, but I'm not sure how well it will actually work in play.

Game Mechanism of the Week [Neo-Redux] 7: Morality Systems

(I know, I should be up to 9 or even 10 by now)

Dungeons and Dragons has alignments. Vampire the Masquerade has paths of morality. Judeao-Christians have the ten commandments.

There are paths that govern our actions in the real world and there are paths that govern our character's actions in the imagined worlds of our roleplaying sessions. Different games handle Morality in different ways, sometime regimenting the concepts into the rules and experience systems, and sometimes leaving the area of morality as a "fruitful void" to be explored through the emerging situations as story, mechanisms and players intersect.

Why do we need morality systems in a game?

The simple answer is that we don't. There have been plenty of D&D campaigns that have done away with the concept of alignment, ands the concepts of "humanity" and "morality" have been hand-waved in a vast number of Vampire campaigns that I'm aware of. Some games don't even bother with the pretence of an alignment or morality system.

A more complex answer involves getting into the head-space of our characters. I know a certain player who has commonly stated that when he plays a game, he doesn't play his character interacting with other characters, he just cuts out the middle and deals directly with the other players. He is of the strong opinions that a single player will always play the same types of characters, whether they seem to be playing a "warrior", a "mage", a "nosferatu vampire", a cyberpunk "nomad" or a high fantasy "aristocrat". A leopard doesn't change it's spots.

A morality system helps us break the mould of our own thought patterns. It forces us to consider the choices inherent in a situation from a new perspective. If a character gains some kind of mechanical bonus from acting according to a certain set of principles, then we start to take those principles into account with every action and thought.

A hard-core fundamentalist Judaeo-Christian might feel pains of guilt and distraction from performing deeds against the rulings of the Ten Commandments (and a game system might reflect this by penalising future actions until atonement is made or forgiveness sought). A passing citizen with an awareness of the faith might not feel the same inner turmoil, but if they understand that the local community follows this morality then their actions should suit the rules expressed (or else they suffer appropriate consequences). In the same way an "chaotic" character risks imprisonment when they exist within a "lawful" society, as they have to temper their intended activities...and if they temper those activities long enough, they may start to sway away from their chaotic inclinations. A "good" character in an "evil" society may find themselves trampled by the selfish and power hungry; if they want to survive, they might have to sacrifice their helpful ways and become a bit more ego driven and self-protective.

Artists make choices when they work. A painter may choose a canvas, a type of paint and a pallet of colours. A sculptor may choose a specific stone to carve. They might both aim to embody to same concepts in their work but they need to develop ways of conveying such a thought with their chosen medium. Telling a story through a game is much the same; a game about moral concepts needs a system of morality, or at least a set of in-world laws for the characters to follow. A good morality system does not restrict the actions that can be taken by the characters but it provides ramifications for actions taken outside the chosen morals. Or, it rewards characters who stick to their chosen path.

The keys in the Solar System could work really well as a morality system, where characters might be rewards with taking certain actions in certain circumstances. A canny GM might even make it unfavourable to take these actions in other ways...perhaps taking the moral high ground gives an advantage to opponents following other moral ideals, or gives the edge to those who are willing to fight dirty. Is it worth getting the extra experience point if you might suffer an injury or even die?

Taken simply, D&D morality is a pair of spectra between "Good/Evil" and "Law/Chaos". They polarise the world. In this type of system, two groups designated as "good" will work together against two groups designated as "evil". Good and evil always oppose. But reality is rarely that simple.

This is one of the reasons why I'm trying to veer away from the concept of alignments in my game designs, tending more toward paths of thought that might conflict as easily as they commune.

Morality paths can also be tricky when players choose a certain path to gain specific advantages within a system...using those advantages when they are helpful, but ignoring the path when it either proves too difficult or could cause them a disadvantage. Once morality plays a part in a game, it must always play a part in the game, not just when it suits the players concerned. This is an easy trap to fall into and I've seen it many times.

Morality systems in a game are a dangerous beast. They can bring some great characterisation to the table, but they can also cause some headaches when used incorrectly. Use with caution.

01 March, 2013

Epic Combat with Minimal Rules

If there's one thing I love about the movie "Suckerpunch", it's the epic combat sequences. One girl against a giant biomechanical demonic samurai, a team of physically adept specialists rnning through treches against hordes of undead steam-powered nazis...forget the story, if the story is good then that's a bonus, you don't sit down to watch a movie like this for it's engrossing plot (there have been plenty of critiques about the storyline of Suckerpunch scattered across the web...I really don't want to get into them here).

It's really anime in its style. Epic sword fights, epic gunplay, over the top action. It is what I'd love to see in Voidstone Chronicles. I think the combatcrcle described in the last post is a good step in that direction, it allows combat to become a fluid thing, not divided into discreet rounds.

I want this combat system to tell stories, like the conflicts in Suckerpunch, or in anime, or the duel between Inigo Montoya and Westley in "The Princess Bride". Not a simple back and forth of die rolls or cards, but away that exposes the world through the actions of the participants.

But what else does it need?

I'm not sure if hit points are the right direction, but they certainly match the "Final Fantasy" feel. At early levels, as an inexperienced hero, you might deal 5 to 10 hit points of damage with a sword...but when you get to the end of thecampaign,you might wield an enchanted blade that simply smears lesser opponents into splatters of blood as you deal thousands of damage points with a strike (while the most epic badness in the setting might have thousands of hit points to resist the effects).

What about armour?

To keep the system simple, I'll be linking degree of damage straight into the degree of success with the hit. If you just hit, you do a little damage, if you really overpower your target, then a lot of damage is dealt....it's logical and straight forward.

Here's where we could start dealing with multipliers and exponential systems, the kinds of mechanism that a computer handles virtually instantaneously. An unarmed strike by a novice might deal damage equal to the difference in attack roll and defence roll, a simple sword might multiply this result by 3...a "legendary blood-blade from the sixth dynasty" might multiply it by a hundred. Then armour might divided the final damage, leather armour might halve it, plate armour might reduce it to a tenth, and "sacred plating of the celestial court" might reduce it to one percent (always rounding fractions up so that a successful strike will always deal at least one point of damage).

It really fits the theme, and if I was writing a computer game that might be the way I'd handle it. But maths like this really slows down a table top conflict.

Lots more thought required.