31 July, 2013

Stealing cultures

At it's heart, Walkabout is a game of cultural appropriation.

There it is, I said it.

It's name is an appropriation of an Australian Aboriginal term. (If you are from outside Australia, don't give me any crap about using the term Aboriginal vs Aborigine vs Indigenous vs Koori, universities have been debating this for decades and are still arguing over it. Different members of the cultural groups descended from various pre-European tribes and nations prefer different terms of address, and many of them are simply happy that they are being referred to at all in a context that doesn't involves deaths in custody under an inherently tainted colonial legal system).

The characters in Walkabout portray neo-shamans in a post apocalyptic watseland, drawing their inherent spirituality from the myths of the Australian Aboriginal people. They appropriate this system of spiritual belief because it seems to fit their new world better than many of the religions of the past.

When 99.99% of the world's population have died, the vast majority of religious structures have fallen. 99.99% of the priests are dead, 99.99% of the wealthy are dead, 99.99% of the atheists are dead. The survivors are all appropriators of various cultures from the past.

The rich members of the new world see the pre-apocalyptic world through the lens of the surviving media...how accurate would your interpretation of the modern worlds be if the most comprehensive source of information was data files from Fox news?

The poor scavengers read the few books that weren't burnt to keep people alive and warm during the nuclear/volcanic-ash winter. The vast majority of information in the decades leading up to the apocalypse had been digitised, so the great electromagnetic pulses left the scavengers with tabloid magazines that had glossy hard-to-burn pages, religious books in sacred holy buildings. But with 99.99% of the teachers dead, reading becomes a hard skill to acquire, everyday survival is more important. History returns to word of mouth and becomes distorted through iterations of a new oral tradition (a tradition that as to be rebuilt from scratch).

Every culture in the world of Walkabout is a pastiche of cultures, subcultures and ethnic heritages. Skin colour doesn't mean a whole lot when 99.99% of the other people matching your "race" are dead. For humanity to survive, any mate would be taken, a fertile mate regardless of the race would be desired. Those who couldn't bring themselves to "cross-racial" procreation found their lineages at a dead end.

In a world with no races, a world where cultures are forged by the adoption of stereotypes and fragments from the past, everyone appropriates. Long distance communication is sporadic at best, even over a few hundred kilometres. When you take this in consideration with the fragmentary knowledge of the past, people have no idea what to expect from the rest of the world. There will certainly be some erratic common beliefs in the new nation states of the Australian continent...perhaps they will believe that Samurai defended the great wall against the Mongols, perhaps they will tell tales about Gaulish heroes valiantly fighting against Vikings, Roman legions and Nazis, maybe they'll recall the way Union generals fought against the Aztecs at the Alamo. That was a forgotten time, a time of myth and legend. When someone tries to call them out, they might ask for proof (and since no-one has proof from that time it might end up getting settled by a drinking match or a brawl.

Every character in Walkabout is expected to be a cultural hybrid of some type, whether they have deliberately chosen to meld the concepts of a few cultures from the past, or whether the people surrounding them have simply evolved their culture through osmosis, gradually absorbing whatever was necessary to survive.

In Australia, the common language is English, most of the public records and media are in English, but there are plenty of other languages spoken. Pidgins would develop, out of necessity for immediate communication between ethnic groups that might each use English as a second language. Slang would rapidly take over the mother tongue. Perhaps akin to the fall of Latin, as the Roman Empire crumbled (or the current state of Arabic). English might be the formal tongue, and everyone might speak it at a general level, but in everyday speech there would be numerous dialects. To speak a truly secret language, the denizens of the future might speak a pure language of our time, something uncommon in Australia like Russian, German or Spanish...tongues that are known and are written in enough books for people to piece them together, but which have simply not been needed for survival.

Religions in the setting are similarly appropriated from the fragments of the past. Here is where I would specifically ask players to explain how their interpretation of the religion might change in light of the events that have shaped the Walkabout world. As a Christian, how would you justify your existence in a world where the apocalypse has come and the "rapture" seems to have taken place? As a Buddhist, how do you explain your place in the new world? I might not expect players to consider these questions too much at the beginning of play, but their answers would definitely start falling into place after a few sessions. And I would keep bringing these aspects of the character's belief into question. If all spirits are evil, how do you justify their actions in helping a lost child? Does free will exist? What are the implications of that?

Players are expected to take aspects of the current world; they appropriate culture and adopt stereotypes, to develop a shorthand for explaining who they are in the world. Once this shorthand has been established, the deeper issues can be explored. How much do they actually resemble the stereotypes, and how much to they maintain the fa├žade for the world outside while deeply clinging to other aspects that define themselves?

The conceit of the game is an Aboriginal spirituality, but I could have just as easily made the characters Taoist exorcists, wandering the globe to restore balance using that paradigm, or technocratic-parapsychologists hiding their true system of belief from the last fragments of a monolithic entity crumbling in the face of a post-apocalyptic world where the resources ran dry a long time ago.

There is so much more I'm thinking about for this game, but all of that requires getting the basic concepts working and having the game face the real world in play.
Hopefully soon.

The Castle Doctrine

What is it about game designers who try to do something controversial in a game, and then get all defensive about it (or claim that their game is a piece of high-art/self-expression)?

Before today, I'd never even heard of "The Castle Doctrine". Based on the various commentaries I've been reading about it, It's a game that has been written in response to the designers feeling of "helplessness" when their middle-class white prestige was vaguely under threat (by way of a few robberies in his new neighbourhood, two of which occurred in the house next door). Suddenly the designer felt violated, and believed in a typical American/NRA fashion that he his house was his castle, and thus he could/should defend it by any mean necessary.

It's an inherently violent game, and my readings of a few pages from The Castle Doctrine Wiki lead me to the conclusion that it's basically as palatable as a game of Monopoly...ie, once one person slightly creeps ahead by virtue of luck or circumstances the favour tips further toward them and it becomes ever harder for the underdog to gain ground. This occurs through character death, once you die you're booted and have to start again from scratch while the winners gain more money in game and more advantage.

Generally capitalism at work. Nothing wrong with that if you call a spade a spade, and don't hide behind rhetoric of "artistic integrity".

Other complaints about the game stem from the fact that all player characters in the game are the patriarchs of nuclear families. It caters to a specific demographic, in much the same way that most action films do. The hero is male, their family are merely plot devices on the way to a big revenge sequence. Again, if the designer set out to offend people by making a blatantly sexist product, good for him, he succeeded...but he shouldn't hide behind the dogma of  "this is my vision, this is my right to free speech, this is my art".

If you want to read more about the game, there are dozens of posts floating around on various blogs, some of the more comprehensive can be found on Rock,Paper,Shotgun, the post that alerted me to the game is here.

I don't think I'll bother looking at this game at all, it stinks of someone trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy. It's just like that game where everyone plays a train controller trying to develop the most efficient models for getting passengers to their destination, only to discover in a twist at the end of the game that their passengers are Jews and their destinations are concentration camps.

Controversy for the sake of controversy.

It gets a name out there for a while, and it raises the hackles on a bunch of internet commentators, but does it really get people thinking about the ideas...even if it does get people thinking, what message is it trying to say. Blatancy can only get you so far.

That's enough rant for now.

30 July, 2013

Another slow down

University has started up again for a new semester, so there might be a reduction in the number of posts over the next few weeks again.

I'll still be working away at Walkabout, I really want to get it finished by the end of this year. There are plenty of pictures that I've been working on over that last couple of weeks (that I haven't been able to show, due to a lack of working scanner at the moment), there should also be a preliminary text available some time in the next couple of weeks (and even a couple of pages for the game's explanatory comic).

So even if I'm not posting here, there will definitely be work going on in the background.

29 July, 2013

Walkabout or FUBAR with Kaiju

OK, so the last post was a bit misleading...I didn't really discuss kaiju that much.

A game mechanism like Palladium's "Megadamage" rules works well for giant monsters and giant robots. 1 "megadamage" equals a hundred regular damage...when the typical person has abut 20 total damage they can take before dying, a single point of megadamage simply obliterates them...when a car measures a few hundred damage points, it only takes a few "megadamage" before it is rendered useless. The game system was actually written for Robotech, which uses giant robots and alien creatures that stand ten times taller than humans. But it has it's flaws as well, most notably that it is a linear system at base 100, 1 "mega" damage = 100 "regular" damage.

A similar game mechanism can be found in Aeon/Trinity from White Wolf. In that game system you have higher grade weapons and armour that deal in wound levels above human level. Everyone may have 7 health levels, but a "vehicle" class weapon simply kills them if they take a hit. If a person is capable of doing seven "personnel" damage in a single strike against a vehicle, they do a point of "vehicle" damage to it. In this system, the damage is a bit more incremental. Heavy weapons might do 4 damage with a hit (plus more with extra degrees of success), so it might be easier to do damage to a vehicle with a heavy weapon than with a dagger. I can't remember if it's an actual rule or if it was a house rule, but I used an extra degree of complexity to this system with "ship" damage. In the same way that it takes seven points of "personnel" damage to inflict a single point of damage on a vehicle, it takes seven points of "vehicle" damage to inflict a single point of damage on a ship. This is a linear system at base 7, 1 "ship" damage = 7 "vehicle" damage = 49 "personnel" damage.

Here's where Kaiju might come in.

A single hit from them obliterates a human, and most injuries from a human would simply be ignored by them. A bit like high level dragons in D&D, but instead of an arbitrary armour class or THACO, a damage reduction effect is in play. Maybe "Damage Reduction 10", where most weapons inflict 1d4 to 1d8 damage with a possible bonus of +1 to +2 due to strength. It's basically impossible to inflict 11 or more damage (which is enough to kill most people) in a single hit...and hits like this are negligible. But a decent hit of 15 or 20 damage (while enough to only kill 2 people), is suddenly dramatic to a large creature. It implies an exponential system, but it gets a bit messy with those big numbers. Bigger creatures could have damage division rather than damage reduction (or maybe both), but  guess the higher number if hit point takes this into account.

If kaiju are so much bigger than humans, how can they be injured.

A good example exists in Pacific Rim, when one of the giant beasts is shot in the eye by a flare gun. This act may not specifically or critically injure the creature, but it has storyline significance.

I'm thinking that it might be an interesting path to develop a mechanism somewhere between the narrative and the strictly simulated.

Heavy weapons inflict automatic damage if they hit, Heavy armour absorbs damage automatically. Overkill weapons inflict massive automatic damage if they hit, and overkill armour absorbs similar levels of damage.

In Walkabout/FUBAR it takes 6 successes to permanently remove a character from existence, a regular weapon upgrades a single degree of success to two degrees, regular armour increases a single degree of absorption to two degrees (Walkabout allows relationships to push things further...with a possibility of instant kills if the situation plays directly to the active character's strengths). Perhaps Heavy Weapons in these systems might upgrade to 3 degrees of success (automatically eliminating a victim for a scene, or giving them a double penalty for an act); heavy armour would reduce the same level, thus pushing a triple degree of injury success to the most minor of wounds. Overkill weapons and armour magnify effects by five degrees of success (turning minor wounds into kill shots and vice versa). The kinds of weapons used against kaiju might magnify effects by ten degrees or more, in this way a character successfully hit by a "kaiju" class weapon is dead even if they are wearing "overkill" class armour that would normally render even the most savage wounds inconsequential.

If an attacker isn't planning to kill their victim, they can still invoke narrative effects like blinding the victim, confusing them or demoralising them (how do you demoralise a kaiju??)

I think I might need to explain things a bit clearer, but the general idea feels like it's heading in the right direction.

28 July, 2013


Don't you just hate it when you come back from a movie with a head full of ideas?

Maybe you love it?

Three movies watched in a marathon viewing session, three heads full of wildly conflicting ideas.

Despicable Me 2, The Wolverine, and Pacific Rim.

There is so much storytelling potential in all of them, each a rich world with a dozen story or more ideas. Each at a different point in it's mythos.

(I'm not going to produce many spoilers here, especially if you've seen the trailers for these movies).

The Wolverine was nothing much new...Logan starts as a loner, gets swept up in events, meets a mutant who wants him dead, comes close to death at some stage, then overcomes this to engage in a big fight scene at the end. The setting has been thoroughly explored in the other movies from the X-Men series, and this only really deviates because the majority of the action happens in Japan rather than in North America. We've seen it all before, but you get what you expect...if you go in looking for mushy romance, you're an idiot. If you go in expecting some cool fight scenes and some brooding, you'll get it in abundance.

Despicable Me 2 was (wait for it) a sequel...we know the world of Gru and his three adopted orphans, the first movie set up the world nicely. It does all the things we expect from a sequel, much like Shrek 2 or Toy Story 2, it draws on the mythology of the first movie then expands it in some way. Old characters keep their defining shtick, but develop in some way. New characters are introduced. It's clever, it's fun, it's a kids movie with a few jokes that an informed geek parent will appreciate (but will probably go way over a child's head). It did the right thing by starting the explore the world beyond the first movie.

Pacific Rim was just starting it's journey as a mythology, but as a story it felt comfortable. As someone who is a fan of anime and kaiju movies, I thought it was awesome. I was especially happy that it didn't do the thing that's common in far too many pieces of sci-fi these days...it didn't try to preach or add a blatant religious message into the narrative. It felt fresh, even though a great deal of the old tropes were liberally scattered through it, it was comfortable and played to all the right beats. It could easily stand alone as a movie, much like the first Alien movie; also like the first Alien movie, I could imagine someone in Hollywood taking the base concept and twisting it into a franchise. It's a world that feels like it has untapped depth, but whether it would benefit from revealing that depth I just don't know. Leah and I were discussing it in the car on the way home...if anything, a prequel movie might be a good option (we'd love to see some of the stories that led characters to their current situations).

All three movies in their own ways could form the basis for a great gaming campaign (each very different in flavour and feel).

All in all, a good day of movie viewing.

But now I want to write (or run) a Kaiju/Giant-Robot game.

27 July, 2013

24hr design contest

It's on again, ideas are being gathered.

I might even enter this year.

26 July, 2013

What do players do?

I've been thinking about the things we instinctively expect new roleplayers to understand when they start playing a game. How do we describe these things to new players?

With this in mind, I'm thinking of including this at the start of Walkabout's player section...

The responsibilities of a player

A game of Walkabout is a collaborative event. Everyone needs to contribute to the session for it to run smoothly; while some participants may choose to take a more active role in the storytelling, no single person is responsible for the entertainment of everyone else.
Before the session begins
Create a character.
Discuss the types of stories you’d like to tell with the oracle and the other players.
Have a general understanding of the story’s genre conventions.
Help describe the specifics of the setting.
During a session
Contribute to the story.
Allow others to contribute to the story.
Have a general understanding of the way the rules work.
Don’t argue with the Oracle or the other players.
Maintain the flow.
After a session (and before the next one)
Provide feedback.
Develop your character.

Provide ideas for future sessions. 

These are basic section headings which will be followed by a short paragraph on how to accomplish the instruction, and why it's important to the session. A similar list with a few differences will open the GM section of the book.

The responsibilities of an Oracle

A game of Walkabout is a collaborative event. Everyone needs to contribute to the session for it to run smoothly; while some participants may choose to take a more active role in the storytelling, no single person is responsible for the entertainment of everyone else.
Before the session begins
Discuss the types of stories you’d like to tell with the oracle and the other players.
Have an understanding of the setting as accepted by the group.
Create a setting, some characters and a scenario for the wayfarers in interact with.
During a session
Feed the players with interest and variety in the plot.
Be prepared to run with the players.
Have a general understanding of the way the rules work.
Be consistent.
Maintain the flow.
After a session (and before the next one)
Contribute to the feedback.
Develop the world by building on the ideas from the session. 

25 July, 2013

New mechanisms

The mechanism for player driven foreshadowing seems to have drawn a bit of interest. It's certainly one of the more popular topics I've started over on Story Games.

That's got me thinking about sharing the other mechanisms that I've developed for simulating narrative techniques.

Walkabout isn't just a game about wandering into town, solving the puzzles and moving on. That might be the grounding for the adventures, but the game is more about the stories that develop between the characters as they do these things. It's like the difference between watching a TV show one episode at a time as it comes out week by week, or even just catching a single episode of a TV show...compared to mainlining a TV show, with the entire season flashing before your eyes, getting a better feeling for the story arcs that build up over the season. A single episode of "Castle" or "NCIS" is about solving the case, a season of the show allows the relationship between characters to develop in a new direction and the specific cases start to lose their significance. You get lured in by the core premise, you stay around because the characters are interesting. There's less need to up the ante, or jump the shark, when there's an emotional investment in the characters.

Arguably this is one of the issues with early RPGs like D&D, and a lot of games that follow the "levelling up" model of play. These games are all about the core premise, as such these games think that the only way to keep players interested is to keep up the challenges, pushing characters further and further according to their numbers and stats rather than seeing how they might evolve organically and socially.

I'm more interested in telling good stories rather than confronting new monsters.

Some of the other narrative mechanisms I've been thinking of...

The Flashback (in which a single character considers the past and this makes an impact on the present)

The Montage (in which one or more characters go through a rapid sequence of scenes in the build-up to a climactic event)

The Internal Monologue (in which a character is allowed to go against their typical course of action as long as their player can justify it through a series of vocalised thoughts)

The Cutaway and the Splitscreen (in which provide formal mechanisms for splitting the party)

There are plenty of other narrative tools that authors and scriptwriters use, but these were the first few I thought of and thus the first few I've formalised in the rules.

24 July, 2013

Some more Walkabout imagery

 Sorry, this is not the best image, but it's just something else I've been working on for Walkabout.

Deliberately drawn in a style closer to fashion illustration, this series of images will depict the seven major cultures of the Walkabout world and the stereotypical clothing they might wear. One male and one female of each.

Accompanying these illustrations will  be a series of detail shots depicting signature items of clothing, tools and general equipment that might be carried by members of this culture.

Once this series is completed, I've got a few preliminary sketches for some of the dances used by Wayfarers to commune with the spirits (only half a dozen so far, a mixed group of males and females).

Then, I'm probably going to draw up a series of illustrations depicting the edges (the powers, bonuses and training that people use to survive the world of Walkabout), one male or female for each because there are quite a few edges.

Sample Images for the Game Comic

I'm working through some preliminary sketches for the comic that will be used to described play examples in Walkabout.

At the moment, just a few profile sketches to try and get a feel for the players who will be helping to describe the game.

I haven't really decided who will play what role in the comic, nor have I decided on skin or hair colouration. Given the themes of culture and aboriginality, I'll probably be giving (at least) one of the characters a darker skin tone, and then I'll probably use this character to try and explore a bit more of these themes as the occur through the play examples.

The other thing this leads to is traits for the players...which one is the GM, which one is the rules lawyer, which is the dramatic actor of the group, which comes up with the crazy schemes...all those typical gamer tropes.

I have thought about options for clothes, these will be depicted in a future post.

23 July, 2013


I've just been referred to something cool. It's Dave Berg's page, where he describes various aspects of his game Delve in the form of a web comic.

You can visit it here.

It's exactly the kind of thing I have been planning to do with Walkabout, except that I'd be taking the concept a lot further by describing the whole process of play, from character generation and scenario creation, and onward through the play of an entire session.

That's enough post for now...I've got work to do.

(While you're visiting the site, have a look around. Dave's got some great concepts in that game.)

22 July, 2013

A thought experiment in foreshadowing

The foreshadowing idea from my last post seems to have drawn a bit of interest, but it needs a little clarification and fine-tuning. Here's a pair of play examples to put some of the concepts into a working context. One example uses a generic d20 fantasy system, the other example uses Walkabout; both examples use 4 players and a GM.

The specific wording for foreshadowing in Walkabout is...

The Foreshadow

Time means little in the quantum world of the spirits. Traditionally in the physical world, memories echo events; but in the dreamtime of the spirits, memories can precede events, effect can precede cause. As beings who live with both spirits and survivors, Wayfarers often learn to identify the subtle nuances that echo forward in time before their significant events have occurred.
As a story unfolds, a player may highlight a specific descriptive element. Such a descriptive element may be a comment made in passing by the Oracle, or it might be the success or sacrifice result narrated at the outcome of a challenge. Each player may claim a single foreshadowed element during a story.
Any time a player declares a highlighted element they may choose to foreshadow a dramatic twist in the story, or add significance to an existing dramatic twist. If they create a new dramatic twist, they should write the words “Dramatic Twist” on a piece of paper, accompanied by their Wayfarer’s name. Otherwise they add their wayfarer’s name to an existing piece of “Dramatic Twist” page (along with any existing names on that page).    
In this way a single twist might have been foreseen by a single member of the circle, or by many. A player doesn’t have to be the active player to highlight an element, but their Wayfarer must be in the scene where the element occurs. The declaring player draws a single token from the communal pool and indicates its colour on the page next to their Wayfarer’s name. As a part of this process, the player should note the highlighted element, maybe theorise something about the twist and how their drawn token might interact with it. All Wayfarers with their name on a certain “Dramatic Twist” page are considered to have a stake in that twist.

In the future, the Oracle may claim that a dramatic twist occurs. This may be done as long as everyone with a stake in the twist is present in the scene. The Oracle should try to draw on all the highlighted elements associated with the twist. All Wayfarer’s with a stake in the twist must make a challenge in response to the description given by the Oracle. For each Wayfarer, the colour of token on the sheet is automatically a part of this challenge result. The Wayfarer’s glimpse of the future has defined something about their part in the way events unfold around this twist. 

...now for the examples.

Example 1: d20 fantasy

Joe is running a game for Mike, Neil, Olivia and Penny. It's a typical dungeonbash, but Joe wants a bit more player input than he might normally get from the game. Joe has heard of games where the players roll a few dice and allocate their results to help tell the story, in his current campaign he could easily see the game working by rolling  two d20s instead of one d20...a player could allocate one die result to see whether they succeeded in their action, while allocating the other die result to see if they had to give anything up in the process. Joe doesn't think his players are ready for that yet, but he wants to get them more involved in the storytelling side of things.

He vaguely divides the next session into 3 stages; entrance/introduction, central-passages/build-up, and inner-sanctum/climax. He explains the foreshadowing system to the players. Joe also states that in the climax, the characters will need five successes to accomplish something dramatic or else they'll have a major fight to face, every failure leads to a more complicated combat.

During the introduction, Mike and Penny claim foreshadowed elements. Mike's thief is about to pick a lock and he asks the GM for information about it, when Joe describes intricate filigree work depicting a goat, Mike claims this as a foreshadowed element. He writes "dramatic twist" on a page, adds his character's name to it, then rolls a d20 and writes the result (6) next to the name. Penny's fighter has just killed a giant beetle that was hiding in a pile of rubbish, when Joe randomly rolls on a table to see what valuables might have been in the rubbish pile. Penny is alerted to something simple, a scrap of canvas with a fragment of painting on it, she claims this as a new foreshadowed element. Penny writes "dramatic twist 2" on a page, adds her character's name to it, then rolls a d20 and writes the result (17) next to the name.

Later in the session, Joe describes an abandoned mess hall with food, plates and cups scattered everywhere. Neil asks if there is spilled wine on the tables; when Joe says that this sounds reasonable, Neil declares this as a foreshadowed element. He adds his character's name to the first dramatic twist page, he hypothesizes that wine and goats foreshadow the presence of a satyr or something else related to Dionysus, then he rolls the d20 and writes the result on the page (14).

Olivia's cleric is flicking through her holy book in the quiet corridors when Neil describes a ticking sound. Olivia thinks this would make a good foreshadowed element and wonders if this would make a strange twist for the Dionysus theory, if it could be applied to Penny's artwork foreshadowing, or whether it might make a better foreshadowing of a new event. Too many foreshadowed events can get confusing and spoil the concept, so she adds her element to Penny's page by writing her character's name and a die result (2).

As the climax approaches, Joe has has time to think about the various foreshadowed elements, he likes the idea of wine and goats linking to some kind of Dionysian cult, and maybe having something a bit steam-punk clockwork referenced through a ripped painting. He thinks about other options that could throw in a pair of twists, then decides that all four elements might work as a single twist; a damaged Antikythera mechanism missing a single cog as depicted on the picture, and needed for a calculation to solve a riddle.

Joe describes the damaged device, and asks the players what they are doing...their previous die results will be used for each of their actions in this climactic scene. He asks how many action's they'll try to take for this climax scene, the players agree on two each (more actions means more time spent, and possibly more failures leading to a tougher fight). The first round of actions are resolved using the foreshadowed rolls.

Penny's character looks for the missing cog, she's had the canvas for a while and knows what it looks like. Her foreshadowed roll of 17 makes it easy to find.

Mike's thief tries to put in the missing cog, but his foreshadowed roll of 6 isn't good enough and the fine cog breaks.

Olivia's cleric tries to glean the mystery behind the machine and how it links to the riddle, but her knowledge of foreign religions is abysmal (as reflected by her roll of 2).

Neil's character tries to manually turn the machine without the cog, it's hard work and he's not sure if the roll of 14 will be good enough. It is...two successes, and two failures.

The characters have one roll each to accomplish three successes, otherwise they can hear the revelry of a wild hunt coming their way.

Example 2

Anne is running a game of Walkabout for Ben, Claire, Dave and Eric. Walkabout is already divided into acts and scenes, so Anne doesn't need to worry about applying narrative structure onto the game system. In this game, all players draw 3 (or more) coloured tokens when they resolve an action. The tokens drawn flavour the outcome of the action results (Black = success, White = failure, Coloured = depends on the action).

Early in the game Dave's character sees a burning car and claims this as his foreshadowed element. He writes up a "dramatic twist" sheet, adds his name to it and draws a token (green). Dave ponders how something could grow, or be beneficial, when it comes to a burning car.

A little later, Eric's character finds a broken mask; he thinks this seems suitably symbolic, so he claims it as his foreshadowed element. He adds his character's name to the existing "dramatic twist" sheet and draws a token (black).

Claire claims her character's foreshadowed element when a single pure white rose is seen growing in a field of brambles and thorns...in the past this might have been a beautiful garden, but it would have gone unnoticed it if weren't for the delicate beauty of this flower. She adds her character's name to the same page and draws a token (white).

Ben's character sees a crying child and he thinks that this might make a good element. He decides to write this on a new page, and draws a red token to go with it.

As the climax draws near, Anne tries to think of a way to tie the elements together in a poignant way that makes sense within the story so far. She could easily use Ben's foreshadowing, but decides that the crying child might have more impact in a later session, she'll let that one build up a bit more over future sessions. The other page will be resolved in this session.

Anne thinks of the roadside memorials common on Australian country roads. Trees marked with the names of drivers who have passed away nearby, often tied with bouquets of flowers by the deceased's loved ones. This ties together the car, the broken face and the flower (she could have linked the child into this, but it seems a bit contrived to her).

The characters meet a ghost somehow related to the spiritual imbalance in the area, not a pivotal part of the issues, but with a cursory insight that may help the characters if they play the situation correctly.

Dave goes first, now he understands how the green token will help. He wants to improve the relationship between this spirit and the characters. He draws his tokens and applies the foreshadowed green token to the "success" category. The spirit is listening.

Claire goes next, but her character hasn't had the best of luck with the spirits of the dead. She tries to console the spirit, but since the white token will have to be applied somewhere, this makes things harder for her. She uses it as a "story" category token, allowing Anne to narrate the scene.

Eric goes last in this story twist, his red token typically bring destruction to a scene, so at first he thinks it's not really going to help in the way things have unfolded. Eric says that most spirits of the dead are bound to a location, unable to move on. He'll use his red token to damage the thing that is binding the spirit to this area, so that the spirit may pass on peacefully. Anne thins this makes a suitable piece of closure for the ghost's storyline and allows the red token to be used as a "success" in this situation.


You could probably push this foreshadowing system even further in a game, perhaps even designing a whole game around it; but the way it stands at the moment, it's just designed to give a bit of extra flavour. I hope these play descriptions give you a better idea of how the concept works in my mind. There will be more examples of it in the Walkabout comic which contains play examples of all rules in the game.

21 July, 2013

A story mechanism for player driven foreshadowing

I'm currently trying to work out the best way to describe a game mechanism where players can highlight a specific event during play, they claim that this event foreshadows a dramatic turn in the story.

They make a standard skill check when they see the foreshadow event (no specific skills, basically just a 50/50 chance of success or failure), determining whether this is a success (they feel it foreshadows something good), or a failure (it sends a shiver down their spine). They don't gain any specific effects from the success or failure at this stage.

One player may foreshadow an event, or additional players can attach their own highlighted events to an existing dramatic turn.

When the dramatic turn occurs, everyone who has an attached event gains the effects of their original skill checks. Those who failed their checks find that the dramatic turn causes problems for them, those who succeeded gain a benefit from the twist.

All players with a stake in the dramatic twist must be present when the twist is resolved. If the players remain split up until the end of the session, maybe the twist will occur during the next session. If the twist takes a few sessions to resolve, players might end up attaching multiple stake results to the dramatic twist. Such twists could end up very lucrative, very detrimental, or could have strange mixed results.
In theory it seems to work, I'd be interested to see how it turned out in practice.

20 July, 2013

Maps in progress

I've mentioned these elsewhere, but still haven't got my scanner working yet.

For those who've been asking about this new series of Walkabout town maps, here is a work-in-progress photo.

Each map is based on a real Australian town, with outskirts degraded due to supernatural activity, walls or fences added as protection, and everything tilted to accounted for the shift in the Earth's axis due to events in the history of the Walkabout setting.

There is a range of a dozen different towns of various sizes, and they've been drawn up with a range of ways to move from one town to the next. Roads, railway lines, coastlines, rivers. I'd like to think these maps could be used in a wide variety of games using the post apocalyptic genre, not just Walkabout.

Changes to the LARP currency system

Now that we’ve looked at the way the system works, let’s make a few modifications to the set up.

Instead of gold as the standard unit of currency, let’s switch to silver. It may not be very historically accurate, but we’ll work off a standard metric coinage to make it easier on our mathematics. We will also give our coins some names to add a bit more flavour to the system.

One Gold Crown = Ten Silver Ducats
One Silver Ducat = One Hundred Copper Pennies

Gold Crowns are issued by a central imperial mint. They are called a crown because they bear the symbol of the empire’s crown on one side of the coin. Gold crowns are the preferred currency of the nobility, since they are accepted everywhere and have a high value for their portability.

Silver Ducats are issued by the various dukes around the empire. Ducat means Duke’s coin, and each duke mints their own with distinctive heraldry. Ducats are typically only legal tender in the regions controlled by a duke, this helps ensure that a duke’s serfs and peasants do not flee to neighbouring regions…their money simply isn’t worth as much in other territories.

Copper pennies are minted in various towns according to a few fairly standard archetypes, a common weighting of copper is found in them. A peasant may carry pennies minted in three or more ducal regions. Pennies might be more common as a trade coin if it weren’t for the fact that they have such a low relative worth, someone would have to carry a small sack filled with pennies to get the same value as a small purse of silver, or even a single gold coin.

Under this system, the ducat becomes the typical unit of measure.

A single ducat is typically the price of meals for a week (or 5 pennies per meal for 3 meals a day = 21 x 5 pennies, you get a little loyalty bonus at the local inn because you eat there for the whole week, good meals might costs a bit more though)
A single ducat also covers a single room for a week (or 20 pennies per night, because innkeepers are less trustworthy of wanderers just passing through).
10 ducats will cover food and lodgings for a month at a regular inn, including stabling for a horse.

A peasant is typically paid a gold crown (ten ducats) a month, but they more commonly see this as food and lodging automatically covered by their employer/lord. They might only see a few pennies a day which they often gamble away or spend on alcohol and other things that make their lives a bit more tolerable.
Soldiers and competent tradespeople might get paid the equivalent of two or three crowns a month. Soldiers would tend to see their payment as a better quality of lodgings and food, perhaps staying in military barracks or in the local duke’s castle, and maybe eating well once a week at a feast in the duke’s great hall.

Thus a duke keeps account of the peasants, serfs, servants and professionals in their region by accounting for how much money is flowing through the area. Taxes might be imposed on these lower levels of society, but most don’t actually have much in the way of cash (taxes would be far more effective on the soldiers, middle classes, merchants and adventurers who actually have access to regular coinage).

With these changes to the system of currency, we can look at influences a bit differently. Low levels of influence aren’t meant to do a lot, just give people an edge in certain fields. Mid levels should give their wielders a significant benefit, pushing their potential beyond that of a single person. High levels should be the kinds of things that give Dukes their controlling influence over the region.

So a very low level influence action (lvl 1) would be capable of producing a ducat; or enough to cover a good meals and drinks for a week (and certainly make them favourable to you). A moderate level influence action (lvl 3) would be capable of generating a ten ducats; or the equivalent of expenses for a poor quality bodyguard/retainer/hireling for a couple of days. A high level influence action (lvl 5) would be capable of generating a ten gold crowns (one hundred ducats); or the equivalent of a highly trained bodyguard at all times. Nobles might be able to generate powerful influence actions (lvl 7) capable of producing squads of trained soldiers, or incredible influence actions (lvl 9 or higher) capable of maintaining standing armies.
With this in mind, let’s use an exponential scaling factor of around 3.

Lvl 1 = 100 pennies (1 ducat)
Lvl 2 = 300 pennies (3 ducats)
Lvl 3 = 1000 pennies (1 crown)
Lvl 4 = 3000 pennies (3 crowns)
Lvl 5 = 10000 pennies (10 crowns)
Lvl 6 = 30000 pennies (30 crowns)
Lvl 7 = 100000 pennies (100 crowns)

We want to prompt players to improve the levels in their spheres of influence, it helps move things forward, drives the story, and forces them into conflict with one another. It might take three months to spend enough influence actions increase from one level to the next, and a player might think it is just as worthwhile to spend their actions generating three times as many actions in the short term…but if they invest, they’ll be able to spend influence at triple the equivalent level for every month thereafter. Patient and careful players will be rewarded (as long as they can hold out long enough).

19 July, 2013

A bit of Pseudo-Science

I'm working through some more of the background details on Walkabout. Trying to get the pseudo-science to sound right. Here's one of the passages I've just written. I hope it makes sense.

Those with a more scientific education claim that spirits are beings of quantum flux. They have always existed in a state just beyond reality, able to coexist in an endless number of locations, and not subject to the laws of matter, energy or time as we understand them. When perceived by an observer in the past, the spirits have taken on a coherent form (their probability waves collapsing into understandable patterns), those forms typically conforming to the belief patterns of the observer. In many cases, an observer has collapsed several probability waves into the one pattern, and thus spirits have developed a variety of traits. Thus animal spirits become tricksters or symbols of virtue, and elemental beings become associated with abstract concepts like emotions. Collective belief over centuries has reinforced the expected forms of the spirits, and observers have learnt ways to collapse “spiritual quantum probability waves” into predetermined forms through carefully followed rituals. Now that the scope of reality has widened, many spirits have been caught in a permanently observable state, unable to resume a quantum wave; they settle into forms they are familiar with, forms that survivors expect to observe…forms of mythology, dream and nightmare. 

17 July, 2013

Putting Theory into Practice

First we’ll look at the idea of isolated, secluded and open factions.

An isolated faction is a group of dedicated individuals, they live their life according to the ideals of the faction and belong to no other faction but this one. Examples of an isolated faction might include a fanatical sect within the church, an isolationist group of paramilitary hermits, or the local duke’s personal guard.

A secluded faction is a group of individuals with a common goal, but they often have other agendas beyond the faction. Members of a secluded faction may not belong to another isolated or secluded faction, but they may belong to open factions. Some secluded factions may exist within open factions (as their leadership or inner circle). Examples of a secluded faction might include a family group, a secretive conspiracy (with tendrils reaching into other factions), a general religious group, or an organisation that takes up a lot of a character’s time (such as the local courtiers, or town guard).  

An open faction is a public group that doesn’t take up much of a character’s time or resources. A character may belong to any number of open factions, but sometimes the agendas of these factions will come into conflict and characters may have to take a side when a conflict arises. Such groups might include a gossip circle, a chamber of commerce, a local guild, or the town militia.  

Now for some examples using the mechanisms discussed so far...

The Thieves Guild
This is clearly one of the staples of any fantasy setting. The Thieves Guild is never small, it is always a shadowy organisation behind much of the crime in a city. Somehow the Thieves Guild is widespread across entire worlds, while their main opponents “the town guard” are left as insular groups of local law enforcement. The thieves guild has connections in a hundred nearby villages and towns, but the town guards are too busy looking after their own villages to communicate with one another. But we’re not here to deconstruct a trope, we’re here to see how a group like a thieves guild would work within the systems that have been set up so far.

To be considered a recognised chapter of the empire wide “Thieves Guild”, a local secluded organisation needs at least six members. Each of whom has contacts among the underworld and on the streets, as well as some other way to manipulate the locals. Generally, the Thieves Guild is only permitted to operate because they keep the crime from getting out of hand. High crime leads to instability, instability leads to rampant chaos and an inability make a good profit.

A new level 3 chapter of the Thieves Guild
6 members starting out (each with an average of 2 Street influence, 2 Underworld influence and 1 other). This basically works out to 48 Street actions and 48 Underworld actions each month. Let say that half of the members have a level of Craftsmanship influence (3 members x 1 level x 4 actions = 12 actions a month).

Within 3 months, a level 3 stronghold could be built by the faction through the pure use of Craftsmanship influence actions (36 actions); they could halve this time by spending gold on the activity, and with so many Criminal actions under their control, gold shouldn’t be hard to come by. These members could easily pay the 9 points of upkeep each month.

The Thieves Guild probably wouldn't be too interested in a battle standard. They might have a sacred vault that fills a similar function within their headquarters (they gain morale, and find it easier to stand firm when guarding the Guild’s sacred vault).

If 30 points buys a sphere of influence as a factional specialty, then the first month might see 30 points spent on Underworld actions…which would give the entire faction a virtual level of Underworld influence. The second month might see everyone dedicate their actions toward a specialty in Street actions (thus giving everyone a virtual level here). In the third month, each of the 6 players have 3 underworld influence (2 of their own and one virtual level from the faction), this increases the factions total to 72 underworld actions...another 30 points would buy another level of Underworld specialty influence (actually I might bump this up to 30 points worth of actions per level, thus increasing the cost to 60 points…it’s still possible to grow, but it takes a bit more sacrifice to do so). The faction couldn’t buy any more because they’d have reached their level 3 cap for specialty spheres of influence.

In addition to these, the group might craft signet rings for their members.

Within 3 months, a group of six dedicated new players will have become a formidable faction. After this point they might start building new safe houses, and possibly expand their operations into other aspects of city life. If they took their time and acted more carefully, by spending some of their actions to conceal their activities, they might take six months to reach the same strength, but they’d be ready to strike from the shadows and become a truly formidable conspiratorial group within the city.

The Pitfighters
On the outskirts of town is an old arena. It is one of the many ruins from the old age; an age that most people have forgotten. A band of warriors have chosen to make this ruin their base of operations, a place to train in the arts of combat, make a bit of money by putting on a few shows, and maybe do a bit of gambling on the side. Officially, the town guard don’t like this sort of thing; but unofficially, a few members of the guard wouldn’t mind testing their skills against warriors (some have even considered joining since all they do in the town guard is stand around protecting the duke’s chateau, or walk the streets of town). 

There are a dozen individuals who have gathered together to restore the old arena. They have a wide mix of influence spheres, but Militia, Street and Craftsmanship are more common among them. Let’s work on the assumption that every member has an average of one each in these three influences (some might have 2, some might have none). For this exercise, let’s also say that half of the members have High Society influence; maybe they consider this “medieval fight club” to be some kind of subversive activity that keeps their lives interesting, and keeps them on their toes in case someone should challenge them to a duel. For half of the members, this is a serious endeavour, for the other half this is just a side interest (they spend up to half of their influence actions on this), it is an open faction. 12 members make it a level 4 faction; since it is above the 10 character threshold, but not above 15.

Working with these numbers, we have 36 actions each month in Militia, Street and Craftsmanship (6 members x 1 level x 4 actions + 6 members x 1 level  x 2 actions = 36 actions total). If half of the members have High Society influence then we can probably assume 18 of those actions available.

To rebuild the ruins, we’ll work off the numbers for creating a building from scratch. Before this point the ruins had no real impact on play, but now they’ll become a feature of the political landscape (perhaps the GM might offer a discount if they’re lucky, but for this exercise full cost). Within 2 months, the ruins could be built up into a level 4 stronghold through the pure use of influence actions (48 actions); they could halve this time by spending gold on the activity, and with their high society influence and other actions they could probably gather up enough gold (12) to reduce this to a single month. The twelve members could easily pay the 12 points of upkeep each month.

The pitfighters would definitely be interested in a battle standard, once they gain a bit of renown they might be able to hire out their services as a mercenary company. They might just start with a level 3 battle standard (they don’t want people to see them as too much of a threat at the moment). This would cost 12 influence actions to build, so they could easily accomplish this in the second month. Only those characters who have the Pitfighters as their exclusive faction would gain the benefits of the standard.

The first month might see 30 points spent on Militia actions to improve the arena’s association with fighters…which would give the entire faction a virtual level of Militia influence. The second month might see everyone dedicate their actions toward a specialty in Craftsmanship to reflect an ability to produce arms and armour for the fights (thus giving everyone a virtual level here). In the third month, each of the players have additional Militia influence (one of their own and one virtual level from the faction), this increases the factions total from 36 to 72 militia actions...another 60 points would buy another level of Militia specialty influence (using the modified costing discussed in the Thieves Guild example). In the fourth month, the faction might buy a level of Street or High Society Influence for 30 points, another level of Craftsmanship influence for 60 points, or might spend a bit longer gaining a third level of Militia influence for 90 points.

With this in place, the group would be able to produce weapons for its members, it might even start to develop a specific coat of arms. We could also start looking at the permanent hiring of support crew such as healers, apothecaries, or even town criers to advertise upcoming events.

16 July, 2013

Factional Triangular Numbers

Triangular numbers are a common pattern in RPGs, whether overt or covert. You may not know what triangular numbers are but as soon as I show the pattern, you’ll probably recognise it.

The triangle of 1 is 1 (1 = 1)
The triangle of 2 is 3 (1+2 = 3)
The triangle of 3 is 6 (1+2+3=6)
The triangle of 4 is 10 (1+2+3+4=10)
The triangle of 5 is 15 (1+2+3+4+5=15)

As an example, you can multiply this pattern by 1000 and you get the basic scheme for experience in early versions of D&D (modified a bit on eother side to account for the benefits and weaknesses of different classes).

I’m thinking that factions in a LARP could easily follow the same triangular structure. One player can’t form a faction (Individual = L1), Three players can form the most basic faction (Circle = L2), Six players can form the next level of faction (Squad = L3), Ten players are needed for the next level (Order = L4), Fifteen to progress further…etc.

Being in a faction provides benefits to the members, and those benefits are capped by the faction level. Such bonuses might include automatic increases to influence actions, availability of equipment or allies, security, etc. Factions would have player characters as leaders, so larger factions would have a higher number of players under the control of a single individual, but there would always be the option that players could defect or break-away. A faction operating near full strength for its size would need to be good to its members, otherwise a decent breakaway might reduce the membership below a level threshold.

For example: An Order (Level 4) might contain 12 members (an order requires 10 members), but hypothetically it might offend a small group of its members who decide to break away. If three members leave, the larger group drops below the numbers required for an order (now at 9). The new break-away faction is a circle (Level 2 = 3 players), and the old faction drops back to level 3. The old faction needs to find a new player to resume its former status (preferably during the same game in which the break-away occurred, so that word doesn’t spread to other groups about their weakened state).

Why use a triangular system? It’s actually pretty simple, and works for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s an intuitive system with easy numbers to work with. Secondly it allows for fairly rapid progression at lower levels while gradually slowing down with its benefits as the numbers get larger (this means that bigger factions, with more members, tend to have higher potential benefits for their membership, but they aren’t so overwhelmingly powerful that there is no point to starting up a new smaller faction).

Also note that I’m using this system to cap potential benefits.

I like the idea of having characters spend some kind of currency to gain benefits for their faction. It basically works the same as spending XP to gain benefits for their character. If we use influence actions as the basic unit of expenditure for factions, then we can use them to build strongholds or headquarters (which provide security, healing benefits and possibly things like training grounds for the characters), battle standards (which provide benefits to morale on the battlefield), back-up troops, or a wide range of other potential items that could be used to benefit the faction’s members.

Such benefits would have to be bought, but could only be bought up to the level of the faction. It might be an idea to also add an upkeep cost on certain items (let’s say a quarter of the original value, otherwise it degrades by a level).

Example 1: A Stronghold
A stronghold might cost twelve influence points per level, so a level 3 stronghold might cost a total of 36 influence points to build and 9 influence points per month to maintain. If the upkeep cost wasn’t maintained, it would drop to a level 2 stronghold. Increasing an existing building would cost the monthly upkeep cost, plus the extra 12 points to increase the building’s level status. This level 3 stronghold would require a minimum level 3 faction, and therefore a minimum of 6 players. The nine points of influence would basically cost 1 to 2 influence actions per player to maintain. If everyone spends 2 influence actions to upkeep the stronghold, the remainder could be banked for potential growth in future.

Example 2: A Battle Standard
A battle standard might cost four influence points per level, so a level 5 battle standard would cost 20 influence points to build and 4 points per month to maintain. I have no idea what a level 5 battle standard would do at this stage, but it would be pretty damned impressive (maybe a morale bonus to all fighters within 3 metres per level of the standard). A level 5 battle standard would require a minimum faction level of 5, and therefore a minimum of 15 players. Only a few characters would need to pay a single point each for the upkeep cost on the standard, these characters might belong to the factions “honour guard”, or maybe a single character takes on the role of standard bearer and earns a special point of factional status in exchange for looking after the flag.

Some factional benefits would simply be bought, and would then become permanent attributes of the faction. It might cost 30 points to gain a speciality sphere of influence; once bought, every member of the faction automatically gains an extra level in this particular sphere (a faction might be able to buy 1 level in a sphere of influence per factional level). This adds a degree of specialisation and interest to the factions, beyond the mere colour of designing factional emblems, house mottoes and battlecries. A GM could create a few factions initially populated by NPCs for characters to join, rise through, and eventually lead, or they could allows players to develop their own factions from scratch. 

Building an in-game economy

I started working on the following idea

Three levels of items...

Raw materials
Refined materials

These would be split down into specific types...

Raw materials
Ore – Gain one per day of work.
Wood – Gain two per day of work.
Grain – Gain two per day of work.
Livestock – Gain one per day of work (may be done once per week).
Oil – Gain one per day of work.
Rock – Gain two per day of work.
Herbs – Gain two per day of work.
Cotton – Gain one per day of work.
Refined materials
Metal – Expend two ore, and spend a day of work to produce 1 metal.
Timber – Expend two wood, and spend a day of work to produce 1 timber.
Bread – Expend a grain, and spend a day of work to produce 6 bread.
Beer – Expend a grain and a herb, and spend a day of work to produce 6 beer (do this once per week).
Stone – Expend a rock, and spend a day of work to produce 1 stone.
Meat – Expend a livestock, and spend a day of work to produce 1 meat and 1 hide.
Paper – Expend a cotton (or a wood), and spend a day of work to produce 1 paper.
Vellum – Expend a hide, and spend a day of work to produce 1 vellum.
Leather – Expend a hide, and spend a day of work to produce 1 leather.
Linen – Expend a cotton, and spend a day of work to produce 1 linen.
Weapons (a dozen basic types, maybe another dozen unusual weapons) 
Armour (a half dozen basic types, maybe a dozen unusual armours)
Buildings (half a dozen types)
Books (three of four different types including ones good enough to contain spells)
Lineage Items (battle standards, seals, and things that help mark a noble house or faction)
Siege Engines (three or four different types)

Clothing  (a dozen basic types, maybe another dozen unusual forms of clothing)

The aim was to produce different skills that could be used to refine raw materials into refined materials, and a few skills that could be used to produce goods from raw materials and refined materials. It makes a pretty convincing economy; but as you can see, this is getting pretty complicated and it hasn't even touched on a decent level of complexity capable of handling everything that characters in a game might require.

If we need players to fill all the niches to produce goods, then the minimum number of players for such a set-up would be in the dozens, and the subtleties of the economy would only kick in once the numbers of players reached a hundred or so. That's great for an MMORPG where players might spend hours every day grinding away at the menial chores of low level drudgery between adventures, but not so much for a LARP where the focus is meant to be on the action.

If such an economy was to be set up, it would probably be best handled by NPCs predominantly, with player characters capable of manipulating aspects of the economy through their spheres of influence. As an example, one player might spend some street influence to gain access to some raw materials (this might cascade up the chain in later games), one player might spend influence to ensure certain refined materials are turned into the goods they need, another player might possess the skills to do this for themselves (and therefore they don't need to spend their influence actions on this...instead they can spend them elsewhere).

Instead of forcing a player to watch the raw materials turn into refined materials and then into goods, they can simply pluck things out of the economy for certain costs, inject them at other times to make a profit (or loss), or work some effect on them to increase their value and thus make a living within the established order.

Playing with the low level raw materials would earn less money, but be of less notice to the rest of the world. Dealing with finished goods (especially things like weapons, lineage items, buildings or siege weapons) would earn far more money, but would be far more noticeable to players who were paying attention to the movers-and-shakers in the town.

I'm still trying to work out where I'd like to see the degree of complexity in the economy. The figures above feel about right, but I'd have to see them in play before locking in my thoughts. 

15 July, 2013

New visual inspiration

I've been looking for new inspiration of a post apocalyptic bent...

It has led me to Romantic Ruins

A bit different from some of the other inspirations I've found, but that's the whole point of the setting....picking and choosing from the available sources of inspiration to make something new.

A Follow Up on QR Codes

I didn't think that a simple post on multimedia functionality and QR codes would generate so much chatter.

General consensus seems to say that it would be an interesting gimmick, but probably wouldn't have a whole lot of functional value. TinyURLs might serve the same purpose just as easily, a quick footnote at the bottom of the page with a web address that links to a descriptive video of the concept under discussion.

A few people have pointed out that QR codes have a time and a place, they tend to be best on street advertising and billboards where they can be used to direct an observer to a specific part of the web when they are on the move and unable to write things down. In a book, the reader has the time to write something down like a TinyURL, and such a thing is less intrusive as a text footnote. If the game design were cyberpunk inspired, then the imagery of a QR code might be more fitting...it's not necessarily great for a post apocalyptic work.

I still think there is value in generating up a few videos to clarify play concepts. Different people learn by different methods; so having a wall of text, a comic series of still images and a collection of videos improves the ability of various users to connect with the intended play experience. It also helps to explain where the rules lie, players can always work outside the intended rules and understand how they are modifying the play experience...but they need to know where the rules are, so that they know where they are deviating. A lot of people blame the game without playing the game in the way it is actually intended.    

Man who catches Cthulhu critters for a living

Ok, maybe the headline is not entirely accurate, but I found this awesome wine box and it started my mind running.

14 July, 2013

QR codes

I know I've thought about using them in a game text before, but I've been trying to think of a better way to incorporate them. I think I've found it.

How about putting QR codes into the margins of the hard-copy main rulebook? Then having those QR codes link to YouTube videos that explain the concepts in a bit more detail, either with a very simple visual style or with live action play examples.

The downloadable PDF copy would convert these QR codes into direct web links.

I think there's potential here.

11 July, 2013

Walkabout Town Maps

I've been working on ten maps for towns in Walkabout. Each of the maps is specifically based on a small country town in my home state of New South Wales, which makes sense because the game is set in a post apocalyptic version of Australia.

I've literally taken screenshots of maps from Google, twisted them to match the new orientation of the earth in this setting, and have only drawn the parts of town that generally made sense to survive. If a town had a hospital, this part was kept relatively intact, any pubs were maintained, and so were a few key landmarks. If these were spread out over a couple of blocks I sometimes decided to enclose that part of town in some kind of fence or barricade, keeping everything within the bounded blocks, and gradually getting more degraded moving away from town. Typically a third of each town survived, and these are some of the larger settlements in Walkabout. I didn't work on any towns or cities with more than 50,000 people; most of them have been abandoned, or only have smaller communities scattered around them.

Currently the maps are purely pen and ink on A4 pages. I'll be scanning them in, applying textures and aging them digitally soon (as soon as the scanner is working again).

I'm wondering whether to add specific town names (whether current names, or names from the post apocalypse), or leave them unnamed for players to use them wherever they might need them for the purposes of their adventures anywhere around the country.

I'll try to post a couple of pictures of them as soon as possible.

10 July, 2013

Getting into Background Action Specifics

The specific rules for actions behind the scenes need to be simple enough for new players to quickly grok them, but complex enough that they provide richness to the setting and develop storyline.

I’m thinking of using three currencies for behind the scene actions.

Gold – A single use currency that is expended as it is used.
Status – A replenishing currency based on open standing within the community.
Influence – A replenishing currency based on networks of social intrigue and shadowy manipulation

You could probably include an additional currency reflecting favours, but sometimes an economy works better if certain things aren’t specifically codified. They also work better when there is a different set of rules governing different aspects of the economy, this allows different parts of the economy to become more valuable than others and a flux to develop within the system. Such a flux leads to tension in some areas where stories can develop, we see it in the real world when some countries link their currency to the value of gold, or to the relative value of their stock markets. If one economy becomes stronger, it becomes harder to move within it, and opportunities are sought elsewhere…once the opportunists leave, the economy weakens and eventually the opportunities start to appear again. It’s a delicate balance, and it requires both a good underlying system and a decent number of canny participants to become a self regulating mechanism.

If we keep favours outside the regimented mechanisms of play, we allow the possibility of people adding favours to sweeten deals, or reneging on favours as a means to get ahead (and generate stories all of their own).

Gold is something that characters would gain by trading in the treasures they acquired while adventuring, it might also be something they generally earn in the course of their regular duties within the city. Lowly characters might earn a single gold per week, and it might cost them a single gold per week to pay for their meals and lodging. Characters with more noteworthy jobs might earn 2-3 gold per week; allowing them to pay for more expensive lodgings, acquire more nutritious foods, or maybe pay for a few favours that make their lives more comfortable. Much more prominent individuals such as merchants, bankers and courtiers might earn a gold per day through their regular trade. Similar incomes might be generated by officials such as the town sheriff, the bursar, or the local judge, while in the employ of the city in official roles.

For the mechanics of Gold, a common unit of 1 gold to pay for accommodation and food for a week might be good (as a real world comparison, in Sengoku-era Japan, a single Koku was defined as enough rice to feed a peasant for a year). A flat rate of gold would be accrued each week by characters based on their regular occupation within the city. If a character was to live as an adventurer, they might roll a die (or draw a card) each week, with the possibilitiy of getting multiple gold on good weeks, one gold of average weeks and nothing on weeks where things didn’t go so well.

Gold may be spent within the game to pay for things like equipment, weapons and armour, or to cover expenses like food and accommodation (which might in turn modify healing times). Cheap items might require a breakdown of gold into smaller units like silver. Maybe the whole idea of a gold piece is too valuable as a starting unit, and the base currency could be silver pieces broken down into copper coins. Either way, this “hard currency” is what must typically be spent to acquire physical items.

Games of status are where the rules from Mind’s Eye Theatre are quite good, and I’d be looking to adopt a lot of these ideas into the setting. The basic system, if you have more status your word has more authority. If you have no status, no one trusts you. If you have high status, it takes someone else with high status to injure your reputation. The person with the highest status is the local leader (this may be a king, a baron, a count, etc.), the faction whose members possess the highest cumulative status is the most powerful faction in the region. People may loan status to one another to show their favour toward a particular individual, this is typically the way votes are conducted. Status is a nebulous thing, most important when determining who has rank within court and who is most suitable for a civic posting when the opportunity arises.

Status is only gained or lost through the weight of individuals who possess it. Accepting a civic position within the city might confer a point of status associated with the role (eg. the sheriff might gain the “Peacekeeper” status rank, the head courtier might gain the “Prestigious” status rank). The head of a faction might gain a number of status ranks equal to half the number of members within their faction (rounded down). The leader of a city would need the backing of a faction to empower their position on the throne, but they might gain a number of additional status points due to their prominence within the city (let’s say three extra status ranks just to make sure there is a significant edge to the role: “Exalted”, “Revered”, and “Peerless”). A wise leader would have an inner council made up of individuals from the various factions, an unwise leader would find their position quickly untenable as two or three factions might easily consolidate their status to enact a coup.

Generally, factions vote for their leader by allocating their status behind specific individuals, whoever has the most status is the leader of the faction. In a diplomatic coup, a new leader of the city is chosen from among the factional leaders, with each factional leader assigning the status from their faction toward one candidate or another. In a violent coup, the old leader is typically killed and the new leader is either the one who killed them, or the one who shows by status that they have enough military support behind them that they can hold the throne.

High status characters may bestow levels of status on lower ranking members of their factions, the local ruler may bestow status on anyone in the city for their valiant deeds or honourable actions (such bestowals often occur in exchange for gold or influence actions, but people don’t often talk about this in public). Such characters may strip status in the same way. A character may only modify the status of other characters who possess a status rank less than half of their own.

Lower ranked characters may strip the leadership status from their factional leaders by simply allocating their status behind a new leader. They may also combine their status to strip the status earned by deeds; en masse, they combine their status, and if the total is more than double that of the higher ranked character, they may strip a status point from the more powerful victim.

Actions regarding status typically have a status cost associated with them, but certain character might be able to waiver the cost in certain circumstances. Voting in a new factional leader might have a cost equal to half the number of status traits used in the vote. Casting your vote in a trial to determine someone’s guilt or innocence might cost a single status trait. This means that those characters with more status have more say in the votes they participate in, and they may generally participate in more votes each session. When it comes to waiving the costs, the local sheriff might apply the negative status rank of “under investigation” to a single person in the city, at no cost to themselves, a courtier might be able to assign (or remove) a status trait to any individual once per session at no cost to themselves, the head courtier might be able to do this any number of times per session (but only once per character) and they might be able to assign the role of courtier to a single player each session.

From the perspective of fighting, status has no bearing. From the purpose of civilisation, status is everything.

The spheres of influence exist somewhere between the hard currency of Gold and the nebulous political power-mongering of Status. Physical things can be accomplished through the expenditure of Influence, so can manipulation of events behind the scenes. Not all influence is equal though, different characters would have a tendency to be influential in different areas.

For this, I’m thinking that a split of seven fields will be good.   

  1. Craftsmanship – connection to the guilds and ability to get things built or crafted.
  2. High Society – connection to the rich and powerful members of the local aristocracy
  3. Militia – connection to the local town guard and those who work by raising arms
  4. Occult – connection to the secretive groups of mystic scholars and wizards of the realm
  5. Religion – connection to the priests, bishops, monks and access to religious artefacts
  6. Street – connection to the commoners from town and the typical farmers in the rural lands
  7. Underworld – connection to local ruffians, rural bandits and access to illicit goods.

(I had considered using Wealth as a form of influence, but this would really be doubling up the benefits of gold…so it doesn’t make sense in a medieval setting to have multiple definitions of richness)

Generally, a city will have a maximum number of influence points available based on its size. The bigger the city, the bigger each share of the pie will be.

Starting characters will have five points to distribute across these spheres of influence (with starting characters allowed no more than 3 points allocated to any one). Their rank allows them access to specific actions…and to keep it simple, each action has a cost equal to its availability level.

Eg. Street Actions
  1. Get the lowdown on what is happening somewhere, or identify the faction strongest in a particular part of the city
  2. Access a small and relatively insignificant contraband item, arrange a temporary safe haven.
  3. Get insight on another area of influence, “acquire” a weapon, organise a distraction, or gain access to a basic “street” skill.
  4. Smuggle someone into (or out of) the city, control a small gang (6-10 members), or gather some quick funds (1d6 gold).
  5. Control a medium sized gang (10-20 members), arrange a riot, or gain access to an advanced “street” skill.

Characters get 4 points per level to spend on influence actions (roughly one per level per week). Characters may instead choose to invest their actions to improve their influence score (increase your score by 1 if you invest a number of actions equal to 10 times the new score). They might attack the influences of other players behind the scenes. They might spend points to see who is making moves within their sphere of influence, or they might spend points to conceal the actions they are undertaking. Characters who move quickly are easily noticed by those who already move within the same fields. Characters who make waves too often sometimes find their actions bring the attention of the town guard, the town criers, or the newsletter sheets posted at the centre of town.

Characters might accumulate more than 5 levels in a specific sphere of influence, but to do so, they would need to control a specific part of town…perhaps claiming the university to get more “occult”  influence, or claiming the palace to get more “court” influence. There would only be so many of these influence focused areas, and controlling them would become a part of the long term game for those players who wanted a lot of power in the shadows.

Learning new skills can easily be linked into this type of system, by forcing players to spend their influence points over a number of weeks to gain access to certain skills. If a player wants a skill and they don’t have the influence necessary to learn it, they might have to start a process of negotiation with someone who does possess the necessary sphere of influence. This helps to link players together.

It’s also noticeable that certain types of influence may interact with “hard currency” by producing gold at different levels, and some may influence status when certain levels are achieved. These types of interactions keep the three systems linked to one another, thus improving the cohesion of the setting.

Again, just spit-balling at this stage. To hammer this into a functional system will take quite a bit more work.

Behind the Scenes Actions

One of the beauties of running an ongoing live campaign are the actions occurring behind the scenes (in the down time between games). These are the activities where players who aren’t physically fit can perform actions against their fellow players without needing to pick up swords, and the strategies introverted players don’t need to break out of their comfort zone in socially overwhelming debates or arguments. These types actions help round out a game, making it more immersive and contiguous; it feels as though the game world continues to flow in real time, while the live action events are simply highlighted scenes where that world intersects with our own.

In many of the live action campaigns I’ve been a part of, there have been players who have specialised in this type of background activity. During the actual sessions of play, they might seem to sit around not doing much; perhaps approaching a couple of other players in the shadows, or maybe just sitting there…waiting for other players to approach them. These are the figures who don’t take risks by wading into the thick of battle, instead they wager their activities by paying others to battle for them…if they win, the battle goes their way and their actions have been rewarded; if they lose, their actions have been wasted and their allies have been lost to battle.

There are many players who will take a more balanced approach to play, swinging their weapons in battle when the need arises, or using their influence and allies when they are unable to accomplish something for themselves. It’s a general continuum with three distinct axes…battle vs social politics vs hidden strategies. Most players find themselves drawn to one or two of these. Alliances tend to form naturally between players who need allies who are stronger in the areas where they are weak, conflicts tend to arise in fields where two players are equally strong (such conflicts may be serious antagonisms or friendly rivalries).

Actions behind the scenes have an additional benefit when implemented correctly. They apply the repercussions of a player’s actions.

Hypothetical situation:
  • The local slave master is bringing gold and wealth into the city through their hidden dark deeds.
  • The city needs money to pay it’s militia.
  • One of the players kills the slave master.
  • Where does the money come from to pay the militia?
  • In the first session after the death of the slave master, there might be enough money in the treasury to keep paying the troops.
  • In the second session, things might start looking grim as the coffers run dry. The militia might start leaving town to seek suitable employment elsewhere (or maybe they get employed as personal guards to the local guilds).
  • In the third session, crime might rise as the militia are only staffed by overworked loyalists.
  • Someone needs to fund the militia to keep crime in check, or the local lord might need to start taking some drastic actions.

The game is an ecosystem. The GM doesn’t need to come up with new stories, they just need to react to the web of relationships that gets destabilised by the actions of players. Basically, the whole game is in a delicate stasis, every action taken by a player character upsets that stasis to some degree. Every storyline injected by a GM also disrupts the stasis. Sometimes the actions of the players and the storylines of the GM will cancel one another out, sometimes they will work at cross purposes and sometimes they will magnify one another. Eventually, when players become more powerful, they might take on the more significant roles in the city, to become more powerful they will need to inspire storylines of their own…explaining how they get more power, who that power comes from, how many people are disrupted in their quest for dominance over local lands.

If someone kills the slave master, is someone able to step in and take the role immediately, to prevent to void from rippling across the city and causing further problems. If there is a single powerful player character, are they willing to do it? Is there an alliance of less powerful characters who are able to take on the responsibilities.

With this in mind, a newsletter can be generated. The most prominent background activities might make the local notices posted to the town’s central bulletin board (or message post). Deaths of notable citizens might be made public, as would news of bandit raids (or monstrous activities) in outlying villages…if those citizens or villages were directly connected to the webs of local commerce, it would make sense for local warriors to be sent on a mission of investigation.