30 May, 2015

The adventure begins

I've just finished up an illustration for my character in the new Pathfinder campaign I started during the week.

Well, it's not quite finished, but it'll do for the moment. If the game actually goes for more than a couple of weeks (and I finish drawing the other characters in the group), I might come up with a more refined version of the image.

At the moment it's looking a bit like a promo shot for a comic book.

Resolution of the Threat

About a week ago, I threatened a post on the gaming mechanisms inherent within the Eurovision Song Contest. Now it's time to make good on that threat.

Those who were worried about spoilers should have heard the news of Sweden's win by now, those who don't care about the contest won't be bothered about who won.

This year the announcers made reference to a new algorithm, his is interesting, but we'll get to that shortly. To a new viewer this algorithm made no real difference, because they had nothing to compare it to. To a new viewer the whole voting procedure is strange, it's built from an attempt to be unbiased, but is never-the-less incredibly biased and political.

Countries vote for their top ten performances, with the top three allocations stepping up by 2. Basically, what I'm trying to say here is...

10th place = 1 pt
9th place = 2 pts
8th place = 3 pts
7th place = 4 pts
6th place = 5 pts
5th place = 6 pts
4th place = 7 pts
3rd place = 8 pts
2nd place = 10 pts
1st place = 12 pts

Countries may vote for any other country but not themselves. This means that blocs of countries (eg. The Scandinavian Bloc, The Balkan Bloc, The Former Communist Bloc) tend to keep their votes allocated to other members of their allied associates. Cyprus always gives it's 12 points to Greece (but strangely, the reverse has almost never happened).

In the first year I watched it, at the end of the show every participating country was visited one by one and the points were tallied up over the course of about two hours (longer than it took to watch the performances). After missing it a few years, the next time I watched it was the first time the show was broken into 3 parts, these being two semi-finals and a grand final. A few countries were automatically granted entry into the grand final (UK, France, Germany, Spain, and the winner pf the previous year). The scoring was quicker, but this added a new political element to the mix. I think in the decade since this system was introduced, one of the perpetual countries has only won once (Germany a few years back), and the same country never wins it twice in a row. It's these last details that make me think there might be some kind of rigging in the background of the votes.

Historically, votes were made by a jury of industry experts from each country, but in the late 90s this moved to a telephone vote system to be more interactive and democratic. When Lordi won in 2006, there was said to be an organised underground swarm of votes from metal heads in numerous countries with the attempt to rig the outcome. Needless to say, it worked. It might also be noted that this year, each countries bottom seven point scorers were automatically tabulated, and only the 8, 10, and 12 point votes were announced. Lordi earned the highest ever number of points in the contest, and after this year it was decided that half of the votes would be determined by the popular telephone method, with half allocated by the expert jury.

So many rules and changes to rules just to make things "fair".

I cannot prove it, but I suspect that many juries are coached on where to place their votes based on a country's financial viability to hold the contest and general political stability. Similarly, I would have expected outrage from many European countries if Australia had actually won this year (so I imagine the juries were coached not to send their points our way).

Numerous papers and theses have been written about Eurovision, so I'll leave my little post here. If you want to chat more about it, I'd be happy to do so...just leave some comments below.

28 May, 2015

Powers in a Game of Heroes

Superhero games rarely manage to capture the real feeling of the comics or movies they claim to emulate.

+Ron Edwards wrote an awesome post about this a few weeks ago, it's been sitting in the back of my mind ever since then. My thoughts have related to two projects I've been hoping to complete this year, the first is my "Other Strangeness" mutant animal RPG, and the second is a variant set of rules for FUBAR *(work in progress title...Four Colour FUBAR). I'd link to Ron's post if I could find it, but it basically promoted an idea where the power is less important than it's effect on the story, and the way the power is reflected in the narrative. The ability to throw a fireball is less interesting if it is defined by a damage of "4d6" (or something similar for the game), more interesting if it is defined by things you can do with it, and even more interesting if it gives you an outer range of potential and lets you play within those boundaries. Instead of a fireball effect, maybe you could apply a "Batman's Utility Belt" effect, where there seem to be all sorts of gadgets contained within it, but they only really become important when they achieve narrative significance.

After reading through the Mage 20th Anniversary rules, this crystallised a few ideas in my mind, and really reminded me why I like the game. I just want to strip away the storyteller system, keep the general sphere magic system, maybe offer specific rote effects as super powers that can be designed by the players as constant effects that their characters know, then create a skill/ability that allows characters to deviate from those rote powers within the boundaries established by their spheres. I can keep the coincidental and vulgar effects (where vulgar magic might require the expenditure of energy rather than the accumulation of paradox). It will require a bit of work, but there is so much potential here.

Now I'm just trying to work out the best way to attach a system like this to the "FUBAR" or "System 4" mechanisms.

In each case, I'm thinking that a magic effect might simply add to dice, or roll an extra die...but come with some kind of drawback (either power cost, collateral fallout, or other story complications). The more over-the-top the potential effect, the more detrimental the drawback. Some powers might start with incredible potency, and as a character gradually masters it they don't learn how to make it more powerful, instead they learn to refine it and minimize the collateral damage.

These thoughts have particularly been clarified after reading through the Pathfinder rules, especially when one of the new players decided to play a Wizard. Hundreds of pages of very narrowly categorised spells and specific effects, almost as any pages of magical items requiring specific spells to know before they can be created. Magic is very regimented, and might not be all that useful to the grander ongoing story. It's a very different style of play, I haven't decided which is better for new players to wrap their heads around. but I know that I prefer the more fluid system.

Just where my head's at for the moment.

27 May, 2015


A half orc barbarian with massive intelligence but no formal training in how to apply it (think of him like a pseudo-medieval/fantasy mythbuster who likes to pull things apart and blow things up).

A human monk with a penchant for hanging out in bars after recently leaving his order.

An elven wizard who focusing on herbalism and alchemy, who has decided to become the core of the region's drug empire (hoping to absorb other existing drug cartels into his ring, or annihilate them)

A gnome rogue who can diplomatically persuade and charm almost anyone, after spending almost an entire human lifetime on the high seas as a specialist in the piratical art of the "parlay"...and who rides a combat training giant gecko.

That's where we started. Character generation started at 7pm, and used a single copy of the Pathfinder rulebooks between four people (two of whom had never played a tabletop RPG, only computer RPGs...and a first time GM). By the time we had an understanding of who our characters were and vaguely how they fitted together, it was almost 11pm. But everyone was still enthusiastic and wanted to see how these characters might start working together as a team. It was 1am by the time we realised the time, and called it quits.

I can see why some people enjoy this type of gaming, it's not quite old school, it's very mechanical, it allows a lot of quirky options. For people who've come across from computer RPGs, it offers a lot of familiarity. The dice mechanisms are pretty simple, roll a d20, add a bonus, compare it to a target number. We didn't really see much combat... well, half the table (the elven wizard and gnome rogue) didn't, while the other two just beat up on one another to see who was the better warrior. We did get to see how most of the basic die rolls worked, I explained them from the perspective of a veteran D&D 3.0/3.5 player (which meant I got most of them right, but didn't pick up on a lot of the nuanced variations in Pathfinder).

I don't know how long we'll last with this game, but the group seems to have gelled pretty well, and character generation is such a long process that most of the players aren't going to want to go through it again in a hurry...and the new GM just laid out a hefty sum on buying the assorted rulebooks, so he's not going to want to switch over to some other system in a hurry. I'd love to show these guys something new and quirky, but we'll just settle into a groove with this first.

Besides, my character (the gnome rogue) was designated defacto leader of the group due to real world RPG experience, and in character Charisma of 20. I usually try to play the mysterious warrior or sorceror supreme, so trying the spotlight role should be fun. It becomes more fun when most of the new players just ran with "male" as their default gender while my"leader" had their gender randomly determined. Male Barbarian, Male Monk, Male Wizard...led by a Female Rogue.

Let's see where that takes us.

25 May, 2015

Critique of an Online Controversy

I've made some comments over the past few days indicating that I was writing a research paper into the #GamerGate controversy as a part of my university coursework. This drew a bit of attention from a few different directions. For those who were interested, here's a link to my current paper.

Character Assassins and Social Justice Warriors

I'm fully aware that there is a bias in the title, most articles and papers do have a bias like this in the attempt to show how things have been read. I'm also aware of the scope of the data set used to draw my conclusions, I hope this has been adequately conveyed in the paper. I just hope it's a reasonable discussion on the matter based on the analysis I've conducted, and there are no major leaps of faith needed for a reader to reach the conclusions I did.

Back to our regularly scheduled posts shortly.

24 May, 2015

A Grand Annual Game

This was going to be a quick post about Eurovision and the way there seems to be an underlying game element to the voting system. But I realise a lot of people haven't seen it, still intend to watch it, and this post would be full of spoilers for them.

The post is still coming, but it might appear tomorrow.

23 May, 2015

Mage 20th Anniversary Edition

My favourite all time mindbending chaos journey is back. I've had the chance to look at certain bits of it, and it's the same game I know and love, but with everything turned up to 11. It's full colour, and that's great for a game that's about exploring the limits of the imagination, most of the artwork I've seen is great, but there are a few pieces that are a bit ordinary.

I love the idea that the game doesn't define anything, it's basically a toolkit to define your world with, just like the magical powers that the characters play with, and manipulate through their will. I like that the traditions now have a choice of magickal spheres to focus on, and the concept of the internet as we now know it has been integrated into the game (while it was thought to take a very different form back in the early 90s when the game was first written).

It's interesting (in this version that i'm reading through), that certain editorial issues have slipped through the cracks. On one page the Sons of Ether have taken on the name "Society of Ether" to reflect the embrace of women into their ranks, but on the Tradition's description pages they are still referred to as the "Sons". Same for the Akashic Brotherhood, Euthanatos, Dreamspeakers, Cult of Ecstasy, and Virtual Adepts. I'm not sure if the old names were kept in the tradition write ups to maintain consistency, or if they should have been swapped over.

I do like that the Technocracy and Crafts have been integrated into the core book.

On the whole, flicking through this book has been like catching up with an old friend, there are a few changes, developments and an added maturity, but most of it is familiar and exactly as I'd expect it to be.

Damn it, now I want to play a game.

22 May, 2015


Not much time for typing now, just taking a quick break from data analysis for a university course.

The data I'm analysing is the cesspool known as Gamergate. I'm analysing it from a linguistic/pragmatic perspective to determine where insults occur, how those insults work and if we can really determine whether it's about misogyny or about ethics in games journalism. Individually, certain elements of data look innocuous, but certain patterns are definitely forming.

I don't want to talk about this too much.

I think I'll need to shower,and maybe disinfect myself by the time I've waded through all the vitriol.

Then I'll be able to go back to discussing more pleasant topics, like hideous space mutants, psychic fungal toxins, and ways to inflict slow, bleeding, lingering death on player characters.

21 May, 2015

Randomness in NPCs

Something I was really thinking about when in the early stages of designing the Hold Em NPC Generator was the fact that I wanted the NPCs to be "balanced", whatever the hell that means.

The way the first three cards of the flop work out, it reminds me a bit of the old Shadowrun character generation system where you get a bunch of categories and you get to prioritise them. One can be at the best level, one at the second best, moving down through the ranks. Everyone has the same levels to play with, but they may prioritise them in different ways.

The problem with the Hold Em method (if you see it as a problem), is that you get dealt three random cards from a deck, and you might end up with a J,Q,K or you might end up with a 2,3,4. You still get to allocate these cards in different ways, but both of these characters will be very different, and if the card ranks say anything about power levels at all then the first character made with face cards will be far more powerful.

I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter. Most of the players I've gamed with over the years expect a degree of balance between their player characters, but they expect NPCs to come at a range of levels. Sometimes a powerful NPC won't make a lot of impact on the story as they'll be avoided after the first couple of appearances, and sometimes a weak NPC will become a favourite part of the narrative because they ground the characters in the mundane world. The reverse can also be true, it really depends on the way the story unfolds and the way these characters are portrayed.

That was really liberating, the NPCs can be of random ability type, as well as random ability level. I was worried that the three scales for card application in the flop, one having a distinct mechanism in place to ensure the lower levels of the scale are more commonly available than the higher levels, two having increased power when higher cards are applied to them, and one category that really has no mechanical benefit/modification. For NPCs this is fine, some are more powerful than others, some are just quirky side characters.

I've thought the same things about player characters as well, but it's often harder to justify against players who say that it's just unfair.

I had thought about changing the core structure of the generator at a few times during it's development, but I think that I'll just leave it as is for the moment. I'll probably change things up as I produce different generators, the Medieval generator will have different ways of producing characters in small towns/villages versus large towns/cities (and the system of influence will be quite different), the Post Apocalyptic generator will derive characters in a more gritty way that (and influence might be swapped out with quirky goods the characters possess).

There's still lots of potential to be explored here.

20 May, 2015

...and we're live.

The Hold 'Em NPC Generator for Modern Characters has just gone live on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG.

Here's the link

Hopefully it sells a few copies in the next couple of weeks, that'll certainly get me motivated to create a few more generators along these lines.

Next project

Over the weekend, I went to "Comic Gong", a comic festival run by the council of the city of Wollongong. It was held in three venues, the city library, the city art gallery, and the town hall. Entry was free because it was all organised by the local government (which meant venues were cost the convention nothing to use). Despite free entry, it was a lot less crowded than most comic conventions I've been to. I even managed to track down some of the organisers about setting up a table at next years convention, expecting a typical $200 fee for the chance...but this year the local vendor tables were free as well (next year there might be a $20 fee).

Long story short #1, I need to get stuff together in the next 12 months to display to the world.

Long story short #2, I met a bunch of great artists who I'd love to share money with by launching some crowd-funded projects and getting them to illustrate for me. I've even found a local miniatures sculptor who said he'd love to do some collaboration with me.

I still want to knock down and finish some of the backburner projects I've had sitting around for too long... the fantasy version of FUBAR, additional "Hold Em" sets, "Other Strangeness", "Walkabout" ...but now I'm thinking of ways that I might be able to incorporate other people into those.

For the moment, university assignments to complete...then back to the designing.

19 May, 2015

Text Done, Now Images

Just letting everyone know that I've almost finished the Hold 'Em NPC generator.

The text is complete, now I'm just trying to search through my hard drives for some suitable images that might be appropriate to scatter throughout it.

It could probably do with some decent cover art, but that might need to be something I take care of when a few more have been generated and a hardcopy is crowdfunded (or made available for sale through DrivethruRPG/RPGNow).

I'm pretty happy with this little project and I hope other people will be too.

One more project almost knocked off this year's "to do" list.

18 May, 2015

Regarding votes and polls

About 8 hours ago I posted my first poll on G+, I've seen plenty of other polls on subjective things like "Who do you think is the worst companion on Nu-Dr.Who?" or "What's the best D&D setting?", but I thought I'd do something a bit different. I created a rendered CG form that I'd been working on, stripped away all the context, and asked people to pick a size for it.

  1. Handheld
  2. The size of a single person escape pod
  3. Maybe the size of a small shuttle
  4. A cruiser (maybe 100m)
  5. Massive (a kilometre or so)

Here's the image.

It was proposed that maybe the form was the size of a tablet "Take two of these an call me in the morning" (+David VC), and certainly that was a size option I hadn't added to the mix.

At this point, I've had 53 votes in the following pattern

  1. 6
  2. 7
  3. 13
  4. 16
  5. 11

Generally, that gives high votes around the small shuttle or cruiser size. I can see that, the level of detailing might need to be higher in a larger form, the bulbous forms at one end (which might be fuel pods) and the structural scaffolding seem to imply upper and lower limits around that point.

I'm seeing the various vote levels as exponential size categories, each one ten times longer than the one before.

  1. 10 - 20cm
  2. 1 - 2m
  3. 10 - 20m
  4. 100 - 200m
  5. 1km - 2km

With that in mind I'm thinking of throwing some formulas down to determine an average size for this thing. The mean average of the 53 votes is 3.35849. Because our votes are in an exponential progression of "10 to the x", we'd need to apply this mean average as an exponent. This gives us a figure around 2282.91. The base size is 10-20 cm (lets call it 15)...and that gives us an overall length of 342.43 metres.

A preliminary render of this piece of technology in the Darkhive might look like this. I think it's actually a bit big for the scale democratically chosen by the people (maybe twice as big as it needs to be), but I'll sort that out in the next render. There would also need to be some kind of damaged roof section where the ship/artefact crashed into the hive (unless it mystically teleported into it's current location).

I'll throw in a few more overgrown rubble piles and maybe a shanty town that scavenges stuff from this wreckage to trade with other communities.

Here's a wireframe of that model (before I've made the scale modifications).

 Time to modify some scales before we go much further.

17 May, 2015

Online Tabletop Gaming

Today I intended to spend an hour or two watching a roleplaying game being played out over a Google+ Hangout. It was being hosted by +Kyrinn S. Eis, pretty similar to something that I've run at conventions before (characters with little understanding of who they are, waking up from cryostasis, we then explore the characters as we explore the world), but using her own system (something that I offered some suggestions on during the week).

In her time, it was 8.30pm on Saturday night, which made it 10.30am on Sunday for me. My wife Leah was sick, so I didn't go along to my regular Sunday LARP, and the recent upgrade to our internet has made Google+ Hangouts vaguely possible. I hadn't really participated in one before, but watching it seemed a good way to put my toe in the water. I engaged the hangout just after the starting time, and became swept away in the game, with two other players (+Ethel B and +Keith Bailey). The biggest issue I had was a sick wife at the far end of the house, so I couldn't give the game the full attention it deserved (and I apologize to the GM and other players for that). I don't know if anyone else was watching, I couldn't see observers. I also wasn't sure of the controls on the Hangouts App on my iPad, because it was literally my first attempt at using this technology.

The game system was fairly simple, and felt very freeform in places, not Australian freeform but the way I've come to understand Americans to describe "freeform" gaming. Highly appropriate for the game's premise, where meatiness seems derived from direct character interaction rather than filtering everything through dice and other mechanisms.

As the game unfolded, it became apparent that I was some kind of biomedical specialist (named Dr. Johnson), Keith was playing a fix-it man (named William), and Ethel was some kind of primitive warrior (whose name vaguely translated into "Strong Girl" if I remember correctly). The building we awoke in was collapsing, and there were a few tense moments when we encountered soldiers who seemed to be patrolling the area. The only one of us who was a combatant certainly had no idea what a gun was, so conflict seemed a bad idea. Not a whole lot more happened before I was called away, but I'd be interested to see more about where this setting might lead, and how these characters might evolve.

I'd certainly be willing to give this another chance, especially giving Kyrinn another chance as GM (or, I'd be more than happy to have her play or either of the other two players in a game I might run using the Hangout technology some time in the future). I guess my first participation in the Contessa Online RPG convention can generally be considered a success.

16 May, 2015

Welcome to Darkhive

While I was painting, my computer was working away rendering some CGI. These are for the long term work in progress tentatively titled "Darkhive", a ruined hulk deep adrift in astral spece, inhabited by the descendants of it's original crew and numerous other races who have become caught in its gravity well.

The basic ship is a dyson sphere within a dyson sphere. At the centre is a sub-black hole, maybe a neutron star, may a fragment of a white dwarf,or a naked singualrity...it doesn't really matter except that this power source is immense and will continue producing powered for hundreds of thousands of years.

The major open habitable zone of the ship exists between the dyson sphere layers. Above and below this zone are complex labyrinths of passages, chambers, and arcane technologies that sustain the ship. The problem with living in the major habitable zone are the mutated predators (some swim, some fly), so most people live in the passages above and beneath.

Here's the images that the computer worked on while I was painting. Gradually building up the intended mood of the hive.

And here's a partially cutaway overview of the hive shape.

There's far more to it than this, but the computer can only handle so much.

15 May, 2015

A Day of Painting

Not really a game design post today. Instead, these are some images I posted today on G+ and Facebook. I basically started with a blank canvas and posted a Work-in-progress shot every half hour or so.

Still a bit more work to do, but I'm pretty happy with the result from today's painting session. 

Maybe a painted book cover might adorn an upcoming game product.

13 May, 2015

NPC Generator Preview

I've started laying out the first Hold 'Em NPC generator.

Here's a peek at the first few pages for anyone who is interested.

More to come soon.

12 May, 2015

Rates of Change

In the last couple of days I've been looking at the total number of people in a setting, and how those people might break down into leaders, heroes, allies, and regular plebs. Previously I looked at starting levels for characters, they all vaguely tie together into the demographics of a setting and the types of inherent tales that might be told within that setting. Another factor to consider is character advancement, that's something else I've been considering a bit lately.

Rate of character advancement is definitely linked into the power levels, the number of people at those respective power levels, and what needs to be done to get between one level and another. This isn't a discussion for people who want iron-clad definitions of game balance, the very nature of having one character more powerful than another brings asymmetry to the table. It's also important to consider that power may be defined according to a few different metrics.

In super hero games it's often easy to see discrepancy in power levels. One character has awesome special powers (he is a virtual god with a "magic" hammer), another has a special knack that gives them an advantage if they're in the right situation (she can talk to squirrels), while others are just the regular rank and file that makes up the wider world. Such powers are often pretty static, but characters are able to develop the selves in other ways. All other things being equal, the awesome powered character might always beat the minor powered one, but if the lower powered character has social capital in the form of allies, reputation, or personality, they might be able to turn the tables. The powers remain the same, but the characters still have the chance of developing in other areas.

In other settings, similar things might apply. Maybe the physical stats remain the same (or even degrade over time), while mental stats improve and influence throughout the world expands. That might be a fun concept for a game revolving around Knights or Samurai at the twilight of their career on the battlefield.

What I'm thinking about more specifically though is the start of a character's story...not backstory, the point where we meet them and where we move forward. I like heroic tales, so I start the characters somewhere near the middle and hope to watch them ascend to confront the figures at the top. But how long does this take? If it only takes a single session/adventure to get from middle of the pack to the higher levels, then why don't everyone end up at this level? Maybe a simple answer is that stories and adventures capable of bringing such transcendence are very rare phenomena. It probably makes more sense that these events are a bit more common, but regular folk have an aversion to adventure (as we see among the Hobbits of the shire in Tolkein's work...and has basically become a trope of it's own). Under this idea, adventures are there for the taking, and you might gain enlightenment/power through their pursuit, but you have to sacrifice something for that chance. This is basically where the heroes journey fits, so many of us know the routine.

Another route to take is the L5R/caste system route. If you're telling stories of honour, a character might never ascend from one level to the next, but a great deed might see the next generation begin with higher status than the last. In tales like this, it could be very frustrating to play an entire campaign where nothing changes but the hope that a new campaign will see a possible improvement in station. Some people like these "slice of life" simulations of existence in other worlds, I find them a bit tedious.

In the live game I'm currently a part of, I've played a number of sessions where I haven't seen any improvement in my character. Everything works of training through accumulated gold, and I needed 1000 gold to pick up a new ability. Each game you gain 150 gold minimum, and pick up 50 to 100 gold (split among your team) for completing various tasks. It would have taken 7 games of typical play to reach that gold requirement, and the benefit really wasn't all that great. The designers have developed a system for long term play, working on the idea that a player could consistently show up and continue to actively pursue goals for a few years before they'd maxxed out their character. But the development process is slo-o-o-ow, I can see a lot of players leaving the game (and have already seen a few do so) because they aren't seeing any improvement or benefit for their attendance. Everyone is rouly equal, and those who've been there since the beginning are only slightly better off. It's a legitimate design technique, but the ramifications of such design need to be considered.

D&D 3.0/3.5 worked off the idea that 13 encounters would see a level of improvement in the characters. If a session consisted of 4-5 encounters, then every two or three games would see a level boost. When characters had the potential to gain 20 levels, that meant maybe 50-60 games in a character's career from green newbie to legendary hero. One level of increase in this type of game is fairly dramatic, as combat skills change, spells are gained, knowledge is acquired and other benefits added. So it's a pretty fast progression, it all depends on the types of stories you want to tell.

Point buy systems don't see general improvement across all categories, so I expect more chances for smaller increments of improvement. Instead of seeing six different areas get a +1 at the end of every third game, I'd expect a single area to get a +1 at least once or twice a game, or at least see the character change in response to the story being told (your response to the event has given you +1 here, but -1 there). I don't need character improvement, but do like to see character evolution and transformation. If a character isn't changing, what's the point of the story. Seeing a character transcend their starting level to become someing more powerful (something with stronger agency within the narrative) is satisfying, seeing a character make their mark on the wider community regardless of their power level even more so.

What am I basically trying to say in this post? It's been another meander through my current thoughts, and I like to see character development match the demographics of the setting. Improvement is good if there is scope within the setting for characters to move up in the power hierarchy, change is just as good if characters can affect the wider world in some way, or if their actions can be reflected in their self-transformation.

Just the things I've been thinking about lately.

11 May, 2015

How many heroes?

My last post, entitled "How many people?", basically looked at a closed ecosystem population. It looked at the minimum number of people to generally be sustainable before problems occured. The post didn't look at these things from a "scientifically accurate" set of statistics, but more to get a general vibe for what might be a good minimum number to work with from a storytelling perspective, and how those number might reflect the distinct cultural groups that might form in a closed environment. It was a part of my background thoughts for the "Darkhive" project, but also informs the population levels in the post apocalyptic "Walkabout" setting.

"Darkhive" works on the assumption that all of the people in the setting are mixed blooded descendants of an original "Astral Cruiser" adrift for millennia in the furthest reaches of hyperspace, it works off the standard minimum numbers for a "generation ship". New blood only comes from other ships caught in it's mystical "gravity wake", ships that have crashed into it's outer hull. Then the setting increases those numbers by a reasonable magnitude so that a range of unique cultures might develop.

"Walkabout" works on the assumption that Earth has been hit by a metaphysical apocalypse, where the spirit guardians of the planet have risen up against the atrocities casued by man and have taken matters into their own hands after millennia of sleeping. 99.9% of the population is wiped out (90% through trigger nuclear defenses and war between nations when the apocalypse hits, 90% of the remainder in rioting and lawlessness after the infrastructure of society decays, then a final 90% are unable to survive the nuclear/metaphysical winter, before the game begins in a new spring). In a global population of 8 billion, this drops to about 8 million...in a continental population of about 25 million, Australia drops to 25 thousand. The city of Sydney would drop from 5 million to 5 thousand. This might be a bit too much of a drop to be sustainable in the long run. The numbers have never been hard and fast.

When looking at survivor numbers in Walkabout, we're looking at the number of people with good stories to tell, and people who have something special about them to help survuve the worst of times. As a society, we've become attracted to post apocalyptic fiction over the past decade because it is a scenario of equalisation, money counts for nothing when the banks and credit industry is destroyed, fame counts for nothing when the communication systems are gone. If you can do something practical, you're chances of survival are higher. It's a chance to shake off "big government" and "big corporations" to prove that we can do it on our own. The problem is that most people can't. I've always run "Walkabout" in my head with a basic survival formula based on the size of towns where people currently live. In bigger towns and cities, people are more interconnected and rely more heavily on the infrastructure around them; people in smaller towns are more independent; and people who live alone in the wilderness don't rely much on that global infrastructure at all. There may be more survivors in larger towns, but as a percentage of original population, there will be more survivors in smaller towns. This works in Australia because most cities and towns have vast tracts of open land between them, and each village/town/city can be modified as a discreet unit.

Here I apply a formula where "survivors = (cube root of original inhabitants) times 10". So, in a city of 1 million people, we end up with 1000 survivors. A larger city of 3.375 million would end up with 1500 survivors, a small town of 4000 people would end up with 200 survivors, and a tiny outback homestead of 27 people might actually grow to 30 after a few survivors managed to survive the trek to somewhere safe. I've used nice numbers that find easy cubed roots for these examples, but you get the idea. It's not a perfect system, but it's a good starting point.

This brings me to heroes, protagonists, allies, and the other characters in a setting that are comparable to the player characters. We play these games and tell these stories for the purposes of escapism, we like to portray unique and individual snowflakes, set apart from the wider world through our special powers, abilities and narratives. Where we draw the balance says a lot about the stories we'll tell. 

If everyone exists at the same power level as our avatars within the world, then their really isn't anything particularly special about our characters. That's not a bad thing, it just means we'll probably be telling grittier stories about the common person in this setting. Some of the characters encountered will be more powerful than the protagonists we are portraying, and at these times our story might veer toward that of the underdog. More commonly though, our roleplaying sessions work on the assumption that the characters are more powerful, and set apart from the wider populace in some way.

In the Classic World of Darkness, there was a ratio given for vampires in the world. A population in any urban environment should not exceed 1 in 100,000 mortals, otherwise the masquerade might be more likely to be breached. This worked well in a city like Sydney with 4-5 million people because it gave 40-50 vampires (certainly enough for interesting politics). In smaller towns that might limit vampires to less than 3, not enough to really form a good party of player characters, and certainly not enough to bring antagonists of equal power into the mix. Still, it's a useful ratio to think about.

A game like L5R works on the conceit that the characters are members of high ranking families within a pseudo-Japanese empire, with retainers on command and numerous peasant around them as they perform their feats of heroism and honour. Large families might have tens of thousands of members, small families might have only a few hundred, and then there are the thousands of peasants who have no formal "family" but are basically treated as cattle and slaves to keep the empire running. Here it might be better to look at a formula like the "Walkabout survivor". Let's say there is always a single leader of a family, they have an inner circle of heroes, courtiers and generals, the there is an outer circle of lesser heroes (among whom are the player characters), then a wider group of valued retainers, and everyone else linked to the family are unnamed peasants. The characters exist in the middle with respect to power level, but toward the apex of the pyramid with respect to numbers. I can't remember if there is a minimum "family size" in L5R, but I do remember that every Great Clan has 3 main families and a scattering of smaller associated families (lesser clans typically have only a single family, and assorted retainers without family name).

Let's say a family has a minimum of 500 members, and may have up to 20,000. 

There would be 1 family head (or daimyo).
I'd run with an inner circle of "fourth root times two" (10 for the smallest families, and up to 22 for the largest)
Then an outer circle of "cubed root times five" (35 for the smallest families, and up to 135 for the largest)
A number of valued retainers equal to "square root times ten" (200 for the smallest, up to 1400 for the largest)
Then everyone else is an unnamed peasant (255 for the smallest, up to about 18500 for the largest)

If we look at the player characters being in that "outer circle" group, and their valued retainers in the next group down (where inner circle members have twice the share of retainers as the PCs) we see that members of small families might have about 5 retainers at most, while members if large families might have up to 10. Bigger families mean more power, but far more politics to get even further ahead.

The stories change based on the numbers.

I'm thinking of basing settlements within the "Darkhive" on this set of numbers I've shown for my L5R games (using levels of "Settlement Leader", "Counsellors and Elders", "Heroes and Captains", "Contacts, Allies and Militia", "Survivors and Scavengers"), and similar for the mutants in "Other Strangeness" (using levels of "Force of Nature", "Powerful Mutant", "Starting Mutant", "Special Human", "Regular Human").

As always, things are subject to change.

10 May, 2015

How many people?

A self contained "mega-dungeon" ecosystem contains enough people to prevent inbreeding, I vaguely remember that the absolute minimum population for this was 2 to the tenth or eleventh power (therefore 1024 or 2048 people). This would prevent inbreeding chances from cousins, second cousins, or even third cousins interbreeding, it would even ensure multiple generations had numerous viable options for breeding without genetic complication.

But is it enough people for something to justifiably be called a "mega-dungeon", are there enough people for distinct cultures to develop? If a war broke out, how many people can we afford to lose before the population becomes unviable? I'm looking at a few interbreeding racial genotypes, and a few cultural groups that blend into one another at the edges (have a look at my Worldbuilding 101 series to get an idea of how that works).

At this stage, I'm thinking of 50,000+ citizens, divided into a couple of larger groups at about 10,000 members each, smaller groups of 2000 to 5000 members, and a few unsustainable groups (that will have to blend into a larger group, or simply die out in a few generations) of 500 to 1000 members. Maybe 10 races at most.

That's not including the hostile aliens/monsters that also inhabit the complex. 

At an average density of 10 people per square kilometre (where every square kilometre riddled with dozens of tunnels and hundreds of chambers) and with most of those people clustered into shanties where they've found fresh water sources and edible fungi patches (or farms). You could explore for days in this complex without seeing another living soul.

09 May, 2015

It is coming

One of many backburner projects that is getting closer to a formal release is the "Hold 'Em NPC Generator", a quick way to generate background information for the background characters that protagonists interact with in their stories.

Here's one of the flop tables that will form the generator.

Role – Public Persona (you may not allocate the highest ranked flop card here, unless there are two cards of that rank)

Hearts – Socialites
Clubs – Enforcers
Diamonds - Wealthy
Spades -  Crafters
Pimp or Madame
Gang Leader
Pawn Shop Dealer
Drug Source
Gang Member
Drug Dealer
Local Gossip
Pencil Pusher
Neighbourhood Watch
Trust Fund Brat
Private Investigator
Office Manager
Master Tradesperson
Security Guard
Military Grunt
Corporate Manager
Police Officer
Military Officer
Corporate CEO
New-Money Millionaire
Bishop/Senior Clergy
Old-Money Millionaire
Master Artisan
Police Captain
Royal/Noble Lineage
Celebrity Artisan
Military General

Texas Hold 'Em works with three cards as the flop, followed by a river card and a turn card (these generators allow you to allocate any of the first three flop cards between the three flop tables, then the river and turn cards are applied directly to the river and turn tables respectively).

08 May, 2015

Renaming Things...

Maybe I should have titled that last post "Applying a Bell Curve to Any Die Roll".

1d8 with a bell curve

I think the gaming world is finally ready for this concept, a combination of ideas I've had for years.

I was thinking about the concept of an in-game economy the other day. Where Characters would come to town with a pile of resources to trade, they'd earn credit that could only be used in this town, then buy up new things once they left for trade in the next town.

If each thing is valued seperately but in a range, you could just roll a bunch of dice and the final result would fall into a bell curve.

Scrap metal is worth d8 credits in this town...I'll trade the ten bits of scrap metal on my wagon, and roll 10d8 to see how much they'll give me for it. Maybe (but highly unlikely) they give me less than 20 if they've got a glut of scrap metal in town, it's just as likely they'll give me 70 or more if it's in scarce supply. More likely they'll offer me a value in the mid 40s. 

It works well when you've got lots of items to trade, and the dice average out into a nice bell curve. But what if you've only got one bit of metal to trade? It's just as likely you'll get a high, medium or low result, rather than the push toward those middling values.

Here's my remedy, based on the scoring system of Olympic diving and gymnastics. 

Always roll two more dice than you need to, then drop the highest roll and the lowest roll. If you need one die, you're rolling three dice and keeping the middle score...if you need ten dice, then you're rolling twelve and keeping the middle ten. 

When you're rolling buckets lf dice, the removal of those top and bottom results doesn't do much, but the result is falling into a general bell curve anyway. If you've got a low number of dice (or even only one), the removal of those dice instantly pushes the result from a flat result into the general bell curve progression.

You can see this when you use the "Middle" function on Anydice.com

output [middle 1 of 3d8]

output 1d8

I'm only really thinking of this for use in trade goods and bartering comparisons at this stage, because we want a common value and the chance of things being worth more or less (but less likelihood of the further deviations).

It could work with any die size, d8 is just the example used in this post.

07 May, 2015

Font Porn

I love it when I run across someone who collects links for interesting fonts.

That happened tonight, and I thought I'd share some of their links.

or these

Ah...I won't bother showing them all, just head across to the site...here.

It's funny looking through sites like this and seeing what other people refer to as "Roleplaying".

06 May, 2015

Map Creation Tools

For those interested in cartography, this just came across my radar.

I'll be trying a few of them out shortly, and might offer some reviews if people are interested.

05 May, 2015

Urban Geomorphs

Just somthing else I've been working on.

Like the Hold 'Em NPCs I described in the last post, this is a quick method for setting up things during a game of "Other Strangeness", but generic enough that they might be useful for any game set in a modern oeuvre. I'm thinking of generating up a dozen or so different alleyway morphs (each in a daytime and a nighttime colouring, reversable on the printed tile), then a few other options such as sewers, streets, shopping centres/malls, parklands. After I get through these, there might be options for modular mix-n-match apartments for characters to explore and engage in conflicts.

The "Other Strangeness" game doesn't use grid based movement, these geomorphs are more designed to show the feel fr the area, and generally divide a conflict into "zones", how far is this zone from that zone (adjacent equals close range, being in the same zone is melee range). Throwing the grids onto the maps mkes them more useful for players who might want to build custom maps for a heroclix combat, or some other game that does use square grid movement.

Hold 'Em NPCs

A few years ago I created a little thing called the "Hold Em Scene Generator", using the mechanisms of Texas Hold 'Em (3 cards first, followed by two more in sequence) to create a range of quick scenes that might be easily added into any medieval/fantasy campaign fairly seamlessly. It worked well, I was happy with it, I wanted to revisit the concept for sci-fi, modern, and other settings. But like many things, I got distracted and moved onto other projects that seemed more pressing at the time.

I've been doing a little work in that regard over the past couple of days. Not so much using Texas Hold 'Em to create scenes, but instead using it to rapidly develop interesting NPCs (their place in the world, their attitudes, their goals). This specifically doesn't include game statistics, I'm trying to make sure it's open and accessible to any game, but more to add the depth that many game systems don't think about.

The idea is still nowhere near complete, and it requires more work before I consider it suitable for public consumption, I just thought I'd share something that should be appearing soon.

01 May, 2015

Goblins Revisited

If you bought a copy of my Goblin Tarot Deck, some of these images probably look familiar. I found them again, and I'll be usng them to attach to my recent "200 Word RPG" design that is morphing into a board game.

I think that the goblin aesthetic suits the game pretty well. Give it a couple of weeks and it might be ready for playtesting.