30 November, 2015

A paper on Cosplay and the interface of play between adults and children

There were a few people interested in my recent university paper on cosplay. It must have scored well, I'm not sure of the final mark (because these aren't given out due to final scaling and other university procedures) but it pulled my marks from a low passing grade to a credit at the end of semester. That means I'm happy enough to share it publicly with those who wanted to have a look.

I'm Batman

Any feedback would be appreciated, I'm considering doing something similar in more detail for further university work.

28 November, 2015

Hand Drawn Pixel Maps

Inspired by the simple, flat, pictorial maps of +Matthew Lowes, I've decided to give all of the towns in the Core FUBAR setting (The Micronesian Free Trade Zone of Mu) a similar treatment.

They aren't exactly in the same style that Matthew produces his maps, there are more curves here and the forested areas are depicted in a different fashion. I won't be adding colour to the maps, instead I'll be using different types of shading to display different elements. Each of these maps will be transferred across to a blueprint format, like the previous map I displayed for the setting. I'll probably compile these (and the next half dozen or so) onto one or two large format images, with zoom indicators showing where these locations are on the larger island map.

27 November, 2015

Alternate Currency and Global Conspiracies

In a specific group of islands in the western pacific, among the clusters that make up the nation of Micronesia, there is a very distinct form of currency. I found this out while doing research for the new FUBAR core setting, and thought that it was an awesome idea that could be used for all sorts of story potential.

This is called stone money, or Rai, it's most common on Palau.

Rai, or stone money (Yapese: raay), are large, circular stone disks carved out of limestone formed from aragonite and calcite crystals. Rai stones were quarried on several of the Micronesian islands, mainly Palau, but briefly on Guam as well, and transported for use as money to the island of Yap.

People don't carry stone money around with them, instead the community is aware of who owns which stone. These stones are typically used for major transactions, such as the purchase of land or a ship, political deals, ransoms, inheritance, or something noteworthy. The specific value of the stone does not have a quantifiable dollar figure (despite the US dollar being a common trade unit for smaller transactions in areas such as Guam where the stones are used), instead the value of the stone is purely qualitative, linked to the craftsmanship of the item, the prestige of the various people in the stone's lineage of ownership and the numerous anecdotes that build up the stone's story.

The stronger the story, the more power the stone has... that alone makes it a great form of currency to sit in the background of a FUBAR story. The mechanisms of play already reflect this concept.

I'm thinking that these stones make the perfect crypto-currency in a cyberpunk tax-haven setting. You can't tax these transactions, because you can't chip away at these stones. The value is specifically off the books, but hugely culturally significant. I could easily imagine an increased value through trades of these stones, to the point where entire companies are traded in exchange for a rock that never physically moves. The chamber of commerce and master bankers of the region would be a coven of tribal elders who might spend their days fishing, hunting, weaving, or doing other decidedly non-technological things. These elders wouldn't have to do live their lives in such a way, they would each be worth billions of dollars. Corporate CEOs would bribe them give them gifts, to ensure the most favourable trades occurred as stones moved from person to person, and company to company. It might even be possible for entire nations to be traded as commodities in exchange for the possession of a slab of stone in a sacred grotto on a pacific island.

Mercenaries would be hired to deface (or even destroy) the stones, and counter-operatives would lie in the jungle to prevent any such attacks from occurring. Failed attempts to destroy or deface a stone might improve it's anecdotal worth (or might improve the value of all tones if the specific target remained unidentified). Successful attempts to destroy or deface a stone might send global stock markets into chaos.
Meanwhile the elders live out their lives, maybe they know the true power these stones have over the world. Maybe they don't.

24 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Maps

I'm thinking of putting together a half dozen maps for the new FUBAR setting. Maybe getting them printed at A2 size, and presenting them in a leather map-roll tube, or something similar. The aim is to create an "in-world" artefact that might be used for plotting the adventures of the characters as they explore the setting, or plot their revenge on the people who have wronged them. 

I like the idea of props at the table, and something like this could be a tangible way of ensuring that evryone is on the same page when the story starts to get chaotic. It also helps to show how different parts of the setting are related to one another (especilly if someone decides to set off explosives that destroy a few city blocks, or activates a gas cloud covering a two kilometre radius, or some other crazy deed). 

23 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Equipment and Nouns

FUBAR was always cyberpunk at it's heart, it was about downtrodden scoundrels who've been kicked to the curb, and their stories as they regain their vengeance amidst mysteriosu corporations and conspiracies in a world that vaguely reflects our own. It was a reimagining of cyberpunk based on the notion that the cyberpunk time period is basically the time when we are living now (the second decade of the 21st century). Now it's more cyber-noir, but the's still a lot of cyber-punk going on in the core setting of the game. The shift is subtle, there's now more a sense of overwhelming ennui, the characters know that they've made choices in the past and those choices have led them to these points, but the is an overwhelming feeling that they ween't completely responsible for the actions that brought them here. Maybe they were blackmailed, maybe they were manipulated by femme fatales, suave gamblers, or dirty enforcers of powers better left unspoken. There are cults in this setting, just as much as there are shadowy corporations. Everything is left vague enough that players can do with them what they will, but detailed enough to provide a meaty bait and hook.

That brings me to equipment and the strange macguffins that drive stories like these.

A few recent conversations in various places recently have focused on granularity. One mentioned the granularity of skills... Should they be open and nebulous concepts vaguely determined through attribute rolls (and how many attributes are there anyway)?... Should a game go down the path where every type of action is defined by a specific skill, and sub-skill? Is "shooting" good enough, do you need a separate skill to fire an AK-47 versus an M-16? I've seen games go down both routes, but FUBAR tends toward the vague. "Shoot" is a skill, but a character might be known for firing rifles and thus have a beneficial relationship come into effect when firing one... They might even have a close relationship with "AK-47s" which is revealed during the course of play as their background in among Afghanistani freedom fighters is revealed.

I've seen similar conversations about various other aspects of play, including one person ask if there were any "cyberpunk games without equipment porn". Cyberpunk 2020 was known for its "Chromebooks" filled with cyberware and gadgetry. Shadowrun did similar things. Ghost/Echo, the spiritual ancestor of FUBAR, did the exact opposite...no real equipment at all.

Generally in FUBAR, things follow the narrative conventions of getting more detailed as they become more important to the story. Unless an ally has a specific name, they simply count as a mook, and add an advantage benefit. Once they have a name, an ally has a specific skill that they might provide more than just a simple bonus to. If they become important enough they might even get a full write-up as per a starting character, with bonuses and flaws of their own.

I'm basically imagining equipment to follow the same progression. If it's just a gun, it just adds the single trait equipment bonus when it's used. If it's designated a specific type, then you might get to choose a bonus and a penalty for the item... A situation where the item provides an extra bonus, and a situation where the bonus is cancelled altogether. If it's a "Callahan Full Bore Autolock", and it has been designated "Vera", then the character obviously has a relationship to this specific gun.

So, the idea with equipment will be to give some general traits that typically apply to them, thus making them more useful in some ways, but less useful in others. As the items gain significance, they gain traits both positive and negative. The same guns from the same batch, by the same manufacturer might have different traits depending on how they've been treated, and how the are being used. Keeping the traits loose allows players to have a bit more control.

The macguffins generated at the start of play are automatically important to the story, they'll start with a bonus trait or two, and a matching number of penalty traits. 

This whole system works the same for places visited, nefarious groups encountered, and basically everything else in the game.

22 November, 2015

Mind Control: Taking a cue from Jessica Jones

The push toward story driven games, where everyone gets a significant input toward the ongoing narrative runs counter to the idea of deprotagonisation. In this style of play, everyone wants their characters to have importance, they want their decisions to matter and they don't want to lose control. The problem with mind control in a story is that it completely strips away the control that a character might have. Characters under such an influence no longer have the capacity to make their own decisions, they operate at the beck and call of the originator of the mind control.

I've seen players storm out of games when their characters have been mind controlled, I've seen dice rolls cheated, fudged, ignored, I've seen games collapse. Yet still, mind control spells and effects are a part of many rule systems.

After doing my binge watch of Jessica Jones, I can now see a way to keep the decisions of the protagonists important while making mind control an effective part of the narrative. The simplest option is to allow mind control only to work on the mooks and common plebs of the world. The protagonists have a built-in immunity to the effect.

A more complicated way to handle things might be to handle mind control as a past-tense effect. The story begins after the mind control has happened, now the characters have to deal with the repercussions of their actions under the control.

A third option makes the characters aware of the mind control effects, and they have to find a way to avoid such effects if they wish to confront the source.

The series "Jessica Jones" employs all of these techniques, making mind control an integral part of the narrative and keeping the decisions made by the characters important to the ongoing storytelling process.

I have more to ponder with regards to how I can use this. I'm thinking it might tie in well with my Tom-Waits/Crossroad-Demon setting, having players deal with the after effects of mind control while people are being manipulated around them feels very "noir" to me. 

21 November, 2015

Alternate Maps

So many fantasy maps are drawn in a pseudo fantasy style, so I thought I should draw a map in a more modern style. 

This island map for the FUBAR setting in development has been drawn up in a modern topographic style. So far just the pencilling and inking, next to be scanned in then I'll add a few other elements to it.

The FUBAR rewrite - Expanding Social Conflict

Conflict (Social)

In a greasy truck stop on the outskirts of town, Mt Norrington is meeting up with his old adversary, the computer hacker who goes by the name of Frog. Some dice are rolled to determine the relationship before Frog walks through the door. It’s a close relationship (6), where neither side has the upper hand (4), and Alice gets to decide how Norrington and Frog are related (5), she decides that she’ll make this interesting. Norrington knew Frog as Susan when they were going out in college, it was a messy break up.


                “No one calls me that anymore, it’s Frog”

“Why Frog?”

                “Why Not.”

“What brings you here? You know this is my side of town.”

                “Best dirty burgers in town…besides, I wanted to tell you to walk away from your current job.”

“Why? Are you connected to it?”

                “You don’t need to know, but it’s going to get you hurt.”

It’s a quiet location, and Jenny mentions that there are a few cops having a bite. If things escalated to violence it could get very messy very quickly, for both Norrington and Frog, they decide to keep it civil. If things go well Norrington might even turn Frog into an ally for the remainder of the story.  
Like physical conflict, each character rolls dice to see what advantages they might get from the situation (their success result), what they might accidentally give away (their sacrifice) and who describes what happens. The problem here is that neither Norrington nor Frog is particularly social, possibly one of the reasons why they broke up. Alice rolls 4 dice (she is adding Norrington’s Negotiation action); 1, 2, 3, and 5. Jenny rolls 3 dice: 3, 4, and 5.

Alice drops the 1, then allocates 6 to success (full success), and the two advantage traits from the close relationship give three degrees of success. She allocates the 3 to sacrifice (a minor sacrifice) and the 2 to story (so Jenny gets to describe the outcome). Norrington wants to find out what’s going on, because it is affecting himself and the other scoundrels. Jenny allocates Norrington a “inside information” single bonus trait for the short term (one for the trait, one to increase it to short term), he also applies a “confused feelings” trait to Frog (situational). The sacrifice sees Norrington gain a situational “emotionally blackmailed” trait from Frog.   

Jenny also allocates the 5 to success (full success), and the close relationship gives Frog two advantages too, taking the result to three degrees of success. She allocates the 4 to sacrifice (a minor sacrifice) and a 3 to the story (a negotiated outcome). Jenny allocates the success, giving Norrington a “bad memories” double penalty trait for the scene explaining that there was something between the two characters that is starting to make him uneasy, and also an “angry” single situational penalty trait (this could get dangerous with the police around). Since Alice gets to describe the sacrifice, she gives Frog the “Still in Love” trait.

A second round begins.

Alice is still rolling 4 dice for Norrington. The close relationship adds 2 advantages, and the “emotional blackmail”, “angry” and “bad memories (x2)” are adding 4 disadvantages. The result 2, 2, 4, and 6.  

Jenny rolls 3 dice for Frog. The close relationship adds 2 advantages, and the “confused feelings” and “still in love” are adding 2 disadvantages. The result is 3, 5, and 6.

Alice drops one of the 2s. The she has a tough decision, she could allocate the 6 to success and the 4 to sacrifice; she’ll get three advantages from the task, but with all the associated disadvantages, even a minor sacrifice leaves her with two more disadvantages to deal with. If she allocates the 4 to success and the 6 to sacrifice, she won’t get anything more specific from the task but might be able to neutralise a disadvantage to try again. She could allocate the 6 to story, and gain control of the manipulation of traits due to the task, but that leaves here with no success or a big sacrifice.  She goes with the full success (6), the minor sacrifice (4), and lets the Oracle decide the story (2). Jenny wants there to be something beneficial from this scene, because Norrington is about to be emotionally hit very hard. Of the three degrees of success (due to the success and the two advantages), two are applied to the “Inside information” advantage; one increasing it from short to long term, the other increasing it from a single to a double trait. The final success increases the duration of Frog’s “confused feelings” from situational to short term. Norrington’s minor sacrifice incurs two degrees of sacrifice, these are applied to his “emotional blackmail” trait, increasing it to a long term effect.  
Jenny allocates her 6 to success (full success), her 5 to sacrifice (no sacrifice), and her 3 to story. She says that she’ll determine the success results, since there is no effect due to the sacrifice. The success and the two advantages give three trait manipulations. Frog has been playing the emotional blackmail card throughout this whole conversation, bringing up old arguments and bad blood. Jenny’s first two successes increase the duration on the situational “bad memories (x2)” and “angry” traits, they are now short term. The third success increases the magnitude on the “bad memories”, this is now a triple negative trait, and the hard-as-nails deadly bladeslinger is reduced to a quivering heap, unable to do anything until the end of the act as he tries to regain his composure. Jenny could have been mean and focused all of her successes on increasing the “bad memories” to a long term trait, then raising it to a triple trait which would have removed Norrington from the rest of the story completely, but that wouldn’t have been good for Alice’s enjoyment for the rest of the session, and they’re still only half way through.

Norrington could become an active part of the story if one of the other scoundrels manages to talk him back from the edge, but for their moment, many of them have got their own problems to deal with.

20 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Conflicts

A few more sidebar elements to help explain the rules, this time focusing on the types of conflict that might be found in a FUBAR story.

Alice makes a comment during the course of play about surveillance cameras turning to watch the moves of the lowlifes, and their actions displayed on nearby TV screens (like in the movies), and Jenny thinks that might make a really interesting addition to the story. Taking inspiration from unexpected sources, then trying to combine them into a narrative that meanders between the real and the surreal is what the game is all about. She jots this down on a note.

At a later time in the story, a time occurs when this might be a good fit. Frog is a rogue who has been revealed, but who hasn’t been adequately dealt with by the lowlifes so far, and Jenny figures that he might make a good antagonist responsible for these digital hijinx, and since Frog is related to Mr Norrington, then the group of lowlifes with him will suffer the consequences of the event. Two secret tokens are spent so that everyone present can try to detect what’s happening, then a third is added to raise the tension (if any sacrifices result from the event, they’ll be worse), the Russian Mafia thugs chasing the characters at this point of the story might be alerted to their exact whereabouts. But a success might allow them to identify what happening, and prevent things from getting too out of hand.

Multi-Character Opposed Actions
During play so far, it has been established that Hasani and Preacher have been enemies for a while, stemming back to a repo job that Hasani conducted on the cult Preacher is a part of, this rivalry has only ever escalated over the past couple of years (they are now considered tightly related enemies with no favours owed). When they encounter one another on the street, even just in passing, fireworks flare. Jenny spends three secret tokens to reflect the cult members that surround Preacher, she doesn’t want it to be too easy for Hasani. Preacher would love to capture Hasani to make him pay for years of perceived threats to the cult. Hasani, just wants to defuse the situation until he can get back-up. Hasani is adding “Bluff” to his roll (with “Physically Imposing” and a “Gun” he found as traits adding to the result), Preacher has nothing to add to his roll (but has he three secret tokens worth of cultists to add to his result). Rolls are made.

Ben rolls a 2, 2, 4, and 5 for Hasani. He allocates the 5 to success so that he can get the benefit from being “physically imposing”. A 4 in Sacrifice is a minor sacrifice, and in opposed actions it usually easier to just apply this as a bonus success to the opponent (or cancel out any sacrifice they might get). A 2 in story means that Jenny will be describing the outcome of Hasani’s actions.
Jenny rolls a 3, 4, and 6 for Prophet. She allocates the 6 to success to gain the benefit from the cultists. A 4 in Sacrifice is another minor sacrifice so Jenny just cancels out the two sacrifices to make things quicker and easier. A 3 in story means that Ben and Jenny will share narrative responsibilities for that side of the conflict.

The total outcome has two successes directed from Hasani to Preacher, and four successes directed back from Preacher to Hasani. Hasani’s successes are used to scare off some of Preacher’s cultists (eliminating two of Preacher’s bonus traits), but not before Preacher’s successes cause Hasani to be “heavily mobbed” (-2 negative trait for the remainder of the scene) by members of the public, while also having his “physically Imposing” trait neutralised for the same reasons. Preacher’s last success cancels one of Hasani’s successes (and thus he only loses one bonus trait from the cultists). Things really aren’t looking good for Hasani…if he’s lucky he’ll be able to withdraw from the scene safely, if he’s not lucky, the other lowlifes might spend an upcoming scene rescuing him.

Conflict (Physical)
In a dark alley perpetually shaded by skyscrapers, lined with dumpsters and littered with rubbish two figures face off against one another. Alonzo Jones, non-descript in a dark hoody and jeans, and Agent Lincoln in a dark off-the-rack suit, trenchcoat shifting in the alleyway’s faint breeze. Both pull pistols, Alonzo’s a custom piece unlike anything else in the city, Lincoln’s a government-issue sidearm.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, boy”.

“We were framed”

“We can let the courts decide that”

“The courts are corrupt. I’m not going in.”

Shots echo in the canyon of concrete, steel and glass.

During the course of play it has been established that Alonzo and Lincoln have a loose relationship. The alley is a tight and confined location (a beneficial “confined” trait is applied to the alley), so both combatants get an extra success to hit their opponent. Carl rolls 4 dice for Alonzo (three dice plus one for “shoot”); 2,2,4,6. Jenny also rolls four dice (three plus one for “subdue”); 1,4,6,6.
Carl allocates Alonzo’s 6 to success, 4 to sacrifice and 2 to story. With extra positives due to the loose relationship, the 3d printed dart pistol, and the location Alonzo deals damage worth four successes. Since the Oracle is describing the outcome, Jenny declares that Agent Lincoln has taken a few hits causing him to be heavily injured (-2 penalty) for the remainder of the story (covering the other two points). The minor sacrifice equates to “Low Ammo” on Alonzo’s gun, a second one of these means Alonzo will need to find another means of dealing damage if he wants to stay in the fight.
Jenny allocates Agent Lincoln’s 6 to success, 6 to sacrifice and 4 to story. With bonus traits from relationship and location, Lincoln deals damage worth 3 successes (with no sacrifice). Jenny assigns Alonzo a heavy injury (-2) for the short term, but Agent Lincoln still has plenty of ammo.

If another round of combat occurs, it’s quite likely that at least one of these two will end up incapacitated.  

Conflict (Social)
In a greasy truck stop on the outskirts of town, Mt Norrington is meeting up with his old adversary, the computer hacker who goes by the name of Frog. Some dice are rolled to determine the relationship before Frog walks through the door. It’s a close relationship (6) , where neither side has the upper hand (4), and Alice gets to decide how Norrington and Frog are related (5), she decides that she’ll make this interesting. Norrington knew Frog as Susan when they were going out in college, it was a messy break up.


                “No one calls me that anymore, it’s Frog”

“Why Frog?”

                “Why Not.”

“What brings you here? You know this is my side of town.”

                “Best dirty burgers in town…besides, I wanted to tell you to walk away from your current job.”

“Why? Are you connected to it?”

                “You don’t need to know, but it’s going to get you hurt.”

It’s a quiet location, and Jenny mentions that there are a few cops having a bite. If things escalated to violence it could get very messy very quickly, for both Norrington and Frog, they decide to keep it civil. If things go well Norrington might even turn Frog into an ally for the remainder of the story.  

Like physical conflict, each character rolls dice to see what advantages they might get from the situation (their success result), what they might accidentally give away (their sacrifice) and who describes what happens. The problem here is that neither Norrington nor Frog is particularly social, possibly one of the reasons why they broke up. Alice rolls 4 dice (she is adding Norrington’s Negotiation action); 1, 2, 3, and 5. Jenny rolls 3 dice: 3, 4, and 5.

Alice drops the 1, then allocates 6 to success (full success), and the two advantage traits from the close relationship give three degrees of success. She allocates the 3 to sacrifice (a minor sacrifice) and the 2 to story (so Jenny gets to describe the outcome). Norrington wants to find out what’s going on, because it is affecting himself and the other scoundrels. Jenny allocates Norrington a “inside information” single bonus trait for the short term, he also applies a “confused feelings” trait to Frog (situational). The sacrifice sees Norrington gain a situational “emotionally blackmailed” trait from Frog.   

Jenny also allocates the 5 to success (full success), and the close relationship gives Frog two advantages too, taking the result to three degrees of success. She allocates the 4 to sacrifice (a minor sacrifice) and a 3 to the story (a negotiated outcome). Jenny allocates the success, giving Norrington a “bad memories” double penalty trait for the scene explaining that there was something between the two characters that is starting to make him uneasy, and also an “angry” single situational penalty trait (this could get dangerous with the police around). Since Alice gets to describe the sacrifice, she gives Frog the “Still in Love” trait.

A second round begins.

I might expand this social conflict element, I'm not sure yet.

19 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Basic Actions

Since there is a new GM/Oracle in these play examples, I needed to create a new character portrait. So, before we go any further with the play examples, here's Jenny the Oracle.

Early Actions (few traits/modifiers)

A Beneficial Result

The story has stared with its Bang! The characters have hastily fled the initial scene and found a safehouse where they try to work out who might be against them and why. Diana decides that Kamiko will try to access surveillance cameras in the local area to see how they characters ended up in their starting circumstance, who might have put them there, and when. She uses her “friends in high places” (automatic bonus trait), in the hope that they’ll have information for her, and starts making some phone cals. Kamiko’s “research” action provides an advantage here, Diana could possibly also justify a bonus from the “analyse” action, but since Kamiko is already getting two bonus dice from “research” she just picks up 5 dice and rolls. 2, 3, 3, 5, and 6; Diana picks the 3, 5, and 6, then allocates them. 6 to success (a full success), 5 to sacrifice (no sacrifice), and 3 to story (Diana will choose the success benefit, and the Oracle, Jenny, will choose any sacrifice…but there isn’t any). These results are interpreted back into the story. Diana describes how Kamiko gains an “Insider Knowledge” trait from her calls, and with two points of success (one from the success and one from the initial advantage trait) it will last until the end of the act.

A Detrimental Result

In the next scene, the Oracle states that Alonzo Jones sees someone suspicious nearby. To get a better look at the suspicious person, Carl thinks that Alonzo’s “search” action might help, so he’ll be rolling a fourth die for the action. Since Alonzo is “impulsive”, and this requires a bit of concentration, there will be a penalty on the action. He rolls a 1,2,2 and 4, and drops the 1; the remaining dice are allocated. 4 to success (a near success), 2 to sacrifice (a major sacrifice) and 2 to story (allowing Jenny, as the Oracle, to describe how everything unfolds). The impulsive trait adds an extra degree of sacrifice. Jenny describes how Alonzo can’t quite get a good line of sight on the suspicious person, but that he has enough time to point them out to one of the other lowlifes (the near success). Then, she goes on to say that Alonzo will be permanently distracted by the identity of this person (at a total of three sacrifices, two for the bad roll and one for the existing negative trait, it will be a 1-trait long term penalty). Unless Carl manages to find a way to overcome the trait, it will afflict him for the rest of the session. There’s no one else nearby to help identify the stranger as they blend into the crowd. This might play a good part in the later story, so Jenny writes a quick note as a reminder for later.

A Mixed Result

Ben has been holding back with Hasani so far, but now that the group has a couple of leads, it’s time for him to step up and use some of his skills. The group has found a street thug who seems to know more than he is letting on, so Hasani will use his “Taunt” and “Bluff” actions, in combination with his “Physically Imposing” trait to goad the thug into revealing something useful. Five dice are rolled, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5. Even picking the best three dice, 2, 3, and 5, Ben has a hard decision in front of him. If he puts the 5 into success (full success), he’ll have to allocate a sacrifice of 2 (major sacrifice) or 3 (minor sacrifice). If he avoids any sacrifice by placing the 5 there, then the success will either be a 3 (near success) or a 2 (fail). It seems that if Hasani is going to gain an advantage he’ll have to pay for it in some way. Ban accepts the success with a minor penalty because the success gains a bonus from the “physically imposing” trait, it pushes the story’s momentum forward, and it adds character through the acquired negative trait. As the Oracle, Jenny describes how the thug describes a how one of the Rogues has paid him off, she flips over the next rogue in the gallery, Ginger Rust is behind this part of the story. Diana’s ears prick up because her lowlife Yoshida Kamiko is linked to Ginger Rust. It might be time to explain the strength and nature of this relationship.

Later Actions (more traits/modifiers)
After a few scenes, Doc Titanium sits at a computer terminal in Mr Norrington’s workshop [he’s borrowing this positive trait], he works with the “insider knowledge” Kamiko had gained earlier [he’s also borrowing this positive trait], a data transfer passcode [this one’s his positive trait], and an image fragment [also his positive trait]. This could be a significant turning point in the story, so Jenny spends two of her secret tokens to make the action more difficult (two tokens cancel out two of the positive traits). Doc Titanium feeds his information into a computer to determine where to head next, he uses his “Research” and “Interface” to roll a total of 5 dice. 3, 4, 4, 5, and 6.

If he did this, Ed could allocate Doc Titanium’s 5 and 6 to Story and Sacrifice in either order (it makes no difference). He’d gain a full success with no sacrifice, automatically gaining two successes worth of benefit (one from the die result, four more from the contributing positive traits, and minus two for the spent secret tokens). The remaining three points could be used to acquire an advanced positive trait, and the final point could make this bonus valid until the end of the act… or…

Jenny, as the Oracle, spends a Secret Token. She asks Ed to take some kind of action that might allow Doc Titanium to notice something. Because she has spent a token, there is automatically the chance of something bad happening to the doctor. Ed asks if he can include Doc Titanium’s “search” action, and since this seems reasonable, Jenny allows it. Dice are rolled: 1, 3, 3, and 5. Ed drops the 1, then allocates the 5 to Success and the pair of 3s to Story and Sacrifice. Jenny describes how Doc Titanium sees some tell-tale scars on a person walking down the street (he recognises these scars on many people in his “Fetish” circles), but the minor sacrifice associated with this action is a series of memories about the last time he was at the fetish club and a sudden desire to clear those bad memories from his head with his drugs. The story has progressed, but he’ll have a negative “On Edge” trait until the drugs are taken, or until the end of the scene (whichever comes first).

If there were multiple characters together, Jenny could have spent a second secret token to make everyone present engage in an action roll. Every success would have added more detail to the story element unveiled, every sacrifice would have had some personal effect on each character making the roll.

Multi-Character Cooperative Actions
…instead of claiming a success on his last roll, Ed allocates Doc Titanium’s 4 to success, with the 5 and 6 going to Sacrifice and story. Ed describes how Doc Titanium finds a back door in the system then passes the keyboard over to Kamiko.

So, instead of claiming the three points for a success of his own, two positive traits cancel out the secret tokens, and remaining bonus outcome is halved and passed to Kamiko so that she can finish the job. Kamiko takes the basic one point bonus from Doc Titanium’s action, and adds the four bonuses (because they still apply to the situation at hand), she then adds an extra one due to her loose relationship to Doc Titanium, pushing the total up to six. She rolls 5 dice with the benefit of her “research” actions, 1,3,3,5,5. It’s not as good as Doc Titanium’s attempt, but with the groundwork laid it doesn’t matter. Diana allocates a 5 each to Success and Sacrifice, and 3 to Story. With the benefit from the positive traits, that means seven points of positive outcome. Kamiko decides that every lowlife (1pt) will get an advanced positive trait (2pts), and that bonus will be permanent (4pts). Everyone will have their electronic footprint completely erased from all computer systems. That will make it easier for them to move around the city for a while and avoid further problems while they resolve their stories.

Multi-Character Conflicted Actions

Alonzo Jones and Mr Norrington have followed a lead to a small abandoned shopfront on the east side of town, as they step inside, they hear the back door slam. Someone is getting away, and they both want to claim a bit of glory for taking someone down. They both have “hunt” as an action, and while they don’t want to kill this person, a good kneecapping wouldn’t go astray, so “shoot” is valid to add to the outcome. He’s not a named rogue, so a single success is all that’s needed. Die rolls are made (Alice/Mr Norrington 3, 3, 4, 5, and 5, Carl/Alonzo Jones 1, 2, 4, 4, and 6). Both allocate their highest die to Success, and next highest to Sacrifice. Both could succeed, but because Norrington doesn’t have a sacrifice, he reaches the unnamed escapee first (if they both had a success and no sacrifice, the highest story die would be used to resolve a tiebreaker). In this particular case Alice describes the shot kneecap as Norrington catches his prey, and the interrogation of this particular mook can begin.

At this stage I'm wondering whether I should try to illustrate some comic panels depicting these story elements. It depends how we go for page count, and what other ideas cross my mind in the mean time.

18 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Setting up the Actual Play

I've been working on some play examples as I rewrite FUBAR. Instead of random scenes that describe rules, I'll be working through an entire sequence of how a FUBAR narrative unfolds.

I'll be using most of the same character's that were illustrated for the Walkabout explanatory comic.

Here's the first bits that I've been working on...

Gathering a Group
Jenny has decided to start a session of FUBAR, she knows a few regular gamers who enjoy action movies, and who might be interested in playing a rules light game where players can drive the action as long as they don’t mind taking a few risks and chaotic story twists. She knows of five players who might be interested: Alice, Ben, Carl, Diana and Ed (she knows this group play well together because they played a few “Walkabout” sessions together recently).

Cinematic Play
To get the players into the mood, Jenny suggests that the players watch a couple of appropriate movies over the course of the next week to get in the mood. She suggests they watch something action packed (offering suggestions like Kingsman, Red, or anything from the Fast and the Furious franchise), something cyberpunk or near future sci-fi (like Minority Report, Lucy, or Chappie), and something involving heists or revenge (like Snatch, Oceans 11, or Ant-Man). Jenny tells the players that these movies need to be pretty grounded in reality, but with a bit of a twist to them, and to think about types of characters found in the movies, the types of actions they engage, scenes they are involved in, and the way stories unfold in them.

Getting Some Ideas

When Jenny tells her players to draw inspiration from movies, she makes sure to confirm that they aren’t focusing on a single character or even a single movie. The game will pull elements from all the movies, as well as elements of real life, pop culture, comics, and music. The players are told to not necessarily think of characters they want to play, but the kinds of characters who might be found in these stories, or characters who should be in the stories but aren’t.

Making some Characters 1
Jenny could have made each of the players create a pair of characters, or could have generated a range of pre-made characters for the players to choose from, but she decides to take a path between these extremes. With five players, plus an oracle, she pre-generates 6 characters (Alonzo Jones, Frog, Agent Lincoln, Preacher, Doc Titanium, and Ginger Rust). At the start of the first session, when everyone gathers to start the new game she gets everyone (including herself), to create a character of their own to add into the mix.

Alice has been watching the TV shows “Mr. Robot” and “Sense8”, so she is drawn to the idea of having a suave hacker in the story. Maybe an Asian woman who doesn’t know martial arts, but because she’s Asian every simply expects her to, this character uses her ability to bluff (and other people’s preconceptions) to avoid direct combat by faking these skills. Thus Yoshida Kamiko is born Alice chooses to make her a “Face” who spends her time in “Cubicles”. This character is known for being “connected” and having an array of custom “software” that gives her access to data other people can’t reach. She picks two actions from each characteristic, and from the 12 optional traits (two positive and one negative from each of the characteristics) she picks “Security Pass” [+], “Friends in High Places” [+] and “Not the Face” [-].

Ben has noticed that a lot of the characters in action movies get pretty beaten up, so he decides it might be good to have some kind of medic around (he doesn’t know that Jenny already thought of this but that’s OK). He develops Vasquez M.D. as a disgraced bio-surgeon who genetically manipulated himself in some way and has now been banned from formally practicing medicine. He leaves the rest of the backstory vague, choosing characteristics of “Bones”, “Tunnel Rats”, “Tough” and “Genetic Advancement” (and a pair of actions to go with each). From the available array of traits, he picks “Medical Kit” [+], “Poison Tolerance” [+] and “Distinctive Appearance” [-].
On the other parts of the table, Carl makes a character named Mr Norrington, Diana makes Lady Antoinette, Ed makes Hasani Athiambo, and Jenny makes a character named C4.

Making some Characters 2
All of the characters are placed into the centre of the table, and each player randomly redraws two of them. They are each told to choose a character for themselves (this will be their lowlife), and a character who will be a rogue (possibly an ally or an antagonist).

Alice draws Mr Norrington who she likes and decides to keep as her Lowlife, she also has Preacher who will be used as a Rogue.

Ben has drawn Hasani Athiambo (Lowlife) and Agent Lincoln (Rogue)

Carl has Alonzo Jones (Lowlife) and Ginger Rust (Rogue)

Diana has Yoshida Kamiko (Lowlife) and Vasquez M.D. (Rogue)

Ed has Doc Titanium (Lowlife) and Frog (Rogue)

Jenny redrew her C4 and Diana’s Lady Antoinette (both of whom will be Rogues because she’s the Oracle of this game)

Jenny rolls a die to randomly see who will end up with a relationship to each Rogue, the result is even so all the Rogues are linked to the Lowlife on the player’s right (the name of the Rogue is written on a relationship card and given to the relevant player). No one at the table knows how these Rogues are linked to the lowlifes yet, that will be revealed through play.

Mr Norrington is connected to Frog
Hasani Athiambo is connected to Preacher
Alonzo Jones is connected to Agent Lincoln
Yoshida Kamiko is connected to Ginger Rust
Doc Titanium is connected to Vasquez M.D.

Tying the Group Together (Before or After)
As one last thing before the story begins, Jenny gets each player to choose another player’s Lowlife to link their Lowlife to. This connects the group together and also works as a quick way to show the group how the dice generally function in the game.

Alice chooses that Mr Norrington is related to Alonzo Jones in some way. she rolls 3 dice and scores 2, 5, and 6. 5 is applied to “Relationship Success” (a close relationship), 2 is applied to “Relationship Sacrifice” (Mr Norrington owes Alonzo Jones a favour), and 6 is applied to “Relationship Story” (A chooses that the lowlifes used to work together).

Ben chooses that Hasani Athiambo is related to Doc Titanium. After rolls (3, 3, 5) and allocations, it is determined that Hasani and Doc have a loose relationship (3), due to the high roll Doc owes Hasani a favour (5), and they negotiate that the Doc has patched up Hasani a few ties in the past, and Hasani has occasionally turned a blind eye to the Doc’s drug habit (3).

As the group proceeds around the table, they learn that Alonzo is linked to Kamiko (Tight, No Favours Owed, “Dated in the past, still good friends”), Kamiko is linked to Doc (Loose, Kamiko owes Doc, Former Neighbours), and Doc is Linked to Mr Norrington (Loose, No Favours owed, Cousins). Strength of relationship, and favours owed may change during the course of play. 

Next the play examples will start moving through the basic elements of play, and gardually introduce more advanced concepts as the rules are introduced in the text.

Rereading through this (which was written about a fortnight ago), I've noticed that Lowlife is used as the word for "character". I've been retty picky in recent revisions to ensure that Lowlife is now only used as a replacement for the term "player", in FUBAR, the characters are generally now referred to as "scoundrels". Time for some editing.

Keeping the old ways alive

This guy is most certainly a travelling minstrel or troubadour from the post apocalyptic world of Walkabout, keeping the classics alive with his steam driven box of wonders.

Tune Collective on Thursday, 12 November 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - What is Difficulty?

Plenty of games have variable difficulty tasks, with different degrees of character skill to accommodate varying levels of ability. FUBAR has always had the idea of characters rolling three dice in things they aren't particularly competent at, four dice if they have some level of skill, and five dice if they are well practiced in the types of actions necessary to complete a task. In the core game, a  success was a success, a failure was a failure. Not quite a simple binary, because the fail option is split into "fail, but you can try again", and "complete fail with no chance of a retry". There's the chance of suffering a sacrifice every time a task is attempted as well...so a chance of a retry also means a chance the more needs to be sacrificed to complete an action.

Positive and negative traits were always messy in the system, so I've clarified some things. I don't think this streamlining makes the game more "realistic", but it makes things more cinematic and helps to emulate the genre tropes of building adrenaline and cumulative higher stakes.

At various iterations of the game, positive traits added to the chances of success, or reduced the difficulty of tasks. Conversely, negative traits reduced chances of success, or increased the difficulty of tasks. The game already has varying numbers of dice to reflect the chances of success based on character skill, so the idea of positive and negative traits similarly manipulating the same things was a bit confusing for many players and ended up getting scrapped in play because of this. Another version of the game saw positive traits and negative traits balance out, with any excess traits providing a secondary pool of dice (excess positive traits being rolled as potential extra "successes", and excess negative traits rolled as potential extra "sacrifices"). This slowed things down, with two distinct sets of rolls for every action...again, not optimal.

The latest thought is to simply apply the positive and negative traits as multipliers of outcome. A task doesn't get easier if you've got positive traits, nor does your skill level increase, instead a positive trait lets you get twice as much done with a standard success (two positives get triple the result done, etc.) Possessing negative traits adds to sacrifice in the same way. If you've got both that means the chance for big success at the risk of big sacrifice, but a character could also play it safe by cancelling out positives and negatives. This also means traits play a more significant role in resolution as they accumulate through the course of a story. The rolls don't stagnate because the chance of success and sacrifice remains the same, but the stakes rise.

Naturally if it works here, it will cascade across to Walkabout when I get back to work on that project.

17 November, 2015

FUBAR needs a setting

In my FUBAR rewrite I've decided that I need a default setting for the game. It was always intended to be a bit cyberpunk, and since we now live in the era that was once considered the edge of the cyberpunk timeframe, the game will be somewhere between our world and the worlds depicted in Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020. A bit like the way White Wolf's World of Darkness was an "urban gothic/fantasy", this setting will be "urban sci-fi".

So I've started drawing a map of a city that could have been, maybe somewhere on a Pacific island, where there is a space port to take advantage of the equatorial spin. Maybe this location is a corporate tax haven, like a Micronesian equivalent of Dubai, drawing on trade influence with Asia, the Americas, Australiasia, and within flight distance of India.

This gives the setting stereotypical access to criminal groups like Triads, Yakuza, and Singaporean Pirates. It offers the potential for corporations and organisations based on cultural patterns from various nations or religious. Unlike regular cyberpunk, mobile-phones/cell-phones will be a more significant thing, so will the world wide web as something everyone has access to, and social media is a thing. But more like the cyberpunk settings, computers will work like they do on TV ("zoom in on those pixels", "hack into that security feed"), there will be more prevalent space travel, possibly even a station on the moon. This is the reality of modern action movies and superhero movies, but if there are any superheroes they are more akin to Daredevil. Going beyond the accepted world is possible, but if you go in that direction things get strange...Psychosis lies down that road, but so do advanced cybernetics, artificial intelligence, functional Em-drives, genetic engineering, and statistical manipulation of reality itself. 

All of this is possible on the atoll, if you know where to look and you're willing to pay the right price to the right people. 

It looks like this incarnation of FUBAR is turning into another "storygamed" interpretation of Mage: the Ascension. I guess the idea of magic through surreal interpretations of the absurdity of modern life fits the original FUBAR concept of "Dadaism, 4 minutes into the future". Anything that exists in the real world is acceptable (no magic required). Anything you'd typically see in an action movie or spy movie (but not in the real world) is plausible (high skill or coincidental magic, maybe both). Anything that would seem out of place even in one of those movies risks disbelief (true magic). But most games basically do this, most characters in most games too. A fighter in D&D doesn't call their incredible combat feats "magic", but their skill with weaponry and capability to inflict harm is beyond the scope of a regular person. 

We don't need a "magic system" to handle the abilities that transcend the mundane abilities of the masses. On the other hand, a few pointers to explain what happens when awesomeness hits the table might be useful.

15 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - Sometimes it's OK to say "No"

There's been this saying floating around roleplaying design circles for a decade or so. It states...

"Say Yes, or roll the dice"

As I've been working through my FUBAR rewrite, I realised that there are some times when it's fine to flat out say "No". But that response needs to be justified.

I've been laying things out with charts, and reflecting on the various times this game has been played.

Most of the time at conventions, a genre is established in the first ten minutes of a three hour session. The table consensus settles into the tropes of "spy thriller", "exploitation flick", "Tarantino", "occult noir", then as those tropes start to bound the narrative, we allow specific elements to push the envelope in order to make a session that subverts those stereotypes in some way. The core tropes set the tone and most players feel comfortable playing within that space, they don't bother trying to do something that breaks the genre. But in several games I've run over the years, there has been a single player who has tried to simply break things... at which point all genre forms are shattered and the game falls into a default mode of "slapstick hi-jinks". When the genre breaks, the game is still fun, but it's no longer the focused genre driven piece that it could have been. You can't put the genie back into the bottle.

That's where I've decided that it's fine to limit the actions in some way, as long as those limitations are backed up by the existing story, and the agreed consensus of the table.

More formally, there is a progression from "Yes" to "No" that should subconsciously flow through the Oracle's mind as they are arbitrating an exploit that may be undertaken by a character within the game.

Yes - The exploit simply happens. If the character has the skills to do the thing, and there's no real risk or massive advantage that could be gained from the thing, and it works to move the story along, just let it happen.

Roll Dice - The exploit could feasibly happen. If the character has the skills to do the thing, but it could benefit from a bit of drama to make the story more interesting, or if the event might possibly cause a noticeable shift in the ongoing narrative, call for a die roll.

Not Quite - The exploit couldn't happen as this time, but might be possible if the situation changes a bit. If the character doesn't have the skills to directly attempt the thing, but it's an event that could feasibly occur within the established oeuvre, then a secondary die roll might be allowed. Such a secondary die roll (if successful), twists the story in such a way that the original aim is now achievable from a new direction.  

No - There's no way this exploit could occur. This is a last resort, but if an action is likely to break the developing story it should be used. If a player can justify an action through reference to existing stories/movies/TV-shows/books/radio-serials/computer games matching the setting of the story, where their exploit has been attempted successfully, then a flat out "No" verdict isn't justified, there might be two or three "Not Quites" to push the situation in such a direction that the exploit is now feasible. If the player can't justify things in this way, don't be afraid to use the "No".

With this in mind, I sometimes begin a session by giving players a list of two or three movie/TV-show/book references to get players on the same page with regard to the genre I'd like to see a story generally stick to. Then I get a suggestion from each of the players to add to the list of possible inspirations. Through the course of play a few others generally have the possibility of creeping in, as long as they don't disrupt thing too far.

For example, starting with a Firefly/Dark Matter/Killjoys type of universe, we've already established a sci-fi setting where it only takes a matter of days or weeks to get between planets, where there are pretty much only humans, and where there are dangerous powerful groups controlling space, while the characters exist in the cracks trying to make a living. We also have the potential for AIs, and psychic powers. We haven't completely ruled out the options for alien artifacts (eg. Total Recall), strangely manifesting ghost ships (eg. Event Horizon), or killer alien civilisations (eg. Mass Effect), but we haven't established them from the beginning. These alternate options may arise if the story ends up going in that direction, but we don;t need to worry abut them if it doesn't. On the other hand, none of these settings has eldritch tomes of mystical horror, lightsabers, or blatant aliens living peacefully among the humans, so the Oracle would be safe to say "No" if a character attempted to perform some exploit that manifested such elements into the storyline. If a few players were happy with the suggestion, the response might be upgraded to a "Not Quite", but generally it's safe to say "No" to prevent the story simply going gonzo.

The FUBAR rewrite - Clarifying the static traits

As I said, in FUBAR traits reflect what advantages and disadvantages apply to a character as they attempt to complete tasks on the way to their intended goals (whatever that goal may be). Static traits are the standard repertoire of choices that might be used in these situations. Therefore they specifically give a flavour to the inherent types of stories that might be told. Too many injury and conflict based traits would imply a game where these things are important, and thus push the narrative toward combat and physical danger. The same sort of thing is implied in a game where there are numerous guns and weapon descriptions. Sure you can play a deeply emotional game in the world of Cyberpunk 2020, or even RIFTS, but the game just isn't really set up for that style of story.

I've tried to develop a decent mix of traits to facilitate a wide variety of stories, but I know that there could easily be more scope for social modifiers. These will be fleshed out with the stronger relationship rules that will be integrated into the core FUBAR system.    

Personal Traits
Physical State - Hyperactive [+], Fatigued [-]
Social State - Respected [+], Degraded [-]
Mental State - Focused [+], Confused [-]
Damage State - Protected [+], Injured [-]
Observance - Aware [+], Oblivious [-]
Degree of Haste - Calculating [+], Rushed [-]
Situational Mastery - In-Control [+], Out of Control [-]
Knowledge - Informed [+]. In the Dark [-]
Morale - Inspired [+], Scared [-]
Degree of Stealth - Hidden [+], Observed [-]
Generic Negatives - Hungry [-], Restricted [-], Hunted [-], Emotional [-]

Item Traits
Durability - Sturdy [+], Fragile [-]
Speed - Fast [+], Slow [-]
State - Reinforced [+], Broken [-]
Lethality - Dangerous [+]. Benign [-] 
Ease of Use - Practical [+], Cumbersome [-]
Quality - Fine [+], Poor [-]

Environment Traits
Attitude - Friendly [+], Hostile [-]
Location Knowledge - Familiar [+], Unfamiliar [-]
Generic Traits - Unstable, Dark, Cold, Hot

Noun Traits
Vehicle - (May have Item traits added to it)
Weapon - (May have Item traits added to it)
Tool - (May have Item traits added to it)
Ally - (May have Personal adjectives added to it)
Data - (May have Item traits added to it)
Money - (No traits really apply to this)
Parts - (May have Item traits added to it)
Location - (May have Environment traits added to it)

The thing about all these traits is that it should be fairly obvious when they apply and when they don't apply. 

I know there are gaps, but every story is going to have different gaps that need to be filled. That's where the dynamic traits come in. The catch with dynamic traits will be making sure that they don't become too narrow and restrictive in their use, nor too widespread. An example of a narrow dynamic trait might be "zero-g competent[+]", or "space-sick [-]"; it just doesn't seem likely that such a trait would be very applicable in typical earth-bound stories. Conversely, I toyed with the idea of a "strategic advantage [+]" trait, but this is pretty vague and nebulous, it could arguably be used anywhere and everywhere and therefor doesn't contribute any flavour or direction to the story. Something like "enchanted [+]" or "cursed [-]" might be good, because it implies a mystical element to the stories being told, but they might be better applied as a generic base Noun Trait to which other traits might be added (eg. Enchantment (Aware), Curse (Confused)).

I already think there might be too many traits for this to be considered a "rules-lite" game. But I don't know that "rules-lite" is something I'm really aiming for here. On the other hand everything else is pretty simple and a decent chunk of the crunch is focused in these traits, and the traits are all pretty consistent in the way they either add success potential, or magnify potential risk, so it's not too crunchy either (unlike something like Pathfinder where you end up with over a dozen different conditions that might be applied to characters in different situations each with their own specific modifier statistics). The difference here is in the way different action types have the potential to apply the traits (or remove them), and this can typically be justified through those specific actions or through the narrative context of the story.

Story feeds into mechanisms, mechanisms feed into story; the whole thing is a fairly self contained story where the end of scene and end of act structures work to sweep away any loose ends (by eliminating superfluous traits). 

14 November, 2015

Baby Drop Bears

Testing a Theory...
Today's daily dose of cuteness is brought to you by Imogen from Symbio Wildlife Park... enjoy! 󾇍
Posted by Australia.com on Tuesday, 10 November 2015

13 November, 2015

The FUBAR rewrite - static and dynamic traits

I liked where I was going with System 4, using definitive verbs to replace skills. In this set up, you say "I run over there", "I drive the car", "I intimidate the thug".

If skills have been replaced by action verbs, then Traits add adjectives to characters.

"I'm prepared, and I craft the device", "Although I'm injured, I tumble out of the way".

Traits might be linked to items, or they might be linked to people. traits can be linked to anything as a way to make it easier or harder to perform actions. But now I'm looking at what those traits are.

Obviously in a game where combat might arise, or where physical stunts might occur, then it's possible to become injured. On the flip side, it might be possible to pumped-up (or some similar phrase) to indicate readiness for physical action/conflict.

In a social game where status is important, a character with benefits in the situation might be respected, while one who is suffering in a situation might be disrespected. Being ignored might be an adjective that could go either way.

When prowling, the hidden character might gain benefits from being carefulstealthy or hidden, while they might suffer penalties from being observed or hunted. Conversely, a person who might be looking for such a character would gain benefits from being observant or aware, but would gain penalties from being fatigued or oblivious.

Someone investigating a situation might gain benefits from being informed, but might suffer problems if they are confused. A specific piece of information, might be useful, blackmailable (against a specific person), or enigmatic (if it isn't fully understood yet). Character might try to add beneficial traits to the information, and remove detrimental ones to make the data more valuable as they approach the climax.

Attached to a weapon might be the beneficial adjectives deadly, fast, sturdy, or impressive (each useful in different contexts), but there might just as easily be the detrimental adjectives cumbersome, slow, fragile or damaged. If a weapon is targeted by an attack (or if the user fails in their action), the damaged trait might activate. If a weapon already has fragile or damaged it is no longer useful at all (and if an item has the sturdy trait, this is removed before damaged is applied to the weapon).

That's already 27 possible traits without even getting into specifics. There could easily be scope for rule bloat here. Hence looking at static and dynamic traits. Static traits are the inherent parts of the game, the specific traits that are referenced in the rules. Dynamic traits are variables that are generated on the fly by a group of players as their story unfolds, there will be information in the rules to explain how to generate dynamic traits, and maybe a couple of examples, but nothing specific. I think I'll need to apply a cap on the static traits...maybe 40 in total. Divide them up into 20 traits that might be applied to characters, 10 traits that might be applied to items and another 10 traits that are applied to wider situations. Then we divide those categories into an even split of beneficial and detrimental traits. These numbers are faily loose at this time.

Remember also that traits can have a single or double level effect. So injured might break down into being minorly injured (level 1), before becoming a majorly injured (level 2)...then leading to removal from the story for a period. There's a lot of versatility here.

But these adjective traits will really define the core game, they explain what sorts of things characters might need to do to gain an advantage in the story, and what sorts of repercussions they might face from their actions.

More to think about.

12 November, 2015

NaGaDeMon Project 2: The FUBAR rewrite

FUBAR works simply, you roll three (or more) dice and allocate the results between categories of Success, Sacrifice and Story. If you have advantages, any positive success results are magnified. If you have disadvantages, any negative results are magnified. Positive success results manifest new advantages (or eliminate disadvantages), negative sacrifice results manifest new disadvantages (or eliminate advantages). Feedback loops develop as positives beget positives and negatives beget negatives. The results allocated to the story category, allow the player or the GM to define the way these feedback loops play out.

The whole thing began very freeform, no specific skills or traits, everything was defined on the fly. The first revision formalised the various skills applied to the different character elements, but it was still very loose in the way it produced positive and negative traits, and in the way those traits impacted back into the action results. The traits weren't defined, but in some ways this was a good thing. A loose and flexible system is adaptable to the way the players use it, rather than forcing the players to adapt to the system.

As a designer, when I run FUBAR it works great. I actually redesign the system on the fly to adpt to the story as it unfolds, but there are a lot of people who might attempt to play FUBAR who are simply intimidated by the looseness, and the need to complete a system with their own input. It's certainly not as loose as "Ghost/Echo" on which it was originally based, but there are still a lot of gaps that need to be filled before it's a complete and coherent game. I want FUBAR to be approachable, and to make the game more complete, but to maintain a degree of flexibility (because we still have no idea where a FUBAR tale might go).

To this end, I'm thinking of instituting a range of standard traits each capable of being manifested in play by a range of skills, and each capable of manipulating the end result of certain actions. Such traits instantly define the way the story might play out, but there will still be the option to produce new traits on the fly.

Example Trait 1: Injury (Negative Trait)
Gained by - failed Athletic actions, successful combat actions by opponents
Affects - Athletic actions, Combat, almost any physical activity. 

Example Trait 2: Information (Positive Trait)
Gained by - research, interrogation, observation
Affects - additional research, social actions (blackmail)

These are just preliminary ideas at this stage, and I'm thinking of maybe a dozen standard positives and a dozen standard negatives, all interlinked across the various skills. There will always be the potential to make new traits n the fly to fill in gaps in the narrative, but with a framework of existing traits it should be easier to understand how they work in the wider system, and what need to be considered when creating new traits.

It needs more thought, but it's feeling like a good step to fill in one of the gaps that has been in the system.

Screw Fallout 4, I'm doing Post Apocalyptic exploration of my own

I don't have a computer that could handle the graphics of Fallout 4. I'd actually be interested in playing it, it seems like it might be the kind of game that I'd enjoy, but I'm not running out to buy a new computer and paying first release prices just to be one of the "in-crowd"...sorry.

Luckily I live near some abandoned industrial sites and other suitably post apocalyptic looking areas to explore.

These are certain to be added to the Walkabout inspiration files.

10 November, 2015

Why Contests and NaGaDemon are good

The RPG design community has just come off a run of great contests and is now immersed in NaGaDeMon. I'm not saying that every designer participated in every contest, or that every designer is now struggling through NaGaDeMon to polish up a game, but there were heaps of designers involved in Game Chef, then ThreeForged, then Golden Cobra, and now I'm seeing plenty of people displaying their working processes in NaGaDeMon.

Each of these formats is doing something different, each is pushing the envelope in specific ways, and throughout the year other contests pop up now and again each catering to a specific niche of design.

I love seeing what other people are producing, the interesting direction that they are trying to push the  collective of hobbies that we refer to as "gaming". I also love seeing different people processes at work in the different ways through these exercises.

Some people designed openly in Game Chef, Everyone designed privately and secretively in ThreeForged (that was all a part of the contest), some people designed openly in Golden Cobra, some are doing so for NaGaDeMon... And it's been a different mix of people who have had their design thoughts pop up in my stream at each stage.

I'm seeing names pop up on G+, other names on Facebook, not much on forums, but I haven't really visited many of them lately. I've been too busy doing my own things, and trying to keep up with the plethora of ideas straming through the social media platforms. I can't keep up with it all, so it's forcing me to focus on a few specific individuals, and in turn that has led me to establish strong contact with specific folks like "Windcaller Studios" (who kindly sent me a beta review copy of their new game "Accolade"... which looks like a fun start, but there are certain things where I'd like to see it expanded a bit). I have a tendency to ignore the names I'm overly familiar with when it comes to developing new connections in the communities that these projects create. I know wht those big names do, I know that they'll have dozens (if not hundreds) of fawning fans hanging on their every word. I'd rather see what unknowns are doing, and the folks who exist in circles outside my immediate contacts.

I'm seeing people open to feedback about their designs. I'm seeing people who claim to be open to feedback, but who continually to rationalise their choices against any suggestions that might go contrary to their thoughts. I'm seeing people who state openly that their designs are special snowflakes that will remain private until they are unveiled through a massive Kickstarter project. So it's not just the actual designing that is interesting me through all of this, but also the social space around that design process.

All in all, it's been a great time to explore game design, but I'll also be happy when it's all over and I can get a break to focus on other things. After all, design is about bringing inspiration to the table, and you need to go out and experience things to gain that inspiration.

I foresee a bunch of Fallout 4 inspired games very shortly.

Enough rant for now.

08 November, 2015

Rust City Blues Preliminary Work

Here's the basic preview

Use a deck of cards, flesh out NPCs and characters in a sultry diesel noir setting on the edge of sanity and the occult, driven by the lyrics or Tom Waits, a few too many whiskeys, and some crossroads blues.


More will come soon.

NaGaDeMon Project 1: Bug Hunt (The Starting Hex)

Here's the starting tile for Bug Hunt, a little encampment in the middle of the wetlands. Now that I've completely compiled the image, I don't mind it too much. It could probably do with some more work, maybe some shading across the grass, but I don't want it to look too busy.

Anyway...back to work.  

Illustrations and Maps

Today I'm working through the illustration of 30 map tiles for "Bug Hunt", that will be 24 hex tiles for the core set to explore, a home base, and an extra five tiles for an expansion if anyone is interested in it.

The 30 tiles have been scanned in and now I'm colouring them. Applying grassy, sandy, rocky, watery textures, and generally trying to make the tiles look a bit more professional than most of the games I've seen produced by folks on The Game Crafter. I'm also trying to make sure the cards match the stylistic elements I've already got going with the bug cards. I'm not particularly happy with whatI've generated up so far, so I might start the process of recolouring them all over again. 

That means there won't be a lot of work here on the blog, because if anything else gets focus it will be the FUBAR rewrite. I might post some pictures of the cards shortly to crowdsource some feedback.

07 November, 2015

Rust City Blues

East of the mountains, west of a vast jungle, north of a vast wasteland, lies a city.In the heat of the day a mist rises from the jungle obscuring the sun with mist and clouds, sometimes at night a breeze blows away the cover and the moon shines through, but every morning brings new humidity, new mist.

The sky is eternally grey, while the humidity brings rust and corrosion to the metal. The people haven't seen the sun in years. It's a world like our own, maybe a parallel universe, but its a world where the shadows are a bit longer, the streets a bit grittier and the nothing is quite what it seems.

Rust City is a world where you ain't nobody 'til you've cut a deal with "Old Scratch", where everyone's got a cover...maybe as a muttering short order cook, an ivory tinkling bluesman, a sultry singer, a gutter tramp, or maybe a carney on the run from a past that's rapidly chasing them down.

Waitsville lies down south as a cluster of wooden buildings bleached by age... a hopped boxcar ride across windswept plains... or maybe along the white line highway, if you hitch a ride past a half dozen greasy-spoon diners, and a too quiet crossroads... it's a place you go to get away from the city, on the way to somewhere else, even more than the city it's a surreal place haunted by dreams and nightmares.

Since I saw this, I haven't been able to get my mind off it.

It may not be cyberpunk. but it fits FUBAR perfectly as an alternate setting. Darkness, corruption, secrets to reveal, maybe it's a hidden purgatory locked in a mid 20th century echo of our world. But unlike regular FUBAR, these will not be tales of redemption, they'll be tales of lingering and holding on against the creeping insanity and downward spiral, tales of street magic, voodoo and devil dealings.

I've been working through decades of the lyrics of Tom Waits, it's a dark seductive world oozing with style, gritty with texture, dangerous like a champagne flute filled with ice and broken glass.

I really want to play a game there, and after a few hours of typing, I might be able to do so soon.