30 January, 2016

Could be a winner

It looks like the "Chinese New Year" idea might be a good one. I've had a few comments and private posts indicating that it's worth exploring, so now it's a case of determining the best way to continue with it.

One of the options I'm looking at involves resurrecting ideas about the mutant animal game, perhaps with characters trying to earn the favour of twelve immortal animal spirits according to the specific traits traditionally associated with these beasts. But that involves getting the mutant animal game finished first, at least to a level where these adventires make sense.

Another option would involve scenarios for FUBAR, perhaps a cycle of kung-fu adventures in a mysterious pseudo-Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian legendary realm. That game is certainly in a more ready state.

Otherwise maybe a set of dungeons or temples, but trying to make these system agnostic could be tricky. Go the OSR route, and make them generically compatible with some flavour of old D&D, or some easily accessible recent OSR format.

Any suggestions?c

29 January, 2016

Chinese New Year

I've been thinking about doing a series of monthly games, or dungeons, or something, to align with the twelve months of the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese New Year is about a week away.

Let's see what happens.

28 January, 2016

So many ideas...

I've ended up at another one of those points where I've got too many ideas, and not enough time to pursue them all. This is usually the time when I start writing a bunch of half finished concepts, store the, in some kind of file than promptly forget about them.

One of these ideas works on thoughts I've played with a few times over the past couple of months... It's a bit Mage: the Ascension, in the way that every character has magical potential, and magic works on a combination of spheres to create literally any effect. Warriors transcend the combat skills of seasoned mumdane soldiers by augmenting their attacks with mystic power, tinkerers augment their inventions with mystic power to push beyond the cutting edge, then you get your typical healers, shamans, occultists, psychics, and others who touch the wild side. I've tried to avoid too many similarities to Mage by creating narrower "spheres" and more of them, there's also heavy influence from Ars Magica in it too. Characters advance in their spheres by learning spells containing those spheres, the more spells they learn the higher their sphere rating, the higher their sphere rating the better they'll be able to cast spells associated with that sphere. Different types of training automatically learn different basic spells and thus start the progression down that sphere's path of power. I'm also looking at grimoires as a key part of the game, with each mystic noting their path to power through their journals, and new characters teying to piece together their own mystic insight through the journals of those who have gone before. A part of this ties to the last post, with its lists of treasures. I'm vaguely thinking of the aftermath of a magical war across the planes, and a new generation of characters who are trying to pick up the pieces to forge a new destiny for the land.

A second idea involves rewriting Voidstone Chronicles, and that might end up linking to that first idea. But I'm not sure at this point. I've found an enthusiastic local signmaker who is willing to make etched perspex circles and flat-packed plastic terrain pieces with me, and also print magnetic sheets to handle the encumbrance system for that game. So all the things that were holding that game back are now starting to crumble.

A third idea involves collaborative story development, but I've lost the filed notes for that already. So I couldn't elaborate even if I wanted to.

And then there's the scroll game.

Treasure Tables (or not)

A few days ago, there was a really great post by someone who was developing a post apocalyptic setting. The idea started with a general list of items that might be found in such a setting, but then it moved to adding those tables to a list, and each time someone rolled on this list the item might be found, but it could never be found again. For a post apocalypse setting I think this is a great idea, it brings a level of scarcity to items. At first things are plentiful, then they get harder to find and maybe you have to move on to new areas once the old ones have been stripped clean.

I was so inspired by the idea that I started writing up tables of my own like this, but gave it my inevitable twist.

Instead of rolling a single d20 to determine what was found, roll two of them. Higher rolls indicate rarer items on these tables, so this translates to...If you choose the higher of the two rolls, you find the thing, but it is completely exhausted from the table, there was only a limited number of them (maybe even a single item)... If you choose the lower of the two die rolls, you find the thing and there are still more instances of this item out there to find. It doesn't quite consume the available resources as quickly as a single die, and the rarer/more-useful items will tend to disappear faster than the more-common/less-useful items.

I had examples of these tables to post, but with wet weather causing internet connection issues (and spending most of yesterday in hospital) I just haven't been able to upload anything.

25 January, 2016

Is this what the OSR is trying to get back to?

There are certain things that nostalgia chooses not to remember.

Every time I play and "Old School" game, I fear that things might end up the way they did in this article.

Heaven knows, the "Pathfinder" game I was a part of last year veered dangerously close to this territory. Things totally out of your control as a player, people hating each other because rules were followed to the letter rather than to the spirit...

...maybe I'm being a bit harsh. But I think it's that final comment that's the clincher here, the spirit of the rules versus the letter of the rules.

24 January, 2016

Opening the Exploration Potential

(This post probably won't make a lot of sense without reading the previous one)

Knowing that our 2 player game will last on average 32 turns, the 3 player game 24 turns, 4 player game 21 turns and 5 player game 18 turns, we need to know how quickly to open up the game for exploration potential.

This applies to almost any RPG scenario, but it's often something that a lot of designers just don't think about. At the start of play I like to have a limited range of potential for exploration and character development, at this point the game is more about establishing the ouevre. Then as the game progresses we see more opportunity to explore the world in a way that makes sense with what we already know. As play comes to it's conclusion, more choices end up leading to a climax.

You could look at this by saying that we have a few choices at the beginning, more in the middle, and less at the end, but I think of it differently. The range of choices is always decreasing, right from the beginning, the significance of the choices is always increasing. So when you multiply the range by the significance you get a nice trajectory of play.

8 choices x 0 significance = 0
7 choices x 1 significance = 7  
6 choices x 2 significance = 12  
5 choices x 3 significance = 15  
4 choices x 4 significance = 16  
3 choices x 5 significance = 15  
2 choices x 6 significance = 12  
1 choices x 7 significance = 7  
0 choices x 8 significance = 0

Those middle bits of the story are where the meat of the narrative can be found. The earlier bits are just setting it up, and the later bits are using what we know to confront the climax and tie up the loose ends one by one. Note that I would rarely use the zero significance or zero choice options unless there were specific types of stories I were trying to convey. It's usually in that highlighted section where I like to keep my stories.

For the purposes of the scroll game, that means I want the game to open up fairly rapidly, before the horde have had a chance to build momentum, but at the end of the game, the scope of wandering closes up (which naturally occurs as the horde approaches).

Again, I've generated up some average calculations. I've done these for the 2, 3, 4, and 5 player situations of play, but since all those numbers can be a bit overwhelming, I'll focus on the three player game for the moment.

Here's how the horde approaches. After 24 turns the entire scroll has been consumed by their advance.

I'd like to see the scroll most opened up at around the middle of the game. The earlier parts of the game should see more unrolling as exploration occurs quickly and less unrolling as the horde advances slowly, and the later parts of the game should see less unrolling as the ultimate goal is approached (and finally) revealed while the horde continues it's relentless march forward.

I should also note here that I've now added a 22nd stage to the game...so we've ow got 21 steps on the path from death to potential immortality in the "Field of Reeds"...and now we've got the field of Reeds as the final level of transcendence. The horde will never cross the threshold into the Field of Reeds, this is not their domain and powerful gods protect it. But it allows me to also add a new column to the table, "Reeds".

The previous version of the table used calculations to determine the chance of this step being the furthest point to which the horde has advanced. But this calculations falls flat at the end of the scroll, where each turn their should be a higher chance of the horde being here (equal to the chance they had previously advanced to this point, plus the chance they had advanced here on this particular turn). So I've added this calculation into the "Reeds" column which now gives a more accurate projected end game timeframe. In this particular version of the table ("3 players"), the horde is still expected to reach the end of the scroll after 24 turns, but in the 2 player game it has a 50% chance of ending after the 29th turn (instead of the 32nd). The 4 player game still has a 50% chance of ending after the 21st turn, and the 5 player game has a 50% chance of ending after the 19th turn (rather than the 18th). It doesn't make a whole lot of difference especially since user experience will vary based on the players involved.

Focusing back on the 3 player game, now looking at the chance of opening up new areas of the scroll for exploring. For the purposes of absolute simplicity, we'll give every player an equal chance of opening up the scroll by a single step every time they do something.

1 in 4 chance

Let's say a player has two six sided dice, and each of those dice has 3 faces with swords on them. We'll call a sword a success, and two successes are required to open up the scroll. That's a 50% chance of success on each die, two successes have a 25% (1 in 4) chance of occurring.

With 3 players performing actions every turn, there is a 1-in-64 chance that every player will successfully open the scroll during their action, a 9-in-64 chance that two of them will accomplish this feat, a 27-in-64 chance that one of them will do it, and a 27-in-64 chance that none will. It's binomials from high school mathematics if you don't believe me.

I'll make a nice colour coded chart to make things easier to understand.
If the cell is red, it's unlikely that we'll be at this point in the game with this much of the scroll unrolled. As the cells move to yellow it becomes more likely that the scroll will be unrolled to this point, as they move to green it becomes even more likely that this is the point here the game will be under the current calculations.

There is a faint chance, incredibly unlikely but within the realms of possibility if every character rolls multiple successes on every action, that the scroll will be fully unwound on the eighth turn. The point where 50% of scrolls should have fully unwound occurs at the end of the 28th turn. Which is a bit tragic because 50% of games will have seen the horde completely consume the scroll by the 24th turn. If we were going for a game of tragic, against the odds survival, this might be a useful set of calculations to apply, but I'm aiming for something a bit more heroic where the players have a reasonable chance of winning, or at least have a variety of meaningful choices available rather than continually being hounded by the horde.  

1 in 3 chance

Maybe a player has a single die, and since there are two shields on the die then one of these opens up the scroll by a step.

Again, if every player successfully opens up the scroll during their action, the whole scroll could theoretically be opened by the eighth turn. It's roughly a billion-to-one longshot, but it's possible and more likely than the previous scenario.

Now we see that the 50% threshold is reached after 21 turns, meaning that there will be a significant number of games where the Field of Reeds has been revealed before the horde gets there. Turn by turn, we can see the most likely degree to which the scroll has been opened and the most likely location that the horde has reached. Hypothetically...

Turn 1: Scroll likely opened to step 1, horde likely at step 0.
Turn 2: Scroll likely opened to step 2, horde likely at step 0 or 1.
Turn 3: Scroll likely opened to step 3, horde likely at step 1 or 2.
Turn 4: Scroll likely opened to step 4, horde likely at step 2 or 3.
Turn 5: Scroll likely opened to step 5, horde likely at step 3 or 4.
Turn 6: Scroll likely opened to step 6, horde likely at step 4 or 5.
Turn 7: Scroll likely opened to step 7, horde likely at step 5 or 6.
Turn 8: Scroll likely opened to step 8, horde likely at step 6 or 7.
Turn 9: Scroll likely opened to step 9, horde likely at step 6 or 7.
Turn 10: Scroll likely opened to step 10, horde likely at step 7 or 8.
Turn 11: Scroll likely opened to step 11, horde likely at step 8 or 9.
Turn 12: Scroll likely opened to step 12, horde likely at step 9 or 10.
Turn 13: Scroll likely opened to step 13, horde likely at step 10 or 11.
Turn 14: Scroll likely opened to step 14, horde likely at step 11 or 12.
Turn 15: Scroll likely opened to step 15, horde likely at step 12 or 13.
Turn 16: Scroll likely opened to step 16, horde likely at step 13 or 14.
Turn 17: Scroll likely opened to step 17, horde likely at step 14 or 15.
Turn 18: Scroll likely opened to step 18, horde likely at step 15 or 16.
Turn 19: Scroll likely opened to step 19, horde likely at step 16 or 17.
Turn 20: Scroll likely opened to step 20, horde likely at step 17 or 18.
Turn 21: Scroll likely opened to step 21, horde likely at step 17 or 18.
Turn 22: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 18 or 19.
Turn 23: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 19 or 20.
Turn 24: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 20 or 21.

So in each case, the horde is hot on the heels of the characters. There really isn't a lot of time to explore, or be reflective on the nature of life and death. This might be more appropriate to an scroll game about avoiding pursuit from advancing zombie hordes, criminals on the run, or something which generally aims for more adrenaline.

1 in 2 chance

Accelerating faster than the 1-in-3 version, this twist on the numbers has a slightly higher (but still remote) chance of revealing the Field of Reeds on turn 8 (roughly 1 in 2 million now). The 50% threshold reveals the Reeds by turn 15.

 Running through the step by step, we get...

Turn 1: Scroll likely opened to step 1, horde likely at step 0.
Turn 2: Scroll likely opened to step 2 or 3, horde likely at step 0 or 1.
Turn 3: Scroll likely opened to step 4, horde likely at step 1 or 2.
Turn 4: Scroll likely opened to step 5 or 6, horde likely at step 2 or 3.
Turn 5: Scroll likely opened to step 7, horde likely at step 3 or 4.
Turn 6: Scroll likely opened to step 8 or 9, horde likely at step 4 or 5.
Turn 7: Scroll likely opened to step 10, horde likely at step 5 or 6.
Turn 8: Scroll likely opened to step 11 or 12, horde likely at step 6 or 7.
Turn 9: Scroll likely opened to step 13, horde likely at step 6 or 7.
Turn 10: Scroll likely opened to step 14 or 15, horde likely at step 7 or 8.
Turn 11: Scroll likely opened to step 16, horde likely at step 8 or 9.
Turn 12: Scroll likely opened to step 17 or 18, horde likely at step 9 or 10.
Turn 13: Scroll likely opened to step 19, horde likely at step 10 or 11.
Turn 14: Scroll likely opened to step 20 or 21, horde likely at step 11 or 12.
Turn 15: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 12 or 13.
Turn 16: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 13 or 14.
Turn 17: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 14 or 15.
Turn 18: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 15 or 16.
Turn 19: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 16 or 17.
Turn 20: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 17 or 18.
Turn 21: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 17 or 18.
Turn 22: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 18 or 19.
Turn 23: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 19 or 20.
Turn 24: Scroll likely opened to Reeds, horde likely at step 20 or 21.

In this version of the numbers, since the scroll will have opened all the way by turn 15, this leaves nine more turns of exploration before the horde engulfs the deadlands. Much more leisurely. The amount of exploration possible increases through the first half of the game, then contracts as the climax approaches toward the end. I think there is still a bit more tweaking to do here, but it feels like things are on the right track. I think the next thing to look at is an incremental increase of the numbers, perhaps making the first steps of the journey easy to accomplish (possibly a 2 in 3 chance of opening a new step or greater). then things get progressively harder (a 1 in 2 chance, then a 1 in 3, then maybe back to the 1 in 4). This would give the characters more chance to expand the exploration potential early in the game, but would make the horde more of a threat as the game draws to it's conclusion.

Generally the numbers seem to work in a similar manner regardless of the number of players (except that the more players there are, the longer to game tends to play out). There's a lot of background theory going on here, and I have to seriously wonder whether half the game designers out there go to this much trouble...

...for the moment though, back to playing with numbers.

Calculations for Game Intensity

I've been thinking about this "scroll game" concept, where the characters work their way up the scroll through exploration, but the bottom of the scroll gradually winds up to represent some threat that gradually approaches.

At this stage I'm toying with the idea of Egyptian souls making a journey across the lands of the dead, trying to reach a chance at a just judgment at the hands of Osiris, before the hordes of Anubis swarm across them and obliterate their souls completely. There will be several paths to take, basically divided into the left bank, the right bank and the river, and there will be obstacles to face along the way each of which will reveal something about the character's life before they died and began that journey. As the story unfolds we learn more about the characters, and their chances of passing judgement (if they make it that far), we also gain traits that might vary the speed of the scroll unwinding toward judgement, or vary the speed of the approaching horde. Two commonly quoted dogmas regarding Egyptian myth indicate 15 or 21 steps on the path to judgement, I'll be going with the 21.

The first calculations I've been doing for this involve the rate at which the horde approaches. I'm thinking of using custom dice like Heroscape for the game. 6 sided dice where three faces have a sword (or Khopesh), two sides have a shield, and the remaining side has an ankh (to remain thematic).

Combat in the game will basically used flat combat values indicating the number of dice to roll. Every sword takes a wound from the opponent, and every shield prevents a would being taken.

For the horde, we roll one die the first turn, two dice the second turn, three dice the third, until we reach the number of players participating. So, in a five player game we'd be rolling a maximum of five dice and we'd reach that point on the fifth turn. Every sword indicates an advancement of the horde by 1 step, every shield cancels out one of those advancements. At first they advance slowly, but as the turns progress, the horde picks up average speed. Having more players may mean that the horde are faster, but it also means that there are more opportunities to open up the scroll and remain ahead of the beasts.

While they'll never be seen as a part of play, I've generated up some charts to determine the speed of the horde under different numbers of players. I've highlighted the most likely positions of the horde at various stages of play. A line across the table indicates the point at which the horde will have reached the end of the scroll in 50% of the games played.

2 player
In 50% of the games played, the horde will have reached the end of the scroll by the time 32 turns have been played. A player gets an action once per turn, and an action should only take a minute or two (lets average it to 90 seconds)...then we'll add a minute for the horde advancing, and other game shifting end-of-turn effects. That gives us 4 minutes per turn, for around 128 minutes of gameplay before the horde has engulfed the lands of the dead.

3 player
In 50% of the games played, the horde will have reached the end of the scroll by the time 24 turns have been played. Using the same calculations for a player's action length and horde advance/end-of-turn activities, that gives us 5.5 minutes per turn, for around 132 minutes of gameplay before the horde has engulfed the lands of the dead.

4 player
In 50% of the games played, the horde will have reached the end of the scroll by the time 21 turns have been played. Using the same calculations for a player's action length and horde advance/end-of-turn activities, that gives us 7 minutes per turn, for around 147 minutes of gameplay before the horde has engulfed the lands of the dead.

5 player
In 50% of the games played, the horde will have reached the end of the scroll by the time 18 turns have been played. Using the same calculations for a player's action length and horde advance/end-of-turn activities, that gives us 8.5 minutes per turn, for around 153 minutes of gameplay before the horde has engulfed the lands of the dead.

So, on average we are looking at about two to two-and-a-half hours of gameplay, gradually increasing as the number of players increases. If we make the character actions a bit more complex, increasing them to 2 minutes each, we end up with:

2 player game = 5 minutes per turn
5 minutes x 32 turns = 160 minutes total

3 player game = 7 minutes per turn
7 minutes x 24 turns = 168 minutes total

4 player game = 9 minutes per turn
9 minutes x 21 turns = 189 minutes total

5 player game = 13 minutes per turn
11 minutes x 18 turns = 198 minutes total

(so, about two-and-a-half to three hours of gameplay)

These are maximum durations for the game based on the calculations provided, it could be possible to finish the game earlier. Players being more descriptive and getting deeper into the storytelling of the game might drag the game out a bit longer (which actually could be a good thing). 
The next thing I've been considering is how quickly the scroll opens up, but that's the next post.

23 January, 2016

So that's where it all began...

I've just been alerted to a really interesting post delving into the origins of our hobby.

Character Sheets in 1975 gives some imagery and context for the very first character sheets in RPGs.

With all this OSR discussion lately, it really makes you wonder how the hobby could have evolved in different directions before these fundamentals we locked into place.

22 January, 2016


Lots of conversation about the OSR today.

There are the inevitable discussions about what it is, and what it isn't... and I've never seen debates like this get resolved successfully. Nebulous entities don't work like that, much like the "Powered by the Apocalypse" discussions a few weeks ago.

There have been some very vocal discussions about whether the OSR actually has innovation, or if innovation exists in certain products in spite of the OSR.

There have been a lot of points I agree with, about there being numerous flavours of gaming, and how you are hamstringing yourself if you choose to focus exclusively on recapturing nostalgia.

There have been comments I've laughed at, such as the comment that the OSR is basically the "Scientology of gaming".

I'm sure thee will be more discussion regarding this over the next few days, weeks, months, years... until the next buzzword of gaming comes along, and then everyone can start debating that one.

21 January, 2016

New Release

It's been months since I've released something over on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG, I've had so many half complete projects that I just haven't been too motivated to complete, and so many other non-game related projects that I've neglected the shopfront for a while.

Today I released Big Damn Hero.

Hopefully it's the first in a few more regular products available online.

(The link to the preview copy has been killed, now that the product is live)

20 January, 2016

Scroll games

Quite some time ago, I discussed the idea of using variant techniques for displaying information in games. I even made specific mention of using scrolls as a means to present game information such as character sheets or important documentation to establish a link between the in-game narrative influencing the characters and the out-of-game mechanisms that influence the players.

Recently a successful Kickstarter project, Fall of Magic, did just this. I don't think I had anything to do with it, the idea was out there...just waiting for someone to take the chance.

I'm thinking of revisiting this concept in my next mini-game. Perhaps working off the idea of a chase, or trying to keep ahead of a plague. The front of the scroll unrolls as the characters make progress, the back of the scroll rolls back up again as the badness or plague gets closer. The characters are forced to work between the thresholds of what potentials have been revealed as possible in front of them, and what potentials have been eliminated by the encroaching threat.

I really haven't looked to closely at Fall of Magic, so I'm not sure if this is how that game works, but it seems interesting as a method of maintaining pace and story development within the constraints of the scroll. Some character might have abilities to unroll more of the scroll quickly in specific situations, others might have the ability in certain situations to prevent the scroll rerolling as the threat approaches.

Now to apply a suitable theme to it, and tie everything together.

19 January, 2016

A New Voice

A young local Aboriginal girl is having trouble finding a voice. She's struggling with numeracy and literacy, and is chafing at the traditional mainstream education system. She hates the rote learning, so I've been called in as a tutor by her mother and grandmother (one of the Aboriginal elders I've been working with over the past few months).

Apon hearing that someone would be guiding her homework experience, she instantly took a dislike to the idea, but I had a plan up my sleeve. I asked her if she liked computer games, and she said that she didn't like "homework games". Her grandfather (another of the elders I've been working with) said that she was always playing computer games. I aksed her what sorts of games, and she opened up a bit. I asked her if she'd like me to teach her how to make her own computer games. Parents and grandparents looked at me a bit suspiciously at this point, so I explained that programming computer games would be good because she could expand her literacy skills by putting together descriptive text and dialogue; it could also improve her numeracy skills if we include randomisers, or conditions with addition and subtraction elements that handle things in the background.

She seemed interested, but there was one thing that really grabbed her attention. If she worked hard at making the game, and we all thought it was good enough, it could be put on sale and she might get a bit of extra pocket money from it.

So, I don't know where this experiment will lead us. I don't know if this will turn out to be a creative endeavour that changes things on a wide scale, but I can hope that for one girl this is a path forward.

Small Scale Politics

What is it about groups of people that cause them to degenerate into petty squabbles once a certain critical mass group size is reached? Well actually, I should clarify that, as the group reaches a certain size petty squabbles develop, as the group reaches a slightly larger size those squabbles become full-on arguments.

I say this on reflection of three social groups I'm a part of. The LARP group I've been a part of, is starting to fracture because certain members are being continually kowtowed to. The community of aboriginal elders are having major issues with the land council board members who do not respect the old ways and are simply in it for personal gain. The ferret welfare society to which I belong is also crumbling.

Maybe it's just my presence causing an increase of entropy.

Or maybe there is something deeper, something that can be exploited as a resource for driving tension in games.

I'm not sure at this point, and a lot of the political issues are still a bit too raw to think about objectively at this stage. All I can say at this stage is that the critical point seems to emerge at around a dozen members. That seems to be the point when more than one strong willed individual emerges in the group, and friction begins.

18 January, 2016

FUBAR Layout

I'm determined to get a printed version of FUBAR ready before I go back to University, I'm also running a revised version of "Dead and FUBAR'd" at EttinCon at the end of the month. that means I need to start doing some layout work and it also means I need to finalise the text.

The original version of FUBAR was deliberately experimental in it's page layout, and I feel the new version needs to be just as artistic, but perhaps a bit more user friendly. There are certain elements of the rules that people have indicated elusive over the years, so I'll have to make sure they are clearly explained with plenty of sidebars and play examples. Luckily that stuff is written up. The new version of the rules will probably blow out from 50 pages to 96, but that's mostly due to extra explanatory text and the inclusion of a setting.

I did a series a few years ago where I looked at games I liked, then analysed them based on where certain game elements were placed. What came first: general rules, setting, setting specific rules, character generation, etc. Then I looked at how any pages were dedicated to each of these sections. Looking at the design decisions applied to existing gaming properties (whether deliberate, instinctive, or simply following the trends of the day), it allows a designer to consider what decisions might be made in their own products.

For example:
Mage: 3rd Edition (2000) (I'm not going to do the 600-odd pages of the 20th Anniversary Edition Version)
Prologue Flavour Text (1-17)
Intro (20-25)
Setting Details (28-40)
In-Game Lexicon (40-43)
Character Types (46-81)
Character Creation (84-94)
Explanation on specific character traits (94-129) including Attributes, Abilities, Backgrounds, etc.
Character development (130-131)
Magick Theory (134-156)
Magick Types/Spheres (156-194)
More Integration of Magick, setting and characters (195-207)
Mechanisms driving magick in play (208-209)
General rules (212-219)
Specific dramatic rule ideas (222-236)
Combat (236-249)
Setting History (252-257)
GM ideas (260-271)
Antagonists and Others (274-285)
Appendix: Merits and Flaws (287-301)
Index (307-309)
Character Sheet (312)

Rifts (1990)
Index (4-6)
Intro/Glossary (7)
Basic creation of a character (8-13)
Rounding out a character (14-18)
Insanity tables (19-22)
Skill lists then descriptions (23-32)
Combat skills (33)
Basic combat rules (34-37)
High tech combat rules (38-43)
High tech combat skills (44-46)
Character Occupations including special rules for those characters (47-96)
Dragon characters (97-101)
Psychic characters (101-112)
Psionic powers (113-127)
Setting history (128)
Setting geography (137-152)
Magic theory (161-165)
Magic combat (166-167)
Spell list then descriptions (168-190)
Military Equipment (191-204)
Black Market (205-208)
Other Weapons and Equipment (209-228)
Cybernetics and Bionics (229-242)
Conventional Weapons (243-245)
Other Equipment (245-247)
GM Section (248)
Monsters (249-256)

Cyberpunk (1993)
Overview (3)
Character types (4-24)
Character generation (25-29) with full character sheets (27-28)
Fast-n-Dirty character generation (30)
Fast-n-Dirty character sheets (31)
Lifepath generation (33-39)
Using skills (41-46)
Skill List (46-53)
Advancing (53-54)
Money and equipment (57-59)
Weapons (60-66)
Armour and other special equipment (67-71)
Cybernetics (72-93)
Combat rules (96-113)
Healing and medicine (115-121)
Drugs (122-123)
About netrunning (127-131)
Netrunning Gear (132-141)
The Net (141-149)
Netrunning Combat (149-169)
Making the Net real (170-174)
Setting Info (176-189)
Sample adventures and setting (190-250)
More character sheets (251-254)

Cadwallon (2006)
Setting/Intro (4-9)
The World (10-19)
The City (20-115)
Basic rules (118-129)
Character development (130-131)
Character creation (133-163) including character types (142-153) and advantages (154-161)
Specific skill rules (165-193)
Exploration rules (adventuring) (197-217)
Confrontation rules (combat) (219-229)
Interaction rules (231-255)
-including NPCs (234-245) and guilds/factions (249-253)
Incantation rules (magic) (257-289)
- including magic theory (257-262) and spells (263-289)
Divination rules (spirituality/calling on gods) (291-307)
- including theory (291-297) and litanies (298-307)
Evolution rules (magical high tech) (309-331)
- including theory (309-314), items to make (315-327), and improving normal items (328-331)
Appendix: Equipment (333-345)
Character Sheets (346-349)

...and more modern smaller books...

Cold City (2008)
- Intro to setting (4-9)
- Game tone (10)
- Trigger warnings (11-12)
- Setting tone (13-20)
Character Generation
- Metarules surrounding the character generation process (21-32)
- Actual character generation (33-46)
- Sample characters (47-50)
- Setting scenes (53-54)
- Agendas (55-56)
- Conflict resolution (57-71)
- (Generally friendly) NPCs (72-75)
- Overview (79-95)
- Ally NPCs (96-104)
- Adversaries (105-110)
- Expanding the setting (112-118)
- Sample adventures (120-139)
- Glossary (143)
- Alternate History (144-145)
- Equipment (146-148)
- Inspiration (150-155)
- Afterword (157)
- Character Sheet (158)
- Index (159-160)

Monsterhearts (2012)
- Game Overview (4-6)
Character Creation
- Character Generation (8-15)
- Setting scenes and resolving conflicts (17-19)
- Specific rules (moves) (20-24)
- Strings and conditions (25-29)
- Character and story development (30-44)
Character Types
- overview of types (46-47)
- 10 character types at about 5 pages each (48-99)
GM (MC) Rules
- General rules and tips about how running this game is different to others (101-127)
Running the Game
- More stuff about how this game is different to others (129-137)
- How to make villains convincing (139-144)
- How to hack the game (146-149)
- Play example (150-155)
- Inspirations (156-157)
Index (158-160)

Simply looking at how many pages a book has dedicated to a specific topic (or whether a book even addresses a specific topic) really implies what that game is about.

Rifts has combat rules scattered all through it. in multiple different types and with multiple sections of weapons, it says nothing about relationships between people.

Mage is clearly all about magic, it has different sections on how magic has affected the world, how characters can manipulate magic, how it can backlash against them. There's still 12 pages dedicated to combat, but there's over 70 pages on magic.

With 20 pages on combat and about 40 pages on netrunning, it would seem that Cyberpunk is more about the digital world, but 6 pages of weapons and 20 odd pages of cyberware pull the focus back to the physical world.

Across all the games you can see how important they treat their setting. Where many of the more modern games have less setting information because they allow a group to develop the game world as it becomes relevant to their story. Intricate detail gets in the way unless it supports story in some way. Cold City is dripping in story ideas and hooks, but generally avoids minutiae so that players can fill it in as they go (as indicated by the negligible detail regarding equipment and weapons).

Generally, Cold City is probably the closest to what I'm aiming for in this edition of FUBAR.

14 January, 2016

Big Damn Hero - Pre-Release

There seems to be enough interest in the new mini-game project.

So here's the link.

Big Damn Hero - Pre-release Version
(Link has been killed now that product is live)

It will probably be active for a week or so, until the game gets formally released before the end of the month.

13 January, 2016

Expressions of Interest for Big Damn Hero

I've almost finished a version of Big Damn Hero that I'm willing to let out into the wider world. It has limited layout, no pictures, probably needs some more thorough editing and proofreading, and certainly could do with some playtesting.

I'll be making copies of this preliminary version available to anyone who offers expressions of interest in the project in the next day or two. Hoping for a formal release before the end of the month.

Anyone interested?

10 January, 2016

Some character shots

I'm drawing up some characters and some generic background landscapes.

I'm not sure how they'll go together yet.

Here's the landscapes...

...and the work in progress...

06 January, 2016

Big Damn Hero

I'm thinking of honing my mini game design ideas by producing a single game every month for a while.

The first one will be inspired by "The Walking Dead", "Doctor Who", and pretty much anything starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, or Tom Cruise.

It's called "Big Damn Hero".

05 January, 2016

The Stone Dragon Mountain

My current cartographic commission work consists of three maps, and is rapidly approaching completion. The final product should be made available for sale shortly thereafter.

The first of the maps in the series depicts a base camp where an adventure begins.

This is followed by an outdoor map depicting the glacier between the base camp and the distant mountain. 

Finally, a map of the mountain itself and the legendary petrified dragon which forms the dungeon labyrinth within it. 

Still a bit more work to go, but hopefully these near completed maps get your attention.

04 January, 2016

The Three Episode Story Arc System (part 2 of 3)

I like to make sure the games I run have an appropriate sense of pacing. This means varying the degree of difficulty or changing the rate at which events are thrown at the characters. This can be done pretty simply by dividing up the challenges in a story arc, then throwing those challenges back into the mix when different story arc elements combine into specific episodes of the series (or games in the campaign). For simplicity, I like to allocate tension levels to the story. The introduction of each story has a tension level of 1, the build-up has a level of 2, and the climax 3. This basically means that the build-up is twice as tense as the introduction, and the climax is three times as tense. With a tension of 1, the introduction gives characters an opportunity to explore that part of the story without too many risks, as the tension rises to 2 the elements associated with this story arc become a threat to the characters and cause problems, and as the tension approaches 3 the dangers really hit home.

If we look at the plot structures indicated in the previous post, different plot arcs in the story will contribute different amounts of tension to each of the games in the campaign...

Game 1: A (intro - 1) [Total = 1]
Game 2: B (intro - 1), A (build-up - 2) [Total = 3]
Game 3: C (intro - 1), B (build-up - 2), A (climax - 3) [Total = 6]
Game 4: C (build-up - 2), B (climax - 3) [Total = 5]
Game 5: C (climax - 3) [Total = 3]

Looking at the numbers, you can see how I thought the structure seems anti-climactic. No real threats at the beginning, then threats rise in the middle, only to fall away, almost as a denouement at the end. 

Game 1: A (intro - 1), B (intro - 1) [Total = 2]
Game 2: A (build-up - 2) [Total = 2]
Game 3: A (climax - 3), B (build-up - 2), C (intro - 1) [Total = 6]
Game 4: C (build-up- 2) [Total = 2]
Game 5: B (climax - 3), C (climax - 3) [Total = 6]

In the second pattern, we can see the tension remaining low, sharply rising, dropping and rising again at the end. The flow just isn't as nice, but the ending remains distinctly climactic. Bear in mind that this is all theory, and actual practice may play out differently at the table, but it's nice to have a grounding in that theory to possibly understand why something might (or might not) work. 

Game 1: A (intro), B (intro) [Total = 2]
Game 2: A (build-up), C (intro) [Total = 3]
Game 3: A (climax), B (build-up), D (intro) [Total = 6]
Game 4: C (build-up) [Total = 2]
Game 5: B (climax), D (build-up), E (intro) [Total = 6]
Game 6: C (climax), E (build-up) [Total = 5]
Game 7: D (climax), E (climax) [Total = 6]

When the numbers are allocated to the seven game structure, they flow a bit more like the way you'd expect from the rises and falls of narrative tension in a television series designed for 'binge watching' (such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Into the Badlands, Darkmatter, Killjoys, etc.) and that's closer to the way I've been running campaigns for the last decade or so. 

It's also the way I've started running campaigns on a micro scale when I'm at conventions. I know that the game at a convention needs to be a self contained story, people don't lay their money on the table just to tell half a story, so it's better to be fairly regimented with what happens when. That can be hard in a freeform style of game, but this system makes it a bit more manageable. I remember the old days of the Sydney RPG convention scene (pre-2000), when GMs would rigorously playtest their convention modules to ensure they played out within a 3 hour timeslot. They'd get three or four groups of players to run through their carefully scripted games, pulling out (or cutting down) scenes that were too long, or adding in scenes if things were playing out too quickly. It was considered that a 'best practice GM' would playtest their game at least three times before revealing it to the public at a convention...and even then, some games might run short or long and nothing could be relied apon with 100% accuracy. I played in games that ran more than an hour over-time and it felt like we hadn't gotten anywhere, I also played in games that ran an hour under time where everything had been resolved. Would it be right to blame the scenario? The players? The GM? Throw your hands up and say nothing can be controlled? A bit of everything, and all of nothing.

If I know I've got three hours to run a game, I'll divide it up into 7 20 minutes mini-episodes (or scenes). There is a 20 minute buffer at the beginning to allow playes to read through character sheets and get a brief rundown of the game, there is another 20 minute buffer at the end for a denouement to discuss the game at the end of the session (or to flow into if the game gets intense and needs a bit longer to either resolve final climax or generally cool down). Following that 7-episode structure, that gives me an idea of how many challenges, or how difficult those challenges will be. 

If I'm running a game like FUBAR, where I don't know where the story will go, or where the characters might end up, I can still have a good idea of when the challenges might unfold, and at what points it might be necessary to introduce new story elements, expand upon existing story elements or set things in motion to resolve earlier plot lines. It stops the whole thing from completely devloving into chaos. 

03 January, 2016

The Three Episode Story Arc System (part 1 of 3)

When I GM, I like to bombard my players with options. I would rather have my players tossing up which lead to follow rather than trying to work out a single lead while the story stagnates. I run a lot of short form games, three/four/five session storylines, before we move on to something new. This gives the opportunity to try a variety of rpgs, and stops us getting bored from the slow slog through tedium that I've encountered in almost every long term campaign I've suffered.

Practice at this short form campaign style has lead me to a few specific thoughts that I've decided to share.

Firstly, I'll point out that I like self contained stories, so every session I run has an appropriate introduction, build-up and climax. This way, if a player has to miss a session, they don't miss out on a satisfying conclusion to the events of the previous session. Conversely, they can come in from a fresh starting point at any later session, because each session does tell a complete self contained narrative.

But from there, I like tying those individual stories together, and weaving background elements in each of the stories into something deeper and richer. That's where the three episode story arc comes in.

It's something you see in serial television, especially in recent years now that the idea of binge watching has taken off. Each episode tells it's story, but when you watch them in succession it becomes possible to pick up on specific nuances that integrate into a much wider story. One episode will tell it's story, while setting up a fragment for the larger sequence. A later episode will tell its specific story while picking up that fragment and developing it further. An episode later still will tell it's story while resolving the wider fragment that had appeared in the previous two episodes.

When I've watched a show once a week, I have a tendency to forget these fragments and focus on the week's events. When I binge watch a show, the weekly events seem to blend into each other and the longer narratives take on more significance. So this is how I'm thinking when I try to plot a short campaign.

Here's a pair of 5-part campaign structures that I've used in the past.

Game 1: A (intro)
Game 2: B (intro), A (build-up)
Game 3: C (intro), B (build-up), A (climax)
Game 4: C (build-up), B (climax)
Game 5: C (climax)

Game 1: A (intro), B (intro)
Game 2: A (build-up)
Game 3: A (climax), B (build-up), C (intro)
Game 4: C (build-up)
Game 5: B (climax), C (climax)

These two structures play out quite differently. The first is more evenly paced, but feels a bit anti-climactic. The overall story builds up to the middle session and then peters out in the last two sessions as previous storylines are resolved one by one. At the end of the five sessions, every story arc has been completed but it defeats the point of running a game where players can drop in or drop out. You need to be there for every session early on to see where the stories begin, you need to be there for every session later on to see where everything ends.

The second story structure is a bit more spasmodic, it starts with a bang, then simmers through the second session as things build for the first arc. The third game is still the big bang when one story starts, one builds and one concludes. Then we go back to simmering as the last story arc developes. Comcluding with a more satisfying "Bang" when two storylines conclude at the end of the campaign. This second structure has the advantage that a player might be able to mss the second or fourth sessions without losing too much on the overall plot. They'll still get to see where everything starts and where everything finishes, even if they miss one or both of these sessions (but of course it would be more satisfying for the narrative if they did attend regularly).

I've done similar things dividing seven session campaigns into mini story arcs (often 4 or 5 of these), and generally it's worked. 

Game 1: A (intro), B (intro)
Game 2: A (build-up), C (intro)
Game 3: A (climax), B (build-up), D (intro)
Game 4: C (build-up)
Game 5: B (climax), D (build-up), E (intro)
Game 6: C (climax), E (build-up)
Game 7: D (climax), E (climax)

It's certainly worked better for me than trying to run a single story over five or more sessions where introduction is interesting, the climax is interesting, but the comlications and build-up stretched over the middle three sessions just feel a bit too drawn out.

These have been very patterened stories, with intro/build-up/climax pacing occuring once per story or once every second story, but they certainly don't have to be this way. I've got more to wrote about this,  and that will cme over the next few posts.

01 January, 2016

Happy New Year 2016

Thanks to everyone who has been reading the blog through 2015. Hopefully there will be some good reading to follow over the next 12 months as well.