28 February, 2016

How do you set a tone in a game?

Call of Cthulhu has a sanity system. It was one of the first games I encountered where there was an attempt to address genre conventions. The question of how successful this system is...that's been very debatable over the years. The more infamous incarnation of the game "Dread" uses a Jenga tower. "Dogs in the Vineyard" uses a core mechanism that is all about escalation, leading to higher drama and more intensity.

But generally I've found that most system mechanisms really don't reflect genre conventions, they typically don't add flavour even though I can sometimes see how a designer has attempted to enhance flavour through such mechanisms. I don't claim to know every game system, nor even half of the games that are out there, some games might have mechanisms that really inform genre conventions well, but I just haven't seen them.

Instead, I find that most genre and flavour elements are introduced by players and the GM, often outside the rules written on the page. I think this might be the reason why a lot of players around the world develop home brews and hacks, they're trying to put into writing the kinds of things they do at the table to get a specific feeling in their stories. Not all hacks and home brews are about this, some are just exercises in mediocrity where someone has a tiny idea to change an existing system, or renames an element of an existing system then claims it's revolutionary. 

I also find that it's more common for flavour and genre conventions to manifest through the flavour text in a game. People home brew settings to attach to existing systems; the good ones offer lots of hooks and suggestions on how to use those hooks to generate the kinds of stories that match the feelings they have for their world; the bad ones are pastiches of existing settings, where it's generally expected that a player will understand those existing settings and the vibes inherent in them to understand how to combine the ingredients to get the desired output. I like the flavour ideas in "Planescape", "Dark Sun", "World of Darkness", "HōL", "Warhammer" (Fantasy and 40k), "Legend of the Five Rings", all settings dripping in flavour... all settings where the mechanisms of play don't necessarily fit the flavour of the setting unless liberal narrative interpretation is applied regardless of those rules.

Lots of issues, lots of fragmentary ideas. I know that attempts have been made to address these concepts, but again I think those attempts have been pretty hit and miss.

I've been looking at the idea of scarcity to reflect a post-apocalyptic vibe. I've mentioned it a few times already, you roll on a table and there's a chance that the item may disappear from the table and never be able to be found again; the rarer the item the higher the chance that this will be the last item of that type able to be found. 

I'm looking at vague prophecy from the past to enhance the mystery of the setting. I might be drawing elements of this from the Malifaux RPG "Through the Breach", where characters lay out a tarot spread wher each card contributes a fragment toward the prophecy... I toyed with this a few months back when I generated the "Tom Waits Oracle", but I think there's more potential here. 

The last thing that I'm thinking of adding is a sense of wonder...not darkness, not grittiness...there are too many games like that already, and as mentioned previously they often don't get the feeling right through the mechanisms of play, instead they get ideas across through the fluff amd flavour text.

The rest of the game will follow the simple system I've been describing in recent weeks. I don't want too many flavours conflicting or confusing the overall tone.

They are a few small steps, but there are a lot of others that might contribute overall to a certain feel of a setting. 

26 February, 2016

What does a range of potential character options say about a game orsetting?

I admit it, I used to love Rifts.

In high school I would lure players to my games by offering them the chance to play litereally anything they could imagine (which inevitably led me to realise that a lot of people really aren't that imaginative...but that's another story). I had enough Rifts and Palladium sourcebooks that I could pretty much allow any appearance of character, and some quite powerful ability sets, purely from first level characters. I ran games with sentient machines (often non-humanoid), dragons, thinly disguised homages of popular super heroes, shapeshifters, devils, fey...all sorts of things. The trick lay in trying to develop ways that such disparate characters would end up working together, and trying to develop stories where everyone would have an opportunity to shine, and everybody would have times when their ability set just wasn't appropriate to the challenge being faced. 

The fact that I'd allow literally any type of character drew people to my games. The fact that I tried to make the stories interesting for everyone, and gave everyone the opportunity to have good moments and bad, kept them at my games. It was gonzo, but it became epic...not due to over-the-top characters but due to meaningful interactions between those characters and the way they'd change the world (often to discover that they'd only changed one of many timelines, and a Rift would take them to a similar realm where those changes hadn't happened).

Over years, I realised that an "anything goes" approach to starting a campaign can be hard work, mostly hard to keep the coherency of the storyline, but also to keep finding reasons why such disparate characters would stay together. I think this is when my exposure to Vampire: the Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse hit. Other players at the time asked "Why would you want to play a game where everyone is stuck playing the same thing?", and I didn't have a good answer at the time beyond "Because they're cool"...which inevitably led to the World of Darkness crossover games with Werewolves and Vampires joining forces against the Technocracy and ghostly agents in the background moving everyone around like pawns. I heard numerous stories like this so it wasn't just my circle of friends who didn't seem to get the whole idea of focused campaigns. 

Moving through social groups and gaming circles in the late 90s, I found a few players who really blew my mind with the gaming style. Not only did they restrict games to a single type of character, they'd focus on a specific subtype, then play within the conventions of that groups to develop diverse characters. Instead of Werewolves, they'd tell the specific tale of a pack of Silver Fangs trying to regain their heritage and strength to confront the horrors lurking in the shadows, while fending off political rivals...instead of Vampires, they'd weave narratives specifically focused on Setites of a specific generation as childer of a shadowy spymaster who had waged an eternal war against Egyptian foes who'd spread across the world. This meant that the groups didn't need to find ways to explain why they were together, and the story could really focus on other aspects such as "family" dynamics, unified fronts against superior foes, and exploration of the world beyond rather than constantly focusing on the tensions and bonds holding the characters together. 

Both are valid types of story, but it's nice to have options rather than telling the same story over and over (despite having different settings and different characters).

Somewhere between the two extremes lies the idea of having a restricted range of characters. Perhaps playing D&D but making all the characters dwarves, maybe eliminating magic users from your game, or making all the character's lawful because they are members of the town guard (that's not to say they're all good, some might be corrupt and Lawful-Evil). A restriction sets a tone, I like to think of it less like a limitation, and more like setting an impetus for the direction of the stories I'd like to tell. It gets everyone on the same page from the very beginning. It's like an artist restricting their colour pallet to get a specific feel in their artwork. 

A lot of recent games really play with this concept well. I'm thinking of Grey Ranks and Night Witches as examples, where a specific character set up implies a certain type of story, which in turn allows to you tell a more nuanced story because you've got all the shorthands and genre conventions within that setting to play with, you don't need to explain everything from scratch because there is a character present who doesn't really belong. 

To take this back to my last post, and the thoughts I've been having with the LARP, I think that's one of the problems I've seen so far. The open character generation system has seen a wildly disparate group of loners and charactes who just don't particularly fit, and these players haven't been guided in such a way that they can integrate within existing structures in the game. The "Clans" who have developed specific limitations in the character types they'll allow have remained strong (even despite certain key players coming and going), but even then the clans are so diverse that it becomes hard as a coordinators to tie different groups together on a regular basis and maintain coherency in the overall plot. 

25 February, 2016

What does character generation say about a game?

Over the years there has been plenty of discussion regarding the way new players approach a game, and how the first interaction they have with a game typically involves the way characters are created. If the character generation system is quick and dirty, there is an expectation that characters will be expendable, or maybe that the characters will be developed further in play if they aren't expendable. Conversely if a character generation system is long and complex, there is an expectation that the characters will not be expendable because players won't want to go through the whole process of generating another character after a single encounter.

There have been plenty of games over the years that have ignored this, and have been ridiculed due to it. One example that comes to mind exists in various incarnations of Traveller, where a complex life path system may see incredibly detailed characters come to the table, only to die en route to a mission or trade encounter (hell, some characters don't even survive character generation). Another example is HoL which parodied this notion by making an incredibly over complicated system for character generation.

Another element to this comes in the form of the nebulous concept "game balance". Rifts is a great example for a very unbalanced character generation system, where one character might be effectively be a hobo (Vagabond OCC), another character in the same party might possess the most powerful suit of powered combat armour built by humanity (Glitterboy OCC), yet another character might be an alien entity with a completely different set of abilities altogether. In a combat based game, the Glitterboy might be utterly dominate; in an alien world game, the alien might dominate (because the Glitterboy can't get spare parts)...it's pretty hard to see a game where the hobo might be the best character.

There are ways to ensure game balance does occur in a game, or at least to moderate things to ensure the game balance doesn't get too far out of control; "point buy" systems come to mind. Such systems don't completely eliminate balance issues (and there have been many discussions on this over the years), but they do serve a regulatory function. Don't get me wrong, sometimes unbalanced games can be great, you can tell some very specific and interesting stories when there is a distinct unbalance between members of the party; but you need to be aware of this unbalance, and moderate other elements of the session accordingly. Players need to know up front that a game is asymmetrical, and this should be a part of the character generation system.

Which brings us to the reason for my post...

The LARP I've taken over in recent months has stagnated. It uses a simplistic character generation system, because the guys who wrote it had never written a game before (and because numerous people who were involved at the beginning wanted a character development system created ASAP). Over the 18 months the game has been running, the various organisers have added patches to the rules to fix elements that didn't seem to be working, and expand possibilities where things were lacking in the game. The game has grown organically from where it started, and while some players are content to go with things as they are, others are grumbling. For a while it was the largest regular LARP in the area, but in recent months disgruntled individuals have created their own LARP groups (some focusing more heavily on combat with minimal roleplaying, some focusing on stories for smaller groups led by a GM while other players spend most of their game portraying NPCs...desperately hoping that they'll be one of the chosen ones able to play their character in a later session).

I'm looking to change things up a bit by exploring the historical background of the game in a series of sessions over the next few months. But to give this an "epic historical" feel, I need a point of difference for the characters in this era. The existing system is basically a loose modular point buy system, a bit of a free for all where players can pick and choose what they want to get a character that's not quite what they're after (then in theory, during play they can aspire to their goal character, and move on from there). To give this new set of games a different feel, I'm thinking of throwing out the point buy system, and simply applying a range of templates with a few customisable options. I guess I'm thinking of this in a Star Wars perspective. The original trilogy is filled with heroes who are picking up pieces from the past to forge their identities, there is no formal Jedi training academy, the rebels are forced to learn things for themselves and from their fellow rebels, scoundrels and smugglers learn all sorts of things on the fly and there is certainly no formal training school for them. In the "prequel" trilogy, there is a formal Jedi academy, there are multiple military groups who each train their members in specific styles and arts.

I'm also working to make the character generation system easier because the games will be spaced out over decades of in-setting timeline. The standard game doesn't allow characters to die unless the player specific wants to tell a dramatic storyline where death is a climax to their arc, this new game will see character death or retirement as a feature (roll a die at the end of a session, if the die result is less than the number of times you've died during the game, then you may retire the character or the next game will be your last). With the period between each historical event, players will see rapid acceleration of their character development. Instead of incremental change where a single minor upgrade might apply each game, or where a major upgrade might take multiple game to achieve, this new game will see characters earn multiple upgrades from one game to the next, rapidly ascending to heroic levels, or dying in a blaze of glory along the way.

Once these historical sessions have played out, we'll go back to the regular game with a new perspective, and maybe we'll bring some of those variant ideas back into the regular game.

24 February, 2016

Just when I thought things couldn't get more dangerous...

Yesterday's post about new toys foresaw a potentially expensive new hobby as I develop 3D printed terrain and other gaming accessories. 

Today, a new toy (or set of toys) arrived in the post. A pair of bows, and twelve LARP safe arrows. Just in time for the appearance of a new LARP based near my home in the Southern Highlands. Maybe it's time to start developing some new character concepts... It'll be nice to play again, instead of running things because I'm always disgruntled by the existing game structure and GMs.

This could be dangerous

Our local discount supermarket chain, Aldi, had a 3d printer for sale. Hundreds of dollars less than comparable models. So that meant I got a new toy.

I guess that 2d ideas in my head just weren't enough.

The test print I just ran for the machine was better than I expected. 

21 February, 2016

How do you learn magic?

I'm looking for a focal concept to focus the development on this new game system. One of the driving concepts in the game is the idea that anyone can learn magic, and that the heroes of the setting are people who have internalised the natural magic of the universe into themselves.

To use the standard tropes of fantasy games...

Fighters become more adept, are able to deal devastating strikes, and might move faster than the eye can see because they have transcended the mundane martial arts of common humanity. Scholars tap into the underlying knowledge inherent in the world, perhaps understanding it as the collective dream, the Akashic record, or spirit guides. Clerics tap into the resonant energies typically associated with their chosen deities. Rogues tap into the mysteries of shadow, manipulating degrees of obscurity by unlocking secrets, or establishing new secrets of their own (invoking invisibility or similar effects in the process). Mages and Sorcerors don't cloak their powers in mundane appearances, they simply manifest their effects blatantly.

Instead of developing specific subsystems for specific types of character, everyone harnesses the same general effects, but those effects manifest in appearances defined by the specific type of character. These general effects include...

Modifiers to action attempts (positive or negative)
Extra actions (or preventing actions)
Rerolled dice (taking the better roll, or the worse roll)
Automatic additional degrees of success (as long as the basic roll is successful)

Back in the late 90s, Dave Chandraratnam and I developed a great magic system structure and it really feels like it could work here. Characters have three magical traits: Connection, Conduit, and Capacity.

Connection indicates the total range of things that a character is able to draw mystical power from. Such things might include places, ritual techniques, specific tools, specific times of day, types of weapon, specific people, herb and crystal types (varying per element), or just about anything else that people might consider significant (and thus attach power to). The specific connection score is equal to the total number of these foci that a character has access to.

Conduit indicates the number of foci that a character can connect to at any given time. A character might have a dozen connections, but might only be able to harness the energies from three of them at a time. Since every connection has a different range of mystical affinity, this means that a character can harness a different assortment of foci to resonate in different patterns to produce different magical effects. However the numbers work out, a character must always have more points in their connection score than their conduit score.

Capacity indicates the maximum amount of magical energy that a character can stored within their metaphysical pattern. This is power that doesn't need to be channeled in from a focus at the time when the magic is unleashed, but it will need to be recharged at a later time. A character's conduit score must always be higher than their capacity.

Latent psychics and the lowest hedge mages may have connection scores but no conduit or capacity. This means they may harness the energies within these foci in the most basic ways, perhaps reading a scroll or following specific prewritten procedures that exploit loopholes in reality known to the occult community. A character with a minimum of one single point of connection can function at this level.

Adepts and sorcerors may have connection and conduit scores, but no capacity. They no longer need to rely on specifically written predetermined effects, and are capable of generating mystical effects on the fly, because they are able to channel the energy as it flows through their metaphysical pattern. Characters of this level do need to have memorised the effects they unleash on the world. They aren't quite knowledgeable or intuitive enough to create custom effects on the fly. A character needs two points of connection, in order to get the single point of conduit necessary to function at this level.

True manipulators of reality have connection, conduit and capacity scores. For them, reality is mutable, energy flows into them, it is manipulated as it fuses with their destiny, then it manifests in spontaneous ways that may be memorised rotes, or new effects specific to the situation. These mystics have started on the path to true enlightenment. A character needs three points of connection, and two points of conduit, to get the single point of capacity necessary to function at this level.

Different schools of magic vary mainly according to the connections they teach. Necromantic schools might draw power from bones, grave dirt, blood, the stroke of midnight, or forbidden texts. Fey sorcery might draw power from dreams, natural glades, herbs, or new artworks. Every school might have half a dozen or more connections, then they might have a dozen specific techniques for manifesting the magical energy unleashed by these foci. Such books would typically have one or two elements of magic in it's pages, its effects will link to a single attribute ("battle"/"intimidation"/"knowledge"/"mysticism"), and a few specific skills to which the magic is related. Magical textbooks might have specific instructions for using two or three foci, and might have a few effect techniques. Often a small magic school might just be a group of practitioners who draw their magical inspiration from one or two texts in their possession. More established magic schools might have generated their own grimoires and texts after generations of trial and error.  

Let's consider a book of combat techniques, describing a specific weapon, a specific battlecry, and a meditation technique. Using these, it provides some knacks for dealing extra damage, avoiding armour, intimidation or confusion methods, and more obscure secrets for those who can read between the lines. Such a book might use elemental "fire" magic, the "battle" attribute, and the skills "melee", "intimidation", and "strength" as the basis for its magic. A combat dojo/training-hall might be focused around two or three books like this.

Character Development

When trying to develop a fairly open system, getting stuck in fiddly detail is problematic. That's where I find myself again. This new system has a very open magic system, but there are certain bits of the other integrated systems that are frustrating me to no end. I look at existing systems, and see complications where I feel that simplicity should be possible, but no matter how I approach similar areas, the same complications arise in my own work.

I've just started my Master degree at university, and tomorrow I begin my forst day of classes. That means my rate of posting will probably slow down again. I'll have less time to obsess on these things and my mind will have to focus on other areas. Since I'm stuck here, that's probably a good thing.

20 February, 2016

A Game Design Rubric

It's not often I post two things in a row which are basically links to other blogs (and quick commentaries on them), but I saw this and thought it was worth it.

A Rubric of Game Design

This is a plain english attempt to categorise games, generally board and card games, but with a few tweaks it could cover most types of game.

I don't 100% agree with this, but it's an admirable attempt. There seems to be a feeling that each listing starts with the best possible option on the scale, then works through a sliding progression down to the worst. I'd agree with some scales if that were the case, but in many cases my optimal games sits at the s cond or third highest rung on the ladder... I don't want a game where every choice is just as good, I prefer games where there are tough choices perhaps choosing bigger risks for potentially bigger rewards, or sacrificing short term goals for the long game.

As a method of establishing ground rules for the discussion of games, it's not bad. I might end up referring back to it in later posts. For now, time to have a coffee and do some painting.

19 February, 2016

Initiative Order

I never got the chance to play Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It was one of those games on my list is products that I figured I'd get around to...then it was gone.

So that meant I never saw The initiative system used in the game. I'm not going to redescribe the initiative system (that's why I provided the link), but when Fred Hicks tells you it's OK to steal a system for use in your own game, it sometimes seems prudent to consider if your game has a hole that the system can fit into.

My current project has no initiative system, and I was actually trying to wrap my head around a few ideas that just didn't mesh with where I wanted to head. This initiative idea is pretty simple and might  be what I was looking for...or a good starting point anyway.

As I write this, the system reminds me of some games with miniatures that I've played over the years, if I remember correctly an early incarnation of Confrontation used something quite similar (where each player chooses the next one of their opponent's troops to activate).

Now There's a few more minor things to think about and all of the pieces will hopefully lock together in a way that makes sense.

17 February, 2016

The Triangle of Character Archetypes.

As I try to keep the new system simple, I've encountered this chart. 

If I were limiting the three types of character actions to "Battle", "Sneaking", and "Mysticism", this chart would be great, a clever way to distribute a whole heap of occupation types across the continuum. The problem is that I'm using four types of action (ignoring "Sneaking" but adding "Knowledge" and "Influence") so a triangle doesn't cut it. Instead I'd be looking at a tetrahedron, where each point is a type of action and the various occupations exist somewhere in a three dimensional matrix within the solid form. 

By splitting apart the actions, it also eliminates some of the central issues in this chart. Most of the chart has similar character types together, but I wouldn't have thought ninjas were so similar to merchants or bards.

It's a good chart, and very inspiring toward current projects, but not quite exactly what I'm after. 

15 February, 2016

Keeping it simple

I always think that the complexity in a roleplaying session should come from the story rather than the rules. Complicated rules don't make a complicated story, they make a slow story and a story where rule lawyers interrupt things to make sure they're doing things "by the book".

I've been looking at elemental concepts, and splitting things out into 8 types of action (matching the elements of air, darkness, earth, fire, light, metal, water, and wood), but this has been getting complicated. 

Looking back at 'Town Guard' has realigned my thoughts along some older patterns. That game has 4 attributes... Battle, Knowledge, Influence, and Mysticism. Almost allwing a shift back to the simple style of game found in Warrior, Rogue, Mage (http://www.stargazergames.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/WRM.pdf) which has informed a few of my design concepts recently. 

With that in mnd, I could probably knock out a game in a few pages to align up with the symbols and ideas behind the location images I'm working with. A shattered magical realm, where everyone has the capacity to awaken inner powers, but these powers might be focused along combat techniques, insight and knowledge, status and social manipulation, or raw and blatantly magical. 

...but I'm still thinking at this stage.

14 February, 2016

Looking in further depth at the system idea

Static Difficulties

I'm tossing up the idea that sometimes an action might have an inherent difficulty associated with it.
Such difficulties would be between 1 and 10, if the difficulty die doesn't reach this score, then the action suffers a negative side effect. This basically turns the final result into a "no, but..."/"yes, but..." verdict. You might do it, you might not, but the chosen feat to complete the task obviously wasn't quite the right one for some reason that is only revealed later. A player could pull out at this time, but will suffer some repercussions.

On the other hand, if the difficulty die does match (or beat) the static difficulty, it has shown that this type of action is on the right track, and if the skill roll doesn't succeed then a team-mate will gain an advantage on their follow-up roll (basically an "and..." result)

Opposed tests

Both players roll their difficulty die (the higher result here indicates the more spectacular feat being attempted)
Both players roll their skill die and try to match the result of the difficulty die. This is a hit or miss affair, either you succeed in the feat or you don't. This is a strategy for the round.

Combat example
"Simple strike" and "Defensive stance" might both be d4 feats (the former inflicting base damage only, the latter reducing incoming damage by 4)
"Balanced offense" might be a d6 feat (inflicting base damage and reducing incoming damage by 2)
"Armour piercing" and "multiple opponents" might both be d8 feats (the former inflicts damage that ignores armour, the latter allows base damage to be inflicted to two opponents)

Both Ed and Diana have experienced combatants with d8 combat skill.
Ed goes for a "Balanced offence (d6)", Diana goes for "Armour Piercing (d8)".
Ed rolls a 5 on his difficulty d6, Diana rolls a 2 on her difficulty d8.
It doesn't matter, even though Diana is attempting the more complicated task, but she's obviously seen a better opening in her opponent's defenses.

When is comes to skill rolls...

Possible Outcome 1: Ed rolls a 7, Diana rolls a 5...both beat their difficulty dice so both actions occur.  Ed's strike hits but is blocked by the entirety of Diana's armour, Diana's strike hits and even thought it completely avoids any armour, the damage is reduced by 2 points because Ed is expecting it and has avoided the worst.
Possible Outcome 2: Ed fails his roll but Diana succeeds in hers. Ed doesn't manage to get in a hit, nor does he manage to anticipate Diana's move in any way. Diana's strike avoids all armour, and doesn't suffer the damage reduction due to Ed's careful footing...full damage goes through.
Possible Outcome 3: Against the odds Ed succeeds but Diana fails. Ed gets in his strike it is absorbed by the maximum level of Diana's armour, Diana's attempted strike does nothing.
Possible Outcome 4: Both Ed and Diana fail in their attempted feats. By all rights, this would be one of those "whiff" moments, where nothing much really happens. I don't really want "dead rounds" to occur, so maybe the higher rolling skill die earns a strategic advantage that offers a bonus in the following round.

Some things to ponder. I think this might be a more elegant system than the "System 4" idea I've been working on.

System Idea

Alright, here's the idea.

You roll 2 dice.

One die applies to the degree of difficulty you're trying to achieve. You try something easy and you roll a d4, something typical = d6, a bit tricky = d8, complicated = d10, truly spectacular = d12. This applies to attempts at awesome combat strikes just as much as it applies to marketplace haggling, feats of agility, or attempts to harness the mystic energies of the world.

The second die applies to your inherent degree of skill when trying to achieve something. If you're not great then you roll a d4, if you're pretty average roll a d6, moderately proficient = d8, naturally adept = d10, instinctive virtuoso = d12. If you have a specific skill associated with the task, you add 1 to the result.

You can generally choose the difficulty die you want, in combat you might have to learn specific tactics that have specific dice associated with them, the same might apply to spell effects.

When you try to accomplish something, you may roll the dice together (specifying which coloured die is the difficulty die and which is the skill die), or may roll the difficulty then the skill (if you've only got dice of the one colour).

As long as your skill die is at least equal to the difficulty die, you succeed in the action. The actual quality of that success is determined by the result of the difficulty die. So you want a high difficulty die for a better chance at a spectacular outcome, and you want a high skill die for a better chance at succeeding.

For example, if you go with a d4 difficulty and d10 skill, the best you'll get is a "difficulty outcome 4" difficulty, and a 70% chance of succeeding with this outcome result. You've got an even better chance of passing at a lower "difficulty outcome". On the other hand if you go with a d8 difficulty, you might end up with a "difficulty outcome 8", and a 30% chance of succeeding, but then again you might still end up with a "difficult outcome 4", and the same 70% success chance. You might even have a d12 difficulty and d10 skill, but if that difficulty die rolls an 11 or 12, there is no chance your d10 will reach that result.

I'm thinking that in this system, rolling  doubles might have some added benefit.

It's just an idea at the moment.

11 February, 2016

Educational Games

The Game Crafter is running a contest centered around educational games at the moment. That means it's a good time to get Bug Hunt finalised. I've had heaps of files on my computer in a half complete state, the game has gone through a dozen playtest sessions with various groups, and the original university research project attached to the game has been completed (and used as a case study for future classes taking the subject).


The general game is simple, but can be played with varying complexity of rules. This hopefully makes it suitable as an entertainment for young kids, a teaching aid for older kids, and a strategic exercise for mature game players.  

Now it's just a case of compiling the components. (Something I've been meaning to do for months)

10 February, 2016

Question regarding an old Movie

I'm looking for an old movie, I think it's from the early 80s. It involves time travel, where the protagonists jump into the future and find themselves in a warzone that has been generally obliterated by some kind of sonic or neutron weapon that has killed all the people but left the buildings generally intact. I vaguely remember the title being something like "Under the Radar", that's not the title (I checked), but I get the feeling it was something like that.

The second movie I was looking for today, and one I was going to ask the hive mind about, was entitled "Future War 198X". It was an anime from 1982 based on a World War 3 scenario set in the last 80s. I remember watching it on VHS from the local video store as a kid, and it was one of my favourite movies along with Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards".

There was another very similar movie to wizards, but I'm going to have to track down "Wizards" and watch it again, just to confirm it's not a part of that movie that I'm thinking of (and just imagining that it's a different film).

Anyway...back to the search for obscure sci-fi.

09 February, 2016

People to Meet

One of the things I loved about Planescape was the way it flipped the standard D&D tropes on their heads. It brought the politics of deities and demons to the fore, it existed outside of all the other settings and therefore all of the other settings were inherently contained by it.

One of the particular things I liked was the way it took away many of the familiar races such as Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings, and replaced them with Bariaurs (Goat Centaurs), Tieflings (Demon-blooded), Aasimar (Angel-blooded), and plane touched humans. Those other races exist in Planescape, but they are entities of the material worlds, not so much lesser beings, but beings focused on the local affairs of their realms rather than the creatures of planar cosmopolitanism that the setting focuses on. 

If I'm developing a vague setting with these landscape images, that's the kind of direction I'm thinking of heading. I've developed a few interesting settings over the years both here on the blg and in a few of my game designs elsewhere, this might be an opportunity to tie them all together with some gonzo awesomeness that has scope to tie into any other setting as well. 

If the whole über-setting ties into notions regarding the aftermath of a planar war, it could work. Mlre to think about.

08 February, 2016

Things to do

In addition to the elemental affinities of the various locations depicted, and the potential treasures that might be gained from exploring them, I've been thinking of two other ways to differentiate the areas. 

Actions: The next method (the third in total) revolves around the types of actions that might be more effective. These actions aren't necessarily easier, but visitors who engage in such actions tend to produce more significant results.

Violent: Engaging in acts designed to threaten, intimidate, or outright harm any adversaries who might be present.
Sneaky: Engaging in acts designed to avoid any adversaries or potential problems that might be causing a threat.
Impressive: Engaging in acts designed to impress any adversaries, causing them to submit through a show of force.
Financial: Engaging in acts that appeal to an adversaries greed, or simply throwing resources at a problem until they go away.
Mystical: Engaging in acts that tap into the underlying forces of reality and the metaphysical loopholes that exploit them.
Social: Engaging in acts that require conversation and discussion with any adversaries who might be present.
Experimental: Engaging in acts designed to test the environment and learn something about it before the opportunity to pass presents itself.

Threats: The final method of differentiation involves the typical threats inherent in each location. These are the types of risk a group is likely to face when they engage in actions here. Like the other differentiation symbols, a specifically indicated threat isn't the only way the characters will be in danger, it's just more common for that type of threat to be significant.
Spectral/Spiritual: This threat comes in the form of a supernatural entity which cannot be confronted by conventional means. The characters will need to find the specific weakness of the entity (typically using the location's action type) before any treasures become available.

Vicious: This threat comes in the form of a natural predator or violent being. The characters will have the best chance of overcoming this threat by using the location's commonly associated action type before any treasures become available.

Environmental: This threat comes in the form of exposure, or natural phenomena capable of dealing harm over the long term. The characters will need to find ways to avoid the exposure, or build up a resistance to it (often by using the location's commonly associated action type) before any treasures become available.

Psychic: This threat comes in the form of mental attack, or dream manipulation which renders a character mentally unstable or even comatose. The characters will need to explore the dreamscape of their own minds (and possible the minds of those around them) using the actions of the location to discover any potential rewards.

Status: This threat potentially reduces the esteem of the characters in the eyes of those around them, it may not be a physical threat but may impede the work achieved to reach this point. The characters will have the best chance of overcoming this threat using the actions associated with the location, and if they prove successful enough they might expose the threat and gain something in the process.

Time: This threat simply eats away at any temporal advantage that the characters might have, or it allows an adversary to gain a temporal advantage. This might be most noticeable in a chase, or in limited time events where things need to be accomplished within a specific period. The characters will typically waste less time (and have a better chance of obtaining the location's treasure) if they use the associated actions.
Theft: This threat sees valuable possessions stolen or simply consumed. The characters will need to engage in specific actions to minimise the risk of this loss, but in many cases there will be a choice of which item is lost rather than preventing a loss completely. If a potential thief is neutralised, other treasures they ave stolen might become available as treasure.  

Capture: This threat simply prevents further progress, it may be a literal capture or imprisonment, but it could just as easily be a captured train of thought (preventing innovative ideas that could lead to new solutions). The characters will need to consider the nature of the capturing force and possibly address it using the location's actions before they are able to progress.

????: I had an idea for this one, but as I type this I can't remember it. Maybe it was a threat of amnesia???

Metaphysical: This threat endangers the immortal souls of the characters, it is quite a rare threat and will not appear very often. It is typically reserved for the most dangerous places. This is not so much a "save versus death", it's more of a threat that potentially causes characters to question their very existence, perhaps dramatically shifting the flow of the story and the context of everything that has come before.

Variant Format

I'm also thinking of shifting the symbols to a more 3d style.

07 February, 2016

Places to see

I've been working on a series of images depicting places of mystic power. They started out pretty generic, but as I've created more of them, a cosmology has unfolded. I've been working through a few symbols that give each of these locations some special features that might be useful for GMs in a range of games (or perhaps integrate specifically into a new game design).

Elemental Affinities: These may be places scattered across the planes, or they may be places that occur within an existing setting, the only certainty is that they each played a role in an ancient mystical war across time and space. Every location is empowered with mystic energy resonating with primeval elemental frequencies. At these places, mystic effects attuned to matching energies are magnified, while those opposed are diminished.

A base mystic sees five elements. Those of the western schools perceive Air, Earth, Fire and Water (with a quintessence at their centre), while those of the Eastern schools perceive Fire, Metal, Water. and Wood (with a variable earth either at the centre of forming a fifth point).

A greater mystic sees that these views of the mystic cosmology are merely cross sections of a more complex form: one cross section horizontal, another vertical. These mystics see a cube, air above, earth below, water forward, fire back, wood to the left, metal to the right. From kabbalah they draw concepts of light within radiating from a source, and darkness outside the cube. These form two final elements that only the most powerful mystics fully comprehend.

Every location exists somewhere with respect to these elements, and even though their geographical directions from one another may follow completely different correspondences, most mystics maps them and the directions between them according to their elemental connection.
Air - Movement and Surface Appearance
Darkness - Stealth and Secrecy
Earth - Sturdiness and Strength
Fire - Conflict and Passion
Light - Revelation and Power
Metal - Artifice and Death
Water - Knowledge and Calm
Wood - Vitality and Sociality

Treasures: The different locations have a tendency to provide different types of treasure. I'm not sure if I'll add more options, I'm open to suggestions.

Cartographic: This type of treasure might lead to a new part of the adventure or open up new paths of exploration.
Informative: This type of treasure might expand information about something that has been confounding the character so far.
Martial: This treasure provides the type of weapons and armour that might be needed to successfully confront a violent threat.
Valuable: This treasure has a high degree of value, it might be traded for something else needed by the group, or it might be the objective that the characters have been sent for.
Functional: This type of treasure isn't a weapon or tool of particular use to the characters, but it does have a specific use in the community where it is found.
Component: This type of treasure is a part for a lager objective, or maybe the tools necessary to assemble components into a more complex whole.
Associative: This type of treasure consists of useful people who are willing to help out in some regard.
Regal: This type of treasure comes in the form of formal writs, licenses, formal boons, or documents of status that might be used to circumvent different types of issues.

05 February, 2016

Monster Babies

Why didn't I hear of this earlier?

I don't usually spruik Kickstarter projects, I don't know if I've ever done so here on the blog. But, when I was contacted by Andreas Walters to have a look at his new project, I was instantly intrigued.

Here it is.

I'm just as bad at backing Kickstarters as I am at publicising them, but I've got a bit of spare cash at the moment (after completing some map commissions) and am seriously thinking about dropping some green on this. There's still a long way to go on the funding, but I'd like to see it happen.

In other news, it's nice to be considered influential enough in the gaming blogosphere that people consider you a reputable source of gaming goodness.

04 February, 2016

Survivor's Guilt

Toward the end of last year I discussed an idea about using mind control in a game. The whole idea was to make the mind control a narrative aspect that the characters had no influence over, but to make the game about something else entirely. Generally, the mind control has happened, and now the characters have to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Now that the active part of the story is happening, there is no deprotagonisation, choices can be made, repercussions can be felt. It's all very 'Jessica Jones'.

It's a concept that I've had to exorcise from my brain so that I can work on other things.

That means another monthly mini-game. It's not the sort of thing I'd normally write, it's probably as close as I'd get to the concept of writing a mini 'American-style' freeform game. Maybe its a bit inspired by the recent layout work I did for +Josh T Jordan as well.

Anyway, if you're interested feel free to take a look. I'd appreciate any feedback on it. I might add it for sale on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG in a week or two.

Here's the link.

03 February, 2016

Random Character Generation

I'm not talking about 3d6 in order. For a game about mutant animals and the melange of spiritual systems that occidental observers blend together as "Chinese mysticism", I'm talking about the idea of rolling some dice to determine time and date of birth and how that specific result might feed back into a character according to elemental and other auspicious means. 

Character age: 12 years plus d12 (the exact animal year would depend on the year in which the game is set...the year would also determine one of the elemental affinities of the character)
Month of birth: roll a d12
Hour of birth: roll a d12
Day of birth is where things get tricky, because this runs vaguely off a 60 day system with five elements cross referenced to the twelve animal signs. A d60 is relatively easy to simulate, d6 for the tens column, d10 for the units. 

I'm thinking that these rolls might offer a range of skill choices according to animal and elemental affinities, and if a character rolls a particular element or animal more than once they might gain the opportunity to follow this path to gain special advantages.

It could be interesting to have a mouse mutant whose horoscope gives them a strong 'tiger' nature. 

Characters wouldn't have to follow their random destiny, but those who embrace their stars might find a spiritual enlightenment easier to achieve.

Just a thought at the moment.

02 February, 2016

New Inspiration

Someone a few weeks ago was posting about the TMNT and the actual fighting style that turtle mutants might have. Perhaps based on wearing out an opponent because their shell would be pretty much i pervious to hand attacks, able to avoid non-direct gunfire damage, and even be adequately preventative against most bladed and impact weapons. It would be a slow style, waiting for the opponent to wear out, then delivering savage crushing blows or bites.

If I'm going to base this game on the conflicts of belief that humans have, and the mutant animals that become caught between the world of mortals and spirits, then it only makes sense that different fighting styles, and event resolution methods might become a part of the system.

Conversion of existing thoughts

Currently, my 'Other Strangeness' mutant animal game works on a quadrilateral system. Four attributes, four elements, it's actually more Japanese than Chinese.

Air is vaguely synonymous with movement at a physical level, and living social interaction at an abstract level.

Earth is vaguely synonymous with fortitude and steadfastness at a physical level, and otherworldly spiritual interaction at an abstract level.

Fire links to violence and conflict at a physical level, and emotional drive at an abstract level.

Water links to calm and focus at a physical level, and deeper knowledge at an abstract level.

Void exists at the centre, linking metaphysically to a character's inner enlightenment. 

(Yes, it's all a bit L5R, and Musashi...)

The problem with switching to a Chinese paradigm is the fact that Air doesn't exist in the five elements, nor does Void. Instead we have Wood and Metal. The other issue is that the Japanese elements are aligned in a cross shape (quincunx), while the Chinese elements are depicted as a pentagon/pentagram with their various interrelations. 

It's a fundamental shift at the centre of the game. 

I could simply rename "Air" as "Wood" since a lot of the affinities still apply the same way. Similarly,  I could rename "Earth" as "Metal", then re-introduce a new "Earth" element. It will require some shuffling of which skills fall into which elemental categories.

Otherwise, I could maintain the notion of four points around a central focus if I organised the game around feng shui principles, with 4 cardinal directions (each bearing their own correspondences)... But again, the correspondences of the directions don't exactly match the ones I currently have in place for the Japanese elements.


And then everything falls into place. 

Mount Kailash


Tibetan buddhism has the same 4 elements I've been using, while maintaining the 12 animals, and the other ideas I'm using.

It evens brings into play the idea that the five elements can become corrupted and thus become the five poisons, which could easily link back to the five toxic animals that +Ian Borchardt mentioned in a comment to a previous post.

Setting the game in Tibet also anchors the game to a specific conflict if it's set in the modern world. Hell, there's conflict between various belief systems and regimes at almost every time in history for this region.

I'm seeing an inherent caste system, with the 12 astrological animals as an upper caste (which the current highest level held by the animal whose year it is), the vast majority of animals existing as a middle class, and the five toxic animals as the lower castes. Vultures, being a sacred animal in Tibet, would exist outside the caste system (perhaps akin to winged monks who shepherd the souls of the dying to the next life...almost a Tibetan equivalent to Valkyries).

01 February, 2016

Not Jadeclaw

So, I've had three different people all point me in the direction of JadeClaw, and or the IronClaw version of the rules where the pseudo-Chinese setting seems to be the second iteration of Jadeclaw.

If I was just going to write a hack of JadeClaw, then I'd buy a copy of the rules make my little twist on it and then go on my way.

But, I've made my opinion on hacks fairly clear over the years. You can have them in your home, or in your provate gaming group, but when you try to tell people it's your own work...that's basically the RPG designer equivalent of fan-fiction. It's lazy writing, it's taking other people's shorthands and ideas, then cobbling them together in some way that you really shouldn't be calling your own. I know that there are many other opinions about fan-fiction being a legitimate artform... but I point you to the fat that '50 Shades of Grey' started out as 'Twilight' fan-fiction and rest my case.

If the game I develop ends up similar to JadeClaw, that will simply be due to drawing from common inspirations of anthropomorphic animals, Chinese myth and legend. and roleplaying adventure. This game will take place in China, not in some mystical pseudo-China (I'm even tempted to make it the post apocalyptic China of the Walkabout setting...but maybe not).

I'll be using my 'System 4' game mechanisms, since they were developed with the mutant animal idea in mind, but character creation will be more dynamic and variable than what I'm seeing in the sample downloadable NPCs for 'IronClaw/JadeClaw'. My mutant animal game began as a homage to Palladium's "TMNT and Other Strangeness", because I loved the way characters are made in that game but didn't necessarily like the way the system was a clunky hack/fan-fic version of AD&D...only more fiddly and more clunky.

I've been digging back through my 'System 4' note and have seen a few things that need to be changed, and a few other things that just seem a bit confusing with fresh eyes. So it's time to strip some thing back, focus, maybe watch a bit of Kung Fu Panda, The Monkey King, and assorted Chinese action dramas, then proceed with the chaotic soup that fills my mind.