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Showing posts from 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…

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 m…

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, som…

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

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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

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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.

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 po…

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.

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…

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…

The Triangle of Character Archetypes.

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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'…

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 b…

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 spect…

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 ro…

Educational Games

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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)

Question regarding an old Movie

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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…

People to Meet

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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 …

Things to do

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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 …

Places to see

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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 pe…

Monster Babies

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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.

Survivor's Guilt

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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 apprecia…

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 rol…

New Inspiration

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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

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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 (quincu…

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 develo…