31 October, 2016

Attitudes of Design

If I say that I'm going to "storify" or make a "story-games version" or any existing crunchy mainstream game, what does that mean?

Does it mean simply coverting anything an everything in the system to the "Powered by the Apocalypse" engine? 

That might be a valid way to point in the right direction, but misses a lot of the point. My disdain for games that are powered by the apocalypse is well known in a lot of circles, but it's a bit misrepresented. I'm not sure where I made the comment recently, but I'll repeat a paraphrased version here because the intentions still hold true.

It came from two artists that I had conversations with a long time ago. Both artists I had respected for their work, but after a half an hour or more of conversation with them, I really respected them as people too. The first artist was James Gurney, among other things he wrote a book you might have heard of called Dinotopia, and a couple of sequels.



The second artist, and the one who really struck me as a nice guy, was a fantasy artist named Keith Parkinson.



Both, masters of composition and producers of evocative work. I've aspired to produce stuff at their level, sometimes reaching a close approximation, sometimes failing completely, more often diverging into something very different.

Both artists gave some distinctive tips that had informed the way they produce work, such as using aluminium foil wrapped over an ice block as a pallet for acrylic paint...the reflection of the aluminium foil changes according to the lighting where you are painting, and gives an idea of how the colour of the paint shows under different lighting conditions...but more importantly, the paint stays wet longer because water condenses on the aluminium foil (and on the paint), maintaining it's moistness as you continue painting. Other tips were common to both artists, and one of those tips is particularly pertinent and adaptable to game design.

From an artistic perspective, the tip basically says..."if you want to create work like [insert artist here], don't just copy [artist previously inserted], instead look to their inspirations. Consider how [the artist] has incorporated elements of [insert relevant inspirations] into their work. Then consider where they have deviated, why they may have deviated, and how they have made the style their own."

If you want to paint like Frank Frazetta, don't just copy Frazetta, instead look to his inspirations. Consider how Frazetta has incorporated elements of light and shade as used by Zdenek Burian, the evocative used of colour to inspire emotion as derived from the Impressionism of artists such as Renoir and Monet into his work. Then consider where he has deviated, why he may have deviated [his artistic training had a lot to do with this], and how he made the style his own.

If you want to play music like Led Zeppelin, don't just play Stairway to Heaven over and over, instead look to their inspirations. Consider how Led Zeppelin incorporated elements of the blues masters, and the distinct sounds of various cultures fused into a heavy rock bass line (yes, there are endless debates about cultural appropriation at this point). Then consider where the band deviated (their choice of instruments), why they may have deviated (their interpretation of the elements based on their time and culture, and how any specific song ties into their overall body of work), and how they made the style their own.

This brings us to...

If you want to design games like +Vincent Baker, don't just hack Apocalypse World, instead look to his inspirations at the time. Consider how Baker incorporated elements from his own "clouds and boxes" and "otherkind dice", how the theoretical framework developed by the Forge informed his design ideas, and how he saw gaps in existing game frameworks that he believed needed to be filled. Then consider where he deviated from those inspirations (Apocalypse has distinct differences to Otherkind), why he may have deviated (therre are plenty of blog posts about this), and how the Apocalypse Engine became it's own thing.

It kind of explains my disdain for hacks in general, as well as the proliferation of Apocalypse games; but it's more nuanced than that. The lazy hack takes something that is cool and reskins it without really understanding how the mechanisms work underneath. A slightly better hack adds new mechanisms to reflect situations that the designer would like to see in play, or new mechanisms that circumvent issues they do not want to see. An even better hack takes two distinct elements, fuses them together where they fit, cuts off bits that no longer work in the shared context, and adds new bits to fill in the gaps and make a coherent whole. I appreciate Apocalypse World for what it is (on one hand it may not be the apocalyptic gaming experience I'm after, and it may consistently
produce that one type of story, but on the other hand the consistency of play was one of its design goals). I appreciate D&D, its heritage, the way it pushed the envelop initially to take gaming into a new hobby. I also appreciate the way Dungeon World took these two distinct gaming experiences and fused something new from them. Even if you know the heritage, you can see how it has been crafted into something new, and has developed a following of its own separate to either the Apocalypse World or D&D communities.

This might also tie into the reasons why I see the OSR movement with mixed feelings. A lot of it is simple reskinning, and trying to look edgy while rehashing the same stuff over and over... very much an "Emperor's New Clothes" situation, where you get people claiming that if you can't see the "innovation" then it's you who is at fault, and screaming vitriol and half-logical rhetoric for the purposes of sensationalism and claiming "art is being censored". Then there are those folks who are actually tweking the old systems to produce play experiences of their own.

I'm not saying that a designer needs to reinvent the wheel every time they develop a new game, I'm saying they they need to understamd the reasons why certain choices may have been made in the past and how those choices might impact on their current project if they are just going to adapt them for a new project.

I was recently introduced to the World of Darkness hack for the Urban Shadows hack of Apocalypse World. You can find it here. On the original thread where I was introduced to it, I was dismissive with a comment of "three strikes and it's out". Through the context of this post, I can probably explain this a bit better.

Strike 1... magic is formulaic in so many games, so when Mage: the Ascension came out with a setting where belief shapes magic and reality is a battle of consensual belief systems, that blew my mind. I knew a lot of the inspirations behind Mage, I liked them, I could see where Mage was aspiring to emulate those sources. On one hand I could see how it was fettered by the wider Storyteller System, on the other I could see it trying to push things in interesting directions. The reborth of Mage: the Awakening back to a more formulaic system was a backward step in my mind, back into safety, back to the types of magic users who had no real interest. So, when I saw that his hack used the Awakening rules for its inspiration, that did nothing for me.

Strike 2... Werewolf: the Apocalypse had some huge issues with the way it handled culture, but it was one of the first games I encountered where different cultures were presented as viable character options rather than stereotypical NPCs. The first time issues are presented, they are rarely presented "right", but instead they offer a dialogue starting point so that better presentations can come later. As further sourcebooks were released for Werewolf: the Apocalypse the stereotypical cultures of the tribes became more nuanced as they were presented in context with different locations in the world or focusd on through their own tribe-books. The stereotypes were a starting point, a shorthand of wide brushstrokes that could be detailed through play. It was also the first game I know of to address environmental issues. Once the game started introducing other shifters, that's when it really came into it's own for me. The ways that Werewolf: the Forsaken backed off from cultural issues, abandoned the environmental aspect (as far as I'm aware), and ignored other shifters (especially my beloved Kitsune) meant I couldn't take the game seriously. Don't even get me started on the way, shifters born from animal parents were dropped from the game. Needless to say, when the hack used Forsaken as its basis for werewolves, that also did nothing for me.

Strike 3... honestly, this strike was simply applied because it was an Apocalypse World hack. With a single strike, a batter can still hit a home run (and an Apocalypse hack can produce a Dungeon Wolrd), but after three strikes it's time to move on. The game just didn't look like it did anything particularly innovative to combine the inspiration sources, and while it seemed odd that the designers would choose to add the odd vampires mixed in with the new Mages and Werewolves, I didn't want  to disappoint myself further to look at how they might have treated the varied belief patterns of the  Sabbat (if they were even addressed at all).

It all just looked like a World of Darkness fa├žade cobbled onto an Apocalypse World framework. Taking elements of the WoD that I feel are regressive, and using an engine to deal with them for consistently producing the same stories of escalating melodrama. Don't get me wrong, if that's your jam then the game might be perfect for you, for me though, it's a perfect storm of all things wrong with hacks, the New World of Darkness, and Apocalypse clones.

I need to look for inspiration elsewhere. That's leading me back to the games and books that inspired Mage:the Ascension.

30 October, 2016

Storifying Mage: Revisited

All this talk of Mage:the Ascension has returned my thoughts to the abandoned project of making a stripped back version of Mage. I wanted it months ago, I basically wanted it when I saw the monster 700+ pages of the M20 edition, and now it seems that a few more people want it.

I suspect my original ideas of maintaining character stats, but playing with the underlying systems may prove unfeasible at this time. Instead, I'm seriously thinking of a FUBAR/Mage mash-up. This would use a quick customisable multi-template system to create characters, and a conversion system to adapt existing NPCs and starting characters in sourcebooks.

If it works, it'd be interesting to generate variants covering Werewolf and Vampire, and maybe a few other games in the World of Darkness.

28 October, 2016

A quick guide to Mage: the Ascension

As one of my favourite games, I had to chime in when someone on G+ asked about Mage, why it's good...why it's current version is a 700-odd page tome...what could be done to streamline it...

I thought my answer was pretty good, and thought it needed to be shared.



Having played and run all editions, here's my thoughts...

1st (WW4000, 1993) is wild and a bit clunky when it comes to rules. It's probably the edgiest of the settings, in that it was opening an amazing concept to the world but no-one really knew what to do with it at the time. The players were fighting a war for reality.

2nd (WW4300, 1995) streamlined the rules a bit, instead of different rolls, coincidental and vulgar magic basically now used the same rolls with varying difficulties. The setting was reined in a bit, and like most White Wolf second editions it became more "professional" and more sterile. A bit more effort was made to address global cultures as complex entities rather than stereotypes. The players were losing a war for reality (but the option to play the technocratic side of the conflict was opened).

Sorcerers Crusade (WW4800, 1998) was pretty much the same as second, but ported back to the rise of science and the renaissance. Magic was easier, a few spheres were tweaked to reflect the era better. The players were swashbucklers in a world where anything goes and the future of reality was unfettered and fueled by hope. Very Eurocentric, but exploration of the world outside as "exotic other cultures" is built into the setting.

Guide to the Technocracy (WW4014, 1999) gave us everything you needed to play the "hidden masters", who suddenly weren't a monolithic entity, but a complicated hot mess who presented themselves well. New spins on a few spheres to give them a more technologically friendly feel. This wasn't a complete game in itself, and relied on having a copy of 2nd edition to play. 

3rd (no product code on my version, 2000) formally introduced the resonance concepts that were alluded to and half formed in previous editions. This made magic a more reactive force in the game with effects pushing back in a method more quantifiable in the rules...this in turn increased book-keeping and took out some more of the mystery, but on the other hand it reduced player backlash to events because the rules were more player facing, rather than hidden by GM obfuscation and chicanery. The setting didn't have a whole lot of time to flesh out, but generally the players had lost the war on reality and were dealing with the aftermath. Many of the smaller factions developed in second edition were subsumed into major factions or killed off.

Mage: the Dark Ages (WW20002, 2002) was a very different beast. Where groups of willworkers under different factions of magic used different spheres to one another, a grand unified theory of magick was not in existence in those days. There was often overlap between spheres of different factions, but flavoured differently to match the ideologies of each group. A character had access to their own faction, but with exceptional difficulty might learn one of the spheres from another. It generally seemed to be an attempt to hybrid the concepts of Ars Magica and Mage, but didn't seem to do so particularly effectively. Even more Eurocentric than Sorcerer's Crusade, focused internally rather than on external exploration.

M20 (I only have the PDF, 2013) was designed as a monstrous beast, where games could take place at any period in the Mage timeline, with any of the factions, traditions, crafts, conventions as potential sources for player characters. It tries to be everything to everyone, with many of the quirky rules from previous editions pulled out of the central mechanisms as optional sidebar rulings. This version finally detached practices and paradigms from the traditions, conventions and crafts (yes it sort of brought the crafts all back after 3rd killed them off), allowing a more flexible creation of characters. It has some really nice concepts that 20 years of development and hindsight will bring, but ends up as a massively unwieldy tome.

Just my thoughts...

with the follow up post saying...

...with the addendum that on average, each edition was larger than the previous one. (Don't even get me started on that Awakening abomination)

27 October, 2016

Roleplayers versus Reality

Further to my discussion yesterday, I've found quite a few additional posts by varipus people who've obviously been seeing the same underlying patterns in modern western society, or they've been seeing similar symptoms and drawing similar conclusions to my rant.

As an example, there's "6 Reasons for Donald Trump's Rise", which seems to theorise some interesting points but probably oversimplifies things by linking the issues in western society to the rural/urban divide.

And then there's "5 Helpful Answers to Society's Uncomfortable Questions", which basically says that we as individuals and as a society are bound by traditions. Those traditions have served us well for millenia, defining cultures, breeding us into what we are today, competing with one another until one became dominant (the Western European Patriarchal paradigm). It defined itself as a competitor with the world and it basically won...and now it doesn't know what to do.

It kind of leads back into my thoughts yesterday, where Christianity began as a cult of Judaism, the underdog attempting to be recognised, the martyrs thrown to the lions by the Romans, the exiled rulers of Jerusalem...then when it actually started to become the dominant force in Europe, it needed to conquer the rest of the world with conquistadors and missionaries. As a competitive force, Christianity fractured into factions, Eastern and Western orthodoxy, Protestantism, numerous offshoots, all claiming to be the "true" path because the religion thrives as a minority in the face of an oppressive majority. It's not just Christianity that does this, but Christianity is so tied up with the Western paradigm that a historical look at it reflects the development of culture in Europe, and then across the rest of the world as European trade became a dominant force obliterating less powerful cultures. This linking of Christianity with the European cultural and colonialist ways leads to a lot of interesting elements of history, perhaps moreso when specific historical event see individual greed and hunger for power reflected as either "the will of God" or "the temptation of the Devil" depending on which side were the historical victors.

I'm not a huge fan of organised religion. I'm not going to enter into the debate of whether the underlying message of any religion is right or wrong, but There are ample historical precedents indicating that once a an organised religion reaches a certain point, power plays and politics shift the religion from a spiritual to a social construct. The gnostics had some great ideas to avoid this back in the early days, and a few offshoot sects have tried to bring them back in, but on the whole, the competitive nature of Christianity and the inertia behind the struggle for legitimacy meant that it couldn't accept these "heresies". Religions of most types have this thing about an afterlife, which is a great thing for a ruling elite to latch onto. As long as they are linked to a religion, the dominant forces in society can say that hard work and sacrifices on earth will lead to riches and rewards in the afterlife (or oin the next life)...they don't need to provide rewards now, and they can even say that more suffering (or sacrifice, or piety) will lead to even better rewards. Look at Hinduism with its claims that those who are devout will be reincarnated into better castes next time around...those born into privilege can simply state that they are living the rewards from previous lives of suffering. It's built into the culture to reward those born into positions of status, even though it may simply be a cosmic lottery. The oft-quoted "72 virgins" in Islam follows the same pattern. Buddhism seeks to transcend that type of belief, but even it requires a degree of devout sacrifice and complete detachment from society to attain it's bodhisattva status. Christianity began with an attempt to break away from the socio-cultural strictures of Judaism, but once the first teacher died, the apostles instantly fell back into the development of a heirarchy. It taught equality in it's words, but notions such as "divine providence" allowed the ruling elite to maintain their power, those who didn't need to spend days working in the fields could sactifoce a bit more of their ample spare time to commune with priests or make lavish donations to the church to justify their rulership. Bishops would gain comforatble lives from the donations of the elite, and would tell the peasantry to male their regular donations and sacrifices to gain rewards in heaven. Meanwhile the elite grow fat off the work of the peasants and the cycle continues.  It's the very thing Karl Marx was talking about when he said that religion was the opiate of the masses.

Faith requires devotion, devotion means sticking to a belief system despite temptation. Having an open mind is opening oneself to temptation, free thought runs the risk of seeing through the structures that the dominant forces of society use to keep the population in check. The conservatives don't want change, because change might see them lose power. So they cut funding to schools, they report lies or exaggerate sporting stories that serve to segregate the wider population into more manageable tribes, and they use the tools of organised religion to play with their populations at a psychological level (such as mandatory pep rallies, the KKK, stadiums where the seating focuses attention in a specific way, calling out "the other" such as the works of Jack Chick...it's hardly surprising that this sort of thing is far more common in the red states of the United States, where closed thought links with religious devotion, televangelist and mega-church con-men, and a rural us-versus-them mentality). Conversely, the progressives want to break away from the existing power structure. There might be a dozen different progressives pulling a dozen different ways (according to gender, race, religion, sexuality, or class lines) but the conservatives lump them all together as enemies trying to take their privilege. Scientists threaten the religious order with their claims of evolutionary theory, communists threaten the established order of wealth...the conservatives hate everything that might take away any of their power so they do everything in their power to discredit those threats. From the conservative side, it's all about people with power manipulating people without power, with the intention of maintaining their position, from the progressive side it gets more complicated, with some people attempting to spread the power across society and others seeking to disrupt things to gain power for themselves.

You don't need conspiracy theories about lizard people, or aliens, it's just a case of stepping away from blind faith and looking at the wider patterns in the world in the context of human nature...and probably a healthy dose of cynicism.

But hypothetically, for the purposes of a game, let's say there are forces of nature manipulating reality. And according to this hypothetical situation, there are intermediaries who enact the will of these entities in the world, often whispering into the ears of mortals and inspiring through dreams and social movements because direct manipulation of reality are banned. Such entities might be percieved as angels (or vilified as demons), they might wage an eternal war of law (conservatism) versus chaos (progress), they might work to better the wider community (good) or consolidate the power in the hands of their chosen mortal vessel (evil). Mortals may not be a concern to them at all, instead pushing concepts such as "war", "vegetation", "the French language", "the number 4", or something else. Such forces of nature would finds their allegiances constantly shifting as historical events unfold in the world.

+Steve Dee is working on a new game about angels. I don't want to tread on his toes, but I'd love to pull a lot of these elements into one or more of my current projects. It's a stomping ground were I can commonly be found. It's the centre of my experience with Mage: the Ascension, and it's the kind of ideological place where my Familiar project inhabits.

26 October, 2016

Roleplayers vs Jack Chick


We won.

So, you've probably heard that the serial hater, the precursor to the Westboro Baptist Church, Jack Chick is dead.

Here's the article that first alerted me to the fact. (Boing Boing)

And another, that I saw a day later. (AV Club)

Here's what the other side has to say (Christianity Today)

Like the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and more recently Collins and Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent", the Tracts of Jack Chick were hateful pieces of propaganda designed to boil down a message to stereotypes and caricature, building false images of a concept with lies, rumours and innuendo, then make a "righteous" attack against the false edifice. Conspiracies and prejudice fed into the tracts attacking the Catholic Church, the Freemasons, Homosexuality, Science, and anything else that offended Chick's "Southern Baptist" sensibilities. One of those things was roleplaying.

In recent study regarding fields of sociology and adolescent psychology (as a part of my university work to become a teacher), I've come to the conclusion that people have a distinct pattern of thoughts, a self-paradigm if you will, and they will do anything in their powe to maintain the integrity of that pattern. This conclusion comes from elements such as the notion of "confirmation bias", the group psychology of rallies and collective activities (where the environment is cultivated in such a way as to reinforce certain ideas and emotions), a focus on faith and belief over hard facts (which are percieeveed as tools of a "great deceiver"), and even the innate societal structure reinforcing a top down status quo (typically designed to ensure those born into positions of privilege remain among the elite, regardless of how deserving they are). The whole thing is being repeated throughout Western society, and can be seen echoed in the campaign of Donald Trump for presidency. It's not isolated, it's all interconnected. The same patterns, different surface manifestations. Some people see the manifesttions in some areas, and are blind to them in other areas, because they've fallen prey to some trick of rhetoric, and their own person paradigm locks them away from open thought...maybe this is something tto do with the reason our neoconservative government in Australia is making arts degrees harder to attain...they promote free thinking, and this is dangerous to the status quo they seek to preserve... but I digress (I'll come back to it though).

The meme of gamers and game designers holding up some RPG books, and saying that they won the war against Jack Chick has been doing the rounds. A lot of people have been holding up Dungeons and Dragons books, as these were the main target of Chick's work. Honestly, I think he only targeted D&D because that was the most prominent RPG when he was going strong. Chick didn't seem to do a lot of research, he just went with anecdotal evidence and filled in the gaps with his fevered imaginings and rampant prejudice. His attacks on D&D were supported by the second "Christian outrage" where one of the main books in the game used the word "hell" 25 times, "evil" 94 times, and numerous other references to demons and devils. The fact that the book refeerred to was the Monster Manual, and these were places to go adventuring and villains for heroes to confront were utterly beside the point. In fact, the same types  of accusations could easily be levelled against various parts of the Bible. D&D with a growing bandwagon of haters was an easy target.

Other game designers are holding up the most "IN YER FACE SATANICK MOTHERF?!KER" games they happen to have in their collections. Personally, I think that almost validates Chick's particular brand of insanity. Whether you believe in the occult or not, and whether you believe that games such as these can lead you toward a dark path, presemting tthem as a public face of the hobby and a way that roleplaying has defeated the haters doesn't feel right to me. It's like protesting against environmental cars and emissions regulations by tuning your off-roader to churn out plumes of black smoke (known as Rolling Coal). A few of your friends might think you're edgy and cool, but to everyone else your extreme actions are making your opponents seem a tad more reasonable in their complaints. I'm all for free speech, but if you're going to convey messages like this, you need to accept the ramifications of both message and context.

I always thought roleplaying was more about exploring new imagined realities, exposing yourself to new ideas, in a context that I've now come to understand as a 'liminal space'. Such a space is defined by boundaries, often of a ritual nature. In a church, the rutual is more clearly defined, and a specific space is often instituted as the place where such an experience may occur. In an RPG the rituals are bounded by the rules and the social contracts between players. That's probably the underlying reason why religious evangelicals and fundamentalists have a real reason to fear RPGs. The playing of an RPG establishes a liminal space separate from that which can be monitored by the religious orthodoxy. It encourages free thought and problem solving rather than restricting thought and relying on blind faith. Roleplaying games promote the idea that certain things are beyond a person's control, and no amount of belief can make the dice come up with one result or another. It sort of brings me back to that earlier point about the status quo, and those in power fearing change.

That's where the three books I hold are important to me for this meme.

1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (Gygax, TSR, 1978)
I think this first printing copy of the book is the oldest RPG I own. It's D&D, so it's symbolic of the whole meme. This was one of those books that always seemed strange and mysterious before I was actually able to read it, and only marginally less so once I managed to get my hands on it. A world of adventure was promised but it only seemed to half deliver. It took the social element to bring it to life.  That's probably where some of the Christian backlash against roleplaying derived from, the books were filled with numbers and math, but kids looked like they were having fun. ..there must clearly have been some kind of sorcery afoot.

2. Cyberpunk 2020 (Pondsmith, R. Talsorian Games Inc., 1990)
A friend of mine had almost all of his roleplaying books burned by his parents, it must have been about 1991 or so, because this was one of his most recent game purchases. I've mentioned this story on the blog before. He gave me this book, and a few others for safe keeping, knowing what was coming. I hid it with my stockpile of games, as my parents were also talking the talk about how roleplying was potentially dangerous...but they hadn't threatened bookburning. So while it's an influential game in my design practice, it's also symbolic of resilience, and a reminder of the narrow-mindedness of religious zealots. I can accept that this is just an element of my mental pattern reinforcing itself, but I'm comfortable with that. 

3. Mage: the Ascension (Wieck, White Wolf, 1993)
I feel this game is more dangerous than any "Kill Puppies for Satan" or similar such games. It asks players to seriously consider belief systems, to think about ideological warfare, and the tactics used by powerful figures in a society to keep renegades, revolutionaries and heretics in line. The fact that the game is heavily influenced by one of my favourite books "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" probably contributes here too. Like the AD&D book, it's a game that promises so much, but only rarely have I seen it deliver. Not so much due to the social element, but more due to a degree of abstract thought required. It's  very easy to sink into a game of reality bending superheroes, but can be far more. I've seen it touch on that a few times, which is a few times more than most other games I've played.

All in all, I'm counting this as a win. Not in the war against roleplaying, progress and open-mindedness, but a win in this particular battle against a specific theolgical and narrow minded general who had some particularly rabid followers. The war to prevent progress and  open-mindedness has opened up on many new fronts over the past decade. I'm really happy to see elements of the roleplaying community championing issues like diversity, cultural sensitivity, and tolerance. I'm not happy to see other elements of the gaming community preaching hate and intolerance of their own, but that's just human nature for some people I guess.

24 October, 2016

Revisiting the Crossroads

I've toyed with the idea of the crossroads as a place of power several times in my games. It's a concept of modern myth that really intrigues me.

Today I was wondering why the most powerful crossroads depicted in popular culture always seem to be in isolated locations. A modern city is littered with grids of crossroads as north-south aligned thoroughfares intersect those going east-west. Why wouldn't a city be a place where thousands of demons are waiting to make pacts with mortals? Maybe they are.

But another option might be to consider the length of the roads leading to the crossroads. In the middle of a city, it might only be a few dozen metres (or yards) from one crossroads to the next, which isn't enough length for the incoming energies to generate much of a charge. In a rural environment, it might be kilometres (or miles) between crossroads, thus giving ample length for the crossroads to generate significant charge levels. If the charge level isn't high enough, there simply isn't enough to meet a threshold required for breaching the barrier between worlds. Thus, no inherent magical portals for summoning crossroad demons in cities. You need to use other means.

This may also explain why technocratic types are always trying to expand their cities, and carving new roads across the landscape...not only to expand their city based influence, but also to minimise the power that might be generated by rural crossroad hotspots.

Just a fragment of an idea at the moment.

22 October, 2016

Tracking the LARP

For the last few months, after every LARP game, I've been tracking how characters have done in their assigned missions. I've done this by following a few key ideas:
  1. Missions occur in key marked locations
  2. Territories are expanded for factions when their missions have been successful.
  3. Territories turn from factionally aligned to neutral if a faction succeeds in a mission in another faction's territory.
  4. Influence spreads to adjacent territories if these adjacent territories are uncontested.
  5. Influence does not spread to adjacent territories if two different factions could see their influence spread into the territory.
  6. The overall power of the factions throughout the region is simply determined by adding up the number of territories they control.

This process started after the third game of the LARP, when I decided the players needed a bit more focus and the factional system was brought into effect. Today saw the end of game 6.

End of Game 3 - The Nomads (Green) did very well, the scholars of the University (Blue) secured a central part of the map due to the actions of members outside their faction, and the Criminal bandits (Red) focused their efforts in the north. 

End of Game 4 - The Military (White) made a strong showing in this game, while the Nomads (Green) lost a lot of their territory to successful missions from other factions. The University scholars shifted their influence northward. 

End of Game 5 - The Military (White) lost a bit of influence to the south with a growing black market from the Criminal bandits (Red). The mysterious Cult (Black) establishes a stronghold in the northern mountains, pushing out the last elements of the bandits in the area.

End of Game 6 - The Military (White) regains some power by securing a second stronghold at the Rainbow Vale. Similarly, the Nomads (Green) started to regain strength across the region, perhaps hoping to establish a secure route from east to west again. The University (Blue) loses ground, as the Criminals (Red) dominate a larger region of the civilised lands in the south east with their black market trade. The Cult (Black) remains stalwart in the mountains.  

We'll see where things progress from here.

16 October, 2016

LARP / Computer RPG crossover

Back in the early 2000s, White Wolf were doing some really interesting things with their World of Darkness lines. Then they went and crashed the whole line to start something new, and I left because I thought it was both a stupid business decision, a great way to alienate existing fans, and generally a step that felt weird. I can understand why they did it, but it just wasn't for me any more.

But back to the good days before the crash. The thing I'm interested at this point is the way the sourcebooks specifically integrated two versions of the rules in them. The background text was exactly the same, but the books provided a way to handle powers from a tabletop perspective, then a separate paragraph (or two...sometimes in a text box) that described how the power should function in their live format "Minds Eye Theatre". The tabletop and live games functioned so differently that there was a distinct need to explain the powers within the structure of each set of rules, even though they wee effectively meant to be different ways of playing the same game. The live game handled things like political intrigue far more effectively, while the tabletop game was awesome for supernaturally themed superheroes (and then there were those few people I knew who played the World of Darkness games "properly" with angst and catharsis and all that stuff).

This has been raised because my current project looks like it could really benefit from the same split of mechanisms. There is a boffer LARP where combat is quick, resolved in real time, and often leaves out complicated bits of the rules in the heat of battle, because people sometimes honestly forget stuff when their being swung at with a sword. There is a computer element that characters can be slotted into, where slippery footing on the ground isn't a physical hindrance, but needs to be simulated through modifiers within the programming, and the nuances of social intrigue seem beyond the scope of mainstream compute games, and are far beyond my programming skills.

That basically brings us to the notion of game design in the mid to late part of the first decade of this century (ie. 2004-2010). The notion that elements of the OSR seem to be rebelling against, and the notion that has seen a lot of critique in more recent years..."system matters". There are two distinct games here, one live, one online. They are meant to provide different (but overlapping) experiences, each game will cater to it's strengths as a medium, but will allow for a diversity of play styles within that format. Everyone doesn't want the same thing out of a game, and a lot of players like to explore the experience a game provodes before deciding how best they can interact within it (these are two points that I just haven't been able to get through to a lot of the local LARPers at the moment).

So, in this project, a single simply format defines the characters, but these characters are slightly modified because the rules their statistics interact with are modified. Basically like playing a game of Rifts where each of the alternate dimensions has it's own rule set and therfore encourages specific types of stories to be told...or like numerous OSR games where different games use the same stat line of six attributes, THAC0, and saving throws, but apply some kind of quirky twist to set themselves apart from similar games, or to claim they are innovating.

I'm not going for subtle shifts here, instead I'm aiming for a mysterious game of exploration in a strange land, and a second game of high intrigue politics as heroes bring the things they've found during their exploration into a settingwhere they can use these tools against one another. It basically functions like the Camarilla organisation's version of Minds Eye Theatre, where there was a separate influence game that handled activity between games while the high stakes action occured face to face during the monthly sessions.

All these ideas, that feel like they've been fragmented for decades, waiting for someone to put them together in a coherent form. I'm surprised I haven't seen someone do it effectively already. Of course, now that I've said that, someone's going make a comment below where they point out people who've been doing this exact thing.

15 October, 2016

The string

Here's the basic structure of the string I'll be working with. It's in a human readable format, but I'll ensure that any time the string is exported out of the website it gets encoded, perhaps with a base64_encode, or maybe with a gzinflate. I don't necessarily want to make the encoding too strong, this is just a simple personal project designed for a bit of fun.

The string format follows...

[xxxxxx][xx][xx....][xxxx][x..x][xx..xx][xx][xx][xx][..]
Core
        Name
            Equipment
                    Traits
                          Skills
                                Edges
                                        Race Path
                                            Cultural Path
                                                Progress Path 1
                                                    Subsequent Progress Paths
Core - first six digits determine basic stats, race and culture, 

First Digit (Base Attributes): 1 = 1122, 2 = 1212, 3 = 1221, 4 = 2211, 5 = 2112, 6 = 2121, 7 = 3111, 8 = 1311, 9 = 1131, 0 = 1113 {where the attributes in order are: Combat, Influence, Knowledge, Magic}

Second Digit (Race): a = mixed blood, A = human, b = fey blood, B = fey, c = mutant blood, C = mutant, d = naga blood, D = naga, e = ogre blood, E = ogre, f = kitsune blood, F = kitsune, g = tengu blood, G = tengu, h = kami blood, H = kami, i = oni blood, I = oni.

Third Digit (Culture): a = local, b = urban, c = rural, d = mountain, e = swamp, f = plains, g = forest, h = north ice, i = south desert 

Fourth Digit (number of adult paths begun): a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, d = 4, e = 5, etc. {if letter is capitalised, character is honourable}

Fifth Digit (level of honour/reputation): a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, d = 4, e = 5, etc. {if letter is capitalised, character is tainted}

Sixth Digit (inventory): a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, etc. number of items (first will be a weapon, second will be an armour, then other items)  

Name - next two digits determine the character's name {common given names ??as per culture?? and family names ??as per race??}

Equipment - next few digits determine current useful equipment 2*(1+x) {where x is determined by the sixth digit}

First Digit: a = unarmed, b = tanto, c = wakizashi, d = katana, e = yari, f = bo staff, g = no-dachi, h = kyu, i = racial weapon 1, j = racial weapon 2, (still working on the specifics here).  
[if capitalised, item is enchanted]

Second Digit: a = no armour, b = no armour + helmet, c = no armour + sleeves, d = no armour + helmet + sleeves (+1 hp), e = no armour + leg greaves, f = no armour + leg greaves + helmet (+1 hp), g = no armour + leg greaves + sleeves (+1 hp), h = no armour + leg greaves + sleeves + helmet (+1 hp), i = light armour (+1 hp), j = light armour + helmet (+2 hp), k = light armour + sleeves (+2 hp), l = light armour + helmet + sleeves (+2 hp), m = light armour + leg greaves (+2 hp), n = light armour + leg greaves + helmet (+2 hp), o = light armour + leg greaves + sleeves (+3 hp), p = light armour + leg greaves + sleeves + helmet (+3 hp), q = heavy armour (+3 hp), r = heavy armour + helmet (+3 hp), s = heavy armour + sleeves (+3 hp), t = heavy armour + helmet + sleeves (+4 hp), u = heavy armour + leg greaves (+3 hp), v = heavy armour + leg greaves + helmet (+4 hp), w = heavy armour + leg greaves + sleeves (+4 hp), x = heavy armour + leg greaves + sleeves + helmet (+4 hp)  
[if capitalised, character displays a family crest]

Third and subsequent digits: after the first two letters...
a 0 followed by a letter is an unequipped weapon or armour
a 1 followed by a letter is a foodstuff
a 2 followed by a letter is common equipment 
a 3 followed by a letter is uncommon equipment
a 4 followed by a letter is an occupational tool 
a 5 followed by a letter is personal trinket
a 6 followed by a letter is a religious icon to a specific race (letter indicates race)
a 7 followed by a letter is a magical focus
a 8 followed by a letter is a quest item
a 9 followed by a letter is a companion

Traits - next four digits determine the traits that might currently apply to a character

The first digit reflects traits that are predominantly physical: 1 = tired only, 2 = injured only, 3 = injured and tired, 4 = empowered only, 5 = empowered and tired, 6 = empowered and injured, 7 = empowered and injured and tired, 8 = knocked out [1], 9 = knocked out [2]

The second digit reflects traits that are predominantly mental: 1 = dazed only, 2 = confused only, 3 = dazed and confused, 4 = focused only, 5= focused and dazed, 6 = focused and confused, 7 = focused and dazed and confused

The third digit reflects other debilitating traits: 1 = poisoned only, 2 = diseased only, 3 = poisoned and diseased, 4 = cursed only, 5 = cursed and poisoned, 6 = cursed and diseased, 7 = cursed and diseased and poisoned 

The fourth digit reflects traits that are predominantly beneficial: 1 = waiting only, 2 = hidden only, 3 = waiting and hidden, 4 = blessed only, 5 = blessed and waiting, 6 = blessed and hidden, 7 = blessed and hidden and waiting

Skills - a variable number of digits determine the array of skills at the character's disposal

The first digit indicates how many skills in total are possessed by the character

The remaining digits in this section are a complete collection of the skills available (there are 60 total skills)

Edges - a variable number of digits determine the array of edges at the character's disposal

The first digit indicates how many edges in total are possessed by the character 

The remaining digits are in pairs.
        a c followed by a letter is a combat edge
        an i followed by a letter is an influence edge
        a k followed by a letter is a knowledge edge
        an m followed by a letter is a magic edge

Race Path - next four digits determine racial path level and any bonuses acquired

First Digit (Check digit): Should match the second digit in the string (if digit is lowercase, racial path may never achieve advanced progression beyond lvl 3)  

Second Digit (Levels in this Progression): 0 = just began this path, no progress yet, 1 = lvl 1, 2 = lvl 2, 3 = lvl 3, 4 = lvl 4, 5 = lvl 5, 6 = lvl 6

Culture Path - next four digits determine base cultural path and any bonuses acquired

First Digit (Check digit): Should match the third digit in the string (if digit is lowercase, cultural path may never achieve advanced progression beyond lvl 3)

Second Digit (Levels in this Progression): 0 = just began this path, no progress yet, 1 = lvl 1, 2 = lvl 2, 3 = lvl 3, 4 = lvl 4, 5 = lvl 5, 6 = lvl 6

Progress Paths - each subsequent four digits determine adulthood path and any bonuses acquired

First Digit (Path Identifier): a-z,A-Z = 52 general occupational paths, 0-4 = racial specific paths (cross referenced to second digit), 5-9 = culturally specific paths (cross referenced to second digit)

Second Digit (Levels in this Progression): 0 = just began this path, no progress yet, 1 = lvl 1, 2 = lvl 2, 3 = lvl 3, 4 = lvl 4, 5 = lvl 5, 6 = lvl 6

As you might be able to tell from the various races, and the current range of weapon selections, I'm tentatively running with a fantasy setting heavily inspired by Japanese folklore. Anything not specifically indicated by letters can be derived by a simple formula from those elements of a character that have been specified.

Character generation will follow 10 basic steps.

1. Where were you born? (N = 0010, E = 0100, S = 1000, W = 0001)

This starts the process of character generation. The location of a character's birth limits what races they might belong to, limits the types of cultures they might have been brought up in, and provides an inherent attribute bonus.

2. What blood runs in your veins? (Human, Fey, Naga, Ogre, Kitsune, Tengu, Oni, Kami)

Central: Human or Any 1/2 Blood Race
North: Human, 1/2 Fey, Full Fey, 1/2 Kitsune, Full Kitsune
East: Human, 1/2 Fey, Full Fey, 1/2 Naga, Full Naga
South: Human, 1/2 Fey, Full Fey, 1/2 Orge, Full Ogre
West: Human, 1/2 Fey, Full Fey, 1/2 Tengu, Full Tengu
(Oni and Kami are available anywhere, but only once a player has reached certain objectives within the game.)

3. What are you known for? (Fighting +1000, Silver Tongue +0100, Smarts +0010, Mysterious +0001)

Between the birth location of the character and this step, the base array of character attributes are determined. 

4. What kind of upbringing did you have? (urban, rural, military, cult, plains, ice, desert, forest, mountains)

Central: Urban, Rural, Military or Cult only
North: Rural, Military, Cult, Plains or Ice
East: Rural, Military, Cult, Plains or Forest
South: Rural, Military, Cult, Plains or Desert
West: Rural, Military, Cult, Plains or Mountains
(Just as Oni and Kami are unlockable races, I might include some unlockable cultures for players who have achieved certain exploration goals within the game)

5. What sort of job have you been doing? (apprentice, courtier, merchant, rogue, scholar, student, wanderer, warrior)

Anyone can start with any of these starting occupations. Some occupations may seem more appropriate to some race or cultures (and I might provide a bonus synergy level when this occurs, but I haven't specifically decided this yet.) 

6. Distribute 6 points across race/culture/role

A screen displays the race, culture and starting occupation of the character. The player distributes six points across them. A character may not spend more than 3 points on race if they are only half blooded, otherwise the expenditure of points is unrestricted.  

7. Allocate benefits from race/culture/role

Based on previous choices, if a character has accumulated any skills, they now get the opportunity to specify what those skills might be. They then get the opportunity to specify any edges they might have acquired (it is specifically done in this order because many edges have prerequisite skills that need to be acquired before they may be selected.)

8. Select two starter item packs

Depending on the homeland, race, culture, occupation, and whether or not certain edges were chosen, a range of starting equipment options will be provided. A player will be able to choose two of these for their character.
  
9. Choose a name

I'm in two minds about this, but at the moment I'm tending toward the idea of having a specific list of given names and family names. The range of given names will be determined by the birth location, the race and the occupation of the character (maybe 10 of each). The range of family names will be determined by the race, and the culture of the character. This ensures characters have names that match the context of the setting and the choices they've made so far. Name will also help contextualise the character from a gender perspective.

10. Choose an image (maybe)

I'm thinking of a modular "paper-doll" approach to character images. A few basic image structures with a couple of modular components indicating different hairstyles, adornments, colourings, etc. I haven't included the image functionality into the string, but this would probably be added as two more digits integrated into the "name" element. Additional components might be added into the character image based on equipment chosen (eg. armour, necklace, family crest, etc.).

After this, a character is ready to explore the world, and ready to be encoded into a string. 

14 October, 2016

The Fundamentals Underneath

I basically know how my character string is going to work. There will be fixed elements of the string that are common to all charactes, and there will be variable length elements that will accomodate themselves to the specific character in question. In total, a starting character's string will have around two dozen glyphs in it, while an experienced and heavily laden character might have up to twice this number.

One of the ideas feeding into this project was an online method of keeping track of LARP characters, and the larp system I developed for a new group (Southern Highlands LARP) has been lingering in the back of my mind. The group in question end d up going with a less complicated rule set, based heavily on previous games in the region, but this rule set of mine has been an ongoing evolution of ideas, stretching back to the work I did last year on the Darkhive, and echoing back through earlier work over the years.

Characters have 4 core attributes:

  • Combat - which basically covers fighting skill and physical activities
  • Influence - which basically covers diplomacy, social activities, and doing things behind the scenes
  • Knowledge - which basically covers intelligence, and most non-combat mundane activities
  • Magic (or Mysticism) - which basically covers anything magical or supernatural


Characters also have skills and edges. Skills are things they've learnt over the years, they open up access to specific pieces of equipment and edges, and provide bonuses when they are applicable. Edges are more distinct in what they provide, often in the form of weapons able to be used, extra hit points, spells to be cast, combat techniques, ways to specifically manipulate people socially, etc. Edges are associated with specific attributes and typically require prerequisite levels in those attributes, along with possession of specific skills (and/or othe edges) before they may be acquired.

This set up is fairly common among the existing LARPs running through Sydney (and it's surrounds). The point of difference is applying a "warhammer-esque" career progression system to the whole thing. This system is made up of discreet "paths" each with 6 levels, at the end of every game (or month, or whatever) a character in the LARP would automatically improve a level in at least one of their paths.

Each path follows the progression:

  • Lvl 1 - first skill selection from the 6 options normally associated with this path
  • Lvl 2 - edge selection from the attribute edges most commonly associated with the path
  • Lvl 3 - increase in the attribute used for the edge selection in level 2
  • Lvl 4 - second skill selection from the 6 options normally associated with this path
  • Lvl 5 - edge selection from the attribute edges less commonly associated with the path
  • Lvl 6 - increase in the attribute used for the edge selection in level 5
  • Special Edge: while a character is currently following this path (or once they have mastered all six levels in the path) they gain access to a path specific edge.


As an example:

Town Guard
  • Lvl 1 - choose a path skill
  • Lvl 2 - choose a Combat edge.
  • Lvl 3 - +1 to Combat Attribute
  • Lvl 4 - choose another path skill
  • Lvl 5 - choose an Influence edge
  • Lvl 6 - +1 to Influence Attribute
  • Special Edge: Town guards may carry manacles to imprison other characters, and may issue bounties on characters designated as criminals (maximum bounty = guard's Influence attribute x10 gold).


All characters begin with 3 paths, one racial (defining the genetic heritage of the character), one cultural (defining the upbringing of the character), and one occupational (defining the character's job when they start play). All characters start with 6 levels that they may distribute across these three initial paths, then for each game they play, they may add a level to any of their paths, or may switch to a new path (as long as they have met the requirements of the new path...which may come in the form of minimum attributes, required skills/edges, or completion of an in-game quest).

From the LARP perspective, attributes don't provide any inherent bonuses of their own, instead they merely open options for different paths to be followed and more potent edges to be acquired. From a browser game (or augmented tabletop RPG) perspective, attribute might need to take on a more significant role.



13 October, 2016

But what do we want?

in the last post, I described a hypothetical string that might describe a character in the game Dungeon Robber. There are a few ways that the string could be refined.

Firstly, there were big chunks dedicated to the carrying of coins that might not even be applicable to the fharacter. These could probably be minimised with an identifier that recognises alphabetical and numeric components separately. I think Dungeon Robber has five coin types: (c)opper, (s)ilver, (e)lectrum, (g) old, and (p)latinum. That bit of the string could see the parsing algorithm look for the various letters representing the relevant coin type, starting with the next string digit it identifies a numeric value to show how much of that coin there is, and as soon as it hits the next coin type, it stops...before progressing through the same procedure with the next coinage. A starting character has no coins at all, and their string might simply read "csegp", a character after a few games might read "c1500s2000eg50p600". Some specific digit might be used to close off the sequence. Suddenly instead of a 20 digit string that may or may not be used, we have a variable digit string, with a minimum of 5 digits to reflect the five coins, and no limit on how long the string may be therefore eliminating the potential wealth limit for the characters.

Something similar could be done for character names, but instead of using alphabetical bookends for the string, it might be better to use a tilde (~) at either end of the name, with everything between the symbols recognised as the "name" part of the string. I would avoid using periods (.) or commas (,) because these might serve programming functions to break up strings in certain programming languages (or concatenate them in the case of php). Another way to do this without needing separate bookends for start and end of a sequence might be to designate a string length with a character. Maybe the coding starts at a certain point in the string, then recognises the character present at this point as a length determinant. 1-9 are obvious, then a=10, b=11, c=12....y=34, z=35...that should be plenty, but if you wanted to go further with string length you might then cycle through capital letters...A=36, B=37, C=38...Y=60, Z=61.

The simple name "Tim" would be rendered in the string as "3Tim" before moving on to the next element in the string... "Alessandra" would be "aAlessandra". To break up the given and family names, it would be possible to add a second sequence length identifier...thus, my own name would be rendered in the string as "7Michael6Wenman". But doing this would require a distinct limitation in the programming for generating a given name, then a family name (or vice versa), it wouldn't allow for the flexibility of spaces in a name such as "Sir Eric the Brave, Slayer of Dragons". Theoretically we could add another sequence length identifier to identify the number of sequences that make up the total sequence, but this is getting a bit meta, and a bit complicated in programming (to the point that I can easily see the scope for bugs appearing). For the sake of argument though, "Tim" and "Alessandra" as a single name, would be rendered "13Tim" and "1aAllesandra". My full name would be "37Michael4John6Wenman", and our complcated case would be "73Sir4Eric3the6Brave~6Slayer2of7Dragons" (you'll note that I've added a tilde instead of a comma after the word "Brave", this is again done purely because the comma might prove problematic and is easy enough to substitute in coding/decoding). Conveniently, as a check digit, the number of characters in the name string is equal to the sum of the numerals breaking it up plus one. The flexibility of this option might prove useful...it's just a case of determining if the usefulness outweighs the potential for bugs.

If the computer program generates a character sheet for the player to look at, we might consider a maximum cap on the name length, to make sure it fits in the designated area of the sheet, but otherwise this flexibility is fine.

That's probably enough about string manipulation for the moment, let's look at what will actually make up the string in this game.

Character name, character race, character culture,  attributes, skill and abilities, equipment, career path progression, honour vs notoriety, money... and a bunch of stuff derived from these values.

Butbefore that makes sense, I'll need to explain the structure of the game.

12 October, 2016

Character Strings

If you've been reading through the last few posts, you'll know that the strings I'm talking about here are not the same ones discussed in Monsterhearts, instead I'm refering to a string of digits that can be entered into a website as a password. Once entered, the string of digits passes through a filter subroutine in the website, producing a character that integrates with all of the various systems and subsystems in the online game. 

To describe my intentions here I will use an online game with a similar concept as my core model. 

A character for Dungeon Robber could be handled pretty easily, it follows the standard D&D six attributes, besides these, characters have:
  • A name
  • A number of experience points
  • Coins carried
  • A range of equipment in their inventory (spells are included here)

Pretty much everything else can be derived from these figures.

The attributes are even streamlined further, either you have a "high" attribute or you don't (where "high" attributes give you a bonus to certain in game effects). All characters have 2 "highs".

We could easily define this type of character with the following string (where brackets are included purely for the sake of breaking up the string, to make it easier to explain...they wouldn't be included in the live version of the string)...

(XXXXXX)(X)(XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX)(XXXXX)(XXXXX)(XXXXX)(XXXXX)(X......)

...where the first six digits indicate the six attributes. Maybe giving them 1's if the attribute is "high" and 0's if the attribute isn't. 

The seventh through twelfth digits of the string would be the character's experience points. that gives you a potential of 999,999 XP to accumulate.

The thirteenth through twenty-eighth digits are the character's name (which can be up to 16 characters long). 

Digits thirty-nine through fifty-eight are broken into five digit chunks. Each of thesse defines the amount of a specific monetary unit possessed by the character. Copper Pieces, Silver Pieces, Gold Pieces, Platinum Pieces. A character can have up to 99,999 units of each...which is probably far more thaan they'd actually accumulate in game.

Any digits thereafter are pieces of equipment, including weapons, armour and other things picked up along the way. 

Anything else about the character is derived automatically from these values.

  • Character level: derived from XP
  • Hit points: derived from a combination of Character level and whether the character has a high constitution attribute.
  • Armour class: derived from characters dexterity attribute and any equipped armour/shield/etc. in their possession.
  • Damage: not really seen as a specific thing on the character sheet, but this is derived from the equipped weapon, and the character's strength attribute.
  • Etc... (a lot of things are derived from these attributes on the fly, such as bribing henchmen as a derivative of the charisma attribute, and you don't actually see them on a character sheet)

Given the simplicity of the game, you could probably compress this string further.

With two attributes high, and a total of six attributes, they could probably be defined by a single digit in the string. 

A =110000, B =101000, C =100100, D =100010, E =100001, F = 011000, G =010100, H =010010, I =010001, J =001100, K =001010, L =001001, M =000110, N =000101, O =000011

Everything converting that single digit into useful values is handled by a subroutine in the program. No human intervention required.

Next post, I'll look at the specific string I'm planning to use to define characters in this new game idea I'm working on. 

10 October, 2016

Playing with the back end

One of the things I loved about playing Bard's Tale 3 back in the very late 80s and early 90s was the fact that I could use my crude disc copying software of the time to read the byte clusters that made up the software. This meant I could cheat by modifying attributes, adding levels of hit points, activating certain character classes (such as the Geomancer) which normally required quests to be fulfilled, acquiring bonus equipment, or playing with the character image, even applying a monster image where my character's portrait should have been.



That was high school and while it wasn't my first exposure to computer programming, it was my first real attempt at "modding" a game. It was enough of an obsession that my best friend at the time became the best man at my wedding over a decade later and used it as a part of his speech at my wedding. It was also the time when I really thought computers could be used for roleplaying in far better ways than they had so far.

Some time around this point (or maybe a little later), my group of friends discovered "Eamon", which allowed us to have a single character that could go on multiple quests, or even engage the same quest multiple times over (because between the lot of us, we only had four or five different quest discs). We started working out how to program our own quests, but one of the core members of our group committed suicide in 1993 and we all separated, heading our own ways. As a game concept, it was something that had lingered in the back of my mind as one of those many projects I might get around to if I had the chance.

It wasn't long after that when I went to university in the mid-90s, and encountered MUDs and MUSHes (the precursors to the MMORPGs we know today). Those MUDs and MUSHes followed that "Eamon" strategy, but remained always active, you could log in to do quests when you wanted, and chat with other people around the world who happened to be online at the same time. It was one of the first times I had started to make friends around the world through the internet.

I didn't really play too many games like that again for a while, because I got heavily into LARP. But when I got out of LARP, there were a new generation of browser games that filled a similar void. A friend was obsessed with "Urban Dead", I got back into that style of gaming with two that caught my attention more thematically, one about angels and demons, another about pirates...I can't remember either of their names, and I don't think either of them run anymore.

I've wanted to write something like these, but also a bit like the Dungeon Robber game I mentioned in the last post.

So, for the moment, I don't want a game where I have to store characters in my site's database. But I want the opportunity for the user to have an encrypted string that defines their characters. When they leave, they can cut-and-paste that string into a notepad file, and if they want to revisit that character later, they can paste it back into the index/entry page and everything will be entered into the relevant variables and the game will be ready to play. This particular project is not designed to be a MUD/MUSH, instead I'm envisioning more of a "Myst with more NPCs to chat with and random monsters". I'm just not certain about a few of the logistical issues at the moment.

In "Dungeon Robber" you keep playing until you get bored. In games of the "Urban Dead" genre, you get a limited number of action points that gradually refresh (maybe about 50 points with a refresh rate of one every five or ten minutes). You might be able to play through your full action points twice a day. That's not enough action points to walk from one side of the world to another, so it might take two or three full sessions of play to accomplish that. Restoring action points in that manner probably needs central database interaction, something I want to avoid. Instead I may create a system where character accumulate positive and negative traits, where such traits tend to accumulate in the negative, making tasks harder to accomplish as a character keeps going, but all the trait vanish after a certain time of rest. All I would need in this case is a single time and date stamp as a part of the data string defining the character, the longer you soend away from the game, the more of these negative traits fade away. 

More stuff to think about.

09 October, 2016

Using a computer to take care of the fiddly stuff

Over the years I've been drawn to the idea of an incredibly crunchy, rules-heavy game that remains fun to play and fast to resolve because all the complicated bits are handled in the background by a computer. We've seen a few attempts at augmented gaming apps in recent times, and there might be some really good examples of these that I'm not aware of, but on the whole most of them seem to consist of dice rollers and card simulators, where the outcome then needs to be fed by a human back into some kind of procedural generator.

There was an automatic dungeon generator and explorer I was addicted to for a few weeks. It might have been Dungeon Robber (edit #1: it's the closest I could find while I was in a hurry writing this...edit #2: going back through my blog history, yes, it was Dungeon Robber). That's the kind of thing I'm going for, but more as an open ended town than a dungeon...and with the scope for adding a few players to the adventuring party. It wouldn't need multiple players and could certainly be a good time filler with a lone person on their computer, but I think the potential for multiple players would take things to a whole new level.

I also liked the way characters were saved as a coded string of digits in that game. It means there is no need for back end tables, and server side storage issues.

As a part of a university assignment, I've generated a site called "The Abandoned City" over the last few weeks. It's designed as a gamified learning environment, but could easily function as the basis for an open exploration sandbox in this online rpg tool that I'm considering.

No specific plans yet, just lots of ideas swirling around in the primal soup.

08 October, 2016

Week 1 - #inktober #drawlloween #dungeondegenerates

This month I'm simultaneously doing three drawing challenges, #inktober, #drawlloween, and last month's #dungeondegenerates. 

Here's the first seven results.