30 November, 2018

Do we really need attributes?

I look at games like Risus, or like the work I've just done with The Fen, or even looking back at earlier work I've tinkered with (Catacomb Quest comes to mind). There are plenty of other games that also don't use attributes at all, so it seems a bit odd to simply be including attributes because it's tradition to do so.

I've been looking over the work for The Fen, and one of the first things that came to mind was applying a system of races, cultures and occupations to it. Then I thought I should apply an attribute system... and that's when it hit me. Do we really need atttributes?

The ideas that led to this were an attempt to tie the basic system to the Other Strangeness project that I abandoned a while ago.

I initially thought that I needed the stereotypical races... human, elf, dwarf... because these make an easy point of entry for players who are used to the standard fantasy paradigm, but humans tend to be the vanilla, which gets flavoured more strongly by the occupations available. Then I thought, how about no humans... or make the characters closest to human simply be those who are mixed races of the other identified groups. Which then led to "Screw it! I did a bit of work on that Other Strangeness project a while back... why not just plug things from here into there??"

Under this theory, I'll apply a bunch of traits that different animal characters can pick. But not give the different animal-types attribute modifiers... because there won't be any attributes. In a few cases there might be traits like "strong", "fast", or "cunning", but these are more simplistic and chunky in their effects... either a character has got them or they don't.

It's not so nuanced, but in this particular case it doesn't need to be. Characterisation and character development comes from other sources.

We'll see where this goes, I foresee a new pocketmod coming.

NaGaDeMon failure

I guess it's not really a failure, I definitely spent a bit of time doing game design work during this month, but I've had so many other things happening that I really haven't managed to complete any of my intended game design projects.

The Quartermasters Files which functions as the basic equipment guide for The Law saw a bit of progress, so did the Most Wanted NPC guide.

The Fen went from a vague nebulous concept to an almost workable game that won't take too much effort to reach a playtestable state.

There was also a decent amount of drawing done for various projects. 

29 November, 2018

10 Influential Games

Today's thing seems to be writing a list of 10 roleplaying games that have been influential in a person's interactions with the hobby. I've seen a few people writing the list with no further comments, I've seen others adding notations to their lists. There have been lists in order of most to least influential, there have been others written in chronological order of exposure or of publications.

I like the idea of doing it in order of exposure, and adding a bit of notation to explain why it's influential to me, so I'm going to write my list that way. There are probably other games that have had a significant impact on me, and there will be a list of honourable mentions at the end.

1. Dragon Warriors
This was the first RPG I owned copies of. I never played many games with it, but it's what started the whole journey.

2. Middle Earth Role Playing
This was one of the few RPGs that my parents allowed me to own, because it wasn't D&D and it wasn't "satanic"... instead it was more obviously based on the works of Tolkien (and my dad was a huge Tolkien fan at the time). This game acted as a bit of a gateway drug into Rolemaster for our group of friends at high school, and this showed how baroque and complex a system could be. I ended up being inspired by it mostly as a system benchmark to avoid in it's level of complexity. 

3. Cyberpunk 2020
My copies of Cyberpunk 2020 were saved from a friend's parents as many of his other roleplaying materials were consigned to an incinerator. Besides the social and historical significance that these books have to my life, I'm also strongly influenced by the lifepath generation system which is something I've strived to replicate a number of times in my own designs. Even though the game setting has aged with some curious parallels to our reality, and a number of divergences, I still love going through the lists of equipment, and considering what could have been. It has aged gracefully into a curious form of cyber retro futurism.

4. The World of Darkness (notably Werewolf the Apocalypse and Mage the Ascension)
The idea of a game where players could use their own understanding of the real world to support their stories was a clever idea that I hadn't really seen previously. So too was the idea that you could run and entire game system based on a narrow subset of monsters. I remember people saying that they couldn't handle the concept of Werewolf because they might have wanted to play something that wasn't necessarily a lycanthrope. Then came Mage, and that just blew us all apart with it paradigm shattering ideas that literally anything was possible. That's the lightning in a bottle that I've been trying to recapture for 25+ years.

5. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying
Such a beautiful and rich setting, but dark, dreary, it feels more like a dark ages game that anything else I've played. It was an awakening to see a game where you didn't play heroes, but instead played the lowest rungs of society, just trying to make ends meet, and maybe rise about the detritus of the grimy old empire rather than being slain horribly by things that no-one will talk about. I've revisited the system a few times over the years, and the career progression system is such a beautifully constructed thing.

6. Planescape
I can't really say all of AD&D here, but there are a number of settings that gave a distinct feel to the standard D&D set up. Dark Sun was the first of those settings to draw my interest, but I could never get anyone else interested in it at the time... it was only with the release of Planescape that I had friends who were willing to explore politics in a fantasy game. The way that this setting added so much depth and nuance to the metagame was incredible, the artwork by DiTerlizzi was also evocative, and something different to everything else on the market at the time.

7. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
This is probably an odd one to be throwing onto the list, but it was specifically written as a one-on-one interpretation of the Tri-Stat/BESM engine. The idea of a game specifically written for one player and one GM was an intriguing concept, and while I've never found the one player who'd want to play it for me (or run it for me), it's filled with ideas that I've tried to port into my other projects over the years. The fact that I love the movie probably helps too.

8. 3:16
A game with 2 stats and an array of weapons. This was one of the first sets of rules where it really clicked for me how a simple rule set could really reflect a specific genre of play. It did one thing, but it did that one thing phenomenally well. The fact that it had a few subversive twists hidden within it's rules just boosted the influence it's had on my as a player, GM, and designer.

9. A Penny for My Thoughts

This is one of those games that I didn't think much of until I played it. It is written in the form of an in-world artefact, and the game play is very ritualised, but like 3:16 it does one thing and it does that one thing really well. I've adapted this game so many times over the last few years, using it as a character generation system to develop backstories, and using it to weave communal narratives that help to establish a world. 

10. Ghost/Echo

Another micro game, Ghost/Echo was a huge influence on my own game FUBAR, which has in turn been the basis of much of my design work over the past few years. This is a hint of a game, it provides the basics but expects a lot more to be brought to the table by it's players. It's one of those games that opened my awareness to a new style of collaborative play.

Honourable mentions
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness.
Chill 2nd Ed
Legend of the Five Rings

28 November, 2018

Pulling Apart and Recombining

One of the things about my design cycle is that I'm always shooting off on tangents, then I try to pull those tangents back into other projects.

This recent Fen project has had an idea that I've pulled from certain LARPs. It relates to the way weapon and armour works.

In those LARPs, there are simp,y some types of armour that are too protective for lesser weapons to penetrate. Instead of giving extra hit points or adding toughness, these armours simply say that if you aren't using a high enough level of weapon, you don't do a thing. So heroic knights wade through throngs of poorly equipped peasants and cut bloody paths of destruction through the masses... it's the wet dream of many libertarians and supremacists (as long as they're the ones in the armour).

The version in The Fen is slightly more nuanced.

Basically, you get certain thresholds of power level.

Let's say 'unarmed fists' counts as offence level zero and 'bare skin' counts as defence level zero.

A basic weapon (for example a 'dagger', 'club', or 'staff') or basic armour ('padded' or 'leather') adds a level to the relevant score.

A decent weapon ('shortsword', 'axe', 'spear') or decent armour ('mail') adds two levels.

A good weapon ('longsword', 'polearm', 'trident') or good armour ('plate') adds three levels.

Enchanted items might add a level to their relevant scores. Being strong might increase offence level by one. Being tough might increase defence level by one.

Everyone gets 5 health levels (1 = healthy, 2 = bruised, 3 = battered, 4 = bloodied, 5 = broken... then dead.)

You're always rolling a d6. If you confront someone using an offence level equal to their defence level, a roll of 4-5 does a level of injury to them, and a roll of 6 does two levels of injury. This means a maximum of 4 hits knocks someone to 'broken' and takes them out of action, and any roll of a 6 knocks them down quicker. 

If your offence is one point higher than their defence, then every hit does as extra injury... 2 injuries on a 4-5, 3 injuries on a 6. That means 2 hits takes them down.

If your offence is two points higher, then every hit does two extra injuries... that's 3 injuries on a 4-5, and 4 injuries on a 6. Suddenly the chance of single shot takedowns become a possibility.

If your offence is three points higher, then we're looking at three extra injuries... so that's 4 injuries on a 4-5 (instant takedown), or 5 injuries on a 6 (instant death).

Things get wonky the other way.

If your offence is one point lower than their defence, you do one less injury with each successful strike... that means no injuries on a 4-5, and only a single injury on a 6. This means on average it'll take 24 hits (needing four successes at 1 in 6 chance) to take down someone who is only one point higher.

If your offence is two or more points less than their defence, you'll do nothing at all to them... ever.

I've been considering options for addressing this.

Perhaps rolling a 6 allows a character the extra damage, or an insight into their opponent, which lowers the effective defensive score by 1 for the remainder of the conflict. If they aren't going to cause damage anyway, a lower powered assailant might as well claim that bonus once or twice.

There's already the scope in The Fen for more skilled opponents, who roll extra dice and keep the higher die roll. Thus a better chance of getting that 6. I could follow the Blades in the Dark route where extra 6s gain extra benefits on the one roll. The other twist here might be an option for characters specialising in a certain weapon to deal two extra injuries on a 6 rather than one extra injury.

I've also got a basic initiative system in play. Basically different weapons have different attack speeds, simply resolve conflict in descending order of initiative values. Heavy weapons might inflict more injuries, but those wielding them act more slowly. Faster weapons go earlier, but tend to deal less damage. Perhaps a rule could be instituted where a character deliberately lowers their initiative score, acting slower while waiting for the opportunity to strike and potentially deal more damage.   

Maybe all of these options, maybe other options I haven't thought of.

Thinking about all of these ideas has got me thinking that there might be something here to add into The Law for players after a crunchier combat system. That's where tne recombining comes in.

26 November, 2018

Another Step of the Journey has been Taken

I started retraining in 2012, when I began a college course in Fine Arts. From 2013 to 2015, I did a bachelors degree in Sociology and Linguistics [with minors toward teaching], because they offered the course that I thought I wanted, and I already had studies in Engineering and Industrial Design under my belt. From 2016 to mid 2018, I did a Master of Teaching degree, and began the process for formal accreditation as a teacher of Industrial and Visual Arts. After struggling with bureaucracy for eleven and a half months [during which I've done an additional college course in Photography], I've finally been approved to teach.

Now to start looking for teaching jobs...about three weeks before the school year ends. Hopefully this means I'll start teaching at the beginning of next year's school year. 

24 November, 2018

More Fen Images [NaGaDeMon 2018]

I'm certainly not going to get this project finished this month, but it's going in the right direction. 

I still haven't completely decided what a lot of the monstrous creatures in the Fen actually look like, so I'll focus on a few more of these reference images.

I also haven't particularly determined what the survivor characters actually are. The original concept was to simply have them as humans, and this is certainly the easiest option, but it crossed my mind that the swamp-bound survivors could be goblins or kobolds, or something else entirely. I also considered the idea that the survivors could be left deliberately vague, something for players to decide.  

23 November, 2018

Illustrating The Fen

I mentioned in a previous post that this project was going to be done white on black, to accentuate the darkness of the Fen. That means the illustrations will also follow the white on black theme.

I'm not necessarily going to run with anything too realistic for this project, instead opting to draw the illustration in my "comic" style. The whole rules for the project will also be written in the font that I generated out of my handwriting a few months back.

21 November, 2018

Stat Blocks [NaGaDeMon 2018]

The Fen is designed to be played without a GM, because it's more of a co-operative survival game than a roleplaying game. As a result it draws a little from the idea of Fighting Fantasy books, by having a procedural set of rules to define how opponents will confront the characters. I've tried to develop a few 'opposition AIs' in the past, and they always start getting a bit fiddly because I often try to incorporate too much into the decision trees defining how the system reacts to player activities.

If anyone has good suggestions of how other games handle this sort of thing, I'd love to hear them.

At the moment though, I'm trying to get the feeling where different types of adversaries confront the characters in different ways. This is handled by giving the various opponent types a specific attack output, and a few key points indicating how they work strategically. Some opponents prefer to use ranged attacks, some hunt in packs, some prefer a straight up fight.

Basically, each adversary has an initiative value indicating when they attack in the round, and a number dice that they roll when it's their turn to attack.

Then they get an 'attacks' description, indicating what effects their attacks have when they succeed with a roll of 4 or 5, or when they gain a high degree of success with a roll of a 6. If they have a ranged attack, it is mentioned here too.

They get a 'defence' description, indicating any armour or protective features they might have, along with any penalties that attackers might have against them... for example, small opponents and flying opponents often causes ranged attacks to be at a disadvantage.

A strategy entry indicates who this opponent tends to target among the player's side. This idea was drawn from the Star Trek CCG from the 90s, where different mission obstacles would indicate which members of the away team were targeted by any advantages or disadvantages. Perhaps the most powerful character is affected, perhaps the weakest, maybe a character with a specific trait, or maybe a character chosen completely at random. Among the strategy description, I also include escape clauses for the opponents because often they will not fight to the death, they'll just come in for a limited number of strikes before moving back into the shadows, or maybe they'll try to retreat once they've taken significant wounds.

Kingdom Death did something similar to this, but its execution also felt clunky for a number of reasons.

Finally, each opponent has the items they drop. In most cases, these items may only be scavenged if the opponent is actually killed, nothing is acquired if the opponent retreats or flees.

I suspect that this is the kind of thing that will best be refined through a series of playtests. While I am generally gauging which opponents should be more powerful, and which should be less powerful, I'm not overly concerned with 'game balance' here, The Fen is a wild and unpredicatable place.

20 November, 2018

Character Development [NaGaDeMon 2018]

The survivors in the Fen have a few objectives. Primarily, they aim to survive as long as possible, hoping that one of the games victory conditions or escape clauses activates. Other objectives basically just support this in one way or another...

  • Explore to find new resources to gather
  • Gather resources to make tools, equipment, weapons, and armour.
  • Make tools and equipment to improve survivability, and make hunger/thirst/injuries easier to address
  • Make weapons and armour to hunt, or to avoid the worst when being hunted.
  • Increase knowledge about the Fen, to know where new safe areas might be found if the encampment is destroyed
  • Increase knowledge of the self, improving the ability to engage all those other objectives with a greater chance of success.

It's that last one I'm thinking about.

The general setup of the game gives every player one or more "aware" survivors.

1 player = 3 aware survivors
2 players = 2 aware survivors each (for a total of 4)
3 or more players = 1 aware survivor each

These survivors have limited recollection of their lives before the Fen. They start with one chosen ability traits, two random ability traits, and a quirk. It is recommended that the ability traits of "crafter", "explorer", and "hunter" be distributed as chosen abilities among the first few aware survivors... as this covers the variety of starting tasks that will make survival easier.

In addition to the aware survivors, the encampment begins with a number of amnesiac survivors. Roll a single die to determine how many of these there are. Each ammesiac begins with a single ability trait, but they have little autonomy, so basically they provide a bonus when assisting an aware survivor who possesses that ability. Amnesiac survivors are basically the "worker placement" element of the game, but they may awaken during the course of play to provide more different actions during each hour/turn of play.

Survivor development occurs through acquisition of new abilities, or improvement of existing abilities. It is basically assumed that the survivors in the game were relatively competent, perhaps even experts in their fields before their time in the Fen. This means that the development of abilities is less about learning new things, and more about remembering the past. This means we don't need to worry about sprnding weeks or months learning a new skill, we just need to accomodate moments when flashbacks bring back some recollection. This also means the hourly timeframe for each turn doesn't become problematic from a development perspective.

I'm thinking of 6 basic ability traits, at two levels each.

Crafter - Basic: lets you create simple things. Advanced: lets you create more complex things.
Explorer - Basic: reduced chance of confrontation when exploring. Advanced: increased chance of finding resources when exploring.
Hunter - Basic: bonus damage on a successful hit. Advanced: bonus die when using a weapon.
GuardBasic: reduced damage on an incoming hit. Advanced: bonus die when defending the encampment.
ScavengerBasic: lets you scavenge without slowing down exploration. Advanced: bonus die on scavenging resources.
Healer - Basic: lets you perform healing actions. Advanced: bonus die on healing actions.

So, aware characters choose a basic ability trait, then roll two dice which may either offer them new traits, or increase an existing trait to advanced status. If doubles are rolled... something else needs to happen, because I don't necessarily want to add new complications with a third level of skill. Probably gain a new quirk...

...speaking of which. I'm seeing 36 quirks. Roll 2 dice, on a 6x6 table, one die determines the column, the other die chooses the row. Players can choose which of die is alliicated where. Aware characters start with a quirk, amnesiac characters roll for their quirk as soon as they become aware. I'm working out the full range of quirks now, but they'll basically be things like "cook", "armourer", "criminal", "woodcutter", and similar more specialised abilities that tell us more about the backstory of the aware survivors. 

There are certain abilities that might be considered morecadvanced versions of existing traits... just trying to think of better ways to incorporate these now.

19 November, 2018

Things to Make and Things to Find [NaGaDeMon 2018]

I've been working on an item listing for The Fen. Basically the aim here is to provide a range of things that will help characters survive, not necessarily provide a list of anything and everything that characters in the fen could make. I was thinking of adding metal items to the lists, but decided that this ended up detracting from the potential game with too many choices.

FOUND COMPONENTS [these may be found by anyone]
Blackblood, Carapace, Fat, Flint, Fungus, Herbs, Leather, Meat, Obsidian Shard, Spider Silk, Resin, Tar, Teeth, Weaving Fibres, Water, Wood

MANUFACTURED COMPONENTS [a character must have the ‘crafter’ trait to make these]
Charcoal [wood] 
Cloth [weaving fibres]
Point [crude] [obsidian shard or flint]
Point [good] [obsidian shard]
Silk Cloth [spider silk]
Spikes [carapace, teeth, or wood]

FOOD [a character must have the ‘cook’ trait to make these]
Clean Water [water, carapace pot] – [anyone may make this] unless water has been boiled [and made clean] it can cause disease
Cooked Meat [meat] – unless meat has been cooked it can cause disease
Fungus Soup [fungus, clean water, carapace pot] – fungus soup lasts indefinitely without going off
Gruel [clean water, herbs, fat, carapace pot] – gruel serves 2 survivors
Jerky [cooked meat, herbs, food store] – jerky lasts indefinitely without going off

WEAPONS [a character may have 2 weapons, but only gains the benefit of 1. A character must have either the ‘crafter’ or ‘weaponsmith’ trait to make these, if they have both they roll with advantage when making these]
Sharpened stick [1 wood] – roll extra
Flint Dagger [flint, leather] – add 1 damage
Obsidian Dagger [obsidian shard, leather] – add 1 damage
Weighted club [1 wood, stone, leather] – roll extra and add 1 damage
Axe [obsidian shard, 1 wood, leather] – roll extra and add 1 damage
Macuahuitl / Obsidian Sword [4 obsidian shards, 2 wood, resin] – roll extra and add 3 damage
Koa / Tooth Blade [4 teeth, 2 wood, resin] – roll extra and add 2 damage
Crude Spear [2 wood, crude point, leather or weaving fibres] – ranged damage
Decent Spear [2 wood, good point, leather or weaving fibres] – plus 1 ranged damage
Tooth Spear [2 wood, tooth, leather or weaving fibres] – plus 1 ranged damage
Obsidian Spear [2 wood, obsidian shard, leather or weaving fibres] – plus 2 ranged damage
Spikes [2 good points] – required for spiked items
Spiked club [spikes, weighted club] – hits are considered 1 pt higher for purposes of ‘fragile’
Caltrops [2 spikes] – any threats to encampment must face 2 dice of attacks before confrontation begins

EQUIPMENT [a character may have up to 4 equipment. A character must have the ‘crafter’ trait to make these]
Cloth [weaving fibres] – required for making clothes, padded armour, and other cloth goods
Silk cloth [spider silk] – if this cloth is used to create items, increase ‘fragile’ by 1.
Water pouch [2 leather] – may carry 2 draughts of water
Carapace pot [1 carapace] – may be used to boil and purify any water
Torch [1 wood] – [anyone may make this] doesn’t need to be made, a piece of wood is simply used for light
Quality Torch [2 wood, cloth, tar] – 2 quality torches are made, each torch has no risk of going out early
Filter [carapace, charcoal, fungus, silk cloth] – water no longer risks causing illness
Rope [2 weaving fibres] -

ENCAMPMENT GEAR [a character must have the ‘crafter’ trait to make these]
Bivouac [2 wood, 4 cloth, 4 spikes, weaving fibres] – up to 2 characters at the encampment gain a bonus to their recuperation rolls
Tent [4 wood, 8 cloth, 4 spikes, fat, weaving fibres] – up to 4 characters at the encampment gain a bonus to their recuperation rolls  
Food Store [2 wood, 4 cloth, fat, tar] – rolls for food degradation are at plus one.
Camp Standard [2 wood, 2 cloth, weaving fibres] – fire level 4 may draw amnesiac survivors [rather than needing level 5]

REMEDIES [a character must have the ‘herbalist’ trait to make these, if they also have the ‘cook’ trait they roll with advantage when making these]
Bug Repellent [herbs, fungus, tar] – Skeeter and Leech results are ignored while on expedition. Skeeters, Leeches, Mud Crawlers, and Swamp Spiders have half the expected strength if the encampment is invaded. 
Black Elixir [blackblood, fat, herbs] – remove any one weariness trait, but risk gaining a instability trait
Green Elixir [fungus, fat, herbs] – remove any one injury trait, but risk gaining a fear trait
Red Elixir [teeth, fungus, herbs] – remove any one disease trait, but risk gaining a weariness trait
Swamp-Rot Poison [toxin, 2 fungus] – when coated on a weapon, the first successful strike in a conflict deals 2 extra damage
Death Paste [toxin, blackblood] – when coated on a weapon, it may now harm those immune to normal weapons
Wake-up juice [clean water, fungus, blackblood, herbs] – turn a fen shambler into a new amnesiac survivor

ARMOUR [a character may have 1 armour. A character must have the ‘armourer’ trait to make these, if they also have the ‘weaponsmith’ trait they roll with advantage when making these]
Partial Padded armour [3 cloth] – prevent 1 incoming damage each strike [fragile 4]
Partial Leather armour [4 leather] – prevent 2 incoming damage each strike [fragile 5]
Partial Carapace armour [2 carapace] – prevent 2 incoming damage each strike [fragile 6]
Full padded armour [3 cloth, partial padded armour] – prevent 2 incoming damage each strike [fragile 4]
Full leather armour [4 leather, partial leather armour] – prevent 3 incoming damage each strike [fragile 5]
Full carapace armour [2 carapace, partial carapace armour] – prevent 4 incoming damage each strike [fragile 6]
Hybrid padded/leather armour [partial padded armour and 4 leather, or partial leather armour and 3 cloth] – prevent 3 incoming damage each strike [fragile 4]
Hybrid padded/carapace armour [partial padded armour and 2 carapace, or partial carapace armour and 3 cloth] – prevent 3 incoming damage each strike [fragile 5]
Hybrid leather/carapace armour [partial leather armour and 2 carapace, or partial carapace armour and 4 leather] – prevent 3 incoming damage each strike [fragile 6]
Spiked armour [4 spikes, any armour type] – regardless of their skills or equipment, opponent only rolls a single die for each combat strike.

18 November, 2018

Denizens (NaGaDeMon 2018)

Abberations, Undead, Planar entities, Dire creatures... D&D has all manner of categories for the entities that players may face in their travels. Each has expected traits and common abilities, even they do cover a wide range of options within those categories.

I'm thinking of doing something similar with The Fen, where I'm already up to about 40 different creatures that might be encountered, but these are generally categorised into

Blackblood - these creatures are infused with a parasitic black fluid  that mutates and transforms them in unnatural ways. They take extra damage from  weapons coated in a specific blend of fungus.
Fen - these are natural creatures of the fen, they may not be typical creatures on Earth (such as Fen Shamblers), but there's nothing particularly supernatural about them. 
Shadow - these are empowered by the perpetual darkness enshrouding the Fen, such creatures would effectively live forever if they weren't killed by violent means. They are fearful of fire, and take extra damage from it.
Spectral - these creatures are undead spirit entities, echoes of their former selves who manipulate the world with ghostly powers and manifestations. They may only be disrupted by weapons of obsidian.
Swamp - like the "Fen" creatures, these are natural beings who live in the region.

There are a few other creatures in the list which don't fit into these five categories, but generally there are about six creatures fir each of those types, and when someone chooses a special enemy type, they'll go with one of those categories. 

At the moment I'm populating the lists of creatures with various abilities, and the typical components they can be harvested for when they are slain. That's all part of the game, creatures are killed, harvested for parts that are combined with scavenged items, and then new weapons, armour and other items are created to improve potential survivability.

Confrontation in the Fen [NaGaDeMon 2018]

There is always going to be confrontation and conflict in the perpetually darkened swamp-lands of the fen.  

I'm open to feedback here. I'd like feedback here. 

Basically our characters are defined by a range of skills that either give them a new way to roll dice that other characters don't possess [such as healing, crafting, or fishing], advantages to standard actions [such as being better at combat or scavenging], or some quirky one off ability [which might ignore certain penalties, or provide advantages when certain situations arise]. The amnesiac characters get one skill, while aware characters get a name, 3 skills, and a memory fragment that provides some special bonus while revealing something about their past. 

If there are characters at ranged distance with ranged weapons, ranged attacks are launched in descending order of initiative.
Roll each ranged attack [roll a single d6 unless either combatant has an effect that says otherwise]
[1] weapon is lost
[2-3] attack misses
[4-5] attack hits for basic damage
[6] attack hits for basic damage then choose one of the following –
extra damage
[or] a bonus effect occurs [based on weapon or skill]
[or] attacker gains a manoeuvre
Closing in
Once ranged attacks are resolved, any active combatants at ranged distance close in, or spend a manoeuvre to remain at ranged distance.
Melee attacks are launched in descending order of initiative. Characters at ranged distance are unable to be struck by melee attacks
Roll each melee attack [roll a single d6 unless either combatant has an effect that says otherwise]
[1] victim gains a bonus die on their next action
[or] if a weapon is being used, it risks breakage
[2-3] attack misses
[4-5] attack hits for basic damage [1 damage if no weapon is being used]
[6] attack hits for basic damage then choose one of the following –
extra damage [1 extra damage if no weapon is being used]
[or] a bonus effect occurs [based on weapon or skill]
[or] attacker gains a manoeuvre
Any character with a Fear penalty of ‘Scared’, or an Instability penalty of ‘Irrational’ must make a die roll to avoid running into the darkness screaming.
Any character with penalties of ‘Passed Out’, ‘Broken’, ‘Paralysed’ or ‘Incapacitated’ is rendered inactive for the remainder of the conflict [melee attacks against inactive targets have an advantage die, any successful hit kills them outright]
If both sides still have active combatants, a new round begins with any combatants at long range. If only one side has active combatants, they stand victorious.

Post Confrontation
If the survivors are victorious, any character with the healing skill may tend to a single inactive character [characters killed outright may not be tended to]. An elixir may be used to automatically remove a penalty trait [at the risk of gaining another], or use herbs and roll a standard healing test for this.
Regardless of confrontation outcome, any characters who fled the conflict due to being ‘Scared’ or ‘Irrational’ may see if they regain their senses.
[1] This character is never seen again, and the danger rating increases by 1
[2-3] This character is never seen again
[4-5] This character will be the next wandering survivor encountered in exploration or at the encampment
[6] This character returns to the rest of the group when the confrontation is resolved

The thing I'm missing here is the idea that characters are potential victims of things like fear and potential psychosis, but there seems to be no specific way to inflict these on the adversaries they face. At the moment, I'm considering the idea that psychological warfare might be limited to those with specific skill sets, or items that allow them to invoke these effects.

Generally, survivors [and the monsters in the fen] will roll a single d6 and deal a single injury trait with their attacks [or 2 if they roll a 6]. Weapons may add damage or allow an advantage die, armour reduces potential incoming damage, or adds a disadvantage die to the attacker [remembering that any advantage and disadvantage dice cancel each other out]. I'm thinking that things like 'battle standards' may create armour effects against 'fear' penalties, and innoculations or some kind of elixir may create armour effects against the 'insanity' or 'disease' penalties inflicted by certain fen creatures. 

17 November, 2018

White on Black (NaGaDeMon 2018)

No, this isn't a post about racial hate crimes. It's about page layout and developing mood in a text.  

In a game where the characters awaken in a swampland locked in eternal darkness and threatened by creatures of the murky shadows, it makes sense to me to have thed rules be as dark as possible. OneBookShelf has trouble with printing black text onto a gradient, or even onto greyscale (because the greys come out either over or under exposed, and the mood is instantly ruined). So I'm thinking of running with white text and line art on a black background.   
I'm not going to keep writing this post that way, because the formatting is just bugging me here on the blog.

This idea isn't particularly innovative, I remember the Lasombra Clanbook doing it quite some time ago.

I do think the idea is still uncommon enough that it makes a nice novelty and quirky feature for this particular game.

Generally, things seem to be falling into place for the game. I should have a playable version for people who are interested before the weekend is out. I should also have a draft copy of the equipment guide for The Law, for anyone who'd like to take a look.

15 November, 2018

Types of Actions (NaGaDeMon 2018)

To keep things simple in this game, I'm going with 4 basic types of actions, and two starting types of survivor. The survivors are either Amnesiacs (who can do basic things and assist other characters in their tasks), or Aware (who have enough self-awareness that they can engage in more specific tasks). Each player gains control over one or more Aware survivors, while the Amnesiacs are basically a pool of assistants. As they perform deeds and gain experience, Amnesiacs may become Aware.

2 Actions anyone can do, regardless of whether they are Amnesiac or Aware....

Tending the Fire (successfully keeping the fire alive efficiently)
Recuperating (resting, eating and drinking )

2 Actions are initially limited to Aware survivors.

Exploring the Swamp (each hour a new part of the swamp may be explored, trudging across a previously explored part of the swamp takes half an hour)
Collecting Components (taking the time to specifically scavenge an area for a variable number of firewood pieces, craftable components, food or water)

Then we have more specific actions where a survivor needs a specific skill before they may be attempted.

Crafting (using components to create tools, weapons, armour, camp defences, etc.)
Healing (eliminating more substantial penalties on other characters)
Tracking (following tracks in the swamp toward potential prey and more lucrative supply sources)
Magic?? (some rare individuals may gain the ability to enchant their fellow survivors, or use herbal components to brew mysterious elixirs)

There will also be combat actions that come into effect when the camp is ambushed, or a creature is encountered during exploration.

Each of these actions will follow the 1(fumble)/2-3(fail)/4-5(succeed)/6(special) progression.

Characters who have proven their mastery at specific skills will gain the ability to roll an extra die, choosing the best result. Characters suffering penalties will roll an extra die, choosing the worst result. Character with both a bonus and a penalty just roll the single die.

14 November, 2018

Iterative Mapping (NaGaDeMon 2018)

We know our survivors are in a swamp trapped in endless night, but what does the swamp look like?

I'm thinking of a procedural system here where every game will generate a new piece of swampland.

We'll generally start with a blank hex grid.

But ee know that the characters are in a relatively safe part of the swamp at the beginning of play, so we'll add some positive modifiers to the central territories.

We also know that they start in a wooded area, to give them an easier time to collect dry wood at the start of play.

Going any further requires exploration, which not only uncovers other parts of the swamp, but also finds potential risks and rewards.

I'm thinking of a few basic types of swampy terrain... waterlogged copses of trees, long grass, boggy marsh, and wasteland. I haven't fully worked out thd symbols for these, or how many there will be... maybe 5, and if you roll a 6 on the die the new terrain is the same as the last terrain the explorers were in.

...gradually the map takes shape. I don't expect such a uniform distribution as the map forms, this is just for illustrating my point.

Another element will start coming into play as the exploration gets further away from the camp... coastlines (which could be rivers, lakes or something else entirely). Wooded terrain here might be mangroves.

As a further point, the process of mapping might include the number of times a wooded area has been raided for campfire wood (indicated on this map with dots), an 'X' might be added in locations where a threat has been found, some other symbols might reflect where resources can be scavenged (such as obsidian, weaving fibres, herbs, fungus, etc.

More to think about here, especially the system that generates this map... but this is feeling like a good start.

System Elegance (NaGaDeMon 2018)

If you've been a regular reader of the blog over the years, or even if you've just read a bunch of the posts about game design that I've made in that time, you'll note that I strive for elegance in systems. That doesn't mean striving to make simplistic rule sets, but it also certainly doesn't mean introducing complexity for the sake of it. I like sturdy, multifunctional rules that apply a common method of resolution to a variety of situations while feeling natural in those situations.

I like the idea of a simple (6 and under)/(7-9)/(10 and over) mechanism like the one found in Apocalypse World, and for some tasks it feels natural, but in my experience it finds it's limits quickly. This is especially true when it comes to the variant difficulties of tasks, or the variant skill levels of characters. The way that people tack new sub-rules onto the base to accomodate these issues indicates to me that the core rules were never meant to work in certain ways, and shoehorning the core rules into those areas with sub-rule variations is simply inelegant design. I guess that's one of the many things that bugs me with Apocalypse World. It was meant to be a collapsible design structure, where you could forget bits of the rules, use core rules and it would still work fine... but hell if you're going to do that, why not just play something like Risus or Ghost/Echo. They even have a better way of handling variable difficulty factors.

While working on The Fen, I've strived for elegance while trying to avoid paths I've taken previously. I think the SNAFU system used in The Law is good for it's i tended purpose over there... but it doesn't necessarily feel like the best bet here. This game feels like it needs to be more procedural, self governing, almost with a crude AI to help determine threats and potential benefits, feeding in a variety of factors to give outcomes that are relevant to the tasks being undertaken, while avoiding needlessly "Rolemaster"-levels of complexity.

At first I was tinkering with a flat d6 system, where you might add an extra "positive" d6 or two if you had some kind of advantage, or an extra "negative" d6 or two if things were against you. Positives and negatives cancel out, if you end up with one or more "positives" left over you roll multiple dice and keep the best... if you end up with one or more "negatives" you roll multiple dice and keep the worst.

The basic result outcome would be...
1: Fumble. Something bad happens directly related to the action.
2-3: Fail. Nothing much happens.
4-5: Success. The expected outcome of attempting the task occurs.
6: Special. A critical success, where some kind of unexpected bonus is added to the outcome.

It feels simple enough, and the various tasks in the game, such as tending the fire, exploring, crafting, fighting creatures of the fen, etc., can each have their own overlay applied to the basic mechanism... so yeah, a bit like Apocalypse World 'moves', but since this is project is more akin to a cooperative boardgamethan an rpg, the regulated system generally feels alright.

Then I started adding more complexity to the system, where some character skills or situational modifiers added +1 to a die roll rather than an extra die. This eliminates the chance of a fumble, and doubles the chance of a special outcome (or makes the numbers go weird when combined with the multiple dice options). Then I decided that the 'special' outcomes should have six variations (roll a d6 at the end of the task resolution to see which bonus effect applies). Then I wanted potential result outcomes with more than 6 possibilities, so I thought about adding d10s into the mix.  In other cases I couldn't even think of 6 possibilities, so I considered halving the result (1-2: option 1, 3-4: option two, 5-6: option three)... and the whole thing was starting to feel inelegant. It was starting to feel limethe kind if system where every action us preceded by looking up the rulebook to get a quick reminder of what you're supposed to do in each specific situation. The opposite of what I want.

I still like the core, roll d6, outcome based on (1)/(2-3)/(4-5)/(6), roll positive and negative dice if they haven't been cancelled out by other factors. It generally keep the game moving forward, which is a good thing as the creeping difficulty ramps up in the background. Now it's just a case of applying the right contextual inputs and outputs to that system without overly complicating things again.

13 November, 2018

Gauging Play [NaGaDeMon 2018]

The Fen isn't designed to be a completely open ended roleplaying game, but it has roleplaying elements. It's a game where there always need to be risk, but that risk needs to creep up. 

To make sure this works, the game needs to start with the players at a relative degree of safety with a buffer zone between them and the creeping (but gradually accelerating) difficulty.

Here's how I see it...

If the players screw around, or don't successfully perform actions on a regular basis, they'll find that the difficulty factor bring a potential end of game after about 50 turns, and if we assume roughly 2 minute turns that means the game could end in under 2 hours... of course the early turns don't have a lot of options or complexity to them, while the later turns involve more strategic decision making, so this is really a rough estimate.

If players do perform well, they might get enough ahead of the curve that they can last 75-80 turns, and if we note that those later turns can last longer as more complex decisions need to be made, this could push the game to 3-3.5 hours. I'd imagine that somewhere around this time, potential success conditions might become available (as long as the right decisions have been made, and further actions to achieve these conditions are successful. But if the characters have been caught out by the difficulty curve at this stage of the game there is still a much better chance of dying horribly in the swamp.

If the players have coordinated really well, the more interesting victory conditions come into play. But that's only if the game reaches more than 100 turn or so. Basically I'm envisioning a set up where the higher the difficulty has reached, the more spectacular any potential success outcomes. The Fen is dark and dangerous, but there is hope. 

12 November, 2018

It's all different

All designers have an idea about how they envision their games being played. I know that I run games in a specific way, I know that different designers have their own play styles in mind when they write their games. So it's always interesting to read something written by someone to highlight how they perceive a particular game to be different to others.

Symbaroum is one of those games that has been on the periphery of my notice for a while. When I saw that Paul Baldowski had written a blog post about how he saw the game behaving differently to others in the market, I naturally had to read through it. There's a lot of good points in the article, and it's always fascinating to see how someone perceives a work to be read and utilised.

Reading through the post, I'm now more interested in giving Symbaroum a more careful read. I'll have to download the OneBookShelf app that organises all the purchases made from that site, because I might have already purchased it, but I can't remember...

Actions have Repercussions

"Hey look at me! I'm edgy and causing controversy!"
"Oh, oops, I went too far? Who would have thought that being controversial might lead to trouble...people are saying bad things about me... no, no, I didn't mean it... yes I like that guy you think is an arse, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't like me."

Yep. I called it. I don't necessarily like calling it, but I feel it's a moral obligation to call out people who are causing problems.

Some folks are leaving the LotFP banner.

...and the fearless leader really isn't apologising over it, he's just sorry that his creative partners are leaving.

Quite a few of us have been pointing out for a long time that the shock-and-awe model of publicity really wasn't doing much to endear that pillar of the OSR community to the wider gaming world, but it's a bittersweet situation to see things unfold the way they have.

I'm hoping this will be the end of it, that people have learned a lesson from experience when they wouldn't listen to the warnings... I suspect the cycle of life will see the situation return, either with LotFP again, or some other publisher.

For the moment though, I've done my calling out, it's time to get back to my own design work... focusing on producing what I consider to be the right games, rather than calling out those I consider to be problematic. I'm also hoping that other parts of the OSR will look at the outcome of the situation and adjust accordingly. There are a few good people in that crowd, trying to push gaming toward a more inclusive audience using the aesthetic of the earliest games... maybe more of those folks will get a bit of exposure now.

Observing the Fox

I don't often take selfies...

...but I'm relatively happy with the way this one turned out.

11 November, 2018

Turn-by-Turn Storytelling (NaGaDeMon 2018)

The Fen as I originally envisioned it, is a game about a group of survivors, seeing how long they last in a wild swampland bayou locked in perpetual darkness. Each turn is an hour, and during each turn characters can perform tasks such as tending to the campfire that keeps them safe, exploring the swamp, gathering the food necessary for ongoing survival, scavenging and foraging for components, and crafting items from those fomponents that will make ongoing survival easier. Once enough things have been done, the characters level up, gaining new skills (or remembering old ones as their amnesia fades away), and revealing elements of their past which might influence future turns.

It's intended to be a game that one player could play to weave the narrative of a group, but could just as easily be a game where multiple players collaboratively work together to survive as long as possible. It's generally intended to be open ended, but I'm wondering whether a natural conclusion point is necessary. This might involve ramping up the difficulty to something that is guaranteed to wipe out the characters if there is intended to be a sense of impending dread, it might involve a specific threshold point (survive one week... 24hrs x 7days), or maybe the survivors need to craft something special from the scavenged items in the swamp to make their escape. As I think about it, a few of these conditions might be applied so that the game isn't a foregone conclusion.

The essence of the game is the turn sequence. To get the right feel that I'm after, the turn sequence needs to monitor a few things, and needs to provide a few opportunities.

Things to monitor

  • Size of the campfire that provides safety to the survivors
  • Local degree of danger (which will be linked to the campfire in some way)
  • How much firewood there is
  • How much food there is (again, not sure how gritty I want this, and whether rules for food spoilage are necessary)
  • How much water there is
  • Penalties (such as Tiredness, Hunger, Thirst, Injuries, Fear, Shock, etc.). I'm not sure how many of those penalties there should be, or how they specifically function yet. 
  • Available supplies
  • Who is amnesiac, who is aware, and how experienced the survivors are...


  • Tending the fire (anyone can do this)
  • Exploring the fen (aware survivors can lead parties into the fen)
  • Crafting (survivors with the right skill may craft, but only if the fire is producing enough light, and the right supplies are available)
  • Resting, Eating, Drinking (anyone with minor penalties may do these to eliminate the penalties)
  • Healing (survivors with the right skill may eliminate the more significant penalties that basic rest and recuperation won't fix)
  • Gathering firewood (as long as suitable sources have been found during exploration)
  • Defending the Encampment (when the campfire is low, and the danger level ascends; successfully defending the encampment may lead to new supplies, but any confrontation may also lead to injuries, shock, and fear)

This is less the story of a single survivor, and more the story of their communal group. So the individual characters don't need to be too detailed. I'm thinking that an 8-page pocketmod could describe 8 survivors. Each survivor would be described by a limited number of skills (which provide specific new action opportunities, or bonuses to actions undertaken), any injuries or penalties they possess, and space for any beneficial equipment, food or other supplies they possess.

Something else that needs to be monitored is when survivors go exploring using wood from the camp as torches to light their path. Do those torches go out and leave the explorers in the dark away from the relative safety of the encampment?

With one hour turns, a torch will not last longer than an hour, but it's possible that torches will burn out more quickly. This makes exploration a riskier proposition, and since it's specifically an exploratipn based event should probably be linked into any die rolls associated with that task.

09 November, 2018

Fish in a Barrel

In case I needed further proof that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a confused beast, and those behind it are attention starved controversy hounds who promote right wing agendas, this just falls into my lap.

I'm sure the same people (predominantly white, cis, male) will tell me that it doesn't mean anything, yet again. But the dog whistles are dropping in frequency, and coming more often.

Don't get me wrong, it's not just LotFP where this sort of regressive gaming and attention whoring lingers.

It takes me back to my earlier post entitled "Old School Regressive?", which generated quite a bit of conversation. In that, I was remarking on the tendency of OSR games to be regressive in their attitudes to race, and I had a diverse group of people adding their support, or privately messaging thanks to me for voicing the opinion, and a fairly narrow (white, cis, male) demographic telling me that I was reading too much into it.

Between that post and this one, the following post came up on Facebook.

When I voiced my opinion again about how this fits the general pattern of traditionalists in gaming, the same split in responses occurred. So it's really not just an OSR thing... it's deeper than that, but the OSR seems to be signalling itself as a "safe harbour" for those attitudes.

Curiously, around the time that the above screenshot was made (I think it might have even been the same day), Geekwire posted this article which is a distinct counter to the actual play experience above. So maybe there are some attempts from the top to make changes in the hobby, but like changes for more diversity in the world of comics, there are those who will be kicking and screaming against them all the way. 

08 November, 2018

The Fen

There are always ideas going through my mind where I combine the concepts that have been produced by other people, into something new, or maybe just a new interpretation of something that that I think wasn't necessarily executed as well as it could have been. I guess that's just the curse of being a game designer.

I'm currently working on the equipment book for The Law, but another nagging side project has begged to be written during the course of NaGaDeMon. I don't know if I've mentioned this side project before, but it's something that has been tinkered with for a few months now... it's working title is simply The Fen.

The basic premise of The Fen is bayou rentpunk.

A bunch of people struggling to survive, with little opportunitu to get ahead in the world, are simply trying to survive as they struggle from meal to meal, facing all sorts of environmental threats and hazards that constantly threaten to take them down. This isn't a game about heroes, or saving the day, it's more about surviving as long as you can, trying to learn something about the characters before they meet their (seemingly) inevitable demise.

As I've been working through these ideas again today, I've come to the conclusion that this is fairly similar to what Kingdom Death did with it's beautiful figures and incredibly expensive boxed sets.

But what I'm planning isn't quite as elaborate as that in some ways, but adds detail in other ways.

First, The Fen is intended to play out over hours and days, rather than Kingdom Death's sessons and years.

Second, this game will have a very simple combat system, because it's more about exploring the world and getting to know the denizens as they mature, but before they probably die horribly.

There will not be a victory condition in this game, it's more an endurance test to see how long the denizens survive in a perpetually dark swampy wasteland.

The two dominant elements of the game will be scavenging wood to keep the fire going, then claiming wood from the pile to make torches for hunting and gathering food and fresh water. Once the fire goes out, the monsters come...relentlessly. While the fire burns well, parties with torches may leave the encampment to find more wood, scavenge for edible roots and leaves, hunt for animals, encounter other survivors, ir discover elements of the mystery which they find themselves in.

Also, players will gradually fill in a hex map with the thing they encounter on their travels. This will describe the world, showing where dangers lie and where potential resources might be found.

Characters generally start amnesiac, with a few remembered skills, but we pick up elements of their former lives through flashbacks as they "gain experience" and remember who they are.

There's a bit of work to do on this one,

07 November, 2018

#Inktober Day 31 - Slice / Precious

Today, our Inktober journey concludes. Yes, it's a week late, but I wanted to make sure I finished.

It is said in some of the hidden texts, that immortals transcend the physical world to explore the metaphysical realms beyond mirrors, behind dreams, obscured by shadows, and echoed in myths. These texts also contain hints of another level of transcendence, where a soul may exist beyond even the pseudo-reality of the spirit realms. But the thing about metaphysical reality is that there is always something bigger, something nastier, something stranger, something less well defined. For all the horrors across the known planes of reality, there are more dangerous things outside reality, unnamed and unknown by mortals of the physical plane, and carefully ignored by even the most powerful entities who wage war across the corporeal and incorporeal realms. To acknowledge their presence gives them power, to name them gives them reality, to depict them gives them solidity, even if only in the dreamscape...

...but these elements of defining them also restrain their infinite chaotic potential. Naming vague metacelestials as protectors of the realm binds them to work against others who might seek to obliterate the world.

As souls venture outward, these conceptual entities venture inward, and the war of reality wages eternally where they meet.

06 November, 2018

#Inktober Day 30 - Jolt / Future

Sometimes technologies that never were drift across the cosmos between realms. The places where these items were created might gave been eroded into nothingness by maelstroms of oblivion, or maybe the items have drifted into our reality's metaphysical orbit after creation in other universes entirely. The most interesting (not necessarily the most powerful) fetch a high price on the ultraviolet market, and many are sought by collectors in all parts of the realms.

#Inktober Day 29 - Double / Technology

Those who exist in the most high-tech realms, rarely know that their lives are reflections of possible future realities and dreams. Existence for them is just the same daily routines that they have known all their lives. If reality shifts around them, their memories will change, and they will always remember things that may or may not gave been a part of their lives yesterday. Quantum ripples shift their existence, but they never feel them.

The awakened citizens of these realms know better.

There is a lucrative trade in technologies that have yet to be developed in the physical plane as well as those that should not ever be brought into existence. The ultraviolet market specialises in trading these goods to visitors who might scatter them across the realms. Such items might include energy infused bio-locked swords that might only be drawn from stones by those with the right DNA markers, or symbiotic realm hopping devices with chameleon circuits locked to match a 1950s British Police box...

...anything is possible for the right price.

Something else to catch my eye...

I deliberately hold back on something to make sure it's done right.

I deliberately do extra research, years of extra research, by duscussing concepts with the communities related to the concept, modifying elements of the core, and playtesting iterations of the concept thoroughly.

I continually post elements of my work to show that the whole thing is still in development...

...then other people come along and do something in a similar vein.


An Afrocentric post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery rpg. I can't help but see parallels to my own long term project, Walkabout, which is an Australian-Aboriginal-centric post-apocalyptic rpg. Both draw on distinctly non-European roots, both are post-apocalyptic, both are about heroes pushing back a darkness that warps the world. Beyond those superficial similarities there are a lot of differences, as I would have hoped. I don't know how much acyual research that team has done regarding their setting, or whether they're just pasting a veneer of Afrocentric coolness in the wake of Black Panther.

I wish them all the best with this project, regardless of how well it us researched or executed, we need more interesting stories from parts of the world that have generally been ignored or even suppressed. If they've done it poorly, it will open a door for new designers (and hopefully designers of African origins, and those who grew up in the culture) to share their stories, and do it right. If they've done it well, then it will be a great opportunity to expand those stories with additional narratives that give even richer depth to that part of the world.

For my own Walkabout project, I guess that "perfect is the enemy of good". The longer I hold off on the project, the more chance someone else will generate a Australian-Aboriginal-centric post-apocalyptic game of their own. They'll probably have money behind them and good production values and I'll just look like someone who is copying them, even though I've been trying to get things right for years. It's all perfectionism, anxiety, and depression kicking in, the bane of my creativity for years now.