Game Design

Best of the Best

Man, that was a fun martial arts movie…
Perverse Access Memory: WISH 99: Best Genre RPGs

Pick three to five genres and name the best RPG for that genre. Why do you think it?s the best? What makes it better than others? What are its downsides?

Game Design

Which parts are you?

Lumpley, via the Forge

I’ve got a theory.
There’s Setting, System, Character, Situation and Color, right? I think that you can start a game as soon as you’ve nailed down three of the five. That means that a game text must provide at least three of the five to be a whole game. But I really don’t think it matters which three.
You can write a game that provides Character, Situation and Color but leaves Setting and System to be set up by the group, if you want. In fact kill puppies for satan is like that.
Or you could write a game like Sorcerer, providing System, Character and Situation and leaving Setting and Color to the group.
Ars Magica provides Setting, Character and Color, with maybe some Situation too, but not much System at all. (Call me on that, I dare you.) All the WoD games are probably about the same, there.
Obviously, the thicker your game the more you can provide.

Hmm. A game the whole geek family can play:
* Trollbabe: Color (disguised as setting), Situation and character.
* Gods and Monsters: Character, Situation and Color. (And more system than Trollbabe at least.)
* FATE: System, Character. Players must add/select one or more of Setting, Situation and Color.
* Nobilis: Setting, Situation and Color (very little of the actual character is apparent in the stats — there’s more even in d20, where at least skill-point selection reveals preferences and interests.)
* Amber: Setting, Situation and Color (ditto Nobilis, except it has even less system)
* D20: System, Character. Add setting, situation, and color (usually as expressed within skills/feats) to taste.
Hmm… thinking of stuff like Hero and Gurps and whatnot, it seems like most of ‘generic’ systems only have two-of-five, with splatbooks or player input to provide one or more of the other elements.

Game Design

G/N/S translated into my own words, using examples

Once upon a time (about six months ago), I stumbled on some pretty good games via reviews on and 20×20 room. The first of these was My Life With Master, which was so different in a lot of ways from what I tended to think of as a role-playing game that I wasn’t even sure if it really was a roleplaying game.
It was, however, cool as hell. That I knew.
Reading through the thing and the notes in the back led me to some sites I’d been to before, off and on, but never really delved into too much — Momento-Mori and the number of games available for download there (notably InSpectres, which was a real mind-blowing ‘investigation’ game), and the Forge.
Stuff on the Forge led me to reading up on quite a number of other games whose goals all seemed to be pretty novel and very interesting to me as a GM and even moreso as a player: Sorcerer, Urge, Trollbabe, Dust Devils, Donjon, Paladin, Universalis, et cetera.
These were, I found out, products of folks working on building “Narrativist” games, a style (dare I say “movement”) of games built not (usually) to test out new game mechanics or (necessarily) to create an incredibly detailed setting — but to explore a character dealing with conflict.
“Umm… dude… that’s like… every RPG… ever?”
Well, that’s not to say that other games… older games… didn’t give you a session or a campaign where you got to deal with character conflict. Most every game out there does… that’s sort of the point.
What the narrativist guys were doing was talking about the Literary definition of conflict — that means “a question is posed within the story (overtly or covertly), and the protagonist answers that question through his or her actions.”
So: A ballroom full of hobgoblins that you have to get through to save the princess is not a conflict in these terms; it’s a challenge (which those Forge guys then associated with “Gamist” styles of player).
A conflict by this definition would be something like: “You’ve been given great power. How will that change you?”
The players then play the game, and their characters’ actions define their answers.
Peter Parker’s actions say: Great Power means I must now be responsible.
Bruce Banner’s actions say: Great Power exposes my greatest faults.
Logan’s actions say: Great Power just raises more questions for me.
Or whatever.
What I’m going to do below is talk about three styles of play that the folks on the Forge use when talking about game group dynamics, and use examples of both Games and Example Moments from Actual Play to illustrate what I think each style means in the real world.
I don’t know if any of this will be useful to anyone but me — that’s okay, since it’s mostly just me working on figuring it out.

Game Design

I lasted a whole week without spitting out any G/N/S terminology…

Hmm. I think I’m going to go a bit longer, despite someone handing me (another) nice short definition for the three styles of play today.
It’s not the most accurate description, exactly — I might put it in my own words later — but it works. For what it’s worth the whole thing has really helped me (personally) understand why some of the people I play with react to in-game stuff the way they do. Hell, it helps me understand my own enjoyment (or lack) of a game session.
If nothing else, it made me notice when I’m sitting with a group of six people who think they’re all there to play the same game and three want to play game A and two want to play game C and one wants to play game B, and the issues that might come out of that. That’s Result — it makes me a better GM — maybe even a better player (arguable).

Game Design

Fudging Fate

“It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.”
— Dame Rose Macaulay
Okay, so ***Dave has (rightfully) voiced some concern over the problems with running Spycraft d20 — while it’s a great adaptation of the system to the genre, the d20 cruft-accumulation added to the not-at-all-inconsiderable Spycraft-additions to the rules has created a sort of never-ending learning curve on the rules.
Translation: we spend as much time looking up stuff now as we did 4 levels and 16 sessions ago. Frankly, that shouldn’t happen.
So, in an effort to keep the ship airborn by jettisoning unwanted baggage, he started looking at other systems. Since I am currently the designated system-whore, I offered up some suggestions, which lead to FATE, which is basically Fudge all growed-up. It’s good stuff, people.
The problem — the only real problem thus far (and one that presents itself even moreso in vanilla Fudge as well), is that there’s some customization required. Granted, this isn’t Fudge, where you have to create your own stats, your own … everything…
but it is a generic system* with all the good and bad that comes with that, and that means custom-built skill lists.
Which means, after digging into the rules (and digging the rules), you’re still stuck hammering out a skill list that isn’t (a) too long (b) too short (c) too plain (d) so ‘flavorful’ that you can’t play it.
It feels a lot like designing a game, which is… well, fun if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but not fun if you’re… not. My brain (and, I’m sure, Dave’s) is fried — turning over questions like “do we need scrounge if we have Streetwise? what level of detail should that kind of activity need in this genre?”
Ugh. I’m down to “Fire bad. Tree pretty.” Pass me the beer.

Game Design

Game News

Green Ronin has the publishing green-light to revise and release Warhammer FRPG (my favorite ‘blood and rust’ game of all time).
That’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that there’s some table-talk about coming out with an RPG for Warhammer 40k… the closest thing anyone’s ever done before now was Spacehulk. Color me intrigued.

Game Design

Movie Logic is not like our Earth Logic

Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Saying that shards of broken glass are razor sharp is an understatement. A shattered window contains thousands of incredibly sharp edges and dagger-like points. It takes almost no force for one of these points or edges to cause a laceration. However, people in movies routinely jump through plate glass windows without receiving a single scratch.
Broken glass has at least two mechanisms for slashing a person diving through a window: its weight and its inertia. First, large heavy shards of glass can fall like guillotines, slicing off body parts. Second, when a person jumps or, even worse, drives a motorcycle through a window, the shards of glass tend to stay in place due to their inertia. The only way to move them is to apply a force. If the person’s body provides this force by pushing on the edge of a piece of glass, it can slice right through clothing, skin, and flesh. In the real world, jumping or driving through a plate glass window would be suicidal.
There are individuals who have accidentally fallen through windows without sustaining serious injuries. There are also people who have survived the Ebola virus. However, in both cases the odds are not particularly good.

Not sure if this is the thing to read before a Spycraft game…

Game Design

My Life with Drill Sergeant: Full Metal Master

Population: One: Monday Mashup #37: Full Metal Jacket
Oh, I could do something here with Sorcerer, tying everyone’s kickers into what they fear. I could do something with the “Basic Training Horror” inside of a setting like Nobilis, but there’s a really clear, perfect answer to this mashup: My Life with Master.

Full Metal Jacket is about, in part, the lengths men go to to avoid that which they cannot face. In some cases, that?s death. In some cases, it?s something else. I think I?d want the definition of the things the characters fear the most to be an integral part of character creation, in some way, because my mashup of the movie would be oriented towards catching the harrowing mood that Kubrick produced.

Well, when you’ve got a system in which the only numeric ratings relevant to characters are Fear, Self-Loathing, Weariness, Reason and Love — ladies and gentlemen you’ve got the game for this kind of spiral into darkness.

And there?s no suspense: the characters are going to wind up smack dab against the things they want so badly to avoid. The question, in this game, is what they?ll do exactly once they realize where they?re going.

To quote lumpley, the suspense doesn’t come from wondering if something’s going to happen — it comes from wondering how something’s going to happen.
That’s what My Life with Master gives you — the crushing weight of inevitability and what your reaction to it will be.

Game Design

The Forge on Batman

Not just Batman, actually, in fact…

every single character that can be referenced for this stereotype/archetype is also a Big Softy. Show him a struggling young couple, a stray animal, an old but still feisty craftsman, or anything similar, and he’ll put his blood and bones on the line to help them.
Conan. Mad Max. Batman. The whole bunch of’em, all softies. The inability to see that characterizes a large number of role-players who continually want to play vicious bad-asses who are not Softies and then wonder why no one wants to play with them, or why they never quite feel like they get the character “right.”

It explains something I’d never really tried to voice about why Batman ‘works’ in the hands of some writers and doesn’t in the hands of others, but the relation to PCs in RPGs is also a good one.

Game Design

Lumpley, again

Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore:

Seriously. How many times have you created a character who was far cooler in your head than he or she turned out to be in play? How many times have you prepped a campaign only to find that, in play, it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped? Have you ever thought that, y’know, reading game books and imagining play and preparing for a game is almost as much fun as actually playing? Or even more fun than actually playing?
The hobby doesn’t value or teach collaboration. It values and teaches competing sole-authorship. Pre-game invention sells books but robs players of their ability to contribute; pre-game meaning is thrilling to imagine but dull to actually play. This arrangement we’ve got going is frickin’ broken.
The solution is to design games that’re inspiring, but daydreaming about how much fun the game will be to play seems pointless and lame, and you can’t create extensive histories or backstories because that stuff’s collaborative –
– so you call a friend.

Game Design

Random bits

I wanna do Evangelion/Sorcerer.

Game Design

Chicken, Egg, Amberites

A conversation on the Forge regarding how or when the idea of Player Authorship crept into your style of play. What follows is my reply, which I’m posting here simply to have it at hand:

So: Are my experiences with player authorship relatively common to those of other Forgers? How as a greater/lesser degree of such effected the games that you have run or played in?

Largely, it’s been an evolutionary versus revolutionary process for me.
Playing DnD back in high school (lo those many years ago) it was all gamist/sim stuff — players played and the GM made the story. Period. Full stop. It was ’89 in the midwest — whattaya gonna do? 🙂
This style of play continued into college. Towards the end of that period I was running a game using Dangerous Journeys/Mythus (a game I still adore). This was my first experience with characters who essentially started out as competent, experience people, and it had quite a lot of influence over the game. Everything was very heavily Sim, but there was a lot of player-initiated plotting and interaction, though still well within the bounds of the designed game, and I remember the players sometimes trading in Joss (luck) to get things to happen that otherwise would not have. Never occured to me that that was player authorship, but it certainly was.
The next game was my first time GMing Amber, which I think was a game that people looking for more authorship control might have naturally gravitated towards at the time, since it gave the player so much say over what was going on — I specifically remember part of the Combat section that told players to “just add what you like to a scene — you need a sword and your in the castle? Put one on the wall and grab it!” Heady stuff. One player faked his own death and passed himself off as a ‘new’ family member for two-thirds of the entire eighteen-session campaign.
The setting helps with player-empowerment as well, since there was an inherent ability within the setting for the PCs to invent entire new worlds exactly (heh) to their personal specifications, populated with people they found interesting, and focusing on their own stories since they were compentent enough to be able to go off on their own. Players could seek out whoever they wanted to seek out, have the encounters they wanted to have (“I shadowwalk to someplace were there’s a bar fight”), and talk to whomever they liked, even if they weren’t nearby (Trumps).
This was one of the revolutionary shifts to the player/GM dynamic. I started GMing with much less prep on ‘scenario’ and much more focus on ‘what happens as a result of the player actions’. I don’t think it was diceless, karma-based play that did it, I think it was the setting and the sense that not having dice really ‘opened things up’.
I moved after that and spent a few years finding new players (and learning that I can’t PBeM worth a damn and playing Muds, where my need for Player Authorship was (sadly) channeled into an obsessive need to spend as much time Building as I did playing), after which I ran a very rewarding, very long, Amber game. While I gradually became less and less enamored of Amber DRPG’s “system”, this essentially cemented my expectations for player-control. In fact, it got to the point where I actually became annoyed with the players who seemed to ‘just sit there and wait for some NPC to give them a job’. The players that worked well in the game were those who were self-starters or who would take a plot hook and run with it. “Passive” players were just a lot more work.
Following that game I did some stuff with the original little BESM book (which I think of as a sort of 2nd edition Amber RPG in a lot of ways). This didn’t work quite as well in terms of giving the players input (which meant I was prepping a bit more and not really thrilled about that). D20 was out though and everyone was in the mood for some ‘old skool’ games.
The glow of that faded, however (though not as quickly as some of the campaigns have, unfortunately), and I found myself looking for something that would give me that “shared creative energy” that I had in previous games. (I still didn’t have the Forge vocabulary to see that I was looking to recapture some Author-stance for my players.)
I was really down on the ADRPG, which led me to put it off for a really long time, but eventually I gave in and bought Nobilis. (Which I think really feels like an Indie game — it’s big and thick and published by someone else, but it’s owned by the author and has a lot of shared philosophy with the kind of play you can get out of Forge games — grist for another thread, perhaps).
Love at first read. Granted, the book is… well, a big beautiful mess, but there’s a great ‘Nobilis 101’ doc on the internet that really helped me get the rules, and I started running a game. That was a year ago, and I’ve been very pleased — it’s a great game and allows from some fantastic character interaction.
Also, in the last half of that time-period or so I started picking up on the threads of thought on the Forge and have begun implementing some of the techniques found here as a way of giving the Nobilis system the last few things it didn’t naturally have built into its setting (the way Amber did) to facilitate player authorship.
The Forge was the other big revolution in the evolution, as it’s crystalized and defined some of the things I’ve been looking for without knowing I was looking for them. I’m starting up a proper Sorcerer game this Friday, having some great fun with the pre-game chargen (using something called Themechaser for background stuff) for an online Paladin game (running Tuesday nights on #indierpgs) in which the player creation has already influenced the setting, and I’m just hopping up and down in anticipation of getting to the next Nobilis sessions and tightening the focus of the Premise for the game and getting some more player control going.
Whew! Long post. Really helped me get my head around where some of my inclinations evolved from, though.

Game Design Links & Resources


Same site: Lumpley’s Gun Rules.

Game Design

Sorcerer and the Dark Side :)

So in sketching out the Shannon character for this post, I became aware of a really cool ‘dark-side/light-side’ thing going on:
When she was setting the character up, she chose to connect Humanity to ‘Mastery’. I’m naturally inclined toward connecting it to something like Empathy, but one of the example sorcerer groups (the Black Wheel) fit the Mastery idea pretty well, and I thought her history could tie into that, and that might be interesting. End result, we went with Humanity=Mastery for her, even though I didn’t really have the impression that it would be a compelling definition of the Attribute.
And then she chose “Rageful/Vengeful” as her descriptor on Will.
Now, for those of you who don’t know my wife, imagine she and I smirking about this and making jokes about Playing to Her Strengths — Jackie has a… pretty easy time playing characters who channel their anger in both constructive and destructive ways — call it a talent if you like, or art imitating life. Anyway, what we ended up with was this quiet librarian who’s not very good at social situations and for whom the core of her Will is basically a hard kernel of anger and resentment… lots of which is generated by the awkward social scenes that seem to gravitate toward her. (Sounds like the bad-guy/girl for a Stalker-Thriller movie.)
Also, within the game, you can (in theory) get bonuses for using an Attribute in such as way that it dramatically emphasizes the descriptor for the Score. (Note emphasis on ‘dramatically’ — I understand that it’s no good to just say “I hit him, and I’m mad”.)
What this boils down to is that, in the short term, it’s in the player’s (mechanical, game-based) interests for Shannon to ‘lose it’ in critical situations — it’s interesting, it’s appropriate to the character, it’s dramatic, and it’s also potentially worth a bonus on her dice.
It’s also, long-term, a bad idea.
See, the definition of her Humanity is “Mastery”, remember?. There’s lots of things that could cause a character to risk a drop in Humanity (contacting and summon Demons is a universal risk for anyone, regardless of how they define Humanity), but in addition to the ‘standard’ reason, things that cross the line in regards to your personal definition of Humanity also mean you’re risking a drop in the stat.
Well, “Losing it” in some violently emotional way is one of those things that causes a Humanity test in our definition of Mastery/Humanity.
First response: Hmm… nice dynamic.
Second response: What a great, classic bit of character drama! (Particularly fun since we didn’t set out to create that crisis for the character… we only realized it later.)
Do you go for the quick and easy pay-off of flipping your lid and letting out your anger or do you keep control of yourself, thereby protecting your Humanity in the long-term but robbing yourself of some easy strength at this particular moment?
Give in to your anger… Heh. Classic stuff. I’m loving this game and we’ve only played one session.

Game Design

Failure in Trollbabe

Ron Edwards is working on a final, hard-copy version of Trollbabe, trying to get it done in time for GenCon. In a Forge Thread, he talks about the fact that he’s changing the range for Social tests (making them one-better than the lower, rather than higher range, thus making them the ‘middle’ number of the three tests). (He also mentions a change to the way Magic is going to work as a ‘conflict starter’, which I haven’t had a chance to really look at.)
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, the thread became a discussion of dealing with failure in Trollbabe and the fact that what failure looks like for a Trollbabe depends entirely on the player’s narration and how they interpret a low chance of success in a particular task. (Or, balancing a low chance of success with the world-view that a Trollbabe is a bad-ass at everything… even something they technically have a lower chance of success at.)
There’s a great example from Bob McNamee, which I have to share here:

Game Design

Thinking outside the Toybox

There’s this thing in gaming that really doesn’t work: adding new optional things to a system that the players are very familiar with.

This could be talking to the players and ask them to try to use some different method of play or an optional rule, adding in a few cool rules from another game that matches the goal of the GM, or just trying to encourage the new thing in play as GM.

These are all situations where the new thing was ‘optional’. I’ve never seen it work.

The reasons are simple. Typically, players feel that they’re supposed to do what they were doing before, plus some other things that just add to the level of complexity.

The most common thing that happens is… nothing. The players still see the original game’s system and they don’t adjust in any way to the new stuff.

Alternately, players alter their mode a little but then feel they’re being made to do things that are uncomfortable, boring, or just not what they expect out of that game. Canalized players know what they want, and even when they’re presented with something that’s potentially fun, they might not see where it’s fun. Especially if it happens to conflict with what they normally consider fun.

Put another way, if they can play the same old way, they will play the same old way.

Let me give two examples from two different system/settings: d20 and Amber.

D20: I’m currently playing in a Spycraft game. Tremendous amount of fun. One of the things that’s different about the game versus standard d20 is the concept of action dice. I’ve been reading all this Narrative-game theory and checking out games like Trollbabe and Paladin and stuff and I think “Holy crap, this is a way to give Player’s some narrative control over the situation.” so I burn these things like water — I’m invariably out of the damn things about an hour into each session. Loosely stated, they give you the option to give yourself bumps to your rolls that you’d really like to succeed at, the option to call in favors and so forth from home base, and they also must be traded in to convert a d20 ‘threat’ into a ‘critical’ — it’s the only way it can happen.

Anyone want to take any guess as to where 90% of all action dice get spent?

Yup. On the thing that you have to spend it on. I’ve seen players at the game sit there and potentially accept failure in lieu of spending AD’s during the game — and I don’t think it’susually because anyone’s waiting to see if they get a crit later that they can use them on — they just don’t *think* of it. (Not to take too much credit for anything, but when the other players spend have spent AD’s on bonuses to skill checks, it’s usually because I badger suggest it to them.)

Why? Cuz the optional things get pushed out by the d20 mindset. Crits you know — crits require this mechanic. That’s what they get used for.

Amber: It won’t surprise anyone when I point out that I’m not in love with the ADRPG’s resolution mechanic — the “static karma, plus drama’ systems just don’t work for me — whether via dice or some sort of resource pool, some dynamism is just something I think the system needs. YMMV.

I sat, astonished, when I started to grasp the elegance of the Nobilis diceless system, because with the Miracle Point pools it did what I didn’t think a truly diceless, fortuneless (no dice, no cards) system could do.

A few days ago, I ran across a saved copy of Mike Sullivan’s Amber system for his New Mutiny game. Reading through it (about one page), I was stunned to notice that it had a ‘resource pool’ mechanic right there –granted, it’s more like 7th Sea or HeroQuest’s Hero Points than Nobilis in that it uses the same pool of points that you used to raise your stats with, but it was there, and I’d seen it almost two years before Nobilis.

Why didn’t I remember it? Because I saw the whole thing as an Amber system, and that ‘optional’ rule for pushing up your score was immediately fnorded out by me — I simply didn’t see it — all I saw were the ‘mandatory’ rules variations he’d set up for defining attributes (themselves a good thing), not the optional ‘pushing’ rules.

There’s a simple solution to this: just play a game that strongly supports the change you’re looking for from the ground up — either do this to try out the feel of such a thing, or do more long-term to get the kind of play you like without modifying the old system. The biggest advantage is that these games have the ‘thing you want to try’ built in at some integral level, and they’re largely new ground for the players who, lacking any preconceptions about the gameplay, will try out the new rules.

Here’s a quick example: In the ADRPG, in the section on combat, Wuj points out that the player’s got a lot of leeway with combat scenes — if you’re in a hallway in Castle Amber and you need a weapon, you can just use the logic of the setting and say “I grab a sword off the wall from where it’s behind one of those heraldic shields.” It’s one of the coolest bits of advice I’d ever read at that point in my gaming life, and that kind of player control just blew my mind.

No one does this. No one. I’ve played over two-hundred sessions of Amber and I’ve never seen a player do this. (They might ask if there’s a sword there, but they never just put one there themselves.) Why? It’s optional.

Then there’s Trollbabe, wherein, if you miss a roll, one of the (five or six) ways that you can earn a reroll is by introducing ‘a new object’ into the scene.

Time elapsed in actual game play before someone used the logic of the setting to introduce a handy improvised weapon? About ten minutes. It was, in fact, the first thing anyone used to earn a reroll.

Why? It’s built into the system.

Maybe something that might work for a game like Spycraft would be to play a session of Wushu or even Sorcerer (hmm… Spy-genre Donjon… hmmm) — everything cool you describe gets you more dice and you will, quite frankly, get your kung-fu ass HANDED to you if you don’t set up those cool actions.

Then take that play experience and try to translate that kind of feel back to the pre-existing mechanic Spycraft — the players are maybe doing more stuff with the dice, doing more things that would *earn* them the dice in the game, and the GM is letting them flow more freely, like Force Points in Star Wars (wasn’t really cool: it’s gone; used it to do something cool: you’ll get it back; used it to do something cool at the perfect time or this resulted in a dramatic scene or something; get it back and have another — all this in addition to the other reasons they give for distributing them in the game itself.)

Conversely, I think to really see the strength of Mike’s New Mutiny system design, you take the system out of Amber entirely and run something else with it… hell, Ancient Chinese Sorcery wire-fu works as well as anything else and lets you “push” appropriately — then take it back into the game it was meant to.

But, the bottom line: if you want to break a habit, make a clean break first.

If you want the players to exercise more control on the story in the game, you drop them into InSpectres. Period. They don’t really have any choice but take control or the game just stops.

To paraphrase Mike Holmes: It’s the reason why Everyway cards work in Everyway/Amberway and can’t just be dropped into a standard ADRPG-system game game with real success: if changing the system alone were enough to change mode, then those nifty alterations would work. The cards get ignored, though, so that people can focus on the ‘actual system’, even if they might save their butt. Where in “what would my character do?” does the player consider when to play “Unlooked-for Ally”? He doesn’t.

I’ve mentioned that I’m wrapping up my DnD game soon. After that happens, my plan (providing my players don’t run screaming from the table at the idea, which is a possibility) is to do some short-run games (1-5 sessions each) in systems that players haven’t played before — the genre will probably remain fantasy for most of it, but I’m looking at stuff like Donjon, Burning Wheel, HeroQuest, Sorcerer & Sword, Paladin, and another thing I’ve been playing around with — what they all have in common is that they would work in the same setting we’ve been using and introduce new concepts to game play as an integral part of the game.

Integral. Cannot be ignored. Et cetera. That’s where you get outside the box.

Game Design

Thought from Friday’s game…

“Next campaign, I’m not going to give a bonus to hit for coming up with interesting descriptions in combat: I’m going to give penalties for not doing it.”

Game Design


There’s a game I’d like to write up in full that I never will. Two reasons:
One is simply that almost all of the mechanics of the thing are based off of a great indie game called Trollbabe. While the author might be (in fact, probably is) down with people riffing off his game, to do him justice I should be charging for it and making sure he gets his due. This conflicts with the second thing; making money off of it would be illegal, in that setting a game in Amber is the right of someone else in the gaming world. (Not that they’re doing anything with that right, but there it is.)
So, the only way I could do it as a complete rules set for Amber would be to make it free, which screws the original game’s author, which I won’t do.
So this is best I can do: kind of an OGL “You must own this book to use these rules” type of deal — go buy Trollbabe, by Ron Edwards. Just do it. It’s ten damn dollars and probably the best money you’ll spend, per dollar, on any game. If you disagree I’ll pay you back.
Jesus, still hedging?
Well, you can go read the review here, which should give you enough rough understanding of the rules to get you though the rest of the post, but really you should just cough up the tenner.
For those of you who’ve got Trollbabe, but don’t know about the setting of Amber, go buy the five books of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series and read them, or just ignore this post.
Now then, you’ve bought. You’ve read.
Everyone on the same page? Good. Let’s try out a game called Amberite.

Game Design

Games I might want to run: #6

Donjon (site), Donjon (review), Donjon example characters — player-driven dungeon crawling — it seems as though this could be either an InSpectres-level romp or a serious game. I’m intrigued.
Paladin (site). Probably for a small group… maybe 2, maybe three. Maybe good for Justin. Good mechanics at any rate.
Trollbabe. Review. Example of play here. Again, a smaller group. I’ve got a lot of hope that this game might be really good for some of my players.
Sorceror. I put off getting this for a very long time. I was wrong to do that. Great game. Great. Already looking around for Sorceror and Sword.

Game Design

Character inspiration

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 85: Character Inspirations

What inspires you to create characters? Do you have partially-developed characters in mind for use when you get into a new campaign? Do you shop characters around, or do you come up with new characters when you get into a campaign? Why? If you GM, are you bothered by receiving a solicitation for a ?generic? character, or does it enthuse you to get a solid proposal even if it?s not closely tailored to your game?

I wonder how well this ties back into making the same character over and over.
Let’s look at the last few character’s I’ve made for games:
* Dylan isn’t a continuation of any ongoing riff I’ve been trying to play: as a general rule, he’s a ‘new’ character to me, especially when you take the complications of his home life into account. I got the basic idea from … I guess Alias and the character Jack on the show — at least the profiling bit, but that came on later — really I just think I’m better off playing a faceman — I tried an laconic character with Bob and it doesn’t really work for me. So, Alias, with some home-life stuff from… who knows. Some of the stuff I have in mind for him is based solely on my plans for the character, while other stuff is growing out of my interaction with the game.
* Japteth is something else entirely — conceived solely for the purpose of working within the setting and campaign, he doesn’t really work in another setting or story. Again, he’s sort of a faceman/leader type, but not in a charming way… in a bossy way. I wanted a guy who commands the legions of the dead because that’s his right… someone who can talk to gods without quailing because of the utter surety he has in his duty.
* Jacob, in CryHavoc, was a character I’ve been trying to play for several years in several different settings and systems. I finally had to a chance to play him, and now I’m pretty much over it.
* Gwydion, the smooth-talking scotsman bard was another I carried around for awhile (not nearly as long as Jacob) trying to get ‘right’. I think I did that in LGreyhawk (before it all went to hell), and while I would have liked to have done more with ‘Her Brilliancy’s Secret Service’, I think I got what I wanted out of the character, and I don’t need to play him again.
* Bob was a joke that turned into a character that turned into a joke. The campaign I was playing him in didn’t support that kind of player, but at the same time I have no desire to ‘try again’ with him at a later date.
And then there’s Kethos, the guy I keep trying to play in any number of games… Amber NPC, Living Arcanis demonkin… heck, even Grez’k in LJ is sort of a Kethos adaptation… or he became one. On the one hand, I’ve never really been able to finish playing this character… on the other, I think my friends are tired of seeing him at the table 🙂

Game Design

Games I want to run #5 – My Life with Master

My Life with Master: a must-play as far as I’m concerned.

Game Design

Games I might want to run #4 – Burning Wheel

One of those fantasy games that (like HeroQuest) I plan to try out with my DnD group after they wrap up the current campaign (assuming we ever finish the current frelling module): Burning Wheel

Game Design

Games I might want to will run, #3 – Inspectres

First off, there’s a good review of InSpectres, here.
Now, a summary:

Game Design

Games I might want to run #2 – HeroQuest

Next up, let’s take a look at a fantasy system: HeroQuest.
First, a particularly good and useful review can be found here, listing both the good and the bad of the system, all of which I entirely agree with, and some of which I’ve co-opted for the summary below.

Game Design

Games I might want to run #1 – Dead Inside

So I’ve got a bunch of games laying around — stuff I want to run, to try out… whatever.
I communicate more succinctly in the written word than the spoken, however, so my enthused rambling face-to-face usually tends to miss a few things that I really wanted to mention about any particular game.
Therefore, what I’m going to do is assemble (and I mean that literally) a summation/review of the various games that I’d like to take a stab at some point — some I have in mind for the weekend folks, some I have in mind for the DnD group… some would work for both, so g’head and read — you might see something you like. If so, lemme know.
First up (simply because I’ve been reading it this morning) Dead Inside:

Game Design


Here’s an observation, neither novel nor groundbreaking. d20 in it’s current incarnation will never be a good system for non-dungeon crawling (i.e., search for traps, get treasure, kill bad guys).
It boils down to search time. Your To Hit and Armor Class bonuses are prefigured, as are your Damage dice and Skills.
Search Time to hit a bad guy? If I haven’t memorized it, it’s a glance at the character sheet.
One PC decides to subdue and bind a bad guy, rather than kill ’em.
What happens?
Several people flipping through books, GM jokes about being taken by surprise and unready for non-lethal action from the players. Search Time is quin-trebles.
D20 suffers from selling itself as a universal system — when you try to do anything other than killing or skill checks, you’ve just doubled or tripled (or worse) the search time.
The game encourages XP rewards for finding alternate and creative solutions, but doing these things is such a pain in the ass it’s not worth it.

Game Design

Compare and Contrast

I’ve often said there’s practically no difference between the basic PC conflict setups for Amber and Vampire (whether that’s a good or bad thing is left as an exercise to the reader.)
Someone actually worked out the similarities.
Heh. I can think of others, but they’re definitely not wrong.

Game Design

Wednesday Weird

The Wednesday Weird is a writing exercise where each week a topic will be posted and participants will write about in it in their own blogs, livejournals or the comments section. The Wednesday Weird is for gamemasters, writers and anyone else who wants to practice their creativity through this excercise. Each week in the Wednesday Weird, I will supply a fairly common cliche in gaming and/or fiction. Participants will then be challenged to take that cliche and give it an original twist…..something a little weird, then explain why it’s weird.

First up: The Mugging
Basics: The basic mugging goes something like so: mugger comes out, weapon in hand, and demands your money.
My twist: Mugger comes out, weapon in hand, and demands that you take his money. Take. Not Have. He literally forces you to steal it, at gunpoint, then runs.
Why?: The poor bastard stole a cursed coin or bit of scrip and the only way to get rid of it that he can figure out is if someone steals it from him — problem is, no one mugs a mugger, and he’s had to take matters into his own hands.

Game Design

Doing the Cool Thing

Reading one of the ‘Actual Play’ entries on the Forge left me a bit… confused. Here’s an excerpt:

We did a system switch: Spycraft to Wushu.

It’s like the 6th game in the run, and we bailed on poor d20, which was boxing us in. My chief complaint about d20 I think is that it provides a lot of information about what a player and character cannot do. Your opinion may differ.

So anyway, Wushu. It’s not for the lazy. No time to space out. You gots to be thinking up cool ways to earn those embellishment dice.

Our group really got into it by the end of the session, really riffing off each other’s narrations, gaining embellishment from things that other players had worked into the scene.

I’ve bought and read Wushu awhile back , and it’s a good, fun system. To explain the above
1. You basically have to succeed by rolling a number of dice
2. The number of dice are determined by your stats
3. You get more dice for coming up with cool stuff in the scene you’re in
Not just personal stuff, like sliding down a banister into the bad guys, but anything very cool and like an action movie. You walk into the room — and you add:
the camera is tight on my face, I’m wearing sunglasses and the fearful old man we’re about to question… his cringing expression is reflected in both of the lenses of my sunglasses.
That’s cool… have another dice.
Here’s my confusion: SPYCRAFT DOES THAT. Am I crazy? Is there not a mechanic for getting extra action dice for coming up with cool stuff? Hell, you can get action dice just for being funny.
That aside, the thread (located here) did talk about the challenges of coming up with cool stuff all the time — how much of a pressure that can be, but also had some good ideas for making that mechanic (talking mostly about Wushu, but it works else) work.
I have hopes of using some of that in the Spycraft game tomorrow, because yes, the game does have the mechanic but, being d20, the players don’t naturally lean toward that sort of co-GMing narration.
I will do to Spycraft action dice was Stan did with the NPCs in Nobilis and encourage the cool thing.
Or I’ll try at least. We’ll see.
Side note: Something I mentioned to Margie yesterday that’s odd — I used to frame almost every scene of my games using the sorts of language that would most commonly be associated with movie and television action — I used to really jones on the framing of a particularly cool image.
I don’t do that anymore. Used to. Don’t now.
Not exactly sure why.

Game Design

Game theory

The 20′ By 20′ Room: Definitive Narrativism links to essays on the Forge (a rpg forum I won’t bother to link to because you either already know what/where it is or, like me, don’t find forums that useful) that define the current chic among RPG gaming theory — the GNS model, in which gaming styles are broken down into Gamist, Simulationist, or Narrativist styles.
In short, the essays are fucking long. Here’s the short version, because I am in no way recommending reading the bloody things unless you’ve got some time to kill: