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The island: (adventure seed)

From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A new Method.

A new method, for me any way.

My method for  working on Shards of Timbral has been altogether different from how I have approached past projects. Usually I have a strong goal concerning how the game should play. I think to myself "What kind of experience at the table will best support the concept I'm currently working with". For example when I'm working on Loot Box, I know the game has to move quickly, but have enough tactical weight that it would be critical to know what each player did and when. Once I had that in mind I designed towards that set of criteria. And by design I mean a very deliberate process.

This time what I am trying is to be less deliberate.
I have a big spiral notebook and every day if I have an idea that relates to the game, no matter how far fetched, I write it down.
So the notebook has scrawlings all over it now that say things like  "Hit points in three section... level up gets 1d6 each section..." Interspersed with  descriptive notes like "sail snails" and "Saber-dancing ritualists."
Not to mention little doodles of things that come to my mind. (Me, always with the  doodles)
I'm not going to put anything down on my computer until I fill that notebook and  go back and forth over it a few times.

The things I am trying to avoid are brian fatigue and  tunnel vision.
With AAIE it happened to me when I started working on the setting bits for the game which I tentatively called "The Town." I had (have) plenty of good ideas for it, but executing them has become fatiguing. I just got tired of thinking about that part of the game, and had trouble bringing myself to organize it all.
Loot box is a good example of  Tunnel vision. Each part of that game took up a lot of my time from the skills to the burn chains. As an effect I'm not satisfied with how they all work together, and never even got to the loot system proper.

What I hope is that having a big old messy idea book will when I start to write the game give me the raw inspirational material I need to stay interested while moving focus from on design task to another.

Let's see how it goes.




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Simplicity:

Continued from here:
When I start working on Shards of Timbral again  this will be the  mechanic:


  • Roll 1d20 + an attribute Vs  a difficulty number set by the  GM or by  the rules of the game depending on situation. 
  • If the roll is equal to or higher then the  difficulty number the action succedes.
  • If a skill can be applied to the action roll a skill die along with the  d20.
  • If the skill die result is a 1 the roll automatically succeeds.
That's it.
Nothing  else mechanically to determine success or failure of an action. there is nothing  inherently new as far as the mechanic goes. What is new for me is the idea that I will not hang anything else off of that mechanic. It is simply pass fail. There are no critical failures for rolling badly, no critical success rules.

My Hope:
I hope (and again it's not new in game design for sure.) is that players will be liberated by this kind of fire and forget die system. Liberated in that the system will not direct how they interact with the fiction from round to round. When a success is rolled the next question will be, how do you succeed?With no pressure coming from the mechanics the players are completely free to answer however they please.

The trick here (not really a trick ) is that this is basically GM'ing listening, learning via question, and playing via imposition.

To use a combat example:
A Player character strikes at a giant snake and rolls successfully to hit.
GM: "You hit. How do you strike the Snake?"
Player: "I wait for it to rear up and  quickly strike with my dagger at its underbelly then dart away!"
GM: "Raising up to it's full height the serpent prepares to strike, you dart in  and slice it deeply crossed it's underbelly trickles of blood stream from the wound."
"When you dart away do you try to get out of striking range."
Player: "I sure do !"
GM: " The massive snake never looses eye contact with you as you move away, it stands swaying ready to lunge and you remain just out of its reach.  This looks like a stand off. What do you do?"

(The gm uses the players answer to complicate the situation.) If the Gm keeps asking questions players will naturally keeping answers and every player answer is a chance for the Gm to add another layer of complexity to a situation.

Again before some Internet wonk shouts about how, "This has all been done since  D&D was chain mail." and that, "I(me) am in fact an internet wonk."(truth). I have to restate that none of this is new. I will be trying to take it to a bit of an extreme in this game. While there will be other die rolls for between game activities and resource management, I am aiming to make what is written above the whole of the resolutions system. Hanging a game and setting on what is in effect a rules light mechanical frame.

-Mark.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

His voice rings of hate and pain. (D&D 5thed bardic school)

From the pages of Rolderic The Bard.

"Once in every five years the  bards hold a moot, a gathering if you will. It is here that we swap information, stories, and do the business inherent of our trade. Last summers moot was no different than any other, a few fine fall days on a hillside encamped with a number of like minded and talented souls. Let me assure you there is  much merriment mixed with the business as bardic schools compete in the  ways of instrument, verse and voice.

I say all was normal last moot, and I do not lie up until the  moment Roderic arrived. A bard in title yes. Infact he was once a talented voice crafter, but he has disappeared on a journey far to the north. Few recognized fair Rolderic as he entered the moot.  A sight that was such, one of our less hardy members (Jalarad Birdboned) fainted straight away.

Shirtless, Painted and tattooed, a shaved head, a vast dark beard woven with strange bits of cloth, he rode. And ride he did! Roleric rode atop a great snarling bear. A finely crafted leather saddle allowed him a free hand with which to drink a strong smelling amber drought from a large bottle he slung from his arm. It seemed all of his worldly possessions were tied in rusacks and fastened to the mighty bear, a tent, a bed roll, cooking pots and several tattered heavy leather books bound with brass. The racket of  gasps, snarling, and fainting he made coming through the crowd was enough to bring the bardic moot a sudden halt.

Roleric dismounted and immediately set into a chant. A deep poly tonal thrumming chant. Our camp fire dimmed and all about us seemed to vibrate. A bird fell out of a nearby tree. None could look away from Roleric, and when he had our undivided attention he spoke.

His voice deep but flowing. Like the unknown depths of a wide river flush with springs melt. Gravel and silt came to mind, but so did fog, ash, and swarms of stinging bees. Such was the  voice of Roleric. His eyes shown brightly under his tattooed brow, his mouth hidden by the  shaking beard.

" I have come to the moot seeking adepts to join me in the founding of a new bardic school."

Then silence.
None challenged Roleric. Though the council had held sway at the moots for years and were  exclusive in their authority to sanction bardic schools. It was in the voice of Roleric, none dared stand to dispute him.
That night Roleric left with three disciples, and the Bardic school known as The Krotomish was officially born.

(The Krotomish bardic school)
All normal level 1 bard abilities as per the 5th edition player's handbook.
Level 3:
Distracting visage:
You may use your bardic inspiration die to inflict a to-hit penalty on any one target. This effect persists as long as you maintain concentration on that target.
Level 3:
Home of the  homeless:
You college is a loose collection of wandering bards who live off the land and sometimes the kindness of others.
You are proficient with two two kits from the following list:
Wood Carvers tools, Cooks utensils, Carpenters tools
You are proficient with two of the following skills:
Athletics, Martial Weapon Proficiency, Survival, Handle Animal.

Level 6:
The Voice
You can create a poly tonal effect while speaking that can duplicate the effect any one of the  following spells as chosen by the  speaker.
Animal Friendship.
Charm person
Suggestion
Fear
Tongues
This use is above and beyond the normal bard spell use, does not requite physical or somatic components and may only be used once per long rest.

Level 11:
Bonded Mount:

You have gained the trust of a wilderness creature that acts as your mount. The mount is loyal and obedient to the bard, obeying simple commands such as stay, follow or attack, without hesitation.
Once per long rest you may form a telepathic bond with you mount, which allows the bard to give the  mount instructions of any complexity. . An example of a complicated command might be "hold steady enough for me to cast a spell.", "move quietly and stay to the shadows", "Do not attack that target directly instead attack their back pack so it's contents will spill.", and so on This effect lasts for 1 minute and does nto require concentration.
The mount is a fine example of the chosen breed with  maximum hit points, down to a minimum number of hit points equal to 1/2 the bards. The mount will receive 1d8 additional hit points each time the bard increases in level.
If the mount is killed another mount of the same type may be sought but not until the  Bard has progresses to their next experience level.
The mount is usually a wilderness creature, Bear, Elk, Boar, Giant badger, or massive toad. If the player desires a horse, bull,  or large war goat could also be chosen.

Level 14:
The blackened instrument of discord .
At this level the  bard of Krotomish may partake in the  ritual of blackening, during which their bardic instrument of choice is blackened in a ritual fire. After the ritual anything played on the instrument will take on a polytonal sound with all notes doubled several times in random intervals and octaves lower than what is being played.
  • The bard may choose two spells up to level 5 from any spell list other than the priest / cleric lists. Once per long rest the bard may choose to use the scorched instrument to cast either one of these two spells.
  • While playing the instrument Bardic inspiration dice can be used to directly inflict magical damage to one target.
  • Any of the spells using "the voice" from level 6 may be cast as if they are one spell slot higher than normal.
  • The instrument looks blackened and scorched, and will exude a small cloud of dark colored smoke in any hue on command. This could is visible but not enough to conceel the Bard for  combat purposes.
  • The instrument now saves at +10 vs any attempt to crush, break or otherwise harm it.
-Mark.









Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When the dice hit the table:

When the dice hit the table how much interpretation is too much?

In many RPG games a player will roll D( fill in a number here ) add some bonuses and if the result is over a target number the action is a success. It is common because it works.

        Where even similar systems start to differentiate is in how much information is interpreted from the  die roll. Infact different players of the same game might interpret dice differently as it implies to what going on in the  game fiction. One player might say, "I hit! Here's my damage roll." and be done with it. Another player might say, "I rolled very high and hit by a mile, got him right in the face! Here's my damage roll." It's' a subtle difference, and while mechanicaly it still ends with a damage roll, the dialogue at the table is different.

I believe that RPG's are at their best when the  GM and the players use the  following structure.

  1. The Player says I want my character to achieve X.
  2. The Gm sets a difficulty (Difficulty is set by whatever means the game dictates)
  3. If the roll is a success the player gets to say how the character achieved X
  4. If the roll fails the Game master gets to say at what point the characters efforts to achieve X went south.
If rules for die interpretation come into play those rules should only be implemented at stage 3.
Having guideline about how successful a successful action is can help fuel the player's imaginations and lead to interesting descriptions. Every player loves a "critical Success" and critical successes are one of the ways in which degree of success has been implemented in the game since the beginning of the hobby. (or darn near to it.)
The Gm should be free of restrictions when  describing failures as part of the fiction. Having rules for "fumbles" is also traditional. The tension at a table can spike when a character rolls a dreaded critical fail and everyone around the table knows the GM will narrate some awful blunder. While I Like fumbles and critical failures I don't see them as necessary to a game. I don't even see fumbles as a  necessary foil to a mechanic that allows for critical success.

Why am I writing about this:

I have been thinking lately that the glaring weaknesses in the games I write have to do with die interpretation and die manipulation. 
Let's look at some examples of my own stuttering steps.
In Phase Abandon there are a lot of ways to manipulate dice.
  • Use a chip to reroll a die.
  • Re-roll 6's for more success
  • Helper dice form other players
  • At higher levels of skill re roll dice to get the  best hand of 5 results. 
On top of that phase has die interpretation. The number of successes rolled equals how many facts the  player can add to the narrative. Ones rolled signify the character getting hurt or somehow diminished, which has to be worked into the narrative. It's a good deal to process on each die roll. It goes fast when our group plays, but hell... we wrote the game.

AAIE, is an anomaly because it is built starting at the  fumbles and critical successes. It is all about mechanically derived levels of success or failure. I think it's more accessible than Phase, but only because it's written to be  silly and does not demand the attention Phase does.

Loot Box, has a 2d10 percentage system with the player option to reroll a die to attempt a better result. It's a kind of press your luck mechanic that I'm still kicking around and am not very happy with. In this case there are no rules dictating the interpretation of the die results, other than the ability to critically hit a target. The dice work well enough I just think as a whole the  game moves to slowly and I am trying to be too cute with the die mechanics.

For my next project:
Winter is coming which means more time indoors to type and think about things. I have been kicking around some ideas concerning the Shard of Thimbral game I quit on about a year ago. I am in love with the setting but it just never got the traction I was hoping for. I think Shards was too reliant on die interpretation when I first worked on it.  The idea of rolling dice then  dialing back the results to gain the ability to narrate while making success at the current task actually "less likely" was strange. The idea of dialing dice forward or upward in value to ensure a quick success at the cost of narrative detail was down right strange (even off putting) to  the people I talked to about it. I still like the idea, just re-visiting it as I write this makes me think how interesting it "could have been." It was all die interpretation fueling dialog and narrative and all a bit to  "un-gamery" to coin a word.
On my next visit to Shards I'm going to go  very much in the opposite direction. A roll vs difficulty  pass or fail, and  allow some of the  subsystems to add the uniqueness that marries a system and a setting.
My main point being once the  roll is out there on the table it is immutable, which is not at all what I have done with my games in the past. Any shading of the fiction will not be born in the die roll but rather the players description of a success.
Again this is nothing new for games, in fact this is the most basic and oldest way to do this sort of thing. It' new for me to look at a game mechanic this way for my own purpose.