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Monday, September 30, 2013

Karma, Atributes in the bargain

Karma, in the bargain:
If writing a game that uses a karma system, AKA not rolling dice but using some non random way of determining the outcome of things, one of the great challenges is having situation not be too cut and dry.
The Amber dice less role playing system does this by creating a situation where no one really knows how they stack up as compared to the rest of the group. You might know, “I am stronger than Bill, but Hank is the strongest of us all, however Kelly is a far better swords woman than any of us and very dangerous with a blade.”  The game sets that up in character generation with a bidding system, and carries through the game. In Amber it’s very thematic, replicating quite well the relationships all of the princess and princesses of Amber have with each other in the books.
That’s one way to do it. And it works if the players are using numerical values to measure their characters abilities and the GM can say for sure “Yes your character is physically stronger than his character.” Furthermore in Amber if two characters get into a contest the character with the higher relative attribute wins, every time.  In the context of the setting the system makes sense, works and is handled really well in game, allowing you to test your opponent’s abilities and manipulate situations to their advantage, just like the books. For my tastes though it might be too cut and dry as a resolution system.
I am not sure that I want to go that exact route. In that I want characters to be more a set of skills rather than a set of attributes. 
Here is what I’m thinking, in the king Arthur stories, Arthur was a night, a king, a leader,  has a group of nights he works with, a wife, a wizard buddy named Merlin, holds x-Calibur, and so on. I have never read where anyone tacks on “and he could bench 230 lbs twelve times.”
I am not sure if raw data about a character is that important to character? Are attributes like strength and Dexterity just holding over from a war gamming past, like the RPG equivalent of a vestigial tail?
My thought would be that as players narrate their action if they can call on their skills they can reduce the difficulty of an action, until if they describe enough detail they could eliminate a challenge without ever having to “roll.”
I use the term roll as a generalization I was thinking more of a bidding system. The gm would secretly set the difficulty and the players have a number of chips at their disposal, as the player describes what he is doing the gm reduces the difficulty. If there is any difficulty left at the end of the player’s narration, the player would bid blindly against the GM difficulty. If the player’s bid is higher the action would be successful, if the gm’s difficulty is higher the action would be a failure.
That would be the basic idea. The result of every action would be based on narration first, then resource management (the bid), and finally luck (if you consider the gm having set a low difficulty to start with luck)
I am hoping that by moving the emphasis away from having “high stats” to statistically improve the odds of performing an action “Ie hitting the orc.” Putting that emphasis now onto the idea that this character can do stuff and the player has to say how he is doing stuff. I may be able to move character effectiveness into the realm of the story and away from the realm of numbers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Here I am again at the R.P.G. edge..

So here I am again on the edge of the “I'm going to write a game” cliff.
This time I am going to try to do things a bit differently.

Using this blog I'm going to document my process, which in turn might help, entertain, or possibly bore others. When I finish this game I will have a nice record of what I did, the design choices I committed to and why.
Hopefully some discussion as to why I am making some decisions and why I am not making others will happen.
I hear you ask, “Why such a big deal, you write a game like every time take a shower, or at least once a week?”
I'm on the tail end of 38 years old and have been doing this a long time, I think I finally need to settle in and write some thing I really like. To put it simply take it seriously for once. This next project I really want to try and put my real honest to goodness best effort forward.

To that end I plan on making a game that I would want to run or play, the one that happens in my head. Our game Phase Abandon is close, damn close, (don't think I wont be using some Phase concepts over again.) I love Phase, but my opinion has changed about a few things since we started writing it so I want to work on something distinctively my own thing.

Here are some things I hope to accomplish.
I like to run games where the over arcing story is more important than the incidental encounter. I don't know of may games that have a rule set that supports that idea.
I like players to have the power to tell me how their characters are completing their successful actions. I think players invest more into their character when they get to create most of the awesome.
Characters need to grow over time in a meaningful way. I am not talking about power creep, I think each character should have an ability to move forward in their personal story.
The game will be a game mastered game, I have grown to think that many GM'less games lack a sense of direction that makes for good stories. The roll of GM might be transitory, I'm not sure, but it will be there.
Finally in my opinion the key to every game is narration, and I am hoping to create a game where as much of the system leads to a narrative as possible. Preferably narration by the players.

Those points are really all I have to go on right now. I'm not sure if I'm going to tie this game to a setting. There is something to be said for the setting agnostic, tool kit approach, however there is also a lot to be said for systems designed to support the tropes of specific system.

I am also not sure yet (talk about the very basic beginnings of design) whether or not I want to use a method of randomization (aka Dice) or a more comparative system without the random factor.

None of my friends and fellow game players are going to believe this, but this is it. This is the final new game I'm going to work up into something playable.(I hear the open laughter and snorts of bemusement.)
Naturally I will kick out ideas for things here on the blog, a one page game here or there, or some other brain storm that hits me, but as far as working on a game and bringing it to the table and saying, “Lets PLAY this!' I just don't want to keep doing it.
I agree there is reason to doubt, (my past history speaks for it's self) but I also have my reasons and there are two big ones.

Primary to this is time, out group does not have enough time to play test any extra games and give them a proper shot. That's just how it is, we're all adults with things to do and ugly real world responsibilities.

Secondary is the ever improving, growing and advancing state of Indy and small press game design and distribution. When I first started really following Indy games, there were very few like, “the Window” and “Fudge” that were making early waves on the internet. Fact is at one point if I wanted a certain flavor of game, it was easier to write a game myself than it was to find it. Now things have changed, with drive through RPG, print on demand, independent publishers and even all the free stuff out on the web, chances are something close to what I want is already out there. What's more it will likely be better tested, better written and at a higher production value than what I am capable of. There are so many great small press games out there right now I will never get to play every one of them
that grabs my eye, let alone have time to play what I write myself.

T.B.C.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Musing about player need and game selection

I think how light or how heavy an RPG rule set needs to be is really up to the needs of the players.
What does the group find fun?
Where does the game need to take them?
What kind of story do they want to put together?

For example, I don't think Russ (one of my friends and fellow players) would mind me saying that he likes AD&D. It just fits how he likes to play. Why? I don't know he would have to say. I have a feeling that having a ladder set up in the system that a character has to climb as they get more powerful (Ie levels) would have something to do with it.
Many lighter narrative games miss out on the whole “we are going to string these adventures together and your character will get better dynamic.”

Even Fate which is the game system of the moment in the wider RPG community, falls down in this regard with character improvement rules that feel a lot like an after thought. It also seems to me that many games that look to be Gm'less (like our own game Phase Abandon) or light preparation games tend to lack direction. The story meanders off on it's own sometimes, and that can be great and it can be fun, but it might not be what very player wants every game.

Get me straight no one prepares less than I do. (another post for another time)

I think this is my actual point, every game system from D&D to paranoia to Fate to Dogs in the Vineyard, what ever are narrative games.

I think systems get chosen based on what interests the players and to act as a frame work to hang characters off of.

If players want one offs, Or a short fast and loose story experience, they pick one of the faster lighter more nimble systems. If they want a more traditional campaign experience they choose a more traditional game like Eclipse Phase, or any of the hundreds of other games that fit the bill.

There are even people out there who want to play crunchy games like Iorn Crown enterprises Role Master system, and insist they uses every last rule in it... (this I simply can't explain.)

At the end of the day the fun starts when the players start Narrating.
Narrating what the characters are doing.
Narrating what the characters are saying.

In that, all RPG games are the same, at some point characters have to do something, a player has to give the character life and in this light the rules set being used is a decision not much different than picking the pattern of your china. What the plates look like is not really that big a deal, they're all there to hold the good stuff, the food. Yes system is important, it matters as it were.
If a designer writes a game that fails at meeting it's own design goals or strays away from it's design direction then yes it will be a broken game.
However all things being equal, players will pick a games that captures their imagination and match their idea of fun. After that the players have to put life into the game, and the game has to get out of the way. It's the one thing all RPG's have in common.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dice and Cards, Cards and Dice:

Dice and Cards, Cards and Dice:
Lately I have been mulling over game systems that use both cards and dice, for resolution.

I love dice, nothing makes me happier than working out just that right die mechanic that helps carry a game along smoothly. I enjoy rich dice as well; I want to squeeze as much game relevant info out of each roll as I possibly can. As a designer, it makes me happy.

Cards on the other hand have an interesting attribute that is hard to model in dice. When a card is pulled then discarded the chance of pulling each other card in the deck goes up. That’s blackjack in a nut shell. That’s cool.

To that add the physical size of cards allows them to hold more information than dice, and in effect give richer results. A normal playing card shows, color, suit, number, and face. That’s a lot of information on each card, a lot of randomization, a lot of opportunity to use that information in interesting combinations. If this discussion branches out to custom decks of cards, then the gloves come off, the possibilities are endless.

Here is where I get into trouble:

I am working on a concept (A competitive /narrative game based on pro wrestling) Resolution of actions is dice based, but smart, lucky, or even consistent card play could make the difference in a contest.

Cards can be bought into a player’s hand, and may be used for a variety of effects. One of the effects is to trigger skills.

If a character has a skill that can only be triggered by a “face card in the suit of clubs” and in the course of the game he sees his opposing player use all of the face cards in the suit of clubs, will this be too much of a kill joy for the player?

On one hand I like the idea that thee player seeing that he is not going to get to use his skill this game, has to change tack, and adjust strategy. It adds challenge; it adds some depth to the card play as players might try to hold cards in order to deny their opponent the cards they need to trigger potent skills

On the other hand I hate the idea that the player is not going to get to use his shiny skill to make awesome happen at the game table. I don’t like the idea that a player might leave the game feeling like they never really got to use their character to its fullest potential.

Using cards (sticking with standard cards here,) I wonder if the ever decreasing draw pile can be too much of a limiting factor on the opportunities to use the cards, and if so should I work out some kind of card economy to bring previously used cards back into the game?

Perhaps a “joker” rule stating once the Joker is drawn the discard pile is shuffled back into the deck?

Again I am not sure.

I really want the game to end up focused on narration of a strategic match, played out with all the drama and theatrics of a classic pro wrestling match.

If I were writing a straight narrative game, this post would not happen, the strategy behind card management would not be as important to me, in fact the cards would not even be in the game.

If I was working this up as pure simulation game, I would game up with dice systems to model the kinds of things I want the cards to handle. This works in my head because of the reason mentioned above; a card can allow a player to see a lot of information very quickly, and hopefully leave them time to narrate some cool action. Only time will tell.

As with most of my projects time to play test is always in short supply so, who knows. Simple mental gymnastics perhaps, a diversion used to pass the time on lunch breaks?

Even if that’s all the game ever amounts too (which is not always a bad thing really,) at least it has me thinking cards and new directions to take my designs.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hello, My name is Mark and I have a favorite setting..Day 4 of the 30 days of D&D

Day four of the semi-great AD&D blog challenge.

Hello, My name is Mark and I have a favorite setting..

Preamble:

I have to start off by eliminating the settings that were home brew, custom, or Gm written. If I were to not  I would go with my friend's Sebastian & Kirk's settings, if for no other reasons than the sheer number of little notes Seb kept on index cards regarding all kinds tidbits, and the drawing of Shadis that Kirk did that made us all not want to ever find him.
However onto the topic at hand.

I love Birthright.
There, I said it. I am throwing my hat in for Birthright.

I have no idea if the game / setting / mass combat card rules as boxed are playable, I have my doubts. However I love the  idea and the scope of the game, that the PC, are blooded, bonded to their lands, and gain power from them. They lead armies, they move amongst the other leaders of the realm, the pc's are finally where successful PC's end up, running a land holding.
Oh and Realm Magic is dope, lets not forget that.

It's so awesome I stole some of it for my latest incarnation of my own setting.

If a DM came to me as a player and said “I have Ravenloft, Dark-sun, SpellJammer, Birthright, Red Steel, Mysteria, Hollow World, Ravenloft, AlQuadim, and so on.....PICK ONE.” For me it would be Birthright hands down.

It just feels like epic fantasy to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day Two and Three of the 30 days of D&D , blogg-o-palooza

Day two and three of the D&D writing month..

I started writing about my favorite race, (for the record Dwarf) and then I started thinking how for me favorite race is linked forever linked to favorite class.
A stout grumpy dwarf fighter is by far my favorite thing to play. Hands down, game over man.
I think the reason is this, if they could package any class race combo as “working class hero” It would be a dwarf fighter.

Every player comes to the the table with their own definition of “hero.” The hero archetype is ingrained in our psyche from millennium of storytelling and tradition, then it is informed during our youth by experience and observation. Eventually everyone develops his or her own view of what is good, righteous and right, in short our own vision of heroic.

For me it has always been the working class underdog who overcomes adversity based solely on dogged determination, the guy who gets up every day and goes to work for the better good. The guy who does not look to fight but by god when he does get the hell out of the way.

In Ad&D nothing encompasses that more than a solid dwarf fighter. With their traditions of hard work hearth and home, their value system of hard work and loyalty, and their physical prowess in battle they make the perfect stout angry underdog.

Yes my favorite race is dwarf, and my favorite class is fighter.
Perhaps it's because I'm simple.

On the other hand, I think it might be because the real world is so complicated, sometimes it's so much easier just to put your head down and get the job done. 
One Hammer blow at a time.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How did You get started with D&D?

Post one in the  30 posts for 30 days D&D challenge.

How did you get started with D&D?

Well that's interesting and a bit tough. I playing games with a neighborhood friend back in elementary school, games like Areo Tech and Battle tech and shortly before he moved away I got my hands on the red-box of basic D&D (like 4 weeks + allowance at the time.)
So we made characters, ran the initial adventure from the box, did it all”Wrong” but it was fun. I started talking about it at school. Got some more books (blue box?)

It really started at my friend Fred's house, I drew a big cheesy map, he made a character named “Buck” who was particularly proud of his pole arm, and we had a campaign. Buck searched for the Ruby Sword, and it was hidden on that map, and he went all over the place, fighting monsters and searching. It was a sandbox game before any one ever talked about sandbox, it was really poorly put together but neither of us cared. We were staying up all night and having a good time, it was a win win.

We got other friends involved, I redrew the map, but the quest stayed mostly the same, eventually it grew until at it's peak we had nine player games with a huge overarching story line and crazy things happening nearly every week. We also played a lot of other games, Marvel supers, FASA Dr who, Star-ship battles, TMNT, Paranoia some others, but we always played some D&D when we could.

We played through middle school and high school, after high school. Players came and went,we moved though versions of the game, AD&D, 2nd ED, 3.0, 3.5.

by the time 4th ed came around the group had all spread around the country and the three of us left decided to write our own game (We did not want to shell out the cash for yet another set of D&D books, sorry Wizards that's just how it was). We wrote a game, and started using it, the D&D years were pretty much over.

Here's the kicker , we never stopped using the setting, no matter what system we were playing. We still joke about things that happened years ago, (Lancelot Goodthrust came through the window and chopped Treegan's boyfriends head in twain, that was a thing.) As group we have our own strange little mythology that no one really knows but us... It's a strange thing that only long time RPG players get.


And even stranger, August 2013 we started a fresh new campaign, on the same map (albeit redrawn yet again,) with some new players, and some old ones. The story continues.
-M