27 September, 2016


If you follow my fledgeling Instagram account, you'll notice that I've been getting a bit obsessed with the app "Prisma"... filtering all sorts of photos through it, then tweaking them a bit further in Instagram and posting them. I've shared a few of them on other social media platforms too.

LARP photos, scenic shots, all sorts of things...

It might be a quick way to illustrate some game texts in the near future (I just need to edit out the "prisma" in the bottom corner).

If you haven't been following these shots...here's a random assortment of a few of them.

25 September, 2016

Elimination of Duplication

After a few days break, working on other projects, I looked back at "Tales" and realised that there was something that simply felt like it was a odd duplication within the rules. Two of the mechanisms seemed to be doing much the same thing, and one of the incarnations of the mechanism didn't seem to be addressed very well at all in the rules.

Needless to say this had to be attended to...

...and I've stripped out impairments completely.

Generally the idea behind the impairment system was a series of predefined traits that would aply penalties in a variety of situations. Such impairments would include such concepts as being "tired", "hungry", "injured", "scared", "cursed" and similar effects. If you suffered an impairment, it would temporarily make things harder for you, but this basically works the same as temporary disadvantages. There were a few badly worded and vague ideas about rendering these impairments into permanent disadvantages, but since temporary disadvantages do that as well... why have two things that work (for all intents) the same way?

Instead, I think that there should probably be a standard range of disadvantages that are always possible to acquire, then a few disadvantages (and a few advantages) that are specifically linked to certain scenarios. For example, a "Lost" trait might be appropriate in a fairy tale forest, but might not be as appropriate in an urban cyberpunk setting. As another example, "Diseased" might be appropriate in a scenario about the Black Death, but might not be as suitable in a tale with lighter subject matter. The disadvantages are tailored to the scenario, and maybe there are a few disadvantages that might be tailored to specific characters (a golem might slowly lose charge, gaining the "low power" disadvantage in much the same way that regular characters earn a "tired" disadvantage, a courtesan might pick up the "dishonoured" trait which effectively renders their advantages at court irrelevant).

Another thing I need to consider as I rework Tales is the way scenes change. I'm happy with the changes in mechanisms as acts shift through the course of the story, but there's nothing about the way scenes change within an act. All temporary disadvantages would end when a scene changes, because otherwise I'd basically end up retreading the path that FUBAR takes. I could theoretically get away with leaving the whole concept nebulous and vague, but that's what a lot of games do. Since the duration of temporary advantages is linked to the changing of scenes, it really needs clarification.

More thought required...


21 September, 2016

Rationales behind Design Decisions

(This post discusses the game design released in alpha format in my last post)

In Tales, and in "The Eighth Sea", I made a deliberate design decision to involve other players in the process of judging whether actions succeed or fail.

I warn you, there will be some Forge terminology in this post. As a linguist, and more specifically a sociolinguist, I'm at odds with certain elements of Forge terminology, but then again I'm at odds with a lot of the terminology across sociological fields and academia where a specific term is given a specific definition in a specific context, then other people use the same term in a slightly different context only to find that the meaning doesn't quite hold the same definitive meaning when used elsewhere. It's always been one of the thorns in the side of Forge theory, and one of those places where other people seem to hate it because the terminology is used in different ways by different people. Where I'm using those terms in this post, I'm trying to use them in a regular/commonsense usage, and clarifying with specific definitions where I feel necessary.

In a lot of games, the chances of success in a task are determined purely by the roll of dice or the play of cards. This is sometimes referred to as "fortune at the end", you declare your intentions, you apply modifiers based on the specific situation in which the task is occurring, then you call into effect the randomiser (cards/dice/coin-flip/dice then table consulting, etc.) and the outcome is defined purely by the output of that randomiser. The notion of "fortune in the middle" plays with this a bit by providing some mechanisms that play with the outcome, throwing a bit more control into the hands of the players... do they choose to accept a bit of sacrifice to push the result from a failure to a success. This is solidly in the zone of the "Powered by the Apocalypse" games, it's also the location where FUBAR was playing.

The other thing to be considered is the DFK model ('D'rama, 'F'ortune, 'K'arma). Where Drama resolution generally relies on resolving an action in a way that makes most sense in the context of the events that have happened before, Fortune resolution is purely random, and Karma resolution sees the agent with the most effectiveness winning the contest of action resolution in every case. Personally I see most games as having a weighted combination of the three resolution forms in their mechanisms. Commonly, we see a game where skills (Karma) are added to a die roll (Fortune)...where the size of the skill modifiers and the size of the dice show where the tendency lies between these two points. Lately we've seen a lot more games where results of actions provide traits or modifiers that directly feed back into the story, and the story feeds back into future die rolls through those modifiers (thus adding more Drama to the mix).

What I'm looking at with Tales is certainly more of a "Fortune at the End" type of mechanism, but it's specifically designed to be more interactive across the whole table when resolution of an action occurs. Instead of one person interacting with the rules, and possibly with the GM, everyone has their say in what happens. The degree of Fortune in this game has actually been stripped back even further. Other players specifically choose whether they want actions to succeed by playing cards from their hands. The only real Fortune element, comes from the random replacement of cards in a players hand once they have manipulated the outcome of someone else's action. If there's any fortune at work in an action, it's "Fortune at the Beginning" because all the players have had their hands randomised before the action is even declared.

More importantly, the resolution of actions is a social activity that occurs outside the narrative. If one player decides to be an ass (either by constantly hogging the spotlight, or just doing stupid stuff), other players will be inclined to offload their bad cards on that player, so they have good hands when it comes to resolving their own goals and storylines towards the end of the tale. Similarly, if one player wants to take a sacrifice for the team, everyone else will have the opportunity to give that player their bad cards for the same reason. This system also basically stops a player from getting a consistently bad run, either the other players will feel pity on them and offer better cards in later actions, or they might end up finding that this lagging character impacts the entire team and making it impossible for them to succeed as a group. It's a game about teamwork, it's not deliberately posed that way in the rules, but after a game or two this should become apparent...actually, I'd like to hope that a lot of players pick this up during the course of their first session using these rules. It's certainly how things worked out in the numerous games of "The Eighth Sea", it may have also helped that those games were run at conventions and between sessions people would talk about the game experience.

It's probably also worth noting that this game has a deliberate end game structure. Players can engage the personal goals of their own characters, or may engage in the general scenario goals. There are always decisions to make...do the desires of the one trump the desires of the group? Can personal goals be completed before the end game kicks in? Can scenario goals be completed before the scenario ends? Are you willing to help someone else achieve their personal goals so that the group as a whole has a better chance of resolving the scenario goals?  

So there's nothing here about "how much damage does Weapon Q do a point blank range?", or "what psychological effects might befall someone who has just seen their closest friend eaten by a monster?", those are the things other games seem to obsess over. This game is all about providing the framework to tell stories, and slot goals and objectives into those stories. The fiddly bits might be provided in the scenario books and setting books...but don't count on it, they'll probably be more about ways to modify the general framework of the rules to reflect the storytelling conventions associated with different genres. These are the kinds of things that most traditional games ignore, or take for granted.

So our rules touch on the social contract, maintaining active concentration on the developing story is important, even if your character isn't currently the focus of attention. All the players are expected to follow the story, to pick up on loose threads, and even contribute their own. They engage the situation in a meta-context through the system, and in an immersive sense through their characters. The ephemera is kept to a minimum, in an attempt to maintain the focus of the session on the story. Generally, a lot of the conventions in this game have been deliberately kept traditional, such as the notion of a single game master (in this case referred to as the 'Narrator' to maintain the context of storytelling and tales).

I could probably write a whole lot more about reasons why I've done certain things in certain ways, but I'm probably boring you as it is...

Now I just need to work out and illustrate some of my own pictures for the game.

Tales Version 2.0

Here's what I've been playing with over the past couple of days...

Tales Version 2.0

It still needs a bit of work, and I haven't written up any scenario or setting booklets for it yet, but I think there's enough here to start some discussion about the mechanisms of the game.

Once a bit more refinement has been done, I'll add some proper page layout as well.

20 September, 2016

Rules that vary to match the scenario

One of the things I find about convoluted rule sets is the idea that there needs to be a mechanisms to cover every contingency, whether or not that contingency comes into play. Just in case the characters are disarmed, and fighting over who gets better hold of the jade statue, let's include grapping rules. On the off chance that characters moght need to sneak in somewhere, avoiding the attention of guards, let's include some dramatic stealth rules...

...all these rules need to go into the main book...

...oops, we've blown our page count. Let's keep the common rules, then throw the uncommon rules into a "player's guide", and the rare rules into a "GM/DM/Referee's guide".

We've all seen systems like that. It's common in "traditional" games. I know that my description is fairly glib, and designs teams are probably more likely to think that their rule systems are becoming more versatile, and thus more likely to be used in a variety of game styles and story types, when they add those extra rule mechanisms to the system ecology.

Hence I want to do something different.

It was always the intention in both the original incarnation of "Tales" and the first published version of "The Eighth Sea", to create a fairly streamlined core system that would roughly handle just about anything... it was similarly the intention to create a series of specific stories, each of which included a specific new rule that facilitated the type of actions associated with this specific story. I started doing this a bit with "FUBAR", and it seemed to work. It also seemed to work with "Ghost City Raiders"...I just need to stick to it.

The current "Tales" rewrite, with pocketmod core rules and pocketmod scenario guides, seems a good fit for this style of modular rules. The whole idea is to generate a simple set if rules that anyone could quickly get the hang of, with the depth you need, only when it's needed.

19 September, 2016

Blog like a Pirate

Yarrr...it be the 19th o' Septemb-arrr, so it be time to be talkin' like a Pirate. The buxom swashbuckler who be spendin' the last 13 years as me helmsman made a wise decision to get married on the 20th o' Septemb-arr, else that weddin' might a been quite a confusin' day indeed.

T' be honest, today snuck up on me like a monkey with a musket.


Enough pirate talk, it's taking too long to work out what I want to say in scurvy slang. 

Even though I didn't realise it was coming up, I've been working on a project that's related to my first published game..."The Eighth Sea". That game was based on a earlier unfinished work named "Tales", which designed to be a generic system but was probably more of a convoluted mess. "The Eighth Sea" had elements of the original game stripped out, and a few other elements added in. It probably had a lot of loose unconnected bits, because at that stage I hadn't read much about ensuring game mechanisms support the narrative, I don't even think the "clouds and boxes" post by Vincent Baker had even been made yet... I had a few tools in the game that created funky effects, and a few ways to direct players in certain ways. More narrative than many of the mainstream games of the era, but certainly not complete or polished.

Recently I've decided to get back to basics with a game concept. So I went back to "The Eighth Sea" and "Tales", stripped it down to the core resolution mechanism and applied some of the better fitting game design theory to the mechanism...to see what fit. 

The aim was to produce a pocketmod set of core rules...with a possible pocketmod scenario booklet, or setting booklet, and a pocketmod character sheet/passport. Nothing more. The whole thing runs on a deck of cards, so the game could be packaged in an Altoids tin, or some other small tin.

The first scenario and setting booklets will probably be based on The Eighth Sea to cromprise the rewrite of the game which has been 8 years in the making...

18 September, 2016

Now on Twitter

After resisting it for years, I've finally gotten around to making a twitter account

Here it is.

I don't expect to post much there, it's mostly just a means to stay in contact with a few people who use it as their dominant social media platform.