24 June, 2017

In Memorium: Stewart Wieck

One of the great game designers has passed to the great game beyond the veil. I never met him, but so many of my contacts across social media say that he was a great guy as well as being a great game designer. He was the creator of my favourite game, Mage: the Ascension, and therefore increibly influential in the way I play, run and design games of my own.

I think the last times I wrote something of this nature on the blog, it was the passing of Erick Wujcik... who designed the TMNT game for Palladium, and was just as influential to my game design, but in different ways... and the passing of Robert Pirsig, who wrote the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

By taking one of my favourite books, the aforementioned one by Pirsig, and turning it into a spectacularly open game that expanded the potential of roleplaying in so many ways. This one has hit me hard.

One by one my heroes are dying. I guess that's just a symptom of getting older. Now I just wish I could fill their shoes.

23 June, 2017

Glyphs and Icons

If you've read through the blog, you'll know that I'm a visual thinker. I make maps. I make images. I like things to have patterns and systems to have a sense of order to them. I don't like games where there are a dozen subsystems for a dozen different tasks. I like ideas that feed back into themselves making holistic ecosystems of play.

As a part of my current design project, The Law, I've decided to make a series of glyphs for the attributes. In my earlier "image-free" version of the rules, I was using placeholder wingdings and webdings, but it's time to move to something more distinct and tailored to the game.

This process saw me make a set of initial glyphs and show them to the world.





The responses were generally positive, but a few feedback comments raised some valid issues that would have led to problems. The glyphs generally portray what I'm trying to get across with them, but when shrunk down to fit in with text, they'll lose a lot of detail and generally get a bit busy.

So that led to a new set of glyphs being designed...

First the attributes.




Nothing particularly dramatic about the changes, but the swords (on the conflict glyph) were being confused for crystals and other mystical elements, and the swirls around the book (on the knowledge glyph) were distracting from the central symbol. Generally, the main elements linked to the attribute concept were magnified too.

While I was at it, I figured that other parts of the game required glyphs of their own.  

Health (which resists the conflict actions of others)

Status (which resists the influence actions of others) 

Willpower (I might need to change that name, but it resists the mysticism actions of others)

Wisdom (which resists the knowledge actions of others)

Equipment (which works to both resist certain actions, or magnify others)

Finally, since I've been drawing some inspiration from the game mechanism sigils used in the card game Vampire the Eternal Struggle, I decided to create a few generic sigils. The first of these reflect action events directed from the character, and reactions against events incoming.
Action Glyph (typically associated with circumstances, tools and items that enhance a character's ability to manipulate the world around them..such as weapons which deal extra damage on a successful conflict action, or specialist toolkits that might bring extra information with a successful knowledge action. It could just as easily be a positive "blessing" that makes mystic actions more successful or a negative "curse" that makes actions less successful. The key thing to note here is that the effect occurs when the character is active in some way.)  

Reaction Glyph (typically associated with circumstances, tools and items that cause follow up effects when a character is subjected to someone else's action...such as armour reducing incoming damage,  minimize the negative effects, or cover reducing chance that a ranged shot hits at all, similarly it might apply to mystic protective wards. Negative reactive conflict situations might include being ambushed, having a tracking beacon attached to your car when pursued. The key thing to note here is that the effect occurs when the character is reacting to something incoming)

I'm also thinking of generating glyphs that will quickly show if something is a one-off effect, limited in usage, or freely usable. I'm sure there will be other glyph ideas that come to me, but I need to make sure they are all distinctly different in appearance to avoid confusion.  

22 June, 2017

Randomising The Law

I've been digging back into my game The Law. The core system of character generation offers a few choices that lead to a few specific choices, then direct characters toward something that would feasibly make it out of basic training in the Academy of Law. This was intended from both a diegetic (in-world character directed) perspective and a non-diegetic (player directed) perspective. You can find the original concept here.

But I've been reading a lot about random character generation, and regular readers of the blog will know that I love the concept of the life-path character generation system.

This has led me to considering new ways of creating characters in the game. I'm not sure if I'll be offering these generation options as a part of the basic rules, or as a variant in some kind of player's guide...but here's what I've been thinking.

If base attributes are d4, where an upgrade either increases an attribute die by +d2, adds a skill to the character, a resistance, or provides some kind of equipment/environmental advantage, then we're looking at fourteen upgrades for a starting character (typically +4 to various attributes, +6 to skills, +4 to resistances).

Option 1. 
Roll a die for every year of life above age 4, starting characters are 18 when they leave the Academy and become probationary agents.

Under this system, characters would still choose the type of family they grew up in. They'd roll a d12 on a specific table for each year of their childhood and pre-academy life, but once certain threshold conditions had been met, they'd shift to a new table reflecting their academy training.

Childhood Table (roll d12)

  1. Increase Conflict Attribute. (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  2. Increase Influence Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  3. Increase Knowledge Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  4. Increase Mysticism Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  5. Increase an Attribute commonly associated with your family's type (Increase lowest attribute if this would increase attribute above d8. +1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  6. Gain a Conflict Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  7. Gain an Influence Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  8. Gain a Knowledge Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  9. Gain a Mysticism Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  10. Gain a Skill associated with one of your family's attributes (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  11. Gain a Skill of choice (+1 to Recruitment Threshold) 
  12. Gain a Resistance associated with one of your family's attributes (if you have rolled this previously, gain a different Resistance. +3 to Recruitment Threshold)    

If Recruitment Threshold is 12 or greater, start rolling on Academy table...

Academy Table (roll d6 until all academy skills possessed, then roll d6+4 for remainder of rolls)

  1. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, increase your lowest Attribute)
  2. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, gain a Resistance associated with your highest attribute)
  3. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, gain a Skill associated with your highest attribute) 
  4. Gain a Resistance not currently possessed. 
  5. Gain a Resistance associated with your highest Attribute.
  6. Increase an Attribute associated with your family (Increase lowest attribute if this would increase attribute above d8.)
  7. Increase your lowest Attribute
  8. Increase an attribute of choice (up to a maximum of d10)
  9. Gain a Skill associated with your highest Attribute
  10. Gain a Skill of choice

If I was following this sort of system, I'd add a follow-up roll for each option. These follow-up rolls would provide some kind of in-game justification linking the increase to an element in the agent's backstory.

Option 2.
This one's a bit simpler, but I feel like it needs a bit more work.

Roll 4 d4s, where each die increases an attribute and adds a skill to the agent's repertoire.

  1. Increase Conflict and choose a Conflict Skill
  2. Increase Influence and choose an Influence Skill
  3. Increase Knowledge and choose a Knowledge Skill
  4. Increase Mysticism and choose a Mysticism Skill

Gain the three Academy Skills (Investigate, Judge and Shoot)

Roll 3 d6s, where each result only adds a single element to the agent.

  1. Increase an Attribute associated with the family (up to a maximum of d10, otherwise reroll).
  2. Choose a Skill associated with one of the family's Attributes
  3. Gain the Resistance associated with your highest Attribute
  4. Gain a Resistance associated with one of your family's Attributes
  5. Increase your lowest Attribute
  6. Gain a Skill of choice   

Alt-Facts in Gaming

I'm not going to mention names. I've seen the patterns repeated many times over the years, but a particular instance reminded me of it again this morning.

We've seen it across the world in many guises...anti-vaxxers using claims from celebrities derived from unsubstantiated data (or even data that has been deliberately debunked)...climate change denialists who point to one cold day as an argument against global warming...politics in the USA...

Someone will typically derive their opinion from their experiences, and when their experiences don't adequately match the situation they'll draw on the claimed experiences of someone they look up to. Opinions are like gut feelings, they don't have substantiated facts associated with them, they just resonate with a person and subversively ingratiate themselves into the psyche. Once embedded, they're hard to get rid of.

The specific instance I noted this morning involves people's experiences with games. Particularly the Old World of Darkness by White Wolf, which has been getting a bit of attention recently due to the pre-alpha playtest going around, and the general development to a new version of the game. A few people commented in the ways I'm thinking.

One person basically claimed that LARP wasn't for them because the one experience they had involved a bunch of posers sitting around discussing existential angst in character, and they were booted from the game when they decided to spice things up and make their own fun. I had a similar experience in my own first LARP but I could see something more in it, a potential that one group hadn't seemed to grasp...so I sought out other LARPs to see if it was a common problem with the format, or just with that particular group. I didn't just st throw in the towel and say that no LARP was for me based on one bad experience.

In a related comment, someone said that they hated the revised version of the Old World of Darkness because "everything" was done by the supernaturals...any globe shattering incidents or innovations were the result of the Vampires or the Mages... I dodn't remember this being the case at all, and at this point one of the original authors stepped in made a comment that agreed with my recollections, and I felt vindicated without needing to write a word. This part of the thread made me think that the first commenter had played a game of "classic" Vampire with a bad Storyteller but hadn't bothered to read the books or do further research. Instead they simply took the Storyteller's word as law and had a conception of the game based on a very distorted lens. Actual research and reading seems to hard for some people, so the opinions take hold based on alt-facts, and any claims to the contrary see a doubling-down.

I've seen it in the past with other games. I'm sure I'll see it again. I've seen the opposite, but this happens less often... if someone has a good experience with something they'll seek out more associated experiences. A good experience needs to be reinforced a couple of times before it becomes ingrained, and then poor experiences become dismissed as one-offs. But a good experience followed by a poor experience (or even a series of poor experiences) seems to prevent an overtly positive opinion forming.

I'm sure there is plenty of research into this whole phenomenon, probably in the field of psychiatry/psychology (while my studies so far have been in sociology, and thus more associated with how opinions might spread from person to person, or across social groups). Similarly, I'm sure I could write this concept into a game mechanism of some type...but what would the purpose be? What would the game be about, besides rampant nihilism?

17 June, 2017

Birthday Sale?

This time last year, Vulpinoid Studios had a birthday sale on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG. The intention was to have this as a regular annual event, but in the past 12 months I don't think I've added anything new to the shopfront. Due to this, it felt a bit silly running a sale when there were no new products available.

Hopefully, by the time next year comes around there will be a few completed projects from my current pool of unfinished ones.

16 June, 2017

A LARP Map (part 3)

Once the hand drawn elements of he ma are completed, the image is scanned into the computer.  

Generally the image seems to end up a bit faded, so I increase the contrast to make the dark elements blacker, the pale elements whiter, and fade away the pencil work until it's generally eliminated.

The next step sees a shadowing around the coastlines. I do this with layers.

  • The top layer is the hand-drawn inked map.
  • The second layer is a white block filling the shape of the land mass. his is done by making a complete white layer, then using the "magic wand" tool to select the water and delete the white layer in these parts.
  • A third layer is a duplicate of that white layer, but inverted to black and then blurred a bit. This gives a black nimbus around the coastline.
  • In this case, a fourth layer was created in a very similar manner to the third. For this layer, the blurring was more pronounced. The final effect of this is to make a more pronounced outline that fades quickly to a mid grey, then fades out more gently to a white.
  • The bottom layer is a plain white.

I generally do this for most of my maps that are designed to have a fantasy/medieval look to them (even though it's probably more of a Renaissance look).

At this stage, we don't really have a context of scale for the map. I could add a linear scale somewhere, but for this particular map I've decided to take a different path. Since it's designed to be an recent map from a seafaring culture in the west, I'm adding lines of latitude and longitude.

This was done on a new transparent layer, above everything. I started with a circle representing the Antarctic circle of the world, this is just off the edge of the map and has a diameter roughly equal to the height of the map. I duplicated the circle raised it on the map and doubled it's width. This gives us the southernmost latitude ring seen on the map. The process was repeated, with each new circle raised by the same amount and doubled in width each time. Due to the size of the original circle, and the constant doubling in size, the northernmost latitude ring looks almost like a straight line and make a suitable equator for the map. Based on the way things have worked out, I'll say that each of the marked lines of latitude are at 15 degree intervals.

Longitude is done in a similar way. A circle is drawn centered at the horizontal middle of the map, and the equatorial latitude at the top of the map (it's radius passes the circumference of the circle through the centre of the original "antarctic circle"). This circle is duplicated multiple times, at 80% width, 60%, 40% and 20%, and then a vertical line is drawn. These longitude circles are grouped and adjusted for their width until they "look right" (where I'm defining the right look to be roughly where the 15 degree latitudes at the middle of the map look similar in length to the 15 degree longitudes that these circles form).

It's all a bit technical, but the final result of all these lines and calculations is something like this...

The latitude and longitude lines are faded out a bit (roughly 50% opacity), and now it's time to add a few more details to the map.

I could add borders between kingdoms, or indicate the relative population density of the land. But instead I've chosen to define which areas are more fertile.

This is basically done by "spray-painting" areas of the map. The darker the spray, the more fertile the area, the darker it is. For most fantasy settings, it's probably safe to assume that land fertility roughly corresponds to population density (no, it's not a perfect correspondence, but if there are differences between population density and land fertility, there is probably a good reason for this which can be explored in the history and lore of the setting). Nothing is ever made darker than the hand-drawn linework, so I basically work between a 50% grey shade and white.

Once again, it's worth noting here that the northern wasteland and the southern island are generally unknown to the explorers who have drawn this map.

Next it's time to add names to the map. Call it cultural appropriation if you want, but one of the cultures on the western coast of the continent has been given a distinctly Spanish flavour (the central kingdom which exists to the south of the LARP region was founded by a rebel baroness who left that land centuries ago). Basically this means that most of the regions indicated on the map will be given Spanish translations of simple names. The regional names are in a large font, curved and faded.

The major towns (those with the solid black circles) are named in a smaller font (black), and in their local names. The local town names are kept straight as an added distinction from the regional names.

I've also tinted the back layer to make the land mass a bit more pronounced, and faded the fertility shading further so that it didn't overshadow the regional names.

Final elements are a name for the map and a black border.

I could add more detail, but that's enough for the moment. Since all of the elements are on different layers, I might create political maps, maps of mystical ley lines, or even maps indicating where certain races and creatures are found.

A LARP Map (Part 2)

It's been more than a day, but here's part 2 of this series of map tutorials.

We left with the part where the ripples were drawn around the coastlines.

Since my process basically follows geographic elements, the brings me in two ways to waterways and rivers. (1. Following the coastline water theme and leading inland... 2. Using the placement of mountain ranges on the map to determine where streams and rivers flow from, and leading them toward bays and bayou areas on the coastline).

Zooming in on a sample set of rivers along the eastern coastline, you can see where I have a few streams starting in each mountain range, using jagged lines to show how they twist and turn through hills that are too small or not strategic enough to appear on the map. Pairs of creeks join up, then these larger streams join up into rivers as they approach the coast. Where a river might reach a depth where sea-going vessels are capable of travelling, I split the river from a single line, to a pair of close lines to indicate a difference in the waterway.

In the middle of the map (the left side as indicated on the image above) the focal area for the LARP is indicated. A part of the LARP lore indicates that there is a river used by traders who take timber and game meats and other trade commodities on barges to settlements downstream. The river flows off to the west, but little more was detailed about that river beyond a few miles, so the larger scale map sees this river system bend southward.
With mountain ranges showing terrain that is obviously difficult to pass, and rivers showing natural borders and potential trading paths, we can start to see natural locations for settlements to appear.

The rough map indicated a few settlements, but these are all subject to change especially as we move further from the established areas at the centre of the continent. Four distinct settlement types are indicated. The largest and most notable towns and cities are drawn with a solid circle surrounded by a faint circle. Smaller villages (such as the town of Nexus where our LARP is based) are drawn with a air of concentric outlined circles. The small villages that are still capable of being seen on this map are marked with a single outlined circle (we have two of those in the LARP area). The last type of settlements indicated are ruins, mostly seen in the northern wilderness and on the island to the south of the main continent.

There's a few ways I could have gone with the map next, but I decided that I'd move toward notable forested areas. These mostly sit to the east of mountain ranges, because air currents often blow from east to west, and when they hit mountain ranges, they drop any moisture in the air as rains. This isn't always the case, but it's a good rule of thumb to place most of the fertile lands of the continent. This also means that open spaces to the west of the continent are natural desert regions. Deep in the south-west of the continent, I've added a few forests perhaps indicating manipulated air flow due to the curvature of the mountain range in that part of the world. The central region has a few forested and fertile areas for similar reasons, justifying the central river systems. No forests are indicated in the northern wasteland, or on the southern island, but this is more a factor of these regions being unexplored than anything else.  

Then I indicate roadways and trade routes between the various towns and cities. At this scale of map I've just used simple dashed lines for the overland trade routes, and dotted lines across the water to indicate common voyages of trade ships between nearby coastal settlements.

The last thing I've drawn on this map is some of the major swamps, wetlands, and bogs. I don't seem to have taken a photo of this stage, but you'll seem them in later parts of the tutorial.

This has basically completed the analog art of the map making process for me. The next step involves scanning the page, then digitally manipulating the image until I'm happy with it.

14 June, 2017

A LARP Map (Part 1)

The LARP we've been running for over a year has gradually grown from a half dozen players to regularly getting 15-20 players. In that time we've seen 30-40 characters, some of whom have come from strange and exotic lands into the game. The more players we get, the more we need to structure the world beyond the immediate environment. Otherwise we end up with anything and everything. So that means time to start naming things and mapping them.

When developing a a like this, I tend to start loosely. Then I draw on the ideas of other people, incorporate them into the core ideas, and elaborate upon them.

The general idea is to centre the map on the region where the LARP takes place. Next, we have a mysterious Empire to the east, a wilderness to the west, mountains blocking off a wasteland to the north, and a local kingdom to the south.

I've worked with one of the other players to develop some details about the western lands and the major cities of the area.

I've predefined a few mountain ranges, but if this is a large land mass (perhaps even continental in size), then tectonic plates might be responsible to the ranges. his in turn leads to a logical lacement of other mountain ranges across the map. Similarly, thinking of the general weather patterns of our world, regions to the west of mountains tend to be dry, and the way the map is laid out, it makes sense for this to be replicated across the land depicted. I always consider geographic realism when drawing maps like this.

Time to ink the outlines of the land masses. I hate mas that neatly fit in rectangular boxes...they just feel unnatural, so I reinforce the jaggedness in certain parts of the land. Archipelagos are always fun, and I had a rough curvature to the eastern part of the continent. It wasn't deliberate, but this reminds me of a crater edge, as well as being a result of tectonic continental drift.

Once coastlines have been drawn, the next most prominent features on a map at this scale are the mountain ranges, so it's time to ink them in. There is a deliberate impenetrable barricade between the majority of the continent and the wasteland to the north. Conversely, there is a deliberate opening to the eastern empire, since that's going to be a major storyline element which will become more prominent over the next few months of play.

Another element that was added, was the coastline ripples. Purely added for artistic effect, just because I think they make a nice touch.

More to come tomorrow.

05 June, 2017

New Blog Series coming

As a part of the +Ettin Con  collaborative Worldbuilders group I'm doing a map.

A massive map, more than a metre by a metre, and it will be hand sketched and painted.

The upcoming blog series will start with the basics that I've been given for this map, and work through the process of development until the final piece is done. his will include back and forth between myself and the client (The Worldbuilders, of whom I'm also a part).

I've basically got just under six weeks to get this done.

Should be fun.

02 June, 2017

Back into action

Last month was pretty hectic with my teaching practical lessons taking up my time for most of the day (and many of my nights), leaving the weekends to do house work and not leaving much time at all for blogging, illustration, or game design. Things should balance out again over the next few weeks in the lead-up to +Ettin Con, where I'll be engaged in collaborative worldbuilding, and hopefully running a beta playtest of "The Law". Regardless, there might be a few more mapping tutorials on their way, and some other bits and pieces that I've been holding out on.

21 May, 2017

New Law Imagery

I haven't done much on the blog over the last few weeks because I've been busy engaging my practical experience period in a high school as a part of my university studies.

But I have managed to put together a few images for my RPG, "The Law".

Hopefully I can get back to work on this project in three more weeks, when my practical experience period is over.

18 May, 2017

Menu updated

After struggling to find the terrain tutorial series I created a few years ago, I have just updated the "Other Tutorials" page in the menu at the top of this blog.

I basically just walked a school class of 11-12 years olds through the processes described in that tutorial and I'll be providing them with more details regarding that in the next couple of weeks.

Now I just need to update the rest of the links in those menus, because I've needed several of them a few times over the years and have given up searching through the 1800-odd posts on the blog.

(In the process I discovered that I use the "Rant" tag far more often than I thought I did)

11 May, 2017

Warhammer 40k New Version

I usually don't worry about new versions of Warhammer 40k, but posts like this and this, along with rumours of a new skirmish level game in the vein of Necromunda are drawing my interest.

A lot of these modifications seem to be streamlining the game, and make a logical sense to me.. but I've been out of the loop for so many iterations of the game that I'm really not sure 🤔 whether things are being improved or not in this version of the rules.

Still, it's got my attention, and I'll be keeping an eye on the further blog posts as they reveal more.

05 May, 2017

Critique of the 200 Word RPGs

The finalists of the 200 word RPGs have been released.

I'm not among the entrants that made it to this level, but that's not really important. It a fun challenge to participate in, and as I've said previously, I try to participate in contests like this to see where the cutting edge of game design is, to see what other designers known and unknown are currently pushing with their designs.

I will have a look at all the finalists, and offer my own critique on them. A few people have already started doing this, a few with rating systems of their own. 200 words is tough, I could easily write more about the entries than the length of the entries themselves... and since there are hundreds of entries, it could be a mammoth undertaking.

I think I'll generate a quick rating system based on a couple of criteria, a score out of 10, and a sentence or two on each.This will start by alternating between finalists and random entries, then progress through chunks of the remainder. If I stay motivated, I might even start digging through some entries from previous years.

Criteria ideas so far... (these aren't designed to be judgement calls regarding the quality of the entry, merely indicators about how I perceive the direction the entry has gone)

Setting - (0) No Setting / (1) Implied / (2) Explicit
How well is a setting for the game described in the rules?

Game Mechanism - (0) None / (1) Crude / (2) Detailed
How well described are the mechanisms for character interactions?

Metagame - (0) None / (1) Vague / (2) Clear
How well described are the mechanisms for player/GM interactions?

Style of Game (Keywords)
Parlour - Doesn't particularly have players portraying character roles, but instead might weave a collective narrative between the players.
Freeform - Minimalist rules (if any)
Targeted - Uses target numbers to define success/failure
AW - Has links to the Apocalypse Engine
Cards (X) - Game uses cards, where X might indicate standard, tarot, or custom deck
Dice (X) - Game uses dice, where X might indicate the specific dice rolled eg (2d6), (d20)
(Note that these are my definitions for the purposes of this exercise, they might not match the way others use this terminology)

I'm sure I'll think of more as I develop this further.

26 April, 2017

40k retrospective

I was reading through this article about early 40k, it's a really interesting read and intersects a few ideas I've had over the last few months.

A few points...

I generally agree with the idea that GW has never given a good reason why they got rid of Squats as a faction, but I suspect it was easier to rebrand the "Space Elves" as Eldar (and now "Aeldari" to conceal that origin even further), while the "Space Dwarves" would be too hard to dissociate from their Dwarven heritage.

I miss the bad puns in GW character names. I miss a lot of that old 80s attitude, but I've moaned about that here on the blog a few times.

There have been so many missed opportunities by Games Workshop in the desire to simply sell more minis...again something I've moaned about a few times.

I really miss that early idea of a techno-fantasy battleground. I'd totally love to do a mixed 40k/Fantasy battle. It's a shame the games keep diverging further and further apart.

25 April, 2017

An era has passed

One of the most influential people in my life, I will now never get the chance to meet.

The Author of Zen and the Art of MOtorcycle Maintenance has passed away.

One of my favourite RPGs of all time is Mage: the Ascension, and this game is heavily based on the two books written by Pirsig. ZatAoMM and Lila, both define elements of the game, the former providing a context for the magical attribute of Arete (representing both an inherent understanding and one-ness with the universe, akin to a level of divinity...but not quite, I can't make a glib single sentence description...just go and read the book already), the latter providing a deeper context for paradigms and ways of viewing the universe (again...just read the damn book).

I used to read these two books annually, but it's been a while since I did so. I must get around the reading them again. I've also got a book called "Zen and Now" in which another author and motorcyclist traced the journey taken by Pirsig in his seminal work, but doing so decades later.

I'm going to have to read all three books some time soon to mark the passage of one of the 20th centuries great philosophers.

23 April, 2017

20 April, 2017

First thoughts on the "200 words" entries.

Maybe it's easier and quicker to explain something if the existing audience has a common point of reference. I've talked about this a few times over the years. Shorthands and stereotypes instantly convey a wealth of information as a direct data packet between the communicator and the recipient of the message. Once those are out of the way, the real storytelling (or new data flow) can be started.

I base a lot of my games on that strategy. Characters are often made up from template fragments, where choosing the naturally fitting components leaves a player with a stereotype or caricature, while choosing disparate components gives a memorable and different character (but one with internal struggles that cause problems of their own). But that's playing within the rules.

Playing with the rules is something different. I consider hacks to be lazy game design, they basically shorthand something that players and GMs are already familiar with, then apply something quirky or novel and call it an innovation. People who are similarly lazy look at these games (which are awfully similar to what they're already playing...so they don't have to do a lot of reading or thinking for themselves) and see the quirkiness/novelty/innovation as something amazing. They crow about it on social media, and the "designer" is lauded with maximum praise for minimum effort.

200 words isn't a lot of room. To get a complex game happening in that space doesn't require shorthands, references to other games, or simple hacking another game wholesale...but it sure makes things easier.

There seem to be a few ideas that are appearing in a LOT of the games I've been looking at among this year's entries. Whether it's tapping the zeitgeist, using shorthands that have become common in recent years, or laziness on the part of designers... I haven't decided.

Some of the trends I've spotted:

  • Divide 7 points between two attributes. Everything in the game is about those two attributes. If you can't fit your action into one of those actions either: a) it doesn't work at all, b) it automatically happens, c) you need to talk it out and work it into tthe narrative, d) there's a 50-50 chance of success.
  • Divide more points (maybe 10) between three attributes, the rest pf the first point basically still applies.
  • Roll under attribute. Typically combined with one of the two options above.
  • Roll a pool of dice. Typically the number of dice rolled is determined as per the first two options above.
  • Do "Apocalypse World" stuff. Roll 2 dice. Shoehorn one of the four standard modifiers onto the roll. If you roll below a certain threshold, you fail pretty badly. If you roll above a cetain threshold, you generally succeed. If you fall between these, something interesting happens. 
  • 200 words set a scene... no rules... just go. 

19 April, 2017

Collaborative Worldbuilding

Here on the blog I've generated a couple of worlds in two distinct series of posts about world-building.

But I love the idea of creating something collaboratively, to generate something that no individual mind could have achieved on it's own. I've done collaborative worldbuilding a few times before, and have often found that you need to walk a careful tightrope to avoid generating something that "looks like it was designed by committee".

Lets see where it heads.  

18 April, 2017

200 Words (Part 2)

Looks like it's fine to post these 200 word games for feedback while the contest is going...so here's the second iteration of what I've been working on.

Old Scratch
There were thirteen of you at the start; each gaining a supernatural talent from a ritual exactly one decade ago.
Tonight, back at the crossroads, Old Scratch calls his due.

Thirteen “power coins” at centre of table.

Start 13 pages with sentence describing character before the ritual, then number 1-10 down the page (1/year)

Write these questions on index cards, each player also writes their own question on a card…
    Who was betrayed?
    What was sacrificed?
    Who died? (choose NPC; remove question if none left)

All players dealt a five-card hidden hand (standard deck). Each chooses a page (others are NPCs)

    Begin Year
    Randomly Deal Questions
    Everyone cuts deck, highest goes first.
        Current player claims coin (from centre or from another player), explains this event by answering their question (avoiding contradictions)
        Other players respond by playing a card from hand.
        If black cards outnumber red, claimed coin is kept.; otherwise coin returned.
        Played cards shuffled into deck, hands refilled.
    Next player
    If tenth year, end; otherwise, next year.

Total players’ coins and red cards at end (best poker hand breaks ties), highest chooses game’s survivor (not themselves). Old Scratch claims the rest.  

Not 100% happy with the end game, But I've still got 7 words to play with.

17 April, 2017

200 Word RPGs

It's that time of year...

I have to write roughly 30,000 words worth of university assignments...and 200 words worth of RPG.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about...visit this link.

I've completely one of the 3 uni assignment and a single 200 word RPG entry. Now it's just another 18,000 words worth of university assignments to go before Thursday.

I can't remember if I'm allowed to post the game design idea somewhere else before I enter it in the contest, otherwise I'd include it below.

14 April, 2017

No humans

After a few recnt projects, I'm falling more in love with the idea of settings where there are no humans. Instead, I'm thinking more of multicultural/multi-racial settings, where the default race isn't specifically defined as human, but is instead defined as a mongrel hybrid of the setting's original races. Then throwing in the twist that there are "mongrel/human" supremacist groups who claim to be the most powerful in the land, only because they are the most numerous...certainly not because they are the most pure.

I come to this again as I consider a fantasy version of The Law. But I need to make sure the base version is complete first...and I need to eliminate some university projects before I can go much further on that.

13 April, 2017

Further Flavours in the Mix

Further to yesterday's post, I couldn't add Blade Runner wholesale into the mix, because Blade Runner is essentially an empty world, where the remains of humanity exist in vast technological cities while the majority of humanity has already ascended to the stars. The concepts of policing in Blade Runner are also quite different to the authoritarian attitudes of policing in the Judge Dredd universe (and that remains the core concept around which other elements must fit).

But just because I can't mesh the two completely, it doesn't mean they are mutually exclusive, after all they both fit in the cyberpunk mould. I can certainly add elements of Blade Runner to the mix, Replicants might be a potential fit for the setting, along with robotic animals (because the natural animals are now rare due to planetary environmental degradation). Flying vehicles are common to both settings. I'm sure there are numerous other little bits and pieces that could be ported across.

Shadowrun...flat out "NO". Call me anthrocentric, but I don't want elves, dwarves, orcs, and fantasy tropes messing up my cyberpunk. SLA Industries could act as an indirect inspiration, since it is more alien in it's exoticness (but who knows what is happening to that intellectual property at the moment).  
I could also probably add the blueprint maps I was drawing towards the end of 2015.

These imply a distinct island setting, a free trade zone separate from the other nations of the planet, and incorporating a space port. It might be a specific setting for the game, with a slightly different flavour to the main project. At the moment I'm generally thinking of ways to incorporate unfinished projects of the past and make them worthwhile again.

I could also fill in elements of the game with various other images that I've shared at different times here on the blog (if only I could find the originals again).

 They exist, why not use them.