September 25, 2011

Design Note: When a mechanic works properly

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:24 pm

So, it has been a while but I had a bit of inspiration the other day. I thought back on the many vehicular combats in Nebuleon and how happy I am that they work out well most all the time. This comes from having envisioned how I wanted a mechanic to work and then putting to paper just how to do it. More than that though, it is the realization of a idea in a corporeal form.

Example: A team was sent to a polar region of the planet Dons-Kal-rien, a Dremin world. The arctic region was a corporate preserve and proving ground for W.A.R. Ind. These jokers were supposed to use their formidable stealth skills to infiltrate and do some espionage. What they found surprised them. It turned out to be an illegal clone farm for elite Dremin looking for spare organs and such. Well, lots fo adventure later, they end up in a hanger for experimental vehicles with a ton of security. Basic running fire-fight (remember, stealth). They come across a crate of AP shoulder mounter ground to air missiles. One of the security guys is a pilot and powers up a vtol with an experimental (and illegal) particle cannon that basically melts flesh. They get the drop on the pilot as he has to roll piloting to take off (weapon wont fire on the ground) and a weapons tech check (usually you have a gunner to handle that) at a minus. Joker ex-marine has a Heavy weapons skill. Whips out the Missile launcher and fires.

Here is the part that filled me with joy. The weapon hit. We determined the location randomly, and it turned out to be the weapons pod holding the beam weapon. Bam! Taken out. But this monster has high velocity rapid fire gauss rifles on it as well and the pilot switches over to auto-fire and blazes away taking down one of the Jokers. The medic is on her in a flash and begins life support. Ex-Marine joker fires a second missile and this one hits the engine taking the vtol down.

What is missed in that description is the effortless back and forth of the system. It PLAYED like that. The system did not get int he way, it faded but emphasized, it guided but did not dictate the actions.

In short, the system was informative to the outcome of the actions of the players. That, to me, is cool.

December 31, 2010

Veracity and chasing the impossible dream

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:24 pm

I see this most in historical games but it happens in any genre to some extent. The expressed desire that a game be “more realistic” or if it was just more “true to the period”. Sometimes it comes our as “OMG! There is no way that the dino-blaster 2000 could take out a neocybercryoTyanoRex 4500!!!” but it invariably comes down to a question of veracity.

Normally, I would say this is a simple argument of definition.

correctness or accuracy, as of the senses or of a scientific instrument.

I do not believe this is the case with RPGs. Why? Because in our little slice of the world, veracity has become a subjective idea. Yeah, you heard me punk, truth is subjective. Not to go all Kierkegaard on you, but since we are dealing with a fictional work and not one of scientific or non-fiction, you really need to ask a much more personal question, a more immediate question, is it entertaining? It never ceases to amaze me that this seems to be the last thing on many people’s minds when dealing with a game. It seems to them, and rightfully so, that their enjoyment is secondary or some how dependent on the veracity, the externally verifiable truth or factual correctness of a game.

Now feel that. Right there. Your first reaction, you initial revulsion at the thought of a game riddled with errors, impossible to read, sentences that end in the middle. That is not what I was saying. It is the first reaction, a vague feeling that somehow if you have Caesar driving a Porche and shooting dinosaurs with his blaster that the game might be fun. However, add Caesar being born in the wrong year and the entertainment value is destroyed. The game is only good for kindling.

It gets worse. No matter how “correct” the game is, you will always have “errors” in the game. Gamers seem obsessed with this. Designers are driven by a need to try and fill this impossible gap. “Not impossible,” you say,”you merely need to get your facts straight”. I fear this is not the case. It is that subjective truth I mentioned earlier. Someone, somewhere will find something you changed, you made the call on, like how strong a t-rex is or what social changes were important, and hammer them. True veracity, even if attainable, is not a shield either.

In the end, you can only make games that you would play, that you would like. Instead of objective veracity, a designer or GM should shoot for consistency. This is much more attainable, and I believe, far more rewarding not only for the designer but also for everyone involved. With consistency, you have the idea of a thread or theme that persists through out the book. Much like a novel, your character, you world, should not have rules at one point that change at another. Your framework is the basis that you engage the reader from.

Finally, to be clear, I am not advocating inaccuracies in a fictional setting. Far from it, I am advocating creative license coupled with consistency and thinking through the repercussions. So, gunpowder in early Roman Empire is going to have a great deal of far reaching effects on history. However, whether Romans had gun powder in the first century is not the point. If you thought it was, you missed mine. 😉

December 30, 2010

Gamers nowadays or “Squabbins!”

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 11:25 pm

So, reading a review of Roma Imperious (link) I was struck by something. First, I have NEVER had a reviewer, gamer or even historian describe Roma as “threadbare”. However, my second and much more profound realization had little to do with the review. It struck me, and I actually choked up a bit, that gamers have fundamentally changed. I have seen it for a while now. They seem more and more, unwilling and actually offended if they need to put the pieces together. What I mean is that not so long ago (I am talking as little as 2004-5, a high percentage of people I met (a mix of non, new and old time gamers) were EXCITED about the idea of a setting or game where you used your imagination. Where you could see the adventure ideas. It was not about a complete package, like some demonic CRPG where the world was mapped out and you never had to imagine any part that was not available (the game simply wont let you go there).

It just seems that the trend is more and more towards gamers who want every parsec mapped, every eventuality laid out, every horizon planned and awaiting their arrival. The nature of do it your self, or the very idea that a game would be arranged and written in a manner that intentional gaps lead you imagination to places where it flourishes seems to make a game “incomplete” to these folks. I does not even enter thier mind that the system has bits to stoke the setting imagination (eh, Clash). It is a dissection of page counts and a bemoaning that all the pieces have not been carefully planned out for them in a manner that leaves, as the saying goes, to the imagination.

I do not wish to leave you, assuming anyone still reads this, with the feeling I have given up or am wallowing in despair. Quite the contrary, I am mad as hell and know there is room for all types of players in this hobby. To me, the truth may be I just am encountering the wrong folks at this point. Maybe I need a regular group instead of a lot of con games. Still, It is my hope that the spirit of do it yourself is still alive and thriving. I hope folks look at my books a scoff, “Hah! I can do it better” and then precede to do it better!

July 10, 2010

The Practical Side of Brevity

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 10:51 am

There is a time and a place to go verbose and profound, and there are times when brevity is better. Brevity can drive a point home or fire the imagination. Let’s look at an example.

The forest is covered in a gloomy fog, forbidding to look upon, the trees dripping with moss. The darkness seems to cling to all areas as though made of molasses. A smell of a an ancient healthy forest gone to rot assaults your senses in waves declaring, “Leave this place or join us!”. At first, the forest seems quiet then you realize, in the back of your head, there is a screaming, a terror that speaks with your voice. You know this wood is evil and will be your end.

The above might be considered verbose and I would agree. However, it is to the point and appropriate. It would decrease the description, the art of setting the mood to shorten it too much. For example.

The woods are evil and will spell your end.

The above does nothing to fire the imagination. However, we could tighten a bit and spin a different feel.

The wood is dark and forbidding. You are not sure why, but it seems there is an eerie quality that warns you to stay out, to fear it. It warns that your fate will be met here.

Brief and it leaves much of the details to the player. Also, and this is important, it stimulate questions.

Hmm, you ask, why are questions important?

Simply, because it engages the players. It engages their curiosity. The first description engages their senses, describing each one by one. This is a valid means to describing interaction in your games, getting your players to ask questions, to mine for more detail. To build that imagery with their own questions int heir own way, makes for the players to make the setting their own.

So, the practical side of brevity:
1. engages the players in a DIALOGUE with the GM and allows them to be involved.
2. Gets the players thinking about the setting in terms of their interaction with it.
3. Helps them define how they can understand the setting through their own methods of doing so. For example, some folks may care little for “senses” and need hard measurements;i.e. how far from the forest are we, how tall are the trees, how long is the grass. This allows them to engage on their terms, not just the GMs.

Good Gaming!

July 5, 2010

System on a more positive note.

Filed under: Business,Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 5:22 pm

So, what does all this naval gazing really get us? Not much at the end of the day but it may make for some entertaining reading. Recently Clash over at Flying Mice Games talked about system as a distinct set of components. In those he included things we would all nod our heads in agreement but added a few that we would most likely shrug at. In those, we have things like character generation, initiative, resources and abilities. Sure, we would probably say, you either rolling the dice for those or defining the dice you would roll. This is off course system. This is the toto of system, the alpha and omega. Or is it?

The problem here is we are looking at the trees, we are classifying them, defining the as the forest and not understanding how the moss, the brush, rivers and creeks, hills and vales all figure into it. We are leaving out what fundamentally gives system meaning. In a word, that is system.

System is the glue that binds, this is the elements that gives system meaning. System has no purpose, in and of itself. Setting though, this can exist without a shred of system. Wait! you might say, you have setting-less systems like DND!!!!! Not really. Sorry, but DND has a fantasy setting. Upfront. Very few systems are sold without a shred of setting. D20 Modern?!?! Well, a modern world setting. Palladium Fantasy?!?! Right there in the title. However, lets flip it around. Greyhawk? Sure, it was made for DND but it is not tied to it in the least. The many setting books by Green Ronin and others? You can sell a setting without a system because it is the glue that binds the system. It is the hills, vales, rivers and whatnot outside of the trees and types of trees. A truly setting-less system will fall flat because it boils down to a flat engagement of analytics. It does not engage our imaginations, it does not fill that craving for a story that we find so engaging. I am not saying setting equals story but that a setting engages the same area of our imagination and sparks the ideas for a story.

So, bottom line, how does the tripe above make for a better gaming experience for you, the reader. Going forward, assuming it had not already occurred to you, one could take the understanding of setting over system as a means to:
1. Present a setting to your group and let system work itself out. The group likes Palladium, then adapt it to your setting.
2. When picking a gaming product, look more closely at the setting, less at the system. The system, at the end of the day, can be replaced, setting, not so much.
3. When you are disappointed with a game, think about why that is. Is it really the system? It may well be. Is it the setting? If it is, you may have a much more fundamental problem with the product.

Good luck in finding a game you enjoy and Good Gaming!

April 20, 2010

“You’re playing that wrong”

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 8:36 pm

I have never, in my 30 some years of gaming, understood this as it applies to RPGs, especially in the context of “as the game was intended”. I have run WoD with super heroes, DND in sci-fi settings and monopoly as an RPG. I have yet to find a system that you cannot tweak to do what you want or even just play it out of the box but put a different setting to it. I have seen these, I have no good name for them, shall we try systemic zealot, who believes in some sort of holy grail of “as the designer intended” or “goals of the system”. No one has ever shown me a system that can enforce a type of play and short of a seriously broken system, I doubt there is one. All systems are universal. You may not like the elements that system produces or your opinion may be that the system does not support the elements that you believe are necessary for a setting/genre but those are highly subjective and far from a valid basis for declarations that someone is “playing the game wrong”.

Now, you might say, Bill, my demented game designer, what about the designer, surely, he must know the intended form of play!! First off, stop calling me surely. Second, no, not really. Once you have a game, especially an RPG, it is yours. The designer is irrelevant beyond possible comments or explanations of how he viewed it while writing and playing the game but [b]those views are equally as valid as yours or anyone who plays the game[/b]. I know, as a game designer, I am supposed to push the myth that we are somehow the authority. Somehow, we know what is right for our games and that they can never be played except in the manner we conceive. Sorry to disappoint but no dice…er, diceless…yeah.

So next time you have the urge to tell someone “Oh! you aren’t playing that game the way it was intended!!”, take a deep breath and don’t. Just say no.

Hint for those without a sense of humor: The above may be directed at you, but most likely it is not. If it is (and you would be a weird minority if it did) the good, and I hope it pissed you off.

April 9, 2010

Supers Inc and a 10 year old

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:40 am

I ran an intro at a neighborhood store the other night and had a range of folks at the table. Amongst them were a 40ish engineer, a 20 something comic fan, a 16 old store attendant and a 10 year old girl. I ran a pretty standard Supers Inc game where they had to do a high profile rescue of a Senator’s son. He was 20 and they were terrorists holding him for the release of a list of prisoners. The team did not know it at the time but their corporate sponsors were broke and were sending them to their deaths to recover the insurance money.

Engineer spent most of the time trying to convince me that my physics were wrong. Comic boy moaned about how this was not silver age and I had it all wrong. Store attendant would rather have been getting a root canal. But this little ten year old girl played it to the friggin hilt. She was playing a 10 year old much the same as here but with intangibility. She barely could grasp the system but it did not bother her, she would do stuff like “I want to go through that car and break the engine” and I would tell her what to roll and she would ask what she needed and get really excited about the outcome.

I want to stress, this is not about “getting Supers Inc” but about getting the game. She was having fun. I think there are just some gamers that don’t get that anymore. I cannot for the life of me understand why you would continue to play if you had lost that joie de vivre that games should give you. This is not work, it should be entertainment.

So, next time you are feeling down about your game, sit down with niece, nephew, son, friends kid, who ever of the appropriate age and get your game on. You may be surprised just how much they get, how much fun they have and how refreshing it is to just play.

April 6, 2010

Skills for AI

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 10:49 am

Skills for AI have been handled in two ways in Iridium. First, there was essentially spending XP in learning new skills. This was meant to mimic neural learning nets. Second, there were S.C.I.M. slots. There are basically computer programs as they could be swapped out. The basic bays could be upgraded to and added on to increase the total skills. Ranks in the skills would cost more credits but take the same slots. So, you could have Unarmed Combat a 1 or at rank 5 and it would skill only take 1 S.C.I.M. slot but would cost the difference between say, 1 KC and 25 KC.

I can see the argument for the first way but really favor the second. Thoughts?

April 1, 2010

Creating Races in Iridium

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 2:57 pm

This is taken from an article on the site. I will be updating it for Iridium V2 but surprisingly it probably will not change much.

The following is for people who might wish to create their own races for any of our settings. The process is very simple and can be accomplished in about half an hour.

Racial Concept
The first step is to form a mental concept of the new race. For example, a new, inoffensive race is needed to populate a newly discovered planet in a Nebuleon (Sci-Fi) campaign. Knowledge of the planet (a temperate water and swamp world) and what is needed for the campaign (primitive natives that can help or hinder the player characters, depending on how the first meeting goes) should help develop a racial concept. With that goal in mind, the following concept for the new race, called the Rihdahn, can be created.

The Rihdahn are amphibious and live on the many riverbanks of their word. They use tools but are not very dexterous. They stand between 1.4 and 1.8 m and weigh about 50-60 kg. The have rubbery skin like a dolphin but have a large number of tentacles for their base and an upper body with three primary tentacle stalks that they use as hands. Their heads are compact and they have no neck and shoulders to speak of. Their face is a mash of six eyes placed around their head and a central mouth filled with teeth. The Rihdahn appearance can be misleading, allowing one to believe they are ferocious hunters when they actually prefer a form of fresh water vegetation.

The Rihdahn are willing servants and love the chance to travel. They were first discovered by a RFW survey team and have since worked well in water environments as scouts. Unfortunately, they have little aptitude with technology and have had little success in the greater sense of the Nebuleos.
Racial Modifiers

Racial modifiers should reflect the nature of the race to be defined. Minor modifiers of plus one or two should reflect natural aptitudes, such as an increased agility for multi-legged creatures. Larger modifiers of plus three or more should be restricted to truly super-natural attributes beyond the ability of humans to attain. On rare occasions, a guaranteed above 20 stat may be appropriate, such as the appearance of elves in our fantasy setting. It is not necessary to have stat pluses and minuses balance out, but any obvious stat advantages need to be compensated with a social or physical restriction (race is discriminated against, or lacks a corporeal body, etc).

The Rihdahn have the following adjustments:
-5 +4 -1 +2 -2
+2 -4 +0
Spiritual LUC PIE WIL
+0 +2 +2

Remember, not every attribute needs a modifier.

Racial Abilities
Racial abilities are innate things like natural armor, spell casting capabilities, or flight. Abilities like night sight and extraordinary sense of smell can be defined in terms of percentage beyond normal sense or their chance to use it. For instance, extraordinary sense of sell of 40% means the race has a 40% chance of smelling a scent not normally available to humans. A race with 40% night sight would be able to see 40% as well in the dark as they would in daylight. Alternatively, the GM could make the character check on percentiles making them roll under the 40%.

The Rihdahn have a thin layer of blubber that gives them a small amount of protective armor. This equates to 10 points in all areas. They are also amphibious and can hold their breath under water for 20 minutes.

Racial weaknesses should also be included here. The Rihdahn dehydrate quickly and do not handle heat well. This translates into a CON check for every day they are away from water. If they fail, they will collapse and be unable to even walk. They will need to be immersed in water for one hour for every day of dryness.
Racial Skills

Racial skills are those skills that a race shares coming from a similar culture. In other words, elves from the woods might use and make bows but elves from the desert would more likely be able to find water. The number of racial skills depends on the general likelihood that all in the race would be exposed to learning it. Alternatively, it can be an indicator of cultural diversity within the race.
The Rihdahn are excellent swimmers and trackers. They also know a great deal about plants.

They receive the following skills:

* Two Tracking Skills
* Three Swimming Skills
* One Herbology Skill

And that’s an example of creating a new race for Nebuleon. This example was more detailed than necessary. A faster creation method merely requires an outline of Racial Modifiers, Abilities and Skills.

Here is a printable version of the Rihdahn
. Have fun creating races!

March 30, 2010

Stars in Neb SE

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 10:09 pm

So, out of the planet generate arises the question of stars that the planets would be orbiting. On one side, we have the “Be as scientifically accurate as possible”. On the other we have my preferred method of operation “Whatever is cool and fits”. Either way, I suppose there should be some sort of chart. So…

O Blue stars
B Blue-white stars
A White stars
F Yellow-white stars
G Yellow stars (like the Sun)
K Yellow-orange stars
M Red stars

Single Primary
Variable (this is assumed Intrinsic i.e. the star swells and shrinks over time varying output).

Size is often related to color so I am not sure having a second chart works here. Perhaps a notation on the color chart?

Anything else?

Thanks guys. I will hopefully be writing up all the ideas here shortly.

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