Saturday, May 31, 2008

d20 Rethought: Status Report

So, d20 Rethought. I haven't really talked about it on this blog for nearly two full months. A very ambitious project, with the aim of singlehandedly designing a better version of the d20 system. My posts all gave collections of simple rules and changes paired with awkward attempts to convey the larger changes they would bring supposedly bring about. None of these posts involved any real description of how all these concepts fit together in a functional manner. Alot of promises, relatively little to back it up. So. . .in all honesty, how is the project faring?

It's doing well. Very, very well.

When I have problems with this blog, when my updates slow due to my courseload (and now because my job search takes top priority), it isn't that I've stopped working on design to any real degree; it's just that I'm not spending as much time writing my thoughts out for others to see. This is amplified by a few other factors in the case of d20 Rethought; mostly the fact that the system I've been putting together is more than the sum of its parts. I had trouble figuring out how to describe this, until I found out there was a word for it. d20 Rethought relies very heavily on emergent design, the use of small but comprehensive alterations to effect large-scale results within a system. (That reminds me- I really need to write out some of my theories on the use of system dynamics in game design. Another post. . .) To put it another way, I'm not going to get a lot across if I start with a laundry list of mechanics. Better to begin with the grand claim and then explain how it's achieved with the key rules and examples.

Because in case I haven't made it clear, the core workings of d20 Rethought are done. Figured out. I know the core details of the system, including the underlying math going into character balance and scaling over time. I've found ways to greatly simplify mechanics while improving the strategic depth and flexibility of gameplay, greatly decrease the abstraction of combat while retaining ease of play, increase the level realism/grittiness without hampering playability or overdoing the lethality, make mental prowess and physical prowess equally vital to a character (even in a nonmagical setting), and present fantastical physical stunts and magic as balanced options that still work in different ways. I'm working on a series of posts that will explain how; and I promise you, this will be something worth waiting for.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thoughts on Chromatic

Picture may have been selected for the purpose of irony.

What's Chromatic, you ask? Why, it's d20 revision (in the same vein as my own d20 Rethought project) whose creator goes by the name of Consonant Dude. The project is currently on hiatus/in development limbo to give the creator a chance to figure out whether he wants to keep working on it; but even if he decides to toss the whole thing in the dumpster, at least this gives me a chance to compare and contrast the decisions we've made while seeking to improve the same underlying system.

I should probably start by noting how the two of us are, as near as I can figure, coming from very different places. While it'd be an oversimplification to just say that he's "old school" and I'm not, Consonant Dude's work is influenced by experiences with early D&D rulesets he played games with as a kid in the 1970s. Meanwhile, I first started playing D&D when 3.5 was already looming on the horizon. I've never had to compute a T.H.A.C.0 value, and first edition AD&D was already ancient history before I ever set foot (or diapered derriere) on the mortal plane. In other words, I suspect that there are going to be some points where I'm just not going to be able to follow his thinking and explanations all the way. But we'll see. Going from post to post:

The idea of having bonuses be calculated as set progression+ability modifier is interesting, even if in practice it's just replacing a simple act of addition with a chart- I assume the formula will also be provided, to reduce the need for lookups. There are some interesting opportunities for implementation here, allowing for instantly graspable character optimization options that will likely make more sense to a beginner. I find myself wondering if "natural" couldn't be used to pave a middle ground between untrained and familiar, rather than just being one step above the former.

Moving into a more stream of consciousness format:
  • "I want to tie levels directly to how potent a character is." I understand what you're saying about NPC classes, but this strikes me as largely irrelevant- I've yet to see the idea of weaker NPC classes confuse anyone or impede gameplay. On the other hand, this might be overanalyzing but I'm interested in how you define "potency".
  • Monster classes sound like a fine way to implement enemy combat roles, in fact I'd say that as a design element the class fits this niche more comfortably than it does with PC character creation.
  • Competence modifiers sound more like competence levels or ranks to me. Though I suppose you're probably trying to say that your competence modifier depends on your level and your competence "rank" or whatever.
  • Do you intend to have any hard mechanical bonus for a crit? Can skills roll crits in your system?
  • Why do effect rolls have a name? Can something in this system alter effect rolls?
  • APs could be a recharging resource pool used to pay for slots and make it possible to roll a crit.
  • I suggest having high-ranking slots be per-day, mid-rank be per-encounter and low-rank be at will. Alternately, an at-will power could cost more slots.
  • With regards to leveling down: I'm including a mechanic that allows people to "trade out" prior selections as they make new ones, on a 1:1 ratio. When you get a bonus feat, you may get an extra bonus feat by dropping one of your old bonus feats. Naturally, this may invalidate character options if you lose a prerequisite.
On the whole, it seems like Chromatic is shaping up to be a very basic, beginner-level system. What I'd really like to know is how classes will work

Oh, and to give some info on how d20 Rethought compares: Alot of basic priorities are the same, such as simplifying the math of min-maxing. There are some similarities in terms of progressions too; an untrained check uses your level and your ability modifier, with the only other possible mods being circumstance bonuses/penalties and the action bonus.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Morgan (Warning: Not for kiddies)

It's not that this post contains material that isn't work-safe, it's just dealing with more dark/mature concepts than normal. Consider yourself warned and all that jazz. Anyways, the other day someone posted this on the /tg/ forum, along with some sketches:

Okay guys, help me make a character. Rogue/avenging executioner chick that crossdresses as she believes that all the traumatic events that happened to her were due to her being female. Among other things, she was given half a glasgow smile.

I'm having trouble coming up with a name and some general "behavioral" guidelines. I don't want to just be emo all the time, I don't play that archetype as a rule and am just dabbling with this particular character.

In response, I drew on an older villain concept of mine and combined it with this premise to create a concept that could work for a villian or antiheroine, depending on how you implement it. Out of personal preference, I opted to try and create a working psychological profile that stemmed from a background that was believable and traumatic while avoiding the cliche of sexual abuse.

Say she was a normal peasant girl, poor but loving family and all that. This all came to an abrupt end when cultists of Erythnul (or a similar deity CE deity of hate) broke in one night, brutally beating the parents and dragging the screaming, sobbing eight-year old girl into the night.

She was put into a cage, a two-meter cube of rough iron bars against one wall of a room that wasn't much larger. There was a small hole in the wall that ended in a shallow basin, for water and an occasional bit of raw meat or tough, stale bread. The room's only other feature was the door by which the cultists (always male) entered.

It was her only form human interaction, if you can call it that, and it was always the same. The cultists never said a word or opened the cage's door. Instead they howled bloody murder, wailing and screaming as they beat themselves against the bars or tore the skin off their arms as they forced them between the bars, inch by inch, hands grasping for her but never actually touching.

It was a ritual of sorts, one that most victims endure for about a week before retreating so deep into themselves that they never come out. But there are exceptions, and minds of children will bend where a more mature one might break. After a month, they began to open the door on occasion. The first time they did so she took off half the cultist's face before biting into his jugular. It would be the better part of a year before group of adventurers broke into warren and killed the cultists, rescuing what had once been a small child.

The adventurers took her to a holy temple, did what they could to heal her; but while magic could restore a measure of her mental functionality, there was nothing that could be done for her warped psyche. Eventually the girl was reunited with her family: A father that was now too weak to farm and worked charity jobs around the town to help feed the girl's younger sister.

The once-youthful man tried to raise his elder daughter well. He tried to restore some semblance of the bright, cheerful girl that had been taken away that night. And he truly did make progress; after a time the girl began to speak more often than she attacked or gave a terrible howl. After a time she began to ignore her little sister's existence entirely, rather than attacking the girl more and more viciously whenever the father was in a different room. But over the space of seven years, that's as far as the old man could get. That was when his child ran away, at the age of sixteen.

To elaborate on that psych profile: Put yourself in the child's shoes during her time in the cage. You have these people (all male, the start of that association) and whenever one's in the room he's always threatening her in a way that is extremely primal, extremely violent on both a physical and social level. Some part of her made a choice to fight back, rather than retreating past the point of no return; so she imitated the "strong" presence and made herself primal, made herself masculine, made herself violent in every sense of the word. Her perception of the world is based on the idea that everyone's going to have to make that choice just like she did- being weak and innocent means you'll be ground into nothing, being violent and manly is the only way to survive in this world. Her scars and smile are self-inflicted.

In the end, her worldview (from an objective outside analysis) is pretty simple. She believes there are two kinds of people in this world, men and women; and she doesn't equate sex with gender. Rather, her concept of gender and her concept of the choice between aggression and victimhood are one and the same. Of course, she wouldn't (possibly couldn't) really explain this distinction to others; for example, if someone expressed shock upon finding out that she was a "woman", she would take grave offense. In her mind, HE *is* a man. Because being a man means dominance through aggressive violence, not having a penis. That's why he wears men's clothing and talks like a man. When he insults a male pacifist monk by calling him a woman, he's also being completely serious. It's also why he tells people that his name is Morgan. There was a Mary, once, but she's long gone now.

The rest of the character, as mentioned above, is the implementation and will determine whether Morgan is a villain or antihero, CE or CG/N. As a villian, I see him as being constantly angry- agitated and on edge, never fully able to keep his feelings under control. Chewing his lip, speaking harshly to others in terse, blunt statements, cracking his knuckles or carving a line along her arm with a knife. . .the villanous Morgan will often break things as he speaks, whether objects or people. In the end, violence is just the way he interacts with the world. A happy young woman leading an idyllic life offends him on a fundamental level, the same as any overzealous paladin.

A good version of the character would share many of the above traits; after all, that's the definition of an antihero. But this version of Morgan, while retaining the misogyny and other flaws mentioned outside of the previous paragraph, is trying to overcome his violent impulses rather than clinging to them; to make the world a better place rather than simply guarding his own interests. He'll still harass passive women (or men), but he'll do it with the aim of strengthening them through adversity, showing them what he believes to be the true nature of the world.

I believe that's all the important details of the concept. Hope this proves useful!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trigger Discipline: Alpha Rules

First, just a heads-up: this delay between updates is going to get a little longer before it gets shorter. I've been hunkering down to focus on college work and finals are coming up here. Second, another item from the "I should probably mention this" pile. . .

Trigger Discipline's initial playtest rules are complete. In fact, they've been complete for a few weeks now, I'm about to start updating them to include all the overall elements of the gameplay structure. I've neglected to mention this mostly because I already mentioned this on /tg/ and as as far as I know the extent of people following this game either learned about it through /tg/ or were given the link to this very document and then followed the link to the Chance Deck post at the end. (For you people: The name's an unrelated phrase that wound up being the working name. I'm keeping it because that's the name the existing audience expects, it's memorable and I haven't thought of anything better.)

So yeah. If you were following this game and had no idea these rules were up, sorry- I thought you'd heard.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

An antiviolent game.

This is an expansion on a comment I left on the blog of Eskil Steenberg, a game designer whose outlook has a lot in common with mine. The topic of the discussion was how violence in media is almost always cast as the solution to a problem, whereas in reality it's recognized as a problem in and of itself. He wondered how one might go about designing a game that would convey this concept: I had a few ideas.

It strikes me that the first step in expanding player's awareness would be empathy. Violence in media stops being enjoyable when you start putting yourself in another's shoes and feeling their pain; this is usually done by being more explicit than normal in depicting physical and mental trauma, but games provide an interesting opportunity for a different approach because of how they place us in the roles of other people.

It would be interesting if, as you hit somebody, the game (in the case of a video game) or GM (in the case of a tabletop RPG) rewound time for a few seconds and switched your perspective with that of the person you were about to strike; and then you actually had a choice as the victim, the ability to strike "yourself" (now A.I./GM controlled and still attacking) back or turn the other cheek. Maybe the perspective switches would be permanent and constant; when you would strike someone, you then become that person right before the strike connects. The result is that you are always a victim of the violence you would inflict, and that killing someone means game over.

To give an example of how this concept could be put into practice: You could do a game about some sort of spirit/deity of violence- someone/thing who can possess a person and make them into a mighty warrior who feels no pain, then move onto another person when that one dies; in other words, an entity that can conduct themselves like a video game player in what amounts to a less-than subtle metaphor. Then, after an initial section that would likely have much in common with God of War, you change to the system given above. Reaching the end of the game/achieving the overarching goal from there doesn't have to be a one-life affair (you could still transfer to someone else's body if someone kills "you"), but the more violence that occurs, the more violent the game gets in general (with npcs being more inclined to use it rather than talking with you and so on), hampering your efforts.

Of course, if you did this you'd also likely want to avoid rewarding body-swapping in this manner (i.e. make it a viable solution to a problem). Again, the violence escalation mechanic would help here but some players might miss the point.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Image Collection and FAQ

Last update: 1/22/10

Over the years I've built up a collection of images for use in roleplaying games- character portraits, landscapes, pieces of equipment and so on. The collection now has thousands of images, which can be viewed online and/or downloaded via Picasa (which you can then immediately uninstall with no consequences, I've checked myself).

A quick FAQ...
Q: Why?
A: Two purposes in mind. Originally I was after references- when running a game or presenting someone with a character sheet, a good image is invaluable for bringing the ideas to life. These days, I usually use them for inspiration. And once you're sitting on a big pile of cool images, it'd be damn selfish not to share them.
Q: How long have you been collecting these images?
A: A glance at the file data informs me that I started saving images I liked in late 2004, then actively began to gather them in early 2005.
Q: Do you just spend your life scouring the internet for images, or what?
A: Hey, there are people out there who amass far larger collections, and some of them aren't even porn! But in all seriousness: In this modern day and age, the world is full of extremely talented artists, and these artists have websites. Said websites often contain links to the websites of other artists. Deviantart alone is the source of about 40% of my images; I've often spent an hour or two going through someone's favorites folder and checking out the galleries of any artist whose piece shows promise, saving fifty or so new images in the process.
Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Tons. Wen-M, Gold Seven and Storn Cook are probably my personal favorites- they're constantly producing new artwork and have built up a huge body of work involving all sorts of genres. Their art looks fantastic and shows a lot of intelligence and imagination. And they sometimes draw people with their hair/clothing blowing in the wind, I'm a sucker for that.
Q: What criteria do you use?
A: I try not to overthink my decision-making process. In the end it boils down to a combination of originality and personal aesthetic appeal. On the subject of chainmail bikinis and the like: It's fine by me if the character is sexy, but I'm not interested in art created just to titillate the viewer. On the other hand, I've altered several pictures to be able to include them while keeping the collection worksafe. My standard have risen somewhat since I first started the collection.
Q: Can you help me find an image of _____?
Sure- I won't do an extensive trawl, but I can spend 5-10 minutes using various tricks to hunt down a few images that'll fit a given set of criteria. HOWEVER: Do specify which criteria you "want" and which ones you "need". Spear-wielding female fighter in light armor? I've got 10! She needs blue hair? Hmm.
Q: Do you have a link to the artist who made _____?
A: Some basic detective work using google and the filename will often be the fastest way to find a picture's creator, but I'm certainly willing to help out if that fails. Since I'm downloading these images without asking permission, the least I can do is help make sure credit's given where it's owed.
Q: What about organizing the collection some more? Tags, maybe?
A: I'd like to do more to make it easy for people to track down the kinds of images they need, but singlehandedly reviewing the thousands of images I've already downloaded is too much. The only exception's been to go back and rename all the portraits I'd gotten from /tg/ ("1169313704193.jpg" to "armored warrior woman", for example). However, if you'd be interested in implementing something yourself (even just tagging which genders are present in a character portrait) then I'll be happy to cooperate and could apply the same methods to any further images I add.

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