Wednesday, December 30, 2009

To all aspiring rpg designers:

What I'm about to say, I say not as someone who's some kind of industry veteran (I could technically call myself a professional game designer, but even that's stretching it). But there's a pitfall I stumbled into a few years back, and since then I've seen a hundred other amateur game designers do the same thing. At this point I have to start shouting it from the rooftops:

STOP OBSESSING OVER RESOLUTION MECHANICS. You're missing the forest for the trees.

Over and over, there'll be a fellow excited designer who's got this project he's eager to discuss with others. Great! I love hearing about/brainstorming on these things! They'll start with a few sentences laying out some original premise, usually one that sounds pretty darn promising.

And then they'll follow this up with a page of text detailing exactly how you roll the dice.

Yes, you do at least need a rough idea of the process the players use (i.e. participate in) to determine what happens when they try to do something. It'll be a prominent part of the gameplay, and in early discussions they'll at least warrant an explanation of the basics. But don't say "It's a game where you're wannabe dragonslayers in a realm where they're venerated as gods", follow that up with four paragraphs about how you roll a dice whose size is determined by the relevant stat and then roll that many d6es (plus an additional number equal to the relevant skill, etc. etc.), then after that say "What do you think?" The only way I can provide substantive input is to gloss over everything you said about game mechanics, focusing solely on the premise. Otherwise I'm stuck making vague generalizations like "This sort of mechanic can potentially be [negative/positive quality], assuming [condition A] and [condition B]. You know, if that's going to be the case."

The point I'm trying to get across here is that core mechanics are kinda like the main ingredients in a recipe. Choosing them means you've gone a long way towards determining what your creation will be like, and any unconventional decisions at this stage will set you far apart from the pack. But that doesn't mean you can evaluate the *quality* of your creation, or even have a substantive discussion on the matter. You've got to know the other ingredients, and how they'll come together. And the more original your ideas are, the less useful discussion becomes; some things can only be discovered once you actually try the recipe out.

Also, no one cares if your scores can be arranged in aesthetically pleasing fashion. If you have X sets of Y stats and each has Z relevant skills, making it so that all 3 variables are the same number will not improve the game experience in any significant way. It doesn't matter.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Court d'Capitate: Mechanics Brainstorm

"Patience, my pet. Soon you will have a chance to sate your bloodlust."
I've been working on coming up with potential mechanics for this game. As a part of this effort, I've been rereading my copy of Hobby Games: The 100 Best, which consists of 100 articles by various industry veterans. Since most of these articles dedicate at least a page to the game's mechanics and the interesting/unique effects those mechanics create, it's a great source of inspiration.

At this point, the ideas are crystallizing into something that could be really elegant. The items on this list in bold are ones I've currently decided to use.

-Scheme cards in your hand can never be used directly. They always have to be played face-down during your turn, attached to a pawn or plot. (I actually came up with this back when I was writing the earlier post on this game, and revised some of the description accordingly)

-During your turn you invest some form of "currency" (points you gain and/or spend during the game) in your pawns, and regain those points at the start of your next turn- if the pawn is still alive.

-At the start of each round, a number of pawns are laid out equal to the number of players. Players bid for the pawns they want, and no one can receive more than one.

-At the end of each round, players secretly bid a currency in an attempt to gain the king's favor, which probably means you receive victory points.

-The turn order varies randomly each round.

-Combining elements of the above three: Lay out 1 pawn per player, then secretly bid Turn Points to determine turn order. At the start of your turn, pick a pawn for free.

-Scheme cards can be discarded from your hand during your turn to gain extra turn points.

-Paranoia scores come in pairs; the second, presumably lower number being used when the pawn is occupied.

-Event cards are revealed at the start of the *previous* round, giving everyone a turn to prepare.

-Assassination attempts against unoccupied pawns cause you to lose victory points equal to the amount by which their Paranoia exceeds your plot's cunning (assuming it does so).

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trigger Discipline: The Dice Game

I had to run into town for an errand today, and swung by a local game store. I wound up recruiting a couple of the other patrons for impromptu playtests of TD's new core mechanics as a standalone dice game, sketching out the "board" on the back of a notebook page. As I'd hoped, the system proved fairly playable on its own merits, and the players in both tests commented on how simple it turned out to be once you'd played a turn or two. (In other words, it's alot easier to *show* people how this game works rather than telling them. I might try to put together a demonstration video using my webcam, if I can work around the hurdle of said webcam being builty into my laptop)

To play the Trigger Discipline dice game, both players take 3 d10s and place them how they like on the three spaces on their side of the board (the ones separated by the two dividing lines). They use one hand to cover up theirdie placements until both sides are ready to reveal them. Next, players roll the dice they allocated to Row A (i.e. Traits). Every die that comes up with a result of 8 or less is a success; if one player gets more successes, they have won that row, and place a die in the center to mark this victory (in longer-lasting matches it becomes important to place two dice when your margin of victory was greater than 1). The process is repeated for row B and row C, except that the dice have to lower to be considered a success; 5 for row B and 2 for row C. (To play the game with six-sided dice, change the values from 8-5-2 to 5-3-1).

Once all dice have been rolled, the round goes to the player who won row C. If there was a tie, it goes to the one who got row B, and then to the victor for row A. At the end of the round, both players make a side roll using a single d10; a result of 5 or less means yourdie pool's size increases by 1, up to a maximum of 7. If one of you won the round, that player instead gets an extra die if their side roll comes up as 8 or less. If a player wins a round and already has a fulldie pool, they get a bonus die on the next round that's allocated and rolled after all other die rolls have been made (giving them a chance to break a tie, or create one in a row that the enemy only won by a margin of 1).

If a player wins two rows (and neither are trumped by a row the opponent won) they've scored a Double. This earns them a Victory Point, 3 of which are needed to win the match. If they win all three rows, they score a Triple and earn both a Victory Point and a bonus match win! First player to get 3 match wins has won the game.

Several fixes were made mid-playtest; I changed the scores from 3/5/7 to 2/5/8, changed side roll win bonus from 7 to 8, added the mechanic for the post-roll bonus die to avoid prolonged stalemates. At this point, I think the numbers involved have been tweaked enough to approximately produce the results I'm after in Trigger Discipline. When the second playtest was coming to an end, I was still concerned about the length- though I didn't keep track of time, the game was certainly feeling long, and I fully expect the length of each round to double when the winner is also getting to narrate his hot-blooded mech pilot's attack. But then I weighed in a couple other factors- that this was the most involved form of the conflict rules (with two full-fledged main characters doing battle, rather than one main character fighting a weaker challenge represented by prearranged die assignments), and that I'd expanded the scope of the dice game to something that approached an entire RPG session in order for triple successes to count for something. Taken by itself, a single match now seems to allow for a full range of possibilities- from battles over in moments (He puts all 3 dice into GAR and gets nothing, I put 1 die into each row and all 3 succeed) to long, drawn-out slugfests, with both those extremes being possible but not *too* likely.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Court d'Capitate

Lady Andrea d'Capitate, seen here shortly before her death under mysterious circumstances involving an unlocked window, a blowgun dart laced with Kroazian Happy Juice, and a greased pig that had somehow gotten loose inside the royal ballroom.

Picture a game taking place in a royal court that's practically overflowing with backstabbing and intrigue. Players start by each selecting a Mastermind character- many of these characters are members of the host family (the wealthy and influential d'Capitates), but just as many are guests (members of other noble families, a foreign ambassador, a long-lost heir to the throne). The Masterminds (each of whom has their own mechanical quirks that influence how they play) then spend the game vying for influence, until one of them finally becomes amasses enough that they can order that all their rivals be beheaded for treason. They do this in two ways: acquiring Pawns to manipulate, and carrying out increasingly convoluted murder schemes.

The game would be played via several sets of cards- first would be those Mastermind cards listing your stats and special abilities. Second would be a deck of Pawns; I imagine that players would flip over the top card of the deck once per turn, and then take turns bidding on that Pawn to determine who acquires him. Third would be the hand full of Scheme cards that each mastermind has; each will either be an Assassination cards that represents an individual element of a murder plot, or a Plan cards you play face down besides one of your Pawns, to be activated when the prerequisites are triggered and the time is right. Fourth would be event cards, with a new one each round that changes the conditions based on what's going on in the court, such as a musical performance or a toast to the king's health.

Every Pawn has a Luck score (which determines the total Lethality an assassination attempt needs to kill them), a Paranoia score (Which makes it more difficult to get away with assassination attempts), and an Influence score (which gives you points towards your eventual victory so long as the character is unoccupied, i.e. untapped, at the start of your turn).

Masterminds create new assassination plots by writing down the name of that plot's target on a slip of paper, folding it up, and then placing an Assassination card face-down on top of it. Each turn they can add more Assassination cards to the plot. Each card has a Lethality score (for successfully killing the target), a Cunning score (for not getting caught, lest you have to pin the blame on a pawn that will promptly be executed), and a Style score (the number of Victory Points you'll receive if the attempt succeeds); an attempt uses the total of each card's score in each area. And naturally, killing an opponent's pawn means they must discard any Plans attached to that pawn.

That's the gist of the idea. What do you think?

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Maelstrom Trader: Skills

You could say I've been working on this game for a week now. You could also say I've spent that time *getting ready* to work on it. I'm simultaneously learning to use Unity 3D and outlining the mechanics for the game; we'll see whether I manage to reach a point where the two aspects of the game aren't separated.

Every man on your ship, yourself included, has skills that level up over time. You have access to Captain Skills and Special Skills. Your appointed mates (which actually means anyone with a special position, such as a doctor) have Special Skills and Crew Skills. The rest of your crew has only Crew Skills.

Captain Skills can best be described as various answers to "A good captain ________", as you'll see if you read the skill descriptions below. Special Skills usually only use the highest score among your crew, though having two people who know how to do some vital job becomes very handy when one catches space dysentery. Crew Skills, by contrast, generally use the sum of every participating hand's score. A skilled hand can achieve the same results as 4 novices.

The actual scores one can have represent the following levels of proficiency:

Discipline: Ensures that his crew functions as a well-organized unit.
Evaluate: Quickly picks out the best men for each task.
Negotiate: Does a good job of representing his vessel and managing its affairs.
Perception: Can easily gauge the mood and thoughts of those around him.
Presence: Commands respect from his crew.
Rally: Keeps his men motivated and in high spirits.
Training: Knows how to turn a novice crew into seasoned deckhands.

Aether Sight: Sighting objects that would normally be obscured by aetheric mists.
Cooking: Preparing healthy meals from the available supplies.
Commerce: Gauging the best time and place to buy/sell various goods.
Cultures: Understanding the beliefs and customs of the various peoples you encounter.
Engineering: Working with the ship's technologically advanced aspects.
Entertain: Helping to improve morale.
Interspace: Knowing how to survive Maelstrom's unique space ecosystem.
Medicine: Treating all manner of ailments.
Navigate: Charting a course and staying on track.
Tactics: Leading men in battle.

Hand-to-Hand: Close combat against sentient beings.
Harvest: Gathering and processing supplies.
Hunting: Tracking and killing the various creatures in Maelstrom's interspace.
Maintenance: Keeping the ship and cargo in good condition.
Operate Vessel: Using your ship's systems to their full potential.

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