Monday, April 27, 2009

Simulating Humanity's Post-Zombpocalypse Fate

The above picture is taken from an old project of mine. The goal was to build a simulative model in order to predict what humanity's fate would be, long-term, in the event of a zombie apocalypse as seen in classic films like those of George Romero. It was actually my final project in a high school class that was based around using a computer program called STELLA to model these sorts of complex situations. Prior assignments had modeled things like the spread of a disease and the populations of wolves and deer in a wildlife preserve; part of my interest in putting together this particular simulation came from how it mixed elements of those two prior models. You have predators which infect and convert their prey. How would such a premise logically play out?

The simulation takes into account more factors than just the method by which the virus spreads. The two major things I wanted to take into account beyond the basic model were supplies available for salvage and survivor's experience in dealing with zombies. If there's a ton of abandoned houses around with fully stocked fridges, an average survivor has lower odds of starving or freezing to death. If a person has never had a first-hand encounter with a zombie before- knows nothing about the situation they're in except that there's a moving corpse in front of them- then their odds of surviving that encounter are going to be alot lower.

The variable in my simulation, then, was the size of the initial outbreak. If the dead rise from their graves all over the world, and society has collapsed by the end of the week, people are going to be less prepared than if they've had a couple weeks to watch news of nations in other hemispheres slowly crumbling while wondering if they'll be next.


The model's results are interesting to me in three different ways:
-The single scariest factor is a way in which the zombie-human factor does *not* match the typical predator-prey relationship. Cruel as it is, that type of system has inherent balances; wolves will start starving to death if they kill and eat 90% of the deer population. But zombies don't starve. They get along just fine even when there's only one of us left for every ten of them.
-As you can see, the variable- the size of the initial outbreak- leads to some interesting variations in the model. But even the smallest outbreak- only 50 initial infections- still leads to the death of over 80% of the population. However, the only scenario in which humanity is actually wiped out- leaving only a population of slowly eroding zombies- is the one where a full quarter of the population is initially infected and turned, so that when only the seasoned veterans remain there's just too many zombies left for them to handle.
-Lastly, the model ignores/handwaves a certain factor which is rarely addressed in zombie fiction (Though Max Brooks made a concerted justification effort in World War Z, bless his heart): There is NO WAY the virus is going to spread effectively if it's only transmitted from a zombie to a living person's bodily fluids. Because the world's just too big. In zombie fiction you can drop into some random point in the wilderness and there'll be a hundred zombies in a mile radius. The virus will spread across the country like wildfire. But in practice. . .how does a zombie make its way across open countryside to another major population center? Romero's zombie virus, as presented, just isn't cut out for global armageddon.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trigger Discipline: Weaknesses?

So I just had an idea for a TD mechanic- in a very basic form- and I wanted to brainstorm and bounce it off people as I work it out further.

Outside of their archetype and role, TD characters are mechanically distinguished from one another by their choice of Traits. Each time you roll you pick a trait; if the Trait die nets a success, your description of the success has to have it hinge on that trait, yada yada.

What if you also had Weaknesses, which came into play when the roll failed? Character flaws, disadvantages like a bad leg, and so on. This way you could potentially have a cue for narrating what happens whether you succeed or fail.

There are a couple ways you could incorporate this into the system... Option A is to use a weakness *instead* of a trait, with a weakness carrying its own (presumably smaller) chance of success; this would open the door for all manner of trade-offs, which is always handy. Option B is to select a weakness in *addition* to a trait on some or all rolls, meaning you would have a potential explanation for both success *and* failure on the trait die. (In other words, if your action succeeds and the Trait die was a success, your chosen trait plays a role in what occurs fluff-wise; you pull something off thanks to your Confidence. If the action fails and the trait die was a failure, your chosen weakness plays a role; you screwed up thanks to your Arrogance. Note how those two examples are two sides of the same coin; you could theoretically have all weaknesses be paired with a single trait this way.)

-Weaknesses could be handed out like curses as a metagame penalty for failure. Lose an encounter, GM tells you to take a weakness. You overcome a weakness by using it for a relevant roll (Maybe you *have* to use it), and getting, say, a Double Success in spite of the reduced odds said weakness brings. Overcoming a weakness could net you GAR Charge or even Fanbase; this would make them less of a penalty and more of a "side quest".

-Rather than mucking about with the odds of success, weaknesses could dictate (or at least alter) the stakes of player failure- severe in-game consequences and/or *losing* successes for the purpose of beating an encounter. This'd provide an alternate way of handling more 'powerful' traits; rather than being limited-use, a high-rank trait would be paired with a serious weakness in case of failure.

-Alternately, a more flexible option would be to have each Weakness grant extra Trait dice or a boost to a Trait's score when used.

-Weaknesses could also just be a way to give an opponent extra dice in exchange for the player building up GAR Charge. This option would match a normal narrative arc best; your weaknesses would make minor fights more difficult, but then you'd overcome them in time to deal with the serious threat.

Frankly, I know I want to incorporate something in this role, but it's going to have to wait; first, I need to re-lay the groundwork of the system. Right now several parts of Trigger Discipline's system have been rendered somewhat obsolete or ineffective by changes. Plot Armor is overlapping with Fanbase, and GAR Charge flows in at entirely too slow a rate. I don't have specific ideas yet, but I do very much feel like I can do better with the core mechanics if I just think it over long enough.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh yeah, stroke that ego.

A fellow I met a while back recently contacted me online and requested an interview. I'm not entirely sure why, but there you are. If you're interested in more brief ruminations on game design and so on, you can check it out here.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Warlock High: 10 Magical Fighting Styles

As an challenge to myself, I came up with a variety of different potential magic-based fighting styles for the Warlock High game, each based on a combination of two different schools of magic. These were partly intended to be examples/suggestions for my players, as well as a reserve of ideas for my own characters. Each school of magic gets used twice.

Void+Entropy: Strategic Demonic Suppression
As mentioned in the previous post, "Demons" in this setting amount to a sort of superpowered evil side; any permanently demonic character is just a Mr. Hyde who managed to beat Dr. Jekyll into submission. So say there was a character who was a natural prodigy in the realm of demonology, meaning they could turn into a very powerful Mr. Hyde. Naturally, such a child's parents wouldn't be to keen on their little darling risking their 'life', so an arrangement was found that would still let them realize their potential: The child could become an expert at Void magic. Rather than trying to reign in their natural talents, they'd just keep their effects suppressed by using antimagic on themselves.
The side benefit to this is that they have can unleash their demonic form to a limited degree; for example, letting one or both arms transform and using that limb to throw or block a punch.
Force+Matter: Augmented Projectiles
The mage uses Matter magic to enhance objects in a variety of ways- hardening them, shaping them, sharpening them, and so on- and then uses Force magic to propel them towards her target in various highly dangerous ways.

Mind+Sense: Fake Familiar
The mage has a powerful construct, which they command with expert skill; say, an electric elemental, able to get around the vast majority of defenses and hit you with painful jolts that leave you barely able to move.

Except that the construct doesn't exist. It's an illusion that the character constantly projects, and its "attacks" are meant to make the enemies more susceptible to the mage's mind blasts; since they believe a physical source is wreaking havoc on their nervous system, they aren't trying to instinctively guard against a mental one.

Space+Fire: Unpredictable Beamspam
This one's fairly simple. Fire magic is great for attacking with blasts of energy or heating/cooling objects with a touch. But throw in the ability to create small close-range portals at the snap of a finger, and your attacks become much, much harder to anticipate. You can simultaneously look your enemy in the eye and shoot them in the back, and they know it.

Growth+Machine: Cyborg

The human body is an extraordinary machine, honed by untold ages of evolution to survive in its given environment. But modern society is a different sort of jungle; one with power outlets everywhere you look. It would be a shame to let this resource go to waste.

This mage's talents with constructs let them craft artificial enhancements; their knack for growth magic gives them the necessary capacity for biological manipulation, meaning they can surgically insert these mechanisms into their body and have them work in tandem with the existing system. Having to keep an eye on their battery levels is a small price to pay.

Space+Mind: Bullet Time

Time is relative, and advanced-level Space magicians can work with that fact in several ways, accelerating or decelerating themself or others. This mage, however, manages to take things a step further by enhancing themselves with Mind magic. Their thoughts flow at an advanced rate, and they accelerate their body to make sure that it can keep up- making it so that for them, the rest of the world really is moving in slow motion. It's a powerful combination; just don't let the enemy mess with your concentration. In this case a partial disruption of your spellcasting can throw you off worse than a total one.

Entropy+Sense: Chaos Theorist

Entropy magicians' power is labeled by the layman as "corruption", but the truth is more complex and subtle. At a fundamental, their magic deals in the forces and natural dynamics that disrupt and degrade functional systems- be they mechanical, biological, social, or otherwise.

As such, there's a natural synergy between this and sense magic. The more you can perceive and understand a given system, the better your ability to gum up the works; you have to see the lines of power in an enchantment or a person before you can strike at them. This mage can seem weak; but appearances can be very, very deceiving.

Growth+Force: Living Weapon

While most associate Force magic with telekinesis, it has another application: Enhancing or reducing exiting kinetic energy. Stop a sword blow or break a door down with a casual wave of your bare hand. Here, it's Growth magic that has a natural synergy with your efforts. If you enhance your physical power (and more to the point, durability), and simultaneously augment the kinetic energy your actions carry, you get exponential improvements to your results.

Machine+Void: Automated Assistance
The thing abut void magic is that in duels its applications are entirely defensive and reactive. You can't do anything to an enemy that doesn't use magic. As such, Void users traditionally work best when supporting one or more partners in combat. However, a Machine magic-user can make their own partner, who goes into combat while the magician sits back and negates any magic that would come their way. In fact, they can also use their magic to negate more temporary magic effects without interfering with the ingrained type of magic which allows their construct to function, a more advanced form of Void Magic that requires a greater level of skill but less raw power.

Fire+Matter: Magma Blade
This mage's approach is wonderfully straightforward. You take a weapon, and use your magic to heat it up to amazing levels- maybe even the point where it would normally be reduced to a puddle of molten metal burning a hole in the floor. But then you use your Matter magic to reinforce the weapon, letting it retain its integrity and sharpness while conveying heat even better than ordinary metal would. Voila; you have the hot knife, and the world is butter.

As mentioned before, these kind of concepts have no direct mechanical significance in Trigger Discipline. And yet, they're still vital; the key to crunch advantage in TD is the rewards given to those who manage to do cool/interesting things, and if anything will help you there it's having a cool and interesting character with cool and interesting abilities. Being "strong" is a secondary priority at best.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Warlock High: Schools of Magic

Magic in the game is divided into ten types. A normal freshman student with good grades should be able to reliably cast a few basic spells in all ten areas, be proficient with a large variety in at least two, and know how to pull off a handful of advanced magical effects (the kinds listed after the categories in italic). But then, the players in this game probably aren't normal freshman students- in fact, some probably won't be students but teachers or janitors instead.

The nature of Trigger Discipline's mechanics means that schools of magic have no direct mechanical effect on character creation and gameplay. This means that their role is instead to provide a guide to players regarding what magic is capable of in-game (and perhaps more importantly, how magic can be used to a given result). My aim is a setting where magic's basic effects are more raw and elemental nature, and that careful effort and control are necessary to produce any manner of sophisticated effect.

* Mind (Telepathic communication, heal mental fatigue, read surface thoughts); Manipulation (Charm, confuse, put to sleep) and Mentalism (Mind Blast, read memories, plant false memories or commands)
* Growth (Heal physical fatigue, accelerate healing rate, enhance physical ability); Healing (Heal wounds, cure disease, regenerate limbs) and Shapeshifting (Change features, grow wings, change size)
* Force (Move object, kinetic blast, arrest motion); Forceshaping (Magic Missile, wall of force, grasping hand) and Telekinesis (Wield weapon, levitate, fly)
* Matter (Mold object, shatter, alter composition); Transmuting (Reinforce or weaken object, enhance item, craft object) and Shaping (Conjure and control material, duplicate object)
* Sense (Fool sense, augment sense); Illusion (Conjure illusion, baffle sense) and Perception (True sight, detect)
* Fire (Conjure and control fire); Flameshaping (Fireball, wall of fire, conjure fire elemental) and Heat Control (Heat or chill target, endure elements, absorb heat)
* Space (Remote viewing, locate target, fate manipulation); Timetwisting (predict future, slow/hasten target) and Teleportation (Call item, group teleport, create portal).
* Machine (Animate, control or dismantle device); Energy (Drain, store and provide power, lightning bolt) and Technomancy (Baffle sensors, read or erase data, control or disrupt golem)
* Entropy (Disrupt life, accelerate decay); Necromancy (Create and control undead) and Demonology (Conjure demon, extract spirit) Note: Demons in this setting are more of a superpowered evil side that can get switched on permanently. Mr. Hyde with red skin and a tail.
* Void (Dispel magic, suppress spellcasting); Voidshaping (Antimagic field, antispell shield) and Banishment (Disrupt undead, dispel conjuration, smite)

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Welcome to Warlock High!

Warlock High is the setting for the game of Trigger Discipline I'm currently running; it was one of the 5 ideas originally brainstormed in an earlier blog post. The core idea is to take the school fighting genre and set it in a magic academy- if Hogwarts was an underfunded public school in a bad part of town, rather than an elite private institution.

In-game, "Warlock High" is a semi-derogatory nickname for the school officially known as the Penbury Academy. It's the worst-behaved school in the city to begin with, so the district has started using it as a sacrificial lamb by sending all its worst students here (since it doesn't have the resources to deal with them). The location is a poorer suburban neighborhood. In general, imagine the setting as the poor side of the wizarding world that Harry never paid a visit, with people being much more in-touch with modern tech largely because they'll take whatever they can afford from either world- a used broomstick gets you to school same as a used motorbike, at about the same average speed (secondhand magic items tend to be really sluggish, whatever their function).

The school has a festering rivalry with the nearby Cowfreckle Academy. This prestigious private institution was founded over a century ago, back when "academy" meant something and the surrounding area was a pristine wood rather than lower-middle-class suburbs (a flood of urban expansion surrounded the school's property thirty years prior).

The majority of the student's time at the academy is set aside for the study of magic- which is a good thing, because casting a spell is hard. It isn't just the raw exertion of willpower; casting a spell means training your brain to jump through a complex series of mental hoops. Hand gestures and speech are involved not because they're inherently magical, but as mnemonic systems which enhance your brain's capacity to correctly perform these mental gymnastics. Traditionally, one learns to cast a spell while chanting for about 5 seconds and making gestures with both hands, and then naturally becomes less reliant on the chanting and gestures over time; one could adopt extra gestures and incantations to help pull off an advanced spell they can't quite get through otherwise, or spend time deliberately practicing with a certain spell until they can cast it with little or no preamble.

Warlock High's Cast of Characters: (Descriptions are my own)
-Mr. Borden: Slacker teacher who uses illusions to screw with people and get out of having to actually come up with a lesson plan.
-Quinn King: Typical delinquent student body member, except that she's better at it than most. Reinforces objects, then hurls them about with telekinesis.
-Drake: Withdrawn transfer student with a knack for analysis and fire magic.
-SVEN GORBACHOV: Wrestling enthusiast, missing link between humanity and its bear ancestors.
To sum this up: Onizuka with illusions, Damsel with animated chains, Shikimaru with fireballs, and Zangief as voiced by TF2's heavy.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

10 Campaign Ideas with Unusual Settings

All right, work and classes- I admit I may have underestimated you slightly. But I still managed to get a decent number of posts up this last week! Anyway, have the fruits of another brainstorming session. This one tended more towards quick, open-ended writeups.

There is a strange tree, deep in the Forgotten Woods. When its roots encounter the bones of some long-dead being, they absorb them, and in the spring the being emerges from beneath its boughs, reborn in a plant body. These bodies need not feed, but every spring must return and drink the sap which flows in the hiddern caverns under the trees' base.

So it is that all manner of plant-beasts dwell around this tree and ward off outside intruders. But we are different. We were people, once, even if memories of our past selves elude us; people from eras centuries apart, some of prosperity and enlightenment, some of destruction and savagery. Each year we band together and journey out into the woods, seeking the world outside this forest. And each year we must return, lest our bodies take root and we become trees ourselves.


Four centuries ago, our ancestors drove the Leviathans underground, and built mighty walls to seal them there. But they knew no barrier could be made to last forever. A city was built around the mile-wide seal, and for four hundred years each generation has trained the next to attain new pinnacles of ability in all the realms of monster-slaying ability; knowledge of their biology, the crafting of poisons, the wielding of all branches of magic, and above all pure martial skill.

Now, our ultimate test has arrived. The Apocalypse is returning. Lets us see if we are now ready.


Six years ago this was a research facility. We don't know what exactly they did to create this anomaly. But it killed them all- wrecked anything resembling circuitry too, so we have no records- and then stabilized. And it's attached to this hunk of rock.

A curiosity, perhaps- except that this anamoly is a nigh-limitless source of huge amounts of power. Whoever can hold onto this thing- and hook up equipment like thrusters and shields and weaponry- will be unstoppable. Let's get to work; there's not a moment to lose.


The all-seeing moon drifts over the land. It has no limbs with which to carry out its will; so it takes us into its family so that we might act upon the surface in its stead.

We are the hands of the all seeing moon. We do its will. We earn its love. We gratefully receive its gifts of power. You would be wise to follow our example.

One day all shall obey.


This land has been our people's home for ages. But now the world is changing. Each day is warmer than the last, and each day the ice beneath our feat becomes a little more fragile. If we are to preserve our way of life, we must pursue the North Star- it shall lead us to colder places once more.

Pack quickly, children. Several hunters have been seeing large shapes in motion beneath the ice.


Come now, sailor. If you are here, then you must have spent plenty of time on the waves- enough to know that sea's will can trump the best efforts of man, and maybe even the guiding hands of an angel.

Aye, there be no pearly gates for you here- just whale bones and sunken hulls, and an endless expanse of the great blue. Welcome to New Atlantis, man of the sea- or Davy Jones' Locker, if you prefer.


They don't like to come outside, not when it's this high up. So long as you stay on the roofs and sky bridges- and keep away from the windows- you should be fine. Just leave the supply-gathering to me, I know the layout and can handle myself indoors.

I promise I'll be back soon.


Pennathyne Gas is a marvelous discovery. Even a small amount provides an enormous amount of upwards force- up until you attain an elevation of 3,255 meters above sea level, at which point it ceases to provide any further lift. All over the world, airship trading ports are growing into towns and cities- and all of them are located at a very precise elevation. Quite a time to be an airship trader, I must say!


The King owns the whole of this vast, untamed stretch of land. He pays the Druid an annual salary to serve as the Royal Groundskeeper, a position originally meant for forests a tenth of this region's size. The Druid oversees things and works his rituals from the pillar of rock he erected years ago, and subcontracts us to do his "field work"- collecting samples, dealing with foreign species, investigating strange spiritual signals and so on.

As jobs go, I've had far worse.


They call this place the "Undercity". They say its people built and built, and left each level of the city behind as they added a new one on top of it. seeing how old some of these buildings are, that'd have to mean quite a few levels more exist up above.

Now, personally, I don't know if this "surface" really exists- no one's ever found a way up and then come back to tell the rest of us, that much is for sure. Odds are it's all just old tales and no more.

But right now? It's the only hope you have.

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Avatar RPG: Attributes and Skills

Early on in the discussion on this RPG, it was mentioned that the good folks over at's forum had previously concluded that a Wuxia RPG called Weapons of the Gods would be a good fit for Avatar. So I checked it out. And I gotta say, the system is pretty interesting. The character options remarkably match Avatar on several counts, even if the crunch itself isn't always something that's necessary or helpful for the system being used here.

Still, two aspects of WotG worked well enough for me to adapt them as a base for this rpg project: the system's Attributes and associated Skills. For comparison's sake, here's a list of both as seen in the original RPG:

Might (Athletics, Climb, Fight, Hardiness, Lift)
Speed (Initiative, Dodge, Finesse, Melee, Ride)
Presence (Confidence, Grace , Inspire, Perform, Persuade)
Genius (Learning, Crafting, Medicine, Politics, Tactics)
Wu Wei (Awareness, Investigation, Ranged, Sense, Stealth)

And here's the adapted version, meant to better match the feel of the Avatar TV show:

Fitness (Acrobatics, Athletics, Hardiness, Melee, Stance)
Speed (Initiative, Dodge, Finesse, Ranged, Ride)
Presence (Confidence, Diplomacy, Discipline, Inspire, Manipulation)
Genius (Learning, Crafting, Medicine, Politics, Tactics)
Insight (Awareness, Investigation, Sense, Stealth, Survival)

What intrigues me about Weapons of the Gods' attributes are how their mechanics de-emphasize their importance for both the highest and lowest skills the player has. See, an Attribute provides a +1 bonus to any associated skill so long as you have more points (which can range from 1 to 4, at least in my version) in that attribute than you do ranks (which can range from 0 to 5) in that skill. In other words, any skill that you max out will encounter a "dead rank" at some point that does *not* improve your skill because you've lost an equivalent bonus from your attribute.

Because of this, the only reason to care about investing points in a given attribute* is that it lets you get more out of a moderate investment of skill points with the associated skills. A maximized Speed means that you can raise your Initiative, Dodge, Finesse, Ranged and Ride up to 3 each without encountering the dead rank.

So, to review, the Attribute-Skill relationship matches avatar in 2 key ways:
-Specialization is fully permitted without being key to a character's strength. Anyone can max out Acrobatics and be a great acrobat, without having to worry about outside factors. Characters who invest alot into new skills can have an eclectic mix of abilities, the way Sokka demonstrates a level of proficency in such skills as Ranged, Investigation, Melee, Manipulation, Investigation, Survival, Learning, Crafting, and Tactics.
-Attributes are of relatively little importance. When characters do battle in avatar, they don't waste any time wringing their hands over how so-and-so is "stronger" or "faster" than their opponent. Victory depends on subtler factors like self-control, training, strategic choices and outwitting your opponent with improvisation and quick thinking; elements better left in the hands of players than abstracted away as comparitive numeric values.

*(When it comes to skills. I'm also giving each attribute a secondary benefit. Fitness and Speed are added to your base physical defense, Presence and Genius are added to your base mental defense, and Insight is added to your Action Points per session.)

Art Credits: Image by ming85.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

d20 Rethought: Grand Challenges

The following is a system meant to help DMs manage sitations where the players must accomplish a grand, overarching goal through the creative use of numerous different abilities. This is meant to be a step above traditional skill challenges in scope; standard challenges have encounter-size goals like "disarm the complex, multi-stage trap" or "escape from the city guard". Meanwhile, grand challenges can take a session or more to accomplish: "Discredit the mayor in the eyes of the town populace", "Negotiate a peace between the Orcs and the Dwarves", and "Improve the morale of an army's troops on the eve of an epic battle" are all viable examples. In the end, what really distinguishes Grand Challenges is that they adjudicate and assign value to the player's strategies in a non-abstract manner.

Grand challenges work by breaking up player's actions into different Approaches. On the first round, the player introduces their first Approach, by coming up with a tactic and then carrying it out.

If the players want to discredit Mayor Argus, they might try researching his past to dig up any dirty laundry, or spreading the word that old Argus is too "chicken" to take the fight to the bandits who have been plaguing the local merchant caravans.

Next, the players have to actually carry that approach out in-game; the DM decides whether this calls for a single skill check, a skill challenge, or something more. At the same time, the DM secretly rates the approach based on its merits. Then they compare this rating against how well the player actually carried the approach out, and use this to determine that approach's Success Value.

The DM knows that Mayor Argus has several shameful secrets, so he'll give the Approach of snooping into the mayor's past a high rating. This means that even a passable job of investigation will yield fruitful results, and an excellent job will net that approach a very high Success Value indeed. Meanwhile, the DM decides that the local populace has bad relations with traveling merchants and aren't normally targeted by bandits, so criticisms of the mayor on this basis could backfire. He'll give that approach a low rating, meaning that an excellent job of rumor-mongering will only yield a small amount of Success Value while a poor job could actually result in *negative* Success Value by inadvertantly increasing the mayor's popular support.

Each round a player or party (The GM can run thisngs either way) can introduce a new approach or continue to pursue an existing one. Both actions will see diminshing returns; each new approach's merit rating is penalized further, as is each repeated use of a given approach. A Grand Challenge is beaten when the total success value of all approaches reaches a given number; this means that player victory depends on them coming up with good approaches, then milking those approaches for positive Success Value by doing a good job of carrying them out (that and recognizing when to stop, lest an attempt results in negative Success Value and costs them valuable progress).

I hope this all makes sense. A subsequent post should offer an example of this system in play, so with any luck that'll make things clearer.

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d20 Rethought: Specialists

Gather round, friends, and I shall regale you with tales of this mythical system once more. Yea, and this day the tale I will tell is about how d20 Rethought addresses several problems which seemed inherent to the use of specialized roles among player characters.

How does a system do such a thing, you inquire? Well, ask those who went on create the fourth edition o' Dungeons and Dragons, and they'd have spun you a tale wherein all the classes possess equal amounts of ability in the realm of combat, whilst the use of other skills was kept to an abstract minimum. But since you've questioned me instead, the answer will come in three parts.

The first and most fundamental factor is that high levels of ability in a given area does not translate to a higher check bonus. Optimizing your bonus on relevant die rolls in d20 Rethought is a simple process, involving only a couple of feats; "step 1" on the road to becoming a master swordsman/thief/etc. After that comes the feats which grant you Tricks, those various sets of moves which expand your strategic options involving a given skill- at the price of Resolve or Vitality points, your fresh-every-encounter first line of defense against mental and physical attacks. To restate the usual metaphor, you draw power from your shields to fuel other ship systems.

In other words, a high level of ability in a given area means a wealth of gameplay options, and a low level of ability doesn't render you ineffective. Other players don't stand around and twiddle their thumbs while the specialist does his thing, and the specialist isn't getting cheated on play complexity just because he's chosen an area of expertise that isn't combat-related. The idea is to make the specialist the resident authority when the gameplay focus is in his direction, creating a "follow the leader" scenario rather than a "stay back and watch" one.

This ties in nicely with the next bit of info: Some tricks for each skill are oriented around letting unskilled characters join in without ruining the group's chances as a whole. This is a direct mechanical attempt to head off the situations in 3.5 where the group can't act as a whole because each additional member is just another skill check that could result in a failure and thus ruin the whole deal. Here, with the experienced member's guidance, everyone can participate.

To further improve the group participation, we have the third factor: a core rule change allowing Aid Another actions using different skills. If an ally is attempting to make a good impression, you can aid his Diplomacy check with your Knowledge of the local culture or a Bluff check to strategically embellish on his points.

Together, these three factors should hopefully even out most of the wrinkles produced by party specialists, while keeping the benefits- after all, it feels good to have someone on your team who's an expert at handling a given kind of challenge, and it feels especially good to *be* that person.

As always, thoughts and feedback are welcome.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Avatar RPG: Initial Musings

Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you don't know about it, or you haven't seen it, you really should; it's an epic, imaginative fantasy story masquerading as a kid's cartoon. And I wound up getting involved in a discussion on one fan forum about making a roleplaying game for the setting.

And by "get involved" I mean "stuck my head in and volunteered to do it".

My plan is to adapt the vast majority of the mechanics from d20 Rethought- particularly for figuring out how to handle the system. The number crunching will be simplified, though; among other things, this'll mean using a d10 instead of a d20. Read on for an outline of the various criteria this RPG system will have to meet.

-A focus on characters increasing in power and gaining new abilities (In other words, don't stray from the mainstream here).
-Benders are balanced against non-benders (i.e. Badass Normals).
-Improvisation is encouraged and rewarded, both with mundane actions and bending.
-Bending sub-styles must be done in an open format, i.e. one that lets the players easily come up with balanced crunch to represent their original fluff ideas for something like a style of bending without having to write a page or more of tricky-to-balance crunch.
-Equipment is handled via occasional, unique items/resources (Aang has Appa and his staff, Sokka has his meteor sword and boomerang. . .) and possibly an abstract tracking of resources (so if the party's suddenly stranded the GM has a reference for how much they'd have in the way of supplies).
-Character advancement largely consists of background resources (equipment, connections, allies, etc.), skills, and techniques.

In other words, I want the game's crunch to encourage improvisation and clever use of character abilities, and focus on gaining more cool abilities, without making it so that the key to victory involves alot of number-crunching (during character creation or mid-game). Let's see if I can pull it off!

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All right, that's QUITE ENOUGH

It's been ages since I last posted. I've been very busy with real-life concerns- a mix of work and a few classes- but as usual, that hasn't actually stopped me from still doing game design. (Wild horses probably couldn't do that job either). No, real life just gets me to slack off in terms of actually posting said bits of game design work on this blog.

My situation in real life? Hasn't changed. I'm in the middle of a string of days where I have a 9-hour work shift plus some other 4-5 hour activity- church, classes, etc. But the fact of the matter is that that's really not enough to be keeping me from posting here. Especially since I'm sitting on this huge body of work.

So here's my initial resolution: A new post a day for the next five days, including this one. We'll see where we go from there.

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