21 October 2017

Fantastic Maps: How To Design A Town

Absolutely love this style of design, and love how concise the steps are. Always remember that pre-Industrial Revolution people are living on the land and along the land's contours. Moving earth is hard and slow and won't happen without a great need, and that means that people will mostly just deal with what's there.

Again, love it.


14 October 2017

Mundane Zen

So one of the habits I've picked up in the last couple of years is reading Zen literature. Specifically Zen literature, mind you- I'm not a religious man and I don't really intend on becoming one, so I don't particularly enjoy Buddhist literature.

The main difference between Buddhism and Zen, as far as I can see it, is that Buddhism is a religion and Zen is not. Buddhism very firmly tells you what you should and should not be doing, and what rituals you should perform to receive enlightenment. There are priests and temples and scriptures, and if you don't follow all of those things you're not really a Buddhist. There are all sorts of magical powers that Buddhists apparently can do- according to Namkhai Norbu, it is possible for a follower of Dzogchen Buddhism to shed their mortal form and turn directly into light. He even claims to have seen this! Daehang Kun Sunim claims to have been able to cure diseases with her mind.

I have a hard time taking these claims seriously, which means I have a hard time taking these people seriously. I am as uninterested in the claims of people who have claimed to gain super powers by wandering around in the wilderness as I am in the claims of people who claim to cure blindness by shouting the name of Jesus. I believe that a man can turn into light about as much as I believe that all of our earthly ills are caused by the ghosts of aliens.

I think I'm in good company. The Zen Master Wumen Huikai said:

Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."
Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."
It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.
All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.
Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.

That other stuff, that's religion. To quote the Zen Master Killer Mike:
If God really exists, I tell you like this: It resides inside.
And anybody tell you different,
Just selling you religion,
Tryin' to keep your ass in line.
Namkhai and Daehang are, by all accounts, wonderful and beautiful people. They have spent their lives trying to make the world a better place. But look- Mother Theresa spent her life trying to make the world a better place, too, and that doesn't mean I'm going to sign up to join the Catholic Church.

It also means that I'm going to be wary of her when she tries to shift the conversation towards religion. She sure has a lot to say about empathy, but what she believes is based on church teachings. What she believes is based on a religion I don't follow. It's the same with these Buddhists, and that means that I have to be very careful what it is that I'm listening to. Insightful passages about clarity are right next to the passages about how meditation can solve cancer. How am I supposed to know which part is bullshit?

It might be less exciting, but I'll take mundane Zen any day. At least those folks aren't trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Any Zen master worth his shit will tell you there are no super powers, there's no special messages, there's no supernatural insight. All of the stuff they're telling you is shit that you could have figure out on your own. Of course, you didn't, and that's part of the problem. Zen masters tend to look at you like you're an idiot, because they literally don't have a message for you but you seem to be following them around anyways. Why is that? Why do people keep copying down the words of these weirdos with no message, no external goal, no superpowers, no nothing?

Isn't it obvious? Mundane Zen.

08 October 2017

Video Games Are the Worst Take

David Shimomura's article The Game Take is the Worst Take is short and to the point. It is saying "quit shoehorning video games into other kinds of writing."

In this particular article, he was talking about being able to relate to people outside of video games. It's really honestly obnoxious to read half-baked pandering articles about how thing Y is important because video games. I can relate to the real world through normal people ideas, thanks.

This reminded me of a very sad, strange article I'd read earlier but never had the time to discuss. Entitled "A dog has turned my life into an rpg," we discover that the author, Christian Donlan, has discovered that you can't take your dog into stores, and that you can talk to people. Just like in your favorite RPG! Did you know that passersby (what you and I, fellow gamer, might call NPCs,) are fully fledged humans with their own unique life stories? That's right- just like in RPGs. Isn't that interesting? Did you know that you can do repetitive things in real life? You can grind IRL!

Christian: get out more. I know it's a cliche but if you find yourself experiencing life through the filter of video games, you know that's not healthy. Talking to people and walking about town with a dog shouldn't inspire you to write a video games related article where you talk about how real life is just like a JRPG.

At its core, the article is a Facebook post or two worth of information. "Today, I walked my dog and met an old man who told me his life story! Super interesting! Good luck (Man's name)." or "Bringing a dog with you is a good way to meet people who like to pet dogs."

Not every article needs to be video-game related. I promise you. Try writing an article that doesn't mention video games once in a while. Try experiencing some media that isn't video games, even! [1]

I don't really mean to single out Christian, because this exact thing is basically what "writing about video games" is. If it's not just marketing, that is.

I don't know, I'm genuinely not trying to be mean. This sort of thing makes me a little sad. Can you imagine a life where you have conversations so seldom, where you walk so little, that the first thing you think of when you step outside to walk your dog is to think about sitting at home looking at a computer screen?

Wow! This looks just like video games!

[1] Can you imagine a film critic writing about how talking to people is just like dialog scenes in movies? Can you imagine a book reviewer doing something like that?

16 September 2017

An Illustrated Guide to Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle.

An Illustrated Guide to Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle.

Instead of writing tabletop games or kludging together an rpg-making software system into a form that I find usable, I have been reading about philosophy. The best thing I've read today is a summary of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, an incredibly influential and important work written when I was a child, and now summarized for your reading convenience here. I haven't read the actual book, either, but I enjoyed the article.

04 September 2017

Dragoncon 2017!

I've lived in Atlanta for the past couple of years and I always meant to go to Dragoncon but I always manage to talk myself out of it. Not this year, though!

I went with my good friend Alex, and we saw a lot of cool stuff. A couple of her friends were there (including one of the designers of a game called Legion,) and it was neat. My highlights:

1) Keith Baker held a panel, and it was kind of cool. I'm a respectful admirer of Eberron, and it was interesting hearing him speak about the things he'd made, why he made them, and the ideas that were behind them. He intentionally made Eberron kind of different [1], but what was really interesting was hearing him talk about Gloom. One day, so he was saying, he saw a deck of transparent playing cards and he thought to himself "I didn't know you could print on transparent plastic!" So he took a bunch of those overhead projector sheets and set about making a game with them. He basically went around asking a bunch of companies if they could make this into a game, and so they kind of did. That sort of process is enormously inspiring to somebody like me- it's not that he had some grand idea, it was just sort of a process of building successive prototypes of game and then trying to figure out afterwards if it could be made. [2]

2) The panel "Board games! Board games! Board games!" We were actually late to this one (we met some friends and so we had to traverse the streets while the parade was setting up [3]. As a result, I have no idea who the speaker was- we arrived after he introduced himself, plus we left before he was finished (I had to go see Keith Baker, which meant walking a couple of blocks through the super crowded streets), plus the Dragoncon app doesn't actually list anybody as a speaker? But anyways, this was a guy who spoke at length about, basically, how to make board games. He spoke about the process at Fantasy Flight, about how many games there are out there, how many are coming out, and what it takes to be a success. Mostly in business terms- he seemed to assume that everybody there knew how to design a decent game, and honestly, if you don't then nobody will publish your game. He did talk about the elevator pitch idea, and how the board game community is learning different skills- like how deckbuilders have sort of progressed since Dominion came out [4]. I thought that was interesting. Sometimes I fantasize about designing board games instead of just writing roleplaying rules in my head all day and so now that fantasy is a little stronger.

3) Creativity 101 on Sunday was interesting, if vague. The best thing, honestly, was being in a room full of writers, if that makes sense. I had forgotten what that was like! I spend most of my waking hours either by myself or alongside tradespeople, and while I get along quite well with electricians and plumbers and framers, they're a different type of person. This panel actually kind of sucked, but in fairness, it was labelled as a "101" style class. They'd ask questions about their process, and literally every time somebody said something that worked for them, somebody else would say they did the exact opposite. One guy stops in the middle of sentences so he's got something to finish up tomorrow morning and once he's writing, he gets right back where he was. Another lady doesn't stop until she's finished the chapter or paragraph and when she leaves her writing area, she's done. One person starts with the characters and builds a world to challenge them, another thinks of a situation that's interesting and works backwards to figure out who the people involved in it are. And so on, and so on. But it was fun, anyways. This is the panel where Alex and I decided it was time to get serious about writing, and so we both decided to do national novel writing month this year for real, and that we were going to meet up and talk about writing more often because even though we're both busy as shit with our real lives, if you don't make time for the things that are important to you then you'll never do it. And I know that as for me, personally, writing is part of who I am.

4) The best panel by far was the panel "Historical Influences in High Fantasy," which features Micheal Livingston, Van Allen Plexico, and Constance G. J. Wagner. The highlight for me was Micheal Livingston who I don't actually think I've ever mentioned on this blog but who is a person I highly admire and respect and he always had some extremely interesting things to say about whatever the topic was. Not to diminish the other panelists, of course- Constance is clearly a knowledgeable scholar in her own right, and Van (?) seemed like a pretty cool dude. I think Constance is a philosophical idealist, but I think that's common for Tolkien scholars and especially students of folklore and mythology- she seemed to think that the Game of Thrones TV show somehow spawned a movement towards grimdark, death, intrigue as a step away from Tolkien, whereas I'd argue that the fans of that show existed before the show came out, and that there's a pessimistic and cynical thread in storytelling in general that's very in vogue right now and has been popular for a while. [5]

Anyways, it was a very good panel and now I know a little more about what I need to do.

5) I missed out on seeing Alton Brown live (the line wrapped around the hotel for probably a mile, but I should have expected that) and so instead I went to hang out with Alex to talk to a write for the show Warehouse 13, which I'd never heard of but seemed pretty cool. She explained it to me over dinner, although we also both had some fairly strong drinks so my memory is a little fuzzy. But it's basically "what if a magical warehouse full of artifacts?" and I'm into that.

6) I love seeing artists and I bought some beautiful prints at the show from people that I thought were very cool. I'll probably write more about this later (I know I will,) but long story short, I have a bunch of beautiful art for my walls and I desperately need to get some frames. And one art book, by the very interesting Naomi Vandoren, who I am very jealous of. I tried not to seem to jealous in person when I was looking at her beautiful art and listening to how she painted all of this stuff while cruising across central Europe and Ireland and all of these other places but it was also inspiring. It made me feel like could, and should, be a better person. And that's what art is about! The things she paints and the landscapes she creates are so inviting. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who said that art is a conversation across time, and it's honestly wonderful. I did my best not to take up too much of her time at the convention but there is something genuinely inspiring about talking to certain people. I didn't mean for this to turn into a short essay about why I love art, but there you go. Best part of Dragoncon was seeing the artists. [6]

7) The guy who makes the Legion game is actually very nice and even though a military science fiction wargame based on the d20 system is literally the last thing I'd ever design, I do have a soft spot for that kind of system. I don't know if I'd go as far as trying to find out a way to get a place at his table, but it's certainly something I'll try and keep flexible on. In the meantime, if you do like that sort of thing, please check out Legion and see if you care for it, because it seems reasonably well made and I can assure you on a personal level that its creators are decent people.

[1] I don't really like things that are different for the sake of being different, but the thing about Keith Baker is that even if I don't necessarily agree with the things he says / thinks, he's a fairly intelligent man and an accomplished creative and I strongly respect his creative vision.

[2] It was like looking at how the sausage was made- he basically said that he had no idea if what he was trying to do was possible but he wanted to do it anyways, and also that he sort of made up the game based off what works when you're stacking transparent cards, which I thought was great.

[3] The streets were absolutely packed and it turns out the people of Atlanta walk a lot like they drive- distracted as shit and not paying attention to hardly anybody but themselves. There were multiple occasions where somebody would be walking through a narrow path about as wide as their shoulders and then just sort of stop where they were standing, which boggled my mind. At one point, there was about enough space for a single person to pass but people were trying to go in both directions, so I rubbed bellies / asses with quite a few of my fellow con-goers as we all crammed our bodies sideways and tried to make the best of it.

[4] He didn't like Dominion, which is almost heresy in my eyes. Not that he's wrong- some sets of kingdom cards are kind of boring (especially the base set, with duds like the Chancellor, a card which is both weak and boring... although to the designer's credit, he did end up removing quite a few of the most boring cards in the second edition.)

[5] Breaking Bad, for example, is a show about a sociopath and it was huge before Game of Thrones came out, and not to mention that GRRM's books have been out at least a decade before the TV show came out and they have been fairly popular throughout their entire run... Leaving aside the fact that Warhammer Fantasy has been a mainstay of the "grimdark" style of fantasy since the late 90s (where it began transitioning from goofy parody fantasy to over the top violent fantasy).

[6] I have mixed feelings about it sometimes because some artists have built up this big cage and it's just like, their face poking through so they can talk to people through this cage. One artist who I was very impressed by, Sam Guay (and who I bought art from, and will buy art from again), had almost a wall that she stood behind and I remember she looked at me with the strangest look in her eyes. I have learned over my lifetime that I am extremely good at reading people but a convention is not the place for me to try and spark a conversation with an artist at a convention booth when she probably just wants me to buy her art and go. But still. I hope she is ok.

01 September 2017

Imperial Quest Elements

Water conducts electricity.
Fire is quenched by water.
Earth is burned by fire.
Thunder is grounded by earth.

In gameplay terms, that means that you want to use lightning attacks on watery foes, water attacks on flaming monsters, fire attacks on earthen beasts, and earth attacks on air-type enemies. [1]

In addition, elemental effects affect your vulnerability to other elements. [2] If you have a fire blessing on you, you take extra damage from water attacks. If you have an air mage granting you haste, you might want to be careful that you don't get slammed by an earth attack. Since the RPG Maker AI is fairly primitive, it might not matter too much- but it's extra important for player characters, since they'll probably need to take advantage of these kinds of openings to make the most of their spells and abilities.

On the other hand, a fire blessing gives you resistance to earth attacks, so putting a quick fire shield on an ally is a good way to make sure they don't get ravaged by earth elementals.

In addition, there's a second "primal" wheel that's completely unconnected from the first- the cycle of light, darkness, and void.

Light banishes darkness.
Darkness fills the void.
The void consumes light.

These have the same effects, but within their own limited scope- if a monster has a magical void effect on them, they'll take extra damage from a darkness attack. Dark-type monsters take extra damage from light attacks.

It's very possible for monsters to have one elemental type and one primal type. Candice the witch, for example, is a void spellcaster who also dabbles in water magic.

Anyways, that's the basics. I haven't had much time to work on anything super interesting due to long work hours, but I'm doing my best. Watch this space!

[1] In this schema, earth is wood, dirt, stone, and it's all equally vulnerable to fire. Similarly, air is lightning, wind, and flying-type beasties. This means that you can use root-based attacks on flying creatures, which if this was a Pokemon game would be a big no-no but in this case, I simply don't care. Maybe it deals extra damage because the magical roots reach up super high and slam you down, or because air creatures are fragile and therefore vulnerable to being bashed by rocks- I don't care. Pokemon has too many types and abilities and interactions and it's a giant pain in the ass to keep track of it.

Similarly, I know that ice doesn't conduct electricity, but it doesn't matter. Keep it simple, silly.

[2] ;)

[3] This mostly matters in terms of what kinds of abilities they get- human beings (and human-type characters) are balanced both primally and elementally, and are equally vulnerable to all magical effects.

29 August 2017

Imperial Quest: Dialog

I don't really have any artistic skills, so I'm mostly just saving art from the internet and using it wherever I can. Since I'm not drawing any of this stuff (and I don't particularly want to use the default tilesets or character art or whatever) it means that I have to take a couple of measures to try and maximize what I do have.

Dialog screens, so far, look a lot like this. The characters who are talking stand over top of a scene, and then the messages display below.  I've actually got a bit of branching dialog going already.

A lot of this stuff is pretty simple. I've been DMing for a long time and I used to write for money, so this sort of thing comes pretty easily.

In this scene, Andol (the warrior on the right) is meeting Thalia (on the left) for the first time. Andol is still injured from the introduction battle, so you'll get an opportunity to rest. This is still basically the tutorial. Andol is a Captain, which means that she's got party buffs and decent physical damage. Thalia is a Rogue, so she's got both damage and utility. They're designed to work together- Thalia can spend TP to do a double attack, and Andol can spend TP to buff the entire party's Attack and Defense. So a good strategy is to save up your TP and have Andol shout and Thalia go to town double attacking. Andol can also just Power Attack if she needs to do damage, and Thalia can Throat Punch to silence annoying casters.

After you rest, Andol will gain experience, and then Thalia joins the party. I think that you'll also gain some items, but I haven't implemented that. It makes sense that Thalia might have some potions or something that she'll share with the party (such as it is.) I haven't decided what Andol gets at level two, other than stat point increases. I actually wrote a pretty simple script that lets you (the player) decide what she gets as she levels up. I'm not sure if that's something I'll let you do for every character, or just for Andol (who is basically your avatar.) [1]

The party continues on after this, and will go towards the tomb where Cawain is busy disturbing the dead and searching for forbidden artifacts. You know how wizards are. This is also where you'll meet the next member of the party- a sorcerer named Bevior. As a spellcaster, Bevior interacts with a couple of systems that we haven't touched on yet, so that should be fairly interesting.

[1] I'd like to add Dragon Age inspired conversational options to the characters throughout the game, and some sort of stat tracker to see how well you're getting along with your fellow party members, because I think that sort of thing is a lot of fun. Social systems are pretty cool, even if Bioware tends to make them pretty weird. I don't plan on having the characters sleep with you if you give them enough gifts or anything.

27 August 2017

Imperial Quest

I got my hands on RPG Maker MV and I've been having a little bit of fun with it.

By default, it's set up to let you make a fairly traditional JRPG, but honestly I've never been much of a JRPG fan. I get lost wandering around their big sprite worlds, and I don't really like random battles. [1]

But I do like game engines, and RPG Maker MV has quite a lot of plugins that let you redefine pretty much anything. Javascript is apparently easy to code in, not that I would know. But it does mean that I can assemble the game I want and then keep on rolling forwards.

In this case, I've been borrowing still images I found on the internet and using the magic of the game engine to paste things together. As an example, you can see that Andol and company have started a battle with a Manticore. You can't see it from this screen, but they all have unique items equipped, and a variety of skills. Andol can Shout, giving her entire party an attack and defense buff for a couple of turns. Thalia is a Rogue with double attack- for a mere 5 TP she can attack twice in a row.

Bevior is the Sorcerer, and he knows a fire spell that applies a damage-over-time burn effect sometimes. Since he's level 5 (something else you can't see on this menu screen), he also knows Thunder Storm (multi-target air element damage spell), Cauterize, and Energize.

Randal is an Elvish Cleric, and he knows Sunbeam and Armor of Light, and he can spend 5 TP to cast Prayer, which heals the whole team.

The Manticore, for its part, is pretty dangerous. It can actually take multiple actions per round and has two attacks- Double Attack (the mirror image of Thalia), and Spike Volley, which launches three attacks at random enemies. Each attack deals damage and has a chance to poison. Oh, and it can also Howl, which is an Air element attack that also lowers its enemy's damage.

I plan on continuing to tinker with the game- what I have so far is the product of my screwing around with it after work and on the weekends. Once I have the battle system nailed down, my next step is to figure out a way to move the party from location to location. I don't want to use the standard JRPG convention of moving a little walking figure around, so I'm thinking a location menu? I haven't gotten that far yet.

My current sticking point is the lackluster item investigation screen, which only shows a handful of stats and is hideous, to boot. I need a system that lets me show the traits that I've given to items, if nothing else.

[1] Too much ludonarrative dissonance, plus the idea that violence is something that anybody can stumble on (and that even intelligent foes fight to the death) is really weird.

12 July 2017

Iteration 2: Hero Plus Minions

This is related to the idea I posted the other day, where this one turns into a combination of card and skirmish game. You pick out a hero and then you get a handful of cards unique to that particular hero. If you're playing the Dwarf King, you get cards about how your dudes are really resilient, and cards that make the Dwarf King good at fighting. If you're playing the Elvish Sorcerer, you get cards about throwing fireballs and having had really good planning. And so on.

And then the other half of the cards come from the units you select. Units have a cost, and come with their own special cards. Some cards might only boost their own powers, but some might have unique benefits. Some cards benefit their entire team, or part of it, or maybe care about card types.

I imagine, especially, a low cost Peasant unit that only does a little bit of something- maybe the Peasants just have a card that says "Discard this card and draw another card," so if you have an army of Peasants they're not doing much, but it leaves more room for your Hero to do stuff all the time.

All the heroes and all of the cards have their own health, armor, and damage values. They also have a range, which just tells you what row they can attack from. Everybody's in two rows- frontline or back. Ranged units can attack into the frontline from the backline, where they are mostly protected from harm. It's difficult to attack the backline, but backline units always have minimal health so they need to be protected. On your turn, you can play a card and attack with any of your units that aren't exhausted. [1] Units that are in combat deal damage to each other equal to their attack values minus the other unit's armor. Health is not replenished except by special effects. Armor applies to each attack- if you are attacked for 3 four times and you have an armor of 2, you take 4 damage. If you took all 12 damage at once, you would take 10 damage.

Play passes back and forth between the units. Each slain unit is worth its cost value. Heroes are worth their supply value (the currency you buy units with). [2] The side with the most points at the end of the game wins. The bigger the difference in score, the more one-sided the game was.

Other Ideas:
Scholars card that has really good card draw but sucks in actual combat.
A monstrous creature that has negative cards that must be played, and then their other cards are excellent. Balancing the risk of having dangerous creatures around that can turn on you... Probably cost 6-8 or so, the Dwarf King and his pet dragon makes for a pretty cool encounter on its own.
Clerics/Paladins that are good melee warriors with a strong heal. Probably just 2 sets of doubles: A card that heals a little and draws you a card, and then a card that heals everybody without the card draw. Cost 4.
Horse Archers unit that can negate an attack while dealing minor damage, making engaging them frustrating to deal with, plus cards about removing enemy resources. Cost 3 maybe?
Heavy Knights who have a big benefit from additional heavy mounted allies, making a valorous charge, plus they have cards about making all their attacking allies better if they're not attacking. Probably cost 5 or 4.
Backline archers that do more damage with other archers. These guys should cost 2, I think, they are effective but taking too many is risky.
Ranger unit that can shift between front or back line, with their ability cards split between defensive frontliner and aggressive backliner.. Cost 1, but he's got two cards.
Berserker unit that gets stronger when it's alone and outnumbered. (like "Berserkers gets damage bonus minus two for each friendly frontline unit," and "Berserkers gains X armor for the turn, where X is the number of enemy frontliners," and then something where they take damage to land a big attack.
Militia- are frontline, but can attack from the backline with a card. Their other card heals them, since there's never a shortage of Militia. Cost 2
A real dwarfy dwarf who likes other dwarfs. Maybe a captain or something. He comes with its own sub-unit of two dwarfs, who do not have cards. Cost 3 or 4.
Dwarf warriors because you have to have them. Cost 3, they can look at the enemy's cards and gives everybody armor for a turn if you're being attacked.
An elf captain, this guy is 1 more than the Dwarf Captain because he's more of a solo hero. Has a team attack buff, a personal defense buff, a decent AoE attack, and something else.
These are elf commandos, so they have a good attack but bad armor. They have evasive cards though.

This is mostly brainstorming for my own benefit, but if anybody reads this then hopefully you can see what I'm talking about, lol

[1] Exhausted units can't attack. Exhaustion mostly comes from special effects- it's not like tapping in Magic where you tap to attack and all that.

[2] Heroes have 10 supply value by default, but there's no real reason they can't have less.

09 July 2017

Paralyzing Perfection

The title is taken from this blog, Doomslakers!, which I just discovered this morning but quite enjoy.

It discusses the fear that whatever we create won't be perfect, and won't live up to the ideal, therefore it's not worthy to be shared. Or created, or whatever. You get disappointed in how your project isn't shaping up to be quite right, and therefore you abandon it.

In this vein, let me share the nugget of the idea I've been thinking about.

I haven't been playing a lot of roleplaying games [1], and so to fill the time in between working and sleeping, these days I've been playing video games instead. One of these video games is Heroes of the Storm. I'm an old hand at these kinds of games- I've been playing proto-"MOBAs" since their generation in the Warcraft 3 customs scene, and I've played nearly everything since. But Heroes of the Storm is my absolute favorite, for the time being. The characters are well designed, the different maps makes a different set of heroes stronger or weaker, and the focus is on actually playing as a team all game long.

One of the things that the Heroes team does is make a shifting rotation of minigame maps available to play. One of my favorite features two teams battling arena-style over two enormous AI-controlled warriors called Punishers. A team gets 3 points for killing an enemy hero, and ten points for killing the powerful Punishers.

Punishers spend about half their time attacking each other, and half their time attacking whatever hero is the closest to them. They are about an even match for two heroes, but can be defeated fairly quickly by an entire team. Of course, the enemy team wants to kill you and your Punisher, so it's a balancing act.

I was thinking of making a game based around similar conventions- a short team-based tactics skirmish game. I decided to borrow the action system from the wonderful Space Hulk: Death Angels boardgame, and so when you pick a hero you get three or four cards that you add to your action deck. You have 5 heroes, so you have a total deck size of 15-20. Each turn, you can move each of your heroes and you also get two actions. With an action, you can play a card or draw a card.

Heroes also have health, armor, movement speed, and attack values. A hero can move up their movement value each turn. A hero adds their attack value to the damage of any attacks they deal, and subtracts their armor from each instance of incoming damage. When they're out of health, a hero dies and comes back later. [2]

Mostly, I thought of heroes that would be interesting in this context. Such as:

Storm Priest-
    Chain Lightning- Deal medium damage to a single target, then light damage to a nearby enemy, then light damage to a nearby enemy
    Energize- Heal + bonus on next move
    Teleport- Move to a nearby location and deal damage to all adjacent enemies
Wolf Shaman- dash attack, selfheal + draw, purge effect
    Lunge- Dash and deal light bonus damage. Deal more damage if the target is bleeding.
    Adrenaline- Heal light damage and draw a card
    Purge- Remove all cards from a target and deal light damage
Dark Crusader-
    Gathering Shadows- deals medium damage to all adjacent enemies
    Drain Life- Medium range damage + self heal
    Block- Discard to reduce the damage from a single attack
Iron Knight-
    Block- Discard to reduce the damage from a single attack
    Crash- Dash and stun an enemy
    Burning Blade- Deal bonus damage and ignite enemy   
Grey Monk-
    Kick- Counter a card played by an adjacent enemy
    Flurry- Make three attacks with a single attack action.
    Adrenaline- heal light damage and draw a card
Beastmaster Sergeant-
    Hounds- heal all hounds. if there are less hounds than two, summon hounds adjacent to beastmaster until there are two.
        Hounds are fast but not tough. They deal light damage.
    Sound the Alarm- discard a card, then draw a card. an ally may move.
    Lacerate- Attack, and apply damage over time

There's still a lot of work to be done with this one, obviously enough. But it's a lot of fun writing this stuff anyways!

[1] My last attempt at running 5e failed because I am apparently unable to learn that I don't really like running 5e. Plus my group had no chemistry- everybody was laid back, and everybody appreciated the way I ran the game, but there was nobody to bounce my ideas off of!

[2] I actually haven't decided what to do about this part, honestly. In the HotS minigame, dying gives the other team points and you come back in a somewhat short period of time. The map is smallish, so it doesn't take you long to get back into the fight- you can sometimes even jump back into the same extended skirmish if both sides are playing cautiously enough.

16 April 2017

This Blog

The thing about this blog is that it's kind of past its purpose. I've had this thing for years. In its heyday, people would come by and read it, but that was when the idea of talking about old-school D&D was sort of a niche thing.

These days, it's not even particularly interesting. There are a half dozen retroclones out there, including an official reprint. 5e D&D was intentionally made to try and recapture some of the building steam from people like me, who quite enjoyed D&D the way it was and didn't particularly need to play a detailed tactics game every single session.

The other part of the mix is that I just don't play roleplaying games as much as I used to. A big part of it is that I'm taking better care of myself these days. I've come to grips with the fact that I have depression, and that means treating a disease that I've ignored for almost 30 years now. Part of the way I used to deal with my depression was roleplaying games- they really are a lot of fun, they provide a good source of social interaction to somebody with a strong tendency to self-isolate, and they tend to attract people who are a little offbeat (my favorite kind of people). It also helped kill time when I was an unemployed alcoholic.

These days I've mostly stopped drinking, and I spend a lot of time at work. I'm an electrician now, so I spend a lot of time thinking, and being social, and walking around. So when I come home, I'm tired of thinking so hard, and I'm tired of having to talk to people all day. I'm also tired of moving, sometimes- so I play a lot of video games, now. I write little minigames now, and am more interested in board games. You know, something I can play in a couple of hours as a self-contained unit.

I'm still thinking about game design, though, and about critical theories and stuff. I've become a little more well read, politically. I still write all the time (on the weekends now, mostly), so there is that.

I've been thinking of starting with a clean slate on another blog, with a new name. I know nobody really reads this, but when that happens I'll make an announcement and see what happens. It's really not hard to be part of a blogging community (even though the phrase doesn't make as much sense as it did almost ten years ago when this blog started), and I think that something a little different will be a nice change of pace.

Yes, indeed. Everything's changed.

26 February 2017

Making a Character in The One Ring

There are five races in the game, but as I'd been reading about the Woodsmen in order to learn the rules, the more I knew I wanted to play the frontier norsemen fighting for their lives against the encroaching darkness.

Woodsmen all get a cultural blessing, in this case, Woodsmen use their favored wits score as their Parry rating when in the woods. In other words, Witty woodsmen are exceptionally hard to hit in combat when they're in forests. Sounds good to me- characters with high Wits are pretty cool anyways, so I'll keep an eye out for it.

Next, the skills. Every member of a culture has these minimal skills by the time they are an adult. (1) You just write them down on your character sheet. You get a chance to customize it a little later. The underlined skill is a favored skill, and uses the favored attribute rating instead of the base (usually a couple of points better).

You choose from between two groups of weapon skills- in this case, it's asking me if I'd like to be better at bows or axes. I choose Bows, since it seems more versatile, and write down the scores. This character has a skill of two in all bows, and 1 in long-hafted axes and daggers. Every character gets at least a 1 in Daggers, but it's nice to be able to use a good weapon, too.

I choose two specialties from a list of six: My character is good at Herb-Lore, Beast-Lore, and Leechcraft. Clearly he's got an interest in healing, which I figure come in handy.

Backgrounds next. They're numbered one through six but I'm cheating a little and just picking the one that catches my eye: The Seeker. My character's basic attributes are now Body 2, Heart 5, and Wits 7. Each attribute can be used with roughly 1/3 of the skills sometimes- spend a point of Hope and get a decent bonus. My attributes make spending Hope for Wits challenges pretty useful, but Body not as much.

I also gain a favored skill of Athletics, which I note.

I choose Bold and Determined as Features. Features are a subset of Traits, but they're all personality related and can't be gained during play. All Traits let you get automatic successes on some events that would otherwise require rolls. They also let you gain Advancement points- if you can invoke a trait while rolling a skill roll, you can get points that you improve your character.

The next step is choosing a calling. Each calling has two favored skill groups, a shadow weakness, and a free trait. Warden, the calling I'm choosing for this character, has favored skill groups of Survival and Personality, a shadow weakness of Lure of Power, and the trait Shadow-Lore. From the personality group I choose Awe, because I think it'd be interesting in the future and none of the other options appeal to me, and from Survival I choose hunting.

Next, I decide on my favored attributes. I decide to give my highest bonus to Heart, since I want this Woodsman to be a little more balanced. Wits gets plus two, since I'd like to benefit from the Parry bonus in the woods. Body gets a mere plus one, even though I have two favored skills there, because I'm hoping not to use it

My character sheet now looks like this:

Since I can't underline, I've chosen to mark my favored skills with an asterisk.

Next step, I decide what to spend my ten "free" advancement points on- either skill groups or weapon groups. I'm cool with my weapon selections, but I would like to be a little better at the axe, so I'll spend 4 points to increase that. Next, I'll increase my Awe by 1 (for 1 point), leaving me with 5 points. I don't have any good Custom skills, and I'd like this character to be well-respected. I decide to give him a boost to his Riddle, spending 3 points to raise that skill to 3. Two points left- let's make our Battle 2 while we're at it.

Next, Endurance and Hope. These are determined by your culture- mine are 20 and 10.

You start with gear appropriate to your culture. It's separated into travel gear and war gear. I don't know what time of year it is- but if it's cold, I have 2 base encumbrance. If it's warm I only have 1. This traveling gear includes food for a week- if I'm away for longer than that, I'll need to either seek civilization and get more supplies or rely on my skills as a hunter. Luckily, my character is a decent hunter and his hope bonus should ensure that we'll have food if we really need it.

Since I have a song of 1, I can choose to bring an instrument. I'm going to give this character a flute- obviously it's wooden, but I imagine he makes them himself. He's no musician, but he dabbles.

I can have a weapon for each weapon skill I have. I will choose to be fully-armed with a Great Bow, a Long-Hafted Axe, and a Dagger. That's 6 encumbrance, which I write down. I may not have a shield, but a Long-Hafted Axe can be used in two hands, so as long as I'm careful I should be ok.

In The One Ring, you choose what "position" each round to fight in. The further forward you fight, the easier it is to hit and be hit, and if you're traveling with a team that can screen for you, you can even continue to use ranged weapons in combat. Otherwise, you're limited to a volley before the battle engages, and then you're in pitched melee.

You can carry an amount of encumbrance equal to your Endurance rating, When get hurt, your Endurance score lowers and you can carry less. I'm at 6/20, however, and I think it'd be reasonable for my character to have some armor. He has a Leather Corslet, for 8 encumbrance and 2d protection. 12/20 is plenty of maneuvering room for my character- he's not especially durable but with a little care, it shouldn't matter.

Next, Valor and Wisdom. 2 points in 1, 1 in the other. Every time you increase your Wisdom or Valor score to 2 or higher, you get a Reward or a Virtue.

Rewards improve a single characteristic of any item. Qualities are the sorts of items that any culture can (and may) produce, like an especially sharp sword or a well-made helm. Cultural Rewards are a little different- only a shire-hobbit can have a King's Blade, and it would be odd for a Beorning to use a Dwarf-Wrought Hauberk.

Virtues are special skills or abilities. Woodsmen may have a special hound, and Elves may know how to speak with animals and trees. This particular Woodsman is going to have Hunter's Resolve, which lets him recover Endurance equal to his favored Heart rating (8) once per day by spending a single point of Hope. Very durable!

Up next would be company creation, but this is the part where the character hooks into the rest of the party (and the world) and since I'm just developing a single character for now, that's a little overkill. But I like what I've got.

He's a Warden, at home in the deep forests. He knows a thing or two about the shadows, even among his people. He knows the secrets of the forests, and fears little. He is scrawny, apparently, or at least not strong, but his mind is sharp.

For my last step I'll give him a name: Barald. I've decided that he's a young man, no more than 22, and that he'd go well in almost any company- he'd make a good guide, a good healer, an all around solid woodsman. He doesn't have much in the way of social graces (although he might enjoy hanging around scholars and trading riddles), and when it comes to actually traveling long distances he's at a bit of a loss. At least he's got sharp eyes!

(1) There's no way that I know of to start with less built-in points and play, say, a woodsman who was physically frail (lower athletics) or some such.

25 February 2017

The One Ring

I dissolved my 5e group over the weekend. (1)

In its place, I want to run The One Ring.

Now, I'm not the biggest Tolkien buff in the world- but I have watched the old Rankin-Bass Hobbit movie so many times that I've memorized all of the songs. I obsessed over Peter Jackon's movies when they came out, and have had discussions over what, exactly, the Uruk-Hai are. I have an opinion on Feanor and on Elrond.

I've been reading Njal's Saga, as well, and if there's any way to emulate old Germanic / Norse sagas, it's with The One Ring. In those tales, some men were highly regarded warriors. Some were skilled craftsmen, wise judges, or learned scholars. None were considered lowly, except the craven or the dishonorable.

In The One Ring, you might not have any real combat capabilities, but that's absolutely fine because even the warriors don't really want to fight. And most characters have some combat skill anyways- it is not uncommon for Dwarfs or Woodmen to have to defend their homes, and spears aren't that different from pitchforks anyways. An axe is both a tool and a weapon.

But every character's got mostly non-combat skills, too. Dwarves are generally good at crafting, and singing. The hobbit is great at diplomacy, sneaking, and riddles. The Woodsman is a sharp healer and can ready body language. These skills take up most of the space on your character sheet- there are 18 of them, and every character has a handful, and gain points in them when the skill succeeds or fails in a distinctive or memorable way. So you're encouraged, in-game to do interesting things with your abilities. It doesn't matter if you always pick locks- pick something interesting! You're a good singer but you can't be great until you do something truly daring- like charming an uruk-hai with your tunes! Your characters quickly become distinctive and memorable in a way that is actually unique to the player, which is just great.

Characters have both physical stamina and emotional resilience. They can lose Endurance by getting hurt, both in combat and out. Losing Endurance eventually makes you Weary, which is a status condition that doesn't go away until you take an extended rest. While you're Weary, your low results are simply discarded, so you're more likely to lose close rolls. You can lose Hope by picking up Shadow points, which you gain by interacting with nasty things in the game. You can gain Shadow points by witnessing carnage, by simply interacting with truly horrific sites (a necromancer's tomb, a massed army of orcs, that sort of thing,), or by simply being awful to people.

The more Shadow points you have, the worse things get for you. You picked your character's Shadow Weakness when you made the character: You chose in what way the stress of adventuring would bring them madness. And so when you have more Shadow than Hope, you become Miserable. When you're Miserable and roll the eye symbol on the dice, you suffer a bout of madness. (2)

When you're mad, you act out in the way that you chose that you would, but it's the GM doing it for a little while. And he's supposed to make things worse, or at least a little more tense.

You can spend Hope to get a bonus on your die rolls. You restore Hope by draining the party's shared Fellowship pool. This pool restocks when you're in the resting Fellowship Phase, but otherwise is mostly static. You can get Hope for free if everybody agrees you can, but if every single person doesn't agree then you have to spend Shadow to gain it. 1 point of Shadow for each point of Hope.

If your Hope hits zero, you can't do anything- you can merely passively exist. If your Endurance hits zero, you drop unconscious. If you become Wounded, the rules change a little. If you're Wounded and you get Wounded again, you're unconscious. If you're Wounded at zero Endurance, you begin to die. If you're dying, another Wound will kill you. Otherwise, you can last about 12 hours without treatment.

There are a lot of other interesting mechanics in the game, too. Traveling is its own special set of rules (called a Journey). There's a Fellowship phase where the adventurers are resting for a while while the players spend their points and decide what happens to them in their breaks.

It's a cool system, and I hope that I can find some good players to enjoy it with.

(1) It just wasn't working out- the players had no real cohesion or drive, and everybody was too laid back. The system is flabby in the only parts I cared about, and skeletal in the interesting parts. The game is mostly combat focused, but the combat is mostly uninteresting. The default setting is both bolted strongly on and extremely boring; it doesn't really correspond with any sort of fiction I've ever enjoyed, and there aren't really any stories to tell. I would have had to make my own 5e campaign setting, which wouldn't be so bad except that, again, the system isn't interested in the stories I have to tell. It cares about a party of warriors who overcome a series of violent encounters engaging in a level treadmill all the way up. I could write more about how I dislike this style of play, but I'll just leave it at that.

(2) If you're using regular d12s, the 11 is the eye and the 12 is the gandalf rune. On the 6 sided die, there's an elvish "t".

06 January 2017

The Only Accurate Alignment Chart


I know I usually post more substantive things but this popped up on my Twitter feed and I didn't want to lose it. This really is the only accurate alignment chart that I've seen! \

I mean, what would you change?

03 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics, Part 2

The other reason I'm thinking about campfire mechanics is because of one of my favorite games of the past couple of years: Renowned Explorers. If you haven't played it, here's the general conceit:

There are a large number of characters- choose one to be your expedition leader (this gives a unique bonus) and then two to be expedition members. Each character has one of a number of skills and abilities, and also approaches. Central to the RE experience is the idea of attitudes; that is, the effect of your actions on your opponents. Your attitude can be Friendly, Devious, or Aggressive, and so can your opponent. Each adventurer has three moves (and gains more); one each of Aggressive, Devious, and Friendly. Also important are moods and spirit- a mood can be either negative or positive. Whether it's negative or positive matters for the moods that can be applied by moves. Moods take the place of standard fantasy buffs or debuffs- for example, Excited characters have +25% speech and Enraged characters have 25% less defense.

In the middle of an adventure, you are allowed to build a campfire. The three characters relax around the campfire and you draw from a deck of cards. Each character has different campfire cards, and there are some basic generic cards that round out the deck.

As you can see from this screenshot, the presence of Yvonne has included a unique card of hers, which provides certain benefits- in this case, a bonus when you recruit a certain hireling. (Renown are "victory points" and accumulating renown is how you the high score and a good ending.)

Pedrinho (the bald black man) also has a unique card. Every character does- every character has something that only they can do, and only when resting. Some cards are not particularly interesting- Yvonne's just gives you a bonus for something you were probably doing anyways, and it's not often practical to try and recruit many Journalists. They're limited in number, for one. But still, it's a decent bonus.

One of my favorite cards is for a Russian fighter named Ivan- his card halves his attack but gives him a significant bonus to speech, turning him from a formidable brawler to a defensive speaker (sort of). Once used, this change lasts for the entire game, with no way to turn back. It's a powerful bonus, but you have to have been ready for it. You have to have built your party around it!

It's a series of very cool decisions by a very savvy group of game designers, and I love it. I wish I could see more of it. 

01 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics

Darkest Dungeon has a really cool feature that I think is under-utilized in tabletop games: The Campfire Mechanic. If you've never played it, here's a quick rundown:

In Darkest Dungeon, you play as four heroes of varying class. You explore a dungeon in straight-passage sections. You encounter obstacles and opponents, both of which have varying effects on your health and sanity. You can bring items into the dungeon, and there's usually valuable goods there. You spend the money on better gear and more supplies for next time. If you lose all your sanity, your hero loses effectiveness- and if you do it again, your hero immediately dies. If you lose all your health, your hero immediately dies. Hero death is permanent and irreversible (without cheating).

On longer expeditions, you might be able to choose to rest. If you do, you are given X units of time. Each character has a couple of things they can do with these time units- characters can tend to each others' wounds, lead the group in a prayer, or perform occult rituals. You can't get some of these bonuses any other way, and a well-formed group will exit a resting state much stronger than it would have otherwise been.

On longer and more difficult expeditions, this resting phase is essential to completing the game's content. What a given character class can do at camp is an important consideration (although less so given the makeup of the game*), and I'd like to see that in a tabletop game.

*The balance of the game isn't perfect, and some characters happen to have both good campfire skills and battle abilities, and some don't have either.

Of course, part of the reason it works so well in Darkest Dungeon is that the game makes no pretense at any sort of real-life justification for its mechanics. Why don't you exit town with these buffs? Because you don't. You can't rest when you want to because the game only gives you a limited amount of firewood and there's no way to get more. In real life, of course, we can rest whenever we'd like.

And so it is in most  tabletop games. Finding time to rest is actually pretty easy- most games seem to proceed at a leisurely pace, and we all know about the "15 minute adventuring day". The only real way to avoid it is to either restrict access to time* or removing the limitation altogether.

In this situation, it's the difference between a class feature that lets you spend campfire time for a defensive bonus that lasts a couple of hours and a class feature that simply gives you and your party a static bonus all the time because you're assumed to be casting the ritual on any convenient downtime.

*Putting time pressures on the party- timed objectives, wandering monsters, cost of living, reinforcing patrols, that sort of thing.

I actually started writing a little system that included campfire mechanics using D&D terminology. In this little thing, a short rest was now 1 campfire move long, and a long rest being 2. You could also decide to go into "downtime," which would let you basically do as many campfire actions as you thought wise. This downtime ties into cost-of-living, which means that the players need to have some sort of income. This is probably adventuring loot.

Anyways, the general idea is that you can tend people's wounds if you need to, which is assumed to sort of be the D&D standard. If you're not doing that, then you might be doing something in the game world- standing watch, studying something

More on that later, probably. This post is almost as much of a brainstorming session as the original!

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...