Monday, April 30, 2012

Proof-Reading in Palm Springs

Writing from a time-share (not mine) in the desert...the first time I've had access to the Internet in...what, three? Four days? You'd think a town with a pro-football team like San Diego would be civilized enough to have ready Web access. Nope. I had to come out to the middle of nowhere to finally access email without paying $15 an hour.

Don't let anyone tell you rich folks don't lead a cozy life.

I'm feeling a little down-melancholy tonight so I'm going to keep this short, as I'm liable to write something I may regret later (I've only just started on my wine, otherwise I'd probably just let fly, full bore). I got to see an old friend today, which was great, but possibly made an ass of myself (which is not great). Had dinner with my Dad which was good. Watched the police haul off a belligerent "patron" in hand-cuffs which was scary.

Okay, maybe things aren't totally cozy in the desert.

Sat down and started reading CDF tonight with an eye towards a "quick proofing" and found half a dozen typos in the first two pages. Ugh. Not really surprising when I think about it...I had a similar issue when I was proofing the first book (and in many regards, that one was a lot easier to write) and this is probably the reason editors were invented in the first place. Unfortunately, I can't really afford an editor (as I said, it's not my time-share).

Well, anyway, I said I'd keep this short and I meant it. I've written a couple long ramble-y missives in the last couple days that I wasn't able to post due to my "connectivity problem;" maybe I'll toss those up this week. Otherwise, I'm afraid I've got too much on my plate already to spend a lot of time blogging till I get back to Seattle.

Now where'd I put that pencil?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Huh...that's interesting.

Monte Cook is leaving Wizards of the Coast. I guess he won't be involved in the 5E reboot after all.

[thanks to Thomas Denmark for the original link]

Totally Stoked/Drunk

Had a great play-test tonight of CDF (thanks Jon, Greg). No one died, magic rules worked did the newly written vehicle pursuit rules. It was a good time and I'm excited by how well it went.

For some reason, though, I seem to be getting drunker/sleepier by the minute.

I need to do a few things and then get to bed...I'll write more tomorrow (hopefully). This Tuesday night thing is kind of cool...I get a couple-three days to tinker before the weekend responsibilities take over. I could get to like this "early week stuff."
: )

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tuesday Change-Up (Play-Testing)

All right, I'm moving my play-test night to Tuesday, i.e. TOMORROW (4/24)...or at least, I'm attempting to do so.

Yes, I realize it's short notice. Yes, I know I should list these things before 10pm the day before. Sorry, folks...Saturday was taken up with the disgusting, historic humiliation of the Seattle Mariners, Sunday was the final day of the Tulip Festival, and today...well, I spent half the day looking for one of the running beagles, who was indeed on the run (we found her, but it took three and a half hours). Oh, all the normal stuff.

SO...realizing it's short notice, I will again invite interested parties to email me their interest. IF you've got Tuesday night free (8is to 11:30ish), IF you can get up to the Baranof (in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle), and IF you're interested in smoking some goblins with automatic weapon fire.

Let me know.

Thanks folks...Wednesday I've got an appointment with witch doctor #1 and will probably be needing a long soak in the tub afterwards. It would be nice to have some more "actual play" thoughts to mull over while I do so.
; )

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mining RPG Gold

I don't get to watch many movies these days.

That probably comes as a surprise for few who share my basic circumstances: a full-time job, a young child, a couple pets (and house) requiring upkeep, not to mention a tight budget of money, time, and energy. Even after the baby's asleep and the beagles fed and the chores finished, my life generally comes down to a choice between sleep and entertainment. And while sleep generally loses out (unless I'm feeling particularly responsible or exhausted), "entertainment" can mean writing or blogging or taking the dogs for a late night stroll or just catching a couple DVR'd sitcoms on the couch with my loving wife.

Even before the baby and the beagles my movie watching had slowed down considerably from "the good ol' days" (that's the 1990s), but yes, once upon a time I was a bit of a cinephile. And I still enjoy them...especially good ones. But my days of supporting low-budget, art-house stuff and cruising Scarecrow for foreign gems is pretty much ancient history. Hell, I can barely find a way to see the Oscar-films and I've got a considerable backlog on Netflix.

Netflix. Yeah, it's great and all, but I'm still lucky if I can find time to watch a single movie a week. The Ides of March has been sitting on the shelf for about three weeks now (right next to my unwatched six-volume Star Wars on BlueRay that I received for Christmas...shit), and I've got to get through that AND The Descendants AND The Artist before I can even think about catching up on the "fun stuff" that I'm wanting to watch (did I mention Star Wars?).

I write all this to dutifully impress upon you the gravity of the fact that I've recently added Game of Thrones to my Netflix queue..and moved it up in the order.

This I've done because of all the people who keep telling me (and my wife, who is NOT much of a fantasy fan) how fantastic the series is. I'm not surprised it's good...I've got sucked into many HBO series over the years (despite NOT subscribing to HBO) and have found much of it to be terrifically entertaining...even the light-weight stuff like Bored to Death. But watching TV serials of this type is another "thing of the past" for my wife and I; other than Mad Men, there's nothing serious that we follow on the TV, though we've dabbled into some of the quality stuff currently brimming the air-waves.

Now, personally I've never read any of George R. R. Martin's books. This is more a matter of timing than anything else. By the time he began writing his Song of Ice and Fire series (circa 1996) I was several years removed from reading fantasy novels...and at the time he was writing his SciFi and Wild Card stuff, well, I've never been a big reader of SciFi, even in my reading-obsessed youth. And superhero novels? Where are the pictures?

But, yeah, I'm familiar with the name, and I've since looked a bit into the Wild Cards (though only by way of a graphic novel adaptation I found in a used book store...still haven't read any of the boos). I find the Wild Cards subject matter incredibly fascinating, not because of it's approach to the "genre" but because much of it was inspired by Martin's RPG gaming group using the Superworld (Chaosium) RPG system.

Martin isn't the first person to adapt RPG-inspired events to the literary medium, though most such books, I'd imagine, fall squarely in the "high fantasy" section. How could they not, with D&D and its imitators being such a dominant part of the RPG market? When I was a kid with a long-running AD&D campaign, we often talked about writing short stories and novels about our characters and their adventures...a couple of us (not me) who were hopeful-writer-types even did put some of it to paper. I've often thought about revisiting those characters and events to pen some sort of novel, but when I try to think up a story-line I really can't do it in a coherent enough structure. I mean, I'm NOT a trained writer, and at the time I was too busy enjoying playing...I wasn't thinking how best to structure a narrative with my character actions (PC or NPC).

[just by the way, I know that it's not ALL high fantasy...if the author of those True Blood books didn't play a little Vampire the Masquerade back in the 90s, then she must be Rein-Hagen's cousin or roommate or something, what with all those blood bonds and princes and justicars and World of Darkness shit: faeries and lupine and whatnot]

Knowing this about Mr. Martin...that he is (or was) a gamer who's quite happy to draw inspiration from gaming...and knowing his reputation as an excellent, award-winning author is what makes the whole Game of Thrones thing so damn intriguing. Not because it's "a good bit of fantasy," but because of the TYPE of story that's being told. One of plots and intrigues and scheming noblemen. This isn't your average post-'87 bullshit "heroic adventure" story...this is high level endgame style play, the kind that went out of vogue decades ago (if it was ever in vogue). This is the kind of game...and player conflict...that I liked to see happen in my old AD&D games, the kind of game that I haven't been able to find anywhere in years. That is to say, I haven't found anyone interested in that kind of play in years.

I just find it fascinating that it's even POSSIBLE that a series like Game of Thrones (at least as I've heard it...remember, I've yet to watch the thing or read a single novel) could come out of someone's gaming experience. And yet, that's a distinct possibility with GoT, and one that I intend to watch for and analyze when I finally get around to viewing the series.

What I find (possibly, incredibly) ironic is that I'm guessing most gamers who are fans of the series are probably not playing games that deal with the issues presented in the series. Now, that IS a guess, okay...I haven't seen it, so maybe I'm completely off base. Maybe there's nothing fantastic to it...or maybe it is fantastic and structured just like a Pathfinder campaign. I'll find out when I see it. The point is, I've got it queued up for watching.

Probably in the next six months or so.
; )

Gross Typos, Mis-Calcs, and Errors

Finally had a chance to do some play-testing of CDF last night…first opportunity I’ve had since over-hauling the magic and initiative systems. The play group was limited to myself and one other player, but this is mainly my own fault: I was about 30 minutes late to the bar and I believe the other guy who intended to show probably left, thinking I wasn’t going to make it (I had no way to contact him when I was running behind). Apologies, Red.

Anyway, testing is testing and doing it with one player was a good enough start. I had Josh note down the character stats from the Urban Sorcerer archetype, and got ready to cue up the adventure…only to find that the character profile was all screwed up. WTF?!

Argh…turns out several of the archetypes, including two of the three magic ones, were a mess, and all needed re-examination and re-work. Again, this is all on me…I know the archetypes (slapped hastily into an appendix) were added fairly quickly, and several were borrowed from earlier iterations, conversions, and PC notes, but I thought I’d double and triple checked the priorities and ability scores. But there it was…sorcerers with cybernetic modifications, despite a complete lack of cybernetics, and priorities doubled up or noted wrong. Hell, all of the archetypes list Wisdom as ability (B/X base, remember?) despite this being swapped everywhere else in the rules for a new stat called Willpower. Ugh!

The sorcerer archetype was the worst of the screw-ups, which is especially disheartening as I know the other play-test group (who I’ve yet to debrief) was really looking forward to using the sorcerer in-play. Crap, crap, crap. Ah, well…maybe they fixed it on the fly, as I was forced to do last night.

So how did the play-test go? Well, let’s see…Josh’s sorcerer was driving escort on his scooter bike (a Honda Elite, says Josh) when some gangers on bikes show up and start chasing ‘em down. Initiative is rolled, gangers go first, Josh takes a bullet and dies.

Hmmm…that was quick.

Actually, it wasn’t much different from a 1st level character eating a spear from a goblin in the first round of combat…such does happen in a B/X game. In this case, the gangers did need a 19 to hit, so it was a lucky roll. And anyway, that’s part of why I included a “karma” mechanic, which Josh promptly used to save his bacon. ‘Course, he’s limited to only one such use, so this is kind of like an NFL coach using his challenge flag on the 1st play of the game…I might need to look at re-vamping that also (especially for short-handed game groups like we were).

Josh then blasted three of the guys with a fireball, pulled his handgun and blew away a fourth (over the course of two rounds), prompting the survivors to turn tail and flee after failing a morale check. That part worked well, as did the “snap shot” rules. I liked how it played out (and yes, it was nice and quick, over-all), but I completely ignored all the optional combat rules (I mean, that’s why they’re optional, right?) and I’m starting to think maybe I don’t even need them…maybe combat is just fine withOUT extra complications.

I might just re-vamp the whole combat system.

[while this might sound extreme, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and analyzing of combat systems the last week or so, especially in reconciling the (separate) issues of melee and modern weapon combat. For the most part, this has been done in aid of the new (war) game I’m working on, and I’m sure that some of the sensibilities from THAT are carrying over into my thoughts on CDF. I don’t think the games have to look alike…I don’t even think they SHOULD…but it definitely bears some extra scrutiny]

Let’s see, other things that came up: evasion rules. One thing I did NOT ‘port over from B/X were evasion rules because, well, in all honesty I don’t run away that much and the concept might be a blind-spot particular to me. However, the issue came up TWICE last night…once when trying to outrun the gangers, once when a platoon of cops showed up to disrupt the “buy” that was going down (and Josh decided…wisely…to cut and run rather than shoot it up).

And I’ve got nothing. Oh, I’d had something in an earlier iteration of the game that was subsequently removed…I just figured I’d compare foot speed or vehicle speed to see if one side was faster than the other. But what about people trying to escape/get lost in a junk yard labyrinth (as was the case here), where open ground and foot speed aren’t an issue of debate but rather quick wits and athleticism? I ended up making a couple house rulings that worked for us, but some guidelines in the scope of the rules would be useful. THAT needs to be updated, too.

Next week, I’ll be leaving town for a few days (heading to SoCal to see my father and put in some beach time with the fam), but I think I’m going to shoot for one more day of play-testing on Tuesday. I can see a lot of things that need “tightening up” but I want to put together some more notes from actual play before I start drastic purging of the rule book, and I think that one more session will give me enough data to do some good ruminating while on vacation.

I’ll keep you posted.
: )

Thought for the Day:

Twilight 2000 may be the most well-done modern combat game I’ve seen in RPGs; even if it’s not truly “realistic” it FEELS like it is. Assuming you’re willing to sacrifice “realism” for playability, T2K should be the absolute maximum amount of combat rules needed for your RPG.

The combat rules in T2K take up 8 pages, including about a page-worth of illustration, and includes such topics as indirect fire (like from howitzers and mortars, things not often encountered in a modern RPG). Take out that, the illos, and the vehicle hit diagram and you’ve got probably 6 (8.5” x 11”) pages of actual rules for handling personal combat. By contrast, my 64 page game has close to 7.5 pages of rules for combat, and it’s designed to be loose and cinematic (no hit locations, armor-penetration damage, etc.). Just what the hell am I trying to accomplish?

[actually, to be fair, there are an additional 5 pages of combat rules…not counting illustrations…in the referee’s manual. However, these cover things like chemical warfare and gas, land mines, vehicle combat, and animal attacks (dogs and bears). Altogether, 12 pages of combat rules form a substantial percentage of a game as small as Twilight 2000. On the other hand, we ARE talking about a WAR game. Is your RPG about soldiers at war? How much space do you need to devote to combat rules?]

Monday, April 16, 2012

Working Backwards

Actually, I haven't been "working" much at all, due to illness and injury. The illness appears to be allergy-pollen driven, and seems to be clearing up with the return of the rain. The injury is that damn, nagging back pain that I've had for about three years now...but after a couple sessions with the new witch doctor I finally seem to be getting to the heart of that particular issue. Turns out I've managed to knock most of my ribs out-of-alignment where they connective tissue joins the...well, nevermind. Point is, I've been a mess and caused myself all sorts of neurological stress and muscle damage that is only now being untangled, one layer of pain at a time.

Oh, yeah. And I got my taxes done.

I wish I had something to say about the new game idea, but I've done precious little work on it, besides re-reading a bunch of other game books (mainly Rifts, Revised Recon, and Twilight 2000). Even trying to "work backward" from what I want the game to look like is proving problematic: I don't have a good idea of what the end result would be. Tomorrow, I'll be heading back to my normal job for a normal work week with a normal commute (this is different from last week) so perhaps I'll get some brainstorming done...often, it's during this normal commute that I get some of my best ideas. Then again, perhaps I'll get side-tracked by some new bit of sports news on the radio...

ANYway, I did have a bit of excitement today when I found out that someone is playtesting my RPG of the dark mythic future...that's exciting since I haven't even been able to get a playtest group together (I've got several interested parties, but they all want to do it a different night of the week...sheesh!). The first night of the play-test is scheduled for tomorrow, and the GM-to-be has informed me that there's been much excitement and her group plans on spending at least three sessions on the thing...which is pretty cool, since the group's usual game is Pathfinder or Mouse Guard. Nice that they're willing to take a break from the same-old-same-old.

She also said she found the magic stuff to be well-done and there's already a player interested (and totally enthused) in playing a demon-summoning sorcerer. Which was kind of the reaction I was hoping for when I re-wrote the damn magic section. Hopefully it will work in practice...that's not just throw-away rhetoric, either. I am really hoping that is works...if only so I don't have to start over from scratch (again!).

But that's what the testing's for...I am expecting critical feedback (bad is as welcome as good), and KC has promised she will give me some.

All right, I'm done for the evening. It's time to change the ice pack on my back anyway.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yo, Twilight 2K Players!

I've been re-reading Twilight 2000 (again), and my thoughts on the game still stand...if anything, my appreciation may be getting deeper for it...but as I turn a critical eye on the combat system I wonder just how effective it is.

I'm looking for feedback...if anyone who used to (or still does) play T2K can remember what it was like to use the old combat rules, please drop me a comment. It certainly looks clunkier than I'd like, but it's still pretty stream-lined compared to most "modern" style games. The abstract "shots per magazine" is definitely a cool rule and something I should probably swipe.

Thanks in advance, folks. Have a great weekend.
: )

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Heed My Words

Just because you can stream the Human Centipede movies (uncut!) from Netflix does NOT mean you should view them.

I am being totally serious, folks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

5 Questions (Analysis & Design)

Wow…it looks like I’m finally, finally going to be getting the last few pieces of artwork for my new B/X supplement by this weekend…which means (hopefully) I’ll be able to get a print run going in the next couple-six weeks. Which is GREAT NEWS since I’ve got to knock one book out before I can get to the next…and it seems like I’m always working on the next.

The last couple weeks I’ve been rolling some ideas around in my head (I mean, other than the whole combat/initiative thing) and wondering how to approach it. The concept is still a little nebulous at the moment: in my head it’s kind of a combo of Rifts-Twilight 2000-Appleseed with perhaps a bit of the Mutant Chronicles thrown in. A real “war game” set in a blasted, devastated future Earth…think of the old John Byrne OMAC mini-series. This is NOT a Thundarr the Barbarian kind of game (that’s already been done anyway), but more the horror of war mixed with the resignation of “wow, even if this ends, there’s not much left to celebrate.”

Kind of a depressing concept, I suppose, but it’s a way to work with certain tropes and stylings that interest me at the moment.

But nothing’s been committed to paper at this point. I’m still trying to crystallize the idea and ruminating on whether or not it would make a good RPG. Since I do RPGs, not (miniature) war games.

I know I’ve talked about game design more than a little on this blog. Lots have been written and posted to the web about different approaches to game design, many of which consist of answering a series of design/concept specific questions. For the most part these are all good things to think about (I don’t think there’s ANY “bad questions” for generating thought…), but I don’t usually follow any particular paradigm of design brainstorm. For example, I don’t usually do a Power 19 list, though I know that was popular for awhile.

However, there are some very specific things I look at when I analyze the PLAYABILITY of an existing RPG, and they may be good things to review in any potential game design…as the answers to these questions speak to the actual playability of a game, coming up with poor answers in the design process may be a sign that a particular concept needs to be junked. For my own amusement (and for the interest of my readers) I’ll list ‘em here:

1) What objective brings the player characters together?

2) Aside from personality, what is it that distinguishes one player character from another with regard to GAME PLAY?

3) What common game systems are accessible by all characters?

4) What rewards are given/earned in play?

5) How are rewards earned?

Question #1 is a matter of practicality: if a game can’t answer this in a satisfactory fashion, it may well be too broad a concept for real playability…at least for my purposes. Some people might like the “open-endedness” of GURPS, for example, but I see it as a pain the ass with a lot of potential pitfalls: there’s a lot of potential for players and GMs to be totally disconnected from the play expectations of each other. This is why I hate tool kits, and why many IP-specific-driven concepts are difficult to work.

Question #2 is a bone for players’ self-esteem, pure and simple. Not everyone is comfortable playing a game without defined “roles” unless the concept is exceptionally simple. Few players indeed are satisfied with just being defined by their in-game choices and behavior and like an actual set of rules describing what makes their character "special."

Question #3 is the bone for the GM…it defines what characters can actually DO and can tell me if the scope of the rules are too broad (or too narrow). If my skills as a GM are going to be taken up searching out obscure systems in the rule book or if I’m going to be able to focus on running the game…and if the systems provided are specific enough (and on board) with the concept of the game.

Question #4 explains what, besides the joy of play, is the “bennie” of play. What are players working towards? I prefer long-term, serial play (for the development and identification of characters and subsequent stronger role-playing). In order to sustain this type of play, one must provide incentives.

Question #5 examines whether or not the behavior associated with the incentive actually directs game play in the proper direction. Well-designed games match concept-driven behavior with specific incentives to channel game-play in a particular direction; poorly designed games do not.

I can apply all five of these questions to games I like to play on a more than “one-off” basis. Many Story Now games don’t bother with answering these questions because they just want to create short stories through role-playing: addressing premise within a specific scenario or event to have a nice little bit of emotional or intellectual catharsis. Which is cool and all…I enjoy this type of play on occasion myself. But I prefer long-term play, pretending to be “a character” in a fantasy environment. I prefer the development of a (character/world) concept over time…because I want to live the fantasy for awhile. I enjoy long films and novels, too. I’m weird that way.

Let me give a couple examples of using these Five Questions:

Old School D&D (regardless of the silliness of the premise) is a pretty well-designed game from the perspective of my questions:

1) Common Objective: Characters are a party of adventurers; they share the goal of plumbing a dungeon for treasure.
2) PC Distinction: Characters are distinguished by class (in some editions by the sub-class “race”).
3) Common Abilities: Characters share the in-game systems of combat, saving throws, and searching (for traps and secret doors). Other actions PCs wish to take may require DM rulings. Class specific systems (multiple attacks, thief skills, cleric turning, spell-casting and magic item creation) are limited in scope and thus easy to manage.
4) Rewards: Characters gain levels increasing class effectiveness and survivability.
5) Rewarded Behavior: Characters gain XP for acquiring treasure and defeating opponents.

Compare this with the equally tight old school game Top Secret:

1) Common Objective: Characters are secret agents of a particular agency: they share a common mission.
2) PC Distinction: Characters are distinguished by Bureau (classification) and Areas of Knowledge known.
3) Common Abilities: Characters share all systems: combat, interacting with contacts, defeating security, chases. Other types of action may require rulings by the GM (what other actions do you need?).
4) Rewards: Characters increase effectiveness by spending earned XP on ability scores; characters earn fame points with levels.
5) Rewarded Behavior: Characters earn XP and money for completing mission objectives, earning bonuses for accomplishing objectives within their own Bureau’s sphere (for example, killing someone for a member of the Assassination Bureau).

Now let’s look at Vampire the Masquerade, an RPG I deem problematic in a number of ways, despite appreciating the aesthetics and general premise of the game:

1) Common Objective: None. It is suggested characters are a “coterie” of individuals and provides some possible reasons for banding together (they’re all anarchists for example). However, if one player wants to be a member of the establishment and another an anarchist, well…
2) PC Distinction: Characters are distinguished by Clan which provides specific disciplines (vampire powers), weaknesses, and political leanings. However, as being members of the same clan is an easy method to bring players together, well...
3) Common Abilities: There is an EXTENSIVE list of systems to which all characters have access; most come down to an ability+skill roll versus a specific target number that varies depending on the system. There are nine abilities and a ton of skills.
4) Rewards: Characters increase effectiveness by spending earned XP to boost abilities, skills, and disciplines but it requires a LOT of XP to do so, especially in the 2nd (and later) editions, making progress exceptionally slow.
5) Rewarded Behavior: Characters receive XP for showing up to play, “good role-playing” (undefined), “danger,” and “learning something.” Each of these things is worth 1 XP. None of them reinforce the concept or provide influence on in-game behavior.

You’ll note these questions do not address specific systems only the concepts that underly those systems. The Vampire system, for example, works fairly well and quickly, compared to, say, Top Secret’s horribly clunky hand-to-hand combat lists…but the latter is more coherent from a design standpoint because it reinforces what the game is all about. An assassin gets bonus rewards for killing (class distinction) and all characters get bonuses for “clean killings” (knifing someone in a dark alley rather than blazing away with automatic weapons in broad daylight, for example)…and smart players in TS are going to avoid combat anyway if it’s not pertinent to the (shared) mission objective. Vampire has a neat combat system…that has nothing to do with anything. Why bother?

[for those unfamiliar with VTM, allow me to elaborate for a moment. Your characters are vampires in the modern day. You’re supposed to be concerned with vampire politics, the loss of humanity associated with becoming a monster, the mysteries of the vampiric origin and possible methods of overcoming one’s curse…I mean, those are the “themes” and major plots of the game. But then you have a large section on combat and the use of firearms and “soaking damage” and the effects of spending “blood points” and all these other fancy, slick systems. I mean, combat isn’t even necessary to drink blood (mortals simply succumb to the vampiric “kiss” automatically without rolls) but it’s important to know the difference between a large automatic handgun and a small automatic handgun? Is it any wonder that many (most) Vampire games turn into gun battles with cops?]

Let’s look at another game designed for serial play that is problematic for me, despite slick mechanics: Traveller. I currently own the nicely done Mongoose version and it frustrates me to no end:

1) Common Objective: None. It appears to assume that all PCs are a member of the same ship’s crew, off in search of adventure. Of course, it’s possible that none of the PCs will have acquired a ship during character creation. And then there’s the difference in expectations (what if some players wants a Star Trek “exploratory mission” while another player wants to be a band of roving mercenaries or pirates? disconnect!).
2) PC Distinction: None. I mean, characters will PROBABLY have different skills (or different degrees of skills) based on careers chosen in their pre-adventuring life…but many skills are shared between careers and besides money and gear, past career really provides zero in-game distinction.
3) Common Abilities: All characters use the same slick skill system. The only uncommon abilities would be if a character has psi powers unavailable to others.
4) Rewards: None except money earned for missions, allowing the financing of additional missions, I guess.
5) Rewarded Behavior: Trading or accepting missions that pay money will get you money.

There is no common objective in Traveller and no real incentive for play other than “wanting to play Traveller.” As opposed to (I suppose) a different “space game.”

Now, of course, lots of folks play Traveller and manage this through the time honored tradition of putting the whole goddam burden of the game on the GM’s shoulders. Great, fantastic. Some folks want that burden…you’re welcome to it. I don’t want it. I don’t want to be responsible for “finding a way to make it work” (let alone, “make it fun”). Throw THAT in my face and I’ll probably shrug it off in favor of a different RPG (at least Star Frontiers has the Pan Galactic Corporation versus the Sathar).

Anyhoo, these are more-or-less the first five questions I ask when reading a new RPG. To be sure, there are other sub-categories to the questions that I haven’t bothered to list here as many pertain to my own personal prejudices (example: under Question 3 would fall the sub-question – “Does the designer lazily rely on a damn ‘skill system’ for resolving in-game action?”). But I think they’re helpful “conceptual” things to think about when designing one’s own game…whether it’s your own version of D&D or some new twist on the Zombie Apocalypse idea.

At least, they’re helpful to ME. If I can’t answer these questions to my own satisfaction with regard to my own game design, I can junk the whole project without needing to worry about the specific systems of the game. Why? ‘Cause it’s probably not going to be a game I want to play!
; )

Monday, April 9, 2012

Oh Yeah, So...

Remember how I disappeared off the blogs for a couple weeks? I'm going to be (probably) vanishing again for a few days due to stuff happening around the home front.

Which is just as well, really, since I've had excruciating shooting pains in my upper back and right arm lately, making it difficult to sleep at night, let alone write or compose coherent thoughts for a blog (I am seeing someone about it tomorrow, hopeful that she can "fix me up").

While I could try to type up my thoughts on the whole "alternative combat thang" it's going to have to wait, I'm afraid...there's a lot I want to say on the subject, including addressing certain issues folks brought up in the comments before. I've got some (I think) cool ideas, but unfortunately, they're not things that model well with ALL role-playing games...and if adapted for D&D (where they would work, I believe) the game would cease looking much like D&D, seeing as how they drop the use of the D20 from combat.

[well, I never said I was trying to come up with a new version of the D20 system, right?]

In other news, I picked up a couple new RPGs this week including Ellis: Kingdom in Turmoil and StarSiege: Event Horizon. StarSiege is Troll Lord Games' generic SciFi "tool kit" using the same system as Castles & Crusades. There are a lot of good things to say about StarSiege, mainly with regard to it publication style...but in the end it simply reminded me that there's still room in the market for my space opera game, and that I should get that knocked out now that I my other products are in their final stages.

Ellis, on the other hand, is a pretty different animal...and I mean, different from your average RPG. It requires its own separate blog post...once I've had a chance to read a bit more of its 600 pages. This is easily the largest RPG I've added to my shelf (Champions doesn't count as being "on the shelf" as I only use it for a doorstop...even so, I think Ellis beats it in page count)...though bigger has never necessarily meant better.

Anyway, more on ALL that stuff later...and by later, I mean(probably) in a week or so.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tired of Missing

How hard is it to hurt an unarmored man?

I mean, let’s think about this for a moment. I’m 5’9” and about 155 at my optimal “fighting weight” (right now, I’m close to 15 pounds over that). I’ve no real military experience or “combat training” to speak of. I can probably jog a little more than a mile without being too winded.

Now give me a hand axe. Hell, make it a spiked or flanged mace, so I don’t need to worry about getting the edge on target. Put me within “melee range” of a dude NOT wearing armor, NOT carrying a shield, NOT wearing a helm. What’s my chance of hitting him hard enough that he’s hurt? Not killed, not incapacitated with pain but simply HURT…call it the equivalent of 1 point of damage. All I’m doing is swinging a heavy club and trying to connect. Assume he has the same (lack of) training that I have myself and he is unarmed. But I have him backed into a corner so he HAS TO fight me. What’s my D20 roll to hit? Personally, I think it would be pretty good. Given 10 seconds for a “go,” I figure I’d get at least three or four swings, at least one of which should give the guy a nasty bruise…at least if I was really trying to hurt the guy.

In D&D, my chance of doing ANY noteworthy damage would be 50%.

0 level character (a “normal human” in B/X) attacking AC 9 (unarmored) does damage on a D20 roll of 11-20 (one-half the time). If my opponent decides to run I’d get a +2 upping my total chance to 60% (12 chances in 20).

Now what if instead I was a stout fighter, trained to kill, a 1st level “veteran,” armed with a long blade and the guts (or Chaotic temperament) to slay an unarmed foe. A foe standing right there: in arm’s reach. Say, I’m wearing a suit of chain so I’m not even worried about a return attack. Given a 10 second combat round, what’s the percentage likelihood I’d be able to HURT this duck…just do 1 point of damage (or more)?

55%. I need to roll a 10 or better on the D20.

How about a 3rd level fighter…a “swordsman?” Still 55%.

That means I miss almost half the time…and my chance of wounding better protected folks simply decreases.

Man, I am waaay tired of ineffective attacks. Tired of missing.

Ended up playing Labyrinth Lord last night due to all my play-testers bailing for one reason or another (too short notice for Red, family and work obligations for two others). That was fine…I actually ended up calling it a night early due to the excruciating back pain that has once again reared its ugly head. But ANYway, I did play a bit more in Randy’s LL game where our low-level characters continued to get into scrape after scrape and whack-whack away, trying to hit giant schmucks of one sort or another. This session I was noticing more and more the high number of missed attack rolls…something that has been grating on me more and more the last couple sessions.

[have my posts been a bit negative this week? Sorry…the chronic pain does something nasty to my attitude]

Remember waaaay back in May of 2010 (wow...almost two years now), when I proposed this "grand idea" of cutting To Hit rolls out of the D&D combat sequence? Well, maybe you don't and that's totally forgivable since play-testing the idea showed it to be a silly one...mainly due to being proposed as a time-saving shortcut and ending up being overly complex.

But, hey...just because the idea was poor in execution doesn't mean my gripe from two years ago is less valid. In fact, I've just added more fuel to the old fire...before, I was trying to make combat quicker and more expedient and thought cutting out attack rolls would do that. Now, I'm wanting something else:


Fantasy realism, but something modeled a bit better on reality all the same. And the reality is this: when two people get to brawling, two people get hurt. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. But even if one person is sooo skilled that he (or she) avoids taking a single scratch from an opponent, he still expends energy (fatigue, exertion) ducking or blocking or dodging to prevent that scratch from landing.

Once again, I find my attention drawn to the war game Chainmail, where the attack roll in man-to-man combat was simply a die roll to determine if one's opponent had been killed. Not a roll to attack plus a roll for damage...ONE KILL. Now, of course, this is too simplistic for an RPG...Chainmail is a WAR GAME, and one is dealing with many dozens or scores of miniatures on a side and a method of deciding the outcome of engagements quickly is imperative. But the simple concept has been percolating ideas in my brain...ideas that I'm not exactly sure just how to implement (let alone where and when).

Ugh...I'm extremely tired and my brain is shutting down for the night. More later (probably).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holmes and OLD School Initiative

You know, I thought I was done with the whole initiative discussion (or, at least ready to move on to other combat issues using it as a context)…but then I was reading through my copy of Holmes Basic and realized – holy moly! – Holmes completely drops initiative from his edition of D&D.

I mean, he has SOME order of combat…when opponents come into melee range (within 10’ of each other) melee attacks are resolved in descending order of dexterity (with monsters’ dexterity being randomly determined). A six-sided die is rolled for “first strike” (I don’t believe the term initiative is used at all) only when the two combatants have the same dexterity scores.

Otherwise, things would appear to occur in their order as determined by action…a character with a readied arrow can shoot it before the opponent can engage the archer (though would do archers attack each other simultaneously? So it would appear…).

Now looking through my copy of OD&D I find…nothing? No initiative rules at all?

Oh, boy.

[*read*read*scan*scan*] I went through my LBBs. And there's NO initiative. Greyhawk? Nothing. Blackmoor? Nothing.

Finally, we get to Eldritch Wizardry where there are notes very similar to Holmes basic (order of the round being determined by actions - missile, magic, melee - followed by DEX sequence)...but the dexterity determination is crazy complex, including modification for armor worn and...

Oh, boy.

I read through Chainmail, just to see what the "original" version of man-to-man combat was and wow, here's where the size of one's weapon really DOES matter, since Lo and Behold first strike is solely determined by length of one's pole (*ahem*) or strategic location (defending from cover or elevated). Oh, wow...once again we see the original concepts were far more realistic, even in the abstract, than the later evolutions of the game rules.


Wow...I'm going to have to digest my thoughts and reflections on the issue before I say anything more. Initiative. Apparently an ugly, bandaid add-on.


Seattle Play-Testers Wanted

If you're interested in joining me for a game of blazing spells and sorcerous gun-slinging in the North Seattle (Greenwood) area, please email me your interest and availability. Games are played Thursday nights, 8 to midnight (well...8ish to 1130ish) at my local watering hole where the drinks are cheap and stiff.

This is NOT a "come as you are" thing...I want to cap the number of players at 6 or 7, so it's by invite only.

Thanks, folks.
: )

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hating Initiative (Part 2)

Now where was I? Oh, right...hating on initiative.

Specifically INDIVIDUAL initiative, which has definitely come to the forefront in the last 20 years. Just in case anyone misunderstands what I mean by the term, I'm talking about the initiative system that has every individual player at the table roll dice (or use some other mechanism) specifically with the sole purpose of determining their order of action in combat. I've written before that my actual in-play experience with this (on both sides of the GM screen) has been nothing less than unsatisfactory...and sometimes downright maddening. Even when all the players involved are "veteran gamers," well-heeled in the rules and tactics of a particular system.

ALWAYS unsatisfactory...and that's just from a "play" perspective. Let's go ahead and examine the idea of individual initiative from the point of view of everyone's favorite old school punching bag: that elusive chimera we call "realism."

Who in the hell ever thought individual initiative was more realistic?

If a party of adventures meets up with a gaggle of owl bears in some deep, dark dungeon, the result is NOT going to look like some carefully choreographed dance-fight between the Sharks and the Jets. No, all f'ing hell is going to break loose, rest assured. Sure, there might be some Charismatic (or blow-hardy) leader-type shouting out orders, but people are going to panic, people are going to have adrenaline bursts, people are going to act and react and generally do what they think is the best course of action...lunge forward and attack, ready a spell or arrow, or just cower in a corner wetting themselves. I mean, THAT's "realism:" a chaotic slugfest in the dark, all by the flickering light of dropped torches.

So who the F came up with the idea that Individual Initiative was somehow more realistic in the first place? We did. People like ME and my friends.

See, you've got this OPTIONAL rule in your B/X set or whatnot that says characters with a high dexterity score can get a bonus to their initiative when in individual (dueling-style) combats. And then you start thinking, "well, shoot, my character Mr. Quick with a 17 dexterity should be faster than a pack of goblins, even when NOT dueling...I should get a bonus to my initiative roll to see if I can strike before this bandy-legged numbskull."

Ah...but THEN you say, hey! What about Olaf the Slow with his heavy armor and measly dexterity of 9. Sure, he's "average" in reaction speed (barely), but he shouldn't get any special bonus...but how can you resolve old Olaf and Mr. Quick when they're both on the same side of a group initiative roll? Does Mr. Quick get slowed down by Olaf's rusty reflexes? Does Olaf's reaction time miraculously speed up due to Mr. Quick being part of the party?

The answer is as elementary as it is dumb: give everyone their own individual "go" in the combat round. Have everyone roll a D20 and chalk themselves into the order.

[and then there's the even dumber bandage to the slow clunky-ness: to speed up combat we'll force everyone to KEEP their "initiative number" every round, without re-rolling. Because OF COURSE there's no back-and-forth, shift of fortunes during the battle, right? Once you blow your roll, it's blown, baby...]

Look, a round of combat should appear (in the eye of one's imagination) akin to a round of Slap Jack. That is, when one imagines what is going on in the imaginary game world (that's what we do when we play these RPGs, right? or am I missing something?)...WHEN we imagine what is going on, we should be able to see something that resembles, well, a battle...people trying to kill each other for cripes sakes. Not a back-and-forth chess match.

In B/X you've got 10 seconds to do something: what's it going to be? Attack, run, chug a potion, cast a spell...look, there's a lot that you can do in 10 seconds. And at the same time, there's a lot you CANNOT do...because in the pressure of the situation, once you commit to a decision, you do NOT have a chance to change your mind, man. This idea of multiple actions, simple versus complex, and 5' steps to boot is just nutty. You DO something and that is what you are doing, period.

"I'm charging to attack!" "No, wait! Don't do that! Let me cast this spell first!" What do you think's going to happen in this situation? Only a complete jackass would actually try to pull up short after steeling himself (or herself) for mortal confrontation and throwing himself bodily at the foe. Remember what happens when you try to break from melee? Your foe gets to cut you down from behind (i.e. the opponent gets a free attack with a +2 to hit). That's one of the best and most realistic rules in B/X, in my opinion.

"I'm casting a spell...yadda-yadda-hocus-pocus..." "Wait, no! I'm going to --" "Arg! You bastard! You ruined my concentration and now I've lost the spell!"


No one's telling anyone what to do. No one's getting together and brain-storming the best course of action (that kind of thing should be considered before battle is ever joined, not in the thick of combat). Roll one initiative die for the mob, roll one initiative die for the other mob, and then resolve. If both dice come up the same number, there's a chance for simultaneous stabbing to occur.

In my earlier post on the subject, I said that my reflections were leading me to consider re-vamping the initiative mechanics in all the games I've currently got in the hopper (all of which included some version of the ubiquitous individual initiative rules). Well, I'll admit the only thing that was really causing hesitation on my part is the re-writing that such sweeping changes would make.

Since that post, I have shredded and reconstructed the initiative rules on all of them, including my personal version of D&D and the mythic-cyberpunk game. Some of the other games, in fact, have done away with an initiative sequence entirely (the current version of my space opera game, for example). But D&D and CDF (the Shadowrun-y game), are closer to the wargaming archetype...close enough and "traditional" enough that I don't terribly mind having a "roll for initiative" phase.

But it's group initiative only. None of this slow and clunky "okay Fred you got the high roll, what do you want to do?" while Tim and Larry are seething and impatient with their low die rolls. Nope, that kind of think is a thing of the past. I ain't NEVER doing individual initiative again. Ever.

With one possible exception. There is ONE game...and only ONE game...that actually does a great job giving each individual player their own initiative roll, their own spot in the turn sequence...and yet the flow of combat remains quick, efficient, and downright realistic for the scope of the game.

That's Boot Hill, folks. But as I've gushed before, Boot Hill is an exceptionally well-designed RPG.

All the other RPGs with individual initiative can go suck it...and that includes my own games, if you ever catch be doing something so stupid again. Hopefully you won't.

The Downside of Initiative

One of the things I had to clean up when I went back to the design board on the new game was the initiative rules, which previous play-testing revealed to be fairly flawed. I’ve posted my “evolved feelings” on initiative previously and if anything, those feelings have just grown STRONGER over time.

After skill systems, “initiative rules” may be THE worst system to infest role-playing games.

Now before I start my rant proper, let’s talk about the idea of the “turn” in general gaming. In many, many games…not just RPGs…including almost any game involving cognitive strategy, the play of the game is divided into turns or “go’s” which alternate between players. This element of “taking turns” not only helps organize the flow of the game, it ALSO acts a theoretical equalizer between players of differing physical ability.

Here’re a couple simple examples: in the card game Slap Jack, there is no alternation of turns. The game “turn” is a round (nice term) of play in which all the players flip over a card. If a Jack turns up, the first player to SLAP it takes all the cards in the round. Cognitive strategy has little to do with it…card counting doesn’t matter much when everyone is focused on the play…instead the observant eye and quick hand is what carries the day. Physical attributes, in other words, which gives ME a distinct advantage over, say, a 6 year old child or a 90 year old invalid.

Compare that to the game of Chess: physical attributes count for nothing in the game. I may have no trouble arm wrestling Stephen Hawking, but if he cared to set his mind to it, I’m sure he could take me apart over the chess board. On the other hand, if we played a “speed game” and made no accommodation for his disability I might be able to run the clock out on him.

But most strategy games from Go to Checkers to Backgammon to Scrabble (yes, Scrabble) have no time limits to their alternating turns save that imposed or agreed upon by the players. Fortunately, these games are simple enough…and the possible actions LIMITED enough…that they can still be finished in a reasonable amount of time, regardless of the relative “slowness” of a player’s cognitive strategizing.

[can you see where I’m going with this discussion?]

War games…of the type from which D&D is descended…is akin to these board games. They require thinking and strategy, not physical ability. If I’m playing Warhammer 40K with a short kid, we get him a stool to reach the table and help him move his pieces when they get to the center of the table. It’s not a matter of who rolls the dice faster or harder; placement of cannon on the miniature battlefield takes little effort, just thought. Aside from reading and learning the rules, the most challenging part is painting all the damn minis (or coming up with the money to purchase all the damn minis, if you’re in to the GW games).

They also require alternating turns. Well, perhaps they don’t require it, but it would be pretty tough to track the flow of the game if everyone was rolling dice willy-nilly and removing pieces simultaneously (or as quickly as they could manage it). It would be CHAOS…kind of like actual battlefield conditions probably (depending on what era of war we’re talking about). But war games are not about the REAL chaos of war…they’re strategy games A LA chess…or perhaps reenactments of famous engagements (for Civil War and Napoleonic buffs). And as with those other alternating-turn strategy board games the play of the game is still SIMPLE and the possible actions LIMITED in scope, allowing turns to be accomplished relatively quickly, only slowing down when scores or hundreds of miniatures are involved.

D&D is descended from these games, by way of the Chainmail (medieval miniatures) wargame; is it any wonder that the designers (avid wargamers) used wargaming conventions in the form of alternating turns? Not to my mind…not with the original design of the game: its discussion of “sides” and “referees” and “campaigns;” not to mention the ability to hire and field mercenary soldiers of all stripes (archers and heavy foot and horsemen of various types). The initiative system presented in D&D helps to organize the game turns in a D&D combat because, like those war games, it is a cognitive (thinking) game, not one in which the physical attributes of the players/referee has impact on the outcome (thank goodness, as many of my fellow players outweigh and out-muscle Yours Truly!).

However, despite being a game of “imagination” and wide open to player action, D&D provides specific rules of engagement which are (at least originally) very SIMPLE and LIMITED in scope. You want to attack your opponent? Okay…given the “forces” (i.e. characters) on your side, what do you want them to do: melee, missile, or cast spells? Period. Done. And look how easy it is to resolve those actions in OD&D:

Melee: roll D20 to determine if attack successful (chance of success determined by character level versus opponent armor class). Only adjustments are from magic weapons and armor. If successful, attack does D6 damage (some monsters do more).

Missile: roll D20 to determine if attack successful, possibly with +1 or -1 for DEX. Otherwise, procedure is same as melee.

Magic: does caster have spell? Cast it. Resolve effect. Possibly roll saving throw. Done.

And that’s it: simple and limited and then the other team gets their “go,” and if combat isn’t resolved we play another round until one side breaks morale or is destroyed, falling to the crushing blows of their opponent.

Now as many critics of D&D’s combat system have pointed out, real combat isn’t anything like the civilized, alternating turns of the initiative sequence. I know this from my own experience with very civilized “sparring bouts” (martial arts, fencing, and a little casual brawling). Even in the sport of fencing, where one has issues of “right of way” and first action, things go pretty quick (and degenerate into body-on-body fairly readily)…and in epee it’s perfectly acceptable for two fencers to score simultaneously.

I remember as a kid absolutely hating the Battle Tech turn sequence, because while it resolved actions in initiative order, all combat was considered to occur simultaneously and it was possible to mecha would head-shot each other in the same turn, resulting in a draw. Now…well, I think the argument could be made that Battle Tech combat is far more “realistic” than that of D&D: the use of initiative rolls simply to order the declaration of actions and organize the players is about as good a use of the system as there is.

But that’s not really what I’m railing about. While I like the idea of simultaneous combat (especially in warfare) there ARE times when one side will act before the other…when one side gets the jump on the other or the other side hesitates, for example. Even without THAT “realistic” consideration, I’m fine with resolving combat (not just declarations) in “initiative order.” It’s an easy, straightforward (if arbitrary) procedure for resolving a cognitive game like D&D.

But oh boy do I HATE “individual initiative.”

The more I experience it in any form, the more I am absolutely certain that the whole premise blows chunks. Whether it’s D&D or Shadowrun or just about any other game you care to name, the resolving of combat actions based on individual initiative rolls (as opposed to group initiative rolls) is terrible from just about every perspective one can examine:

- Speed of play
- Ease of play
- “Realism”

Hmm…I’m a little short on time right now, so I’ll be revisiting this theme in a future post. However, suffice is to say I think there’s a sea change that would be a welcome occurrence in the way RPG designers (and players) think about the initiative sequence in combat…and I’m talking about the granular gamist types (like me) not just the narratavist proponents who want combat-as-a-whole to be “about something.” In my games, combat is about kicking someone’s ass. And I want to do it in the most efficient way possible.

Okay…To Be Continued.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Now Even MORE Complete

All right, so yesterday I jumped back into the blog-o-sphere announcing I'd completed the writing on a new game. Well, kinda'...I really wanted to add a couple appendices to the thing (one for spells and one for pre-generated characters) for ease of play. With those additions (and a table of contents) I've gotten the thing up to the 64 pages that I'd initially planned, including some (limited) white space for illustration. This book is going to be a bit more meat than aesthetic, I'm afraid.

I know, I know: Why bother limiting the size, right? I heard plenty of that when I was doing the B/X Companion, too. "Better to go over your arbitrary limit in the name of completion and style," to paraphrase the conventional wisdom. But as it turns out, I'm not a big fan of conventional wisdom. Or maybe I am, but I'm just such a goddamn contrarian that the more people tell me to do something, the more I dig in my feet.

Look, the Little Brown Book thing is great for the D&D game. Even if you didn't grow up playing OD&D, chances are you spent some time in the trenches with SOME multi-volume edition of D&D: AD&D, 2nd Edition, D20, whatever. Those of us who have done that have become used to playing the game in a compartmentalized fashion: it feels right, somehow, to have a volume devoted strictly to monsters, for example. It's nice, as a player, to only have to worry about knowing ONE volume of a three volume set.

People like me who dig on B/X, well, we're old enough that we've fairly memorized everything in the damn book anyway...I hardly ever even CONSULT the B/X books when I'm playing except to look up a saving throw target or double check a spell effect. Other people coming to B/X...well, it's not always a comfortable fit if they're used to the multi-volume thing. And again, for the newbie it's nice to know ALL the monsters are in one volume and ALL the treasure is in another, rather than having to know griffons and girdles of giant strength are in the Expert set but shadows and gauntlets of ogre power are in the Basic set.

Just for example.

But even though multi-volumes may be suitable for the D&D game, I just can't quite seem to get that same vibe for other RPGs. I mean, D&D is its own animal. It just is. But other games are so much more specific in least to my way of thinking. Or playing, anyway. I mean, you can pick up a sci-fi "tool box" game (for example) but that's not what I'm looking for. I want the game to be Star Wars Space Opera or Firefly or even Warhammer 40,000. But I'm not looking for it to be ALL those things at once. Nor do I need it to have "all that potential."

And because of that limited scope, I just don't think an RPG needs all that many pages. Yes, the new game feels a little "chock-full" but it's still limited in scope: characters are a certain type of adventurer operating in a certain type of world. There are no alien invaders; there is no time travel. And I didn't bother including a section on underwater or naval combat because...well, because if you get stranded in a boat fight on the ocean, your characters have probably done something very wrong and deserve to be sent down to Davy Jones's locker.

[no offense intended towards fans of the other Davy Jones]

I suppose I could have just made the game a cyberpunky style game and cut out the mythic and magic...that would have given me another 12-13 pages and allowed me to come up with my own specific mega-corporations or write optional rules for adventures on a moon base or something. But that wasn't what I wanted. The thing is damn tasty, as is.

And that's kind of the point. I want to serve up a meal, but it doesn't have to satiate the eater. I want them hungry for more. Not because I want to provide it (I'm really not that interested in doing supplemental books for these non-D&D games) but because I want them to want to create their own "new stuff" to fill in any blanks I've left. I want them inspired and wired...not overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of "oh, boy, now I have to learn another new game system." In 400 pages.

Nope, I don't want to go down that road. If I can't do it in 64 pages, I'm probably exceeding the scope of the game. I mean, it would be nice to have a "sample character sheet"...but is it necessary? Can't people create their own? Can't I have a downloadable "free one" on my blog site (if necessary)?

Isn't the search and handling time vastly decreased with fewer pages to scan? Doesn't that make for a brisker-paced game?

Well, anyway, it looks like I still have a little more "completing to do" on the thing...just looked at the PDF copy and found that one of the new appendices uses the wrong font, throwing the whole damn thing off. Especially as MS Word just doesn't seem to translate well between a PC and a Mac. Ugh! Can't we all just get along?

A new mini-project for tomorrow, I guess. I'm hitting the hay, now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Game Complete

Had to wait till April 2nd so folks wouldn't think I was joking.

Rather than apologizing for being off the blogs the last two weeks (long-time readers will know I am feeling both sorry and guilt-ridden), I'll just try to pick up with something interesting: I've spent the (fairly little) spare time I've had the last couple weeks to finish up the writing on a new game: my fantasy-meets-cyberpunk knock-off that's been gathering dust on the shelf ever since the last round o play-testing revealed some nasty little flaws.

Welp, the new game has been re-vamped and stream-lined and is ready for a second set of play-testing. Even better, the writing is complete (at least in the current format...see below...); whereas half my prior play-testing was done from cribbed notes, this time I've got the whole thing in manuscript form. Except for a table of contents and index the thing is completely useable...though I'm still considering the addition of an appendix or two.

Problem is the thing is loooong...while currently under my requisite 64 pages (it's 60) with lots of blank space for illustrations, I've got the font dialed down to "tiny." Not micro-game tiny (I believe those were all done in 7 point), but certainly clocking in at the 8.5 range...a lot smaller than I'd prefer. It looks fine (to me) in a PDF format, but I'm afraid I might need to do some drastic cutting for a print run. At least assuming there IS a print-run...and assuming I intend to stay to my one-book, 64-page format.

That's what I'd prefer, of course...simply because it seems to be the best, most useable format for using an RPG at the game table. Oh, yes, I know all the cool kids like their tablets and the grognards are pleased with their stack of hard covers, but pour moi, I like a book whose basic rule set can fit into one soft-cover, saddle-stitched volume.

At least, that's been my story for awhile and until recently I was willing to fight doggedly (or stubbornly) for the concept. Now, though...well, in doing my version of D&D Mine (which IS still on the table by the way), I kinda' fell in love with the whole "tiny three volume book" set. In fact, that's the format I've been using for writing my D&D Mine. The original LBBs are only 112 pages total (some of which are illustration only) and since they're half the size of a "standard 64" (a la Moldvay's Basic set) that means they're clocking in at 56 pages of writing. Tiny writing, but still...

Anyway, I might take the new game and do it in a three volume version similar to the LBBs (though with different themes: characters and rules would be Volume 1, magic and tech would be Volume 2, and GM stuff including NPC profiles would be Volume 3), but as I said, right now it's in a decent enough (and complete enough) form that I'm ready to start the next round of play-testing.

Which, by the way, I intend to start this week.

I've already farmed the manuscript out to one gaming group that's interested/willing to give it a go (their GM is one of the artists doing work on the soon-to-be-published TCBXA book). And I am taking my dice and gaming back to the Baranof starting this week. The game has a simple "adventure creation" system (more of an "plot idea" series of random tables, really), that I will be using to create some single-session missions. I will be posting more to the blog as I document my attempts at breaking the thing.

[well, truthfully, I'll probably just leave the breaking to the players]

When will this game be published? No idea. In fact, I had an offer a while back from a different independent publisher looking to buy the thing. Unfortunately, at the time it wasn't nearly complete enough to shop around (not that I'm proactive/ambitious enough to take that kind of initiative myself...). Right now, I just want to see if I've gotten the kinks out enough that it's playable...this is, after all, a complete system, not a supplement or add-on to an existing game (like B/X). Still, I'm fairly excited...I'm especially anxious to give the magic system a twirl. Previously it had be far too similar to FASA's "Shadowrun" game (to the game's detriment). Now...well, it definitely has its own spin on sorcery!...but only testing will tell whether or not the system works as intended.

So yeah, that's the latest-greatest. As always, I once again fully intend regular posting to commence this week...but the 2nd week of April is going to be another single-parent-killer and I'll be heading out of town at the end of the month, too, so who the F knows. And, oh yeah, taxes...gotta' get that whole mess out-o-the way so I can even tell if I have the money to print The Complete B/X Adventurer. Here's hoping!

: )