Archive for September, 2007

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Shifts and changes

September 29, 2007

It’s going to be a rough month for The Emperor’s Heart.  I’ve got a friend’s wedding coming up, full time work and school on top of it.  Plus working on the Asian Pacific Islander Spoken Word Summit for 2008.  Aiyah.

Anyway, I’ve got a lot of good playtesting feedback over the last couple of weeks, along with a couple of extra games.  I’ve got a lot of changes to add to the game, hopefully smoothing out rough edges, connecting the dots, and making elegance where I can.   Good feedback is about bad play.  That is, where the game goes bad is what you need to know about.

The end goal is a game that consistently produces fun, but maybe the average player can’t tell you why, as much as a movie with good cinematography makes the camera tricks invisible- natural and not disruptive to the entertainment.

Anyway, it looks like The Emperor’s Heart rides or dies on two factors: group dynamics and setup.  (All the resource funkiness can be worked out through trial and error until you hit the Goldilocks’ just right).

Currently, I’m looking at:

1) Adding Supporting Cast cards, which basically serve as mental cues as much as Drama cards do.  Plus to make that part easier.  I gues it doesn’t make sense to have all of setup be cards and then leave one part out as the exception.

2) Changing the Endgame timer.  I do like the minimum required Awards and buy-in before Endgame, but for low Awarding groups, there has to be options too.  (Hmm, another game extending idea, maybe more tokens are put in the bowl and Villains have Traits refreshed?… thinky think)

3) Character names before picking cards.  Heroes need names dammit.   I mean, you can do it for D&D, even though you don’t have to (see: Gauntlet “Elf needs food badly” etc.).

4) Should there be explicit “What if?” steps added to Setup?  How about a round of Awards?  This might stretch setup more, but might also a) increase buy-in and b) train people to use both What if and Awards ala Dogs in the Vineyard Initiation…

5) Dice economies- conflicts need to be a tinge shorter.

Anyway, that’s hella stuff on my plate.  I wanted to have it all done in 2 weeks, but probably more realistically a month, month and a half?  Aiyah.

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Getting help in design

September 23, 2007

So you’re completely new to game design, and you want help, right?

For folks to help you, you need to describe:

a) What kind of experience this game is supposed to give the players

b) What kind of choices the players should make during play

c) How this is different than other games of a similar vein

What you’ll find happen, in nearly every  thread where serious folks are trying to help you, is that they will basically ask questions to GET that context.  Whether you roll 3d20’s or use Uno cards or play elves with 3 inch ears, no one cares because none of it makes any difference without the context of those three questions being answered.

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Bliss Star

September 23, 2007

An alternate setting for Bliss Stage, inspired by Battlestar Galactica, Sol Bianca, Gunbuster, etc.

At first, everyone thought it was some kind of stellar communications blackout.  There’s always something interfering with long range communications, just never on this scale.  Yet, all of the colonies were pretty self sufficient, it was simply a matter of time to ride out the problem.

As more planets lost contact, as well as any ships that went that way, concern grew.  The warhawks never got quite the amount of funding they had hoped for, but they certainly got lots of extra toys to play with.  Sadly, not one of those ships was worth a damn against the Bliss.

No one really believed it at first.  Someone just assumed some young punk on edgespace hijacked a message beacon and was playing a prank.   But soon enough, more and more messages got in, especially from the worlds with better infrastructure.  Indeed- all of the adults were falling into a coma, and no one knew what to do.

I guess we were just lucky someone decided to prepare for the worst.  The Ark ships were built, and tiniest fraction of humanity was piled onto them, as well as anything spaceworthy for deep space travels.  Ships split up as soon as possible, with the hope of escaping and someone surviving.

We don’t know if any other Arks remain.  Or if they escaped the Bliss.

Again, I guess we were lucky.  Before the Bliss hit us, some adult cobbled together the first Neuron Overlay System- a way to rip skills straight from one brain and imprint them upon another.   An emergency crew of teenagers was slammed with decades of engineering and starfaring knowledge.   After the Bliss, our ship has been crewed by us, and the memories pulled from the Sleepers.

And, two generations ago, someone got the wise idea of trying to hook up the Neuron Overlay System to one of the aliens drones…

The secret to their maneuverability, their space warps, their energy weapons?  Dreamspace.   We finally have a chance to fight back.

Look behind me.  This is the Hall of the Sleepers.  Each one of these people is someone who started this journey with us.  Your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sisters, your people.   The Neuron Overlay System might tell you HOW to do things, but it will never tell you WHY.

This is why.

Never forget why we’re here, and who we’re here for.

Now prepare to launch.  You know the mission, this is it, the aliens’ homeworld.

Tomorrow, we awake to a new dawn.

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The Playtesting, it continues

September 20, 2007

I’m starting to get more feedback, including the negative- which is good. The point of playtesting is to find the holes and weaknesses and fix them.

Things I already know I want to work on (though input always welcome):

– Unmurking “who controls who”, more than 2 way conflicts, and narration of ties

– Resources! Too much, too little- just right is hard to find.

– The fragile circle- Award Tokens drive so much- no awards, the game stalls out, very similar to PTA when people don’t give fan mail.

Anyway, more kicking at the tires! Let me know how your games are going so I can get to it.

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The Emperor’s Heart- Long term play

September 16, 2007

Though the game is maximized for short term play, I know some folks will want to play a campaign to free the Empire from all 7 Immortals.

So here’s the idea for the rules. First Immortal gets four base dice in conflicts. After you kill or remove him, the next one gets five, then the next six, etc. The last Immortal gets a whopping ten base dice in every conflict.

How can you win? Keep snagging Resources. Each Resource counts as an additional Trait for your Faction. Don’t forget to Go All Out- a lot of heroes will die, but that’s how wuxia works.

I plan on having a total of six Scenario cards, with 3 Resources on each- meaning the hardcore group will have played at least 17-18 sessions and earned as many Resource Traits. Because the games tend to be short, this probably could be done in half as much time easily, or even less if you play ridiculous marathon sessions with games back to back.

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Why it’s cool, why it’s impossible to get into

September 15, 2007

Fandom is pretty much the same everywhere.  There’s something that geeks you and you become more and more aware of it’s context, it’s subcultural ideas, the in jokes, the references, the themes.

Right now I’m reading the Incredible Hulk, and even though I’ve been a pretty casual reader, it’s referencing it’s own history in such a way that I’m digging it deeply.  It’s building off of it’s own context, and reinterpreting it.

When we play rpgs to make stories, we’re making stories with context for us, meaning for us (and it’s easy, after all, we have a better notion of what’s meaningful for us than a stranger would).  We become fans of our own creations.

And that’s good.

On the other hand, after a point, you have so much built up there’s no easy jumping in point for the newcomer.   Unlike mass media, the new person can’t just sit down with a stack of books, DVDs, comics, and a few glances through Wikipedia and catch up.  All they get to work with is a fragmented history told through multiple voices, a few notes and maybe if you’re diligent some actual play reports or a campaign website.

Does this mean the creative part of the hobby is doomed to replicate the house of cards scenario I described before?

Not necessarily.

The meaningful context that once took 4 months to build by happenstance now can happen in 4 hours.  You don’t need to stick with the same campaign afraid to start over as if you’ve discovered fire and have to protect it with no means of creating it again.

While we might still end up building these intensely personal experiences and narratives as part of play, it’s easier to do now- new folks can get to the good part in 20 minutes, not 20 sessions.

It’s mostly just as hard to share outside of the experience (though podcasting helps), but it’s a lot easier to bring people into the experience of creating for themselves.

And I’m a fan of that.

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The Emperor’s Heart, rules update

September 11, 2007

So, I fiddled some numbers, and we’ll see how this affects the game. The changes can be broken down like this:

Award Tokens

How many go in the container? 3 per player for a Standard game. 4 per player for an Extended game. And 5 per player for an Epic game. Basically, you can opt for a longer game, by using more tokens from the start.

Be sure to tell me in your playtest reports how many you’re using and how long of a game that actually turns out to being. I’m fearful that this will completely jack up the endgame resource economy, but maybe not… we’ll see.

Drama Cards & Award Tokens…

Award tokens give you 1 extra die. Period. Doesn’t matter if your Drama Cards apply or not.

(To be honest, this is how things worked originally, though I felt obligated to give some kind of SA/Keys kind of bump for Drama Cards. It wacked the economy and might not be necessary. Let me know)

Villains, Supporting Cast, Immortals

Villains and Supporting Cast get 3 Base dice in conflicts. Immortals get 4 Base Dice. If you have a group of mixed allies on a side, use the highest Base Dice (making friends with the enemies, or at least tricking them into fighting each other, pays off).

The completists amongst you might want to see the updated rules- again, that’s all I really changed for the moment. Clarified rules, with examples is in the works for later.

The Emperor’s Heart playtest rules (9.10.07)