Archive for March, 2008

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Artesia RPG- looking deeper

March 9, 2008

So two seperate friends of mine are interested in playing- mostly because we’re all fans of the comics.  So I’m looking closer at the rules this time, trying to figure out how to make this happen, and it’s revealing some interesting stuff about the game.

Runequest all over it

It’s pretty easy to see the Glorantha/Runequest imprint all over the game, from the comics, the setting, the mechanical crunchy bits.  If you talk to Mark Smylie, the author of the comic and game, he’ll also confirm that he played a lot of Runequest back in the day.   The game as a whole feels very much as if someone updated RQ for the 90’s, which, makes sense because it’s using the Fuzion Mechanics which saw their heyday around then.

Who can play this

The game is very clearly intended for one of two types of groups.  Either deep rules heads who can (as a group) track the various subsystems, or people who are fudgy with the rules most of the time and only focus on a couple of systems to remain accurate to.  I’m not sure which kind of group Mark plays with, though it’d be interesting to find out, especially regarding playtesting.

Because it’s Fuzion based, the basic concepts are not hard.  It’s that each subsystem is a moderately crunchy affair- and together, you have to track: combat, relationships, emotional bindings, 22 Tarot based subsystems, multiple types of magic, Gifts (advantages), etc.   It’s a lot.

Neat stuff

The biggest thing that stands out to me is the Tarot based advancement systems, which, basically encourage you to fulfill archetypes.  This could swing straight Sim or it could swing Nar, depending on your style of play.  The biggest thing is that doing -anything- is almost guaranteed to make your character advance somehow.

The second thing I find super interesting is the relationship and emotional binding rules- these seem like they’ll play a bit like Riddle of Steel’s Spiritual Attributes or Burning Wheel’s Belief system.   I think though, I’d probably want to track them on index cards or something easier to handle than letting them get lost in the masstext that is the character sheet.

Combat has some interesting strategic choices built into it.  Though Dex is the “fallback” attribute of choice, depending on what attributes you have strong, you have a variety of strategies ranging from “Technique” based attacks to “Perception” for aimed attacks.  So it’s not completely loaded to -one build wins them all-.

Longer term, there’s cool stuff like playing out your hero’s journey to the underworld after you die as well as being able to pump up your bloodline so if you play your children, they get better stats, etc.

Concerns

The biggest concern is that this is one of those huge toolbox games that has all the tools there if you know what you want to do AND how to select within what will work.  Though many traditional rpgs fall in that category, don’t think that’s a small thing.

This is where the RQ influence is not so grand.  I remember playing RQ (I don’t remember which edition) once, and it was short lived- all of our characters were mismatched because you randomly rolled up all your cultures and professions.   It was even more mismatched than the standard D&D party.  Artesia certainly says, “Pick or roll”, but the question is, why would you roll everything, and how could you make it work especially within a context like the comics give?

I’m thinking an important part is to pick the important stuff- like culture and social level, and then you can choose to roll stuff.  Otherwise, it’s hard to say how a bandit, a craftsman, a hermit and a Lady of the House all end up crossing paths, when they come from 4 different countries.   Much less what kind of story/situation/conflict you can pull from that without reaching.

My second concern is the crunch, as mentioned.

Third, the book could be better organized, there are some key parts that are in weird places, stuff like “Oh, yeah, if your parents die, then you get inheritance” in this small box kind of off by tables.  These kind of things make me want to write a reference sheet for -every- subsystem in the book, and that’s more work than I want to do.

For me and my friends

The other thing, these friends?  They’re non-gamers.  They don’t quite get how crunchy this game IS.  I’m thinking I can have them help with the Tarot XP stuff, but everything else?  It’ll be walking them through it, each time.

I’m going to focus on the Tarot, Relationships, and Emotional Bindings stuff, so I’ll photocopy those tables, but the rest of the tables in the game?  I’m just going to have to bypass them, and use a standardized +/- 2/4/6/8 progression that seems to go with a lot of them.  Otherwise my head will explode.

It would be good to also try this game with a bunch of mechanics monkey players and see how the full thing runs, but this is what I’ll have to settle for.

Second, we’re going to just use the Daradjan culture as the focus, because it’s the main focus in the comics, and that makes it a lot easier to deal with.  I’d like to tie in the mystical aspects, which I’ll have to think of in terms of situation, etc.

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Fictional Positioning 101

March 8, 2008

The last few months, a lot of folks have been talking about Fictional Positioning. It’s not really a new idea, though, it’s probably one a lot of folks take for granted. It’s also something which has been misunderstood pretty terribly by a lot of people.

What it be

Let’s say my character wants to cut a monster with a sword, right? There’s a lot of things we have to consider for that to happen. Most games have a set of mechanical procedures you go through- roll the dice, pull some cards, move a mini, etc.

But aside from the rules, there’s important stuff that has to work in the imaginary stuff- the fiction, for it to even be an option- my character has to have a sword, the arms and hands to wield it, the monster has to be within arm’s reach, etc.

These are common sense things- but it’s crucial to play. For something to happen, it has to be both mechanically possible and make sense within the fiction for the group.

Fictional Positioning as a verb, is considering the fiction, and looking at ways to shape it to fit what you want out of play- this can be from a tactical and/or creative standpoint. Fictional Positioning as a concept, is where everything stands in relation to each other in the fiction- the things the group has agreed to have happened/exist ala Baker-Care principle, the feel for the characters, the situation, the gameworld, etc.

Misunderstandings

So if you keep in mind that in play, for things to happen, they engage both the fiction and mechanics, what do you have left if you take away the mechanical part? Historically, in games where there either were no mechanics or the group does not want to engage mechanics, all you have left is the fiction, and Fictional Positioning to work with.

So you see Fictional Positioning working as the sole pillar:

– When a set of rules is so punishing that the players seek to avoid taking the risk (avoiding combat in older D&D)

– When the rules do not match what the group wants, so they discard them for freeform or GM Fiat

– Classic GM railroading (“And the pass is blocked by a landslide, I guess you’ll have to go another way”)

So, historically it only stands out, alone, when we’re talking about really bad or broken play, though it is used for good play as well.

So you often find people who, for instance, maybe never found working rules or rules that have done what they wanted, and Fictional Positioning is king and dice are the devil. You see these folks beam with joy when they say, “And we only rolled the dice once that night!”.

The flip side, you’ll find folks who have had bad play with folks who have abused Fictional Positioning (mostly through railroading and GM Fiat) and for them, it’s the devil and mechanics are king. (Though, they’re actually using it all the time with mechanics, even though they’re not aware of it).

It is both incorrect to either think of it as everything that matters in the game, or nothing that matters in the game. It’s simply one important factor in how we, as a group playing the game, figure out what happens.

Examples

In gamist play, Fictional Positioning is stuff like, dropping a barrel of tar on a beholder, to blind it’s eyes (well, all but one, but that’s the one you need to deal with right away). Ben Lehman has been talking about this for awhile, especially in terms of using it in older D&D play.

In narrativist play, FP is stuff like, in Dogs in the Vineyard, though the mechanics say you and I can pull guns on each other to get our way, we’ve built up this deep friendship and so, we’re not going to do that, because it would violate our sense of character- the fiction we’ve built around them. This is what Emily Care Boss means when she’s talking about Story Capital.

In simulationist play, it’s stuff like, “My knight refuses to kill his foe, instead capturing him and treating him with hospitality!”, “Don’t bother rolling the dice, he was caught in a small area with a grenade- no chance to survive.”

For Sim, FP is core to the play itself! Sim play is highly focused on the fiction (though it can use buckets of mechanics to get there), and the outcome of having fiction that fits within the idea of the game, that it makes sense given the fictional world. The most important thing is that the fiction is true to whatever sim ideal is being aimed for. So, if it’s realism, the fiction must fit with the group’s ideas of reality, if it’s western movie genre, then it has to fit with what the group expects from westerns, etc.*

(*Usual caveat- do not assume that Nar or Gam play doesn’t value being true to it’s fiction or plausible, just that Sim play it’s the focus, whereas the other two styles are looser or more willing to widge on it to fulfill what they’re doing. Ok? Ok.)

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4E by the numbers

March 7, 2008

So a lot of stuff has hit the internet since the D&D Experience day.  Some of which, includes the sample characters and monster stats.  Looking over it all, some interesting thoughts come to mind:

1. Conditions play a big role

Looking at the monsters, it looks like nearly every one either has a way to inflict some kind of condition, or maximize based on a condition.  3.0 gave us a host of conditions, but for the most part, unless it dropped you prone, caused you to lose actions, or drop a weapon, no one bothered.  Here, the conditions are short-lived, but they look like they hurt a lot.

2.  Multiple means of offense/multiple means of defense

Also looking at the monsters & PC powers, there’s attacks against all 4 types of defenses, and they also look pretty equal in terms of hurting for damage, or for conditions, or both.  This is one of those basic strategy lessons of any game- you have to have multiple viable choices, for strategy to form.  If there’s just one or two ways of going about it, there’s no strategy- you solve the optimal methods and leave it at that.

3.  Movement matters

There’s a lot of abilities built around moving folks on the map.  While in 3.0 it was simply about cover and AoOs, this looks like it’s set up to go with interesting terrain.

Pushing someone 3 squares?  Who cares?  Unless you’re pushing them off the edge of something, into something burning, into water, etc.   Basically,  moving folks around the map is interesting if the map is interesting.  And, if the map isn’t interesting enough to get movement in play, you might as well abstract it like Riddle of Steel or Burning Wheel and skip having a map and minis altogether.

Movement only became really interesting in 3.0 with Iron Heroes introduction of the Harrier which found it’s incarnation in 3.5’s Skirmisher, but otherwise, it was simply about finding optimal placement and beating/blasting/shooting the other guy down.

4.  Strategies

Looking at the monster stats, I can simply say it looks fun from a GM’s standpoint.  I see monsters set up to inflict conditions, another type set up to take advantage of it, it becomes like putting together encounters is like putting together a Magic deck- you’re looking to combo them in interesting ways.  And, just the few monsters they’ve released stats on, it looks like the team is already thinking along those lines.  All the Kobolds are like a single color in Magic- they’re already set up to work well together.  Races have common abilities which make sure they all share certain tactical aspects, but each variation is different enough that its not just “same guy, more HD”.

5.  Mechanically supported color!

Dwarves are tough!  But it’s not just slamming more HP on the Dwarf- they get this ability to self heal as a minor (swift) action.  So it’s not that they have “more” HP, it’s just that they can keep standing in a fight without having to use actions to self heal.

Hobgoblins get bonuses to fight in formation, Gnolls get bonuses to use pack tactics, etc.

The mechanics are telling you how to run things, and it makes sense.

These are just guesses based on the bits that have been released, but if this plays anything like what I’m guessing, I’m excited.

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Online Expansion

March 2, 2008

I’ve been slowly nudging a couple of gamer friends who live far away, to grab some headsets and Skype game with me.  As I’m organizing this, I realized there’s this crucial difference in setting up games.

First, unlike playing face to face, I can’t just pull out the books and flip to the awesome stuff and say, “And this is how this game lets you do this, just read these 2 paragraphs” and sell them on it.

Pretty much, it depends on whether the rules are available online, as pdfs or only in hardcopy.   Because that last part?  Means I have to explain each detail of the rules, and I don’t like how when the rules exist only verbally, they become kind of nebulous in peoples’ heads.

The tabletop gaming culture has done well by using the internet to build design communities, or even organize meet-and-play, but not so great at supporting online play.

Basically, the advantage of freeform forum or chat games is that usually whatever explicit rules exist are available online as well as examples of play, whether in the form of the forum itself or irc chat records.   And many set up websites that break down the intro idea of what the game is about, making it easy for newcomers to see what it’s all about.

I guess we’ll be starting with games that I have in more than just hardcopy form, and we’ll see where things go from there.