Archive for September, 2012


Short further thought on Procedures & Directives

September 24, 2012

A really simple idea on Procedures & Directives – both are telling you “how” to play the game, just on different levels.

Procedures are like knowing how to row the boat, Directives are knowing which direction you’re trying to go – just because everyone knows how to row an oar, if you’re not coordinated, the boat doesn’t go anywhere really.

While you certainly can make procedures and lock down more play, directives are what allow people to fully exercise creativity and leave things open – this is pretty much where many people who are into traditional rpg design become very excited when they look into how Apocalypse World works- it’s Principles are clear directives which is something lacking in many games (or, worse, games that give directives that are impossible to achieve with the procedures laid out…)


Same Page Tool Update

September 5, 2012

I added 3 new questions, did some minor editing and formatting to make it a little easier to read.

This is coming out of all this playing with non-roleplayers and really thinking about the sorts of hurdles you have to make to “learn roleplaying” which isn’t so much difficult, as much as it is not discussed.

Anyway, as useful as The Same Page Tool is, it stands as sort of a testament to the massive failure in our hobby to understand, describe, and communicate core processes of gameplay. If nothing else, at least, I can look to the Same Page Tool as a checklist of important ideas that any game I design needs to address on some level to get the group from “I have a game book” to “We’re playing the game” without making people take up the role of game designer after having paid me to do just that.


Iterative Rolls and Excitement (or not)

September 2, 2012

Further thoughts on yesterday’s 90 minute D&D game, has me thinking about the part where things slowed down – the boss fight.

I’m realizing a key aspect of game design that infuses most of the rpgs I play at this point is how much the game state changes compared to the amount of effort put into resolution (dice rolling, card drawing, etc.) – very much the stuff I was talking about Whiff Factor.

D&D has you roll an attack, then roll damage – if the attack misses, nothing changes, and technically, until hitpoints are 0 (or, the monster is bloodied in 4E) no changes happen either. Add in the fact my boss had 30 hitpoints, and 15 AC, meaning a) it’s going to take an average of 9 hits (3.5 damage on a D6) and b) at best 50% of any attacks will hit.

This means we’re talking (average) 18 attack rolls (assuming no one does anything else, like heal, or stunt, etc.) and 9 damage rolls. Divided by 4 players, 4.5 trips around the table. In actuality I think it was 6-7 trips around the table, because, as I pointed out, people end up doing more than “attack, attack, attack”. The last 2 rounds for the players were pretty slow because everyone started rolling poorly, and you could see the energy starting to drop around the table.

This makes it very different than say, a fighting videogame where you’re not going to get too many misses before the counterattack, and 3 seconds is a lot of time for things to happen. It also is very different than craps, which at least for being a completely randomized game with no real strategy or dressing, changes the game state (do you win or lose money?) very quickly. In both cases, at least, the turnaround time between “failure result” and changes to game state are very quick.

This is also why a lot of D&D ends up talking about “the sweet spot” which is a place where the iterative rolls are not too out of hand (because, the hitpoint totals are not too high, such as “E6 D&D”). 4E tried to add conditions on to failed rolls, but either the effects were too small, or only useful in narrow situations.

Compared to other games where either the iterative rolls/resolutions are limited to specific, short number (Covenant, Trollbabe), resolution spirals towards completion (Sorcerer), game states change quickly (Apocalypse World, Riddle of Steel), the typical assumptions in a lot of D&D and D&D descended design where misses and non-results approximate 50% of the results, are kind of a thing to just avoid or keep minimal from the get-go if you’re making a new game.


90 Minute D&D

September 2, 2012

A work acquaintance asked if I played D&D, since he was interested in checking it out. Much like I used The One Hour Burning Wheel Game, I figured I should pare down the experience to give the simplest, quickest fun as an introduction. I had my coworker, his partner, and my two gaming regulars, only one of whom was at all really into D&D.

The First Hurdle

The more I end up playing and introducing new gamers to roleplaying, the more I see D&D is just not a great intro game, beyond name recognition. The basic “interface” of roleplaying, though simple, is really unlike any other kind of boardgame or cardgame – players have to become comfortable with 3 things that are unique to roleplaying:

– There is no list of moves to choose from – you can describe anything you want to do within the expectations of the genre and you do it.
– You can and should ask questions to define what is going on- there is no board or cards to refer to the game state, it sits in your head and your ability to get necessary information is critical
– You should say things in character, you should have characters interact like acting or writing a story

That’s a lot right there- stacking on stats, modifiers, attack, armor class, hitpoints, speed, encumbrance, etc. etc. is even more.

I looked at the simplest versions of D&D I have – Red Box D&D, and the 5E playtest. The former was less complex, but had the problems of high lethality and little for casters to do, and the latter was a bit more complex than what I wanted knowing I had to usher 4 players through the process, only one of whom would be proficient in it.

So, I cut things down.

Creating Characters

It’s not just that you can make a pregen, because new players still have to learn what a character sheet is, or how stats work. In many games asking a completely new player “What’s your Armor Class?” turns into a thing where they’re trying to navigate their character sheet (and also, trying to remember if this abstract question is answered on the sheet or something they’re supposed to keep in their head, or what), instead of them engaging with play in a meaningful way.

So, I dropped attributes, modifiers and cut characters down the most basic stats:
Hitpoints, Attack Bonus, Armor Class. Players pick a Class with preset stats, and a Race that modifies it.


Strong Fighter
Attack +4
Hit Points 8
Armor Class 18

– Once per game, ignore all damage from a single hit (stolen from Stars Without Number)
– Protect your friends: friends who stay next to you get +2 AC in combat

Fast Fighter
Attack +4
Hitpoints 8
Armor Class 16

– Once per game, take a second turn
– Cleave- everytime you drop an enemy with melee, take an extra attack

Attack: +0
Hitpoints: 6
Armor Class: 12

– Magic Missle – auto hits for 1D6+1. You can cast twice a game
– Sleep – Put 2D6 monsters to sleep in a 30′ circle, once per game

Attack: +2
Hitpoints: +6
Armor Class: 17

– Make Light – cast a light spell anytime all the time
– Cure Wounds – Heal 1D6 hit points. You can cast twice a game.

Attack: +2
Hitpoints: +6
Armor Class: 16

– Sneak Attack +4 to hit and double damage


Humans: +1 damage to attack rolls
Dwarves: +4 Hitpoints
Elves: +1 Armor Class
Halflings: 3 rerolls per game

Playing the Game

Everything besides combat? Skills, Saving Throws, Attribute checks? Roll a D20, and beat a 10 to succeed. If your character class makes you particularly good at that thing (Strong Fighter doing something involving might and toughness, Thief being sneaky, etc.) roll 2D20 and keep the higher one.

Combat? For initiative roll a D6 for each side and the winning side goes first, in whatever order they feel like. Attacks are modified +2 if an advantage, +4 if a big advantage, -2, -4 for disadvantage accordingly. Hits do a D6 damage.

How it played out

I ran the group through 2 encounters. One against some goblins on a bridge and the second against a giant serpent in some ruins. The players worked well together and had a great time. My coworker had a couple of fun moves, but his partner who was playing a thief pulled off tons of slick stunts which gave the group +2 or +4 bonuses in the fight. None of the PCs were killed, though 3 of the 4 got seriously hurt at one point.

The only thing I feel I would do differently in the future is give the monsters lower Armor Class ratings to avoid whiff factor. By the very end, the combat lasted about 3 rounds longer than it should have from the players rolling poorly, and I think giving monsters lower ACs would have been just fine.

Party wise, we had: an Elven Strong Fighter, an Elven Fast Fighter, a Dwarven Cleric, and a Dwarven Thief. (Clearly I need to see if the wizard is balanced or what, but it was solid with what I had).

At some point in the future, I should probably put this together with the quickie adventure and have it ready for the next time I introduce new folks to D&D.

After the game, we pointed out to the new folks that D&D is also many different games, and that even the most basic version is much more complicated than what they played – showing the Red Box character sheet drew some comment about the complexity of it, which made me all the more glad to have done my pared down version instead.

Overall, it was a big success, but I’m continuing to learn more and more about how to get roleplaying experiences down to digestible, understandable chunks for non-gamers.