Archive for the ‘musing’ Category


Wargame Seed

June 9, 2009

I have a seed of an idea for a wargame/rpg. Mostly built out of dissatisfaction.

There’s lots of rpgs built around the idea of the war epic- Hero Wars/Quest, Artesia, Every Damn Samurai game, etc. but none of them really go into rules for handling war itself- its kind of assumed to be something the GM will “figure out” or just used as situation fodder, without being part of the game proper.

But if you look at the source material of a lot of these, it’s all about how the constant struggle for logistics, etc. create really interesting situations- the sketchy political alliance with pagan hill clans, a city with too few supplies, but your men need to eat and the enemy is coming, a brilliant yet cruel captain of your elite warriors- all kinds of really messed up and ugly “trade offs” in war.

So right now I have this vague idea of a game that focuses on all that- mechanically pushing stuff like the need to rally more troops, to balance your resources, to make alliances and cut deals, etc.

(Yes, I know Burning Empires sorta does this, but mostly that it’s a scaled up version of the Burning Wheel Pan-Conflict technique. It’s neat, but not what I’m thinking about for this.)


But not really D&D

June 8, 2009

The other big homebrew was a D&D hack I ran for about 6 months around 2000 with my friends in Seattle (another all POC group). I had taken the idea of the “build your own class” stuff from the DM’s book and made my own, allowing players to build martial arts, magic, etc. into their character classes.

(It’s hard to say whether it was balanced in the long run or not, I think they ran through 3-4 levels just fine).

Again, ripped out the magic system for a scaled “element” system, somewhat in the vein of Mage.

While I don’t remember much of the system (which, I guess says a lot), I do remember I didn’t fudge dice so it must have worked well enough.

The biggest thing was I had hit upon my personal “magic formula” of what I like in a fantasy game- a good mix of high action and character development. I had some solid NPCs and it became one of those hallmark games that we still bring up years later.

One of the big things was that I had removed the dungeon crawling from the experience, and no traps, and the players were just amazed at how much could happen in a session when they weren’t forced to check for traps or open up a bunch of empty rooms. (After moving to the Bay, I tried to run a 3E game in 2003, along the same lines, but the new players were completely at a loss how to deal with the game outside of the dungeon crawling mentality…)

While I’d probably not be satisfied with the homebrew designs today, I think it’s pretty interesting that some of the most fun I’ve had with my friends were specifically the homebrews, and probably because I built rules tailored for the kinds of games I wanted to see, and in the process, got a better handle in what I want from a game as well.

A lot of this came out of dissatisfaction with the rules in the Giant Feng Shui Campaign of 1995-7 – and it’s interesting that within my circle (and multiple GMs) we didn’t come to the conclusion “We’re Teh Awesome Roleplayers! We don’t need your stinking rules!” as much as, “That was fun, but I wish the rules actually DID something”.

Perhaps this is a case where limited exposure to game culture prevented us from absorbing all those myths and internalizing them along the way…



June 8, 2009

Around 1998 or so, I was going to school in Vancouver BC. I alternated my gaming between an AD&D 2nd Edition group (about 1/2 POC) and playing with a homebrew game with a couple of classmates.

I don’t remember if I had a name for this homebrew at the time, but it was a fantasy heartbreaker reaction to D&D. It used a D10 roll equal or under kind of thing, and improving stats was all about using the skill/ability more often.

The “big” departures* from D&D at the time were:

a) stats leveled based on usage
b) injuries could be fatal easily, w/death spiral
c) magic was built on stacked effects
d) tactical options in combat were varied- there was a mechanical difference between fighting w/accuracy, blocking, parrying, or going for more damage.

Actually, that latter part became sort of the catchphrase of the game, I think mostly because people loved yelling “DAMAGE!”.

I remember the interesting thing was the way in which different players either picked up or got lost at the concept of being able to shape magic outside of a set spell list. One friend was constantly developing new ideas and the other players would ask, “How come you have all these spells?” and he’d reply, “Just think it up!” – sort of a similar problem I’ve seen in other abstracted magic games.

It’s interesting because I never really thought about even before I understood a lot of game theory that I knew instinctively that the answer was you needed different rules, not to simply ignore the ones you had.

(*I had a little knowledge of BRP by way of Elfquest and a tinge of Rolemaster, but another part of my design at the time was I wanted un-crunchy and elegant rules. The resolutions were quick and easy to work, but convoluted and counterintuitive to learn. In the end, the players understood the different actions had different effects, they just weren’t totally clear on how the procedures and math of it worked. Le sigh.)


Gamehacks and Settings

June 6, 2009

Shreyas’ Exalted hack – Radiant reminded me how gamehacking and homebrew settings are like mirrored siblings- both the rules and a setting exist to put the group on the same page- in any given game made by somebody else, you (singular, or your whole group) might dig on how the rules coordinate play, or the theme and color of the setting, but not both.

I think generally the success/failure of flipping one or the other depends on how well the group can get together on the new page (which, might have been what they were looking for in the first place).

Yet another way, this hobby demands most participants become designers…



May 29, 2009

I was thinking about what changes have happened design-wise, in the last 8 years or so in rpg design, and it both highlighted what (at least to me) are the biggest defining aspects of a given design as well as what defines a “Traditional RPG”.


Or: Input. How can players input into what happens?

In a traditional rpg, players are limited to affecting the fiction through the actions of their characters, while the GM is generally allowed to create the fiction directly.

Non-traditional games play with it- trading narration, giving players direct means to shape fiction, divvying up authority, etc.


What are players rewarded for doing?

Traditional games generally either follow the D&D structure (treasure or fighting), BRP (do a skill, skill gets better), or the GURPS model (show up to play), with anything outside of that being left to GM whim.

Non-traditional games surprisingly tend to follow the D&D route- reward according to the focus of the game, though many play with ideas like variable reward possibilities, putting strategic choices into reward mechanics, or divvying up who makes the rewards and/or for what reasons.


How does the overall arch of play go? How does “what happens?” get decided?

Traditional games generally either fall into the “Location Based” (aka the Dungeon) or the “Choose your own adventure” hidden flowchart/plot tree method, where the possibilities are not known to the players.

Non-traditional games have everything from a very exact list of the scenes to be played through, to mechanical pacing methods to scene to scene flow dictated by the players through mechanics.

Obviously, there’s probably some exceptions in this division, but I think it works pretty well and better than the focus of “GM power” which tends to cloud these conversations.