Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Game design: Siloing Resources

February 24, 2018

It’s a generally understood that you should design your game to reward the players to do the thing you want to see happen in play.  The important, but sometimes missed part, is that is that what you should want to see in play is the thing the players would also find fun, but maybe not realize on their own.

So part of that is “siloing” – some resources or rewards, are isolated in terms of how you can get them.  When you fail to silo things correctly, there may be glaring loopholes that make it easy, and even encouraging, for players to completely avoid the fun things that should be core to the game.

Monster Hunter World

I’ve been playing a lot of the Monster Hunter World videogame, and I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time.  Like many games, it has potions which you need to heal.  However, there’s no way to buy potions.   You have to go into the field and collect the materials.

This sets up a particular cycle: you need to heal, so you need to get materials.  If you want to gather a bunch at one go, you have to run to several points on a given map – which means you have to explore and know the map.  While you’re doing this, other monsters might attack you, so it’s a bit of turnaround from you hunting the monsters.  Bonus: knowing an area, gives you an advantage in the core gameplay loop of hunting, so that feeds right back in.

D&D and magic items for sale

Compare this to an often recurring issue for D&D games – the breakdown of magic item economy.   The core gameplay loop for D&D is dungeon crawling – either for treasure heists or as a tactical combat.   In both cases, however, the fastest way a single character gains ability is acquiring a magic item, which makes it a powerful resource in terms of game design.

In some forms of play, the only way to get magic items is to go on dungeon crawls and find them – so this means this feeds into the core game loop.  In others, though, you start ending up with options for magic items to be bought – in which case, it is far easier to find ways to get gold to buy the items, rather than try to deal fully with a dungeon crawl or have to figure out how to best use a random item you gained instead of buying 3 things that perfectly match your character’s role.  Once that happens, the reward no longer is tied to the core play activity.

Siloing – one path or a choice?

When you design a requirement for a resource or a reward, you can basically go about it in two ways.

First, give only one option to get the resource/reward.  This is a good choice for making core gameplay elements a requirement and unavoidable in play.  How much/how long/how often are parts to balance out to make sure it’s fun and not annoying, a chore, or so easy as to be meaningless.

Second, give two or more options to get the resource/reward.  Each one lays out a separate path, and, done correctly, might allow for a very meaningful choice, or at least, an expression of play.

In many games that use Flag mechanics, like Burning Wheel, you can choose which of your Beliefs you pursue, you don’t have to do all 3 equally, or even at all.  As long as you’re pursuing at least one of them, you get rewards.  In contrast, the earlier Riddle of Steel makes it so that early one, you can pursue just one or two of your flags, but if you want to improve high level abilities, you need to have nearly maxed out all of them.  Notice, however, that what this is, is that it’s several choices within the same category – “pursue this Flag” is still the underlying mechanic.

The danger in this second approach, however, is that many games have done things where the potential paths to reward/resources create contradictory styles of game.  If these contradictory things don’t fit well together, and different players in the group are playing along these paths, you get problems.   In this case, it’s important for the game designer to make clear that these things are exclusive options the group or the GM will have to pick BEFORE the game begins, and not find out after you start.

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The Reclaimers Roleplaying Stream

February 10, 2018

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be running a once a week RPG stream on Twitch with Quinn Murphy through CypherofTyr’s I Need Diverse Games Twitch Channel.

We’re doing Sundays, 6PST to 8PST.  Our first game is Tenra Bansho Zero!

Video link from the session is here.

Reclaimers Screen.jpg

 

 

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Signalboost: Send INDG to GenCon

June 11, 2017

I remember going to GenCon around 2003-4 and having someone say, “WHY should we care about gamers of color?”  Well, I never thought we’d see folks getting a chance to really talk about it anytime in my generation.

Drop a bit if you can!

Help send I Need Diverse Games to GenCon

Send Tanya DePass—2017 Industry Insider—to Gen Con! (Tanya DePass)

 

 

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First Session Comprehension

April 8, 2017

I often look to all types of games when considering game design and play issues.  Yesterday I had enough friends come through who were willing to try out some boardgames I hadn’t gotten a chance to play yet – the more involved, crunchy-rules kind.  Between those games, it occurred to me a key goal of game design that often isn’t addressed for RPGS: First Session Comprehension.

The basic idea is this: by the time you finish the first session/game, you should have a firm grasp of the procedures of play, a good idea of viable options, and a notion towards more optimal options to go try out.

Procedures of Play

These are the logistics of play – how to set up (for RPGs, this includes things like character generation), the flow of resolutions, how to track resources, and, how things like gameboards, cards, or figures are used.

For one of the games, we failed to even get past set up, because the instruction manual was fairly opaque, and we set aside the game for another time (after, say, finding a tutorial video or something.)   This was a lot like my first experiences trying to run Red Box D&D as a kid – we’d get to the “buy your equipment” part and everyone would stall out, either not sure what to get, or get bored and quit.

Many RPGs are designed with the idea most, if not all, of the group will have read the procedures of play, which is already a step beyond what boardgames expect.  Dogs in the Vineyard had a great idea of putting the basic resolution procedure on the character sheet, which mirrors a lot of boardgames idea of a reference card that shows how to play out your turn.  Other RPGs, on the other hand, assume “just tell the GM what you want to do” is adequate, but that also has the pitfall for counterintuitive results (for the player) or frustration if they run into non-viable actions.

Viable Actions

“What can I do?”  Viable actions are second step – how can your pieces move, how can you spend resources, can you initiate some kind of special sub-system rules (“I’m declaring a duel!”) etc.

Tabletop RPGs have two layers here.  First is “I can do anything fictionally viable for my character”, which is a hurdle very different than boardgames.  While I’ve seen people take to this quite quickly, for traditional RPGs it seems to slow down and players can take as much as 3-5 sessions to get it.  (I feel a lot of it has to do with opacity of WHEN rules are applied, vs. not).

Optimal Actions

“What are the best options?”  This is the point where people are truly playing the game – they’re not having to fuss with the mechanics of HOW to play, they’re not trying to remember what they CAN do, but they can now focus on what they SHOULD do.

And while “optimal” is a word most folks think of applying to Gamist goals (how to win), it applies equally to the goals of Simulationist play (how to make this FEEL like the fiction/experience we’re trying to create) or Narrativism (how to MAKE compelling, dramatic situations as we go).  In all cases it is about how to best use the tools towards the established game agenda.

The goal for design in comprehension

The better designed boardgames and card games, I see the goal is getting people to cycle through those three levels turn-by-turn, such that they’re already looking at optimal actions before they’re even done playing the first game.  Once people are thinking of optimal actions, they’re playing out scenarios in their head, of what to do, and whether something would work or not – and they’re eager to try it out on the next go around.

For tabletop RPGs, however, I feel like traditionally we’ve accepted 3-6 sessions, and even with the lighter indie game arena, we’re still talking 2-3 sessions before people get a good feel for what’s happening.

Because tabletop RPGs have most of the action exist in a fiction space that we collectively imagine, there’s a cognitive load that makes it harder in general (I cannot simply look at the game board and get an idea of the game state, I must remember and imagine what is happening, and communicate with others to get that info or clarify it).  Even then, I think we could probably do better, design-wise, thinking about these things and applying them to  our games.

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.

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I Need Diverse Games GoFundme

March 7, 2017

I Need Diverse Games has been doing some pretty amazing work over the last couple of years with analysis, awareness, interviews, and game criticism.  If you have a bit to spare, they’re trying to keep functioning while the last paperwork for going non-profit is finished up.

If you can, please spare some funds for their GoFundMe page.

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A small Inspectres Hack

October 28, 2016

One of my favorite go-to games for a one shot, or to get to know new gamers, is Inspectres.  It’s mechanically simple, doing what fictionally makes sense for your character is often a good way to play, and you get a full story in a single session.  It also plays around with narration trading and we kinda sort out who the players are pretty early on, especially since no one can easily fall into “I play this sort of RPG character just to survive” kind of tropes.

That said, there’s a simple thing I often forget when I run the game, and I only remember AFTER the fact: a fair portion of the fun, and the Stress Rolls, comes from mundane things.  THEN the weird stuff stacks on top of it.

It’s like a normal kind of bad-day-at-work: your phone keeps losing connection during important calls, the system is down, you got a parking ticket, and traffic is jammed to all hell.  Also there’s a pterodactyl with a flaming skull flying over head and you can’t get the banishing circle together without a trip to Home Depot.  Argggh.

Bureaucracy, Breakdowns, Birthdays

Anyway, this tiny hack is something to make it easier for me to GM the game next time.  At the beginning of any scene, roll a D6:

1-2 Bureaucracy

3-4 Breakdowns

5-6 Birthdays

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy can be literally bureaucracy – but it’s basically any time society grinds away and makes your life harder.  Did the old woman pay you in a money order and now you’re driving around trying to find parking so you can cash it before the electricity bill for the ghost containment unit is shut down?    (Oh, look, some jerk parked diagonally and took 2 spots).

Breakdowns

The more minor, annoying, and yet worst-possible-time, the more likely it is to be the thing to breakdown.  Enough of these and you start to really get pissed.   The humor is less about things that directly block action, they just make the work-arounds more ridiculous.  “The mechanic says if you turn left the axle will snap, so you’re going be making a lot of triple rights to get around town, ok?”  Your keyboard doesn’t type ‘r’ or ‘a’ anymore.

Birthdays

Anything dealing with people from the agents’ normal life outside of ghost hunting – family, friends, etc. – obligations.   OF course your mom wants to come by and visit but your place is full of the possessed objects from the last job.   Your band buddies want you to play for one of their weddings.

Anyway, this serves as a simple reminder to keep throwing this stuff into play, and from that, stress rolls and ridiculousness.

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Justice Avenue (A superheroes hack for Trollbabe)

October 27, 2016

Was re-reading the Trollbabe game and realized how much of the issues and situations map really tightly to street level superheroes, like stuff in the Marvel/Netflix lineup… and got inspired.

Justice Avenue

The City

Always start with the City.  You can pick a real city, a fake city, or a city that’s almost real – like a fictionalized New York or whatever.  You want a map – but not 100% exact.  Slightly detailed tourist maps might work – we’re interested in districts and landmarks, maybe with some space to scrawl notes for other locations on it.    You can even get a second map for a specific neighborhood, if you want to narrow down the focus.

Who are the Heroes?

Rule #1 – you are human.   You’re not an alien, a robot, or a magical being from another world.  You come from this world, this dimension, this time (not the future or the past).  Comics get pretty wacky, but your heroes, are people from here.  Any alienation you feel is normal human alienation in a stressful, unique situation, not because you no longer understand humans or are a silicon based lifeform or anything.

However you got your powers, you’re here, now, and your concerns are with this place, and these people in the City.

Who are the People?

Most people think the City in a superhero comic is about crime and justice.  They’re wrong.  It’s about the people who believe in society and the rules as the best way, and people who don’t.

Don’t assume society & rules always equals good, either.  The corrupt Mayor who believes they can shove out the immigrants to open a new mall and use their access to bypass the normal approval process believes in the society and the rules – that this is how society works and the rules let them do this, so it’s all for the best.   The earnest reporter who has been trying to get the corrupt police Sergeant brought to justice and has been blocked at every step is probably quickly on the road to not believing in society or it’s shitty rules.

So some people want to keep things the way they are (usually because they gain some benefit, real or imagined) and some people want to violate or change it (perhaps because they want to improve things, perhaps because they like to see the world burn…).  These folks aren’t slavish tied to obeying or breaking laws or social mores – but they’ll justify their exceptions based on their primary goals.

And what about the heroes?

Well.  If you don’t need a large organization, or a gang, or a district, to make something happen, but rather you alone can change things?  You’re powerful.  And the people on either side will either see you as an ally, a threat, or an opportunity.

Role

Describe your character with an (adjective) and (profession/social role).

  • Good-natured kid
  • Injured Athlete
  • Teenage Runaway
  • Repetant Criminal
  • Wealthy Inventor
  • Poetic Scientist

This is either who your hero still is, or the life they left behind when they got their powers.

The Number

You set a number between 2-9.  Rolling under for Fighting.  Roll over for Skillful Action.  Roll the better of the 2 plus the number itself for Social.

Skillful Action

Skillful Action replaces Magic.  This is anything your hero has proficiency or knowledge in, including investigation, having friends in the neighborhood to draw info from, knowing the spy trade, being an athlete, an inventor, etc.  You’re not limited in this, except in your character concept for yourself – a good rough rule to work with is to consider your Role and what it might suggest as plausible options for your character.

Powers

You can pretty much pick anything for your powers, however, the dice are the dice, and if you pick something that is too hard for you to work with in your narration, you’re going to have a hard time.

Smaller, more limited powers are easier to narrate for the sake of the Stakes.  As the Stakes rise, you may need to think harder about what applies and what works for any given situation.   Vice-versa, greater, more expansive powers require that you consider that your great action will have small Stakes at first.  While it’s easier to describe greater Stakes with this, it can also become a place where you have less imaginative or interesting narrations when these do make these effects.

The Checklist

The Checklist is almost exactly the same, except instead of “remembered magic”, you get this:

  • A suddenly remembered piece of information or technique, relevant to the situation.

Running Justice Avenue

Pretty much all of the other rules and advice applies from Trollbabe.  Obviously, go to a modern, urban context and not funky comic Norse world, but otherwise, it fits the same.