Apparently my thoughts have wider use than merely game design. I was contacted by Ms. Morris from the Open Site blog, regarding my post on game difficulty, which apparently had something in common about multitasking. Here is a test her team created that examines the user’s ability to multitask. Check it out, if you have a minute or two:
In addition to not writing anything here, I’ve been doing an IndieGOGO-campaign for Games&Tales’ new board game project: Salvage Team! And I shall continue to not write anything here, because so much has already been written around the campaign and Games&Tales’ website. Go check them out, if you wish to have your mind blown. And enjoy the pretty picture.
During my Werewolf: The Forsaken-game, I wanted for the players to feel like brutal criminal enforcers, since that’s pretty much what they were at that point. I had them break in the home of two thugs who they needed to beat up. During the scene, which I wanted to feel vivid and violent, I had the thugs put up some token resistance. That little few seconds of facial reconstruction took about fifteen minutes of game time. And at that point I decided that I want a system to handle an entire combat scene with a single roll.
Why do we even have a distinct combat system? How does trying to kill (or subjugate) an opponent fundamentally differ from trying to persuade him? One of the theories is that players want more control in situations where their characters might die. Well, I was recently in a situation where my character had to climb an elevator shaft down. I rolled badly and she died. Poof. Had the situation been in combat, I would have rolled for initiative, made a tactical choice, rolled to hit, rolled to dodge, raised my heroism to avoid dying (it was an exotic system), or done any other of the myriad of choices. But the end result would have been the same: My character would be dead.
Another theory that I just made up is that roleplaying games still retain the cultural heritage of Chainmail and the first Dungeons and Dragons. That the meat of the game is fighting for your life, and that is why it should be simulated very carefully. Or perhaps it’s just the local playerbase. Regardless, that shouldn’t be the case.
So, in my opinion combat shouldn’t have any privileges in relation to other situations where a roll for success is required. And so, I set out to design a new system to handle any situation with a single roll. In addition, I wanted a system that would include time and the degree of success as a significant aspect. I would also like the system to be scalable to accommodate any situation. Here is the end result:
Every check has a Success Roll. Checks might also have modifier rolls: Time Roll, Environmental Impact roll and Attrition roll.
Success Roll is a single d10. In a contested roll, the players succeed on a 6-10. Depending on what the situation calls for, the players add an appropriate Affinity, which are Physical, Mental and Spiritual. Then they reduce the opponent’s Affinity. Then the players and the opponent start listing their Competences, which nudge the success range up or down.
Time Roll is a singe d10. First the GM and the players define how long the action should take. That is used as a base, which the Time Roll modifies: 1 means that the action is absurdly fast, 2 means the action is significantly faster, 3-4 means the action is slightly faster, 5-6 means no deviation from the base time, 7-8 means it took slightly more time, 9 means significantly more time and 10 means it took and absurd amount of time.
Environmental Impact roll is a single d10, which measures how much the action affects the environment. At 1-4 the action has negligible environmental effect, 5-7 means slight environmental impact, 8-9 significant, and 10 absurd impact. This roll is modified by the tools and the skills the characters are willing to use.
Attrition Roll is a single d4, d6, d8 or d10 for each side. The die result is directly the amount of attrition that is dealt to each side. The winning side can nudge either Attrition dice on one-on-one basis for the amount they went over the success line with the Success Roll. In a contested roll, either side may up the ante by increasing the die size for both participants.
So, when a check is required, the GM either selects a difficulty by deciding the success range for the Success Roll, or by having an NPC contest the roll. Then the players and the GM define which tools they are willing to use and modify the Success Roll. After that is done, the GM evaluates the time and adds Time die, adds the Environmental Impact die, and adds both Attrition Dice. Then the whole batch is rolled (obviously using different coloured dice), and the results are interpreted. Then either the GM explains how the events went down, or the GM and the players can play towards that situation.
That is the core structure for my one roll system. It still needs some framework and a setting that supports the narrative structure. But at least finally combat won’t take 15 minutes of die rolling and hit point erasing. Thank the Void for that.
Last year ended with a high note; the death of my processor cooling fan. After brushing all the rust away from my computer gutting skills, I installed a new one. Now the shambling monstrosity fails to start at the first time when I power it on, but after a soft reset everything functions as usual. Now I know what a Necromancer feels like.
Funny thing; I just bought the new Star Wars Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games, and I can’t decide whether it is good or not. Having played lots of Magic, I am used to the idea that when a player plays a threat, you always have your own turn before the threat activates (unless the threat is designed to be active immidiately). So when your opponent plays a big creature, you can use the next turn to attempt to handle it. In SWCG, every unit card can be used offensively at the same turn it is played. Also, the game has a very static pool of resources, so the game does not grow in the same sense as Magic does (Lands accumulate; In the early game you have to prioritize cards, but in the endgame you can play anything that you draw).
I can’t decide whether this is bad game design or just requires a different mindset. I probably need to play it more. But I like how FFG put a couple of cards of a different faction for a teaser in the core box. Devious.
In a Changeling: The Lost game that I played, my character was mute. In the climax of the game, I slowly walked towards another, mad Changeling with an eyepatch in a blizzard. The rest of my group were hanging behind me. I burned my last Willpower point to just enable myself to speak and implied the madman to give up his plan of turning us all to the Fae and go back to Arcadia. My Persuade dice pool was reduced to Chance Die, and I rolled it. It was a conventional failure; The most boring of all results. Except that this particular failure embedded itself into my memory.
The Storyteller described how the Changeling brushed my weak pleas aside and lifted his eyepatch, revealing a frozen ball of ice, through which the Ice Queen saw this place and was heading towards us. The Ice Queen tried to dominate my mind, but I resisted it by throwing myself to the ground. But this gave my colleague a chance to fire his gun at the eye. It was a long shot… Except that my other colleague used his luck powers and made the shot a success. The eye broke, the Ice Queen failed to find us, and I took the Changeling to a hospital.
That was a perfect instance of a failure which still drove the story forward. From now on, I endeavour to use conventional failures to push the story forwards.
During the generic winter holidays I played Mage Knight, a Heroes of Might and Magic-style board game. I had conflicted feelings about it; In both games that I played, the player who started had a clear advantage over the rest. Usually one lucky break was enough to ensure victory. But the actual playing was fun; Trying to figure out what you can do with your cards, levelling up, exploring stuff and so on. Also, the game had a bucketload of optional rules, which is always good. It made me realize (or just remember) that the games that I most remember are those which are fun to play, and not necessarily those which are perfectly balanced.
I just realized that modern sports games must be nearly divine. Duels of the Planeswalkers, the Magic Online Lite, has reached its third iteration. Each game has made significant improvements, from user interface to deck balancing to fixing minor issues. That, and the fact that The Witcher and its sequel used the money from their initial sales to make an Enchanced Edition, which improved pretty much everything from performance to graphics to content. If those games improve significantly by just two or three iterations, then a game like FIFA must be perfect in its execution. I can’t verify this though, since I possess no interest in sports whatsoever.
The first Assassin’s Creed established a very good game: A nicely flowing assassination parkour game. There was a fun free-running, which was very well executed, a clever, if a bit amusing, social stealth system, and cool as hell assassinations. Apart from some user interface problems and some pacing issues the game was perfect.
But therein lies a problem: The game was difficult to improve. Assassin’s Creed II did so by tweaking the user interface and adding more personality into the main character, but veered off course by adding things that detracted from the main gameplay that I’ve known to love and expect: A simple economy system and more collectibles. But still the core gameplay was there: Identifying an assassination target, plotting a way to get to said target, stealthing along said way, performing the assassination itself, and then hastily extracting yourself from the situation.
Then, as the series progressed, the designers realised that the assassination was going to get stale. So they added more things. Chariots. Land purchasing. More collectibles. Side missions. Prince of Persia-styled parkour. Treasure hunting. These were very well executed, but soon started to dilute the whole package.
And this dilution culminated in Assassin’s Creed III. The game no longer had much assassinations, nor creeds. It did have lots of exploring, collecting, crafting, buying (which both had an atrocious user interface), hunting, and very surprisingly, naval combat (which was excellent; I would gladly play an actual game with those controls). Most of the time I was running from an irrelevant side quest to another and collecting stuff. I probably assassinated more animals than people.
And the worst of the worst was that it no longer venerated the Assassin’s Creed’s assassination arc. In one assassination mission, you do not get to manually extract. Connor stealths across an active battlefield to the enemy commander’s camp and assassinates him on his horse as he is making a speech to the troops. Then, just as I was wondering on how I would get out of the situation, the game cuts to black when the british troops arrive, and continues when Connor has gotten back to camp! That was one of the activities I liked most in the series; Outrunning the entire enemy army and then stealthing your way out of the occupied area where everyone is looking for you!
Assassin’s Creed has come to its end as a series, I feel. Plotwise, the main story is over, though seeds for a new one have been sown. I feel that continuing to keep the series’ main premise would be folly: Freerunning and assassinating things with the hidden blade are starting to feel stale, and I can’t think of an interesting way to keep it fresh. What I would do now would be to try something different. Perhaps a game where you play as a Templar and try to forge order into the new world. Shift focus into the world, and try to make it a living, changing thing and not just a backdrop for the player. Yes, a Templar agent, forming a network of allies and confidantes, identifying key figures and corrupting them. Avoiding Assassins on the rooftops. Would be an interesting shift of perspective, and it would definitely shake up the good freedom versus evil order-morality of the series.
Lately my focus has gone towards Werewolf the Forsaken, which has taught me a lot about being a game master (or storyteller, in Storyteller). Mainly how to avoid solving problems for the players and let them do their thing. For World of Darkness has an oppressive atmosphere, and nearly every aspect is poised to bring ruin to the players. Therefore, I’ve been trying to add one problem for every one they fix. Since my players are quite clever (and have read the rulebook more thoroughly than I), they are quite efficient at solving problems, which means I am mostly shoveling more at them.
One thing about Werewolf the Forsaken (and Storyteller in general) is the level of abstraction. The system is quite easy to use and the skills and attributes are loosely defined. Just define an attribute, a skill, and modifiers on top. Then whether the skill is an extended check, an opposed check or a conventional one. I have used the system as a base for a couple of roleplaying games that I’ve played with my standard gaming group.
On the other hand, the system is perhaps a little too loose on the GM side. The Werewolf core book has a lot of errors, and even a reference into a concept that does not exist in this version. At first this annoyed me very, very much. For example, there is a rule which allows Spirits to boost their attributes with the local mana, Essence. But this capability is not defined in any meaningful way. Can they boost them indefinitely? Instantaneously? It was a grand mystery. But after my players read the Spirit rules, the devils, I understood a very profound fact: Knowledge kills tension. One player devised a long-term strategy to defeat a powerful spirit in combat after thinking about the combat system for a while. It felt like the situation lost a lot of its edge. That is when I decided to half-improvise the rules side of many of the more mysterious entities in the game. So that the players would feel as anxious as their characters. I feel that it should work since the game is supposed to be dark and foreboding.
I have also discovered the joy of playing NPC’s. I tasked each player with creating an NPC that is important to their characters at character creation. These NPC’s lead their own lives, and react to the supernatural things and horrors as conventional people would. One of the highlights of the NPC-cavalcade is definitely Maija Puronen, a smart and strong-willed bachelor of finance who is hopelessly in love with her emotionally abusive employer (hence her status as a Retainer). Her slow descent into madness was fun to play. Another one is Martti Manninkainen, a family doctor whose old family acquaintance dragged him to a summer cabin with lots of stolen medical equipment and pretty much forced him to dig out a bullet from an unconscious guy. Their reactions, decisions, and most importantly the things they do behind the scenes, are sometimes pure gold.
So that’s what I’ve been doing.
Well this is interesting. I’ve lost my ability to write.
I used to write more or less a couple of years ago. Whenever inspiration struck, I wrote a small story, or began to write a longer one. The ones that I finished were quite funny, at least to me and few of the people I showed them to thought so. But lately, when I’ve tried to write something, I just manage a few sentences. And I think I know why.
I’ve switched media from writing to roleplaying.
After I played Deus Ex Human Revolution, I wanted to make a conspiracy story in a Star Wars setting. I made it into a roleplaying scenario and played it last summer. Then I happened upon X-Wing’s soundtrack and wanted to make story about life in a Rebel starfighter group. I made it into a roleplaying scenario and am playing it semi-steadily. I had an inspiration about a tale of a dragon seeking to either transcend or accept her nature as a magnificent bastard. I played it in a short game of Shock. After playing Spec Ops: The Line, I wanted to make my own version of a descent-into-madness-scenario, and now I have been trying to find players for a one-shot.
Writing feels a bit clinical, and not nearly as organic as a good roleplaying session. Players refine the story, filling it with details I wouldn’t have patience for. I still enjoy a good written story (though I haven’t read anything for ages), I enjoy a game even more. And I love the way the game master and the players can weave the story and the game toghether into an experience.
The only thing that annoys me is the fact that games are temporary. While a book (or rather, a text file) can last for ages, a game exists only once, for only a few choice individuals, and then dissolves into memories. My contributions to this world are insignificant at best when looked at either temporal or spatial scale, and that makes me feel insignificant. But then again, does that matter? In the grandest scale, does anything truly matter?
Well, that went depressing depressingly fast. I’ll get back to work.