Wednesday, August 31, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 15: He can fight! He can fly! And he can CROW!!!

Oh, the cleverness of me. How clever I am! Well, OK maybe not so much, but I did finally get my game to alpha testability(mostly). I have finished my rules, for now. Obviously I will change them as I test the game out, obviously. Obviously, I will do that. But my game can now be played(waits for the applause to die down), thank you. I still have a lot to do on the setting. And of course there are going to be specialty rules and such. So it will still be a while before I publish this bad boy.

Here is a brief overview of how the game works. There have been a lot of changes. There are six stats, which I only have the working names for. These stats are: Strength, quickness, intelligence/education, perception/cunning, cleverness/wittiness, and charm/sweetness/sincerity. As you can see the names not suck.

For any task you will have a number of six sided dice equal to your ranking in a stat, plus any aspects you tag(each will add one die). You can only add one aspect per scope. A scope is what an aspect is attached to. If you have an three aspects on your character, you can only use one per turn as you are the scope for those aspects. If your gun has an aspect, then the gun is a scope. If your ship has one, then the ship is the scope for that aspect. You get the idea(I hope). I really like this part from Diaspora, and so I am using it in my game. When you roll the dice you are looking for any dice that come up five or higher. This is called a success(barring a more creative term). Some tasks will require more than one success, but lets not fret about that just yet.

When you get your stats, you choose which will be your peak stat(this will start at four), and which is your weak stat(this will start at zero). The rest of your stats are at two. There are going to be stress tracks based on the stats...but that’s still a little hazy right now. Maybe I should average them out? I don't know.

You start out with four aspects. But they are not as free form as other FATE games aspects(not that that's a bad thing, just I think this might work better for my game). You will choose a Vision, a Commandment, a Crusade, and a Failing. I may add others as I go along, but this will get us going for now.

Now there is a new twist on Invoking that I am kind of excited about(though again, it may not work). When you invoke an Aspect to gain extra dice, you get a potential complication. What this means is that when you roll the dice if you roll a one then you get a complication. If you succeed the roll despite the one, then there is a minor complication. If you fail the roll and there is a one, then there is a major complication. I think this is a really neat idea, though I think I may have to nail down precisely what constitutes minor and major in my game.

Finally, as this is a game about faith and war. I thought it would be neat to have a mechanic that might help represent that. Right now I am calling it Tragedy(but really it is more like loss of faith), but that's kind of stupid so I have to get a better grasp of what it is all about. It is kind of like Sanity in Call of Cthulu, and a bit like dark side points from any of the Star Wars RPGs. When your Tragedy(gah, I hate that name) track fills up you are removed from play. Either through madness, despair, or death in some manner suitably tragic.

It works like this, in the game there are two ways of receiving Fate points. One is the standard compelling an Aspect, that FATE players know and love. The other is by gaining Tragedy. When you choose to gain a point of tragedy, you get a number of Fate points equal to your total tragedy(counting the point you just gained) that must be spent this session(preferably this scene). I like this mechanic because the game then emphasizes the sacrifice made in the name of what's right. While, at the same time, shows the numbness and loss of faith that the universe could allow someone to be pushed so far.

I don't know why, but as I was designing the game, my mind kept coming back to the opera part of Space opera, and so I want it to kind of be a tragedy. Also it sort of fits the grand/epic adventure feel of the game as well. Also as I designed this I discovered more and more how much I was influenced by FATE. Seriously, this game is basically just a bit of a re-skin on FATE. A little different, but mostly the same. Sigh, oh well, work with what I got. Maybe something awesome will happen!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 14: Emergent Play

I have been reading through Burning Wheel and Diaspora more and more as I work through this project. Reading through Diaspora got me itching to reread through classic Traveller. So, I did. And in reading through it I realized something. It is flipping awesome. Mostly in that it seems to not have a setting to it. Instead the setting(and make no mistake there is a setting), is revealed through play. And looking through the other games I have been focusing on I realized that this is true of them, as well.

In Burning Wheel the game is very much revealed as you play. The mechanics emphasize a certain style of play. In the lifepaths you get a very specific feel of how the world is as you make your character. If I had to pick one system to run a Middle Earth game it would be Burning Wheel. Every aspect of the game leads you to that sort of feel. Now having read through some of the other stuff done with the system, it can be said that other games are just as viable, just setting up different life paths. And that is true, I am merely talking of what is presented in the book.

Diaspora looks very open ended on first glance. Hell, the damn thing sort of looks like a text book on gaming with Fate. It is all the needed items, with no clutter. No unused space, almost everything in the book is rules or about the rules. If you look within that architecture though, the game is dripping with setting. From the first piece of fiction to the last the game is all about telling a very specific story. It just doesn't come right out and tell you specifically what the story is. It is about being on a ship, traveling from system to system and the troubles that occur in that regard. The problem a lot of people who deride this game is that they never played Traveller. Diaspora is Traveller with a smoother rule system, and slightly different set pieces.

OK, so what have I learned from this? How does this help me with my game? The short answer is that it has shown me a couple of things I didn't realize I was in love with. First, I love Life Paths in games. What this means, to those who do not know, is that character creation takes a number of steps. Each step represents a time period in your character's life. In Burning Wheel, you start with birth, in Traveller you start with your first Job, and Diaspora starts with early childhood(in a very nonspecific way). Then you go through the character's life up to the point where your character is now gaming. I love this because it forces you to have a back story. You know where you came from, who you were involved with, that sort of thing.

The second thing I realized that I loved was the minimalist approach to setting. I am not saying that I want to work less on the setting, nor that I am lazy and just want the easy route. This is far from the easy path in design. When you have as much space as you want to write you can put any old idea you have down, and then call that setting. With the minimalist approach, I have to look at every sentence, every idea, and ask myself, is this necessary? Does this sentence add to the game? My goal for setting now is to try and do what diaspora did with its setting. Little blurbs here and there, and the rest is explained through mechanics.

I also really love Traveller adventures. Seriously go check them out, they are some good stuff. I really like how each adventure adds to the setting. I will endeavor to do something like this with my game. I would love to put out several adventure books, each adventure in them adding a bit more to the world. That way, everyone learns about the setting together, in play. Which is important. We do not roleplay in order to read things, we role play to go on adventures. If you have to read several chapters on the setting then you are really missing out on the real joy of gaming. Which is gaming. So I want my setting to be integral to gaming. There will be few to none true setting splats. Instead there will be things that you can do that will get you involved with the setting.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 13: Killing cows

Today I will kill the sacred cow. I have tried to make it work and still cannot, so I am removing the precision rule from my game. I will have a far easier time accomplishing my goals if I do so. I am also removing the Roll/Keep idea. While I like the mechanic it adds a level of complexity that I am unsure I need, or indeed want.

Let me break down the reasons leading to this decision. When I started I had three things I was very much in love with, Roll/Keep with the precision mod, aspects, and a simple die pyramid type thing. I realized fairly quickly that I could make two of those work together but not all three. I could use Roll/Keep and aspects, or I could use aspects and the stat pyramid. If I tried all three I got a mess. How would you get a pool high enough to have more than three or four dice, then which would you keep? How do you figure that number. Also how would you have enough dice rolled that you would stand a chance of getting within three of the target number on either side? As you can see it was a mess.

I am still in love with my precision mechanic, and I will revisit it later. Maybe I will find a way of making it work, but for now I am leaving it by the way side.

On a setting note, I have decided that weapons technology has advanced faster than defensive technology. I think that this will aid me in adding more sword play to ship fights. On the ground or in space powerful weapons can be fired with impunity. However, on a boarding action any stray shot can penetrate the hull. This will lead(in my mind at least) to the use of melee weapons when trying to take a ship. I also could add some societal reasons for this, in that the peasants are not trusted with heavy weapons, as a way for those in power to remain in power. This is a major tactical shift, and so I will have to think on this more of course. This is just what I am think about at the moment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 12: this is important

This post is going to be a response. Not to anything said by anyone else, but to an argument I had in my head as well as thousands of blog posts, forum messages, and articles I have read over the years. The question I posed to my self, about games in general, and this game specifically, is this. Can a game be good on it's own merits?

Now, what do I mean by this? What I mean is kind of complicated though the core idea is simple. I have often heard that game system Y is bad, because the players had a bad time with it. This is usually followed with some sort of advice, usually falling into three categories. One the reply will say that they need a better GM. Two the response will be in total agreement with the statement, adding in a new story of how they had a bad experience. The third will ask questions to the original statement, and by the way the questions are worded it is clear that the reply is just a set up to bash the way that that player plays(something like, “well of course the game sucked you failed to realize the interaction of Rule A and Rule F! If you played the game properly you would realize Game Y is awesome! You suck!”).

Now I will admit these are not the only responses I have seen. These are, however, the ones I have focused on for the sake of this discussion I had with myself. Basically what makes a game good? More specifically, who makes a game good? Is it the GM, the players, or the game designer?

I realized that what made a game good was a solid combination of all three. A shocker, I know. I will wait a moment while you pick your collective jaws off the floor. I admit, this is not revolutionary thought. None of this post is particularly mind blowing. This is just a way for me to focus my thoughts about my game.

So, a game's design is important, but so are the GM and players. You could have the best designed game in the world, but if the GM and players were not doing their part, they would say that the game sucked. The game designer very rarely gets to tell the players or GM that they suck. Actually I can think of a few times this has happened, and as both a player and a GM this response pissed me right off. How dare the designer tell ME haw to play the game. At least that's how I felt when I read that first section of the Aberrant Player's Guide. As a designer I have to be aware of that. Once I have written my game, it is no longer my game, and yelling at people who play the game wrong will make me more enemies than friends. Again, I know, shocker, right.

So if I cannot control the quality of players and GMs out there, then I must work to produce the best game I possibly can. I can't take any shortcuts, nor can I assume the players know what I am talking about. It doesn't matter how elegant a system I present, if I present it wrong.

I can influence the players and the GM, of course. I can use the fiction, and add advice relevant to my game. But over the long hall my opinion will matter less than some thirteen year old kid who picks up the game, because he liked the space ship on the cover(or what ever I put there, seriously, I haven't even play tested yet and you want cover art? Savages). His idea of what the game is matters far more than mine. See when he buys that book, the game is no longer mine. It is his game.

I will try to keep that thirteen year old in mind when I write this. After all, he is me. He is you. He is where we all were when we first walked into that shop. You know that shop. The one with the bearded fat man behind the counter. You walked in and the smell of old models, dust, paint and binding glue slammed into you like a freight train of awesome. He ignored you of course. This is the ritual, you must speak up. This terrifying man is allowing you to grow up just a little. You see that first book, you know the one(for me it was TMNT&OS). You pick it up and walk to the counter. His eyes glance at you briefly from his dog eared copy of Foundation. The rest of his body is unmoving. With shaky hand you present your money. He nods. The book is yours. At least that's how I remember it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 11: Stupidity and Writing

I have been working on the setting pieces for this game for close to a week now. I have to say, not loving it. I sit down to write; I know what I want to write. When I get the moment of truth, when fingers hit the keyboard, I can't figure how to present it. I can write stories, I know this, as Ihave in the past. I can work out histories and background. Yet I have no idea on how to present the information that is interesting.

Here is an example of what I have been working on, take verbatim from my notes:

  • There is a god king. Beneath him are his scions. He maintains his immortality by transferring his consciousness to a new body. Each of the Scion legacies, is descended from a child of one of his bodies. They have been bred for centuries for specific purposes. Below the scions are the Monitors. They are the group of men and women dedicated to rooting out and solving problems. There are also Heralds, who serve as both missionaries and special forces.

See! It doesn't even really make sense outside of my head. I know I want one of the cultures to be ruled by an immortal god king, and his semi divine progeny. This allows for a an interesting pseudo-feudal government. But as you can see the presentation is severely lacking.

The other issue come down to the language of myth. I want there to be this sort of Ur-myth of Earth. Mankind left Earth so long ago that they no longer remember anything about it, it has been a legend for thousands of years. I was going to do a bit of fiction about it, of someone telling the myth of earth as he learned it. It didn't turn out quite-well, here see for yourself:

  • My grandfather told me the story, when it was my time to learn. He told me the story of Earth. How we came from there, and to there we will return. One day, we will return. Earth was the land of the gods, immortal capricious and cruel. Some of the gods looked around at their people and said, “ This is not right. It is wrong that our people suffer from the whims of the other gods!” Gathering up the faithful, they tested them. Those that passed the test were taken. They flew through the sky in a chariot made from fire. But the gods of Earth were angry at the betrayal...

I sort of stopped there, with good reason I think. The reason being, its shit. I did not think that it would be the writing aspect of this game that would give me the biggest trouble. Yet here I am, lost. Trying desperately to steer this hulk away from that damnable iceberg that is writers block(lack of talent? Inherent stupidity?).

I would appreciate any thoughts. I will continue to work on what I can, and try and push through. Sometimes I wish I were like the writers you see in the movies. Were they can just lock themselves away and write nonstop. Not thinking about eating or sleeping, the writing just sort of takes over and they merely channel the creativity. In my experience that has never happened. It is real work to be creative, you gotta go down a great many blind alleys before you can find a workable path.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The War In The Heavens pt. 10: unstable mechanics charge way too much

Yesterday's post illustrated a few things to me about my game that I had not considered. I realized that the mechanical pieces of my game do not fit well together. I have three parts to the mechanics so far. I really like each of them, but as it stands they are not a unified whole. I know that I promised a bit of setting fiction here today, but I think that this is a more important item on the old to do list.

So first lets take a look at the three mechanical pieces that I have at the moment:

  • Aspects: I have a very specialized form of aspect in my game. The aspects allow for a re-roll, or add a die to an existing roll. Also they can be invoked for effect, compelled, and used in maneuvers like an aspect in any Fate game. I really like Fate, and so it is no surprise that I am utilizing a lot of what I have learned from that system in my own. Currently Player Characters will have four aspects:

    • Vision: Vision will be the characters view of himself. I see this as kind of a high concept. Basically who and what is your character? The tricky part will be making this useable in play, but I think that with a few examples and the proper advice section this should be easy enough.

    • Commandment: This is a little more nebulous. So I think I will be making a concrete set of commandments for the players to choose from depending on the culture they come from. This will be kind of like the Magic keywords in HeroQuest. Where you pick a god, belief structure, or magical philosophy and you can pick a set of keywords from that section that define your character. I think something like that will work here. Though I think the players should have a say in how it is presented as an aspect. This need some work, but is small potatoes as far as my mechanical issues go.

    • Crusade: Your crusade is your current goal. I see this a bit like a Belief in Burning Wheel. This will be the thing that drive's your character for the foreseeable future. Basically this may change from session to session, or story to story. This will need to be worked out as a group as the Crusade will be the same for everyone in the group. Now the phrasing and emphasis will change from player to player. And if I use a patron system(like in Traveler) then perhaps the patron(i.e. The GM) will have a say in it as well. This is the Aspect that may change the most in play testing, as I am unsure how well it will work.

    • Failing: I am not sure I like the term Failing for this. I have thought about using Vice or Fault, but they don't really capture what I am looking for either. This is going to be an aspect that will be primarily used for compels. It will work a lot like Trouble in Dresden Files. This is what complicates your life.

  • Roll/Keep: I have this idea for precision in this. Basically you set the target number and roll a number of dice. You add up only a certain number of the rolled dice. The closer to the target number the better. There will be a three point area around the target number. For example if the target number was twelve, the the success margin would be between nine and fifteen. I really like how this sounds. However, I have not play tested this idea, and I am completely unsure how it affects probability. I have so many variables with the other parts of the system that I am unsure how to calculate how hard it will be to hit the mark every time. I love the concept, but am unsure it will work. Also there is the thought that if the number of dice you are allowed to keep is too high, or the amount of dice you roll is too close to the amount you keep, then there could be problems with hitting low numbers. In fact low numbers seem to be the issue here. I do not yet have a fix.

  • Attributes: I want there to be a set of attributes, between five and seven. I want there to be a primary attribute and there to be a weak attribute. The weak attribute will have no inherent pool. The primary will have a higher than normal pool. The remaining will all be at a standard pool. This leads to a problem. How to do the Roll/Keep with this system? I see a few ways around the problem. The one I am leaning toward is similar to aspects, only there will be no fate involved, but that changes the part about aspects. Basically my idea is to have a bunch of key ideas about your occupation, beliefs, and culture, as well as having equipment. Each of those gives you one die to a roll, but they can stack with others. This would allow for you to pull in a great deal of concepts into a roll, theoretically making them more meaningful. The idea sort of comes from the Smallville RPG, kind of. Again though I am unsure how this will feel when the dice fall. Another issue is that I do not have any names for the attributes, as I am unsure what I want them to model.

So those are my issues with the mechanics as I have presented them. I have a few ideas for some fixes, as you can see, but overall I am a bit stymied. I guess I will have to play around some more with them to get something I feel works. The big question is will it be fun? And to that I do not know yet. I have a system that is coming together slowly, and a setting I think is interesting. But that's all me, we'll see when I start testing this.

Friday, August 19, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 9: showing off how little I know

I was going to work on some in setting fiction for this post. I was going to write the creation myth for one of the empires(well a version of the creation myth). Turns out, its crap. I will keep working on the fluff but that leaves me with nothing for today, OK yesterday. So I thought I would put a post together that had all the major plot and mechanics decisions I had made to date. I am doing this not to pad out the blog(as you have probably realized by now I only add stuff when I have something to add), but to clarify what I have in fact decided to do. Rereading through the posts I realize I was sometimes a little vague on what my actual choices were. So here gos:

  • Space Travel: In the distant past man traveled to many different stars the slow route. They traveled in cryogenic ships(and a few generation ships). They sent massive terraforming engines ahead of them with the purpose of making sure there were habitable planets for humans to colonize. The colonized these worlds, and over thousands of years, forgot almost everything about where they came from. Then one of them discovered The Gate. A giant alien artifact that, when activated, allowed faster than light travel to another gate. There was a whole network of Gates linking up dozens(maybe hundreds) of systems. Travel through the gates had a strange psychological effect on anyone awake at the time. They would start to go insane. Each trip was worse. The effect could be softened with mind altering drugs, but not stopped completely. People in cryo-sleep were unaffected by the Gate. It became standard practice for All but the pilot of the ship to enter cryo-sleep for the duration of the trip. Pilots are drugged out madmen.

  • Communication: There is no faster than light direct communication. All important information must be delivered by courier ship.

  • Character roles: Characters will be deeply involved in the wars, both hot and cold, of the various interstellar powers. There will probably be no more than three major powers(governments that cover more than one system). The major factional lines will be ideological and religious. There will also be several lesser powers(governments that control a system, but are not part of a larger state). Players will be playing Diplomats, spies, missionaries, and/or special forces of one of the major powers. There job will vary depending on where they are assigned. If they are involved in a lesser power then they will seek advantage for their cause, through clandestine action and diplomacy. Should they be on a contested planet they will be the vanguard. Leading the way, getting behind the lines. They will be the field leaders. That is what I have so far.

  • Basic mechanic: currently, there will be six major stats(I have not named them yet). All but two will be ranked at two. One will be higher, three or four. One will be lower, one or zero. These will be modified by aspects. There are three special aspects, Vision, Commandment, and Crusade. There may be other aspects. I am also thinking about adding feats/specialties/stunts, though I have not yet. Aspects, when used, will either add three to the roll, allow a reroll, or add a die to the roll. For an action you will roll a number of six sided dice equal to your rank in the relevant stat. This can be modified by aspects. I think I may not have a large enough pool of dice yet to do what I would like. As my eventual goal is to roll a certain number of dice, but only count a smaller number of those rolled dice. There will be a target number. The closer you are to the target number the better the result. If you go ver by three or under by three you do not succeed. Right now the dice mechanic is the least set in stone, as I am still working on it. It currently is a mess.

  • Magic: there will be some form of magic(the force, psychic powers, whatever) in my game. I know that there will be prophesy in my setting, as I have decided that a prophesy is what has caused this constant warfare. Basically there is a prophesy along the lines of, “whoever finds the Earth will forever rule man's destiny.” crap like that. I think it will be unique to a small independent system. They barter the gifts they have to the various major powers in order to keep their system safe.

And I think that is what I have, as far as concrete decision making. It is kind of sad, when I look at it now. I have put so much thought into it and yet it covers barely half a page. That just means that I have to get back to work on it. Nose to the grindstone and all that. I will continue to work on a piece of flavor fiction for you all so you can get a feel for the setting. Here's hoping its not crap!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 8: Forge of War

After talking it over in a couple of different forums. I have narrowed my ideas down a bit. The game is moving in a very interesting direction, one I did not see coming. This illustrates the importance of having people to bounce your ideas off of. Even if you disagree with them, you end up with a better grasp of what you want out of your game. By learning how they see your design, you can see where that design is not being described well. Now, on to the nonsense!

The first thing I realized as I spoke with others about the design of this is that, by far the most interesting bit is the religious war. So that will be the focus of the game. Players will all play characters within the same faith(this is the standard, of course that could change in your game, more on this in later posts). They will be either diplomats, spies, special forces, or missionaries. That may not be what they all play, but these are the people going out to the heathens and doing what needs to be done.

Basically you will have aspects based on your faith's tenets. Right now I am leaning toward three. This idea was given to me by Zachary_Wolf on the Forge. Here is the section of his post that I will be using for now(alpha and beta testing may change it):

Each player picks three "Convictions", a Vision, a Commandment, and a Crusade. Your character's Vision is their own personal goal, a piece of imagery that wish to see come true. Their Commandment is their religious goal or code of behavior, something that could possibly be common to more than one player. Their Crusade is their current mission, typically shared between all players and usually given to them by their religious leader.

Vision - To become Bishop of a small planet or colony.
Commandment - To bring justice to those under the heel of oppression.
Crusade - To travel to the Urdot System and investigate the missing missionaries.

You can use them as aspects, but these will be less changeable than other aspects. I will probably adopt something like you can only change one of your three convictions at a major milestone for your character. Basically only when your faith is truly tested, or when it is confirmed. They will behave a bit like Trouble and High Concept in The Dresden Files role playing game.

I am not certain I like the Vision aspect being so secular. I think I may change it to your personal view of the religion. It would break down to how you have internalized the faith, versus how the external faith would be represented as the Commandment. I don't have a ready example of what I am talking about yet. I can see it and how it works, but for the life of me I am not sure how to explain it yet. I will continue to work on these ideas as I think they will be the core of my game.

Speaking of things I have come up with, yet don't know how to use. I have come up with an idea I think is very interesting, and yet I can see no real purpose for it. I would like Earth to be lost. Long ago during the great diaspora(not to be confused with the game Diaspora) mankind left earth in huge sleeper ships. They traveled to distant stars. There the mighty terraforming engines moved from planet to planet. If they found a planet could support life they moved on. If the planet was barren they gave it life.

Many were the peoples and the creeds that came to live among the stars. But as the millennium passed, they forgot where they came from. All that was left was the myth of earth. How man came from earth, and the wonders that remain there. After the discovery of the Gate, earth was sought. They never found it. Either it is not part of the Gate network, or it is only one jump away. The myth of earth prevails.

I think that is a cool idea, but don't know how to make it relevant to the characters in the game. And if it doesn't encourage play, why is it in the game. One idea that I had was to start the game with the finding of earth. It would have to be found on the fringe, and by at least two separate people groups. This could be what spurs on the great holy war. I am just not certain on this.

Another random thought that was put forward by a few people I talked with was the idea of each character has a modified custom fighter craft. I have personal issues with this, but as it is a game and not real life I can set them aside. This would mean that each character would have a customized Fighter. They would be the equivalent of questing/crusading knights with their mighty steeds and weapons that the common folk cannot afford. I don't know. I am kind of ambivalent about it, so any feedback on this would be nice.

That's it for the design journal for today. Let me know what you think, good or bad. The next post will probably be on the story side of things. Most of this post felt like mechanics for me. Even though it was a mix of both. Maybe I can even put out a little game fiction. Though I doubt that ot will be amazing or anything.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 7: a mechanic on mechanics

Moving away from the deeply philosophical issues of the moment, I am going to delve back into the mechanics of the game. As I posted earlier I am definitely going to use a dice pool, and I am going to add all the dice together rather than count successes. I am leaning toward the Roll/Keep style counting, but for now we will just have to see how things go.

One thing I loved about John Wick's Houses of the Blooded was the way you made your character. The stats were so very generic, and yet you ended up with a character that felt completely distinct. I wish to emulate that to some extent. Specifically the strength and the weakness. Perhaps I will even do something along the lines of a house/class/job specialty, but I am getting ahead of myself here. The point is that I want a very simple list of skills that can be modified by external and internal events/actions.

This takes me back to when we were still doing regular episodes of the podcast. Carol had this idea that we, as a cast should build a game. She would come up with the fluff, and I would work out the crunch. It was going to be a steampunk game. The ideas fell apart(but some of them became the seed for Carol's and my story), mostly due to design goal difference, but that is neither here nor there. What is important was I was working on a system for that game that I think will work well for what I see here.

The basic idea is that you have these basic traits(I'll work out a better name later) and then situational modifiers(very similar to aspects, close enough that I am thinking of scrapping my original ideas for those and just using aspects). In that game you had a base of two in everything, and each situational modifier added two to the roll. It was fairly simple, and I think that I can make this better.

Each character will have a list of basic traits. It won't be very many, maybe six(I am kinda feelin' the six right now, but that may change). The majority will be at two dice, one will be a strength so that will be at three dice(maybe four). One of the traits will be a weakness, which will be a zero. This means that you will have to employ aspects to even attempt a roll for a trait that is your weakness. I know it sounds like I am harping on the weakness a great deal, but there is a reason for that. Weaknesses are awesome! I am not saying that playing the weakest character is awesome, but having a major weakness is. Yiou have this gaping flaw in your character, if you can really focus on it it will drive the story for a long while. Whereas your strengths actually get rid of story. Weaknesses create conflict, strengths end conflict, see what I mean? Plus they allow for a wonderful kind of spotlight moment, you get to be incompetent. Whether played for laughs, tension, or tragedy that is good gaming right there.

Now aspects will change slightly, and I have two ideas for how this will go down. I have not yet decided which I will use. The first idea I had was to allow the aspect to add or subtract two(or three, or five, dependent on the dice I use) from the final skill roll. This works well for my idea of precision, which I mentioned in part five of this series. The other idea I had was that using an aspect will give you a bonus die for the roll. Which will work much better with the weakness concept I am currently so enamored of. I could split the difference and say both work, but it is dependent on when you choose to employ the aspect. Employ it before the roll and you get a die, after the roll get the plus or minus number to the total. I am leaning in that direction but that makes aspects incredibly potent, so I have to test it out a bit first I guess.

Using aspects like this in my game allows for them to take the place of SPACE MAGIC as its own skill set. Now what it does is just give a descriptor of how you are doing something. I am not certain if this will work well. I may have to implement something like a specialty system and all that, but I would like to test this idea out first, and I am still a long way off from there system-wise. I mean I don't even know how combat in space s going to work, and that was one of my core conceits. Well, best hop to then, what what!

So now I am back to ubiquitous, “What the hell is my game about?” I cannot move forward until I have sorted this out. If this is a fantastic hopeful sword and planet style adventure, that will alter the mechanics and the language of the mechanics. Just as if it is cowboy space noir, or Camelot in space. So I really need to sit down next time a really nail down what my game is about and who the players will be playing. From there I can begin naming the traits I have mentioned as well as focusing my mechanics to emulate what I want. We have reached the first really difficult hurdle in game design(or writing at all for that matter), cutting away the parts that no longer fit.

Monday, August 15, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 6: lack of focus-hey a shiny thing!

So I have come to an issue I did not anticipate when I first started this project. I got really excited about the setting and mechanics that I lost sight of the most critical aspect of the game. What do the player characters do?

I could go with, they do whatever they want, but honestly that is a cop out. I could design the game and see if there is a goal that emerges as I go along, but again I think that is not going to cut it. So I have now set myself to defining what this game is about. I guess I will dissect what I have so far and see what I can pull from that.

The title I have is The War In The Heavens so lets start with that. War, that works for me. Games thrive on conflict and war is nothing but conflict. Also a lot of my source material is about war, or at least has a military bent to it. Also there is the Heavens aspect of it. We could could view that as a reference to space, but it also could refer to literal heavens. This leads to a religious angle that I really like. Again a lot of my source material is religious in nature so we can definitely use that. Holy war(or wars) in space work for me. It even goes back to some ideas I had about Star Gate and Star Wars, both of which are really just holy crusades against certain forms of religion, but more on that later(maybe).

Also we have massive ships that carry fighter-craft, and massive alien star gates that are the only way to travel faster than light. So this leads to choke points in space, as well as communication being slow. Maybe that is what the player characters are? Members of a courier ship. They could either be the skeleton crew of a cheep courier service or defenders of the imperial post or something.

So far there are no aliens, but I could add a potential alien menace from beyond the stars. And there is what happens to pilots when they travel through the star gate. This implies an alien agenda, or the remnants of one, so I could have a Chthonian alien exploration kind of plot. Where the characters seek out the godlike creators of the gates.

See here is my problem I have. There are so many options available that I don't really know what the standard role for the player characters will be. While I can have many different options, there needs to be an initial assumption of place in the universe. I need to narrow my focus. I am leaning more and more toward Holy War. I have to think on this some more. Maybe I can work this out on my own, but if anyone is reading this and has a really great idea, let me know. I will take any help I can get at this point.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 5: Dice...Oh Yeah!!

Anyone who has listened to The Laughing Stick podcast even a little is probably aware of my love for mechanics. I love rules systems and mucking about with them. So when I sat down to work on the mechanics of this game, I kind of had information overload. I mean, which dice mechanic will I aim for? How will it interact with the fluff?

Starting out I made an arbitrary decision to use dice pools. I did this because I like dice pools. I like dice pools a lot. I am aware that other dice systems work just as well, so my decision was purely about my tastes. Because of this I will not go into too much depth as to why I chose to use a dice pool. I will say this though, I don't like a dice pool greater than ten. So I think that will be my limiting factor. Ten dice is about as many as you can hold in one hand, so that will be my limit.

When using dice pools there are several different methods for calculating success. There is the simple method of rolling the dice and adding the numbers together. There is setting a target number on the die and any die that comes up that number or higher(or lower, I guess) counts as a success(World of Darkness), or a hit(Shadowrun 4th). Then there is the slightly different roll a certain amount, but only count a smaller number(Legend of the Five Rings). Also there was the system used in Brave New World, where you roll a number of dice, but only one of them is used(the highest die). There may be other dice pool mechanics that I have forgotten here, and I may look into other specifics as I go along, but for now this will work.

So the first break down I had was whether to use successes/hits or target number/add up. When I first came to this I had thought to use the successes model, as I am most familiar with it in play. But as I thought about it, I realized I might be able to do more with adding the dice together. Specifically when I was looking through Legend of the Five Rings, I kind of fell in love with the Roll/Keep system they use there.

I have played in many Roll/Keep systems in the past(LotFR,7th Sea...a lot of 7th Sea). One thing that I loved was the choices involved in a simple roll of the dice. Before you roll you can decide to raise the difficulty in order to do a greater effect. Then when you roll you can only keep and count a certain number of the dice so you have to decide which of those you will keep. And this is where my problem came in. as there was no downside, or alternate effect, for going over the target number there was no reason to choose anything but the highest numbers shown.

This is fine enough I guess, but I always felt it was a lost opportunity for interesting choices. So I started toying with the idea of precision, the idea that going over the target number could be just as bad as going under it. Meaning that the idea would be to get as close as you could to the target number.

Now, this will add a bit more complexity to the rules. I am still working on the idea, so I can't guarantee that I will be going with this idea. Though it is intriguing and I feel like it is where I want to go. One idea I had was to have a range of success on either side of the target number(either three or five at this juncture), but I am unsure as to how that will play out. As I am only about three or four mechanics posts away from alpha testing, here's hoping I can test it and give you all a report as to how that idea works.

On a side note I have been watching a lot of the cartoon Sym-Bionic Titan(great show, go watch I have decided that there will be mecha in my game. I loves me some giant robot! Oh yeah!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 4: SPAAAAAACE MAAAAAAGIC!!!!

Yesterday(the day before?), I worked out a few of the mechanical details I wanted in my game. As I am still brainstorming, I have not cut much out of my game. So now I am going to discuss the long thought process that led up to my first big cut(only, you know, I didn't really cut anything. I know, I know, I tried. Really I did, but...well, you'll see). I had to decide whether or not my setting would have psychic powers/the Force/space magic. And this was a very tough call. A lot of my source material had mystical, or pseudo-mystical, trappings throughout. They were rich and flavorful, and really added a lot of depth to the world.

However, the problem is that in games with those powers it is very difficult to play a group where some have powers and some don't. Space magic gives the players with it far more options in and out of combat. This leads to them being able to solve more problems than a person without them.

This has been a problem in several of the games I have run in the past. In star wars(WEG, D20, and Saga, though less of a problem in saga) the Jedi almost always overshadowed the rest of the player characters. The force(and light sabers...stupid space swords...) made them far more competent than a character of equal experience. This led to my house rule, the party is either all Jedi or no Jedi, no mixed parties. But that sucked the fun out of the game for two of my friends. One wanted to always play the Han Solo part, and one always the Jedi.

The other game that this came up in for me was Aeon Trinity. In it psychics and soldiers fight a desperate battle against the super powered monstrosities from the stars. Only once did I have someone(the Han Solo guy) make a non psychic, but it ruined the game. He just couldn't keep up. Any combat situation he could handle, the rest of the party mopped the floor with it. If I challenged them, then he was dead. Mostly this wasn't a huge problem, as most of my players just naturally gravitated to psychics, but still, it was an issue.

So the question comes down to this. If I allow space magic in my game, then how do I keep it balanced with the no psychic characters? Basically, how do I keep the non magic characters mechanically viable? I could go the D&D 4th route and make very skill set have magic powers, but that kind of feels like cheating. I could just not have any magic powers in my world, but that starts moving away from a lot of what I liked in the source material.

Ok so, originally I went the no magic powers route. Then as I was going along in my analysis, and mulling it over at work I got to thinking that I really would be missing out if I cut the space magic. So I added that back in. I know this was supposed to be an article on narrowing ideas and gaining focus, it isn' I cut out the part where I cut the magic and instead present this next bit to explain a little and see if I can't work out a rough idea on how I will mitigate the problems I foresee.

So I have decided to keep magic in my game. I think I have a few ideas to help sort out the issues I have had in the past. Firstly I have a fix for the fluff in the game. Then I have a couple of mechanics ideas that will augment that.

If there are magic powers, then they are either new or have been around for a while. As I think the new powers would lead the game to focus on that too much, I am going to go with magic being around for a long while. So it is a known(if not accepted) aspect of humanity. Now here is where I take my cue from the Deathstalker series of books. In them the psychics are treated as less than human. They are second class citizens at best, and really closer to slaves. I also like how they are handled in the Dune universe. Only a few people have the power, and so they formed into a clandestine and occult society that has it own rules and wants. So I am thinking that for a majority of human space the people with cool powers will be treated as slaves(or indentured or something) and there are also secret societies of magic people who hide out, either on the fringes of human space or secretly walk the very halls of power themselves. This will add a reason in the fluff to keep it on the down low that you haves the kul powerz!!!!1one

Now onto the crunch. In order to avoid making the powers too amazing, I think I will make them hyper specialized. You will have one main power skill(telepathy, clairvoyance, the force, whatever) and then you will be able to pick specialties(though I may call them something different). Each specialty will allow you to use your power skill in place of one facet of another skill. Remember that each skill will have three facets(see last post). What this means is that you can do a lot of very disparate things with your power skill, but it takes more time and focus. Odds are good that getting the skill would be a greater benefit in some ways, as the skill gives you access to all the facets within, rather than just one.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 3: A skillful thought

OK, so I have thought about this for a little while now and I have a few thoughts on skills. By skills I mean any modifier to the base roll that is decided on by the player and recorded on the character sheet. I realize(after I wrote it down) that that description takes a bit of deconstruction. I will endeavor to explain it in more detail.

A skill is a modifier to a roll. What this means is that there will be a a base roll that will be modified. I only realized later that I was actually making a core rules conceit of my game by defining what I thought of as a skill. I realized later that there could be a system out there that did not have a base roll. Not that world changing I know, but still something I need to keep in mind as I go along on this process.

Base roll needs a definition in this case, I think. In my definition a base roll is a die, or number of dice, that is rolled in a conflict no matter what. It can be modified by skills, or by environmental factors determined by game master or some other factor. What this means is that, in my game, there will always be a die to roll when it comes time to do something in a conflict. So there is a chance that someone can do anything, even if they lack a skill. This is already showing a tendency toward a cinematic heroic feel. In that anyone can do anything, though some people will be far better at some things than others.

Back to skills, skills are modifiers chosen by the player and listed on the character sheet. This may seem simple but this is crucial to my understanding of skills. Without skills, the need for a character sheet is severely lessened. What all of this means is that a skill is not chosen by the GM, so it allows for the player to exert some measure of control over the game. This is an interesting idea that I decided to explore as I went along.

So for every skill there is a primary focus. For shooting, this would be shooting(obviously), for driving, it would be driving a vehicle of some sort. This is the easiest way to view a skill, as a very specific focus for conflict. I think it can be more. For the purposes of my earlier description, attributes(as they are described in many games) would fall under the descriptor of skill. Aspects from Fate would also fall into this category, the same is true of beliefs and instincts in Burning Wheel. As my idea of skill encompasses such a broad array of mechanics I have some choices to make.

There is also the idea that a skill could have many foci to it. There would be the primary focus, which is the basic descriptor. Then there is the secondary focus. Something dealing with knowledge of the skill. With shooting, it would be knowledge of guns. How to build then,maintain them, and such like. Then there would be a tertiary focus. This would be a social focus. Going back to the shooting example, this would be the ability to talk with gun experts, maybe the characters fame in the field of guns, and the ability to purchase a gun at a better price. I am leaning toward this direction, though it still requires some thought.

I could separate skills out in the traditional attribute/skill dichotomy seen in other systems. This does have a long tradition of use behind it. It would be easy to do. Yet I do not think that it is necessary. I will probably go back and forth on this as I go along with this project, but at this moment I am leaning away from that idea.

Skills could also be a singular item. For every task you could have a skill for it. This is kind of the direction that was taken in Icons with specialties. I think I like this and I think I will be leaning this direction as we go along. Though I like the ideas of aspects, so I will probably do a bit with that.

So that is my first thoughts on skills. It is a little meandering and wandered into dice mechanics a bit, but I think there is enough there for me to think on. I have made a few crucial decisions made, and am beginning to get a feel for where this system is going.

Friday, August 5, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 2: Space, the first thoughts

Alright before I get into mechanics I need to go over a few physics rules of my universe. Specifically how does space travel work. I am going to start kind of in the middle. I have a few things I definitely want to see in my game, so I will start with them and work forward and backward from that point.

As a side note I would like to point out a few things about starting a project like this. Early on when the ideas are flowing freely and you have the whole universe at your fingertips it is easy to think that this is the norm in a creative process. This attitude can be problematic later on when the process gets more difficult. I can't tell you how many game and story ideas of mine have died shortly after this phase. Like any great endeavor no amount of talent will trump hard work, so I need to remember to keep my nose to the grindstone as you and go on this journey together. Sorry for that side note, just thought it was important to say out loud...or write it down, or whatever. Now back to my regularly scheduled diatribe.

Now, space is big, really really big. And so if I want to have a game on many planets I am going to have to bend the rules a bit. I have composed a list of things I am looking for in space travel and where I thing the setting will take those ideas. Here goes:

  • FTL: The first and most important question to ask is whether or not you can travel quickly from star system to star system. As I have decided that I would like there to be(fairly) quick travel between systems, then there must be some form of Faster Than Light travel. I think it will be a fairly recent technology though, maybe only a hundred years old, or so. Now on to the kinds of FTL I have considered.

    • Direct FTL: something like Star Trek's Warp drive. Using some means, in some way, ships can just go faster than light. This is useful in the sense that it really opens up the universe. However, I am not certain that this is the rout I would like to go.

    • Wormholes: By circumventing the known dimensions of the universe you can travel at sub-light speeds and still get there faster than light. Whether it be the star gate from the show of the same name, or jumping to hyper-drive like the Millennium Falcon wormholes are an interesting idea to toy with. If I do this I then have to decide whether the ship itself can generate a wormhole, or whether you need an external device. I am very much leaning toward an external device. I really like the idea of a network of giant space gates that you have to send a ship through. Now I have to decide if humans built the gates or not. I am leaning toward not. That way I can add those truly alien bits to the game world. Maybe the pilots of ships go slowly mad the more often they use the gates?

    • There are a few other ideas, but when I got to wormholes I realized it covered a lot of the ground required for the others. I really like the idea of generation ships and cryogenic travel, in fact I am really leaning toward still using cryonics in my game. Maybe the cryonics protects the passengers from the madness suffered by the pilots. Though that's getting ahead of myself really.

  • Fighter Craft: I know that they are fairly impractical, but I really like the idea of swarms of fighter craft. Now I need an in world rational for a one or two man small fighter...need to think on this more.

  • Massive ships: along the same lines as fighters, I like the idea of massive ships. Maybe there is a certain mass threshold required to jump between stars. This would mean that fighters would need to be carried in larger ships from star system to star system. Of course if it is mass based then you can't have a Millennium Falcon or a is a bit of a conundrum.

  • Communication: ok here is a choice I can say is definitely here specifically for role playing purposes and no other. I have decided that there will be no faster than light communication. That means that if you want a message to get to some one you need to send it by ship. This leads to a frontier style game, where even developed systems wait on the postman with news from afar. Also if something bad happens and your characters are the only ship in system you are the most important thing in the system. Also this allows for vastly different cultures to exist within the same empire/commonwealth/governmental body.

Ok, there you are my first foray into the world I have set out to design. I would appreciate any thoughts on the issues. Specifically my space ships need a reason to exist, but any ideas would be appreciated. Tomorrow I think I will start out with an idea I had on skill systems.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

War In The Heavens pt. 1: a storm in my mind

OK so I was watching Lexx, and reading the Butlerian Jihad, and thinking about Buck Rodgers, and I had this Idea. Well OK, its more of a proto-idea as of this moment, but here gos. I have attempted to design Role playing games in the past, and failed to complete them. Usually the design falls apart at the alpha testing phase. See I am basically antisocial and so it becomes difficult for me to approach people about games, let alone broach the subject of introducing a new game that probably has a great many problems. So my designs peter out at that point.

I have decided to design a new game. I will probably only take it to the alpha testing phase, but maybe someone will read this and be interested enough to want to test it, we'll see. The working title for this will be War In The Heavens. This is going to be a space opera. So on to the parts I am looking at copying/stealing/emulating. There are going to be both story elements and mechanics as at this point I am just brainstorming.

  • Buck Rodgers: I like the first season of the TV show. The earth is run bya robot council. They are not evil robots, I found that to be interesting. I also like the Han, evil space empire with giant attack ships and such. This gave the show a feel of rebellion against an opressive empire without having everything fall within the empire.

  • Lexx: I fell in love with the first season(by this I mean the four movies) and will probably use only this within the confines of the game. His Shadow is an evocative and dominating villain. It(he? She?) controls a massive empire that’s both grungy feeling and very advanced. I like the cool bio-tech and such. The whole setup in that first movie was amazing. In a few short scenes you get the feel for the way the entire cluster is run. Also undead assassins, that's all I'm sayin'. Think about it, zombie ninjas.

  • Dune: another setting that just feels awesome for gaming. Now I am talking about pre Paul here. After the first book everything changes. I really like the way the feudal system works in there as well as the CHOAM corporation. Also I like the reasons for the technology to be what it is. Never let a machine take the place of a man and all that. The weird eugenics programs and the mind powers and such are also going to be harvested for my game.

  • Fate 3.0: I love aspects and the fate point economy. I think I will end up doing something more akin to what John Wick did with them in houses of the blooded, make them more specialized. Also really like the variable refresh that occurs in the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. This allows for growth of characters which I think is crucial to draw in certain types of gamers. Also it pushes forward the narrative arc which is also good.

  • Deathstalker: this book series by Simon Green is totally worth checking out, because it has a lot of things that I love in it. Truly alien aliens are a must. I like my aliens to have motives that are beyond anything humans can truly grasp. Decadent noble class serving at the whim of a power mad empress, oh yes I will have something like that. Ancient alien machinery that you cannot even study or you go mad is so Lovecraft that I have to put that in there.

  • D6 System, WoD, ORE: Dice pools, I love 'em. If they had legs I'd take 'em dancing. That's how well I get on with dice pools. While I love the ORE I am not onehundred percent certain this is the rout I want to take. I think I may be able to do more with a count successes modle. Maybe allow a you to move dice from accuracy to effect...or something. The short version is there will definitely be dice pools in my game.

OK, so there is my first brainstorming session, I will work on this and post more as I come up with new ideas and such. Though just looking it over right now I feel I am missing something...I know! Space Dwarves! OK seriously I will have to think on this a bit. I am going to try and split these posts up into rules posts and fluff posts, but we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New thing! New thing!

So The Laughing Stick has its own theme song now. Check it out!