Archive for May, 2010

A Quick Playtest Update

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 24, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, the online playtest has kicked off and been going strong for a little over a week, and I thought I’d give a progress report. We’re still in the clan creation phase, but it’s working out well. I was afraid that the online format might kill some of the collaborative goodness of the group setting crafting, but so far we’ve had lots of that nonetheless, which is really encouraging. Everybody’s different ideas are inspiring and spinning off everybody else’s, so I couldn’t be happier so far.

In a similar vein, Google Wave is really useful for online RPGs. I’m totally sold. In addition to running this playtest, I’m playing in a friend’s Big Eyes Small Mouth game, and it’s going along swimmingly, even with jumping right into a combat scene. It tailors nicely to a variety of time frames for update availability, and easily supports people jumping in with contributions to different portions (the ‘nested reply’ option, which allows you to reply directly to a specific message in a wave, is particularly good for this).

After some more experience with both games, I’ll probably post my thoughts on using Wave for online games, with some recommendations and such like, but for now, I say go for it if you have any desire to play traditional RPGs online.

A Quick Update

Posted in Projects, RPGs on May 19, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, the “Book of Threes” playtest is getting rolling, and I’m pretty excited about the opportunities Google Wave is offering for online pencil and paper roleplaying. But since it hasn’t gotten very far yet, no commentary so far on the game, and my energies towards it are more focused on getting this game running than on doing more tweaking until I see where it’s going.

That being said, I have still been thinking about this whole starter RPG concept, and right now I’m leaning towards a core resolution that looks a lot like the “Otherkind Dice” I talked about a few posts back, with the inclusion of something similar to the “Secrets” and “Keys” seen in Lady Blackbird and The Shadow of Yesterday. But I want to go a little different than that, otherwise I’d really be better off just running Lady Blackbird straight, I think. The key is that I want the rules to be darn simple, but still evocative. So, I’m tossing that stuff around. Let me know if you have thoughts.

Online Playtest

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 15, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, with the revised conflict resolution rules settled as a starting point, I think it’s time to take the leap and start playtesting. But my current environment is barren not only in water, but also gamers.

So I’m going to give Google Wave a try for an online playtest of “The Book of Threes”. If you’re interested in participating, comment here or email me, and I’ll set you up with a Wave account invite. I’m hoping to get the clan and character creation process kicked off sometime next week, depending on how quickly I can get together 4 or 5 folks.

If you have any questions about what would be involved, how the online thing would work, or whatever, let me know.

Revised Conflict Resolution

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 15, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Well, after thinking about the issues raised in Conflict Resolution Conflict, I’ve come to what I think is a workable starting point for moving forward with the core resolution rules for “The Book of Threes”.

I decided to go with letting both sides put forward a set number of dice, and for that number to be equal to the leader’s current Wealth score. This gives wealth something to do as a static value, and ties it directly into conflict resolution, so now all three resources have something to do in conflict.

You can find the revised conflict resolution rules here: Revised Conflict Resolution

ed: the main playtest document now contains this updated section in place of the old one. It was crap anyway. But I’ve left this separate document up for easier reference of the first major change since posting the rules.

Ragonarok!

Posted in Projects, RPGs on May 12, 2010 by Jeff Russell

It’s done! I wrote a quick little hack for “Agon” to play in a Norse flavor called “Ragonarok” (see what I did there?). The rules changes are available as text here on the blog or as part of a PDF that includes custom character and reference sheets, and a pretty neat little picture of Odin I whipped up. Let me know what you think! Even if you haven’t played Agon, I’d love to hear what you think of the layout.

Ragonarok Page with PDF

Otherkind Dice

Posted in Theory on May 10, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Okay, all my thinking about conflict resolution in the prior post is, as I said, tied into reading about really cool conflict resolution systems that do require addressing the fiction and do push the players into directions they wouldn’t necessarily have taken their character themselves, but in a satisfying way. One dirt simple but totally awesome way of doing that is Otherkind Dice.

The link above is really short, it takes like 2 minutes to read, and if you don’t check them out, the rest of this entry will be pretty vague and possibly confusing. Just a caveat.

So anyhow, these rules are really cool. I dig them a lot, and I’d love to use them at some point. But I don’t think they’re necessarily right for “The Book of Threes” for a couple reasons. First of all, they don’t emphasize teamwork or leaders/allies at all, which is a huge part of TBoT, obviously. Secondly, I want the game rules to reflect somewhat the ‘sort’ of character you have. I didn’t go for an out and out description of everything your character is or can attempt to accomplish, as with more traditional games like D&D, because, frankly, if it makes sense at all and would be cool, I want you to be able to give it a shot. But I did want the rules to reflect whether you have a smart guy, a buff guy, or a spirited guy (or whatever) to a degree, not for that to be only decided moment to moment during play.

Now, let’s talk about what makes them awesome, with an eye towards how that can influence my designs (“The Book of Threes” and whatever else). First off, they’re wicked simple. You can play an exciting and engaging RPG with 3d6, some friends, and some imagination. Next, they give the player a lot of control over what shape the narrative takes, but without just being ‘say what you want to happen’. Within that control are some interesting decisions to make. This gets right to my pet concept of ‘opportunity cost’. Sure, you have the chance to just out and out get what you want the way you want (as you should have a chance of doing), but when the dice don’t come up perfect, you have to make tough choices about what’s really important to you (and your character). This is the joy of tactical decision making married to character/story-focused play! Hurrah! Also, by separating accomplishment of the action and suffering negative consequences for it, you get a much more interesting range of accomplishment than just success/failure. You get everything from ‘you fail and it sucks a lot’ to ‘you succeed and its awesome’, but most importantly, you get the in-between stuff of ‘you fail but don’t get messed up’ or ‘you succeed but pay for it’ with some degrees of separation there too.

This is an awesome example of elegance in design. You have a simple, easy mechanic that produces complex, fun results. I would love to bring this quality to my designs. I’m currently pondering how this and some other resolution mechanics can color my ideas for the rules I’ve written. There might be some big changes coming, but I’m at a wall right now. Play would probably suggest some good ways to go.

Return of Conflict Resolution

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes, Theory on May 10, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, in an earlier post I talked about some sticking points with conflict resolution as it currently stands in “The Book of Threes”. Right now, I’m having some more fundamental questions about the system than just the number of dice that should be put forward by participants in a round. I’m wondering how much the current conflict resolution rules contribute to what I want the game to be and how players will actually, you know, play the game.

I have a couple concerns in this area, which I want to discuss, and then I’m going to outline what I do like about the rules as they stand. I would love to get comments both on the rules as written, and any suggestions for ways to better achieve my aims.

So, first off, “The Book of Threes” is supposed to be about creating story. That is the main goal of the rules. I don’t want a tactical game that might happen to produce story, or a simulation of fictional physics that also might happen to come up with stories. If you play the rules as written, you should get fun, compelling stories that hit issues the players are interested in and put their characters into situations that provoke thought and emotional response from the players.

A word about what I mean when I say “story” since it is a marvelously vague word. I don’t just mean “a sequence of events logically connected”, nor do I mean something that can or necessarily should be transcribed into fiction. There’s no point in trying to out-fiction fiction with a game. Any player could just write a short story or a novel to scratch that particular itch.

I discuss what I mean by “story” in the “Running the Game” chapter (which I’m afraid might be a horrible mess right now). I’m using a theory of story from Lajos Egri via various game designers, primarily Ron Edwards (Sorceror, Trollbabe, and more) and Vincent Baker (Dogs in the Vineyard, In a Wicked Age, Poison’d, et cetera). As defined by these guys, story has three elements: fit characters, dynamic situations, and premise.

Fit characters are characters that can and will cope with the situations they come into in ways that address the premise. It’s not much of a story to have a peasant wander around and get stomped on by a dragon. A peasant trying to fight a dragon, discovering he’s in no way fit to do that, then pursuing various goals to become able to fight that dragon, though, would be a story.

Dynamic situations are situations that by their nature have to change. They’re not stable. When the characters are introduced to them, they will have to make choices and/or come into conflict. The peasant knowing there’s a dragon out there somewhere isn’t a dynamic situation, necessarily. Learning that the dragon is working his way from village to village towards the peasant’s home village probably would be, though.

Finally, you have premise, which ties the other two together and gives them their meaning. In the sense I’m using it here, premise is the parent of theme. Theme is what you get when premise is addressed. So, if a theme is a statement of some sort of judgement or value (like, say, “ordinary people will do extraordinary things in the face of great danger”), a premise is a pointed question that leads to such statements (“what will ordinary people do when faced with great danger?”). Theme is what you want to work with in a solo work, cos you make all the decisions that will illustrate that theme. In a collaborative work like an RPG, though, part of the fun is not knowing for sure what conclusions you will come to about the story your characters are involved in. But you can select a premise that forces you and your characters to drive towards some kind of answer. As an example, in “Dogs in the Vineyard” the premise encouraged by the rules is “when is violence an appropriate solution to moral issues?”, and the whole game is set up to put the characters in situations where they can do violence to try to sort out moral issues, but to throw up complications that make that question interesting.

So, I went through this little overview here to frame my current concerns about the game. I wrote the rules with the intention of pushing the characters (the creation of which should make them fit) to come up with difficult questions (premises) regarding loyalty, duty, and friendship, and to strongly encourage the GM and players to put them into difficult spots that require making tough choices (dynamic situation). I pulled a lot of what I’ve learned from reading some really impressive games together to try to arrive at these goals.

Right now, though, as I mentioned above, I’m afraid that the conflict resolution rules as such don’t push these goals specifically enough. I like the way that oaths, grudges, and loyalty points give incentives to work with other people, and how the personal interests, family interests, and clan interests create unstable situations that generate conflict, and how the acquisition of glory points is an incentive to get into trouble with other people. But as for the actual conflict resolution rules, do they do enough to force you to make difficult choices and to be used to address the kind of conflicts that the other rules encourage. The tension between getting what you want and risking injury is good, I think, but I worry that the conflict rules themselves are just something that are there because I felt like I should have them.

Ideally, I don’t want the rules just to be something that doesn’t get in the way of fun, exciting play, but rather something that *creates* fun, exciting play. I want them to push the players in directions they might not go on their own, because if they don’t, you might as well just be doing group improv.

Related to this is an issue that Vincent Baker talks about a lot on his blog anyway a lot, which is the rules meaningfully addressing the shared fiction of the game. The canonical example is “+1 bonus for height advantage”. The only way this rule makes any sense at all is if the players around the table have a clear picture in their head which characters could be said to be ‘on the high ground’, which you only really get when everybody is communicating and paying attention. In this instance, the fictional situation that everybody is imagining actually has bearing on the game rules, rather than it only going the other way (you rolled a 19, so that orc just got hit with your sword).

I worry that my rules as written don’t do enough to reinforce a connection with the in-game fiction. Sure, the traits are supposed to be used based on how your character is doing something, and abilities based on what specifically he’s doing, but if a player can just go “I’ll use D8s since I want to get glory vs his D12s, and my ability ‘Expert Swordsman’ because it has the highest rating” and then just roll the dice and not pay attention to what the actions in the fiction are, then I haven’t done my job. The rule that each rounds described events are decided and done at the end of the round is an attempt to force the players to have some idea of what’s going on fictionally before rolling into the next round, but a rule that just says “do this” without anything else depending on you doing it isn’t very helpful.

So, if you take a look at the rules, or already have done so, I would like to hear back two main points: do the conflict resolution rules as written (or with tweaks major or minor) a) contribute to addressing premise and otherwise creating an engaging story, and b) require the players to be paying attention to the fictional environment and actions of the characters? If not, please tell me why so I can fix them!