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Those last two posts were initially posted in the reverse order of the way they are now, but WordPress switched them around. Not sure how that happened, but I’m too tired to bother switching them back around. I doubt it matters much anyway. 🙂

Pat

Been thinking a lot about the After the Fall redesign. Got some interesting ideas. It’s coming together nicely in my mind, though there are still a few rough spots.

I’m going with a few themes in the game: Friends/relationships, self-interest vs altruism, and resources. They reflect some of the core values/problems in a resource-poor post-apocalyptic world. You need friends to get along. Your relationships define your connection to the world. Your resources are not only what you have to offer, but what you need to safeguard. Someone with no resources is in a precarious position in a world without health care or employment insurance.

In talking with Solidshadow the other day about characters and relationships I think we hammered out an interesting idea, which I fleshed out while at work. In short, each character will have a relationship with each other PC and probably some NPCs as well. Like Smallville, each relationship will be defined by a short descriptor, such as ‘Love,’ ‘Friend,’ ‘Rival,’ or even ‘Hate,’ or ‘Jealousy.’ The relationships can be used in a few different ways. Once per session, each relationship can be used to add a bonus to a roll to help (if the relationship is positive) or hinder (if the relationship is negative) the target of the relationship. The level of the relationship represents how well you know the target of it. The target of the relationship can also use your relationship with them in rolls to influence you, if the situation is appropriate. If you hate someone, and they’re trying to goad you into attacking, they’ll get a bonus based on your level of hatred. If you love them, they get a bonus to get you to do something for them. That sort of thing.

Earlier in the week I was trying to think of a set of ‘special points’ the characters can use. Like luck points, fate points, or whatever. Something to help guard against a bad roll at a point when you need a good one. I always like to have those in a game to avoid moments of frustration as a really cool scene turns into abject failure because of dice-based failure. I didn’t want them to be used all the time, so I had two thoughts. One, that they would only get a few, but each one would have a major effect, like an automatic success. Enough to save that heroic moment, but not do it on every roll. Second, I wanted to have them be more obviously a resource, something you don’t want to spend unless you have to. To that end they would only regenerate slowly, about one per session, with all of them coming back if you reach the end of a story arc.

Initially I split the points into 2 groups, Altruism points (only useable to help others) and Self Interest points (only useable to help your character). You split 6 points between the two during character creation and those were the permanent ratings, reflecting how altruistic/self absorbed the character was. I like the idea, and may still go with it, but in a discussion with Paul DuPont at rpg.net, I wondered if I could make the points more accurately reflect the character’s own resources. Leave relationships to handle social tension and use this to increase the focus on resources a bit. Perhaps three kinds of points, Endurance (for physical things), Willpower (for mental), and Luck (for anything, maybe). As you spend the points you get closer to the end of your rope. If the character is out of food and water, they can spend Endurance points to keep going, but once they run out they’re in serious trouble. If their Willpower points reach zero they have a breakdown (until their friends can help them out enough to get themselves back together). Maybe you could go into negatives, but the negatives were a penalty to that sort of thing until you rested/got the points back. Going negative on luck could give a chance for a bad luck backlash or something, depending on how far you’d stretched your luck. I’m not certain I’ll use this idea, but it is interesting. I’ll need to toss it around some tonight at work.

What I want, in the end, is the ongoing idea that your friends are what help you get through the bad spots in life. It’s a harsh world. Sticking by them is a good idea, but what if you have to put yourself at risk to help them? Will your character do it? Would your character die for them? What would the character sacrifice?

I had a Vice and Virtue system in the game, based on 7 virtues and vices representing good and bad in a desperate, resource-poor world. I’m not sure if I’ll keep them. The system is moving a bit away from universal good/bad and more towards the group dynamic. At the same time, it does fit the game world itself with the 7 gods/goddesses and 7 demon lords/ladies (Prattchet reference there), so maybe I’ll keep the reference, but not tie it into the system much.

The game idea feels pretty solid, much better than before, but there’s still so many decision to make and so much work left to do.

Pat

How solid does the world need to be? Not in a physical sense, but in a story sense. In the initial version of the game, I had very little in the book about the game world. Mostly the GM and players had to make it up themselves based on the game’s sparse notes. This was largely due to me trying to fit a 9-day game into 2 days of typing. Not enough time. In part, though, I didn’t want to make one specific world in which the game is played, I wanted to have the players and GM make up the world for their own game, based around the peoples and history listed in the book. This worked, in part, with the ‘make your own port/town’ section of character creation. I’m wondering, though, if at least a map and a few specifically described areas might be a necessity. For one, it would help give people a more solid understanding of things in common. Also, it might help GMs if they have a basic structure on which to hang the cities, towns, and special places they make up with the players.

How much background do people like to have? Do you prefer to ignore the written setting and make it up yourself? Do you use the written setting setting and prefer to stick only to what’s in the book? I’m somewhere in between, myself, which is why I’m leaning towards having a rough basic set up for people to flesh out themselves. Not sure how far I should go with working out the setting details, though.

Pat

After the Fall update

Well, the Game Chef competition is still grinding slowly along, but the review for After the Fall came out a couple weeks ago. It didn’t make a position as finalist, but it didn’t deserve to. I’ll post a copy of the review below. It’s one I almost completely agree with. We had 9 days to come up with a game idea. I had a bad first week and in the end decided to just put out something I’d always wanted to work on, using the ingredients (Journey, City, Desert, Edge, and Skin) from the competition. Since I had only 2 days left at that point, I barely had time to write up the basic ideas (I finished it and submitted it with 10 minutes left to go). It shows. But, with the game not making the second stage of the competition I now feel free to go back and work on it, taking the advice from the review to heart.

Let me tell you, it’s not easy to post a review of failure. Needs to be done, though, if I want to really work on making the game better.

The review, by Johnathan Walton, Iron Game Chef 2010 judge:
“After the Fall by Patrick Gamblin
A game of survival and heroics in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world.

Concept: Another post-apocalyptic fantasy game in which you play the crew of a flying airship trying to survive. There’s a very strong Final Fantasy or general Japanese video game RPG tone and this is by far the game that comes closest to being a straightforward fantasy adventure game – though of the 1990s-2000s style, not old school retro.

Execution: There’s a fixed skill list and point-buy character creation. Players get more creation points from taking negative traits for their characters, a well-tread mechanic that is also pretty unfortunate, in my opinion, but that’s a whole different story. The group ship- and port-creation concept is substantially more interesting. Also, the relationship mechanics are relatively cool, but don’t seem to allow for relationships to change over time. Vice and virtue traits are also interesting, but there are so many dice-adder traits of various sorts that it would take a while to learn to keep track of them all. I’m also left thinking: so I have the power to shape-change into a beast and what it gets me is… a generic +2? Seems like there could be more interesting stuff happening there. The rule to spend a challenge die to ignore a failed social challenge roll is cool, addressing the traditional distaste for “mind control” as a result of social challenges, but it also serves to make social challenges ultimately less important, if you can ignore the outcome but more muscle-based approaches work every time. Still, that’s probably not an issue in this kind of adventure drama. I initially thought it was neat that that challenge dice also serve as XP, but then I thought more about the weird tension this creates: do you decide to be better now or raise your traits for later? I don’t think that’s a very interesting or fruitful tension. I have some other minor concerns such as, in the weapons tables, it seems like the ranges could be abstracted in a game like this (far, medium, short, hand), rather than measuring them in hundreds of meters, but that’s much less significant in the big picture.

Completeness: There are limited GM guidelines in the current draft, which is pretty disappointing because otherwise this game might even be a finalist, since the game seems reasonably solid, if not all that exciting, mechanically. The GM arbitrarily picks difficulties for rolls and is supposed to set them at roughly 50/50, making the game super whifftastic. There are also arbitrary challenge dice rewards for doing cool things, which doesn’t really excite me, but it’s par for the course for post-90s fantasy adventure.

Cookery: I guess the theme is here, plus a couple of the ingredients, but they don’t really figure very prominently.

Conclusion: I know some folks seem to be using the term “fantasy heartbreaker” in a pejorative sense nowadays, but it’s important to remember that it was originally intended to mean a game that, yes, actually breaks your heart, not one you turn your nose up at, and this game seems like a heartbreaker in those terms. The author has put a lot of work into this, but in the end it seems like a variation on a bunch of other games without much that makes it stand out as being exceptional aside from the unique setting elements. Plus, even those elements often seem to boil down to a generic +2, making it hard for the unique flavor of the game to stand out, even in play. I can totally understand why you would want to write up these rules as a homebrew system to play with your local group, taking all the things you like about post-90s fantasy adventure RPGs and combining them into this rule set, something that feels natural and comfortable after playing all those other games but doesn’t have some of the annoying bits that bother you about those other games. But I’m not sure there’s enough unique and evocative content here to draw other players away from True20 or the One Roll Engine or Savage Worlds or Exalted or Fate or whatever else they’re playing. And that’s the heartbreaking part, having an original setting and premise that seem really cool and are totally worth exploring, but pairing it with a relatively generic, unexciting set of rules that don’t really differentiate it strongly from dozens of similar games, aside from maybe one or two stand-out mechanics that are not enough to make it worthwhile to adopt the rest of the system. The traditional Forge response to this issue – which is only one solution, among many – was to ask “What is this game really about?” and then make sure all the rules focus on that premise. Another solution is to make the rules exciting and engaging enough, or just better at one particular thing than any other game, that they draw folks away from similar games. So I guess I would suggest moving in one of those directions, because I like a lot of what this game is doing, conceptually, but am not enticed by the mechanics yet.”

It felt pretty negative to me at first, but I tend to get defensive easily. It’s really rather positive and gives me a good idea what I need to work on. Whether I can do it remains to be seen, for reasons I’ll mention below.

The review points out a couple of things he liked. The ship and port creation stuff. One of my few bits of semi-originality there. I was quite proud of those and I’m glad they were liked. The relationship mechanics are okay, but I need to work more on making it a functional part of the game. I have some ideas there. He also seemed to like the setting idea, which is good. I had very little contact with how rpgs were developing between 1995 and 2010, so I’ve missed out on a lot. I’ve been reading up, but there’s hundreds of decent /interesting games out there that I’d never heard of. I may get to run some of them someday.

There were many things he didn’t like, which I agree with pretty much completely. The only one I disagreed with was setting difficulties. I think he misunderstood what I meant, but that’s likely a miscommunication on my part. It would have been much easier (and probably better) if I’d gone with the tried and true difficulty chart.

The ones I agreed with:
* Relationship rules to stagnant. I have some ideas for allowing relationships to change over time.
* The northern shapeshifter people should have more stuff than just a +2 trait. I wanted to do more with them, but ran out of time. I need to do more with the islanders, too.
* Challenge dice = experience points is not a great idea. Deadlands first edition did it too, and we had problems with it then. I chalk my use of that as being too tired at that point. It’ll be dropped in the next version.
* Spending a die to ignore a social control effect on your character. A whim I regret. If a character loses a social influence argument, they should have to roleplay it as if they had lost a physical fight. No easy out.
* Abstract weapon ranges are something I wanted, but I couldn’t think of a proper way to integrate them at that point. I think I can now.

Now for the big problems, for me:
* Lack of GM guidelines. Mostly this was me running out of time, but I’m also not that certain of my GM skills. My games tend to be fun in a campy way, but not deep. I’m hoping I can change that if I run a game or two that are outside my normal range. Shake things up a bit. Not sure if it’ll work, though. Me telling others how to run a game would be hubris, though giving them ideas on what to do with the world itself I might be able to handle.
* The lack of interesting and engaging mechanics. The big one. I have some ideas for stuff, but I don’t know if I’m up to this one, really. Most of my ideas are cribbed from other games. I can perhaps put them together in a way that works, but I’m a bit stumped as to how to make them interesting. It’s just not how my brain operates. When I read a game and see a rule or idea that interests me, it’s usually because of the mechanical aspect of the rule, not the engagement aspect. I like games, but I’ve seen very few game rules that made me want to play the game just to utilize that rule. Elysia has a couple. Smallville has several. I think perhaps the way to go about it is working the rules into representing the setting. The interesting parts of the Smallville rules are how they represent running an emotion-based dramatic series rather than a more traditional party of adventuresome characters. Not something I find easy to do, but I’m going to try to work in that direction.

Also, the idea of working out what the game is about is, I think, important in this case. Not all games need it, but I think this one would be helped by it. I was thinking about it last night and I think it’s about two things: The Group and Resources.

It’s supposed to be a world where resources are scarce and the characters’ primary job is to find them and take them back to the people who need them. I’m not sure how far I want to go with resources, though. I definitely don’t want to end up making people keep track of lists of them, but rules on what happens when you run out of resources and how to get more should be in there.

The group seems to be the big thing to me right now. I was watching a thing on the military last week (Weaponology, episode on explosives, I think) and it highlighted just how close people in a group constantly surrounded by an enemy can get. Close enough to take a grenade or bullet to save their friends. I was thinking, when you’re world is teetering on the edge of destruction, wouldn’t you are your shipmates be similar. Also, I’ve been wanting to make the group part of character creation. Not just making characters and bringing them together, but being part of the creation of each character. Similar in a way to how Smallville’s characters are created as part of a web of interconnectedness. Not quite as complicated, though. I do want to keep this still relatively simple. Tie the characters together in the minds of the players and the histories of the characters.

I also might want to branch out a bit, but I’m not sure. Do I want the game to only be about people on a ship, or do I want it to be about a group working together in some aspect of a destroyed world. Maybe defenders of a town instead of a ship’s crew? Maybe. Not sure yet.

After seeing a couple things on RPG.net, I think I may want to add some Shadow of the Collossus aspects to it. Maybe instead of the world covered in a miasma, some of the demon lords and generals found a way to bind themselves to some part of the world, anchor themselves so they couldn’t be sent back. One possessed the buildings and land of a city. Another created a body of stone and earth hundreds of feet tall. Stuff like that, with the miasma becoming a deadly aura that surrounds them for miles. Your job is to find resources your town/city desperately needs and to defend it from these roving monsters of various sizes. Some cannot be easily destroyed, only decoyed away. To permanently get rid of them, you must find and destroy the anchor, rarely easily done. And if one of these was destroyed, perhaps its remains would be useful resources. Magical materials. Stuff that could be traded for food.

I need to think more on it, but I think it can be done, if I can come up with a way to engage the reader/player with the game.

Pat
PS- Sorry about the typos. Seems I’m always short on time these days.

SAGE

The SAGE files have been removed from storage here, but they’re still showing up in the box to the right for some reason. If you try to download them, though, it says they can’t be found. Maybe it just takes a while to catch up.

Pat

Familiars

Oh, it turns out that Steve Jackson Games already has a game out named Familiars. I’ll be changing the name of my game once I think of something new for it. If you have any suggestions, give me a shout.

Pat

I was thinking on this some the other day. Are opposed rolls really necessary? I know one of the things my friends and I disliked about D&D back in the day was that defense rolls didn’t exist.If it’s your character in the firing line, you want to have some level of control over what happens to them. Fixed numbers as a defense makes you sit there and watch as something happens to your character that you can’t affect. Not a problem for some people, but there are those who don’t like it.

Reading a discussion about Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse world had me thinking. What if the players rolled everything to do with their character, attacks, defenses, skill rolls, but the NPCS just used fixed ratings equal to the average of what they would have rolled? The player still has full control over their character. Nothing changes on their end. On the GM’s side, they save time by not having to roll for everything involving an NPC. It also removes two things I strongly dislike: Villains flubbing rolls and goons open-ending. Few people I know like it when their character is taken out of the scene by a goon getting a massive roll and gutting them. And few things are more anti-climactic than the villain in a game botching a roll in the final encounter and getting butchered because of it. It messes with the atmosphere of the game. Sure, it may be realistic in some ways, but would The Empire Strikes Back have been as fun to watch if Luke lost his hand because he tripped and accidentally ran himself onto Vader’s saber? Or if Vader had tripped on a piece of debris and fallen into the shaft himself? It’d feel silly and unsatisfying, and it feels the same way to me when it happens in a game. You have to use luck points, or whatever the game has in order to ignore it.

Removing NPC rolls eliminates the chance of something random happening in a good NPC vs bad NPC scuffle, but NPC vs NPC stuff isn’t something I like to roll anyway. I just describe what’s happening based on what I want the NPCs doing in a scene. If I want an NPC to unexpectedly clobber one of the goons guarding a castle, it’ll happen. Otherwise the players’ time is being taken up with rolls that often don’t directly affect the player characters and takes up time that could be spent on having fun. Now, if the players are watching an NPC vs NPC fight going on and having fun cheering for one side, sure, roll it out, they’re having fun, but if the PCs are taking a group of NPCs into a battle against a group of NPC bad guys, I’d just describe the overall fighting around the PCs, then let the players get on to influencing events.

I may give this a test sometime to see how much it speeds things up, if my players are willing to try it.

Not a complete system, just the core resolution idea right now. I won’t go into great detail, but it involves everyone having a 5 card hand drawn from a standard deck of cards. Yes, a card-based resolution system. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, before to make one. I think this one has a real chance at functionality. Basically, if you go to take an action, you playa card face down, then the opposing player or the GM play one face down. You then flip them over and see what the difference in values is (Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = 13). If the difference is high enough, you succeed. If it is too low, you fail. That way any card is valuable, not just high cards. You’re hoping to play a card that will be far enough from what the defender plays that you’ll succeed. The defender is trying to play one close to what they think you’ll play to make you fail. It has some interesting tactics involved and I think it could be a fairly fast resolution system. My problem right now is a game setting to go with it, which is why I haven’t worked much farther on the rules themselves. The game should be designed around the setting. Since it’s involving standard playing cards, and may have poker-ish mechanics such as bidding, pairs, and similar ideas worked into it, it would fit for a setting that feels poker-ish. A cowboy game would fit, naturally, but I have a cowboy-era game in the works already. Plus, though I love cowboy era stuff, a lot of the facets of cowboy games have already been covered. Maybe cowboy-sci fi. I’m not sure. Post apocalyptic may work too, but card games are probably less important in a world where you’re trying to survive. Unless the game is important to survival or something. Hm, have to think on that some.

If anyone has any ideas for a setting, gimme a shout.

Sorry, got a bit lazy there. After the stressful week I had during the Game Chef competition, I slacked off. Unfortunately, it looks like the Game Chef competition for this year may be dead in the water. Hopefully we get a resolution to it soon.

While I was being lazy I did do a few game-related things, however. I’ve been test running the SAGE system with a ‘super-heroes during WW2’ game. Similar to the Godlike setting, but less depressing. I like the Godlike book, but it’s a little too realistic in some areas for me to have fun with. Plus, I’m not a fan of the system. My WW2 game is just something to have a bit of fun with and see how the system works out. Unfortunately, I’ve come up with two other systems since then, so I’m a bit rusty. The system seems to work fairly well, all told. Had some problems with last night’s session, but those were due to failures in my ability to communicate the setting to the players. It didn’t help that last session ended on a cliffhanger and by the time we got to this session the players and I were remembering certain important details differently. I really have to focus more on description and communication. I tend to rush through that part to get at the action. I may have to talk things over with the players and arrange for each scene to start with me describing the setting and such, with the players holding off on doing anything until I’ve finished the description.

On a related note, I’m going to remove the SAGE system from the downloads box, as it’s just rules and no setting stuff. Whenever I come up with a setting for it I’ll put that version back up here. In its place I hope to put the Kung Fu Showdown rulebook up. Kung Fu Showdown is a non-collectable card game I’ve been working on for a year or so. It could still use some playtesting, but mostly it’s just waiting for art and a proper rulebook. Oh, and the optional rules for arenas and alternate game types, such as team games. It’s meant for 4-6 players, though I have ideas for rules for 3-player games too. It’s a fairly fast moving game of martial-arts mayhem. It seems to be popular with the players so far, and I’m rather proud of it. It should have some sort of representation here.

Pat

Game Chef 2010

Meant to have a post up about this earlier, but I just didn’t have the time. I’ve been working on a submission for the Game Chef 2010 game design contest, ‘After the Fall,’ located in that little box thing to the right of this page.

Unfortunately, the original idea I had didn’t work out for me, and life this week wasn’t helping any, so I eventually simplified things, dropped one of the original themes, and just made something I hope people can have a little fun with.

Feel free to take a look and tell me what you think.

Pat