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Handling Player Character Death

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Today, I was thinking about death mechanics.  I was thinking about Character death and how unsatisfying the mechanics presented in various systems are.  To my pleasant surprise I discovered that I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this recently.  There are two other RPG Blogs that I am a huge fan of: The Angry GM, and Gaming Ballistic.  If you aren’t already familiar with either of these blogs, you should stop reading mine and go read theirs for a while.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a write up from The Angry GM about Player Character Death.  If you don’t feel like going and reading the article, the summary is “Death is important for games and stories, and so it is appropriate that it sucks.  If you really want to avoid it, here are some alternatives”.  I agree with this sentiment – I’d go so far as to suggest Resurrection be removed from D&D.  However, The Angry GM’s arguments for how death sucks involve a lot of meta-game pain for the players, as opposed to in game pain for the Characters.  That in itself is something I tend to want to avoid, but beyond that I always favor mechanics that increase player choice.

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Fixing Social Mechanics and the Player Information Gap

 

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I need to talk about two seemingly different problems that are actually closely related.  The first is the disparity between what the player knows and what the players character knows.  The second is the general problem of social mechanics.  These problems have generally plagued games, and game systems have repeatedly tried to address them with a bunch of different mechanics, none of which seem to get it quite right.

I once played a game where my character was an “infiltration expert”.  Fortunately the party was confronted with the challenge of infiltrating something.  Unfortunately I am not an infiltration expert, so I proceeded in the worst way possible.  My actions as a player were out of step with what had been established at the table, and it disrupted every part of play.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t think to ask questions, part of the problem was that the social contract at the table didn’t establish how to ask questions; a big part of the problem is that the mechanics of the game had essentially zero rules about player character information.

This character was also had high social skills.  As a player I often want to maximize my Charisma, but often find the results at the table disappointing.  I’ve played a lot of different systems that have tried to address this problem specifically.  I even made a system with social mechanics (with metaphor to combat).  As far as my play experience goes, there has never existed a game with good mechanics for social intrigue.

Recently I had an epiphany.  Social mechanics, Player Character information, and Roll to Fail mechanics are all related.  Once I realized that, I knew that fact could be leveraged for rules that fix all three.

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Don’t ever Save or Die (okay, sometimes)

There is a mechanic that is prevalent in RPG’s.  It is most obvious in its namesake mechanic from Dungeons and Dragons.  It’s Save or Die.  An example is the “Finger of Death” spell which kills anyone who doesn’t succeed at a Fortitude saving throw.  Here I mean it in a much more general way.  I’m going to call Save or Die any mechanic which hinges on a single die roll and results in a failed adventure.

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Adding Fate Aspects to Any Game

Fate is an RPG that is centered around a particular mechanic it calls “aspects”.  It is designed as a game that encourages a Director stance (excuse my use of GNS terminology please) and is focused on simulating a narrative.  The Fate mechanics work by creating a rubber-banding of narrative tension, and while it seems like a direct port would work, there’s a better way to incorporate them into more traditional RPG’s.

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Let’s hack up Alignment a bit

Dungeons and Dragons has long used a morality system called “Alignment”.  It describes 2-axis, one axis is law-chaos, and the other is good-evil.  One problem with the system, through all 6 editions, is that alignment has been ambiguous with respect to characterization.  While it has successfully acted as a light guide to the general morality, it’s largely failed as a more specific guideline.  So, what we’re going to do here is we’re going to define these axis more explicitly, recalibrate them, and look at how they apply during play.

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We’re back and looking at the implications of the mechanic

Okay, so I took a bit of a Hiatus.  Basically all of fall.  It’s not that I wasn’t working on anything Living Myth related, it’s just that I was busy, and uninspired to write.  During the course of that time I’ve smoothed out the core mechanic, thought about its implications, and have been tinkering with writing campaign management software.

What I want to do here is revisit the core mechanic and discuss its implications.

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Let’s Talk About Damage

Just about every RPG has some sort of damage mechanic; a way of figuring out what happens when a Character takes a hit in combat.  Exactly how the Damage Mechanic is implemented is heavily tied into the underlying mechanics of the game and has an enormous impact of the “feel” of the game during play.  Here we’re going to look at some commonly used mechanics, how those tie into the underlying mechanics, and how they affect the feel of play.  Finally, we’ll introduce a possible mechanic for Living Myth.

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Rationale: The Core Mechanic

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This is the first Rationale post.  In these posts we’ll take the mechanics that I’m moving forward with and we’ll scrutinize the rationale behind them.

Today, we’re going to look at the Core Mechanic.  By the Core Mechanic I mean the in game mechanism for determining success, and those other pieces that are tightly bound to it.  For example, GURPS Core Mechanic is “roll 3d6 under skill”, D20’s Core Mechanic is “Roll 1d20 and add Skill”, and Fates Core Mechanic is “Roll 4dF and add Skill”.  In each of those cases I’m over simplifying, but those are at least the core of the core mechanic.

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Marginalized people don’t exist for you to weaponize

For the most part this blog deals with RPG mechanics, but today we have to go down a slightly different path.

A recent Fail Forward blog post has seriously agitated the RPG world with a whole bunch of energy focusing on how RPG’s do or don’t remarginalize those already marginalized in our society.  This post is damning to rpgpundit and Zak Smith.  It focuses on how these two individuals were paid consultants for 5e Dungeons and Dragons, and supposedly engage in misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia.  I can’t speak to how accurate these claims are; in fact so far as I can tell, no one can since they all come from anonymous sources.  What we can do however, is see that this article is presenting these facts in a hyperbolic way with an agenda.  Which I will show later.

Why is that a problem?  Because it is an attempt to weaponize trans* people to forward a personal agenda.  Which means it’s the Fail Forward article, not Dungeons and Dragons, that is problematic.

Note

I’m going to mostly be looking at the accusations against Zak, because I know more about him, and it’s easier to get information about him than it is about RPG Pundit.

I first became aware of Zak through his series involving pornstars playing Dungeons and Dragons.  I was hugely impressed because the rights of Sex Workers is an important issue to me (Zak himself is a sex worker), and it was a hugely important in terms of humanizing Sex Workers (in this case pornstars).

As far as their RPG philosophies; word on the street is that they are both major proponents of Old School RPG’s (thus them being hired as 5e consultants) which is going to make me agree with them about as much as I agree with Ron Edwards; as in… not much.

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Game Balance and Dice Mechanics

One of the fundamental factors needed in game design is balance.  Of course balance is a funny term that gets interpreted differently by various people, so here I will define it as “A game is balance the same amount of resources (XP, Feats whatever) invested in different ways afford the investor roughly the same amount of impact on the story over the course of the campaign”*

The easiest way to fail at this is to allow a character to maximize one thing with no marginal cost.  Consider this: you have two characters, one has even distributed their resources among all abilities, and another who has simply maximized one.  The latter character is guaranteed to have a larger impact on the story over the course of the campaign.

Why?

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