Thursday, July 18, 2024

Birth of an RPG

I'm going to talk more about Little Colony (LC). I've been pretty much living and breathing these rules since my play test two weeks ago. I do have plans for more play testing next week and I am feeling confident about those. Little Colony was born out of a few things. I guess that it started with JP Coovert. He is an RPG zine creator and cartoonist. I ran his campaign of Dragontown for two different groups using two different systems and both had a good time.

JP Coovert got me excited about zines. RPG zines are getting to be a popular retro thing these days. They harken back to the earliest editions of RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller were both first produced as these little booklets. I've always been one to produce very concise works. It's not that I don't have the creative drive to write lengthier works. (I write here every day.) I just think that rules should be shorter, smaller, and easier to manage. I like the idea of RPG zines.

  
  

One of the groups that played through Dragontown, did it using my Five By Five rules. For that game I went back to my original version of the Five By Five rules and reformatted them into a zine. The new format is great and it's the version of Five By Five that I have linked to my sidebar on the right. (It's on the right if you are on a computer. I don't know how you get to it from a phone or tablet. Sigh.)

I even printed the zine for my friends and sent it to them. So, yeah. Excited about zines, and printing zines. This led me to learn about ZineQuest. ZineQuest is this thing where RPG designers like me produce a zine and then promote it on Kickstarter. It's a sort of "event" that will draw a lot of attention to your work. I got really excited about the idea of publishing a zine through ZineQuest. Having more people read and play my games would be really cool.

At first I thought that I'd just submit the zine that I had made of Five By Five. Then I found that the rules for the ZineQuest required that the submission be something new. I started working on a Monsters supplement for Five By Five that I could submit to ZineQuest. I could include the Five By Five rules along with the new supplement and I'd be good to go. (The Monsters supplement is currently in limbo, but I do plan to get back to it one day.)

I had been playing with different RPG ideas, and some of them were shared here. I really wanted to create something that stepped away from an emphasis on combat. Then I read Golden Sky Stories and my mind was blown. I wanted to do something like that. I started thinking about how I could create something in that same vein. The emphasis on making connections in Golden Sky Stories made me think about the Icon Relationships in 13th Age.

I love 13th Age. For a long time I told people (when asked) that 13th Age was my favorite RPG. I suppose that it still is, at least of the RPGs that I've actually played. That is in danger of changing. The problem is that Hasbro has left a sour taste in my mouth with regards to all things D&D. I still play D&D. I still enjoy it, but I don't want to. I feel guilty about it. There are so many great Indie RPG creators out there that deserve my attention and time at my game table.

The best things about 13th Age are Icon Relationships and One Unique Thing. I love the way that the Icon Relationships immerse the players in the game world from the very start. The way these relationships shape the game play and help the GM to cater the game to the players. One Unique Thing is just as awesome, allowing the players to put their own special mark on the game world and their character at the same time. Yet, for all this incredible innovation, 13th Age has one major drawback. The great ideas are then married to a game based on D&D, and the connection "feels" tacked on. There's nothing tying the D&D part of the game back to the 13th Age part of the game.

Before 13th Age, if someone asked me what my favorite RPG was, it was a toss up between Dream Park and the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game. I had already been playing around with making a game based on Marvel's SAGA system. I began asking myself, "What if 13th Age had been built by the folks who developed SAGA rather than those who worked on D&D?" Now a complete idea began to form. 13th Age + SAGA for system, with an approach in feel and flavor inspired by Golden Sky Stories.

(As for Dream Park, I just shared an RPG called 10 Cubed. It may not be obvious at first glance, but this game is greatly influenced by Dream Park.)

One of my most enjoyable recent RPG experiences has been a Numenera game run by my friend Dave. The game centered around a small colony and dealt with all kinds of politics and intrigue and had very little combat. It was so much fun and it provided me with the final piece of the puzzle. Changing from fantasy to sci-fi allowed me to create new icons that could feel completely different from the ones in 13th Age. The small colony feel worked well with the small town, slice of life ideas presented in Golden Sky Stories. (The name: Little Colony On The Big Moon is a play on the title: Little House In The Big Woods.)

  
  

That's how Little Colony was born. 

My version of the SAGA rules proved to be cumbersome at the table. It may be that trying to convert SAGA's Fate Deck to a standard deck of cards was just never going to work. From there I have since changed the cards from randomizers to resources and then changed them again. Now they are something that is both at the same time. I have added the random element back in (even after all the fuss that I raised) because I saw a way to do both that I really liked. (It's like having my cake and eating it too.)

Unlike 13th Age where the good ideas are just tacked on a D&D frame, LC is built around the good ideas. The mechanics are original and designed to work with the Icon Relationships (that I call Leader Connections.) By this time next week I should know if LC's new systems work. The first impressions from my players were very positive this time. So, that's a boon. I'm really happy with things as they stand right now. The rules are formatted, illustrated and complete. I can add more, but I wouldn't have to.

(In 13th Age's defense, it is still my favorite version of D&D. The characters are overpowered compared to other versions and can go on epic feeling adventures right at first level. I like that.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Presentation

Is it all about presentation? In my previous post (rant) I mentioned wanting a game with a greater emphasis on role-play (I actually said, "theater of the mind") than combat, or a game that at least provides as many mechanical tools for this activity as it does for combat. I also mentioned that the Powered By the Apocalypse games might do this.

Powered By the Apocalypse is a game engine, in the same way that Dungeons and Dragons is a game engine. It establishes a way to play, and many games are built around that baseline. There are a lot of Powered By the Apocalypse games out there. It's a game approach that seems to care more about story beats than wargame tactics. I said, "seems to" because I've never managed to play a PbtA game.

In fact, I have yet to fully read a game that is Powered By the Apocalypse cover to cover. The way that these games are presented gets in my way. The lists of moves seem to clutter the texts and I find them cumbersome. It's not fair, but it's a thing that is. I still want to fully digest and review a PbtA game. I have my eyes on Chasing Adventure. It has an appealing presentation, and it's free, but for now, so far, PbtA games have eluded me. (Maybe because I started with Dungeon World? My understanding from some reviews that I have read is that it can be difficult to parse.)

  
  

Trouble getting through the text means that I don't get the game to my table. With my current project: Little Colony, I received a very negative response to my game rules. However, I have known my group to be pretty supportive and willing to try new things. So, I made some changes to the way some ideas were presented, to how things were worded, and we are back on track to another play test. (They also raised some valid concerns that led to some rules improvements.)

A bad presentation can kill a design. If players think that things are going to play differently than you intend, or they just can't trudge their way through your text, you've got a problem. In my case, I tend to be concise. I don't like tons of descriptive text that prevents me from grabbing onto the mechanical parts of a game. I feel like all that lore that you want to write is best when it can be inferred from the mechanics. (And if you need to write it, put it in the back of the book.)

My problem was using terminology and phrasing that created misconceptions. My readers saw a game where their characters couldn't do anything without "paying" for the privilege with their resources. This was perceived as being very restrictive. (While resource management is at the core of the task resolution system that I am working on, it should in practice be no more restrictive than rolling a die.)

I decided to rewrite things so that spending player resources was presented more like "rolling a die." This seemed to help. I addressed a few other concerns with some new rules (which I believe were needed and do improve the game) and as I said, we are on track for another play test. That's not to say that everything is perfect. My players are still dubious of an RPG without randomizers, but they are on board to try.

That's a win.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

How Different Is Different?

In response to my "Tired of Dungeons and Dragons" post, one of my friends argued in a comment in the Facebook group that DC20 is nothing like D&D, and that it had a completely different system. The exact quote was: 

"DC20 is only “another Dungeons and Dragons” by theme alone. It is a vastly different system with completely different rules. It is not like Tales of the Valiant, which is just a reskin of 5E with the serial numbers shaved off." 

  
  

DC20 might be a great game. I think many people will love it. I will certainly play it if given the chance. That's not what this post is about. This post is about asking, "How different is different?" 

Is 4th Edition D&D more or less different from 3rd Edition D&D than DC20 is from D&D 5E? I would argue that the disparity between 4th Edition D&D and 3rd Edition D&D may be just as jarring. But, those both carry the name D&D and were written to cater to the same narrow audience.

What makes a game different?

I'm going to start with some general comparisons to DC20 and D&D, but take these with a few grains of salt, because I've not read or played DC20. I've only watched some videos that talk about it. These comparisons are based on impressions that I have and are not intended to be comprehensive.

  • Both games share a focus on player options based on tactical combat. (From this focus one could infer an emphasis on fighting in the game play.)
  • Both games use a twenty-sided dice as the randomizer in their primary task resolution system. 
  • Both games break combat down into rounds that represent short spans of time, and the roll of a die usually encompasses only a single action, like hitting with a weapon. 
  • Both give players choices of abilities that provide their characters different ways to mitigate and manipulate their options in the combat.

That last bullet point is probably where RPGs show the most divergence from each other. What completely blows my mind is how most RPG players see this as the defining aspect of all role-playing games.

Here's one example: 

  • D&D gives a player a primary action, a bonus action, a movement equivalent action, a possible reaction, and any number of free actions. 
  • DC20 gives players 4 action points to spend how they want.

Is the DC20 way better? I don't know. It seems like it might be easier to understand and to teach. But, you're still just taking actions by rolling dice to kill monsters.

As I said when I first began this rant, I don't know that much about DC20. I could be completely off base, but I suspect that if DC20 was released by Wizards of the Coast as Dungeons & Dragons 6th Edition, people would accept it at least as well as they did moving from 3.5 to 4th Edition D&D.

When I said that all the games that come out just feel like "another Dungeons and Dragons," that's what I was talking about. You can change the tactical combat options all you want, but if your game is no more different from D&D than 3.5 was from 4, then you are still playing D&D.

Pathfinder is just another version of D&D. 

13th Age is just another version of D&D.

How many games move away from D&D's combat-centric wargame roots? 

For every "Golden Sky Stories" there is, there are 1000 D&D variants.*

Why?

Because those are the games that sell, and sales drive the industry. But, why does it seem that all the greater majority of RPG players care about are more and different combat options?

Of course, that's not entirely true. The OSR, the old-school gamers look to strip away all those options to make the game simpler and create a game that is less about combat by making combat super deadly. But, they don't replace these options with anything, and players still spend more time rolling "to hit" than doing anything else. It's another trend that leaves me wanting. The OSR seems more to me about nostalgia than game play.

Maybe your favorite D&D clone is completely different from D&D to you, but I don't see it.

So, what am I whining about? What do I want? I guess I want games that explore "theater of the mind" options to the same degree that all these other games explore tactical options. 

I think the Powered by the Apocalypse games might be closest to this. Some of them seem pretty good. I've never gotten one to the table.

That means I really want a greater percentage of consumers to embrace a role-play focused style of game play. I think those players are out there, but they don't know it yet, because the market hasn't provided them with the games they want to play. And that's the proverbial "Catch 22" isn't it?

  

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Monday, July 15, 2024

Birthday Surprise

I got to take a trip to our FLGS, Out of the Box Games in Zeeland for my birthday. First I was taken out to breakfast at the Cherokee in Muskegon. We were going to go to the Board Game Yard Sale at the Gaming Annex in Muskegon, but unfortunately we were unable to attend.

The Gaming Annex's game rooms are up a long flight of stairs. When I read, "yard sale" I made the mistake of thinking the event was being held outside. It wasn't. I'm still using a walker following a knee injury in January and am unable to navigate the stairs. So, we didn't go, but breakfast at Cherokee was awesome, and my day was just beginning.

At Out of the Box Games in Zeeland a woman walked up to me and said, "You aren't going to start playing games without me are you?" This was totally out of the blue, and it took me several seconds to realize that this "woman" was my baby sister, Karla. I mean, it's not as if I didn't recognize her. It's just that she was taken completely out of context. 

I picked out Bardwood Grove as my board game birthday gift, then our daughter Kaylee texted Julie. She was ready to get picked up from work and we took Karla with us to pick her up, then went for an early dinner. (Karla had been hours on a plane and hadn't eaten.) We went to Country Dairy in New Era, where I got an awesome burger. 


Sunday, we played games all morning, but not before Julie went and got Karla and me Steak Egg & Cheese Bagels from McDonald's. (Karla and I were going on and on about how much we loved them.) I taught Karla the two player game, Botanik, then when Julie got back with breakfast, we played Marvel Remix and Forest Shuffle. 

Karla ended up buying both Botanik and Forest Shuffle for herself and we played both games again today before she had to leave to catch her plane. It was an awesome visit with my sister and an awesome birthday surprise. My thanks to Julie and Karla for giving me a fantastic weekend. 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Champions Days

 I keep getting things wrong. When I moved back to Tulsa, I moved in with Bob Fultz again for a bit. Then I discovered the Brownstone Apartments that were close to Platt College, and I moved in there. Sally would move into the Brownstones with me later. 



Not that getting all of this right is all that important to anyone but me. But, yeah. That's what happened. I did go one Wednesday to World of Comics, and Doug did say that Doug and Carol McComas told him that I ran (past tense) Champions for them. 

That is what led to the first game. The second game was the next Wednesday. Robert brought his friend Dave, and Roland brought his friend Robert. So, I went from 3 players to 5. That is what most reasonable RPG GMs would consider maximum player count. That's 6 people around the table. 

The problem was that Doug owned a comic book shop. His friends were his customers. He didn't feel like he could tell people that they couldn't join the fun. The next game doubled in size: 10 players. I told Doug that we absolutely couldn't take any more. 

We moved from the back room to playing out front right on top of the comic book tables. (We just laid big flat pieces of cardboard over the comic boxes to make a huge table.) For the most part Doug kept the numbers from growing further, (we did get a few more) but he didn't like it. He didn't like telling people, "no." 

This was also the same time that Champions 4th Edition came out. What is popularly called the Big Blue Book or BBB. It didn't actually occur to me before writing this, but I am sure that must have been why Doug started the Champions game in the first place. He did sell many copies of that 4th Edition book. 

This went on for a few weeks, but something was about to change all of that, something that had happened when I first came back to Tulsa and was living with Bob.

(Sorry for the short post. My sister Karla is here visiting from Georgia. She came to see me for my birthday.)