Monday, December 04, 2023

Game Design Part 2 - RPG Design Mission Statement

The shared dice pool is a common mechanic in many modern board games. One player rolls some dice, and then all players simultaneously use the results to make choices. In order for individual outcomes to vary, players are provided with a wide array of options.

Imagine that a tabletop RPG uses a shared dice pool for its conflict resolution. The GM and the players set the scene and establish the conflict. The GM rolls some dice, and then the players consult their character sheets to decide how to assign these dice to their actions. Players discuss their options based on the numbers showing on the dice. The variety of options available are diverse because each player possesses a unique character.

In this scenario, the numbers on the dice represent player choice and not probability. In my previous post, I stated that no player’s turn should be wasted. Traditional RPG systems answer the question, “Can I do this?” and then use dice to create suspense. If the answer to that question is “No” then the player’s turn ends and their moment in the spotlight is lost.

The shared dice pool answers the question, “What are my options?” For each option, the outcome isn’t in question. Suspense is created not by answering “yes” or “no,” but by answering “what” and “how.” The focus changes from winning and losing (concepts that never belonged in the RPG space to begin with) to creating diversity of action within the context of the shared drama.

These are lofty goals. My brain is burning just thinking about this, but this is what I want. This is the RPG that I want to design. This is my mission statement.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Game Design Part 1 - Doctors, Daleks and RPG Design

Does it make sense to design yet another Role-Playing Game? 

I like fiddling with RPG rules. Mostly this takes the form of changing dice mechanics. Honestly, I’ve never really pushed the envelope on RPG design. I love the RPG hobby. I love the RPG community. I love how I can – how anyone can – contribute to the hobby, and shape the way that we all play this game.

I can’t think of any other hobby that works quite like that. I keep plugging away, playing with stats and terms and saying the same thing over a dozen different ways because it’s fun, and I like doing it. That said, I mostly play the games that are designed by others. It doesn’t seem as though I’m designing games to play as much as I am just designing to design.

That’s okay. Like I said, I enjoy it. However, I think that I’ve “fiddled” along the same path long enough. I want to challenge myself to do things differently.

This then is part one in an ongoing series dedicated to the design of a new RPG. It's a chance to "peek under the hood" and observe my creation process in action. This is the start. Hopefully, I will remain motivated to carry this process through to a rewarding finish.

Recently, I have been really excited about Doctor Who. We are two specials in on Disney Plus. I think that Ncuti (pronounced “shooty”) Gatwa is going to make an incredible Doctor, and I just picked up Cubicle 7’s Doctors & Daleks on PDF.

Almost 14 years ago now, I picked up Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. Doctors & Daleks is D&D. It’s the Adventures in Time and Space RPG rebuilt to use the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Rules and it’s AMAZING. At least it looks amazing on paper. I never did get Adventures in Time and Space to my game table, but with Doctors & Daleks, I know the game’s RPG DNA. I know how the game and its systems should work at the table, and I think its going to be AMAZING. Hopefully, I will get to play Doctors & Daleks at some point and find out.

I mention this because Dungeons & Dragons is a combat focused game. Doctors & Daleks is not because Doctor Who is not. Doctors & Daleks is a master class in game design fiddling. It’s Fifth Edition, but it’s not, and the ways that “it’s not” are brilliant, and the ways that “it is” are brilliant. It demonstrates how far removed D&D can be from its war gaming roots.

That’s gotten me thinking. What if role-playing (the hobby as we know it) hadn’t evolved from tactical war games at all? What if role-playing had evolved from a game of Monopoly, or Yahtzee, or Settlers of Catan or Bridge? How would that have shaped the way that we play the game both strategically and theatrically?

In my Bigfoot RPG I talk about resolution in broad strokes. I try to remove the war game elements from the game play by focusing on a change of game philosophy. This can work with the right group, but for anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons over these many many years, this philosophy of play, these old habits are difficult, maybe even impossible to change.

I haven’t played Doctors & Daleks yet, but I believe that it might just succeed because for every combat element they removed from the game, they replaced it with something else. That … I think, is the secret. If you don’t want your players playing a war game, then you need to present your war game players with a tactical alternative.

So I ask myself, if role-playing had evolved from a different core set of game mechanics, what might those mechanics be? And now my mind is spinning again, and I am back to fiddling.

I think the first thing to do is to find a good, solid, tactically rich game that has no basis in table top war games and play it.

There are some core concepts that are central to the RPG experience that I enjoy, and that I plan to retain. Foremost, there is the GM and Players interaction loop. It’s how I have always played, and this interaction persists over countless RPG designs. I know that solo or GM-less RPG designs exist, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around those. 

I also want dice. Six-sided dice are my preference, but I am not going to force myself to stick with these if other dice seem inherently better in the end.

One final thing is that I want to end up with a task resolution mechanic that never ends in failure. What I mean is that no player’s turn will ever become “a swing and a miss.” All turns that a player takes should be valuable and fun. This is supposed to be a game after all.

To begin this process, I’m going to look at a variety of dice games. (I said that I wanted dice.)

I’m going to be asking questions:

    • In what different ways do the dice interact with the game? 

    • How much agency does a player have to influence the dice?

    • How tactical are these choices? 

    • What makes the choices interesting?

I want to start by finding a good core game. I’m sure that I’ve played many before. This time however, I have questions, and an agenda. Once I think that I’ve found the right dice game: a fun dice game that stands on its own. I’ll ask, how could this become a role-playing game?

My hope is that this exercise might take my mind, and my game design in an entirely new direction. Hopefully, I might even discover something that I want to bring to my table and play with my friends.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Bigfoot (Five by Five - Back To Basics)

You will find a new entry in the list of "My RPGs" in the nav-bar. Bigfoot (2023) is the latest and last version of the game that began life in 2008 as Five By Five. Over the past 15 years since Five By Five's release, it has gone through many revisions, but it has continued to find its way to my game table.

One thing that I have learned as I have tinkered with this particular game, is that it is best when things are kept simple. That's what this final version of the game is: simple. And while Bigfoot remains simple like its predecessor Five By Five, it contains a lot of small tweaks and changes. These changes are all intended to embrace the philosophy of: simple is best.

The dice mechanic remains, but again I find that a slight change in the array of target numbers makes everything better. Equipment / gear has been modified (eliminating re-rolls). Critical results have been made more common to encourage extreme and heroic role-play. Character creation and advancement has been simplified, and Karma points have been removed and special dice no longer referenced or required.

I have a crunchier game (Fate & Fortune) in the works, and I am really excited about how it's going. I don't need to try to make Bigfoot into something it's not. It works. It has worked for 15 years. This version focuses on embracing everything that works and discarding the rest.

You can get a form-fillable version of the character sheet here too, if you'd like.



Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Profile: Sue Cook

Sue was the lead on the design of the SAGA Game System. This article from Dragon Magazine #259 (May, 1999) features Sue, and I thought it would be cool to share it here. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Fate & Fortune -- Character Abilities

The image shared here is a page from Fate & Fortune that talks about the four primary character abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Cognition and Humor. These replace Strength, Agility, Intelligence and Willpower respectively.

You may notice that I am retaining the Ability Score ranges and modifiers as used in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While Fate & Fortune won't be truly compatible with Dungeons and Dragons, I will be doing my best to incorporate familiar elements where possible to make it easier to adapt existing materials into the Fate & Fortune system.