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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Mind Space

Mind Space is one of the new Kickstarter Games that we received recently.

Mind Space belongs to a family of games called "Roll and Writes." While I tend to refer to all games in this category as "Roll and Write" games, it should be noted that the term "Roll" is open to interpretation. In this context "Roll" refers to any form of random value generator. "Roll" specifically refers to the rolling of dice to create a random value.

A very popular game in this genre, "Welcome To..." calls itself a "Flip and Write" because you flip over cards from a deck and no dice are involved. A new favorite in this category, "Joan of Arc" calls itself a "Draw and Write" because you draw tokens from a bag to produce the required random element. If we keep up with this "truth in advertising" approach to game terminology, Mind Space is a "Roll and Flip and Write because it uses a combination of cards and dice to generate its random results.

Anyway, before I go any further down this particular rabbit hole, just know that "Roll and Write" games are all games with a primary play mechanism involving the generation randomly of some value, aspect or resource, and the subsequent recording of this result on a sheet of paper (or dry erase board ... or whatever.) To my knowledge, the first (and arguably, still the most popular) game in this category is Yahtzee.

In Mind Space players have a couple of dry-erase boards to write on and some markers of different colors. At the start of the game a row of cards is flipped up showing 5 different polyomino shapes. One additional shape a 1x2 domino is also represented and always available. At the start of every turn, five dice are rolled and positioned based on their number beneath a card showing a different shape. Dice numbered one are placed under the first shape. Dice numbered two under the second and so on. Any dice numbered 6 are assigned to the 1x2 domino shape.

The numbers on the dice are used to match them to card shapes. After this, the numbers don't matter. Now, what you care about is the colors of the dice. By using a colored marker that matches the color of one of the dice, you draw the shape associated with that die on your dry-erase brain. (Yep, everyone has a dry-erase brain. Cool!)

After you draw your first shape, all new shapes have to be touching a shape already drawn, but two shapes of the same color can't touch each other. The placement rules are simple but create an interesting puzzle. After every turn, a new card is added to the beginning of the row of shapes and the last card in the row (at the "5" position) drops off. Then the dice are all rolled again and reassigned to new shapes.

Each color scores differently. So, there's a surprising amount of challenge hidden within this simple puzzle. Add to this special scoring objectives that will give you more points if you manage to complete them before anyone else, and Mind Space creates a really satisfying game play experience.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Fate & Fortune -- Recreating The Fate Deck -- Identifying Trump Suits

The key element to the SAGA game system was its use of cards. Both iterations of the SAGA system, Dragon Lance: The Fifth Age, and The Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game came with their own version of the Fate Deck. I'm going to talk about the Marvel version because it's the one that I own and am most familiar with.

Marvel's Fate Deck is made up of five suits: Strength (Green), Agility (Red), Intelligence (Blue), Willpower (Purple) and Doom (Black). Notice that the suits (except for Doom) are actually character attributes. This is important because attributes relate to actions that you can take during the game.

The suits also have an "icon" to represent them. So, the cards are color blind friendly. These "icons" are famous figures from the Marvel Universe that serve as an exemplar for the attribute in question. The icon of Strength (green) is the Hulk. For Agility (red) it's Spider-Man. For Intellect (blue) it's Mr. Fantastic. For comic fans, these associations are super intuitive and the deck works well.

At first, I focused on transferring these same associations to standard card suits: spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. (Justifying how the Spades suit and symbol are representative of Strength, and so on.) This works okay-ish, but I spent a lot of game text building these associations and they are never going to be as intuitive as they are for the custom deck.

So, I changed my focus from the thematic to the mechanical and decided to forget trying to make these associations intuitive. I won't talk about them at all. I'll simply write the rules to capture these associations without asking the player to "interpret" anything.

Mechanically, these associations provide a "trump" benefit. It works like this: if you are taking an action that uses your intelligence ability and the card that you play belongs to the intelligence suit, then the card played is trump. I needed my cards to do this, but without spending loads of time in the rules drilling into the players head that Spades means Strength.

I wrote my trump rule like this, "If the Suit of a played card starts with the same first letter as the Ability for the action, then the card is Trump."

The rule takes care of itself. There is no need to remember the associations between suit name, icon or color or try to invent clever ways to make these associations seem intuitive. I let the rule stand on its own as written, and the player just has to be able to spell. 

Now, all I have to do is use names for the four character abilities that start with one of the letters that start the four suits in a standard deck of cards: C, S, D, and H. I'll talk about the four character abilities that I chose next time.



Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Kickstarting Board Games

Julie (I'm Julie's husband - for those not in the know.) and I got five new board games in the mail yesterday. This surprise delivery was the result of a Kickstarter that we backed featuring four new small box board games from a company called, Allplay Games (formerly Board Game Tables).

We already own a few games from this publisher, "Bites" about ants at a picnic trying to get the most food, and "On Tour" about musicians touring the country with their band trying to hit the most cities. These games have been a hit at our gaming table, and I think Julie in particular loves them both.

So, we backed a Kickstarter featuring four new games by this publisher based on the quality and enjoyment that we have gotten from the previous games. Plus, the games all looked pretty good and being "small box" games, they weren't very expensive. We even added a fifth small box game to the mix because we were able to include it at a discounted price.

Kickstarter is an interesting phenomenon in the board game hobby. As a source for crowd funding, it allows consumers like us to support creators in the manufacture of products that we want. This is a good thing, because a creator can produce something that might otherwise be completely ignored by the population at large.

Mass market publishers like Hasbro publish board games. They focus on creating family games that will appeal to the largest portion of the population at large. The thing is, the population at large doesn't play board games. (At least, not yet. Julie and I keep doing our part to spread the love.)

Crowd funding allows small publishers to reach a small market by removing some of the risk placed on the publisher. In the world of crowd funded projects, the investor is also the consumer. This means that the publisher is receiving both operating capital and a customer base at the same time.

There is a problem with this. The risk while reduced for the publisher is not completely eliminated, and what remains is being placed firmly on the shoulders of the investor. The investor is you ... me, the consumer. We invest because we want the product. We purchase a product sight unseen, based on a promise. But, there are no guarantees. This is an investment, a gamble. It's not a preorder.

Julie and I have been burned by this in the past. One of our investments didn't pay off. The company producing a game that we Kickstarted went bankrupt and our investment was lost. A few games that we have backed, just weren't very good. One in particular that I can think of was an absolute stinker. This has proven to be the exception, not the rule for us, and there are ways to minimize the risk. Like going with companies that have a proven track record, as we did with Allplay.

The board gaming hobby has exploded over the last few years growing exponentially. Despite this, it's still very much a niche market. Crowd funding is still the best way to make sure that interesting quality games reach our table. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but investing in that risk helps this hobby evolve in new and exciting ways.

Allplay is a fairly new company. They started out making board game tables and only started making actual board games over the past few years. Julie and I like the idea of small box games that are affordable and easy to get to the table, like those offered in the Kickstarter. Yes! Let's support more of that. So, we backed, and we will back again and again to help our hobby grow.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Fate & Fortune

My newest project has a name. It's, "Fate & Fortune." My incredibly talented artist daughter, Kaylee has drawn a character (a dwarf) for me to feature on the cover. Today, we are moving Kaylee into her dorm at Central Michigan University for her first year of college. So, I thought it might be cool to share Fate & Fortune's cover to commemorate the day. 

Thanks, Kaylee! Enjoy college life! (I am going to miss you so much!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Power Pack Team Ups

The next several Power Pack mini-series were Team-Up titles featuring Power Pack with other heavy hitters from the Marvel Universe.

They meet the X-Men, The Avengers and Spider-Man among others.

The team-up books are a lot of fun. In the Avengers book Kang ends up projecting the Power Pack into an alternate future where they meet grown-up versions of themselves. It's really cool.

The books are action packed while still retaining their sense of humor and fun. (I love this exchange between Katie and Spider-Woman!)

And although these are "All Ages Books" that are meant to be family friendly, they don't talk down to their audience. There's some real content here, including genuine suspense and even terror. An example of this mix in storytelling is prevalent in the Spider-Man team-up book. In one arch Spider-Man is reduced in age to a child and becomes an honorary member of Power Pack.

But in the next story, the venom symbiot possesses Katie's Power Pack costume. There is a scene where the symbiot takes control of Katie, consuming her while she is sleeping in the safety of her bed. Honestly, I think this is one of the most terrifying images that I have seen in a comic book.

Maybe it's the generally light nature of the books that makes this image seem so very harsh to me, but it really got me.

These Power Pack books are truly great. They have more to them than you might expect, and they have gotten me interested in exploring other Marvel Age titles.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Work Continues And Evolves

I spent months working on Royal Treasures, then months working on Double Zero. RT was an attempt to make a solo board game campaign book in the mold of Rangers of Shadowdeep, but using my own version of the SAGA game system introduced by TSR in the mid 90's. DZ was an attempt to create an RPG zine that took Mike Pondsmith's very excellent and abandoned RPG system from the early 90's, Dream Park and make it compatible with the vast library of RPG materials currently being produced for the OSR, while also combining it with my own RPG design, Five By Five.

Play testing Royal Treasures has left me a bit disheartened because I just can't get engaged in the experience. The truth is, I'm not a solo gamer. While I like the idea of a good solo dungeon crawl, I wouldn't know one if it hit me in the face, because I don't play them. I think the mechanisms of RT are strong, but I have no way of knowing what kind of results my play tests are producing, because I don't play solo games. I've never gotten into them before. I shouldn't be designing one.

Play testing DZ has me struggling to make the Five By Five game system function within the parameters that I've set for it and finding that the result is not intuitive. Five By Five worked because it was super rules light and free form. Making it into something else makes it not work. DZ is broken, which is a tragedy because I think its chock full of some really good ideas.

I find myself pivoting once again. Both Dream Park and SAGA (specifically the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game) are RPG favorites from my past. The work that I have done on both of these projects shouldn't go to waste. I am going to continue work on DZ, but I am dropping the Five By Five game mechanics and replacing them with my version of the SAGA system. In effect I am combining all my efforts of the last year into a new project.

I don't know if anyone reads this (or the reposts in my Facebook Group), but I think it's important to maintain this blog (just for me.) So, I'll keep sharing progress here, and maybe talking about comics or board games too.



Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Power Pack (2005)

One of my favorite comic book runs from the last days of the bronze age of comics is Marvel Comics' Power Pack. Created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman in 1984, the comic featured a group of four young siblings, two brothers and two sisters. The kids obtained superpowers from a pony like alien called Whitey to fight an alien invasion of lizard men creatures called the Snarks.

In 2005 Marvel relaunched Power Pack as part of their "All Ages" brand. I'm 58 years old. Yet, I am finding this comic book title labeled: All Ages (which usually translates as "for kids") one of the most enjoyable reads of the past 20 years.

This relaunch of Power Pack was published as a series of mini-series, and looking back now, it's pretty tough to figure out the reading order without a score card. I thought that I might enjoy reviewing each mini-series in order beginning with the first one: Power Pack (2005).

The book starts with a brief retelling of Power Pack's origin story. This is done in the form of a comic book written and draw by the youngest member of the team as a "What I did over my summer vacation." sort of report for her return to school.

The kids "freak out" at this, as they fear Katie's report will expose their secret identities endangering their friends and their parents. A conflict ensues and Katie ends up using her powers at the kids' home, revealing their location (and the secret of their identities) to their arch enemies the Snarks.

A Snark scout by the name of Skratt ends up attacking the Power Pack at their home but is repelled. (He will be back.) Katie ultimately decides not to endanger the teams secret with her school report and everything wraps up nicely by the end of the issue. While the four issue mini-series is connected, each issue is episodic and self contained. (Something that I really like and appreciate -- much like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.)

Each issue of the four issue mini-series focuses on one of the kids. This first issue is Katie's issue. I love Katie, she is absolutely adorable and fun. The whole premise and presentation of Power Pack is fun! That's what I love about this series. It's what I love about comic books. I realize that comic books have proven themselves capable of so much more as literature, but when it comes down to it, I'm here for the fun.

Issue 2 features big brother Alex, the oldest member of the team. While the youngest siblings, Katie and Jack tend to fight, the two older kids, Alex and Julie get along well. Julie even proves what an awesome friend she can be by introducing her brother to a friend that he has a crush on. (I can testify that all "Julie's" are cool.)

Alex has a date, but as luck would have it, it's on the same night that mom and dad are going out for their anniversary dinner, and Alex, being the oldest, has to babysit. Alex is afraid that rescheduling their first date would set a bad precedent, but younger sister Julie comes to the rescue again offering to cover for her brother so that he can go out.

Of course, things go wrong. Jack and Katie sneak off and mess with Dad's inter-dimensional portal that he's been building in the basement. (Dad is a scientist, after all.) The kids end up summoning a giant squid monster as one does, and Alex has to rush home, cutting his date short.

At home Alex helps clear up the squid menace, and later his date Caitlin proves just how cool she is (and what an awesome judge of character Julie is) when she reschedules their date. She understands the responsibilities of an older sibling, having two little brothers of her own. Alex's love life is saved.

Issue #3 is Jack's issue. The Powers are on a family camping trip. On their way to the camp ground they not only see a mysterious (and very out of place) medieval castle, they also fight a Doombot while getting groceries for their cookout.

This one's pretty much an all action issue, which is appropriate for a Jack issue. That night, Jack runs off to investigate the castle and ends up getting captured by Dr. Doom himself, but he's not the only one. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch is also Doom's Prisoner. 

The rest of the Power Pack discover Jack missing and quickly deduce where he has gone. Their rescue attempt might have gone wrong if not for the timely intervention of the Fantastic Four (there to rescue Johnny.) Together, Power Pack and the Fantastic Four manage to save their respective family members.

In the end, both Jack and Johnny learn a lesson about running off without your teammates, and the Powers family ends up having their cookout with the Fantastic Four. Cool!

The fourth and final issue of the inaugural all ages Power Pack mini-series features Julie (my favorite character.)  Julie is fed up with playing second fiddle to Alex and with all the fighting between her younger siblings. She is considering leaving the Power Pack. 

This decision is pushed to the breaking point when Jack sneaks a peek at her diary and reveals her plans to Alex. Later at the mall, the group is called to action by a news report, but Julie opts to stay behind with her friends. She isn't in Power Pack anymore!

The threat that the others go to investigate turns out to be a trap set by the Snark, Skratt (remember him?) and Julie's three siblings are captured. Skratt has plans to kill the kids to further his own glory (kinda dark) but wants the full set of four. So, he takes his prisoners back to their home, knowing that Julie will return there eventually.

Julie hears about the capture of Power Pack on the news and realizes that although they might have their ups and downs, the Power Pack is her family and she has to save them. At the house, Julie sneaks in through a window. (Skratt didn't see that coming!) and manages to free the others.

Julie then tricks Skratt into chasing her into the basement where they use dad's inter-dimensional portal thingy (Remember Alex's issue?) to feed Skratt to the giant Squid (kinda dark.) Ultimately, all is right with the world and Julie is back with her team. She didn't really want to leave, but sometime when brothers read your diary, it makes you mad.

That's all four issues of Power Pack (2005) in a nutshell. The issues also included little back-up shorts, which were an obvious rip off of Calvin and Hobbs, featuring Franklin Richards and Herbie the Robot. I didn't really think they were all that funny, and they don't appear in any of the mini-series that follow.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Double Zero

Following the first play test of Double Trouble, I made some minor changes to make the game more intuitive. Last Sunday, I shared the changes made to the interpretation of the dice rolls. Those changes stand, and I am reinforcing them by making some small changes to terminology.

I am no longer referring to positive and negative conditions as "helped" and "hindered." A boon is now called a "double," and a bane is now called a "zero." These terms match the die rolls that trigger their effects. This should make roll exceptions easy to remember.

Also, because of the way doubles and zeros effect die rolls, rolling doubles doesn't automatically equate to trouble. The name, "Double Trouble" is misleading. So, I am changing the name of the game to: Double Zero.

A form-fillable character sheet for Double Zero is available in the files section of the Facebook Group.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Obligation (Marvel Team-Up #126)

As a kid (and who am I "kidding," I am still a kid at heart,) I really loved the ten page backup stories that sometimes appeared after the main stories in the comic books that I read. It's been quite awhile since I shared one of these. I was reading old issues of Marvel Team-Up, when I came across this backup story. It's from Marvel Team-Up #126 with a cover date of February 1983. The story's title is, "Obligation." It was written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Tomoyuki Takenaka.

I tried searching for artist Tomoyuki Takenaka, and all I could find was a reference on Twitter. It said that Tomoyuki Takenaka was the real name of an artist by the pen name of Hisato Joh, and that he was the first Japanese artist to work for Marvel Comics. Another tweet from the same source references the artist as "the late Hisato Joh." So, it would appear that the artist is no longer with us. I can't find anything to collaborate the information on Twitter, which is a real shame, because I'd love to know more about Tomoyuki Takenaka. These pages are incredible! 

Sunday, July 09, 2023

First Double Trouble Play Test

I just completed my first play test of Double Trouble. There are some things that I really liked, and a few things that I felt needed to be improved. Overall the session was good and it seemed like everyone was having fun.

The Helped and Hindered mechanism and how it interacted with the Double Trouble Action roll seemed really confusing to my players. In an attempt to clarify things, I made a chart to show how different levels of the Helped or Hindered conditions would effect roll results.

This was the initial table:

Everyone said it made sense and we were good moving forward.  And, we played. I ran a the pre-written adventure, Dragon Town.

It was my desire to run this adventure using my own home brew game system that prompted me to begin work on Double Trouble to start with. 

I wanted to tie certain aspects of the system to OSR based parallels so that the adventure would be easy to run. - That worked.

I wanted to use Mike Pondsmith's brilliant RPG Dream Park as a template for character creation and development. - That worked. (I think that everyone really enjoyed the character creation process and options available.)

I wanted to retain the multiplied dice roll under system created for my own RPG Five By Five. - Uhm ... this was where I fear I may have some problems.

Referencing the table to figure out when rolls failed or succeeded seemed to really bog down the game play. Five By Five dice interpretation has always been quick and intuitive, but not here.

I like the added complexity of the Helped and Hindered conditions. They are the primary hooks on which all player powers are hung. When I mentioned changing them, my players revolted a little. But, I have no intention of getting rid of these. I just need to make them work a bit more smoothly.

To that end, I have decided to focus on "the exceptions." The irregular rolls that aren't compared to ability scores. That's the roll of a zero, and a roll of doubles. These special rolls are the exceptions. They are already special. I will make Helped and Hindered conditions effect only these rolls.

That should make interpreting rolls on the fly much easier, and I think is probably how I should have handled all of this to begin with.

Here's a new dice roll table:

Now, rolling over your trait is always a fail and rolling under your trait is always a success. Nothing else to check. The only time a roll needs to be verified is when you roll doubles or zero. The hope is that this will speed things up without causing the players to feel like they've lost some utility.

If this doesn't work, then I may scrap the Five By Five Mechanics completely for something else. Because the other elements of the game work and I like them.