Thursday, February 24, 2011

Too Heroic for Profit?

Part of my problem with coming up with a group character for GodWar is the game is not much focused on material advancement.  The assumed character archetypes are for the most part out and out heroic, and the whole game is about fighting to protect the fate of humanity.  This doesn't leave a lot of team focus for lining your pockets, gathering political power, etc (or in other words a lot of the facets that make the Song of Ice and Fire and Reign systems work so well).  While obviously one can collect material wealth and political power for altruistic, world savings ends (so you can build your steam robot to defend Barcelona from the blood citadel known as the Parliament of Slaughter), it does not come as easy when your goal is the advancement of your house, mercenary company, etc.  Also money grubbing templars, while possessing a certain amount of historical accuracy, don't really seem like awesome characters to play compared to demon smashing templars. 

So basically I am concerned that I am trying to shoe horn a system into a game that does not need it.  I could excise the group character system, but I really like that sort of mechanic.  I could work on Last Knights of Camelot since it easily includes a group character mechanic, but I don't think my prospective group digs giant robots that much.  Shadow of Azathoth is off the table for now.  I've been itching to try and run a post-apocalyptic game, but that genre has seen a lot of games of late, and good ones of that.  I'm not sure I'd have something to say with that game that Gamma World, Apocalypse World, Atomic Highway, or Barbarians of the Aftermath hasn't already said. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Communicating the Setting

So I'm working on getting GodWar in good enough state that it could actually be played sometime in the next few months, and part of this is trying to communicate the setting.  Luckily the setting is alternate history so its easier than some settings to convey, but still the feeling it odd.  Most people don't think stone shattering kung fu when they think Templars.  So to that end I've been thinking a lot about how to get people into the setting quickly. 

First off the thing I am avoiding is lots of in depth text blocks.  To me any sort of in depth inspection of politics, culture, etc is focusing on the wrong thing as most of that is not the focus of the game.  Sure, knowing the basic political conflicts of the era is very handy, but knowing all ends and outs of all the wars fought over Italy is really unnecessary.  Instead I've tried to break down all the setting info into paragraph sized chunks that focus on how things are different from the real world and how things are awesome.  Each nation gets a few hundred words as to what is going on in it, but lengthy discussion is not included.  I figure in this day and age with the Internet players can get better information than I can provide with a thirty second search, so I should concentrate on what is different in the game.  Also information in small chunks makes it easier to get people into the game quickly. 

So each nation and major faction gets a few paragraphs updating it to the GodWar setting.  Also I want to include a timeline in the book that details the next century and change to say how things are different in the GodWar setting.  The default year for the setting is 1494, just long enough after Columbus's evil deeds in unleashing the GodWar to have come home to roost, but there are so many other cool events I want to examine through this occult high action lens.  I want to have Elizabeth pulling the sword from the stone and having Merlin as her advisor under the guise of John Dee.  I want the destruction of the Spanish Armada to involve magic on both sides.  So timeline.  I'm afraid this will smack of metaplot by saying the world continues in this fashion for the next century and change, but its meant more as an idea mine for things to do in the campaign.  I want every paragraph to have some sort of awesome idea to build and adventure off of. 

Also in recent weeks I've been looking backthrough my role playing game collection and remembering the books I really enjoyed reading and those I didn't.  For example, to this day the Deadlands books are some of the most fun game books I've ever read as they put for tons of setting info and mysteries for the players, and then in the same book give the GM the real scoop (or at least ideas for the real scoop).  I'm thinking about doing something similar, putting another version of the timeline in the GM section of the game with more info about each item on the timeline, but putting those kind of specifics to paper seems like more of a metaplot. 

So here is a sample of the timelime I'm talking about.  Does it look interesting?  Would you enjoy reading this? 

  • March 15th:  Christopher Columbus returns to Spain from his first voyage of discovery. The change in his appearance, having grown gaunt during his voyage and replaced his right eye with one carved of obsidian, gives birth to rampant speculation as to what happened on the voyage.  His tie to the beginning of the GodWar is not revealed until months later by Dominican investigators who infiltrated the occult society Columbus led.  Columbus has been an outlaw ever since, wanted by the Pope and secular authorities for a wide variety of crimes against God and man. 
  • May 4th: In the papal bull Inter caetera, Pope Alexander VI decrees that all lands discovered west of the Azores are Spanish.  This is later retracted November 14th after the truth of Columbus’s actions in the New World was revealed.  Instead Pope Alexander VI considered putting out a call for a crusade to the New World in the hopes that whatever Columbus has been done could be undone.  This idea never gained much support due to the New World lacking the religious relevance of the Holy Land and the logistical problems with such a mammoth undertaking.    
  • August 19: Maximilian I succeeds his father, Frederick III, as Holy Roman Emperor.  Unfortunately for the citizens of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian I was more concerned with advancing his family, which gave birth to the Hapsburg dynasty, than he was seeing to the needs of his people.  This allowed demonic forces to make increasingly large gains in the Holy Roman Empire while Maximilian concentrated on wars in Italy, attempting to protect the holdings of his wife’s family, the Sforzas. 
  • September 9: Battle of Krbava Field was fought between the Kingdom of Croatia and Ottoman forces against a undead invasion force in southern Croatia.  The battle began as an Croatian ambush of an Ottomon cavalry force, but shortly thereafter the field was overrun by forces from the nearby blood citadel called the Walking Crypt.  Despite their differences the Croatian and Ottoman forces united against the demonic attack, eventually turning it back but at vast cost.  Of the ten thousand Croats and eight thousand Turks who began the battle, less than two thousand on a side survived.  For the Croats this loss was devastating as many of their feudal lords were killed in the battle, weakening their defenses against further Ottoman incursions. 
  • September 29: Christopher Columbus escapes continental Europe via Cadiz with a small flotilla of ships manned by his cult followers.  It is assumed he returned to the New World, but no one is certain. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GodWar System Design

So aside from a little freelance work, the day job, and research for Americana down in DC I've been fiddling with with the system for GodWar.  The system has undergone a number of permutations over time, starting a system that used the dice from the Dreamblade game WOTC came out with, to becoming a 4th edition setting, back to using the Dreamblade dice, then to using other dice, and now on to my latest idea: using tarot cards.  Why tarot cards?  Eh, not sure.  It seems to fit the setting, opens up some interesting possibilities for number and symbol generation, and its a challenge I haven't dealt with before.

So for those who have not been the victim of a idea dump about GodWar, it's supposed to be a high-energy game of mostly occult empowered individuals fighting across an alternative version of 15th century Europe to save the world from a demonic invasion.  It should feel like a kung-fu movie, only replace Shaolin monks with Templars and sorcerers with Kabbalist mages.  It's a world where the supernatural is everywhere and obvious; the war against the demons is not carried out in the shadows but in plain sight as everyone knows it is going on. 

So, for a system I want something high action but simple with a lot of room for customization for characters and what they can accomplish.  If I were to choose an existing system to use I would probably choose some version of Fate with an extensive list of new stunts for the various occult power sets in the world.  I think the aspects and relatively open mechanics of Fate would work well, but I am looking for something a bit I like designing games and using an existing game really wouldn't scratch that itch.

Also I would like to have some manner of random character generation as an option, but do it like in Reign where all randomly generated characters are mechanically equally in terms of stats.  While I don't like requiring random character generation, having rules for it (especially if they can be module enough for some choice, some randomness in the creation process) can help get creativity flowing when people are stifled (as they often are the first time they come to a new game with a strange setting).

And I want the game to be very player empowering.  I want players to feel like they have a lot of control in what is going on, both in terms of narration and mechanics.  I want player choice to be able to override bad luck if the player is willing to pay the cost.  

So, my design goals are:
1. Easy, open rules.
2. Fast action.  
3. Player empowerment.
4. Random character generation.
5. Tarot cards. 

As mentioned previously I want to have a group character mechanic, which I am currently leaning towards doing as the players setting up the region the game primarily takes place in, starting with something area like a few score square miles and as the campaign advances expand this area.  In building this area players decide not only their own strengths but the enemies that oppose them (note taking more enemies does not get you more points, but instead gives the GM an idea of what you want to fight against in the campaign).  So somewhere in between the Song of Ice and Fire system and the city creation system of Dresden Files.  My idea is that over the course of the campaign the size of your area increases, rescaling some of your group stats (like political influence) since they now apply across a larger area.  Of course characters can leave the campaign area and should for ripsnorting traveling adventures as needed.

Okay, back to the main system for the game.  My original idea was that each character would have a Destiny stat that was effectively a measure of how awesome they are.  Most PCs start at 5.  Unnamed animals have a 0, faceless minions have 1 , trained minions have a 2, elite minions have a 3, henchmen have a 4, etc.  In the setting da Vinci has an 8, while Seraphis (the angel who is leading the Vatican) has a 9.  This mechanic means that while characters are better off than 99% of people in the world, they will not be the most powerful people in the setting right off.  I am okay with this.  Some people may not be. 

Characters also have skills that are rated such that a character cannot have a skill higher than their Destiny.  Skills are fairly broad, ala Fate.  Characters get a skill pyramid with one at Destiny, two at Destiny -1, etc.

Each round characters draw a number of cards equal to their Destiny.  They then allocate these cards to each action they wish to take in the round and if the total value of the card is higher than the target number (or opposed skill total) you win.  For example, if you want to all out attack someone during a round you put all five of your cards into Melee, Ranged, Magic, or whatever you are using for your attack, but know that you won't have any cards to put into Dodge, etc.

The Major Arcana from the tarot deck each have a special ability associated with them that can be activated when it is drawn, or the card can just be used for a value of 5.  For example the Death card may give you massive damage bonuses in combat.  These may have different abilities based on if they are played for the player or in opposition, and could have both a bonus and a penalty to being used (like Death gives you a damage bonus but also gives anyone hitting you a damage bonus).

Now the problems I have currently with this system are as follows:
1. How to do initiative.  (rough plan is highest Destiny, ties broken by going in order of actions with the most cards allocated).
2. Defenses will wear down over the course of the round as attacks hit you.  (current plan is to let defense actions apply against multiple attacks, but that may be too powerful).
3. How long is a round? When does everyone draw a new hand?  (I'm assuming when everyone is out of cards or has no intention to play more)
4. Without a Gm shortcut system this will require the GM to manage a huge number of hands of cards in fights.  A grouped minion system is needed at the very least. 

I've had some other options, like declaring how many cards go towards an action and then drawing that many from the deck, so there is more of an unknown quantity, but I don't like taking that choice away from the player.  What I do like about the cards is it gives the player a lot of control over their actions in the round (they know how effective they are going to be at the beginning of the round and can plan accordingly), allows for interesting spikes from the major arcana, and is something different. 

Characters would have a total of hit points or health that they can take before bad things happen, and a pool of mental strength for mental damage.  When these pools run out cards must be allocated to the Toughness or Willpower skills, the face value of the card giving the character that many additional health/mental strength as long as the card is allocated there.  This card comes out of the character's pool, so if the character has a card allocated to Toughness to avoid dropping unconscious they only draw 4 cards each round.  Thus as characters get more wounded they get less effective. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Group Characters

I'm a big fan of group character mechanics, by which I mean RPGs where the player characters have some manner of shared or communal character that their group supports.  This is usually something like a noble house, mercenary company, etc.  Through the course of the game players can advance not only their individual characters, but the group character through both mechanical and non-mechanical means.

The first instance I can think of this mechanic in a game is the old Palladium gem Ninjas and Superspies where there was a point buy system for creating spy organizations for players to work both for and against.  There was no mechanic for advancing these groups. only creating them, and aside from equipment and logistical support there was not much in the way of mechanics for the system.  You could buy an armory, but not political influence.  Still, it was neat and I spent a lot of time fiddling with it.  This system was slightly revised and then reused for the Rifts Vampire Kingdom and Mercs books but these changes were more of an update to the Rifts universe than anything else.

The my favorite implementation of a group character mechanic is the house rules for the Song of Ice and Fire RPG, where all characters are assumed to be members of the same noble house.  Thus they play roles like captain of the guard, seneschal, maester (house sage), etc, giving the group a ready made reason to work together and while family political conflict may take place, real PvP action is unlikely.  The house was rated in a number of areas, such as Defenses, Influence, Land, Population, etc.  Some of these ratings were used as pools to buy resources, like Defense being used to buy castles and towers the house controlled, while others provided modifiers to rolls made to manage the house (which could lead to loses or gains in these ratings).  Ratings could also be altered by actions in game, either by gaining Glory for big achievements (which could be traded for any of the house ratings at a 1:1 rate) or plot actions (for example in my campaign the players got a house to swear allegiance to their house as a banner house, increasing their Power greatly).  The system gave the players a good higher level set of goals for the group (expanding the power of their house) in addition to establishing a series of sub systems to represent house resources (a large scale battle system, social combat, etc).  This system can easily be expanded to represent different types of groups.  I've done some writing for Song of Ice and Fire sourcebooks in that direction and I hope that Green Ronin will support more of that going forward.  I've got pretty solid ideas for using this system for merchant companies, bandits, mercenary groups, tribes, etc.  The only downside to the system was there was not a lot in terms of rules for what you could tell your house to do.  You could build fortifications, go to war, or hold tournaments.  There were no rules for establishing spy networks, trade efforts, etc. 

My second  favorite group character system is Reign, which uses a very abstract system to simulate large groups that the characters control.  Basically groups have stats (Might, Treasure, Influence, Sovereignty, and Wealth).  These were overall very vague and left a lot of room for players to define the resources of their faction, and this I think is the weakness of the system.  What exactly your company (the term Reign uses) has is very hand wavey, and while it makes the game easy to scale, I like the more concrete resources in the Song of Ice and Fire system.  Reign's advantage is it has significant rules for what your company can do, such as espionage, counter espionage, and police actions.  The system is very good, but the abstract nature of it doesn't work as well for what I want out of a game. 

Another version of this system is the group character sheets for Warhammer 3E.  These are much less involved that the Song of Ice and Fire or Reign systems.  Basically the group chooses a group archetype for the group, each of which is based on a different theme (going from memory they're things like military company, pilgrims, gentlemen adventurers, rogues, etc).  Each of these provides different mechanical advantages and allows some abilities to be applied to the group as a whole, plus mechanical penalties if your group does not cooperate (or gets unduly influence by the forces of Chaos).  The cooperation mechanic is mainly a counter track that can increase when certain mechanical events happen (like fumbling magic rolls and bringing Chaos into the world) or if the GM just thinks you're being difficult.  This mechanic seems to mainly exist to limit group conflict; it does not give the players much to pursue in terms of goals.

In many sci-fi games the group ship could be seen as a similar sort of mechanic, though this is rarely treated as a group character and more as something the group can do if they want (though it often seemed to get foisted off on the pilot/smuggler/whoever actually owned the ship).  Using a full group character system could be used for a ship pretty easily if desired. 

Some games like Dresden Files and Spirit of the Century have a communal setting creation mechanic, which is awesome for group cohesion but it doesn't give the same sort of goals for the group.  This level of communal creation is great for one shot or short term games since the game will not last long enough for large scale, long term goals to be realized.  Also these mechanics are great for getting player investment in the setting and telling the GM what sort of game the players want to play. 

So why discuss all this?  I'm going to be running a GodWar game in the next few weeks for folks at the new job and I want to integrate a group character system for that game.  Below is the intro text for the game:

I was there when the world changed and the sky fell, when God was lost and the angels cast out. I was there when darkness descended upon the land and the hope of man was reduced to a flickering candle. But I was also there when the archangel Raphael carried hope to us with his last effort, and I will be there when we retake Heaven from the Qlippoth who defile it.

The God War began November 6, 1492 when the earth shook and the skies raged with fire for days and nights without release. When the fires finally subsided the sun had grown dim and the clouds sickly and all knew some great fell deed had come to pass. We lived in fear of what was next in store, but our fear was soon quenched with knowledge of the most terrible kind. In the lands of Provence the archangel Raphael emerged from where he had been cast to Earth, spreading tales of the invasion of Heaven by Satan and his allies, allowed through the Gates of Heaven by treachery. The battle that followed destroyed worlds and scorched the heavens, but in the end God was imprisoned due to treachery amongst his own angels. Now Satan sits on the Throne of Heaven and his demonic followers frolic amongst the souls of the worthy, turning Heaven into a mirror reflection of Hell.

The surviving angels were cast to Earth like Raphael, and those of Earth who did not believe Raphael’s tales quickly found many other angels telling the same tales. Panic set in quickly as if God could not keep Satan under heel, surely the material world would soon fall to his power as well. Despair filled the land, but Raphael brought not only words of warning but words of hope. With the help of the Cabalists of Gerona he and several other angels completed a ritual long ago set forth by God to empower the mortal world in case it was directly invaded by the creatures of Hell. Using the energies of creation itself, the divine energies once so common in the world and commanded by the likes of Moses were returned to the hands of mortal man, and thus the war for Heaven begun. This ritual gave us hope, but took our mightiest champion, the last known archangel from us. And so we struggle on in a conflict that some have come to call Raphael’s Crusade for the angel who made our struggle possible.

God remains imprisoned in heaven still three years later, but we can now see a day, though it be far from now, where we can storm the Gates and Heaven and retake what is ours. The coming of the Breath of Creation, that power Raphael restored to the world, has given us the tools to carry on this fight. The demons now seek to conquer our world, invading from both Heaven and Hell, but man now stands ready to fight for both their home and for all creation. Where once religions stood opposed, the revelation of ultimate evil and divine power in all its forms has bound them together. While all is not peace amongst the people of Earth, there are bigger wars to be raged. In France and Spain, Jewish Cabalists exorcise demonic incursions with the power of the language of creation, while Arabic Alchemists purify corrupted lands in the East. Hermetic wizards take the battle to the demons directly, using the lore of ancient Egypt and Greece to retake the realm of spirit from demonic influence. Even goetic summoners, masters of demon control, join the fight against Satan and his perverted horde. Rumors abound of the Knights Templar remerging, using the power of the Holy Grail to instill powers in those who partake of its liquid. Armies equipped with devices made from the workshops of Da Vinci march on demonic fortress, tearing them apart with steam and springs. We now have holy armament, given by God to all those who seek something higher than themselves, and we use it every day to strike back at the Qlippoth. Even Asmodeus and his half demons join us in our long conflict, having long ago accepted the teachings of the Torah. Our diverse and wide army stands ready.

And you must stand among them. Some of us wield mystic powers, while others weapons of steel and iron, and still others knowledge of times and histories long forgotten. This is a war with no boundaries for the very stuff of existence and creation. We do not fight in shadows or in secret, but in the open, for there is no time for secrecy. We fight to win.
Your talent is promising. Join us. Help return Heaven to its rightful owner.

God is imprisoned.
Heaven is lost.
The Angels are dead.
Now there is only one hope for the salvation of all creation:

GodWar is a role playing game of occult high action in an alternate version of the 15th century.  In this version of history  in 1492 the forces of Hell rise up to over throw the Throne of Heaven, leaving it up for mankind, along with those angels that survived and some well meaning demons, to try and set things right.  Now it’s been a century since the GodWar began, but it shows signs of abating.  Across the planet, the reality of Hell has begun to bleed over into ours, turning sections of Earth into demon dominated Hellreaches.  For every human nation that stands fast against the demonic horde another sells out its kin for some small profit.  It’s up to the players, heroes striving against the forces of Hell, to try and set things right.  

Characters can be anything from Templars to rogue undead Aztec warriors to clockwork robots built by Da Vinci.  Part of the attraction of the setting is you can play a lot of stuff, and its all pretty high on the awesome meter.  Problem is, how do you bring together such a disparate selection of characters with a group character mechanic?  Characters may be from widely varying geographic regions, religious backgrounds, etc.  

I was thinking it could be something more metaphysical, like some sort of mechanics to measure the "destiny" or whatever that brings the characters together, but that just seems weird.  And by quantifying it, it makes it seem less important.  

Another option was not to have any "worldly" aspects of character generation, so characters did not worry about wealth, contacts, influence, bases, etc as part of character creation.   Instead that was all done with the group, though each resource had one character who could use it most effectively and that is the character that brings that resource to the group.  So the group could invest in followers to represent an army (which the Templar is better at leading since they were his army before he joined the PCs), a wide network of contacts (who respond best to the Dominican since he set it up years ago), etc.  The Dominican could order the army around, it just wouldn't be as effective as the Templar doing it as the army does not know him as well.  

A third option is say screw it, build an organization and figure out how your characters work within it.  

Other ideas welcome.  Next post will be about the system ideas so far for GodWar, which will be interesting since I'm trying to do it using tarot cards. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back from the Dead

So Shadows of Azathoth started out as a freelance game project that I was working on for a company but ended up bowing out of because I couldn't write the game I needed to write.  I could write an awesome game, but it wasn't what the assignment was about, so I gave the company what I had written and wished them good luck with the project.  I hadn't heard anything in awhile on it so I thought it was probably dead, thus freeing up the name, but I found out this evening not only is it continuing but they want me to be involved in the project still.  So my pet project Shadows Azathoth is probably going to get a new name and get shelved until the original project that spawned it is released so there is no idea contamination. 

Human or not to Human Addendum: What is human?

In the earlier discussion I forgot to mention some games that I think pose particularly interesting questions about race (or more accurately identity), which I find to be fascinating.  In recent years we've seen the rise of transhuman science fiction where the body becomes nothing more than an interchangeable shell to contain consciousness.  This idea has led to what I think are role playing games with the most fascinating choices of race (or at least physical form); games where race is a in character choice. 

The first major transhuman rpg I know of is GURPS Transhuman Space, which is a fantastic setting of hard science, memetic warfare, and advanced genetics.  For my money though Eclipse Phase is the better role playing game because it asks more interesting questions and is more playable.  While Transhuman Space is great it does not provide easy answers to the age old question of "So what do the players do?"  while Eclipse Phase provides a built in campaign structure as agents of Firewall (a freelance world saving organization ala Global Frequency).  So I'll mainly talk about Eclipse Phase in this post.

Eclipse Phase I find to be fascinating on a number of fronts but the two that are pertinent here are these:
  • When you can change your body like you change clothes what does it mean to be human?  If you're a human mind in a robot, a body of a different sex, or a genetically uplifted octopus are you really the same person?  It is a game where race is transitory in such a way that makes you question what exactly it is to be of a species or race when the body of that species or race is removed.  This is fascinating to me.  Eclipse Phase assumes a lot of mental fortitude when it comes to changing bodies and that human consciousness could adjust to such changes relatively easily, but it does pose a lot of questions about what it means to be human.  There are those who take this ability to the limit, trying to become the ultimate predator or harness mental power beyond that of mortal man such that they completely reengineer their bodies.  Are they still human?
  • In addition to the various human sleeves (slang for bodies) there are aliens in Eclipse Phase, but they are not PC aliens.  They are too weird to be PC aliens.  They're effectively large mobile single celled organisms that communicate via smell and are supremely weird.  They're effectively unplayable they are so weird, but in the setting it works amazingly well.  They are a vast mystery that humans just don't get, and the feeling is reciprocated.  
So in effect you get a setting where all the PCs are human, but at the same time none of them are human.  It's a really fascinating premise.  

Pile on top of that the idea of a post scarcity economy and you get what is really one of the most thought provoking role playing games of the last decade.  Though I do wish the system was a bit smoother.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Humans? HUMANS? We don't need no stinking humans!?!?!?!?!?

So a discussion has been going around my circle of friends blogs (Harbinger, Wombat Warlord, Kainenchen,
Samhaine) about the pluses and minuses of game settings with and without humans with various and well thought opinions being given on both sides. Work has been keeping me pretty busy lately, so it's taken me awhile to get all my ideas down.

The main discussion seems to be about is it a good idea to include humans so people have a familiar race in the setting, or should they be skipped over in order to make a setting really interesting and different.  Humans are often the most boring out of the races in a setting, and tend to be either the oppressive masses, the up and coming race to beat, or the race that wins through adaptability.  The conversation has been very interesting thus far and while I had some conversations in person about it, I feel I've had more thoughts on the subject since then and should elaborate.

I initially was on the side of including humans in order to give the players something familiar to identify, but I've actually revised that after giving more thought to it.  My end result is that the inclusion or exclusion of humans in a game is ultimately secondary compared to how the world is implemented.  In my recent move I've looked through a lot for RPGs I haven't looked at in a good while and it gave me some food for thought and I thought I would use those games for examples as to my train of thought.

Song of Ice and Fire: This game has only humans, but is a very well realized world that honestly would probably be weaker for the inclusion of non-human options for characters.  Pendragon is sort of the same thing.  In these games it is vital that everyone be human since so much of the conflict in the game comes from struggling against alien "others" and, if you or one of your comrades was part of this other, it changes the whole tone of the game.  A Song of Ice and Fire game that included one of the forest spirits as a PC is pretty much at that point some other game.  These games to me are representative of human-centric games done right. 

Mechanical Dream: This game has all non-human races in a setting that is completely different that anything in the real world.  All races have to eat weird magic fruit that grows underground.  Cities are built in massive five mile tall trees connected by roads on top of mile high walls.  The game is completely crazy, and in my eyes almost unplayable because of it.  There is nothing familiar anywhere in it, and I think it is weaker for it.  I would say it is borderline unplayable since you have to read the entire book to get an idea of how the world is supposed to work.

Star Wars: You can easily run a Star Wars game without humans (most of mine have not had human characters), but this largely is because the non-human cultures aren't that different from the human cultures.  Star Wars is sort of a sci-fi melting plot where humans are nothing special for the most part, except that they run the Empire.  Star Trek is sort of similar to this, but with more distinct non-human cultures and less melting pot. 

At the same time there are games where the "include human/not include human" question is not important. The game I wrote years ago about playing toys had no human player characters (instead humans were almost environmental conditions since you had to avoid their attention to be able to move) because it would make no sense.  So I guess for me the presence of human as player characters is ultimately unimportant to me as long as the world is accessible.  The fact that so many known properties that developed outside games are listed above I think is a demonstration of this; it can be a lot easier to get players to understand a game world if you can point them at a television show or movie as opposed to asking them to read several hundred pages of text (especially if you only have one or two copies of the game book for the entire group). 

So my end result is I want a setting that is accessible to players with a minimum of time investment.  That can include a wide variety of things depending on how well the game is put together, explains its setting, and how familiar its setting based on previously exposure.  I'm not much of a fan of settings that require lots of investment of time to get going.  This is why the games I tend to work on these days for my own projects tend to have very little setting info to communicate to the players beforehand. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gaming at work

So at my new day job I've been thinking of running some manner of table top game as a way to meet people in the office while also hopefully spending some time with those people I do already know.  The question is what do I want to run.  I've got a good number of options, which is the problem really: too many options.  I want a game that has the following elements:
  • Low barrier to entry.  Something people can pick up and play quick.
  • Light rules overall with some focus on action.  Everything I run becomes sort of pulp action, so a game that's already there may be better.
  • Some manner of group character or communal advancement, ala Song of Ice and Fire, Reign, etc.  I'm looking for something with more meat to it than the city creation system of Dresden Files.  
  • Something mechanically interesting to me.  
My main contenders currently are:
  • Shadows of Azathoth.  Fits all the above, but isn't written fully.  Also needs a lot of rework.
  • Song of Ice and Fire in some other setting.  Maybe rejigger it for a post-apocalyptic setting.  Or I could use the Reign rules, they have less granularity in what the group character represents but a lot more you can do with it. This in some ways is the least mechanically interesting, but would mean the least design work (which is a good and bad thing). 
  • GodWar, my Renaissance occult superheroes game, but it lacks the group character option.  I could try and design one in.  This, like Shadows of Azathoth, would require a lot of rework.  
  • Some manner of Western Marches campaign using WFRP 3rd edition, which would require buying some additional dice and possibly the new rule books since they seem better organized.  It would also require the creation of some manner of group character mechanic since the group sheet mechanic is pretty minimal.  I was thinking of some system where the players can upgrade the town they are based out of over time.  This may have to be eliminated due to the easy to pick up option as its not easy in my experience.  Not that the system is hard, just really really different.
Last Knights of Camelot isn't on the list as THE Ian Lemke may be playing, and I don't think he'll go for the robots and I don't feel confident in doing an Arthruian genre game that he would enjoy since that's sort of his thing.  Americana needs way to much work to consider. Also willing to look at other options. 

Friday, February 4, 2011


This is my new game design blog where I hope to get some of the ideas bouncing around in my head down in text.  It will mainly serve as a place to write down text on the various game and fiction projects I am tinkering with both to get them down and to get feedback.  There will also be the occasional game theory post. 

So the main projects that will be discussed here:
  • Shadows of Azathoth: My Lovecraftian space horror rpg project.  The players are marines long over due sent on mission after mission without rest, resupply, or word from command, their ship their only haven in a universe that has suddenly gone mad.  Communal character is the ship (and the AI that runs it) that the players build together. 
  • The Last Knights of Camelot: A rpg about a post-apocalyptic retelling of the King Arthur story with giant robots.  Players play knights (who drive giant robots), squires (who fix giant robots), wizards, druids, etc with each group's giant robot serving as the communal character for the group (i.e. each player gets to chose some aspects for the robot at character creation based on their character type and gets to make certain rolls when it is in combat). 
  • Americana: An rpg about mythological American archetypes. Each region of the world is a different period of American history, though all with a supernatural bent.  So you have the American Revolution region where the British also wanted to take North American's spell component resources, massive smog clouded Industrial cities of the 1920s where the machines threaten to take over the lives of the workers, etc. It'll have some manner of communal character, but not sure what it is yet. 
  • Soul of a Nation: A novel about a park ranger and secret service agent fighting the supernatural around Washington DC.  
  • GodWar: Renaissance occult high power game about fighting off the invasion of Earth by Lucifer's army (which has already taken Heaven).  Characters are things like kabbalist mages, clockwork engineers trained by Da Vinci, downcast angels, Templars empowered by the Holy Grail, etc.  Sort of an alternate history game where everything is more awesome.  
  • Whatever other game ideas I come up with.