Thursday, May 16, 2013

RPG Musings: Setting and Mechanics

There is an interesting aspect of rpg design which I've only recently begun to contemplate: the connection between setting and mechanics.  You'll notice that many games keep the mechanics and the setting separate.  These games sell themselves on their generic qualities.  GURPS is the most extreme version of these sorts of games.  Sure, in these types of games if it is a fantasy game there might be rules for magic or whatever, but the magic rules are often rather vanilla giving no particular flavor or uniqueness to the setting.  It could be any standard fantasy world.  There are advantages to this approach as many players and GMs do NOT want the setting that the game has supplied to them.  They'd prefer to make up their own setting.  I must confess this has almost always been my feeling about games.  I was much more interested in what I had in my head than what the game's author was trying to get across to me.

This feeling so predominates in the rpg field that it is a real consideration whether to include a default setting in your game or not.  Many of my favorite games do not include a baked in setting.  There are exceptions: Pendragon, Empire of the Petal Throne, Talislanta, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay all contain very definite settings that I'd be more than reluctant to lose.  Removing the setting from these games would lead me to ask the question: what is the point now?  The setting in those games, for me anyway, IS the whole point.  This isn't to say you shouldn't imaginatively own the setting and make it yours--that is, in my opinion, absolutely essential for satisfying play to happen.  My Arthurian Britain is not going not look like yours.  My Tekumel is not going to be Prof. Barker's Tekumel.  That's as it should be with a good rpg setting.  The designer has, hopefully, left plenty of white space for you to fill in.  When companies tried to more tightly control their campaign worlds, we saw the late eighties and nineties explosion of books with the setting "metaplot."  To get the "real" setting required that you also purchase the latest product.  Both the indie gaming scene and the OSR have eschewed this approach, as they rightly saw that these sorts of practices were both an unsustainable business model and actually toxic to the health of the RPG hobby itself.

I think many different approaches can work when you're dealing with setting.  The question is really: what is your ultimate design goal here?  The setting might be deep and exceedingly detailed or it might have just a light touch--where the game approaches being generic, but it doesn't really go all the way.

Do you like when games provide setting, or do you like to make it up yourself?  Or are you somewhere between?  Or does it depend on the game you're playing?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fantasy RPG Design Draft Update

A Grim world of Perilous Game Design:

Okay, so I've got around twelve pages of a design draft for this thing I've been tinkering with.  Right now, it is a bit of a Frankengame (see here), but I keep drifting things so that (hopefully) I end up with something that isn't totally derivative.  That said, I'm also not trying to reinvent the wheel with this game--it is both mechanically and content wise a homage to those games of the past that I have loved.  It just brews them into a slightly different package.  I've no illusions that the world wants or needs ANOTHER fantasy roleplaying game, but I've always wanted to do this for my own satisfaction.  So far it has been fun.  The pain will come later I suspect.  So, what's next?

Once, I do another pass or two on the design draft my next goal would be to play the game to see how it runs.  I'll post about that after it happens, but it may be a while as my group is finishing up this fifteen month Amber campaign that we've been playing.  After I play the game, I have to do some serious thinking about where I'd like to go next.  Do I try to develop this into a coherent game text?  Doing so would mean some serious writing as I could see the design draft expanding to eighty or a hundred pages once everything is explained so that other people could play and run the game.

One of the other things I do want to include is some kind of beastiary, but I haven't even turned my mind to that yet.

There will be a setting in the game, but it is my intention that as with Chaosium's Runequest the game could easily be adapted to your own dark fantasy campaign world.  The world right now is a mix of old school Warhammer, Ravenloft, A Song of Ice and Fire, and real world gritty medieval.  However, the imagined playstyle the game supports is a semi-sandbox that the players can wander around in, and there will be concrete advice on how to set up this up.  When I say semi-sandbox I mean that the map space the characters wander around in will have opportunities for the characters to use their skills, attain a bit of gold, and even achieve personal goals--it isn't exactly the pure sandbox of old school D&D, but it is a close relative.  I'm not interested in a "missions" or railroads as that's not usually a playstyle I particularly enjoy (Uther-period Pendragon being a notable exception).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Awesome Comic Books Artists Drawing Stuff on a French TV Show from the 70s

 Here are some of the best comic book artists ever on a French TV show where they collaborate on a drawing.  

In this one Druillet amazes me as always with what pours out of his pen.  Hogarth is wonderful, and who can resist John Buscema drawing Norrin Radd??

 I've always loved Moebius and Neil Adams, but it was Joe Kubert who blew me away here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In the Weeds of Game Design

I've been working on my previously mentioned and untitled Fantasy Roleplaying Game.  I'm well into the weed in a few areas, but I also have some really daunting work ahead of me.  Game design is a bizarre and sometimes painful process.  As was indicated in my last post, the game is definitely heading in an old school simulationist direction right now.  It feels to me like an unholy combination of Runequest, Top Secret/SI, AD&D 1e, Rolemaster, Stormbringer, and Palladium Fantasy.  I've also stolen a few "new school" ideas from games like Burning Wheel (which I feel like a spiritual successor to some of the games above).

Right now there are sixteen professions and working through those is taking longer than I thought.

And the magic system is a bit of a mess right now.

And so it goes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Simulations & Dragons (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and do my own Fantasy Heartbreaker)

There is an ancient tradition of people trying to do the their own Fantasy Roleplaying Games.  For much of the early years of our hobby this consisted of people trying to do D&D "right" or more even "realistically."  Examples of this particular design path include games like: Runequest, Chivalry & Sorcery, Harnmaster, Palladium Fantasy (1st Edition), Rolemaster, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and many others.  Even my beloved AD&D 1st Edition can be seen as an outgrowth of this impulse in response to the original 1974 D&D Boxed set.  I've always been attracted to these more complex games, and the idea of simulating in great detail my own fantasy characters and the kingdom they live in has always been a powerful draw for me.

To that end, I've started tinkering with my own game system that definitely draws inspiration from these types of games.  Right now it consistes of a mass of notes in a notebook, but it's edging up on eight or nine pages of rough notes right now.  I've no intention of publishing this for sale, but maybe I'll make it available as a free pdf eventually, and I don't really know where this is going though.  Conceivable, I could wake up tomorrow and decide this is a terrible idea.

Right now I'm excited about though.  I'll post more about it if I continue to make progress. 

Old school simulationists unite!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heritage's Knights & Magick now available from The Gaming Gang

Heritage Model's Paint and Play sets Caverns of Doom and Crypt of the Sorcerer were formative games in my introduction to the hobby.  A friend of mine got Caverns of Doom the same Christmas I received the Moldvay Basic Set.  A few years ago, I got interested in trying to track down copies of the games and while I did manage to locate the rules--alas, I don't own the actual miniatures that came with them.  In the process of all this, I remembered seeing ads for other miniature sets Heritage produced like Merlin (which written written by Greg Stafford) and Knights of King Arthur.  However, I also learned that Heritage had produced a more extensive miniatures rule set called Knights and Magick.  Now I've always been interested in minis, but I didn't really own any until I started buying D&D Plastic minis a few years ago.

Despite this lack of real metal minis I became really intrigued by this little rule set.  I realized that I really wanted to check it out, but sets of this game were pretty pricey on the secondary market.  One of the issues surrounding the game was figuring out who actually owned the Knights and Magick IP.  Heritage Models went into bankruptcy in the mid 1980s, and their miniature lines were sold off to a number of companies (including Reaper).  Apparently, what happened is that Heritage didn't bother to sell the rights to the rules of Knights and Magick to anybody!  That means that the only people who could claim rights to the game was Heritage Models, and they no longer existed as an entity.

Enter the guys over at the Gaming Gang podcast who spent some time talking to Heritage's former IP holders and asking them if they minded if they went ahead and made the Knights and Magick rules available again.  Nobody seemed to care, so they've taken the plunge.

So Knight and Magick is now available as a PDF for $12.95.  They also have physical copies available from Lulu.  Moreover, they're planning on producing a new edition of the game later this year!

Check out their pages:

and here:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Adjudicating Combat in OD&D

The apparent lack of an initiative system in OD&D is something that I've been thinking about recently.  This might be obvious stuff to seasoned OD&D players, but my perspective on this has shifted a bit recently.  I think I was looking at the game too firmly through the lens of what came later--rather than seeing what may be suggested by the rulebooks themselves.  So here’s my thoughts on OD&D and Combat.

We can see that various later editions tried to deal with this issue by instituting various solutions such as tracking initiative by Dexterity rating (Holmes) or by rolling a d6 (AD&D, Moldvay).  Both of these approaches can be extrapolated from Men & Magic.

However--the whole point of the referee is to adjudicate these kinds of situations!  So with that in mind:

First, the referee looks at situational factors like surprise.  Does it seem likely that any of the participants are surprised?  Is there a chance that the PCs may be alerted in some way?  How do we determine this?  The referee adjudicates the situation FAIRLY based on situational factors.  That is, I think, the default system implied by the OD&D rulebooks.

Second, assuming that combat has been joined--what happens next?  Who goes first?  Well how fast and skilled are the PCs?  (this is where Dex becomes a factor as it indicates in Men & Magic)  Are there other factors that need to be accounted for?  If the PCs are heavily armored Dwarves using heavy axes fighting a group of Orcs wearing leather armor and armed with lighter short swords and crossbows--might the Orcs gain initiative?  Or what if one the players is so quickly decisive that she immediately declares that her PC is charging the Orcs and yelling the ancient battle cry of the Dwarves?  Might this PC gain initiative before the Orcs even if the other Dwarves do not?

Other factors such as weapon reach etc. can also be factored in through adjudication.

If it looks like it’s a too close to call--you can always fall back on the d6 as a "tie-breaker" as Holmes suggests.

Other factors such as additional strikes (ripostes etc.) can be adjudicated as well.  In this regard I'd use Chainmail as a guideline as to situational factors that might play into this.

The referee or the players makes attack rolls as usual with the DM adjudicating the effectiveness of hits etc.  Use d6 or variable damage here as you will.  One of the main jobs of the referee here is to make combat vivid and exciting.  Don't just drone on about hit points lost--give us some real description of what's happening!  D&D combat is very abstract, and it is up to the referee here to make it sing.  Season with whatever level of gore you and your players are comfortable with.  Bad things happen when people hit each other with sharp pieces of metal!

This approach really comes out of OD&D's wargame roots but it also veers close to what's today called "freeform."  The referee has as many tools as they want here.  Lots of folks might feel like they're flying without the net of the rules here--to that I say: Welcome to OD&D!

Lots of folks have obviously seen the advantages to this approach which was lost to one degree or another in all later iterations of the game.  Indeed, so many people complained about this to TSR that they felt they needed a more solid rules based edition that didn’t leave so much to the referee.  Thus Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was born.  I love AD&D but there’s something very freeing in all the open spaces of OD&D.