Showing posts with label Indie Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indie Games. Show all posts

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wildlings Does a Lot with Very Little, but Could Do More. #RPGaDay2017 Day 21

Day 20 -- What RPG Does the Most with the Least Words?

I've played a lot of role playing games over the years and am always on the lookout for a game that can combine setting, rules, and accessibility in a manner that can be picked up and played within 10 minutes of starting to read the game. It's one of the great curses of some excellent role playing games that they require hours of homework, if not weeks, before one can fully understand the setting and rules sufficiently to play a game.

Take Runequest for example. The game's basic mechanic is very intuitive. Ray Turney and Steve Perrin were quite smart to have basic skill and combat rolls be based on percentile rolls. While it may take a moment to describe how to read percentile dice, most people understand the sentence "You have a 78% chance to hit it." It means what it means and it's very clear. The Battle Magic, Rune Magic, Rank/Intiative system, and the Glorantha setting, take a little bit longer to understand. Add to that the fact that your 78% chance to hit isn't really a 78% chance to hit, it's a 78% to hit them if they fail their parry or dodge roll, and you add some non-intuitive elements to the system. Though those elements can add to the realism of game play.

On the other end of the spectrum is Champions. While it uses six-sided dice for its randomizer, the system isn't intuitive. To hit someone, you have to know your Offensive Combat Value (determined by dividing your DEX by 3 and adding modifiers for maneuvers and "combat levels") and add that number to 11. You then subtract your opponent's Defensive Combat Value (determined by their DEX divided by 3 and modified by past combat maneuvers and "combat levels"). You then need to roll this number or less on a roll of 3 six-sided dice. Never mind the complicated system, though it elegantly incorporates the "parry" and "dodge" rolls of a Runequest style game into one roll, what's not intuitive here is that most people don't know what the odds of rolling a 14 or less are off the top of their head (it's about 90.72%). Add to this a character creation system that is a tremendous amount of fun, but takes a lot of homework and practice to get familiar with, and you don't have a pick up and play game.

jim pinto (he uses lower case) has designed a number of games intended to be pick up and play in his GMZero and Protocol series of games. There are some great entries in this series, and I almost picked them as my selection for today's post. I highly recommend The Death of Ulfstater and Home. These games provide enough background detail to launch a rich and interesting game and have a pretty quick to learn system that is easy enough that it expects everyone to take a "director" moment in game play.

But my pick for this week is John Harper's very interesting proto-game The Wildlings. In very few words John Harper perfectly captures the setting:

You Have Been Chosen
The men and women warriors of your clan are far away
across the dark sea, raiding. You are a young warrior—a
Wildling—not yet tested in the Trials.
Two nights ago, a foul thing crept from the ruins beyond
the old forest into the village and carried away two sheep,
a barrel of lard, and a small child: Rylka, daughter of Yuri
Red Hand.
The wise women have met in council and decreed that
something must be done. The People of the Stone Spire are
not to be preyed upon. Though the child might be eaten
by now, a rescue must nevertheless be undertaken.
You have been chosen for this task. Take up your arms and
steel your courage. The time has come to do your duty.
You know exactly what is going on and what your supposed to do. It's three short paragraphs, but it frames a society and and adventure. Very elegant. The rules are also equally easy to learn and adapt and are narrative in form. The more successful you are, the more positive adjectives you get to add to your action.

But...there is one problem. Without StupidGremlin's expansion of the rules, it isn't quite playable out of the box. An experienced GM can run it out of Harper's player's kit pdf, but an inexperienced one is left with no aid on how to resolve conflicts other than the adjectives. How much must a player succeed by to "win" at a conflict. With the tightness of the earlier prose, I'm pretty sure that John could have done it in two pages or less, and with great graphic design.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Game Mastering Advice from AT&T...Yes, AT&T

I am a big fan of the "interviewing the kids" ad campaign being run by AT&T. Actor Beck Bennett does a great job of interacting with the kids in these largely unscripted videos. Bennett gives the young actors prompts and then responds in humorous fashion. Watching the Wildcard NFL games today, I have seen a great deal of the "Pool" episode and it hit me how perfect this is as an instructional tool for Game Masters everywhere. GMs are often afraid of the indie "just say yes" mantra, but this is the kind of magic you get when you follow it.

That's right, Dinosaurs who can transform into robots who Karate chop the water. If your games aren't featuring moments that awesome, then you might take a cue from Beck and just let your player's imaginations flow.

I also think that Beck would be an ideal GM for introducing gaming to younger kids.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Twin Suns Entertainment and the Fourth Generation of RPGs

In 1993, Mike Pondsmith of R. Talsorian Games provided an answer regarding what he thought the "Future of Gaming" would be.  Pondsmith is a designer who has often been ahead of his time conceptually, and this was no exception.

His answer to the question was interesting.  It wasn't a "new game that would change the future of RPGs!" or "The greatest roleplaying game ever!"  Those are marketing-speak used to promote existing games -- some of them quite good -- but they aren't the future of gaming.

According to Pondsmith, "a revolution in roleplaying games is coming.  It's sneaking up on us on little flat feet, but it's coming."  What was this revolution going to be?  It was going to be what Pondsmith termed the 4th Generation game. 

First Generation Games were the original games that descended from wargames.

Second Generation Games were more systems based and about sophisticated mechanics. 

The Third Generation was about genre.

Each of these generations provided the community with excellent games.

But the Fourth Generation wasn't about design, mechanics, or genre, it was about POPULAR CULTURE.

Fourth Generation games would "generate crossmarketing" be "recognized as legitimate media" and would become a part of the general cultural background.  They would be games designed to do this, either through the use of public education or expanding media. 

Pondsmith provided more criteria, and I will blog about 4th Generation Games here on my Cinerati blog soon, but it is an inspiring read.  And I think that Pondsmith was spot on in his analysis, just DECADES ahead of his time.

We can already see designers and companies attempting to move into the Fourth Generation. 

These games are all evidence that the revolution is happening.
Role Playing Games are finding their way back into popular culture, and without the need of scandal to fuel the surge.

My partners and I created Twin Suns Entertainment to be a part of this Revolution.  It is our goal to work with the other companies to expand gaming communities and to promote the hobby by making the best games we can make.

Join us as we attempt to join the companies named above -- and others -- in creating the Fourth Generation of role playing games.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The "Old School Revival" Makes Me Want to Go "Really Old School"

Over the past decade, in the shadow of WotC's Open Gaming License, there has been an explosion of DIY game design devoted to making new role playing game products inspired by and/or compatible with early editions of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Some of the games are merely trying to capture the "feel" of the old games and recapture some of the game playing nostalgia of the author's youth, others are attempts to fuse new design techniques with the simple ability to inspire the old games possessed.

This "movement" in itself is reminiscent of the nascent days of the role playing game industry when people were writing rpgs out of their basements, garages, and living rooms and didn't worry about getting enough revenue (either venture capital or revenue based on money received as compensation for selling a successful game company to a larger game company) to publish a "slick" product. Companies like Judge's Guild were in the marketplace selling creative, if not sufficiently edited, products that built on the excitement of a new hobby -- a hobby were game creation was "fun" and not so market driven.

It's fun reading the various Old School Revolution blogs like Greyhawk Grognard and Grognardia, or visiting the Dragonsfoot website. I've been so caught up by the OSR fever, that I purchased on of the Swords and Wizardry White Box boxed sets.

I manage to balance my RPG "news/study" time between keeping up with what's going on in the "Indie Narrative Gaming Verse," the OSR, and the modern industry fairly well. In fact, I'm proud of my ability to navigate through these three -- often very different -- waters. I am a proponent of the OSR, the narrative indie, and the ultra-corporate game. I will evangelize the wonders of My Life with Master at the same time as expounding the virtues of the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

I was reading one of the OSR websites the other day and read the a statement similar to the following. "Why are we writing 'updates' or 'nostagia' versions rather than playing the actual old rules sets?" I don't remember where I read that, and the wording was different, but it got me thinking. I think there are a couple of answers.

First, those who think that "unsupported is dead" is nonsense, are delusional. Unsupported is certainly dead from a retailers point of view, they can't sell a product that isn't supported beyond a certain terminal limit. Unsupported is also dead from a consumer point of view. How many people are still running their first D&D campaign using only the Chainmail rules and the Little Brown Books? Not many. You can only read these books a certain number of times before you have memorized them. You can certainly expand on these books with house rules, and the games don't "require" more than these books to play, but gaming is a social endeavor. As such, gamers like to hear other gamers' ideas -- even if they don't/won't use them. Role playing games are about dialog. Dialog between the DM and Players, dialog between DM and manufacturer, and between DMs and other DMs. Some of this dialog breaks down when a game is no longer supported in its existing form. Thankfully, the internet -- and the Open Gaming License -- allows almost anyone to become the "manufacturer" (within the limits of the OGL). This is where the OSR shines, it restores the interaction between manufacturer and DM/Gamer. Dialog feeds creativity, silence starves it. When a publisher supports a game with printed material, they are participating in the dialog. When they stop the dialog has traditionally narrowed, but the OGL allows for a continuation of the game dialog that didn't exist before.

But and expansion of "manufacturers" means an expansion of published ideas of what the game is at its core. This requires new editions/rules sets. Which leads to my second point. The new creators are creative and want to leave their mark on the hobby, this is a good thing -- but it takes us away from the original rules.

Lastly, the Chainmail rule book and original Little Brown Books of D&D are not very clear when it comes to explaining the game and how to play it. I cut my role playing gamer teeth on the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert editions of the D&D role playing game. These sets had artwork by Jeff Dee, Erol Otis, and Bill Willingham that was the perfect combination of cartoony and fantastic to inspire my young imagination. They also had clearly written and easy to understand descriptions of how to play the game. If I didn't have the mental structure created by years of playing these, and later editions, of D&D -- and a good deal of Warhammer -- I would not be able to play D&D based on the "first four" books without doing some significant design work on my own. When one reads the original books, it becomes readily apparent why Ken St. Andre quickly drafted his own rpg Tunnels and Trolls as a response. Original D&D is difficult to understand, and newer rulebooks written more clearly -- like the Moldvay/Cook edition or the Holmes edition -- are still a much needed commodity. This is true even if your intention is to play Original D&D, especially true of you want to bring new gamers into the hobby.

This rant/ramble has inspired me to do something. It has been a while since I read Chainmail and the Little Brown Books. I think I want to see if I can read them, "understand" them, and present them in a clearer format. Over the next few months, I will be attempting to create a Beginner's version of the first role playing game. I don't think I'll publish it online or anything, though I'll likely share it if I am satisfied with it. I will try to create the game as it is "described" and not as I "now know" how it is played. I'll start with Chainmail and then work my way up.

I think I'll call the series, "How to play..."

Oh, and don't worry, I will get back to Northwest Smith later this week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Game Review: The Supercrew by Tobias Radesaeter

Every now and then, there comes along a product that manages to simultaneously appeal to several of my obsessions. The Supercrew roleplaying game by Tobias Radesaeter is one of those products. The game combines my interest with the indie game movement with my obsessive need to own every superhero roleplaying game ever published. As numerous re-reads of Superhero 2044 prove to me time and time again, the targets of my obsession do not always lead to enjoyable (or even understandable in the case of 2044) experiences.

The superhero genre features characters of near unlimited potential, and who possess a vast array of capabilities. Any game designed to emulate the feel of the source material faces a daunting challenge. How does one design a game that can simulate an almost infinite collection of powers and abilities, yet is also as fast and exciting as the source material being emulated? It's not easy to do, and it is one of the reasons that some successful superhero systems are also successful "universal" systems. For a while, it seemed as if all decent superhero systems were also universal systems. The indie game movement, with games like Capes, proved that being universal wasn't a necessary condition of a superhero game and that games could be designed based on emulating the feel of comics without granularly emulating the physics of them.

Games like Capes are a part of the narrative focused game design that influences a lot of what is going on the indie gaming community. Design choices in these games focuses more on how a particular mechanic can help to create a collaborative "playing story" rather than a quantified gaming representation of "reality." To be reductive for a moment, these games have a narrative rather than a gamist focus.

Supercrew takes a fairly strong narrativist approach to the superhero genre in it design choices, and even makes one small quip regarding gamist style games, and even presents its rules in a narrative format.

Supercrew's thirty-page booklet presents the games rules in a comic-book panel format. The first game to attempt this approach was the unplayable He-Man and the Masters of the Universe RPG by FASA. It's a novel approach to introducing roleplaying concepts and mechanics, and in the case of Supercrew is done in an effective manner. The rules are presented in a logical and engaging manner. They are also very easy to understand, making this game a potentially great introductory roleplaying game -- in addition to its potential use as a narrative rpg for experienced gamers.


Supercrew begins with an interesting premise as a game within a game. The central conceit of Supercrew is that all of the superheroes designed by the players are their own alter-egos. As the game explains it, "The players play super-powered versions of themselves. Each adventure starts with them playing a role-playing game when they hear about some kind of emergency they have to stop." You read that right. The players are playing characters who are playing a roleplaying game that gets interrupted and needs their superheroic intervention. When I first read that the players play versions of themselves, I was reminded of the character design system for the revised edition of Villains and Vigilantes so I didn't think Supercrew's approach was too novel. Then I read the sentence where the rules describe it as a game where the "characters" have shown up to play an rpg, only to have it interrupted, and a number of wonderful uses for this game popped to mind -- this is before I read a single rule.

Every group has players who show up late, or cannot make it to a particular session. If your group is playing in a long term campaign, you often don't want to continue the adventure without the player as it could make the player feel left out as their characters don't earn as many experience points or miss out on key plot points. You also have to consider the feelings of those players who did show up. They are there to have a good time and to play a game. If your group agrees to use Supercrew as the backup campaign, it's central conceit is perfect for these occasions. Let's say Jim doesn't show up to your regular D&D campaign. You begin the session as normal, "when we last left our heroes," but somewhere in the middle of the first encounter you do your best radio static impression and blurt out "News Alert! Baron Ravenblood and Persecutus are holding the city hostage threatening to destroy the Gas Company building unless the mayor wires $1 billion into their bank account by 3pm." The players grab their Supercrew character sheets, and their "characters" excuse themselves from the D&D game to fight for great justice!

Sounds like fun, but does the system work?


Characters in Supercrew are constructed using three main abilities and three tricks which are particular uses of these abilities. The powers are ranked from 3 - 1 in order of power. Three is the most powerful ability, two is the most frequently used ability, and 1 is the least powerful ability. It doesn't sound like a lot of powers to give a character, but it actuality this is a pretty robust system.

For example:

Christian wants to make a character based on everyone's favorite Flight, Invulnerability, and Super-Strength character. To avoid copyright attorneys suing his game group, he decides to name the character Superior! He give the character the following powers Heat Vision, Inert_Gas-ian Physique, and Flight. He states that Heat Vision is Superior!'s most potent ability (as is often described regarding our favoring FISS character, though rarely believed) at rating 3. Inert_Gas-ian Physique, Superior!'s most frequently used power, is given a rating of 2. Finally, Christian gives Flight a rating of 1.

Inert_Gas-ian Physique is a broad descriptor that encompasses super-strength, super-speed, x-ray vision, super-breath, and invulnerability. There is no reason to quantify each individual power, as would be done in more granular systems, since the broad descriptor's effectiveness is determined by the associated rating.

The effects of powers are determined by the roll of ordinary six-sided dice. The player rolls a number of dice equal to the abilities rating. Those dice that have a result of 4 or greater are considered successes, lower results are considered failures. This is a system similar in basic structure to Burning Wheel or White Wolf's World of Darkness systems where pools of dice are rolled and successes counted based on the results of individual dice.

The game enforces the use of ineffective powers, and limits the usage of the most potent powers, by requiring that heroes spend "hero points" in order to activate the rank 3 power. The only way to acquire hero points is to either use your rank 1 power or to be knocked unconscious in a battle. Each of these gives the character a hero point that may be spent later to activate rank 3 powers. This is an elegant design choice that undermines overt power-gaming where players would minimize/maximize abilities to tweak a game system in their favor and hold more "power" than other gamers. In this system, that is relatively impossible. Even if the player chooses a broad ability descriptor, like Superior!, since how an ability is used is determined when the player's describe what they are doing the broad descriptor is no more useful than the narrow one. After all, the Shade Knight can apply his "Keen Intellect" descriptor just as broadly as Superior!'s Inert-Gas-ian Physique.

For any given task, the Game Master sets a success threshold. The individual character can only contribute toward passing that threshold, once per round -- or once per task for certain tasks. Teams must work together to succeed at fighting earthquakes and burning buildings.

In combat, and in other situations, the player first states what ability they wish to use. They do not describe how the power is used, or its effects, until the number of successes achieved is known. In a recent post discussing the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin, I discussed how I liked how Dragon Age's stunt system allowed for more narrative combats. Supercrew's system is attempting a similar effect here, the benefits of "roll before you describe" are discussed at length in a recent GamePlayWright post. Once the player knows how many successes the character has achieved, and how many total successes are needed for an action, that player -- whether he completed the task or not -- describes what happens. This game is very much about the player, knowing the results, creating the narrative regarding how his/her character succeeded or failed. Typical of many modern narrative games, this player empowering approach can be disorienting or empowering depending on your group's preferred method of play.

The combat rules are an extension of the basic task resolution system, and the game provides some excellent examples of how they would represent villains, groups of thugs, or hazardous events like building fires.

The system looks like it works and it looks fun. Simple but able to simulate a broad array of activities, what designers often call "robust."


I have two major, and one minor, criticisms of Supercrew.

While the game provides some examples of how they would represent villains, thugs, and hazards, the game provides not guidelines or benchmarks to help the game master. Experienced game masters may not technically need these in order to run a game, but they would be exceedingly helpful. This is an even larger flaw when considering the fledgling game master. The games rules and concepts are perfect for the new gamer, in addition to the experienced gamer, but the new gamer needs more assistance when creating opponents for their players. Some comments regarding balancing encounters, more than just the examples, would have been greatly appreciated.

The game also lacks any real online support, which is tragic as the game deserves more. The rule book says to visit the Kaleidoskop site for character sheets etc., but the page listed gives a 404 error (in Swedish) and searching through the site doesn't seem to reveal any game aids in the Swedish parts of the site either. Thankfully, Christopher B at A Rust Monster Ate My Sword has designed an excellent character sheet for use in the game.

Lastly, and this is a minor quibble, the game's prose isn't quite funny enough. I would have liked more jokes. Given the entertaining cartoony art in the rulebook, some more jokes would have been appreciated. Maybe it's just the translation that lacks the humor, but I'd have liked more.

In conclusion, I think that this is an excellent game at a reasonable price. It isn't likely to replace Savage Worlds' Necessary Evil campaign in my game rotation any time soon, but I think I'll be trying to fit it in when some players don't show up for our regular sessions.

I wish some of the early professional efforts where as clearly explained and thought out as this gem.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Remembering World War II -- Playing a Game to Better Understand the Terror of War

On September 1, 1939 the German army invaded Poland, an action which signaled the official beginning of the Second World War. A little more than a week before this invasion, on August 23rd 1939, the Soviet Union and the Nazis signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact -- also known as the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. In addition to articulating an agreement of non-agression, the Pact included terms for the territorial and political rearrangement of the countries of Eastern Europe. To quote the relevant articles:

Article I. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party.

Article II. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.

The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish States and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.

In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.

Article III. With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinteredness in these areas.

This agreement enabled the Nazis to invade Poland without fear of a Soviet reaction, so long as they kept to the pre-determined territorial rearrangements. The document's legacy extends beyond providing the Nazis the confidence to begin an attack against Poland, it created the basis for geographical lines and political struggles that would endure throughout the Cold War.

When one thinks of the Second World War, one often focuses on the struggles of the "Great Powers" engaged in the global conflict. There is a great abundance of historical resources available about the Battle of Stalingrad, The Battle of the Bulge, and the invasion at Normandy. What is often overlooked when remembering the Second World War are the struggles of weaker forces battling for independence from the larger powers. We don't often read about the Lithuanian June Uprising or the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. When it comes to games about the era, these events are almost completely overlooked. It is easy to find wargames covering The Battle of the Bulge. In fact, it is a joke that every wargame designer must at some time design a "Bulge Game" -- a fact that led Steve Jackson to design One Page Bulge. There are some excellent wargames covering the Battle of Stalingrad and the battles between the Nazis and Soviets on the Eastern Front. But even games that simulate battles on the smallest level, games like Squad Leader, often overlook these important struggles.

Thankfully, Jason Morningstar has written a game that powerfully captures the spirit of freedom and the tragic costs of war exemplified in these battles for liberation. Morningstar's Grey Ranks is a game that simulates the 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising -- in particular the actions of child soldiers. As Morningstar puts it:

In this game, you will assume the role of a young Polish partisan before, during, and after the disastrous 1944 Uprising against the Germans. Together with your friends, you'll create the story of a group of teens who fight to free their city, one of the countless Grey Ranks "crews" that take up arms. Your characters -- child soldiers -- will have all the faults and enthusiasms of youth. Across sixty days of armed rebellion, they will grow up fast -- or die.

The game uses a chapter structure which enforces an adherence to the real events of the uprising and which forces players to make increasingly difficult decisions. The game also includes several quotes from Hans Frank, the man who was the Governor General of occupied Poland. Grey Ranks is a narrative driven game system that creates powerful stories and focuses on an often overlooked part of the Second World War. Though the game focuses on the struggles of child soldiers during the 1944 Uprising, one can see how its system might be expanded to look at other similar struggles as well.

For a look at Lithuania's struggles, I recommend Darius Udrys' Road to Freedom (embedded below). His film covers more than the Second World War, but the multimedia presentation is worth the viewing.