Thursday, May 11, 2006

FilliN' Up: Situation Creation for OctaNe

[This is by no means an offical anything for OctaNe.]

So, you and yer buds wanna play a game of OctaNe, right? Well, yer gonna need some Rock'N'Roll. So, you guys all figger out what Rock'N'Roll song y'all like - it's gonna kinda be the basis of yer game, so make it a good one (hint: anything by Johnny Cash or Elvis is a rockin' default). So, y'alls siddown with a piece o paper and a pen, and y'all listen to this Rock'N'Roll song. Pay attention! and write down this stuff: the mood of the song; the style or genre of the song; individual words that stand out; lyrical phrases that stand out; what the song makes you think and feel. No talkin'!

Now, when the songs over (just listen the once), go through what y'alls wrote. The GM is gonna make a master list out of all yer lists. He'll go through each thing - for mood and style, yer all gonna agree on one thing. Everyone will say what they wrote, and y'all need to see which one you can agree on. The mood will be the mood of yer game - upbeat, trippy, grim, wutever. The style will be a broad thing that covers the stuff, the color of the game - country & western will have lots of cowboys and pickups, surf rock will have...surfing, space rock will have aliens and robots, and so on.

For the other stuff, the GM will add each entry to the master list, with the number of times it was on a list in descending order next to it. That doesn't make sense, so here's an example: if y'all have 4 people, and y'all each write "Cowboy", the GM will put "Cowboy 4 3 2 1" on his paper. If y'all have "Prison" on two lists, thats "Prison 2 1" and so on. The numbers are the number of uses each entry will get for the game.

So, when y'all are done, you'll have a list with the mood and style of yer game, and a number of words and phrase with numbers next to 'em.

Now, when you make yer characters for OctaNe, you can use any of the entries on the sheet as Skills, Gear or Description entries. If y'all do, the GM crosses off the highest number next to the entry, reducing it's uses by one. Y'all don't need to use the entries if you don't wanna.

In the game, all these things count as "call-ons." A player can use a call-on to give himself an extra dice for any roll. Make sure y'all know which dice is the call-on dice. Whoever narrates the roll has to incorporate the call-on into the result. So, if I use "Fulsom Prison" as a call-on, and I get to narrate, I might say how my characters experience in Folsom gave him a particular skill, or that he knows the drifter cuz they were in Folsom together, or wutever. The GM can use a call-on to incorporate that thing into his narration, and remove a dice from a players roll before you resolve a conflict roll.

[I need to reread OctaNe one more time, cuz I want to do something with whether the call-on dice rolls higher or lower than its uses remaining, but I dunno what will be good. Will update when I figure it out.]

Friday, April 07, 2006


Fluxx is a great mellow game. If you're not familiar, you start with a basic rule (draw 1 card, play 1 card), and you can play new rules (from drawing and playing more cards, to randomly playing cards, to getting bonus's for certain game conditions, and so forth) in addition to goals and the cards you need to fulfill the current goal and win the game. The problem with it is that playing it is way more fun than winning it. You only need a combination of three cards (in general) to win the game, and the chances of having the right three cards at any given time are fairly random. So play consists of playing crazy rules and shtuff, and then at some point someone will be all "I win!"

The issue, I think, is two-fold. First is that player skill has very little to do with who wins. The second is that there is no way to effect someone else on their turn in order to keep them from winning if they have the right cards. So, you have a situation where the stated goal of play (winning the game) is at odds with the fun part of the game (playing crazy rule combinations).

Lesson? The goal of play and the fun part of play should at least have synergy and feed into each other. Ability to affect each other on a strategic level is necessary for challenge.

I'm thinking of house-ruling (heh) and playing where you keep a goal when you win it, but the game continues until the last card is drawn, and the person with the most goals wins. I want to see if this makes it into a more fulfilling game for my play preferances.


So, I've played a couple of games with my house rules, and I do indeed find it more fun. The changes are as follows:

Play normally. When you would win the game, instead take that Goal and place it on your side, out of play. Continue playing normally. The game ends at the end of the turn in which the last card is drawn out of the deck. Whoever has the most Goals on their side wins. Break ties by number of Keepers, and then by cards in hand.

To avoid an "infinite deck" combo, the card that reshuffles the discard into the draw pile is placed out of play once it is played. Or, hell, keep it in and prepare to be in for the long haul.

Alternately, you reshuffle the deck as per normal when you run out, and you set a number of Goals (5 is good) that you need in order to win. Whoever wins that number of Goals first wins the game.

It's totally still not a serious strategy game, but it does give an element of player-vs-player challenge that I find engaging.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Noir Games?

I'm reading a book about the origins of film noir right now, and it got me to thinking two things. One, are there any Noir games out there? and Two, how would I approach a Noir game? If you know anything about the first, shout out. As for the second...

One of the cool things about Noir is how incredibly tightly the genre is bounded (aesthetically, technically, narratively) without creating cookie-cutter stories and characters. I can see a Noir game as a GM-less setup, probably for 2-4 players. There's a cast of main characters (the femme fatale, the antihero/protagonist, the unabashed criminal, the representative of the law) which are further defined in the beginning process. They are all co-owned, in that different people can play them in different scenes, but I think it would be worth it for each player to have final say over...something..for one character, mainly because of buy-in issues.

The characters move up and down on different scales, representing emotional connexion/distance to each other, as well as having a progressive measure for the macguffin (the big score, the discovery of the truth about the girl, whatever). I can definitely see a lot of Karma resolution here, with tight resources and consequences for the slighest screw-up.

To be really Noir, it also has MLWM-esque endgame conditions, but with pretty tight pre-determined events (getting gunned down, suicide and the like for the anti-hero, being betrayed and brought in, getting away with it, and the like for the femme fatale, etc). I'd have to watch more noir to really get this right.

This would also be a good scenario for my thoughts on 1-on-1 adversity, and maybe worth being the "default" for that kind of game.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Conflicts & Scenes

I have yet to see this in a game (though I'm sure it's out there, somewhere).

When I've played trad games without explicit scene-framing rules, I've noticed that theres little to no corrolation between scenes and conflicts. This is partly a function of task resolution systems (Storyteller, I'm looking at you...), and partly a function of there being no mechanical support for one way or the other.

Many Indie games, on the other hand, either call for or seem to imply one-conflict-per-scene play. Which is fine (it was my thought for Carry), but, in my head, is just starting to feel more and more stilted.

My thought: explicit mechanical support for seeding, entertwining and then resolving conflicts through a series of scenes. Something along the lines of a conflict pool that you can add and remove dice from depending on your characters stake in the conflict, which may not get resolved until many scenes after it begins.

F'rex: Jimmy and Danny are two sailors on a 16th century Ship of the Line. They run afoul of the mean-spirited Bosun (? i think). Jimmy's player seeds a conflict (writes down on a note card, or something) "embarrass the Bosun in front of the men." Danny's player seeds "get in Bosun's good graces." They both put some amount of dice on the conflict.

A couple scenes later, the situation comes up that Jimmy steals some grog, in order to bribe another sailor to help him set up the Bosun. Danny sees him, and reports him. Danny puts some more dice on his conflict, while Jimmy takes some off of his in order to seed "prevent Danny from becoming the Bosuns nark."

Whenever a player gets to a point that they think is appropriate for the conflict, or when they think they have enough dice, is when you actually do some rolling and resolve the conflict.

You could do all kinds of things with giving the right to call for resolution to different people around the table, as well as mechanical limits and rules for when and how dice are transferred. Also, lending (or stealing) dice to (from) others conflicts; people seeding conflicts for other people; and rollover from resolved conflicts into related ones.

I think this would be nice in terms of breaking conflicts out of the "one-roll" paradigm and enabling them to scale in terms of time and buildup, in addition to sheer mechanical size.

If there are examples of this kind of thing out there, shout out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Strength Of Concept

I'm thinking about this in context of using it for Imp.

So, when people make up a character, they naturally have cental things that are important to their concept for that character. Like, last time I played D&D, I wanted my fighter to have a terrible, mysterious curse. Now, I talked to the DM about it, and we pulled something together mechanically, but it's totally something that I can see being entirely in my head, and pulling it out at some point during the game, with no system support whatever. In a more pernicous form, this is the old my-guy-is-a-complete-badass problem with starting characters, where their chances for success are often low enough that the character that you envision as a complete badass fails at lots of things. Your image of the character is dissonant from how he actually plays.

I've been thinking about this solution: on your character sheet, you have a couple of different areas, Central; Important; and Interesting. As you may imagine, these mean "Central to my concept of this character," "Important to my concept of this character," and "Interesting but unnecessary part of my concept of this character." The first step of conflict resolution is Karma - compare whatever trait/s you are using. If one person is using a Central trait and the other isn't, the first wins without resorting to Fortune. If one is using Important and the other is using Interesting, the Important one gets a significant advantage to the Fortune resolution. If they are both using the same level, it goes to unmodified Fortune resolution.

I think there would also be a currency expenditure in there so that you can temporarily bump up to match the other person, if they have a higher trait then you. So there is room for underdogs.

Advantages: Flagging. It's all there on the character sheet, for everyone to see. Reduces handling time, as I envision people will tend to want to use their Central traits as often as possible.

Disadvantages: Easy to "game," I suppose. Flat-feeling resolution if you consistently face lower-trait opposition.

An interesting thing to add onto it, I think, would be something where only other people can decide if your play demonstrates a change form whats on your sheet. Like, Bob could look at Charlies sheet and be all "Dude, you haven't used "Hard Drinker" at all, and its in Central. I'm moving it to Interesting." In the context of Imp, this may very well be a power reserved for each characters Imp. Mmmm, I like that idea.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I know that people talk about it sometimes, but I have yet to see a game that allows for seamless zooming from one level of "character" to another. Which I think would be really interesting.

Take a medieval setting, divine right of kinds, all that good stuff. There are the following "levels" of character available: Human Being, Army, Country, God. They are linked thusly: A God bestows it's blessings on a Country, which enforces its interests with an Army, which is composed of Human Beings. The character sheet has a list of attributes down the left side, and the four levels across the top. So, going from left to right, you might have:

Strength|Lightning|Farmlands|Sorcerer Corps|Punching

Which means that the God's Strength is Lightning, the Countries Strength is its Farmlands, the Armies Strength is its Sorcerer Corps, and the Human Being in questions Strength is in Punching. So whenever you get into a situation that you need to resolve with Strength, you get a bonus by using that levels strength in your narration, or whatever.

I can see this being a framework for collaborative group-play centered around the saga of a given Country. You make up the details for each level (Calaberous, the God of Lightning; the Country of Greenswald; the Glorious Army of Greenswald; Karabash the Red, general of the Army), and give each one a number of positive and negative traits, and players bring in the different traits against each other when playing a scene with that level of character.

The Army level could be any gathering of people - a church congregation, a village, a household - anything thats more than a couple people. Also, maybe you could make a number of characters on each level, which relate to each other in interesting ways.

But the essential points are that the resolution system uses the "generic" traits, which get plugged in with the specific traits for whichever level of character you're playing, and thusly you can move seamlessly through the levels throughout play. Maybe with some kind of currency that you spend to access different levels (starting at individual, going up to group, and then country, and then god) for more gamist-y play.

If I ever pull together the Simmy wargame I've been thinking about, I may look into doing this kind of thing as an integrated RPG in the same setting.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"The" Combat System

(shhh....this was totally posted on Monday...)

I've been working on a combat system like this in a couple nascent designs, and it keeps on sucking. Basically, I want something where there's an element of tactics that come into who strikes first and such, which propogates through the rest of the combat. In the past I've toyed with something along these lines:

Stats are measured by die size. Each character has a Tactics stat. They can choose any dice up to the Tactics stat size (so, if you have a d8, you can choose a d4, d6 or d8). Each player in the combat does this behind their hand, secretly.

You reveal at the same time. The highest die size strikes first, but those with lower get to add their dice to whatever their roll is, and adding another dice will probably mean you win, if the initial strike doesn't kill ya. So, the trick is to get the largest die you can while still "losing" the reveal.

In practice (yes, I did playtest this), it was just...awkward. And the guys I was playing with, who are pretty sharp in general, didn't internalize it by the end of the session, so I had to explain it each time. Maybe it's just wierd that way.

But I like the basic idea, that you get rewarded for not doing the basic/easiest thing (go with your highest die, all the time), and the way that it balances out uneven opponents (a guy with a low stat will almost always get the bonus against a guy with a high stat). But thats also a problem, because it means that there's little reason to have a high fighting stat.

Some thoughts: Attach it to a dice pool system w/target numbers and sucesses. Your rating is the maximum number of die you roll in your pool, and you choose any number up to that number. If you choose lower than your opponent, you're target number is lowered by 1. If you're number is higher than your opponents and you choose lower, than your number is lowered by 2 (so thats part of the advantage of having a better Tactics skill). An easy way to visually do this: set out a number of dice equal to your full score, put your hand in front, remove down to your number choice, unreveal.

Also, part of your effectiveness can be temporarily lowering your opponents Tactics score for the duration of the combat, so if you're being stomped, you can work on that instead of trying to injure them, or whatever, to level the playing field.

A big sticking point: multiple opponents. I see something Dogs-like (and Tunnels & Trolls like, from what I understand) where a group of opponents just means bigger or different stats, not more rolls. Damage goes into reducing stats, all that good stuff.

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