Master Mines

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To Attribute or Not to Attribute

So I am thinking about chargen for NGHB and I got to thinking about attributes.  I’m not saying that attributes are a sacred cow for me, but I feel comfortable with their interplay with skills to make a roleplaying game.

Howevever, I’ve been thinking about games that I’ve played recently: PTA, Matt Gandy’s Seiyou (sp?), Spirit of the Century, Inspectres.  None of those games use attributes.  Most just use Traits or Traits and Skills.

I am trying to determine what I think the advantages to each are, but I’d love some feedback.  But in general, an attribute describes what a character is rather than a Trait or a Skill describes what the character does.  Being games of drama and tension, most roleplaying games are concerned with character action so it makes sense to focus on what they are able to accomplish.  Still, I wonder if there is not value in a more traditional mechanic of mixing attributes and skills.


August 31, 2007 Posted by | Mecha | 8 Comments

ParaCon’s Big Three

Since we’ve been dead for a few days, I thought I’d post up the Paranormal Containment Big Three.

What’s your game about?

It’s about dealing with your secret double life, which if found out will get people around you killed — folks like your friends and family, folks like the average guy on the street who don’t ask to see something he shouldn’t.

How’s your game about that?

You’re an unwilling agent of a shadowy government agency set out to suppress & eradicate magic and the supernatural — unwilling, because you’re a mage or otherwise hooked into the paranormal, and the agency has a shoot-or-recruit policy. You picked the latter. This means you have to often deal with missions to suppress people and events that threaten Containment.

Most people who find out about the secret and aren’t useful are summarily killed. This includes your family, who will grow suspicious of you over time. This includes innocent bystanders who will witness you get exposed during the mission.

What behaviors do you want your game to reward?

Behaviors that generate trust or betrayal among the group — without having “trust” and “betrayal” as actual mechanics in the game. I want to create a setup where I foster having to make decisions about whether I screw my character over or I screw the group over, and have to deal with other people making that same choice that impacts me. I want to reward getting into those situations, and ideally I’d like to reward them with the situation itself, from a player enjoyment standpoint.

I’m unsure about the last bit, but then this idea is only around a week or so old.

August 28, 2007 Posted by | Paranormal Containment | Leave a comment

From Design to Book

I had an amazingly productive conversation with Fred Hicks the other night about the future of A Penny For My Thoughts. (Fred is art directing the book, although with the amount of input he’s giving me, it might be fairer to call him the developer.) The result of the conversation was that while I previously had a good idea of how the game design worked, I now have a much clearer idea of what the book built around that game design is going to be like. The basic structure is this:

  1. Rules, as explained in-character by Dr. Peter Tompkins
  2. Transcripts of previous therapy sessions, with annotations by Dr. Tompkins
  3. Excepts of real-world articles on the nature of memory and memory loss
  4. Parting words from Dr. Tompkins, with the possibility of a “big reveal” (or perhaps just subtle hints)
  5. Brief designers notes from me

I like this, because I think it will allow me to maintain the “this isn’t a game, it’s an in-game artifact” feel as much as possible. We’re definitely approaching the art and book design from that angle. It does mean, however, that while the game design is 90% done, there’s a lot of writing left to do. Those middle three sections are going to take some doing. Still, it’s very nice to have a clear idea of what I still need to get done.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | A Penny For My Thoughts | 4 Comments

Chat about Paranormal Containment

So, here’s a slightly-cleaned-up chat log with Daniel Solis about my ideas for Paranormal Containment:

Continue reading

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Paranormal Containment | Leave a comment

Thinking about the next draft

As previously stated I had an extrordinarily productive playtest of KoN at Gencon. I’ve got some major additions I want to add to the mechanics. Some of them I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to do. Others I’m not so sure right now. Here’s a few changes I’ll be making, partly based on the feedback I recieved, partly from random thoughts that have occured to me:

-Collaborative setting creation. During character creation, when everyone was passing around the secrets sheets, there was always one person who had no sheet to work on because the Judge didn’t have one to give them. Judd suggested that this person should take a new piece of paper and make up a location. When everything gets passed around the next person will add another one. Its similar to giants, but I think it works for my game in a very different way.

Something else mentioned along these lines is having all the players vote on a starting location and narrating for themselves how they got there. This avoids the problem I’ve been having lately of every first game being about how the players get together. An alternative to this suggestion was that every player starts with a scene focused around their character, with the other players acting as narrators or NPCs. In this scene they’re confronted with some element from their past right off the bat, and it serves to pull them into the story immediately

-survival mechanics. As mentioned before I am going to write a chapter about surviving on the street. I want to add some mechanics to this effect. My thinking now is that characters will have to take some flaws based on how much despair they have.

-player created connections. As it stands, all the characters have connections in their backstory (like the TV show Lost). Before the
Judge was finding these connections when he got all the secrets back. Now, during character creation, the players take some responsibility in connecting elements of each characters backstory, rather than the Judge doing this on his own. I’m not quite sure how to do this yet,
but I don’t think it’ll be too hard to figure out.

-Attacking the backstory. This one is throwing me, and its what I’m going to need feedback on the most. Hands down, the strongest aspect of this game is the character creation. Time after time, every character generated is really interesting and has tons of conflict built in before the game even starts. The issue that was brought up to me was that it is entirely in the hands of the Judge when and where information about the backstory is handed out. This isn’t great. The players need to be able to agressively go after their own secrets.
All of this stuff about gatherings, powers, echoes and cobwebs is (or should be at least) secondary to the main focus of the game, which is finding out what happened to you. Players should be able to force scenes in which they confront their past either by asking or sacrificing. I need a way to make the mechanics relate to the chargen a little more smoothly.

That said, I have no idea how to do this right now.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 3 Comments

Mission Pacing Mechanics

Now, I don’t want to turn this into the Ryan Macklin Dice & Pony Show by outposting my fellows, but I had an idea in the show just now that I have to note down.  (Which means I’ll be late for work, but that’s what working late is for.)

First of all, if the d10 or d12 is dropped, that’s not Exposure Risk, that’s definitely Exposure.

On mission pacing.  The mission (to borrow a bit from Wilderness of Mirrors) has a certain number of Mission Dice — say, half-Exposure and half-non-Exposure.  For any given player, the first time he rolls in the mission, he’s rolling against one die on the GM’s side.  The GM takes half-non-Exposure dice (rounded up) and half-Exposure dice (rounded down), so, uh, one non-Ex die.  If the player succeeds, the next time he has to roll, he’ll roll against two dice, then three, then a cap at four.  Should the GM not have enough non-Exposure dice to fill half of the amount he’s rolling, then he takes from the Exposure dice instead, and that’s where things suck.

So, if a player succeeds, we take those dice out of the system, and his next difficulty will be one die higher (at a cap of four).  If he fails, we put those dice back in the system and add an extra Exposure die — so, the mission is going to go on longer and become more risky.  (An emergent play goal: if you fuck up a lot, your fellow agents will want to throw you a blanket party — that’s acceptable, as this is an attempt as a high-character-stress game without actually creating a stat called “Stress”.)

Finally, I’m looking at this as a troupe-GM game (what some folks call “GM-less”).  During the mission, the players take turns GMing scene their characters aren’t involved in, as the agency has a mandate that a team not operate in the same location at the same time (to minimize paranormal leak).  Jerry was telling me about how he digs this idea, because it makes the agency seem more faceless.

Okay, off to work!

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Paranormal Containment | Leave a comment

The Mechanical Two

So, in Master Plan #4, I came up with two questions about mechanics. Based on the idea that we do mechanics in order to answer questions that we either don’t have an answer to or don’t want to answer in a non-mechanical fashion, here’s my questions:

1) What questions do your mechanics seek to solve?

2) How do you want your mechanics to solve those questions?

So, as I’m thinking with old Damned Anonymous ideas and retooling them for Paranormal Containment, I’m starting with an old idea: roll three dice, drop a certain number of dice, starting with the highest, and total the rest. Higher is better, compare against something else (another roll or target number). Anyway, that’s what I started with. Here are answers to my own questions:

What questions do my mechanics seek to solve?

In addition to determining success with individual mission objectives & complications, I want my mechanics to simultaneously indicate whether an agent risks Exposure — either Suspicious with their family & friends or Witnesses during the mission that need to be dealt with. So, in a high-view sense, it’s a four-spot grid: success or failure as one axis, exposure or, uh, not-exposure as the other.

How do I want my mechanics to solve them?

The core idea: roll 3d6, each with different colors (one white, two of separate other colors). Drop highest die. Total other dice — that’s how well you did, with higher being better. That’s success/failure. That dropped die? The color of that die determines exposure risk — white means none, but the other colors mean a risk because of something, like being spotted by an ATM camera, being clumsy (remember, you’re an agent because you’re a magus, not because you’re trained to be an agent), or because a supernatural effect is noticed.

Dice may be added to the pool — right now, I’m thinking a d10 and then a d12. If you add those to your 3d6, you still drop your highest die, but you’ll have more dice to bring to the success. But if the dropped die is (as it’s likely to be) one of those larger dice, the exposure risk is more likely. But, what’s the advantage to doing this? Well, that’s the rub. I want to create a “speed of mission success = dialing back agent liability” and/or “degree of success over target = something worth having later” element, otherwise it’s just “hey, here’s a way to have higher numbers that sucks! Try it!” And that’s not going to fly.  (Of course, I could take yet another page from Don’t Rest Your Head and just create an increasing sense of difficulty and a perceived need to bring those elements in.)

Later, I’ll talk about the elements I want as emergent play: trust & betrayal. For that, I’m looking at adapting Prisoner’s Dilemma into the game.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Paranormal Containment | Leave a comment

NGHB- A Slightly New Direction

I’ve been sort of marinating on the idea of PCs play characters who are not the main character anymore. Someone (misuba…?) mentioned that all of the archetypes I included were support characters and I think I’m fine with that because each of those characters are important to the story and each normally get one episode (or more) that is solely theirs. I think it fits with my anime theme and I plan to include a mechanic for letting the PCs control the NPC main character which will be a lite version of the game idea I threw out on Story Games today.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Mecha | 2 Comments

The Next Game: Paranormal Containment

So, no, I’m not done with Know Thyself.  I am taking a short break for feedback, aside from what designer’s notes and other info I need to put up this weekend for the website.

But I’m starting a new project now, Paranormal Containment.  I was noodling over an idea, and mechanically-speaking it fits many of my older Damned Anonymous ideas better than D.A. did.  Here’s what I told a couple friends today:

Paranormal Containment – an RPG about being an unwilling agent in the Paranormal Containment Agency, a secret goverment agency set up to keep magic on the down-low, if not utterly eradicated.  Unwilling, because it turns out you’re a magus.  And they have a “shoot or recruit” policy.

“Damage” is tracked not as how hurt you are, but how suspicious your family is of you and how much of a liability you are in the Agency.   It’s called “Exposure.”

I may post up the entire chat log with Daniel Solis, as I got a lot of good material out of it.  But really, I just wanted to talk about the fact that I’m starting a new game.  And I want it solid enough for a second-tier playtest at the February LA con.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Paranormal Containment | 2 Comments

I Want Your (Ash)Cans!

Guys, now that Gen Con is over, if you have ashcans left over, I would love to have a copy of each. I will try to playtest them for you, but I want them more as a memento of the awesome job you, my fellow Master Mines, put into getting your games ready; because I am very proud of each and every one of you, and I want to be able to show everyone what awesome work you did. So, let me know: my PayPal is ready.

August 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments