Master Mines

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More Of The Same

A Penny For My Thoughts is still chugging along on pretty much the same course I laid out last time. Writing is going more slowly than I would like, but that’s mostly due to a shortage of time to work on it. What we are getting done is great. I’ve also gotten a few AP recordings of playtests that I haven’t had a chance to list to yet. And I’m in the home stretch for my PBeM playtests. So, it’s business as usual right now. That should start to change as we near the end of the year. The current goal is to have the revised manuscript text finished by Thanksgiving. Wish me luck!


October 30, 2007 Posted by | A Penny For My Thoughts | 5 Comments

Shelving Know Thyself for now

So, I have come to realize that I need to put Know Thyself down for a couple months. I haven’t received feedback from the ashcan, and the issues I have are, from my point of view, unique enough that I don’t yet know how to solve them.

The latest issues that I haven’t been able to solve: my game has no motivation in the “dream” scenes. I set up the scene and initial actors, but not direction whatsoever. This presents two problems: (a) the Chorus tend to look at different directions and step on each others’ toes, or (b) the Chorus and Amnesiac have no idea what direction to go because the scene is devoid of context. I have a couple ideas of how to deal with this, namely by turning the Memory Token areas on the card into a different element involving verbs, and using that to create a potential initial action.

That said, that doesn’t solve all my problems, because even with an initial action, the scenes are devoid of context. I spoke with Paul last week, and we talked a bit about improv. I’m looking forward to my copy of Impro arriving, and I may jump back into KT after reading that, but all in all the lack of feedback from the ashcans has honestly produced a current lack of interest in my continuing development.

I’m going to work on a design challenge my friend threw down involving dominoes, and then perhaps I’ll come back with some notes on Damned Anonymous, if I’m not ready to re-tackle Know Thyself by then. I’ll probably post up notes on my blog about my domino-based war story game, since this isn’t a forum for design challenges.

I’ll still be around to comment and the like.

October 29, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 5 Comments

Sucking and Paul Czege

Well I’m not keeping up with the three posts a week, but I do seem to be keeping up with the Joneses.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my color’s from scene idea, and it’s not working as is. It seems to be coming very close to violating the Czege principle, which badly paraphrased says, if you create your own adversity then the game sucks. So the idea of making the monsters out of the scene the players create sucks as they effectively create their own adversity.

I’m thinking of modifying it a bit, so perhaps the monster doesn’t spring from the scene, but the scene springs from the monster. Perhaps I have example monsters and the question will be whether the scene will be colored by this monster.

For a quick example, perhaps despair is a creature that lives in the bottom of wells filling nearby people with despair so they will kill themselves by leaping into the well. Thus literally and figuratively feeding despair. If the children are successful in overcoming the monster then the scene features the opposite of despair– hope. Otherwise it features despair. Of course some of the tension relies on the players identifying with the person in the scene. Haven’t figured that out yet, but I have a couple ideas I may get at later.

October 29, 2007 Posted by | Silence Keeps Me A Victim | , , | 3 Comments

What’s the Real Conflict

Okay, this is going to sound really weird for a game where combat is going to be a major part, but I’ve really been thinking a lot about my resolution mechanic.  It started as I was authoring my section on chargen. 

Basically I am going with Attribute + Passion + Skill = dice pool of D10s.  Roll for dice for successes, 6+ is a success.  *Yawn*  I toyed around with the idea of a going with something like the Cortex system (move in die steps.)  I thought about a D20 like system with one dice and a lot of pluses.  *Yawn*

And so I really got to thinking about what NGHB is about.  I want this to be a game about the story arc of a character, not a bunch of rolls.  I know that’s not where I started, but it’s where I am heading.  I realized that I was not so much bored by the mechanic as to the types of conflicts I fear that it will engender.  I don’t want NGHB to get bogged down into endless rolling. 

While I do think that combat is part of it, I believe that the characters will be at a point where they don’t need to kill a bunch of mobs before reaching the boss fight.  Besides, tons of endless rolling will get away from what I really want.

So I am thinking that what I really need is a strong section of scene framing and having the GM drive the game towards what the game is really about.  So I am toying with the idea that there is no failure.  If a player wants to do something and there’s no GM veto, the character does it.  Perhaps there can be a system of degree where a player can roll to determine by what degree they succeed, but I am thinking not.

I think I am going to do away with non-contested rolls.  I really don’t want there to be a roll unless it is between two people who are in conflict such as in a battle or a perhaps a sneak or something like that.

I do wonder how that strikes everyone and I wonder how well it meshes with risking the passions.

Any thoughts?

October 27, 2007 Posted by | Mecha | 10 Comments

Schedules, Attributes and Damage

I’m back. Sorry for the delay, but with a sick family, trying to get our game ready to announce, and playing with my new iPhone, I got lazy on the game design. That’s the Schedules bit.

When I originally came up with the idea to unify a character’s traits into resources, I wanted to avoid numbers (like skill ranks and especially like attributes). This was to help me explore the use of more nebulous mechanics. I’ve come back to the idea of attributes however (in fact it was in the last 15 minutes), though not as they are usually seen. My attributes also serve as broad classifications for resources, and together they form the game’s core mechanic. I currently have 4 of them: Mental, Physical, Self and Socioeconomic (need a shorter word for this one).

Mental resources are trained skills, experience, etc. that can be called upon in appropriate situations to your advantage. Physical resources are physical skills (athletics, sports, dancing, etc.) and feats. Self resources are related to self-esteem, confidence, willpower and self-definition. Socioeconomic resources (the most common ones) involve equipment, finances and connections throughout the galaxy.

The core mechanic involves a dice pool of any even-sided die. Even numbers are successes, odd numbers are failures (or Ubiquity dice for optimized rolls). The dice pool size is the attribute rating plus the resource rating. The number of successes rolled must meet or exceed a target difficulty.

Now the Damage part. Human Events is not about survival. I’m going for a pulp feel, and as we all know, pulp is not about whether or not the hero survives or even succeeds. It’s about how he does it. Will Indiana Jones find the Holy Grail? Of course he will, but what happens along the way and what happens when he finds it? Will Luke Skywalker escape the Emperor’s clutches? Of course he will, but can he redeem his father and stop the emperor in time to save his friends?

The inspiration for the damage mechanic in Human Events comes from Chad Underkoffler’s Prose Descriptive Qualities System. In that system, when you fail in a conflict, your quality ratings go down. I like this idea, though the PDQ system allows the damaged quality to be chosen in such a way that it doesn’t relate to the conflict itself, and this works well for the fast-play nature of that system.

In Human Events, a character’s resources define him completely, so when a resource is used, that resource is at risk in that situation. Some resources may be automatically damaged by their use (finances depleted by a large purchase, for example), some can be temporarily strained (using a black market source too often may spook the contact), and some may be one-time resources (calling in a favor on a contact). Generally, though, a story situation can cause a resource to become damaged. Even an attribute can become damaged, affecting all the resources in its class.

The trick I’m working on now is how to use this concept of resource damage:

  1. as a means of conflict resolution,
  2. without trivializing the character’s peril, and
  3. without trivializing the success/failure mechanic in the shadow of narrative control.

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Human Events | 4 Comments

[Grand Tour] Some Thoughts and Ideas

After my last post, there were two comments in particular (#7 & #8) that really left me thinking and have been bouncing about in my head for a while. This is the result of that.

First, Ryan asked if the game is about being in the trip, or about retelling a trip that has passed. An excellent and essential question that I thought I had addressed, but realized I had not.

The game, in all the ways I have envisioned it, has always been about telling the story of a trip. At first I thought there was no difference whether it was in the present or past tense, but since Ryan threw that out there, I have been mulling it over. I would rather the game happen in the present, say with a statement like, “And thus begins our grand tour,” as opossed to “And thus began our grand tour.” That choice of verb tense has made me realize that the mechanics I need to build have to support a present-tense storytelling experience where all the participants, or Travelers, are equally involved in telling the story but also being surprised by the unforseen twists that come during any tour. Which leads me to my next point.

Robert Bohl suggested that I “give in” to my system hack desires and start writing Grand Tour as a Primetime Adventures hack, then take it from there. I like his idea. I sometimes feel self-conscious about doing system hacking as opossed to writing rules from the ground up, like I’ll be looked down upon, like I’m not a real game designer (I know it comes from the fact that my main source of system hacking design is d20, but that is an issue for another day). So screw that. PTA showed me a lot of very interesting things about story framing and simple conflict resolution with ubiquitous items such as cards that I’d be a fool not to allow myself to be inspired by it. So Grand Tour, as it stands, is starting life as a PTA hack geared towards telling stories of people traveling on a tour.

What I most like about the PTA resolution mechanic is how the suits and colors play into the results of the conflict. I have also been inspired by the rash of games lately that are using rich rolling (to use Fred Hicks’ term), extracting as much information as possible from one roll. So coupled with the paragraph above and my target verb tense, what I need to do is create a way for the card-based resolution to yield a variety of information that can be used to dictate how the narration for a scene should go. Suit, color and value will obviously feature heavily here, but what I am trying to figure out is a way for the results to also introduce the complications.

I have a couple of ideas rolling around that I want to put down in writing: for example, having each suit represent an aspect of the Tour like Budget, Entertainment or Stamina, so that when a particular card comes up, based on the suit, it dictates something about the scene that needs to be incorporated; or having certain cards in the deck represent complications, so that if they come up, something just went wrong and all players are surprised by it; or having each player be represented by a suit or an individual card, so that if that suit/card comes up, it dictates who is involved in the next scene.

So that’s what I’m working on, grabbing PTA and figuring out what works and what doesn’t for the game I want to write, so that I can start hacking the system to accomplish the things I need specifically.

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Games in Development, Grand Tour | 4 Comments

SKMAV: What’s a scene anyway?

So I’ve been thinking about how to slice a scene up to make a monster out of it. I’m not sure I’ll have questions to ask so hopefully this is interesting enough to get your brain turning. It’s basically brainstorming.

One way would to be to consider a scene purposefully. What I mean to say is to look at a scene for the purpose it serves, this would lead to considering:

  • The Goal of the scene.
  • Character Development.
  • Give information / Create information
  • Create unanswered questions to create viewer tension.
  • Further add to the development of the theme of the story
  • The Scene’s central conflict.
  • The scenes conclusion.
  • What the scene is setting up next, unless it is the epilogue.

This doesn’t seem to leave a lot to grab before rolling dice, as the dice are to decide the outcome of the conflict, and I think will also be about establishing what is being set up in the next scene. I think that it suggest that Monsters are likely to be less powerful and should become uglier as the game goes on. Perhaps for the creation of the person whose story we are collectively telling we paint them now, and work back to the trauma? If I’m missing something let me know.

We could also consider the scene in an emotional manner. What are the emotions and what might they look like shaped into a monster? What are some valid emotions to make Monsters?

  • Anger / Rage
  • Pain
  • Schadenfreude
  • Maliciousness
  • Fear / Terror
  • Loss
  • Indifference

Did I miss anything? How else might I look at dividing a scene into some kind of useful pieces?

October 18, 2007 Posted by | Silence Keeps Me A Victim | , | 2 Comments

Passions: Redux

Okay, so the idea of simple swapping of passions has fallen by the wayside.  I think I may toss it into a playtest some day because I think it’s got potential as an idea, but there was enough that had me interested in some of the comments I got.

First, I am perfectly okay with the idea that what you love is what you are good at.  It’s perhaps not perfectly believeable and I will have some sort of skill/Trait system to flesh out other stuff you can do.  Pretty minimal on that front.

So a starting character will likely get 5-7 passion points (by the way, if the term “passions” is making you think too much about Mortal Coil, call them widget points.  This mechanic is similar, though unrelated.)  So 5-7 points into 3-5 passions.

Any situation in which you have a passion gives you +1 die.  So again, the passion “I want to be the greatest pilot” means that in pilot situations, you get +1.  (I think a normal roll will be Attr + Skill + passion.)  If this roll fails, the passion used is dropped 1 level.

You can also risk the passion.  If you do that, your entire level of passion in dice to the pool but they must be a different color.  Roll the dice.  If the roll is a failure, you have lost your passion.  You have burnt out.  Period.  Your passion goes to zero(0) and you have to create an antithetical passion (“I want to support my teammates, being flashy is bad.”)

If the roll is a success, yay.  Look at the passion dice.  Any successes can either add or subtract from the passion.  This allows the player to change their passions through play.  The player can decide that they risked their passion and now they can either increase it or decrease it.

I think that limits change for change’s sake.

Also, increasing passions comes at a price.  No passion can be twice as much as the next highest passion plus one or one level in another passion must be sacrified.  So if I have a passion that is 3 and one that is 7, if I want the passion that is 7 to go to 8, I have to sacrifice a passion elsewhere.

I hope that this will allow players to get really good at one thing or kinda good at several things.

So my question to you Master Miners:

1.  Does it strike you as overly sucky before playtest?
2.  Does it produce power creep (as passions start to raise, they will only keep raising.)  I was thinking about having a failure on the passion dice result in dropping the passion by 1 step.  I kind of tend to shy away from mechanics that penalize higher ranks, but I think that an overly passionate person can burn out.
3.  Would a Fate-style pyramid work better for passions or does that force everyone to have a balanced passions and not give them something in which they believe with all their heart?
4.  I am kicking around the idea of having a passion that cannot be reduced, only increased.  Something in which the character believes so strongly that they cannot be shaken (without the player making a concious decision.)  I fear that could be easily abused.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Mecha | 4 Comments

The House of Yes-But

Picture one of those floating platforms from Super Mario Brothers, the kind where you jump onto it and it immediately begins to fall away; it only exists to get you a little closer to your goal, but if you stay with it, you’re going down. In this case, the platform was my attempt at an entry into Jason Morningstar’s Sight & Sound Challenge, and the leaping adventurer who sank it and moved on to better things was a game mechanic: the Yes-But cards.

Some of you will remember Yes-But cards from Outside Men. They were thrown clear of that accident, and I’ve kind of been hunting around for a way to apply them ever since. For those who don’t remember them, here is an early version. Play with that, then read the thread that inspired them.

Anyway! I am thinking about Yes-But cards lately, and the various forms they could take. I am also sensitive of working on multiple projects here at MM, but it’s okay, because this is a mechanic, not a game. Heck, it might even find its way into You Gotta Do… if I’m not careful.

This post is audience-participation. First, imagine five little decks of cards in front of you:











The five “directions” the decks are named for are meant to reflect ways a character or entity might “move” its energy in an attempt to affect something. Assume you only draw cards when a character is trying to affect something outside him/her/itself.

Cards say how the situation changes, with a statement that begins with “yes, but”. They will need some interpretation; assume that there are some other rules about who guides the interpretation and how (in short, don’t worry about it for now).

Question 1: can you imagine a fictional situation in an RPG wherein it’d be difficult or impossible to decide in which of the above ways a character was trying to change the situation?

Question 2: draw a card from one of the decks. What can you imagine it telling you? (Please say which deck, and feel free to give multiple answers or answers for multiple decks.)


October 11, 2007 Posted by | Games in Development, You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do | 4 Comments

Introducing Me

It looks like I managed to score the position of first non-podcaster on Master Mines. I’m honored. I’m also excited about participating here.

My name is Ben Taggart. By day, I’m a software engineer. Specifically, I’m in charge of multiplayer and UI development at Airtight Games in Redmond, WA. That means that my life is almost 100% game-related. This does, in fact, make me the luckiest man in the world.

My game is currently called Human Events, a space opera rpg. I’m currently in the Designing phase, though most of my effort now is in research. I’m looking at games that handle the sci-fi genres similar to my own, as well as games that provide mechanics similar to the ones I’m looking for. My official notes are kept on a wiki here. I would appreciate any comments you wish to post there, though I will try to avoid referring people to wiki links when I post here. That being said, I will probably not be as verbose in posts here if I have already entered detailed notes on my wiki.

Human Events is set approximately 150 years in our earth’s future and includes pan-galactic civilizations and FTL travel. The setting, however, is not where I expect Master Mines to help me the most. I am attempting to design a game system specifically for a space opera setting. Traditional RPGs seem to focus on what a person can “do”. I’m trying to focus on what a person can “accomplish”. The difference in my own personal lexicon is that accomplishing something takes into account all the resources at my disposal, while doing something focuses primarily on my personal skills and abilities.

I don’t know if I’m being clear here, so I’ll try to state this in one other way. All the sci-fi RPGs I’ve seen so far place mechanical weight on things I am (I have an IQ of <IQ>), things I can do (I can hack this computer with a proficiency of <Computer Hacking>), and things I have (This gun does <Damage> damage). Everything else seems to fall under the nebulous cover of “roleplaying”. In Human Events, I intend to make a black market contact as valuable to my character (mechanically) as a gun, a ship or a skill.

At the same time, certain things will be a bit more abstracted. Combat falls particularly under this category. While combat will still be an important game element, the number of plasma pistol shots my character can survive without power armor becomes increasingly zero in any realistic future setting. This means that combat serves as a story element rather than a mechanical obstacle, and even failing in a combat encounter provides new opportunities for a character rather than taking them away.

My background is almost exclusively traditional, crunchy games like D&D and Rifts, and I’m sure this game will reflect that, but I’m hoping to combine narrative control mechanics with traditional gamist/simulationist elements to create a story-based, pulp-action experience, and I look forward to having your help with this.

October 11, 2007 Posted by | Human Events | | 7 Comments