Master Mines

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Back from Dreamation with a whole bunch of broken game mechanics

Great seeing everyone this past weekend! Here’s a quick list of edits that will be going into the next draft of KoN while they’re still fresh in my head. For the most part I know what changes need to be made, but the stuff in red I still need to figure out how to do:

~SECRET REVELATION: This one is the most important thing to fix. If this sucks play sucks (and right now that’s the case). As it stands, lets say there’s five players (the optimal number in my experience)…the GM is responsible for pushing along 25 secrets. That’s a lot to keep track of. In my third playtest at dreamation, I tried doling out one secret to each player. It was their responsibility to bring it across to the player it belonged to. It fell apart because we were still figuring out how to make it work, but my plan is to push that idea a little further. I’m simply going to hand out secrets sheets to other players at the table and tell them that they’re responsible for one character. My reservation about this is that it’s not going to be fun because people my have a hard time playing their character to the extent they want to while essentially running a personal plot for another character. I’m pretty stumped with this one, but I’m going to push ahead and try a few things instead of standing still and scratching my head.

I also think this game would strongly benefit from some aggressive scene framing around secrets

~CONFLICT MECHANICS: I’m getting rid of dice. It hurts my heart that I’m simply throwing out a system that I dropped so much damn time into, but I’m moving to a randomizer that fits the idea behind the game better: coins. From what I understand UnderWorld (not related to the movie of the same title) has a similar mechanic. I’ve known about it for a while, but I’ve been a little wary of using a coin based system because I’m already fairly similar in genre to the game. I’m different enough though that I’m comfortable with exploring the idea. The concept is that a player shakes some coins in a cup and only counts the heads-up ones. I’m still keeping the cooperative aspect in here and I have a few ideas about how to work it in. Obviously I’ll post more as I figure it out.

~THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL: Characters need motivation to get themselves out of their situation. A Light at the end of the tunnel is replacing Longings as the driving motivations for the character…it’s why the characters work so hard to pull themselves out of the nothing.

~RELATIONSHIP MAPS: Two relationship maps are created in phase three of character creation: one by the players and one by the GM (need a new name for the judge). The players invent how they know each other and their relationships currently. They have to have a strong connection with at least one other person at the table. The GM figures out how they were connected in their past life.

~WRITING SECRETS: I’m going to need to focus on writing effective secrets. I’m going to type up a lot of sample secrets, and include a section where I make some bad secrets and tell players how to improve them.

~LINER BACKSTORIES: Throwing out the web, making all the backstories have some kind of chronological order or at least build on each other

Thanks for all the feedback I got from you guys at the con!


January 27, 2008 - Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing


  1. I had a blast during KoN (I played Ranger). Thanks for writing this game. I’ve had some more time to think about the session and I’ll try to summarize my ideas coherently. But first…

    Friday night before bed, I called my wife (who isn’t much of a tabletop gamer) and told her about the Kingdom of Nothing game. She is a budding spec fiction writer. The premise of the game and some of the details from our particular session fascinated her and she made me tell her everything I could remember as fodder for a short story she wants to write. In other words, the idea of the game is engaging to non-gamers, too.

    Okay, back to my observances.

    The change thing just needs to be number-crunched. I think you start by giving each player a styrofoam cup and 52 cents (25+10+10+5+1+1). Give the cup a shake and dump it and total only the coins that show “heads.” That gives an expected value (EV) of 26 cents. If you align your difficulty levels on 5-cent boundaries, you get:

    5 or better 92% of the time
    10 or better 84% of the time
    15 or better 72% of the time
    20 or better 61% of the time
    25 or better 53% of the time
    30 or better 42% of the time
    35 or better 34% of the time
    40 or better 22% of the time
    45 or better 11% of the time
    50 or better 5% of the time

    I’ll be happy to share my Excel spreadsheet if you want it.

    Get rid of the poker chips. Replace with dimes. Each time they can use their nickels by putting them right back in the cup. Each adds 5 to the EV (+10 50% of the time plus +0 50% of the time), or one success level. Then you tell players they need 20 cents or whatever. The “spare some change” mechanic lets another player give you a nickel or a dime (whichever makes most sense to you). Using a skill brings in a dime.

    The difficulty chart goes away. The dice go away. The separate chips-to-dice currency conversion goes away. You end up with one currency (money) that everyone already understands. Our brains are trained to sum change.

    And rattling your coins in a cup is what it’s all about, dude.

    Comment by adamdray | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. I don’t know how secrets work well enough to understand your first issue, but it sounds good to me in a completely uninformed way.

    I think it’s brave of you to drop something that you recognize doesn’t work, especially when it’s for something that’s so flavorful. I wonder how easy it will be to read if you have too many coins in the cup. Also are they being required to cap the top of the cup and shake it up and down? Without something like that it seems like it might get insufficiently randomized.

    (Note, if you do want to keep dice, odds and evens is the same as coin flips.)

    The Light at the End of the Tunnel is freakin’ genius. I love that. I think you need to make sure it’s mechanical, too. (Not to say it isn’t already.) I also like very much the resonance with subway trains’ headlights as a dark suggestion.

    Comment by robertbohl | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Adam,

    Thanks for the breakdown (and suggesting it in the first place for that matter)! I’d love for you to shoot me the spreadsheet ( I’m also really psyched any time I hear other people getting excited about the concept. I’ve actually found in a lot of cases the game has more appeal to non-gamers. Not quite sure why, but it’s something I’ve kept in the back of my head.


    I’ll be posting some examples of how the secrets work once I get the new mechanics hammered out. My rationale for not working on the most important issue first is that I think it needs to be playtested to figure it out, and I can’t playtest it without a system. Glad you like the light at the end of the tunnel idea though!

    Comment by jhimmelman | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. Rob,

    Odds and evens on dice aren’t equivalent to my proposed system of adding up the values of all coins that show heads. I’m definitely not just counting heads. I’m totaling them up, so that the quarter is actually worth 25 cents if it’s heads, and the nickels that show heads are worth 5 cents each.

    It’s a VERY tunable system and in about 15 minutes in Excel I was able to get the distribution I showed above.

    Comment by adamdray | January 28, 2008 | Reply

  5. Oh, got it. Yeah, you’re right, Adam. My idea isn’t as good as having the value of the coin = the value of the win.

    Comment by robertbohl | January 29, 2008 | Reply

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