Reckoning World version 2.4 is here ! Big changes !

Hi everyone !

With each iteration it seems like the game is slowly teaching me how I should design it. I’ve added a mini-game to make the hunter.net thing more directly useful and, I hope, fun. It’s based upon the Otherkind dice mechanics from Vincent Baker.

Also, I made some changes to the abilities gained when you max out your Conviction. Some of them were useless due to changes in previous versions and I hadn’t found a suitable update until now.

As always, every feedback is appreciated !

Reckoning World 2.4

Good Hunting !

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Reckoning World version 2.3 is up !

Short playtest last evening. My main fear was that by having a mechanic where you add dice to your rolls, everything might become too easy for the players. But it sure didn’t !

Man, this game is hard! It might be tempting to use Edge dice on every roll, but you’ll soon be out of Conviction points when you most need it and then, you’ll suffer.

The lethality of the Harm rules is part of my design intent. I’ll develop this later on, when I’m finished gathering my thoughts.

So, without further ado, here it is:

Reckoning World 2.3

One-shot tips and etiquette

Here’s a short one about things I learned or relearned during our local gaming day. It was mostly inspired with a disappointing game (not bad, just disappointing).

When you GM :

  • Don’t try to teach the whole game : Just enough so players know how an action works.
  • Start playing as soon as possible.
  • Present players with a problematic situation right from the start. Make sure they see what could be done about it, but let them act as they want.
  • Don’t answer rules questions framed as hypothetical. Only questions relevant to the situation at hand.
  • Don’t try to tell PCs about all the possible course of action or mechanical options. Ask them what they want to do, explain how it’s done in the game and the possible outcome and confirm that it’s what they want to do.

When you’re a player :

  • Don’t try to learn the whole game. Keep your questions focused on understanding the basics.
  • Ask other questions when a situation arises and you want to know how you could go about it.
  • When you’re constantly asking questions about every mechanical bits of your PC, you’re preventing others from playing. Same thing if you spend your time discussing all the possibilities of this character. If everybody did the same, there would be no time left to play !

For GMs and Players :

  • Don’t talk too much about the game, talk about the story or better yet : tell it !
  • When I sit to play, I’m not there to discuss what could be done with this game but rather what we do in this particular session.
  • Discussing hypothetical situations and possibilities : that’s (meta)meta-gaming !

Michtim RPG : Not really a review, but…

I recently bought this RPG. At first, it was the cuteness that brought me in. You play these fluffy hamster-looking creatures that want to protect their kingdom from human activity. Being a fan of Mouse Guard (both the comics and RPG) I already enjoy stories about little creatures going on adventures set in a world so much bigger than them.

But, the cuteness doesn’t end there. The actual game text is laid out in a clean and attractive fashion with pretty little icons representing each different chapter and an ideal book format for the subject matter : it reminds me of children story book.

Then, when I got the rulebook and started reading it I discovered a system that was both easy to learn and allowed lots of mechanical twists and character customization. Better yet, the game is designed so that you’re invited to come up with new content and rules during play. Let me explain by discussing the rules a bit.

Basic mechanics :

Characters are defined by 5 emotions (Joy, Love, Grief, Fear and Anger). They range from 1 to 4 and this rating represents how many d6s your roll when you’re attempting an action relevant to that emotion.

In order to succeed when attempting an action, you roll a couple of d6s and add the pips, hoping to get 7 or better. That’s a hit. Since it’s easy to get 7 on 2d6, extra dice can be set aside to become additional hits in case of success. This means that in order to get better results on your actions, you have to take risks.

Also, when dice show up as 6s, you earn Mood markers attached to your emotion. These Mood markers give you a +1 bonus each on the result of future rolls with that emotion. But there’s a catch : each emotion is also opposing two others so that when you have these markers on Joy, for example, actions accomplished with Grief or Fear incur a corresponding penalty. You also have a cap of 3 Mood markers, total. If you want to get rid of that penalty, you’ll have to make a related action and trade them for additional dice or maybe spend them on a Calling ability.

Here, I noticed something with cool implications : If you spend Mood markers to get more dice, you actually augment your chance to roll 6s, meaning you risk regaining those markers. This actually supports the fact that your character is inspired by an emotional state and keeps his mood, changing how you can act and giving you pointers on how to portray him in the scene.

Callings : Classes without really being classes

I briefly mentioned Callings and now I’d like to detail them a bit. They correspond to archetypes known in Michtim society that each add a twist on the basic mechanics. The Adventurer, for example, lets you accumulate up to 7 Mood markers (but with the bonus still capped at +3) and also flip a coin when facing danger (so that you either avoid the threat or it doubles its effect.)

It gets even better when you spend experience to gain Calling talents from other Callings. In a sense, each Michtim will “multiclass”, combining his different Calling talents into Synergies (it is up to the group to find out how they work, but it is easy to come up with these combos.) That’s where you, as a player or GM, get to design new content and rules. There’s a lot of fun to be had on a purely tactical level and it’s a great way to make sure your Michtim is special in how he “works” at the table, creating a niche for your character.

This is further expanded with the concept of Ultimates which are somewhat unique abilities your Michtim will gain with experience. They offer a boost to an emotion and a secondary conditional effect. Once again, this is something that the player and GM will come up with together.

Transparency and open design : Turning participants into co-designers

In a nutshell, what I discovered with Michtim is that beyond all the cuteness, there was a game that had a great level of complexity without being hard to learn and manipulate. It’s also a game that empowers the users and gives them all they need to make this little universe into something special and unique for each gaming group.

Each group gets to detail the setting and decide for themselves the balance between Nature, Magic and Technology. They can create or reskin Callings, design Gear, explore the possible Synergies and Utlimates.

This is all possible because of the transparency of the design. The game is simple enough and explained in a way where you can see all the gears in action and know how to effect changes without breaking the game. But it’s also an open design by which I mean that there are spaces, openings, left in the rules so that you have to complete them by yourself. Not that there are holes to fix, but rather occasions to make the Michtim RPG truly yours.

This is why I’ve spent the entire week always going : “How would I use this ? What would I like to try?” and ending up making surprising discoveries about the game and what it could do.

I just can’t wait to see what Georg Mir still has in store for this game ! (Here’s currently working on a set of cards looking to both aid learning and expanding the options with Special Actions.)

Go check it out :

http://bit.ly/michtimrpg

Settings are part of the system

First, I’m envisioning “system” according to the Lumpley principle of which I’ll give two formulations:

1)     By Ron Edwards : System (including but not limited to ‘the rules’) is defined as the means by which the group agrees to imagined events during play.

2)     By Vincent Baker (lumpley) : However you and your friends, moment to moment, establish and agree to what’s happening in your game, that’s your game’s system.

As you can see, in roleplaying games your system is everything you’re using to produce fictional content to which everybody agrees. Of course, rules and mechanics are used to produce such agreement like “I rolled a natural 20, I hit the guy with my sword !” That’s the obvious part. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that we often tend to oppose “system” to “setting” when we discuss games. Here, I’m saying that we should in fact oppose “setting” to “mechanics+procedures/techniques” while both opposites are comprised under the umbrella of system.

The idea is simple : Setting lets you know what can and cannot happen in the fiction by putting limits to what can be the case in this fictional world. For example, you’d rarely say that you’re getting on a plane in a game set in a medieval-fantasy setting. Setting here is creating expectations and assumptions on what can happen by telling us whether or not you can “get on a plane” in this fiction (in our example, setting is telling us that we can’t).

This also imply that with games that have a detailed and extensive setting, system mastery (which helps you play better) cannot be achieved without learning a great deal about the setting. Without information about how things are done in this fictional world, you as a player are unaware of options otherwise available to your character. This effectively limits your choice (once again, as a player) of actions during play.

Moreover, I’ve noticed that some players are more inclined to tolerate inconsistencies in the application of rules than inconsistencies in the portrayal of the setting (provided that they have a good knowledge of the setting). Fiction has to make sense while rules can be eyeballed (and sometimes even ignored).

All of this also means that games with detailed settings but simple mechanics can still be “system-heavy” if great portions of the setting are used in gameplay. I played a couple of sessions of Vampire: The Masquerade recently with players who are well-versed into World of Darkness lore. We, as a group, then had to sort through that body of lore to pick up the pieces that would be in use in the game and choose which parts wouldn’t. There’s often talk about “rules-lawyers” but in this case, we had “setting-lawyers”. So, time was spent rectifying or simply evacuating expectations instead of just playing and coming up with stuff by ourselves. This isn’t bad per se because it is really handy when playing a game where published material is wholly integrated in the campaign, but when you want to do your own thing, this becomes a burden.

On top of that, when you’re playing a game that aims to be faithful to the official setting, this means that participants need to learn about that setting. Considering that not every player wishes to read about all that stuff, the task of teaching the setting is often the responsibility of the GM. How should it be done ? Big crash courses before the game begins so that players can make better informed choices when creating their characters ? Long and windy explanations mid-game so that players get a better grasp of what’s going on ?

Returning

Dear readers,

I’m sorry for taking such a long leave and not completing what I started. Many things have happened in the last couple of months which have made it difficult to focus and put the time and energy into this endeavour.

The dust is now settling and I wish to resume posting on a weekly basis. In fact, I made great discoveries during this hiatus that I will gladly share with you, so stay tuned.

Regards

Sandboxing Shadowrun : interesting ideas

It seems like I’m not the only one who’s thinking that sandboxing Shadowrun is a good idea ! So, even though we might walk different paths on the subject, I was delighted to find a fellow gamer willing to share his ideas and techniques. This also means that I’ll take some time to learn from him before posting my other thoughts on the matter.

You can find his blog here :

https://www.packetlost.net/

 

Comparison between Stars Without Number & Cascade Failure (Quick Version)

Warning : This isn’t a review per se and constitutes only a teaser towards a more thorough comparison.

So, I recently discovered Stars Without Numbers (thanks to John Harper) and just as I finished reading the print corebook, I had the opportunity to come across Cascade Failure (thanks to Adam Minnie). Post-apocalyptic sci-fi goodness, Yay ! Both games share some similarities like being inspired of (probably basic edition)D&D while still taking their distances from the source material to the point where they truly are their own things. Plus, in both cases, humanity has endured a catastrophe or dramatic event of some sort and is in the process of growing back from that event. Mechanically speaking, you will also find the classical Str, Dex, Con, Int, Cha and Wis as well as saving throws, HP, AC, Classes, Levels, etc.

But for now, let’s briefly discuss what drives play in both games. I’ll get to the finer details and differences later.

SWN is mainly focused on giving the GM all he needs to build a setting into which he’ll create adventures (sort of like missions) for the players to confront. The goal here is to come up with a sandbox of 30 or so star systems that will all get Tags and other useful bits of information to help get the PCs involved into what is actually going on in these locations. You’ve also got  rule systems to build active faction (and rules for their interactions and power moves), alien species, detail the political and cultural spheres of your systems, etc. These are all easy to use, truly helpful features to build a dynamic and rich setting. Then, it will be the players job to choose where they want to go next and the GM will have an easy time of coming up with adventures based on these possible destinations. Rewards in XP for these adventures are based on the current level of the party members multiplied by their number and frequently correspond to equivalent monetary gains. The GM is also encouraged to set aside part of these XP (about half) to be gained by exceptional performance from the players. (Uncovering hidden riches, a bonus for secondary objectives accomplished, etc.) Each member of the party will likely get the same amount of XP. Exploration also gets rewarded by the possibility of finding artefacts of high technology level or lost psionic disciplines.

While Stars Without Number focuses on exploring a sector of the galaxy in the search for fortune and glory through sandbox gameplay, Cascade Failure is more about characters going through a narrative arc due to their Ambitions. True, players have to set themselves a goal in SWN, something that motivates them to explore the setting and go through adventures but it doesn’t serve the same purpose as the Ambitions in CF. You see, in CF, there are two types of Ambitions: Major ones and minor ones. Major Ambitions give your character a bonus to die rolls when they’re related to the pursuit of that Ambition and, more importantly, accomplishing that Ambition means that the character is ready to retire. So, in essence, Major Ambitions serve to guide the character through a narrative arc and bring an endgame into the campaign. Minor Ambitions, on the other hand, are more like short-term goals you set up with the GM to drive play and get experience. They can be based on the situation at hand during play or they can serve to shape the situation and push it in a particular direction. Both types of Ambitions are ways a player can get rewards and also privileged means to decide what the campaign will be about. Moreover, there are other ways to get XP in CF based on enemies defeated, loot, accomplishing quests, good roleplay, etc. All PCs progress at the same rate (while there are different experience requirements based on your class in SWN.) which, once again, gives the impression that the focus of play is less about playing a well-built party that overcomes challenges than telling the stories of each different characters. Plus, the Minor Ambitions and roleplaying rewards are strong motivations to put effort into portraying the character.

That’s it for the moment; stay tuned for more as I delve deeper into my reading of Cascade Failure

P.S. You can find both games in a free pdf format here :

Stars Without Number:

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=86467&src=SNP_SWN_ImageLink&affiliate_id=323031%20

Cascade Failure

http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=3655&products_id=96589&filters=0_0_0_0_0&manufacturers_id=3655

Or directly from the author at :

www.chubbyfunster.com/CascadeFailure_PublicBetaV1_2.pdf

Sandboxing Shadowrun Part 1: Going retro

At first, I thought that the Old-School Renaissance (or Revival) was only an attempt by veteran gamers to get back to the “golden years of the hobby”. Maybe it was, I don’t presume to know. But then, a friend of mine with who I play regularly had good things to say about the OSR and was mostly interested in trying to play a sandbox based upon the Western Marches campaign by Ben Robbins (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/). So when I found a second-hand copy of Labyrinth Lord for 2$, I jumped on the occasion to finally get to know why there was such a buzz around the OSR.

I was hooked! I never played any edition of D&D older than AD&D 2nd edition and I remember not liking it that much. The big feature that really sold me the retro-clones was that experience was based on gold instead of being based on monsters/encounters. It meant that you were rewarded based on the success of your expedition as a whole and since most monsters didn’t give much XPs, encounters were actual obstacles on your path instead of the being the point of play. Now, fleeing an encounter was a viable option (even though you risked being chased or getting lost) because most of the time, it would cost you too much resources for too little gain.

Shadowrun shares something similar with Labyrinth Lord on that matter. In Shadowrun you’re getting paid for accomplishing the job, not killing/defeating people. Sure, you could expect having to battle your way through, but both cash and advancement were based on success in the mission. So again, fighting wasn’t always the best solution and risked alerting people and screwing up the whole job.

Another feature of retro gaming that appealed to me was that the GM was only there to play out the consequences of the players’ choices. No pre-planned storyline to follow but only responding to what the players were doing. You design the dungeon in advance, you prepare your random encounter tables and then, you provide information to players so that they can make choices about their course of action. That last bit is of utmost importance. Of course you don’t go saying: “There’s a trap in that corridor” But, by your description of the corridor, you should give enough details so that the players can then tell you how they go about it. You could include things like corpses of adventurers. Not only does it provide atmosphere, but that’s also a warning sign: “That corridor is dangerous.” They still have to figure out if the dead adventurer met his fate because of a trap (and what kind of trap) or because he was lost without food or water. If they don’t get the clues and set off the trap it wouldn’t be because you were out to get them since it was already decided that there was a trap and you gave them sufficient information for them to at least attempt to detect it. All of this means that as a GM, you’re not actively trying to kill the PCs by retaining information and preventing them from figuring out what are the risks and threats they’re currently facing. You’re there to give them opportunities to make decisions and play the consequences of these decisions.

This also means that if my character dies, I know that it wasn’t the GM’s fault. Maybe it was bad luck, a wrong tactical decision in combat or poor resources management. It means that the game is also based on my talent as a player. Imagination, good situation assessment, great leadership, teamwork, etc. all contribute to the success of the party at getting treasures and thus, experience. Gold and treasure are truly rewarding to acquire.

All of this also implies that everybody plays by the rules. Both players and GM know how the game works and if nobody cheats, fudge dice rolls or otherwise change the rules when it suits them then the gaming experience stays fair. It is that same fairness that guarantees that my success as a player actually means something.

Next part I’m going to show how the sandbox game style benefits from these features.