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Role playing, board games, programming, and maybe occasionally political opinion

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Repertoire First Playtest (or Procrastination)

Well, after much delay I’m finally getting these notes down. And I’ll admit I’ve learned something significant here: write up playtest notes immediately. Stale notes aren’t as worthy.

First of all: hey, this game actually works! Fie on harsh Game Chef critics! Kudos and congratulations to the incredibly awesome games which did win and their brilliant designers. Repertoire is not their peer. Yet.

Anyhow, the catty backstage sniping of a troupe of actors boiled out of the game without any coaxing. Honestly, at the beginning of the session, I’d forgotten that particular part of the design, absorbed instead in trying to translate mechanics and text into an actual game.

The biggest problem was certainly that the producer either needs more to do or not be a player role. It’s easy enough for a player to pick up the producer’s end of an endgame argument. Any responsibilities that the producer took on would diminish the power of the actors, a lot, so for the time being I think the producer is going to become the face of the game-as-challenge.

And generally, the mechanics are about half-baked. The token currency is little too complicated, and there’s significant weakness in how scenes resolve. On the one hand, as it stands, it’s easy for everyone to lose, so the the producer’s rancor increases rapidly. And it’s not clear why you would want to bid against another player; on the other hand the bidding against was a significant contributor to the cattiness.

There are few places where the rules are really soft. There ought to be some control over who can be in a scene—one idea that got suggested was that the number of dice and actors in a scene have to be different which is interesting enough to playtest. On a related note, there needs to be a clear rule about how and when a scene gets called – possibly the framer of the scene calls it when he wants to.

Cards should probably get a fact when they’re written (and actor cards should get 3 written by their player). Furthermore, once the last fact is added to a card (i.e. if the type of card dictates a d8, when the 8th fact is added) it should be retired at the end of the scene.

Oh, and about 30 tokens per player is probably plenty.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Virtual Playtesting

For some time now I’ve been toying with a little language for randomizers, which might even be a subset of a little language to describe game rules —with role-playing games have the focus. For the most part, the application has always been testing ideas or for a convenience die-roller. I’ve always been frustrated with every die-rolling program I’ve ever used, because there’s invariably a dice mechanic that hasn’t been thought of, and the program isn’t flexible enough to model it.

And, obviously, the kernel of a randomizer representation language exists. 3d6 is the sum1 of three six sided dice. It’s only when games start to need “the highest of” or “reroll 6s and add” that things get complicated. Which is almost every game. And of course Dogs in the Vineyard2 needs dice to be commited in pairs, and whatnot. Although for a die simulator, this is hardly a new problem.3

But a real application just raised it’s head: playtesting. If you playtest with virtual dice, on a MUSH, or IRC, or even in person with a coupla laptops, then not only is it really easy to change rules and whatnot, you get an automatic record of play, plus empirical exercise of your system. So you can see up front what different card distributions do, or run quick simulations of conflict resolution systems that use dice.

Plus, if you’re like me, it makes as much sense to write the intial rules text in a programming language, and you get very abrupt feedback when it’s broken.

The pitfall is that the system warps your thinking about the rules. The same way that System Matters in play, the framework would influence design decisions. “Why not use d12s for this? They’re a pain to code for.”

Certainly worth thinking about.

1 usually.

2 Dogs, why is always Dogs?

3 Consider the method that several games use to generate stats: roll all the dice up front, and then assign the values to stats. Same thing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

International Intrigue rides on

I still dig on this idea. Every time I pick up a little Greg Rucka, I keep thinking “This! This is what I want to be playing.” And I don’t know if this is where I want to go with it, but I really think I’m going to rob Ben Lehman blind, and pull the bargaining mechanics out of Polaris.[1]

Honestly, regardless of what I think of the color text, the basic idea of negotiating the results of a conflict, of using the wonderful fun of a bidding game like Modern Art or Pizzarro and Co. except plot elements are the stakes and the wager really jazzes me. And I think this completely fits into what I’d been pondering for International Intrigue.[2]

I’ve also been contemplating the idea of silent use of the rules of the game, so that all conversation can be in character or action related. And while the “key phrases” idea is interesting, it jars me a little. I’ve been thinking about a system that grows on the simple act of handing someone dice in order to suggest that they need to roll to resolve conflict. Especially if the ultimate characters are spies, some sort of tactical combat hand signals] might be in order.

On thing I’m playing with is the idea that as action moves from back at the home office, M and Q to actual theatre of operations, man in the field kind of stuff, that the number of adversarial bidders will change. I also like the idea of compelling each player to take a role in a scene where he want to bid, and then offer his bids from the mouth of that character.

So at the home office, the best way to represent the schemes of Them4 is to take the role of a Moneypenny, or a signals officer, or something, delivering the bad news.

An essential component, and one I still want to play with, is the conflict between the agents personal lives and their work.

1 And I really ought to get in at least one session of the thing.

2 which so needs a better name, it’s sickening

3 or do I mean these

4 a la Asimov

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tiny Game

Tiny Game

Tiny Game is actually a roleplaying game, but being as that it’s so tiny, I wanted a short title.

Tiny Game fits in a nutshell: players tell a story in a round. Each player’s turn consists of as much story as they want to tell, unless they’re interrupted by another player. If they’re interrupted, any players who want to propose a direction for the story to take in general terms, and everyone with a proposal rolls a die. Roll off ties. High roll takes over narration, which starts with them describing how their proposal goes. Continue until end of story.

That’s Tiny Game. Here’s what it’s for: as a critical tool, examine how a given game or design-in-progress provides more than Tiny Game. It’s essentially just naked Fortune-in-middle conflict resolution, but it seems to me that it could be said that there are games out there that are just a dressed up FIMCR. Hell, you could even frame D&D this way, if you had a mind too.

Bargaining and Stakes

Now, I may wind up eating all of this after reading Polaris, but here’s the thought: every stakes-setting/CR/FIM style system I’m familiar with has some variant of a free-and-clear where players discuss what the stakes are for a particular conflict. But only rarely have I personally seen the free-and-clear work on a level other than the situational. In other words “if he’s doing that, I wanna do this instead…” etc. But there’s something appealling about the idea of establishing stakes such that they’re of equal value, somehow.

What I’m thinking about is a “libre-clear” stage, where everyone can offer stakes for either side of an argument, but ultimately there’s a sort of bidding/betting/bargaining aspect to the exchange. Consider poker: your stakes have to match your opponents, eventually you show, and the winner gets the stakes. So, stake-setting by analogy to back room poker, where players will dramatically offer their watches and tie-tacks for whatever value the other players will grant them.

And as a final disconnected thought: Jon Tweet’s pleasant trope of the High Stakes Poker – some mystical force empowers the game to wager all kinds of abstract things – years of life, talent, skill, beauty. There’s a whole game in that concept, where characters are built to be players at that table.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Levels of Story and Extended Conflicts (while stirring polenta)

Premise: I’ve been thinking for a while about indefinite nesting of storytelling elements – that there’s a natural but hypothetically unnecessary division into Story, Situation, Scene, Conflict, Task.

What I’m thinking is based on the Heroquest style Conflict resolution: if something is worth playing out, break it down. Except where Heroquest (and really, too many game to name) limit that to combat – or in other words, sub-Scene level events, what I’m considering is the same idea writ large.

Quick treatment: game begins with a story proposal. Players have characters and all that, and somebody (the GM?) says “Okay: here’s the rough sketch for the story.” And the requirement is that the proposal be framed as a conflict of some kind. Very high level, ideally around a theme, but a conflict.

Now, the group as a whole decides somehow whether to let this go – that they’re willing to let things run their course, (in other words “not interested,” or better still “lets do what happens if we pass on this”), or that they’ll resolve the whole Event with a single roll, or they want to break the event down in to Sub-Events.

Sub-Events get treated the same way – but they ultimately have to resolve the Super-Event. In other words, the group produces Sub-Events until they wrap up Event that spawned them. But each Sub-Event can be broken down further and further.

There’s a certain amount of stuff to be answered on this. Like how does non-Conflict stuff fit in. If we need an Event of “and they travel to Europe” what do we do with that? And how do we encourage little diversions and amplifications of themes and motifs and whatnot?

That’s for thinking on.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Hive

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, and it came to mind recently and I wanted to jot it down while it’s fresh and handy.

Basically, this is the idea: packet switching, or parallel processing applied to the business space. As time goes on, and more people get the entrepenuerial bug, and the web makes it easier to set up a storefront, there’s a lot of people who are passionately pursuing one thing and doing it well. In theory, if they could coordinate better, they could rival the forces of giant corporations.

So, the notion is, reduce the barrier to enter business. Have a service that provides not only a virtual office, but networking with other small businesses, initial business licensing, non-professional legal and practice advice, insurance etc.

Consider that there do exist businesses to do logistics on a large scale. And the virtual office is not exactly a new idea. But why not a single reverse-incubator? Rather than buy or start little notional businesses, instead provide a set of services to them.

And put it in a family of commerce style atmosphere. Not the creepy “you just started a business, let us leech on your idea” but instead a lubricated business flow between family businesses, and mutual support.

Specific examples:

  • A single-day rental office / conference room. The Hive’s central HQ would have offices and receptionists etc, for short term rental. Your sideline can have somewhere to meet with clients etc without having to maintain the offices year-round.
  • Recommended publication services, web designers, web brokerages, telecomm, etc. Throw business back and forth within the Hive.
  • Group rates. Be able to provide insurance, lending, benefits to member shops at a larger scale rate.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Untitled Committee Game

This is the idea for the game that wanted to be my second entry for Game Chef 2006. (Ingredients would be Committee, 2 hours, Ancient, Emotion. Since this is not an entry, I’m ignoring all that.)

Basically, the players start as a Committee of Ethical Values or some such. One player proposes a societal concept (like, cybernetic consciousnesses in cyberspace, or occupants of a long term space station, or an alternate Renaissance, or even untrained sex therapy workers) and then the group as a whole develops a system of laws, or an ethical structure or some such. The system has to be written down.

Then, each player gets a chance to break the system. They present a case – perhaps to a Council of Judgement – that’s specifically ambiguous under the system as codified. The Council votes secretly on whether the conduct is correct or not, along with the element of the code that supports or condemns the action, and the presenter gets points for wildly disparate results, while the Council gets points for unified judgement.

Rules would probably be along the lines of who can say what to whom. Probably Judges can only address the supplicant directly, and no sneaky leading questions.

Scoring notions:

  • Supplicant gets Support x Condemn x Articles Cited
  • The Code gets MAX(Support, Condemn)2 x Judges

Which should score high for the Code if Judges agree, and higher for the Supplicant if they don’t. If a Supplicant scores highest, then that player wins, but the Council loses.