Colossus of Atlantis at GENCON

August 23, 2017

So I went to GENCON and ran my Colossus of Atlantis Megagame with 27 players and a control team of eight players (including myself). The game mostly worked, most of the time, which is about as good as you can hope for a Megagame.

The overall outcome was that Atlantis did not sink, but Europe did, and the two high-Kudos teams merged together to dominate that generation of Atlantean politics (with a Kudos score of 12,261). As in the previous game, players started changing the rules so that DOOM tokens were treated as an efficient energy resource, being renamed mid-game as “Destiny” rather than DOOM. The final Destiny score was 1,517, and the Destiny score required to sink Atlantis was 2,000. Over half of the Destiny points were gained in the last turn, due to the sinking of Europe.

Possibly the best compliment I had came a couple of days after the game, when one of the players said to me that while the game was complicated, it had worked smoothly. The half hour lunch break proved essential, given the distance to food vendors and washrooms. One team turned up in full on ancient costumes, a trident, and brought delicious cupcakes and other treats with them that they shared around.

2017-08-17 14.13.12That the game went well was in no small part due to the Control team, with Catherine McNamara doing number collation for DOOM and Kudos, Witt Yao handling hatred scores and the rival empires, and Jesse, Jessica, Peter, Joseph, and Benjamin on map table duties. This is the biggest control team I have had for a game, and everyone did well for not having been run through how the game worked prior to GENCON. It is a blessing back in Wellington, that I can often recruit my mini-game playtesters for Control duty.

2017-08-17 14.13.46I think I definitely want to be using a PA system again in the future, if I have a large hall space. Otherwise my voice would have been lost in the vast space of the Lucas oil Stadium. The PA let me focus on timekeeping, along with using a countdown timer on my smartphone, to keep things mostly moving along after the long first turn. We finished seven complete turns, rather than the hoped for eight turns, a result similar to the last play at Kapcon in January. The projector screen that the Megagames Coalition hoped to have for GENCON fell through, and another suggestion at one of the design seminars was to play countdown videos off You Tube to help with time keeping.

2017-08-17 14.14.08Now for the initial feedback from players and Control broken down into Keep, Stop, Start themes, with my own comments following in italics:

KEEP

  • Council options – after looking at how these played out, I think the game would play better with a reduction in the overall number of options (and many of them were duplicated between Councils)
  • Separate map tables – after looking at the size of the tables we had at GENCON and the maps the other coalition games had, I wish my map tiles were bigger, but back in Wellington there was only just enough room for the map tiles, player cities, and other game resources.
  • modifying and writing laws – I had some feedback that the delay in getting a law ratified by the Council of Law made some players uninterested in trying this option. The problem with a same turn change lies in communicating the change to all of the other Councils, players and Control (possibly this could be done in something like the Watch the Skies press conference/media phase).

2017-08-17 14.45.03STOP

  • too many tokens – I agree with this, but I need to think about which tokens can be dropped. I can also just try and reduce the rate at which tokens fountain into the game so that handling them is easier.
  • too many rules – see comment on rules clarifications below
  • unit caps made armies depend on upgrades too much – one problem here was a hard limit on the number of counters (everything for the game had to fit in one suitcase), if I had dropped to five players per faction, everyone could have had an extra token of each of the three unit types, but increasing maximum force sizes makes it harder for players who have been defeated to make a come back later in the game
  • the d4 was too weak – another way of doing dice for the game would be to use d6s and d12s, this would also be cheaper. I did have exploding d4s in the previous version of Colossus but this tended to extend combat time rather than change combat outcomes.
  • factions having two players at one map table (and thus dominating that table) – this was a feature of having five map tables and teams with six players, I was dithering over whether or not to drop the spy player role and have five teams of five rather than four teams of six, and went for the latter option on the day. If I had one more Control available I could have run a sixth map table.
  • wonder stacking – this would have been less problematic if each House could only buy each Wonder once, and I note here that the Council of Wonder unanimously passed a resolution to allow players more flexibility in the purchases (i.e. making it easier to stack wonders).

2017-08-17 14.45.48START

  • some people liked the abstract region map, others wanted something more like a contemporary map
  • make chaos happen earlier – Colossus is a very player driven game, so if the players choose to cooperate over territory division, not a lot happens. I did have feedback that the rival empires needed to be stronger/scarier (and I was deliberately avoiding making them too strong in this game)
  • more time for discussion planning and trading – another good reason to try and trim some parts of the game
  • more rule clarifications – this makes the rules longer, and I am not sure what a good length for a Megagames rule book is and I was aiming to keep the main rules to 13-14 pages. It will always be too short for some players, and too long for others.
  • Kudos cards drawn over a certain amount should give a static result – because of the number of cards drawn due to some wonder stacking, some people ended up having to count 160 Kudos cards in one game turn.
  • upgrade cards should be single use – I agree with this, but worry about them being hoarded for the last turn (I don’t think people carrying 20+ cards in their pocket is elegant design) so another option is to require them to be used in the following game turn (or to pay a higher cost for a more flexible use)

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NEXT STEPS

After this game, and the opportunity to see several other Megagames in action I have some thoughts on what to do for the next iteration of Colossus:

  • In some ways the easiest resource token to drop is Talents. Each of the remaining six resources could then be the key resource for one of the six player roles (Kudos for Generals, Cogs for Spies, Arete for Kings, DOOM for Sorcerers, Vril for Architects, and Orichalcum for Merchants) with that resource being needed to purchase/use upgrade cards or to activate certain Council options.
  • Player role briefs should have more information on council options and upgrade cards.
  • To make the map easier to understand in the early-game, each region should only spawn one type of resource. So land would spawn Arete cards, coastal regions spawn Orichalcum, rival empires spawn Vril, cities spawn Cogs, and Kudos and DOOM tokens depend on winning/losing battles.
  • To make dividing the map up evenly between layers less dominant as a strategy, Control will vary the number of resource tokens/cards each region spawns.
  • Oaths did not get a lot of use, perhaps half a dozen times in the game. Perhaps I should drop that mechanic?
  • Perhaps rival empire attacks should be driven by player bribes?

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Colossus is next going to be run in the Seattle region in the next few months, so I am going to be trying to do a quick turn around on small changes to the rules by mid-September. Feedback is welcome here, as are any stories about events that happened in the game which I missed.

 


Settlers of R’lyeh

July 12, 2017

This is a hack of the Settlers of Cattan game, using some of the figures from Cthulhu Wars. Although I see dreams of madness have inspired other designers along similar lines, what I offer here is a small island somewhere in the South Pacific, some fever dream ridden settlers, in a desperate race to complete a great temple and then join their Deep One cousins forever before R’lyeh sinks beneath waves again.

Shoggoth by Nottsuo <http://nottsuo.deviantart.com/art/Shoggoth-594261203&gt; CC 3.0 License.

Prepare to play Settlers of Cattan as normal, but grab the Cthulhu figure from your Cthulhu Wars set and replace the Robber pawn with Great Cthulhu. Place Cthulhu beneath the sands that cover the city of R’lyeh (i.e. on the Desert tile). Replace the Knight cards with Cultists from Cthulhu Wars, and grab a High Priest figure if available.

To set the right tone, I suggest playing at night, with candles, while playing A Shoggoth on the Roof.

The Stars are Right

When a player rolls a seven, the stars are right, and Cthulhu wakes. Move Cthulhu to any hex tile on the Cattan map. Do not discard Resource cards. Instead the player who rolled the seven has a number of destruction points equal to the lowest die on their dice roll that turn. For example, if a player rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have two destruction points.

For each destruction point the player must either:

  • remove one road
  • downgrade a city to a village
  • remove one village

All tokens removed or downgraded must be adjacent to the tile that Cthulhu now occupies. All destruction points must be used if possible, even if this means a player must remove or downgrade their own game tokens, or must place Cthulhu to revel and slay in gay abandon in a tile that is not the player’s preferred choice. You cannot move Cthulhu to a tile where it inflicts no destruction, unless there are no player tokens left on the map.

If you downgrade a city and the player controlling the city has no village token that can replace it with, then that player must place a village token from another player of their choice, as the inhabitants join another splinter sect of the cult of Great Cthulhu.

The stars are right effect is also triggered if a player must apply the deluge effect due to inability to acquire resource cards (see The Deluge section below).

Cultists

When you play a cultist card you dream of Great Cthulhu, and then move the Cthulhu figure and apply all of the stars are right effects with the dice roll you made that turn.

Tip: for maximum impact, wait until a turn where you roll a double 4, 5 or 6 before using your cultists.

The first player to gain three Cultists gains the High Priest figure (if you do not have one, use a Cultist figure of a different colour). This does not count as an extra Cultist and merely serves as a reminder that you have the biggest cult. If another player ever has more Cultists than the player with the High Priest figure, they immediately take the High Priest figure.

High Priest

If you have the High priest when the stars are right, then your destruction points are equal to the higher of the two dice. For example, if a player with the High priest rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have five destruction points.

Note: unlike the bonus for holding the largest Army card in a regular Settlers of Cattan game, holding the High Priest does not grant two bonus VP.

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Cultist, Cthulhu, and High Priest figures from Cthulhu Wars

The Deluge

If a player has no village or city tokens on the game map when the stars are right, or they no longer have the ability to get any resource cards from their remaining villages or cities when it is their turn, they must apply the deluge effect:

  • after moving Cthulhu and applying destruction effects from the stars are right, invert the tile Cthulhu occupies. This represents R’lyeh slowly sliding back beneath the waves and is a permanent change.
  • remove the circular numbered token from the inverted tile – it no longer generates resources.
  • if any road token now has inverted tiles on both sides, remove it from the board as the local geometry becomes non-Euclidean.
  • if any village or City is now completely surrounded by inverted tiles, remove it from the board. Their inhabitants have gone to join the Deep Ones.
  • road, village and city tokens removed by deluge effects are removed permanently and cannot be rebuilt later in the game.

Winning the Game

It is possible no player will reach 10 victory points before the deluge effect sinks R’lyeh below the waves, in which case dread Cthulhu wins. If a player reaches 10 VP first, they complete the great temple, and join the Deep Ones below the waves forever. All the other players should make “glub blub blub” noises as their settlers drown.


Pools

July 5, 2017

One of the key themes I am planning to incorporate into an Operation Unthinkable Megagame is that after almost six years of a world at war, most of the combatants want nothing more than to go home. So there will be a mechanical thread running through the game of a “clock” of political will that is running out of time. I also needed a way of modelling initiative at a theatre level, logistics and replacements, military capabilities, and all the wunderwaffe of alternate history. My ideas have developed a bit since my last post.

1945-05-01GerWW2BattlefrontAtlasFirst, for logistics, I started with some data on comparative munitions production by the allies in 1944 (the original numbers were something like millions of tons of munitions a year). This broke down as follows:

  • Canada – 1.5
  • United Kingdom – 11
  • USA – 42
  • USSR – 16

Because the UK and USA have commitments in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, I divided their scores in two, and added the Canadian score to the UK score to reach:

  • UK and allied forces (Canada, Poland, etc) – 7
  • USA and allied forces (Free France, Brazil, etc) – 21
  • USSR – 16.

This gives me a baseline score for how many supply tokens each side gets. Each token is a bonus attrition effect die to cause enemy casualties in battle.

While thinking about this, I was also thinking about the problem of how to determine which side starts the war, and how to handle initiative at the European scale. During the Second World War you generally had one side on the offensive, while the other side was on the defensive. A traditional I-go-U-go initiative system just did not feel right to me. So what I plan to try testing is having each side’s supreme command group (4-6 players) secretly allocate 100 points among the following five categories:

  • Alternate History
  • Initiative
  • Logistics
  • Military Capability
  • Political Will.

Alternate History

Alternate History points will allow players to use military capabilities that are not part of their historic force for mid-1945, including captured German equipment, vehicles that were only in prototype or blueprint form (such as high-altitude fighters for the USSR), and atomic weapons. It will also represent potential political choices, such as propaganda campaigns, influencing neutral nations, sending troops to secondary fronts like Greece and Norway, and redeploying forces from the Pacific. Some Alt-history cards are in both decks, so the first side to draw and spend the points for it gets it.

Each turn the Supreme command team will get to draw five cards for free. They can then spend Alternate History points to draw extra cards (the first card costs one point, the third three points, the fourth six points, etc). Each card has a cost to be played, either one, three, six, or ten Alternate History points. The cost will be weighted based on just how implausible the event is. For example, in the aftermath of WWII the Soviets managed to secure about 200 tons of Uranium oxide from German facilities, while the Western allies secured about 1000 tons. The allies let the Soviets have the plans for A9/10 rocket capable of reaching America, but there was no actual rocket prototype anywhere. So having a card option for a one-off dirty bomb is probably going to cost one or three alt-history points, getting a working A-10 ICBM is probably going to cost 10 alt-history points, and a German A-bomb to go in it another 10 alt-history points, as that is more alternative universe material than alternate history.

Initiative

The side that allocates the most points to Initiative is the side that starts with the initiative. In a tie, the western allies get initiative.

Victory conditions will then be switched so that the side starting the war is the side that needs to try and get to the far side of the game map to win.

When you have initiative, you get to make most of the attacks in the game, but you only have a finite number of supplies to help. When you do not have initiative, you get to stockpile supplies, accumulate replacements, and make limited counterattacks.

After each game turn, the supreme commander for each side makes a bid in initiative points. You must bid at least one point, and can bid up to half of your points. The side with the highest bid has initiative next turn. The losing side’s bid carries over to the next turn.

I think how this will play out is some back and forth, but the side with the higher pool should be able to do several two turn offensives, and a month of continuous operations is about the maximum that the Red Army could do in WWII.

Logistics

I discussed the baseline for logistics above. Allocating points to logistics increases the stockpile of supplies you have at the start of the game after the six week pause since the German surrender, and increases the baseline logistic supply (representing improved road, rail and port supply networks). I will apply a diminishing return here, possible a square root, so a 16 bid gets you +4 supplies and a 25 bid gets you +5 supplies.

Logistic points are also used to buy replacement cards to reinforce units suffering from battle casualties:

  • the UK and the USSR are both exhausted for manpower, barring play of some alt-history options, so each time they play their replacement cards it costs more
  • the USA has not exhausted its manpower, so has a fixed cost for replacements.

I am still thinking about whether airpower draws replacements from this pool, or has its own fixed schedule of replacements. I am leaning towards the latter option.

Military Capabilities

This pool is used to refresh military capability cards. These cards represent the chrome and colour of history, such as the Russian all female bomber regiment “the Night Witches”, or the deployment of the M-26 Pershing tank, as one use cards that grant a bonus.

Once used Military capability cards are returned to supreme command, who can spend points to regenerate the cards, and they then pass back down through the chain of command to front line commanders.

Political Will

Political will represents how long you can keep your armies fighting before you start to have major problems on the home front and the front lines. When your Political Will hits zero, the other side starts getting “Morale” cards that can be used to facilitate desertion from your combat forces, and to try and reduce your Political Will by an effect die roll.

Game options to increase Political Will will be rare. In most cases its just going to keep going down. Each turn you do not have initiative, you roll an effect die for Political Will loss. This is a cumulative effect. So the third turn in which you do not have initiative, you roll three effect dice. I may also have a drain on Political Will for key cities or river lines being taken/crossed by the enemy.

Back of the envelope calculation, for an eight turn game, you probably want a Political Will of 25+ to avoid having morale cards used against you. There is an obvious interaction with Initiative – a high Initiative pool means you will lose less will due to being on the defensive, but the combat advantage for being on the defensive should even this out a little.

The Effect Die

Events tend to have a no long term effect, a small effect, or a large effect. Borrowing from the 2d20 damage system when Operation Unthinkable  asks for an effect roll it means rolling a d6 for:

  1. A one point effect
  2. A two point effect
  3. No effect
  4. No effect
  5. A five point effect
  6. A six point effect.

Interaction Between the Pools

When any points pool, except Political Will, hits zero the following process is used.

  1. The Pool is refreshed to its current maximum score.
  2. Roll two effect dice, plus one effect die for each prior time the pool was exhausted.
  3. Each die roll must be applied to either Political Will or the Pool that hit zero.

For example, an Initiative Pool of 25 hits zero for the second time. The player rolls three effect dice and gets two, three, and five. The player chooses to reduce the Initiative Pool by two and Political Will Pool by five. So the Initiative Pool is now refreshed to 23. They could also have chosen to reduce either pool by seven.

When Political Will is reduced to zero:

  1. Refresh Political Will
  2. Give the opposing side a Morale card, plus one Morale card for each previous occasion Political Will hit zero
  3. Reduce all five option pools by one effect die roll.

If any pool is permanently reduced to zero, its zero effect is then applied each game turn. This will probably result in a collapse of Political Will in a few game turns.


Information Rich Combat Mechanics

June 13, 2017

The Modiphius 2d20 system is one I have used a couple of times to run convention games based around the Conan roleplaying game. I am thinking of adapting it for use in a Megagame.

First, a Quick summary of the 2d20 system:

  • You always roll at least 2d20.
  • You can roll up to three more d20s for situational modifiers, such as other players assisting you, to a cap of 5d20.
  • The roll is compared against an Attribute (usually in the 8-15 range) and a Skill (usually in the 1-5 range), potentially generating 0, 1 or 2 successes for each d20 roll
  • For example if you have an Attribute of 12 and a Skill of 3, and you roll 2d20 and get a 12 and a 2, you have three successes
  • If the number of successes equals the task difficulty, you succeed, and for each extra success you gain a point of Momentum
  • You can then spend Momentum to cool stuff in the game
  • Weapon damage is handled by rolling d6s
  • A damage roll of 1 or 2 inflicts damage equal to the roll, a roll of 3 or 4 does nothing, but rolls of 5 and 6 trigger special effects based on the weapon type (e.g. bypassing armour, or extra damage).

It recently occurred to me that I could adapt this as a mechanic for handling Army/Front level combat in Megagames. Traditional wargame mechanics often involve a lot of counting of various factors, followed by some maths as you try and make sure you reach the golden 3:1 ratio considered the minimum to ensure success in land warfare. In a Megagame there is no time for all this counting, you need to be able to take in the situation at a glance and get on with resolution. At the same time I want rich information from the combat result – if we are only doing a few combats each turn, then they need to actually move stuff around on the map and add to the game narrative.

ostfront-6-december-1941

The situation in Army Group Center’s sector of the Eastern Front on 6 December 1941. This is a German map, the Soviet reinforcements that are about to launch a counteroffensive are not on the map. Sourced from the Dupuy Institute blog.

Generally speaking, formations of Army/Front size are rarely destroyed in combat – the exceptions being encirclement (e.g. destruction of Army Group Center in 1944) and/or running out of space to retreat (e.g. British at the Fall of Singapore in 1942). What is important is how ready is the unit for further combat operations, and what is the momentum on the front.

So I am thinking of a mechanic where we are rolling d10s, and the important factors about a combat formation are readiness, on a 1-10 range, and quality, on a 1-5 range. A rested unit at full strength with brand new equipment would have a readiness of 10 (so most units would be rated nine or less). Quality is something that can be worked out based on historic performance (for World War Two, based on effectiveness scores from post-war quantitative analysis, I would put German units at 5-6, the  UK at 3-5, the USA units at 4-5, and the Russians at 2-3). Units roll a base 2d10, then +1d10 for each supporting unit flanking the enemy. Units then roll 2d6 for damage, but can spend supply points (or play special capability cards) to boost that up to 5d6 (I will have to playtest that cap, or perhaps allow it to be exceeded by special limited use cards).

The force being attacked also rolls for its defence, and the force with more successes is the force that gets Momentum points to spend. Units that are defending get bonus Momentum for defending river lines, urban terrain, mountains and prepared/fortified positions.

So we also rolled some d6 for damage, and while we throw away the 3-4 rolls as in 2d20, in this 2d10 system, the rolls of 1-2 are used for Attrition Effects and the rolls of 5-6 are used for Maneuver Effects.

Attrition Effects

Spend your Momentum points to reduce the targeted unit’s Readiness score by 1-2 points. The defender can also spend Momentum to hold the ground the occupy (the default assumption is that the attack does move the defender backwards) at a cost in Readiness.

In theory with 5d6, if you roll enough 2s you can take a unit from Readiness 10 to Readiness 0 in one attack, in practice its likely to take a while to grind forces down. At a glance in the European Theatre in World War Two, it was pretty hard for any force to sustain continuous operations with land forces for longer than a couple of months (the US/UK tended to run out of supplies first, the USSR to run out of tanks).

Maneuver Effects

This is where it gets more interesting and you can spend Momentum to:

  • reduce your own Readiness losses
  • reduce enemy Political Will (i.e. capture a large number of prisoners, or a city or other vital objective)
  • gain initiative for your side next turn
  • exploit the breakthrough (deep penetration and/or forcing flanking formations to retire)
  • capture enemy supplies that you overrun.

Using the two sets of dice, lets the game create a rich tapestry of potential game information. The downside is getting the players to make those decisions around spending Momentum quickly. This would be the key thing to stress test in playtesting the design.

Doctrine

One way of representing historic doctrine is to programme the first choice a side makes (or perhaps even the first two choices). For example, UK forces could be required to spend their first Momentum effect on reducing their own Readiness losses, Soviet forces on getting a breakthrough, and US forces on maintaining the initiative.

Initiative

I used to own a copy of a game called Renegade Legion: Prefect, which focused on hover tank battles on a planetary scale. The side that had initiative did nearly all of the movement and combat, while the side without basically sat there and hoped for a counterattack to give them the initiative. That concept bubbled to my head while thinking about this hack.

So my plan for this 2d10 system is that the side which starts the game on the attack holds the initiative. The initiative allows you to attack as many times as you like (up to one per Army formation). The side without the initiative gets a limited number of counterattacks. Both sides can spend Momentum on initiative, with a cumulative penalty for any side holding on to the initiative for consecutive turns. Another way of doing that might be to have an escalating supply cost, so you could hit a point where one side runs out of puff, no matter how well they are doing on the map. Frustrating, but a representation of Clausewitz’s theory of the culminating point.

A zero score for initiative could be taken as both sides are temporarily exhausted and spend a couple of weeks (or longer) resting or maneuvering before one side resumes offensive operations. Maybe both sides would be limited to a small number of attacks, like counterattacks.

Recovering Readiness

Units should recover Readiness quickly. Fifty percent of lost Readiness per two week turn seems okay as a starting position for playtesting. In this system I would just about never remove a unit from play, but at Readiness One I would not allow it to initiate attacks. Front lines would also be continuous – if you run out of actual Army formations, you would just deploy a Readiness One Battlegroup counter.

While Readiness should bounce up and down, quality would change only rarely – perhaps reflecting a unit gaining an elite reputation, or being issued with state of the art equipment in sufficient numbers to have an impact on operations (one Super Pershing does not a +1 Quality increase make).

…and now I really need to get back to revising The Colossus of Atlantis. GENCON is only 63 days away.

 


Aquila Rift Feedback

June 7, 2017

Last Saturday at Wellycon X, I ran the Aquila Rift Megagame, with the assistance of five control players and the enthusiasm of 26 players. A lot of the game files are available online, if you are interested in taking a look. Aquila Rift was intended to be more of a casual Megagame, and none of the players had played one before, and only a few had heard of them before Wellycon – although one player had watched the Shut Up & Sit Down Watch the Skies video several times.

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Each map table had roughly 14 systems that players could move between. Blue routes were pirate only, red routes inflicted damage. White markers indicate routes onto other map tables. The Control table has everything needed to run the map game, and one of the committees.

Setup started around 1100 and took a bit over two hours with one other person helping. Travis was also heaven sent when another member of the Control team texted to tell me he had rolled his ankle that morning while tramping. Travis volunteered to drive out and do a pick up so we would not be shorthanded.

IMG_0356

We set up six tables, but only used five.

We had around 19 signups before Wellycon started, so we picked up several people on the day, and also had four last minute cancellations – they felt that they could not commit to a four hour game.

A live action game of Codenames ran over time, so we started late (~4.30pm) and played through to 8.30pm. All up we got through 18 map turns and six committee phases. I was pretty happy with how the interaction between the map game and the committee game worked. There were problems, but in general I think the concept works for the kind of low player number Megagame I can run in Wellington. Every player gets to wear at least two hats. If I could get 60+ players I would focus more on one role per player.

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Richard managed to be both Pirate King and Public Enemy Number One at the same time

One new thing I did this time was to get some video. We did not have a spare person to run the camera, so I just left it in place with a Tripod. I will be teaching myself how to edit video this weekend and then I will try and put the highlights of game play and end of game speeches up on YouTube.

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This ship was almost destroyed in battle, just two more hexes of damage would have finished it off.

While law and order was maintained in some sectors, in others it collapsed, and pirates were able to “put the sector on farm”. The Viceroy gave good speeches, but teams were more united in the search for lost relics than in cooperating for the development of the sector. Some player feedback though t there were too many pirates. There were twice as many pirates as other roles, but only about one more Pirate than there were Patrol and Governor players.

The top five end of game plunder scores in the bank were:

  1. $1,163 – Alya
  2. $986 – Zachary
  3. $708 – Richard
  4. $698 – Jack
  5. $557 – Hannah.

On the whole I was happy with how the game system worked. Combat was the complicated bit, but it seems to have worked out okay – but one person did give feedback that it was too complicated. Where I was surprised, was just how much plunder appeared in the game – it was quite a bit more than in the playtests. This distorted the committee a bit, so if I run Aquila Rift again I would look at the plunder economy first, rejigging the committees second, and making combat simpler as the third priority. The search for the lost ships also seems to have been a good unifying element for teamwork in the game.

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Players were inventive with the dry erase markers.

Number Crunching from the Feedback Forms

I got 20 responses to the feedback survey form. Not to future self, have a few biro pens lying around for this – dry erase pens are not good for writing feedback. People were asked to rate things from 1-5, and high numbers were usually good.

  • Enjoyment 4.55 (high)
  • Briefing 3.6 (room for improvement)
  • Difficulty 3.2 (easy for some, hard for others)
  • Rate of Play 3.45 (not too fast for most)
  • Control 4.125 (good job guys!)
  • Involvement 4.45 (good but several suggestions for more)
  • Value 4.35 (good value).

I am very happy with the 4.55 rating for enjoyment! In terms of support for future games, 85% said they would like to play a Megagame again, and were willing to pay an the average of $27.65 for a whole day game and $18.50 for an evening game. Fourteen people also said they would like to help Control in the future. I think about 75% of the player and control team had read at least part of the game rules before the game.

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In the middle of a map turn.

I intend to recycle a lot of the game structure from Aquila Rift in The Galaxy Will Burn. Some players gave feedback on Aquila Rift that they wanted more politics, intrigue and an expanded faction game. TGWB will definitely have that.

My thanks go out to Wellycon for giving us the space to play in, to my control team of Alan, Dutton, Travis, John and Alistair, and to all of the players for an enjoyable game.


Reflections on a Runequest 6 Campaign

April 3, 2017

tdm100-rq6-front-cover

I seem to be chiming into “sell me on/off Runequest/Mythras” threads a lot on rpg.net a lot lately. So as my Runequest 6 (RQ6) campaign is winding down I thought I might post a summary of what I think of the system after almost three years of running a campaign for five players.

The Trivial Question – should you get Runequest 6 or Mythras?

The rules are almost identical. Both were published by The Design Mechanism. My copy of RQ6 is a 456 page softback. Mythras is a 304 page hardback. Mythras has stripped out the references to Runes, dropped a font size, reduced the white space in the margins, cleaned up the presentation of Animism magic and spirits, added a few more combat effects, traits, and incorporated errata. The character sheet in the Mythras rules is much improved on the RQ6 sheet.

I will not use Mythras at the game table, simply because the smaller font size is difficult for my ageing eyes to read. Hands down, no contest, RQ6 wins for ease of referencing mid-session.

What is Runequest 6 About?

Runequest 6 is about magic-wielding adventurers who go on missions to kill enemies and take their stuff, for reasons justified by the community they belong to. Your Runequest May Vary, but this is the default premise supported by the rules.

How Does Runequest 6 go About that?

The major elements of Runequest 6 are:

  1. 1970s style character attributes (Strength, hit points, etc) with a few modern touches (luck points, passions, culture, etc).
  2. A D100 roll under blackjack core mechanic, with an extensive skill system that governs almost all character actions.
  3. A gritty realistic feeling combat system, in which the player’s feel their characters are always vulnerable to harm.
  4. A toolkit of options for tailoring magic to your own campaign setting, and five different types of magic, but generally within competent mortal bounds, not mythic levels of power.
  5. Templates for building social organisations. Without these you might as well be playing D&D.
  6. Its a “Rule Zero” game system. You’re expected to ignore rules you do not like, or to add rules if the rules fail to support your preferred mode of game play.

What Does Runequest 6 Reward?

Runequest 6 gives rewards for sessions played, fumbles rolled, and for having the in-game wealth and time to purchase training for characters.

Lets Look at the Rewards a Little More Closely

Session based play rewards whatever the GM feels like rewarding, but in an egalitarian way. The suggestions are to base the reward on the length of time since the last reward (suggested range is two to four) AND how well the characters have performed (mission success) OR how well the characters have been played. It is recommended that everyone be given the same number of experience rolls (so you can ignore mission success or roleplaying prowess and just go straight to number of sessions since the last reward handout, multiplied by a number the GM likes).

Experience rolls can be spent on:

  1. Increasing existing skills – cost one experience roll, results in a gain of +1% to +5%.
  2. Increasing characteristics – by reducing all future experience gains by one OR by spending (1+current value -species minimum).
  3. Increasing or decreasing passions – cost one experience roll.
  4. Learning new skills – cost three experience rolls.
  5. Learning new magical abilities and spells – cost varies from three to five experience rolls for spells, more for creating new traditions .

Fumbles almost never occur in actual play, due to the luck point mechanic, but if they were to occur, then the character who fumbles a skill check (a roll of 99 or 100 on the d100 roll), gains a free +1% to the skill.

Training can improve skills you currently know (but not acquire new skills, you have to have spend three experience rolls for that), but you cannot train a skill more than twice in a row. Otherwise rich characters would never need to go adventuring again.

I think there was a missed opportunity to tie the Passion mechanic to the reward system. Its implied in the option for rewarding performance, but its not explicit so it can be ignored. Overall the reward system is one of small incremental improvement, making RQ6 ideal for campaigns intended to last for years of play.

In my campaign I originally only let players spend one experience roll on a skill increase each time they were awarded experience. Mid-campaign I reread the experience rules and decided this was not what was intended by the rules, and allowed any or all experience rolls to be spent on the same skill. Player behaviour instantly changed – the warriors focused on hitting foes with swords spent the majority of their experience on increasing Combat Style, while the sorcerers spent the majority of their experience on increasing their two magic skills. While 80% skill is good, 95% is better, and 105% is much better. Developing hobby skills or secondary interests feels like its making your character weak.

Is Runequest 6 Easy to Learn?

No its not.

If you have been playing roleplaying games since the 1970s and have used any previous d100 game system, than yes, YOU can pick up and learn to play or GM RQ6 easily. If you are used to modern games with a focused coherent design of rules and roleplaying practice, and a developed setting for play, then RQ6 presents you with an overwhelming number of choices, places most of the narrative authority burden on the GM, and then runs away and hides behind Rule Zero.

In my experience, RQ6 is not suited for modern convention play unless you play with a significantly cut-down version of the rules or with people who already know the game rules. Over the last few years I have had good experiences running Cortex Plus, Conan 2d20, Paranoia, and Blades in the Dark at conventions for players who had never encountered those game systems before. My one attempt at running RQ6 was a painful morass of player indecision (see my comments on death by a thousand options below).

The shorter (and free to download) Mythras Imperative rules might do better here. I note in passing that Chaosium are putting a lot of effort into designing a quickstart set of rules for their next edition of Runequest, and an adventure suitable for convention use.

The rules are about as logical as you can get in a linear text. There are a few things in the GM chapter I wish were more player facing, the animism and spirit information is a bit scattered (corrected in Mythras), and I thought the rules for bartering and haggling might have been better placed in the Skills chapter rather than the Economics chapter.

Can You Lose the Game in Character Generation?

Yes, you can lose the game in character generation by building a character with less than three action points. Action points govern how often you get to act in combat, so building a character with only one or two action points means you get less spotlight time than the other players AND your character’s chances of surviving combat plummet. This is because defensive actions consume one of your actions, and if you are attacked successfully and have no remaining actions, your foe gains a bonus special effect.

To be fair, the GM chapter does provide some advice on Skill selection and how to survive with only two Action Points, but if your GM does not pass on that advice, then you stand a pretty good chance of your first character being pretty woeful. The advice on how to play well with less than three action points … well it applies equally to anyone with three action points as well. I note that in Mythras Imperative, all characters get two Action Points.

In terms of ensuring character survival in combat, I believe the most important factors are:

  1. Action Points – because not giving away bonus special effects when hit is pretty much the most important thing in RQ6 combat.
  2. Luck Points – because it can be used to reroll a skill check, to gain an extra action, or to reduce a wound.
  3. Combat Style skill – you want this to be as high as possible because its used for both attack and defence.
  4. Evade or Acrobatics Skill – Evade is less useful than Combat Style for avoiding moderate amounts of damage because you end up prone (which costs an action to get up from). Acrobatics is more useful than Evade, because in most cases it can be substituted for Evade and a check allows falling damage to be reduced by 75%.
  5. Athletics Skill – because falling from a great height will inflict damage to multiple locations, and a luck point will only cancel one of them.
  6. Swim skill – because fatigue from drowning is a karmic death spiral on steroids.
  7. Endurance – ranked low as it is better to prevent damage through actions, skills use, or the passive effects of armour and shields, and it is better to prevent a critical hit by using a luck point to force an opponent to reroll. I will expand on this when I discuss the skill system below.
  8. Willpower – ranked low as only useful versus certain spells and social challenges.

This encourages a degree of homogeneity among characters. I would strongly encourage players to make sure their character has a minimum POW of 13 (for three luck points), and INT and DEX scores that sum to at least 35 (for three action points).

How Whiffy is the Skill System?

It is a very whiffy system. If you have a skill of 48%, then you will fail 52% of the time. There is an option buried in the GMs chapter to adapt the multistage crafting system to social encounters, which allows you to better handle tasks resolved over a period of time. Its not as detailed as say Burning Wheel’s debate system, but it does the job and I think it should have been up front in the main skill chapter.

One thing that is good, is that when opposed skill checks are being made, the higher successful roll beats the lower. So its more decisive than the early D100 games. If I were starting an RQ6 game again, I think I would try to incorporate fail forward by offering a “success with complications” to a player when both opposed rolls fail.

Another good thing is that a single Combat Style skill can incorporate as many weapons as you think is appropriate to your campaign. This avoids people tracking a dozen different skills. If I ran another RQ6 campaign I would look at bundling other skills together this way, e.g. a “College Skill” could incorporate a package of related Lore and Language skills.

My least favourite feature of the skill system is the incorporation of division into the process for calculating skill checks. A hard difficulty check requires you to reduce your skill level by 33%, which always elicits groans and eye rolls at my gaming table when I ask people to do the maths. Then you try augment your skill with another skill/passion or help from another character, which requires you to divide that skill by five and add it to the original skill. In the RAW your critical score remains at the unaugmented level, but I think its a common house rule to adjust it up to the augmented level for simplicity.

I have definitely encountered people who think this is a simple process, but I disagree. I note that RQ6 has an option alternative for flat +/- 20% to difficulty levels. If I ran RQ6 again, I would be very tempted to use the advantage/disadvantage die system used in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, simply to speed up play. I also note that in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, all three difficulty levels that reduce skills are pre-calculated and written for easy reference on the PC sheet.

System Mastery Shock

You might think an 80% skill is good. But its possible to run into a situation  where you have little to no chance to succeed. This is because on many “survival” checks, such as Endurance, Evade, and Willpower, not only do you have to roll under your skill, but over your enemy’s roll as well. This is an all or nothing check.

So if you have 80% Endurance skill, and your foe rolled a 70% attack against you that dealt you a horrible wound, you need to roll either a critical (01-08%) or a success better than 70% (71-80%). While it fits elegantly with the rest of the RQ6 system, it feels like your survival skills need to be about twice as high as your attack skills to be at a similar level of effectiveness. Now imagine your opponent lucked out and rolled a 07% critical, now your 80% Endurance Skill gives you a 1% chance of success, only a roll of 08 will help you.

This is the reason why if my players had to choose between increasing Combat Style or increasing Endurance, they chose to increase Combat Style. Point for point its a better investment for character survival. It took quite a few sessions of play before we really picked up on this feature of RQ6. After a longer period of time we realised that you could spend Luck Points to force the enemy to reroll their critical successes, and that this was a much better way of ensuring survival than rerolling your own Endurance check.

With Luck, Fumbles Never Happen

One feature of the system is that I found that in play, fumbles almost never happen. My players would see the 99 or 00 on their dice, and spend the luck point to reroll. This is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do, as fumbling in combat both increases the number of Special Effects gained against you, and opens up more severe special effects to be applied. A fumble only happened if luck points were exhausted, if it was in a relatively safe situation with healers on hand, or in the rare situations where a second 99 or 00 was rolled (so about one chance in 2,500 rolls). I think that happened once during the entire campaign.

As a GM, I felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities generated by the game system to take scenes in unexpected directions. I took this lesson into running Conan 2d20 where I told players that my job in using “Doom” generated by the players was to make the game more interesting for them, not to slaughter their characters with it. In a similar way, I was groping for something to handle long term story arcs, like Fronts in Apocalypse World. But that might be a house rule for another day in the future.

Combat – Death by a Thousand Options!

One of my reasons for starting an RQ6 campaign, was that I was looking for a system with a bit more meat on the bones than the Dragon Age system I had been using for the previous three years. RQ6 certainly delivers on this point with a rich system for conflict that can be tailored to either realistically grim or lighter cinematic heroism. My campaign involved musketeers, so it had some important rule decisions:

  • the players had access to musket pistols, which do 1d8 damage and ignore four points of armour
  • the main melee weapon is the rapier, which does 1d8 damage, and in an interesting quirk, has the same engagement range as a spear
  • only primitive cultures still used shields.
  • the PCs ( and many foes) had access to a combat trait that let them Evade without going prone
  • I allowed Luck Points to be spent to reduce a Serious Wound to a Minor Wound.

Initiative ignores your skill in fighting, and is based on a 1d10 roll plus the average of DEX+INT, minus worn armour. This was pretty much the only step in the game for us where Encumbrance mattered. I have never seen players who enjoy tracking encumbrance or fatigue, and RQ6 doesn’t really change the world on that point.

The key tactical feature of RQ6 combat is to concentrate efforts so your opponents run out out of Actions, so that you start gaining a bonus Special Effects when you hit them.

When my players first consulted the Special Effects table they were overwhelmed by the options. There are just too many of them. Humans stop being able to make good decisions when presented with more than about five options to choose from. Instead of making a choice, the brain just adopts a short cut. So our experience was this:

  • in the first few game sessions, after several minutes of agonising about the choice, the players would finally choose “target head”
  • after a few months the players just started choosing “target head” after a few seconds, and I got to put away the one minute sand timer I had been using to encourage them to make a quick decision
  • after a couple of years the players just said “target head” automatically. About once per game session one of the players would choose a different effect.
  • the only interesting decision was when people got a critical effect and had to choose between target head, maximise damage, and bypass armour.

So for me, one of the big selling points of “why play RQ6 and not another d100 game” ultimately proved to be a bug and not a feature. In a similar vein, I found the combination of a chart of situational difficulty modifiers for ranged weapons, and a second chart of penalties based on range and target size to be so complex as to be junked after one session of use.

One thing we had a lot of trouble with early on was charging into combat. While almost everything else happens in actions, a charge takes an entire five second combat round. This was frustrating to my players, who invariably wanted to exploit a moment of surprise to get into contact with the enemy right now.

Out of all the combats I ran, only one lasted long enough for the fatigue rules to really kick in meaningfully (most of my combats were over in four combat rounds or less, probably due to the lack of shields and the use of musket pistols or sorcery). So I stopped bothering about encumbrance and fatigue, as the handling time did not pay any dividends in game play.

Three things I struggled with as a GM were the Counter Spell and Ward Location actions. Counter Spell allows an incoming spell to be dismissed. Because it took the sorcerer PCs several actions to cast a spell, the game would have been rendered excruciatingly frustrating for them if I had NPCs countering their spells. So I almost never did it. Ward Location is a free action, allowing you to change the hit locations being guarded by a weapon or shield. The damage reduction from passive blocking is usually sufficient to negate an attack, and it does not cost an action. As with Counter Spell, I felt reluctant to use my knowledge of the player’s choices to block their actions. Outmaneuvering was another action in game that I never dared using against the players – if I had an NPC spending one action and making an Evade check to effectively negate the actions of all the PCs facing them, I would have had very unhappy players.

In play I found two activities more threatening than combat. One is climbing, the other is drowning. Climbing involves a risk of falls, and falling damage is realistically lethal and can strike multiple locations. Drowning is dangerous because it inflicts fatigue damage – which rapidly reduces your Swim skill making it more likely to fail the next Swim check.

The price of realism is time. RQ6 combats take a lot of time to resolve – make an attack roll, make a defence roll, choose special effects, determine hit location, roll damage dice, make endurance tests). In a faster playing system, like D&D, the whiff is forgivable as you get another action quickly. In RQ6 when you miss it takes a while to get back to you. So there is a lot of time where players are passively watching the action.

Linear Warrior, Quadratic Mage!

Sorcerers are better than other character concepts in RQ6 because they are more effective in combat. This is because a Sorcerer’s spells can be cast against multiple opponents, and the effect is continuing. This makes Sorcery incredibly disruptive to the action point economy of the RQ6 combat system.

A combatant with 100% combat style and a Longsword used in a two-handed style will inflict 1d10 damage on a hit, assuming it is not parried or evaded. On a critical, the weapon could do 10 points of damage. It still has to penetrate any worn armour. This costs one action to do, and might use up one enemy action on a defensive counter.

A Sorcerer with 100% Skill in Shaping and Invocation casts a Magnitude 1, Range POW, Targets nine Wrack spell. This strikes nine opponents for 1d10 damage to a random location every time the sorcerer takes an action and concentrates on the Wrack spell rather than doing something else. This damage ignores worn armour and can only be resisted with an Evade check (which costs an action point). Spending one action to inflict 9d10 damage, or possibly exhausting nine enemy actions – its hard for the characters who choose not to use magic to feel that their character concepts were a good idea.

Towards the end of my campaign, I attacked my five PCs and three NPC allies with upwards of 30 opponents. The party was camped for the night on a rise of stone in a swamp, and managed to spot the approaching attackers in time to prepare defences. One sorcerer boosted the damage resistance of the party and then locked down nine of the enemies with a crowd control spell, the other sorcerer let loose a fire elemental to disrupt the attack and then wracked another ten of the foes to death. The remaining 11 enemies were dealt with by the other six characters. The dozen odd enemy archers not in the main assault force did manage the odd effective hit (range and darkness reduced their effective skill to around 10%) but if they had stuck around after the main assault was defeated the sorcerers would have pinned and burned them in short order.

Monsters are not Scary but a Heavy Infantry Shield Wall is Terrifying

A single monster lacks the Action points to be an intimidating opponent. Even a Dragon has a mere four action points. Two combat rounds of “target head” special effects should be more than enough to take care of it. The only monsters my players found intimidating in the game were opponents with > 100% combat skill (because every point over 100 reduces a PCs skill by a matching amount), immunity to damage or armour greater than weapon damage, or mystics with the ability to grant themselves bonus actions for parrying/evade actions (suddenly finding out that your opponent has six actions, not three, is a great discomfort to a player).

Groups using the Formation Fighting trait on the other hand … your action points are reduced by one just by engaging them! Now if they are also using overlapping large shields to passively block five of the seven possible hit locations, you can get a long extended sitzkrieg where those fatigue rules start being a deciding factor. In my campaign, when the PCs ran into a formation of shield and spear troops their reaction was to nuke it from range with spells.

Social Stuff – A Strength and a Weakness

I have an issue with with the Seduction skill. As a professional skill its restricted to the Courtesan and Entertainer professions, and its the only way a character can romantically or sexually persuade another character – its explicitly different to the Influence skill all characters have. While its true that you could take the seduction skill as your one elective “hobby” skill option, or Rule Zero it, I just found this weird.

One thing I noticed about RQ6 only after getting into the middle of the campaign was that the light touch for “social effects”. Where combat has 50+ options for extra detail, most social skills have at best four options (for fumble, fail, success and critical success). This does make social interactions play much faster than combat, but its also another reason why I think the default premise of RQ6 is social justified killing with magic, because that is what most of the rules focus on.

A weird thing in my campaign was that my players did not trust their Insight checks. I could tell them after a successful roll that the NPC they were interacting with wanted to help them, and the players would still choose not to trust them. I think that is on them and not the game system.

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Supplements for the Game

With a toolkit system like RQ6 a lot of GMs are going to be running home brew campaigns. What follows is my short summary on the available settings and supplements:

  • Mythic Britain: Dark Ages Britain with a potential King Arthur. Its really hard to compete in this space with Pendragon, and while the Winter Council scenario showed promise, the rest of the adventures in the book underwhelmed me.
  • Mythic Rome: reads like a history textbook. I’m yet to reach the point in the book where they start discussing how its a game.
  • M-Space: a homage to 1970s sci-fi roleplaying. I found it uninspiring, except for its explanation of Revolution D100’s extended conflict system, which it does better than the source.
  • Classic Fantasy: a homage to 1970s fantasy roleplaying, its a skinning of Basic D&D into a D100 system. Rather than extra hit points, you get a lot more Luck Points.
  • Korantia: a traditional bronze age fantasy setting. I quite liked some of the background elements, but again, the published scenario I had for it did not enthuse me.
  • Luther Arkwright: a homage to a 1970s comic about a multiverse hopping agent of order. Good, but you may have noticed a retro theme to the RQ6 settings, and this one really nails that classic random generation feel by restricting psionic powers to people who make a lucky random roll.
  • Monster Island: a superb sandbox setting on a jungle island. This was my first RQ6 supplement, and almost everything else from the Design Mechanism has left me disappointed in comparison to this gem.
  • Hessaret’s treasure: a good one shot adventure mixing some urban social interaction, overland journey, and a cave crawl at the end.
  • Ships and Shield Walls: Rules for ships and mass battles. I had to adapt the battle rules for gunpowder but they worked well enough. The second time we had a mass battle, I did not use the mass battle system, as the PCs side would have been wiped out in it (they had 1,000 conscript spears versus 1,000 trained musketeers).
  • The Book of Quests: seven roughly linked scenarios. I found the best of these to be The Curse of the Contessa, with its competing sets of NPCs, while the worst was the introductory scenario Caravan, where all the clues for the behaviour of the big bad monster at the end misdirect the players.

My main creative tools: Silent Legions, which was invaluable for generating cults and great old ones (because nothing from Call of Cthulhu surprises anyone anymore – the moment I told my players they were going to a coastal town, they all collectively muttered “Deep Ones” at the same time), and The Harrowing Deck, which I used for quick generation of NPC motivations, or pulling three cards for a past/present/future structure for a scenario or in game event.

Invaluable for any RQ6 campaign is the Mythras Encounter generator. This allows you to quickly generate any number of NPCs and print them off for use in combat. With the other creative tools I could generate enough material for up to five sessions of play in around two hours.

So you Obviously Hated this Game System?

No. I had a really good time planing and running the game, and my players enjoyed it. Towards the end of the campaign, however, all the players agreed that they did not want to play RQ6 again. Their request was for a simpler and more flexible game system, and I have one player who is dead keen on the Conan 2d20 game – which I backed on Kickstarter and should be getting a pile of supplements for in the middle of the year.

My own ideas about what I want in a game have also evolved. Over the last three years I have probably read more roleplaying game systems than in the previous 30 years. While I was able to bring insights from this reading to bear fruit in the RQ6 campaign, towards the end of the campaign I had reached a point where the RQ6 rules were hindering me more than helping me.

If I did it all over again I would do a lot of things differently based on my improved understanding of the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and by the time I finished adding that layer of adjustments on, the game would only barely be recogniseable as RQ6. I did read through the Mythras Gateway license for people who want to write game supplements using the Mythras rules, and almost everything singled out as a feature of the game system not to be changed, is something I want to change!

I think they key lesson for me, is that I am no longer looking for a simulationist roleplaying game system for running long campaigns with. I checked out the beta for a recent Kickstarter for a realistic combat system, and stopped reading at the point where it said “Roll 14d10 to climb the wall”. My own knowledge of martial arts and history means I just find too many edge cases in the rules that bug me, whereas a game that adheres to emulating a specific fiction or collection of tropes is probably going to be better for me as a GM now. For example, if I want to do a samurai game, then Usagi Yojimbo will do a better job out of the box than me spending three months rewriting RQ6.

But, there is that new edition of Runequest (no edition number) from Chaosium later this year. And the draft rules at GECON last year looked so good … so I am sure I will run some kind of d100 game again in the future.

 


Hack what you like…

March 23, 2017

As my current Runequest campaign is drawing to a close I have done a little prep on my idea to hack Night’s Black Agents (a GUMSHOE variant for vampire hunting at a James Bond/Jason Bourne level of competence) into a SF setting (with some help from Ashen Stars). I was originally thinking something Star Wars Old Republic era, but I might try the Coriolis setting (Firefly meets Arabian Nights). I have not run GUMSHOE before and it will be interesting to try a new game system that requires a different level of self-discipline from the GM. For NAB you need to build your vampire conspiracy and your vampires before the campaign starts, and then stick to the decisions you made so that the clues the players acquire make sense for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their fearsome foes.

I have also been thinking about what to do after the next campaign is finished. While I have some setting ideas I want to explore, I am not sure which system to use, or if my ideas are strong enough to make a serious stab at designing a game. Bearing in mind a comment from a friend recently that he could design eight board games in the time it takes to design one roleplaying game, because roleplaying games are complex.

Key Roleplaying Game Design Articles that Influence my Thinking

These are articles and webpages that I keep coming back to for inspiration.

Vincent Barker, A Quick & Dirty Outline and The Fruitful Void.

Jared Sorensen, The Big Three Questions.

  1. What is your game about? This is the premise.
  2. How does it go about that? These are all the game elements.
  3. What does it reward? This is the game system.

John Wick adds a fourth question “How do you make this fun?”. Other people have added even more questions to the list.

Whitson John Kirk III, Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games.

A few other random quotes on rpg game design:

  • The First law of RPG Design – A game is not about what it is about, but how it is about it (also known as Ebert’s First law).
  • The Rule of Jared – only roll dice when its important.
  • The Mearls Paradox – a roleplaying game that is complete is not a roleplaying game at all.
  • Jared’s Rule of Combat – Fight scenes need to be exciting. Combat does not have to be.

Specific Articles on Magic

Aliette de Bodard, Magic Systems and my world building process.

Brandan Sanderson, Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic (but follow the link to the post on the second law, its the most relevant to roleplaying games).

Roleplaying Game Design is Still a Contested Space

A few recent forum threads gave me a rehash of the GNS debates and similar history from the Forge era. The best concept I gained out of that time investment was the idea of focusing on the fiction you are trying to emulate. It also helped steer me towards realising that my creative agendas fall more in the “gamist” rather than the “simulationist” camps.

The most recent attempt at simulationist design I read, I stopped when it said as an example of play “Roll 15d10 to climb a wall…”. What I would rather have in a game is one die roll, or a dice pool of not more than 6-8 dice

Lessons learned from Kickstarters

There seem to be four kinds of successful gaming product on Kickstarter:

  1. Genuine innovation (the rarest beast).
  2. Ancillary products (dice and other gaming aids).
  3. Next Editions of an established gaming product.
  4. Love Letters to an older game that will never get a Next Edition again.

I also have to say, that after backing 66 projects since May 2013, that I am no longer enthused to back anything that does not at least have a quickstart or ashcan version (for an RPG) or a demo of a physical product (game aids). I think the only really innovative game I have backed is Blades in the Dark. The three games I have been waiting the longest on delivery were all “good ideas” from established designers and companies, but are now approaching two years overdue. While I suspect they will eventually deliver, I think in the last few years Kickstarter has become more of a place to take roleplaying games that are already 80-90% finished.

I do not have any interest in making ancillary products, and I do not have an IP to do a Next Edition with, so that leaves genuine innovation and love letters. Try as I might, I have not figured out a new and interesting way of rolling dice, or changing the practice of play around the gaming table. So that leaves taking the “love letter” approach to writing a game. Here I find my ideas keep returning to the D100 System. The game I would most like to pay homage to is Runequest 2nd edition, which packed an awful lot of game into 120 pages. It did this in large part by making a lot of the setting implicit in the rules, art, and examples of play. not by devoting large amounts of space to fluff text and short fiction.

Of course, there is a Next Edition of Runequest due out this year, and based on the designer blogs and draft I saw at GENCON, its going to be quite good. But there are at least two open license D100 systems on the market that I can use as a starting basis. “Hack what you like, to make what you love” as Vincent Barker put it. So that is where my thoughts are at right now, trying to innovate at the edge of the D100 system, and producing a focused setting with a light touch, the way RQ2 managed.

Now, I need to get back to drafting some Megagame rules…