Four Megagame Concepts

June 8, 2018

In this post I will outline concepts for four different Megagames that I might be spending some time on turning into fully developed games over the next 18 months or so. Feedback is most welcome.

1389442808118Watch the Skies: Dragons

This would be a fantasy hack of Watch the Skies, replacing Alien UFO attacks with Dragon attacks. The political scenario for the teams worried about Dragon attacks would be complicated by the adding a Dark Lady who is in the middle of an attempt to conquer and enslave the free world.

I expect the main game roles would convert as follows:

  1. The Scientist becomes a Sorcerer, and takes blood and bone from various slain monsters, plus lore rescued from dungeons, and uses that to research spells (because any sufficiently advanced technology resembles magic).
  2. The United Nations becomes the Grand Council, where the Elves, Dwarves, Free Men, etc all debate how to resist the Dark Lady, what should be done about the Dragon menace, and whether or not inconvenient bits of jewelry should be disposed of in far off volcanoes.
  3. Team leaders remain team leaders, but with more feudal titles and a fear of peasant uprisings. As with WTS, if there are a lot of players, then the espionage function can be taken over by another player.
  4. Military leaders have a dual role that could be split between two players. One role focus is on military operations with armies against the Dark Lady. The other role is focused on individual Hero characters challenging Dragons to fights, exploring dungeons for relics and lore, etc. To keep game play fast, two maps might be needed (and its established in fantasy that large armies find it impossible to find small bands of individuals bearing inconvenient jewelry).
  5. A merchant role focused on trade and the economy could be added, but is not essential.

The teams and other game elements would all be based on easy to recognise fantasy tropes, rather than any specific intellectual property. Possible teams include:

  1. The Elves
  2. The Dwarves
  3. The Crusaders
  4. The Fanatic Caliphates
  5. The Wandering Northmen
  6. The Vestigial Empire
  7. The Horse People.

main-qimg-2e8c75308a30514c28e19b94accd4dd1-cColossus of Atlantis III

My take on ancient Atlantis features giant robots, monsters, rival empires, and ever increasing DOOM threatening to sink Atlantis. Its been run a few times now, and with that experience (plus additional research on ancient Greece and modern boardgames about the Peloponnesian War) there are some significant changes I want to make.

  1. Better maps: I want to move away from abstract maps and make some useful game maps of the city of Atlantis, and the colonial regions of Libya, Asia, and Europa.
  2. More streamlined play: the current version of the game has too many resources (Talents, Cogs, Doom, Vril, Orichalcum, Cities, Armies, Fleets, Colossi) that do too many things and can be simplified. I think combat and monster hunting can also be refined into a card draw system that hides mechanics “under the hood”.
  3. Less is more: an overall reduction in the game components, and placing more emphasis on player driven creative injects into the game (e.g. players describe the Great Wonder they are building, Control then assigns cost and determines game effect from construction).
  4. Using the city map of Atlantis to allow for civil strife to be played out. Rather than moving units around city blocks (like the JUNTA boardgame) I think a drafting mechanism with cards and a large dose of uncertainty is the way to handle coup attempts. It also allows us to have the titular Colossus of Atlantis as a combat unit in the game.
  5. Changing how the factions and Councils work. The approach I want to try is for everyone to have ties to more than one faction, forcing some hard choices about ultimate allegiances in the endgame. Rather than having all players resolve map actions, then team time, then council actions, and then assembly votes (which takes a long time), the game structure will involve more parallel processing, e.g. you can choose to do one of managing your colony, leading an Atlantean army against a threat, monster hunting, or voting in council politics.
    1. One way of doing this may be to have each map elect a Council representative (or two). While being on Council gets you access to the levers of power in Altantis, it means your colonies are not being managed effectively.
    2. The big assemblies where changes are made to the “constitution” of Atlantis would only happen a few times in the game, rather than every turn.
    3. Big projects would be more of a case of the players describing what they want, and Control adjudicating.
    4. Adding a significant trading game – Atlantis needs grain from the colonies, otherwise there will be riots! Atlantis has “cash”, while the colonies have “resources”.
  6. Factions that the game could have include:
    1. Amazons (for the female players, supporting female emancipation and equal citizenship rights).
    2. Medes (a team that supports foreign intervention in Atlantis)
    3. Aristocrats (a team that supports the status quo of a weak High King of Atlantis, limited citizenship rights, and no votes for women)
    4. Monarchists (a team that supports a strong High King of Atlantis)
    5. Tyrants (a team supporting a strong military dominated or Spartan style government)
    6. Oligarchs (a team that supports reforming Atlantis to favour political participation of the wealthy)
    7. Democrats (a team that supports popular rule by male citizens)
    8. Telchines (a team supporting radical change through sorcery and technology)
    9. Cultists (a team dedicated to drowning Atlantis).

Draft-Map1The Reaching Moon

This would be a high fantasy scenario set in the Glorantha world originally designed by Greg Stafford, as represented in one the enduring roleplaying games from the 1970s, Runequest. I believe that a not-for-profit game would be okay under Chaosium’s fan permissions, but I would have to contact Chaosium for explicit authority before spending a lot of time on designing the game.

The big pro for using Glorantha is the incredibly rich detail of the setting.

The big con against using Glorantha is the incredibly rich detail of the setting.

I am still working my way through the PDF of the new Runequest rules that dropped last week, but I think a basic premise for the game would be setting it in the Kingdom of Tarsh, a client state of the Lunar Empire, which is the scene of a civil war with multiple factions. This would take place in the new advanced timeline, where the Dragonrise event and the liberation of Pavis and Prax from Lunar occupation has weakened the formerly dominant Lunar Empire.

The trick here will be in squaring the circle of a conflict with armies, in which individual heroes can be more powerful (with magic from otherworld mythic quests) than entire army regiments. Both need to be important, along with some logistic considerations and the intense diplomacy between all of the religious cults and political factions.

jc-mars1Mars 1938 (or The Queen of Mars)

The idea is inspired by the planetary romance genre, typified by the John carter “Barsoom” pulp novels, and in particular the roleplaying games Space 1889 and Rocket Age, which took the tropes of that genre and added steampunk and 1930s politics respectively. Old Mars is usually portrayed with a breathable atmosphere, but with a dying landscape littered in ancient ruins. This is the Mars of our imaginations, before the scientific probes of the 1960s revealed just how hostile and lifeless the planet is.

The key elements of this genre are Earth as a centre of technology and colonialism, with Mars as the exotic locale filled with hostile tribes and decadent monarchies (standing in for Africa and Asia). The pulp novels largely focus on individual male heroes and the exotic women that they meet and fall in love with. Swords are used a lot instead of modern weapons. For a megagame though, the enduring subject is going to be the encounter of alien civilisations, the difficulties in communicating, and the disasters that follow from misunderstandings.

One of the historical touchstones for the scenario would be the events associated with the Spanish Civil War, with its clash of ideologies (fascists, communists, socialists, anarchists, monarchists, Catholics, and regional independence movements) and foreign intervention (the international brigades, the Condor legion, League of Nation sanctions, etc). The other historical reference would be the relationship between China and other nations during its transition from Empire to Republic and collapse into Warlordism in the 1920s. This saw several wars (both with China and between the colonial powers), corruption influenced by the opium trade, secret societies, unequal treaties, palace politics, heroic sieges, rebellions, coups … all good stuff for megagames.

A note: if its the 1930s then there are Nazis, and in 1938 Adolf Hitler was Time magazine’s man of the year and not a contender for worst monster in history. I would be very explicit in the player briefing that no Nazi uniforms or insignia are to be worn in the game.

My first concept for turning this into a megagame is to focus on one large Martian empire, its internal factions, and the Terrestrial Powers. There can be a Indiana Jones minigame of rescue archaeology and ancient relics. The main game is then divided into three parts:

  1. The first stage of the game is the competition phase with three major components:
    1. The terrestrial powers are trying to gain ideological adherents among the Martian factions, and other goals such as more land, permission for missionaries, open trade agreements, arms sales, etc.
    2. The Martian Queen is attempting to introduce a constitution that can create a modern state system that can preserve Martian independence and the monarchy.
    3. The Martian factions are trying to influence the constitutions towards their own interests (like a game of Credo where Church factions argue at the Council of Nicaea), gain support from the pesky humans without alienating supporters, and gain control of recruits and weapons.
  2. The second stage of the game is the coup phase. This is when factions unhappy with the outcome of the first stage can stage uprisings and coups. This phase will be short and brutal.
    1. This is when we test for assassination – players that have betrayed their principles being more likely to be torn apart in mob violence. Player briefings would be upfront about the risk of character elimination (“Its like A Game of Thrones, on Old Mars”).
    2. The faction that does the best in stage one will control the Martian capital and likely be in the best position for the next stage of the game.
    3. At this point in time we break for lunch, assign new characters to anyone who has been assassinated, and set up the map for the next stage.
  3. The third stage of the game is the conflict phase. This is when we fight out the civil war, and see if any of the factions can achieve a military victory, or if a negotiated settlement occurs. The political actions from stage one will continue, allowing players to do special actions like opening the city gates in the middle of a siege, trigger peasant uprisings, or escape into a luxurious exile.

This was the most popular idea in the player poll at Wellycon, and its definitely the one that most captured my imagination this week.

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Gaming Kickstarters/crowdsourcing I have backed

October 13, 2014

Draft-Map1

I’m watching the last few hours of the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter. I was not familiar with the 13th Age system until last week, but I found a comprehensive review of many of its mechanics (Icons and the One Unique Thing look really cool), and it sounded well suited to Glorantha’s mythic level of power, and better for my own old school style of gaming than Heroquest.

It met most of my criteria for backing something:

  1. Already something I am a fan of (Glorantha, especially that rework of the classic RQ 2 map)
  2. A product I am reasonably sure will finish (from a company that already has published stuff)
  3. Involves someone I respect from previous work (Jonathan Tweet et. al.)
  4. Looks like it will be fun!
  5. Nothing too risky (which is pretty much every computer game I have looked at). Shipping seems to be an area where things go horribly wrong and costs exceed the initial budget.
  6. Affordable (just, the shipping to New Zealand for a couple of books increases the cost by around 40%).
  7. Learning about it before the Kickstarter ended (curse you Pathfinder miniatures!)

I do sometimes wonder, if I am backing something to reach stretch goals for content that should have been included in the standard product. More money for more artwork seems reasonable. Money for vanity stuff, like having your name or myth included, sure, if its optional its not my money. Money for extra monsters or enemy organisations … I’m not so sure about that. Money for extra gaming products to go with it, sure that sounds good.  This is something I think about, as its possible I will try and crowdsource funding for a boardgame design, so collecting a few ideas for cool stretch goals could be handy.

I backed Sprawl. Not that I really need a cyberpunk system right now, but it is fun to back something your friends have started, and the Dungeon World style is good for paring things down to the basic tropes.  This makes it good for convention games … where the sheer complexity of the options in something like Runequest just drowns the story out.

I backed Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. In part this was due to the sheer nostalgia for the epic campaign Shane Murphy run almost 25 years ago, which had a major influence on my life at the time. Its almost complete, and I should have my hands on the leather bound hardcover books before Christmas. I only glanced at the PDF proof of the rules that came through (buying various Bundles of Holding has given me a long backlog of RPG books to read through), but it all seems on track for delivery.  I used the quick play version of the rules for Asterix and the Deep Ones, but it was almost too complicated for a 3-4 hour convention game.

Call of Cthulhu has built up a lot of mythos related stuff over the years, so the Kickstarter was able to offer reskins of classic RPG products, t-shirts, hats, fake coins, coffee mugs, pins, cards, dice … having a vast plethora of addons from stretch goals certainly gives people something to watch as the Kickstarter progresses.

The Old Ones got even more money pledged from me for Cthulhu Wars. From the fun game point of view, this was powerfully attractive for the promise of insanely asymmetric faction powers, something I loved in the classic Dune boardgame. I am hoping to have the main game in my hands before Christmas and I intend to bring it to Big Gaming week in Christchurch. It looks like all the supplements will come through in the new year sometime. Probably good for my customs bill that it gets split up like this.  I like the look of the rules and have borrowed from them for the next iteration of Housewar.  One reason for backing it at a “get one of everything” level was the sheer number of miniatures on offer. I will always have something to pull out for a crawling chaos horror at the FRPG gaming tables.

HeroForge – is now in beta and I had a play with the alpha, building an elf in musketeer style clothing. My feedback was that it needed an “undo” button. Its fine if you have a limited menu of choices, but once you have a large list trying to reselect back to what you just changed out of will be a pain.  An option to easily share the images you generate to social media would also be nice.

By way of comparison I took a quick look at Figureprints which has been making World of Warcraft figurines for a while. The price there is US$130 plus shipping for one painted miniature, with a limited menu of options (items earned in game, and still stored on the account, or from a small list of classic weapons and armour).  So for HeroForge I am getting six unpainted miniatures for $160, or around $27 each, but I have free range to design what each miniature looks like. HeroForge is something I backed because in part I thought, this is a service the gaming world needs.

One thought I had about 3-D printing of game miniatures. When the price drops, and printers become more available, where does the market for Games Workshop’s expensive propriety miniatures go?

I also backed the Runequest 6 Collectors Edition through crowdsourcing. This was pretty straightforward, no extra kitsch to worry about, just good artwork and packaging. I’m such a fan I got multiple copies, for fear of disasters with cups of coffee.

I have not backed everything I have seen appear on crowdsourcing platforms.

  • Cthulhu Invictus modules – I was not actually all that impressed at the quality of the other Cthulhu Invictus modules/scenarios – far too much physical combat, and calling for reinforcements from the local Legion fortress
  • Boardgames that just had themes which didn’t appeal to me
  • Glorantha world maps at a 5k per hex detail, and Glorantha coffee table books, at the time I was interested in other things and had less spare cash to take a punt with
  • OGRE, from Steve Jackson Games, what was on offer was a game that was goldplated and full of a thousand addons that would have broken me for shipping and customs – it simply grew too far away from the simple ten minute game I used to play with friends in the high school library.

I will have to do more research on how these things work, both what helps a project succeed, and what can lead to them failing. I suspect trying to get a boardgame with big plastic space dreadnought miniatures off the ground, without an established reputation, will be a hard slog.


A week without computer games

May 13, 2012

Day 6, my fingers twitch, but as much as I’d like to play some computer games I’m going to be good and follow my GPs advice on dealing with the tennis elbow in my left arm.  I did log into World of Tanks to take advantage of the VE day specials, and to take a look at how my Soviet heavy tanks had been rejigged, but I successfully resisted the x5 experience bonus and logged out of the game afterwards.  For a right hander, getting tennis elbow in the left hand is rare, I suspect its the dominance of WASD keys in modern gaming that has done it to me (that and playing computer games 4+ hours a night).

Grand Strategy

This does leave me with a lot of time for reading and thinking, so a good chunk of today was spent working on the Sun & Starship rules for Buckets of Dice 2012.  Most of this was spent trying to nail down control of tokens, so people will always know who controls what in the game, or how control changes between players.  I’m deliberately forcing players to keep ships concentrated in no more than three stacks, so as to encourage raiding tactics and to make it difficult to build solid defence lines.

The Senate Bills have also been fleshed out.  Each of the five committees gets one to four Bills each turn. The exact number is determined by the Treasury Committee, which can increase or reduce the Bills other committees get.  After the first draft I did a second pass for balance, prompted by realising that one committee had a power worth +/- 10 victory points, so I made sure the other committees had something comparable.  I then did a second pass to increase the horse trading options so that most bills gave out boosts to more than one player at a time.

Planning ahead for 2013 I would like to design a railway building game.  This would include options I wish were included in most published railway building games, to whit, the option to say “Screw this, mobilise the army” when someone else pips you to the next rail hub.

Roleplaying Games

I am following the development of the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons over at http://community.wizards.com/dndnext without a lot of enthusiasm.  While I purchased the core 4th edition books, I found that the game had gone too much towards a fully blown miniatures wargame and away from the narrative combat (“theatre of the mind”) that I use in resolving a lot of tabletop conflict.  As a GM I simply couldn’t fit the options available to the players into my own mind, making the game too complicated for me to design scenarios for.  That said, the actual written advice on running/designing campaigns was solid.

I am much more looking forward to The Design Mechanism’s sixth edition of Runequest, especially after the PDF preview was put up at: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/resources/RQ%20Preview%201.pdf.  I like the clean, uncluttered layout, and the style of artwork.  I’m intrigued by the inclusion of cultural passions (e.g. loyalty, love, hate) and how they might influence the mechanics.  It’s also good to see that mysticism will be a valid magic system in the main rules.

In part because of the upcoming RQVI I took a look at the Stafford Library’s Arcane Lore, which is essentially a 129 pages of GM/design notes on hero questing. One of the big frustrations of RQ was that there never seemed to be enough information about the hero quests of Glorantha to actually run players through, unless you were willing to hunt through obscure mail order fanzines.  I suspect my next campaign game will use Runequest rules, although it may not be a Glorantha setting – there are hints that a new edition of roleplaying rules for the Artesia setting will be a D20/RQ ruelset.

Grabbing a few other PDF’s to read this week, I was disappointed by Monte Cook’s Ruins of Intrigue. While its only 98 pages long, I was hoping for a bit more in the way of interesting crumbled ruins and a lot less overland/wilderness terrain.  While the alternate secrets for major NPCs and foes was nice, with competing explorer factions for Casablanca intrigue, it would have been nice for a range of lost artefacts and other lootable stuff to have been detailed rather than leaving the GM to make up all the loot themselves.

In an old school kick again, I picked up the D&D 3.5 edition of Blackmoor, in part because I read that the map in the 4th edition version was less than helpful. That’s next on the reading list.

Gaming Recap

Skyrim – still have not resumed play of this.

World of Warcraft – 3/8 hard modes, expansion is definitely winding down, have BETA invite not using it yet as I have no interest in the levelling content (I do want to see how the Paladin heals 5 mans and raids).  Guild finished the Rogue legendary dagger two weeks back, so we may go back and finish the Firelands legendary staff next.  Have been trying to clear off some grindy achievements in the down time – still have not found a useful BOE in archeaology.

TERA MMORPG – not going to touch this one, can we please have real armour for females in games?

Secret World MMORPG – looks interesting, modern day occult horror, but dear god where would I find the time!

World of Tanks – upgraded to a premium account, changed play away from acquiring new tanks to focusing on the ones I have that are fun to play – trying to get crew skills to 100%. So while I have researched the SU-14 for example, I’m still happy playing the SU-8 as my artillery piece.  Patch 7.3 has rejigged the Soviet tree, so I’m going to have to relearn how to play the KVs – the 152mm “derp” howitzer has been shifted from the KV 1 to the KV2.

Guild Wars 2 – still looking forward to this after reading more beta info, as a non-subscription MMORPG its one that will be easy to play for just a few hours every now and then.

SWTOR – got bounty hunter healer to L40, enjoying healing much more than tanking, deep down I still prefer WoW.