3:02pm: New Blog
I haven't used this account in quite a while.
I think, in part, LJ wasn't really working for what I wanted to do here. I started a new Blog last month, and it seems to be working out better for me. We shall see if I keep up with it. I suspect I will. Check it out... or don't. Your choice.
The Unborn were created by taking a bit of the infant who they were to replace and shaping some of the more malleable stuff of Neitherworld and wrapping it around that bit. In general, they grew up in fairly typical families, though they probably had more feelings of estrangement and such than most children.
As adults, they came into their full power. Whether or not they realize what they are, their bodies are created from the stuff of dreams, hopes, and magic. This enables them to perform feats that should be patently impossible. (Game-mechanically, these will start out with broad, low-impact abilities, the effects of which are largely cosmetic, but cool and variable. Abilities will become increasingly powerful with specialization.) In addition, while they live on Earth, they also have a strong and potentiallu mysterious tie to the Neitherworld, and can sniff out holes between it and the Earth.
I enjoy it quite a bit. It is a relatively small game. The players and storytellers are generally good (and, more importantly, good friends). I have had a fondness for Wrath for quite awhile. It is definitely my favorite WoD game, and it is in strong contention for my favorite RPG.
My biggest problem with the game? The rules.
The rules we use are a modified version of the MET rules published by White Wolf. The original MET rules are fairly simple, but not particularly evocative. The ones we use are more complete and marginally better.
What Wraith really ought to emphasize are a character's Passions and Fetters - the things that makes a character a wraith. The tabletop game does this to a point, the LARP version soewhat less so. Even the tabletop version of the rules, however, I find lacking. The Wraith-specific rules are shoehorned into a familiar, but ill-suited system (i.e., Storyteller).
I remember when I first read Unknown Armies. The first part of character creation contains the personality mechanics - because that is what is important to the game. I remember thinking that Wraith should have been more like that. I think that was why I got excited when someone (a while back) started a RPG.net thread about converting Wraith to UA mechanics.
Even that, though, never quite sat with me as completely appropriate. Wraiths are, essentially, supposed to be composed of memories, ties to the earth, and driving passions. Why aren't these things the main attributes in the system? Wraiths have corpus (health levels). Why isn't their Corpus score equal to their points in Fetters (the objects that matter to them - the things that literally tie them to the world)? Wraiths have Passions (the things that motivate them, the actions they habitually take) - which I see as metaphysical grooves in the world through which a Wraith will tend to naturally flow. Why aren't Wraith naturally more successful at fulfilling their passions than they are at acting counter to them?
Then I thought... why limit these insights to Wraith? If they are treated more metaphorically than literally, they could apply to games with a variety of narrative structures. Why should health levels be physical? Are characters in novels more likely to survive if they are tough or are they more likely to survive if they have things to live for? Are characters in novels more or less likely to succeed in things that really matter to them.
I think that these are meaningful questions for game design. While they might, on occaision, be addressed, they haven't - to my knowledge - been made really central before.
There have been a few reasons for it. Real-life has been active with (among other things) job uncertainties and transitions and such. I also lost the vast majority of the data on the game I was designing due to computer badness.
In any case, I want to figure out the purposes for which I am going to use this journal. I'm still planning on using it for game design musings (and I have a backlog of them). I am also running my Exalted game again (after a significant break during which the group I play with returned to our long-running Mage campaign). I think it would be a good idea to do game summaries and such. It will help me keep track of things (and, hopefully, I can garner a few suggestions).
I suppose these are the uses to which I put the journal before I more-or-less abandoned it. I may also, I suppose, write some more general stuff. In fact, I think I will do so now.
10:01am: game design musings
I don't think that the Storyteller system is a particularly good fit for Exalted, but it does have (at least) one thing going for it: lots of variables. In some ways, this is an undesireable thing. It adds complexity which is often unnecessary. When a badass Solar Exalted is going up against five wimpy zombies that he can reduce to (inanimate) body parts without breaking a sweat, do we really need to know (for example) exactly what the speed/accuracy/defense/damage of every attack is? Probably not. It's probably enough to know whether or not the hero is hit by a lucky shot while in the process of decimating the opposition.
That said, the variables to add something. They provide fodder for modification. Exalted is a great example of this. Solar Exalted add dice to Attribute+Ability rolls. They can get extra actions in a round. They can add damage soak. Essentially, they can add effectiveness to just about anything that a normal person can do (and then they get some other nifty-keen powers as well). As a dark mirror to that, the Abyssal Exalted get many similar nifty-keen extras, but instead of being more effective at normal things, they tend to sap effectiveness from their opposition. Instead of being better at hitting things, an Abyssal will make its opponent less capable of dodging. Instead of doing more damage outright, an Abyssal will cause its opponent's damage soak to be reduced. On a third axis, the Sidereal Exalted "break the rules" by being capable of reducing the target number of dice rolled (which is normally 7 on a d10) rather than adding or subtracting dice. They're the only ones who can do this. That makes it cool.
Personally, I find the wide variability of possible axes of variability here to be a bit overly complex. Nonetheless, I do think that having fodder for modification is important. If everything is modified in the same manner, there is a bit too much uniformity for many people. Flavor text can add a lot, but when Action 1 and Action 2 a different only due to the flavor text, I expect a large number of people won't see much point in differentiating between them (which, I suppose is the point of systems like HERO).
Where am I going with this?
Well, in Destined, I have a uniform basic mechanic that is modified via the use of qualities. What I've realized, though, is that those qualities need to have some variability in kind as well as variability in degree. If everything modifies the basic mechanic in the same manner, then qualities of vastly different sorts become nearly interchangeable. Now, one of the design goals is to allow people to define their characters in such a manner that they can be world-changingly-effective without wielding obviously world-shaking power. I have to figure out a way to retain this while adding in mechanics to allow for differentiation among the kewl powerz.
3:51pm: Long time, no write
I haven't updated this journal in awhile, largely because I haven't been doing too much in the way of game design of late. If you want to know what's going on in my life, my other journal is at zorbtrauts.
That said, I am actually planning to begin updating here.
I recently began running Exalted for the gaming group I've been in for the past two years. Mostly, we've run a rather simmy Mage game with which I've become increasingly frustrated for a variety of reasons. One of the players asked me to run Exalted (he wanted to play and he didn't think either of the other two people in the group would have the right GMing style for it) and the other two became increasingly excited about the idea.
Overall, I think Exalted is a good game that is badly mismatched to the Storyteller system. Yes, some adjustments were made to said system that improve it for the genre, but I do find the fit rather frustrating. On the positive side, it is giving me new fodder for Destined (which is shaping up to be a rather Exalted-like game in certain respects).
I think I've mostly overcome my mental block on Destined game play and mechanics. I still need to work out a few kinks. I will probably post on The Forge with a description on my current minor stumbling block, but I've reduced the problem I was facing to a minimal one... so I am relatively satisfied with that.
Most of my gaming concentration right now is gearing toward actual play. Despite my theoretical preferances for it (and my dissatisfaction with other stuff), I've never played in a truly Narrativist-oriented game. Right now I'm setting up to run a Narrativist-style superhero game (using the old Marvel rules) and am in the vague planning stages of setting up a Sorcerer game to play in. I don't really feel like I can write much of Destined until I have some actual experience. The Marvel game will, hopefully, be a testing ground for techniques.
11:12am: an update
I haven't done much game-design work lately. This is odd, since I've had a great deal of free time.
On the other hand, I realized that I wasn't completely clear on how I want Destined to play. That is, I need a better idea of what I envision game play to be like before I make any more progress. This is a particularly acute problem because the narration rights in the game shift in a manner that is potentially very different from most anything I've played. The problem is that, not having played it (or anything similar), I'm not sure how it would work and - in particular when dealing with the potential for conflicting narration rights - if it would work.
11:15am: A post that isn't about Destined!
So, for a long time, I've had this potential novel rumbling around in my head about someone who was in a position similar to mine when I was living in Washington, D.C. and who became a vigilante. Part of it was my environment - when I first moved to the city (in 1995) I was living in a not-so-great area. On average, I heard about one gun shot a day (though they tended to come in bursts). I didn't leave my apartment much, and (for what it is worth) I watched a lot of Highlander. After a year, I moved into a better neighborhood (though a decade or so earlier, the street I lived on had been known as "Stab Alley") and started law school. Someone broke into that apartment once. My skinny roommate chased him away.
It has always been rumbling around in my consciousness that a lot of the gizmos that vigilante superhero types use are actually available (though often expensive): night vision, stun guns, body armor, and all those wonderful toys.
What would it take to turn someone into a vigilante, particularly if there were tools available that would give that person an edge? I've always thought I could create a good story from this (and I have a few outlines here and there). I'm wondering if it might make a good rpg. I'd probably call it Vigil (which was the proposed title of the unwritten novel), unless that is already taken...
10:37am: Width of Qualities in Destined
Valued Qualities are designated as either Wide or Narrow. A Wide Quality is one which has a broad range of applications, while a Narrow Quality has few applications. Wide Qualities cost more to purchase at character creation than do Narrow Qualities at the same value. When a Quality represents a skill or a profession, a Wide Quality might be a generalist or a profession with a wide variety of skills, while a Narrow Quality might be a specialist or a tightly focused skill. What width is truly an attempt to measure, though, is the breadth of situations to which the Quality is applicable. This will almost certainly have a great deal to do with the story that is being told. Because of variations between stories, nearly any Quality can be either Wide or Narrow. The width of particular Qualities should be a guide in defining the story. ( ExamplesCollapse )
A few people have expressed confusion over the role of Destiny in Destined. On reflection, I realized one of the big things I left out of my explanations: Destiny is predetermined. Yes, that is obvious in some sense. What I am trying to do, though, is represent that in the game. Here are some thoughts on how it would work:
Each character in Destined will have a predetermined storyline/archetype/fate. This might, for example, be the ever-popular decent into darkness and redemption in self-sacrifice. This is worked out by the player and the GM. My initial thought is that the player chooses the themes and general shape of things (recognizing that this should be at odds with Determination - there needs to be a central conflict internal to the character), while the GM fills in the details so as to emphasize those choices. This process will need to be made more explicit. What is important, though, is that the GM should know how the characters story will play out (at least broadly speaking) were the character to always rely upon Destiny. When the character actually does rely upon Destiny, the GM should move him further along/closer to this predetermined path. Yes, this is railroady, but it only happens when the player wants it to happen.
Anyway, I did point out that I am trying for a particular style of play. That's true, but it isn't exactly what i meant to say.
I need to articulate this clearly.
What I am attempting to recreate in this game is the manner in which, in fantasy/hero/adventure novels, the actions of character (whether they are successes or failures) build the plot. If Harry Potter gets caught while sneaking around past curfew and gets in trouble, that doesn't derail the plot - it is part of the plot, and it moves the story along. Now, I don't know that the shifts in narration rights and the plot point (+complications) systems will do this for Destined. It will have to be playtested. I'm hoping, though.
Qualities: Defined as noted in other posts. Largely freeform and can be anything. Characters can have an unlimited number of Qualities with no value. Qualities with value range from +1 to +3.
Statistics: There are two basic statistics in Destined. These are Determination and Destiny. The two of these scores, when added together, must equal 10.
Determination - the degree to which you live your life on terms you choose for yourself. For each point of Determination, the character should define a commitment. A commitment can be a relationship, a duty, a promise, a strong desire, or anything else that ties the character to something. It must be something that the character has undertaken or accepted herself, though: it should not be something that was wholly imposed upon her.
Destiny - the degree to which your life is ruled by Fate. Each character will have a Heroic Archetype. I’ll write more on the Heroic Archetypes later (some of my earlier thoughts on this are in my early Forge posts).
The player can control his level of Determination by severing commitments or making new ones. A character who severs a commitment, however, does not automatically gain a compensating point of Destiny. Fate is fickle. Playing along with your Archetype is a good way of encouraging it, though.
Basic mechanics as I currently see them (with due credit to Sorcerer):
Player decides whether he will resolve the conflict via Determination (i.e., his own ability) or Destiny. He rolls a number of d6 equal to (Determination/Destiny). If he has a valued Quality appropriate to the task, he adds that value to the highest die. If he has no Qualities appropriate to the task, he subtracts one from each die rolled.
The GM rolls an appropriate (see below) number of d6. If the conflict has an appropriate valued Quality, add the corresponding value to the highest die.
Compare the highest die of the player with the highest die of the GM. The margin of success or failure is the difference between the two totals.
Determining the GM’s die pool:
If the player is rolling Destiny and... the action aligns with the character’s Archetype, then roll a die pool smaller than the character’s the action fails to align with the character’s Archetype, then roll a die pool larger than the character’s
If the player is rolling Determination and... the action should be relatively easy for the character, then roll a die pool smaller than the character’s the action should be relatively difficult for the character, then roll a die pool larger than the character’s
The other big distinction between Destiny and Determination is narration rights. If a character rolls Destiny, the GM narrates the outcome of the conflict. If the character rolls Determination, the character narrates the outcome of the conflict.
Comments/thoughts would be most welcome from anyone who has made it this far...
10:31am: Who are the Destined Heroes?
PCs in Destined may be from the Nine Thousand Worlds or our own Earth, which was cut from the Worlds ages ago. PCs may be skilled warriors or mages; they may be nobility or peasants; they may be engineers or teachers; they may be millionaires or vagrants, they may even be children. Some have tremendous skill others make up for their lack of skill in sheer potential.
The Destined are marked by Fate with a great Destiny. Destinies, however, have a cost, and one thing that all the Destined find that they have in common is that they all have something to lose. Fate does not care for the personal plans, goals, hopes, ideals, and loves of those it has chosen. Some might even venture to speculate that it deliberately sabotages such things. Some Destined deny Fate and seek to determine their own lives. These must live with the fact tht Fate had a plan for them and that plan is unfulfilled. Great harm might be done to others when those Destined to play a role fail to do so. Other give in to Fate and abandon their own principles. Most attempt to strike a middle ground: refuse to give themselves up, but attempt to fulfill the role Fate has chosen for them. This is the most difficult path for the Destined, but it also proves to be the most interesting...
12:06pm: Does Destined reduce to D&D?
Okay. For this thought we need to add an abstract Destiny score, which measures how much hold Fate has over a character.
I was thinking that Plot Points (which fill the role of both Hero Points and XP, and also fuel magic) would generally be limited in use the higher one's Destiny is. Destiny wouldn't generally prohibit a character from spending Plot Points on XP (though it might limit what XP can be spent on - in needs to reinforce the archetype that Fate has planned for the character), nor would Destiny limit the use of Plot Points to invoke the power of Fate to assist them. Note, however, that the latter places narrative rights firmly in the GM's hands (whereas many uses of Plot Points would otherwise shift narrative rights to the player).
Destiny would, however, limit the player in taking narrative control and limit the free expenditure of XP. Using magic with a high Destiny means losing some control of your magic as well (which doesn't necessarily make it less effective).
So, my thought is that playing the game with a high Destiny score might look a lot like a standard D&D-style game. Is this a bad thing? I don't know... it might make it more accessible. Players comfortable with that sort of thing could then experiment with taking control of their characters' fates...
Okay. This is largely rambling covering up for the fact that I am getting frustrated with mechanics issues. I realized (not for the first time) that the basic system I was planning on using was really ill-suited to this. Anyone who is following along here have any ideas?
General character wealth will be a matter of Qualities. In that sense, wealth will be abstracted.
Economics will be centralized through the nexus of worlds. (I know I haven't written about this. I will.) By centralized, I mean that there will be a coinage that is recognized (if not necessarily respected) across worlds. Major metropolitan centers will generally respect this coinage, or at the very least have a moneychanger (legal or otherwise). A number of regimes in various worlds will either be ignorant of or opposed to the centralized economy and will have their own systems. Barter will probably be common.
Abstracted wealth might be more realistically represented via letters of credit.
My general thought is to go the grainy, price-list route with a bit of vagueness thrown in. Maybe a FUDGE-like scale of costs (Trivial - Inexpensive - Moderate - Expensive - Extravagant - etc.), each of which represents a range of prices that can be fixed on the spot. If the market for something is particularly different in one place than another, that item could be shifted up or down a level on the scale. If someone uses an appropriate Quality, they need not worry about the cost of anything below a certain level. This system also supports barter well enough, I think. It also is modular enough that it would work well across a variety of currencies, which is something I need.
Furthermore, it is a plot device useable by characters.
In general, I like my games to have a unified resource system for xp and plot/hero points and things like that. It strikes me as neater. If a player wants to make her character effective by building up abilities, cool. If she'd rather make her character effective by plot manipulation, cool. If she'd have more fun with an ineffective character but still wants to play with plot, more power to her. Players can balance this out for the style of play that they like.
Magic in my games will generally be a more direct way of doing this. Yes, there will generally be some skill associated with magic. What that skill does, though, is provide justification for the use of plot points to fuel dramatic changes in the world that come from the PC itself.
Take Adventure!, for instance. A character who finds himself in a cave could use dramatic editing to happen to find a torch in a wall sconce and happen to have a lighter in his pocket. In FaeEarths (or whatever I call it), a character in a similar situation could use his skills in magic to create a globe of light. The cost of the effect would depend upon the effect it had on the plot. Yes, this means that killing mooks with bolts of lightning is significantly less costly than doing the same to a major villain. Oftentimes in stories with mage-types, those capable of invoking magic can do amazing things with minimal effort, but in order to use the spell that is pivotal in saving the day significantly more is usually involved. This is what I'm going for here.
This is actually largely the theory behind Qualities (below) in general...
3:21pm: Premise and Fate
Based on my last two posts, I am definitely leaning toward Narration rights being tied to how a conflict is resolved game-mechanically.
If a character successfully relies upon Fate, the GM will have Narration rights.
If a character refuses to rely upon Fate and successfully relies upon his own abilities, the player may take Narration rights.
Okay, what happens when Fate or ability fail a character? Should this even be an option? I'm toying with an idea in which failures can be interrupted by other PCs.
Dumb Example: Bert and Ernie are PC warrior-hero types who are fighting some mercenaries who were hired to assassinate Queen Latifah. They both refuse the assistance of Fate. Bert succeeds and gains narration rghts over his conflict. Ernie, however, fails. Does Bert gain enough rights over narration to save Ernie? What if Bert had relied on Fate - should the GM have used those narration rights to save Ernie? What about offering him a hand-out from Fate at that point?
Hmmm... should reliance upon Fate ever fail? My thinking is that it shouldn't kill the PC, unless it is a Fated heroic death (think Boromir). Non-heroic PC death should, I think, only be possible if the PC insists upon not relying on Fate. Given that, I think I will probably say that if a PC finds himself in a rough spot (after refusing his Fated path), he will be offered a chance to escape death by taking what path Fate offers him (though it will have a greater cost than normal).
2:22pm: FaeEarths Premise
I've been struggling to articulate what the premise of this game is, with the realization that much of what I have already written for it will have to change when I finally do articulate it...
That said, I'm pretty much there. Essentially, the premise of the game is Do you accept the destiny Fate has handed to you, or do you create your own destiny?
The trick here, is that the PCs are Fated to be great heroes. If they depend upon Fate, they will end up as heroes. If they carve out their own futures, they may not. While the PCs may want to become heroes, they will each have other things that they care about. The path to heroism that Fate has ordained for them will tend to take them away from those things.
Okay. Now that I have this basic premise and conflict, I can start thinking about how that will affect mechanics. Obviously, the Fate Qualities, at least, will go through a bit of a tranformation.
Hmmm... maybe a new name for the game, too. Children of Destiny? Is that taken? If not, is it any good?
I have these four (+misc) categories for Qualities. I'll have lots of sample Qualities and guidelines for making up your own. Each Quality will have ratings. Why do I need scores for the general statistics? I was thinking that it would provide a baseline for what a character's basic capabilities are, but each character should have a general concept which, along with their Qualities, should provide a fairly accurate view of that. I really don't plan on having resolution mechanics cover little piddly things. This game should be squarely in the Sorcerer camp in terms of conflict resolution.
Besides which, Qualities should be able to used fairly broadly.
The only possible exception to this is that I'm tempted for characters to necessarily have a Fate rating... though perhaps I will simply suggest that heroic characters should all have some sort of Fate Quality that centers around their destiny.
One narrative mechanic that I see being interesting is that if a character gets into a serious bind in which death looks imminent (or at least likely) - but that death would be trivial (or the character doesn't see it as being part of his destiny), an appropriate Fate Quality can be used to avoid an inappropriate Fate. In these cases, though, I'm tempted to give the GM narrative control over the character (since the player is depending upon fate rather than his own ability).