16 December 2011

Ninjas & Nerf Swords

I was browsing through /r/rpg and I came across this thread asking for a simple resolution system that uses Nerf weapons instead of dice or some other randomizer. The twist? The mechanic can't be to actually fight with the weapons.

The person asking the question also presented what they wanted in the way of character stats:
I'm thinking of three stats - Magic, Cunning, and Brawn. I'm not sure what the three stats actually do at this point, but I'm thinking characters get to assign a 3, a 2, and a 1 to the three stats, prioritizing however they want to. Then, for each point in their stat, they can throw in something like an aspect of fate. So it looks like this:

Sarkar Dark-Eater Elven Warlock Magic: 3 Summoning, Brain-Eating, Creepy Dark Eyes Cunning: 2 Lying, Insulting Brawn: 1 Gut-Tearing
Being the person that I am, I couldn't resist taking a stab at this challenge. I whipped up this simple game in about 20 minutes.

Ninjas & Nerf Swords

Character Creation

Characters are defined by 3 stats: Magic, Cunning, and Brawn. They have 6 character points to distribute among the 3 stats. For each point they have in a stat they can apply one Aspect related to it. They can tag these Aspects for bonuses during play.
Ex: If a character has 3 Brawn then their Aspects might be Bulging Muscles, Built like a Brick House and Ox-like.

Aspects as Powers

Players may choose to define one or more of their Aspects as powers. If they do so the Aspects may not be tagged as described later in these rules. Instead the player defines the nature of the power. This could be something like raising the dead or being a "totally bad-ass backhanded axe-cleave that beheads any monster". A player may activate each of their powers only once per scene (as defined by the GM).


Whenever there is need for resolution the GM decides on the difficulty. Based on the difficulty the GM selects an object to pitch at one of the players. The harder the difficulty the smaller the item and the crappier the pitch can be. The challenging player must hit the thrown object with their Nerf weapon. If a caster is using a Nerf gun place the target farther away from them. Players get a number of attempts to hit the target equal to the relevant stat. An assortment of different sized whiffle balls and stuffed animals would likely be best for this. You may also wish to play outside or in a large space free of things that could be broken.

Tagging Aspects

During any challenge that a player is involved in they may declare one of their Aspects relevant. This is called tagging. When they do so they can alter one thing about the difficulty of the challenge. For example, they may make the target bigger or demand that the GM pitch underhand. Alternatively, they can be granted 1 additional pitch/shot. Once an Aspect has been tagged it may not be tagged again until a new scene (as defined by the GM) has begun.

Character Health

Characters do not have health points. Instead, anytime they would take damage reduce one of their stats by 1. The reduced stat should reflect the kind of damage they took (Magical, Psychic/Emotional/Social, Physical). The player may avoid this damage by pounding back a beer (or some performing an embarrassing task if they are under age). If a stat would be reduced to 0 the character falls unconscious and may be revived by tagging a healing Aspect or a friendly NPC in a subsequent scene. If it falls below 0 the player should be ridiculed and forced to create a new character with a smaller, less fearsome weapon.

GM Challenge Rule

If the majority players believe that one of the GM's rulings is "bogus" they may select a champion to challenge the GM to a duel. The first to score 3 clean hits with a nerf weapon is declared the winner and a new rule is codified into the game. A player may not use a challenge to overturn an existing rule created in this manner.

The Anti-Power Rule

The GM may reduce the effectiveness of a power at any time for a single usage if it would cause narrative problems (such as gut-tearing the BBEG). When the GM does so they must give the affected player a +1 temporary stat bonus. This does not grant an additional Aspect. It is removed at the end of the scene. Players may challenge these rulings on an individual basis by challenging the GM (as above).

Sarkar Dark-Eater, Elven Warlock

Magic: 3
Cunning: 2
Brawn: 1

Tag Aspects: Creepy Dark Eyes, Lying, Insulting
Power Aspects:
  1. Summoning - Summons a 1/1/1 demonic familiar to aid him for the remainder of the scene.
  2. Brain-Eating - May consume the brain of a foe to restore 1 point in any stat. May learn one memory from the eaten brain.
  3. Gut-Tearing - May designate a single previous attack by either himself or his familiar as "Gut-Tearing". This retroactively kills the target.

11 December 2011

Alvaro C. Vargas, Space Grifter

When I’m not busy slacking off from writing blog posts I tend to spend my time as a moderator for a role playing community known as r/RPG. I spent the last couple of weeks making daily updates to something I called the “Play by Poll Experiment” on this community.

The experiment I had for r/RPG was to do something similar to a Quest Thread. A Quest is essentially a text adventure done over a messageboard or forum with one person leading the narrative and the rest arguing and/or voting for the main character to make actions. In my incarnation I created a survey form using Google Docs that contained an update to the story and a number of actions that the character could take. I would then post an update in around 24 hours with a new set of questions and a continuation of the plot based on the votes. I did this for a total of 14 updates with moderate popularity. The full story, sans unsuccessful options, can be read here.

What comes next is a bit of a post-mortem on the play by poll experiment, so you may want to read through the above link before continuing.

On Setting Selection

At the very beginning of the Play by Poll Experiment (hereafter referred to as PbPE) I put up a poll where people could vote on a setting tagline and a few character options. The taglines were a little tongue in cheek with options such as “in space, where nobody can hear you scream” or “in a land of rainbows and unicorns and man-eating giants” and I got a pretty good mix of votes among them. Space came out as the winner, but I couldn’t help but notice that there was a major drop off on interest once people realized their setting choice didn’t win. think the problem here was that I offered too many options and ended up splitting the vote. This ended up with a setting winning a majority when a minority of voters overall selected it. It would be too much work to setup a transferrable vote option to alleviate this, so I think the best option would be to provide fewer choices.

If I were to do this again I wouldn’t allow for more than 3 setting choices or I would go in the other direction with voters selecting multiple elements which get combined into something of my choice.

On Character Creation

The biggest problem with character creation was that I put it on the same poll as the setting selection. This meant that people had to select from options that wouldn’t necessarily fit with the setting they chose. There are two ways I can avoid this happening on a future poll. A) I could have the character creation on a second page with options determined by the setting selection or B) I could do a separate poll after the first had concluded for the character creation. I think B is the better option as it means I don’t have to create a bunch of options that will never be relevant.

I also think that the character creation I offered was too limited in scope. It consisted of selecting a race, sex, and tagline for the character. Unlike with the setting selection, I think voters were happy with the results of this section, but I think it could have been more engaging. The limited scope was partially due to trying to make the options somewhat generic and I think that was a mistake. I also found that as we progressed through the adventure there was call for a random factor. I’ll discuss this more in the next section but it boils down to me needing more things defined about the character in advance.

On Chance and Mechanics

Most of the games of this nature that I have seen before (Quests, for example) didn’t have any element of chance to them. They were mostly just pieces of guided fiction. I really wanted to capture the feeling of a group of people playing an old adventure book together, like Lone Wolf or Fighting Fantasy. This meant that there needed to an element of chance. Voters needed to be able to select from different options and hope that their character would be successful. I could have decided for myself, but I feel that takes something away from the experience.

I tried 3 different randomizers during the course of the game. The first was a simple coin flip. I asked the voters to vote on the result being heads or tails and if they were right they would get a positive reaction from their action. I didn’t really like this so for the next one I tasked voters for choosing a number from 1-3 and the % breakdown of the votes would be the chance of success. This actually worked rather well, although it resulted in rather poor odds. The third try was much the same as the last, but instead of using numbers I asked voters to pick who they thought would win in a fight and provided three options. I think this was more fun, but suffered from the same issues.

If I were to run another game like this I would have the voters select skills or attributes for their protagonist which I would then grant a percentage value. I would then use that percentage on all relevant challenges that came up for the odds of success. This means I don’t have to add a question that breaks immersion of the story and it becomes something related to the character instead of some outside force.

On the Update Schedule

I updated the adventure every 24 hours, give or take a few hours on certain days. I actually didn’t mind the pace, although I felt like I was letting people down when I was busy when the 24 hour mark came along (mostly on weekends). The problem with this pace is that it ended up losing people. Not everyone visits r/RPG on a daily basis, which is easy to forget when you are as involved with the community as I am. This meant I had a steady loss of voters as the adventure progressed because people would lose interest if they missed an update. I think a slower schedule might improve this.

I do worry that reducing the update frequency might cause the story to move too slowly. I think that updating every other day is probably the slowest you could go with something like this, at least at r/RPG which tends to be faster moving than an ordinary forum. The other thing I noticed is that votes tend to drop off at around 18 hours after the update. This is very much related to the nature of the community as the topic will drop from view rather quickly, meaning people won’t see it. It will be interesting to see how having if having it around an extra day will actually affect the number of votes it gets.

On the Narrative

I had a lot of fun writing a few paragraphs for this every day. I wouldn’t exactly call it writing I am proud of, but it wasn’t so poor that I would be ashamed of it either. I think it was very representative of role playing in that without the context of the back and forth between myself (the GM) and the voters (the player) it wouldn’t be particularly entertaining. The fun really comes from trying to adapt the story to what the voters/players have selected and the fun for the voters comes from seeing how their choices affect the narrative. It doesn’t need the writing to be of high quality, it just needs to be good enough to get the idea across.

17 October 2011

By Firelight: a campfire storytelling game.

UPDATE: You can read By Firelight: The Campfire Storytelling Game here. This post is about the original conception of the game.

Around two weeks ago I came across someone asking for suggestions for an RPG that they could play around a campfire. A lot of people were recommending games with few rules or dice needed to play, but to me that doesn't seem to capture that special something that telling tales around a campfire has. At the very least it doesn't take advantage of that magic.

This got me thinking. I already knew of one RPG designed for being played while hiking through the wilderness. It’s called Sherpa and it takes advantage of the changing surroundings as you make your way through a trail. I thought why not come up with something that takes advantage of a campfire in that same way? I typed up a reply that featured some quick brainstorming as well as a couple of suggestions. You can read it here if you are curious.

I really liked the quick little set of rules that had formed out of that comment and I’d be lying if I said the positive feedback didn’t encourage me to expand those initial ideas. That is exactly what I did. I took that initial set of ideas and I compiled them into a proper set of rules, changing things as needed.

The most important aspect of the game is that it incorporates the campfire right into the mechanics. It really would have been a shame to not use the fire since it was going to be there in front of the players anyway. I decided to use it in a kind of ritualized manner. Players are given pieces of paper with character traits on them and they are also given a paper cutout that represents their character. Traits are consumable and burned once used. Any harm that comes to their character results in pieces being torn from their cutout and being tossed into the flames. It’s simple, but I think really helps provide an atmosphere for the game.

Another thing I needed to consider and overcome for this game was that playing a game at night are not ideal for most traditional ways of playing RPGs. There probably won’t be a lot of flat and dry surfaces, light will be low, and outdoors there could be rain or wind causing all kinds of problems for things like character sheets. As someone that grew up in the Pacific Northwest I am intimately familiar with these conditions, so I wanted to make things easy on the players.

The first step was to remove character sheets. The character cut out doesn't have anything written on it. There is nothing to read so light is no problem. It is still paper and will be susceptible to wind and rain, but it won't be used unless it needs burning so it can easily be shoved in a pocket or held down by a stone. The same thing goes for the Traits, although they would all have a single thing written down on them.

Randomizers were the second problem. Dice were going to be a pain to use because the numbers could be difficult to read in the dark and without a large flat surface they would bounce all over the place. Cards had a similar issue, only they would also be susceptible to the elements. I thought about how this game would likely be played in the dark by the light of the fire and how burning things as a game mechanic was very ritualistic. I got thinking about playing on ritual and I recalled all of the films I have seen and stories I had read where people voted with black and white stones or had to draw stones to determine their fate. This was something I thought I could use in my game. It reinforced a certain mood and was something that wouldn't have problems with light, wind, or rain. To top it all off, there are plenty of stones available outside at a campground or park. It would be a simple matter to gather up some dark and light stones for a game if nobody thought ahead to bring something to use. I decided to go with drawing stones as a mechanic and used a simple system where black equaled a negative result and white a positive one. Easy to teach and understand, which was perfect for the kind of impromptu setting this game would be for.

I now had all of these ritualistic and borderline spooky game mechanics. I decided to go for broke and make it a horror game. I suppose it could be played in any genre, but ghost stories have a long tradition of being told around a campfire so it really all fit together rather nicely. I wrote the rules with that in mind and added advice for playing the game that kept the art of the campfire ghost story in mind. The only thing left that I really needed was a title that fit the game I had created. I decided to go with By Firelight. I think that the reason I went with that title is pretty self explanatory.

I wanted to capture that feeling of telling creepy stories and turn it into a game and I think I’ve managed to do that. I have posted the draft of By Firelight on Google Docs where anyone can read it. Take a look and let me know what you think.

27 September 2011

One Lost Update

I’ve been busy working on a super secret project and seem to have missed an update here or there. I’ll post about the aforementioned covert project as soon as I’m able, in the meantime I suppose I should let let you know that One Lost Pipe placed 4th in System/Rules and 4th in Layout/Appearance for RPG Geek’s 48 hour RPG contest.

While I can’t say that I’m not disappointed that I didn’t place higher, I am pleased that I did so well with a quirky game like One Lost Pipe. The winners in all of the categories are darn fun looking games. My personal favourite of the competition was The Conspiracy of Unkind Constables. I thought it was a very well written and designed game. You can check out the rest of the entries here.

I’ve got to say that I’m a little burned out on design competitions right now, but I’ll be keeping my eye out for any more that might be on the horizon.

21 August 2011

Introducing One Lost Pipe

A wonderful website that goes by the name of RPG Geek recently held a 48 hour RPG contest. What this means is that the contestants have to design, write, and submit a complete RPG in 48 hours without any help. I decided to try my luck and see what happened.

The contest, this time, had each contestant randomly generate 3 words which were to become elements that had to be included in the game. The three words I generated were rat, pipe, and tavern. I came up with a number of different ideas, each one becoming increasingly more bizarre. I thought of a game were the characters were trapped in a hallucination brought on by a hallucinogenic plant that is smoked and a rat is their spirit guide. I thought of a game where an evil rat was driving people insane in the public washroom of a bar. I have a strange mind.

I eventually settled on an a game inspired by the tale of The Pied Piper. In my game the piper is long gone, but he had left his pipe behind as a kind of folkloric artifact. It became nothing more than a myth capitalized on by a pub owner, that is, until it was stolen. That’s when a plague of rats fell upon the city and the pub owner hired you (the player) to get it back. I decided to call this game One Lost Pipe. That is kind of interesting, right?

Mechanically I decided that I wanted to use playing cards. I’m not sure why exactly, maybe I was just sick of dice when I wrote it. Cards also fit nicely with the pub theme, so there is that. I had initially been trying to turn this into a kind of basic tarot system, but after outlining all the cards and looking at it I realized it just didn’t mesh with the private investigator vibe I was getting from the game. I switched directions and went for a mechanic inspired by blackjack/21. It was simple, fast, and matched the theme much better than tarot.

With this game I wanted to experiment with different ideas. That’s one reason for using the cards, but another thing I wanted to play around with was seeing if I could make an RPG that could be played by just one person. I built the game around that, but then I decided that I wanted the ability to scale the game up to more players. I decided to accomplish this by adding a pseudo-GM position called Fate. Fate is essentially the blackjack dealer and when he is included the resolution gets a little bit more crunchy. This was great, but I decided it would be fun if the two players would switch roles back and forth, so I made that the default. Any players that are happy with their roles can just choose to ignore that rule. I also added two additional roles to the game so that it can be played with anywhere from 1-4 people. The additional roles were that of the Rat King and the Reporter. Each has their own goals in the game. The Rat King wants the rat swarm to overrun the city and The Reporter wants to get the scoop from the person that stole the pipe. Adding either of these roles adds some interesting twists to the way the game is played.

Speaking of the Rat Swarm, that’s another mechanic I added to the game to play around with. It is kind of a built-in timer. The game ends if it gets high enough so this game is definitely a single session kind of thing. The rat swarm also doubles as a currency for both Fate and the Rat King as a way to mess with the detective or reporter.

The only other interesting thing to say about the game is that I included a random pub name generator table at the end. I’m not sure why exactly. I just thought it would be fun.

I’ll be adding my game, One Lost Pipe, to this website in the near future. For now, you can get it at its RPG Geek Page. If you like the game then consider voting for it, but please read at least a few of the other entries before you do so. I’m currently in the process of writing a mini-review for each of the game submissions for the contest. I’m posting them on RPG Geek as I go, but I’ll do a round up here when I’m finished.

8 August 2011

I really like the title. I don’t really have a reason to like it, I just do.

Another game I reviewed for Game Chef this year. All’s Well That Ends As You Like It is an unusual mashup of board game and RPG elements.

Everything about this game just screams out at me with style. It looks like fun. It looks like a lot of fun. I don’t have too much to comment on as far as the rules go. I like that there are two win conditions for each player character. It drives home the Shakespearean theme, but I do think that even the tragic endings lean more towards the comedic. That’s okay, this game is obviously meant to be played manically and with booze.

While I like the game and truly think I would have a blast with it, I think that it might do better as a board game than as an RPG. I can picture a beautiful game board, little character pieces, and fully illustrated character cards complete with role play guidelines. I think with some tweaking to the role play elements that this could become quite the little boxed product. On the other hand, I can also picture you going in more of a How to Host a Murder direction. Keep the character cards with role play elements and add masks or other props. Declare sections of the house as the different rooms and have a couple of people take on the role of GM and you have a game that I would go to the driest cocktail party to try.

Keep at it. I’d like to see this one after it has had a few layers of polish on it.

I ended up recommending this one as a finalist for this year’s competition. Out of all the games I looked at this was the one I wanted to play most. I wasn’t the only one that liked it. AWTEAYLI ended up winning Game Chef 2011.

The Gentlefae of Cremona (Game Chef 2011 Review)

This is the last one of these and then I’m done posting my thoughts. It was one of the harder ones to review because of the density of the rules.

I enjoy seeing the few games that borrow the fairy elements from Shakespeare’s work. It’s a nice change from all of the tragedies and romantic comedies.

I didn’t get stuck anywhere reading through the rules, but I did have to read through twice before I really wrapped my head around everything that is going on. This is a game that would really benefit with a page dedicated to showing the player how it should play out.

The overall mechanics seem like they should work and I like how responsibility is spread out among several different players for everything that happens. I also can’t help but feel that the game would be more fun if only the Major Arcana cards were used. Of course, that would require reworking the entire game so please don’t consider that a criticism; it’s more an observation that drawing named cards is more fun for me.

The glossary was a nice touch. It’s not something you see often in any RPGs. I do think it’s a bit odd you would include a glossary and not a table of contents, though.

My only criticism is that I think the game might be a little bit too finicky. This game seems to be intended for one-off play, but it requires a tarot deck, beads, created characters (although not difficult to create) and index cards/scrap paper. That’s a lot of things. To top all that off the rules take a few passes to sink in. I don’t think that is very conductive for a one-shot style game where players may not have even planned to play the game and have fallen back on it because someone couldn’t make it or as a break from whatever their regular game is. My earlier suggestion of including an example of play could help alleviate that, as could including some of the necessary components in the document to be cut out. My group usually plays indies as a break or as fall back, which is where this is coming from, and I fear that we would likely pass over this game in favour of something lazier.

This is a solid entry with an interesting system and an engaging theme. I think it is a little rough around the edges, but that’s the nature of Game Chef titles.

1 August 2011

My Daughter, The Queen (Game Chef Review)

Here is the second game that I reviewed during the reviewing stage of Game Chef 2011.

This one has a very nice and simple format. It’s unfair of me to take that into consideration, but I do. It is just more enjoyable for me to read when some thought has been put into the presentation.

Let’s get to the meat of it. Right from the start I’m interested. I like the idea of a father going over the minutia of where he went wrong with his daughter. There is room to explore. I also like that it really comes off more like it’s his friends analyzing what happened and telling him the truth of it rather than the fiction he has built for himself over the years.

System wise, I don’t really have any complaints. It looks like it should work with a minimum of fuss and do what it sets out to do. I think there could be a little more room for throwing curve balls at the players, but it otherwise looks solid to me. I think I would need to sit down and play it with some friends to know if there are any spots that need more attention.

The biggest, possibly only, problem I see with this game is that I’m not feeling the Shakespeare. Sure, Shakespeare is in it, but as is noted in the game he could easily be replaced with anyone. This game could just as easily be a post-mortem of a messy breakup. I aam by no means a Shakespeare expert, but this kind of examination of one’s life just doesn’t feel like Shakespeare. Maybe one or two of Hamlet’s soliloquies are as introspective, but that’s it.

I think the designer has hit on something good here. Replaying events and looking at them from different angles could work with so many different stories. I’d love to see this idea taken and applied to a variety of tales. I’m also strangely reminded of the film Big Fish and the novel Ireland. Both are stories about fathers trying to relate to their estranged children (sons in this case). The difference is that they try to do it through their own fictions. I think that’s an angle that really could have brought Shakespeare into this story. If, after all the introspection, he writes a final play which is played out in a similar way as the other scenes with the players building off his ideas. It could be his final attempt at reconciliation or maybe just something for the daughter to find one day after he has died.

28 July 2011

Blood Tragedy (Game Chef Review)

This year’s Game Chef requires the participants to review 4 of the other games and recommend one for advancement. So far I’ve reviewed 3 of 4 and have posted my thoughts on the Game Chef website. I’ll be copying my thoughts here as well. This is the first one.

Blood Tragedy. Okay, definitely going for a Tragedy here. That seems Shakespearean. Like all good tragedies we know that most everyone is going to die by the end. Everyone decides how they will die ahead of time. I really like this angle. It’s neat to decide what your ending is going to be and steer events towards it.

Reading on I see that characters can “dominate” a scene and this gives the player more control over the framing of the game. At first I was really turned off with the idea of scoring in each scene. “Get your points outta my rpg”, I thought to myself. That was a gut reaction and the idea of earning points did grow on me as I read on, but that initial reaction is something to keep in mind.

I’m torn over the Exile and Soliloquy rules. I really like the way that a soliloquy as been worked into the normal play of the game. It’s very Shakespearean. What I really don’t like is that a player can be “written out” of the game until the last act. That just doesn’t agree with me. I’d like to find some way to keep them included during the down time. In practice this might not be an issue at all, but it’s definitely a place where I could see myself adding a house rule.

I like the level of freedom that you are trying to give the players. In some games I think everyone will know exactly where they want to take things, but there isn’t much to fall back on if players get stuck. For this reason I think it might be nice to have some kind of central plot element that helps carry the plot forward.

I think it might be interesting to experiement with giving the different roles (rules, servant, etc.) different narrative powers that they could use at the cost of nature.

Overall, an interesting game. I think there is a lot of potential for a great game of tragedies to be made of it. With some expansion and tweaks to the midgame to help push players along and some more attention given to the scoring rules and I think you will be on to something good with Blood Tragedy.

If you’d like to play Blood Tragedy then you can find it here.

24 July 2011

The Daughter of Padua (Game Chef 2011)

I’m participating in Game Chef again this year. You couldn’t keep me away after how much fun I had with it last year. This year’s theme was Shakespeare and we had to pick 3 of the 4 ingredients (Daughter, Exile, Forsworn, Nature).

My entry this year is titled The Daughter of Padua. It’s a game where one person plays as a sickeningly rich man’s daughter that has been put up for marriage. The twist is that she gets to pick her groom and the other players are her suitors.

I used the Daughter, Forsworn, and Nature ingredients for TDoP. The daughter one should be obvious, but the other two aren’t nearly as easy to figure out. For the Forsworn ingredient I have set each of the Suitors to have a secret Oath. This is a negative thing (for the Daughter), it’s an ambition or goal that the suitor has that is the true reason he seeks her marriage. Through the course of the game he will have the option to forswear that oath for the sake of true love. To satisfy nature I went with nature as in “human nature”. Each character has natures which are hidden aspects of their character. In the case of The Daughter there are 10 of these which The Suitors will need to figure out if they want to win her heart. For The Suitors, they each have one nature which The Daughter’s brothers will try to reveal (if they enter the game). All of these natures are taken into account in the epilogue of the game, which the losing suitors narrate.

One thing that I really wanted to work into a game about Shakespeare was the use of direct quotes from his works. I thought this would be a lot of fun and it was a mechanic I’ve seen used in another RPG called The Dying Earth. In that case they used Jack Vance quotes. The mechanic I used was pretty basic. Players draw random quotes and if they can work them into the game they get bonus dice.

The overall concept for this year’s game came to me pretty easily. I knew that I wanted to do a comedy because I’ve always liked Shakespeare’s sense of humour. I also thought that most of the other contestants would be going the tragedy route with their games. Daughter really stuck out at me and I thought it would be pretty Shakespearean to do a comedy about social climbing suitors competing to win the heart of a very rich heiress. For a while I had thought about going a little bit meta and making a play on words with players (as in actors) and players (as in the people playing the game). I couldn’t really make this work, but it still amuses me when reading the rules that the terms can be used interchangeably.

I picked Padua because it was a pretty large Italian city around Shakespeare’s time and, to my knowledge it wasn’t used in one his plays. I thought that it was just the location that Shakespeare could have used and would make a great setting for my game. I later realized, while collecting Shakespeare quotes, that it was where The Taming of the Shrew is set. Oops. I guess I don’t know my Shakespeare as well as I should. I should earn points by correctly guessing a setting he would use though, right?

My original draft of the game ended up being dangerously close to a Fiasco rip-off. My main mechanic in the game is that The Daughter rates her suitor’s seduction attempts with either a flirty smile or an evil scowl. To represent this she hands out different coloured dice. Originally these were rolled against a chart at the end of the game exactly like you do in Fiasco. Not only was this too close for comfort, but I realized it just didn’t work. I needed a flat happy or sad ending and no scale. I kept the dice roll but ditched the chart. All the dice are used for is determining the winning suitor and whether it is going to be a good (read happy) marriage or not. The rest comes down to interpretation from the losing suitors. They use the natures of the bride and groom as well as how high the dice roll was and whether the oath was broken or not to narrate an epilogue. I’m confident that the final game is different enough from Fiasco to be its own game, but there is definitely a similarity in using two different dice for good and bad scenes.

If there is a weakness (that I can see) in my entry this year it will be in the lack of play examples and the suitor oaths. We’ll see what the reviewers have to say.

Speaking of reviewers, this year each contestant must review 4 of the other entries and recommend one to the next round. Watch this space for my own thoughts on 4 other games.

If you’d like to play The Daughter of Padua then you can find it on the Games page or just click this link. I also made a character sheet for this game which you can find here.

20 July 2011

A Dwarf loadout for a game that doesn’t exist.

Just as the topic says. Remember that role playing card game I mused about several months ago? I kept thinking about it and produced enough cards to make a sample character loadout. What you see above is a loadout for a stereotypical Dwarf character.

Based on the card layout for this character our dwarf has:
  • 2 Strength
  • 3 Toughness
  • 1 Dexterity
  • 1 Wisdom
  • 1 Intelligence
  • 1 Charisma
If you’ve read those previous posts you would know that these stats are derived from the colour of the cards used in the loadout. That means that if you add up all of the values it should equal 9. Thus, all characters must have a value between 0 and 9 for each attribute. That’s pretty straightforward, I think.

The question is, what are these attributes used for? In a nutshell, they relate to the Hit Deck. A communal deck of cards made up of 9 suits, each matching an attribute. Depending on what your character is doing their attribute could affect anything to the number of cards they get to draw to a bonus to the card value. Typically it’s going to be card draw. If our dwarf wanted to kick down a door, for example, the GM would have them draw a number of cards equal to their Strength attribute +1 (since you can’t draw 0 cards). They get to use the card with the highest value for their attempt to knock down the door. To further complicate things, there is a system of trumps. Basically, every attribute has one other attribute that trumps it and counts as a straight up failure if used. I haven’t figured out the trump relationships at this point.

If you look through the cards you might notice a few other things I haven’t previously talked about. I make reference to wound types on some of those cards. The way I envision injuries working in this game would be that the GM has a stack of wound cards of different types. He tosses those out to characters/monsters as needed. I feel that this is one of the strengths of using a card-based system. You can have the granularity of different types of injuries without having to look rarely used rules. What you need is printed on the card that has handily been placed next to your character.

I don’t believe I’ve spent much time talking about the difference between Ancestry, Ability, and Equipment cards either. Mechanically, it comes down to how they are swapped in and out of your character loadout. Ancestry cards can never be swapped out unless something drastic happens like a polymorph spell or disownment. Ability cards require retraining of some kind to change and Equipment cards can be moved in and out on a character’s turn. Fluff wise there are some differences, but I’m sure you can work those details out on your own.

I think the cards are pretty self-explanatory and give an idea of how I imagine this game playing out. I think it’s worth noting that a player could easily mix and match cards from different loadouts to quickly and easily create all kinds of different characters.

That pretty much does it for now. I don’t know how much further I’ll pursue this idea. It seems like fun to me, but I’m not sure if it really appeals to anyone other than me. I might post up some card templates so that anyone could make their own cards. If you want to see more of this then let me know.

19 June 2011

Magic Eight-balls as a Game Mechanic

Did you know that the piece inside a magic eight-ball that produces an answer when you shake it is a dodecahedron? I didn't and when I found out that it was a twenty-sided die I was inspired to come up with an RPG that uses a magic eight-ball, or that at least approximates one with a d20 table.

Using an eight-ball as an oracle

There is an interesting game called Mythic that, instead of using a GM or placing narrative duties on the players, uses an oracle mechanic. The way it works is that players ask questions about what is happening (Is there anything in the woods? Yes, something dangerous. Is it a monster? Yes.) and the oracle responds with an answer. They have to be questions that can be answered with a Yes or a No and the players use these answers in combination with random tables to determine what happens in the game.

It seems to me that I could do something similar with a magic eight-ball. Players consult the magic eight-ball with yes/no questions and it responds.

What kind of game would use a mechanic like this?

In my mind there is only one setting that could use such a strange mechanic: corporate offices. I imagine a comedy game in which the players are workers in an office. I'm imagining an office environment like Better Off Ted, You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here and similar takes. A game filled with nonsensical business decisions, weird characters and general hilarity.

The Magic Eight Ball is used whenever communicating with Upper Management. If you need to ask for something, get a ruling, or find out if some alternative is an option then you work it into a yes/no question and shake the eight-ball. The resulting phrase is what management has to say on the matter.

23 March 2011

A review of the In Between 2.0 from Poland

Those Polish gamers are at it again. This time they have played my revised version of In Between and it looks like they had a pretty good time with it. You can read their review here. It does happen to be in Polish, though.

The review author was kind enough to send me the gist of it via email. It sounds like most of their problems were due to vagueness in the writing, something that I’ll definitely fix when I get around to updating the game again. They also spotted a few mistakes. Whoops, looks like I need to spend more time proofreading. They seemed pretty happy with the less competitive nature of the game and the system mechanics rework.

I love hearing from people that have played my games so please let me know if you give them a try.

20 February 2011

In Between v2 is finished.

I’ve spent a lot of time procrastinating in regards to the second version of In Between. I’ve had all kinds of notes and ideas sitting in a dropbox folder for months, but when it came down to compiling them all I just kept putting it off.
No more! I sat down this week and put them all into the lackluster layout that is the official version of In Between. Those of you that are actually interested will want to know what is new. To help with that I have provided this handy list:
  • No longer requires more six sided dice than any reasonable person owns.
  • Play now moves through distinct phases and provides a more on topic and ritualized way of playing.
  • The narration control system has changed significantly from a very open universalis-like approach to one more focused variety.
  • This means less direct competition between players.
  • The Power economy has been reworked to require less dice rolling and has a few more quirks than before.
  • Much less competitive than before. You don’t need to possess a mortal in order to fulfill your atonement goals.
  • Demons have been fleshed out. They actually affect the game now and more selfish characters can walk down the demonic path.
  • Exorcists have been added to the game. A new threat (or ally) in the quest for redemption.
There are a few other things, but that'll give you a good idea. The game has gained around 4 pages of new content all in all. It still lacks a lot of examples and those may eventually come if I do another revision.

I’ve put the game up on Google Docs, so check it out! 

23 January 2011

Foundation: a kingdom-building rpg (idea)

I have always loved the kingdom and city building elements of video games like Suikoden and Actraiser. There is something compelling about searching out people to fill your city, managing the day to day conflicts and the dealing with politics and war. It is something I really enjoy, but aside from a few supplements it's also something I rarely see in the tabletop RPG world.

I remember the Birthright setting for D&D, but it seems to have slipped away into obscurity. Birthright doesn't seem to have had the staying power that other D&D settings, like Plansecape or Spelljammer, did. Then there is Reign, but while that game does have some great rules for player organizations it doesn't have the kind of focus that I'm interested in.

The popularity of the Kingmaker Adventure Path shows that I'm not the only one that thinks this style of play is fun. I got to thinking, "How would I make an RPG focused around this kind of play?"


A game in which the players build up their own fantasy city/country/kingdom from the ground up. Each player controls a Founder or Leader (if no Founders are left living). A founder is only as good as their followers and throughout the game the players will regularly role play as both their Founder and the followers that work under their Founder. Additionally, players will also have opportunity to role play as a follower of one of the other founders under certain circumstances. The followers a Founder gathers affect the skills and abilities that are mechanically available to a founder.

Design Goals
  1. To capture the fun of city building and kingdom politics while maintaining an easy to use/learn system.
  2. To provide a fun game for both players that want to build a mighty utopia and play through the obstacles towards that goal as well as allowing for political conflict for players that want to play something a little... sleazier.
  3. Provide mechanics for conflict between other cities/kingdoms as well as internal conflict, either between players (founder) or NPC factions.

Some Rough Ideas

This game is strictly in the "batting around ideas" phase. What follows are some of the things I have been thinking about.

Player Characters as Founders

For me, at least, I see this game beginning when the player characters stake out some territory and found their new city. In Foundation each of the players takes on the role of one of the founders of a new settlement/city/kingdom/etc.

A Founder would be made up of a few key elements, but the most important of these are their Background, Influence and Entourage.


Unlike with a lot of RPGs where player characters start out as relative unknowns the Founders have already made a name for themselves. They already have the necessary fame or infamy to gather people for their cause. Think of their Background as being a package that sums up their career to this point. It's equal parts character class and back story.

An example Background might be "War Hero" or "Noble". Backgrounds could give the character some abilities or starting stats. I might throw in some more narrative mechanics into the background by giving each Background some blanks that need to be filled in. For example, a War Hero would have to define the war, where it happened and if they were on the winning side. I could see this working something like Apocalypse World's Hx or Fate's Aspects. I could also imagine using some random tables with the Backgrounds that work like a limited lifepath, something like what you see with Traveller's Careers. This is definitely something that needs some more thought.

Influence is a currency stat. It would be used during play to make things happen. I see Influence as a stat that powers a Founder's abilities and can also be directed towards different factions and goals. For example, if a Founder has 10 Influence they might decide to spend 3 of it towards the Ranger's Guild, 4 to Bankers and the remaining 3 to Public Relations. This influence could be slid around during the course of play and provides bonuses/re-rolls when dealing with those factions/goals.

The Entourage is the meat of any Founder.  Founders didn't just get up one day and decide they would build a community from the ground up. They are powerful and influential people with a history. An Entourage includes all of the Followers that are at the disposal of a Founder.

While part of an Entourage a Follower grants skills and abilities to their Founder. For example, a thief's knack for procuring items grants their Founder the ability to pickpocket while a mage allows for the casting of spells.  A Founder that has a bodyguard in the Entourage has increased physical capabilities to overcome challenges (or rather, they have someone to overcome it for them). A bodyguard might also give them the "take a hit" ability which would allow the player to sacrifice the bodyguard so that their Founder can avoid death.

Followers are not always part of the Entourage. There are times when a Founder may assign a Quest (more on this in a bit) to one of their followers and when they do that follower must leave the Entourage in order to accomplish it. If a follower leaves an Entourage then any skills/abilities granted by their presence are lost until their return.

This size of the Entourage should be limited and increasing the size of the Entourage is one of two "leveling" mechanics in Foundation. (The second is increasing the size of the city/kingdom.)

Multiple Characters for Each Player

Taking a page from Ars Magica's book, Foundation has players to take ownership and play from the veiwpoint of any of the characters in their Founder's Entourage. A Founder doesn't leave their city to track down some magical item or a skilled artisan, they send one of their trusted followers. At this point the game could change to that character's viewpoint and players could enjoy a dungeon crawl or just RP out a quick scene.

Not every group is going to like switching the focus like this. In fact, maybe the players want to keep things at the macro level. That's no problem, if I include some tables for players to get an idea of how one of their followers does on a quest then that should allow for quick resolution for those that want it.

City/Kingdom as a Character

The city/kingdom should be treated like a shared player character. It should have its own set of stats and abilities determined by its demographics and physical makeup. Founders could spend Influence to activate abilities.

  • Unrest as a stat. This would probably be a percentage and would be determined by events and actions of the Founders. Unrest rolls would be rolled regularly and if the roll falls within the Unrest % then something bad happens. (Maybe there should be an Unrest table that could be used to generate a random Unrest event?)
  • Buildings and Factions each grant abilities to the city. A cathedral might allow for a Holy Day ability that could be used to lower Unrest.

Player "Generated" Starting Map

I think it would be a lot of fun to have the players generate the map that their city is founded on. This could be done using a set of hexes with players taking turns rolling on a table and then placing elements in a desired hex. Things to place could be resources, points of interest, threats (monsters/rival settlements/bandit camps/etc.) and geographical features. I could look to How to Host a Dungeon and Dawn of Worlds for inspiration on how to put this together.

Passage of Time

The game should proceed in rounds, with each round representing a chunk of time. The players should probably decide on how much time to start with, but I think either 1 month or 1 season would be a good place to start at.

For each of these chunks of time the players decide what their Founders want to do. That might be trying to make connections with a certain guild, expanding their Kingdom's borders or even trying to lure someone important to their city. In addition, for each one of these rounds some rolls should be made. The first would be the Unrest Roll discussed above and the second should be on a Random Events Table that would have things on it like "besieged by goblins" or "crime wave". These events would create obstacles for the Founders to overcome or risk the Unrest rising. Of course, not all events should be negative. There could be windfalls, important people joining the settlement and other positive results.


This one has me a bit stumped. Should this game be GMless or should it have someone in the traditional role of storyteller/game master? It wouldn't be hard to tweak Influence to work as a narrative currency like you see in games like Universalis. It might also work to have the GM role switch to a different Founder for each Round. This one definitely requires more mulling over.


Phew. That was quite the brain-dump. I really do like the idea of this game, but I don't know if all of these ideas fit together as snuggly as I would like them to. I definitely need to let this game bounce around in my head for a while and see what happens with it.


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