Tuesday, 21 November 2017

RPG vs Wargame community qualities

Roleplayers and wargamers share a lot of the same qualities, both being engaged in creative dice-related pursuits.
And of course, without wargaming, there'd be no RPG's, a fact that is still visible in many RPG combat systems.

As someone who grew up playing literally everything (RPG's, miniatures, board games, card games, the odd LARP etc.), it was always a bit of a shock when I got older and realized there were D&D players who had never touched a miniature or board gamers who refused to try a card game.

As someone with a leg in both camps, I also have had the general joy of engaging with both communities and observe how they compare and differ from each other.

So I thought I'd take a few moments to give my own thoughts on what I think each side could learn from the other.

Note that all of this is of course gross generalization and occasional exaggeration, so if you get really mad about something I say here, just pretend I am dumb (which is probably true).

Roleplayers are better at:

Discussing and understanding play styles -

RPG communities in general are much better at articulating, understanding, analyzing and accepting different styles of play:
The idea that each player may have different objectives at the table and how that influences game writing and adventure design.

The war-gaming communities "simulation vs beer&pretzel" debates often feel like the "roll vs role" debates that RPG'ers mostly got out of their systems in the 80's.

Discussing game design in general - 

I think RPG communities across the internet are often better at discussing game design in general.
There's a wealth of valuable discussion out there about how to create interesting scenarios, GM'ing techniques, how a particular mechanic contributes to the theme of a game and so forth.

War-gamers don't lack these entirely but they're much less common and it often feels like the wheel is being reinvented each time, due to lacking a shared vocabulary, especially once you step outside the strictly simulation-oriented.

Wider range of skills - 

When looking at wargaming blogs, it seems there's a greater degree of specialization.
The guy who enjoys building model terrain probably isn't reading a lot of history and the history nerd may not know anything about how to actually write a fun scenario.

It seems to me that roleplayers are much more diverse in their skill sets:
Whether the main pursuit is map making, adventure writing, GM'ing advice or something else entirely, roleplayers often seem better equipped at the other disciplines of their hobby.

Wargamers are better at:

Sticking to gaming - 

Now, this may differ for the odd website that rhymes with "the piniatures mage" but by and large, wargamers seem better able to distinguish their politics from their gaming.

The RPG communities online seem to disintegrate into flame wars that everyone must opine on every 2-3 weeks.

Worse, there seems to be far more people who view gaming purely through their super-liberal or super-conservative political lens, consequently becoming very bothered by "the wrong people" hence the outcry about games like Blue Rose or campaigns that assume orcs are evil.

Writing game rules - 

Hate to say it but it's true: Wargamers write much better mechanics than roleplayers do, even if roleplayers are better at talking about said rules.

This sounds like waxing my own carrot, so you can feel free to consider me the hack exception to the rule, but in my experience, wargame rules are (generally) clearer, less vague and much more likely to account for typical situations that 5 minutes of thinking could predict would come up.

It isn't even a question of "light" vs "heavy". A complex game can be poorly explained and a light game can be clear and concise.

In big part, this may be due to wargamers interacting with the rules to a greater extent, while roleplayers can often hide behind "just house rule it".
Now I'm not bagging on the group having the freedom to modify a rule, but that doesn't mean you can't write a clear rule to begin with.

Understanding the rules - 

If you watch two guys playing a wargame, it's generally assumed they both know the rules they are playing.
In an RPG campaign, its not at all unusual to have a player or two who don't know the game and never intend to.

Ever been in a group with the guy who after a year of weekly D&D games still asks what die he rolls to hit? That guy wouldn't last in a lot of wargaming clubs.

What both groups need to improve on:

Stop being butt-hurt that popular games being popular- 

Whether its a new edition of D&D or Flames of War, people need to stop moaning about it.

Popular games are popular because they appeal very widely sure.. but nobody is going to pick up Fistful of TOW's or The Black Hack as their first games  (yeah yeah, feel free to correct me with the one dude you know in Wisconsin).

If you're an indie developer in particular, the big corporate guys are your recruiters.
A guy who is wondering about miniatures gaming isn't going to buy FiveCore from me, but the dude who've played 40K and is wondering if there's anything else he could do with his miniatures just might.

So in conclusion:

Now that I've made everybody mad, I am going to go hide in my corner :-)

Agree? Disagree? Want me hanged? Leave a comment.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Five Parsecs - Character creation (and a correction)

First, a quick correction: You are supposed to begin the campaign with 1 credit per crew member, which got left out.
The PDF has been updated now, so if you already purchased, go out and download again.

Let's whip up 3 characters real quick, just to see how it goes.

A normal starting crew is 5 or 6, but we don't have all day to read blogs, do we? :)


So I grab my trusty percentile dice and roll.
Each character will have a background, motivation and character class which will affect their stats a little bit.

Our first character grew up in a War Torn Hell Hole, they are motivated by Order and their class is Starship Crew.
A grim survivor who wishes to avoid the horrors that befell his homeworld, he became a navigator on  merchant cruisers before striking out on his own.
Dodging land mines has boosted his Reactions a bit and he brings a random military weapon to the party, in this case a Rattle Gun (a primitive LMG)

Reactions 2 - Speed 4 - Combat Skill 0 - Toughness 3

For our second character, she grew up in an Isolationist Enclave, she is motivated by a sense of Discovery (makes sense since she'd have been pretty sheltered as a youth) and when she left the enclave, she found work as an artist.
No stat boosts, but her art-money lets us begin with 5 additional Credits.

Reactions 1 - Speed 4 - Combat Skill 0 - Toughness 3

For the last character, they grew up in a Tech-Guild (which brings 2 credits to the crew and a Blast Rifle). Apparently the guild was quite stifling because he is motivated to Escape (which also raises his movement speed).
Along the way, he became a Special Agent for this or that government entity (raising his Reactions and beginning the game with a gun Stabilizer)

Reactions 2 - Speed 5 - Combat Skill 0 - Toughness 3

* * * * *

Moving to the Flavor details, we learn that our ship is a Battered old mining ship, the characters are together because it's safer to be in a crew than alone.
They are best characterized as being "Somewhat forgettable".

Well, that suits our purposes fine, but surely we can find money and fame out among the planets.

Time to queue up the Slough Feg Traveller album on Itunes and get to it.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Five Parsecs From Home is back! It's new! It's...different?



http://www.wargamevault.com/product/226810/Five-Parsecs-From-Home

So Five Parsecs From Home is basically the single best-selling thing I ever did.
A solo-oriented campaign game, aimed at providing the sort of Traveller meets Trigun meets Borderlands game play style that a lot of games grasp at.

However, it's definitely gotten pretty long in the tooth and needed a serious update, both to fix some design issues and to generally reflect the improvements in product from NWG.

Particularly, it had the following issues:

1: It was spread across two booklets (the FiveCore rulebook and the Five Parsecs book) and not organized that great.

2: A lot of the random tables ended up rarely used.

3: There were a LOT of special rules, cases and exceptions to keep track.

4: A lot of things generated on the tables ended up with things like "has a 1 in 6 chance of being interesting".

So a revised, stand-alone edition has been a wishlist item for a lot of people.

I'd maintained for a while that it would be a FiveCore system, however, the more I worked on it, the more I came to realize that a change was needed and I started tinkering with different solutions and options, including basing it off Clash on the Fringe.

Several trashed and discarded versions later, I took a long step back and looking at the project with new eyes:
The biggest problem for a solo gamer (in my own experience) is that you only have one person to do EVERYTHING.
As such, I find that when playing solo, the absolute easier and simpler the rules are, the better it flows for me.

With that in mind, I set about creating a set of rules that were as simple as I could, without being completely lacking in flair.
The campaign adds all the complexity and detail needed, there's no need to have the complexity also resident in the rules system itself.

The end result is what I feel is ultimately a much stronger, more capable game.
More importantly, it's one I feel is far more likely to get on the table and get campaigns played.

And that's the entire point right? Taking your crew of misfits and sending them out to get shot to bits on some back-water planet.


War gamer metal

There's a lot of gamers who like a bit of metal.
There's a lot of gamers who like a LOT of metal.

So I wanted to throw out a few albums and songs that make perfect gaming material for the historical gamer.

Feel free to add more.
I am going to be lazy and not add links to everything. If someone strikes your fancy, just check it out on youtube or itunes.

For this, I am specifically looking at songs about historical military battles, not generic "war metal" or fantasy stuff. So I won't list my beloved Bolt Thrower.

Accept
Song Stalingrad off the Stalingrad album.

Classic metal bordering on butt-rock.

Well recommended (and even features a short rendition of the Soviet anthem)

Crystallion
Entire Hundred Days album and entire Hattin album.

Euro-power metal.

The former is about Napoleon's 100 days campaign, while the latter should be self-explanatory.

Running Wild
Battle of Waterloo off the Death or glory album.

Classic metal.

Even begins with a sample from the Waterloo film.

God Dethroned

Their last three albums Passiondale, Under the sign of the iron cross and The world ablaze.

Death metal.

A trilogy of albums around the first world war. If you're going to pick just one, do World Ablaze.

Hail of bullets

All three of their albums Of frost and war, On divine winds and III the Rommel chronicles.

Death metal.

All three albums are themed around the second world war. Of Frost and War is the best of the bunch.

Iced Earth

The entire The Glorious Burden album.

Power metal.

Covers the Red Baron, Waterloo, Valley Forge, Attila and a three song epic about the battle of Gettysburg.

Iron Maiden

Really more than you can shake a fist at, so I'll pick out The Longest Day from the Matter of life and death album as a stand-out.

NWOBHM.

Longest Day should be self-explanatory.

Judicator

Entire King of Rome album.

Power metal.

A bit home-brew quality but about Napoleon and the 100 days specifically.

Sabaton

Everything they've done ever.

Power metal.

Needs no explanation. If you're a gamer and don't know Sabaton, you're doing it wrong :)
Standouts include the Carolus Rex album and Heroes.

Skyforger

Latvian Riflemen album.

Black metal'ish.

About the Latvian rifles in the Russian army in the first world war.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Writing games. The Suck (tm)

Everyone has ideas.

Many people are hard workers.

A good chunk of people are clever about a topic they are interested in.

A small number of people can write well.


So by my back-of-the-envelope math, we should have millions of games about any given subject.
Why don't we?

Well, for one, writing a game takes time, testing it takes time and not all ideas turn out to work on paper (let alone on the table).

But there's a much greater reason a game never takes shape, I think.

The Suck.

What is The Suck?

The Suck is every single page you don't want to write.
Doesn't matter if it's miniatures, role playing, board games, cards or interpretive dance.

Every word you don't WANT to write contributes to The Suck.

What kind of stuff contributes to The Suck?

That depends on who you are.
What do you NOT want to write? Game examples? Designer notes? In-depth explanations of the artillery rule? Optional rules? A chapter explaining the philosophy of the rules so people will play it "right" ?

For me, it's always terrain rules. Anything that involves counting out different types of table top scenery and how each unit type interacts with it.
Oh, and don't forget jump pack troops and what if you teleport INTO the feature and does it count if only half the model is within the area and....

I hate it.

And every time I work on something, I dread writing the terrain section.
Every time I pick up a new game, I skip that part, read everything else, then realize at some point, some goon is going to wander into the woods and I'm going to need know what happens.

The Suck lurks?

So you have a clever idea. Maybe it's a dice mechanic (FAD began literally from the idea of rolling two dice and picking the highest) or a concept (NEIS began with the idea of permanent overwatch).
Maybe you read a lot about a particular battle and you're stoked to make rules for it.
Maybe you are just writing up the homebrew you play at the club.

You write an introduction and some notes. You begin fleshing out the rules and fixing up a few bugs and special cases.
You come up with a clever mechanic for morale that builds off the main dice system and you feel great.

And then it jumps at you.
The Suck.

It laughs in your face, taunting you.
"Nobody is going to take your game seriously without me, and unless you include detailed terrain rules, you will get 8 emails a day asking how to handle a slightly grassy boulder"

How you react at that stage is what determines if your game is ever going to be finished and seen by anyone but yourself.

Do you give up? I have. Many times. Sometimes the combined weight of things that contribute to The Suck just makes you realize you didn't care enough for the idea.

Do you power through it? When you've done it enough, you learn to churn out 5 pages of Suck and have it read pretty decently. After all, if it's a part you don't care about, it just has to function okay. Games are full of bits that are "okay".
As long as the rest is cool and this part isn't broken, it can be "okay" and nobody will notice.

Do you ignore it completely? "Fuck it, who actually reads the designer notes?"
You can always insist your game is "avant garde" experimental design (alternatively, say its "not for rules lawyers" and you can get away with basically selling people a to-hit table with the text "rolling well is probably better")


* * * * *

So there you have it.
The secret to being a designer. The Suck.

It has its claws in all of us and it takes a different shape for every person.

What is The Suck to you ?

Blade&Lockpick. Characters.

As requested, here's a few examples of characters built using the book.

Let's say I want to build a noble knight type for a fantasy game.

Characters consist of building-blocks: Abilities, Skills and Traits (plus a few other bits) each of which has a specific function in the game rules.

You could simply tally down a couple of things on the fly, but we do include a "choice" system based on power levels.
So we're going to make a Veteran character, which means they'll get 1 Ability, 3 Skills and 1 Talent.

Abilities are basically what would be "stats" in other games, so we'll give him Endurance as his Ability.

Skills are pretty self-explanatory. I like to use fairly wide skills but you could make them much more narrow if desired.

I'll give him a Knight skill which covers...well..knightly business like fighting, etiquette and horsemanship.
Second, we're going to give him Religion. He might be a knights templar or similar, so we'd expect him to be well educated in matters of the faith.
Finally, I'll add Hunting reflecting an upbringing as petty nobility, preoccupied with the finer things in life like shooting pigs with arrows.

Talents are particular knacks, unusual traits or mystical characteristics. It could be almost anything, but we're going to go with a Blessed Sword.
That way, we can justify a bonus die in combat situations.

If we're building a full character, we'd proceed to add some flair and connections but those are mainly role playing aspects, so we can stop here.


So our final character looks like:
Abilities: Endurance.
Skills: Knight. Religion. Hunting.
Traits: Blessed Sword.


This is the most straight-forward method, we actually offer a small lifepath system as well, but I'll give an example of that later on.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Blade & Lockpick. How an encounter works

So with Blade&Lockpick meeting with pretty brisk sales (I hope because it's rad but the killer artwork by Luigi no doubt helped), I thought I'd delve into how the encounters work, in case you are wondering:


So let's say we have a party of 4 adventurers . One is a big burly barbarian who has the Strong ability and Fighting as a skill.
One is a knight who also has a Fighting skill.
The other two are a scholar and a thief, neither of which have any traits relevant to combat.

They run into a band of rowdy goblinoids, consisting of 3 orcs and 3 goblins (minions).
None of those have any particular skills.


So let's see how that plays out, purely from a mechanical perspective. I am not going to go into heavy narration for this example, just to keep it clear and without clutter.

Round 1:
The heroes get 4 dice (one per hero) rolling 1, 2, 3, 5.

Due to the Strong character they can re-roll the 1 and get a 4, for a final score of 2, 3, 4, 5.

Since they have a character with Fighting skill, add +1 to the highest die (just +1 even if they have two such characters) for a total of 6.

The orcs roll 4, 5 and 5 on their three dice. The goblin minions automatically roll 3's, so the orc dice pool is 3, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5 for a 5 as their highest die.

Result: One goblin is eliminated.

Round 2: 
Heroes roll 1, 2, 3, 6.
Even before re-rolls, I know the orcs can't score a 7, so the heroes win this one and knock off another goblin.

Round 3:
Heroes roll 1, 2, 3, 4.
Re-rolling the 1 (for another 1) and adding skill, we get a 5 as our highest die.

The orc dice are 3, 4, 5 with a single goblin left adding another 3.

The highest dice are equal, so both teams must drop a character.
The last goblin bites it and I decide to roll randomly for what player character is knocked off. It ends up being the Barbarian. Oof.

Round 4:
The heroes now have 3 dice and no re-roll, but they still get the bonus for the Knights skill.

Dice are 3, 3, 4 so their total is 5.

Orcs roll 1, 4, 5, another draw.

An orc tumbles to the ground as does the scholar.

Round 5:
We're down to two characters facing two orcs.
At this point, we'd probably want to decide if the orcs run away or the heroes might decide to withdraw, but for this example, we'll proceed to the bitter end.

The heroes roll a 3 and a 4 (for a final score of 5) while the orcs roll a pair of 3's, resulting in another orc biting the dust.

Round 6:
Hero dice are 1 and 3 (final score 4).
A bit risky, but the last orc rolls....a 2 and is defeated.

We win:
Huzzah!
This was a straight up "knock down, drag out" fight with no fancy stuff, no magic, no situational modifiers or anything else. Just two groups smashing into each other and hitting each other, until only one was standing.

What happened to the two characters that were removed? We might narrate that, we might roll on the Consequence table in the rules or we might use the in-game Oracle to figure it out.
For our purposes, we'll say the scholar actually just ran and hid, while the barbarian got dramatically roughed up but wasn't really seriously hurt.


Tomorrow, we'll look at a more complex example, as well as a non-combat one or two.