Who Needs Emotions?

In so many games and with so many players, I’ve seen characters that are designed to be devoid of emotion. They are gruff, calloused warriors, loners with nothing to tie themselves to this world but their fortunes and their expertise.

*Yawn*

Aside from a few poorly adjusted individuals, almost no one moves through life without emotional ties. Most people desire companionship and laughter. So why do players make characters like this?

Because it’s safe. If they have an emotional tie with someone, that person is a liability. They can be hurt, captured or even betray the PC. It’s better to be shielded from the outside world than risk that danger.

So what’s the solution? Will characters always be the heartless loners they are now? Can something melt through these hardened exteriors? Can you make the players risk the danger of an emotional connection? After all, the PCs face physical dangers all the time. Why aren’t they afraid of those? It has a lot to do with risk vs reward.

So how can emotional ties be a reward? When I look at this kind of question, I try to think of why people really behave the way they do. In this case, we have to think about what happens if a person has no emotional ties vs. someone who does.

People without emotional ties tend to get depressed more easily. They suffer from poorer health in most cases. They sometimes eat less healthy foods. Without people you trust to talk over issues, a person can make a string of poor choices. Over long periods, their behavior can become erratic.

People with emotional ties tend to be happier. They live longer. A lot of the inverse of what was just listed for a lack of emotional ties. But anther thing is that they have a reason to keep pushing forward when the going gets tough.

So what are these? A lot of the effects would be positive stress effects, not only mental but also physical. Maybe healing happens faster.  Maybe advice could be used to make more intelligent choices. They may be able to call on their emotions for a boost in will power and endurance.

My thoughts on how to implement these effects is that if left to the GM, they’ll never get used. The GM already has enough to handle. Let the players handle it. Let them call on the positive effects when they need them.

In this kind of a system, I’d like to see players with a list of people their characters have ties with. Wife, children, friend, best friend all being something like an equipment list. Each relationship imparting different effects on the character. For instance, having children could give a significant boost to will power and endurance when the character’s life is in danger.

Spending time with loved ones and friends could be a stress reliever. Having friends and loved ones at your bedside (taking care of you) while healing could give that healing boost.

Obviously, the risk is still there but the game should be all the better for having characters and players that care about other people. Obviously some players would think of them only for their mechanical benefit “No! My stress point reliever!” but I’m not looking for the player to form emotional attachments to NPCs, just the characters. A lot of times players form attachments to their equipment anyway, which are all about mechanical benefits. Maybe some of that will leak through. At that point it’s just an issue of how it’s role played.

The bonuses have to be significant but not turn the characters into super humans.

For the Children! – When the character’s life is in danger, they get a 70% Advantage to Psyche and Constitution rolls.

Good Advice – If a character can talk with a friend or loved one, for IQ and Psy rolls they can use the helping mechanic to make multiple rolls using the other character’s attributes and pick the best result.

Friend – Spending an hour with a friend allows for a Charisma roll, each fractional success relives 1 Mental Stress. Each character’s roll effects the other character in the relationship. This time can be spent doing other simple tasks like eating, traveling, etc. This effect can be stacked up to four times. If a friend is wounded, the PC takes 10 Mental stress. If a friend dies, the PC takes 20 Mental stress. Breaking a friendship causes 15 Mental stress.

Love – A spouse, children, parents are all examples of loved ones. Spending an hour with a loved one  allows for a Charisma roll, each fractional success relives 2 Mental, 1 Physical and 1 Functional stress.Can be time spent doing other simple tasks like eating, traveling, etc. If a loved one is wounded, the PC takes 20 Mental, 10 Physical and 10 Functional stress. If a loved one dies, the PC takes 40 Mental, 20 Physical and 20 Functional  stress. Breaking ties with a loved one causes 30 Mental , 15 Physical and 15 Functional stress.

True Love – Spending an hour with a true love allows for a Charisma roll, each fractional success relives 3 Mental, 2 Physical and 2 Functional stress. Can be time spent doing other simple tasks like eating, traveling, etc. If a true love is wounded, the PC takes 30 Mental, 20 Physical and 20 Functional stress. If a true love dies, the PC takes 60 Mental, 40 Physical and 40 Functional  stress. Only one True Love can ever be claimed by a character. Breaking ties with a true love causes 60 Mental , 30 Physical and 30 Functional stress.

Healing – Having a friend help with a character’s healing by staying at the PC’s side gives a 30% Advantage to healing rolls. This Advantage can be stacked up to 3 times. Having a loved one help with a character’s healing by staying at the PC’s side gives a 50% Advantage to healing rolls. This Advantage can be stacked up to 2 times.

Player characters can claim each other as friends and loved ones. The other player (or the GM in the case of NPCs) can choose to reciprocate or it could be a one way relationship.

Normally there is some kind of a cost when a character wants a new piece of equipment or something that gives them a mechanical bonus. Possibly the threat of loss would be enough to dissuade a player from claiming every NPC as their friend. Maybe it shouldn’t be that easy though. Maybe a friend or loved one needs to be attracted.

Next up? The Rules of Attraction.

Update: I added a Charisma roll to each hour for reliving stress.

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Dice Contest Update

d20x5 95A little more than one week into the contest and there are a number of entries already. Here’s an update to keep them all in one place. If you like one, vote for it in the comments!

Eric Jome – 1 to 5 four times – d5!


Karl Olson – All side blank excepting the four sides with the number “20” on them and the one single side with the number “7”


Eric Jome – (That’s right, more than one entry per person is allowed, but you can only win once) 20 on one side, “re-roll” on the other nineteen.


Brian Cox – A 20 on all twenty sides?


Austin Fleming – A d20 with all the consonants on it (it has been pointed out that these already exist)


Chris Fee – Ten sides with a 20 and ten sides with a 1.


Jake P – Fudge Dice
1 | -4
2 | -3
3 | -3
4 | -2
5 | -2
6 | -1
7 | -1
8 | -1
9 | 0
10 | 0
11 | 0
12 | 0
13 | +1
14 | +1
15 | +1
16 | +2
17 | +2
18 | +3
19 | +3
20 | +4


Steffan O’Sullivan – A Fudge die!
1 face = +3
2 faces = +2
4 faces = +1
6 faces = 0
4 faces = -1
2 faces = -2
1 face = -3
(Steffan’s probabilities are a bit different than Jake’s)


Maurice Tousignant – A die with negatives could be cool -10 to +10 except you would need 21 faces for the 0. Maybe -9 to +9 and two 0s


Uriah – You could make a d20 that roughly mimics a roll of 2d6 (for settlers, monopoly, etc)
Sides would be: 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, 10, 10, 11, 2/12

The 2/12 is the only trick part as you would then need to determine which it was (by coin flip, re-rolling etc.). You could also color one each of 4, 6, 8, 10 and the 2/12 differently to show that it was a doubles roll for games in which doubles matter.


Although he’s bowing out of this contest because he won the last one . . .
Chainsaw Aardvark – Rather than trying to cram in small symbols or esoteric two letter pairings, I would just go for groups of colors: Seven Blue, Six Orange, Four Green, Two Yellow, One Black.

Depending on the game, these could be used in a number of ways. “Any non-black or orange is a success” or “This power only activates on a green roll” or “Take damage if a secondary color (Orange/Green) shows”, and of course “Black means critical hit to reactor, ship blows up”. The above mix means you can can match any number you want to get the right probability – nine out of twenty is Blue and yellow, sixteen is any not green and so on.


Steffan O’Sullivan – Sent in this entry, again, you can only win once but can enter as many as you like. His entry was more detailed than this but this gives an idea of what he’s suggesting.
Thumb is either up or down depend on how it lands – a good yes/no or positive/negative – sideways is maybe or unclear!
Pointing finger can either point to an individual at the table or simply mean someone points something out.
Open hand can be giving, receiving, stop, or High Five!
Bomb and death’s head are obvious symbols, though there’s still a little time with the bomb – the fuse is still burning!
Flag: authority. Or Eddie Izzard.
Sun, Rain, Snow: weather impacts things.
Yin Yang: the turning of the wheel. Fortune becomes misfortune and vice versa.
Bell: an announcement.
Book: knowledge is acquired or required.
Letter: a message.
Super question mark: very mysterious!
Eye, ear: they see or hear something
Double arrows: a trade, or exchange of knowledge, or back to the beginning.
Spider: either a monster, or a gift (Grandmother Spider from Native American cultures) or a trickster (Anansi from African/Caribbean cultures)
Bag of money: it comes or it goes
Lightning bolt: something unexpected and powerful happens!


There have been some mentions of Runic dice but no specifics given.

There’s still plenty of time! What’s you’re entry? You can find the rules here.

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Tortuga Setting For The Artifact

The corporate and civilian characters in the main book now have their own book. Tortuga is a setting about a Kelrath city that has it’s ruling Rantaa’ overthrown. In the power vacuum corporations from Earth slip in and start to influence the growth of the new city state. There are high hopes that this free Kelrath state will become a model for more cities to throw off oppression.

In the meantime, the civilian corporations are running amok in the relative lack of oversight on them. There are strange things going on and they’re keeping it to themselves.

The Tortuga setting includes ideas for treasure hunters including the mythic Titans.

Tortuga Web

Tortuga

The Tortuga setting includes some scripted elements but even more suggestions for a GM to develop on their own. This is a sandbox setting for the characters to deal with corruption, influence and the Kelrath up close. It also includes general suggestions for corporate characters.

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Update On Createspace Books

My first proof book from Createspace is starting to fall apart. I’m mentioning this because I know some of my readers have an interest in book quality.

I’m a little disappointed in this. Although some of my first Lulu books had similar problems.

The other thing I’ll mention is that book saw some heavy use from my son. He is not gentle on books.

Still, this is a little too early for a book to fail. Lulu’s books last far longer but cost twice as much. That book was a bit odd anyway, maybe it’s an anomaly. I’ll keep you updated if it happens with any other books.

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The Artifact Player’s Handbook Draft

Here it is, the third edition of the Player’s Handbook! There’s a whole new cover, some new art, new equipment, all updated for the Third Ed rules, so this book is now fully compatible with the main book. This edition includes what had been the Engineer’s Resource which includes crafting rules for equipment and vehicles, now all in one volume.

This is the rough draft. Some of the vehicle crafting rules may need tweaking and I’d like to make some additions to the standard equipment available for building. The other problem is, I found a bug in the layout software I use. If I use a layout break on a page, tables won’t wrap like they should. It’s going to take me a bit to work around that.

In the mean time, here it is!

Player Handbook Cover

The Artifact Player’s Handbook

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My New Dice and A Contest!

I got my new dice in the mail a few days ago and I’ve been showing them off. I haven’t gotten to game with them yet though. Let me introduce my creation, the d20x5 and then I’ll show you the other dice I picked up. Stick around till the end to get in on a dice contest!
d20x5 95
d20x5 5
The d20x5 is my first foray into the custom dice world. A little wobbly, a little novice but all mine! Here is a die that can give me an approximately percentile experience wrapped in a d20. Just rolling this die feels comfortable to me. No diverging d10s to find as one rolls under the table, no “Which die is the tens?”, no finding one die of my favorite set and not finding the other.
d10 in a d10
I do have to admit that this big guy is pretty cool too. It’s a nice little package for rolling a d100. Everyone that rolls it intuitively says the outer shell is the tens place and the inner is the ones. That’s pretty cool.
stuck roll
It can be a little tricky though. Sometimes the inner die doesn’t quite land flat. That’s pretty easy to fix, a light tap settles the inner dice to the side you pretty much figure it would land on. It sometimes does take some craning of the neck to see past the outer number though. The sound of the shell dice is a bit odd to my ear but I’m getting used to it. It’s the little things.
All in all though, I’ll be using this dice pretty often.
Hit Location Die
I’m not sure why I got this hit location die other than it’s cool. It’s a fast way to pull up where something lands on a person. It eliminates looking up the location on a chart. It does however give you a 4 in 12 chance of hitting a hand or a foot. So 1 in 3 hits will strike the smallest segments of the body. We were talking about it and figured that it could make sense in hand to hand situations.
Fudge Dice
I also picked up some FUDGE dice. We have a new project that we’re going to use the FUDGE system for. I thought about using FATE but it has a lot of baggage like FATE points and compels that I don’t really need. Yeah, I know, with FATE Core and FATE Accelerated all the rage now it would be a popular choice but FUDGE is just more straightforward for what I want.
For You?
Now, the contest. Here’s where you come in. Come up with something cool to put on a d20. The sides of these puppies are small so I can only fit one to two characters on them. That means that if your die needs a cheat sheet to be used that’s okay. For instance Y could be a “yes” while Yb is “yes but”.

Come up with something cool, something that will fit on one of these puppies and I’ll do my best to make that die. I’m not using a laser to etch the die, don’t expect perfection but I should be able to produce usable and legible.

Write up your submission in the comments below or if you’re super secret, you can email your super secret submission to submissions@theartifact.net

You’ll be judged based on the following criteria.

Does it fit on a d20? That’s an important one.
How universal is this concept? Could everyone enjoy this die?
How revolutionary is this concept? Does it blow us away?
Does it solve a practical need?

Winner get’s me hacking at a poor white die twenty to make that will get mailed to your (the winner’s) address and a copy of The Artifact third edition.

2nd place gets me making their die with the same novice skill and mailing it to your (the 2nd place winner’s) address.

Contest ends September 30th. Judging ends and winners announced Friday October 4.

Do you have what it takes? What does it take? I guess we’ll find out October 4th!

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New Dice

I’m waiting for a set of blank dice to come in the mail.

Why?

Well I’m glad you asked. You see, I’ve always loved the way d20s roll, the way they fit in your hand. My old space opera Galactic Legions (unpublished) used a d20 for resolution. I like how d100 works in a game though and the options it gives because of it’s granular nature.

Okay I like both.

There are some d20s that have 0-9 printed twice on them. These are the really old style d20s. When the two sets of 0-9s are colored differently they can be used as a d10 or a d20. You can then use two of them as a d100. That seems pretty cool, but I have one niggle with that. You’re still rolling two dice, visually tracking them and then figuring out the result. I still want to try it though.

So then I ran across some dice within dice, it’s a clear plastic hollow die with another die of the same kind inside it. I ordered a d10 set and a d20 set (I’m not sure why the d20 other than to have one). That will be interesting to try, maybe it’ll scratch my itch.

I also had the idea to make a d20x5. A regular d20 but each face is an increment of 5 instead of 1. The low side is a 5 and the high side is 100. It’s a d20 that’s very nearly a d100! I have one problem with it for the fraction column system. If you’re rolling for a stat of 30 or less you can’t actually roll the character’s eighth. I’m not worried about that for NPCs but it could rob a PC of a really good roll. I could start out at 0 and go to 95 but rolling 0 would be weird. I could start out at 1 and go to 95, but that would be a non-linear die. Why would that matter? It seems, odd. While I’m at it I could number the sides 1, 5, 10, 15, 20 – 80, 85, 90, 100 but that would give a 10% chance at rolling a 100.

Then I thought about a 0-95 numbered d20 and a 0-5 labeled d6. That would work for a full d100 from 0 to 100 (d101?) but that would introduce a second die to the roll and thus defeat my purpose.

I’m fine with a d20x5 for NPCs, I don’t care if they don’t roll the lowest possible value they can get so I’m going to make one. I’ll post pictures when I get one made.

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Progress With The 3e Player Handbook

I had gotten to the point in rewriting the Engineer’s Resource where I had to confront the biggest and hairiest challenge, building vehicles. I was a bit intimidated by this, especially when it came to building vehicle drive systems. I’m happy to say I’ve cracked that bit. The system is more consistent and hopefully more intuitive.

There’s still a bunch to do, I’ve been making notes as I go about things I’d like to see work better so I’ll be going back and addressing these next.

I’ve tried various tests so far against real world vehicles and ones in the book and they’ve stood up to the tests so far but I’ll be handing the book over to Cody soon to see if he can’t abuse the system.

I was hoping to have some time to work on a cover but that hasn’t happened yet. I have a few thoughts after going to a Star Wars exhibit in the Indiana State Museum. It’s not that I want to copy Star Wars but there was a lot of material in the exhibit that talked about how the model makers and the sound designers thought about producing the look of the movies that I found informative.

Primarily the idea that was repeatedly discussed is that the audience expects certain visual and audio queues. If you don’t give it to them then they get confused. Now, I’ve known that for a while but the examples given gave me a few new ways to think about it.

What do players expect? Sometimes game designers want the players to get excited about nuance and possibility (ok, I do anyway) but the players want a hard hitting game that’s straightforward. They want to know they can have that kind of game and have the game reassure them that it’s okay to want it. I’m okay with that too, so that’s what I’m going to try for.

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Rules Rules Rules

Games have rules or at the very least a rule. RPGs tend toward having a lot of rules. Even rules lite games usually have as many pages of rules as a board game of standard complexity. Why is that? Is there any way around it? If you do get around it, what are the consequences?

First, a quick and dirty history of RPGs. Early RPGs were fairly light compared to what came in the 90’s. Then there was a move toward heavy books full of rules. In the next decade narrative driven games emerged that tend to have a smaller page count. Next came the Old School Revolution that focused its efforts on early RPGs that ran lite.

There’s a constant struggle to both expand what an RPG can govern and a wish to cut the discreet number of rules in the game. If the market of RPG customers have more free time, better visual acuity and the focus to support a large set of rules in their head, (usually late teen players) the size of RPGs get bigger. This has the effect of making it more difficult for young players (pre or early teens) to grasp the game and slows the rate that new players take up the hobby. It also is harder for working parents and older players who may have a hard time reading small type to adopt these large tomes.

Many games reduce their rule sets by having a central mechanic that is intended to govern (nearly) all interactions. This has gone a long way to make games easier to comprehend but the discrete rules that can spin off the core rules are also effectively endless so a game designer can still easily fill hundreds of pages with special case rules.

A game can reduce its rule set by applying what’s called “rule 0” or “the GM’s word is final”. Old School Revolution games rely in this heavily. The GM decides how rolls apply and often spot rule when a question arises. They make up a rule on the spot of how to resolve the situation. This can change from instance to instance but many gaming groups develop their own set of house rules, that if ever written down would bloat their lite game into something more comparable to a new school game from the 90’s.

A third way to reduce the set of rules is to not model a world but to give rules to govern the story being told. These “Narrative” games have a double edged sword to deal with in that they give lots of power to the players. This power if not carefully managed can lead to the game breaking down into something that is no longer a game because the rules do not sufficiently control play.

Large Rule Sets, Good For Players?

Early on in my gaming, I was a rules lawyer and I caused plenty of trouble as one. I wasn’t malicious, but I did cause arguments and I did use the rules to break the game when it served me. Back then, I probably couldn’t tell you why I rules lawyered. Now I understand things a bit better.

Rules that don’t change give power to the players. They allow the players to know how the game is played and helps them to tell the kind of story they want with their characters. Because of this, I’ve always viewed the written rules as my friend and any unwritten and malleable rule handed down from the GM as something I couldn’t rely on.

Think about a game of football where a player scores but the Referee can change the score based on how he felt about the effort? Would you know how to produce a strategy that would win the game? Possibly if that Ref was consistent you could. But what if he wasn’t consistent? What if he was mostly consistent but occasionally he would change his mind at the last moment? These are things I have seen GMs do.

Rules Help The GM

Another reason comprehensive rule sets can be good is that the GM has a heavy load to lift running a game. When there isn’t a rule to cover something, I’ve seen GMs default to “you can’t do that” even though most games tell the GM to make something up. When trying to handle all the other responsibilities of  a game though, it can be hard for a GM to suddenly come up with how a novel solution should work. What’s worse is when the players want to replicate the effect of a novel solution and it threatens to unbalance the game.

Rules can also help build trust in a GM if they apply the rules evenly and the players see them doing so.

Pros vs Cons

On the one hand, a comprehensive rule set can help a game but on the other, it’s a barrier to new players, especially the young and the time strapped. There was a lot of wisdom in the “Basic” and “Advanced” rule sets of yesteryear. Get started with the basic and move onto the Advanced when you’re ready. Sometimes Quickstarts are a good approximation of the old Basic rule sets but they rarely are as flexible, usually only providing the GM an understanding of how to play a single adventure.

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Sneaking Around

Chainsaw Aardvark over at 1KM1KT has proposed a design challenge on how to make a RPG mechanics so that play centers around stealth. It’s a good thought experiment because there’s something wrong with using stealth in most games.

My players have lamented that they try to operate in a stealthy way but as soon as they fail a roll, they’ve given themselves away and are now going to have to rely on more explosions to get through the rest of their mission. If anything, stealth only holds off the devastation and they reason, “Why try? Let’s stick with what we’re good at.”

This is actually very telling. It means that the players perceive that they cannot actually use stealth as an effective strategy.

Why is this? What the players are recognizing is that this is a save or fail situation. Save or fail situations are exciting in small doses but are not fun when prolonged for more than a handful of turns.

For example, I could model combat by saying you get to roll for your defense but if that fails you roll vs your Constitution. If you make your roll, you live. If you fail you die. This may be an accurate way to model wounding but it’s also not fun. Statistically the system might be designed to give the PCs exactly the same life expectancy as a hit point system but the first time the group’s tank drops on the first roll, the players will loose faith.

This is essentially what happens when trying to sneak around. Sometimes the players sneak around for a dozen turns and it all works out. Other times the player flubs a roll on the first turn. The players lose faith in their ability to use stealth.

The first thought is have some kind of Stealth Points like Hit Points. I don’t particularly like that solution for games in general because it’s a limited use stat to track. Some characters would use it all the time while others would never use it at all. Then it sits on the character sheet taking up space. If it was the core of the game, yes, it would be fine.

Advanced Stealth Rules For The Artifact

The Artifact has several skills that could play into stealth rolls, so let’s look at what could be done to tie them together into a more robust stealth system.

Preparation

A character can roll on their Surveillance skill and store the fractional successes for sneaking around. This surveillance effort can be made by the same character that’s doing the sneaking around or by another character communicating with the character doing the sneaking.

Rolling multiple times does not add Fractional Successes to the total but higher roll results replace lower results. The character doing the surveillance can roll as many times as needed to get the desired result but each roll takes 15 minutes of time.

Camouflage skill rolls can also be used to disguise the character doing the sneaking. This can be used in addition to the Surveillance Fractional Successes. Each Camouflage roll takes 15 minutes of work and may include disguises.

Execution

The character sneaking around uses the Stealth skill as normal but may spend Fractional Successes on failed rolls or to bolster rolls. As the Fractional Successes are used up, it represents the characters that the PC is trying to sneak past growing suspicious or becoming more alert to the PC’s presence.

Recovery

At a certain point the character sneaking around may need to recover points that have been spent. To do this, the character rolls against their Hide skill. This represents the character laying low and doing things that are not suspicious. For example, if a character is disguised as a janitor, they’d spend time mopping the floor. If they’re disguised as an office worker, they’d find a place to look like they’re acting as an office worker should. It also might include hiding in the broom closet for an hour or so if that’s needed.

As the character rolls for their Hide skill, they regenerate the successes that were stored up for Surveillance and Camouflage.

What do you think?

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