Group Survival

Last post I wrote about trying to simplify the Survival Challenge system for groups. To expand on that thought, I feel like the system works just fine for one character and conceptually it works for a group, but tracking challenge points individually for each character is a pain. The other issue I have with the system is, while there is a way for characters to help each other, it’s not simple.

The easiest way to simplify the process is to handle the challenge points as a group. The problem is, to a simulationist (me) that doesn’t make sense. It could make some sense, since lowering the challenge as a group could signify the characters helping each other through the difficulty. The problem is, that in some situations like surviving a dessert trek, more people make the challenge harder.

The solution could lie in scaling certain challenges, like climbing a cliff, according to how many characters are going to take on the challenge. Even that solution is messy however. For one, the group could decide that only the good climbers in the group are going to attempt the climb and the rest will stay behind.

There is one other issue with the system. That is, tracking when certain events happen in the challenge

Now, midstream, the GM has to change the number of challenge points to match. That’s just annoying. The other problem is that the character’s strategy may be to have one character run through the challenge quickly while the others work through the challenge more slowly. Then the one pool system really doesn’t work.

The solution could lie in flipping the math. It’s mentally easier and possibly more enjoyable to have the players build up to the total number of challenge points. The players track their own progress, and because it’s a build up, the process is more interesting. It would also make sharing progress easier. If each player has a number of points built up, it’s easier to redistribute points among the player characters.

It would also make sense to track this kind of progress with a spin down d20, or in this case, a spin up d20. This would make the progress evident for each character. The players can distribute their points among themselves as they see fit.

The other advantage to this is, it’s easier to know when each character gets to each stage of a challenge. The GM can mark down at what stage each stage occurs.

One more thing

It came to my attention that at each stage of a challenge, the player should get a choice of two different “attacks” the environment can make. I think that would introduce more player agency and introduce choice.

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Survival and Tech Challenges – What to do?

Survival challenges are reasonably concrete in how they work. The part that is a little fuzzy is tracking the challenge with multiple players. It just feels like the group should all fight the challenge together instead of individually. It would make Challenge Point tracking simpler but would loose a bit of it’s realism. For instance, if I’m a really good climber and cut through the challenge points easily, another character who’s physically incapable of climbing also overcomes the challenge. That is, unless I can come up with justifying everyone decreasing the same pool of points. I think that’s the big change I’d like to figure out.

Tech Challenges are a different story. They’re completely not concrete and that makes them difficult to handle. A GM has to go through multiple steps just to have the player’s roll once. There’s  a whole series of steps that determine if a skill can be used.

I’ve come to use the tech challenges in a bit more cut and dry way. I set a number of points and judge if a skill is usable, usually if a plausible explanation is given for how it’s used. I don’t use a lot of transforms either but that’s kind of guts the system’s consequences.

I think a simpler system needs to be in place. The GM should pick from a small set (2-3) of skills that are approved to overcome the challenge and select a few transforms (transforms are the consequences of the character’s rolls) from a list. They can either roll or choose the transforms.

Come to think of it, transforms should just be called “Consequences” to make the process more concrete.

I’m not sure how the consequences should happen though, at the moment, they are a reaction to the roll the player makes. That doesn’t seem organic to play though. It should be that the GM gets to make an “attack” that alters the challenge. The problem with that is, the attacks are going to feel directed by the GM instead of a natural process of the character learning about a problem.

I think the key there is to structure the consequence as character learning instead of a series of random events determined by dice. I’ll try and write that up later.

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Sensors in Combat

From the very start, I wanted sensors to play a big role in vehicle combat on The Artifact. For the most part, that hasn’t worked out. With the third edition I tried to introduce “sensor locks” into the game. This required sensor rolls in order to start using vehicle based weapons. This is plainly the wrong approach.

I was juggling a lot of elements when putting out the third edition, but this plainly breaks many game design criteria that I set for other systems in the game. Primarily that any additional rolls should reward a player when they succeed, not penalize them when they fail. If a character can’t start firing until they pass a sensor roll, that’s plainly penalizing them.

Try Different

The sensor systems of a vehicle should make them more capable than a person handling a weapon manually, not be an impediment. My thought is, how does a “sensor lock” work in movies? It means that the sensors make for an automatic hit unless a heroic effort is made to evade.

That means that getting a sensor lock guarantees a basic hit. That’s simple for the Fraction Column system, a sensor lock gives a single success each turn the lock stays in place. This means the vehicle will at least hit it’s target as long as the target doesn’t dodge, or use their ECMs to break the sensor lock.

A pilot can still roll to hit with their Artillery Operation skill and improve the number of successes the attack has. This means that doing things like avoiding shields or armor is easier. Burst weapons are more effective and having multiple weapons firing all at once suddenly is very very effective. Rall 4s weapon lay out becomes staggeringly effective.

There is one little peculiarity to this concept though. What if the character rolls under their 8th for their sensor roll? Do they get 4 fractional successes to hit? My instinct is no. That would be far too effective and probably break the game. So what does rolling well under sensors do for you?

The main advantage of a good sensor roll would be that the lock is harder to break. The defender has to make an ECM roll that matches or exceeds the roll for the sensor lock. That makes a good lock roll a devastating development to a pilot.

I think that should do it, it makes sense and it follows the basic concept that people would expect. It rewards the player for using an action, so that’s better too.

Any objections to this system?

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Fourth Edition?

I’ve casually kicked around the idea of a fourth edition for The Artifact. My first instinct is to convert the whole game over to my Energy System (ES) that’s been getting more and more capable of handling the game world. I’m currently veering away from that though, not because I wouldn’t like the result, but more because of the history the game has. Converting to ES  would massively streamline the rules since it does all the things that the current Fraction Column system does, but with fewer moving parts. The downside is that it would make all the system knowledge that players have built up over decades invalid.

So if I’m not looking at moving to ES, what would a fourth edition do that would make it worth the effort? Let’s look at the things I would like in a new edition.

I would like to clarify and possibly simplify the tech  and survival challenge system.

I’d like to make the infantry system more organic to the system. It’s functional but still requires the player to absorb a very different mindset to employ.

I want to change the role of sensors in vehicle combat. Currently NPCs have a really hard time properly locking on targets and using ECMs. They can take stress to make sure they get the sensor lock but that severely limits them later. We’ve hammered out something of what the new sensor rules should look like and I’ll do a post later on what they’d look like in case anyone wants to use them. As it is, the role of sensors is a little murky in the current rules.

A big maybe

There are a huge number of moving parts in the current game. I know some players really like that, but no one uses everything that’s built into the game. That means there’s a lot that can be trimmed. I’m thinking that some of the in play complications could be helped by reducing the number of attributes, something along the lines of the Physical, Functional, Mental categories becoming the actual attributes. That would be sacrilege to many players though. Maybe characters could specialize in one of those categories and they’d get the attributes in that category broken out for them? That would require a lot of other moving parts to implement, but in play it might make things more streamlined, or it could just swap one level of complexity with another.

Is that enough?

Looking at the list, I’d say no, the third edition is standing up pretty well. That’s never stopped me before though. I think I should approach this the same way I’ve always handled things. I’ll post ideas here on what might work and when I feel like I’ve built up enough changes, I’ll want to rebuild the whole thing into a fourth edition.

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Reversion

I’m feeling mighty disgruntled lately about working on games. I probably did it to myself, but I’d like to talk about what’s been bothering me. I’m all for nostalgia. If something from your childhood gives you the warm an fuzzies, go ahead and bask in it. The problem I have is that there are huge numbers of RPG players out there that basically feel all they ever need to wear again is Underoos.

Not literally, I’m talking about the gaming equivalent. I mean Underoos were fun and all, but haven’t we grown past that? They’ve decided that games from their childhood is all they should ever run. That’s backwards, it’s reversion.

I think there’s something to be learned here from the rejection of modern games but it’s the rejection part that’s getting me down. Honestly, there’s always a lot of rejection going on in RPG circles, so that’s nothing new. It’s the rejection of anything that isn’t directly modeled on their nostalgia. When there are so many possibilities that could be explored in RPGs, they only want to revisit their childhood.

That’s not where I want to be though. I’d like to build on what the past has taught us. I want new players to come into the hobby, not having to relive my childhood, but find something demonstrably better.

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Update For July

I’m still alive! As to what I’m up to, I’ve been working on a space opera I’m calling Jump Temp and talking about it over at Store32. It’s almost done, but I just thought of an important rule that needs to be added today, so I’ll have to get at it. Jump Temp is almost done being written but needs more art. I just haven’t felt like drawing lately. If anyone wants to put art in a project, let me know in the comments.

As for the novel The Imbalance, I know what I want to write but I’ve just been having too much fun putting together Jump Temp to sit down and hammer out the next chapter. I started it, but each time I get a little time to write, I feel like working on rules or other fiddly bits.

I haven’t sat down lately to work on the last sourcebook for The Artifact, although I have talked about it with my son. He’s starting to play with some of the ideas in it and I really need that kind of feedback, because I don’t know if what I’ve written makes any sense to anyone but me. Although There’s work to do on some elements in the book, I think the core of the book is where I want it to be. It’s been my big worry, that the systems introduced aren’t coherent enough, but an intelligent 13 year old is able to throw them around easily enough, I’m pretty happy with that.

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One more chapter, eight to go.

Once I got past the last chapter, it’s much easier to push on.

Chapter 16 – Catching a Shadow

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New Chapter In The Novel

I’ve been working on The Imbalance for a very long time. Ever since 2011 I’ve been stuck on the 15th chapter titled Calling on the Memory of a Friend. I couldn’t write it in a way that satisfied me at all. Since then I’ve played a game that started to explore the places Onix would have to go. I think I may be moving too fast in the chapter, but the overall feel is right.

Chapter 15 – Calling On The Memory of A Friend

 

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Goodbye

I’ve had a bunch of different thoughts going through my mind lately but they all lead to the same conclusion.

One is that I’d like to do something a bit revolutionary as far as game design is concerned. I’d like to bring RPGs into the 21st century.

Another has to do with a couple threads on an RPG forum. Among the respondents of those threads, there was a strong disregard for anyone trying to produce an RPG and trying to make some money. Now I’m not here to make money, but I think what I do has value, so the conversation struck me as disrespectful. If RPG enthusiasts look so poorly on the efforts of designers, then why would someone want to work for them?

A third thought is about sunk costs. In economics, it’s considered an error in logic to keep putting resources into something because you’ve already “sunk” a lot of resources into it. I’ve certainly sunk a lot of resources into making RPGs and I had plans to do a lot more.

Each thought is important to me. I have the desire and ability to do more game design but there is no reason for me to do it. I’m not designing for money, I’m not looking for accolades. But I put money and time into keeping these websites running. I’d like it if that was for something. I could easily play my games with friends and it would be a lot easier than trying to typeset everything exactly right, to have enough artwork to balance the text, to buy new software and equipment to handle a gigabyte and a half book file, to maintain these blogs and pay to keep them running.

I love designing and developing RPGs but does the RPG community care? Let’s be honest, for the most part, no. There are a few people that have cheered me on and I appreciate them immensely. They’ve been wonderful and I can’t thank them enough.

When I was about half as old as I am now, I saw something ugly. I was working for my Father in the construction industry, in the region where I live, people we were doing work for didn’t want us to succeed. They viewed us succeeding as them being ripped off. We started working in other parts of the country and guess what? People wanted us to succeed, they would help us to protect our profits when changes were made or when we had to compensate for mistakes by others. We started traveling all over to do work.

I think I need to do some metaphorical traveling. If I’m going to do design work, I need to leave this place I’m in and find a place that wants me to succeed.

Now be honest, when you read that last sentence, did you think “I want you to succeed?” There are about five people that I know that will, the majority of people probably are indifferent or even adversarial. That is a sad statement for the RPG community. Someone giving away product that they pour themselves into should not be someone you’d be indifferent to.

I’m not giving up. I’m not quitting, but if I’m going to do something to bring RPGs into the 21st century and find the place where I can succeed, I need to leave what has become comfortable behind. I’m going to have to develop new skills. That will take time. So for now, this is goodbye. I have a few projects that are mostly done. For closure I’ll probably finish them off.

I certainly hope that the lessons I’ve learned here will be useful wherever I travel to.

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How Did We Get Here?

When I was a little boy, I watched a show called Starblazers. I was four and the series blew my mind. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, which isn’t saying much, I was four.

We didn’t even call it by the title because we couldn’t read. I think we called it “Our Star” because that’s how the theme song started. The details are fuzzy by the time I was nine, the series had come to an end and Robotech started up.

Robotech was even better than Starblazers and I think the two adapted series firmly planted in my mind that all starships should have a main cannon. Besides, giant robots.

Through the next decade of my life I looked for cartoons that would do for me what these two shows did for me. They set up an ongoing story that dazzled my young mind with a dangerous world and a reasonably well thought out consistency.* Shows like Transformers delivered giant robots but with bizarre and often staggering inconsistency.

Star Trek was also a favorite. My father is a fan of Trek so that helped out. He also liked Star Wars which, I wonder if the dangerous world presented there, seeded my mind to look for that kind of story. I enjoyed Trek, but it never felt like “my” show even though I still identify strongly with it.

Starblazers and Robotech always felt like they were “mine”. It didn’t matter that few people knew what Robotech was and no one I knew had ever seen Starblazers.

I think the next cartoon I enjoyed was the nineties Batman series. It was written far better than almost any other animated show of the time. I’m still not really interested in Batman per se, but the art direction and writing was head and shoulders above anything else.

In the nineties I had an opportunity to watch Starblazers. I managed to locate some VHS tapes of the series and I bought them all. The tragedy was that the show was terrible. I got a few episodes in and had to stop lest I destroy my childhood memories. I can’t hold the show up to the pinnacle that I once did. I wonder if the original Japanese title would be more watchable?# Robotech held up considerably better.

During the nineties we also got to play a lot of Palladium’s Robotech. The movie Stargate also came out and showed me that you don’t need starships to make a good Sci-Fi movie. It was in this atmosphere that The Artifact was born. Seeded by an amalgam of Cybertron, Robotech, a hint of Starblazers and Stargate. I fed it a diet of Science news that I was reading and let it grow.

Over the course of playing The Artifact, it’s taken on it’s own life and it’s branched out in strange ways that filled in the gaps. One of the first questions that I had to answer was, what’s inside this thing? A question I don’t think any other BDO** fiction has. The answers ended up far more structured and less wild than I had originally envisioned.

The next question was how do the people fit into this landscape and how do they live? This has been the most interesting of the story’s answers. It’s down to the point where I can tell you how a Scimrahn brushes her teeth. I realize that it’s silly that we’ve gone that far but that kind of world building happens over 19 years of play.

So that’s what got us here. I hope that makes sense to somebody.

*The adaptations did not always deliver this but the consistency of the original world did show through.

#I just got a copy of the 2010 movie Space Battleship Yamato which is not bad for it’s tiny 12 million dollar budget.

**Big Dumb Object

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