How Do You Win, Revisited

I’ve mulled over this question before but now I’m thinking of changing my answer. My first attempt still has a lot of value but it missed the goal.

That’s the point of this post, goals. The way you win an RPG is by achieving goals. Now, that’s really true of most games but they’re goals that are given to you. The difference between those games and RPGs is that you can decide on your own goals to reach out for. The nice thing is that if you’re not sure what you want, the GM or even other players can suggest goals for you.

A stranger approaches you and offers you a grand sum to find the sparkly whozit. Do you take the job?

You can even take the goals offered you while you work on your own. RPGs are very flexible.

Why that’s important

It’s difficult to underestimate how important knowing that achieving goals are the way a player wins. For a while I knew that some players preferred to set their own goals and others were more passive about it but I didn’t realize the value of that.

I knew that some players like the game Fate and some didn’t. I knew that some players have a blast with Fiasco and others thought they would but don’t.

On the flip side some players get bored with more traditional games and they gravitate toward narrative games.

The difference is how they like to set their goals. It’s not that players that like more traditional games don’t set their own goals, it’s just the priority they put on their own goals. They will take up goals presented to them as an avenue to reach their own. Players that gravitate toward more open games prefer their own. They’d rather skip the slog through someone else’s ideas and reach directly for their own.

Preferring one’s own goals tends to be something that players gravitate toward as they become more experienced. They learn about the kinds of experiences they like and want a short circuit to get there. They’ve done zero to hero, now they want to be the hero without the zero. That’s understandable, you don’t usually want to tell the same kind of story over and over.

That doesn’t mean that a player that never takes up narrative games is less experienced. It may be that zero to hero is their favorite kind of story. Maybe they feel that just skipping to the hero part is less satisfying. It’s more a matter of preference.

Its that the large majority of first time players start off not knowing what they want, other than an adventure. As they play, they can sense the gaps in their play experience and want to fill them.

Summing it up

When a prospective player asks “How do you win?” I would answer them like this.

You win by taking up goals and accomplishing them. They can be ones that I’ll offer to you as a GM or if you already know what you want to do, you can set your own goals and work towards them.

There! Nice and concise, it’s a simple answer that assures the player that knows what they want but doesn’t scare the player that is overwhelmed by choice.

Other stuff

In my original post I talked about the game as being collaborative, challenging and social. I think the idea that the players, even the GM collaborate can be reassuring to other players. Some players may like challenges but players like my wife would be turned off by that. Social might attract some but range from unattractive to even scary to some.

They’re selling points that could be used for the right person.

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Imbalance of Power

While I’m tweaking the Player’s Handbook, I also started moving The Fringe setting sourcebook over to the 3rd edition rules. That might take a while. In the meantime, I need something cool to talk about for the blog here. For that, let’s delve into what was going to be the first sourcebook for The Artifact.

The main game starts in the year 2085. The intention was to take the game from that point and imagine what would happen just 5 years later in 2090. This will be the project for once the other two sourcebooks are completed. I may try to integrate the posts under Chezbah sourcebook into this project instead of a whole separate book. There’s a lot of really cool stories to tell with the Chezbah but that may have to happen after this sourcebook.

Here’s a sneak peek.

The Artifact 2090

In the few short years since Earth forces arrived, they have quickly assimilated the technology available. Massive exploration campaigns have uncovered amazing insights about the planet. A series of events have altered the political and scientific landscape for the entire planet.

The Indo-China Alliance has made an astonishing discovery deep in the Methane Wastes. They have released a composite image of a massive hulk over a kilometer in length. The image appears to be a previously unknown creature dated to approximately four thousand years ago. The I-CA claims there is evidence that this is the creature that the Methane Wastes were designed to accommodate.


This may be the first direct evidence of the planet’s builder’s. So far there has been no comment from the Chezbah. Kelrath sources have no records that would describe them but have asserted that this may be one of the old gods, killed in the great war.

ASO and The Kelrath

In a major diplomatic reversal, the ASO has announced that the Kelrath have agreed to a peace treaty with ASO member nations. In a surprising turn of events, the Oracle Depta’ have directed the Rantaa’ to forming democratically controlled governments like the one pioneered in the Kelrath city of Gethilsichk. The Rantaa’ are to retain executive control for the time being until parliamentary elections can be held. Rantaa’ families have been promised that they will keep their land and property rights. Part of the motivation for this move is thought to be a growing of rebellion among the Kelrath Kaloord  caste who saw the revolt at Gethilsichk as an opportunity to gain power.

Although the transition is expected to be slow, some of the largest and most powerful Kelrath city states have already begun preparations for elections.

ASO officials are reporting extraordinary cooperation from Kelrath scribes that control records from generations of Kelrath. Huge caches of historical books have been made available and are being scanned for translation and academic study.

Kerdi quantum liquid brain technology has also become available and is already finding it’s way into ASO autonomous drones. Some have voiced concern over the technology by so quickly deploying drones using the alien processors but ASO engineers have commented that Kerdi brain programming has been well understood by the Scimrahn for centuries, it was only the production of the brains that was a mystery. Some scientists are proposing to further augment the advanced processors by integrating teleporter technology.

The ASO have completed their moon base and are now able to teleport thirty percent more cargo and personnel to and from The Artifact with even higher reliability. On August 3rd 2089, the ASO began deploying its new Defender E-suits and arsenal four months ahead of schedule. In a technology sharing bid, the ASO helped to complete designs on the Kelrath built Rall 5.

The Chezbah

Intelligence on the Chezbah provided by Kelecs produced evidence that a new technology was in production. The ASO and I-CA took notice and on February 24th 2089, a mixed Division of over five thousand men moved in on the collector wells where the technology was under development. Few of that force survived the counter attack. Those that did reported the Chezbah to have highly advanced capabilities. Among the reports were personal force fields capable of withstanding repeated missile attacks, personal plasma weapons that defeated E-suits, tactical teleportation without a transmitter or receiver pad and greatly increased Hunter and Demolisher capabilities.

The reports greatly concern the ASO and I-CA military commands, if these technologies make it into main stream production, any advancements made so far will be outclassed by these weapons.

The Ken-Telex

On January 9th 2090, the I-CA encountered another never before seen life form. A group that numbered into the hundreds was found moving through Chezbah territory. They displayed social grouping and used technology. Attempts to communicate were unsuccessful. At first, the creatures ignored the I-CA communications officer but when more vigorous attempts were made to communicate, the creatures killed the officer.

The I-CA platoon followed the creatures for two weeks where the aliens were intercepted by a large Chezbah force consisting of a sea of Hounds, several hundred Warriors, A hundred or more Hunter E-suits and Eleven Demolishers. In the ensuing battle the aliens were defeated but only after heavy losses on the Chezbah side.

After the battle, a broadcast was sent to every functioning terminal on The Artifact. It translates to the following.

“I am Loc. The time that I have had to prepare for the events you will soon witness have come near to their end. I am very close to finishing my work that has spanned three thousand years. An enemy of man is trying to stop this work. I will do everything in my power to protect you but they are powerful and are making their way here. They are the Ken-Telex. It is in the best interest of all that they be stopped or all of man(kind) will die.”

The name “Ken-Telex” given these creatures is a Chezbah name meaning “Thoughts bound to the master.”

The I-CA has not released any photographs of the creatures and descriptions redacted from the documents made available.

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Should RPGs Leave The Saturday Morning Cartoons Behind?


Mark Plemmons has a new game he’s running a Kickstarter for called Corporia. While the setting isn’t my cup of tea, one thing really peaked my interest about the project, the art. That might not seem unusual, a lot of people look at games and say “Whoa, that’s amazing art!” In this case though, it’s not just the quality of the art, it’s the format. These aren’t drawings and paintings, they’re photographs.

Mark isn’t the first designer to use photographs in his game but so far as I’ve seen he’s the first to use them extensively and well at the same time. The pictures have a specific magazine cover look. Indeed, some look like mock ups of a cyberpunk future Cosmopolitan cover which really grounds the setting. It has the effect of the subjects looking mundane, while doing really out of character things, like a businessmen wielding a broadsword.


I asked Mark why he went in the direction he did and he related how, when he started, the project was intended to be smaller than it is now. As he worked on it, he kept finding artists he really liked and the art took on a new dimension.

Here’s why I ask if RPGs should leave saturday morning cartoons behind. Mark looked at this as an opportunity to make a game that was visually attractive not just  to gamers but to non-gamers as well.

We often forget that the style and the subject of the art in game books can be a bit juvenile. Yes, there are a lot of extraordinary paintings and drawings out there but there is a lot of silly, poorly proportioned art too. Often, that has the effect of putting people off.

There’s been a lot of discussion about representations of women in games. Again disproportionate bodies and physically impossible poses are frequently lampooned. Using photographs of normal people in fantastic situations reduces that problem significantly. There could still be the issue of if the art is tasteful but let’s take what advantages we can.

There’s been discussions of using photographs in RPGs over at RPGGeek, the conclusion really pointing to the idea that good art is just good art but we tend to be less forgiving of flaws in photography.

There are a lot of games where it would be amazingly hard to pull off with photographs. Mark has the distinct advantage that his subject matter of business men wielding claymores involves reasonably easy to acquire props. I was talking to a cosplayer that did an amazing job of a cyborg and his suit is estimated to cost over $350 in materials probably double or triple that for the labor. Although you could use the suit repeatedly for game art you’d probably need dozens of costumes like that to make a full sized game book. That’s $8000 and up just for some of the props. Now you need the photographers, the graphic artists and to pay the people in the picture. Probably an art director too. In short, expensive. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Mark’s cost were in the same ballpark though.

So why isn’t Hasbro or Pazio doing this? They have the budget and if they don’t have the talent in house, they should be able to acquire it. If you can make a movie about a genre and have it look good, why can’t you make a photo of the same genre look good? Mark and his crew of artists are making it happen. In the next ten years, will we be looking back at Corporia as being the game that broke the mold?

If you’re interested in finding out more, Corporia’s Kickstarter page is here.


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Spreadsheets Glitches and Tweaks, Oh My!

I’ve got the spreadsheets for making equipment for the Player’s Handbook functional, so I’m churning out stats for example equipment. I’m aiming for stats that are at least close to the original system but the way this system works, it’s highly variable. That’s cool if you’re a player making one piece of equipment, but when you need a dozen different pieces that match real life examples or in game equipment, it gets a little harder.

I’m slowly working out the bugs, like batteries add a CP for every kilogram, which increased their already high mass to impossibly high. I also have a problem where the laser calculations can be used to make a 10 point laser that weighs only a few grams and has a beam intensity of only 300 watts. The heavy batteries are easy to fix, I’m not sure how to fix the light lasers as the interaction that causes it is pretty strongly built into the power curve. I’m thinking of putting in a minimum power usage, but that seems odd. There are a few other things that I could alter, like the base range classes.

I should probably check the other equipment and see if a similar problem exists.

But other than that, progress at last!

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Player’s Handbook Progress And Other News

I’ve made some progress in cleaning up the Player’s Handbook. I still need to add in some standard equipment designs for the engineer’s resource. I also want to put section titles in the margins like the core rulebook has.

As for making the example equipment, I started working on a spreadsheet that would handle the builds for me but each equipment type needs it’s own sheet so it takes some time. I also haven’t got it tweaked just right. There’s a few situations where the rules loop back on themselves. It’s easy to do in your head but spreadsheets don’t like the cyclical references.

This also lets me test the rules and see if they need adjusting. Sometimes a single digit needs to be dropped or bumped to make things turn out right.

I also started to move The Fringe setting sourcebook over to 3e. I’m sure I’ll be reworking the rules for orbital combat and there are specific tweaks that need to be made to move modifiers over to advantages or impairments. Beyond that I’ll have to make a cover, but I’ll have to see if the existing art for the interior will be updated. In any event this book has been long overdue for a clean up.

We’ve been building up errata on the core rule book. There are two big mistooks and a number of formating errors to take care of. For example, ASO I-CA and Scimrahn tables last entry should say 96-100 instead of 86-100. The other big one is the book has the Chezbah Warrior’s HP at 15!  That’s not acceptable, it should be 35. There are a few grammar and formatting errors that need attention also. An updated PDF should be forthcoming to correct those and other problems. When? I can’t say.

I also would like to have a black and white interior book. I’m surprised that neither Lulu or Createspace offer both a color and a black and white book as an option. You have to publish both versions separately. With Lulu it’s easier to create a new version, Createspace is more of a hassle.

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Whew! 1st Place Die Finished

If in the future someone asks me to make a d20 with symbols, I’m gonna have to say no. That was hard! I’d like to get it perfect, but this was an order of magnitude more difficult than the other d20s I made.

My fuzzy photography actually makes it look better. There are quite a few stray marks but this was the best one of the bunch.

IMG_0654 IMG_0655 IMG_0656 IMG_0657 IMG_0658 IMG_0659

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Quick Character Generation Cards

One of the problems we’ve run into for character generation for The Artifact is that it takes time to sit down and record all the stuff that a character starts out with. We’ve also had times where all the game books are being used and someone needs one for finishing a character.

To fix that problem, I made a small format PDF that can be printed on 3×5 cards or easily viewed on a smartphone. Each type of character occupation take up a single card so if you wanted, you could just keep the card with your character sheet if you didn’t feel like writing.

Quick Character Cards

Whatever it takes to make it easier to get playing and into the action!

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The 2D6 Simulator

Here’s the 2nd place winner’s die.





There’s one problem. As submitted, the die shouldn’t have won. That’s my oversight. As proposed, the die has 21 sides which obviously doesn’t fit on a d20.

That’s embarrassing. My apologies to everyone, I should have checked that.

Edit: Nope, nope, I'm a dope. Uriah's idea works fine, there was just something wrong with my brain when I made this. I checked several times and I still didn't get it right. I remade the die as per his specs now and he should get it by Saturday.

But I was able to make the whole thing work regardless. When looking at the probabilities the 4’s and the 10’s don’t quite fill the probabilities of two whole sides. The 2 and the 12 (almost) fit with those probabilities to be a little over the 10% chance that the 4’s and a 2 would fill out and the 10’s and the 12 would fill out.

So this is what I did, I put a red pip next to one 4 and one 10 (the ones that aren’t doubles).

IMG_0652 IMG_0653

If a number with a red pip is rolled, re-roll and if the result is a 5 or under the roll is the 2 (if a 4 was originally rolled) or a 12 (if the 10 was originally rolled). If the second roll is higher than 5, it remains the original number (the 4 or the 10).

It’s functional, and usually not obtrusive.

One down, one to go. My hand is getting steadier but I need more practice, which is why I did the second place first.


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And The Winner of The Dice Contest Is. . .

I like the card spindown die but it’s utility is limited compared to a lot of the other entries.

I think the +9 to -9 swing die could be useful but I’m not sure for what. In addition, you could do the same thing by buying one of those d20s uninked with 0-9 twice. Ink one side red and one black. The red side could be negative and the positive is the black side. Only, they’re pretty hard to find.

The fudge dice are cool, but other than using them for fudge, they suffer the same problem as the 0-9 die. I could see them being used by a GM to randomly assign what the bonus for an item is, depending on the game.

I really like the dungeon generator die and it very nearly would have won. It’s just there are two more that I see slightly more universality from. After all not all games are dungeon crawls.

That leaves the 2d6 simulating die 20 (2D6SD20) and the symbol die for GMing inspiration (SDFGMI? SDF-I? Where have I seen that before?). And that means that one is the first place and one is the second place winner. But which is which?

Well, The SDF-I is great for any game but usually could only be used by the GM.

The 2D6SD20 simulating die could be used by any player, when they need to roll 2d6, which might be never for some games but there are also a lot of board games that it could be used for.

It comes down to the criteria that the die be revolutionary. In this case to offer a function that isn’t available otherwise. And even though its going to be a lot harder to carve all those symbols, I have to go with Steffan’s SDF-I. I’m always splitting hairs, trying to decide for these contests. That’s actually a good thing. I’ve tossed these two back and fourth in my head all day.

Steffan O’Sullivan is the 1st place winner!

Uriah is the 2nd place winner!

I’m off to my basement to carve up some dice! Gentlemen, I’ll be in contact with the two of you for your prizes. This will take me a little time to get them in order, I’ll keep you updated.

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Dice Contest Finalists

d20x5 5It’s Friday! And that means I have to pick a winner for the dice contest. I’ve been thinking about this all week with my thoughts gravitating toward certain entries. Then, when I sat down and lined up the entries according to the judging criteria I was surprised that ones that I wasn’t thinking about, came to the top of the ranking.

A bunch of these entries are things I’d want in my dice bag.

We still have two entries for fudge dice. I figure they’re reasonably universal because you could use them in other games to see if something swings one way or the other.

For an even larger swing, we have a die that goes between +9 and -9

A die that mimics the roll of 2d6

A GM, or solo play die for helping make up what happens next.

A playing card spin down counter.

What do you think? Which one would you want in your dice bag?

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.

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!

Lurking Meeple – A playing card “spindown” counter to denote things like trump, trump-rank, etc.

14 ranks: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, C (Cavalier), Q, K
1 Joker/Excuse* star symbol: ★
4 French suits: ♣, ♠, 
1 Circle-backslash denoting no suit: ⃠

Update: I forgot to mention Shawn McCarthy’s dungeon generator die. Sorry Shawn!
Old school random dungeon generator:

2x == (Hall continues)
3x =+ (Side passage)
3x [ ] (Door)
2x ={ (Opens into chamber)
4x ➥/➦ (2 each of Passage Turns right/left)
1x X (Dead end)
1x ⌥ (Stairs)
1x N (NPC)
1x ? (Trick/Trap)
1x M (Wandering monster)
1x =:: (Building type changes)

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