Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Who needs a distopian future when we have the TSA today?

I am still working on my modern cyberpunk game. My setting is the year 2030 when the US is not a world power and lacks freedom and liberty. Due to economic, political and criminal pressures the US, Canada and all of Europe are subject to extreme control.

As I was working on this setting last year I felt I was looking far into the future but recent events make me think such things are not too far off.

If you were to tell a air traveler in the 1970s that all flyers would be subject to strip searches they would laugh at you. Now, virtual strip searches are common. There is talk of using the scanners for trains and boat passengers, how far are we from the same scanners anywhere there are metal detectors? Attending a concert or going into a federal building might require a body scan.

A constant theme in Cyberpunk media is the concept of hackers trying to steal information to make society better. Wikileaks and Gary McKinnon are examples of this theme. Even those who live under a rock are aware of Julian Assange. Like him or not, he represents this hacker idealism. The public and private ways the governments of the world have worked to discredit and silence him would upset the founders of the United States. The back room deals and things the governments do to each other would fly in the face of the idealism of early patriots. Suppressing speech via hacking, political pressure and trumped up criminal charges is move like 1980s Soviet tactics than the actions of a "free" society that values liberty.

This is not intended to be a political post. Looking to the future, based upon the present trends, I'd be surprised to have more liberty in 2030 than we did in 1990. So, what do you see happening next?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving tradition: Play a RPG with the family!

So this Thanksgiving I have a new obsession.  I remember the old days of going to grandma's house for Thanksgiving and after we ate the "men" collapsed on the couch to watch football and the "women" sat and talked in the kitchen.  The "kids" played ancient board games in the den, ones like these  These old days of the turkey, leather and cigarette smoke have me thinking about how cool it would be to have a tradition for my kids at Thanksgiving.

Truthfully, my entire family does not care about football in the least.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and following Dog Show have much more appeal.  But those old days?  How about the card table in the den or basement with a large grid map on it?  Dice and character sheets littering the table and the sound of people having fun accompanying the smell of turkey?  I write this, but my day was making the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes then sitting to eat the turkey followed by everyone sitting and watching television together with a common feeling of illness due to too much food.

Wanting something more seems to come after the fact because at the moment my mind was on deciding if I was too full for pumpkin pie.  I was not thinking of "Thanksgiving 2010" and the memories I'd make.  I was missing an alternate past I had wanted to exist, but not at the time.

Next year?  I'd like to say I'd have room in my life to pull out a AD&D book with the kids on a card table and folding chairs.  Maybe it is something I will do when I am a grandpa and the grandkids come to our house.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Latest changes to my simplified game system

Now let me say first, my interest in simplifying my game system predates my knowledge of the fantastic RPG Kids ( ).  It was not my primary goal to create a RPG to play with kids, but I think the need is there.  RPG Kids is a great place to start for that, I give NewbieDM the props for his idea.  In fact I mandate you all who are under my influence to purchase a copy of his excellent work, should you fail to do so I will regard you as hypocrites to the cause of Independent role playing games.

Now that the elephant in the room has been mentioned, it should be of no bother.

In my last impossibly long post, I pasted the draft of a simplified version of my game system.  As I looked at it and ran it past some RPG buddies, I got some valuable feedback and have applied it.  Rather than another unreadable control+v of the latest version, here are the highlights:

- Attributes: 
     In my full game system, learned skill augments natural talent.  The learned skill component is time spent with a teacher practicing a skill.  The natural talent portion of the skill is the controlling attribute.  Skills can be used in contest and non-contest situations.  In a non-contest situation you take half the controlling attribute and add the skill, then roll under that with a d20.  In a contest situation you use the learned skill and add it to a d20 roll vs your opponent's roll, the highest roll wins the contest.
     This is a bit heavy for a "simple" system.  So I threw out the non-contest rules as this simple system is all about crunchy combat.  In the latest draft, there are two skills which are treated as attributes: Attack and Defend.  As you take damage, Attack and Defend go down until they are so negative that even the highest roll would be beat by a low roll.

- Weapon Ranges:
     In my full game there is a simple formula for calculating the cost of a weapon in character points.  But the formula was not simple enough, I wanted a 8 year old to be able to GM a game and following formulas might be beyond them.  Another issue was the way I deal with extra effort as well as point blank damage, it was all just too confusing for young newbies.
     Now in the current draft a weapon's damage is made lower for each square a target is from the attacker.  Rather than spending points on a missile weapon's range, they just do a lot of damage up close and less the further away you are.

I look forward to more playtesting with my kids as well as making some art for this project.  I hope to have a free edition available by Christmas and a more retail oriented version by spring.  The biggest problem at this point is coming up with a name for this mess... I am not good at that.

If you have an idea for a name or would like to see the latest draft please let me know!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Early Draft of "Simplify" Rules

So I will cut and paste a draft of the rules for my light system.  The goal was to create rules which would appeal to a video game player with little RPG experience between the ages of 7 to 14.  Real "Role Playing" is not possible with the system as well as anything other than pure combat, but it makes for a fun dungeon-crawl type game.  It is also intended to be picked up and played for a total game time of one hour, so character creation might take ten minutes and the players can jump into playing immediately.  The game is also level-less and XP-less, players are rewarded with treasure enough to increase their attributes 1-2 points per hour of play.  The game is not intended for prolonged gaming, so a long campaign would become quite boring as the players become gods (depending on GM generosity).

control+V of draft rules (enjoy!):

The Game:
A long time ago Role Playing Games were fun and simple.  Over time they grew more and more complex.  The focus shifted from combat to role-playing.  This shift unintentionally made Role Playing Games inaccessible to many potential players.
This game is a very light version of a modern Role Playing Game.  The focus of this game is a classic dungeon crawl where the players fight monsters and creatures to gain power and treasure.  This is a pure combat version which has more in common with a video game than role playing game.
To play this game you will need: players, 6 sided dice (at lest one) and pencils and paper (graph paper is best).  The game requires the ability to read and do addition and subtraction.  With some assistance a 6 year old could play the game.  It was designed to be picked up and played quickly over short gaming sessions.
In this document character attributes will be in bold font, the use of the lower case "d" following a number indicates rolling the preceding number of dice.  For example: 3d indicates to either roll 3 dice or one die 3 times, 1d+2 indicates to roll one die and add 2 to the result.  All abbreviations and acronyms will be defined the first time they are used.

The World:
In the ancient times of wonder, Wizard-kings took the power of the stars and ruled the world with magic.  They ruled entire nations with their spells and magic.  In the centuries of their rule great cities were built around their palaces.  Great treasure was taken from the depths of the world and wrought into magical items of wonder and beauty.  Magical races rose from the very ground to live in all corners of the world.
After many centuries of peace the Wizard-kings grew mad with power and the age of darkness came.  Twisted with age and insanity, these Wizard-kings created armies of magical monsters.  They attacked and corrupted the lands with the evils of death and war.  The great cities fell, the magical creatures disappeared.  Treasures were hidden below the ground in vast labyrinths to protect them from armed invaders and thieves.
Now is the time after the age of darkness, the age of adventure.  The Wizard-kings are now fallen.  Their power is only in the shadows of forbidden places.  The races of creatures that once served the Wizard-kings are now nations.  Farmers till the fields, merchants travel and trade with other towns and nations along well-traveled roads and waterways.

Adventurers seek fame, power and wealth as they expand the frontiers of nations into the forbidden lands of magic.  Where the Wizard-kings used to dwell great treasure is guarded by powerful forces.  Evil still hides in low places and in shadows of the old places.  Still, the people who seek adventure go out into the forbidden lands hoping to return victorious and wealthy.  

5. Creation

Character Concept:
To play the game you must create a character.  In this game this process is very simple.  The game is all about combat, but that does not prevent you from thinking of your character as an individual.  How they look, how they dress, where they are from and how they fight are all important considerations.  A character might be a human blacksmith seeking adventure, or a exiled elf who is on a quest to be able to return to his people with honor.  The character might be a spy for the goblin king or a mixed-breed half giant who townsfolk consider evil.  The character might have been a normal human who changed after contact with a magical artifact and is seeking a cure.  The character might be a student of the old ways of magic and is seeking the knowledge hidden ages ago.  Let your imagination run wild.

Once you have a mental picture of what your character might look like, copy the following on a piece of paper:

Name: Description:
Attack: Current:
Defend:   Current:
Move:   Current:
Equipment (Weapons/Armor/Spells):

This will be your character sheet when you play the game.  It will contain all the details you need about your character to play the game.  It is important to use pencil when using this sheet.  In this game details about your character will change and it is no fun to constantly cross out things or use extra paper, the ability to make changes is important.
To begin using this sheet, you can immediately fill out the Name and Description of your character.  Use any name you wish and make the description enough to help you remember your mental picture of this character.
On the left side you will see 3 attributes; Attack, Defend and Move.  Attack is your ability to attack and do damage in the game.  Defend is your ability to avoid attacks in the game.  If you have an Attack or Defend above 10 then you get a bonus of 1 per point, below 10 then you get a penalty of 1 per point.  For example, an 11 will get you a +1 while a 8 will get you a -2.  Move is how far you can run in a turn, roughly it is equal to 3 feet per point.  Attack and Defend both start out at 10 each, Move starts out at 5.  
The points may be moved to different attributes to customize your character. If you imagined a strong warrior who was not fast but very tough then you might make Attack 11 and Defend 10 and Move 4.  If you imagined an elf who was fast then you might make Attack 9 Defend 10 and Move 6.
Finally determine equipment you have to start with.  Roll 1d for your starting Gold.  You may use this gold to purchase equipment, weapons, armor or spell training or you can use it to increase Attack, Defend and Move.  Any remaining gold should be written on your character sheet under equipment.  If you don't buy a weapon or spell then you are limited to physical attacks like punching or kicking.
The chart below lists common equipment and prices for the equipment.  Armor, weapons and spells affect the player's attributes while the item is in use.   In the chart a D stands for Damage and refers to the average amount of damage the item can do.  A weapon with a D of 3 can do 3 points of damage or 1d can be rolled. In the chart R stands for Range and like move is measured in squares (which are about 3 feet).  This is the range a weapon is most effective, to use a weapon out of range you have a penalty of -1to Attack per 2 squares.  In the chart AOE stands for Area of Effect and is the number of squares which receive damage when the weapon or spell is used.  In the chart ROU stands for Rate of Use and is the number of times per turn the item can be used.  A decimal ROU means that the item can't be used every turn, so the player must only defend until the item can be used again.
Adventurer's Pack:
Backpack with Rope, sleeping blanket, flint, tinder, torch, water skin, cooking items.
1 gold
Clothing (cloak, robe, sandals, leggings, etc): 1 gold for an outfit
Very Small Hand Weapon (dagger, bat, etc):
     D: 1 R: 0
1 gold
Small Hand Weapon (mace, club, knife, etc):
     D: 2 R: 0
2 gold
Large Hand Weapon (sword, staff, axe, etc)
     D: 3 R: 0
3 gold
Thrown Weapon ( throwing knife, dart, etc):
     D: 2 R: 4 ROU: .5
2 gold
Large Missile Weapon (Spear, Bow, etc):
     D: 3 R: 10 ROU: .5
4 gold
Light Armor (shield, buckler, leather, etc):
     Defend: +2
2 gold
Medium Armor (Mail, Breastplate, shield, etc):
     Defend: +3
3 gold
Physical attack (Punch or Kick, etc):
     D: 1 R: 0  Attack: -1
Big Physical attack
     D: 2 R: 0 Attack: -1 ROU: .5

If you are a magic user, you can spend points to learn the following spells:
Magic Arrow: D: 1 R: 4 3 gold
Damaging Touch: D: 3 R: 0 3 gold
Flying Fist: D: 2 R: 4 4 gold
Ring of Fire: D: 2 R: 0 AOE: 4 ROU: .5 4 gold
Invisible Armor: Defend: +2 2 gold
Eye of the Tiger: Attack: +2 2 gold

Your character should now be complete and ready for your first adventure.   To add fun to the game, be sure you have thought about a good reason why your character is willing to go into the unknown places and face new challenges and possible death.  As you will hopefully be playing with other characters, try to be friendly to other players and treat them the way you like to be treated.

6. Mechanics
In this game, there are the players who have characters of their own and play together to achieve victory.  There is also a Game Master who understands the rules of the game and is in control of everything the players are not in control of, such as Non Player Characters.  
Most of the action in this game comes from getting your character in combat.  There are plenty of things that happen other than combat, but the real focus of the game is combat situations.  Combat flows through a predictable pattern of Initiative, Movement, Attack, Defense and Damage.

When the players and Non Player Characters are about to get into a fight, a roll is made to see who can go first.  Each player and non player rolls 1d and adds their Move attribute.  The combat round flows in order from highest to lowest.

If the fight is a surprise, the first winner of initiative who is ready to make an attack can do so without the defender having a chance to defend.  To be a surprise the attacker must have a ready missile/thrown weapon (and be in range) as well as moving quietly (using less than full Move).

The winner of initiative can move their player first.  In combat movement is essentially running, smooth movements and turns are likely and sharp turns will cost more movement points.  A movement point is for each square which is crossed, the square you land on is not counted in the use of movement points.
If a player uses all their movement points to get to a target then once they reach the target they will not be able to attack or defend, as the whole turn was taken up by running as fast as the character is able.  It is important to reserve two points when moving, one for an attack once the character stops moving and another to defend.
Not moving will not allow the character to make multiple attacks, the character can attack only one target at a time (for the most part, see the Game Master Section on Combat).  If a character has a thrown weapon such as a spear or axe they must use the movement round to get their thrown weapon to use it again.  Missile weapons like Bows with arrows are treated as essentially unlimited ammunition during combat itself.  It is assumed the user of such weapons has the materials to make more ammunition or recycle used ammunition once combat is over.

If everyone is not surprised the fight is coming, and the character is done moving and has movement points left to attack, the player can make an attack to a target in range.  Weapon ranges are counted like movement points, squares crossed are counted.
The attacker will roll 3d and adds the Attack modifier for their current attack attribute.  Attack above 10 gets a bonus of +1 per point above 10, Attack below 10 gets a penalty of -1 per point below 10.  

Before the dice are rolled, the player can choose to use extra effort.  The difficulty of the attack can be raised to increase damage, or the damage can be lowered to ensure a easier attack.  A harder area to hit on the target might do more damage, for every -1 to the Attack the damage inflicted will go up 1.  A easier area to hit on the target will have the opposite effect, for every +1 to the Attack the damage inflicted will go down by 1.  The range of an attack can also be extended in the same way, for every -1 to damage or Attack the range is increased by 2 spaces.

The roll is made, then modified (by Attack attribute modifier and then by any difficulty modifier) and the result is determined.

If the target is aware of the impending attack, they become ready to dodge or block the attack.  The defender must roll the same number as the attacker or below to avoid damage.  On a tie, the defender wins and takes no damage from the attack.  The defender rolls 3d and adds the current Defend attribute modifier.  There is no extra effort possible in defense, only good modifiers and rolls.

On a successful attack, the damage is determined and deducted from the defender's highest attribute.  A weapon can do the listed damage (D) or the damage can be rolled.  A D of 3 is the same as rolling a 1d, a D of 2 would be 1d-1 and a D of 1 would be 1d-2.  Rolling for damage might result in a higher amount of damage just as much as it might result in no damage at all.  Write the attribute's current value next to the original value since damage is not permanent and can heal back.
If the target's attributes of Attack or Defend drop below 10, they will suffer a penalty modifier when they attack or defend.  If these attributes get too low they will fail all their rolls and become useless in combat and in further danger of death.  Once any character is -5 to any roll, they should consider fleeing the battle.

After Combat:
If the characters have access to food and shelter, they can rest for a day or two and heal back to normal.  There is no specific rate and it is assumed that adventurers can perform necessary first aid to heal most injuries.  The goal of damage in this game is for short combat resolution and not for longer term role playing, so while a realistic approach to injuries would dictate a person with a broken leg can't just sleep it off, in this game they can.
Treasure and items can be traded in towns or between players.  100 silver coins is basically equivalent to 1 gold coin and one gold coin can be used like one point in the character creation process.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is "Microlite/Pocketmod" the answer to everything? Synnibar sure isn't.

I am at a loss for time lately.  I have to say that the idea of making a whole game system and world with the vivid details I desire is very overwhelming.  So I want to take a break, and then I tell myself that such breaks can last years so I should not and force myself onward.  In the struggle to force myself onward I am in effect taking a break.

In this break I have been reading and looking at things I have missed in the last year, or two.  I have become obsessed with the idea of Greywulf's ( ) Microlite20 ( ).  I think this approach is almost exactly what is needed to entice the current generation of 13 year old nerds to come to the gaming table.  

The idea of a game that fits in your pocket is very interesting to me.  Back in the day the smallest sized RPG system I had come across was "Justifiers RPG".  While the biggest single book was the "Synnibarr RPG" (**Greywulf, you should make a Micro version of Synnibarr.. lol**).  I really liked Justifiers (from what I remember), it felt like the Palladium games but a bit more "indy".  It was a munchkin game, but fun none the less ( in looking up the spelling of "Synnibarr" I came across this classic fan page - ).  I think the best part of Justifiers was it was a small sized book with everything you needed to play in one place, or at least more so than the other major games of the time.

But as small as Justifiers was, it is an encyclopedia set compared to these Microlite and pocketmod editions.  They are the cliff notes of my favorite games.

So, can a game be condensed into 8 pages?  In looking at these Microlite and Pocketmod games, they are basically just the rules and some important charts.

Well, I can't say that 8 pages is enough.  I think a minimum of 12 pages of text, and around 20 with charts and pictures might be a minimum for a real game.  But the thought is intriguing.  A small system to capture a more casual gamer who has less time to devote to playing a role playing game (because often the RPG sessions I have had are a lot more like the opposite of "dream time" from Inception).

So with this new obsession, I have set to create a very light system for the casual gamer.  I am calling it "Simplify RPG" right now.  The plan is to have 3 levels of play.  Level 1 is for someone who has never played a RPG before, and that is the system I am writing right now.  Level 2 will be heavier than Level 1 and introduce basic RPG features.  Level 3 is the full-on version of the game will all the rules.

This Level 1 I am writing now is basically what you would use just for combat.  The world at this point is a good and crunchy dungeon crawl, but I have plans for a "meet interesting aliens and kill them" game as well.  The idea is to have the absolute basics to play a game which would appeal to the typical 13 year old boy.  I play tested it this weekend with my 13 year old and 7 year old.  They liked it.  The only reservation is what you might expect, the appeal of a totally combat RPG is short lived (but once people are bored of hack-n-slash they can graduate to level 2 where you actually role-play).

I hope to put the rules out in a text form by the end of the month.  I also hope to draw a bit (put my graphic arts degree to work) and have a complete version for download by the end of next month.

Please leave a comment on your thoughts about these Microlite/Pocketmod rule books and the idea of light game system (not rules-light, but light rules)... or about Synnibar RPG or the threat of Synnibar D20!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ethics in RPG Design (and how I am dealing with it)

I have a question for you all out there: Is it ethical to create a game that allowed or encouraged negative behavior?

Steve Jackson Games was raided by the Secret Service because of the subject matter of the "GURPS Cyberpunk" sourcebook and the activities and views of the author ( ).  What if, in a small way, Cyberpunk sourcebook was an instruction manual to train future hackers?  Would it be ethical on the part of Steve Jackson Games to bring the book to print?

Information is free and speech should be free too, but they both have limits placed on them.  Shouting "Fire" in a crowded movie theater, slander, inciting violence are all obvious examples of speech which should not be free.  The skills and information you pass along are directly controlled, but what about attitudes your speech creates?

I am not comfortable with my first draft of my game.  I don't like the attitude it creates and I don't think I am on a path where I have the ethical high ground.  So I am making some changes in the gameplay and to make specific groups have more defined boundaries.  So, in the first draft you can play an anti-government anarchist who fights for "freedom"...  not good.  Why?  Well, I believe in democracy, freedom and peaceful means to achieve objectives.  While I can create a game world where such things are in limited supply, I also can't encourage the things I don't accept should a misguided person apply them to the real world.

The new draft will allow more realistic consequences to a person's actions.  Should a person choose, like SPC Bradley Manning ( ) choose to violate information security guidelines and release classified data (even if it is about bad and possibly criminal conduct) they will end up prosecuted for it.  Even after a person like Adrian Lamo (who was once a fugitive hacker ) had served his time, would continue to be under scrutiny and would fear prosecution if he was implicated should it come to light he had knowledge of a crime and not reported it -- something an average citizen would not be charged with.  

So in the current draft of the game a person would have a new attribute like "reputation" which would change as time goes on.  It might start high for a politically connected person who had "dirt" on everyone, or low for a reality TV star or other criminal (just kidding! ..or am I?).  The reputation would go into the equation whenever there is a interaction between people which requires trust.  Typically the "Influence" attributes of Beauty (Bodily Influence) and Charisma (Mental Influence) are used alone, but each would get a bonus or penalty based upon the reputation.  

So a person who might have a Salemanship skill of +3 and a Charisma of 12 giving another +2 for a total of +5 might have committed some hacking in the past and have a reputation of 8 and have a penalty of -2, for a total of +3.  The fear of people he is working with becoming implicated in whatever might be his latest crime might be, will have a chilling effect for him to interact with them.  Just like Loyd Blankinship's reputation caused Steve Jackson Games to be raided by the Secret Service.

The reputation attribute will also come into play when a character is trying to avoid Government scrutiny or "harassment".  Like Adrian Lamo, a person with a low reputation will be an automatic target by the Government should anything bad happen nearby.  They will be the face recognized on the video footage at the bank prior to the robbery, their fingerprints are in the big database, their DNA is on file so they will be the first suspect.  A low reputation subjects a person to become a target and prioritized in the surveillance systems.  In 2032 with pervasive surveillance tracking everyone's every move, the sheer amount of data will overwhelm most automated and manual systems of analysis.  Targets will be prioritized according to the reputation attribute, so a person with a very low reputation stealing a pack of gum might have a higher priority in the surveillance system than an average person robbing a gas station.

A reputation is lowered by the Game Master once a "bad" action is performed.  It has an immediate effect.  Why?  The effect of a bad reputation applies if law enforcement is aware of the action or not.  Consider Adrian Lamo's reaction to Manning's confession of releasing classified documents.  He went to the police because Manning's reputation was lowered by what he had done and Lamo's current low reputation would result in secondary investigation once Manning was discovered to have contact with Lamo.  It is the fear of guilt by association which chills people's reactions regarding reputation.

Reputation can be masked or people can be fooled but once the reputation is discovered there can be negative effects.  Should the latest news be believed regarding Joran Van Der Sloot (where he was fine until Flores Ramirez discovered he had been suspected of the murder of Natalee Holloway) a reputation can be masked or hidden.  But once discovered it makes you an automatic target of suspicion.

Reputation in this manner would not allow the idea of a low reputation as a bonus to a criminal element.  Everyone is subject to surveillance and possible arrest in this game.  If your low reputation character is hanging out in a bar with others of equally low reputation, you might be implicated in anything they get caught for -- past, present or future.  That is also regardless of any actual involvement, drinking with a buddy who goes on to rob a bank might make that meeting look like a planning session.  Most warrants and investigations will occur in software long before a human is sent to arrest a suspect.  The instant an alarm is tripped in the bank a program analyzes all the current occupants in the bank, the person who is active in the robbery as well as the occupants and employees (for accomplices), once immediate suspects are identified a trace is done on each person as to where they all went and who they met with for the last few days, then the people they met are traced.. within a few minutes the surveillance systems can deliver a network of possible accomplices prioritized by reputation.  This is the power of pervasive surveillance in the year 2032..

So, remember kids.. don't do drugs or hang out with others who do..

What other behavior might a game encourage and is it ethical to create a game with such encouragements?  I know the D&D == Suicide craze of the 80s was a total farce, as well as the link between the Columbine shooters and "violent" video games, but a games with actual links to negative behavior?  What lengths should designers go to prevent unethical behavior in the real world which might be connected back to a game?

Thanks to some comment spam bots, I have disabled comments on this post. Comment on any other post if you have something to add (unless you are a bot trying to spread malware). I appreciate it!

Popular Posts