Wednesday 31 August 2011

Project Odd: Arcana

This will probable be the last big chunk of game content I'm going to post for Project Odd, so would very much appreciate any thoughts and feedback, especially on this last section.

Arcana is my attempt to give magic an unusual twist from the usual while still allowing use of familiar D&D spells.

Arcana - Powers you do not understand.
Anything that can store and release magical power including staffs, rings, tomes, tablets and orbs is an Arcanum. An Arcanum will contain one or more spells that its wielder can use.

Spell Power: A Spell’s Power is a measure of its difficulty to cast. If using spells from a Classic RPG double their Spell Level to find their Power. Cantrips have a Spell Power of 1.
Arcane Burden: Each Arcanum a character is carrying with a Power higher than their INT Score subtracts 1 from all rolls that character makes.
Using a Spell: An Arcanum requires at least one hand to use. The user chooses one of the Spells stored in the Arcanum and casts it, using entire round. The spell may also require material components, words of activation or special movement. Before the Spell is complete the wielder must pass an INT Save vs the Spell Power. If they fail this the spell backfires on them, targeting them instead. If the spell was already targeting the wielder they take 2d6 damage instead.

A Starting Character’s Arcanum
New characters roll 3d6. If this roll is equal or lower than their INT score they begin the game with an Arcana with this Power Score. This is the total Spell Power contained within Arcanum. The GM will provide a list of spells for characters to choose from.
For example, a character starting with a Power 12 Arcanum will select spells totalling up to Power 12. This may be a single Power 12 Spell or four Power 1 Spells, two Power 2 Spells and a Power 4 Spell.

Advanced Arcana Use
Creating and Altering Arcana: There doesn’t seem to be a reliable method to alter an Arcanum and nobody who claims to have created their own seems eager to share their secret.
Security: Owners will often trap their Arcana with a curse to anyone other than them who tries to use them.
Bonding: Owners can bond themselves to a single Arcanum in a day-long ritual. If they do this anyone else using the Arcanum must pass an INT Save vs your INT or take 1d6 + your INT modifier in damage. If they pass this save the bond is broken. A bonded owner can always sense the direction of their Arcanum and may sometimes have access to a greater Spell stored within.
Dangers of Bonding: Arcana, once bonded, can have an addictive sense of power, often being impossible to remove from the owner while active. If they drop the Arcanum they must pass a WIL Save vs 20 or take 2d6 damage. If they pass this Save the bond is broken.
Intelligent Arcana: Many arcana have an intelligence of their own and will communicate mentally or verbally. They may have a more simple form of intelligence, like a plant or animal, responding to a certain stimulus by activating a spell. This is the most common way Arcana are used as traps.
Static Arcana: Not every Arcanum is as portable as a wand or scroll. Many more closely resemble furnishings or even structures. Remember, no one fully understands Arcana, so prepare to be surprised.

A Note on Ability Scores and Arcana
INT is a measure of how well a character can actively use own Arcana and harness its power.
WIL is used to passively resist magical effects coming from another.

Project Odd: Running, Fighting and Dying.

Some of the rules that the player might wish to know in Project Odd.

Running Away: Escaping a pursuer requires a DEX Save against the DEX score of your fastest pursuer. If you fail they can continue to attack you.
Sneaking Unseen: Make a DEX Save against the INT of whoever you’re sneaking past. Failing this alerts them.
Initiative: Normally the characters act first in combat, with the enemies taking the second round. If the characters are ambushed one of them must pass an INT save against the enemy’s lowest DEX or else the enemy take the first turn.
Attacking: Roll 1d20 and add DEX Bonus and any bonus from weapons, matching or beating the target's Defence to score a hit. The GM may provide bonuses or penalties to this roll depending on the combat situation.
Damage: Roll 1d6 to see how much damage a hit causes. A character with no weapons subtracts 1 from this roll.
Power Attacks: Upon seeing the result of a melee damage roll you can choose to turn it into a Power Attack. The damage is doubled unless the target passes a DEX Save against your STR, in which case the attack misses completely.
Called Shots/Disarming: When you cause a hit in combat you may forgo damage to try to strike a particular area of an enemy or disarm them. If the target can pass a STR (for disarming) or DEX (for called shots) Save against your DEX the attempt fails and the attack wasted.
Grappling: When you cause a melee hit you may grapple instead of causing damage as long as you have a free hand. The grappled opponent must make a STR Save vs your STR to act on their next turn, or else they take 1d6 damage. If you move or attack the grapple is broken.
Dying: Characters reduced to 0 Hitpoints must pass a WIL save against 10 or die. If they pass the save they are knocked out. When knocked out a character is defenceless to a killing blow. When your character is dead you may roll up a new one to join the group as soon as possible.

And equipment!

Equipment - As well as their Arcanum, characters begin with 1d6x10gp to spend on equipment. When wielding two weapons any bonuses gained will stack and the wielder gains +1 to their defence in melee.
Light Weapon (10gp): +1 to attacks against targets with no armour.
Heavy Weapon (10gp): +1 to attacks against targets with armour. Can only be wielded in main hand.
Reach Weapon (10gp): +1 to defense in melee. Cannot be wielded with another weapon.
Great Weapon (20gp): +1 to attacks and damage. Uses both hands.
Shortbow (10gp): +1 to attacks against targets with no armour.
Longbow/Crossbow (20gp): +1 to attacks against targets with armour.
Thrown Weapon (10gp set): May make Power Attacks like a melee weapon.
Firearm (30gp): +1 to attacks and damage. Takes a whole round to load.
Shield (10gp): +2 to defense. May be combined with Armour.
Helm (10gp): Armour 1. May be combined with other Armour.
Padded Armour (10gp): Armour 2
Light Armour (20gp): Armour 4
Heavy Armour (40gp): Armour 6
Mystic Paraphernalia (10gp): Includes wizards robes, hat, ceremonial beads etc. Add 2 to WIL and INT Saves related to Arcana as long as the character is not also wearing armour.
Adventurer’s Kit (10gp): Includes rope, spikes, torches, pole, chalk and parchment. A partially used kit may be restocked for 5gp.
Thief’s Kit (10gp): Includes lockpick, crowbar and other mechanical equipment. A partially used kit may be restocked for 5gp.

Next time... Arcana! Finally.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Project Odd: Abilities and Saves

The main way I will make Project Odd unique is placing Ability Scores and Saving Throws firmly at the the core of the game. First we look at what makes up a character.

Rolling a Character
Characters are created by rolling their Ability Scores. Roll 3d6 for each Ability Score. Characters that have no scores above 10 may be rerolled.

Strength - Overpowering others, surviving injury and striking powerful blows.
Dexterity - Running away, attacking and avoiding physical attacks.
Intelligence - Using Arcana, cunning, knowledge and reflexes.
Will - Innate magical resilience, leading others and determination.

Humans cannot have natural Ability Scores above 18, though magic may raise them above this.

Subtract 10 from your Ability Score to find the Ability Bonus. Both the Ability Score and Bonus should be noted on a character’s sheet.

A character’s Hitpoints are equal to their STR score and their Defence is equal to their DEX score plus their Armour Score.

Saves: Roll 1d20 and add the Ability Bonus being used. You must equal beat the Ability Score of whatever you are saving yourself from or the number provided by the GM. A 20 is always a success and a 1 always a failure. If in doubt a roll of 10 or more is a successful save.

Understanding Saves
Usually a dangerous situation will call for one type of save to avoid the consequences, which may be damage, a particular ailment or death. Some may offer multiple saves to avoid each part of the hazard. A save will always be made against a number (default 10) or an opponent’s Ability Score.

STR Save: Feats of toughness, fortitude and brute force.
DEX Save: Avoiding danger through skillful action and acrobatics.
INT Save: Noticing danger, reacting quickly, harnessing your Arcana and understanding your environment.
WIL Save: Determination to fight on, resilience against magical effects and influence over people.

Save vs STR: Escaping a grapple or breaking free of a prison.
Save vs DEX: Avoiding something seeking you.
Save vs INT: Bypassing the plans or magic of another.
Save vs WIL: Resisting the influence of another.

Next time I'll show how magic will work in this game, being innately tied to items rather than characters. Here's a sample character to give a hint or two.

Kinkru the Swift

STR 7 (-3), DEX 15 (+5), INT 11 (+1), WIL 9 (-1)
Defence 17 (Armour 2), 7HP
Expertise: Lockpicking.
Equipment: Longsword, Shield, Adventurer’s Kit.
Arcanum: (Silver Gauntlet, Power 13): Arrow Protection (P4), Darkness (P4), Disguise Self (P2), Reduce Person (P2), Message (P1).

Project Odd: Player Primer

The first information on Rules will come in my next post. For now, here's what I would give to a player before starting a game with Project Odd.

Player Primer

You are not a Superhero. You may be great at some things, you may have access to spells of great power, but you're not going to survive getting stepped on by a gigantic boot or falling down a hundred-foot pit. As such, you should be careful.

Consider what Fantasy could mean outside of its most popular settings. There's always something new around the corner, be it shocking, confusing, intriguing or just odd. Magic is something you can use to your advantage, but never becomes innate or natural to you. The world is full of Arcana, objects of a magical nature, that could save your life or cause you a horrible death. Show them some respect.

Make sure you avoid deathtraps and know the risks of mortal combat. Monsters aren't target practice, they're monsters. Run, sneak, surrender, or bribe. Whatever it takes to survive your encounter with them is just as good as fighting.

This game is about exploring and problem solving, fighting is just one of the options at your disposal. If you do insist on killing the huge creature that's trying to eat you I suggest you find a way to do it without going toe to toe with the thing. Honour is for the dead.

Monday 29 August 2011

Project Odd: Core Ideals

Another month, another rpg project. This one is purely for personal use as much for enjoyment of the process as anything.

These are the core ideals I want the currently unnamed game to embrace:

- An impartial GM. The GM uses the rules provided to challenge the characters and does not alter the situation to aid or hinder them.
- Adventure Module compatibility. The game assumes the GM is using a pre-planned environment and hazards, whether their own or by another writer. Classic rpg modules will be easily adaptable.
- Rolled characters. The core of your character is random and you do not choose a class. You buy equipment but have no input on your character’s innate abilities.
- Focus on Ability Scores. Rather than being secondary to level and class, a character’s rolled Ability Scores are the most important thing about them. The same goes for Monsters. A Dragon is terrifying because it’s huge (Strength 27?), scaly (Armour 6) and breathes fire (INT Save vs STR or 2d6 Damage!), not because it’s a Level 15 opponent.
- Save against Consequences. The player always has a chance to beat the consequences facing them with a saving throw based around Ability Scores.
- Common sense. The rules are written with the assumption that those playing will agree on a rule’s intention without the need for paragraph-long mechanical explanations.
- Limited power growth. Characters get better through improving their ability scores slightly, but more through learning spells, amassing resources and finding magic treasure.
- Embrace the weird. This game will get scifi, horror and humour in your fantasy, as well as any other genres I see fit.

This will be the first game I've written on a base of D&D, something I think is inevitable for takers with any exposure to the classic game. Next time I'll show you the core of the game: Ability Scores and Saving Throws. If you read my dragon example carefully you can already get a sneak preview of what I have planned.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Getting Scifi in your Fantasy

This coming week I'll be posting about a project I've been working on that is very much 'fantasy with some Scifi spilled on it.

In preparation I'd love to hear what you think about blobs of Scifi in you d&d style fantasy games. Do you like them to be weird exceptions or spread across the setting as an underlying theme? How about full Scifi fusion where ray guns and flying saucers are common to every adventure? Or do you like to keep your Scifi to different games entirely?

Thursday 25 August 2011

Who Rolls When?

My last series of posts seems to have gone down like a lead balloon, so let's get back to something more familiar.

Consider the situation. The GM has declared that an ogre is attacking Unmer the Glum, a player-character. Assuming the system calls for a roll to see if the attack is successful (let's ignore damage rolls for now), there are a few ways this could be handled. Some more often explored than others.

Attacker rolls against Defender's Stat.
This is the D&D method, which I've also used for shooting in Xenofringe. The attacker is completely active in the exchange and the defender completely passive. In this way it's possible for a player to be killed without having taken any action in the process. Of course, their prior action may have helped this come to pass, but that killing blow was entirely in the hands of their attacker. You can tell from how I'm writing this that I think this may not be the ideal approach.

Attacker rolls against Defender's Roll.
This is what I've used in The Adventurer's Tale and A Wanderer's Romance. Both parties take an active role in the exchange and if the defender rolls badly they're in for a nasty consequence. You might think, as I've used it so often, I favour this technique. While I do like it there's a certain clunkiness I find with opposed rolls like this, especially if you're running a PbP or IRC game where players' attentions are often divided. I consider this a good choice on paper but imperfect in practice.

Attacker compares Stat against Defender's Stat.
I've included this option for a sense of symmetry but removing the random element altogether doesn't work for me. Next.

Defender rolls against Attacker's Stat.
Here's what I wanted to get to. I don't know of any systems that use this method, but I think it poses a few possibilities.

- The Attacker remains active, declaring and describing their action.
- The Defender is engaged and has active input into the process.
- Something about it just makes combat feel more deadly. It's like the attack is assumed to hit unless you can do something about it.
- It's easily convertible, if not perfectly. Try it with 3e onwards D&D today by having the "Attack Score" be 10+ attack bonus and a character's "Save vs Attack" be 1d20+ AC modifiers.

But one possibly crushing downside looms over me. Would players be happy not making attack rolls? Everyone loves rolling a 20 and can the possible advantages of this system outweigh the pleasure in that moment? Would be interested to hear thoughts.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Something More Concrete - Instant RPG

Well you've put up with one rambling, vague and cryptic post after another. It's about time I put my money where my mouth is. Presenting...

Instant RPG - Alpha Edition

Instant RPG can be played in person or using social technology like Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. All you need is a line of communication between the GM and Players and you can have your own adventure.

Player Information

When you play the Instant RPG a situation will be described by your GM, who may also ask you questions. You answer these questions and describe what you want your character to do in response to the situation at hand. You can try and do anything you can imagine, though the GM will roll dice to see if some actions are successful or if you face consequences for failure.

Think about what your character will be like. What are they good at? How do they act? With this in mind start playing and most of all have fun!

GM Information

Only the Gamemaster needs to read any further. If you're a player then start playing!

To run the game the GM remembers the three rules.

The Two, Four, Six, Rule
A Task will fit into one of the following categories.
Simple: Requiring a 2 or more to succeed.
Challenging: Requiring a 4 or more to succeed.
Formidable: Requiring a 6 or more to succeed.

The High, Mid, Low Rule
Whenever a Task is rolled, three six-sided dice are thrown.
A character that is completely unskilled in the Task uses the lowest die.
A character that has basic understanding of the Task uses the middle die.
A character that is skilled in the Task uses the highest die.

Rule X
When all else fails, if you are unsure what to do in a situation, roll a single die. If this is high the situation goes in favour of the character in question. If it is low if goes against them. This could be used to determine anything from whether or not a character makes a good first impression to whether or not they survive a potentially deadly injury. In the case of the latter a roll of 1 would often mean death.

Glossary of Terms

The GM may need some of these terms clarified.

Abilities: These are things the character can do without it being a speciality. Most settings come with certain assumptions, such as a modern setting assuming characters can drive and operate a computer. This lists exceptions that the characters have been given by the GM such as a wizard being able to cast spells or a dragon being able to fly.
Adventure: The setting and situation that the characters are in. The characters explore and interact with the setting and to act out their adventure.
Equipment: A character's equipment affects how they carry out tasks. For example, some tasks simply require a piece of equipment, or else can't be attempted at all. Others will be made easier by posessing a certain piece of equipment. For example, blasting an opponent away at close range would be a Simple task with a shotgun, but Challenging with a weapon more suited to long range, such as a sniper rifle. The GM decides, with player suggestions, what equipment characters have access to.
GM: The Gamemaster. He describes the situation the characters are in and, after hearing what they want to do, describes what happens next. He may use the three rules to determine this.
Module: A pre-written plan that helps the GM run the Adventure. May include maps, non-player characters and an explanation of the current situation before the characters' involvement.
Skills: A list of things the character can do really well, from natural qualities to knowledge and experience. The GM allocates these Skills by asking the players about their characters, typically choosing around four Skills. These should be quite specific. Think duelling or staff-fighting instead of just "armed combat".
Task: A Task is something the characters cannot carry out with certainty. This could be because of opposition, a time limit or high risk in the event of failure. The GM will assign the Task a difficulty using the Two, Four, Six rule based on the character's abilities, equipment and support from their allies. The GM then rolls the Task, using the High, Mid, Low Rule to decide which die to use, describing the result to the players. Tasks could be interrogating a suspect, casting a spell or avoiding incoming bullet fire.

Character Information
The GM will note down a character's Skills and Abilities as well as any Equipment of importance they are carrying. An example might look like this.

Hol Varnoo - Space Knight
Skills: Starfighter Piloting, Intimidation, Leading a Crowd, Beamsword Duels.
Abilities: Use of Spaceknight Technology, Speaks Yarnese.
Equipment: Hyper Armour, Beamsword, Rapiblaster.

The Player will influence this information but does not need to track it themselves.

Example of Play
Mike: I could try and shoot the chain but I think Red will stand a better chance.
GM: Red is in a good position to use his sniper rifle.
Red: Ok, I'll take the shot.
[The GM rolls a Challenging task, which Red is skilled in thanks to his "Sniping" Skill, resulting in a success. Had Mike attempted the shot with their Handgun it would have been Formidable instead]
GM: The chain is shot with a clean break, sending Hannah dropping to the ground, collapsing in a heap but not badly hurt. Murca's henchmen return fire on Red, having given up his position.
Red: I'm out of here. Make a break for the exit.
[The GM rolls a Challenging task for Red to avoid being shot as he flees, which he fails. To see how bad the wound is the GM uses Rule X, rolling a 5. Surely just a flesh wound.]
Mike: I'll follow!
GM: Red is hurt by a glancing shot from Murca's henchmen, but Mike manages to help him to safety. Now that you're out of the base you're faced with countless bloodthirsty henchmen in one direction and a frozen wilderness in the other.
Mike: Can't we call in for the Colonel to come and pick us up? I have that radio.
[The GM rolls a Simple task to call for help, assuming that Mike has an Average skill in using his radio, resulting in a success. He uses Rule X to see how long before support arrives, rolling a 1. Not good for our players.]
GM: You get through to the Colonel, who's already airborn with his helicopter. "I'd pick you up right now, boys, but there's still a SAM site that's making the run less appealling. Take care of that and I'll be right there".
Red: Great, well how do we knock out that SAM site?
GM: Red is bleeding pretty badly. Not life-threatening at the moment but you're not in top shape for much physical activity.
Mike: Listen up, I've got a plan...

Social Assumptions

As well as the three play-rules used in gameplay there are some guidelines that all players and the GM should follow.

1: The players do not need to know any of the rules or how the GM is implementing them.
2: The GM will roll all dice and has the final decision over tasks, their difficulty and the Skills and abilities of each players' character.
3: The GM will choose each character's Skills and Abilities based on the player's description of their character and their background.
4: If a player's character is killed or otherwise removed from a game the GM will soon present an opportunity for that player to rejoin the game as another character.
5: A player can leave the game without any ill feeling. Similarly, new players should always be welcome within limits. The GM will find ways to bring in new players' characters as soon as possible.

Now, imagine an adventure your players would enjoy, using a module if you wish, and start playing!

Some Difficult Truths Pt 3

Concluding from here.

As soon as a game starts to interfere with other areas of life the game is in trouble.
We've all done it. Quitting a game because of another commitment in your life always feels bad. Whether you're comitting to playing every tuesday night or posting in a PbP at least every 48 hours RPGs tend to come with a commitment to bear. Let's remove that. If I'm playing with five friends and one of them only chips in with a contribution once a week he shouldn't feel bad and the rest of us shouldn't miss out. This is a tough one, I know, and believe me I see the problems too. There are solutions, which I'll flesh out at a later date. In my head I'm seeing a few in action. The GM might post that unless someone states otherwise the characters will carry out a certain action. If noone protests the game moves on. If someone pops up a few days later and protests that they wouldn't have wanted to do that, well, we have a situation. The idealist in me sees the players just deciding to see it as a missed opportunity and move on with things but it might not be so simple.

Maybe I've missed something obvious. We're looking at social technology in an optimistic way here and when was the last time you couldn't get a response from one of your friends for days at a time, whether through a phonecall, text message, facebook, twitter etc. Oh sure, we all have that friend who's a nightmare to get a reply from, but I think we can expect prompt replies from most people when they're interested in what's going on. Replying to a facebook post to say "I'll try and bribe the giant with my gold" is a world away from logging into a forum, checking the PbP thread and crafting your next post.

Non-gamers don't want to identify as gamers.
Everywhere I look I'm told that it's cool to be a geek now. Yes, we have our model spokespeople on the edges of the mainstream media but the fact that they're gamers is always secondary to something else. They might be an actor who plays RPGs or a musician who plays RPGs. Gamer isn't their primary badge of honour. They're the more socially acceptable form of geek that I think can be distracting from this topic. The part I want to focus on is that enjoying RPGs doesn't need to be a person's primary trait, worn as a badge of honour or shame. It's just something to do for fun.

Let's look at video games. Their expansion from the nerd's bedroom to the phone in your aunt's pocket is complete. Smartphone and facebook games are perhaps the two clearest examples that our niche hobby can use social technology to spread into the most unlikely places. The mechanics of the games are unimportant. We don't need to take farmville's hyper-addictive reward system or mafia wars' built-in recruitment plan (although that one does warrant some consideration). What's most important is how people play these games. That guy you know who plays Call of Duty online a whole lot. Would you call him a videogamer?

A former work colleague of mine is a woman in her 50s with grown-up children and basic computer literacy. She would spend about an hour or so a night playing on facebook games, chatting to friends on the side, and she loved the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises. She is almost entirely unaware of RPGs. Do you see the untapped resource of players within our reach yet?

GM and Player are completely different roles and many people will settle into just one.
I pondered on this one for a while, but let's face it. Being a GM is often tough work. In this game I'm imagining you're the one that has to know the rules, the setting and how to drive the game in this strange new way.

I think the role of GM in this game is going to warrant a whole post of it's own, but remember one of my goals was to have a newly initiated player be able to run their own game as soon as the hooks are in. Making the game very light on rules is one way to help, but what about learning to guide your players through the world? Learning from the example of a good GM is a good start, but am I really going to make prospective GMs read through a Dungeonmaster's Guide to be able to run things effectively? I want the GM role to be accessible, not a huge burden that one of the players has to bear for the benefit of the rest.

Sharing the burden is something that's been used in other games. The GM doesn't have to write their own material. Remember adventure modules? People really used to use those things, right? But I don't want the GM to have to read through pages of material to be able to run a game. I'm going to make a bold and optimistic statement.

All the information the GM will need to run a game will fit on one page of A4 paper, including rules, character information and the adventure itself.

Too far? I like to aim high. The reality is that I don't envision many of these A4 pages being physical printouts. Think of it more as a guide for the amount of info I want the GM of this game to have to keep on record at any given time, however they choose to do so.

This game will be many players' first experience of an RPG.
In recruiting new players to play RPGs I do hope to deliver a different experience to traditional games. But once that experience has finished, where do I see the players going? Indeed, I can see many wanting to explore the world of more traditional RPGs. Some may wish to stick with this game, but others will want to delve into their desire for in-depth mechanics and use of miniatures. I'm not going to fight that and if I could convert one player from having no interest in RPGs to being a hardcore D&D enthusiast I'd consider the project a success.

Introducing new players to something I see as having a good amount GM rulings alongside some firm mechanics could be problematic if I want to encourage something of a competitive element. Not with each other, but against the challenges of the game. I said before, I want the players to be able to win somehow, and if you feel this falls mostly on the whim of the GM your victory is less rewarding and your loss more personal. Luckily, I've already proposed an idea that I think could help here. The adventure module will be key to this sort of play experience. Here the GM has some pretty clear guidelines for how to run a particular game. When you get killed in the Tomb of Horrors you curse Gygax before you curse your GM.


That was a lot of text to spread over three posts. I hope I've made some of my points clear but after working through these issues out loud I feel much more confident in providing something concrete in my next post. You've put up with the rambling, next I'm going to give you everything you need to try and run this game yourself.

Some Difficult Truths Pt 2

Continuing from here.

People don't want to play pretend.
Roleplaying is still seen by many as the domain of children. Many would feel embarrassed about posting something like "I try to sneak past the dragon and snatch the magic lamp", and understandably so. It's just the nature of our culture that this sort of play is seen as childish. So how can we ease people into taking part in such games?

Limiting choices is one option. If the player is simply choosing from a set of existing options they won't feel as exposed as if they came up with the idea themselves. Of course, this goes against the Unique Selling Point of RPGs, their complete freedom, but the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Why not provide two options to the player and a third option of "or anything else you can think of". This will ease players into suggesting their own solutions to problems while still giving them the fallback of some GM-provided options.

Part of the problem lies in the perceived pointlessness of playing pretend. Of course, fun is its own reward, but when you're easing in someone new they might like to feel they've achieved something by the end. This is where we can draw on our knowledge of video games. Have a way for the players to win. Get to the end of the dungeon and kill the dragon, it's the classic example, and one that fits perfectly here. The game should be able to end so that your players can decide to play again, try a more traditional RPG or run their own game. If you want to be really fancy you can provide multiple goals in the way of achievements. That alone is a topic for another post.

Social networks do not normally have built-in dice rollers.
Yes, you can probably get them through an add-on or use a website like invisible castle, but why? Remember, if this idea works you aren't going to be stuck playing with some guy you know loosely through a forum and think may be a jerk. You're playing with whoever you want, so choose people you know and trust. The GM will have sole charge of the dice.

Everyone's here to have fun and if the GM wants you dead there are easier ways to do it than fixing some rolls. If you don't trust each other why are you friends again?

The smallest obstacle will put people off.
I have to register with this forum? Screw that. Download an applet? Tab closed. Visit this url? I'll do it later.

This play experience will have zero obstacles to entry. You ask a friend (through whatever medium you like) if they want to play, or they see the game happening and ask you to join, and they're in. The GM starts asking them questions and their answers are the start of the game.

People don't want to play a PbP.
So far you may be thinking of PbP games you've played in before that sound like this. I've GMed and played in a fair number of PbP games myself and I could write at length about my issues with the format. The bottom line is that they've always felt like a big commitment to me. Even if a post only takes me five minutes to hammer out at times it feels like work. I feel obliged to fill posts out with poetic description and consider whether or not I'm making the right mechanical choices. This game isn't going to require either of these. You can be plain in stating what you'd like to do and the GM and other players are sure to appreciate it. The GM, on the other hand, may be more tempted to get flowery with their writing.

Don't do this.

Writing a long post is one thing, but reading a wall of text will daunt even the most literary of us. I've talked about what I think an RPG is and is not. I do not believe an RPG is creating a work of collaborative fiction. Sure, when the dust has settled you'll have a cool story to remember and one that you might even want to write into a piece of fiction yourself. During the game is not the avenue for this. Sure, throw in a nice detail or two when you're describing the environment, but keep it bite-sized. You're not writing a story, you're playing a game. The story is a product of play, not the play itself.

People are more interested in videogames than a paper-based approximation of one.
RPGs are not going to be the best at the type of gameplay videogames excel at. Let them have it. If I want a racing simulator, action-packed gunplay or bone-shaking martial arts combat my console will provide. With even the best system and GM rolling a d20 to see if my car skids off the track is going to be a weaker representation of what I could be doing with a videogame. It's a good job that RPGs have an entirely different type of gameplay that videogames are completely unable to emulate.

I've mentioned before that the unique selling point in RPGs is the total freedom the GM and players have in their actions. A video game is completely opposite to this, even when it might appear otherwise. I'm confident that what I'm proposing will be entirely different to a videogame experience, enough so to differentiate itself in videogamer's minds. The RPG they're playing might be something they just dip into on facebook. It doesn't stop them playing their xbox all night or grinding away at an MMO. It offers something different and both can be consumed without interfering with each other. When you sit and play a videogame for the first time you think "what can I do?". When you play an RPG it's "what will I do?".

Most non-gamers would rather try this out online than commit to an evening of play.
Completely understandable. Draw them in with some online play throughout the week and then when you're all in the same room together why not play for another half-hour before you go out? If everyone's on Google+ why not play in a hangout? The game should be able to occur online and offline, with no obstacles between the two.

To be concluded next time in Part 3.

Some Difficult Truths Pt 1

Continuing from this post.

The Difficult and Questionable Truths of this project.
In my planning I made a list of the things my brain shouts at me when I consider this topic. I'm by no means saying these statements are completely true, but they're things that come to my mind. Some of them aren't pleasant to hear, but they'll all need to be addressed to do what I want to do with this project.

People don't want to play RPGs now.
Perhaps the hardest truth of all. Sure, you can draw in new initiates to the hobby with traditional RPGs, but this is mostly through hard work on the part of the GM. The fact is that most of the masses that played D&D at its peak don't want to play it anymore. Most other people are aware that gamers sit around a table and play an RPG with character sheets, funny dice and rulebooks, and generally they don't want to get involved. This is the reason I want to build a play experience from the ground up. Something isn't working.

People don't want to learn rules.
This is very simple. The players will not learn any rules. They will consider the situation they are currently in, say what they want to do and let the GM do the rest. The GM is solely in charge of the rules.

People don't enjoy number crunching.
As mentioned above, there is no number crunching for players in-game, but what about character creation? Everyone loves rolling some stats, right? Sure, but here I think it might be best done another way.

The player states interest in playing and the GM asks them some questions about their character. These questions are subject to limitations the GM has randomised and require no knowledge of the setting or rules. These limitations will either make the question multiple choice or else suggest a few clear choices immediately. Think "As a child were you more brainy or brawny?" or "Your character was conscripted to join the army to fight in a way they thought was unjust. What did they do?". Certain assumptions about a character's background will be implicit to the launch of the game. In D&D terms think "you will play a group of miners trapped underground" or "you are the employees of a wealthy noble".

Luckily, RPGs are not about rules or number crunching.
Picture some people playing D&D around a table. Just like in the good old days. The GM describes a situation to them and the players say what they want to do. There's some die rolling and the GM looks at some stuff behind his screen before explaining what happens. Hopefully this is fun!

This is what an RPG is, at it's core. This is what I want to do with my non-gamer friends. Painstakingly creating a character by choosing from a thousand options, moving miniatures around a grid to carry out tactical combat and flipping through rulebooks to check if the GM's using the vehicle rules correctly are not part of this experience. These are parts of some RPGs and will remain long into the future, but these are not the parts that are going to draw in new people on the scale that we should be doing.

The unique selling point of RPGs is that moment when the GM says "what do you want to do?" and you consider your options. This isn't multiple choice. This is infinite choice. Forget about using one of the powers on your character sheet. Forget about working out the quickest way the four of you can kill the dragon. This isn't "what rule are you invoking to do what you want to do?". Strip it back. "What do you want to do?".

Fantasy and SciFi are only popular with nerds and goths.
Some of the most popular films of the last few years have been Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Iron Man. Tell me these don't fit into fantasy and scifi. If we look at 2010s highest grossing films we see Toy Story, Alice in Wonderland, Inception and How to Train your Dragon. 2009 has 2012, Transformers 2, Twilight, Sherlock Holmes, Angels and Demons and The Hangover. 2008 has The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Quantum of Solace and Indiana Jones. For the releases aimed at children I'm assuming they must have also appealed to adults in some part.

For a moment put aside the quality of these films. I've listed a few obvious scifi and fantasy settings, but what about Inception, The Hangover and Wall-E? All these films had clear mass appeal amongst non-gamers. Can you imagine playing an RPG based around each of these settings? If you can't, try harder!

If RPGs are going to grab your friends then you've got to strongly consider whether you use a setting that feels like something that came out of 2011 or one that came from the 1970s. This may be tough to hear, but maybe save Greyhawk for the second game. It doesn't have to be as radical as modern-day Las Vegas, just consider your choice carefully. Is your player going to have to read a setting wiki or look at a hexmap to understand your setting? If so, you've just lost a player.

I love reading a hardback book of setting info, but your friends are going to need to be eased into that. A few sessions down the line they should be asking you for a map or more info on the world they're playing in. Let it grow, don't force it.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Mass Appeal in 2011

Tavis Allison over on The Mule Abides has written a post that sends sparks flying through my brain. I'm incredibly excited to see if this question could be answered, or at least if attempts at answering it would create a new avenue for the hobby.

Thanks to Google+, we no longer have to worry about not having a game to play in. Twitter has also been explored as a home for RPGs, with apparent success. I believe these two examples go further to answer Tavis' challenge than the most well planned induction game of D&D could.

In the comments of Tavis' post, zhai2nan2 points out that the world of the 1970s was ready for D&D. A bunch of teenagers or adults could gather together without the distractions of smartphones, internet, a console in every home and practically any form of media on-demand. There's an argument for the worlds of elves and dragons having more appeal back then, too, but I think this is a secondary concern. The larger issue is how we socialise with our friends in 2011.

When I look at how I socialise with my non-gamer friends I see that social networks and technology are inescapable. If we're gathering to watch a film I'll get the invite through a message on my phone or Facebook. After a social event the photos are uploaded for all to comment and reminisce. When I want to play a new console game with friends there's as much chance we'll do it online as in the same room. I could go on, but you all know the end result. Socialising through technology has firmly rooted itself into the masses.

Can understanding how the people of 2011 socialise make RPGs appealing to our non-gamer friends?

I think so.

Over the next week or so I hope to hammer out a plan we can all put into action. A way we can use the social technology of 2011 to drag RPGs kicking and screaming from the 70s. Do I want to lay waste to all the traditions of our hobby that so many of us hold dear? Absolutely not. I want to play RPGs with people, not some chimera of collaborative fiction and Farmville. I want an experience comparable to what I think of as a traditional RPG. We already have play by post, by irc, by voice and even by video chat, but, as much as I love these forms, they exist as a round-the-table game lifted onto another social platform. If we're making this move to playing our RPGs online we should have a game that reflects this and understands the link between our online and offline socialising. That link is there, let's use it.

A point I can't stress enough is that I don't want to replace the traditional RPG. I want you to be able to "play D&D" with whatever comes out of this project. I want you to be able to do that with some work colleagues, old friends or even your family that never showed more than a passing interest before. As heretical as my idea might sound to traditionalists I want you to be able to run the Tomb of Horrors with this thing. The method may vary but I want that RPG feeling to remain.

I'll leave you hanging with lists of what I want from the end result of this project.

Primary Goals

  1. To be able to launch a group of my non-gamer friends into an RPG without them having to read a single rulebook or gather in the same room.
  2. To have the game feel like a traditional RPG without the biggest obstacles to entry that non-gamers face. It's not a computer game, it's not a forum game, it's not a boardgame, it's an RPG that understands its roots but is thoroughly modern.
  3. To extend the "play time" of the RPG beyond the traditional all-nighter session around a table without removing that experience. I socialise with my friends 24/7 and the game should take advantage of that.
  4. Break down the separation between our online and offline gaming.

Secondary Goals

  1. To make a first-time gamer want to, and be able to, run their own game after one session as a player.
  2. To understand the traditional fantasy and scifi origins of RPGs while exploring the possibilities that are likely to hold more appeal in 2011. This does not necessitate moving away from fantasy and scifi, but will look at what those words mean today.