What’s in a Resolution?

January 30, 2017

So, last week we talked about Resolution Mechanics and it struck me I made a whole lot of statements using a whole lot of assumptions that I didn’t make clear. This post is about that.

So, first off, why do we need Resolution Mechanics? The short answer is to resolve disputes at the table in a way that’s fair to everyone, but that can be done any number of ways and doesn’t have to involve dice, or even game themeing at all. What Resolution Mechanics are really for is carrying the narrative forward in a way that is both within the game’s narrative style and allows the players a sense of chance and danger without actually upending their momentum.

In short, Resolution Mechanics provide the players the illusion that they lack control in just the right ways to provide an even stronger illusion that they might lose. Ideally, the players aren’t capable of losing due to sheer luck (partially because of dice statistics, partially because of rules) but they’re under constant fear that they could, in theory, lose to sheer luck.

So, what’s our narrative theme, etc, for Dungeons and Dragons?

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Why Games?

June 8, 2016

I’m sure some of you out there, some of you who are friends and some of you who are not, are looking at the kind of person I am and wondering why games are so important to me. Not just a hobby I’m invested in, not just a cultural zeitgeist I count myself a part of, but something that I think represents and important philosophical and emotional technology to humanity. A very important element of culture that, I think, is currently being treated like no more than a toy. Games, I believe, are the cousin of narrative and storytelling that teach us empathy from the opposite direction. They inform our mechanisms for understanding empathy. Rules allow us to step into another person’s life and understand their motivations because the mechanisms tell us what we can and cannot do – that is, what decisions we would never make and which we would always make if we were the person we’re playing as.

To explain why in detail, come with me while I explore the very idea of what a game can be with you.

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So I’m listening to Loading Ready Run’s new Temple of the Lava Bears campaign and it has me thinking about combat design, weapon design, and how combat is abstracted in D&D.

To start my line of reasoning, let’s go over the way D&D, and most RPGs, abstract combat and damage in the particular slice I’m mulling over. Combat systems and styles are fully abstracted into a simple combat value (the To-Hit roll is how it’s normally referred to) and damage is dependent on the strength or dexterity of attacker and the damage “code” for the weapon. For instance, a character’s Strength could give them a +2 bonus and they could be using a broad sword (what D&D likes to call a longsword – not a longsword) which does 1d8 (one eight sided die) in damage. When rolled, they get 4, +2 from their Strength, for a total of six points of damage. This is a fine enough abstraction from a gamification perspective, especially given the history of roleplaying games. Namely, Chainmail and tabletop war gaming.

However, it doesn’t really reflect martial arts very well. The biggest example of this, I think, is the Roman centurion. In D&D terms, the Roman centurion uses a large shield (the scutum) and a short sword (the gladius).

A Roman centurion with scutum raised and stabbing with a gladius

Roman centurion with scutum and gladius

The Roman centurion was not known to do very little damage, even against unarmored opponents. The traditional D&D abstraction also fails to account for the fact that the scutum, as a shield, is not armor. The shield is a defensive weapon. This is not unlike the use of an offhand dagger in Florentine fencing. It’s certainly heavier and more difficult to use than an offhand defensive weapon of a more traditional make but the point is the same – move the shield to intercept blows, press advantage using the shield as a means of keeping the body defended, and create openings for the striking weapon. The warrior does not simply stand and hack with their weapon and waiting for a useful opening. They instead use their weapons tactically, exploiting the strengths of their weapons to create openings. This is true with every weapon, and with every martial system that is associated with that weapon. Whether it is a pike from Renaissance Europe, a viking’s sword and round shield, the Chinese jian, or the Japanese katana. Martial arts are not merely the home of modern-day training and rediscovery, the province of Asia, or tournament systems designed for health and entertainment. Every system of martial combat, from the earliest uses of Pankration to modern military defense systems, are martial arts.

That, I think, is where abstraction is far more useful. Not just as a supplement to the system of abstraction of physical attributes and ‘weapon damage’, but as a replacement to it. Instead of having a weapon that does a certain amount of damage when someone is struck with it, characters instead have maneuvers and training in a martial system that requires a certain kind of weapon. So characters in this system would never have weapons that have a particular damage coding to them and, while stats have to be abstracted for other purposes, stats would be a requirement but have no impact directly on the damage delivered by martial arts maneuvers. I think that this would more accurately represent how weapons are wielded and preserve the lethality of what are traditionally seen as “weaker” weapons in RPG design. Weapons like the dagger, the short sword, and percussion weapons. These martial arts would be a network of maneuvers abstracted through bonuses and descriptive elements that tie maneuvers together. This would also include ranged systems, since English archers were commonly experienced not just with their bow but with a broadsword or single-handed sword and buckler as well.

The trick in design is writing these martial systems up, and how much mass they take up in game design, but I think it’s worth it to provide a richer and more varied play experience than “I roll to hit”. It also provides some design space for more fanciful, fantastical systems that are rooted in historical combat.

 

Some Worldbuilding

October 3, 2014

Thinking of the second major character for the fantasy setting I’m working on, Smoke, got me thinking about the kind of trope design the setting will be built around. Almost all fantasy settings have ‘classes’, or types of heroes that wander around in those worlds. Usually it’s a combination of professional fighters; thieves, rogues, and other cut-throats; clerics, priests, shamans, or other sorts of healers and holy men; and wizards, sorcerers, mages, and other types of magicians. Occasionally there are specific versions of one of these four groups that are particular to whatever setting it is, or unique hybrids among them that provide flavor for the setting.

In this world, all great persons can be summed up into 3 groups: Warriors, those whose martial prowess, extreme technique, and skill with arms give them power and prestige; Sorcerers, whose sage like knowledge, wisdom, and control of the four elements and five directions grant them mystical abilities through their sacred knowledge; and Alchemists, the rare martial artists who practice an internal form that mixes martial prowess, mystical abilities, and the arcane energies of the Dao to manipulate themselves and their opponents.

Savisha, or my Grey Paladin as I think of her, is a Warrior. She is a master of the Eight Arms of Marisha, the martial art that was created by the founder of her holy order. It uses six weapons, outlined in the last bit I wrote about this, as well as an open-handed style and intricate study of the body’s positions and how they reflect the mind’s wisdom to make practitioners skilled diplomats. Other Warriors include samurai from beyond the White Peaks who mastered a flowing and fast style of fencing with their curved but strong swords or the soldiers of Hwaran Shein who patrol the emerald hills around their kingdom on horseback with heavy chopping swords and axe-like polearms. Most militaries and royal clans are made almost completely of Warriors. Their secrets lie in the mastery of External Martial Arts, the methods of striking out from the body aggressively.

Smoke, her companion through the journey she finds herself in within the story, is an enterprising Alchemist. He is a master of a form of combat that centers around deception and manipulating his body to make it light enough to fly short distances, flexible enough to bend around his opponents, yet strong enough to deliver crushing blows when necessary. His style is centered around the control of the qi in his breath, so as to control his breath itself. To exploit this, he carries a large water pipe, using the sweet smell to disorient those trying to overtake him and controlling the smoke to hide his presence in a fight. Other Alchemists would include the ancient orders of doctors in the Xiaolin states or the horse-callers of the open plains of the Khans. Every great martial arts tradition has a mystical arm composed of Alchemists to master the body and the mind through their martial practice. Their secrets lie in the mastery of Internal Martial Arts, the methods of controlling the body’s flow of energy, or qi, to work mystical feats.

The last group is the Sorcerers, who will not go without their own representation in the story, are the most secretive and rare group of the three. Their practices are truly arcane in nature, drawing on an understanding of all of the sacred forces of the world that govern its nature. They are the sage students of the four elements (Water, Fire, Stone, and Wind) as well as the five directions (North, South, East, West, and Center). Both wizards with no allegiance or alliance who lock themselves away in ancient places to study arcane forces and the holy men in the temples of the Merciful God who speak words of healing and curing are Sorcerers. The truly magical feats of the world are all rooted in the 3 Sciences; Elemental Control, The Methods of the Five Directions, and the Sacred Names. Elemental Control allows Sorcerers to direct and control the fundamental force of their world, from drawing poison right out of the blood by commanding its Water essence to shaping steel into a legendary sword by commanding the Earth within the iron and carbon. The Methods of the Five Directions grant Sorcerers incredible powers over distance when studies properly, allowing them to move at quick speeds, take flight, or even stand timeless in a single place and never aging at the highest levels of mastery. The Sacred Names are an incomplete collection of sutras, or sacred writings, that describe the true nature of things and allow the Sorcerers to manipulate the world using inscriptions in these sacred words directly on objects or by using temporary pre-written spells called Talismans. Their secrets lie within this body of knowledge and their creativity in using the 3 Sciences together in powerful ways. Many Sorcerers find themselves performing strange experiments to expand the knowledge of one of the Sciences, working to help those less powerful than themselves due to pacts with themselves (or occasionally powerful spirits), or serving leaders of the great nations of the many lands in the great continent of Surra and the islandsto the south in the Hwaran Archipelago.

Surra is but one part of the largest continent in this world and the most powerful political entities in their world. Though other nations certainly interact with them, and I’ll be exploring those later.

So, I don’t know what to do. Notes Part 2 is looking at having a whole chapter of exposition. Which I don’t want to do.

I’m considering having Part 3 be a flashback section, to explain the foundation of the current story, but Part 2 is only 7500 words right now. That’ll be expanded in editing, but will it go far enough to support itself?

What should I do?

I’m working on a draft for a Kickstarter for the boardgame concept I recently posted about. Partly so that I can generate money to work on it, partly so I can find an artist, and partly so I can find out if anyone else is interested in working on the idea with me.

Part of why I want to find a nice, small team (an artist that doesn’t mind doing a lot of drawing and another mechanic designer) is so we can knock this out quickly and get it going. I’m kind of in a situation where I need to find a way to generate income pretty quickly that isn’t dependent on unemployment insurance, so. Yeah.

I also want to do this quickly so that I can get the essential mechanics out of the way. I’ve got an idea for doing expansions and new versions using different tropes and structures not long after the first game comes out. The reward levels for the Kickstarter would include some of these expansions at different levels (one level will include the first expansion when it’s ready to print, another level is also going to include the next version of the game when it’s ready). I think. Still have to work out this one.

Part of this discussion, as well, is me looking for advice on what levels to offer for the Kickstarter and the kind of things to throw in as incentives. So, if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them. Especially since until I get the essential mechanics hammered out I don’t even know how to assess printing costs. I can say one thing, though – it’ll mostly be a box full of cards and tiles.

So, what are your ideas, opinions, and expectations? Would you chip in for the game?

Tropes form the backbone of writing conventions in all mediums. We know who the hero is, who the villains are, what the setting is, and what the genre is thanks to tropes. A lot of tropes are good, many are useful, but a lot of tropes are problematic. Things from the Femme Fatale to the animation age ghetto to Men Are Dumb, Women Are Emotional there’s lots of tropes that support negative and false stereotypes that affect how people think of and interact with media of all types.

What are your thoughts on problematic tropes? What are your “favorites”?

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