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Showing posts from November, 2014

The Thanksgiving Plague

The following adventure hook is intended for either the +TimeWatch RPG or Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

Plymouth Colony, 1621. A disease spreads through the village turning Pilgrims into mindless cannibals. Curiously, the native Indians are immune.
TimeWatch The plague is a bioweapon that targets humans of European extraction, most dramatically Englishmen. Colonization stalls as newcomers fall victim to the disease. TimeWatch is alerted when the United States of America disappears from history, replaced by a patchwork of native nations and African and Asian trading ports. Agents must uncover who designed the plague and stop them, or at lease engineer a cure. If the cure must be administered during a feast that also cements good relations between Pilgrims and natives, even better.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space The TARDIS arrives in Plymouth to witness the first Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, they find a village filled with madmen. Investigation reveals that the dis…

Adapting to GUMSHOE

GUMSHOE is an emulative system. Every published GUMSHOE system game is designed to present a particular genre or style of investigative story. For Trail of Cthulhu, that means expanding the Stability rules into Sanity to emulate the cosmic horror of Lovecraft. Night's Black Agents broadens the combat and chase mechanics to pump up the action quotient for the vampire spy thriller.

The first step in making GUMSHOE fit your favorite style of investigative fiction is to consider the list of abilities available to investigators. When designing Ladies' Mystery Society, I knew that I wanted a short list of standard abilities. Most cases in the source material involve only a few basic investigative tactics (typically what would fall under Interpersonal abilities), and none involve much in the way of broad physical talent.

But the characters in these stories often display interesting background knowledge and unique skills picked up through a lifetime experience. I knew I wanted a mecha…

Mechanical Hooks in Fate

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about mechanical hooks in RPGs. These hooks are rules and systems that reference each other, creating a web of interactions that rewards player choice but can also increase system complexity dramatically.

I used Fate as an example of a system that solves the complexity problem by limiting the traits that reference other hooks to one. In nearly every Fate game, stunts are the only mechanic that reference or trigger off other mechanics. But they can hook off just about anything in the game, at least in theory.

I started thinking about just how many hooks Fate has, and I realized it's almost staggeringly large. Here's a list of many mechanics and traits that stunts can hook onto, either to trigger or affect. While this list is long, it may not be exhaustive. I may expand this post in the future. If you have a mechanical hook in Fate that you think I've missed, please comment.
AspectsCharacter aspect (presence or absence)Situation aspect (pres…

Campaign Frame: The War for Nix Olympica

In the Transhuman Space setting, Nix Olympica is a town on the southern slope of Olympus Mons, home to the University of Mars. It has been legally independent of any Earth-based government for nearly 40 years, but like any college town, Nix Olympica is a battleground of ideas. Anyone with an axe to grind or an agenda to push forward comes here, from preservationists and Free Mars advocates to covert operatives of the American and Chinese colonies.

The PCs of a Nix Olympica campaign find themselves in the center of a memetic war. In addition to academic struggles (whether seeking a degree or tenure), they discover various factions launching attacks in the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. When the conflict heats up and one meme too many causes tragedy, the PCs are the ones to put the pieces back together. Without a dedicated response system of its own, the University asks them to serve as memetic defenders of the city-state.

Characters in this campaign should be built on 150 p…

Letterforms Notebook

In March of this year, I backed a Kickstarter for a project to make a notebook of dry-erase pages called Letterforms. It seemed like a cool idea and one I could easily use for gaming and such. My notebook finally came today, so I thought I'd give an initial review.

The notebook is spiral-bound with a heavy plastic binding that doesn't move around much, a complaint I have in most spiral bindings. The covers are heavy board like the cover of a hardback book. Unfortunately, the covers are bowing, possible from the temperature changes after being brought into a warm house from the sub-freezing outdoors. Hopefully, I'll be able to fix it by compressing it under a stack of books.

The interior consists of 20 sheets, 18 blank and 2 gridded (3/8" squares). The pages are laminated so they can accept dry-erase markers. The notebook came with a fine-tipped marker, and a quick test shows that the marks show up cleanly on the page and do not smudge off under normal finger pressure.…

Mechanical Hooks

While I appreciate and enjoy games with focused or streamlined rules, I get so much enjoyment from complex systems with many moving parts. I like games that have a lot of rules that interact in different ways and reward choices as a player as well as decisions made in-character.

I think of mechanics in these games as hooks, and the interactions between them are strings tied around these hooks. The more hooks a system has, the more connections can be made between them. The result is an exponential increase in theoretical complexity, but a good design will limit this creep by only exploring some subset of possible interaction.

The easiest way to reduce complexity is to set aside one or two types of hook as open to referencing many others, while the rest can't. In this way, as the number of hooks increases, the rise in complexity is more linear than exponential.

Here are a few examples of systems rich with mechanical hooks.
Fate The most obvious hooks in Fate are character traits: as…

Get Punched in the Flattery: Investigative Refreshes Through Set-Back

In +Greg Stolze's film noir game A Dirty World, he presents a mechanic in which your character's traits can increase scene by scene based on their experiences during the scene. In many cases, you become better at something by having something bad done to you that relates to that trait.
You become better at taking a beating (the Endurance quality) by surviving losing a fight.You become more observant (Observation) when you get taken by surprise.You become more truthful (Honesty) through suffering a deception. This feeds the emotional interplay you expect from film noir and encourages players to not only accept bad things happening to their characters but to seek those situations out.
It occurs to me that this idea could be brought into GUMSHOE easily. One thing most GUMSHOE games do not provide is a way to refresh Investigative abilities during an adventure. There's a good reason for this. Your Investigative ability points are a currency you spend to buy spotlight time for y…

The Aether Sea: A World of Adventure for Fate Core

The Aether Sea by Edward Turner is the latest World of Adventure produced by the +Evil Hat ProductionsPatreon. As with all of these worlds, it is available as Pay What You Want or you can support the Patreon and get a look at what's coming in the future.

The Aether Sea is the first of these Worlds to use Fate Accelerated Edition. It presents a universe of magical ships sailing through the void of space. Characters can be from one of six fantasy species, and each has a favored approach. When you roll an action using your favored approach, you cannot roll worse than Mediocre (+0). This is a simple, elegant way of reinforcing species flavor without burdening a FAE game with a heavy mandatory rule.

Being a fantasy setting, Aether Sea presents the obligatory magic system. The rules here seem flexible, but the presentation is confusing. The distinctions between dabbling in a school and focusing, and between raw magic and prepared spells, are muddy. Having read the magic section a few ti…

Space Patrol: The Marine

Marine 150 points Marines assigned to Patrol ships serve as internal security and provide light combat support for planetside missions. As such, they resemble SWAT team officers and counter-espionage agents more than commandos. They train to operate in variable gravities as well as in vacuum. Marines are the crew members most likely to sport cybernetics, as they are most often exposed to violence.

Attributes: ST 11 [10]; DX 11 [20]; IQ 11 [20]; HT 11 [10].

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-1/1d+1; BL 24 lbs.; HP 11 [0]; Will 11 [0]; Per 12 [5]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 5.50 [0]; Basic Move 6 [5].

Advantages: Legal Enforcement Powers [10]; Luck [15]; Patrol Rank 0 [0]. ● A further 30 points chosen from IQ +1 [20], HT +1 or +2 [10 or 20], HP +1 to +3 [2/level], FP +1 to +3 [3/level], Per +1 to +4 [5/level], Acute Senses [2/level], Born Spacer 1-4 [5/level], Combat Reflexes [15], Craftiness 1-4 [5/level], Cybernetics [Varies], Danger Sense [15], Fearlessness [2/level], Fit [5] or Very Fit…

Strange New Worlds

One of the games I tested at Metatopia last weekend was Strange New Worlds, a hack of Apocalypse World for playing something a bit like Star Trek. I say "something a bit like" because while designer +Dave Chalker has modeled much of the setting and flash of Star Trek, he admits that the nature of the Apocalypse World rules means the game won't match the structure of an episode of Star Trek. Instead, the story spirals nearly out of control until (hopefully) the crew bands together at the very end to save the day.

Dave has made the rules available for free online (through Google Docs). Strange New Worlds assumes that you are familiar with the core of the Apocalypse World mechanic, but it provides the playbook and moves you need. While they aren't the hyper-competent officers of a more emulative Star Trek game, the playbooks do hit all the necessary archetypes. And the freeform take on species means you can play an eager young Gorn ensign or even a former Q, if the rest…

Metatopia

This past weekend, I attended the Metatopia Game Design Festival in Morristown, NJ.

I playtested games.
I attended panels.
I talked to my fellow designers.

I'm thinking about games, maybe in different ways than before, maybe not. But I'm thinking about them. My games as well as others'.

I've had ideas about games I've been stalled on for a while. I've had thoughts about projects that I want to move forward on. I dream about what I might show at Metatopia next year.

If you are a game designer, if you are a fan of games, if you want to know how games are put together, you should consider going to Metatopia. It is perhaps the most well-run convention I've ever attended. It is certainly the most creatively fertile place I've been.

That's really all I have to say for now. I hope I gave helpful input to the people whose games I tested. I don't think rehashing my experience will inform my readers, and I've already said what I could to the creators.…

Combat Clues

What kind of information can you gather during a fight scene? Loads, about your opponents as well as the environment. And since investigative spends can give you various benefits, gathering knowledge during a fight can mean the difference between life and death.

The abilities listed are from Night's Black Agents, but other games will have similar options. To see this concept taken to more detail, see NBA's Tactical Fact-Finding Benefits.

Your enemies use distinctive weapons that mark them as members of a particular military, religion, or other faction. (Military Science, Tradecraft)Your enemy relies on feints and deception, indicating a certain style of street fighting. (Bullshit Detector, Streetwise)Someone is feeding your enemies information through earbud radios, coordinating their tactics. (Human Terrain, Electronic Surveillance)The building you're fighting in is scheduled for demolition. The structure is compromised, and damage from combat could bring the whole place d…

My Metatopia Schedule (With Commentary)

My wife and I will be attending Metatopia in Morristown, NJ, this weekend. Here are the events we'll be attending with some of my thoughts on them.
D005: "Adventure Design as Technology" presented by Cam Banks & Rob Donoghue. We started with a map and a key. There have been structural improvements since then: boxed text, wandering monsters, plot point adventures, hard and soft points, personality-driven dungeons, mad libs plots and many more. This process has not been rigors, so the spread of these ideas has been haphazard and without the thought that's gone into rules improvements. That is a shame. Take some time to talk about these technologies and how they can help you make better adventures. Friday, 10:00AM - 11:00AM; Serious, All Ages. I enjoy a good adventure, but they are hard to do well. It can't hurt to listen to two really smart people share ideas to make them better.
D009: "Planning for Profit" presented by Rick Loomis, Tim Rodriguez &…

The Dracula Dossier on Kickstarter

After many suspicious delays, The Dracula Dossier is finally funding on Kickstarter. The Dossier is the improvisational campaign by +Kenneth Hite and +Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan that reveals Bram Stoker's novel as a veiled account of a failed British intelligence operation to recruit the vampire. Three successive generations of operatives have annotated the original, unredacted manuscript. Your characters receive that file and must now unravel Dracula's plans as well as the conspiracy that has grown out of the original operation.

At this writing, the Kickstarter has crushed seven stretch goals expanding the novel and the accompanying campaign guide. That guide features the many locations, characters, and events pointed to by the novel. When you pledge, you can get the novel, the guide, facsimile handouts, a special edition All Rolled Up dice bag, and more. And when you pledge, you get access to the in-progress manuscript of the Director's Handbook to get you started right away.