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So it's been well over a year since I last posted anything here, mostly because things have been crazy at work so the energy I've had to spare for writing has been minimal.
However, I've still been working at some design ideas and just last week I finished a very rough first prototype of my new world-building card game which carries the working title "Why Did the Unicorn Destroy the World?"
It's a very simple design but from the first playtest I think it has potential to be a lot of fun! It's a more structured version of a world-creation game I've tried out before, and I think it can be finagled into doing a lot more than just world-building. We'll see how that develops.
I've also had a couple of more ideas for new games that I hope I'll be able to start working on, and this blog will be the place where I catalogue that.
Other than the card game above, I have two ideas that are active right now.
The Fantasy Factions Game
This is one of my oldest boardgame ideas and it has been through several prototypes ove the years. Sadly, none of them have been any fun to play, partly due to the sheer amount of information on the board. Currently I'm thinking of including a kind of communal deck-building element to reduce the amount of information a player needs to keep in mind when making their moves, as well as to make some of that information hidden. We'll see how that shakes out.
The Deadly Settlement Game
This is a very rough idea partly inspired by Dwarf Fortress. You send an expedition into a very hostile area to create a settlement, they get started, and then they most likely get killed by one thing or another. You send another expedition to continue where the first one left off, except maybe some of the things they built have been taken over by the hostiles in the area so they have to deal with that, and then they too get killed. This feels like a solo or coop game.
During [url="http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?719186-Thoughts-On-Dungeon-Crawling-and-Why-I-Don-t-Like-Traps"]this discussion[/url] on dungeon crawling at RPGNet I came up with some ideas that might be useful for the future.
Note that this is intended for a resource management focused dungeon crawl RPG, like the pre-AD&D2 editions of D&D.
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So here's a very rough draft just to make it more clear what I was imagining. Some of this I've figured out beforehand, some I'm just putting down as I think of it.
When it matters I'm assuming some kind of D&D-like class/level system here, just because that's most familiar.
Each character has a number of focus tokens to spend on various tasks. What these tasks are depend on the situation; here I'll mostly be discussing moving through a dungeon since that's what we've talked about and what I've most thought about.
I think all characters should have the same number of tokens with class differences and the like being expressed mainly in how efficient you are when spending tokens on a given task.
Dungeon Crawling Tasks
What do you do when you move around in a dungeon? I've divided the various tasks as follows (with all names being placeholders for something better):
* Exert: Move fast and/or carry stuff.
* Watch Your Step: Move carefully.
* Guard: Look out for approaching enemies or other things that move around or change.
* Search: Look for traps, secret doors and hidden treasure.
* Manipulate: Disable traps, open doors, mark safe paths, deal with equipment and the like.
* Command: Order hirelings around (and possibly other characters as well).
Some details on this:
* The more carefully you want to move, the slower you have to move. Mechanically, this means that if you have several tokens on Watch Your Step you are limited in how many you can spend on Exert.
* Actual movement speed will depend on the number of tokens spent on Exert and encumbrance.
* Search and Watch may seem similar, but in practice they are very different things. One is looking at details and trying to find things that are out of place, while the other is looking at the big picture and trying to notice when something happens.
I'd like to have a fairly granular set of movement speeds, so probably something like this:
* Immobile: Not moving at all for game purposes.
* Crawl: Moving very slowly, one step at a time.
* Advance: Moving slowly, either at a slow but steady pace or by taking a couple of quick steps every now and then.
* Walk: Moving steadily at a comfortable pace or in quick bursts with pauses.
* March: Moving briskly, at a fast wolk or a slow run.
* Run: Moving quickly.
* Sprint: Moving as fast as possible, with little room to maneuver.
Even when sprinting you should be able to at least have some idea of where you're putting your feet or what else is going on around you but not more than that which suggests that seven tokens is a good maximum number, allowing for six for Exert and one for Watch Your Step or Guard. (Could you Search or Manipulate while Sprinting? Probably not, which suggests that these categories could have a minimum requirement of two tokens. Command? Not sure.)
So should you be able to Sprint indefinitely? Of course not; there needs to be some kind of endurance system. Exactly how that would work and if it should hook directly into the focus token system, I'm not sure. I think you could do it that way, with characters having a certain number of tokens they can use all the time along with a supply of extra effort tokens that you need to rest to renew. But that's outside the scope of this for the time being.
When you're moving quickly, you can't look to closely where you're going and vice versa. If there are enough categories of "careful movement" (or if we cost them appropriately), this will take care of itself.
Categories for Watch Your Step:
* Heedless: You're not looking where you're putting your feet (but unless you're blind you can still see where you're going, presumably).
* Minimal Awareness: You glance down every now and then to keep from stumbling on things on the ground or the like. This is the default level for walking around on flat ground.
* Careful: You look down every couple of seconds to see what's on the ground. This is the default level for moving in uneven terrain, like on a forest path, or if you need to watch your step for some other reason. Anyone who's walked barefoot in a city know how this works.
* Very Careful: Constantly watching the ground and placing your feet very carefully.
So if Heedless is free and Minimal Awareness should be available to someone who's sprinting, that level should require one token. You could probably move at a March and still be Careful, as long as you're not doing much else, so Careful should cost a total of three tokens. Very Careful movement probably can't be done at a faster speed than Advance, so that should cost a total of five tokens. (Again, this is very rough and off the top of my head.)
At this point I think it's pretty clear how you would continue to build this: decide how many levels of focus each task should have, figure out how much else you could do at the same time, and cost the levels appropriately.
Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:27 am
Earlier today I read this excellent post on a player's recent first experience with Civilization. I wrote a long and somewhat rambling reply that is probably worth its own post so I'm putting it up here.
Some of my comments are very context-dependent so you should go read the original post first.
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Great post, and an astute analysis. I'm going to post my own points before reading the rest of the comments because I don't know how much time I have right now but I'll get to them later.
I've played Civ since it was a new game, and I agree with most of your points about the strengths and weaknesses of the game. The mathy bits get even worse towards the end of the game when you need to maximize the discounts you get from your civilization cards to up your score.
The token management aspect also relates strongly to the calamities. Having a big population - many tokens on the map - makes you much better at withstanding disasters. Militarily, a big population helps you take a specific area by saturating it with tokens (that you may want to kill off anyway) while it makes you much weaker on general defense as you move earlier which exposes you to surgical strikes from enemies who want a bit more land (and don't much care where) or just want to hurt you a bit.
Moving your tokens from the stock to the map or the treasury is fairly easy, but there are clear limits on how you can do it and mismanaging your tokens can lead to disastrous results. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to having many tokens in each area:
* If you have a lot of tokens on the map you are resilient to calamities (as noted above), and you are good at one type of warfare (piling lots of tokens into an area). At least as importantly, you can easily build more cities. With a small population you are more vulnerable to calamities and have a harder time recovering from them, but you are better at defending yourself against military attack since you can move tokens out of the way of the attacker after the fact or add just enough of them to win where someone with more tokens has to guess or push in big piles of them.
* With a lot of tokens in the treasury you are rich, meaning you can get ships anywhere you like and can sometimes afford a more expensive set of civilization cards. However, both of these effects are pretty marginal in most cases. The biggest use for big piles of tokens in the treasury (which may be from Advanced Civilization - that's the only version I've played since it was available so I don't recall all the differences) is to buy a card from the 9-pile of trade cards for 18 tokens. Generally, you want at least a few tokens here, but you also want to spend them quickly.
* Having a lot of tokens in stock is a mixed blessing. It means you can increase your population a lot and move many tokens to the treasury, but it also means you don't have many tokens in those areas already which indicates a weaker position overall. However, population you can place is often better than population already on the map because it more easily allows for greater concentration of tokens on the map, and you need to concentrate your tokens to build cities (especially if you're short on city sites). If you also have few cities you get to be the beneficiary of some calamities, but that's more a question of letting you catch up to those doing better than a real advantage.
Moving on to Advanced Civ it is IMO a much superior game, mostly for the reasons you mention above. There is also one huge difference: Where plain Civ is a race (getting to the end of the AST first gives you the victory with various tiebreakers), ACiv is a points accumulation game (getting to the end of the AST ends the game, but score determines the winner). It also has the advantage of being playable with a time limit, as you can set an end time and count up the score at that point. (This can change the balance between the civilizations a bit but that can be mitigated in a number of ways. The most basic is the traditional "bash the leader" strategy (though "don't trade with the leader" is probably more effective here); another is to auction the civs out in some fashion. Cutting out the last few turns also has the advantage of getting rid of the most math-heavy parts of the game where every player is trying to get the most out of their card bonuses.
As to why nobody has created the universally hailed Civ Lite I think there are several reasons. One is pure idealization. Civ is a great game, but it's also a very long game filled with, frankly, a lot of fiddliness. In particular trading and buying civilization cards are parts that could - perhaps even should - have been simplified a lot without losing much of the experience while vastly reducing playing time. (It's quite telling that the civilization cards in ACiv has a notation on the back giving you the ratio of buying bonuses to cost.)
Another reason is that most civ games focus on things that the original Civ ignores completely. Take military units: Civ doesn't have any. There are about half a dozen civilization cards that have any military application. (Metalworking and Military are the main ones, with Roadbuilding from ACiv close behind, and Astronomy, Cloth Making and Engineering being of some use in warfare but mostly good for other things.) There are no units, just population. (Well, there are ships, but all they do is move the pop tokens around.) There's hardly any warfare as such; it's mostly some population being lost in border areas due to general friction, with the odd attack on a city bing the big exception. The main reason for this is the strict token limit which prevents a civ from growing very big. The size of your empire on the map says very little about how well you are doing as most of your score is off the map in the form of civilization cards and AST position, and even your on-map position depends much, much more on how many cities you have. Even your hand of trade cards is more important to your position than how much of the game board you control.
Another area where Civ is surprisingly light is resource management. There isn't any. Or, there isn't any beyond the tokens. There are no mines or logging camps on the map, no trade routes, no stocks of various materials with which you construct buildings. All you have are your on-map tokens (which give you cities and more tokens) and your cities (which give you treasury tokens and trade cards). That's the whole economic engine right there.
Which takes us to the heart of the game, what Civ really is, which is a trading game - again with the irony, since trading, while important, is generally less emphasized in later civ games. If you take the trading out of Civ it becomes a very empty experience of moving tokens around and buying tech advances that help you move tokens around and protect you from the disasters you draw randomly when getting the cards you need to buy the cards that help you move the tokens around.
With the trading, Civ is a vital, dynamic game of bluff, counter-bluff, pushing your luck ("I think Jim will send me a calamity, but I'm trading with Sarah later so I should be able to pass it on to her" - again, this is from ACiv; I think it's somewhat different in plain Civ), deciding when giving someone a bit more than you'd like is worth it and when denying yourself something okay now to get something great next turn is the right move.
Many games also focus on the tech tree, while Civ barely has a tree at all. There are some techs that require others, but for the most part it's mostly a bag of things you can buy in any order. The techs themselves also do surprisingly little, with some perhaps hurting more than they help. (This is the case both in Civ and ACiv, though for different reasons. In plain Civ, due to the limit on the number of civilization cards you're allowed to purchase a cheap card can hurt you in the long run as it will give you a lower score for the tiebreaking at the end, while in ACiv some cards have strong drawbacks.) Many civ-type games have the techs give you powerful tools you use to achieve the real goal of the game, while in Civ they are partly that but mostly they are the direct means of winning as they give you points. This again emphasizes the trading aspect of Civ, as buying your civilization cards is more of an economic decision ("If I buy Astronomy this turn all other science cards will be cheaper next turn" ) with incidental game mechanical benefits ("...and I can sail to Greece!" ) than the other way around ("If I buy Astronomy this turn I can sail to Greece, and maybe it will help me win the 'Awesome Scientist' bonus score at the end of the game" ) which is often the case with other games.
The reason I think many civ games don't feel like a light (Advanced) Civilization is that they take their cues more from the computer game or other games that feature the civ theme but not the original Civ mechanics. A game that simplified the original Civ would mainly be a trading game with some basic map management and would quite possibly not be seen as a civ game at all.
We did a second playtest today with some new rules. We tried to incorporate aspects on the various geographical areas in a meaningful way and the end result was... well, so-so. It's something I want to continue working on, but I need to think a bit more on how to do it well.
I've also restarted work on a boardgame I've tried to get off the ground several times. I keep getting stuck in wanting enough detail to represent the game world without making things overwhelmingly complicated. It's an interesting problem, though frustrating: Had it been a computer games, things would have been much simpler, but currently there's just too many combinations that need to be found for each move so you can choose a good action for it to be playable.
I ran a playtest session with two of the players in my regular RPG group today, and things went very well. The game performed pretty much as expected, and while there are many areas that need work I'm convinced the foundation is solid. We all had a good time and there was nothing that didn't work.
The full session report should show up in the forums shortly.
This week I've added an appendix with notes on how to use the rules for Hero, Captain, King for other genres than fantasy. Nothing major, and nothing someone couldn't come up with by themselves - but then the point of doing this is that "someone" can get it without having to make it for themselves.
I have finally been prodded into doing the revisions to my 24-Hour RPG Design Contest entry Hero, Captain, King that I have been thinking of since... well, since I sent it in. I'm planning on adding or revising one section per week the next few weeks. This week I've made a change to how the character stats work, but more importantly I've added two more adventure structures:
Player who would prefer a less strict adventure structure can try this variant:
Instead of setting up a series of challenges as above, an adventure contains four unordered challenges which the player whose character is going through the adventure can undertake in any order. For each successfully completed challenge the player gets to choose one result from the following list:
* The adventure is successfully completed.
* The character survives the adventure.
* The character's actions doesn't have uninteded negative consequences.
* The character's actions have unexpected positive consequences.
When using this adventure structure the players should decide at the start of the game whether choices from the list are made at the end of the adventure, after all rolls are made, or after each successful roll.
Another variant is to have a linear advanture with four different challenges faced in order. To successfully complete the adventure the character has to succeed at every challenge, but two times during the adventure the player can change a failure to a success by choosing one of the consequences from the following list:
* The character is mortally wounded and will die when the adventure is over.
* The character's actions have unintended negative consequences.
* The character's reputation is tarnished and he is remembered as a great villain.
* The character's highest die rating is reduced to a d4 for the rest of the adventure.
Note that changing the roll to a success doesn't change the actual number roll. Specifically, this has no effect on whether a tragedy is triggered.
I ran a second skill challenge (preparing a feast and setting up a play for a friendly goblin village) using a revised version of the system for my group a couple of weeks back, and while it worked reasonably well there were some problems.
* Hindrances were too dangerous. The risk of additional setback was too great and the setback generated too great in magnitude. In the next version hindrances will generally not create setback but only add conditions and other secondary problems.
* Progress and setback rolls were too variable. Rolling 1d6+1, 2d6+3 or 3d6+5 works fine if you're making a lot of those rolls before assessing final success or a failure to achieve the roll at all doesn't have serious consequences, but as things stand in my system this is not the case. I will reduce randomness in this part of the game severely, though not to all the way back to the 4E default of "one success or one failure".
There were other minor issues that need to be worked on as well, but these are the main ones. However, my own experience and the evaluations of the players afterwards make me confident that I'm on the right path. Everyone had a lot of fun, and got quite involved with the admittedly slightly silly premise.
Next session will be combat-heavy as the party enters an abandoned dwarf hold, which gives me some more time to work on the next version.
And I dare say it was a great success. All the players had fun while we were playing (as did I), and were very enthusiastic afterwards - both about what worked well, and what could be tweaked.
The thing that mostly needs to change is to increase the DCs. Now I was using DC 10/15/20 which turned out to be too low when my players' lvl 11 characters had many possible skills to choose from. My plan had been that the conditions they got (which limit which skills can be used and how) would be a big enough restriction that they would reasonably often have to use sub-optimal skills, but that turned out not to be the case so I will up the standard DCs by 3-5 points. There will also be hindrances that prevent the use of certain skills, and more hindrances in general. They make the situation more dynamic and prevent the players from falling into steady patterns.
Right now I'm thinking that having failures or successes trigger hindrances could also be an interesting approach.
If I have time I will post a full description of the skill challenge I ran today. Either way, I should have a more full description of the framework done within the next few weeks.
Work on the skill challenge system for 4E sketched out in previous posts is progressing, though more slowly than I'd like. Actual gaming (primarily Rift, The Lord of the Rings LCGand Dominion on Isotropic) has distracted me... a pleasant distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. I have started committing my ideas to paper and the structure and terminiology is pretty much settled though some things are still in flux. Playtesting is still needed - I had hoped to do a test run with my regular 4E group during the weekend but the session got canceled due to outside influences in the form of birthdays and moving woes.
In the meantime I'm going to present a sample skill challenge. Hopefully a concrete example will help anyone interested in this see what I'm getting at. Note that some numbers haven't been set - I need to do more playtesting before I know where they end up. Also note that this post does not contain explanations for how everything works or what the terms mean. This is meant to give an impression of what kind of things the structure I'm working on will allow you to create.
Sample Skill Challenge: The War
A war is brewing and the characters have been put in charge of raising an army and marching it to the Evil Nation to defeat the Big Bad's legions.
This challenge consists of a sequence of three scenes: Raising the Army, The March and The Final Battle.
Scene 1: Raising the Army
The characters have to raise an army for the Good Nation. This will involve recruiting and training troops as well as negotiating alliances with bordering nations and the mountain tribes. Note that this is a no-fail scene, but if the players take too long to complete it they will have a harder time later on.
Main Track: Raise and Organize Troops
When this track is completed, the scene is over. Failures generate setback.
Primary skills: Diplomacy, History (easy)
Secondary skills: Bluff (risky), Insight, Intimidate (volatile)
Hindrance: Enemy spies
Primary skills: Bluff, Stealth, Streetwise
Secondary skills: Insight (hard), Intimidate (risky)
Targets: Bluff, Insight, Streetwise
Side Track: Forge Alliances With Border Nations
When this track has been completed all rolls on the primary track gain a +3 effect bonus. From turn four onwards all skill rolls suffer a -2 penalty if this track has not been completed. The penalty is increased to -3 if this track is failed.
Primary skills: Diplomacy, History, Insight (hard)
Secondary skills: Bluff (risky), Intimidate (volatile)
Side Track: Ally With Mountain Clans
Until this track is completed all skill rolls on the primary track suffer a -2 penalty. (It's hard to raise troops for a foreign war while the clansmen are raiding.) Completion also gives bonuses in later scenes as noted below.
Primary skills: Diplomacy (hard), Insight, Intimidate
Secondary skills: History, Religion
Hindrance: Clan Customs
Primary skills: Athletics, History (hard, risky), Insight
Secondary skills: Acrobatics, Bluff, Endurance
Targets: Athletics, Endurance, Insight
Side Track: Training the Troops
Successfully completing this track gives bonuses in later scenes as noted below. Failure generates setback.
Primary skills: Athletics, History, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Endurance, Insight
Hindrance: Limited Equipment
Primary skills: Bluff (risky), Diplomacy (easy), History
Secondary skills: Athletics, Insight, Intimidate (volatile)
Targets: Athletics, History, Intimidate
Hindrance: Language Difficulties
This hindrance activates when the Forge Alliances side track is completed.
Primary skills: History (easy), Insight
Secondary skills: Bluff, Diplomacy
Targets: Diplomacy, History, Insight
Hindrance: Old Enmities
This hindrance activates when the Ally With Mountain Clans side track is completed.
Primary skills: Insight, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Athletics, Diplomacy, History
Targets: Diplomacy, Insight, Intimidate
Scene 2: The March
The army is now on the move, forcing its way into the Evil Nation.
Main Track: Maneuvering for Battle
When this track is completed the scene is over. Failures generate setback. If the Training the Troops secondary track was successfully completed, all success rolls on this track receive a +1 bonus.
Primary skills: History, Intimidate, Insight, Bluff (risky)
Secondary skills: Diplomacy, Endurance
Hindrance: Unfamiliar Terrain
Primary skills: History (hard), Nature
Secondary skills: Endurance, Perception
Targets: History, Nature, Perception
Hindrance: Minor Battle
This hindrance activates when half the main track has been completed.
Primary skills: History, Insight, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Arcana, Athletics, Endurance, Heal, Religion
Targets: Athletics, Endurance, Insight
Side Track: Lead Scouting Parties
All checks on this track gain a +2 bonus to success and progress rolls if the Ally With Mountain Clans track was successfully completed. Successfully completing this track removes the Unfamiliar Terrain hindrance from the main track and gives a +2 bonus on skill and effect rolls for the Supplies secondary track.
Primary skills: Nature, Perception, Stealth
Secondary skills: Athletics, Endurance, Insight
Hindrance: Hostile Patrols
Primary skills: Bluff, Perception, Stealth
Secondary skills: Athletics, Insight, Nature
Targets: Bluff, Percpetion, Stealth
Side Track: Supplies
This track suffers a minor setback each turn. While it is negative all rolls on the primary track suffer a -2 penalty to skill and effect rolls.
Primary skills: History, Intimidate, Nature (hard)
Secondary skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight
Scene 3: The Battle
The characters' army joins battle with the forces of evil.
If the party took more than five turns to complete the main track in the first scene they have a -1 penalty to all success rolls in this scene.
Main Track: Directing the Battle
Successfully completing this track leads to the Final Confrontation combat encounter, while failure leads to the Fleeing the Battle combat encounter.
Primary skills: History, Insight, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Bluff, Endurance
Hindrance: Enemy Maneuver
This hindrance starts in play and is renewed after one third of the main track has been completed and again after two thirds.
Primary skills: History, Insight, Perception
Secondary skills: Bluff (risky), Intimidate
Targets: Bluff, History, Insight
Hindrance: Undead Legions
Primary skills: Intimidate, Religion
Secondary skills: Arcana, Insight
Targets: Insight, Intimidate, Religion
Hindrance: Enemy Charge
This hindrance enters play after half the main track has been completed.
Primary skills: Athletics, Endurance, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Bluff, Insight
Targets: Athletics, Endurance, Insight
Side Track: Neutralize Enemy Spellcasters
Until this track is completed all rolls on the main track suffer a -2 penalty to success and effect rolls.
Primary skills: Arcana, Stealth
Secondary skills: Bluff, Insight, Perception
Primary skills: Arcana, Insight
Secondary skills: Perception
Targets: Arcana, Insight, Perception
Side Track: Lead Counter-Charge
This track activates when the Enemy Charge hindrance on the main track has been defeated. If it is successfully completed all success rolls on the primary track gain a +2 bonus. All success rolls on this track gain a +2 bonus for each of the Ally With Mountain Clans and Training the Troops tracks that were successfully completed.
Primary skills: Athletics, Endurance, Intimidate
Secondary skills: Nature
Side Track: Maintain Morale
While this track is negative, all success and effect rolls on other tracks suffer a -2 penalty. This track suffers a minor setback each turn, or a major setback while the Undead Legions hindrance is in play. If the Training the Troops track was successfully completed all checks on this track receive a +2 bonus to success and effect rolls.
Primary skills: Bluff (risky), Intimidate (risky), Religion
Secondary skills: Insight
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