Category: Rambling

Late night Fickle RPG brainstorming

Deep in thought, eyes closed with my headphones on and Phantogram pounding tunes (check them out!), trying to figure out defeated alternatives, Karma/luck dice, and a few other Fickle RPG tweaks.

btw Judge Dredd one-off went wonderfully! Real hoot, system held up well, was fun to play powerful folks with plenty of equipment. Pacing was a bit off, but that was my bad on having little experience with one-offs.

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Wing Commander Privateer quadrant map

Wing Commander Privateer quadrant map

Pretty random post today, completely unrelated to tabletop games at all.

Wing Commander Privateer was one of the first computer games I bought. I remember getting a pair of CDs in a combo set with Strike Commander. I feel like the game package was $90 at the time (early/mid 90s). I just LOVED Privateer, and still play it regularly (thanks to the Good Old Games version).

Anyway when I’m accepting missions in that game I often forget which system and planet are where. So I looked for a good quality printable quadrant map to have at my disposal when I play.

I stumbled across this site, installed their program, and wanted to make a copy of their high resolution map available for future internet searches.

So here it is! Click for the full size, and print as desired.

My flaws as Gamemaster

I organized and ran my first game when I was 10 years old. Since then I’m tended to be the person in my group of friends who buys games. I inevitably learn the rules best, and end up shoehorned into being a Gamemaster (GM). The term varies: Dungeonmaster (DM) for Dungeons & Dragons, Storyteller for my own Fickle RPG, etc. But the concept is the same. The GM runs the game. They make the story and campaign, play NPCs, balance encounters, figure out plot twists and guide character development. Depending on the system being a GM can be exhausting. When I ran D&D 4th edition for 6 months I was basically putting in 4-8 hours a week in prep work, between drawing maps to choosing miniatures to calculating encounters. Thankfully with Fickle RPG my prep work is almost nil as I just show up with my binder of rules/dice/sheets/notes and play a story with the group.

(And no, that isn’t me in the picture above, that’s from an enjoyable episode of Freaks and Geeks)

Anyway for all my experience and breadth of games I’ve run, I still have plenty of flaws as GM. I thought I’d list a few here as a bit of an introspective look, and also to help other GMs who might struggle with the same.

1. Exposition Dump

I generally like to create a somewhat mysterious and somewhat interesting plot, but then instead of slowly leaking the info out to the players so they can start to see the big picture, I inevitably end up with a scene with a pivotal, know-it-all character, with plenty of time and no pressure, where they unfold the whole thing, and the players have ample opportunity to ask questions or get any clarification. Then after this they sort of know the whole story, so we more or less go through the rest of the story with no more mystery. This is called an Exposition Dump. I’ve done this for an embarrassing number of campaigns.

Literally happened last week with my alien Fickle RPG where the characters got to talk to one of the big cheese know-it-alls to the point of him literally saying “Anymore questions?” I didn’t like the situation as it was happening and I knew I had failed at slowly showing the plot.

The ideal would instead be revealing enough information through dialogue, scenes, atmospheric descriptions, etc. that the players could get the jist without needing an “exposition dump”.
Basically the opposite of William Gibson.

Some interesting articles on the idea:

NOTE: Just an aside on the last link. One of the people involved with Extra Credits is James Portnow. In my honest opinion the guys a bit of a fake who talks a lot, but hasn’t actually designed anything. Trying to find proof of any actual work results in a ghost town. Some funny forum posts on the topic (#1 #2)

2. Memorable/Unique Characters

Part of this weakness comes from my improvisational style and freeform campaigns where I don’t like to plan too much in advance or railroad the players. So we end up in unexpected situations every single session.

As a result when I make an NPC or character for the players to interact with I generally slap a name on a vaguely defined outline of a person. They’ll likely have a gender. Maybe a binary age of “old” or “normal”. And that’s about it.

I’ve improved a bit by always keeping a list of random names (pulled from census data) so at least I don’t have a legion of “Bob” and “Jill”.

What I need to do is figure out a rough GM system that I run/use behind the scenes to make better characters. Sort of like “choose name/race/gender/age, choose 1 defining physical feature, choose 1 motive/attitude”.

My other problem with characters is I have trouble roleplaying them. Part of this is because the character’s aren’t well defined in my mind or those of my players. So I don’t know what kind of voice they’d use, or speech pattern, or slang. Honestly a lot of the characters end up just talking pretty much like me.

I have a lot of motivation to improve here. Whenever I HAVE made a memorable character (normally by a simple change to my routine like HAVING a specific speech pattern) the players have brought that person up months later.

3. Environmental Descriptions

I think I’m alright at scene descriptions, especially depending on the genre. Depending on the game I might have a map to help me. Or if the scene is based in the real world I can fallback to common tropes or basic descriptors that paint the scene (like saying “a convenience store”).

What I am rather bad at is incorporating weather (lots of unspoken sunny days), time of day (normally I don’t get more granular than day/night), or environmental differences like fog, slick ground, etc.

Some of this flaw stems from improvising. And as with characters I think the solution is similar: a better GM system on my end of the table. Even just another step or reminder to myself when describing a scene. Physical features, time of day, but then remember to say the weather and anything different/unique to the area.

I think this would benefit a lot of encounters because weather can have such a cool impact on an otherwise run-of-the-mill scene. Chasing a thief through the streets is a lot more interesting if there’s a howling snow storm at the time, reducing vision and numbing fingers.

What designers wish they knew before starting

Found an interesting article a few days ago asking various professional game designers a simple question: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting as a game designer?

You can see the full article here: http://makeboardgame.com/20-board-game-makers-chime-in-what-i-wish-id-known-before-starting-my-board-game/

And my two favorite quotes are duplicated below:

“Playing with the same group can become rote and leave you trying add more depth and flavor than you need to get them engaged. This leads to over-complicating things that should have been left simpler and more new player friendly.”
– Adam Rehberg

This strikes a chord with me from my Dinosaur Cowboys work, where I was tempted to add more mechanics, equipment, skills, etc. to satisfy the growing understanding and playtime of my friends. When realistically the game is fairly well tuned for new and experienced players. Just need to take a step back sometimes and really consider why you’re adding a rule/new system, and if it fits into your original vision.
Which leads nicely into the next quote…

“Always look for better ways to do each individual game mechanic but never lose track of the big picture or the scope of the game in general.”
– Larry Harris

Very, very true and important to keep a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve with your game. In fact even having a well defined big picture view in the first place helps a ton. Because then when you’re going to add a new mechanic you can ask yourself: does this fit my game concept? Basically test yourself each time you want to change or add something.
From my experience my Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy RPG had the problem of a lot of cool mechanics that led to a not very cool or fun game. Very easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees.

The day I realized I like healers

safari-gordonWhen I was a kid playing D&D-style fantasy games I stuck pretty heavily to Paladins. Then I had a Thief phase. But my real love is Healers like Clerics, or in modern games Medics.

As I was looking through old Drylands notes I stumbled across when I finally realized how fun a support character could be. This carries forward to even now, as I recently played a doctor Droid in a Star Wars Edge of the Empire campaign.

Original note (from Feb 5 2007):

As I was brainstorming Drylands characters I realized something. I actually would want to play a combat medic. Then I thought some more, and a cleric in D&D doesn’t sound too shabby. How can this be?!
I think it all comes down to when I started a monk in GW…and got into it and realized I enjoyed keeping the party alive. Previously I would shuffle the role of healer onto some NPC who tags along and says nothing until it’s time to whip out the cure light wounds / medipak. Or maybe my tastes have just changed from the cliche teenager love of snipers and assassins.
Either way, I’ve planned a character for another of the Schaeffer’s Last Chancers figure. This time the crouched safari looking fellow (I would find a picture if I wasn’t writing this in a remote terminal from work). Replace his gun with a crossbow, paint a red cross on his big backpack and voila, Jed Blesse the hot tempered red necked (gotta have some variety) Nebraska vet of the Iraq war.

I ended up painting the safari figure mentioned literally 6 years later (I am so incredibly slow at getting around to it) as you can see above to the right. He had his first game not in Drylands, but in a Dinosaur Cowboys campaign.

On another note I’d really like to make a game that focuses on healers at some point, because I think it’s a neat topic. The aforementioned Guild Wars 1 still has the best balance and uniqueness of healing and protection spells I’ve ever seen in a game, and capturing that playstyle would be my goal. But that’s far, far down the road.

Welcome to my humble abode

As I went to create my eighth WordPress site for a tabletop game I was making, I decided I had gone insane and needed to consolidate. This blog (or is it a website?) is the result. My focus is organizing and storing my various games and rules.

But I’m jumping ahead, maybe I should explain a bit about myself first. My name is Carlo, I’m in my early thirties, and I’m from Canada. I think that’s personal enough. I got into RPG games in elementary school, thanks to dedication and support from my parents and friends. I started with Advanced Heroquest and moved onto Warhammer 40,000, Car Wars, Battletech, Dungeons & Dragons, Silent Death, Traveller, and more recently Firestorm Armada, Edge of the Empire, Netrunner, and many more. Gaming has always been a huge part of my life, both with pen and paper and on the computer. I’ve painted hundreds of miniatures (generally 28mm), collected hundreds of dice, and pretty much had a blast. I managed to maintain a weekly RPG game throughout most of my later school years, had a lull in college, and picked it back up with a new group after that. Really amazing to read through old notes, character sheets, and maps (that I’ve meticulously kept) and relish a wealth of fond memories.

While playing games, I also designed them. Hundreds of them. Most bad, rough around the edges, or awkward. I read on the topic, posted on forums, and got my hands dirty with lots of different concepts, mechanics, and rules. Some, like a fan version of the Beast Wars TV show about animal Transformers (you’re familiar from the 1990s), were not so good. Others, like my light skirmish Dinosaur Cowboys, make me giddy thinking I created it. Similarly some have survived, to be stored here, and others are lost as a stack of handwritten stats and notes in some garbage heap.

So instead of having a spiralling web of barely visited blogs I decided to make “Horizon Games” (name in honor of my first true RPG game I made). If you’re an amateur game designer like me you’ll feel right at home. If you’re interested in the process you might also glean some value. And if you want some good, playable games I’d recommend sticking to the “Finalized” category.

Speaking of which I’ve decided to organize this site by “design process categories”, namely Ponder, Brainstorm, and Finalized. Ponder is my first step, where I am inspired by a vague idea, theme, world, or mechanic. I let the thought brew in the back of my mind as I drive and talk to people and lie half asleep in bed. Then one day my brain is filled up enough with the concept and I write it down. That’s when I move to Brainstorming, which is putting actual pen to (sometimes electronic) paper and scribbling out notes. Sometimes I’m satisfied at this point: I’ve explored an idea as far as I want, got the concept and rough rules down, and my brain is emptied again. Other times I love the idea and playtest the rules, ideally as fast as possible to maintain motivation and focus. Once I’ve iterated through revisions and tests I might format a pretty document and move to Finalized. There are, of course, varying degrees of finality. Some of my games I truly am done with. They play well, are fleshed out, and hold up under scrutiny. Others are a labor of love, such as my flagship Dinosaur Cowboys game, which I revisited with many “final final this time for real” versions all the way from 1.0 to 2.6 (and beyond?).

Regardless that should give you an idea of my process. Hopefully you find something interesting, and if not you can at least be content knowing some random Canadian finally organized his rich text files from 1998 (by the way those are under the “Old” category) and PDFs from 2016 into one place.