Tag: Rambling

The human brain and “roll under” systems

I’m a big fan of the voodoo and beliefs the human brain can attach to dice. From switching dice because certain ones are “rolling badly”, to feeling like you’re “due” for a good roll, to thinking you can downright force the dice to roll a certain number, to the rituals around blowing on dice before rolling or shaking them a certain way. It’s amazing what we can trick ourselves into.

Anyway recently I’ve been playing Warhammer Fantasy RPG. Just a few sessions in as a Zealot. It’s been pretty fun. The melee combat is enjoyable with the different stances you can enter and how you can split your attacks. A few of the other players don’t really get too in-depth besides “I full attack”, so that’s too bad. The system unfortunately uses D10s. As you know, me and hundreds of thousands of other people don’t like the D10. But I digress.

The point I wanted to make is the system is Roll Under. Which means if you have a Weapon Skill of 45 you need to roll 45 or under on percentile D100 dice. Games Workshop always seems to be torn in this regard as their other approach in Warhammer 40,000 and similar is to have a Ballistic Skill of say 4, and to figure out what you need to hit you subtract your BS from 7, so 4 BS = 3+ on a D6.

So the other day when I was playing we had many missed attacks. But I noticed something funny: people feel okay failing a check when they still roll high. There’s still something so natural about seeing a roll of 98 out of 100 and feeling good about it. “Sure I missed, but damn did you see that roll?!”. Certainly makes for an interesting look at human nature and our long standing relationship with dice.

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Encounters and hazards for car chases and races

Here’s a big list that might be a useful reference for you when having a modern day car chase or race. You and the players can throw these curve balls into the mix to add some excitement.

  • Motorcycles or dirt bikes, perhaps a gang tour
  • Giant crowd or carnival
  • Person (old, homeless, kid) or animal crossing the street, bee or other insect flying inside the car
  • Drawbridge slowly going up
  • Detour due to bridge being closed
  • Train on tracks, or trolley car in road
  • Parking garage
  • Garbage truck backing out of alley
  • Rock slide, avalanche, mudslide along the road
  • Rain, fog, sleet, snow, hail, freezing rain, ice, dust storm, or other weather
  • Tunnels
  • Have to split across a few roads or blocks
  • Going into the opposite lane
  • Going down a dark alley and turning off lights and engine
  • Jumping an off/on ramp
  • Emergency cargo dump to try to gain more speed
  • Nitro boosts
  • Look away at distraction, look back and crash
  • Fruit cart or other market items in the (perhaps closed to cars) street
  • Semi truck rolling over to get out of the way or spilling chemicals
  • Sudden ambulance or fire truck
  • Rolling roadblock of semi trucks that have to be weaved through, or funeral, or old people
  • Oblivious taxi or drunk driver
  • Driving through construction site or wood frame houses
  • Workers crossing the street with a huge pane of glass, massive painting, moving a piano, etc.
  • Black ice, oil slick, or other slippery conditions
  • Spike strips or flat tires
  • Huge pile of cardboard boxes, could be full of packing foam
  • Having to drive through a fire (forest, maybe burning building)
  • Road closed due to a wreck
  • Pot holes, open manhole cover, or other debris
  • Police road block (for player or someone else)
  • Running out of gas or overheating the engine or even having the engine catch on fire
  • Hacker messing with the traffic lights
  • Airplane landing on the road
  • Water main breaking and flooding the road
  • Tire rolling across the road, or blown tire treads on the road
  • Driving through a corn field
  • Swarm of insects or birds hitting the windshield
  • Driving on 2 wheels (“skiing”) to go between a narrow space
  • Driving through a war zone or active police/SWAT scene
  • Going up or down stairs or through a hilly park
  • Damaged hood flies up and blocks the view out the windshield
  • Jumping between cars, or from an overpass to the roof

Thanks to some great suggestions from this Reddit thread.

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.

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.

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.