To Prep or Not to Prep

I have a problem. When I GM, I’d love to have rich detailed notes that breath life into my game. The problem is that every time I set out to really prep for a game, we never finish it. The game seems to go reasonably well. The players may even appreciate the maps or interesting NPCs that I came up with. They may even be really happy about the game. We just never pick that game up again.

I used to put it off as a fluke. After all, there are a few off the cuff games that we didn’t continue with. Maybe it’s just the odds that these games were the ones we didn’t continue.

As I intensified my efforts to prep more, I got more games that stalled. What is causing this? Does my presentation change? Do my players think they’re being railroaded because of the extra material? Do I over think puzzles and make them too hard? To all of those, I don’t really think so. I haven’t seen any evidence that says so. So what’s the deal?

Everything Is Light

My leg shook. I had let the shadow of the tree rest on my leg too long. I felt the cold creeping up my calf. It felt like poison.

We are creatures of the light. Where the light always shines, we emerge. Where the shadow continually falls they emerge.

He probed the edge of the forest. His smokey black form danced slowly between the trees. Just my presence here enraged him. Him a creature of shadow, amidst the shadow. He wanted to reach out and destroy me but the light of the clearing made him draw back. All the time I stood in the light, I grew stronger and as the light brushed against him and he pushed into the clearing he was growing weaker. Soon though, that would change. The sun would soon dim and set over the horizon. He would grow stronger and I would wane.

If I timed it exactly right, just before the setting sun, I could defeat him. Then I would have to make it quickly through the forest to the village below.

Normally the creatures of the dark are hungry, solitary creatures, gobbling up each other to become stronger. But this cauldhin beast was somehow different. This one bellowed out a low deep call that penetrated the trees. In the darkness a second smoke beast, a cauldhin, danced to the edge of the clearing.

They stood together, not attacking each other, not gobbling up the other. They stood on the edge of the clearing and patiently waited for the sun to go down.

One cauldin at it’s weakest would be manageable. Two would extinguish my light. The only thing left to do was to start a fire. The trees are partly of the light and partly of shadow. They turn light into darkness, digging their roots into the ground where it is always dark.

I drew my sword of forge hardened light and cut through some branches. Breathing light into them they flamed up. I relished the light as the sun began to set but a small fire  is not enough to hold back two smoke beasts. They edged closer and closer, jibbering and drooling black shadow. They were two and now the fire and I were two for fighting them.

My sword cut into the smoke black as they danced, swirling around me and my ally the flame. In the distance there was the howl of creatures of the dark. More were coming. How could more be coming? Dark ones don’t even tolerate the trees. They gnaw at their trunks and bite their branches off. How could more be coming?

The cauldhin wrapped around my sword arm and bit into it. The darkness flowed into my veins like icy rivers. I breathed light onto him, giving up some of my very own life light to get him to release me.

My sword arm, weakened by the darkness could scarcely lift itself. I switched hands.

Then one of the cauldhin leapt onto my faltering fire, it must have hurt immensely telling by the shrieking howl it made but the fire was out. My ally gone and my arm useless.

The smoke beast’s jibbering went from excited to frenzied but then to fearful. Some great rainbow of light was coming up through the forest. It’s strength was not unlike the sun for even at a distance I could feel strength returning to me.

A form like a man entered the clearing. His clothing like sapphire stone, his hair writhed like a fire and his eyes like the fire of a furnace.

I ran to him and he past me. With his bare hands he crushed the smoke beasts.

Thank you my lord! I cried out.

He smiled at me touched my arm and blew into it, restoring me to health.

The creatures of the dark are gathering, come and follow me and we will push them back under the ground.

I thought of my family in the village, would I ever see them again if I followed this man? Even so, something great had been offered to me, I could not refuse it.

I am your disciple my lord. I knelt.

Come then, there is much work to do. I cannot stop until everything is light.

Game of Draws

Over on theartifact.net, I wrote about a social conflict system that used draws for mechanical advantages over an opponent.

Then I thought, what if you made that the central resolution mechanic of a game?

I imagined two swordsmen looking for an advantage over the other.  Each character has their own draws, things that they want. They can be an advantage to them, or a disadvantage depending on the circumstance.  For instance “Has to win”, “Loves to make money” and “Wants to be a tough guy” could be some of a character’s draws.

Now what I’m thinking of for a resolution system is a system of offers that the characters can make to each other to get the advantage. For instance I’m going up against the character described above, I could offer him something like “First move” that plays on his “Has to win” draw and I can offer “Wait for my move” which means he can’t use his draw for this turn. The idea is that taking my “First move” offer is a trick that I can use to spring a trap with. Maybe my character has some kind of counter move that uses his attack to harm him.

The core idea is that each turn, a player has to choose between offers. I’d like to see multiple kinds of offers that would allow for a wide range of tactics.

My Self Inflicted 24hr Game System

I’ve been in a writing doldrums for a month or so. Then yesterday I had a few thoughts suddenly start buzzing around in my head and wrote them down.

The Energy System is a generic game meant to be applied to different settings. I’m shooting for something that can be played in a half hour. Because of that, the game doesn’t focus on individual actions by the characters. It focuses on the results. So rolling the dice isn’t about throwing a punch, it’s about the whole fight.

I have a setting in mind for the system where I’ll have more character generation, skill and equipment examples.

Energy System

More Thoughts On Solo RPGs

Still thinking about a solo RPG engine, I keep resorting to randomizers which tend to produce a mish mash of results. Sometimes a randomizer is brilliant, most times it just isn’t. The other element that I’ve been working off of is standard story tropes and trying to create a choose your own adventure on the fly but the engine still is to vague to guide a player.

What I have so far is to set the classic three act structure and then split those acts into two scenes each. The player could add scenes for a longer game but the idea is to start at two. Each scene gets a classic motivation that will be dominant. Here’s the structure I posted over on 1KM1KT a little while back.

Act 1 
Scene 1 Character generation. Get familiar with the character and set up a nice cushy life for them. Maybe they just got married. Maybe they just started a business and it's booming. Give them something nice.

Scene 2 A call to action. Roll against the motivations and use it to create the quest. If it's a positive motivation, then the character may have to leave the good life to take up the quest. The character taking up the quest could be reluctant if the call is from a positive source. If it was negative then something the character loved is destroyed. This should be played out in your rules but keep in mind that the odds are stacked in the favor of the motivation rolled. Maybe the character's business is saved but they realize that this kind of thing will keep happening unless they do something about it.

Act 2
Scene 1 Set up for the fall. The events of this scene set the player up for failure. If the scene is positive, the character thought they were doing the right thing but finds out it was all a trap, or he hurts the wrong people and has now made enemies. For motives like "Someone that helps" perhaps a mentor informs the character that they will have to accomplish some extraordinary task to succeed.

Scene 2 Put them in the worst position you can imagine. This is where the character is brought as low as they can go. (I'd have to work up ways of using the positive motivations to do this.)

Act 3
Scene 1 Get them out of it. The character must escape from jail, beat back the robot hordes, whatever.

Scene 2 Resolution. The final showdown. Will this be a comedy or a tragedy?

In each scene other than character generation roll on the following table.

Roll 1d20
1 Someone to pursue a goal (the Protagonist)
2-3 Someone to avoid the goal (the Antagonist)
4 Someone that helps (like a mentor)
5-7 Someone that hinders
8 Someone encouraging to consider a plan
9 Someone encouraging to reconsider a plan
10 Someone encouraging logic or reason
11 Someone encouraging feeling or emotional fulfillment
12 Someone encouraging excersizing control
13 Someone encouraging being uncontrolled
14 Someone to appeal to conscience
15-16 Someone to appeal to temptation
17 Someone who supports (speaks for) efforts
18 Someone who opposes (speaks against) efforts
19 Someone to express faith
20 Someone to disbelieve

The next piece of the puzzle is to give the player goal posts to reach in the story. This might be randomly generated, something to the effect of, “The main character is pressed by enemies until a resource is used up.” Which would be followed up by specific guidance that this could mean health, meaning the character is severely wounded, ammunition, fuel, food, water or whatever resource the player might target. Pick a target and then play the scene out until they’ve reached that low point.  Others might be “Trapped on all sides” or “Outmatched in skill” with the idea of having a healthy list to work off of.

Lastly, I wanted to think about classic solo games and what they use to entertain the player. There are only a few general strategies that I’m aware of.

First is the puzzle, games like solitaire create a puzzle to solve by restricting the type of moves available and then scrambling the resources the player needs. I haven’t worked out how to do this in an RPG yet.

Next is the mob, a lot of games have a number of pieces that automatically move toward the player’s pieces and the player must avoid or defend against the mob. This is more native to an RPG but one of the things that most games of this type focus on is strategic movement. For RPGs that use miniatures and grids to play, this is slightly easier to emulate but there are a large number of games that do not handle tactical movement. I have to resist the temptation to create additional rules to fill in the blanks. There needs to be a way to use existing rules, even when they’re not well developed for this kind of challenge.

The third is the stronghold, where the players must out maneuver defenses to gain access to a specified point. This at first looks easy but is one of the hardest to accomplish since the defenses have to be well arranged and the underlaying pattern should be difficult for the player to unravel. Only, the player is the one setting up the defenses so already has intimate knowledge of them. Still, using something like the Tech Challenges in The Artifact could simulate this.

The fourth is spending resources, here the player has what he needs to accomplish the task and can apply the resources in many different ways but only a small subset of approaches will actually work.

I think these structures could flesh out how the player builds a scene but there needs to be specific instructions on how they’re implemented. That’s what I’ll be working on next, adapting these structures to RPGs so that using them is a connect the dots for the player.

Solo RPG Engine

I’m thinking of developing a system for playing RPGs by yourself. There are a number of challenges to this. Mainly, how do you generate an interesting story without resorting to a load of random tables. My thought is to use the classic story structure to make this engine work. The player would roll on a table of the classic motivations for each scene. That would tell them if they were playing the Protagonist or the Antagonist in this scene. Other elements, possibly a deck of cards, could be used to flesh out what the type of challenge is.

Another element is that RPGs are inherently social. They are stories. If a story is not shared, then it feels empty. So I think there should be a healthy dose of structure as to how to record the game. Posting the story on a forum or a blog would suddenly make the game a shared story again.

The important thing that I want to shoot for is to make this system independent. There are a few solo RPGs out there already but they depend on custom systems to play. I’d prefer one that makes any RPG playable by one person.

Thrum

I turned back for a moment as we rode away from the floating blight. The blue white glowing and billowing  forms pulsed slowly as the sun descended in the orange red sky. We would never again see the blight as a sanctuary.

We rode as fast as our track sleds would carry us. We entered the burnt forest, what was once a deep green and cool sanctuary of life, was long ago scorched and charred by the solar storms. Every ten years, our sun sends out a belch of burning plasma that sears the planet. It was the first weapon that the invaders used against us. It destroyed all the great cities of man, all his great works. These things were before my time but I’ve seen the pictures.

Our only sanctuary is underground. Our city was built in an spent salt mine. It had been converted to a science facility full of seed banks and data storage. So when the first solar storm destroyed the world above, great minds were preserved below. They slowly rebuilt, developed the Blades to defend against the Skree, and repopulated.

But we’ve grown too large for our salt mine. The hope was to get a new colony in place before the next storm. They have not been successful. Our mission to report on the progress of the colony will be a troublesome report.

The charred and twisted trunks of the ancient forest give some protection from the Skree. As fast as they are, they don’t seem to be able to maneuver well. We opened our throttles all the way and traveled single file, launching over hills and stumps.

We scanned the terrain diligently for anything out of place. A Thrum disguises itself, sometimes as a large rock, sometimes as a stream of water but often as a tree. If we’re lucky, the Thrum will get it’s disguise wrong.

We weren’t lucky. From all around, the sound of a great drum sounded. The sound grew greater and greater in a rolling tone that could be felt in the chest and head. Rapidly, it grew louder than any other sound.

Up ahead, one of the burnt trees split opened and peeled it’s outer husk away. Inside, glowing purple and pink, thin unimaginably strong filaments poured out. We turned to scatter away from it.

“Blades! Blades!” I tried to call out, but I couldn’t even hear myself screaming the command. I fired off my first blade at the filaments. The chemical laser swept over them, burning through some.

Dreseco, overwhelmed by the rolling drumming collapsed off his sled. The filaments immediately found him and started dragging him in, peeling first away his armor and then his flesh.

I watched the horror unfold in seconds. I fired my second Blade and struck the armor still in the clutches of the filaments. The shape charge detonated and damaged the filaments and prevented Dreseco’s body being desecrated any more by destroying it in the blast.

I have never seen a Thrum thrash around so violently. I couldn’t be sure but I think that I deprived it of it’s prize. The filaments thrashed out in all directions.

The sled suddenly grew lighter, as I looked back, I saw Feneshi being lifted away from the back of my sled and torn apart.

I cried out his name and almost turned back. I wanted to avenge him, to do something but no, there is nothing that a man can do to a Thrum.

We sped a way, regrouped and continued on. There was no time for tears.

Skree

Eachigo died without honor. The Skree penetrated his back and then leapt to Gamelo. The Skree move faster than any man can react to. Our blades flashed over Gamelo’s head in a vain attempt at intercepting it by chance. It was to no avail, the Skree pierced his chest, killing Gamelo and detonating the shaped charge in his armor. Two dead for one Skree. If Eachigo hadn’t turned to run, his shaped charge would have killed the Skree and Gamelo would have lived.

I called to my squire. “Boy! More blades!” Feneshi, my squire was a good lad. He pulled the blade cores from his belt and snapped them into their holders. “More juice too.” I reminded him, as if I needed to.

“Yes sir.” He replied and quickly ejected the power core from my back and put in a new one.

Then we heard another one coming. “Stand back Feneshi!” I cried as I pushed him down. My first blade blazed but the blight that hung in the air was getting in the way.  The other knights fired their first blades off. By fortune, one of the beams sliced into the approaching Skree, cutting it in half.

“We have to get out of this blight forest! They never used to chase us into the blight!” I called out. “Drop anything we won’t need, leave the spent blades and cores. Maybe we can retrieve them later but I fear there is a Thrum here.”

The men’s faces turned white at the suggestion. “Surely sir, not in the blight. How will we travel?”

“It’s only been a matter of time before they learned about us coming here. It will make bringing back the new colony even harder, even more will die on the trip. The floating blight slowly kills off anything that comes near to it, so I for one have never been comfortable coming here. If the Skree and the Thrum don’t kill us, the blight surely will.” I shook my head. “You’ve left the extra supplies? Good, lets move out. We’ll travel through the burnt forest. It will give us some protection. Keep your ears sharp”

Zecho took my shoulders “Bachui, I’ve followed you for five years and I trust your judgement, but the Thrum love the burnt forest. Wouldn’t it be better to travel through the plains where the Thrum don’t have anywhere to hide? Yes there will be Skree, but we have a chance of defending against them. With a Thrum, a hundred men would not be enough and we are now six.”

I put my hands on his shoulders in return, looking him in the eyes. “I understand your fear Zecho but we will have to move slowly through the plains so we can hear the Skree coming. We may be able to out run a Thrum. There’s a better chance that at least some of us will make it back to the city and report to Lord Hishi while there is still enough time to act. If we take too long, then we have failed our mission. It has to be the forest.” I surveyed the faces of the knights and the squires. It was an unpopular choice and I feared that they would not follow but a look of determination slowly came over their faces as they nodded to indicate their support.

“To the forest then” Zecho said with a face of stone.

Star Punk

Star Punk

Star Punk

For 2013 24hr contest entry, my game is a space opera without limits. In Star Punk the players get to collectively define major technologies of the game setting. There’s no limits to what the players are able to choose as their traits. Go munchkin on it or create some kind of balance to your abilities. It’s up to you where the game goes.

To create the pocketmod, print out the page and then fold it according to these instructions.

This is my first game to include a full index! Only the rest of the game is only seven (actually 6) pages. Hey, it was part of the contest to have an index.