Cassandra

In Greek Myth, Cassandra was cursed with prophecy. She could see the future but the curse was that no one would listen to her. What I didn’t realize was that her story was more detailed than I thought. Cassandra was one of fifty to a hundred children of king Priam. She would express her prophecies in cryptic language and she often had a message that was the opposite of what people were thinking of at the time.

In some ways anyone who’s trying to convince people are like Cassandra. Particularly when it comes to marketing games, you need to convince people that your new way of doing things is worth their time. Let’s look at what causes many designers to wallow in obscurity from the lessons Cassandra teaches us.

Clout

Clout is important for anyone trying to convince others. The more connected and important you are, the more people will listen. Cassandra might seem like she would have prominence being the daughter of the king but she was likely very low on the list. Meaning that she wasn’t important enough to have the other barriers to acceptance pushed through.

It can seem odd that having people like you plays a part in if they think your input is valuable. Only not really when I say it like that. Unfortunately, plenty of designers think of their games as “speaking for themselves” which they really don’t. I know I once thought that way and I can speak from experience that’s not how it works.

Very frequently, unrecognized designers lament that there is some kind of secret cabal keeping them down. In reality it’s mostly that the people on top have other voices cheering them on. There’s something called the “second voice effect” that goes a long way to being successful. When someone says “My work is groundbreaking” you tend to just ignore them. If someone else says “Emmett’s work is groundbreaking” people start to take notice. If someone that has clout says that, people will lose faith in them if they’re sounding a false alarm. That means they have a stake in only calling out people that they really like.

There really are secret cabals going on though and this is how they work. A designer with clout sees an unknown designer do something they like. The thing isn’t groundbreaking but it’s good. A lot of the time they offer suggestions to make the game better. An educated outside eye helps to shave off the rough edges and give a design focus. Something that might have happened anyway but now it happens faster. They then promote the new designer. In the process they gain the support and admiration of the new designer and their success. Networks of designers support each other this way.

Who is in your support group?

Changing Play

Cassandra told Troy to leave the horse outside. She knew her captor would die. She knew that Agamemnon’s wife would kill him. She was right every step of the way but she was saying the opposite of what people wanted to happen. Most of the Trojans wanted to take the horse as a token of their victory. In the process of everyone grieving, having being taken away from their homes as slaves, she’s giggling. Agamemnon wanted to cool his heels after winning the war.

Game makers often try and sell their titles on the basis of uniqueness. It’s natural that a designer sees something that they don’t like and decide to remake it to their liking. The pitfall in this is learning a whole new way to play is not an easy process. It takes time and energy and no one has an infinite supply of both. We naturally want new experiences but only want to expend a little bit of energy on each experiment.

Unfortunately a lot of the time designers are trying to work out problems with existing systems. To do that, they often have to up end models that people are familiar with. The players may not even be bothered by the thing that bothered you in the first place. So even if your model is demonstrably better, it may hold no value to them.

On the flip side of this is when something is too close to an existing game. Time, energy and money are limited resources. If there’s an existing game that does mostly all the same things and it’s proven itself over time, what’s the sure bet?

Ideally then, you want your designs to be novel but have an easy path to access through what a prospective player already knows. Sometimes a smart path is to write for an established game with supplements until people know the quality of your work and then once you have clout built up you can ask more of them.

Too Far Ahead

Cassandra spoke her prophecies in riddles. To her, they seemed obvious because she had seen the future. To everyone else she’s talking crazy talk about bulls and cows.

This is similar to the curse of knowledge. Because you know a thing so intimately, it seems obvious. Unfortunately you may have taken several steps already in your design process and you can’t remember why you took steps 2 and 4. When others look at your design, it doesn’t speak to them the way it does to you. They don’t know where you’re going and it’s going to take effort on their part to figure it out.

Do they need to figure it out? Maybe you’re a prophet with important insights. Maybe you’re just a lunatic. To them the latter seems more likely. It’s usually best to ignore the crazy talk.

If you’re just wandering, you may find shiny bits lying in the sand. Instead of making everyone recreate your trek through the dessert, remake the path directly to the reward you want everyone to find. That means throwing out 9/10th of everything you did and starting over.

If you have a mission or you’re remaking your map to the reward (which are the same thing), know why you’re taking each step in the design process. Beyond that, record for yourself why you took each step. These whys can be used to explain your game to others. Maybe they’re not looking for the reward you’re sharing, that’s okay. You’ll attract the people that will appreciate what you’re offering.

But don’t give them crazy talk and hope the “mystery” of it will entice them to figure out the puzzle you’ve constructed.

Try This

Make allies, help them get where they want to go. They may return the favor.

Start by doing something novel but not something that takes a lot of effort to learn.

Know your message and be ready to translate your message to others.

I’m writing this mostly to myself. I heard a podcast about Cassandra and her problems getting people to listen to her and I realized that I had done everything wrong that she did. All my false steps came swirling out in front of me. I’ll try and do better now that I know this but don’t be surprised if I slip back into old habits.

An encounter die for Energy System

In OSR (and possibly other trad gamers I don’t know how wide spread the practice is) a hazard die is used as a clock to tell when an encounter happens. It’s a neat way of taking the load of timing when monsters show up off the GM’s shoulders and I’m for reducing loads on any player.

I have half a thought to introduce a hazard die to the Energy System but in the system’s style. In this case it would be a dice pool. The weird trick is that a hazard die is there to indicate a variable timing mechanism. In this case, that would be when a die depletes. Only that’s really weird because most rolls and their values are just ignored which seems like a waste.

Sometimes you can make a hazard die do more timing tasks. I think that’s what I’d like to do with rolls that don’t deplete but the system already handles most of the other things that people use to track with a hazard die.

It could indicate some kind of distance, or time interval. The system doesn’t really worry about those things though.

I could flip this and make the roll result be the number of dice in the next challenge. That means most rolls would be an encounter, but it doesn’t have to be a monster per se. It just indicates the intensity of the next challenge. When the pool depletes, You’ve reached the end of the adventure.

I’ll mull it over.

Gut Reaction RPG

I pounded this out today. Let’s see where it takes you.

Gut Reaction is statless game. You roll and go with your gut because there are no numbers to base things off of.

Go with your initial feeling. “You study long, you study wrong!” Says it all. Don’t over think it, just go.

Here’s the PDF link.

Gut Reaction

An update to an old system

For Lojec Redemption we’re using a system based on The Artifact’s Fraction Column system. It is hopefully a streamlined version of the engine that may eventually make up a 4th edition of The Artifact.

What’s different? I’m going from a percentile system to a base ten system. It lacks the granularity of the 1-100 scale but it simplifies play to an extent because of simplified math.

It also makes rolling faster and simpler. This sounds like a trivial gain but after twenty years of seeing beginning players confused by percentile rolls and more commonly the 2d10 bouncing off each other and one flying across the room, It’s nice to have 1d10 drop and it be instantly read.

The biggest problem with a base 10 scale is that the success columns don’t step down as nicely. These are really important to the system and how it functions. That’s complicated to explain unless you’ve looked at the system but suffice to say it’s how good rolls are rewarded.

Because the game is less granular I’ve had to make skills more complicated. They now have the ability to have multiple values. I know that sounds weird, but it’s not a big deal if it’s laid out in front of you, so far my players are cool with it. It does make skills take up quite a bit more space on a character sheet though and that’s a bit of an annoyance. I’m having to prune my skill list down dramatically.

Players have commented that they like the simpler list so I guess it’s not all bad. For LR the smaller list makes sense. For The Artifact it might be a problem because the setting uses skills to differentiate character abilities.

This change is really forcing a large drop in the granular nature of the system in favor of simplicity. It’s a real trade off and maybe it’s not the right move. We’re going to have to keep testing to see if it really benefits the players in a significant way.

Some ideas for Lojec Redemption

I have a lot of ideas for Lojec Redemption that I’m struggling to express. My mind is full of data points that don’t have structure yet. I’ll spew a couple here.

A main one is to equate the main threat, the AIs called Mind Shells to dragons. Not that they are giant fire spewing lizards but that they are something beyond human ability. Some theories about the dragon mythos is that they are an amalgam of all the threats people faced. I want to double down on that image. The Mind Shells are an amalgam of everything we fear about technology. For example, they see through us. They cannot be lied to. They know us better than we know ourselves. Their powers of perception are beyond what we understand or can imagine. Their abilities are not limited to a single physical form, they are data, and can move from “body” to “body” (these would be technological bodies). They can “infect” humans with meme viruses (this one I’m least prepared to flesh out). They instantly understand the complexities of a situation as soon as you turn one on, you can’t surprise them.

There would be grades of mind shells. The lowest of which is a general intelligence a bit lower than a human’s intellect. These are referred to as “golems” as they respond to instructions and carry them out.

My players have run into mimics already. They are artificial creatures that appear to be animals but reveal terrifying abilities when they attack. Common folk call them goblins. These enemies are by design unpredictable and they go a long way in conveying the weirdness that I want for this setting.

There are combat robots. At this point however most are over 100 years old, most without receiving any maintenance. Some may barely function. Better preserved combat robots are very dangerous.

My players have also encountered “intelligent terrain”. This is a region under the control of an intelligence. It may be a golem level intellect that is simply given the task of maintaining a park or natural wildlife refuge. It may be more intelligent and or aggressive. These terrains can sometimes be appeased or offended and react accordingly. I’m still fleshing out this concept but it’s best to keep the reactions subtle. Nothing that couldn’t happen in the terrain normally but definitely reactive.

Player Aspirations In A Game System

In my years of gaming, I’ve noticed that players have an aspirational need that they work to fulfill with their characters. As I’m writing this I only have a vague concept of what some of those are because I’ve never sat down and tried to hammer them out. It might be worthwhile to do so and there may be a way of running a game that uses aspirations to make characters more enjoyable.

A few of the big aspirations that are easily identified are power, control, safety, intelligence, wealth and influence. These concepts seem to show up in all players but in differing amounts. Occasionally a player will very strongly make choices toward one of these in reaction to the game world. More commonly the player decides on some kind of balance that they feel comfortable with.

That by itself is an interesting concept to me as a game designer. Particularly, am I providing access to the types of aspirations the players want? If a players aspirations are provided for, what changes occur in their play? Would they become more interested or less because the character is “finished” as far as what the player wants for them. Does keeping a character from their aspirations serve as a motivator or does it make the game less interesting?

I would like to experiment with this concept but I’m not sure of how just yet. It would be interesting to allow players free access to these aspirations and let them tune characters in play when they feel they’re not being met while keeping a concept of them being a finite resource.

To flesh out a game system that would do this, I imagine each of the aspirations being equivalent to an attribute. The player would start out even in all their abilities but would be able to shift their aspirations a set number of times to start out with and as they advance.

To allow the player characters to scale their ability, let’s steal from the Energy System and say each character starts out with a dice pool. As they advance, they can buy more dice or buy shifts in their aspirations. Rolling more dice allows for more chances of success.

Each aspiration is a number from 1 to 6. Rolling the aspiration or lower gives a success. Rolling more dice allows for more chances of success. I think all aspirations would start out at two, possibly with one starting at three. This would allow for one aspiration to be a 6 and the rest to be at one. That way there is a clear choice to make. Does the player want to be excellent at one thing? Will they enjoy playing a min-maxed character?*

Just to make things more complicated, there are intersections between aspirations. For example, the ability to throw a football accurately could be control, but the ability to throw it far and accurately would be power and control. So combining these aspirations is important in certain circumstances. Mapping out these split interactions mathematically would lead to a tangled mess of stats and be frustrating when shifting the aspirations. Instead, designating how many successes are needed along each would be more practical. A GM could say “You want to throw the football thirty yards to John, roll for one power success and one control.” and the effect is achieved.

With some refinement that could be a viable system. I’m most interested in how it effects player enjoyment of the game.

*Personally I feel that if a game can endure a min-maxed character, and still have them be functional and interesting to play, it’s doing something right.

Jump Temp – Entering and Exiting Star Systems

If a ship’s pilot wants to leave a solar system, there’s a navigation challenge to plot a course out. A common misconception is that you’d simply point the ship away from the star and start the engines.

In reality it’s not that simple. If you look at the Cassini space craft’s flight path, it actually takes a dive toward Venus before heading into the outer solar system. Looking at any space probe’s flight path thats been launched, we see a spiral flight path. Why is this? Isn’t a straight line the shortest distance between two points?

Theoretically a straight line might be the shortest, but unless you have an unbelievably powerful drive system, it’s wasteful and likely impossible to do.

For another example, if you watch a rocket launch, you ‘ll see the vehicle curve as it flies upward. This was more evident in old space shuttle launches. The roll and the curve of the take off was easier to notice. Why not just fly straight up? For one, if the rocket went straight up it would not enter orbit. It would launch up into the air, possibly making it into space but would then fall back to the earth once it’s fuel ran out. By moving sideways on it’s ascent, when it starts to fall it misses the earth and thereby enters orbit.

If the target is another planet in the star system, it must be moving fast enough to miss falling into the star it is near. This falling toward and missing is how things orbit.

In a similar way, we are orbiting the sun. If a spacecraft were to fly straight away from the sun, it would start to fall back towards the sun as soon as it’s engines were shut off. The further out the space craft traveled, the slower it would fall but it would none the less fall.

Another reason to follow an indirect path is to intersect with planets and other large gravitic bodies that the craft can steal a little momentum from and use it to speed the vehicle up without using its fuel. This gravity assist is crucial for any vessel that has a fuel supply that isn’t infinite. Although it seems strange that Cassini should move away from Saturn so it can get to Saturn faster, flying in an indirect path is the faster and more efficient.

My one player commented how flying out of a system isn’t rocket science (no really, those were his words). I laughed and answered “It absolutely is rocket science. It’s more complicated than it sounds.”

Ships in Jump Temp would never fly directly away from a star, and might occasionally drop toward the star to get a gravity boost from planets. Falling closer to the star in the middle of a system cannot be used for a gravity assist but can be used for an Oberth effect which is a little complicated but if you’re curious, you can check out  on Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_assist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberth_effect

Reverberations of the Singularity

I’ve been thinking about resurrecting a very old game. It was, and now I can’t remember, either the second or third game I designed and played. I love the feel of the world but I think it got away from me in the original version.

I also need to find a new name for it. It was originally called Aftermath, but that’s been taken. The original version would probably be labeled as a poor rip off of Numinara if I published it today (Even though I wrote it in the 90s). I recently had a little spark of an idea that would pull it away from that.

So what is it? It’s a post apocalyptic world, there was a war with weapons that a modern day person would still not really understand. So technology was once really really high. Society has recovered to the level of medieval times in most places but there are a few cities that make high tech items.

A main technology that is being reproduced is called a KAF (Kinetic Abatement Field) unit. They dampen kinetic energy, making projectiles drop out of the air after a few feet. There are personal versions and big versions that protect armies or cities. This means that any combatant has to be ready to drop their gun and pick up a sword if a KAF is activated.

There are laser guns, but they are hard to find, expensive and usually can only fire once (think of fighting with muskets).

The thing that got away from me was the big bad threat. I have some ideas about what would work as an improved concept. I’m thinking the big apocalyptic war was caused by getting close to a computational singularity and people fought over it.

There are however computer cores that house AIs that are left in old server rooms buried in military bunkers and deep basements. They are valued as oracles, objects of power for the knowledge they hold. Finding them can reveal old knowledge, powerful knowledge.

However reviving the AIs revives the threat of the singularity. One or more cores were activated that corrupted others an now they have taken rulership of the largest city state in the known world.

The Energy System, Jump Temp and Character Creation

When putting together Jump Temp character creation and looking at space opera fiction, I felt that most characters showed a kind of specialization. They have something they’re good at, a job or proficiency that make them useful. This often means that they are not very good at other types of tasks.

The question was raised at DriveThruRPG about the cost of adding traits and equipment to an Augment character. Augments are very good at the thing they’re augmented to do. Even without any added equipment or traits they’re formidable characters.

We had one Augment that had a Strong attribute which he used to stop a car. We had one Augment with a Tough attribute that carried around a grenade. In a bad situation he would just pull the pin hold it in his hand and he could shrug off the damage.

They will often wear out if they’re trying to do things like figure out technical problems. We did have an augment that had an Intelligent attribute and he was very good at technical tests but had a hard time in survival situations.

If a more versatile character is desirable, then the Augment specialty might not be the best choice. Going with another specialty, possibly the Survivalist, and then adding the desired traits and equipment might be more along the lines of what the player wants.

If the GM is agreeable, a character that wants something very specific can simply start out with 10d of energy and then build their character from scratch.

 

Jump Temp – The EM Drive

The EM Drive is highly controversial. Many say it’s impossible that such a drive could work but testing so far says that it does. This experimental evidence is usually dismissed as error or an unintended side effect that would not produce thrust.

Why is this drive so controversial? Because it uses no propellant. This makes it seem like it violates Newton’s third law of motion.  If you throw nothing out the back, there can be no momentum pushing the vehicle forward.

The very fact that it needs no mass to chuck out the back is exactly why this system is so exciting. Instead of giant fuel tanks all you need is to generate electricity. It’s usually the propellant mass that runs out long before the ability to generate electrical power is exhausted. With this drive and some solar panels you’d practically have an infinite (infinite over time that is) amount of thrust available.

There’s a new explanation of what might be happening with these experiments that involves pilot wave theory. Although discounted for a long time in favor of the Copenhagen interpretation, it has been gaining popularity in physics circles lately.

Amazingly this sounds to me exactly like the “aether drive” like the ones used in Space 1889.

There is a dark side to this. Because the drive can produce thrust for very long periods of time, they could be used to push relativistic kill vehicles. A relativistic kill vehicle is basically, a very fast moving mass that can be pointed at a planet or some other target. As a vehicle reaches something like 20% of the speed of light, it has accumulated a really large amount of energy.

How large? Planet killing large. No death star required. Just a rock with a nuclear reactor and an EM Drive attached. Give it a few light years to get it up to speed and a few dozen years to make the trip.

The really scary part is that if you’re traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light, it might be nearly impossible to see the weapon coming.

So a working EM drive is exciting, but also terrifying.