#RPGaDay2018 – 3: What gives a game “staying power”?

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I’m not a fan of classic class/level games. They tend to burst my immersion asunder, and immersion is something I very much go for in my gaming. They do have something right though, a very strong sense of progression, meaningful choices and meaningful differences in a character’s power and skill. That little reward hit of brain chemicals you get for each level of achievement. System depth can be a big part of this, a more granular system can have more vectors to advance a character in than more simple or narrativist systems, making them inherently better suited to long campaigns than story games – which are better suited to one-shots.

Class/Level also tends to give you something coherent to aim for, some sort of end goal as well as shorter duration goals. It’s just a shame, mechanically, that I hate it. If you step outside of system, however, and look to the play of the game itself, similar kinds of rewards and goals can be on offer narratively, though these tend to be much more player driven and contingent on the story and adventures being offered. Perhaps your goal is to marry up into the nobility by seduction or political manoeuvring. Perhaps you long to reclaim your home planet from the filthy alien infestation across its surface. Perhaps you long to forge the perfect sword. It can be anything, but goals and sub-goals are what gives a game ‘staying power’.

One, particular, somewhat obscure RPG has had a huge influence on my design ethos, and that is Underground, a Superhero game from the 1990s which took its cues much more from Marshal Law than DC, Marvel, or even Wildstorm. While the game itself was satirical and dark, it contained within it a rather hopeful mechanic and a way of influencing and seeing improvement and change in the setting around you as a result of the character’s actions. This is a huge draw of RPGs to me – seeing your actions affecting the world around you – and their mechanics gave the game a natural structure of bettering the world around them.

The longest campaigns we’ve ever played had these kinds of long-term goals and the results of your actions seen in the world about you. Vampire (tabletop and LARP alike) felt like being part of a world, Cyberpunk 2020 let us really make a mark on Night City, SLA Industries had the Security Clearance Level as a goal, grinding missions to get greater access to information. So it goes today with our Iron Kingdoms and Eclipse Phase games, bringing order to Five Fingers and solving the near-extinction of humanity in turn.

Meaningful impact, character improvement and narrative arcs all lend themselves to long campaigns – but sometimes, you just want to kill orcs.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

#RPGaDay2018 – 2 – What is the first thing you look for in an RPG?

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Gamers come in two broad types, in my experience. Those who play one thing and those who play everything. Some people are perfectly content playing nothing but First Edition AD&D until the day they die, others want to buy and play anything and everything that catches their interest.

I fall into the second category.

Being a game-slut is only part of it though, as a game designer myself I am interested in mechanics. I cannot help but check out how a game operates as part of my assessment process. If there’s an innovative or interesting mechanic (or if it uses a polished version of old mechanics) then I’m sold on it, purely from a design point of view. Feng Shui, Over the Edge and FATE all grabbed me via their mechanics.

Art and design are important of course. I tend to prefer simpler layout in my own work, just because it’s more readable. If I crack open a book to be presented with a heavily overworked layout or a ‘cool’ background that makes the text harder to read – I’m going to groan. Vampire is a game that grabbed me, immediately, via its unconventional and graphical oriented cover. Simplicity really is, sometimes, for the best.

The overall idea and concept also has to be something that interests me. A big problem with a lot of games (feel free to disagree) is that they are derivative. God knows, I’m guilty of this myself, but we really don’t need a 100th iteration of D&D or Star-Trek-By-Any-Other-Name. Some games rise above their derivative origins or gain something in the alchemy of mixing-together different influences. Vampire – again – was very derivative of any and all vampire fiction you could think of, yet rose above those origins with a combination of execution, mingling of ideas, some originality and sheer enthusiasm. Some games offer something more and come up with an engaging and fascinating set of ideas or worlds of their own. Earthdawn made waves by inverting the usual ‘dungeon’ adventure form, Mechanical Dream has a compelling (but somewhat unplayable) world and SLA Industries was post-cyberpunk before post-cyberpunk was a thing.

It is some combination of all these factors that I look for in a game, it is no single thing. As to where I hear about things? Word of mouth, so if you want to help me or my fellow designers out, leave reviews and talk about our games that you’ve enjoyed!

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of postmortemstudios.wordpress.com. If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at patreon.com/grimachu, Minds.com/grimachu or steemit.com/@grimjim. Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!

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Grimdark – Magic Items & Treasure

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In a low magic setting, actual magic items should be exceedingly rare and relatively powerful. Scrolls are going to be essentially non-existent. Potions are going to be rare and of very limited effect – almost as likely to be poison as they are to be anything else. When it comes to weapons and armour, about the best you can probably hope for is that you have something that has been blessed. There may, also, be dark gifts from the demonic realms – black iron daggers, talismans and so forth, but all fairly low key in effect. There may also be leftover pagan artefacts, such as the great Celtic legendary items (Spear of the Sun, Sword of the Moon, Cauldron of Plenty, Stone of the Earth) or things like elf-shot or swords like Excalibur. There may also be a very rare handful of genuine saintly artefacts, even a splinter from the ‘true cross’ which might have genuine supernatural power.

For the most part though, the majority of supposedly magical artefacts are going to turn out to be nonsense, their legends brought about by charlatans and exploited as a means to part pilgrims from their money or to encourage them to visit a particular Church or Cathedral…

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#RPG #DND Grimdark – Monsters

miss-swarm-hobgoblinMonsters would need to be handled a little differently in the game skeleton and modifications that I have laid out. They need to mirror what we’ve done to player characters in that they need to be more fragile in terms of hit points but still need to have the capacity to do greater harm and to be minor and even major villains – rather than simple ‘mooks’ – without just becoming massive hit-point sinks.

If we look at a standard monster stat sheet, we can see that we don’t really need to change that much. The only real problems that we have exist around Hit Points and Challenge Rating, but this isn’t insoluable.

For Hit Points we can do what we do for player characters, a basis of Hit Die type + Constitution Bonus, with Heroism (Morale) going up by level. However, given that players encounter lots of monsters, the CR determines how many – total – Heroism points they contribute, and their maximum spend. This going into a pool used by the Games Master – with a maximum spend equal to the highest CR in an encounter. This also does a nice job of modelling the role and value of leadership – and of taking out enemy leaders…

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Grimdark – Religion

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There isn’t a great deal of mileage in beating about the bush when it comes to religion in a quasi-historical game. If you’re using an analogy to Christianity and everyone knows that it’s Christianity, you may as well not bother calling the pope the hierophant or talking about how your society worships Jeebus. The only reason anyone really draws a veil over the actual state of medieval religion is to spare people’s feelings and to rewrite history in a more tolerant manner.

For once, fuck that.

The advantage of using authentic religions is that everyone has – at least – some idea what they believe, how they venerate, what their prayers and churches are like, what their religious laws are like and so on. Since we’re not using domains, there’s little mechanical need to quantify anything and given – in the real world – how we can see people can twist religion to support all sorts of viewpoints, alignment isn’t terribly relevant either…

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Grimdark – Spellcasting

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The magic rules ideas that I presented earlier are a botch-job, trying to merely adapt the existing rules to suit a lower-magic setting. If I proceed to making a bespoke magic interpretation for a Grimdark setting/system I need to go further than that in a number of different ways.

Divine Magic needs to be approached from the most different position. I want the existence of spirits or deities to be more vague, a matter of interpretation and faith, rather than – so explicitly – being a matte of truth. As such, divine magic needs to change the most. A much more restricted approach centred on the psychology of faith makes more sense, with the miraculous being suitably rare – limited to high level persons of faith who are, in essence, saints…

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Grimdark – Feats & Wounds

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Feats are both more wide and more powerful in 5th Edition. In order to compete with Ability increases, they’d have to be. Taking ‘Observant’ as an example, to compare with its 3rd Edition equivalent – which (Alert) gave you a +2 bonus to Perception checks. By comparison, Observant in fifth edition gives +1 Wisdom or Intelligence, the ability to lip read and a +5 bonus to passive Perception and Investigation rolls. That’s – approximately – three times as powerful as the old feats and something to keep in mind when doing conversions, perhaps by grouping several old-style Feats together.

Given the emphasis on personal skill rather than supernatural capabilities, Feats would have to be heartily extended in any Grimdark setting.

Example: Undead Slayer

  • When an undead creature enters a 5′ zone aound you, you may immediately make a melee attack against that creature. You are limited to one of these free attacks per turn.
  • You have advantage on Saving Throws against Undead powers, diseases and attacks that require one.
  • You do an addition 1d6 damage to Undead enemies.

Death and dying has been simplified in the new edition, and that’s fine as it…

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