Writing a game can be hard

So I have this game I’m writing. You may have heard about it.

I was on a roll getting stuff done, then I had an idea. I thought this idea was cool other people seemed to as well. It meant that I needed to rewrite some things.

So I did.

I think it makes the point I’m trying to get across pretty well. Unfortunately it’s written much in the same fashion as I tend to speak, which sucks to read. It’s clear and concise but pretty boring.

Also I need to make some tables to go with it.

That’s where we are right now. I’ve been focusing more on writing the game than writing my blog, though which is both as it should be, and kind of sucks for anybody attempting to follow the process.

Good news/Bad news

Ugly news may come later.

The consensus seems to be to go with my proposed Action Matrix system, which I am really starting to like anyway.

I like the idea that at any point I can say “Right now my character is….” it really feels, to put things in video-game terms, more real time. As far as I’m aware no other game does things this way. Electrodyne, mentioned Feng-Shui or Fuzion yesterday. As far as Fuzion goes I’ve only played Cyberpunk 2020, and that would have been 16 or 17 years ago, and I don’t recall it working that way, and I once played Feng-Shui when Electrodyne still lived in Montana probably a decade ago or so, and I believe he ran it, and I honestly remember nothing about it other than thinking the system was kind of cool at the time, I think it used Fudge Dice but I couldn’t swear to it in a court of law.

The writing in the game will be better than the above paragraph, I have editors lined up.

So, any way I’m pretty excited about that. Unfortunately the combat chapter was among the most fully written and I shall have to rewrite quite a fair chunk of it. That’s not so big a burden though as burdens go.

Those Three Magic Words

They instantly change the tenor of any encounter. They tell the player that you are going from a gentle polite conversation to something a bit more passionate.

Meaning of course the words, Roll for Initiative.

In the before times, in the long, long ago AD&D, had a mechanic called weapon speed. Does anybody else miss that? No, well I do, and I’m building a new system so there’s no reason I can’t make it work, again this would be as opposed to trying to shoehorn a new mechanic into an existing game. For Initiative I had been planning to use something similar to what API uses, in that I was planning to make characters roll initiative once, then have every action take a certain amount of time, after which they are free to select a new action. This functionally does away with the combat round and makes for a more functional and dynamic series of events. So it’s not exactly what API does but it’s similar enough to mention. I like the idea of weapon speeds like I say but, the problem is that I’m not fully settled on how I want to handle weapons themselves at all.

On the one hand I want weapon speeds, this is the only system, that I’ve seen, where the reduced reset time of a knife will truly give it an edge over a larger weapon like a sword, which in turn has an edge over the knife in terms of sheer damage.

The problem is that with my system of weapons granting a single straight bonus to a combined attack/damage roll based on a combination of accuracy/ease of use/damage potential, that means that I must necessarily rank individual weapons against each other and one of them will be mechanically “the best”. Apparently the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, which I have not played yet, simply has “hand weapon” call it an axe, a sword, whatever you like. I really like that idea. So those ideas are at odds.

Well maybe they aren’t entirely so…

I was planning on having weapons divided into one handed, two handed, one handed ranged, and two handed ranged, with some assorted other oddball categories, largely genre specific. I’m thinking maybe it wouldn’t be to busy to divide further into small one or two handed, or even large one or two handed weapons.

I think that could work.

I’ll have to think more about it.

EDIT: I’ve thought about it, and I like my initiative system which I’m calling an Action Matrix. How it works is you roll initiative and are placed on the Matrix then when its your turn you act, just like in any other game. Your action has a speed, which is the amount of time it takes before you declare your next action and go again.

So, I was planning on when it comes to be your turn you declare your action and resolve it then just as you would in any other game. But Ive also had the thought “what if you don’t actually resolve your action until it’s action speed has expired before declaring your next action?” I need opinions on this.

Fortunately I’ve been busy writing.

Like I said when last I posted, I got a lot of food for thought from Miscon.

I was struggling with the Death Spiral before the con and was looking for the one perfect solution that would allow me to do any game in any style straight out of the box, or book (PDF, eBook, whatever). It simply isn’t possible, fortunately it doesn’t need to be. The system I have is easily adaptable to whatever play-style is appropriate to an individual gaming group.

I often find that if I’m having a tough time coming to a solution to a problem I am generally speaking over-thinking things. Such was the case here, I already had the solution. Which is simply to support a sliding deadliness scale, such as the one I was playing with as a development tool.

I also have an editor lined up, I know from working with him at saga-edition.com (he is the other admin) that he has a keen eye for detail, and a brutal honesty not unlike my own. He also has a bit of experience and the extra work wouldn’t hurt him right now.

One of the nice things about this for me is that it lights a fire under me to keep me moving forward and not just lackadaisically taking my time and procrastinating as I might otherwise be inclined to do.

So I’ve been thinking about my life and my values, and what that means about where I want to go with this game. I am cynical, and bitter, but ultimately I trust people. My experience in the military has been that you get out of people what you expect from them. Not universally true of course but true often enough. I myself have been in some fina(ah, wasabi up my nose)…. financially dire straits, more often than some people would be comfortable with. In those periods I have been known to acquire gaming materials through less than licit means, always with the intention of purchasing the product if I liked it when I eventually had the means to do so. Without exception I have now purchased every single book that I initially received in that way. I trust others to do the same, I think that people will generally, perhaps with a bit of prompting, pay for the entertainment they enjoy.

My product is primarily going to be available in electronic format, I’m set up as a publisher with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and DriveThruRPG, which brings up the problem of piracy. To me I don’t feel like it’s going to be a serious problem.

I had a short email conversation (I felt like some sort of super nerd writing to a celebrity by the way) with Wil Wheaton on the subject and he gave me some great advice on how to set up DRM free. So whatever I do will be available DRM free (aside I suppose from the water marking on the DriveTruRPG pdfs, but I can live with that) I will simply ask that if people enjoy the game but haven’t paid for t to donate what they think is fair here.

https://kindle.amazon.com/

Need to work on something else now.

I’ve reached the point where further simulation is an exercise in futility on the previously discussed topics. It now needs people to sit down and actually roll dice against each other so that a feel for how the system actually will play can be gained.

That was unnecessarily wordy, I don’t know why I wrote it that way.  tl:dr version, Simulation now pointless need info that can only come from play test.

What I’m faced with now is that I need to begin compiling the traits that will make up the entire system, it’s going to be tedious and I’m not going to document the entire process.

On the plus side given my dire need of playtesting, I have a sci-fi convention that I may have mentioned before coming up next weekend. If I can put together a short adventure and a half dozen characters I should be able to get my play testing needs met.

My Test Results

I was unable to find anybody to help me do a proper play test of the mechanics I was talking about last time so I did some pretty extensive simulation instead.

I did learn some important things about the nature of my system, but was unable to view some practical things like the time it takes to make defensive rolls versus having a static defensive number.

The big thing I learned is that the game has a pretty significant Death Spiral. I knew this was the case, it is in fact intentional. As currently written, however it is a bit more severe than I had anticipated. It does make a pretty convincing argument for the static defensive values though. On any individual roll having a static value set at 7 is roughly equivalent to actually rolling 2d6, the important difference is that you will never have the abysmal roll that allows for a one shot kill from an equally skilled and equipped opponent. I’m not a tremendous fan of doing away with that entirely, but by the same token I want the game to be fun. The risk of dying is fun, actually dying is less so unless it’s a dramatic and meaningful death.

So I don’t think this issue is that tough to fix, I’ve got some ideas and I’ll need to play test them or at least simulate them extensively again.

First of all I think I’m going to settle with a static defense value of 7+modifiers, with a discussion of optionally making the game more or less lethal with different defense values or the more true to life die roll.

Secondly I’m toying with some ideas for wound removal in combat based on die rolls. I’m thinking that maybe you may remove a wound penalty temporarily by either rolling a 12 (1/36 rolls) or by simply rolling doubles (1/6 rolls).  Perhaps there is some sort of action expenditure I could allow to remove or reduce the wound penalties, maybe even having them come back doubled after the fight until healed.

Third I’m thinking I’ll add a mook/minion/henchman throw-away caste of npcs who don’t take wounds at all they go straight to incapacitated/dead. I’m not sure how I feel about this one, but I’ll probably include it, as at least an optional setting mechanic for more cinematic battles.

The Purpose of Systems

I suppose before I get to deep into things I should explain some of my goals and philosophies.

I want a streamlined, simple system that can be used for functionally any setting or style somebody might care to play. I would like where possible to resolve things with the fewest die rolls possible.

Since combat and skill checks are where the system is at it’s most visible I will in general be concentrating on those facets, and ultimately will be hopefully reducing the profile of the system so that even there it is but minimally visible.

I don’t wish the game to include anything that does not enhance the game play.

To that end I ask what do we see in various game systems that we can do without?

The answer I see is quite a bit really.

To start with I look at what I already do at the table to speed up play, I personally hate to make people wait on me, which with the wizard I’m playing on Mondays kind of stresses me out a bit because I’m rarely fully prepared to deal with the situation as it is by the time my turn comes around, when it’s my turn. There’s invariably some looking up of a minor detail of some spell or other. In general though one of the things I do is to roll all my dice at once, coded by color and type. The yellow die that’s my roll, the brown one that’s help from my familiar, if I make an attack roll I roll the damage at the same time and ignore the damage if the attack doesn’t hit. Easy enough. But what if the attack roll and damage roll are the same roll? What if my 2d6+”mad rifle skillz”+rifle equipment bonus is not only my attack roll but simultaneously my damage roll. This would not only inherently speed up play at the table but would also shave away some of the “well AC from armor is how much damage can get through” hand waving that bothers a lot of people. We can look at it as this is my damage roll either I do a lot of damage because I hit something vital, I do a little damage because I nicked the target or I do no damage because I missed entirely. That works fine doesn’t it?

So weapons can have an equipment bonus that will be some combination of ease of use versus damage done.

So there’s that, what happens when an attack is successful? There’s the defensive step in there also but it is complicated by what I want to do here, so I’ll tackle that one in a minute.  To be honest I never liked Hit Points, Wound Levels, Vitality, whatever you want to call it. It takes something necessarily somewhat random and codifies it, it takes the edge off of the real concern someone should have in a dangerous situation. I found myself thinking last week before my Wizard attempted to tumble in to melee range to cast bestow curse on the stone giant general, that I was at full hit points and could probably take the single attack of opportunity he would get on me. The amount of damage he was doing was on average significantly less than my full HP total. It wasn’t much of a gamble really and it was a moot point once our wrestling druid put the clamps on the giant.

I’ve always been a more of a fan of a system like that presented in unearthed arcana relating to injury. Although I always liked the idea in concept I didn’t think it worked particularly well in execution and it especially created some otherwise nonexistent balance issues that I was never really sure how to mitigate.

Given that I’m devising a whole new system I can bring it back to the table and make it work because it’s an integral part of the system and not a clumsy attachment. I’m thinking to make it work we still need some sort of save versus damage or a defensive roll I guess we’ll call it. It is an additional die roll that I’d kind of like to avoid but it takes less time to make that single die roll than it does to do HP math for many people so hopefully with some play-testing it will at least even out.

I’m thinking a defensive roll will work much like an attack roll, or every other roll in the game to be honest. it will be 2d6+some sort of defensive skill if applicable+equipment, again if applicable, versus an attack roll. If the defender wins, nothing happens, damage is somehow mitigated, if the attacker wins, we’ll say by less than 10 a wound is inflicted, a wound will function as an all purpose penalty to all rolls including future defensive rolls. If the attacker wins by 10 or more then the the defender is incapacitated/killed.

That means that an untrained character with no equipment bonuses will out right kill another untrained unequipped character one time out of 1296 which is approximately .00077% of the time. I think that works.

Alternatively I may simply treat all NPC combat rolls as 7, or maybe even 6, that should speed things up a bit, but It’s something that will have to be worked out in play testing.

I’m a bit concerned about the lethality of the system as I’ve presented thus far particularly between evenly matched opponents. Perhaps with the success on an attack roll by 10 or more I’ll let the defender pick between death, maiming injury, or incapacitation.

I think I’m going to have to roll some dice with somebody before proceeding with this line of thought.

Making Rolls

So I talked about Dice and the fact that I think Attributes can be handled with, lets call them, advantages and disadvantages. I also mentioned that I will be going with a 2d6 plus modifiers versus a target number as a core mechanic.

I’ve had some time to think about that, and some input from friends I trust in these matters. And I’m still comfortable with my decisions. Mentioned in the comments of those other posts are Savage Worlds and Godlike. I like Godlike, it has a deep and interesting mechanic. I don’t care as much for Savage Worlds, I don’t like exploding dice or stepped dice, and it contains both. This is a personal preference issue. I don’t think any less of people who enjoy Savage Worlds more than I do, just as I don’t think less of people who enjoy D&D4. I don’t intend to emulate those games for one simple reason above all others, they have already been made. I’m making something new.

I meant in my discussion of Dice to explain why I don’t like exploding dice, I’ve had this prejudice since I first encountered it with the firearms rules of AD&D 2nd ed. The simple fact is that an exploding d4 will yield a higher result on average than an exploding d6. This is due to the fact that the d4 “explodes” 25% of the time and the d6 explodes 16.66‾% of the time meaning that the d4 is better than 2% more likely to get a result of 6 than the d6 is. The average result of an exploding die is also much more difficult to calculate given the theoretically infinite number of possible results. Though the above linked article does a pretty excellent job of it.

That was way more of a tangent than I expected it to be, sorry.

Any way attempting to steer this beast back on topic I have 2d6 which I will be rolling and adding modifiers to and comparing to a target number. Well I don’t have attributes, so where are these modifiers going to come from? The answer is going to be those advantages and disadvantages I mentioned. That’s how I think everything is going to be figured.

I’m thinking we have a series of advantages and disadvantages that add , most likely, +/-2 to a roll to a certain task, or related tasks as determined by the prerequisites for a given advantage.

These advantages will form something of a tree, lets take for example medicine. We’ll start with first aid, every boy scout and soldier and frankly most office workers have some sort of first aid training. The advantage First Aid will have no prerequisites and will give a +2 to rolls to treat minor injuries. From here we can take an advantage like CPR Training with First Aid as a prerequisite, we will now have a +2 to rolls to perform emergency life saving measures and be able to use devices like an Automated Electronic Defibrillator, we will also have another +2 for a total of +4 on First Aid rolls. We can further train up to EMT Training which would have the prerequisites CPR  Training and (Civil Service [disadvantage], Military Service [disadvantage], or Educated) This would allow a character to perform more drastic lifesaving measures, such as minor field surgeries as well as granting a further +2 to CPR and First Aid rolls as well as rolls to Civil or Military service, or education.

The more I think about it the more I like this system, but it will require a comprehensive list of advantages and disadvantages.

Attributes

Obviously I’m not going to do a Class/Level based system, I’ve made my opinion on that clear repeatedly. So it’s going to be skill based.

How skill based is it going to be? How big a role are attributes going to play. We’ve seen attributes handled in a lot of ways, we have three stats in BASH!, TriStat, and I believe GURPS (though to be fair I’ve never played GURPS), to six stats in D&D and it’s myriad clones, to White Wolf’s nine.

They range in most cases from 1 to 5, or the semi arbitrary 3 to 18.

What is a good number of attributes and what is a good range for them? This is entirely a question of granularity, how much do we need. I suppose I should define “granularity.” In RPG design the term relates to how finely tuned the differences between things (often skills and attributes) are.

I think personally that people expect to much granularity. It comes from starting out with d20 where attributes rated, roughly 3-18 (yes I know it actually goes both higher and lower) serve no real function other than to provide a different number -4 to +4. It’s silly to have that much granularity. In many of the games with attributes rated 1-5, we have 1, undeveloped or below average, 2 average, and 3-5 varying degrees of above average.

I would argue that even that level of granularity is not necessary. What if we just assumed that everybody is average in every way unless they have some sort of trait like a merit or flaw, to borrow WW terminology, that says they aren’t?

Dice

Dice mechanics are the core of any RPG system. This is a subject that has been discussed at incredible length in other places.

What it all boils down to in the end is how much do you want randomness to play a part and to what degree.

One of the things I hate about d20, the big thing really, is that randomness is the defining feature of any action or you have placed enough resources into this particular action that randomness is functionally no longer a factor at all.

The problem is that any given result on any die on any individual roll is as likely as any other. This problem is exacerbated by the size of the die in question, the larger the die the more completely unmanageable the results. d20 is bad, Chaosium’s percentile system is worse.

This can be mitigated by rolling more than one die, such as BASH!’s 2d6 (which is then multiplied) or GURPS’ 3d6, or even White Wolf’s or ShadowRun’s “Fist Full O’ Dice”.

The second group can be divided further into additive systems or success based systems. They both have advantages, they are both superior (in my opinion) to a straight roll.

I’m leaning toward additive but I’ll examine success based to make sure it doesn’t fit my purposes better. One of the biggest problems with a success based game depends on a system of critical hits and misses, I actually can’t think of any success based games I’ve ever played that haven’t had such a system, so it might not be so bad. In most of these games a 1 cancels a success or in some way causes something “bad” to happen this makes being unskilled at anything extremely dangerous as a 1 is a bit less common than whatever a success is (4-6 in Shadorun or 7-10 in WW) but if you roll dice often enough still sure to happen frequently. If we eliminate that we end up rolling our fist full of dice and parsing for successes, we can do that, but if we remove that success canceling mechanic we are going to end up with virtually guaranteed success pretty easily, it briefly looked like a good idea but I’ve returned to my original position that it’s not. We’ll be going with an additive system.

So do I want a fixed dice pool or do I want to have skill add dice? I’m pretty comfortable with both actually. With a fixed Dice pool like GURPS’ 3d6 you will always get a result between 3 and 18 with results being significantly more common around 10.5 and 3 and 18 being memorable events, worthy of song and legend. This is pretty realistic but it’s not very dynamic and I think goes a bit to far in the not random enough direction. It’s a delicate balance. Whereas if skill adds dice you will get a result between 1 and “who knows”, I like more predictability than that, I guess. I also think I may have problems balancing Adding Dice later on.

One of the things I like about BASH! is that it is a fast, light, easy to run, easy to play system. That gets bogged down a fair bit the more dice you roll and if you have to parse the results of the die roll for successes, so I think I’m going to keep the number of dice to two and keep it additive.

Do I want to keep the dice a constant where I always roll 2d##, and add the result or do I want to go with a system more like the wildly popular Savage Worlds with die stepping. with greater levels of skill offering a larger die to roll and add to your result.

Die stepping kind of defeats the advantage of multi die rolling. Typically the better you are at something the bigger the die you get to roll allowing you to roll higher numbers, that’s the theory anyway. In practice what happens is the better you are at something the more unpredictable your results become. That doesn’t make sense, it should be exactly the opposite. If you are going to do a Die Stepping system you should step the dice down from say a rank amateur with a d12 or d20 to an expert with a d4 there are two two ways to handle this one is to make up the difference between the larger die and the smaller die with an add, so you would step, for example, from a d12 to a d10+2, or you could score it like golf where a lower number is better, the add is somewhat clunky the golf score is counter intuitive. I suppose die stepping could be done well, I’m not positive it is worth the effort to try.

So we are going with a pair of fixed dice. Which ones?I like d12s the geekiest of all polyhedrons.

Let’s run the numbers on that. There are 144 possible results on 2d12, that’s an awful lot. 1 possible result each of 2 and 24, 4 results for 3 and 23, and so on, The median result is 13 with 12 possible results for 13 78 possible results are 13 or better. geeky as it is I think we are going to have to give the d12 a pass, sorry big guy.

OK the d12 was a complete bust, let’s rein our theorycrafting back in a bit and shoot for the d6, everybody has some. It has 36 possible results with 7 being the most common having six results that total 7, 1 one result each that totals either 12 or 2. this is starting to look a bit like a more stable d20, it’s familiar, I think people could be pretty comfortable with this, I am. It feels kinda nice.

Now we have some dice to roll and have decided that we are going to add them together now what?

The core mechanic of the d20 system is that you roll a d20 add modifiers and compare it to a difficulty. It’s simple it works on a fundamental level, I think we can easily adapt it to our purposes. I want to create a nice simple easy to play game, but I’m not intending to reinvent the wheel.

Now that we have our coremechanic of roll 2d6 add modifiers and compare to difficulty we can make meaningful progress with the rest of the game.