Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bad Pattern

I could have sworn that I posted something the first Tuesday of July, but apparently not. Last week, I'll admit I ran out of time, and then never got around to posting a belated entry. However, there is no intention here of constantly writing three posts and then abandoning the site for over a year.

So why does this happen? There isn't enough going on in my life that I can legitimately excuse this sort of inattentiveness. Its just a notable flaw in my personality and interests. I often have a number of things catch my attention, but after renting/opening them all, it becomes so overwhelming that I really get to none of them.

This is why I often have 4 Firefox windows with 60 tabs apiece open, or two dozen unread library books. I really want to do an in-depth study of the current trends in Role Playing theory, but I open up a dozen different blogs, and four articles from each, and then something else catches my attention once I'm bogged down by the weight of numbers and forget I about the open session.

When something has my attention, it can have it for some time. But being able to catch like that doesn't happen as often as I'd like, or at least not on the things I want. Taking a 15 min break to play a video game usually ends up as a 3 hour diversion at the very least.

At times I have tried schedules or rewards, but despite my knowledge of psychological patterns or reinforcement (thank you psych classes) it doesn't really work for me.

So let me apologize to my (apparently non-existant) readers about my poor up-keep. This blog is a paradox - I want to use it to concentrate on my projects and games, yet this thing itself often slips my attetion.

Ok, we're offically 87 posts behind now. Lets get cracking. Right after I finish this mission in Wesnoth...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Games Part 2: Contest Entries

1km1kt.net, where I post my work, is an archive of over 400 games, including most entries for the 24hour RPG project. As you might expect, I've made numerous attempts at these contests.

Eastern Front
This is the first 24 hour game I ever wrote. Its short, has atrocious production values, and in over five years, I've never gotten around to revising it - despite a desire to do so. However, to date, its the only one of my games to have a review over on rpg.net. Not a very flattering one (10/30) but that is still unique for my projects. (Link)

Lone General
My second attempt at a 24 hour game - Machine Sentience - failed to reach completion (and will be discussed in a later post), so this is technically my third 24 hour game. It shows a bit more finesse than the last one, though. More impressively, its a 19 page war game - meant for solo play - written under a time limit. I can't really vouch for how well it works, but considering my track record with war games (ie Part 3 of this series) its still an accomplishment, and so far can tell, no one else has attempted a similar project. (Link)

Rings of Jerusalem
Modus-Operandi is a website dedicated to espionage themed games, like Spycraft, Top Secret, and James Bond. While I don't play any of those games, when they solicited a contest for 24 hour spy themed game, I decided to make an entry.

In an alternate universe, Saturn was colonized not long after the end of the American civil war. Cites built inside giant spheres floating in the dense atmosphere of the plant, and are reached via metal zeppelins and anti-gravity ships. Due to immigrant quotas and Russian pogroms, many Jews have come to take up residence within these exo-planetary settlements.

However, WWI is fast approaching, and merchant raiders would be a vicious threat to anyone living on Saturn. While the Jews have no navy of their own, they have put together an undercover force to sabotage the war-fighting capabilities of the various power-blocks, so as to avoid being caught in the crossfire. (Link)

Of G-Men and Super-Men
This is the most recent of my games, written as part of a contest on 1km1kt.net. In addition to the normal 24 hour rpg rules, the entrants needed to a) include professional touches normally lacking from 24 hour games (ie a cover, index, NPCs) b) included "Keeton" (the glorious benefactor of 1km1kt) somehow, and c) chose from a list of 41 topics (many of them submitted by me).

Given that I'm one of the judges, its not allowed to win, but I think it would have been a contender otherwise. From a document point of view, its my best illustrated, and includes a number of professional features like table of contents, glossary, and character sheets - elements that tend to be left out in the crunch to complete a game quickly.

The game takes place in a version of 1958 where people with comic book like powers exist. Each player is an agent of HEROES -Headquarters for Enforcement & Registration of Observed Supernatural - essentially a version of the FBI tasked with controlling super heroes. (Link)

Sputnik Lost
This is an RPG written under a different kind of constraint - rather than a limit of time, the restricted factor is space. Sputnik Lost is a complete game covering one sheet of paper, and for that matter, I only used one side! It tells the tale of a Soviet Moon landing that never returned and was covered up by the communist government. (Link)

Days of Plunder
Like sputnik lost, this is an attempt to fit an entire game on a single page of paper. Its a naval wargame in the age of sail, squeezed onto the front and back of a standard 8.5x11 page. I'll admit that some of the text is smaller than 12 point font, and it has some balance issues - but is indeed, a working simulation complete with wind direction, boarding, and broadsides from different types of vessels.

Its available from this thread on RPGLaboratory.

Yet another type of RPG challenge, is Game Chef. The participants are given some "ingredients" they have to include and a week or two of time to work. Prior years have had such restrictions as "must use colors in action resolution" or "design for 10 2 hour sessions".

The occasion I took part in had us choose between two sets of words, and then use three of the four somehow. My choices were the concepts of "currency", "memory", and "drug". The end result was each character being a faction in an attempt to overthrow the government. However, to quell this problem, the government coated the local money with a mind altering chemicle. Hence the trade off was you could use cash to either force your opponents to rethink their actions (as they forget what they're trying to do) or in the more conventional method.

Like most games written under duress, it had some good ideas, but I don't think it received the full development it deserved. Of course, my rate of following up on projects I'm not so happy with is dismal, and its been two or three years since then.

Final Note
One interesting aspect of all my contest entries (and most of my normal projects) is that each one of them has a gimmick. In Eastern Front, all the ratings are a double edged sword - sometimes rolling over is good, sometimes roll under. Rings of Jerusalem lets you spend attribute points to give other players bonuses.

Furthermore, every time, my style has improved a bit, and I highly recommend that you try one of these contests yourself if you have any interest in creating games. The 24 hour challenge only requires a bit of uninterrupted time and is a great way to finally use that idea that has been sitting in your head.

My Games Part 1b: Major Projects

Oddly enough, this is one of my most successful games, yet it started almost as an afterthought. One of my courses in college was technical editing, and the professor introduced me to Open Office and its formatting shortcuts. Gangland was the confluence of these two events - practice with the new word processor and applying my new understanding of layout and document design.

As the title implies, its essentially "GTA the RPG". Its very simple - there are only four attributes, and all tasks are based on a percentile roll. Guns are very powerful, ending combat quickly, and vehicles have only three stats - speed, handling, and HP. Guns are made from a type, a mod, and a caliber (ie revolver, snub, .357) to yield a range, accuracy bonus/penalty, damage, and capacity. Overall, the game is only 10 pages.

However, its gotten several E-mails from interested parties - including a long discussion from a GM in Argentina. I've written an addendum for another 10+ pages, and "Triage" which will add yet more new rules - martial arts, armored vehicles, multiple revisions/clarifications - and a half dozen 2 page micro settings is in the works.

Gangland and its first Addendum are available on from here. Also of note, is that another writer used the system (copy and pasted verbatim) to create an RPG based on the video game "Blood II: The Chosen".

Dead... And Back
Most of my games begin with a concept or story, and then work back to what type of system would fit that setting best. However, D&B is odd for running in the reverse - I had a jolt of inspiration for an elegant combat mechanic, and needed a setting to show it off. Since it was a one-roll combat system, I wanted something combat heavy - so I decided something with a target rich environment - hordes of zombies.

However, since there were more than enough standard survival horror games, I tried to take it in a different direction. The game is set in 2055, after a fairly utopian future that introduced acrologies, mag-levs, augmented reality, micro-factory "rapid production centers" and integrated nano-tech microsurgeons. Unfortunately, aliens show up, and its a confluence of their bio-weapons and our tech that produces nearly a dozen different kinds of "Reanimates". They still roam the land in their demon-like power armors, setting up enclaves protected by laser towers. Meanwhile, the world is split into Government Zones and the Anarchy Zone. G-Zones tend to have problems - over population, religious fanatics, social discord and so on - making life in the A-zone relatively idyllic in comparison. Rather than holing up in a city state, setting out for adventure is a good idea, a different kind of escape from the normal survival horror type.

D&B consists of three parts. The rules are for the most part free of setting information, and can be used for most mundane settings (there is no magic system). "Undead Fairy Tales" is an exploration of the environment through documents and interviews - a false historical archive detailing life in the new world. Conversely, "Cold Hard Truth" touches on the same areas, but in a manner more akin to traditional games or encyclopedias.

A number of stories detailing the D&B world can be found in my book at RPGLaboratory.com While the game is posted on 1km1kt.net, the most recent revision is at the lab under the label Redux, and while UFT/CHT are here. However, you need an account/to sign in to get the lab downloads, while anyone can get the 1km1kt version.

Well, this entry has turned out to be longer than expected, and its but the first in a series. With luck, I'll finish this group quickly and without a year and a half break - then have time to speak of these games more thoroughly.

My Games Part 1a: Major Projects

At last count, I'm working on 20 role playing and war games, and a few game related projects. (Theories and guides) Obviously, I should give you an over-view of what these are, though for easier reading, I'll be splitting the explanation into a few parts. Many of these games are available through my collection at 1km1k.net

XenoExodous (Formerly D.A.N. - Dramatic Action Now)
The is the first game I started, back in 2001. I had just started college, working on an English degree, and I wanted to try a project that would put my writing skills to the test. I thought it would be interesting to write a game at the beginning of my school career, and then see how my style changed by the end of it.

For the last several years, I had played "Rifts" by Palladium Books, and my head was full of house rules, and many of these influenced the design. For example, there were multiple levels of damage, just like SDC and MDC - but in my game it was in powers of ten, and there were far more levels. Personal Grade was you standard hit points, then Military Grade (x10), High Grade (x100, for tanks) and Vacuum Points (x1000, for space ships). Due to the way multiple action melee rounds dragged out in Rifts, all characters were limited to only two actions in a combat round - with a dodge imposing a penalty rather than an active complication.

However, the system is not related to Paladium's, indeed its rather unique in having two means of resolution. First is to add the number of tic-marks in an attribute and skill to the roll of 2d6 and compare to a target number if you only need yes/no outcomes. (ie do I hit the target or clear the chasm?) The second turns the tic marks into percentages (a different amount for attributes, amature skills, or professional knowledge) and is used when you need a margin of success. (Ie, doing an exceptional job of flying your aircraft makes it much harder for the enemy to enter a firing position.)

For those of you who are wondering, the original name is a nod to my three friends named Dan - Holman, Flaherity, and Eisner. The later title reflects the setting better.

XenoExodous is grounded in a hard SF universe facing the lifeboat problem. Space technology is limited to ion engines or VASMIR Plasma drives, and take weeks or months to traverse between planets. However, an alien artifact - dubbed the Hyperfoil Gate - has been discovered which allows travel to other solar systems. Unfortunately, this also unleashed the Xeno-Former, which is rendering the Earth uninhabitable. Thus there is a race between various power blocks to evacuate the planet and find new homes for Humanity.

Although the first to be written, more likely than not, it will also probably be the last one I finish. As stated above, the scope of the project is massive, and I continue to be just one person.

Octal (Formerly Neg(0)Eight)
From the start, I realized that XenoExodous was a major project, that would take some time to complete, and be difficult to publish. Neg(0)Eight was created to be sort of my "gaming resume" or my first step into the business. Unlike the former game that I had invested so much though into, this was to be a fairly basic system I was unattached to. The idea was to contact some company that already had an interesting Intellectual Property (Westwood Studios' Command and Conquer was my first thought) and point out that a pencil and paper game would increase their fan base.

In hindsight, that probably wasn't a great idea, and i never acted on it. However, Octal is a functional system, looking for a setting. Most tests are resolved via 2d8-9 yielding a negative (fail), positive (success), or a zero - which means different things depending on if you're a hero or a mook. Altering difficulty is by altering what is subtracted from the 2d8, hence altering the the likelihood of the three outcomes.

Due to length, I'm splitting this into two posts - part Ib follows immediately.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I didn't know this survived

Somehow I was under the impression that these things would be deleted after a certain length of inactivity. After all, who needs their server cluttered by by two entry blogs written by people who forget they even had one?

Yet a year and a half after I created it and forgot about it, this document is still here. So too remains the promise that I would make multiple posts every time I failed a regular Tuesday update.

That means I'm officially 84 posts behind schedule, and I never really planned to write more than a few dozen.

High time to rethink what I want out of this project, isn't it?

For one, its going to update "whenever" - trying to stick to a schedule is just going to put me farther behind.

The second change is that I'm going to open up the scope a bit. My original intent was to simply share the campaign notes for all stuff I never played. I still hope to do that, but in addition, I will be sharing some ideas about game design and theory, reviews of stuff from 1km1kt.net, stories from the settings of my games, and developing concepts for new ones.

I must ask forgiveness from myself for my failure to even get an adequate start on this the first time, and from those who want to share my thoughts, yet find a lack of content here. May I be a better person in the future.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How I Found Role Playing

Missing the first scheduled update is hardly a noble way to go about this. Unfortunately, last week had an undue amount of distractions. I’ll try to make multiple updates anytime I miss the normal one as compensation.

I was always a child with more imaginary friends than real ones. (Some are still waiting for me downstairs, and I’m in my mid-20s!) At some point around fifth or sixth grade I acquired a “chose your own adventure” type book called “Car Wars: Green Circle Blues” – based on the game Car Wars of course, though I didn’t know of the progenitor at the time.

The notable difference between this tome and similar books I read before was the element of chance and conflict. Rather than just turning to a numbered paragraph – the start of the adventure had you create a simple character with four skills – Gunnery, Driving, Mechanics, and Prestige. Throughout the book were various battles, fought with rolls of 2d6 + your skill. To this day I recall the car, “Jupiter”, had two recoilless rifles (linked, to front) and a Vulcan cannon (turret) even though the book was lost in a flood years ago.

After a while, I created a simple system to make my own cars, and during lunch I’d have “auto-duels” with my friends. This would eventually expand into assorted spaceships and robots made with a similar system.

Yet still, I never played an actual RPG until junior year of high school some 3-4 years later. Being a fairly shy person, I was reluctant to join the Interactive Gamers’ Club at my School.

“Rifts”, by Palladium Games, was the first true RPG that I played.

There’s an old joke –

  • The Engineering Student asks, “How does it work?”
  • The business Student asks, “How much does it cost?”
  • And the Liberal Arts major asks, “Do you want fries with that?”

Well, after substantially re-writing the rules for other games I’ve played I wanted to test myself, and what I was learning in college. Thus I began writing a game called “D.A.N.” – Dramatic Action Now (and a nod to my three friends named Dan) – correcting the faults in Rifts I’d experienced over the years.

Seven years later, DAN is still unfinished, as I have learned much about game theory and layout since that time. Yet I have completed other works, and still strive towards the goal of completing both that early system and its space opera XenoExodous setting one day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It Begins

I enjoy pencil and paper role-playing games. Perhaps a bit too much - I've got an entire book shelf full of 25-30 different systems, and nearly two gigabytes of free PDFs (totaling over 300 works) from around the net.

As you would imagine, I rarely find the time to play most of them. Indeed, a few were acquired just to read, and haven't been played in several years.

This has of course lead to a backlog of not only characters to make, but campaigns to run. Yet life goes on, and my chances of actually running these sessions diminish further.

My intention for this blog is to share my un-played ideas with those of you out there, and hope that my preparation will do, someone, some good.

With any luck, this should be updated each Tuesday, and be divided between articles on the featured games, sessions to run, and assorted thoughts on design of new games.