King of Random Thoughts 2011

More on Magical Burst
I really want to bring Magical Burst to fruition, ideally within the next year or so. Not only is it a project I’ve been wanting to do for ages, but the game is already just on fire. It’s still a rough draft, yet it’s been played by something like five or six different groups that I know of, and checking site stats it turned out that some Taiwanese fans have already translated most of it. Although I doubt the creators of Madoka Magica are going to pull an Endless Eight and alienate all the fans, the current buzz about it won’t last forever.

Yesterday for the second time I went to the local Panera with all my notes to brainstorm, and this time I tried running a test combat (Yuna and Makoto vs. “Hellerina”). I think the combat system is more or less on the right track. The amounts of damage characters can dish out is pretty brutal (and I’m upping magical girls’ base Resolve to around 18), but I want combats to go pretty quickly. However, thinking back to the clouds and boxes stuff I’ve been re-reading lately I think I’ve allowed it to become a little too much of an abstract sub-game, so I’m going to pull back a bit on that.

Looking at Apocalypse World for inspiration, I ended up deciding to add a set of Normal Attributes (tentatively, Aggro, Cool, Social, and Sharp) and rules that use them in various ways. I’d been kind of avoiding doing that up until now, but I think having that dichotomy in the rules, with magic being explicitly stronger, is more interesting. It’ll also let normal people and potential magical girls actually have something to do in the rules. It’s also making me realize just how powerful AW’s “moves” model is. I was trying to figure out how to handle magical girls facing psychological shocks and how to handle what happens when they lose all their Resolve in a fight, and adding Stay Calm and Revive moves might be just the solution I was looking for. On the other hand that puts my notion of a Shinobigami-style scene-framing system like I wrote about in my last post into doubt, but I’ll just have to see how all that shakes out as I work on it more.

One thing I have explicitly decided to do is to let magical girls take Overcharge after the dice hit the table. In Smallville I definitely like how in a conflict you can struggle to spend Plot Points to win out, and I think that’s even better when each point gets you closer to Fallout. That also means I’m going to have to make voluntary relationship Strain a bit less of an attractive option compared to Overcharge, and I may just limit it to healing or some such. One thing I do need to get better about as a game designer is examining what incentives my rules are creating.

No Dice
Every now and then I’ll see someone post on a forum that they’ll refuse outright to play an RPG that’s diceless or that uses cards. Lately I’ve realized that if someone says this, I want to know what diceless/card-based RPGs people are playing that’s soured them on the idea, because in each case you can probably count the number of fully-developed games on one hand. In a sense they’re both underdeveloped “technologies,” especially compared to the hundreds or thousands of RPGs that use dice in countless different ways.

As a (wannabe) designer I try to design games based on what I think will work best for the game I’m trying to design. My preferences can intrude on things (I’ve come to really like the Japanese style 2d6+Bonus type thing, I mostly hate exploding dice, and I’m lukewarm on die-step systems), but I can’t imagine outright rejecting any given element or approach without considering its merits.

Of course, with something like playing cards you need to actually use its merits. There are a zillion things you can do with playing cards that are difficult if not impossible to do with dice, as well as drawbacks of playing cards that you would need to work around, but using them as 13-sided dice is a total waste. Diceless games seem to be harder to pull off, though I think that’s at least partly because there’s less existing stuff to build on and less of what is customary in RPG design works the same. Just comparing numbers is boring, but comparing numbers combined with die rolls somehow becomes much more exciting (though not sufficient in and of itself). Amber Diceless seems to get a lot of its success in play from how the people at the table handle things, and the only really successful (design-wise) resource-based RPG design I know of (Yuuyake Koyake) works in part because it has an unconventional tone and mode of play for an RPG, and mostly sidesteps the competitiveness that can make bidding an unsatisfying mechanic.

Rules and Not-Rules
The other day Ben Lehman did another guest post for anyway, about different kinds of rules and their functions. I’ve talked before about how things that aren’t normally rules, or that are “negative space” in the game (like Yuuyake Koyake’s lack of combat rules) can affect the game. In the essay Ben draws a distinction between “continuous” and “immediate” rules, where the latter is what we tend to think of as rules and the former is what we tend to think of as just how the game is played, stuff like speaking in character. Looking at Polaris, Ben is certainly willing to treat the continuous rules as part of his design space, and while not every game needs to mess with that, it’s definitely good to consider such things. There are people who’ve tried to characterize GM-less games as somehow an attempt to strike a blow against tyrannical GMs who are big meanies or something, but in my experience the consensus is overwhelmingly that this is simply something else that designers need to consider in terms of what what’s good for the game at hand, and that can include shaping participants’ responsibilities and interactions differently from a typical RPG. That goes back to Vincent Baker’s thing that games change the parameters of people’s social interactions, which I’m still digesting.

My Little Sunset
Alas, I have become one of those adult males who watches My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. It’s a cartoon for girls, but it has appealing, well-made characters, excellent animation, and good writing. I haven’t become one of the bronies, but I do sometimes see episodes in Yuuyake Koyake terms. Fluttershy just spent 2 Feelings to overcome her Scardey-Cat weakness, then made an Adult check to scold the dragon. I may have to write a hack at some point.

Webcomic Merchandise
I’ve been wanting to start doing merchandise and such for Neko Machi for a while, and it’s looking like we’re going to get into that finally in a small way with a booth at a local anime convention called Kin-Yoobi Con. There are a bunch of things that comic and webcomic folks do as a matter of course that might be interesting to explore more in RPGs. The big ones on my mind (on account of they’re the ones I’m planning to make for Neko Machi) are buttons and mini-comics.

To make buttons you have to make an initial investment in a button press (the cheap kind run about $120, and average bench press ones are $300+), but after that the materials are very cheap per unit, and you could very easily make a healthy profit selling them at $1 each. Being able to make glossy round things of an inch or so in diameter with any art you want seems like a natural boon to the right kind of RPGs. I could totally see replacing D&D minis with 1″ buttons, or using buttons as came tokens in some other way, not to mention just making buttons to go with a given game. There are also some places you can go to order buttons to be made for a reasonable fee, though you typically need to get at least 50 made of a single design, and if you do 4+ orders ever, you get to where a hand press would be cheaper in the long run.

If you go to any comics-related event, you’ll see lots of mini-comics. Some or more elaborate than others, but the standard mini-comic is simply photocopied, folded, and stapled from one of the common paper sizes, possibly cut in half. I have a box of these, and it fills up a bit more ever time I go to APE. RPGs have different standards of value than comics, so while there have been a few examples of RPGs taking up this kind of format–XXXXtreme Street Luge, Weird West, and House of Horiku come to mind–I don’t know that it’ll be received well among gamers. What I do know is that when I saw the Forge booth at Gen Con SoCal, I was really blown away by the 100-page coilbound books, which showed me that an RPG doesn’t have to be a giant 200 to 300-page tome. I’d kind of like to see that barrier broken down even more, though it raises the question of whether that stuff can create the kind of traction it needs for actual play to happen.

1 thought on “King of Random Thoughts 2011

  1. I haven’t played Yuuyake Koyake or anything, but I always thought Nobilis’s diceless resource management system worked very well. Mind, that one also has “an unconventional tone and mode of play for an RPG,” but another part of it is that you’re not necessarily expending your resources on every single action; you basically only spend them on actions that exceed your normal limits, and since the game is all about playing demigods your “normal limits” can be quite high.

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