Category Archives: Gaming

A treatise on game design – Part 2

See part 1 here.

The effort that goes into creating a game set aside, the sheer amount of theory testing that you have to do can deter many people from undertaking such a project by itself. Personally, I don’t even really have the time to do it, but it’s a pet project of mine so I try to fit it in. That has made finalizing many of the new ideas that I mentioned in part 1 more difficult than I’d like, but at the same time has set me up to produce a pretty solid game once I am able to finish the details.

To recap – I’ve redesigned magic use, set some customized skill selection and create unique Characteristics and Secondary Attributes for players to use to inspire more realism in the game. This sets me up for a survival horror, post-apocalyptic setting with ease.

In order continue driving that realism, there are a few other factors that I felt had to be set in motion, but more on the game end than the character/player side of things. Creating an environment that felt familiar-yet-alien, a scarcity that continued to demonstrate the essence of survival throughout the game and the right atmosphere in NPCs and world interactions that would make the players feel like they were struggling to survive, let alone thrive, in this setting.

Fallout InventoryFrom my experience there are few tabletop RPGs that do this successfully. I’d love to hear about any systems that do. However, there are plenty of video games that succeed in this area with flying colors – most notably Fallout, Wasteland and DayZ. These games capture the essence of survival without making it seem over worked or boring – although some might argue that the obsessive inventory micromanagement needed in the more recent Fallout titles detracts from the game.

To convey these ideas I decided to take another look at items and equipment. There are three primary factors that I think contribute to the right ideas that I’m going for with these areas of the game – scarcity, durability and wastefulness. Making the player feel the scarcity of food, ammunition, water and helpful items like armor would generate the survival feeling quite well. At the same time, adding a durability score for weapons and armor would help encourage players to think twice before charging into combat, with something other than hit points to consider losing. If one’s armor is at low durability, two hits might make it fall off and then you have a much larger problem. And finally, the idea of not wanting to waste items. If you have a few scraps of leather and rivets to repair an item, is it more important to fix a breastplate or create a new pair of gloves? Which will provide more value over time? These factors have to be introduced to the players in a way that doesn’t make the game seem overly complicated, but drives the… necessary hoarder mentality for a survival situation.

Perfecting these areas of the game is the next step (and where I am currently at), but I need to actually test them with players. I feel like once these aspects are perfected in a way that makes them a pertinent part of game play but doesn’t detract from the game as whole by being too much of a focus, I will be able to finalize the game rules and focus more on the setting again.

The easiest way to set durability is with a percentage system, much like anything else in BRP. Scarcity can be controlled in game by affecting characters hunger and hydration attributes over the course of a session with no food or water to be found. The real trick I feel will be imparting the importance of using resources wisely without simply using trial and error. This will be the next step, and hopefully I can perfect it soon and offer some more data and insights into this process.


A treatise on game design – Part 1

About two years ago I wrote about an RPG project I was working on at the time. While I still haven’t completed that project, I have put considerable more thought into it and I feel like it’s time to revisit the subject. My efforts in designing a game system from the ground up, and consequently a game world and story, have changed greatly, and now I’m working toward a slightly different goal.

The golden arches of a new age.Ultimately, developing an entirely new game system proved pointless in my efforts. I was trying to develop a system that would incorporate several new factors into it, but when all was said and done it was significantly easier to take another system – BRP, or Basic Role-Playing – and adapt it to my needs. My original idea was to create a system that used a broader range of options for combat, magic use and skills, and expand upon a percentage-based roll, much like BRP does. After working through several theories and trying to fine-tune a few ideas, I realized that it was much easier to just use BRP for the system, as all the other ideas I tried were more complicated – a direction I definitely didn’t want to go in. There is no reason for a game system to be more complicated than BRP, and the games that are are just too hard to get into because of it.

Following the decision to use BRP rather than develop my own system, however, I decided that I needed to create some customized rules to go along with it, mostly regarding the use of magic. BRP has a very basic magic system that works like any other skill within the game – roll a percentile dice and get below a skill number. Magic systems tend to become oversimplified if you follow this approach, with little room for specialization or growth.

In order to avoid this problem I decided to create a separate skill chart based on BRP‘s skill system, but focus on in depth customization. Players can select from different schools of magic and then select choose spells that then act as the skill.

Example: Player 1 selects the Pyromancy school of magic. He or she then has a certain number of skill points to assign here at character creation based on a formula – which is still being developed, sorry. Player 1 has 60 points to assign, which he or she decides to sink into two different spells – Fireball and Heat Manipulation. This allows Player 1 to create a sizeable ball of flame that can be launched at a target, such as a fire to light it or an enemy to damage it, while also manipulating already existing fire’s temperature – cooling a fire in order to keep it from spreading, perhaps, or increasing its heat in order to melt steel. Player 1 puts 40 points into Fireball, allowing him or her a moderate chance to create one of whatever size is preferred, and high accuracy when throwing of it. This leaves 20 points for Heat Manipulation, allowing for a low margin of success, but one that can be cultivated later.

This type of system allows for complete customization by the player while still keeping it simple and controllable by the game master.

However, there are so many other considerations that go into creating a game that is unique that I had to dabble a bit more with the BRP system and customize a few other factors. For one, certain skills didn’t work for the world I was creating, while a few new ones were necessary. The BRP rule set is designed for mostly real-world, modern settings. By adapting this, I can easily customize it for a post-apocalyptic horror game. I removed skills like Accounting, Anthropology, Drive, Pilot and Psychology and replace them with Barter, Ride (Horse), Magic, Scavenge and other skills more appropriately suited for survival in a harsh wilderness. This allows me to focus the ideas of the game more and set a better mood.

The final touch was in creating a system to control health. Not hit points, but rather disease, starvation, dehydration and other factors that would be more likely to affect the players. I decided to steal a page from Call of Cthulhu for this one. Much like Power affects Sanity, and the new rule set for CoC includes Luck – I could incorporate Hunger, Hydration and other attributes. This would allow me to create a pressing need for players to conserve water and food, and set a threshold for when their hunger began to negatively affect their ability to perform actions.

To be continued…


Youth and Video Games

While the matter of whether or not parents should allow their kids to play whatever video games they want is an entirely superficial one, and one that I have strong opinions on, the plethora of children playing multiplayer games online – like Call of Duty – is both frightening and pathetic. It’s not that I don’t think they shouldn’t be allowed to play games, though I don’t think a violent first-person shooter is the right game for someone under the age of 14 to be playing, but rather the intense dread I feel whenever I log into a multiplayer lobby and hear the shrill, pre-pubescent screech of one of these bratty little shits.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that they are almost always better at the games than me. That doesn’t bother me. I play Call of Duty for the 4-player Zombie mode, not traditional multiplayer. It’s the fact that these whiny brats jump into lobby’s (as they are known in the game), throw a plethora of four letter words around (where are their parents and why aren’t there bars of soap on hand?) and then proceed to do everything humanly possible to annoy the other players within the game. This includes, but is not limited to, kill stealing, hogging weapons and in general being a nuisance.

The worst part is that this behavior isn’t limited to the 14 and under club. College students and, presumably, grown adults share in these same activities. There’s a reason I rarely play these games any more, and it isn’t because I don’t enjoy them.

Case in point: I just logged out of a… 1-2 hour session of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Zombies. While it was, for the most part, enjoyable, there reached a point where one of the other players began whining about trying to accomplish something (note: something that benefited only him, not the other three of us), and how we weren’t helping. Albeit, teamwork is the name of the game, this never sits well with me. And then I start becoming an asshole.

Immature people exist. I can cope with that fact. Immature people play video games – hell I’m probably not the most mature person in the world. However, the fact that I’m forced to interact with immature people in order to play these games is why, for one, I don’t play some of them, like World of Warcraft, anymore. I’m going to choose to distance myself from these types of players because they make the game unenjoyable for me. Now I just wish there was a way to make sure I never encountered them again.

On a related note: Parents – please pay the fuck attention to what your children are saying and doing on their Xbox’s. Or they might end up growing up like me.


Returning to Arkham…

Or at least Somerville.

NecronomiCon-Providence ended Sunday, late afternoon, as the stars came out of alignment, and we made our return to the northern Boston area. Now… yes I could have posted Sunday evening, or even Monday – but truth be told I was exhausted and worked Tuesday so I decided to push this off for a day or two.

So let’s start by talking about the convention. First off, it was amazing. A huge thank you and shoutout to Niels Hobbs, Anthony Teth, Carmen Marusich and the rest of the The Lovecraft Arts and Sciences Council. You gents and ladies did an amazing job bringing everything together, despite running around like chickens with your heads cut off throughout the entire weekend. 2015!

Highlights! Well gaming was certainly up there. For those that don’t know, I run a Call of Cthulhu game every other week, and have been running games in general for years. However, I rarely get to play in them and I have, in fact, never played Call of Cthulhu (before this weekend). So that was an amazing part of the weekend. Playing in Jeff Carey’s and Mark Morrison’s games was a unique experience, especially with Mark, who came up with a one-of-a-kind scene on the fly and ran it for the group of us playing with him Sunday morning. We even walked up to Prospect Park up on College Hill to play – a site were Lovecraft used to sit and write.

Beyond the gaming, there were a lot of other amazing things that happened over the course of the weekend. The Emerging Scholarship Symposium panels were unique and interesting (although a bit deep for 9 a.m. And of course, listening to S.T. Joshi speak was a fun experience, especially considering how powerful of a speaker he is.

I also got a chance to talk with some major players in the CoC tabletop universe, like Scott Glancy, Mark Morrison, Tom Lynch and a few others. Oh, and Sandy Peterson was there. Of course, those conversations took a turn toward writing for the most part, and I may have some more interesting news related to that in the future.

For anyone interested in catching up on more information on the convention, Mike Davis of The Lovecraft eZine has been posting videos on his YouTube page, and one attendee, “Steve Ahlquist,” has posted some videos on his own page as well.

Moving on from the convention though… we’re back in the thick of Lovecraft Country, and happy to be home with our cats. Stay tuned for more, soon.


To the land of Lovecraft

The stars align once every so often, and when that occurs hundreds, nay thousands, gather in a mecca of sorts – Providence, R.I. – to discuss and celebrate the life and writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Less poetically put, tomorrow marks the unofficial start of the NecronomiCon-Providence, which officially begins the following day on Friday. Crista and I will be traveling down by train to spend the weekend basking in the glory of my favorite American writer and the otherworldly horror of which he studied.

Tentatively, we will attend panels on Forbidden Knowledge in 19th & 20th Century Modernism; Religion, Philosophy and Cosmic Horror in HPL and other discussions of The Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft’s work, as well as gaming and attending other various events around the city.

Should you be in Providence for this forsaken weekend, check out the festivities, and if not… Wish you were here.

I will be posting upon our return, and perhaps during the events, if the mood strikes me.

Till then.


RPG Project

Post-Apocalyptic World

Something like this would be a Post-Apocalyptic survivor junky's wet dream...

I’ve got the general makings for a pseudo-Post-Apocalyptic RPG setting running around in my head and I haven’t decided what to do with it yet (including whether I should scrap it or not).

The basic idea is a serious world, as most PA tabletop RPGs are a bit tongue-in-cheek, and that’s about it. Other than that I’m still torn between quite a few options, some of which I am going to lay out here.

Setting – The setting of an RPG can sometimes be the most important thing. Most Post-Apocalyptic worlds or either Realistic, Horror, or Sci-Fi. But there are many other options as well – High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Western, Victorian-era, even Steampunk (haha no). So what time of world would I want to play in? Idealistically the game that comes out of this project would be adaptable to whatever setting the players want. If the rules allow for slight variation or customization, then you can transplant them from Horror straight into a Victorina-era Post-Apocalypse complete with vampires (or some such nonsense). So my thoughts are to design for a vaguely Realistic, maybe Low Fantasy-style world, but with complete adaptability.

Rules – Ah the rules. If the setting is the flesh of a game, the Rules are the bones of it. For creation testing, I will probably keep this in a D20 rule setting. Everyone I know that might be interested in playtesting knows it already, it’s easy to adapt, and most importantly I know it like the back of my hand… Wait, where’d that scar come from? Anyway. Ultimately I’d like to adapt whatever rule set that I use to come similar enough to feel comfortable to the players, but unique enough that… um… it’s unique.

Characters (Classes and Races) – Ah yes… to continue the terrible analogy, if setting is the flesh and rules are the bones, the characters are the blood of a game – the life force. Every game as characters, that’s the point. So what do I do with the character options? Well in part that depends on the setting. If this is a High, or even Low Fantasy setting, could players pick Elves and Dwarves for their classes? Ehhhh… yes. But what about Victorian, Horror, Western, etc.? What are the options there, just Human? Ideally, I would like to create a… rough outline of races based more on location. Think Midnight or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion/Skyrim for those more familiar with video games. The Northerners are a tall, stocky group with these natural skill sets… while Southerners are lithe and agile with these natural skills… That sort of thing. And if those goes well, addendum rules for Fantasy races are always an option. But at that point shouldn’t you just go play Eberron?

Finally, we come to the most important aspect… what makes a game Post-Apocalyptic? Well, that’s actually quite easy (to me).

Any PA-style game must have four basic elements to it, other than a ruined landscape (which, honestly, it doesn’t have to have).

  • A feeling of survival.
  • You must scavenge to survive.
  • Scavenging includes finding items to repair or replace current equipment… and health (you can’t just go to a shop and buy a new gun or some penicillin).
  • And a feeling of fear.

These may be the most important points for me in this game. If I capture those perfectly (or at least well) then I will be happy.

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them.

~Ian