Tag Archives: survival

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…


Disaster Survival

Hurricane DevastationSo, this morning I woke up to the news that Hurricane Irene is heading directly towards Delaware. Now, for many this is a frightening experience. Especially for the woman who works with my father who moved here because she lived in New Orleans and lost everything during Katrina… I am sure for her this is a nightmare. But for me it’s actually rather exciting. For a variety of reasons.

  • I am a survivalist nutjob. – Yes that’s right. I get excited during disasters. I love researching survival plans and techniques. And I am always prepared. I have an emergency kit put together. I have everything I could possibly need in case of a zombie apocalypse within arms length from my desk/bed. I like to be prepared, and I like to be ready for a worst-case-scenario.
  • I like storms. – I have always loved thunderstorms since I was a little kid. They fascinate and delight me. I’m the kid that would get screamed at because I’d run outside in the middle of a thunderstorm to play in the torrential downpour… lightning doesn’t scare me. And this is potentially the worst storm I will have ever experienced. It get’s the blood pumping!
  • I like fixing things. – As odd as this sounds, I really like repairing things and the like, so if our house gets damaged, or something goes crazy wrong… I’ll have a blast repairing it afterwards. Unless our house is demolished… I wont be so happy then… no. Bad juju. BAD!

So yeah… I’m excited. Many of my friends know that I have planned extensively for a zombie apocalypse. I had a survival plan in Boston. I have a survival plan here. Not quite as good of one… but that’s because our house is a zombie death trap… one story, weak interior doors, huge windows… ugh. Just not zombie proof. It makes me sad. My apartment in Boston was a different matter though… second story, great doors, a reinforced back entrance with a steel security door on the basement, roof access… it was great. Very secure, very safe.

In Case of Zombies Break Glass

In case of Zombies, break glass!

So how does one plan for a zombie apocalypse? Well… “going to the tavern, having a nice cold pint, and waiting for this all to blow over” isn’t the best idea – no offense Shaun. Having supplies is. Non-perishable food, renewable water source, weapons, home repair supplies (plywood, nails), and survival/first aid equipment is a must. Having a protected garden (ie – tall fence, preferably not chainlink) is even better. For long term survival the farther south you are the better. Once you lose electricity or heat in the north you are screwed. Unless you have electric heat and a manual-powered generator… which isn’t hard to build. Just time consuming. And you don’t want it IN your house/apartment, so it’s also a potential safety hazard.

What about fighting? Well… fighting off the zombie hordes sounds heroic, and fun… but think about it from a more realistic standpoint. Do you have the weapons? Do you know how much force it takes to shatter a human skull? Are you really capable of killing another human being, regardless of how “dead” they look? Be honest with yourself on that last one… I’m not even sure I am. And what about weapons knowledge? Are guns your best option (no)? Do you know how to sharpen a machete? Clean a gun? Properly maintain and care for that cheap, decorative katana that will probably break after one swing? Probably not. Do you even know how to properly swing it without throwing yourself off balance? Do you know how to properly defend yourself with a knife? Defend yourself unarmed without exposing yourself to being bitten? It’s tougher than it sounds, or looks. Think about it carefully… maybe enroll yourself in some Aikido or Jujitsu classes…

And what about your family, your pets? Do you know how to care for them when you lose power permanently? Do you have a newborn? Dogs? Even cats? Can you continue to feed them? Dispose of their waste safely? Will their uncontrollable noises attract the advancing horde? Are you prepared to abandon them if they become a liability? If you’ve never been a parent… don’t even think you’re prepared to answer that question in relation to newborns/children. I’m not. And it might be harder to part with Scruffy than you think, unless you’re a cruel, heartless bastard – in which case I hope the zombies get you.

Zombie Bunny

Aw, so cute and cudd... wait a minute... OH NO!

So… are you prepared for a zombie apocalypse? Are you even prepared for a hurricane, flood, tornado… earthquake? Think about it long and hard.

Because the next one might be in your backyard.