Gaming Thursday

I am very much excited about WotC’s announcement that they’ll be shifting how they portray (and thus limit) ‘inherently evil races’ to open up much greater latitudes in alignment, abilities, societies, and etc.  For one, the term race is confusing, since these are really whole different species.  For two, just as our species (humans) are vast and varied, so too should be and can be members of other species (whether elves, or dwarves, or kobolds, or orcs).  For three, it’s far more interesting!  Automatic evil is easy (and still available, be it through fiends or monstrosities or undead) but allowing for greater agency by the antagonists is more juicy, and the meatiest stories often deal with the ‘evil within’ (both individual character but fellow humans/etc acting in very bad ways) vs an external and ‘black box’ kind of auto-evility machine.  For four, as someone who finds attribute bonuses the least interesting way to differentiate different species, I hope this pushes more games (even if D&D itself likely won’t adopt this unless they ever do make a new edition or come out with an optional ruleset) towards more nifty species talents/stunts/feats (such as the Dwarf’s resistance to poison, or the Dragonborn’s breath weapon) that create far more interesting options, capabilities, and side uses for players.

For five, and of great importance, is this:  who we know ourselves as a person and as a collective people is/are thoroughly governed by story – the story we know about ourselves, the stories we tell about our community, the stories we speak of about the world. As such, the stories we make up and tell each other for entertainment absolutely has an impact on how we view, interact with, and treat the real world and others within it. They are not separate.  Thus to say ‘this race is all bad’ or ‘this race is always big and scary’ or ‘this race is really only good at this’ creates mental traps for us as we relate to and deal with others in our actual and lived lives.

So yeah.  Doing away with the more rigid stereotypes and tropes and that present a gameworld view that one’s place, role, competencies, and expected outcomes in the world are governed primarily (and almost entirely) by factors of their species and instead moving towards the item(s) that often draws us to our favourite fiction: culture, style, worldview, way of life, way of building things, and ways of dealing with things. In short: towards character.

Because character and characters are what an RPG is all about.

Gaming Thursday

I love this story, as published in the editorial of Dragon magazine, issue 144, penned by Roger E Moore:

The mountain pass was called the Demon Tongue, which implied there might be a demon and treasure there, so the party headed for it right away. The characters were hungry for combat and cash – lots of each. I was the DM. We were gaming on the pool table in the medical company rec room in West Germany, a decade ago last fall.

Not many of the details of that adventure are left with me now, but I remember what happened when the adventurers got to the Demon Tongue. The paladin was the point man, mounted up and armored like a tank (he had volunteered for, no, demanded the position). Some distance behind, the wizard was checking the landscape with his amulet of ESP, hunting for enemy thoughts. Everyone else was gathered near the wizard, weapons ready. They were on a narrow road in the pass itself, with a slope up to the left and a sheer drop to the right, when the wizard got a reading.    Continue reading

The Aurora RPG Engine – Next Steps

First off, I’ve created a PDF compilation for your reading pleasure!  Click below to grab it:

And so, where do we go from here?  The big next step is to take this core engine and begin to create some full rulesets out of it, both for playtesting but moreover for actual campaign play.  First up will be using it for an upcoming (and fittingly) Star Wars game I’ll be running.  Over the coming months I’ll share the design diaries as I put it together.

After that, I have some ideas for at least partial write-ups for campaigns based on Zoids, spycraftian action, Broken Lands, and maybe even Firefly.  Though the idea of a Tank Girl RPG I used as an example in the introduction could also be fun to try out…

Thank you all for reading, and if you try this out yourself and create a campaign with it, I’d love to hear any feedback.  Game on!

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 9

Creating the Base Pool

After going through nearly the entirety of the resolution system and outlining the bits that happen once the base pool has been gathered, it’s well past time to cover how that base pool, and its baseline value of 5 dice, is generated.  This is no trivial matter.  As every test or roll made by a character begins with these values, what gets included, measured, and listed on the character sheet not only defines that character but also has a huge influence on the overall genre, tone, and playstyle of the entire game/campaign.  These values say what’s important about the characters, and thus what’s important about the game.  They influence how the players view the characters, how they approach things, and what kinds of actions they will take.  They provide flavour and guidance and ultimately are the lens through which the players/characters know themselves.  All in all, the way characters are measured and defined is one of the most important choices in designing the campaign. Continue reading

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 8

The Twist: “Buying” Success

Riffing on the previous concept is a twist that complements the idea of MoS from the opposite direction:  If I fail the roll, or if I succeeded but want extra MoS, I can “buy” extra dice to succeed (or succeed better) at cost.

While this doesn’t preclude the recommendation of using a “fail-forward” concept in scenario design, there are still times where I might want my character to succeed in this moment, right now.  And so I have a choice… let things continue as I rolled them, or am I willing to put my character into some narrative (backed by mechanics) peril in order to get the win?

If I choose the latter, <devilish voice>excellent</devil>.  Much like the ladder of options for MoS, each extra die bought in this manner raises the magnitude of the potential trouble.  The number of dice to be bought doesn’t need to be stated up front, allowing them to be bought one at a time, rolling and adding to my total and gradually raising the stakes until either my character succeeds or I reach my limit of peril.

Note that the narrative/perilous cost of the extra dice is paid whether they lead to success or not! Continue reading

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 7

The “Extra Die” Beauty: Creating a Margin of Success

Now we get to the key idea that really makes Aurora sing:  After tallying enough dice to reach the target number of 15, any “remaining” dice count (as in counting the number of dice themselves, not the numbers on the dice) as the Margin of Success (hereafter often noted as MoS).

With this innovation*, a Margin of Success mechanic is elegantly added to a dice pool system that keeps things moving quickly and, most importantly, preserves the pool’s visceral nature.  By dealing in dice (and by having/keeping a fixed target number), there’s no need to calculate something fiddly such as “for every 5 points over the target number you have achieved an extra level of success.”  Count out to 15, move the rest of the dice to the side, and there’s the Margin of Success.

With this, the many great options and advantages of a Margin of Success system open up:

  • Provides for more interesting narrative outcomes. With an explicit MoS system, the players and GM know not only if the character succeeds or fails, but also how well or by how much.  Did they just narrowly make it?  Succeed with style?  Fail miserably?  Or did they shine in a moment of glory?  This gives everyone a tool to create and craft a rich and more exciting scene and story.
  • AND, using the “Buying Success” mechanic detailed in the next section, it allows for tension, excitement, and a great story even if the character fails or just ekes out a win.
  • Allows for the easy creation of cumulative or extended tasks, compiling a count of MoS towards completing a goal.
  • Explicitly allows the coupling of success in combat (or other conflicts) with the skill roll, avoiding the oddities (and often frustration) of excellent to-hit rolls yet terrible damage rolls, or vice versa. This makes the skill roll more important and thus makes character ability and agency more relevant.
  • By leveraging MoS as a type of “currency,” interesting subsystems can be added, such as spending MoS to activate special abilities, create advantages, or other creative and exciting outcomes.

Continue reading

The Aurora RPG Engine – Part 5

Baseline Values and an Aside on Probabilities

The base number of dice for a skilled entry-level professional is baselined at 5 dice.  With 5d and a target number of 15, the chance of success is roughly 75% (in actuality it is a bit over, but close enough).  As outlined in this previous blog post, this falls into the probability range that I find is most perfect, where a competent, trained, healthy individual beginning their professional career should succeed on almost-routine tasks (I say almost, as if it were perfectly routine there’d be no need to roll a test!) most times.  And even in those instances where they fail their roll, rarely will it be too disastrous of a setback (especially if the player chooses to succeed at cost, which is further explained below).

By adjusting the dice pool up and down in increments of ½ dice (a d3) allows for roughly this progression of success chances:

3d 10%
3½d 25%
4d 50% (actual is 45%)
4½d 66%
5d 75%
5½d 90%
6d 95%

In graph form, it looks like this (courtesy of anydice.com):

In play, it is easy to remember that 3½d to 5d forms the middle ground of success probabilities.  Anything less than 3½d is super unlikely to succeed, and anything over 5d is pretty much guaranteed to succeed.

Taken together, everything comes together nicely:

  • A nice round target number that is easy to remember.
  • An easily graspable number of dice that counts as “competent”.
  • Enough dice to let beginning characters succeed despite modifiers while also tempting the players with extra actions.
  • And an intuitively graspable notion of the chances of success.

Continue reading