Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Hypocritical Oath

My wife and I were musing last night that it hardly seems like yesterday since the grand Millennium celebrations were rocking the world, and yet its ten whole years. My youngest daughter is ten years old and she marks the passage of time in the 21st century. This got me thinking about the world as it exists at the moment and how I feel about it and I realised that for the first time in my life I am reluctant to be a participant in many things and have started to withdraw. Thats not a natural state for me, but I reflected that its because of the emergence of five sorts of people and the almost constant haze of shite that they generate. Who are these people?

Haters - Live and Let Live is a wonderful way to exist, but it seems to have disappeared into the aether nowadays. Its much easier to hate something now and to be exceptionally vocal about it. Not things that matter, like racism or homophobia, but totally inconsequential things like a series of books, a comics storyline, a record, a sport, a TV personality, a foodstuff, a TV show, a word, a website, a hobby, a game etc. I'll raise my hand and say that I have, in my time, been one of these people, specifically towards Brian Micheal Bendis and his effect on the Avengers comic book line. Seething, vitriolic hatred permeates our society now like a virus.

Hyper-critics - different from the haters, are the hypercritics. I have noticed an increased level of nit-picking and general moaning about the quality of entertainment over the last few years. Moreover, a number of these decisions on the quality of films, books, comics etc. are made sight-unseen. They are based off a rumour, a trailer or just the idea of the piece. Moreover, the more people who are likely to like something, the more the hyper-critics are looking to find a way to shoot it up. Blow it out of the sky. Take it down a peg or two. Of course, if you disagree with them, you are beset by other hyper-critics and more than a few haters to the point where its becoming increasingly difficult to actually like something publicly without courting disaster.

Political Fantasists - We live in a world of political fantasy. In this world, politicians are good, selfless people who have cast aside any ideas of self-promotion or advancement and instead taken to a life in under the public microscope, doing their very best for the people and not asking for a jot in return. Upon completing this service, they will disappear into the aether and never be heard of again. Every decision made by these puritan politicians will naturally suit everyone and no-one will be disadvantaged or disconcerted by anything. Only in this world will the political system be pure and unsullied and *shudder* democratic. Of course, this is the fantasy and about as far away from the reality as it can get. I'm not suggesting that some of these are no aspirations that can be aimed at, but some people need to understand that we live in a representative democracy, not a participatory democracy and that politics is a cyclical business. Even I, as a left-wing leaning life-long Labour supporter can see that it is healthy for a change of government however it isn't a tribal thing. Its not a case of winning or losing. Its part of the natural state of things.

Conspiracy Theorists - Nothing ever just 'is' - there always has to be something behind it that we cannot see. Were 'we' means 'you' because the person informing you of the theory has perfect 20/20 vision on the matter and almost supernatural perceptions and insight beyond those of normal man. Wars, terrorism, climate change, politics, elections - its all been a massive conspiracy theory from Day One it would seem. Lets just consider that the conspiracy theorists are right and say, the US government did cause 9/11? What you gonna do about it? If they are willing and capable to do that, what makes you think you make one piece of a difference? In a world where nothing is as it seems, no-one is willing to be the King wearing the Invisible Clothese in case they make a fool of themselves. No-one will be tricked and therefore when it matters, no-one cares.

'My World' Selfishness - more than anything else, the rise of 'My World' selfishness has caused me to develop an almost violent twitch of anguish. For example, a games company posted that it had released a new service and the very first post that someone replied with said 'sorry, but its too late for my game, we just finished playing.' So what? Should they have pre-empted your needs and produced it earlier? What? Honestly, what was the point of that utterance? The entire doctrine of 'First!' and 'TL;DR' on forums is all about me-me-me! The preponderance of arguments based on 'it doesn't apply to me, therefore it must be false' is ridiculous. Any sense of being part of a larger diverse community seems to have been lost in a mantra of 'don't waste my time with stuff that doesn't concern me!'

Almost all of this has been facilitated by the increased ease of access to information, volume of content and near-anonymous personality brought to us through internet communication. I think when our children look back on this time, the internet will be seen as an innovation and indeed, a revolution on the same scale as the industrial revolution of the 19th century - and indeed like that revolution it has got some unintended pollution attached to it.

So, before anyone reading this says 'hang on Neil? Aren't you legendary for your ranting and raving about things? Haven't you bored us to tears with your diatribes about the undue influence of the media on the world and its thinking? Don't you tick just about every box on this list?' I will 'fess up and say 'Yes'. And thats the point of this post.

Its time for it to stop or I am just going to become an angry old man. So, this year, I am going to make a concerted effort to excuse myself from that seething, teeth-grinding anger. I'm not going to be a hater or a critic. I'm going to realise that rarely can debates be won or lost - nowadays its more like a case of First World War trench warfare. I'm going to enjoy the world on my own terms and well, sod everyone else. Too much energy lost and too many distractions caused by the people that wind me up. In my 39th year, its time to just chill out a little.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

[Box] Prototyps and Felt Pens

So I decided to have a fiddle about making up a prototype of the character card for [Box]. I'm all about the paper-art so it was an easy little challenge for me. Since doing it I've worked out a way to do it better as well, as accuracy and pritt-stik don't sit as natural buddies.

So, what do we have? Five boxes, large enough to put a stack of 12mm d6s on them, of some appropriate colours. A large white box for as-yet-undefined stuff. And a box for an image, in this example we have McGann as Dr Who. The image is changeable as we will see later.

I want to mention the terrible state of felt-tipped pens at this point. The ones that coloured this card are new and frankly, the brown couldn't do half the card. Pathetic. Really shoddy quality. If I were one of my kids I would be complaining!

Anyway, thats what I used to colour in card.

The second card is the same chamber card with a picture of the blue lass from Avatar. The image slides in and out of the hole from the top.

I'm quite pleased with this as a very first prototype. I'm going to look at some alternative designs tomorrow, including one that is a bit bigger but easier to create.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

[Box] Whats the difference between a Warrior and a Paladin?

A white and black dice, if I have my way.

OK, so in my previous post I suggested I would use a dice-as-stats system for [Box]. Here is what I have as a very basic concept.

Six different coloured dice. Each colour represents a different aspect of a character type. So, for example, lets plough the fantasy field for a while?

Red = Prowess; strength, stamina and martial might
Blue = Guile; nimbleness, dexterity and intelligence
Green = Nature; weather, animals and the land
Gold = Essence; magic, arcana and summoning
White = The Light; life, piety and healing
Black = Darkness; death, necromancy and terror

So, we are looking to create a Warrior? And we have say, six dice to select. We select Red, Red, Red, Black, Black, Blue - a combination of Prowess, Darkness and Guile. Want to create a Tribal Shaman? Gold, Gold, Green, Green, Green, White? A Paladin? Red, Red, White White, White, Gold.

What else could you do with this? Hmmm.... how about adding a race dice? So if you want a smattering of non-humans in your game, you could add a few race dice to the pool. Or a Noble dice, which if chosen, makes your character a knight or samurai or space lord?

So you have a pile of multi-coloured dice which the players choose from to create their character. These dice can be limited to allow a degree of game world shaping and resource limitation. The categories can be altered for each setting. What each one represents can vary, I believe.

And these dice can be brought together to form dice pools. But what for? Well, thats next but not for a while.

[Box] Inspiration from Strange Places

So I've been putting my mind to the sort of things I can do with the format for my boxed game and what the benefits and limitations of the format are and moreover, how to use those limitations to my advantage.

For example, the recent decision of FFG to only allow you enough components in their box for a certain number of concurrent characters has raised the heckles of some people. However, in the end, thats the limitations of the format at work. We are used to wonderfully open-ended resources, limited only by the sheets of paper we have and the seats around our table and expect that from new games. Its a bit of a cheek really - most 'normal' games have very limited play resources. Two players in chess, four players in Ludo, six players in Monopoly. Of course, I could just do a book and character sheet game, but then whats the point of doing it in a box? No, there should be play resources and that means limiting the number of concurrent characters.

So how do I do this and make it part of the game and possibly turn it to my advantage? Well, one idea that I have come upon is to have character sheets about the size of CCG cards. However, I don't want to get into the mess of having to supply new sheets each time we play. So what if the character sheets were manipulatable in some way? Just keep that thought, OK.

As a system, I want to use dice pools, small dice pools. I also want different coloured dice to represent difference aspects of the character. More on this in the next post, I imagine. So the number of dice you have on your character sheet in a certain area will denote your strength in that area. Cool. Of course, that means that I can only include a certain number of dice in the box, which by its very nature means there are only a certain number of characters that can be made. Now, what if I built this into the balance of character generation. What if there was a pool of these statistic dice that all characters drew from? So, for example, there are a limited number of magic dice. If everyone were to choose their dice one at a time, then I could make it so that not everyone could be magicians. Thats kind of cool, I think.

OK, back to those character sheets on CCG cards. Well, something I really like to do is have a picture on a character sheet. Indeed, I think that games could use images so much better than they do for character generation. There are loads of totally awesome images out there - why not use them? So what if the picture part of the character card could be changed? What if the player could present the picture of the character they wanted and voila! Thats their character. Players could bring together art assets like a campaign mood board.

There is another sneaky little side effect of this. Players and GMs can draw their images from anywhere, so they can use published, copyrighted artwork, images clipped from magazines and comics and all manner of other things. Thats a huge wodge of potential art costs for my £15 sidetracked, and all in the name of flexibility.

As to how to do it? I am reminded of the concept of 'chamber cards' in the Quick Strike system CCGs (PotC and Shaman King iirc). So create a 2-ply card 'chamber' with a hole at the front which the image can be inserted from the top and then slide the whole into something like a rigid toploader and BAM! Its big enough, it can be branded with nice imagery and the image can change.

Gimmicky? Oh hell yeah. But with some underlying madness as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The DIY Boxed Game Challenge

Occasionally I set myself little challenges.

Recently, they have been food related. Can I perfect the recipe for the perfect sweet chili sauce? (According to my dad, yes, yes I can!). Can I cook and decorate leiberkuchen? Yes, of course I can! And of course, recently I have been meeting and beating some challenges regarding games design that I set myself three years ago. Its all been a bit too easy really.

I've also been reading with a lot of interest Rob Donaghue's blog, Some Space to Think Its a really interesting blog with a lot of commentary on games and gaming and sharing of ideas. It has formed my early morning Metro reading for some weeks now. Recently, Rob has been talking about rich dice (dice which deliver more information than just the numbers they result in) and the matter of the box and games.

Add to these motifs my journey to GenCon this year, the appearance of some 'indie' board and card games and the explosion of WFRP 3e onto the gaming world in all of its enormous excess and well, its fired my imagination.

I want to make a game in a box. I want that box to be small enough for me to be able to take it anywhere with me. I want everything I need to play the game - EVERYTHING - to be inside that box. I want the contents to be printed and created to a reasonable quality and - and this could be the stinger - I want to keep the cost of the project under £15.

These restrictions are going to dictate some of the materials I can use and that might well impact on the gameplay but hey, this isn't commercial - this is a personal challenge!

Auto-PUG of Joy

I am, on occasion, amazed by the ability of World of Warcraft to reinvent itself and change in a way that drags me back into the game. I guess its why, five years on, I am still happily playing it. The latest innovation is the introduction of the auto-PUG (Pick-Up-Group)

Instead of spamming the trade channel with Looking For Group requests or waiting for enough members of my guild to come online and be in the same frame of mind as me to run an instance, I can now just stab two buttons and voila! I am added to a cross-server queue of thousands of other players all wanting the same. Within minutes I am teleported to the instance and the game commences. Twenty minutes later, the end boss is down and you walk away with 5 Emblems, some cash and other stuff. Its virtually anonymous, instant rewarding gratification.

Whats more, it seems to have made PUGing a lot more palatable. Students of expectancy theory will notice that the carrot of the emblems at the end makes the experience of having a player with slightly subpar DPS a lot more acceptable. Indeed, on many occassions not a word has been passed between the people I have PUGd with - its simply been a business-like execution of a laid down tactic.

On my side of things, this is perfect. I have unpredictable spare time - meaning that I cannot plan when I am going to be able to play or for how long. This is perfect for me, especially as it is accelerating my acquisition of equipment no end! Additionally, it has allowed me to grab a load of outstanding achievements which are well overdue. I've finally done Old Kingdom, Halls of Lightning and Halls of Stone and Gundrak. I'm a happy camper.

The only fly in the ointment, I have to admit, is the attitude of some of the players (WHO would have guessed?). Its not the weaker players. Its the players who are blatantly from the top guilds churning out SERIOUS dps. Their tolerance of people who are less geared than them appears to be quite low. However, you will note, they have all been whining dps'rs. I have been blessed with talented, aggressive tanks and attentive, skilled healers. People I always take the time to thank at the end of the instance! (I am informed by Dave that matters are not quite so rosy at the lower level end of things - I can quite believe it)

That aside, this innovation is fantastic. Its delivering actual progression for me, at a pace that 100% suits me needs. Awesome.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here We Go Again.

The snow is here. To save me my usual rant:

Thank you...


How Big is Your Gaming Brain?

Dear Games Designers

Please, for the love of God, can you stop including obscure situational passive effects into your games? These things have been the bane of my existence throughout my CCG days and now they are part of my RPG play and they drive me insane.

What am I talking about? Well, in my Raw Deal days there was a card that sat on the table and every time you took damage, you took one less. Sounds good right? Well it is, if you remember that its there but inevitably, you forget and its annoying. There's no takey-backs in most CCGs so you lose out because of your poor memory or ability to be word-blinded by your opponent. Thats a case of playing better in a competitive game though, its annoying but part of the game.

In RPG sense, specifically D&D4e, the first instance are those bloody paragon tier powers that activate when you spend an action point. Now I don't think I'm over-stating the fact that D&D combat is a bit involved and you have to be paying attention and occassionally things get dropped along the wayside. I'm just about getting used to adding in my Pit Fighter bonus to things but I might only do it 50% of the time. Now, Marked Scourge has been errata'd so that it can only be used once per turn. This isn't an action or a spell - this is a bonus effect from a feat that is currently factored into all of my damage. Its a nightmare of forgetfulness.

I can abide having some degree of system mastery in my CCGs, but I hate it in my RPGs. Although D&H/BtQ have some situational modifiers, the card pool generation system allows for a quick sweep of your character sheet and then one flop to resolve a situation. Compare that with the multiple interacting modifiers and actions that can impact on one of maybe five dozen rolls in one combat and I think I'm safe from stone/glass house references.

I propose, if designers are adamant that they want to follow this path, someone design some sort of Roleplaying Brain Training program to remember all of these modifiers!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2009 Top Three Gaming Moments

Another year, another selection of what must surely be the most prestigious awards given out in gaming from this blog. Previous winners are here and here and as always I kick off with some honorable mentions

Honorable Mention: Princess Academy YEY! at Conception
I wasn't even playing! As Conception 09 was winding up and I was recovering from a monster bout of flu that had floored me during the entire convention. I was playtesting a great little battle cardgame with Iain McAllister and trying out some 'War on Edam' to no great level of satisfaction. In the rest of the room a gang of mad people were playing Primetime Adventures and just creating the most insane, wonderful madness. Utterly entertaining. Oh, and the Steelers won the Superbowl that night too. Woot!

Honorable Mention: Duty & Honour at Games Expo
So I'm at the end of a very long two-day convention and I am timetabled to run Duty & Honour - and its fully signed up. To be honest, I wasn't in the mood and I was all ready to just cancel and refund the players their cash but, you know, the show must go on. What made this so special? Well, it was because the players were all D&H newbies and they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and rode it to a fantastic finish. Players who can turn up at the end of a con and ravage a game within an inch of it's life? Priceless.

Honorable Mention: The Voyage of the HMS Acaster
I was the gaming whore. In order to playtest Beat to Quarters 'semi-blind' I recruited another group of players - Martin, Shane and Nate. These guys have serious gaming and military chops to back up their play, so I was a little nervous about reffing for them but the game couldn't have gone any better. It was only three sessions but I really really got a kick out of it. Things move on and I guess I won't get the chance to play with those guys again but it was a really memorable game.

Number Three: Mouse Guard at Furnace
I have never really 'got' Burning Wheel but I have been very curious about Mouse Guard and I like the comics. Additionally 'Indy Pete' has a reputation of being an exceptionally dynamic GM and I sat and watched him GM at Conception and I wanted a piece of that action. Him and Mouse Guard seemed a perfect match and it was. It wasn't the amazingness of the story that marked this out for me, or the brilliance of the players (it was Sunday morning!). Rather it was an example of how an enthusiastic, prepared and communicative GM can truly inspire you to higher levels of play and understanding. In three hours I learned exactly how the game worked and went straight home and ran the game for my group. It was a watershed moment between me and BW technology!

Number Two: The Irish Rover at Furnace
So I had this idea - why not use Beat to Quarters to run a game based around the Pogues song 'The Irish Rover'? What could go wrong? Its hard to describe really - to say that the group was 'diverse' would be a massive understatement. To say that it was drunken would be an undeniable truth. The game was loud, raucous, bawdy, brutal, imaginative, laugh-out-loud funny, abusive, exhausting magic. People just walked by and then did a double-take, just looking at the madness with an expression of denial. One of the players even put a sign up warning people that the game was not representative of BtQ. It was just mayhem. You know when you hear people talk about games at a con that they have 'heard about'? This was the first time I have ever ran one and it felt soooo good. So tiring, but so good.

Number One: D&d 4E, The City of Kings Heroic and Paragon Tier
Like there was ever going to be anything else in the #1 spot!? Our entire years gaming has been taken up with an utterly brilliant D&D campaign. My paladin has had a crisis of faith and reverted to type as a pit-fighting gladiator and then sortied across the world hunting the hearts of the Primordial Gods in order to open the tomb of the last of these Primordials and slay him in his prison. Morn, the fighter, has grown from a very confused and ignorant brutal character into a stalwart defender and champion of mankind, found his homeland, secured his own niche in the world and is about to ascend to his Epic destiny of being 'He Who Stands Before the Chaos'. The game was been enthralling with every session adding a new twist and turn to the campaign. Anyone who dares say that 4e cannot be used to create excellent, character and story centric experiences is simply ignoring the potential of what is a great system.

So there we go - I wonder what everyone else's will be this year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

2009 Resolutions - The Results

Its that time of year again, when I look at my resolutions from last year and see how things have transpired. Its not that I actively try to pursue them - its more that I wonder whether my intentions at the end of the year create urges throughout the rest of the next year ( I scored 3.5/5 last year). So, without further ado...!

1. Publish 'Beat to Quarters'
WIN! - Dead on the announced release date, BtQ was unleashed on the masses. Its sold like the proverbial hotcakes, far faster than D&H - although I suspect that might be D&H owners completing the set rather than new players flocking to the fresh hawtness. Still, I'm very pleased with myself and the Road to Indianapolis, next year, is very much on!

2. Be A Better Player
WIN! - (I hope). I like to think that I have pulled my neck in at the table this year. No more tantrums about mind control, for a start and definitely no more 'discussions' about rules calls (Except, of course, when it comes to the difference between the two fighter bonuses, which we can never remember the right way around at the best of times). I've tried to contribute positively to the table ideas in our D&D campaign and generally help bring the awesome. It might not have succeeded always but in the end thats all you can do - try.

3. Run One Campaign of A Reasonable Length
WIN! - (In progress). This has been made rather difficult due to a distinct lack of G2 action and the ongoing nature of the D&D campaign. However, that hasn't stopped me. I gained the attentions of a new group of players in the summer and ran a three-session playtest of BtQ with them. I know that doesn't count as a campaign, but it was a complete game. However, I am running a proper ongoing campaign of BtQ on Google Wave at the moment which appears to have some legs. Its not quite what I imagined, but you have to take your victories when you can!

4. Game With the Girls Again
FAIL! - Technically, this might need to be revised after the arrival of the Dr Who RPG but any other gaming action has simply failed. Its just a timing issue really but its one that is going to have to be overcome by brute force and will rather than luck. They're still up for it.

5. Spend with Prudence
WIN! - Well, this one was easy, seeing as I have been stoney-broke for most of the year! Lets see what systems I purchased.... thinking .... thinking .... does Diaspora on a freebie voucher count? Mouse Guard - yep, thats it, Mouse Guard. And I have played it and ran it.

4/5 with a technical revision and a rules bend on the ongoing game. Not bad at all.