Tag Archives: game design

When Orcs Are Real

I have come up against an interesting challenge this week.

As some of you will remember I am working on a Wild West game. I like to use anything I am working on to maximum effect. To this end I am happy to throw a bit of money at things as needed. Having the right tools for the job can make all the difference and being interested in game design does not make you a brilliant artist, page setter or professional writer.

As my setting is a real historical period there is plenty of public domain art and original photography so from an art perspective the challenge is not to get great art created it is more about gathering real images that tick all the right boxes, that fit the chapter contents and so on. Then it is about having a game art style and making sure all the art fits that style regardless of its original source. This is more graphic design or even photo editing rather than ‘art’. The undoubted king of this sort of image manipulation is Photoshop.

Page layout is one of those things that can make a game look professional or amateur. Along with the layout are things like cross referencing, tables of contents, a good index and other elements that make the rulebook easy to use at the game table. In a PDF that also includes bookmarks and layers for ease of printing. Scribus is a perfectly valid page layout application but InDesign is more feature rich.

So if you are going to buy Photoshop and InDesign than you may as well have CreativeSuite. So that was my first investment in the game.

I also bought some books on using Photoshop and Indesign as the best software in the world will do you no good if you don’t know how to use it.

No I come to the real challenge. I am of an age where we used to play Cowboy’s and Indians when we were young and Western films more often than not had ‘Indians’ or ‘Red Indians’ as the default villain. When we played Boot Hill the Apache were the default bad guys. At the time we didn’t give this a second thought.

Now when it comes to writing a game in this genre Native Americans are a real people and many of them will be role players. These real people are not the cardboard cut out ‘bad guys’ of the movies but a wide range of culturally individual nations. In gaming terms Native Americans are not simply the Orcs of a different genre, they are real people and often the ‘historical events’ behind many Hollywood movies have more than one interpretation!

One of the things I have struggled with writing up this game is not the game mechanics, they are easy, it was the setting. So to solve that problem I have employed a professional writer. He has experience of writing for Pathfinder amongst other RPGs so understood the needs of an RPG rulebook.

It was much harder than I had imagined to write about the Old West. I think part of the problem was that as I am British this is not my culture and not part of my history. I kind of knew in principle what I wanted but putting it into text was leading into cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of bad text.

On the other hand employing an American writer this is much more real and personal for them. Freelance writers are massively under paid in my opinion and I am getting three entire chapters of the book written to a professional standard for under $250.

So looking back at what I have spent on this project, excluding my own time which I would never charge for as it is my hobby and I only do it when I want to and purely for fun it is easy to see how and why many kickstarters have target values in the few thousands of Dollars, Euros or Pounds. If I could not get my art for next to nothing then my bills would certainly be mounting up.

I also really like the way the game is shaping up and cannot wait to see the finished game. I think one last challenge I want to put before this game is that of making it the subject of a kickstarter campaign of my own. I know what it has cost to create and so can put a realistic price tag on it. I have been happy to spend what I spent on the game but if I get that back then I can reinvest it in making more games. If I don’t then it is no real loss. With the money out of the equation as unimportant then a kickstarter campaign simply becomes a way of bringing the game before the eyeballs of more potential players. There is nothing better for a game designer than having people play your game. That is the real reward.

Devil’s Staircase Wrapping up the Jokers

I have used Jokers several times if different aspects of Devil’s Staircase so I thought a post to bring all of them together may be worthwhile.

Jokers and Stats

You cannot have a joker for a characters stat. If a joker is dealt then it is added to the tally of jokers the character has and an alternative card is dealt.

Jokers and skills

I did not explicitly mention this is the post on skill resolution as it only came to me when I was thinking about tricks and special feats. Once a skill test has been resolved and the player succeeds then the player may choose to play a joker. The effect of the joker is that the character may request a specific outcome. The GM will then take that request into account and if it is possible then it will be worked into the story. For example, a character wants to climb up to the Señorita’s balcony. Having passed a skill test to climb a trellis against the villa wall the player uses a Joker and asks if he can swing silently on to the balcony without being seen. The GM thinks this is perfectly reasonable so it happens just as the player requested.

Jokers in Combat

When dealing out damage number cards do a single point of Endurance damage, picture cards do two points of Endurance damage but the player can choose to play a joker, after the hit or miss has been established. This changes the damage from 1 or 2 to a wiping out the targets Endurance and renders them unconscious. Jokers do not kill. This is a slight change from when the combat post was written as in that it was unclear when the Joker was going to be played. It is now consistent that jokers are always played after the skill test is complete.

Jokers and Special Feats

Special Feats are things like shooting the gun from someone’s hand, snapping a cigar from their lips with a bull whip or leaping a gorge on your horse. In all these cases after the skill test if the skill test succeeded then a joker can be played to get the special feat.

Surviving with a Joker

If the character is in a certain death situation such as being blown up with dynamite, going over a cliff in a stage coach or being trampled by a herd of buffalo then the character may sacrifice a Joker to somehow survive. This is really on a par with the ‘Saving Throw vs Death’. The GM can come up with a good reason for the survival and it does not have to leave the player unscathed! Being still alive should be reward enough.

These tweaks now make the joker consistent across all aspects of the game. They also create a Joker economy. Players will have a frequent need to spend jokers and will look forward to being dealt one. I can always remember the feeling one gets from rolling a natural 20 in D&D or rolling an open ended roll in Rolemaster. Half the time these did you no good, you would have made the roll of a 12+ so the 20 does nothing extra for example, but they gave you a buzz anyway. I hope the Joker system here will create that same buzz for the players but at the same time it puts the player in control, they hold the jokers and can choose when to play them. I can imagine a character with five jokers in their back pocket will walk a little taller and have a bit more of a swagger than one that is all out.

Next time I want to start looking at setting specific tweaks. Less about Devil’s Staircase and more about the Wild West side of things.

Dice or Cards?

I have had a bit of a fascination with card deck vs dice based rpgs for the last year. There is a rather strange game called ABS12 (A Basic System 12) which is all based around d12 rolls. D12s give a relatively large number of possible outcomes without having to have a bell curve of probabilities. Another consequence of this is that you can play the game by drawing cards from a standard deck of playing cards. The ace, 2-10, hack, queen, king give 13 outcomes. Discard the Kings and you have a pack of d12 rolls.

ABS12 is a very strange minimalist system. I helped with the play testing and I cannot say I particularly like it. Characters have just a single stat and everything is derived from that. You need a lot of imagination to play the game. If you are familiar with solo role playing then it is a perfectly viable writing aid. Ken Wickham, the author, shared several of his solo adventures. Check out his World of the Fifth Sun blog for more.

While I am not really keen on ABS12 the idea of using a pack of playing cards as part of the game engine does appeal.

So I was thinking about putting together a superlight RPG here in a short series of posts. Continue reading Dice or Cards?