Friday, July 17, 2009

Why Jonny can't role play

I've read the multitude of threads on the RPG issues. A lot of great points on multiple threads, and there are a few questions and issues that seem to have been over looked.

1) What does a pen & paper RPG offer someone surrounded by a multitude of easier, more immediately rewarding, and less socially strenuous endeavors? Especially when the same diversion (fantasy rpg gaming)can be had with the push of a few buttons or the typing of a few keys. How do you lob a 5 lb book at someone and compete with instant gratification?

2) Much like the legal system, most current games are written by lifelong gamers to impress or meet the expectations of cynical and jaded other lifelong gamers. They are often too "inside baseball" for someone to simply pick up and start playing.

3) The gaming clubhouse does not exactly have a friendly, "come on inside and play" welcome mat at the door. The elitism and arrogance one often encounters, or the odd quirks and inside jokes of a veteran group can often be isolating, off putting, or intimidating for a novice.

4) Take a look at the continued success of TCG's. One of the brilliant methods to promote their continued existence is organized play. They reward the players with content for participating. WotC I believe tried some sort of organized outreach combined with Living Greyhawk, RPGA and other elements. Trouble is it applied to the old gray gamers and I'm not sure it really rewarded new players at all. What is the draw for a new player? What is the reward for becoming a weekly gamer?

5) Barrier to entry: paperback adventure books like Fighting Fantasy, or micro games like Melee and Wizard, provided low priced, low page count, accessible entries into the hobby. Why in heaven's name would you expect a kid to purchase a video game expensive text book and spend hours reading and trying to decipher a text book sized game manual? That is 3 strikes against gaining new converts.

6) Boxed sets have a charm to those of us who started with them. We grew up playing board games which all came in boxes. Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Boggle, etc. All games (even Atari 2600 games) came in a cardboard box.

Times change but the RPG industry has not followed suit. Boxed games are no longer the entertainment entry point. So why not make a new boxed set to fit a new generation? Taking a page from Melee/ Wizard, why not pack a small manual rpg book with adventure into a DVD case? Include some counters and a map and sell it for $15? Make a series of them and have a full rpg. Many RPG games could easily be translated to a grid battle game: Final Fantasy tactics, Ogre Tactics, Fire Emblem. Small, portable, DVD boxed games that teach RPG playing through micro sized pieces. IP is incredibly important to gaining traction so why not use one of the tactical rpg licenses and create mini rpg board games?

Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, and being fans of, and blinded by, the good old days limits can limit ones vision.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Teaching an old dog new tricks...

Back in the TCG avalanche of the mid 90's, Mayfair games released one called FANTASY ADVENTURES. This was a TCG based on a stand alone fantasy card game released 10 years earlier called ENCOUNTERS. The art work was lifted from fantasy book covers and is hit or miss.

The game in a nutshell:

Each player has a party of 8 heroes in in 2 ranks of 4. Your hand contains monsters and treasures. You play your monsters against your opponent. If the player defeats the monsters, he may lay treasures from his hand on to heroes in his party. For 4 turns you go back and forth either battling monsters, or playing monsters on your opponent. After 4 rounds, the player with the most survivors and loot wins.

The way they made this into a TCG was by 1) random boosters 2) deck building. While the first is no big deal, the second killed it.

Your deck was built using the gold value of each card. So with calculator in hand you had to total up the gold value of cards in your deck and stay within boundaries for maximum card mix and gold value. What a pain in the asterisk.

Then your heroes deck was only a random 8 card draw...which you only used once at the start of the game! LAME

Recently my wife discovered (somewhere buried in the depths of the game shelves filling the garage) my box filled with these cards. She asked me to "fix" the game so we could play it. I enjoy a challenge so here's how I did it:

1) Take all of the cards and create 3 decks:
A) HERO DECK-contains all yellow backed hero cards
B) MONSTER DECK-contains all monsters & traps
C) TREASURE DECK-contains all spells, items & treasures

2) Deal 8 hero cards to each player, then set aside the heroes deck.

3) Each player selects one hero than passes the cards to the next player

4) Each player continues to select one hero card and pass the cards to the next player until each player has 8 heroes total

5) Next deal each player 3 cards from the treasure deck.

6) If possible you can attach all 3 to your heroes.

7) Deal each player 10 cards from the Monster deck

8) play begins as normal

9) After finishing a turn playing as the monsters, always draw your hand back up to 10 monster cards from the Monster deck.

10) Anytime a hero in the front rank is killed, a hero form the back rank must move up to the front rank and fill the gap.

11) for each monster you defeat on your turn draw one treasure card.

12) play treasure cards on your party per original rules at the end of an encounter

13) Keep any monsters your party of heroes kills or traps you avoid in a separate pile beside your heroes. You can discard your heroes into this pile as well.

14) at the end of the game,total the gold for each treasure attached to a hero then add 100 gold for each monster defeated or trap avoided. Player with the highest total wins.

This lump TCG is now a fun little fantasy adventure card game that plays in about 45 minutes. You can play it with 2-6 players and while it won't win any awards, it is fun and an easy casual game to teach. You can score a starter deck +540 random cards from Mayfair for $25! It's good little card game that with a wee bit of wrenching displaced the dreaded Munchkin as our card game of choice.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Finally someone did it...

I used to be a big comic book fanatic as a kid. I used to pick up Conan, SGT. Rock, Weird War Tales, Haunted Tank and occasionally a super hero book-either Captain America, Thor, or Batman. Somewhere about 7th or 8th grade my brother and I were staying with some friends, and we ended up reading The Defenders, X-Men, and Marvel Universe encyclopedias. That's when it went from occasional grocery store pick up to full blown collecting. G.I. Joe, X-Men, New Mutants, Marvel universe and tons and tons of other books. Through my sophomore year of college I was a regular user and then, well I lost interest. Fast forward 15 years and I still enjoy them but I am pretty picky about buying anything. Mostly its just trades at this point. A lot of the b/w marvel collections, the new Savage Sword of Conan collections (waaaay to racy when I was a tween for mom to okay that purchase) but not a lot of new stuff.

So as a picky reader let me make a couple recommendations:

There is really only a few series I actively collect and two of them are written by one guy.

First, think about Night of the Living Dead, or Dawn of the imagine instead of the movie ending..the story just kept going, that's sort what The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman is like. It's a zombie series, but the horror (as in any good zombie story) is not about the living's about how we as humans interact and treat one another when the thin veneer of society is stripped away. Great story, great writing, great art, and it is a must read. Plus its in black & white, which I think is perfect for this particular story. There 10 Trades out and you can get them for under $10 each.

If you are a super hero fan I also HIGHLY recommend Invincible by Robert Kirkman. I don't want to spoil it for you but it takes what was great about spider-man (average kid gets powers) and goes through all the standard tropes of superheroes and teams, turns them on their head and manages to be thoughtful, playful, exciting, and heroic without being snide or mocking. It is a truly heroic and fun title. These are collected in trades again a little looking and you can get them for under $10.

There is talk of an Invincible movie...and HBO may turn Walking Dead into a get on them now before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.

Okay here's my "it's new and cool, so you should read it now" pick. Think about alien invasion Independence Day or War of the Worlds..the aliens are beaten and the credits roll. My question was always, "So how are we going to rebuild society and government and everything else after aliens destroyed everything? I mean, yeah the aliens are toast but now what?" Well somebody has put pen to paper and answered that question that has burned in my brain for years. You too? Good. Pick up Resurrection by Marc Guggenheim. You can get the collection of the first 6 issues+the 2008 annual in one trade for $6!!! That's 184 pages of goodness my it a sci-fi fans stimulus package.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Take time to remember...

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, having its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient suffrance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended legislation.

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally, the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever:

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizen taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connection and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dicey business

Recently I have followed a debate on using 3d6 for gaming (as in Fantasy Trip, Melee, Wizards, & Dark City games) versus Ye Olde D20. Originally I loved the d20, but as I work on my own game, I find the ability to use multiple d6's to reflect an increase in challenge is much cleaner and easier to teach folks than add a ton of modifiers to a die roll. Anyway, I present some of the 3d6 vs. D20 debate I have seen recently for your own perusal below. Credit is given to the original writers and their points are worthy of broader exposure I think.

In General
Both 3D6 and D20 can be used for attack rolls, and we could convert the
math such that any 3D6 roll could be roughly converted to a D20 roll
and vice versa. So, if one can be completely converted to the other,
why is one better than the other?

The answer lies partially in the mechanic of TFT character development.
The typical human character begins with attributes of 8 (with the
points to spread around, but bear with me). A 3D6 vs 8 will succeed
only 56/216 of the time. That's about 26% of the time, or about a 5 on
a D20. But the 'average' attribute for a human is 10, which succedds on
a 3D6 exactly half the time, or a 10 on a D20.

Now look at those attribute numbers, and their 3D6 and D20
counterparts. Using 3D6, a gain of 2 points gets you a 24% gain. But if
I use an attribute of 5 (for D20), it takes a gain of 5 points to get
the same benefit! (This assumes that each attribute point in D20 raises
success by 5%).

Because human (and human-like) characters have their average attributes
at 10, using 3D6 works 'better' because as one's attribute approaches
the average, one's chances for success not only improve, but improve in
proportion (roughly) to how close to the average the character is. One
improves more as a percentage the closer one is to the average. In
fact, the gain from 10 to 11 is about 12.5%, or 2.5 pips on a D20.

And because the game is mostly about human (and human-like) characters,
this works better. (I have another argument that it doesn't scale well,
that points to this average attribute thing, but stay with me for now).
Not only do those near the average get more out of their gained
attribute, those near the ends get less. So you're the greatest
swordsman -- what's another DX point really going to get you? And you,
you're incompetent, so your next point doesn't get you much, either.

Now let's look at the ends of the scale, the hoped-for triple and
double damage, and the dreaded drop and break weapon. It is not
possible with a single roll of a D20 to get a chance of something
hapening down below 5%. Yet that's an awful lot of dropped and broken
weapons (assuming that we use rolls of 19 and 20 for those). Using 3D6,
we get a dropped weapon 3/216 of the time, and a broken weapon 1/216 of
the time. We can use the characteristics of the roll to put
low-percentage outcomes at the ends of the scale -- something we can't
do (without extra rolls) with a D20.

Now let's look at difficulty.

Sure, it's easy to apply a bias to a roll to make something easier or
more difficult. But again, look at that average. If you have an
attribute of 16 (which is really high for a human), your actual penalty
with a -2 on your roll is about 8%. But the same conditions for someone
with an 11 is a hit of 25%. For a D20, a penalty of -2 is always 10%.
With 3D6, if you're really good, you can take a chance, and similarly,
if you're really bad, a penalty doesn't hurt you much.

But look again at a 3D6 mechanic for difficulty -- the extra die. With
3D6, the usual range is 3-18, with 4D6, it's 4-24. But the percentages
shift so that being average is no longer a 50% chance. Now look at the
D20. It's normal range is 1-20. But the range for 2D20 is now 2-40.
That moves the eprcentages around by a very large amount compared to a
D6. Yes, you can figure out how much to bias everything, but that's
dancing around the issue, ebcause every bias in a D20 system results in
the same percentage. The 3D6 system wins for this mechanic because it's
very easy for the GM to fine-tune rolls.

One of the things I've always liked about the TFT 3D6 system is that
it's like meta-rules. The PC figures out what the character wants to
do. The GM declares which Talents are applicable, which attribute to
roll against, and how many dice for difficulty. Then fine tune with
biases for the current situation, and roll. And if the situation comes
up again, you already know how to handle it....Neil Gilmore

Regarding how combat & armor are handled

Other people have said it but 3d6 to hit is one of my favorite things aobut TFT, and it relates to how armor is treated.

In D&D, as soon as a character can afford the best plate mail (second level, usually), that character immediately buys and wears it. Pretty much every second level fighter out there is wearing plate. In D&D, if you can afford it (and by the time they have a retinue everyone can), you load up your men-at-arms and even your peasant militia in plate armor.

In TFT, you'd be a fool to dress your peasant militia in even chain armor. The drop from an 11 or less to hit to an 8 or less to his is extreme. Add to that the fact that your peasants act last in the action round, and they're much more efficient and battle-worthy wearing no armor at all. Basically, everyone in TFT equips themselves to hover around that 10-12 DX range (with some special exceptions, like guys who want to make sure they go first in the round, or guys whose only real purpose is to stand in the front row and block opponents).

The (perhaps unintended) result is that characters and npc's in TFT are much more appropriately armed and armored than in any other dark ages/medieval game I've played. Peasants wear nothing. Mercenaries wear quilted or leather. Veterans wear chain. Elite knights wear plate. And player characters are built in a variety of ways...a Conan-type might concentrate on Strength and not wear armor despite having a lot of experience. A knightly type might pump up his dex and start with chain armor, starting with a mace and slowly working his way up to plate and bastard sword.

Bottom line: you see someone ride up to you in plate armor and in TFT you know you're facing a badass. In any other game it could just be some rich punk.

Is that realistic? Some would argue no...of course peasants would wear plate armor if they could afford it. But I'd argue yes. Peasants could NEVER afford plate armor. Historically, in an age when warriors were responsible for their own arms and armor (post Imperial rome, pre nation state), only the hardened veterans or elite members of a warrior culture (knights) were armored. In TFT, only the hardened veterans or the elite members of a warrior culture are armored. In every other game, everyone's armored. In role-playing games this is because you can't keep money out of the players' hands. In miniatures games, that's because the cost-to-benefit ratio of armor is too low. In TFT it's just right....SGT HULKA

The look, the feel, of multi-dice...

I agree with everything written about the differences in chance and
percentages between the d20 and 3d6 systems. I'd like to focus on the
tactile "feel" of the dice. I've played a lot of games that are
percentile dice based. When you shake the dice in your hand they click
and clack together and when you drop them onto a table they produce a
certain sound as they bounce around that I immediately connect with
gaming. The exact same thing is even more true when rolling 3d6. There
is simply a connection to the feel of the dice in your hands. The
poor, lonely d20 just does not give me the same feel. Multiple dice
are just more exciting to throw down than a single die. It's just like
rolling craps in Vegas. You can't wait to see and quickly add up the
numbers. While I know this is very subjective I have a feeling many of
you will identify with it. Or at least the gamblers in the group.

As strange as this may sound it's a main reason I never even bothered
to look at a d20 system....David O. Miller