Monday 15 April 2019

Collectibles in Games

My daughter watches adverts, and like any other child who watches adverts, she sees toys and jingles and things get lodged in her head. She knows Lelly Kelly shoes, Unicorn Poop (sadly real) and loads more. She sees me and my wife collecting the odd Funko Pop and she wants them too. All of us like to get the occasional Lego minifig blind bag and hope it will be the one we want.

(very happy that I have a Wizard of Oz Scarecrow minifig on my desk now!)

So just a small thought: what would an in-RPG collectible look like? What would a world with elves and dwarves have that would be interesting and thematic? Why should someone care? (player and character)

It can't just be about "getting a better sword" or "finding the three Zanthar Crystals" or some kind of key that's in four bits. What, small, interesting, non-trivial things could there be?

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Recent Games...

...but not RPGs!

It's spring break here for my daughter, so lots of family time, the odd snatched hour or two of work to keep things ticking over, and little-to-no time for thinking or writing about RPGs.

Correction: little-to-no time spent thinking or writing about RPGs, as I've had time, I've just chosen to spend it playing games on my PS4. I got a game bundle last week and have played and completed two short games and messed about with a third. All have got me thinking parallel things about RPGs...

Hue is a side-scrolling puzzle game. The title character, Hue, is trying to find his mum, a scientist. They both live in a 2D black and white world, but his mum has figured out a way to "see" other colours. Hue gathers pieces of a magic ring that helps him shift his perception to see or not see other colours; when he chooses to not see, say, red, then red walls disappear, red spikes can't stab him and so on. The puzzles get tricky, the story is charming and there's a nice philosophical flavour running throughout. But it got me wondering about ideas like that in RPGs. Are there systems, rules, mechanics that just let someone veto effects? Maybe as super-ultra-powerful magic items, but what about just regular little artefacts... I wonder...

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture is a game I finished in one four hour sitting. A beautiful, haunting game, you play as someone (it's never revealed who you are) exploring an empty English country town. No one is around, but there's evidence that something very, very strange has happened. As you explore you find ghostly echoes of the people who lived there, and piece together the story that has lead to this strange situation. It's amazing, it's deeply emotional, it's incredibly gorgeous to look at and I've not been able to stop thinking about it since last Friday night. It's got me thinking about two player games, role-playing games of exploration, games with very few instructions, games to explore difficult topics (there's a lot to unpack in Rapture about life, death and legacy) and a lot more. If you get the chance, play this game.

The Flame in the Flood is hard. It's a rogue-like game set on a great flooded river. Scout and her dog are rafting downstream trying not to drown. When they find a camp site or an abandoned town they explore for food, supplies, clean water and things they might need. Everything wants to kill you. Water is mostly polluted, so has to be cleaned. Filters break after three uses so replacements have to be found or made. The nights get cold so you need to make clothes. Animals are all around but hard to catch. Walk by some thorns and you'll get scratches; don't treat them and you'll get infected and die. Can't cook the food you find? Food poisoning. Eat too many berries? Stomach ache. And so on. Flame is really hard, but there is a neat little game concept that could help a lot.

Whenever you start the game, you're shown Scout's dog dragging a backpack away from someone who has died. Scout takes the little backpack and puts it on the dog, and it becomes a kind of second inventory (the third is what goes on your raft). To begin with I thought this was just a kind of extra little item slot and nothing more, but then I realised: those six item slots persist between games. If you have a jar of water and a piece of jerky in the dog's pack and die, when you start a new game it's in the new pack.

So... The dead body that your dog finds at the start of the game is YOU, holding your last dog's little pack...

And... If you're about to die in the game and you can you should load the most useful items into the dog's backpack so the next Scout can use them.

Also... What games do interesting things between a dying character and a new one? Yes, people pick over a dead character body for treasure and items; the interesting thing in The Flame in the Flood I think is the weird metaphysical connection between the characters that the items creates. So what other kinds of things could we do in games? Persistence of memory? Persistence of consciousness somehow? Clones that pop up when your character dies? (played in a oneshot game that did that actually!) A chance to send a small portion of your inventory to the next character, who is somehow connected to you?

Friends, take my sword to my daughter, tell her to avenge me...

So not much writing and thinking about stuff that was in my head a few weeks ago (although more on Troika! as soon as I can get my thoughts in order) but lots of thoughts.

Wednesday 20 March 2019

First Impressions of Troika!

Troika! arrived in the post an hour ago.

I was happy to back the Kickstarter back when it ran; I was a big fan of Advanced Fighting Fantasy back in my youth, and to hear of something inspired by that game as opposed to D&D made me very curious. I've got a full plate of things to write and do for my day job, but a long series of train rides coming up when I might be able to give Troika! a proper read. So here's eight things I observe in my first five minutes of handling and browsing Troika!
  1. The production values are high. Good hardback, nice thick-but-not-too-thick paper. Excellent printing.
  2. d66 character classes is nice. It will take a while to read through them all, but first glance gives real variety from Burglar to Lonesome Monarch. Awesome.
  3. Also: a piece of evocative art for each character class!
  4. Reference tables on interior front and back covers: damage tables, spells and magical mishaps. Good to have them to hand.
  5. Interesting to have only the d6 in play for rolls. Think I've only seen that previously when playing story games.
  6. Some of the bestiary art is fantastic. Some is a little underwhelming. Again, just a first glance.
  7. Nice to see a starter adventure present!
  8. The cover is a bit of a mystery! I've no idea what is happening. I like the style, the wraparound-ness of it, but perhaps reading the character classes and adventure will make that clearer. It's cool but I don't know what it is.
I've not delved into the rules. I remember skimming the ruleset of an earlier edition and thinking it was neat. I'm sure that will be the case here too. I'm looking forward to spending more time with Troika! in the next week or so. Will share more thoughts then if that's interesting to anyone.

Monday 18 March 2019

"Room Monster"

Surely someone else has done this better than me...?

Maybe a mimic that is trying to become a whole room? I found this piece of paper in among all the files and stuff I am sorting out. How many hit dice would a room have? Or hit points for that matter?

How do you kill a room?

Saturday 16 March 2019

Found In One Folder

I need to sort out my game collection, which includes a few books and zines, a ton of pdfs that I can't even bear to look at for the most part and many, many random folders of things that I've started writing, noted down or half-considered.

In one folder, picked at random for sorting out this morning, I've found:
  • Probability calculations for rolling n dice and getting at least one 6.
  • Probability calculations for rolling 2 dice and keeping the highest result.
  • Pages of notes for random setting generating a series of systems in Diaspora.
  • A sketch of a rumours table for a fantasy city I remember thinking about.
  • Notes for a new game of Dogs In The Vineyard (I say "new" - the notes are over five years old).
  • Notes for a zombie hack of Dogs called Dead In The Graveyard (ugh, such a terrible name!) which didn't get very far, but which had - I think - the neat idea of renaming the stats "brains, brawn, blood and guts".
  • What looks like a scrap of paper with PBTA game notes, but right in the centre a single question, "What happened at the Bus Station?" - and I have no idea why that's there...
  • Notes on a two-player game inspired by the awful movie After Earth, for a game where two people play characters separated at great distance. One person has experience but is gravely injured, one can move freely but needs guidance. Both will die if they can't work together. There was a wonderful concept in After Earth that didn't work given the world details in the movie, but I wondered (and still do) if there's a neat little story game in there.
And finally, a sheet of paper with brainstormed ideas for a table to generate magical parasites...

I have at least a dozen more physical folders of various sizes.

I have to get organised.

Wednesday 13 March 2019

A Neat Discovery...

...and a meandering muse on short games...

One of the funnest things I did when I was making A Random Encounter was make the short games that I did as little print bonuses. Escape The Undermaze and Thursday Night were inspired by Chris McDowall's one-page hack of Into The Odd, and what really appealed to me was this idea of having something complete in just a single-page, where every element that you would need to setup and run a fun, interesting, exciting game was there.

Just add a GM, some players and imagination!!!

...or something...

I've been reflecting on both of those games for a while, as I have some ideas for a collection of games/settings, like an anthology of potential stories. A common system, probably heavily influenced by Into The Odd because it's simple and great, but with double spreads that are like mini-modules. A complete session on two pages. Some tables, some inspiration, but the GM and players make it into an enjoyable evening; hopefully, with seeds and ideas scattered through the stories/games that connect things up an interesting way.

Anyway, that's for a much longer post and another day! I like the simplicity of having just a few simple rules and a couple of tables, and I thought a few days ago, "I wonder if I could really strip that down and make a simple game - maybe for the 200 Word RPG Challenge! Isn't that coming up soon?"

I think it is! Probably, hopefully announcing soon. I decided to "check out the competition" and see what was submitted last year. There were lots of entries, but I clicked on the first title that really jumped out at me...

...and wouldn't you know it, someone has beat me to it. A simple game, a neat structure, several short tables for inspiration, a working - and interesting - system and all in 200 words. Levon Jihanian is a genius.

Seriously, go check out Fuck! It's Dracula. You won't be sorry!

Monday 11 March 2019

Illness In Games

On Saturday morning I woke up with a cold. By tea-time I was hunched over in bed, shivering and shaking as my temperature crept up close to 40 degrees (nearly 104 if you're Fahrenheit-inclined). When I woke up on Sunday morning my fever was completely gone, but since then I've continued to have aches, pains, cold symptoms and general body discomfort. Nothing major, not compared to people in real distress, but enough to make me go "Urgh!" at the thought of doing anything.

(so of course this coming week is busy than the last two combined when it comes to my day job...)

But all of this got me thinking about illness in games - or more specifically, the fact that I can't remember EVER playing in a game where any character, mine or another party PC, got sick. People got injured, sometimes badly, but they never stumbled around through a cave because they had earache, you know? They never sneezed inappropriately due to complications from dwarf pox.

Maybe it would be boring. I remember that, as we were coming to an end of a small campaign in a D&D game, my character got petrified. There was about half an hour left in the session, we didn't know if or when we would pick it up again and so I sat there listening, twiddling my thumbs and calculating my character's weight now that he was stone and not flesh. I understand why I didn't roll stats or become a random pregen, but it was a little boring.

Maybe pretending to sneeze or wheeze or groan would be dull too. Simply adding a penalty to some rolls doesn't feel like quite enough...

...but I can imagine a little fun in character and NPC interactions maybe. Nevermind charisma rolls, but how does the High Priestess look upon you when you have dragon boils? Or even just a simple cold, with red-rimmed eyes, streaming nose and slight clumsiness?

Maybe getting sick in a game is a sign that you need to rest your character. You could push on through the jungle, try to find a trail to the Hidden City of Somewhere, but you'll make things worse. Three days of rest at camp should see you right though (of course, someone else might get there first...).

I'm definitely not an expert on games, not by a long shot, I just can't think of any games that I've played in, run or read which have rules for the consequences of simple (or complicated) illness.

Can you? What would you do if characters got sick?

Wednesday 6 March 2019

The Last Days of New Paris (tiny review)

I enjoyed The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville last week. It's a short novel, showing a brief period in a long Second World War: New Paris, 1950, where Surrealist manifestations stalk the streets, literal demons from hell stalk the manifestations, artist-freedom fighter Thibaut fights the Nazis and the Nazis do the kinds of things you can probably imagine the Nazis doing if they really were tapping into demonic and occult powers.
I know nothing about Surrealism, but the book certainly painted a picture with the descriptions of the city and the manifestations within. There's a fast-paced story with some neat mysteries behind the beautiful, almost-apocalyptic world that's presented. I think fantasy (and sci-fi)  novels work well when a lot of the work of understanding what things are is left to the reader. So when China Mieville starts by talking about "manifs" you instantly get that they are something weird, strange, maybe dangerous, and as time goes on you pick up their true nature. This drew me in, and has reminded me just how good a writer Mieville is. I've picked up Perdido Street Station to re-read on my Kindle some time in the coming months (it's a loooong time since I first read it).

If you're interested in art generally or Surrealism particularly then I imagine that there will be interesting things in The Last Days of New Paris. But you don't have to know anything: the book carries you along through the explorations of Thibaut and Sam. I was not expecting the book to go where it went, but was very glad by the end that it had.

There are tons of neat ideas for games here too. Literally drawing on the power of art, a Tarot deck that can be spent card by card for special abilities, invoking the concept of a branch of art, and the almost-golem-like exquisite corpse creature that Thibaut shepherds around - there's a lot to take away from this book!

Monday 4 March 2019

Space demons! and other universal interlopers

At the edge of the solar system, impossibly, They are here, pouring through a hole in reality...

Humans rally their forces and wonder: can we beat them? Is this the end? And importantly, why are they here???
  1. Counter-humans from an inverse-universe determined to conquer our space.
  2. Insectoid menace plundering precious resources: humans!
  3. Blurred-edge fractal-flowers, AIs that want to be the only consciousness.
  4. Conceptual bubble-beings; they feed off maths and want more equations to devour.
  5. Swarm of nano-constructors; absorbing comet ice and space dust, and looking at that hot glowing ball of gas in the distance with hunger.
  6. Spike-ships colonised by ant-people parasite-pilots are searching for something good to drink: humans!
  7. Matriarchal anti-entropic space-pirates looking for a new star to turn into pure computronium.
  8. Macro-scale germ-hive searching for the ultimate infectees: whales! (or, if whales extinct: humans!)
  9. Cat-headed demons of the negaverse; searching for a great big saucer of milk.
  10. Aesthovores, art-eating twelve-legged spiders from dream-space; attracted by Earth culture and looking to farm artists from the closest source: humans!
Whoever They are, humans can't win. We can probably hide and survive in the ruins though...

(From notes for an old Into The Oort supplement idea I had. The canon Oort setting had no aliens, just leftover tech from older human communities, but commenters seemed interested in space demons and Other Menaces. The table also probably owes a debt to To The Stars, the shared game universe that I, David McGrogan, Patrick Stuart and others played games in years ago.)