24 June, 2017

In Memorium: Stewart Wieck

One of the great game designers has passed to the great game beyond the veil. I never met him, but so many of my contacts across social media say that he was a great guy as well as being a great game designer. He was the creator of my favourite game, Mage: the Ascension, and therefore increibly influential in the way I play, run and design games of my own.

I think the last times I wrote something of this nature on the blog, it was the passing of Erick Wujcik... who designed the TMNT game for Palladium, and was just as influential to my game design, but in different ways... and the passing of Robert Pirsig, who wrote the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

By taking one of my favourite books, the aforementioned one by Pirsig, and turning it into a spectacularly open game that expanded the potential of roleplaying in so many ways. This one has hit me hard.

One by one my heroes are dying. I guess that's just a symptom of getting older. Now I just wish I could fill their shoes.

23 June, 2017

Glyphs and Icons

If you've read through the blog, you'll know that I'm a visual thinker. I make maps. I make images. I like things to have patterns and systems to have a sense of order to them. I don't like games where there are a dozen subsystems for a dozen different tasks. I like ideas that feed back into themselves making holistic ecosystems of play.

As a part of my current design project, The Law, I've decided to make a series of glyphs for the attributes. In my earlier "image-free" version of the rules, I was using placeholder wingdings and webdings, but it's time to move to something more distinct and tailored to the game.

This process saw me make a set of initial glyphs and show them to the world.





The responses were generally positive, but a few feedback comments raised some valid issues that would have led to problems. The glyphs generally portray what I'm trying to get across with them, but when shrunk down to fit in with text, they'll lose a lot of detail and generally get a bit busy.

So that led to a new set of glyphs being designed...

First the attributes.




Nothing particularly dramatic about the changes, but the swords (on the conflict glyph) were being confused for crystals and other mystical elements, and the swirls around the book (on the knowledge glyph) were distracting from the central symbol. Generally, the main elements linked to the attribute concept were magnified too.

While I was at it, I figured that other parts of the game required glyphs of their own.  

Health (which resists the conflict actions of others)

Status (which resists the influence actions of others) 

Willpower (I might need to change that name, but it resists the mysticism actions of others)

Wisdom (which resists the knowledge actions of others)

Equipment (which works to both resist certain actions, or magnify others)

Finally, since I've been drawing some inspiration from the game mechanism sigils used in the card game Vampire the Eternal Struggle, I decided to create a few generic sigils. The first of these reflect action events directed from the character, and reactions against events incoming.
Action Glyph (typically associated with circumstances, tools and items that enhance a character's ability to manipulate the world around them..such as weapons which deal extra damage on a successful conflict action, or specialist toolkits that might bring extra information with a successful knowledge action. It could just as easily be a positive "blessing" that makes mystic actions more successful or a negative "curse" that makes actions less successful. The key thing to note here is that the effect occurs when the character is active in some way.)  

Reaction Glyph (typically associated with circumstances, tools and items that cause follow up effects when a character is subjected to someone else's action...such as armour reducing incoming damage,  minimize the negative effects, or cover reducing chance that a ranged shot hits at all, similarly it might apply to mystic protective wards. Negative reactive conflict situations might include being ambushed, having a tracking beacon attached to your car when pursued. The key thing to note here is that the effect occurs when the character is reacting to something incoming)

I'm also thinking of generating glyphs that will quickly show if something is a one-off effect, limited in usage, or freely usable. I'm sure there will be other glyph ideas that come to me, but I need to make sure they are all distinctly different in appearance to avoid confusion.  

22 June, 2017

Randomising The Law

I've been digging back into my game The Law. The core system of character generation offers a few choices that lead to a few specific choices, then direct characters toward something that would feasibly make it out of basic training in the Academy of Law. This was intended from both a diegetic (in-world character directed) perspective and a non-diegetic (player directed) perspective. You can find the original concept here.

But I've been reading a lot about random character generation, and regular readers of the blog will know that I love the concept of the life-path character generation system.

This has led me to considering new ways of creating characters in the game. I'm not sure if I'll be offering these generation options as a part of the basic rules, or as a variant in some kind of player's guide...but here's what I've been thinking.

If base attributes are d4, where an upgrade either increases an attribute die by +d2, adds a skill to the character, a resistance, or provides some kind of equipment/environmental advantage, then we're looking at fourteen upgrades for a starting character (typically +4 to various attributes, +6 to skills, +4 to resistances).

Option 1. 
Roll a die for every year of life above age 4, starting characters are 18 when they leave the Academy and become probationary agents.

Under this system, characters would still choose the type of family they grew up in. They'd roll a d12 on a specific table for each year of their childhood and pre-academy life, but once certain threshold conditions had been met, they'd shift to a new table reflecting their academy training.

Childhood Table (roll d12)

  1. Increase Conflict Attribute. (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  2. Increase Influence Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  3. Increase Knowledge Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  4. Increase Mysticism Attribute (Reroll if this would increase attribute above d8. +2 to Recruitment Threshold)
  5. Increase an Attribute commonly associated with your family's type (Increase lowest attribute if this would increase attribute above d8. +1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  6. Gain a Conflict Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  7. Gain an Influence Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  8. Gain a Knowledge Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  9. Gain a Mysticism Skill (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  10. Gain a Skill associated with one of your family's attributes (+1 to Recruitment Threshold)
  11. Gain a Skill of choice (+1 to Recruitment Threshold) 
  12. Gain a Resistance associated with one of your family's attributes (if you have rolled this previously, gain a different Resistance. +3 to Recruitment Threshold)    

If Recruitment Threshold is 12 or greater, start rolling on Academy table...

Academy Table (roll d6 until all academy skills possessed, then roll d6+4 for remainder of rolls)

  1. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, increase your lowest Attribute)
  2. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, gain a Resistance associated with your highest attribute)
  3. Gain an Academy Skill (Investigate, Judge or Shoot) (If all Academy skills are already possessed, gain a Skill associated with your highest attribute) 
  4. Gain a Resistance not currently possessed. 
  5. Gain a Resistance associated with your highest Attribute.
  6. Increase an Attribute associated with your family (Increase lowest attribute if this would increase attribute above d8.)
  7. Increase your lowest Attribute
  8. Increase an attribute of choice (up to a maximum of d10)
  9. Gain a Skill associated with your highest Attribute
  10. Gain a Skill of choice

If I was following this sort of system, I'd add a follow-up roll for each option. These follow-up rolls would provide some kind of in-game justification linking the increase to an element in the agent's backstory.

Option 2.
This one's a bit simpler, but I feel like it needs a bit more work.

Roll 4 d4s, where each die increases an attribute and adds a skill to the agent's repertoire.

  1. Increase Conflict and choose a Conflict Skill
  2. Increase Influence and choose an Influence Skill
  3. Increase Knowledge and choose a Knowledge Skill
  4. Increase Mysticism and choose a Mysticism Skill

Gain the three Academy Skills (Investigate, Judge and Shoot)

Roll 3 d6s, where each result only adds a single element to the agent.

  1. Increase an Attribute associated with the family (up to a maximum of d10, otherwise reroll).
  2. Choose a Skill associated with one of the family's Attributes
  3. Gain the Resistance associated with your highest Attribute
  4. Gain a Resistance associated with one of your family's Attributes
  5. Increase your lowest Attribute
  6. Gain a Skill of choice   

Alt-Facts in Gaming

I'm not going to mention names. I've seen the patterns repeated many times over the years, but a particular instance reminded me of it again this morning.

We've seen it across the world in many guises...anti-vaxxers using claims from celebrities derived from unsubstantiated data (or even data that has been deliberately debunked)...climate change denialists who point to one cold day as an argument against global warming...politics in the USA...

Someone will typically derive their opinion from their experiences, and when their experiences don't adequately match the situation they'll draw on the claimed experiences of someone they look up to. Opinions are like gut feelings, they don't have substantiated facts associated with them, they just resonate with a person and subversively ingratiate themselves into the psyche. Once embedded, they're hard to get rid of.

The specific instance I noted this morning involves people's experiences with games. Particularly the Old World of Darkness by White Wolf, which has been getting a bit of attention recently due to the pre-alpha playtest going around, and the general development to a new version of the game. A few people commented in the ways I'm thinking.

One person basically claimed that LARP wasn't for them because the one experience they had involved a bunch of posers sitting around discussing existential angst in character, and they were booted from the game when they decided to spice things up and make their own fun. I had a similar experience in my own first LARP but I could see something more in it, a potential that one group hadn't seemed to grasp...so I sought out other LARPs to see if it was a common problem with the format, or just with that particular group. I didn't just st throw in the towel and say that no LARP was for me based on one bad experience.

In a related comment, someone said that they hated the revised version of the Old World of Darkness because "everything" was done by the supernaturals...any globe shattering incidents or innovations were the result of the Vampires or the Mages... I dodn't remember this being the case at all, and at this point one of the original authors stepped in made a comment that agreed with my recollections, and I felt vindicated without needing to write a word. This part of the thread made me think that the first commenter had played a game of "classic" Vampire with a bad Storyteller but hadn't bothered to read the books or do further research. Instead they simply took the Storyteller's word as law and had a conception of the game based on a very distorted lens. Actual research and reading seems to hard for some people, so the opinions take hold based on alt-facts, and any claims to the contrary see a doubling-down.

I've seen it in the past with other games. I'm sure I'll see it again. I've seen the opposite, but this happens less often... if someone has a good experience with something they'll seek out more associated experiences. A good experience needs to be reinforced a couple of times before it becomes ingrained, and then poor experiences become dismissed as one-offs. But a good experience followed by a poor experience (or even a series of poor experiences) seems to prevent an overtly positive opinion forming.

I'm sure there is plenty of research into this whole phenomenon, probably in the field of psychiatry/psychology (while my studies so far have been in sociology, and thus more associated with how opinions might spread from person to person, or across social groups). Similarly, I'm sure I could write this concept into a game mechanism of some type...but what would the purpose be? What would the game be about, besides rampant nihilism?

17 June, 2017

Birthday Sale?

This time last year, Vulpinoid Studios had a birthday sale on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG. The intention was to have this as a regular annual event, but in the past 12 months I don't think I've added anything new to the shopfront. Due to this, it felt a bit silly running a sale when there were no new products available.

Hopefully, by the time next year comes around there will be a few completed projects from my current pool of unfinished ones.

16 June, 2017

A LARP Map (part 3)

Once the hand drawn elements of he ma are completed, the image is scanned into the computer.  

Generally the image seems to end up a bit faded, so I increase the contrast to make the dark elements blacker, the pale elements whiter, and fade away the pencil work until it's generally eliminated.

The next step sees a shadowing around the coastlines. I do this with layers.

  • The top layer is the hand-drawn inked map.
  • The second layer is a white block filling the shape of the land mass. his is done by making a complete white layer, then using the "magic wand" tool to select the water and delete the white layer in these parts.
  • A third layer is a duplicate of that white layer, but inverted to black and then blurred a bit. This gives a black nimbus around the coastline.
  • In this case, a fourth layer was created in a very similar manner to the third. For this layer, the blurring was more pronounced. The final effect of this is to make a more pronounced outline that fades quickly to a mid grey, then fades out more gently to a white.
  • The bottom layer is a plain white.

I generally do this for most of my maps that are designed to have a fantasy/medieval look to them (even though it's probably more of a Renaissance look).

At this stage, we don't really have a context of scale for the map. I could add a linear scale somewhere, but for this particular map I've decided to take a different path. Since it's designed to be an recent map from a seafaring culture in the west, I'm adding lines of latitude and longitude.

This was done on a new transparent layer, above everything. I started with a circle representing the Antarctic circle of the world, this is just off the edge of the map and has a diameter roughly equal to the height of the map. I duplicated the circle raised it on the map and doubled it's width. This gives us the southernmost latitude ring seen on the map. The process was repeated, with each new circle raised by the same amount and doubled in width each time. Due to the size of the original circle, and the constant doubling in size, the northernmost latitude ring looks almost like a straight line and make a suitable equator for the map. Based on the way things have worked out, I'll say that each of the marked lines of latitude are at 15 degree intervals.

Longitude is done in a similar way. A circle is drawn centered at the horizontal middle of the map, and the equatorial latitude at the top of the map (it's radius passes the circumference of the circle through the centre of the original "antarctic circle"). This circle is duplicated multiple times, at 80% width, 60%, 40% and 20%, and then a vertical line is drawn. These longitude circles are grouped and adjusted for their width until they "look right" (where I'm defining the right look to be roughly where the 15 degree latitudes at the middle of the map look similar in length to the 15 degree longitudes that these circles form).

It's all a bit technical, but the final result of all these lines and calculations is something like this...

The latitude and longitude lines are faded out a bit (roughly 50% opacity), and now it's time to add a few more details to the map.

I could add borders between kingdoms, or indicate the relative population density of the land. But instead I've chosen to define which areas are more fertile.

This is basically done by "spray-painting" areas of the map. The darker the spray, the more fertile the area, the darker it is. For most fantasy settings, it's probably safe to assume that land fertility roughly corresponds to population density (no, it's not a perfect correspondence, but if there are differences between population density and land fertility, there is probably a good reason for this which can be explored in the history and lore of the setting). Nothing is ever made darker than the hand-drawn linework, so I basically work between a 50% grey shade and white.

Once again, it's worth noting here that the northern wasteland and the southern island are generally unknown to the explorers who have drawn this map.

Next it's time to add names to the map. Call it cultural appropriation if you want, but one of the cultures on the western coast of the continent has been given a distinctly Spanish flavour (the central kingdom which exists to the south of the LARP region was founded by a rebel baroness who left that land centuries ago). Basically this means that most of the regions indicated on the map will be given Spanish translations of simple names. The regional names are in a large font, curved and faded.

The major towns (those with the solid black circles) are named in a smaller font (black), and in their local names. The local town names are kept straight as an added distinction from the regional names.

I've also tinted the back layer to make the land mass a bit more pronounced, and faded the fertility shading further so that it didn't overshadow the regional names.

Final elements are a name for the map and a black border.

I could add more detail, but that's enough for the moment. Since all of the elements are on different layers, I might create political maps, maps of mystical ley lines, or even maps indicating where certain races and creatures are found.

A LARP Map (Part 2)

It's been more than a day, but here's part 2 of this series of map tutorials.

We left with the part where the ripples were drawn around the coastlines.

Since my process basically follows geographic elements, the brings me in two ways to waterways and rivers. (1. Following the coastline water theme and leading inland... 2. Using the placement of mountain ranges on the map to determine where streams and rivers flow from, and leading them toward bays and bayou areas on the coastline).

Zooming in on a sample set of rivers along the eastern coastline, you can see where I have a few streams starting in each mountain range, using jagged lines to show how they twist and turn through hills that are too small or not strategic enough to appear on the map. Pairs of creeks join up, then these larger streams join up into rivers as they approach the coast. Where a river might reach a depth where sea-going vessels are capable of travelling, I split the river from a single line, to a pair of close lines to indicate a difference in the waterway.

In the middle of the map (the left side as indicated on the image above) the focal area for the LARP is indicated. A part of the LARP lore indicates that there is a river used by traders who take timber and game meats and other trade commodities on barges to settlements downstream. The river flows off to the west, but little more was detailed about that river beyond a few miles, so the larger scale map sees this river system bend southward.
With mountain ranges showing terrain that is obviously difficult to pass, and rivers showing natural borders and potential trading paths, we can start to see natural locations for settlements to appear.

The rough map indicated a few settlements, but these are all subject to change especially as we move further from the established areas at the centre of the continent. Four distinct settlement types are indicated. The largest and most notable towns and cities are drawn with a solid circle surrounded by a faint circle. Smaller villages (such as the town of Nexus where our LARP is based) are drawn with a air of concentric outlined circles. The small villages that are still capable of being seen on this map are marked with a single outlined circle (we have two of those in the LARP area). The last type of settlements indicated are ruins, mostly seen in the northern wilderness and on the island to the south of the main continent.

There's a few ways I could have gone with the map next, but I decided that I'd move toward notable forested areas. These mostly sit to the east of mountain ranges, because air currents often blow from east to west, and when they hit mountain ranges, they drop any moisture in the air as rains. This isn't always the case, but it's a good rule of thumb to place most of the fertile lands of the continent. This also means that open spaces to the west of the continent are natural desert regions. Deep in the south-west of the continent, I've added a few forests perhaps indicating manipulated air flow due to the curvature of the mountain range in that part of the world. The central region has a few forested and fertile areas for similar reasons, justifying the central river systems. No forests are indicated in the northern wasteland, or on the southern island, but this is more a factor of these regions being unexplored than anything else.  

Then I indicate roadways and trade routes between the various towns and cities. At this scale of map I've just used simple dashed lines for the overland trade routes, and dotted lines across the water to indicate common voyages of trade ships between nearby coastal settlements.

The last thing I've drawn on this map is some of the major swamps, wetlands, and bogs. I don't seem to have taken a photo of this stage, but you'll seem them in later parts of the tutorial.

This has basically completed the analog art of the map making process for me. The next step involves scanning the page, then digitally manipulating the image until I'm happy with it.