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Survival RPG devlog 3: Characters

The third entry in this devlog took a bit longer than expected. Not only I had to test some ideas when it comes to the characters, but real life got in the way of doing so. This is still a work in progress, especially I am still looking for better words for some of the terms in game. As it stands now, Characters have few traits (+equipment), Endurance (with skills) and goals. While the first two aspects are pretty set in stone, different aspects to goals are being tested. So let's see what makes a character:

Traits:

Traits are similar to Fate's aspects or even Risus's Cliches. They are either a word of a short phrase describing some aspect of the character. The aim of the game is to make the players rely more on their equipment and their endurance than their traits, so each character will only have few of them.

Four seems to work pretty well for traits. It is low enough number for players to come up with with interesting descriptors for their characters. The most important trait connects to the character's background. It answers the prompt: "I used to be...". This roots characters in the setting. Maybe your character was a surgeon, a taxi driver or an architect. Each of those add flavor to the character but also can be used to add a die to the test.

You get two more free traits, and one fault (or drawback or hindrance). This is a similar setup to Fate and even FU, and it seems to work well. There is no need to fix what isn't broken.

I quite like the idea of creating or describing a character with a sentence, like in Numenera. It would work well with the theme of the game. Unfortunately, apart from "I used to be [blank]" I don't have anything that would enclose all traits in a single sentence. That is something that I have put on the back burner for now.

While you only get four traits permanently attached to your character, you get access to other, more temporary traits. One of them comes from wounds. Each type of physical or emotional stress  will take its toll. Wounds will only give you a negative dice. To get more positive dice, you need equipment. If you try to intimidate someone, it is much easier if you are aiming a gun at them. I will go into more depth about equipment in the next devlog, for now, just know that you can use equipment to add dice to your test, or skip the test altogether.

Endurance 

As discussed previously, Endurance is a pool of points you can spend to add to the dice result. You will need to do so, more often than not, as a medium difficulty test would be around 6 (to roll on a d6). It symbolizes your will to survive. It is your willpower, your stamina and hope combined. If your current Endurance is high, your character feels that they can take onto anything. With low Endurance, you might want to rest, so you can refresh your Endurance pool. This connection between the pool of points that let's you improve your chances of success and the system for regaining those points is a central mechanic of the game. It encourages the characters to do the "boring stuff" like eating, sleeping, talking to other survivors over some found tequila, that are important aspects of survival genre and makes the PCs more mundane, and not heroes, able to face any obstacle at any time. No Heroes, remember?

You get 40 (this is to be tested, it might be taken down to 20, I will need to play with different players to decide exactly) Endurance points during character creation. During game, you can spend them at any test. One point spent, adds one to the result from the dice. You can spend as many points as you want on a single test, but once they are spent, they are gone until next refresh (which will probably not refresh all points at once). This way the player is facing an important decision with every dice roll.

You can also exchange some of your Endurance points for "skills". They can be used just like Endurance points (1 to 1 spend on dice rolls), but only on actions that fall within the scope of the skill. The game will have lists of skills for different genres, but the lists are open ended. So, why would you opt in for getting skills, instead of the catch all Endurance? Because you get two skill points for each endurance point you spend. You will be able to exchange Endurance for skills during character creation and any time you would "level up" in other RPGs.

Goals

Goals are the third and final aspect of any character. They describe the characters personality, needs and wants. They will work in a similar way to TSOY's Keys (skip to page 12). When a character will achieve one of their goals, they regain some endurance. You can also break them, so you can regain a bunch of points (probably get all the points back). So if you are a protector (gain Endurance when you help others survive), if you kill another human being, you get a full refresh, but loose that goal and can not gain endurance from it in the future. People, and especially their views, change when they find themselves in life and death situations and struggle to survive.

GMs will get some advice on using the character goals and making temporary goals that change with the narrative. I am compiling (and stealing from TSOY) a list of goals/behaviors the characters can have. As with skills, it is not a comprehensive list, and characters can create their own goals.

Appendix: Names, words and such.

As the system is now, it uses pretty generic naming conventions. Skills, Traits and Goals to not carry the emotional weight of survival, struggle or even any of the design guidelines from Part 1. They serve they purpose for now, as many roleplayers have a clear idea of what skill, wound or goal means in a RPG. For the release I will want to change them, this is what I have now and what message I want to carry:

  • Traits would probably change to Assets. It works great with using equipment, and even using your own "powers" works with it. Does not work well with wounds and stress.
  • Endurance is good, it works well for what it is supposed to do system wise. 
  • Skills are way to generic, I want them to be seen more as: How you cope/survive. 
  • Goals are ok, I can leave them unless I find a better word encompassing wants/needs/agendas and something to be broken.
If you have any advice on making the naming conventions more thematic, send them my way (best to leave a comment here). On a bright side, I have a pretty good title for the game. How do you feel about: Endure ?

Survival RPG Devlog 2: Basic Mechanics


After the brief introduction, it's time to look into some of the mechanics of the game. Bear in mind that this is still a work in progress and is a subject to (possibly dramatic) changes. With that in mind, let's look at the basic task resolution mechanic and how it reinforces the game's theme. Before we proceed, let's look at one word that is quite important to the game:

endurance

noun
  • the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
         "she was close to the limit of her endurance"
  • the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear.
Endurance is an important aspect both game-world and system wise. It is each character's main attribute and also their will to live, their grit, willpower and stamina combined. It will deplete over the course of the session and the players will find ways to replenish it. With that in mind, this is how the task resolution mechanic works:

  • Player Characters have two types of attributes: Traits and Skills. 
    • Traits are your character’s descriptors, you only have few of them tied to your character, like [Slender] [Surgeon]. Traits give you dice.
    • Skills (name to be changed) are a pool of points. You start with 20 points in only one skill - Endurance, but can spend them to purchase other skills on 1-to-2 ratio during character creation. So you take down your Endurance to 15 (spending 5 points) and getting 10 points in, let’s say, running away. You can spend your points to add to rolls.
  • The GM narrates the story, if you disagree with the narration (for example, when the GM tells you that your character will get stabbed by this random guy you just met), you can roll for it.
  • You want to roll above Target Number (TR). You roll a hand of dice and (depending on circumstances) use the highest or lowest die. 
  • Before you roll, you can add any amount of points from your skills. You can always spend points from your Endurance, but you can only spend points from other skills, when they apply.
  •  If you roll above the TR, you can narrate the outcome of the action, if you didn’t the GM narrates. You will probably narrate a positive outcome, and the GM will narrate a negative outcome most of the time.

I will go more into skills and traits in the next post. The basic rule is - you are starting with one six sided die, and add one die per applicable trait. Traits can add positive dice (like your character traits or equipment you are using) and negative dice (wounds, both physical and mental and obstacles - traits of NPCs, locations or objects). Positive and Negative dice cancel each other so you only roll one type of dice for each roll. You choose the highest die if you rolled any positive dice, or the lowest if you rolled negative dice. This mechanic is basically stolen from Freeform Universal, and as it under Creative Commons license I don't think that will be a problem ;).

Players can (and should) spend points from their skills to add to their roll. So if you rolled a 4 from your dice and spent 3 points, your result is 7. You are trying to beat the Target Number. The Target Number values are not set in stone. I am thinking that an easy task would be 4, medium 6, difficult around 8 or 9.  I am toying with the idea that Target Number is kept secret from the players (like in the Gumshoe systems). Maybe TR should be static, and the difficulty coming only from the Negative Dice? This is something I would like to hear from you.

I am also toying with incorporating the Yes, and/but and No, and/but as described previously here. This would depend on what you rolled on your dice. So if you rolled 1 or 2, you add a complication (BUT) to the narration, and if you rolled 5 or 6 you add something beneficial (AND) to the PC into the narration. I am torn on adding this, because I don't want to alienate non-story-gamers.

Ok, back to the points. Once you spend your points, they are gone for time being. This ways players know that their characters have limits and are only human. Those points can be refreshed by fulfilling human needs. So everytime the PCs have a meal, sleep and just have some relaxing time in-game, they can replenish some of their spent points. This way, players are encouraged for doing all those "boring" survivalistic things like eating, staying hydrated or just drinking found whiskey to forget.


To sum up the basic system: You roll a set of six sided dice, and depending if you had more positive or negative traits, you get either the highest or the lowest die rolled. You add that to the points you spent from your Endurance/skills to get your result. If the result is higher than the TN you can narrate what happens, if it is below - it is up to the GM.

So, what do you think about this system? 

Survival RPG devlog 1: Intro

...and now for something completely a bit different.


Survival games are all the rage on the video games front. From pure survival in games like Minecraft, through survival horror like Evil Within, to a personal survival stories in games like This war of Mine. There is something very appealing in being thrown into a hostile environment and surviving against all odds.

While you can run a survival scenarios in many existing RPGs, there isn't a system that focuses solely on the that situation. After playing some This War of Mine, and reading about The End of The World from Fantasy Flight Games (that concentrates on living trough different flavors of the apocalypse, but not survival per se), I have decided to write a game that focuses on the hardships of survival.

It usually takes me a bit of time to finish a game. Heck, the only one that I have finished and somehow published was Heist Aces (that is still asking for an updated version). To keep myself motivated, I am starting this devlog, where I will post my progress in writing this game and respond to comments and criticisms.

First, I am laying down the design principles for this game. Whatever additions or changes I will want to make, they will need to follow the below guidelines:

Wrong Place, Wrong Time - the game's focus will be surviving in harsh and hostile environments. The game should be able to handle variety of survival scenarios. No matter the setting or the genre, the player characters will always start in a wrong place, at a wrong time.

No Heroes - player characters are not specialists trained to deal with the threats they are about to face. There are just unlucky people who have to find a way to survive against all odds. They are not equipped for the task, nor are they prepared. They will struggle, make morally questionable choices and rely on ever depleting resources... and so will the NPCs. Other survivors can be suspicious or even hostile towards PCs, not because they are evil, but because, just like the players, want to survive.

Nothing is forever - characters get tired and depressed, resources dwindle, people die. All of this should have impact in-game and on the game mechanics. On the other hand, nothing will stay bad forever, characters will rest, find hope and overcome their obstacles, but those victories won't last forever.

Those three guidelines summarize the game pretty well. You play as people who need to endure things they are not prepared for. They will struggle, but they will have their victories. I want to create a system that will support those feelings, but without overwhelming bookkeeping, and unnecessary math. I have also decided on some system guidelines, they can be changed, but I would like to stay within the restrictions:

  • Player facing mechanics - only PCs roll dice. This not only let's the GM focus on the story, but also puts the players in a more active role - if you won't do anything, this mutated dog will rip your throat out.
  • No bookkeeping -  I want to keep the game as simple as possible. It is very easy to add a ton of  negative modifiers to the character for being tired, depressed, etc. A game like that can become nothing more than a spreadsheet, instead of story. I don't want that. I want to focus on the story. If possible, I want to avoid negative modifiers and keeping track of each unit of food, water, ammo, what-have-you. 
  • Rewards, not requirements - Instead of telling players what their characters need, I want to reinforce that. Having a good night's rest, a hearty meal or finding loved ones should be rewarding.
  • Important Equipment - In survival scenarios, having a pocket knife can be difference between life and death. I want equipment to be important, making tasks possible without rolls, or at least much easier to achieve.
  • Generic - Most of all, I want the mechanics to be generic enough, to play in different settings, from desert island, through urban disaster scenarios, through sci-fi. 
I have an idea for a mechanic that would fit those requirements. I am still testing it. It uses only six sided dice and a pool of points you can spend. You try to beat an unknown target number. I will go into more detail of the mechanics in my next post, in the meantime, I am curious what do you think about a dedicated survival RPG idea? What would you like to see in a game like that?

R/andom Tables

You might know that I am a big fan of randomized content in my RPGs. I use things like magic cards for inspiration when I need to quickly come up with an adventure and random tables to aid my improvisation during the game.

There is a lot of great random tables online, either on blogs, forums or even in some fully fledged pdf supplements. The problem is, that they are scattered all over the interwebs and quite difficult to find. I usually bookmark my finds, but even that makes it somehow tricky to find what you need. Well, it's possible that I am really bad at organizing my bookmarks. Nevertheless, I thought it would be cool to have a comprehensive list of good random tables. The original idea was to go trough my bookmarks and make a list of random tables I enjoy and post it on this blog. Well, many have tried that, and those lists are as scattered around the web as the random tables itself. Instead of joining the legion of hard-to-find random table lists, I have decided to open a subreddit, so anyone can add and up/dowvote random tables. This way we can create a somehow central database of random tables and generators for our sessions. This is why, earlier today, I started the:


r/RandomTables

Come and check it out, even if you are not registered on reddit. You can access all the tables without registering. And, if you are a reddit user, join us and post more cool random stuff. This way others can use it in their games. In the coming days, I will continue adding random tables from my bookmarks and probably start some discussions on how people are using them in their games. On the blog side, look out for more random tables related content.

[Idea Time] A reverse swords and sorcery 4x card game.

I wrote this idea for a game for November Game design challenge hosted on Board Game Designer Forum. While I was far from winning the challenge, I quite liked the idea and might work on it more in the future. Until then, I am leaving it here. IF you have any ideas on how to improve this game, leave it here.

Doomed Realm


A sword and sorcery empire survival card game.


Components:
  • Empire cards - represent special achievements/technology/buildings of each empire. Sword&Sorcery theme. Each has resource icons and special abilities that let you manipulate your dice. Can be activated via dice and/or tapping.
  • Fate cards - Natural and Magical disasters, old ones awakening, colonists conquering the lands etc. (akin to mythos cards from Arkham/Eldrich Horror). Fate cards have a target number needed to discard it. if the sum of all the dice on the card is equal or greater than TR the card leaves play.
  • Dice (d6s in different colors - 5 per player) - representing “manpower” of each empire.


Game starts by establishing each player’s empire through drafting. Starting player draws X( number of players) empire cards. Chooses one and passes the remaining to the left. This follows until one player receives one card. He draws up to X cards, chooses one and passes it to the left. This continues until each player has empire 10 cards in front of them. This represents their empire.


The aim of the game is to be the last empire standing (still having cards in front of you). Play begins by placing a fate card(s) in the middle of the table. Each player rolls their dice and places them one at a time to:
  • Your empire card to activate special ability - what card/ability you can use depends on the value of the die you are using. (exploit)
  • Enemy empire card to try to claim a part of their empire (exterminate and expand)
    • if there is an enemy die on your card, you can protect yourself from losing it by playing a die of equal or higher value.
  • Play a die on fate card to try to prevent from bad things happening.


After playing one die play proceeds clockwise until all players played all their dice. After that all actions are resolved in order:
  • Fate cards are discarded if TR is beaten.
  • Remaining Fate Cards activate
  • Territory is claimed (if one player has higher total than current owner).
  • New Fate Card(s) is played and new turn starts.


Gameplay and theme comes from special rules on empire/fate cards (think MTG level of variety).
Once you are out of empire cards you are eliminated.
Empire cards have icons represent 4X resources (food, industry, culture etc.)
Fate cards affect players based on the amount of certain resource in their empire (least, most, more/less than X) and often affect more than one player at a time.
Fate cards force players to discard empire cards with certain resources.
If you play your die on a Fate card, it stays there until the card is discarded (you roll less die on next turn).
Players will want to collaborate to defeat Fate Cards faster.
Players can negotiate / make treaties. Those are not binding.
Difficulty can be affected by playing more Fate Cards each turn and/or including/excluding certain cards.