Saturday, November 20, 2021

Further Inspiration-Warping: Cyberpunk, Space Horror

Welcome to my game design therapy journal.

 Since my last post, my attention has fluctuated through/between:

  • A: Some rules for a cyberpunk version of the skirmish game rules, focused on hacking
  • B: Creating a spin-off solo hacking card game all the way to a prototype in TTS 
  • C: A notional cyberpunk RPG ruleset which is itself the system the PCs are literally hacking and breaking, made by a fictional game company representing the in-game corporation. Not really sure how to actually make it though, probably won't be more than a fun concept write-up. Maybe I'll share that at least.
  • D: Youtube watching shifted from fantasy terrain crafting to Sci-fi, and a growing visceral desire to get my hands into it
  • E: Skeletal ideas for combining some of the above with my nascent Alien Dark space horror RPG rules into a kind of narrative co-op Alien+"Space Hulk with civilians" miniature/board game.
  • F: Left Field - slight hints of dipping into playtesting and/or hacking Chris McDowell's OTHER mini ruleset Project 10...

B is vaguely promising. And, in creating it I learned Nandeck, which will help me further test Primal Wild, a solo card game from a while ago that I was really keen on but stalled on playtesting. But I'm not in the headspace for that yet.

 


 I'm still really torn on getting into physical terrain crafting, but the pull has been strong. Something makes me feel like doing it means i need minis themselves, and that's yet another whole world that takes investment. And I'm sure my interest horizon just won't support it.

E is taking most of my mind share right now. Another way to put it would be along the lines of Betrayal at House on the Hill plus Mothership. A board-game like set of procedures, and lots of random tables (or maybe card decks to pull from) for how things go wrong, in formed by my Alien Dark project. Various scenarios for strange space horrors to get chased by, either controlled by another character, or maybe some solo AI. 

But my brain is tying it so closely to a desire for physical spaceship terrain that my resistance to going in on that is blocking further progress. I have delusions of terrain that would have labelled wall and floor panels the players would have to travel to and literally pop off, exposing wires and pipework and mechanisms that need repair or rerouting or something, to open or lock doors and stuff. It feels tangible and "sticky", but I'm sure is not really tractable in practice.

F just seems kind of fun, ability combos that are fast to play and easy to hack. I've usually been even less interested in that scale of wargame than I was with mini skirmish games though, so who knows how long that would last.


Ok well this is kind of a pointless post. Here, have some of the videos that have been lodged deep in my subconcious of late:











And here's where the horror part comes in.
Gert is some kind of unspeakable elder god of crafting.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Inspiration Shift: Miniature Skirmish Wargames

Been a while so I'm forcing myself to write up what I've been thinking about, regardless of the state it ends up in.

Getting a bit slogged in detailing out the many factions in the Offbeat Megadungeon, I was easy prey for alternative inspiration, which came on swift and silent wing in the form of Chris McDowell's GRIMLITE/The Doomed miniature wargame ruleset. Which I learned of from some podcast interview (Mud & Blood I think), disconnected from the digital RPG socmed sprawl as I've been.

I've only ever been vaguely interested in miniature games; the material investment has always outweighed the draw. Usually I'm drawn more to crafting terrain, and I've been comfort-watching a lot of youtube vids of such.

But a very stripped-down, fast-playing, small-team ruleset seems really appealing, at least for just playing around with the game design. As Chris puts it, GRIMLITE is no-measuring, no stacking, no tracking. 

Searching around the space for similar games, the ones most interesting to me have been Five Leagues to the Borderlands, Chromehammer, and Emmy's The Dolorous Stroke (though it's pretty heavy on tracking).

There are a few concepts I want to explore that this kind of ruleset lends itself to.

  • Verticality of the physical game space, even more than what I've seen of Necromunda. Makes the most sense in a Cyberpunk mileau. Difficult to set up and visualize for digital playtesting though.
  • Crunchy position-manipulating tactics, ala Into the Breach and Fights in Tight Spaces. I saw this happening a little bit with 5 Leagues, but also seems to be good for Cyberpunk (think John Wick)
  • Just making a bunch of fun abilities that alter a core ruleset.
  • Some ideas around self-balancing point-buy systems.

Also the "narrative" (which seems to me more like "procedure- and roll table-heavy")  campaign structure of this style of game seems to fit with and lend itself really to the kind of solo play i've been getting into during the pandemic (5 leagues is specifically solo, and there's a solo campaign version of Chromehammer).

I've spun up a promising mashup of GRIMLITE and 5 Leagues that I've had fun with designing if nothing else. Keeping it in my pocket for now but might share in a later form. But here's an excerpt of the core melee exchange rules, primarily inspired by 5 Leagues. 


Note: Units have between 3 (basic) and 5 (Leaders) Combat Dice, but various traits and weapon tags alter this amount, often depending on certain conditions and whether you're attacking or defending in that exchange.

Melee Exchanges

  • A Melee Attack initiates a series of up to three Exchanges

  • The Initiator is Attacker in the first Exchange (Certain weapon tags may alter this)

  • In each Exchange...

    • Attacker and Defender secretly decide how many of their Combat Dice to commit for that Exchange, removed from their Total CD available for the rest of the Melee.

      • If you have a Readied Ally Unit in base contact with you AND/OR your Attacker, gain +1 CD when Defending

      • You may (or may need to) commit no CD, or have negative CD. In this case, your roll is treated as a 1

    • Attacker and Defender roll their committed CD, select their highest die, and compare them. 

      • If the Attacker has the higher die, they cause 1 Wound to the Defender

        • On a 6, you may trigger certain effects from Traits/Tags

      • If it is a tie, the Attacker chooses to either Backstep, Press, or Shove (ending the melee)

      • If the Defender has the higher die, they become the Attacker in the next Exchange. They may also choose to Dodge, or Disengage (ending the melee).

        • On a 6, you may trigger certain effects from Traits/Tags

  • After the final Exchange (the third, or if the Melee is ended early)

    • The Defender Disengages

Maneuvers
  • Shove: The Defender moves away from the Attacker by the Attacker's base width

  • Press: As Shove, but the Attacker also moves up into Contact

  • Dodge: Move up to 90 degrees around a base you're in contact with

  • Disengage: Move your base width away from a base you're in contact with

  • Backstep: As Disengage, but Unit that was in contact may choose to step back into contact with you.


Definitely crunchier than GRIMLITE, and even 5 Leagues, but these exchanges are kind of the core concept of a game like this, and from playtesting, they're tense and engaging enough to justify a bit of complexity for what I'm aiming for.


But then the miniature elephant in the room - I'm not going to get a bunch of physical minis. particularly since this is probably yet another passing fancy that I'll be dropping for the next thing in 2D6 weeks.

Tabletop Simulator would be good but it is sooo clunky  in some specific ways (and non-aesthetic, counter to one of the primary appeals of mini games in the first place). I wonder if there are other more suitable digital tools for this kind of thing.

Google Slides actually worked really well for quick playtesting, at least for simple setups. Just copy the current slide and go from there for the next action/turn. Here's a half-baked playtest of my nascent rules. Which went pretty well so far - I like the tough-decision-making of the dice-commiting mechanic, and the dynamism of the forced movement baked into the melee procedure.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Offbeat Megadungeon: Encounter framework

some current thinking on encounter procedures. The goal here is to encode a more social emphasis to  encounters.

Encounter Type Template

Results to be specified by region
When an encounter is indicated, roll for the type. 
Roll with advantage if within a faction territory.

1: "Intruder" Asocial Monster

  • region-wide list

  • probably bad news
  • if near a downward connection, +1 Level
  • if in Faction Territory...
    • shallow: faction guards will probably be on their way to fend it off or dissuade it
    • deep: this is actually a "pet" or semi-tamed beast that the faction keeps as extra security or a secret weapon - change the monster type if appropriate
2: Wildlife Monster
  • Vermin/Cleanup/Weird but usually unthreatening
3: Demi-social Monster
  • region-wide list
  • if in Faction Territory...
    • 1-3: sympathizes with, visiting, or being aided
    • 4-5: captive or "being held"
    • 6: sneaking in
4: Social Wanderer/Special
  • dungeon-wide list
  • Usually Unaffiliated with a Faction
  • Trader, Adventurer, "Wizard", Cantina Patron NPC, etc.
5: Faction - Solitary or Small Group
  • If outside Faction Territory, they are from...
    • 1-3: Random region-wide Faction
    • 4-5: Decentralized Faction(?)
    • 6: Random dungeon-wide Faction
6: Faction - Larger Group/Special
  • If outside Faction Territory, roll for a random region-wide Faction


Encounter Emotions

They're feeling...
  1. Frustrated or Irate
  2. Despondent or Dejected
  3. Ennui or Listless
  4. Anxious or Paranoid
  5. Curious or Suspicious
  6. Jubilant or Smug
About something... 
  1. they need or want
  2. they have to do
  3. they did
  4. a friend/faction/leader/tyrant did
  5. the party is doing, has done, or intend to do
  6. in or about the area


Who's at the Cantina?

This megadungeon will have a good old underground tavern. But I don't want it to just be full of elves or dwarves or goblins or orcs or ogres. I want individual representatives from every faction and species. I want it to feel like the Mos Eisely Cantina in Star Wars. A neutral ground where the players can get a preview of the strange denizens of every level.

When the party arrives at the Cantina, there's at lease one low-level patron of any faction and species that the GM wishes present. The first time they arrive, spend some time describing the scene, and the players' first glimpses at some of the stranger creature types.

For which NPC patrons are present, they are listed in a table of X columns and Y rows. Some are listed on multiple columns.

Roll a 1dX to determine the column, then a 1dY to determine the row. Everyone on the dY result and above on that column is present. 

Every Turn spent in the Cantina, roll to add or subtract 1 from that result. Also roll normally for an encounter that arrives, using dungeon-wide lists.

If the party is hoping a certain individual is present, just roll a suitable chance.

Monday, October 11, 2021

miniature cave terrain and simple-but-deep tactical combat thoughts

 I've been caught by a tangent (no - a good and natural evolution of my locus of interest) into thinking about better (than i've seen) miniature terrain to represent strange cave formations, ala Veins of the Earth (or, y'know, real caves).

although i've never used minis for any games, i've always had a side interest in terrain crafting; it seems like a lot of fun to produce some really usable stuff without a huge amount of effort, primarly with XPS foam, hot wire knife, and simple painting techniques. I don't have much experience with any of it in the last 15 years or so. 

I got sucked down a youtube hole of watching game crafting videos. But nothing really hit the notes i was looking for. 

I think we avoid realistic, strange cave shapes in RPGs because they are difficult to visualize. But physical terrain solves that problem. Except everyone still seems to be locked into a very strict concept of modularity, with standardized sizes and shapes.

This is the closest I've seen to what I'm picturing in terms of modularity, but its still way to "rigid" or rectilinear


 I thought it would be quite easy to make a versatile set of shapes that could help represent strange cave forms that I was picturing in my head.

then i realized that using sketchup actually mirrors a lot of the same simple techniques; rough lines cutting through shapes. so instead of going out to home depot to grab some XPS, i'm doing my usual thing and over-thinking/planning stuff that should be simple to just do, and started playing around in sketchup.  creating shapes that are easy to make, but  work really together to create more interesting, vertical, strange real-life cave shaped spaces.



still images are difficult to convey how well it works in 3d.


This one is obviously really "prefabbed" and not modular, but its interesting thinking what you can do with just a few layers stacked to represent a cramped corridor full of vertical challenges. and even though it's only piece, it could still work in any orientation, even sideways. 

ok but why

But if i were to actually create and use this stuff, it would involve a change in my headspace around gameplay style, and probably ruleset.

In my mind, using minis and physical terrain would need to be justified by soemthing engaging. Your not going to build out a complex 3d space just to move through it on the way to another point of interest.

Maybe rules that make the physical act of exploring strange cave spaces interesting enough to justify being the focus,  spending time on ((and holding the attention of players to) just getting yourself up a slippery flowstone outcropping. maybe even physical representation of rope. There's some spelunking challenge rule stuff in VOTE but it's kinda weird. I hold out hope for there being something worthwhile here, but moving on...

If combat is the justification for building out a space, in any good players in an OSR style game are going to make sure as heck that they don't get ambushed while in a weird position (and just throwing ambushes in for the sake of play is really outside of OSR style). Which again obviates the impetus for building out a space.

The obvious alternative is fun tactical combat as the focus - in other words, combat-as-sport, or a cinematic challenge style. I've dipped into this some with Knave Souls, (and a bunch of unshared thinking and designing of more complex combat rules hacks for various systems), but it got me thinking about simple, combat-focused RPG that still support OSR play. 

I don't follow or know much about skirmish games, and i expect this is probably pretty well accomplished by soemthing liek age of sigmar or whatever.  (of course 5E is right out, too much baggage.)

So I'm thinking: "What if halfway between BX (or Knave, etc) and 4E... or Into The Breach?"

crunchier, more dynamic, small-numbers combat at a relatively small and cramped scale.  Lots of shoving, attacks pushing and advancing, relevant facing and flanking, impact from verticality, monsters crawling around walls, etc.

But... no complex character builds.  the kind fo crazy abilities built into the rules of 4E would instead be things that arise situationally and are arbitrated on the spot, or maybe granted by magic items. niches arise from item loadouts and ability score differences. (I should look into ICRPG - I know it emphasizes power growth through items).

so combat may be a forgone conclusion, but the spirit of creative problem-solving is still there, just involving the physical, literally visualized spacial situation. pleyrs need to coordinate their tactics and come up with plans to beat a combat situation using the particulars of strange environments and their items creatively. 

That's the idea at least.

this implies a kind of brutal dark soulsy VOTE style setting; Long-lost cavers now adapted with  trogolodytic mutations trying to kill or be killed by weird forgotten entities in dark holes. I think Kingdom Death: Monster or whatever its called might be a bit like this, but has its own tightly integrated stuff that wouldn't be relevant to a more general rpg system.

Bonus:  here is one such a survivor before and after his adaptations and evolving loadout after spending months in the dark places where the pressure of the earth above you molds your very form

 




Monday, October 4, 2021

Offbeat Megadungeon: Factions - Physical vs Social Space, Power & Drive

I let myself read a bit of dungeon design theory (which I should feel like I've got enough to pull from, but couldn't resist), Gus L's recent So You Want to Build a Dungeon, which was great, and among the useful insights that made me glad I read it was this tidbit: 

the goal [of establishing faction and other interrelationships] is to create a web of plausible and recognizable connections between the creatures and the space of your dungeon that players can observe, understand and exploit.

From this I realized that in a sense, every dungeon has two maps, two spaces. As the dungeon map and key delineate how the party can interact with the physical and tactical reality of the space, faction relationships create a map that guides how they can interact with the social elements of the space.

This should be especially true for this project, where i want to lean into the social pillar - something I usually de-emphasize.

It took a while to generate ideas for what I felt like would be a healthy number of factions in the megadungeon.  I've now got around 12 major factions and ~18 minor ones. I started laying them out to make a relationship map, but then realized I was actually making a chart that plots their power relative to their ambition or drive, which gave some interesting results:



Note the top left section is pretty bare. This seems to be a necessity for interesting faction interrelations. If there is a single high-power high-ambition faction, it will eat up everything. If there are two, then the war between them consumes everything.  And having mroe than that starts to strain plausibility of sustaining them in the limited space of a subterranean complex.

A balance like this should better allow for held tension in the initial situation, politics, dynamism.

Both "Dungeon Corp" (which is super one-note right now, and needs some nuance added) and the Dragon King factions were initially near the top left, but I realized that they are actually composed of multiple sub-factions, which aren't quite aligned on action when push comes to shove. 

The bottom right would barely be worth considering as a faction, and the ones close down there are indeed kind of enigmas  that likely won't com into play, but could potentially be changed by the actions of the party.

The top right is the domain of highly motivated, but probably unliked (or just asocial) individuals - or individual leaders of larger factions, if the distinction is desired.

The bottom left - here lie sleeping lions.

Obviously, nothing would stop multiple factions from sharing the same position on the chart, but I found that finding a specific "slot" for each label gave me seomthing to sort of latch on to and start thinking about why a particular faction might be one notch higher or lower than another.

Here's a more detailed list as it currently stands.


 "Ranking" is Drive+Power

I gave them rough size ratings:

  • 1 = 1
  • 2 = ~5
  • 3 = ~20
  • 4 = ~100
  • 5 = ~500

I also took a first pass at categorizing their "crux", which i see as their common interest, Source of Power, Impetus for collective action. The Essence of their Identity. I think I want more diversity here, so will probably mix things up , which may compeltely change some of the factions.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

When the cup is empty, in. When the cup is full, out.


I've had a complicated and largely asocial relationship with the RPGsphere over the last couple years.

Back in the day when the Internet was still marginally fathomable, I sought out and collected interesting images and visual art.  Anything I found eye-catching. 

Eventually there was just so much out there, and I'd get into veritable trances just scrolling and saving, that something snapped, and I simply had to stop actively seeking it out. Kind of an abyss-gazing situation. Image sites almost took on the quality of eldritch horrors I dare not think of peeking at.

Shutting it out was an easy decision, so obviously beneficial to my mental health in retrospect. (It's still true for the most part, with exceptions when I have very specific obsession, like starship interior cutaways.)


And now the OSR/DIY sphere has grown to such breadth and richness that it has taken on the same Dread aspect in my mind.


I long ago discarded the notion of becoming a visual artist, but I still entertain notions of producing game stuff of some value.

So, starting around the time of the pandemic, I’ve basically been completely avoiding RPG Twitter (I post but don’t read), Reddit, etc. or seeking any sort of replacement for G+. To mixed results.

My ideation and project-starting has basically continued unabated, bar the usual low tides. But I haven’t really felt like running games or playtesting anything. Or blogging. 

I think partly because I feel bad about preaching without practice, much less practicing what I preach.


I did manage to create and release something, a meta-reflection on my creative process itself:

Inspiral 

aka if brain won't make games, make brains your game

Pro-tip: you can playtest solo games yourself.


And I started Ephemeral Palimpsest to try to get over some of this by letting loose a little, and not holding myself to such a high standard, with zero expectations.


I've also been trying to practice a mantra, put into words that stuck with me by Hankerin Ferinale of Runehammer, as an answer to a question about when to read and when to write:

When the cup is empty, 
In. 
When the cup is full, 
Out.


Read and consume inspiring things only when my mind is depleted of self-driven inspiration.

When I'm inspired and my mind is on fire, let myself be taken by it, and get it out onto paper (well, Workflowy, if not gDocs). Be comfortable rejecting input.

And when I have the agency, work on refining and polishing existing projects in the hopes of finishing and releasing them. - or, write blog posts to get them out in whatever state I can, instead of gathering dust in my notes unto eternity.

Of course, the times I am most inspired or have the most agency are during unstructured times when I am not more distracted by the pull of other social media or gaming - in other words, during work hours...


In terms of Intake, I've been trying to take construct a kind of drip feed, a controlled stream of content. The things I have been letting through and enjoying: 

  • Knock!
  • the new season of Blogs on Tape
  • Runehammer’s streams about discovering OSE and his Campaign Recaps (starting here, but of course all his stuff is highly entertaining)
  • Skullboy’s module reading and dungeon creation streams
  • And it would be nice to be able to consume the Glatisant in a way that doesn’t expose me to a thousand second-order links. Reading on mobile helps, because it doesn't display sidebars and stuff.




Monday, September 27, 2021

An off-the-cuff, ill-considered Note On Theme:

 We hear that it is good to have a theme for your dungeon. But I don't think "theme" is something that should be randomly rolled or determined by procedure. I think the  theme for a dungeon or adventure is the initial seed you have for it; it should be an intrinsic thing, not an extrnal template you apply to it. (though you may have some success with thinking of the theme you do have as a template to apply to specific places and things and situations)


The theme hsould be what has inspired you in the first place. It must come from that ineffable wellspring that is inaccessible to reason, that sheds introspection and application of rules. with any luck, if you have a good theme, it will bleed through your process.


a theme is not "goblins" or "red" or "death" or even "grief". a theme is nuanced, it has dimensions on multiple axes. it evokes and generates situations all on its own. it implies directions and relationships. 


at least, this is how i feel when i look at a "table of themes" and it looks like a flat wall of cliches to me. A pile of unfinished wood blocks. 

Further Inspiration-Warping: Cyberpunk, Space Horror

Welcome to my game design therapy journal.  Since my last post, my attention has fluctuated through/between: A: Some rules for a cyberpunk v...