student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the month “May, 2010”

Moving to 0.11a: I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy

Ahh, basking in the euphoric glow of epiphany.  You get all those feel-good natural high chemicals running in your brain, and sometimes you get ahead of yourself.  Sometimes you just sorta forget that you’re in the real world, and things don’t always – or often – go as planned.

As I indicated in my last post, I had a bit of an epiphany.  Everything is better.  I have a more solid plan than ever, and I’m having fun working on Elements when I get the chance.  But I’m not exactly flying through it like I thought I would.

The problem with epiphany is that the wonder and excitement tend to cloud your judgment.  Even if I didn’t have a fairly hectic week outside of working on the system, there was no way on this good Earth that I was going to finish revised States by now.  The change – utilizing Conditions as Stats, basically – requires a lot more rewrite than I anticipated.  That’s fine; I don’t mind it, and it’s going pretty well.  Unfortunately, it means I need more time.

That having been said, I thought maybe I’d throw down some actual concrete stuff from the epiphany in lieu of the states stuff I had originally planned for this week’s blog entry.

Conditions are being expanded, meaning that there will be more of them (more than the three originally planned).  For those not in the know, Conditions represent the sort of thing Hit Points and Wound Levels do in other games.  One of them (Wounds) can lead to character death if it reaches zero.  The others (Fatigue, Passion, Steadiness, and Will) lead to serious debilitation or unconsciousness when they reach 0.  These other Conditions (originally just Fatigue and Will) were going to be used for Overcome Efforts – a mechanic used to get rid of States, primarily.  This usage will still be in place.

Now, however, all Conditions other than Wounds will be used to determine base Effort dice.  They will start at a set value (I’m currently thinking either 25 or 30) and be improvable during character creation.  Characters will have 1 base effort die for every ten points in their current Condition pool – rounding up, which will be the custom for Elements.  So, say Bob has a Passion of 43.  He would have 5 base Effort dice when making checks involving Passion.

As the characters take damage to these Conditions, they will loose dice from their base Effort pools.  So when Bob goes from 43 to 40, he’s down to four base Effort dice instead of five for his Passion checks.

The Conditions are loosely grouped into Active (Passion, Steadiness) and Passive (Fatigue, Will, Wounds).  Most of the time, when a character is trying to act on the world around them, they will us an Active Condition.  So, to fire your pistol, you might use The Weapon: Handgun Element and your Steadiness dice.  When characters are doing something to themselves, such as trying to overcome a State, they will use a Passive one.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule; characters will be able to build in exceptions, and some abilities might be designed to operate contrary to this guideline.

Wounds won’t be used for Effort checks; it has enough trouble just keeping you alive.

In any case, there’s some concrete stuff for you. I have a long weekend this week, so I might try to post again this week.  Sorry I didn’t get the State stuff up, but it was an unrealistic goal in the first place…

Oh, and the changes are enough that I’m moving the Version from 0.1 Alpha to 0.11 Alpha.  In case anyone cared…

Of Sudden Changes and Late Posts

Sorry this is late in coming, but I had an epiphany on Saturday, and I’ve been toying with it’s feasibility and how far off my schedule it was going to take me.  My final conclusion:  Completely feasible, and might actually shorten up the overall timeframe.

I have been struggling with Statistics for a good long time now.  I see them, generally speaking, as a necessary evil and complication.  It seems that once you include Stats, you have to include mechanisms for harming or buffing those Stats, what happens when they reach nil, how they can be used without skills even though they never really represent mastery of (or even training with) anything…

Now, I’m not really saying that any of this is a bad thing.  I like when games minimize this aspect (check out the fascinating Microlite20 for an example, especially if you’re familiar with the d20 system in general), but some of my earlier forays into RPG design were monstrosities featuring as many as 21 Stats (3 groups of 7 Stats each… oy…), and I was wanting something different for Elements… especially since The Source is unlikely to have “stats” at all.

At any rate, the Stat implementation I was using was clumsy, and felt tacked-on, like an addition made to make some other part of the actual game make sense.  It never felt like it was part of Elements.  And then, epiphany struck with all the subtly of a chainsaw.

It would take better poets than I to properly describe how an epiphany feels.  The best I can do is tell you that I wasn’t really even thinking about Elements (or Fate, or The Source) at the time.  I was just hanging out with my Love, and I went over all glassy-eyed.  I felt a rush of endorphins that I can only say was similar to that received from a chocolate binge or an orgasm.

“Eric?” my Love says to me, “Are you okay?”

“Yes.  I just had an epiphany.”

In any case, this particular Epiphany was to roll Stats into Conditions.  It shortens up the rule book by a whole chapter, and grants a particular flavor to things that is, as it happens, more or less exactly what I was looking for. It will involve expanding Conditions a bit… maybe.  But the point is that after almost four days of mulling, I figured out how to make that epiphany a reality.  A lovely, elegant reality, as it happens.  Net benefits:

  • Character sheets will be simpler
  • Folks who have been beaten down will show it in their Effort checks (which is as it should be, I think)
  • FATE will play a larger role in saving character’s bacon (again, exactly what I wanted)
  • About 2,000 words or so can be cut from the project, along with the accompanying time it would take to write them
  • Elements becomes just a bit more unique (yay!)
  • Dice mechanics become more fluid and interesting, without becoming more complicated
  • No need for attribute-attack Elements (Maneuvers, whatever); they’re now build organically into the “damage” system
  • About half (give or take) of the States can be eliminated, and perhaps replaced with more interesting things
  • Maneuvers just got easier to design
  • Easier transition when writing up The Source after Elements is complete (basically, one less thing to reverse engineer)
  • More Skills, which is good since Elements is supposed to be SKILL BASED not STAT BASED.

I could be getting over-excited about this, I suppose, but you’ll have to trust me… In addition to the above, this moment of insight granted by the universe solves about six problems I was having to patch, and made design a lot easier.  In fact, it’s such a dynamic shift that some things might get re-named.

Next week: The revised-to-epiphany States will be posted.  I mean it.

Oh, and maybe a revised Condition list.  Kinda depends on how much I wanna share in a single post.

As a final note, I’ve decided that I’m going to use this as an RPG review blog as well.  I know it seems a bit against-concept, but I’m not going to want to talk Dev every week.  I suppose I could follow in the footsteps of my brother and make a separate blog for that, and I may eventually… but as anyone can see, I’m having enough trouble with one blog posting weekly as it is.

Philosophies and Such

I’ve done a lot of thinking about Elements over the week; I haven’t been able to do much actual work (curse you, Real Life!!), but what I did accomplish was productive.

Elements is actually sort of a precursor work.  I have a grander scheme that I want to tinker with, founded on many of the same principles as Elements, but with significantly more depth and complexity.  A lot of the Darlings I killed (as I mentioned in my previous post) were actually transferred to the other system.  I’m not actively working on that system (called, tentatively, The Source) right now, but it creeps into my thoughts occasionally.

At its heart, Elements is a Skill Based universal system.  Basically, I’m trying to provide something simple to work with, fun to play, and easily expandable.  Of course, if the Role Playing Game market has taught us anything, it’s that leaving room to expand your system leaves room for further supplements to sell.  That’s not why I want to do it that way, however. 

I want it to be easily expandable so that groups can come up with their own house rules, and so on, adding on to what I’ve created.  Ideally, I’d love to have a thriving web community where Elements players exchange their rules ideas, and so on.  Expansions for the system would come from compilations of the best of these rules, cleaned up and playtested.  The fact that I could write my own extra stuff is a side benefit.

The thing is, though, that Elements is a starting point for me, not the end game.  I envision working on it for a good long time, and playing it, and enjoying it a lot.  That being said, I also want to do it so that I can work on the bigger project lurking in the background – The Source.

Now, why not just work on The Source, you ask. I am, is my answer.  Working on Elements is working on The Source.  The two games share many similarities (dice mechanics being a glaringly obvious one, universality another, and free-form character creation a third), but they are not the same.  Still, the things I’ve covering writing Elements are preparing me for my work on The Source.  To use a cooking metaphor, before one cooks a soufflé, one should probably try making a quiche, or something else.

I am making Elements sound like it’s just a stepping stone, but there’s no “just” about it.  Elements is an outgrowth of the older work on The Source, but it is its own project, and I love it.  The five-action-turn, diceless GMing, the Breadth-And-Depth skill system that forms the foundation of character generation: these things are all fun and wonderful and mine. It’s not like this is an omelet I’m making to sharpen my skills.

Elements is important to me.

Okay, next post will be more rules-substantial, I promise.  I could’ve written about rules tonight (goodness knows I have enough to write about), but I felt like writing this instead.  Take it for what it is, I guess.

Changes: Killing my Darlings

Well, it’s clearly been entirely too long since I’ve updated, but since I’ve done almost no practical work on the game in the intervening time, it’s not exactly a surprise.

Of course, specifying that the undone work on the game is of a practical sort, that implies that some sort of, shall we say, less than practical work has been accomplished, and this is, in fact, the case.

Elements has changed a lot since I started it as a project called The Source, about three years ago.  I’ve struggled with so many concepts and ideas that it’s a little like having Ultram mainlined into the brain.  I’ve gone numb upon occasion, running into that special breed of writer’s block one could call Idea Overload Syndrome (or IOS, if you’re into acronyms).  I still run into that problem – or, at least, I was regularly running into that problem.

It’s not like having an abundance of design ideas is a bad thing, you understand.  The problem shows up when the ideas never get much past being ideas before new ideas show up.  It gets worse when those ideas conflict with each other, or when no workable path appears between the idea and the execution of that idea in a game context. That second one was where I kept going numb; the ideas came, and before I could work out how to put them into the game, new ideas flooded in, usually inspired by the original idea or the process of enacting the original idea.

When it came to getting things done, it was the Jackson Pollck method, which might work for modern art, but is absolute shite when it comes to trying to put together a coherent tabletop RPG.

Which brings us back to the subject of less-than-practical work on the system.  I suppose that the work was actually the most practical thing i could possibly do.  Instead of trying to fight through tidal inspiration, I had to sit down and start thinking about what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish, and which of the multitude of ideas I had been playing with fit into that mold.  Further, I had to seriously think about how I was going to accomplish the goals, execute the ideas, and how I was going to, for the love of all things holy, finish Elements.

Stephen King, in his brilliant book On Writing, said that you had to “Kill your darlings”, and that’s what  I did.  I rounded up my ideas, and sat down to a few beers with them.  As we sat about the table, I listened to them, and then quietly slipped arsenic in the beers of those ideas that weren’t going to work out.

It hurt, I can tell you.

My next step was to focus on, and pander to the egos of, those ideas that I thought would be able to form the nexus of the game.  I then invited a few friends of the wordsmith to be collaborators on the project:  Time Management and Scheduling were welcome additions to the team, I can tell you.

So now, I have a desktop calendar that reminds me that I need to update the blog.  Word count goals are almost useless in game design, since word counts have nothing to do wit how much you actually accomplish during the design phase, so I set a tentative schedule for finishing segments of the rules, allowing more time for things that I thought would be especially time consuming (ability and skill design, character and NPC generation, the combat system, and so forth).

I have a timeline now, and that should help.  I’ll share the schedule here when it becomes a bit more solidified; time management or no, I can’t know how accurate my time estimates have been until I get more work done, and sharing a wildly inaccurate schedule with the world would be a superb example of how to annoy people.

In any case, the blog is supposed to be updated at least weekly now.  Let’s see if I can stick to that.

Next Post:  Discussing the Skill and Ability system, and a bit about NPCs.

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