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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the category “Developement”

Essence 20 and me continuing to babble endlessly as usual

So, I’ve dropped something I’ve been calling “Essence 20” a few times in the last couple posts. For those relatively new to this blog, its original focus was on game design – specifically RPGs of my own design. I say it was about them, not actually about finishing them. I have one complete and one kinda-almost-but-not-really-complete game on this blog.

There’s a link up above tome called 16 Bit Heroes Alpha – Incomplete, and that’s more or less done. Well, sorta. Okay, not really. As far as I can tell, the math comes out about right, but I have yet to run a game using it, and I finished the blessed thing… oh, ages ago. Somewhere one this blog is also a game I put together on a rainy Saturday afternoon called Quick Play. It’s pretty good stuff, and is much more complete than 16 Bit Heroes. Of course, it’s also only about three pages long. It’s kinda hard to eff up the math in a three page long game. I’ve seen it done, but I think you almost have to try to do it.

Anyway, part of the problem I keep running into is that I want a moderately complicated game system – kinda like 3.5 before there were a bajillion splatbooks. I like tactical map-based combat (sue me). I like character options – the more free form character creation can be, the better, I say. It’s one of the reasons why GURPS is one of my favorite games of all time. Well, was until 4th edition, anyway. I also love 6e Hero, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish, as they say.

As I pointed out, I want a game with a system complexity level right around the d20 basic system – more specifically, right around the d20 Modern level, which, even with several additional books, never really became all that complicated. I also like the talent trees, and so on – nothing I haven’t raved about here before.

Alright, set that all aside for a minute. I have a homebrew game setting that spans multiple genre while remaining grounded in good old fashioned fantasy. I’ve been working on it since I was 9 or so, and it got a whole hell of a lot of definition when I was in High School during a very long campaign I ran (using GURPS) called the Essence Quest. Most of the people I played with in that game are still my best friends today; to date, I still think it’s the best game I’ve ever run, in no small part because of the just effin’ awesome collection of players.

One of them pointed out to me recently that I’ve tried many times to adapt my setting to game systems, and that I need to actually do the opposite: either design a game system around y setting from scratch, or adapt a game system to my setting. You know, not my setting to the system – the other way around. Devan, you were right. As with all things RPG related, you and the rest of the Crew are usually right. As if you didn’t know that already, ‘ya smug bastard ;-)

Essence 20 is me taking the d20 system – primarily, but not exclusively from the d20 Modern SRD – and beating it until it fits with my game setting. I’m not adapting the setting to it, I’m adapting it to the setting. Essence 20 will include free-form character creation and development in a classless environment, all based around the solid d20 system framework. I will eventually need help on this project, which is something I’ll get to in later posts.

Essence 20 doesn’t use the traditional d20 system stat set, instead focusing on Talent Trees to develop a character’s abilities (“stats” are based on what you can do instead of the other way around – although it is actually kinda recursive).  I’ve put together some pretty extensive talent trees, a la:

This was done using Blumind. I've since switched to XMind because it's got more features and is a hell of a lot more cross-platform, but I miss the simplicity of Blumind. If you want mind mapping software, and you'e on Windows, get it. It's beautiful in its simplicity, tiny, and uses little in the way of system resources.

Changes have been made since I made this, but mostly in the form of additions and name changes. Oh, and adding in how stuff actually works.

You’ll have to click on it to see it, sorry – it just won’t fit properly on the page here. Heck, you might need to open it in a new tab, or download the image and use a graphics viewer. Do what you have to if you’re curious. My friend Pat pointed out that this might be the first game book ever to need to be published in 11×17. I laughed, and then my laughter tapered off into silence when I realized that he had a point.

Basically how it works is that you get a certain number of points to stick in Talents when making your character. Each point in the Talen also gives you access to a Power on the talent tree. Experience allows you to add in new Powers, and the total number of Powers you have in a particular Talent Tree is the score for that particular Talent. For every so many EP spent improving the character, you gain a Feat. Racial abilities come by building up a race-specific talent tree. The value for Talents is used for things like skill rolls and so on. If it sounds complicated, that’s just because I’ve done a shit job of describing it here. It all comes together pretty smoothly when I’m describing it in person.

There are finer details to work out, but the basics are already done. I hope to start a playtest/dev game this Friday. We’ll have to see how schedules work out. As I come up with more, I’ll post it here, of course (it’s kinda what I do), but the fact that I’m hammering an extant system instead of developing one from scratch means that a lot of the work is already done. If I do this right, you’ll even be able to use other d20 type books (specifically d20 Modern and/or D&D books).

I’m doing an “all rights reserved” thing on this for right now. The final game system will be OGLed, while most setting specific stuff will probablyn be held back as “product identity”.

I know it’s not much to go on, but I welcome feedback and questions in the comments as always. Oh – and tell your friends about me!

next post: back to D&D Next, and a discussion about Non Disclosure Agreements

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Power Girl and Other Stuff


Power Girl

Power Girl

Power Girl

Power Girl

A short Power Girl film. If you like it, make sure to give it a thumbs up. The folks who put this together also did several others. I’m actually surprised my brother has never linked to these. Power Girl.

Power Girl

So NagaDemon was kind of a bust – I came up with dozens of concepts, but only finished one, and never played it. I’ll get around to posting it here eventually, as soon as the rules are somewhere other than one of my dozen or so dead-tree notebooks. Oh, also after I’ve played it.

As for the rather… long period of time between posts this time, I took November off from writing, and then kept putting off updating my blog for reasons passing understanding. Laziness would be the key one, I suppose, although I kept wanting something substantial for a post.

Towards the end of November, I took a long, hard look at 16 Bit Heroes (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link at the very top of the page), and realized that I had something there. Not that 16 Bit Heroes is all that great – the leveling system is overly complicated, the build-your-own-class system is needlessly restrictive, and there are a lot of other issues before we even get to gameplay. Still, I took a hard look at it, and I came to the conclusion that there was some pretty great stuff in there.

I dusted it off and set to work. As I delved deeper into the crunchy bits, I got more and more into what I was doing. I reduced the dice down to 3d6 (although I might up it to 3d10 later), ditched the class system completely, and kept looking at it. After a couple weeks of playing with it, I set down to serious work.

Power Girl by ~Budgies on deviantART

After a few hours of serious  writing and design work, I dropped the “16” from the title of the game. It stopped being about old-school 8 and 16 bit Japanese style RPGs, and started being about a more general sort of gaming. I started making specific adaptations to the system to accommodate my Essence game setting, and took a step back. It looked fantastic. So I dove in harder, and the game – tentatively titled Bit Heroes, or Essence Heroes if you’re playing in what I keep calling “my” setting but actually is a setting mostly forged by my high school gaming group – started to come to life.

Power Girl

So, if you’re wondering what I’ve been working on since my last post, Bit Heroes is the main answer,. The pace is close to frenzy, but it’s much more in control than it was when I designed 16 Bit Heroes in the first place. It’s still looking fantastic to me – the kind of game I really want to play. I’m planning to spend some time today fleshing out Stats, among other things. The roll-add mechanic is still there, but it’s a lot quicker now. Character Concept and Background have become real mechanics in the game. Map-based tactical combat is on the to-do list, but all the basic concepts are still there. I’m going to get to work on it (instead of playing Skyrim or Torchlight) as soon as I post this. If I can keep up this pace, I should have something more substantial to report shortly after Christmas.

Happy Holidays, all!

Oh – if you’re wondering about the way this post started, please refer to the comments section of my last post. Next post: Power Girl Cosplay, and other stuff.

Power Girl.

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Wiki Contemplation

So, I’ve considered – for quite some time now – using one of the following web sites:

And perhaps getting a membership with and appearing on this forum:

I’m curious as to if any of my readers has an opinion. I can’t help but think it would drive traffic to this site, and perhaps get me a little more feedback on what I’m doing than this site has managed to do.

Not that I don’t appreciate each and every comment that has appeared here. I do. The problem I’m running into is that I’m just not getting enough feedback, and I would like to get opinions from a wider audience. Also, additional web traffic through my blog would boost my self esteem…

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The New Reach: Tiers Mean More

My friend B pointed out that the flexibility of the Competence/Reach system as I had originally designed it is a flaw, not a strength. While it will probably appear as I described it as an optional rule, for general play it’s way too number-crunchy at high levels. If your group is into that, fine (hence the inclusion as a rule option), but I agree with B that, with most groups, this can lead to some very annoying game lag.

The problem is that, for the statistics-savvy player, this is a gold-mine for min-maxing. There’s nothing wrong with that… until it holds up game play as the player weighs the advantages of 5d20 vs. 10d10, or some other combination. To avoid this problem, we talked (B and I) for a while, and I came up with a solution that I think not only works, but helps to emphasize the Tiers of skill and simplifies the whole affair.

At Apprentice tier, Reaching means -5 to Competence, but you add in 1d10 (so an Apprentice with a Competence of 6 would roll 1d10+1 when reaching). At Journeyman tier, reaching means -10 to Competence, but adding in 2d10 (so if your Competence was 18, you would roll 2d10+8). At Expert tier, you reach with -15 to Skill, but add 3d10. At Master level, you gain the ability to choose any of the previous Reach modifiers (-5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, – 15/+3d10), or you can use -20/+4d10.

Grandmaster tier will most likely be an extension of the above  – you can choose -5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, -15/+3d10, -20/+4d10, or -25/+5d10.

Another idea I was toying with is to use different dice for different tiers – d6 for Apprentice, d8 for Journeyman, d10 for Expert, and d12 for Master/Grandmaster. With this method, a Apprentice could take a -5 to add a 1d6, a Journeyman could take a -10 to add a 2d8, and an Expert could take a -15 to add a 3d10. A Master could take the options of -5/+1d12, -10/+2d12, -15/+3d12, or -20/+4d12. The Grandmaster Tier would add a possible -25/5d12 to the mix. I’d prefer to have the Grandmaster use a d14, but that’s a pretty

A 14-sided die (by GameScience, also shows day...

Image via Wikipedia

uncommon die type (you can buy them here), and I don’t want people to have to go out and buy special dice just for my game.

Each version of the new system has its ups and downs. Most significantly, the second version makes getting to the next tier much more important. It also makes reaching at Apprentice level (and, to a lesser degree, Journeyman level) a dangerous thing to do.

I suppose I could split the difference. I could make Apprentice use d8, Journeyman and Expert use d10, and Master/Grandmaster use d12. Or, it could be Apprentice d8, Journeyman through Master d10, and Grandmaster d12…

Ouch. Braincramp…

In any case, the first option has the advantage of only needing a single type of die for the game. The different tiers are still important, but the difference between Apprentice and Journeyman is more subtle. Not much more, but a bit. I’m really not sure whether or not I want the tiers to be that significant.

What do you think?

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An Apology

Sorry for the lack of updates in the last two weeks. I’ve never been especially consistent with this blog, but I was going for a post a week this year, and I have failed. Sorry about that.

Not much has been going on in game development in the last two weeks. My girlfriend fell down our apartment stairs, our daughter got sick (just a cold, but in a three year old that’s less than the most fun ever), my girlfriend and I got engaged, and then I caught our little girl’s cold, but worse. So, I’ve been busy. But I thought I’d go over some news and such, some of it personal, some of it game dev related. Ready?


The biggest news over the last two weeks is that I’m engaged. My girlfriend and I have a friend who has gotten us a room in Vegas over the weekend of the first of April. I’m not much for April Fool’s Day jokes, since April 1 is also my Mom’s birthday, but I mentioned that it would be funny if we claimed to have gotten married while we were in Vegas. We started making a plan about finding a Little Person Elvis Impersonator to stage wedding photos with, and everyone had a good laugh. The conversation moved on to how we really ought to get engaged… and then we were. We started making real wedding plans for that weekend, then thought San Diego Comicon would be better, and then moved the date to next year’s Comicon…

There was no real proposal involved – no one got down on one knee, and no rings were exchanged. And yet, I can’t help but think that, for us, this was the best possible way for things to go down. It was very… us. The engagement was born out of laughter and having a good time. It was a mutual decision reached through discussion. Our immediate ideas involved geeking out the wedding as much as possible. We’re engaged not because one person asked and the other accepted, but because we both, at about the same time, realized it was right.

I personally think that’s romantic, but your mileage may vary.

Elements Development

I’ve more or less finished Part 1 (of about 6, I think) of the new Elements Beta. I haven’t been able to work on it much over the laast two weeks, not just because of the impressive list of events going on in my life, but also because I’ve come across a new form of Writer’s Block that I was heretofore unfamiliar with. I know what I want to say, I have everything planned, and once I get started, I figure Part 2 will take a week or two at most… but I can’t figure out, for the life of me, how to get started. Which brings me to my process and why most of the usual suggestions (move on to something else, start in the middle, et al) won’t work.

I tend to write from beginning to end. I use earlier concepts to build up to later ones, thereby occasionally requiring me to go back and make edits to earlier content. This resulted in a bit of a debacle for 16 Bit Heroes, in case anyone cares to recall (or even noticed – I got it fixed fairly quickly, and I’m not exactly the most read site on the net). Still, it’s how I seem to be able to do things, and it’s always worked well for me in the past. Less so now, apparently.

I may try the skipping ahead technique – Part 2 contains the Elements list, which might be a good place to start. But until I figure out how to get past this roadblock, actually writing down any Elements stuff has slowed to a crawl. My brain is still fairly buzzing with dev stuff, of course, but that’s not doing me much good right now.

In any case, that’s about all for now. I’ll try to get back to an (at a minimum) update-per-week schedule. Who knows – maybe it will stick this time.

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