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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the category “Game System”

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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Wiki Contemplation

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

http://rpg.wikia.com/wiki/RPG

http://www.wikidot.com/

http://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Main_Page

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

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php

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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No review, but plenty of other stuff to talk about…

Well, that fell through disastrously. The promised review isn’t done. I simply haven’t had the time. I apologize, but it has since occurred to me that maybe my brother’s review blog isn’t the right format for an indy RPG review in any case. I mean, it’s a great format; I wish more in-depth reviews used it, but going over some of his stuff I have come to the conclusion that maybe… just maybe… it’s a format that works better for visual media. More specifically, I could see using it for TV and Movies… but less so for books or video games. Maybe I should try to find a format of my own to use…

In development news, I got more work done last night on my Essence system than in the preceding week all together, and it looks like I may pull off much the same thing tonight, which is fantastic. I have the basic task resolution mechanic in place, and have begun constructing character creation rules, along with everything that will appear on a character. Which brings me to a question.

I’m looking at dividing the combat mechanic up, essentially making two different combat systems for the game. The idea runs like this:

  1. Standard Combat: This combat system eschews battle maps and the related tactical side of combat. The idea is to have a simple, quick to run system for folks who don’t want to spend a lot of time on combat, or who like their combat map-free.
  2. Art of War: This is the map combat system for Essence, with a focus on tactical movement. Art of War requires players to make a sort of sub-character, derived from the main character sheet, that has information specific to Art of War combat. The eventual idea would be to make it so you could just make the Art of War sheet, allowing groups to have fun little skirmish battles and run pvp tournies if that’s what they’re into without getting into a full-on game.
So yeah, in a way, the Art of War combat system is a game within a game. It’s all very complicated, tautological, and Hamlet-esque.
At any rate, keeping in mind the two modes of running combat above, I’m wondering if things like defense (i.e. what a character does to avoid getting tagged in combat) should be separate derived abilities, or if they should be based directly on Skills (the Essence system is a Skill based one – did I forget to mention that?). That is to say, should characters have a separate sub-stat  that works sort of like a Challenge rating for how hard they are to hit, or should Characters be expected to buy up skills for use in defense or default to an Agility stat for a defense check?

I’m not really asking anyone in particular this question, you understand. I mean, I welcome any and all opinions on the matter – and would be more than happy to clarify the conundrum if you need me to… but mostly I’m talking about it here so that I can get my brain wrapped around the problem. I guess it comes down to this: how much complexity do I want in the Standard Combat system? The whole purpose of dividing the combat systems into two different methods is so that a game group can choose between a simple, streamlined, relatively quick combat system (if their game is combat light, or they don’t want to deal with the complexity of battle-map based tactical combat) and a more in-depth tactical skirmish system that uses minis and so on (if the game has a lot of combat, or the group enjoys full tactical combat similar to what’s found in the more recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons).

I want groups to have that choice. Of course, groups always have that choice – nothing stops you from ignoring tactical map-based combat rules in any game you play. I want the choice up-front and supported either way by the system. Is that too much to hope for?

As a final note: as of this writing, in about two hours, the sixth series of the new Doctor Who (or the thirty-sixth season of Doctor Who, if you prefer to think of it that way) will air in England. Here in the States, of course, we have to wait another 12 hours or so to see it, but I just wanted to let everyone know how excited I am that it’s finally here (YAY!!). Everyone got their scarfs, sonic screwdrivers, and TARDIS keys ready? Fantastic. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a few thoughts on the episode tonight. If not, look forward to a post about the episode tomorrow.
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