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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the tag “working when I shouldn’t”

Moving = Hard to Work on Games…

Big frowny-face for the past week. I’ve had little time to do much in the way of work on Elements – or anything else that doesn’t involve boxing, loading, or unboxing. Such is life I suppose, but it sucks nonetheless.

I do have a little to report. I’ve changed the names of the Conditions to Fatigue, Insight, Passion, Steadiness, and Wounds. I dropped “Will” and replaced it with “Insight” because I was having trouble coming up with a description for Will that didn’t sound like a re-worded description of Passion. And for those in the peanut gallery wondering why I didn’t stick with Will and change Passion, there are two reasons:

  1. Will, as some sort of ability or stat or point pool exists in so many RPGs – almost always meaning the exact same thing or something close to it – that it’s almost become an industry trope.
  2. Passion sounds cool, and the word itself comes closer to what I want the Condition to mean than Will does.
  3. Passion came first alphabetically; since that’s the order I was working in, the problem became clear only after I had finished writing about Passion and got to Will… so that’s where I made the change. Dumb, but true.

To pose a question for my readers: I’m contemplating making the Wounds Condition an average of the others. So, base Wounds = Fatigue+Insight+Passion+Steadiness/4… If I did that, chances are Wounds wouldn’t be separately buyable, and in order to get another point in Wounds, you’d need to get 4 points worth of improvement among the other Conditions. Since Wounds isn’t actually used for BED, I don’t see much of a problem with the mechanics, and it would make one less thing that players would have to spend their FATE on. Moreover, I’m not really seeing any drawbacks to the change.

Anyone got an opinion? Let me know. I’m working on how one buys up Conditions now, but the change (either to or back from the averaging method) would be a pretty simple, since (like I said) most other mechanics would be unaffected. And if you’ve spotted a flaw in my logic (difficult, considering how little of the system I’ve actually let out there), it would be nice to know that, too.

Oh – and if anyone just hates the Passion and Insight change, that would be good to know, too… although I am, at this point, fairly attached to both of them.

At any rate, that’s it for this Thursday’s post. See you next week, or in the comments section!


Wow. Oh, so late! But… Juicy Contenty Goodness!

So, yeah – I’ll admit it. I’m late as hell posting this. I mean, I’m upset about that, obviously, but there’s been some crap going on, not to put too fine a point on it. I’m fixing to move in the near future, and (even more fun), my lovely girlfriend got a promotion at work that has increased her pay… and the amount of time she spends at work, which is less fantastic.

But all of this is personal stuff that’s really not here or there. As I indicated in the title, I have juicy contenty goodness… what Zim might call “Mission Goo”. I have actual excerpts from the rulebook.

I have, for quite some time, gone back and forth as to what I should post this time. I have settled on the Base Effort Dice and Special Dice sections of Chapter One: Effort. I may also post excerpts from the Introduction in the near future (the part of it I was able to write, anyway). It makes the most sense (to me at least) to post from chapters I’m currently doing work on, so here it is.

Let me know what you think – I am especially concerned with clarity. It’s a little hard to evaluate the whole of the rules from this, so I mostly want to know if it’s easy to follow and understand, and if not, what parts are confusing.

And, yes – I am much further in the design process than chapter 1. Don’t be silly. I’m working on a rulebook and putting out fires as I come across them, but most of the actual design process is done.

At any rate… without further ado…

Base Effort Dice

The Elements system is based on the ten sided die. The base ten sided a character has to roll for an Effort Check are usually gained from their Conditions – those aspects of the character that show what “condition” they are in.

Conditions grant a single ten sided die for an Effort check for every fraction of ten points in that Condition. For example, a character with a current Will Condition of 23 has three BED for their Will-based Effort checks. If that character then lost 4 Will, leaving them with a current score of 19, they would have only two BED for their Will-Based Efforts.

Base Effort Dice can also be gained from other things; for instance, a character might have exceptionally fine tools that provide 1 BED when they are used for crafting or repairs. Characters may also gain items that provide BED for Damage Effort Checks (see below), or that provide entire Elements for them to use, in which case the item’s BED are used rather than the character’s.

The BED are what are totaled when a character makes an Effort check. Characters may roll additional dice if they have Special Dice bonuses that apply to the roll, but only an number of dice equal to their BED may be added into the roll. In addition, the Elements system is a “closed” system; under normal circumstances, you cannot have more than 5 BED for any given Effort checks. In addition, any total Effort result in excess of 50 is treated as though it is 50. There are exceptions, but other than Overcome and Initiative Effort Checks (see below), such exceptions are exceedingly rare.

Special Dice

Special dice are the most common sort of bonus and penalty in the Elements game. Special Dice modify the way BED are added together or treated. There are three “bonus” type special dice, and one “penalty” type.

Only five of any one type of Bonus Dice can be applied to any given Effort Check, while up to ten Penalty Dice may be applied to a check. Each of the Bonus and Penalty Dice are described in detail below. Each type modifies Effort checks in a different, specific way, and is intended to represent a different thing within the game.

Drop Dice

The first “bonus type” of Special Dice, Drop Dice increases the likelihood of both a high Effort result, and allow for fine-tuning of that result, increasing the odds of an Epic Success. Drop Dice typically represent extensive training and practice with something.

When Drop Dice are applied to a particular roll, the player rolls extra dice in addition to their BED equal to the number of drop dice they have. These extra dice are not totaled in; instead, the Player “drops” dice in excess of their BED from the roll.

Example: Pat’s character Grogg is a highly trained and practiced swordsman. He has the Weapon: Longsword Element with 4d (four drop dice). He also has a current Steadiness Condition of 44, giving him 5 BED. He rolls a total of 9 dice for Steadiness-Based Longsword related Effort Checks, but he only adds together 5 of them. He gets to choose which five on each roll, however.

Drop Dice are an important and significant bonus, significantly increasing the likelihood of either high results or Epic Success; they do not, however, allow characters to achieve results in excess of the maximum total of their BED. For that, characters need…

Bounce Dice

The second type of Bonus Dice, Bounce Dice allow a character to achieve results in excess of the typical maximum of 10x their BED. Bounce Dice are intended to represent innate talent and bursts of inspiration or skill beyond the character’s normal ability.

A character with Bounce dice makes an Effort check normally. He or She may re-roll any result of 10 keeping the original result and adding in the result of the reroll. This may be done a number of times equal to the number of Bounce dice the character has for that roll.

Example: Stephanie’s character Aliah is a talented Sorceress, with 3b (three bounce dice)in her Sorcery Element. She makes a Fatigue-Sorcery Effort (3 BED plus her three Bounce dice) against a Challenge of 25 and rolls 1, 2, and 10 for a total of 13. Using one Bounce Die, she picks up the ten and rolls it again, getting another 10, for a new total of 23 – still not enough, but since she rolled another ten, she picks it up and rolls again, getting a 5 for a final total of 28 – success! Although she has an additional Bounce die, she cannot use it because she no longer has any 10s left to re-roll.

Bounce Dice can be a life-saving bonus because they allow characters to get results that are actually higher than their BED would normally allow. This makes Bounce dice particularly useful for Effort checks made for things where accuracy does not matter – Initiative, Overcome, and Damage Efforts are all good examples.

Mastery Dice

The third type of Bonus Dice is a protective measure. Mastery Dice reduce the effects of Penalty Dice (described below), protecting your other Special Dice (and your BED) from their effects. Mastery dice are intended to indicate high levels of practiced mastery, allowing characters to ignore or work through adverse conditions.

When a character with Mastery Dice is faced with an Effort check to which Penalty Dice are applied, the Mastery Dice destroy the Penalty Dice on a one-for-one basis. Mastery dice do not otherwise affect Effort checks.

Although Mastery Dice do not seem especially powerful, protection from penalties is an important aspect of the Elements system. In their own way, Mastery Dice contribute as much to success or failure as the other types of Special Dice – at least, they do when the chips are down.

Penalty Dice

Penalty Dice are used in the Elements system to represent adversity. Where Challenge represents how difficult something is to accomplish during normal circumstances, penalty dice indicate added difficulty due to environmental concerns, using bad tools, outdated software, or unfamiliar territory.

Penalty Dice work by destroying first Special Dice and then BED before an Effort check is made. Mastery Dice are destroyed first. After that, it is the Player’s choice which Special Dice are removed and in what order. If all of a player’s Special Dice are destroyed, and there are still Penalty Dice remaining, BED are lost. One die is lost per Penalty Die (p) applied to the check.

Example: Nicole’s character Gray is a veteran Archer, with a Steadiness Condition of 43 and a 2d2b3m (two drop dice, two bounce dice, and two mastery dice) in her Archery Element. She has been assigned the task of sniping the evil enchanter while her teammates keep the bad guys distracted. Typically a Challenge 30 task, Nicole is still confident that Gray can handle it. Unfortunately, in the first round, the evil enchanter surrounded the battlefield in a concealing fog, invoking an 8p penalty to all ranged attacks. Gray has gone from 5BED2d2b3m to just 4BED!

Penalty Dice aren’t the only sort of penalty characters encounter, but they are by far the most common.

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.

The Saga Continues

Which is a really dumb name for this post, but I wanted to share that I have worked on the Actions system off and on all day (at work… probably not the best idea, now that I look back on it).

Actions is basically the turn-order side of conflict resolution, providing a basic framework for who does what when, how much a given character can do on their turn, and so on.

At any rate, I’ve defined Maneuvers – a set of  abilities possessed by most/all characters that allow them to perform basic actions in and out of combat.  this includes things like Movement, making Basic Attacks in combat, and using skills during a conflict.

In any case, defining these abilities has forced me to think about several other things that I didn’t expect to have to deal with, and made me question a few of my earlier assumptions about how other systems in the game worked… so, in short, it’s been a confusing but productive day, and it’s not over yet…

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