Saturday, November 30, 2002

and then, you could just do this...
Christopher Lee's filmography, courtesy of IMDB. Pick a title, any title. Instant campaign.

Note: it was John's idea to post this, but I beat him to it.

The Archetypal Hero Campaign

I've just started reading d20 Modern, WotC's latest d20 offering, and it seems like it may work well for an "Archetypal Hero" campaign. The basis of this idea is the comic book series Mage by Matt Wagner. For those who haven't read the series, it concerns incarnations of various heroes of folktales, myths, and legends, appearing in the modern world to continue the fight against Evil. Each incarnation has the spirit and general powers associated with the hero -- for example, the incarnation of "The Olympian" has the legendary prowess of Heracles, and also happens to be burdened with 12 labors; the incarnation of Coyote is quick, tricky, and skillful -- but the incarnations are still real people with regular lives, until something happens to awaken them to their role. The heroes are defenders of humanity and the Light, fighting against various supernatural, mythological monsters that prey upon people, and the agents of the Dark. Behind the scenes, the Umbra Sprite seeks to find the Fisher King, an agent of goodness who if sacrificed will give the Dark great power, plunging mankind into a period of darkness and misery. In turn, the heroes of the Light have the guidance of Mirth, the World-Mage and titular character of the series. Some heroes have unique weapons associated with them, though the form may be different than in the legend -- a sword may now appear to be a baseball bat, for example -- while other heroes have all their power within. The heroes also may cooperate, or they may develop rivalries and compete to see who can get the most monsters -- perhaps losing sight of the true goal, the defeat of the Dark. Generally, the public are unaware of the heroes, their monstrous foes, and the war, but sometimes the heroes do have to find ways to work around the public without their knowing.

The d20 Modern rules provide six basic character classes, each associated with one ability score -- the Strong Hero, the Fast Hero, the Smart Hero, and so forth -- so it is already geared toward an archetypal game. However, the classes are obviously geared towards multi-classing (there are only 10 levels for each, and the class abilities are fairly generic and basic), and the default "Advanced" classes are written for a generic modern setting. Very probably each hero would need a custom-designed "Advanced" class to match his (or her) incarnation, but many of the powers are common enough (immune to mundane weapons, for example, or super-fast) that existing spells could be re-written as Feats and used as special abilities for the Advanced Hero class to use. This can be a fun way for players to play their favorite hero from myth or legend, while having the freedom to put their own spin on the characters.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Have you ever looked at the stars? Have you ever looked at the pictures from Hubble? I want my massive space strategy RPG game to be as complex and exciting as the universe just outside my door. It's crazy, I know, but here are a few suggestions of steps that lead in the right direction.


Friday, November 22, 2002

In Search of the Sufficiently Sophisticated Strategy Game
Last week I made a post in which I stated that any sufficiently sophisticated strategy game would have to be asymmetrical. Now I want to explain what I mean by “sufficiently sophisticated”.
I’ve dreamt of a game. Let’s call it the “sufficiently sophisticated” game. It is, to me, the holy grail of game design. It’s an idea that’s been growing in my brain since about the time I started in the computer biz. It’s a massive multiplayer space-based game built around an extremely large galaxy map. Here are the primary attributes of the SSSG:

  • Open-ended enough that being an explorer, conqueror, trader, businessman, builder, pirate, socialite, empror or spy are all viable strategies
  • Flexible enough that I can choose my own goals
  • Enough space that going out, exploring and finding something that nobody has every found before is possible
  • Enough worlds that if someone wants to conquer a huge section of the universe, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the same thing if I happen to start on the other side of it.
  • Highly developed places with lots to see and do. Backwater places that are hard to reach and undeveloped.
  • Elements of politics, economics, exploration, science and industry that I am free to participate in or not.

Over the next while, I’m going to post bits and pieces of the SSSF as I envision it, including those parts of it I’ve figured out. It’s already clear to me that the SSSF has to be primarily online (though not entirely). I can imagine it as a gigantic online universe is the style of Mankind, or a more distributed game something like Neverwinter Nights, though probably more centralized.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Deluge II maps

"Deluge II is a Diplomacy variant. The idea is that, as the land floods, the supply centres disappear, and by 1908 there is only one left. The occupant (if any) of the single supply centre in winter 1908 is the winner."

Tom Wham designed many brilliant, elegant games back in the day. Most people know him bets for The Awful Green Things from Outer Space. Planet Busters, a mini-game published in Dragon Magazine still ranks as one of my all-time favorite games. Tom Wham got me into designing games, spawning a whole line of games with elaborate maps and featuring amusing cartoons. Sadly, none of this line was ever glimpsed outside of my bedroom. Cheers to Tom Wham!

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Other People's Ideas

Over on, Sandy Antunes posted a column called all i game with, i learned from kids books, which is actually a misnomer since it's taking inspiration from kids' TV, not books. But in any case, it's got three amusing ideas for campaigns in three different game systems/styles, based on "Clifford" from PBS, "Blue's Clues" from Nickelodeon, and "Snow White" from Disney. It's short and sweet -- go read it.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Link of the Week
Omniglot, a fascinating website covering writing systems from around the world, past, present, and imaginary. Why invent an alphabet for your fantasy (or sci-fi) game when so many interesting and diverse ones already exist?

Though it should go without saying for our readership here, I should point out that Tolkien invented all of Middle-Earth as "justification" for his Elvish languages. Surely one of these writing systems can inspire you to spice up one of your stereotypical fantasy cultures?

Dream Park, Sorta
So, you have all these game ideas that you want to run (and lots more now, thanks to Attacks) but there just isn't enough time to cram them all in. After all, we do have lives, despite being gamers. We have wives, girlfriends... or failing those, Grand Theft Auto 3. We just can't play rpgs seven nights a week, no matter how much we want to. What to do?

Here's my idea. Everyone generates characters for session number one. Make it something simple and direct, like Feng Shui, or BESM. You play a session of whatever: cowboys in space, giant robot teen angst, mercenaries in ancient Rome, etc. Now here's the kicker: Each and every session, the genre changes completely. You keep the "same" characters as the story progresses, but those characters are interpreted differently each time. They're translated into the new genre as closely as possible. The narrative thread continues, just mutated to fit the current style and place. You could come up with some sort of dimension-hopping conceit if you really wanted to, but I recommend just ignoring the changes as far as in-game knowledge goes.

Today, samurai warriors fighting the undead at the Shogun's palace. Tomorrow, space pirates trapped on the planet of the atomic zombies. Now that I think about it, a super-generic system like Fudge would probably work best. Keep the system stuff real simple, with stats like Fighting and Smarts just so you don't have to do lots of conversion work each time. The players should get a week's notice of the upcoming genre so they can re-work their characters. If the group is really digging a certain style, you could stay with it for a few sessions before moving on.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Milo asked me to post this idea for him. Hopefully he'll become a regular contributor.

Go West!

A Diplomacy-like table top game (although possibly better as an educational computer game) where each player is given a certain amount of resources and then sent out from the East coast of the young America to settle the rest of the continent. Key points would be to create a territory with the existing geographical maps- with boundaries of your own design, and then get the requisite 60,000 people needed for official statehood to come there using legal or economic inducements. Natural boundaries such as rivers or mountains might make it easier for you to keep people in your area, but arbitrary borders look cleaner and might maximize your area.

Player interactions occur in a phase for bargaining, and perhaps battling, over the exact borders of a particular area- or possibly working together at times to create advertising back East for those with a pioneer spirit to head out West and try there luck. Extra resources would go to those with more states, so perhaps you could decide to try and create two or three states simultaneously out of space reserved for one, but would the smaller land area of each slow you down too much? Will the map end up looking anything like it does now? Will the 50 States become 100 States? Will Canada be happy where it is, or will some provinces start expanding south into weakly held areas?

Monday, November 11, 2002

Crazy out-there gaming idea of the day

You have served your god well. You have smitten the enemy, converted the infidel and kept the faith. All your life you have been told that the afterlife will be an eternal party, a never ending revelry in which your slain foes will be servants. So when you and your comrades finally slew the Spider-demon King, bringing down the rood of his temple on your own heads in the process, you figured you'd gotten a decent deal out of life. Unfortunately, the afterlife is not what you expected. It turns out the party's full, and you're not invited. The enemy is at the gates, and your god needs more warriors to throw into the fray. Sure you've got an army of goblins and heathens at your beck and call, but just try to get served at a pub in the afterlife when you've got a 12 foot tall spider demon looking over your shoulder.

This could be a one-shot RPG, a board game, or even a goofy "cheapass games" style board game.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Asymmetrical Strategy Games
Why hasn’t anyone made an asymmetrical strategy game? We’re all familiar with symmetrical strategy games like Risk, Civilization, and Panzer Blitz. In these games everyone has roughly the same goal and power is measured in roughly the same terms for everybody. It’s usually easy to tell who has more money, power, territory and technology and, unless something really crafty is going on, they are probably going to win. This is something that has always frustrated me about strategy games.

What do you mean “asymmetrical”?
Currently the US is engaged in a War Against Terrorism. There’s no more asymmetrical conflict than that. The USA has the ability to move huge numbers of troops and weapons anywhere in the world almost instantly. Al-Queda has limited military power, but doesn’t have territory to defend and has a cadre of dedicated agents who are almost impossible to infiltrate. The goals of both parties are very different, but they can’t achieve them without thwarting the other.

You should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting such an idea!
A war game has been made out of almost every conflict ever fought, not to mention fantasy and science fiction games. There’s even a line of games based on declassified plans for military actions that were never carried out but might have if history had unfolded differently. It’s true that it may be in bad taste to make a game out of a real-world conflict that’s causing death and suffering right now. But the War Against Terrorism isn’t the only asymmetrical conflict that ever was or could be.

This issue has been hotly debated around the Holistic Designs RPG Afghanistan D20.

So, like give me some examples.
I submit that any sufficiently complicated strategy game becomes asymmetrical. If it’s possible for people to take different enough paths and pursue different enough goals, the game will become asymmetrical. Role-playing games are my primary example here. No two players or campaigns have the same goals, and for PCs to face foes whose goals match their own is the exception rather than the rule. So here are a few examples:
  • A strategy computer game where the sides have different strategic capabilities and methods. This could be based on the War Against Terrorism, the American War of Independnce (with a diplomacy and intrigue aspect), an Illuminati game, or even a fantasy or sci-fi setting.
  • An immersive game where players are given an environment and let loose to do as they please. There are a few games like this already appearing, for example, The Sims Online and Game Neverending. For this, I dream of a game where I can choose to play a government, a corporation or some other group in a large persistent world.
  • A play by email game where each player takes the role of guiding an alien civilization that's just beginning to explore the universe. The be sufficiently complex, the game would have to be a gamemastered game. Each civilization would have wide open options as to their goals, methods, the kinds of technologies they develop, how they react to contact with other civilizations and so on.

Monday, November 04, 2002

God bless
"I was considering a PULP SLAYER game... clockwork demons, zeppelin armadas, nazi vampire legions, globe-trotting adventures."
Mmmm... makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Fortunately, Tony is running a kick-ass Pulp game, so I don't have to go galloping off in all directions now that I've read that quote.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

While cleaning out and arranging my collection of RPG stuff, I came across this old idea for Shadowrun. It dates from November 1989, thirteen years ago. It's not directly inspired by Star Trek's Borg, nor Doctor Who's Cybermen, but clearly ties in to the same concepts. It's easily adaptable to any setting with futuristic biotech. Enjoy.


Techgnosis is the belief that the melding of man and machine through cybertechnology is the ultimate step in evolution. Techgnostics believe that all men will one day be inextricably linked to machines through cybertechnology. Not merely the fashionable use of "cyberjunk" such as simsense units or headware for memory, but the re-structuring of all people after a certain age, with "superior" cybernetic replacements for "inferior" body parts. they predict that many people will be specially reconstructed for their jobs. For example, people who work in and under water will have their lungs replaced with cybernetic lungs/gills, whereas those who work in outer space might have their need for lungs totally eliminated through cybertechnology. Techgnostics also promote the development of AI (artificial intelligence), and speak of a future race of cyborgs possessing AI as our servants and companions.

As magic is incompatible with cybertechnology, techgnostics view magic with suspicion at best. Many hold that the re-emergence of magic is a downswing of evolution, a natural impediment that must be removed so that man can fulfill his destiny. Not surprisingly, many techgnostics are members of the Humanis Policlub. [In the Shadowrun game, that's an organization devoted to supporting "pure" humanity, which persecutes metahumans.] Many Burned-Out Mage types have adhered to techgnosis, but while they too have learned to dislike magic use, they remain perversely attached to enchanted items and magical creatures, and thus are never Humais Policlub members.