Sunday, August 30, 2009

Now the Vehicle Battle RPG is called Blacktop!

Blacktop is going to be the name for my automotive combat RPG, at least in the time being. I've written up a prospective table of contents for the game, listing out all the stuff I foresee putting into the game.

Characters (who fights)
  • Passion: why you drive
  • Traits: what makes you better at driving and fighting
  • Relationships: your place in the world of Blacktop

The World of Blacktop (where we fight)
  • Apocalypse: turn a Google map of your region into an apocalyptic setting
  • Battlefields: arenas, highways, neighborhoods, and wastelands
  • Factions: teams, gangs, enclaves, and corporations

Playing (the role-playing part, and how it's connected with battle)
  • Say "yes" or face the blacktop: This is the good stuff. More on this in a future post.

Combat (how we fight)
  • Driving: movement and maneuvers
  • Shooting: targeting, doing damage, how damage is applied
  • Stunts: doing everything else

Vehicles (the stuff we use to fight)
  • Vehicle design: lightweight and relatively abstract
  • Pre-made vehicles: grab-and-go vehicles for quick encounters

Game Mastering
  • How to run a game of blacktop

Wish List (Stuff that might also make it into the final game)
  • Post-apocalyptic greater Seattle
  • Amateur night starter scenario
  • Random encounter tables
  • Map tiles and components

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Car Wars Reboot Design Goals

I’m designing a Car Wars reboot. That’s to say, I’m writing a post-apocalyptic automotive combat role-playing game. Skeptics prepare to be wowed!

Here are my design and publishing goals:
  • It will have a freely-available version

  • RPG portion will be fully compatible with all editions of Car Wars vehicle design and combat rules

  • Will also include its own vehicle design rules, which will be somewhat simpler than Car Wars, but still crunchy with a reasonable selection of weapons and accessories

  • Will include its own vehicle combat rules, which will somewhat more streamlined and abstract than Car Wars (because that’s what I’m capable of designing), probably modeled on Alpha Destructicus

  • Game will actively support campaign play

  • Campaign play may include arena duels, highway missions, wasteland battles, and urban adventures in any desired combination

  • A Google map of the region where you live or existing major city will be a key feature of campaign play

  • The players will create a quick-and-dirty list of important vehicular factions tied to locations on the map

  • Character will be easy to generate

  • The decisive action of the game will take place on the road (or the arena or wherever)

  • The reason your character drives around in a heavily armed vehicle will be a significant aspect of your character

  • There will be rules for repairing, upgrading, and customizing your vehicle(s)

  • Rules for stunts and maneuvers not covered by the rules

These points are to (hopefully) support the following principles:
  • A loving, respectful homage to Car Wars

  • Accessible to a wide audience, including people who haven’t played Car Wars

  • A strong old-school aesthetic

  • Gritty, explosive, deadly, exciting, fast-paced play

  • Role-playing opportunities informed by the latest indie designs

Also, it needs a name!
edit added stunts

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rebooting Car Wars

Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars is a great classic that’s massively overdue for an overhaul. SJGames tried to overhaul it a few years ago with a new, streamlined rules set, but their approach wasn’t successful, for a bunch of reasons that I won’t go into here.

Why does it need an overhaul?

The first reason is accessibility. If you want to play it today, you have to buy it piecemeal on eBay, or back order the newer 5th edition from SJGames. It’s not available as a PDF, alas. Neither set of rules is really that accessible for gamers who weren’t raised on the game, though for different reasons.

Secondly, Car Wars was never really good at selling its best points. For a game that requires a lot of time and prep, it’s pretty easy to whiff on a session. Today’s gamers don’t have much patience with that.

So what would revive Car Wars?

The vehicle design rules as presented in the original are actually rather good, and stand on their own. 5th edition design rules were never published, which is a fatal flaw. We need robust, interesting design rules that are accessible, preferably available for free.

The maneuver rules in the original game are also very good. More abstract, streamlined rules would also be a great thing. Again, something available for free would be superior.

The game needs to tell the players how to get started having fun right away. There are a lot of small things that matter in making a decent Car Wars scenario. The community knows what they are, so we should mine it. 5th edition hinted at providing this, but didn’t achieve it.

Does anyone remember that Car Wars was an RPG? Car Wars as an RPG was a lot like old-school D&D. Everyone played it different, and it took some trial and error to make it work. We’re smarter than that now. Personally, I think the RPG rules for Car Wars were almost an impediment, and I’d like to re-write them entirely, but maybe that’s just me. I know that the way we played it, it was awesome fun.

I think there's room for multilpe Car Wars reboots. In fact, I know there are some projects out there already, like Joshua Newman's Burning Rubber, and Brent Newhall's autowar, and my own vehicle combat game, Alpha Destructicus.

So I'm tossing down a guantlet. I'm going to write my own Car Wars reboot. I'll post some design goals tomorrow. Maybe I won't finish it, but it's a worthy quest. I'm going to focus on the role-playing side, at least at first, and be relatively agnostic about the vehicle combat system, mostly because I think the existing system is really good, and I'd love to see SJGames revive it.

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How to Play Misery Bubblegum

Misery Bubblegum is an awesome game by Tony Lower-Basch. It’s about high-school relationship drama. Its home page is here: I believe you will soon be able to buy it at Indie Press Revolution:

But people find Misery Bubblegum hard to play, and the rules that come with the game aren’t that helpful. I think I know how to play it correctly, so I’ve written this tutorial to help others. I’m assuming you’ve read the rule book and rule cards that came with the game and know something about role-playing games. Don’t ignore Tony’s rule book and cards. This is just a tutorial.

Pick a theme for your game. I suggest you make it “something high school.” “Ninja high school”, “wizard high school”, and “regular high school” are all good choices.

Decide what group within the high school all the characters will belong too, like “the ninja-fu team”, or “the defense against the dark arts class”, or “drama club”.

Game Master, follow the “Setting up the Game” page of the rules.

Read the “Making your Character” page of the rules. Separate out the blue role and personality cards. Personalities have black and white triangles next to the portrait. Roles don’t. Each player chooses one role and one personality. Place the role card sits in front of you facing you (that’s who you are to yourself). Your personality sits upside-down above it facing everyone else. (that’s who you are to the world).

Once everyone’s done this, read the “What’s your Dream” card. Follow the instructions. A good dream includes three elements: (1) A good relationship with another character; (2) A harebrained scheme for changing how they feel about your character; (3) A third character you can blame when things go wrong (and they will).

Game Master, take the “Introductions” phase card and put it on the table in front of you. Frame a scene where we’ll get to see the characters interact in a way that’s typical of their lives. Notice that there are three empty spaces on the phase card that say “Draw a card when…” When any one of these happens, draw a card from the deck and place it face-down over that slot. Once it’s covered, you can’t cover it again.

Players, when you play to your role (facing you) in the course of the scene, draw a card and place it face-down over your role. You can only have one card sitting there at a time. Watch the other people play too. When they play to their personality (facing you), draw a card for them and place it face-down over their personality. They can only have one card sitting there at a time. This is explained on the “Drawing” card.

Game Master, when you think we’ve had enough of introductions, declare a scene change. Everyone picks up their face-down cards and puts them into their hands (including you). Frame another scene. Choose the most appropriate phase card for that scene and put it in front of you. You will continue in this manner until the “Climax” card turns up in the deck. Then you switch the scene to climax and wrap up the game. The “Game Master” pages explain all this in more detail and contain good advice.

Now that everyone has cards in their hand they can do things with this, including conflicts, stating opinions, and expanding characters.

When your character wants to make something happen and someone else stands in the way, use a conflict to resolve the situation. This is explained on the “Stakes” card. Don’t forget to set stakes, like the card says. Throw down a card from your hand. Use the card’s theme in your narration (like if it’s anger, show how angry your character is, or something). Now what you want will happen. Someone else can throw a higher card in the same way. Now what THEY want will happen. Keep going till someone has the highest card and no one beats them. The “Rules for Cards…” cards explain in more detail when you can play a particular card.

You can use opinions to pass cards around. See the “Opinions” rules card. When your character expresses an opinion that matches a card, you can pass that card to another player. Do this a lot and you won’t regret it.

You can use cards to expand your character. Notice that some cards (21-36) have little triangles on them. You can attach them to the little triangles on your role card, as shown on the “Making your Character” page. This lets you draw more face down cards. You can also use these to win conflicts by discarding them, but only if there isn’t a card drawn on top of them at the time. Cards 31-36 also become more powerful when you draw a card face down on them. Once you’ve drawn a card onto cards 31-36, their value jumps to the second number shown on the card (51-56). See “Rules for cards: 21-29” and “Rules for cards: 31-36” for more details.

Finally, some cards have special abilities. Discard the card to use its ability. Cards 1-9 let your character demand an answer from someone. Your character gets to ask a two-answer question. The other character must choose an answer or flee the scene. So, if you’re character asks “Are you trying to ruin my life, or are you just stupid?” the other character must answer: (a) I’m trying to ruin your life, (b) I’m just stupid, or (c) flee the scene. Cards 11-19 let you change the phase of the game, as described on the card. See “Rules for: cards 1-9” and “Rules for: Cards 11-19” for details.

I really hope that explanation helps people play Misery Bubblegum and have as much of a blast as I have. This is a really great game and there’s no other game quite like it. I appreciate feedback on this tutorial, as I’d like to make it better.

UPDATE: Members of the Story Games Community are collaboratively creating a revised draft of the rules of Misery Bubblegum on the Story Games Codex.