Armor is a staple of most tabletop roleplaying games with some kind of combat system. The point of Armor is that you can purchase an item that will passively improve your defense. In D&D Armor improves your Armor Class which makes it harder for enemies to hit you at all in its binary “roll high” resolution system. In Dark Heresy the Imperial Guardsman of the group will be wearing armor that gives around 4 damage reduction – though many weapons in Dark Heresy outright ignore points of armor through their Penetration value, so this more complicated than it sounds. In Exalted, Armor directly reduces points of lethal or bashing damage inflicted on the character, or both at once. There’s many more examples of course. Lately though, I’ve felt kind of down on Armor, and have been looking for ways to remove its presence from my own designs.
I normally only cover one product on my Kickstarter posts, and always one that I can write a little bit about or touches me personally in a way that gets me going. There are a lot of kickstarters than interest me and might have gone under people’s radars but that for one reason or another I’m not able to write full posts on each of them, usually because the products are very simple and speak for themselves. So I thought I’d round them all up in one post and write a little bit about them. It’s not that I don’t like them, after all – but I don’t think I could write 500 words on each of them alone! You deserve to know about them nonetheless.
Tavern Cards: Tavern Cards it a product of Chaotic Shiny‘s Hannah Lipsky, long-time maker of Random Generators for RPGs. This time you can help her kickstart a random generator for taverns in the form of a deck of custom playing cards, fully playable in your favorite standard card games like poker, while also containing colorful artwork. By drawing random cards from the deck you can generate a random tavern as explained in the description. $13 gets you a Tavern Deck, $45 gets you a deck and a signed print of one of the cards of your choice by the artist, and for $120 you can be a character on a card! Tavern cards has 14 days to go and is 3/5ths funded, and it’s a simple and interesting idea that I think is quite worth a look.
Thematic Fate Dice: This Kickstarter is essentially for a batch of Fate/Fudge dice that have symbols on the faces instead of just pluses and minuses. I normally use pretty stock dice, but I’ve seen people with all kinds of crazy dice on them that look great. $14 gets you one set of 4 dice, $21 gets you 8 dice, and so on. Most of the pledge levels are different amounts of dice and covering shipping costs. So if you’d like some new dice with colorful faces, you might give this a shot. They’re about halfway funded.
Gnomish Adventurers: I’m not really a Gnome superfan (there is a lot of evidence on twitter of me suggesting gnomes just be thrown out of fantasy games) but even I took notice of these cool-looking Gnome miniatures. The miniatures are already funded, so look to the stretch goals instead: $30 will get you a full set of gnomes, and then some special dice, character sheets and an additional figurine or sprue set. Higher rewards include more sets. Check the page for all the deets.
That’s it for the first batch, if you have any Kickstarters you’d like me to look at, feel free to email me about them. However, I will say that I’ve been getting a lot of requests, and sometimes they really don’t catch my eye. I can’t promise I’ll post about every one, even in these little collections, because sometimes either I’m not interested enough in it, I’d be uncomfortable talking about the project because of my own personal ethics and morals, or I flat out don’t really like it. I try to respond to every email as best as I can, but please take this into consideration before contacting me!
Remarkably baffling to me is that “drop a rock on them” still exists as a piece of advice regarding the relationship Game Masters have to their players in RPGs. You can see the same passive-aggressive and maladjusted responses to situations in games all over gaming forums and blogs and over all kinds of issues. They often revolve around D&D, mostly because D&D has a lot of mechanisms that can create adversarial relations between the GM and the players, whether they’re intended to or not, like alignment (and any mechanics attached) and the one-sided and very binary resolution mechanic (players roll but the GM solely interprets and decides). You’ve all heard stories about “making” Paladins fall for not playing how you think they should; about taking away the party’s equipment to “teach them” a lesson; taking away spells or powers to “see what they do” without them or to “disrupt” their preferred play styles. This is all terrible advice, and terribly prevalent, and I feel, actively toxic to the community as a whole.
Let’s call every detrimental effect that isn’t straight-up harm in a fight a “Condition.” Conditions allow for greater and more easily grasped tactical complexity in a fight sequence. In a tabletop RPG, you might be able to, in the fiction, knock someone down off their feet – but if that action has no consequences within the rules, there’s not a lot of incentive to attempt it, when you could just hit them again more solidly and end the fight faster. If the knockdown was an actual condition that cause a visible shift in the outcome of the battle, then there is incentive to perform that move. Conditions should optimally allow for modifications to the fight that give one side advantages that are useful but do not outright remove opponents from the combat.
Why the latter prerequisite? Conditions that outright stop action strike me as more trouble than they are worth. To me, the excitement and fun of a battle scene is in each participant’s ability to act. Enemies use their abilities to harm or hinder the players and the players navigate those abilities while also dealing out their own. In the hands of the players, abilities that outright stop actions can be easily applied on the most powerful enemies to render a situation too lopsided in their favor. Meanwhile in the hands of enemies you have an all-too-real moment where a player is incapacitated instantly by a condition, and has to pass a turn while doing nothing or effectively nothing. Being on the receiving end of this is hardly fun.
I’d like to share my thoughts on some common Conditions in tactically-complex Tabletop RPGs.
Briefly, I’d like to say that I think there’s still value to an unbroken, uninterruptible turn structure in an RPG, depending on what you’re going for with it. While it’s certainly useful in its own way to have a game without a turn sequence, and the idea of “spotlight” in RPGs is kind of dubious, I thought about why I wanted a turn sequence in my game, rather than bucking it as a lot of indie games have been doing lately. I also tried to think about it outside the box of “the bad player who runs over others in a turn-less game” because I try very much not to look at “bad player” arguments. My philosophy is that I write games where I assume and impart upon the group that they should be friends, talk things over, and should look after each other and cooperate – I don’t like to write mechanics that exist solely to punish the theoretical “bad player.”
1) It’s easier to play online: Turnless games and games with interruptible turns behave weirdly in a medium near and dear to me – play-by-post roleplaying. Playing D&D 4e in PBP is kind of a nightmare because of all the times that another person at the game is needed for input. You move, and someone can interrupt with an Opportunity Attack; you attack, and someone can interrupt with a power or you might need someone else to resolve your roll because of a lack of information; you give other players actions and then they resolve them on your turn, necessitating that they appear and post before you can continue. There’s a lot of places where you could potentially require the input of others – and that’s more posts in your way.
What I want from Uttarakuru is for everyone to have a turn, and for everyone to expect to resolve that turn alone. This means a turn structure, but equally important is open information. Important target values can’t hide behind a screen. Everyone should know off the bat what their targets are and what the consequences of their actions could be.
2) It’s more neatly organized: I’m a neat freak in RPGs. I ran my own Dungeon World mini-game for some IM friends the other day. I essentially asked for a turn structure on that because everyone started talking at once and I found it hard to follow. I love Dungeon World. I love The Conversation. But even when I play Dungeon World, rather than DM, I’m a bit demure – I still sort of “wait my turn” so to speak. I find a lot of comfort in sequence, and I’m pretty poor at doing things outside of a chronological order. I like to think of RPG turns as pieces of a story that all fit together as a puzzle. I want to bring that kind of neatness and organization to Uttarakuru. Scenes and Turns are each broken up into simple steps you can easily digest.
3) It’s easier to plan ahead: I’ve seen a lot of general stigma to “planning” things in RPGs. Listening to the RPG blogosphere there seem to be few things more vocally reviled than the GM who hunches over books and “plots things out” and comes to the game with encounters and story and other things in mind. I don’t accept that though, because I think this planning is still very useful as a guide or inspiration – a skeleton around which flesh can be arranged. When you have a turn order and a certain expectation that scenes may contain “rounds,” and that in turn those scenes themselves will make up units of an adventure, you can more easily generate material ahead of time, as well key your material to specific parts of that structure. You have a more comfortable environment to plot out. Not everyone is good at improvising, but I think planning and structure can be a great tool to help you become a good improviser. You can start on that road by learning to prepare material but also coming to the table knowing you will change that material and add to it as it suits the player’s actions and decisions.
The Secret World is by far the most polished, interesting and entertaining MMORPG I have ever played. It is smart, entertaining, and bold, and though perhaps difficult to approach at first, it always rewards the effort you put into it. At its heart, however, it’s still the MMO you know – but it does the things you know, and perhaps dislike, in a way that elevates them and makes them fresh. I wanted to discuss today some bugaboos that haunt not just MMOs, but perhaps even the humble Tabletop RPG player, the far less technological common subject of this blog. Quest is the word of the day.
MMOs are made and broken by quest lines. We’ve all got archetypal quest lines we love or hate. None more than the following two. I want to talk about not only what The Secret World does right, but also what you, as a game designer, dungeon master, adventure writer, whatever, can think about when you assign “quests” like this. Avoiding them is foolish, I think. These objectives resonate with people – if they’re done properly, they can convey a lot more than you think.
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