Sunday, 30 March 2014

Utilities: Tyler's Timetracker weather and travel tool

After my earlier post about weather, reader Tyler Durden mentioned having created a tool that generates climate-appropriate weather for campaign worlds, including their effects on travel times. He was kind enough to offer to share it (and also translate it from Italian for the Anglophone readership) and you can find the link here.

There's a readme file with the tool, which covers how to use it; you really want to play around with it a bit to make sense of it, though. I do a fair bit of work in Excel myself, so I have some idea of the enormous effort that's gone into making this.

Okay, who's this good for? Primarily I'd say it's useful if you're doing games based on a fairly concrete map (either traditional hex-based, or just with a good sense of how places relate and their terrain type), and would like to include weather that doesn't depend on the GM's imagination and grasp of meteorology. This tool is neutral and systematic, but should produce consistent and believable weather. If your group doesn't want to be dependent on GMs making decisions, it should be an asset. It's not just about the weather; a map-based campaign typically involves a lot of travelling, and knowing how weather conditions will affect travel and hazards is a big help. Sandboxy old-school campaigns ought to like this.

More broadly, it should also be helpful to any game that wants to include weather for a touch of realism, helping to give a sense of place; this will be particularly the case if your game skips around between mountain, forest and seaside. Even if you'd prefer not to model travel in detail, you could use the tool's calculations to inform descriptions and narration. It might also throw in unexpected twists that inspire new opportunities - seeking shelter from a rainstorm, say, or needing extra water during an unseasonal heatwave.

Actually, this would also be a great asset to budding fantasy authors who want to feature the classic travelogue segments. No more worrying about plot holes and inconsistencies, just use the obligatory front-inside-cover map with this tool to calculate all your journeys!

I've only really had time to tinker with it a bit so far, but hope it will be useful to others who might read the blog and appreciate Tyler's hard work.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Monitors: re-examining aims of the system

Time to re-examine the ruleset in a slightly different angle. What is it I’m trying to achieve?

  • A fairly lightweight game
  • Mechanics to reinforce the sense of being a reptile
  • Different species feel different
  • More broadly, reinforce the feeling of being a cyborg reptile space wizard secret agent
  • Designed to support a variety of secret agent activities, not just for combat
  • Quick, fairly pulpy combat
  • Competent PCs who excel in particular areas

At the moment, what have we got?

I’m fairly happy with the Heat Points model. Ambient temperature is important, characters have to consider gear and activities in terms of temperature, and it highlights some differences between herps and pretty much all RPG characters ever. It also lets you turn this consideration into an advantage, not just another thing to micro-manage.

I think at the moment species are perhaps too specifically defined. Instead, I might just suggest you pick one major and one minor lineage trait that are particularly important to your character, and these grant you benefits. Other traits aren’t necessarily absent, they just aren’t game-mechanically relevant. I do want to try and ensure that these traits feel significant.

For supporting different activities, I feel like there are three main approaches. One is to have extremely basic mechanics, so that everything is done on a small pool of abilities, or indeed without any stats at all. The second is to have relatively detailed mechanics for all the desired activities, so that all of them can be modelled interestingly without getting repetitive, and none of them are handwaved with a single die roll. The third, my current approach, is to mix-and-match sets of abilities, so that within any activity there will be a range of different abilities coming into play depending what you actually do. I’m hopeful this will prevent the tendency to veer towards either combat, as the most mechanically interesting, or freeform gaming that relies on player ability rather than PC.

Pulpy combat... well, characters can’t die from game mechanics and recover rapidly. Weapons are assumed to be powerful, so it’s just about hits and armour at the moment – and I’m seriously considering paring this back even further, perhaps just having two or three classes of armour (Light, Heavy and maybe Medium), which would make it lighter. Competence plus powerful weapons should equal fast combat. This should help prevent it dominating play.

Magic has its own system that will (hopefully) make magic feel like a Thing. I'm hoping to evoke cyborghood through pervasion rather than lots of mechanics, and aim to model upgrades as reliable slick effects, to contrast with esoteric magic (magic may need to get even more esoteric, but we'll see). There's only so much evoking you can do with mechanics; the setting and the playstyle will need to handle a lot of that.

Core mechanics

As ever, I’m drawn back to the issue of core mechanics. This is mostly because I am phenomenally indecisive, but also because any system is going to have benefits and drawbacks.

Single die rolls are simple, but are best for modelling highly random events where the outcome isn’t a bell curve, like where many factors complicate the outcome. They work well with modifiers, and providing degree of success isn’t important, this combination can readily represent competence that provides a baseline skill.

Dicepools are good for modelling things that it’s satisfactory to model as a bell curve. This is good for ensuring characters are consistently competent (or incompetent) at things. It's more difficult to intuit your odds of success with a dicepool, due to the increased complexity, but a basic roll-and-pick system is simpler to actually do than roll-and-add single die. Designing dicepools is (to my eyes) complicated because of that same complexity, which makes running calculations in Excel a pain. While the chance of improbable failure/success is reduced by that tendency to the mean, it's not prevented, so extreme rolls are still possible. Variance also tends to increase with skill, which can be unwelcome, though some models avoid this.

The current system is still d20 blackjack with modifiers. Difficulty, special skills and any other relevant factor are represented by modifiers. These may make success assured (attribute reaches 20) or impossible (attribute reaches 0). As modifiers are 2 or 5, the maths is relatively simple. The penalty die system means any roll that's less than the penalty die score is a failure if that impairment would hamper that task.

A second possibility is a dicepool. There are many dicepool models: variable/fixed target number, any/multiple successes, fixed/variable die size, count/sum, and so on. Far more than I can easily begin to evaluate, to be honest.

My inclination with dicepools would be to have fixed target numbers (keeping maths simple) and track difficulty by number of successes needed. Training could be represented by granting an automatic success, so professionals would succeed at even non-trivial tasks without rolling - only quite tricky ones would call for a roll. Other factors could be represented by granting additional dice. Penalty dice... I dunno. With small penalty dice you could discount successes equal to the number rolled, but that gets brutal fast.

I'm also a little bit cautious of how easily dicepools seem to render targets impossible. A modifier-free system doesn't easily handle auto-success, but if you don't have enough dice, you can't reach a target. This can happen in most systems, it's just something I want to keep an eye on. On a related note, I'd want to adjust the scope of attributes, since rolling 10 dice is both highly variable and a bit faffy - we'd probably want them to top out at about 5.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Why no FATE Actual Play?

Following on from my look at the Accelerated Edition, I've bought and (eventually) read through FATE Core. It's surprisingly dense, at least in terms of what I expected. I suppose being roughly A5-sized I mentally pegged it as a small book, whereas it's actually got about as much content in it as the average D&D rulebook. On top of that, this one is entirely 100% mechanics, which increases its relative density. There's no monsters, settings or spell lists in here that can be skimmed, only a great deal of system, all of which is important in trying to get your head round how this stuff works.

Lest that sound critical, I should say that although it wasn't a light read, I found it very interesting and rather well-presented. I might do a better overview of the book some other time, as it's now after 11pm and I should get to bed. Anyway, it was enticing enough that I'm considering trying to run it, which is about all a game can hope for.

Okay, strictly speaking a game could hope to fill me with wild and uncontrollable enthusiasm, but since I already have a large list of Games To Run, a gaming circle with highly incompatible timetables and too many hobbies, you'd have to be something pretty damn special.

And so I turn to my automatic port of call for wanting to run a game: Actual Play podcasts. Short of playing one, there's nothing like sitting in on someone else's game session to get a feel for at least one way a game might work. Ideally, several perspectives are nice. There's a huge difference between having read the rules for invoking mana burns, and feeling comfortable making on-the-fly rulings when your PCs decide to stick their hand in a dimensional vortex.

Could I find any? Like hell. Same as last time I tried. For all the attention it gets, there is an incomprehensible dearth of podcastery. I think I saw two Youtube channels referred to; now, with respect, while I am entirely on board with the notion of listening to a bunch of nerds I never met pretend to be talking mouse paladins when I am doing the dishes or running in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard through lack of basic common sense, few things are less compelling than the prospect of watching people play RPGs. And this is to say nothing of the fact that videos tie you to a screen, wasting valuable time rather than occupying my mind during boring activities. This is the exact opposite of what podcasts are for. The same thought confronts me whenever I encounter, say, review channels where someone talks into a camera for half an hour. Just... why?


ANYWAY. There were also references to a couple of FATE-based Dresden Files games, where "Actual Play" was understood to mean "talking about a game what we played previously, with observations", a genre I would generally summarise as "not Actual Play". This is the equivalent of offering World Cup Matches Live! and then screening Steven Gerrard reminiscing about the game for twenty minutes. The word "review" would seem eminently appropriate.

So, abject failure one again. It's looking increasingly like I need to run some FATE just so I can make my own podcast and stick it online for everyone else to listen to. Bizarre.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Call of Cthulhu actual play: On Silent Wings

A few days ago, a few of us got together to play some games, and K was suddenly seized with inspiration for an occult scenario. So we ended up playing an impromptu Call of Cthulhu-system (but non-Mythos) game on the back of about five minutes of prep. And of course, I recorded it. This is admittedly not really traditional Call of Cthulhu fare, but something quiet and investigatey is fun sometimes.

This recording is in only two parts, the start and the end.

The rest of this post is all spoilers, so listen first if you care about that. There's some good unexpected stuff in the plot.

Cathedral and avenue Winchester England

Chargen is one of the things that I really like about Call of Cthulhu, both in its erraticness, and how quickly you can do it if you're familiar with the system. Dan expressed some concern about how long chargen would take, and I assured him you could do it in five minutes. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but in fact it took us about ten despite the fact we didn't have any character sheets and only brought in a single rulebook between us, several minutes into the process. Remembering and allocating skills, and settling on character concepts, was the bulk of the time.

This was a really fun session, and I'm really impressed with how K came up with something so fun in such a short time. It was nicely different from the usual Cthulhoid fare, pleasingly weird to investigate, and yet fundamentally quite simple.

It's maybe worth noting that (as far as I know) none of us had come up with the explanation until we uncovered that vital clue in the library. I thought the Cobalt Satyr was some kind of supernatural butterfly that he had, in fact, eventually obtained, but had then possessed him. It was controlling him and carrying out some strange machinations that involved killing people.

Arthur, in contrast, suggested it was a human skin suit walking around filled with butterflies. They weren't trying to kill people, they wanted to take over their bodies. The two victims were actually those who had successfully resisted invasion; who knows how many butterfly-people were walking around in human skins? "Invasion of the Buttersnatchers" anyone?

The fact that we had two such disparate explanations, both of which sound like they would have been just as much fun as the actual solution, reinforces my sense that this was a solid adventure.

K had a solid idea for how to start the adventure and what kind of investigators we are, but we negotiated the details. We also collaboratively create an agency. None of us take much in the way of the classic Cthulhu skills, which turns out to be fine. There's lots of feedback between Keeper and players as we set things up, which helps her by making sure we know what we're in for, and by giving her an idea what sort of people we're interested in being. It helps us by making sure we're not making square pegs for her mystery. You'll notice that I spend a while asking a few questions about the setting premise (just how supernatural life is, the social standing of our agency), which can be really helpful in getting on the same page.

My solution to the issue was a bit brutal, and maybe I jumped the gun a bit in terms of pacing, but at the time it kind of felt like the point where actually doing something was necessary. K was a bit surprised by how much we thought about the morality aspects and how sorry we felt for the doctor, but to me that showed what a good job she'd done of portraying him. There still isn't really any solution I can think of that doesn't have some serious downsides, unless we assume the bishop has a fairly short half-life and the power would go away. Such is the way with wizards and their ilk.

Oh, and good old Peter de Roche is all real mythology.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Monitors: a tangent on traits and difficulties

On the current working model for Monitors, characters use a combination of generic attributes and specific traits.

My original idea for traits was that each would provide a flat modifier to relevant attribute rolls. Dan mentioned a few concerns about this when last we met, which I will try to recall here. This post naturally presents my point of view, which I actually remember and can develop here, far more favourably than the stuff Dan said that I can't really remember.

  • It can be difficult to make modifiers reasonable. With a large modifier, traits will be all-important and nobody without a trait is likely to succeed. With smaller modifiers, someone with a trait will only succeed slightly more often than someone without it. I'm not yet sure how far I agree with these, but worth noting.
  • He also noted that with (say) a +5 training trait, there's no mechanical difference between Wits 5 + Mad Scientist (+5), and Wits 10. This is true enough, and he argued that the psychological difference is important.
  • The combination of difficulty levels and training gets tricky (is solving a differential equation easy, which a mathematician might say, or impossible, which someone without maths would say?). I was originally aiming for an objective difficulty system, but that may be problematic. In fairness, I think all difficulty systems are problematic, so it's a question of finding the least annoying one.
  • He also stated a preference for avoiding maths, which is reasonable enough but I'm less concerned about that. Doing arithmetic is a common enough aspect of games that I don't feel including it is a major drawback.
  • He thinks training should mean auto-success on routine tasks. I also think this, and attempted to design the system to ensure it, so no issue there.

Handling Light, first draft

Following a discussion on Shannon’s blog, here’s a quick stab at a chart for handling lighting modifiers.

After some brief playing around, I think there's four light properties that are probably relevant:

  1. how much light there is
  2. shadows - basically, whether it's ambient light/high light that leaves few shadows, or directional light that casts lots of deep shadows
  3. steadiness of light
  4. width of spectrum - lack of some colours reduces our ability to see properly

Lighting Modifiers

Concealment indicates the chance of a character or object going unnoticed, even without making any effort to avoid detection. Where a / is used, the first figure indicates the concealment of stationary objects, and the second that of moving objects. Very energetic or prominent motion should reduce the effect of concealment further.

Misidentify indicates the chance of a character not being recognised at a distance. This might include passing for authorised personnel in restricted sections, or being mistaken for another character expected to be present. The alert status of the watcher, the distance between them, the degree of resemblance, and whether the character’s behaviour follows expected patterns, may all modify this chance.

Light Prominence indicates whether light sources (such as LEDs, cantrips, glow-in-the-dark watches, torches, lanterns, screens, fires or sparks) are likely to attract attention.

Visual Tasks indicates the difficulty modifier applied to actions that rely heavily on vision. Some characters may be proficient at specific tasks by touch, such as typing, field-stripping weapons or picking locks.

I’m basically applying broad modifiers based on the lighting and the amount of shadow, then another fixed 10% for light sources that are particularly skewed towards one colour, and another 10% for particularly unsteady of lighting.

Concealment = Lighting + Shadow + Spectrum + Unsteady

Visual Tasks = Lighting + Spectrum + Unsteady

Misidentify = Lighting + Spectrum + Unsteady

Total Darkness

  • Concealment 100%
  • Visual Tasks -90%, or automatic failure if vision essential (reading, surgery)
  • Misidentify - characters will anticipate this and behave accordingly
  • Any Light Prominent

Deep Forest

  • Concealment 80%
  • Visual Tasks -80%, or automatic failure if vision essential (reading, surgery)
  • Misidentify - 80%
  • Any Light Prominent


  • Concealment 70%/35%
  • Visual Tasks -50%
  • Misidentify 50%
  • Low Light Prominent, Flickering Light Prominent


  • Concealment 70%/35%
  • Visual Tasks -60%
  • Misidentify 60%
  • Low Light Prominent, Steady Light Prominent
  • Short range


  • Concealment 55%/25%
  • Visual Tasks -45%
  • Misidentify 45%
  • Moderate Light Prominent, Steady Light Prominent
  • Short range

Stereotypical Tavern

  • Concealment 50%/25%
  • Visual Tasks -40%
  • Misidentify 40%
  • Low Light Prominent, Steady Light Prominent


  • Concealment 35%/20%
  • Visual Tasks -35%
  • Misidentify 35%
  • Moderate Light Prominent, Flickering Light Prominent

Full Moon

  • Concealment 40%/20%
  • Visual Tasks -20%
  • Misidentify 20%
  • Bright Light Prominent, Flickering Light Prominent

Daylight, Modern Office Lighting

  • Very Bright Light Prominent

Minimal shadow Cloudy night Specialist lab
Museum special collections
Atmosphere restaurant
Shabby hotel
Cloudy winter
Indie hotel
High noon
Modern office
Fast food joint
Chain hotel
Occasional shadows
? Cloudy moon
Well-lit street
Victorian office
Chain pub
Small industry
Cheap dorm
Winter sun
Crowded Lab
Frequent shadows
Deep forest
Haunted house
Mediaeval house
Georgian house
Full moon
Summer evening


This is probably too detailed to be usable as an in-game chart, but hopefully is interesting as an idea.

Friday, 14 March 2014

On Whether the weather can be weathered

So Shannon has posted an article about weather in games, focusing particularly on serious disaster-type weather. It's interesting, but it's prodded my brain in a different direction, which is mundane weather. There's definitely more you could do with weather than most games seem to.

Winter campaigning mud march

A pretty big one is mood. The weather makes a huge difference to how you feel. Warm, sunny day with a faint breeze? Puts a smile on most people's faces. A cool day with a stiff wind is usually a bit unwelcome, but for a lot of adventuring situations it'll be welcome, cooling you down as you lug your own bodyweight in weaponry through the forest.

I'm inclined to think it might be interesting to apply morale modifiers for weather. Use this when considering distance travelled, social interactions, performances and other non-dangerous activities. You could use it for dangerous ones too, but players might find that a bit too much. This idea would probably work best in games that already use morale, so that weather isn't the only thing that affects it.

For example, let's take the rain.


Rain can be annoying, cold and rain is miserable, wind and cold and rain is really grim - and all those thing have a practical effect. The ground underfoot is muddy or slippery, so travelling is harder and often louder. Damp clothes cling uncomfortably and make movement awkward, and wet hair gets in your eyes. Wet ropes are nasty to handle (try undoing a tight knot on a boat rope). Cold fingers fumble, cold wet items are a pain to handle. Rest is less refreshing if you're huddling under a tree while water drips down your neck, eating cold food for want of firewood, unable to read. Loud rain and wind makes talking difficult, on top of your glumness, so journeys and activities become taciturn and lonely as you plod on.

The rain splashes surface mud back at you, and your boots (or your horse's hooves) pick up and spray mud, spattering your clothes and skin. Unexpectedly soft ground makes you stumble and slip, or leaves you six inches deep in mud. Even in town, surfaces can be damaged, water pools unexpectedly, or dodgy flagstones drench you unexpectedly. Passing cars or carts can spray you even if you were being careful, and umbrellas don't help. A galloping horse or wild animal passing nearby can spatter you with mud from head to foot.

Rain and wind can directly affect your perception, reducing visibility and blotting out sounds, but they also change your behaviour. People huddle in, keeping heads down so rain or flying debris don't get into their eyes, and focusing mostly on themselves.

Hot wet days can be just as bad. Sometimes the rain is a cooling blessing, but often it merely turns things humid. With moisture in the air, it's impossible to cool off properly. Hot damp air encourages mould. Doing anything strenuous, you rapidly get sweaty, breathless and deeply uncomfortable. Sitting still isn't as relaxing as you'd think either, and sleeping is difficult.

Changing clothes or gear tends to take longer, too. Between slippery fingers, fabrics whose friction increases as they absorb moisture, and the sheer unpleasantness of putting on wet gear, it's much more of a hassle. Maintaining weapons and armour is difficult in the wet. Reading spellbooks and preparing components is pretty challenging.

If you're staying inside, other people will have the same inclinations. Town taverns and cafes may be fuller, and those catering to travellers may have people staying longer than usual in the hope of a change. Workers may knock off early if business seems poor. Markets and other outdoor activities may be cancelled. This can be a good opportunity to make some friends or gather information. However, farmers and a few others may have extra work to do, looking after livestock or trying to plant while the ground's soft. Note that some places, such as those aimed at short-distance travellers or leisured folks, may be very empty if nobody wants to venture out. Tourist cafes fill up quickly in the rain, but parks and burger stands alike will be quiet. In less touristy places, it may only be confirmed regulars who venture into the pub or gym, and they're the best people to gossip with. People are more likely to be at home, and there'll be fewer witnesses to goings on; on the other hand, hanging around may be more suspicious. Street collectors, touts and beggars will look for shelter.

On the plus side, many insects and animals will lurk somewhere during rain. Your changes of getting bitten are much lower, even in marshland. Note, however, that very small biting insects can thrive during rain. Something for GMs to play with, perhaps.


  • Consider changing random encounters and environmental hazards. Fewer mosquitos and stirges, but more flooded roads, overturned cars, stuck wagons and so on.
  • Donning or doffing armour takes longer. So does making camp.
  • Any work involving ropes, fabrics or slick materials becomes more difficult.
  • Remember the cosmetic effects of rain and mud. Highlighting the dampness and dirtiness of everything will help add atmosphere, and can affect NPC interactions too. Some will be extra sympathetic and eager to help the bedraggled travellers into their warm halls; others may be put off.
  • Consider the type of location and how its inhabitants are likely to react to rain.
  • Consider whether behaviour seems appropriate for rain; if not, NPCs may take notice.
  • Impose penalties to eavesdropping, spotting skulkers, and generally noticing stuff.
  • Remember that ordinary activities, often handwaved, will be affected. Preparing spells or praying to deities is more difficult in miserable conditions, so ask for Concentration rolls to see whether casters get fewer spells. Hey, they're overpowered anyway, right?
  • If it's hot and wet, make strenuous work more difficult. It doesn't need to be more dangerous - hot and wet is probably less of an issue than cold, or hot and dry - but you get exhausted quickly.
  • Wet bowstrings, anyone? What precautions did everyone take?
  • Drying out takes time. Don't forget about the rain as soon as it stops. Even when PCs are dry, it might take days for land to dry out. In some cases, it may take weeks.

Okay, that's enough for now. Might try another weather later.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Into Ploughshares: Seasons as Dungeons

I think the most logical way to handle things in Into Ploughshares – bearing in mind that I’m deliberately trying to map pastoralism onto traditional adventuring – is to have a season correspond to a dungeon adventure as the most basic model.

A dungeon adventure is typically broken up into both phases and sections:

  1. Learning about the dungeon (rumours, research, clues). Perhaps better if we swap “dungeon” for “problem, situation or opportunity”.
  2. Preparation (shopping, gathering, crafting, planning, training)
  3. Travelling to the dungeon (navigation, survival, random encounters)
  4. Investigating the dungeon before entering (surveillance, tracking, divination, evaluation)
  5. Dungeoneering
  6. Returning from the dungeon with news, loot or captives (navigation, survival, random encounters)
  7. Aftermath (celebrating, shopping, punishment, turning in quests, healing and repair, planning)

The dungeoneering phase is typically the meat of the adventure, and within this section adventurers will explore numerous individual rooms or sections, with activities like:

  1. Searching
  2. Fighting (multiple rounds of combat)
  3. Dealing with traps
  4. Looting
  5. Negotiating with NPCs
  6. Healing and recovery

Following this model, a season adventure might work something like this:

  1. Learning – a bit tricky, but we can recast “dungeon” as “situation” and this makes sense. If we have wandering pastoralists in the wandering adventurer mould, this can work. They learn about a settlement that has problems (rumours, research, clues).
  2. Preparation (shopping, gathering, crafting, planning, training)
  3. Travelling
  4. Investigating
  5. Pastoralising (most of what you do)
  6. Returning
  7. Aftermath (celebrating, shopping, turning in quests, recovery and repair, planning)

The pastoralising phase, the bulk of the adventure, splits up into numerous “rooms”. Rather than physical rooms, these are discrete-but-related situations that can be dealt with. It’s important to note that in most cases, a season adventure should not be built around an escalating challenge that must be overcome sequentially – this is not how most dungeons work. Instead, there are numerous self-contained situations that offer challenge and opportunity.

Let’s think about dungeons again. In some cases the main quest may be to kill everything in a dungeon and defeat its overlord. In other cases, there’s one objective to meet, but many obstacles to overcome (in whatever way you choose) along the way. Still other times, there is no particular objective other than to explore and see what’s interesting. The objectives of the characters may not match the quest given to them, either – PCs have their own motivations and opinions. Sometimes defeating one enemy, or disabling a substantial trap, will make another combat easier; in other cases your decisions may determine how other dungeon residents react to you (do you side with the goblins or the gnomes, or neither?).

Mirroring this, in a season adventure, the main quest might be to deal with a whole series of problems of escalating severity. However, this shoud not be a series of hardships that happen to the characters and must be survived. A dungeon adventure doesn’t consist of a stream of monsters of increasing Challenge Rating advancing on the PCs. Rather, we should present a number of problems that the PCs are asked (or recommended, or able) to address, some of which may depend on resolving other problems first. Some problems may interrelate, so that solving one makes it easier to solve another, or alters the range of options. In other cases, valuable resources need to be focused on one problem or another, so difficult choices may be needed. PCs might decide to leave some problems or opportunities untackled, deciding they’re not worth the effort.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

On variable skill resolution

So, I was doing some very tenuous rambling about skills.

For reference, "skill" here means anything that behaves roughly like a "skill" as in various major RPGs. "Attempt" means either an attempt in the traditional sense, the consumption of one arbitrary amount of resources, or an arbitrary amount of time and effort. "Roll" means whatever mechanic is used for determining the effectiveness of a skill. "Resources" include time, and this is probably the most common resource.

So last time I rambled a lot about the different kinds of situations skill use represents, and some awkwardness that results if you treat these situations as mechanically equivalent.

So, what kind of distinctions might it be useful to draw, if we're looking for skill use to roughly reflect likely outcomes in real life?

Friday, 7 March 2014

On why not all skills are created equal

I spend probably more time thinking about skills than is good for me, but this is something I touched on previously and would like to discuss a bit.

Essentially, I've been thinking that (for understandable reasons) games tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach to "skills", and that this can end with some unsatisfying results. Call of Cthulhu is my core example here, but it's not unique to that game. The same mechanics that adjudicate whether a single bullet fired from your handgun hits a crazed cultist also determine whether your attempt to eavesdrop on an hour-long conversation between two Russian spies results in a) absolute and flawless understanding of every nuance of the conversation, or b) a glazed expression and a slight headache.

There are some differences between these two situations that aren't reflected in the single d100 roll you'd typically make. One is that using a universal resolution system ironically results in widely different ways of resolving outcomes, because of the way the challenge is modelled.

Monitors: back to traits

While mulling over various things, I’ve gone back to a previous model for Monitors that I want to investigate again.

One of the niggling concerns I’ve had has been that the skill distribution doesn’t necessarily support the kind of game I want to make. While combat and direct conflict is supposed to be a significant aspect of the game, I also want there to be some depth to non-violent conflicts that troubleshooters might be sent to handle. Examples of these would be investigating serious fraud and corruption, intervening in political issues, tracking down interstellar criminals, assisting with scientific investigations, or looking into occult problems that aren’t just about demon-smashing. This is not intended to be Deathwatch for lizards. However, while I’ve got skills that help in dealing with all those situations, there’s only a couple that you’re likely to use for each given kind of situation. Investigating a complex fraud is likely to mean a lot of Bureaucracy rolls and maybe the odd bit of Parlay or Perception – unless, of course, you avoid using the actual skills that people apply to these cases, in favour of over-loading a handful of general Investigation skills.

(Not, of course, that I have any idea how to write a fraud-based scenario if I wanted to. But I’d like it to be an option that didn’t rapidly turn into a mere plot hook for another gun-based adventure)