A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


25Jul/21Off

Everything Is Better With Tentacles – Planning

Several months ago, this happened...

Image

At the time I considered it kind of a joke response, but then I thought about it... I mean, let's face it: if I saw a title on DTRPG or the DM's Guild with the title Everything Is Better With Tentacles, I and many others would probably buy it on the spot, sight unseen. So I got to thinking... why not make this an actual product?

So I began the project...

Image

Thing is, well, it's a little more complicated than that...

Executive Dysfunction

For almost two years now I've been complaining about my battle with a massive amount of Writer's Block. I'm late on my last Kickstarter and haven't written a whole lot in the last two years, presumably because of that. But then I realized... I don't have Writer's Block, I have something else.

The way I see it, Writer's Block is when you are willing to write, are able to write, but cant put words to paper. You don't know what to say or how to say it.

I, however, *know* precisely what I want to write... what I lack is means and opportunity.

My life is chaos right now, spending the majority of it working my ass of, tending to personal and family needs, and just trying to survive day to day life. So when I do have time away from that, time I could theoretically use to write, I lack the willpower to do so. When I get a break from the chaos, all I can think to do is nothing at all. The chaos is so draining - physically, mentally, emotionally - that I become a useless shell of myself, incapable of taking action to do the non-chaotic things I'd like to do that bring me joy. The easy solution is to mitigate the chaos perhaps, but that's unlikely to happen soon. So I wallow in inaction, and get depressed because of it.

Apparently there's a term for this, or at least something similar to what I'm describing... Executive Dysfunction.

What I feel I need is a breakthrough, accomplishing something that will inspire me to do more, but that accomplishment needs to be within the bounds of what I'm capable of right now. Maybe that will spark change?

Chicken or the Egg

At the same time I was having these thoughts, I had another problem: I have several projects that are nearly done, but they are devoid of art. And, to me, one of the hardest things to do in anything I publish is to not only decide what the cover should be, but tell the artist "this is what I want" in such a way that they can actually do that.

Many say "just use stock art!" ... That's easier said than done, I think. DTRPG and the DM's Guild are full of stock art you can use for your adventures - for example, I've been dying to use some of Dean Spencer's Art, which is amazingly cool and very well priced - but I could never find matching art. You see, I'd written an adventure already; I know what it is. It is very unlikely to find stock art that comfortably matches something I've conceived out of thin air.

But then I thought... why does the adventure have to come first?

I decided to plan for an experiment: get the art FIRST, then build the adventure around that art. This way, there is no doubt the art would match. Let's face it... look through Dean Spencer's Art and tell you can't think of a half dozen adventure concepts for each major piece of art he has on his site.

There would be some dialog back and forth between author and writer so everyone's on the same page, but the goal is that no words are written before the art is settled. So when the writer gets chosen, he already has an image that defines one aspect of the adventure he's meant to write. I can imagine that to be a little challenging, but it sounds like the sort of thing I would like to do personally.

Bring Forth the Tentacles

So, all that being said, I have begun to formulate plans for my next major project: Everything Is Better With Tentacles.

  • The compendium would have 8-or-so one shot adventures somehow involving tentacles. PG-rated, of course... I know how some people's minds go to a certain place when the topic of tentacles comes up. And I don't want 8 adventures involving illithids; we can all be more creative than that, I hope.
  • Rather than me trying to create the project from nothing, I'll make it a collaborative project with multiple authors and writers.
  • ART WOULD COME FIRST. I would commission eight pieces of art, full page images that could be considered the cover art for each one shot adventure. This gives the artists the most artistic license, and lets them decide what they would like to see in the adventure.
  • Then, once the art is complete, the writers would write their adventure based on the art they are given. They still have some degree of artistic license in the adventure, but they have a point of reference, and they are guaranteed that whatever they write will match the full page art that goes with it because that's how it's designed.
  • I'm not sure if this will be Kickstarted or not... Because of the up front art demand, there may not be any other way to do it. So it will likely have to be released through the OGL on DTRPG, but I'd like to keep the DM's Guild option open because that is the bigger market. Of course the method chosen would impact the payment to authors and writers (profit share vs per word/piece pricing); still need to figure that out.

So does this sound like a feasible thing to do?

I'm still mulling over the idea, but it's something I might try. If so, in the near future I'll likely put up forms to see who out there might actually be interested in this endeavor.

In the mean time, let's see if I can do something about this dysfunction...

14Dec/20Off

We Have Switched Hosts!

God, I haven't posted in nearly a year... and this is the only thing I can come up with?!?

I've been meaning to move away from GoDaddy for some time now, and now I'm about 80% along the way to do it. I have more admin control now, but with that does come some risk as I'm technically not a sysadmin. Heck, I haven't touched Linux in five years at least...

Anyway, this site seems mostly intact... Some images are a bit wonky, and some of the older download links might not work well, but it's a start!

If you see any other problems with this site, please let me know.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
26Jan/20Off

Hey, GenCon People… Please Read This

I know I haven't posted in a while, and I'd certainly like to change that, but this isn't that sort of thing right now. This post is intended to you people who are going through the GenCon 2020 press applications and are analyzing them for their worth. Since you have no way of me providing additional color commentary on application, I have to resort to this nonsense.

You see, I also applied for a press pass to GenCon 2019, at a time when I posted more often (comparatively speaking, anyway), and I was declined a press badge because I didn't post about GenCon 2018 the year prior. Normally, I'd be OK with that excuse, except for one thing... I didn't go to GenCon 2018. Unless you want me to start making up news posts about an event I did not attend, that's going to make it rather hard for me - or anyone - to ever get a press pass.

So I'm applying again this year. Do I deserve it? Given the frequency of posts here, probably not... but I'd accept things if that was the reason. Denying me because I didn't post about an event I didn't attend is... well... crap.

So the way I see it, there are a few ways this will go.

  1. You will accept my press pass application for GenCon 2020. Unlikely? Probably. But it would be nice.
  2. You will decline my press pass for a reason that is NOT "you didn't post about GenCon 2019", and I would be fairly OK with that.
  3. You will decline my press pass for the same reason as last year, which is... as I stated earlier... crap. News flash, in case you haven't figured it out: I did not attend GenCon 2019.

I may not post here much, but I'd like to. What I do have is a rather large following on Twitter that I will most certainly interact with quite often, and if given the opportunity I will likely use that venue to exercise everything that is expected of a press pass holder.

If you choose option 2, which - honestly - is what I am expecting you to choose, I expect the reason for my denial to be plausible. "You're not a news site" ... OK, I accept that. "We don't like you" ... Honestly, I'd be OK with that too. But if your reason is "You didn't post last year", that falls under the purview of option 3...

So the ball's in your court now. I can't ask you to do the right thing because we have different impressions of what the "right thing" would be in this case (to me, option 1 above is the "right thing"; your opinion may differ).

What I *can* ask you to do is to NOT do the WRONG thing.

Thank you for your attention.

25Aug/19Off

Atomic Age – Dice Mechanic

This is the FIRST article in my series on the design aspects of my new RPG in-the-making... Atomic Age!

In thinking about what Atomic Age is going to be, one has to start at the thing that is the basis for the entire system: what dice to use. There are so many different systems out there that it's not as easy a decision as one would think, and it all depends on what you want to get out of the system.

Expectations

So, first of all, let's define what we want to get out of the system:

  • Do not overcomplicate the math. I don't want a system that will involve adding eight different numbers before I can determine if the roll was successful or not. So, basically, I want something along the lines of [die roll]+[modifier] >= [target number] to determine success or failure.
  • Make it flexible, so that the die rolls can be improved or hindered in a variety of ways.
  • Make it easy for people to understand and relate to.

Let's get one thing out of the way: although I appreciate and acknowledge all the many d6-based systems out there, I want Atomic Age to be based on the d20. But there's more to it than that.

I also like to have a mechanism by which, the more of an advantage you have, the more dice you roll. Mainly because it makes the advantage feel more tangible, and players do like rolling dice after all. But I also don't want a system where the players end up dumping a Shadowrun-sized vat full of d6s on the table and then have to calculate up all the dice.

Probability Analysis

For all the probability analysis that will follow, I'm going to use AnyDice to generate charts and probability math.

As for what we will use as a basis for the math, let's assume that you're making an attack with a base +5 attack bonus against an AC of 15.

D&D 5E

The concept of "roll two d20s and pick the better one" is not a new thing... it's been around for some time, and there are several systems that use it. Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition gave the mechanic a name: "advantage" and "disadvantage".

In past editions, figuring out a roll involved adding a lot of numbers. Attribute bonus, proficiency bonus, attack modifiers, target DC modifiers, etc... The notion of "advantage" was reflected by simply adding more modifiers to your roll so that your end result is more likely to be higher than the target DC.

The 5th Edition mechanic of advantage/disadvantage simplified all that. Your modifiers generally don't ever change due to circumstances (there are some exceptions, like adjusting AC due to cover, but still), and if you're in an advantageous position, rather than add more numbers to your roll, you simply roll two dice. It's easy to resolve!

It has one drawback, however: "roll two dice" is the ONLY thing you can do. "Rules As Written" you can't roll three or four if your situation is even more advantageous. For example, consider these possible attack rolls:

  1. Attacking a target that you are flanking with an ally.
  2. Attacking a target that is paralyzed.
  3. Attacking a target that is unconscious.

In all those situations, "advantage" is pretty much all you get, although attacks #2 and #3 should clearly be significantly more advantageous in terms of your ability to hit. Attack #3 has the added benefit of being an automatic crit or "coup de grace", but the chance of hitting is the same; it's an advantage attack roll against the target's AC.

"Rules as Written" there is no mega-advantage mechanic. There is nothing documented where you would roll three d20s. Except for spell modifiers (we'll talk about that later), it's always two and only two d20s.

Probability

So take our probability example... A standard die roll of 1d20+5>=15 has a 55% chance of succeeding.

With advantage, that probability rockets up to almost 80%...

...and with disadvantage it plummets to 30%.

Disadvantage is brutal in 5E; when rolling disadvantage, the probability of success plummets dramatically.

And, as mentioned above, that's it. If you have a superior advantage, it won't be more than 80%. It is what it is, pretty much always.

Shadow of the Demon Lord

Rather than use the "advantage" mechanic of 5E, I looked to another system for inspiration... Shadow of the Demon Lord.

SotDL uses a system where you still roll a d20 and add modifiers, but you can also add a "boon" or a "bane". A "boon" is adding a d6 to the d20 result, while a "bane" is subtracting a d6 from the d20 result, and they cancel each other out. If you have more than one boon or bane, you roll multiple dice and choose the higher result.

Personally, I like this mechanic for a variety of reasons...

  1. It physically acknowledges a superior advantage. If you have a high advantage, you'll be rolling a fistful of d6s.
  2. Even with a fistful of d6s, the probability does not increase linearly.
  3. It allows the boon/bane dice to be modified using external abilities.

Probability

So the base probability remains the same... 55% success.

... but, instead of advantage, we add a "boon" d6. That increases the probability to a little over 72%, which is comparable to the 80% of advantage.

...and let's say you have two boons. It increases slightly, to 77%.

On the other side of the card, one bane isn't as painful as disadvantage; 37% chance instead of disadvantage's sharp drop to 30%.

...and two banes is still at 32%.

I kinda like this... The probabilities work out the same, albeit it might be a little more swingy, and the advantage or disadvantage is both visual and tangible.

How would this work? Well, take D&D spells like Bless for example... it normally adds a d4 to rolls. Using this mechanic, Bless will simply add one boon. You flanking someone? Add a boon. The target paralyzed? Add a boon. Flanking a paralyzed target? That's two boons total... make him pay!

13th Age

One mechanic I liked from 13th Age is the notion of increasing or decreasing a die roll one or more "steps". For example, if the base die of your attack is a d6 and a feat allows you to increase it one step, the base die becomes a d8.

The way I see it, this can be worked in to this system a little easier. For example, there may be a spell or class ability that will allow you to make your first boon die a d8 instead of a d6, or turn your first bane die into a d4 instead of a d6.

Conclusion

So taking all that into consideration, here's my plan for Atomic Age:

Bonus and Penalty Dice

I don't want to call them "boon" or "bane" for obvious reasons, so for now let's call them "bonus" and "penalty" dice. Standard die is a d6, and it may increase or decrease steps depending on abilities.

"Bonus" and "penalty" dice cancel each other out, and if rolling multiple dice you choose the highest result in the pool.

Attack Rolls

[1d20]+[ability score]+[proficiency modifier*] vs target AC

(NOTE: I'm debating keeping the notion of "proficiency"; more on that at another time)

Skill/Ability Checks

Untrained: [1d20]+[ability score] vs Target DC.

Trained: [1d20]+[ability score]+[trained bonus (TBD)] vs Target DC.

Modifiers

Have some sort of advantage (like Bless, for example)? Add one or more "bonus" d6s.

Have some sort of hindrance (like Bane, for example)? Add one or more "penalty" d6s.

Stuff To Be Determined

What I need to figure out still is what defines the modifier. I'd like to avoid the notion of a proficiency bonus or the linear escalation of numbers (which was absurd in 4E). In the best of all possible worlds, I'd like an average DC to always be DC 15 regardless of whether you're level 1 or level 10, although it would be more likely you'll succeed the higher level you are.

13Aug/19Off

A New Beginning

It's been eight months since I post here... better now than never.

Over the past week I've been thinking a lot, specifically about Atomic Age.

In case you don't know, Atomic Age is my post-apocalyptic treatment of the Archmage Engine, which powers 13th Age. It came to be because I wanted Gamma World, and I wasn't allowed to create Gamma World content for fear that WotC would sue me into non-existence (they had threatened to do so already). But, during its development, it became something different... It's still post-apocalyptic, but not as zany and off the wall as Gamma World is known to be. I think of it as somewhat of a cross between Gamma World, Mad Max and what the future would be like in a Terminator film that didn't time travel.

But here's the thing... when you choose a system to develop your campaign setting around, most of the time you're stuck with the nuances of that system. The Archmage Engine is a great system, don't get me wrong, but there are some aspects of it that didn't feel right or I couldn't get to work with what I wanted to do. For example, how would mutations work in a 13th Age system? What about radiation poisoning? And there are some thing that came with it that I didn't want at all... like magic item "quirks", which are good by design in a fantasy game like 13th Age but just don't fit in my campaign setting.

Since I wrote most of Atomic Age, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition made its appearance and the landscape changed. As is the case with the Archmage Engine, I have some issued with 5E in that, although it does some things really well, other things not so much. For example, creating monsters and encounters in 13th Age is stupid easy... in 5E, not so much. And 5E doesn't even come close to the background/icon system that Archmage provides.

So I had a crazy idea... why bind myself to a single system? DMs do it all the time... cherry pick bits and pieces from multiple systems, campaign settings, and other source material and create a virtual Frankenstein's Monster of an RPG system to use in their homebrew campaigns. Only I want to take that Monster and publish it.

So I decided to try and write my own RPG system, picking and choosing the features that I want from multiple systems and melding it all into one amorphous blob that will power Atomic Age.

I'm insane, aren't I? Seriously, I have no idea how this is going to go... mainly because it's a daunting task and I'm not exactly sure I know what I'm doing in this regard.

But I can't do it alone.

So I've done something crazy: I've reworked my Patreon to be aimed specifically towards the creation of this new engine. And I'm going to do something even crazier: try to stick to a regular schedule in which I dicuss what this engine is going to be, which means this blog will hopefully see activity it hasn't seen in ages.

Will this become a reality? Who knows... but I have to try. A lot of work has been done for the Archmage Engine version of Atomic Age, but I don't see that ever being cobbled together in such a way that I will be happy with all aspects of it. Hopefully, this way I will actually be happy with it because it'll be wrapped around something I myself put together for the specific purpose of powering the campaign setting.

I hope you all will join me on this crazy ride. My Patreon is open to your support! If you sign up now, you will get my latest published adventure, Witness Protection, absolutely free!

Ever forward...