Welcome to Messiah

•June 21, 2008 • 11 Comments

“The Messiah has come to break the world, but who will break the Messiah?”

For the Ashcan Front 2008, I have decided to enter my latest creation, a game I call Messiah.  Messiah is a pretty readical departure from my comfort zone and the game I have been concentrating on recently, Mecha (formerly Neoborn Genesis Honor Blade), which is a much more traditional anime mecha game, but I am really enjoying the creative challenges each poses.

Anyway, the basic premise behind Messiah is that the Messiah, the actual avatar of god has come back to the world to bring it back inline with the teachings of god.  The players each take on the role of a faction who has a vested interest in either maintaining the status quo or by slightly modifying it.  These factions each see the arrival of the Messiah not as a change for spiritual rebirth, but rather to remake the world in their own image.  The Messiah is but a tool and one that can be disposed if the Messiah becomes inconvenient.

Messiah is based off my game chef entry (also called Messiah) which can be found here: www.canonpuncture.com/games/Messiah.doc

And the feedback (which was helpful if not overwhelmingly positive) is here:
http://game-chef.com/af2008/comments.php?DiscussionID=553&page=1#Item_27

The thing that everyone said across the board was that there was something interesting about the premise and that there were pearls in what I had.  So that gave me some hope.

I also took the feedback to heart and have decided to make Messiah GMless.  Which is a pretty radical departure from where I’m at as a player/designer and it also presents a very interesting set of design challenges.

After talking with Paul Czege, I committed to doing the game as an ashcan.  I really feel like what I want to do is going to need a lot of outside comment and feedback, so I feel like its the right decision.  Now I just need to get the game from 30% to 90%.

The issues I am dealing with right now:

  1. How do make the Messiah an independent entity without a GM?
  2. How do I govern the interaction between Factions?
  3. How do I measure the influence a faction has on the Messiah?
  4. How to I offer the players an interesting and mechanically relevant set of options?
  5. Can I add NPC factions which can influence the Messiah or be allies to the PCs.
  6. Is it okay that I am not going to ship the game with a setting?  Does that hamper the game.
  7. How do I model a game world in a way that is mechanically relevant.

I’ll attempt to answer each as I go along.

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My In A Wicked Age Actual Play

•June 13, 2008 • 2 Comments

I got to play In A Wicked Age with Matt Gandy, Ryan Macklin, and Lenny Balsera.  They let me come on board to play a quick one shot with them.

We started off with this set of strange Oracle: the gin, the anime episode, and the fedora.  I’m not entirely sure those are in the book.

But pretty much the game was derailed from the beginning…it wasn’t so much a one shot as it was an invitation to play in their ongoing game and it was just odd.

About 15 minutes into the game suddenly Matt breaks out “On what page are the intercept rules and how many D10s do I roll for them.”  I’m confused, intercept rules?

Then about halfway through Lenny starts handing out XP.  Apparently, Ryan hit his personal key of being an asshole (and wow was he…) and so for this Lenny decided to give him XP.  And for this apparently Ryan got enough XP to level up…and he took a prestige class?

Anyway, all in all, though I was invited back, I’m not entirely sure I’ll go back.  It was just strange.

Reflections on My Giants Ashcan Playtest

•December 12, 2007 • 1 Comment

At Gen Con, I purchased a copy of Giants by Jeff Lower of the Sons of Kryos.  I had really gotten excited about Giants from listening to his show, so I went to the Ashcan Front with no doubt I was going to buy this game.

I assembled a group consisting of myself as the GM, Tony, and Brian.  Unfortunately, the games starts to breakdown pretty much from the start when the players decide on their specific goals.  The players knew from my description that there is supposed to be a threat coming to get them, but the threat does not get fleshed out until after the players choose their goals.  So the players choose goals pretty much out of the thin air: Tony’s goal was self glorification and Brian’s was to build a boat so he could explore the rest of the world. The players then decide that the threat to the world is that birds are attacking from somewhere, eating all the crops, and killing people as they go. 

Immediately, right off the bat, the players are working for goals that are in no way related to the larger threat.  In the end, Tony’s PC will end up fighting the birds with his plant power while Brian’s PC ends up channeling a lava flow to his city so that its citizens will have the raw materials they need to make a boat to escape in.  I am not sure if the disjointedness between the threat and the  goals and between the goals themselves is a failing on my part as a GM or not, but it seems like I was following the letter of the law if not the spirit.

Once the goals were laid out,  characters were made.  Tony is  playing Little Giant (a size 4 Giant) and Brian is playing Chip (a size 10 Giant.)  Little Giant has several Breed powers, most notably that he could control plant life.    Chip was just big, dumb, and powerful.

Then the players made the map.  Map making may well be the greatest tool for player for immersion I have ever experienced.  The players not only got into their characters, but they bought into the world as a whole.  It was awesome to see cities and rivers and the Tree of Evil pop up from everyone’s imaginations.  It was truly amazing.  And a hell of a lot of fun.

Then play started.  Basically, at this point, scenes got framed and dice were rolled.  There were feeding scenes and healing scenes.  A city tried to attack Chip because he was channeling lava right by it, but as I understood the rules there was no way a Size 4 city could muster an army that could stop a Chip so Chip won and added a second city to his community.

During that time, Little Giant began researching ancient seeds and found one that was poisonous to the large birds.  So he quested to the Tree of Evil, found the seeds, planted then, and used his super powers to grow them quickly.  This ended the bird threat.

The game lasted six turns around the table across three lunch sessions.  So it was fast to play, which I thought was a good thing.

Overall, the game fostered a sense of fun with the players.  They had a good time being Giants, making the map, playing, but ultimately the game felt disjointed.  It was hard to take world spanning actions like rerouting a volcano and break them into scenes.  Also, any conflict normally boiled down to a battle between a city and a PC’s giant.  There was only one NPC giant vs. PC giant which started off as combat.  However, Little Giant could never win so he retreated.  Next scene, he used his intellect to confuse the Giant and stole the seeds.  That was good.

Ultimately, I think the finished book needs a better explanation of how to frame a scene and what the purpose of each type of scene is.  Also, some tips for GMing would be nice.  I was wondering how to build drama with the world threat.  At first, the giants were too busy going after their own goals to care about the birds.  When the birds started attacking cities, they did not care.  Only when the birds attacked their cities did it make a difference and then only to the Giant whose city was attacked.   

In addition to questions about GMing the game, a few others cropped up during play.

1.  Shouldn’t we design a Giant’s community after we design the Giant.
2.  How should the Giant’s goal and the threat to the world mesh or is this about the choice between the two?  If it’s a choice, is there a way to support that mechanically?
3.  Does a Hunger scene cause 1 Hunger?
4.  How can a city of a Size less than a Giant beat the Giant in combat?

Lastly, in answer to Jeff’s questions:

Do Boulders work well as a reward mechanic?  My players used boulders once in the game.   I could not make them do anything which would elicit a boulder even when I game them away freely.
Does the map create player buy-in…?  Hell yes!
Does the Hunger and Rage economy work?  I can’t say that I remember Rage being all that prominent.  The Hunger seemed more like one more thing to keep track of.
What would I need to do to make the game more child-friendly?  Reduce the complexity of some of the stats.  Other than that, this would be a great game thematically for children.
Does the game really need a Health stat?  I believe the game needs a way to track damage.  Health may not be that stat.

I had one other thought.  Could Hunger come from actions rather than scenes?  Instead of one Hunger per scene, could certain things trigger it?  Like fighting, using a Breed Power, or entering another player’s scene?

The review feels harsher than I intended.  The players had a good time, there was just some confusion about the rules, but like Jeff said, the game is not quite baked yet. 

I feel like part of the failing of the game I ran was that I did not fully grok all the rules.  With that being said, I hope that Jeff can add a few more examples to make things more clear.

Passions in NGHB

•September 28, 2007 • 2 Comments

So I think I have a wacky idea for Passions in Neoborn Genesis Honor Blade.  A Passion reflects an aptitude or a skill or somethat that is derived from one’s desire to succeed at some particular task.  The idea being that in mecha anime, if I want to be best mecha pilot in the land, then chances are, I’m darn near the best mecha pilot in the land.

Passions will be fairly free form and each will come with a level.  So for instance:

  • I want to be a recognized Game Designer 3
  • I am the best Computer Programmer 1
  • I will meet Yvonne Strzechowski (watch Chuck, then you’ll understand) 3
  • I will keep my wife from reading my game design blog 8

So I have a mix of goals, desires, and aptitudes.  I am not sure I will subdivide them in the text as such, but basically I see passions breaking down into these categories, though I am trying to decide if there is a difference between a goal and desire.  I guess I see one (the goal) as more attainable.  In the above example, I want to be recognized Game Designer is a strong passion at 3, but I would classify it as a goal.  It is something that will likely come up in most scenes, throughout the course of play.

The passion to meet Yvonne Strzechowski and the subsequent need to keep my wife from reading this blog would then be desires.  They are flags I give to the GM that these are things that should happen in the arc, but I am fine if every episode is not centered around my quest to meet Yvonne.

How they’re used in play?  Well, that’s where things get interesting (let’s hope…)  Anytime I have an applicable passion, I can add one die to my pool.  And I think I mean anytime because anime characters tend to be passionate people.

Note that I said one die to my pool.  I didn’t say 3 in the case of Miss Strzechowski or 8 in the case of preventing the wife from knowing what I am up to.  You only get one.  Unless… you are ready to give up that passion and trade it in for something else.  In which case you get all your bonus dice for one roll, but then you have to scratch out the passion and write a new one.  So if I decide to burn not letting Tina find out, I get 8 dice.  But once I do, I no longer care about her finding out (in fact, this is a good helper for the GM who now has carte blanche to let her find out and make my life difficult.)  So I now have 8 points to invest in a new passion that needs to be in some way related to the old passion (either a new take or a complete opposite.  Either “I want to convince her I it’s just a design blog” or “I really want her to know.”)  Or something similiar.

I pulled this idea from my Sight and Sound game design contest entry and I think it works well here.

NGHB: The Idea

•September 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The idea behind Neoborn Genesis Honor Blade is to create a mecha anime game.  I know that there are several, so I am working to ensure I have my nitch.  Mecha games run the gamut from Robotech and BESM to games like Bliss Stage which are mecha anime, but with a decidedly different twist.

My interest lies in character-driven stories, which is one reason why I like longer running anime series.  The characters, who often start out as archtypes, wooden, caricatures and grow into fully realized people irrovacably changed by what they went through.  The crucible of combat, weirdness, and other anime activities has an effect on a character and that’s what I want to capture with the game.

I have other goals with the game as well:

  • Sweet combat.  I mean it is a mecha game, so I think that there has to be some cool combat.
  • I want to sell supplements.  I want the first book to be the core rules and then I want to sell supplements.
  • I am hanging on to archetype-based chargen.  More on this later.
  • I am thinking 4-5 attributes that change based on the archetype
  • No skills just passions
  • Passions can be swapped at anytime and perhaps compelled
  • Advancement is adding or increasing passions

That’s my shorthand for what I am going to do.

Joshua BishopRoby’s Sons of Liberty

•September 12, 2007 • 3 Comments

Through a fortuitous meeting with Judson at Gen Con, I got the chance to playtest Joshua BishopRoby’s Sons of Liberty: A Roleplaying Game of Freedom and Badassery.  I cannot thank him or Josh enough for the chance to get to this play this game.

I was able to watch it being played after hours at the Embassy Suites, so it was not a blind playtest, but getting to see the game once and understanding how it is played are two wildly different things.

Sons of Liberty takes place in an alternate history during the Revolutionary War where George Washington is riding around in a clockwerk Mecha fighting the steampowered forces Benedict Arnold and his British soldiers.  It’s the upstart Colonials vs. the evil Imperial Britians in an epic Battle Royale of incredibly odd dimensions.  Awesomeness and choas ensues.

In both cases, the games were played with three players which I fear is not optimal for the game.  It is not that we did not have fun playing the game, but there are special rules that apply to games with three players.  I wished that I could have had a four player game, but I could not get the scheduling to work out.  The mix in each case was myself (who I consider to be somewhat indie game experienced), a non-gamer, and a person with a moderate amount of traditional gaming experience.  We played over lunch, which kept us time constrained to a Travel Scene and the Primary Objective Scene.

In the playtest document, Josh noted five questions so I will order the comments made by the players according to the questions asked.

1.  Card Play rules:

The card rules were somewhat clear.  We understood how to play the Patriots, but we had a question on how Torries play cards.  There are rules for how the Patriots can play single cards, but I was a little confused as to where the Torries place their cards.  Do Torries play cards on the Patriots’ runs and sets or are they separate?  We played the first game with the Torrie cards being separate and the second game with Torrie cards being played on the Patriots.  In the first game, the Torries won and in the second the Patriots won by a landslide.

I think the biggest problem we all had with the rules was that they are too open.  Just about anything can happen.  In the first game, no one really minded that Benjamin Franklin knew kung fu and threw down with the British (nor that he published several treatises on the subject after the beating.)  It was also perfectly acceptable that Benjamin Franklin was trading raunchy letters with the Queen.  However, things started to break down when the Torrie player had a run of cards allow him to make up arbitrary rules.  Suddenly it was against the law to be out at night and againt the law to be out during the day, congregating in bars with more than two people were forbidden, etc.

Those were the cards that the Torrie player drew, but there was a sense that we were well outside the box of what could reasonably expected.  I guess it became to hard to suspend disbelief despite the fact we played the rules as we understood them.

It was also difficult to keep the goal in mind.  In the first game, the players determined a VERY specific goal.  That backfired because Sons of Liberty seems to be a game about large city or nation shattering events rather than one-on-one conflict.  The first goal was laid out with steps on how to accomplish it.  When I realized that was a problem, I tried to make a broader goal in the second game, but players still lost sight of the goal once the silliness (ie the game) started.  Only during narration of the conflict did we loop back to the goal.

Lastly, there was no sense of margin of success.  I did not see in the rules where a 2 of a suit was any different than an five or a King.  The players felt uncomfortable that they could narrate very powerful effects in the game with a two and with a face card.  They wanted the lower cards to generate less effect.

2.  Challenge- In the first game, the Patriots felt it was difficult to win.  The Torrie player won handily in both scenes, though I think this is because I misread the meaning of “Steal a Queen.”  I am guessing I could not pull her into my hand like I thought I could.  My confusion, though, goes back to how exactly a Torrie plays (see section 1.)

3.  Attention- There were some complaints of people losing track of what was going on during the Primary Objective scene.   For instance, in the second game, one player sat there with an amazed look on his face for literally the entire scene. 

I think that everyone was used to playing standard card games where there is time to think rather than the chaos of Sons of Liberty.  To counter the chaos, we tried running the Primary Objective scene using a turn-based scheme where a Patriot would act and then the Torrie, then the next Patriot and so on.  The other players reported they liked playing the game turn based far better than playing the game freeform, despite the fact I think the game suffered.  The time to think actually limited the amount of crazy, out of the box thinking.  Still, overall the other players found it more fun.

4.  Intriguing Fiction- When I asked this question, everyone always laughed.  In the first game, we had Benjamin Franklin opening strip clubs on every corner because they were exempt for the British rules about congregating in bars while Ethan Allen fought to reestablish the American court system while in prison.  In other words, we had a great time playing this game.

One thing that I did notice was that none of the players ever talked about the clockwork gauntlets, steampunk mecha, and other wild elements.  As the Torrie player, I started the travel scene with these elements, but they never were picked up by the other players.  It simply never came up.  One player mentioned that none of the character biographies make any mention of any alternate history (could George Washington be growing organic robots or Benjamin Franklin made part of his money by selling technical manuals?)  I think that would have helped them get into character.

5.  Fun- We had all kinds of crazy fun.  So much fun that it inspired one of the players to start working on his own board game.  The one thing every player did say was there was little sense of accomplishment.  There was not a lot of dramatic tension, so no one felt like they had been run through the wringer.  However, everyone seemed to understand that Sons of Liberty is game about acting silly and having a good time.  Across the board that was enough.  No higher purpose needed.

All in all, I am really excited to see the game in its finished state.  We all had a great time, even the more quiet player who I was afraid might not contribute as much.   That player was actually empowered and emboldened to act silly.

Welcome to Astral Beacon

•September 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Welcome to the Astral Beacon Blog.  My name is Chris Perrin and I will be your guide and host down this journey into the wild world of game design.  I am creating the Astral Beacon Blog for no other purpose than to have a place I can work out issues I am facing during my game design process.

A few things to note. 

  1. I am a member of the Mastermines which is a venue I use for workshoping specific ideas, communicating with other designers, and getting feedback.  This blog will much more stream of conciousness, lists of things that are of interest only to me, and a place where I discuss problems and the resolution to those problems.
  2. This is my attempt at Open Design.  Please read and comment.
  3. The name of the blog comes from Astreal Beacon Games, which will be the name of my company when I publish a game.

Thanks and come back soon!